Friday, October 21, 2011

Sex-Pozzie.

Recently I've been criticized by other feminists for being a "sex-pozzie"--a sex-positive feminist, someone who believes that unraveling our culture's sexual repression is a key part of fighting women's oppression.  On this MetaFilter thread, for instance, there's quite a few accusations that I'm "pointing out that she loves trotting merrily back into the kitchen and that being in the kitchen is what feminism is all about."  Or in this article I was linked yesterday, which is positively dripping with disdain for women who appeal sexually to men, and full of conflation between women whose "sexy" pictures are being used without their consent and women who are intentionally presenting themselves as sexy.

This hearkens back to those "Twisty Faster Is Fucking Insane" posts I did, and I admit, if I had it to do all over again, I wouldn't have called them that. "Fucking insane" is ableist language; Twisty Faster and similar-minded feminists who look down upon "sex-pozzies" are merely obnoxious, elitist, sexist, and counterproductive.

Here are some of my dogs in this fight:

Most critics of sex-positive feminism have not bothered to figure out what sex-positivity is.
It's not the giggling, hair-twirling exclamation of "it's feminist to be sexayyy!"  It's really not.  I'm not going to defend that strawman.  (I also think it's funny how often I get accused of being a Hooters-girl-bot, when I'm about the least Hooters-looking-person ever.)

This is what a sex-pozzie
funfeminist looks like!
Nor is it the demand that everyone be sexy or have sex.  Nor is it the claim that everything that involves sex is beyond criticism.  Nor is it the suggestion that sex will fix all the problems of feminism.

Instead, sex-positivity is the belief that sex and sexiness are... okay.  It's the belief that people shouldn't be judged by the sex they have.  It's the belief that consent matters and social norms do not.  It's the belief that porn and erotica are valid media of expression (not that the current porn industry is hunky-dory, cause it's not) and that sex work ought to be just work (not that it currently is).  It's the belief that neither "slut" nor "prude" should be an insult.  It's the belief that every sexual and gender identity is valid.

Sex-positivity is, in a nutshell, the belief in sexual freedom as a key component of women's freedom and of having a better world in general.

If you want to argue with that belief, we can talk.  But if you want to argue with "everyone should be a Hooters girl because showing men your boobies is like totally the most feministical choice!" you're not really arguing with me.  I just think that I'm in no position to judge Hooters girls or assume that they're dimwits, sexists, or helpless victims because of what they do for a living.

Criticism of sex-positive feminism is often sexist.
A lot of criticism of sex-positive feminism is really criticism of sexy women.  It's hard to find a piece that isn't dripping with disgusted descriptions of women who wear high heels and shave their legs and then they giggle and they act all flirty and give blowjobs, oh my God.  And it's hard for me to see the difference between this and plain old slut-shaming.  It always seems undercut with the implication that sexy women aren't just unfeminist, they're icky.

If you treat sexy women with disgust and pity, you're not protecting their rights; you're just gleefully participating in their public humiliation.  (You're also often attacking them on a subject that's highly intertwined with culture, class, age, and even body shape. Not everyone who looks "sexy" to you is doing it on purpose, much less doing it to serve the patriarchy.)

And you're falling into the old sexist trap of judging women by their sexuality.  A woman being sexy doesn't make women part of "the sex class"; refusing to see a woman as a powerful individual because she's sexy absolutely does.  It says that her sexiness speaks louder than her actual voice, that who she is sexually tells you everything you need to know about who she is as a person.  It's hard to get more sexist than that.  At least Playboy publishes little interview blurbs with their sex objects.

This criticism goes beyond mere criticism, and into denying sex-positive feminists' agency.
If you tell me that I'm wrong, I can talk to you. I'll probably use bad words and too many italics, but I'll talk to you. We disagree.  But if you tell me that I don't really think what I'm saying, that the words coming out of my mouth aren't mine, how the fuck do I answer that?

Here's a bit from the XOJane article:
So you should go ahead and do things that are patriarchy-approved, if you want to. Buy new nail polish! Care about celebrities! Have a giant wedding! Wear a thong in your hair! Put your picture on the Internet! Look good according to particular patriarchal ideas of what looks good! Be flattered when men wolf whistle at you, literally or metaphorically! Whatever aspects of being a “Hot Chick” work for you, enjoy them. Maybe except the hair thong. But don’t fool yourself that you’re doing so of your own unconstrained free will.
That's right; women who are sexy are victims of mind control. You can tell by looking at them.  There's no way a woman can choose to wear nail polish or care about celebrities.  I know I've been harsh on femininity myself at times (mostly I'm just harsh at the idea of me being feminine), but this goes beyond criticism of femininity.  This is a claim that femininity is a symptom of Borg assimilation.

(Even worse than the Borg claim is the claim that feminine women are deliberately sucking up to men to get cookies from their oppressors.  Ugh.)

It's also, implicitly, a claim that women who reject femininity aren't influenced by patriarchy, which is even more unfortunate.  You don't break free from our entire social system and all the behaviors and preconceptions that come with it just by growing out your armpit hair.  If we are all blinded by the culture we live in and the privileges we have, then it's the height of arrogance to claim that you're so enlightened you've risen above all that.  If women don't have full agency in the patriarchy, where the fuck do you get off claiming that you do?

Sex still matters.
So these are all reasons that people who think it's okay to call me a stupid cock-sucking bimbo under the guise of "feminism" are poopyheads.  But what's my reason for remaining a cock-sucking bimbo?  Why do I think sexual freedom is important to feminism?

Well, for the long answer, see this entire blog.  But for the short answer: because it's impossible for women to be accepted as human beings if we aren't accepted as sexual beings.  If women's dignity is contingent on our not being too sexy, we're never going to have dignity.  We have to accustom ourselves to the idea that someone can be highly sexual, publicly sexual, sexual in a way that we would totally never do ourselves because whoa... and still have dignity.

If there's a secret motive to my making my sexuality public, it's that I want to show someone can be sexual and also other things.  I want to show that I can be sexual and also funny and interesting; I want to show that I can be sexual and also ornery and argumentative; I want to show that I can be sexual and also save lives and get colds and play with guinea pigs.

Finally, part of making life better is about making sex better.  I don't just talk about sex to say "HEY EVERYBODY I'M INTO SEX"; I talk about it in terms of promoting enthusiastic consent, promoting body acceptance, promoting the idea of finding out and coming to terms with your own sexual desires.  I think having the sex life that's right for you is an important part of being a self-actualized person.  And I'm not going to avoid these discussions just because someone might think they're titillating.



And beyond finally, I do like sex.  I do think about sex a lot.  That's not a political position; it's hormones or something.  It's who I am and I'm not going to hide it.



...Wow, that got long and preachy.  Next post is about buttsex.

191 comments:

  1. I am in love with this post, and would like to do its taxes for free. Or...do something of value that I'm actually good at. Regardless, I am in love with this post.

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  2. I wish I could just...quote this. All of it. In a lot of places. Linking will work though. So, thank you for writing this. I hear a lot of those things directed towards myself and many of my friends all the time, and it's deeply hurtful and unproductive.

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  3. "You don't break free from our entire social system and all the behaviors and preconceptions that come with it just by growing out your armpit hair."

    Damn, that was my only plan.

    "If there's a secret motive to my making my sexuality public, it's that I want to show someone can be sexual and also other things. I want to show that I can be sexual and also funny and interesting; I want to show that I can be sexual and also ornery and argumentative; I want to show that I can be sexual and also save lives and get colds and play with guinea pigs."

    You've shown me that a hundred times, and it's part of why I love your work. You're always frank and clever.

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  4. This post is awesome.

    I can kind of see a kernel of sense in there somewhere in the femininity of the borg viewpoint -- after all, being a feminine girl in our society is privileged over being an unfeminine girl (that whole gender-conformity thing). And so sometimes that can be taking the easy way out. But that's not everyone and yeah, if they can make the choice to grow armpit hair out, why can't other ladies do the opposite?

    I've also shaved my legs not of my own choice -- I was going into what I figured was a conservative office environment and wanted to make a good point. So I shaved and I wore clothes and shoes I usually wouldn't and my mornings pretty much consisted of me musing about how I was putting on a costume while showering. (I've also shaved and waxed and put on the sexy bra and panties and picked my boyfriend up from the airport and we didn't get five steps in the door before he had me up against the wall, hands all over. So uh. It's gone both ways. He's also done that when I have bags under my eyes, a full complement of hair on head and body, and am wearing the rattiest t-shirt I own, so it's not about the primping.)

    Anyways. I'm not sure where I was going with this, other than I can see sense in the distance along the road leading from the turnoff they passed in their fast route to "...what?" land.

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  5. You do a great job, Holly. Don't worry - haters be hatin'.

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  6. aliarasthedaydreamer - I can sort of see where they're coming from, too. The question of "are you wearing makeup because it's you or because it's what you're supposed to do?" has bothered me too.

    But ultimately I'm not okay telling women who wear makeup that they don't know what's best for them. I'll go after people who insist women have to wear makeup--that's bullshit for sure--but if someone says "wearing makeup is my personal choice," who the fuck am I to tell them that it isn't?

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  7. The posts they're referencing seem to be from quite a while ago as well... I know you've written on here before about how your views have changed since then, and it's hard for me to believe that Twisty would rather toss random quotes back at you (from the 2008 exchange) than actually attempt to explain what you weren't understanding.

    This post, I think, very clearly explains the logic of sex-positivity.

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  8. I'm mostly asexual. If my husband and I part ways, I am totally content with the idea of being celibate for the rest of my life. I don't see it as a "moral" choice, or think that I'm too repulsive for anyone else to ever want to sleep with me; I just don't see myself being interested afterward. I don't want sex; I want sex WITH MY HUSBAND. It's a subtle but significant difference.

    And I LOVE sex-positive feminism, because when it's done PROPERLY, that means IT IS OKAY. I don't have to walk around feeling like I'm either a paragon of manly virtuous chastity or a fucked-up piece of busted wiring.

    Also, the "borg assimilation" thing kinda falls apart when you get trans guys like me. If I wear my hair long and paint my nails, is it because I'm bucking masculine gender roles or because I'm trying to force myself to be a "real" woman? If I go around in combat boots and a crewcut, is it because I've been so inundated with misogyny that I can't bear femininity, or is it because I'm bucking compulsive femininity?

    The only one who can answer that is me. Not random people on the intarweb. But I find it IMMENSELY condescending for people I don't know well to armchair shrink me.

    --Rogan

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  9. The second article you link is definitely full of holes, but I think overall it's valid and saying things more or less in line with sex-positivity.

    "Feminists who want to fight for your ability to reject patriarchal standards of beauty or behavior or availability or occupation aren’t trying to constrain your choices. (Well, some probably are, but screw ‘em.) ... Just make people stop telling you that it’s the only acceptable option, so you can go back to doing it because it’s your favorite thing."

    ^To me that sounds like "if you like to be sexy, that's fine, but help us make it ok to not be sexy too!" Which I do agree with.

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  10. thank you for this. As a very feminine woman it so often frustrates me when people tell me that I'm doing feminism wrong. I like being feminine. It feels comfortable for me. Why is that such a problem for other people exactly?

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    1. I am a muslim feminist, sadomasochistic, bisexual AND i wear hijab.
      You might know how society and our crippled alice-schwarzer feminism(bigoted and patriarchal) react to such an "impossible" person..

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  11. I can see this from a few different viewpoints.

    First off, my own dog in the fight: I am a feminine woman. I have an acceptable body in today's culture: thin and small (though a little light in the breasts). I wear skirts all the time. I like pretty things and flowers. I shave my legs and wear makeup. (In fairness to me, I have neither eyebrows nor eyelashes, so without a certain amount of makeup, I also have no facial expressions.)

    So, maybe I'm a just being defensive of myself when certain types of feminists sneer at me for not being feminist enough. Then again, I'm perfectly fine with other people not shaving, not wearing makeup, etc., and regularly get rather confrontational about protecting other people's rights to be as non gender conforming as they'd like. I just don't see why it's my responsibility to be non gender conforming in the same way.

    As to twisty's dog in the fight . . .well, she used to be conforming to society's view of attractive, too. And now because of cancer, she's not. And she can't be. Her views on the matter are rather necessarily skewed by her own personal experiences, as everyone's are, and you have to keep that in mind.

    I can totally grok that, as I get older and droopier and wrinklier in a society that values the youthiest youth that every did youth and only youth, but then again, I don't sneer at the youthers, either. Enjoy it while you can, you will lose it sooner rather than later.

    Anyway, I fall on the pozzie side for a variety of reasons, some of which are selfish, some of which are well reasoned. And also because I do like sex. Also. Too.

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  12. Also jumping in to say I love this post! I consider myself a sex positive feminist who critizises some aspects of porn, cuz I like porn want want it too be good and non dehumanizing(see MAx Hardcore) I do admit I get grossed out by the extreme side of BDSM, but thats largly because it looks to much like real abuse to me not because oh no women are being sexually submissive! Feminism should be about accepting the way people are as long is its not hurting anyone else.
    Also what is femininty and masculinity...To me being feminine is only bad if it means being a passive doormat with no idenitity ie most relgious ideas of femininty...Sorry about rambling!

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  13. K. Raila - I feel like the XOJane article sort of tries to have it both ways--it goes back and forth a lot between saying "of course choice is good" and belittling or "that's not really a choice"ifying choices that women have made in the real world.

    I think the conflict is summed up in the sentence: " You may be doing what you love, but you’re also doing what you’re told."

    It's not as bad as the people claiming that liking sex is putting women back in the kitchen, but it is putting people who are doing what they love--no, really, seriously, I am--in an awkward position of not really being able to defend their choices.

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  14. I love this post so much! And I identify with it so much!

    I hate being told my choices are invalid. And I'm told that by pretty much everyone but my husband, in-laws, and a few friends.

    I happen to be a small-government libertarian woman (WRONG according to my coworkers in the English department) who thinks frilly stuff is kind of tacky (WRONG according to my whole family--frilly=feminine=female), has a favorite hobby of target shooting (WRONG according to my family--not only are guns scary and evil, but NOT FEMININE!!!) loves to cook (WRONG according [again] to my coworkers--until I bring in cookies I've made), and works from home to raise my kids myself (OMGWTF SO WRONG WRONG WRONG!!!).

    Honestly don't care what other women do or don't choose to do with their lives, so long as they can and do make that choice themselves, and not under pressure from ultraconservative family members or ultra-liberal acquaintances. Guess that makes me a feminist.

    And yeah, sex? Spectacularly good. I guess that makes me sex-positive.

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  15. I love you Holly!

    Not in a creepy internet-stalker way... more like, I see you as a mentor. Finding your blog was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Through reading your posts, I came to understand myself far more than I ever did before, and I'm a much happier person for it. It sounds silly to say so, but you changed my life.

    I hope that someday I can meet you in person and give you a hug (if you're okay with that) and tell you how awesome you are, seriously.

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  16. Great points, especially about sexual freedom. Thanks for writing this!

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  17. Now, what I want to know is... if I declare that I am incredibly turned on by girls with small breasts, sixpacks, short hair, and unshaved legs, does that mean that, because I am a man, women now have to be feminine to counteract my patriarchal demands? Is that how this works?

    I feel like a lot of the arguments against sex positivity tend to fall prey to these sorts of bizarre objections. Interestingly, it does uncover one fact about sex positivity: it is fundamentally more feminist because it does not define itself as an alternative to what men want. It defines itself any damn way it pleases.

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  18. The bit about views where our self-identity is completely constructed by the patriarchy therefore womens agency is undercut rub me the wrong way as well. I think it commits an error in assuming that a particular culture or segment of culture P (patriarchy) has some necessary connection to ALL epistemic practice and that just looks false to me. Even if there is P and P has tons of output it doesn't mean there isn't L, M, O, and Q epistemic communities that are producing bits of culture, knowledge, terms, clothing etc. When I deploy the following terms "butch" "femme" "top" "bottom" "switch" I am pretty confident that many agents in P would not know what I was talking about but in my epistemic community these have traction and use. If I use "switch" to describe myself there is an interplay between constituting and creating my identity but I don't see why I should think this is dependent or lesser than the resources created in P. I mean isn't that why people step away from that system? I can see how an agent in P looking at me in heels is going to read in meaning that dependent upon the epistemic framework created in P. People in my epistemic community do not read the same meaning into my wearing heels.It looks to me when feminists give this privledge (ultimate epistemic authority) to P that they are empowering the thing they were meant to disempower.

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  19. Dear Holly - fully support you in your philosphical viewpoint. As a conservative Christian I may not choose to do the same things you do, but I fully support your respect for others and the questioning of mainstream values.

    I often think about what the Bible actually says/means and what our culture dictates it means. I perceive the people that criticise you are much more conservative and prudish than I. I often wonder why mainstream people and the people that are criticising you focus on sex so much - when there are much bigger issues to address such as unequal distribution of wealth and hence children lacking food and healthcare. Is it that both the conservative prudish people and feminist prudish people are both part of some larger force that draws attention from the really important matters by making a big hoopla about what other people are wearing and doing in private?? I choose to ignore them and encourage enlightened people such as yourself.

    To the lady who felt she needed to shave her body hair to work in an office environment - it's a choice - wear trouser suits (there are nice ones that are smart and modest) and blouses with sleeves. In winter opaque tights hide leg hair and are nice to wear. Boots also hide leg hair and are warm and functional. Additionally I've found make up and jewellery are optional (again I choose not to wear them because of my Christian beliefs). I wear my hair long and pinned up in variations of a bun, but I am sure there is a short cut that is acceptable. Basically I've found one can look groomed (as in neat, clean and self respecting) and acceptably professional without following the dictates of fashion (or others) and going against personal beliefs and standards.

    Thank you Holly for another insightful post ....

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  20. I feel like anti-sex positive femenists are a bit like the goth kids that seem to think that because they are different they are outside the culture that governs Everyone Else and are somehow superior.

    Nope. Not even close. Being self-aware and examining your choices is how you can hope to --not to rise above the culture -- but rather exist peacefully in it without losing sight in what you believe and personal integrity.





    Then again, that entire comment came out of a place that is admittedly, feeling a little superior to the goth kids/anti-sex femenists. :P It's a bit cyclical.

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  21. This is kind of a funny post for me because I used to think I was a sex positive feminist - because I liked sex - but several years ago, I stopped identifying as a sex positive feminist because I started to feel that people were using the label to say that they weren't "one of those" hairy-legged, strident second wave feminists. Who obviously hated sex. And so by defining a feminism that includes loving sex as "sex positive," I was buying into the stereotype that second wave feminists were uptight, prudish man-haters. After all, if I'm sex positive, then they are, by definition, sex negative. And that's obviously bullshit. I've also seen men use the label against women - that once you've declared yourself sex positive, you can't have a problem with porn or not want to do something. You have to be up for anything, down with everything.

    So while I agree with big chunks of what you've written here (I do roll my eyes at the whole 'I choose my choice' thing, but I also readily admit that I am myself a social creature), I haven't called myself a sex positive feminist for a long time. And I'm not going to start again.

    I'm not a sex-positive feminist, but ... ;-)

    Just a feminist.

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  22. Yay commenters, let's piss on those boring-ass feminists and their boring anti-sex beliefs. or...
    Holly, I agree with most of this. However, I think it's right to require people who do call themselves feminist to reflect upon their choices. You usually make excellent argument, so I was kind of disappointment to see you conflate the XOJane argument to mind control, when you yourself has written plenty about socialization and gender policing. C'mon, we all know that if we weren't expected to adhere to certain standards, some women would be freer to care less about makeup and some men to care less about football (the argument could just as well have gone "watch football! Go to Hooters. But never once...") And I think it's important to realize that there are actions, sexual or not, that problematic given our current society and context. Not inherently, never inherently, but *in context*. I color my hair, I wear makeup, I wear almost exclusively dresses, but I make sure to reflect on my choice. Is it worth it? Why? Who decides I look "better" this way? Or, on the topic of sex positivity, I am monogamous. I would never assume that it is just naturally the case, it's part of how I have been socialized and something I am comfortable with, and it's only okay because I realize that it's not an independent choice. And I do feel disdain for people who claim to be feminist and then, to make a real life example, writes a makeup blog where they accuse women who stop wearing lipstick and exfoliating their legs of being depressed and complacent in their relationships. I feel fully justified and revoking their feminist card until they've stopped being idiots. That being said, slutshaming is always bad, for sex-positive people and feminists alike, but that doesn't mean you can't point out the problematic in a situation. Women who work at Hooters? no grudge with them. The fact that Hooters exists? Part of what makes the world rotten *because* it perpetuates the view of women's bodies and commodities to be sold for money regardless of the preference of the woman, and men as brainless, tasteless goofs who only ever care about tits, much more than stuff that's traditionally classified as sex work (and before someone makes the argument that Hooter's servers are free to quit: yes, but I'm pretty sure they're not allowed to skip work randomly because they don't feel like being oogled that night.)

    Long-winded, but TL;DR: if I had to choose, I'd choose feminist before sex positivity if the latter means I can't see certain actions as problematic in given the society we live in right now.

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  23. I was about to make a completely different comment, but I just noticed something interesting. Jess (author of the xoJane piece) is a hot chick. Look at this and tell me she isn't.

    I had assumed she wasn't talking about herself, but maybe she's speaking form experience. Maybe she didn't put that picture up of her own free will. Maybe patriarchy made here do it. Perhaps xoJane (actually Say Media, which of course is run by men) wouldn't pay her to blog unless she she included a sexy picture. Who knows.

    Of course, even if that's true it's still falacious to assume that because she didn't choose it, it couldn't be someone's choice.

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  24. This is going to be long, sorry...
    What Anna with an o said was really nicely put.
    I too agree with everything you said here, Holly, but I still think we shouldn't put down those "are you sure you're quite so free as you think?" arguments so hastily. Because really, there is a pressure to look a certain way and act a certain way, as you've acknowledged so many times in a hilarious and wise way yourself (thanks for that, btw). If a person considers themselves feminist, then one should really question the things they do, and why they do them.

    Ultimately though - nobody should tell other people that they don't have agency or that their choises are not made out of free will - because nobody knows that, nobody ever will. But on the other hand, I don't really believe *any* of us to be able to be so objective in our perspective that we could say someone's choises (or our own choises!) are really choises - or that they aren't. Social structures seem to work that way, obscuring everything. Besides, there is this gray area, where actions are partly influenced by X and partly Y and partly Z and so on.

    --- this part contains personal anectode, feel free to ignore :D ---

    I also can see why some feminist seem so hostile towards "sexy girls", as I've struggled with that attitude myself. I'm not saying this is the reason for the hatred for everybody, but I know there are others like me, too. I think it's about bitterness.
    Where I live, it's kind of normal to bathe in saunas in mixed-sex company - naked. So from a young age, I've seen tons of people naked in a non-sexual situation - also, going to a sauna is probably the most important part of any (student-arranged) party. And being one of those people who absolutely hate waxing and shaving and what-have-you, it's a struggle each time I'm going to a sauna night. Because on one hand I want to shock people, I want to make a statement, I want to show them that hey, not all girls shave, you can't expect that to be the case always. On the other hand, I don't want to be considered ugly or unattractive, I want to be normal and pretty. So what happens in my head during and before these sauna nights, is pretty much this: even if I know it's not the other girls' fault, I feel like they are somehow abandoning a noble cause, that they are being cowards and ruining, well, just about everything by shaving - especially if they've shaved their bush. If only they, too, could be hairy, we could all be considered pretty while hairy as being hairy would be the norm. And at this point I realise I'm being an idiot not wanting to free people of stupid norms but just wanting to replace current norms with ones I happen to be comfortable with. Still, it seems to be something I can't get over. I'm trying my best to not let it show, but still... Difficult!

    - A.A. (blogspot didn't let me use my account to comment, don't know why)

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  25. I want to qualify what I said previously anon 9:03 I in no way want to say that feminists that have outlined problems with patriarchy (MacKinnon for example) or second wave feminists aren't doing something important or real in noting the shaping of culture. I have also seen MacKinnon make some applied arguments that were VERY compelling and force one to think about principled reasons for policy in the face of widespread culture that does not value women. I would also consider her "one of my team" so to speak, even though I have reservations about her view. I just worry because these theories don't seem to outline novel or new contexts and communities that I think are contributing something new to the table. When it is all still considered within patriarchy then it forcloses the possibility for creativity and I think there is a role for that as well and it might be an avenue for change. Take wide-scope anti-porn arguments the idea is something like it objectifies women and is inherently bad. Even if this is true in the culture at large I don't see why my making my own porn to send to my partner while we are seperated geographically is taking up this notion. It seems like I could produce porn and my partner could consume the porn all divorced from a context of patriarchy. You might think this is so b/c porn has a particular history but this seems to be too much. My partner and I have a history of visual experience with one another and I think it inherits more from that than from an automatic objectification.

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  26. What about the criticism of sex positivity's racist refusal to acknowledge the Jezebel stereotype? I'm positive about sex, but unless we white feminists make an active effort not to make the sex positivity movement a feminist thing, not just another White Feminist thing, I'm going to have trouble backing it. There are valid reasons for certain people as a whole to be wary of sex. I'd be much more comfortable with a sexual-choice positivity movement, one that explicitly includes choices in either direction, for either personal, "natural", or cultural reasons (so women who choose femininity because it's not w jjjorth the struggle aren't punished - that phenomenon does make my life more difficult, but those women didn't choose to be backed into a corner).

    I choose to call myself a feminist because I think feminism can move beyond its racism and transphobia. It's a useful label for me, and i want to be part of it as it should be. I don't have that connection with sex positivity. I'm not saying you shouldn't either, and the criticisms of you here are unreasonable and, yes, misogynistic, but i hope you're aware of more than you've written here.

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  27. re: 'can you really make a choice in a society that dictates your thoughts on various matters' - for me it comes down to, how HEALTHY is the choice you're making? you can decide to lose weight because the patriarchy makes you think that skinny is sexy, or because you recognize that for your body, the weight you're carrying is unhealthy, or because you want control over something in your life (see: anorexia), or because your best friend did it and you want to prove you can too, or because it'll make your mom just SHUT UP FINALLY...

    anyway, point being, there are approximately three billion reasons to do anything in the universe, makeup and heels and all that included. so: if a given choice is healthy for a given woman to make (she is authentically happy with it and not endangering herself or others with it), then disapproving of it is douchey. if she is doing it out of internalized patriarchal oppression, or whatever, disapproving is STILL kind of douchey, because who the fuck goes "you're a bad feminist for having an eating disorder/being competitive with your friend/having a weird relationship with your mom/whatever else"? but somehow berating people for BEING INFLUENCED BY THEIR SOCIETY is totally awesome and feminist? express your concern, yes please, but to get angry or look down on people for it... eesh.

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  28. Seriously great post. It'd be nice if the naysayers would actually consider your points, but I'm not holding my breath on that.

    The free will thing - oh they love to use that: Nobody has free will!!

    Ok, but we have WILL. I wish they'd knock it off with the tautology bullshit.

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  29. "That's right; women who are sexy are victims of mind control. You can tell by looking at them. There's no way a woman can choose to wear nail polish or care about celebrities. I know I've been harsh on femininity myself at times (mostly I'm just harsh at the idea of me being feminine), but this goes beyond criticism of femininity. This is a claim that femininity is a symptom of Borg assimilation."

    Enh. Mind control, socialization into a culture, same diff. The first is a label for extremely deviant variations of the second. They're both taking something away from that theoretical ~individual agency~ that we pretend we have, for the sake of these arguments, independent of the patriarchy we've been soaked in since birth.

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  30. PS. Twisty, at least, makes the point several times that she does not have full agency of her own, either. That's exactly why she uses herself as a case study so often.

    Well, that and she's lazy. But point stands!

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  31. I guess what bothers me most is the idea that femininity is inherently an act--that masculinity is the default resting state of any given human being, and that feminine behaviors are somehow artificial by their very nature.

    I mean, of course our ideas of sex and beauty and feminine and masculine are culturally constructed and influenced by the patriarchy. I don't actually see a lot of sex-positive feminists denying that. But I'm really uncomfortable with the way some (NOT all) second-wave feminists feel they have the right to audit the sexuality, dress, interests, and choices of other women. It's one thing to say 'these choices don't happen in a vacuum'; it's something entirely different to say 'if you like these things, it's because you're either ignorant or intentionally sucking up to the patriarchy.'

    Judging women for liking sex and/or dressing girly isn't really appreciably different from judging women for disliking sex and/or flouting gender conventions. You're still passing judgement on a woman for her sexuality and appearance, and that's not a very feminist act, IMO.

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  32. aebhel: "I guess what bothers me most is the idea that femininity is inherently an act--that masculinity is the default resting state of any given human being, and that feminine behaviors are somehow artificial by their very nature."

    THIS THIS A MILLION TIMES THIS.

    I don't think we should shield feminine behaviours from criticism in a general way--"The message that women should bleach their labia is messed up because sex class/patriarchy" is a totally valid and necessary argument, f'rex--but I think it's telling that we don't consider women making an effort to be butch or masculine to be an act or an artificiality in the same way.

    Though as I say in my rants, if you're making the choice to do something that's part of the mainstream, that's a good place to interrogate why the mainstream is what it is and what your personal tradeoff is for doing it.

    *hands* BASICALLY FEMINISM IS HARD OKAY.

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  33. "Sexuality is to feminism what work is to marxism: that which is most one's own, yet most taken away."

    -Catherine MacKinnon

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  34. Hello Holly, I linked the XOJane article in your last comment thread and it was a joy to read your response.

    I really enjoy the XOJane site and although that post wasn't to my taste I encourage anyone to look up Lezley Kinzel's posts on there because she is seven shades of fabulous.

    http://www.xojane.com/author/lesley

    Thanks again for the writing.
    xxx

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  35. Awesome. I'm totally linking this in my sex-positive feminist 101 post. And also everywhere all over the internet.

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  36. Since I'm a guy, obviously I like to encourage sex-pos feminists because I want to get laid/reinforce your brainwashing (I don't know if I do such things because I'm brainwashed myself; the assorted patriarchy-blamers seem to say different things about that at different times). But despite those inevitable male biases of mine, in this case I actually think you're being too hard on the article from XOJane you link to. It's difficult to talk sensibly about issues of freedom and agency (they're hopelessly murky for the most part), so it's not to be expected that someone will always manage to avoid saying anything on the topic that could be misinterpreted. Looking at the post as a whole, I don't really see Jess as claiming that sex-pos feminists are mind-controlled. It looks to me like you're probably being unfair in lumping her in with people like Twisty.

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  37. Found your blog through Feministe, just thought I would shot out and say great post!

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  38. I really love this. I think it's always worthwhile to reflect on why I feel sexier with dyed hair, or why I care about finding clothes that fit my body type- who is it for really? But I still feel I have a right to pursue that which makes me feel good in my skin.

    I have lots of issues with the "sex positive" community however. They need to walk their walk. hopefully we can meet for coffee and chat about it!

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  39. It's hard being a sex-pos man out there.

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  40. I read the metafilter thread and it got me frothing, and a lot of Twisty makes me roll my eyes (although I like reading her occasionally when I'm in the mood to think - lots of time she'll say something that makes me modify my own positions.) But I found myself mostly agreeing with the Choice Feminism Isn't A Choice.

    I was a late blooming, self conscious, frustrated virgin for a while and I felt very much as though I was being shamed for not being a slut, and so while I would call myself sex positive now I don't think that choices are fraught and constrained up and down the spectrum. The patriarchy disapproves if you're a virgin. The patriarchy disapproves if you're a slut. Fuck people who think that telling women people who like sex that they're wrong or stupid or helpless is feminism, but I think that the xojane author is doing something a little more complicated than that.

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  41. Err, I mean that choices *are* fraught and constrained, obviously.

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  42. Posted this to facebook, and got into an argument over pedophilia starting with "If every sexual and gender identity is valid, why is pedophilia wrong?"

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  43. Wow, 'slut' was used a total of 60 times in that Metafilter thread. Daaaaaang.

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  44. @Anon 23/10 - 2:50

    I'd say its because children don't have enough maturity, knowledge and experience to give informed consent to sexual activity.

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  45. I am a sex-positive feminist and am quite happy calling myself one, it's other people's problems if they want to take issue with that.

    (First time commenter; I just spend the last several weeks reading through your archives.)

    I love the work you're doing.

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  46. You know what I get really tired of? The "hot" thing. As if sexual attractiveness was a single sliding scale. Honestly, I don't generally find isolated pictures attractive at all, because the key component in my attraction to somebody is invariably personality. My mental check for "would I like to sleep with this person if the opportunity were there?" is, and has always been, "do I want to put a smile on this person's face?" (with the "by sexual means" implied when I ask myself that, of course).

    So I suppose I'm "friendly-sex-positive" but yet find the whole "hot chick" thing ... not exactly distasteful, merely epically pointless.

    My apologies if this is somewhat tangential to the discussion at hand, it was triggered by your putting up a picture to make a point, and me going "right, and and and and DAMMIT THAT SHOULD NOT EVEN MATTER".

    Anyway. I'll shut up now.

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  47. Is there a single sex positive feminist in the world who can critique radical feminism without straw men and outright lies? I am willing to listen to sex positive theory and consider its critique of radical feminism, really I am. But I have yet to find a single actual critique that is not made entirely of making up something ridiculous, claiming that radfems say it, and then engaging in the simple task of shooting down that straw man.

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  48. Sorry, I just realized I have the same name as the blogger. Just to clarify in case there is any confusion, I'm a different Holly.

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  49. Other Holly - This isn't a critique of radical feminism. This is a defense of sex-positivity. If none of these things apply to you, then awesome! You're doing it right and we don't have to fight.

    If radical feminism really had nothing against me and the way I live my life and write my blog, then why would I want to attack it?

    And I don't know if radical feminism itself (whatever that even consists of) does, but a lot of people calling themselves feminists do seem to have a problem with the way I talk about sexuality.

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  50. First Holly, but the blogs you link to in your post don't say any of those things, either. Sex positive feminism makes me so sad. It's like no one can say that oppression exists, because sex pozzies come in and say that claiming oppression exists is an attack on the oppressed.

    It hurts me, because I dress and behave feminine all the time since I cave into the pressure. Radfems critique the pressure and I feel some sorely needed relief and validation. Then sex pozzies come in and say the pressure doesn't exist, belittle the claim as "mind control," and tell me that the things I do out of fear are just my "choices."

    It's like the feeling of someone standing there watching me get bullied and then saying straight to my face that no bullying occurred.

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  51. Other Holly - sex pozzies come in and say that claiming oppression exists is an attack on the oppressed.
    What what WHAT? I never said this!

    But I do think that declaring, without knowing them, that someone's behaviors are due to oppression and not their choices is an attack on that person. Because although being feminine may be uncomfortable or forced for you (God knows it is for me), for other people it's a genuine part of their identity. And a lot of these criticisms seem to take away the ability for them to have that--they seem to deny that anyone could genuinely desire to look conventionally feminine or have conventional sex.

    Sometimes a woman's appearance and behavior are dictated by her own choices. Sometimes by society. Pretty much always an interaction of the two. But to single out a group of women as extra oppressed because of their appearance and behavior--without respecting the voices of some women in that group--is where I think a lot of criticisms of sex-positivity screw up.

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  52. The idea that Twisty is "sexist" and "counterproductive" is bizarre. The sex-pos group thinks porn and prostitution are okay, which is so obviously anti-feminist I don't know how you can call yourself one. Porn and prostitution are part of sexual freedom for men at the expense of women's freedom.

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  53. Another Holly:

    The issue is respecting women's voices, even when they're saying things you don't agree with.

    If someone tells you that the way you dress is your choice regardless of how you feel about it (and what you might say about it), they're not respecting your voice. By the same token, someone who tells Holly Pervocracy that the way she has sex is not her choice--regardless of how she feels and what she says about it--is not respecting her voice.

    Radfems make a lot of good points about social pressures, and I agree with a great deal of what they say in the abstract. What I don't agree with is the way they feel entitled to override what actual women are saying about their lives whenever it happens to disagree with their philosophy.

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  54. Bushfire:

    The issue with porn is that the industry is rife with misogyny and abuse. I don't see how there's something fundamentally wrong with taping two or more consenting adults having sex, though. Unless you think there's something inherently degrading about sex, which is kind of a sexist attitude in and of itself.

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  55. @Bushfire: How much amateur porn have you encountered? A LOT of the sexism in porn only occurs as part of the mainstream porn industry. As a good example of non-exploitative, happy porn, take a gander at this tumblog: http://sexisnottheenemy.tumblr.com

    As for prostitution, it's quite possible that the only reason it appears in its current form is because of sexism, but without sexism and heterosexism rearing their ugly heads, I would expect male prostitutes to be about as common as female ones. Also, prostitution doesn't have to be demeaning--it's an anti-sex attitude by society that makes it so.

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  56. By the way: When women watch porn, isn't that a form of sexual freedom for women? What about when a man and woman exchange porn to help them express the kinds of things they want to do in bed? What about when a woman is watching gay (male) porn?

    I highly doubt that those things have the same power dynamic as "straight man, ashamed of his porn-viewing habits, so he hides them from his SO as if this were tantamount to cheating on her" OR "straight man, whose wife knows he watches porn but who doesn't involve his wife in his porn-viewing, who then insists that his wife MUST do the things he saw in Big-Breasted Bitches VIII."

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  57. @Anon 23/10 - 2:50

    You should have told them it isn't wrong. It's just putting it into practice with a real child that is very problematic.

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  58. As a feminine woman, while the idea that myself and others like me are brainwashed robots really pisses me off, I still think it's definitely worth considering the influence that society has on our choices, and possibly reconsidering some of our choices. I don't like denying anyone their agency, but I think it's worth questioning why so many women want to be "feminine" and why "femininity" looks the way it does.

    Especially when you consider the fact that, even if you don't buy into the tiniest iota of this 'you must be feminine or you have no worth' bullshit, you probably still live in a society that does. Meaning that a woman may have to choose between being feminine and being ostracized, and if she doesn't want to be ostracized, she has a hard choice to make.

    @Anonymous who is Christian:
    I have an issue with your associating grooming with "self-respect" or professionalism. I think the only kind of grooming that should ever be considered necessary is hygiene. Showing leg hair is not showing disrespect for oneself. Not dressing a certain way is not unprofessional (I realize this goes against the prevailing view, but I disagree with that view.)
    Other than that, though, I think you had a lot of good things to say.

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  59. As a radical feminist who has and enjoys sex and is decidedly NOT a "sex pos" feminist, it strikes me as extremely dishonest for the "sex pos" side to even refer to themselves as such.

    Doing so posits that the "other side" is sex negative or against sex, and that's just not the case.

    It dishonestly and incorrectly frames the entire discussion the way that "pro life" does.

    I don't think there can be much movement forward in this discussion until the "sex pos" find something to call themselves that doesn't imply all kinds of bad things about radical feminists and other kinds of feminists who choose to center their feminism on things other than sex.

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  60. Great post Holly!
    "Interestingly, it does uncover one fact about sex positivity: it is fundamentally more feminist because it does not define itself as an alternative to what men want. It defines itself any damn way it pleases."
    I don't know that I'd say it's fundamentally more feminist, but yes. I have found that acting and thinking in opposition to "what men want" is unnecessarily constraining. These days I concern myself more with what I want rather than how it aligns or doesn't with what amorphous "men" want.
    Similarly, with regard to any sexual act I participate in, I refuse to privilege or adopt the meaning my sexual partner or someone else may attribute to it over the meaning and interpretation I find in it or attribute to it. It feels very freeing to me.

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  61. Anon 5:01 - Well, I don't want you to call yourself "radical feminists," because we're way more radicallyer, so you need to call yourself "badical feminists." C'mon, let's not play that game.

    I don't think we're calling radical feminists sex-negative; we're calling society sex-negative!

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  62. Nor is it the demand that everyone be sexy or have sex. Nor is it the claim that everything that involves sex is beyond criticism. Nor is it the suggestion that sex will fix all the problems of feminism.

    I've run into some feminists who do conflate these things with sex-positivity, though. I'm sure I tend to remember them since I'm asexual and don't like being told there's something wrong with me for not having sex, but I don't think everyone is operating under the same definition.

    When it comes down to it, I don't know if I'm sex-positive or not-- to paraphrase someone else (and I don't remember who), it's because sex isn't a positive act: there's no inherent "goodness" about sex, morally or otherwise. It's a neutral act, and it can be really good, but it can also be really bad. Even when it's "done right" (and that is such a loaded term, but I don't know what else to use), there are people for whom sex will never be a positive thing. And, as I said, not everyone operates on the definition you listed, so it seems like the sex-positivity movement erases people in that way.

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  63. I think the basic problem I have with (some) radical feminism is this: focusing on socialization, and on societal-level/systemic oppression of women is clearly important. BUT applying it to individual women is incredibly problematic, because we are, in fact, complex creatures. The human brain is a vast and amazing blob of tissue, and none of us are predictable.

    So when I hear that, as above, Porn and prostitution are part of sexual freedom for men at the expense of women's freedom--look, are there enormous misogyny (and rape) problems with those industries? Absofuckinglutely. Without question. And wanting to fight against a system that doesn't take sex trafficking seriously, or that makes "Asian Anal Bitches 45" common fare, is a fantastic goal.

    But. That cannot, CANNOT, be applied to individual women by other people. (Or, for that matter, to individual men.) Mistress Matisse is a sex worker, and I think it would be pretty hard to argue that she's oppressed--and if I wanted to argue that, you know what I'd do? I'd EMAIL HER AND ASK. Because I don't think I'm smarter than her, or that I know more about her life and her career than she does. But that's exactly what (many) radical feminists seem to think: that unlike those other women who are blinded by patriarchy, THEY know what's best. That's patronizing, but more importantly, it's sexist and classist as hell.

    When I have an ex-girlfriend who frequently gets off in the privacy of her bedroom while watching gay (male) porn, I find it really hard to see where the argument that porn is "sexual freedom for men at the expense of women's freedom." And sure, like Mistress Matisse, you can argue that the exceptions prove the rule. But that's exactly the point: you don't know who the exceptions are, and it's incredible hubris to claim to. Liberating Matisse* or my ex isn't what they want. And frankly, a lot of other people in less-enviable situations don't necessarily want to be "set free" by someone else's standards, either. There's a reason we're all (as progressives/activists) supposed to step back and let the people on the ground make the decisions, because only the people in the situation fully understand the situation. Everyone else is playing armchair quarterback.

    *I don't know her, or anything; she just seemed like an example people were likely to have heard of, or would be able to easily google.

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  64. I don't think we're calling radical feminists sex-negative; we're calling society sex-negative!

    Yes! And negative to almost all expressions of sexuality. Society hates (to some degree--I don't feel THAT hated as a kinky dyke, but then I don't live in rural Mississippi, ykwim?) BDSMers, queers, asexuals, trans people, people who are celibate for 98% of possible reasons, many people with disabilities who want to have sex, etc, etc, etc. Society is fucked up (and has fucked us all up) with regard to sex.

    But for my money, that's a really good reason for blogs like this--talking about real consent, about healthy communication, about individual desires, about how to feel good about saying either "yes" or "no," about sexist expectations of sex as performance or payment instead of as joy/intimacy/stress relief/health-improvement/hilarity/therapy/time-killing/experimentation/etc, about how sometimes you put off sex to do the laundry and sometimes you put off laundry to have sex.

    Not every blog should be about sex, but ffs, some SHOULD. I really don't support the idea that all the sex bloggers are privilege-dripping people who should shut up and go away so that the people who have different experiences with sex don't have to see them. Diversity of voice is important, and Holly's is a voice that isn't, actually, very common. (Trust me, I've been looking for more like her! As a BDSMer and a feminist, a thoughtful blog that encompasses both AND is funny as hell? Not a common thing.)

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  65. Basically, I like this article. But...

    It's a bit oversimplified. It seems to say that those other blind men who say the elephant is like a leaf are full of it because an elephant is really like a tree.

    The people Holly is apparently arguing against have a good point: first, just because we think we are making a free choice doesn't mean we are -- nobody is truly free of society's brainwashing. Second, our choices affect other people -- choosing to do what we are expected to do and what almost everyone else does strengthens the power of those expectations.

    When someone like Twisty Faster makes those points, I have to agree with them. Where I can't agree is in her implication that one ought to renounce everything that society tells you you ought to want or do. From what I can see, the Twisty Faster life isn't anything I'd envy.

    Yet, I agree with Holly that it is the height of arrogance to assume that women who make choices that you don't agree with are simply being willing or unwitting tools of Teh Patriarchy. I would go even further: even if a woman _is_ being a "tool of patriarchy," it is unfair to stigmatize her for doing so, unless we truly understand the position she finds herself in. Which we almost never do.

    I won't count myself a supporter the "Sex Positive Feminism" for pretty much the same reason I won't count myself a supporter of the other side ("Sex Negative"? "Radical Feminism"? what does one call it?) I'm not prepared to give up the wisdom in either side.

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  67. Previous post removed because I'm willing to entertain discussion, not flagrant "WHAT ABOUT TEH MENZ, WOULD YOU MAKE TEH MENZ HAVE TO TOLERATE SLUTS" misogyny.

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  69. I just noticed that Jess (author of the xoJane piece) is a "hot chick" herself, as clearly seen in this profile pic. Make of that what you will.

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  70. I dunno, all I can really see in the profile pic is that at least sometimes she wears makeup and frilly tops. I don't want to deduce her entire personal appearance, much less how she feels about it, from one picture.

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  71. "Well, I don't want you to call yourself "radical feminists," because we're way more radicallyer, so you need to call yourself "badical feminists." C'mon, let's not play that game."


    If the word "radical" dishonestly framed the conversation in a way that "badical" didn't, and "badical" could get the same point across, and the reasons why were logically presented to me in good faith, I may, indeed, be forced to consider calling myself "badical." I can't promise I would do so without busting into badly executed Michael Jackson style dance movements, however.

    "I don't think we're calling radical feminists sex-negative; we're calling society sex-negative! "

    Well OK maybe YOU aren't, but you can't "no true scotsman" your way out of this. I, personally, have been labeled "sex neg" by "sex pos" feminists and there's all kinds of rhetoric on the feminist blogosphere that demonstrates that at least some "sex pos" feminists say some pretty insulting things about feminists of other stripes, or even just people who don't partake of the full spread that the all-you-can-eat-banquet of sex has to offer. Apparently, to some "sex pos" feminists, not wanting to invite another woman into bed in my monogamous sexual relationship with my boyfriend means he "may as well leave me now" or that I "obviously have major issues."

    I can admit that I've seen some unfair and wrong stuff thrown at "sex pos" feminists. But it definitely, definitely does the other way, as well. Quite obviously positing "sex pos" as being opposed to other kinds of feminism is part of it, and it's not JUST a reaction to the "sex negativity" in society.

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  72. Is it "no true Scotsman" to at least say that those were crappy sex-positive feminists that you talked to?

    I think it's sex-positive to be able to define your personal boundaries any way you want, or at least it's what I believe in, whether I'm using the specific phrase "sex-positive" or not.

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  73. My experience with sex-positive feminism has been mostly negative. People I've seen present themselves as sex-positive tend to fall into one or more categories:

    1: “I'm not one of those ugly man-hating lesbos, I'm cool and sexy!”

    2: “The real battle for female gender-equality is to make it acceptable for women to do all the things feminism has deemed oppressive. When all forms of feminism except mine has been eradicated, women will be truly empowered.”

    3: “Female sexuality=sex work. Doing what a man tells you to do in order to please him sexually is the most authentic form of female sexuality, that's why most women have to be paid to engage in it.”

    4: “The pressure on girls to be dowdy and asexual, and to totally NOT look like all the popular female popstars on TV, is overwhelming, and we as feminists should focus our attention on that.”

    5: “Muslim women are often forced or pressured into wearing less revealing clothes, this means sexy and revealing clothes are empowering.”


    There are exceptions of course, but I'm not sure I've communicated with anyone who was more sex-negative than those who talk about empowering women sexually. It's ironic that Mistress Matisse was mentioned as someone who wasn't oppressed, because Bitchy Jones has made some pretty pointy remarks about how MM helps marginalise dominant women by presenting their sexuality as a job. It's not that MM herself is oppressed, but from the little I've seen of her, the real criticism should rather be that she's oppressing others.

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  74. AB - I won't deny there are people in sex-positive feminism who, er, haven't thought all of it the whole way through. (I've been one of them. Probably still am, sort of.)

    But at the same time I think it's baby-with-the-bathwater to say that sex-positivity itself is wrong because of these things. The basic idea that people should be free to shape their own sexuality stands.

    Ignoring the various charges of Hooters-bot-dom, the one thing you said that really concerns me is "Female sexuality=sex work," because I hear that from the anti-sex-positive side even more--the idea that a woman couldn't enjoy certain acts so she must be doing them to please men. It's a frustrating charge to defend against (especially when it gets into the "you're only defending that act to please men" headgame), and it's one that really erases a lot of women's experiences.

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  75. the idea that a woman couldn't enjoy certain acts so she must be doing them to please men.

    I find this particularly frustrating and erasing as a lesbian, I have to say. Most of the time I just sort of grimace and walk on by, but this discussion has stirred up a lot of it, and it really does just make me see red.

    95% of the time, when het people talk about het things, I don't feel ignored or erased; they just aren't talking about me, and that's okay. I don't actually need to be the focus of every discussion about sexuality. But when people are putting down other aspects of my sexuality--like the way people so often go after kink, especially submissive or masochistic women, from this "only ever really for men" perspective--it starts to really bug. If they're saying you only like these things because men expect/want it from women, that's when I start to seriously think, "um, hello? Did you guys forget I exist? And also gay men? ::waves::"

    It's often frustrating to be the asterisk at the end of something ("lesbians don't count, because whatever!") but it's 1000x worse when it's at the end of something that's dismissing my agency or my identity in some other way, too.

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  76. They WERE crappy sex pos feminists, Holly, but my point is that they aren't so far outside the limits of what is acceptable to other sex pos feminists that they don't count. In fact, I'm not sure that they are outside the bounds of acceptability at all considering how rarely I see any acknowledgment of the problem to begin with.

    Just like transphobia is a problem within radical feminism that radical feminists must deal with, even though transphobia is not inherent to radical feminism, there are some issues with sex pos feminism that it's up to sex pos feminists to fix.

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  78. Holly, I think the reason my focus is where it is (i.e. that I'm more critical towards sex-positive feminism than radical feminism) is that I don't belong to an American feminist/MRA subculture. I don't spend as much of my time surfing various feminists blogs, I experience more of mainstream culture. It's not a huge issue for me that some people on a blog dedicated to a specific ideology says something objectionable, it has a more direct effect on me when I encounter those attitudes outside those spaces.

    Sex-positive feminism is often very focussed on combating a form of feminism (extreme sex-negative radical feminism) which is already marginalised and ridiculed in many contexts. In return, they often end up supporting other negative attitudes which are much more commonly accepted, especially among progressives. So sex-positive feminism ends up having a much more negative effect on me than the form of radical feminism which I largely encounter when someone links to it to ridicule and attack it.

    I also think the tendency to attribute whatever a woman does to please a man to her own sexuality is a much more disturbing trend. I first noticed it when I observed a message board discussion about hot women, and a guy casually referred to them as 'female sexuality', as if he had the right to make that judgement. And I realised this is extremely common.

    I read an interview with the director of Sucker Punch who commented on the stripperriffic outfits of the protagonists, and explained how they made sense in the story. That was OK, but then he went on to talk about how they ended up being empowered by their sexuality. The problem here is that the movie does not contain any female sexuality. The girls are locked up and sexually abused, but I don't recall a single one of them ever showing any sexual desire. I'm sort of OK with excuses about how the stripperrif outfits were a way for the girls to take control of a symbol of their oppression, but disturbs me that the director can't distinguish between looking like a fantasy stripper and expressing sexuality.

    I've heard a former prostitute describe her job as renting out her body for men to masturbate inside. Her sexuality is not a part of it. But listening to sex-positive feminists, one would think every single sex worker who isn't forced into the job is just expressing her sexuality. I've seen a woman who did porn honestly say that it didn't have anything to do with feeling good, and that any sexual pleasure she got from it was purely incidental. But for a lot of people, porn=sex.

    I saw some episodes of America's Next Top Model (for much the same reason you read Cosmo), and one of the girls was Somali and had had her outer genitalia cut off, and said that she didn't want sex and planned on never having it. But she's still required to strut her ass when the picture needed to be sexy, and anyone who remarks negatively on one of her photos risks getting accused of not wanting girls to express their sexual sides. Don't get me wrong, she can express herself as much as she wants, but people insisting that her expression is an issue of (her) sexuality are doing more harm than good.

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  79. Sorry for the long post, but this is an old wound for me.

    I have a lot of problems with my own sexuality. It's hard for me to find things I enjoy, to get sexually aroused with my boyfriend, and to be physically capable of intercourse without pain. And I would love to be more horny and have more sexual experiences, but I don't have a clue of where to start. I know some erotic material for women (and gay men) can get me aroused, but there aren't a lot of it. I know I can experience physical pleasure from oral sex and certain kinds of masturbation, but I'm unsure of where to go next.

    I've never been in an environment where sexuality was centred on someone like me (i.e. a female who's not automatically able to derive sexual pleasure solely from being thought of as sexy), not even a sub-culture, and I'm constantly trying to figure out why something arouses me and something else doesn't. And if there's one place I know not to look, it's the places where people are constantly raving about how awesomely empowering it is that women can be sex workers. I could get more help with my sexual issues at the Spearhead.

    To me, the conflation of sex work with sexuality and desire is toxic. To read about sex in the hopes of expanding your horizon only to find the 358th advice on how to give a good blowjob (I'm already excellent at it, the problem is I do it out of duty), but not a single one about where to find things like good porn for women, is just rubbing salt in an already sore wound. Having someone like Mistress Matisse, an expert in giving customers what they want, be your 'expert' on BDSM is really just a way of telling that your sexuality is primarily about getting someone else off. It makes me cry and feel even less sexually empowered than before.

    Sex-positive feminism is primarily for three groups of people. Kinksters and queers (no offence intended) who already have an established sexuality and want more opportunities to express it, female sex workers, and straight men who want to visit female sex workers and see more images of naked women. And I'm not even sure about the sex-worker thing, since I could imagine a good deal of them don't see themselves as expressing any authentic sexuality the way sex-positive feminists often frame it. I can't use it for anything, and yet I'm supposed to see it the movement which is working help my sexuality to flourish rather of quenching it, even though it most often feels like the latter.

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  80. AB - Sex-positive feminism is often very focussed on combating a form of feminism (extreme sex-negative radical feminism) which is already marginalised and ridiculed in many contexts.
    I'm much more interested in combating prevailing societal attitudes. I really don't spend that much time on intra-feminist wars.

    I also think the tendency to attribute whatever a woman does to please a man to her own sexuality is a much more disturbing trend.
    But some of it is her own sexuality. Not all, but some of the things women do to please men are ALSO things they like doing. If you're heterosexual there's going to be an overlap.

    And it's extremely frustrating when I'm doing something I want to be doing and to be told that my desire isn't authentic or it isn't mine or even that it's antifeminist because my desires include pleasing a male partner.

    I've heard a former prostitute describe her job as renting out her body for men to masturbate inside.
    And I've heard a former prostitute describe her job as having enjoyable sex and getting paid at the end.

    I think they were both telling the truth. I don't want to erase either voice there. I think that the common thread is whether they felt they had control of their own sexuality, and that you can't do that without coming to understand and accept your own sexuality.

    Which may not be a man-pleasing-centric sexuality! That's not mandatory, oh my God is it not! But a sexuality that is man-pleasing-centric (or, more often, one that looks that way) shouldn't be discounted. I'm really, really uncomfortable with the "no woman could really want that, so she must be coerced into it one way or another" attitude that attaches itself to certain acts. You can't know that.

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  81. a female who's not automatically able to derive sexual pleasure solely from being thought of as sexy
    Me neither. I have a clitoris.

    Seriously, I'm not the Hooters-bot you want me to be.

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  82. Holly- “I'm much more interested in combating prevailing societal attitudes. I really don't spend that much time on intra-feminist wars.”

    I know, which is why I read your blog. But you yourself has drawn more attention to the ways sex-positive feminism is in conflict radical feminism in your post, than to all the ways it conflicts with mainstream culture.

    “And I've heard a former prostitute describe her job as having enjoyable sex and getting paid at the end.

    I think they were both telling the truth. I don't want to erase either voice there. I think that the common thread is whether they felt they had control of their own sexuality, and that you can't do that without coming to understand and accept your own sexuality.”

    My issue is not whether they have or not, it's whether it's fair to categorise what they do as reflecting their sexuality. I'm sure there are waiters who honestly like waiting on people, but I'm equally sure there are lots of them who do it because it's their job. And just like I wouldn't judge the potential subservience of a waiter on his or her job, I don't think it's always fair to confuse sex workers' job with their sexuality, even though they can overlap.

    And neither do I think it's necessarily a good idea to hold sex workers up as an automatic authority on the subject of sex for pleasure (like with Mistress Matisse). I was over 20 before I realised how important pleasure was for my sexuality, and how many things I could actually find hot (like guys having sex), but I had been performing sexiness a long time before that.

    I can see on that study so frequently cited about why women are less into one-night stands that their major reason is simply that they expect to get less pleasure out of it. So pleasure seems to be a very, very important component in sex (almost as if it could be the main purpose ;-), and based on personal experiences, it's quite possible that a lot of it can be learned, or at least encouraged.

    For some people, learning what they like and don't like takes time, and it's a delicate balance between trying new things to see if they become pleasurable, while at the same time not pushing yourself so hard you end up with negative associations blocking your pleasure. And when you finally figure something out, it's not always an acceptable thing to ask for, and you're being selfish or difficult for asking for 'more' than what commonly constitutes sex. I think a lot of women could use help with that, but if there are sex workers able to help them, I sometimes wonder if it wouldn't be the ones who actually had female clients.

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  83. I agree with AB's point about how radical feminism is heavily marginalized already (and not just because she obviously has cool initials). It makes me feel guilty about mocking Twisty in my earlier comment. I read "I Blame the Patriarchy" and a few other radical blogs (that isn't even the most radical) because they sometimes have interesting insights and perspectives. Some of their views seem crazy to me, to be sure, but it's not as if anybody is trying to put their crazy views into practice (except in those cases where their crazy views align with those of a more powerful faction, and in those cases the more powerful faction is surely the real problem). Indeed, the radicals themselves usually seem much less interested in trying to put ideas into practice than in just talking about them, and I'm all for talking about any ideas whatever.

    Still, just because I'm not easily offended by the nasty things they say about men like me doesn't mean nobody else should be offended by anything that they say about anyone; I don't mean to be dismissing the experiences of anyone who finds some of their rhetoric more troubling or their ideas more threatening than I do. Or at least I don't mean to be dismissing the experiences of most such people; tolerance of extreme intolerance is an incoherent position, so I don't mind dismissing the experiences of, say, MRAs.

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  84. And neither do I think it's necessarily a good idea to hold sex workers up as an automatic authority on the subject of sex for pleasure (like with Mistress Matisse).

    Okay, since you KEEP referencing this, I was the one who mentioned her, not Holly. And it was just a tossed-off mention of someone who doesn't seem very oppressed (and ftr, she writes and speaks about her personal sex life as well as her professional one, so if you want to go check out what she's actually said on the topic, you can do that).

    Here's what I'm not understanding: who, exactly, suggested that we should hold sex workers up as authorities? And I don't at all see how sex workers intersect with your points about learning about one's own sexuality. Did someone suggest that sex workers should be involved in that process? Because if they did, I didn't see it.

    In fact, sex-positive blogs like this one help women to learn more about their own sexuality so that one can break free of the default expectations of the patriarchy ("be model-skinny, mostly naked except when we call you a slut and make you cover up, give head-twisting performative blowjobs, always be available for sex but never actually want it, get waxed"). I mean, the average post on this blog seems to me to be about understanding and communicating one's personal interests (and disinterests). That's a huge part of what sex-positive blogging does. So--am I missing something? Because you seem to be arguing against sex-positive blogging while talking about how we need more of exactly the thing sex-positive blogs do best.

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  85. @ AB,

    2 thoughts, in 2 posts

    I think your point about women behaving "sexily" being coded as "expressing their sexuality" is very well taken. Since women are often seen as sex objects in our society, this seems to me to act as a way to excuse our fucked up beliefs about women's bodies as commodities for viewing pleasure. If a women can only experience pleasure by being seen, then there is no room for her to act, and that is fucked up.

    The thing is, for some people, being seen is part of their sexuality. I personally enjoy walking around and knowing that I feel confident in my skin, and that some of the people that I encounter will think I am attractive (as long as they are respectful in thinking I am attractive. I have better things to do than be street harassed).

    The question is, how to allow intentional displays of "sexiness" to be part of the spectrum of human sexuality, instead of the only acceptable way for women to be sexual? This includes understanding that women are not displaying sexiness all the time (sometimes we just want to go to work). It also means helping men (esp straight men) to feel comfortable in flaunting as well.

    Not sure what the solution is, but it's a complicated problem.

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  86. 2nd thought:

    When you were talking about your struggles with figuring out your sexuality, that really struck a chord for me. It's not right that there wasn't information out there/ people don't feel comfortable being open about their desires that you could easily find resources to help you think about what turns you on.

    I think that the radical work that sex-positive feminism can do (which Holly does so. freaking. well) is not only to say, "sex is good yay!" but rather, "Sexuality is good. Here are a million different ways for you to express your sexuality (including by being asexual, obvs). They are all right and good and fuck the patriarchy for giving us such a narrow view of sex." All of this while keeping in mind that the patriarchial view of sex is ONE way of expressing sexuality, but that there are a million and five other ways that are valid and exciting and wonderful.

    We sex-positive feminists need, I think, to be in the sex education business, in terms of sharing our experiences of sexuality and helping others to feel joy and meaning at whatever way they want to express theirs.

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  87. Addendum: this also means that we as a society become comfortable seeing old people, and disabled people, and people of color, and queer people, and trans people, and and and and... as sexual beings (sometimes!) who can be desired and desirable, and that is also awesome!

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  88. I only skimmed the comments, so apologies if this is redundant, but I really want to talk about how sexy and sexual are two different things. I have a body that fits, more or less, into cultural molds. Big boobs, full hips, and a comparatively small waist. I'm conventionally pretty and a wear makeup. I don't wear clothing that hides my body's natural shape. I often get attention for all these things combined.

    And it makes me deeply uncomfortable.

    I wear the makeup because I like it. I dress in clothing that I feel comfortable wearing. It is not my problem that some men find me sexy. At least it shouldn't be. I have zero desire to be sexual with the vast majority of people and the fact that I exist in public does not mean that my body exists for public consumption.

    I realize that there is a lot of privilege in being "culturally approved of" when it comes to looks, but it's degrading to be sexualized by strangers. (Sidenote: I really love dressing up in "sexy" lingerie - for my partner, because I know he appreciates far more than how I look.)

    All of this is why I love sex positive feminism (and this post).

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  89. This kind of thing is why I hate labels so much. It's amazing how much time an be spent arguing over them. Obviously they can be very convenient, but I sometimes wonder if they don't cause more grief in the long run than they help.

    P.S. I do apologize for posting essentially the same thing twice earlier, I was having some technical difficulties and honestly thought my browser ate the first one.

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  90. [...] a form of feminism (extreme sex-negative radical feminism) which is already marginalised and ridiculed in many contexts.

    I feel this is trying to immunize a particular political position from criticism.

    Unlike being, say, queer, or black, or a woman, radical, sex-positive, or indeed any other form of feminism,
    are political positions. And as political positions they need need to be argued for and the arguments supporting them must be convincing and stand on their own merits.

    There are quite a few political positions out there that I'm sure most commenters here would agree that they are quite rightfully marginalized, because they are bad.

    The converse isn't necessarily true. Being marginalized does not mean that radical feminism must automatically be bad. But as with any political position it doesn't mean it must be exempt from criticism, either.

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  91. Well, as a trans male person who engages in BDSM, sex-positive people have made me cry with their posts before, while Twisty Faster has failed to inspire any negative emotion.

    Sex positivists include Annie Sprinkle, who authored a disgusting, fetishizing piece of tranny-porn and BRAGS about it. Includes Susie Bright, who makes grand sweeping generalizations about anorexia and sexuality that run exactly counter to my experiences. Even the people I don't mind reading who ID as sex-poz, like May May and Bitchy Jones, have pissed me off more times than any radfem has.

    I have found that in their attempts to celebrate sexuality, the words of so-called sex-positives have managed somehow to obscure, undermine and shame me about the way I feel about my sexuality. Despite their best efforts (and I can tell they are making an effort... maybe that's what's so depressing, that they are trying, but still failing miserably).

    Meanwhile, all Twisty and her ilk have said is "BDSM inherently begets patriarchy, but do it anyway if you have to", which, since in her view EVERYTHING begets patriarchy, is hardly something to cry about. I don't mind acknowledging the truth: that every action one can possibly take causes suffering on some level. Including my sexytimes. That's far more palatable than some dreadful woman degrading my sexuality in the name of raising it up.

    inb4 someone accuses me of being some straight vanilla woman making my identity up to sound more legit or some bullshit like that

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  92. Although I am pretty much as conventional and vanilla as they come, I have massive problems with the fact that it is presented as the only acceptable option by the patriarchy.

    The confusion I have with radical feminism is that it seems to boil down to "Put sex and femininity on the backburner until THE REVOLUTION has come. Once everyone is free and we can be sure its not hurting anyone, then we can think about it. Maybe."

    I'm not sure if the implication is supposed to be that if patriarchy ceased to exist, that no one would want those things anyway. Also, there seems to be an idea that its possible to build a world where people are entirely free and aren't influenced by anything. Society as it is is obviously limited in what is offered to people as acceptable, but no one is ever going to grow up in a vacuum. My decisions are always going to be influenced by something, patriarchy or otherwise.

    Please correct me if that is an overly simplistic view.

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  93. Just discovered you through avflox's Google+ stream and so glad she chose to share this AWESOME post.

    Thanks so much for writing this. It will be a great resource the next time someone tries to knock me for being sex positive and feminist.

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  94. Like my legs, this is spreadin'!

    OK. Sorry. That was lame.

    Regardless. Skye sent me over here to read this (hence the 'spreading' thing). And I love it. And I am glad to see I'm not the only one.

    First of all, I like sex. I also like to feel sexy. And, woah here's a newsflash, I'm chill with some other lady not wanting to feel sexy and not really all that into sex. Or whatnot. That is part-of THE POINT.

    Look. If I can't be all sexified when I want to because it's not really me talking, then what *should* I be? Yes, please, explain to me what a Good Feminist looks like. Because YOU telling me what to do is SO MUCH BETTER than the Patriarchy telling me what to do.

    Furthermore. Sex-positivity. If this culture were wayyyyyyyy more ok with the fact that we are ALL sexual beings (not just the ladies, people!) and, if we wanted, could ALL enjoy feeling sexy and having sex WHEN WE WANTED AND ON OUR OWN TERMS AND WITH ALL THOSE ENTHUSIASTIC CONSENTS what a world that would be. It's not just about Ladiez Be Whoring Themselves For Menz! it be about Ladies And Gentlemen, Exercise Your Given Sexuality As You Like. Because, if we'd really prefer to pay attention to the evolutionary evidence, and our own impulses, and our own brains, and not what Society/the Patriarchy says is ok, then we'd be more apt to realize we are ALL sexual beings. Maybe then we'd calm the fuck down and we'd really be getting somewhere.

    And it would be liberating to not just women, but would also free men from the constrained societally-defined roles they are conditioned to remain in, as well. Or have we forgotten that part? And that isn't just about allowing them to BE sexual beings who can ALSO handle their sex too, but removing from them the idea that Oh, Sorry - you are too Slow, Dimwitted, Misogynistic, and really deep-down Violent to handle a sexy woman. I mean, isn't that why we want to hide sexy ladies? Because the Menz can't handle it? Or because the Menz only like us that way and don't care about our brains or our wit?

    Really? Bigger picture here, peeps.

    Thanks for an AWESOME post! I will be back! :D

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  95. i don't see Jess's xoJane post as trying to have it both ways but rather as observing that it IS both ways. We do have agency, but not in a vacuum.

    flightless

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  96. I was raised by a second wave feminist prude. Really. Becoming sex positive was a big step for me- it's part of why I went to college to become a sex educator. My mom is just beautiful. Petite, fit, doesn't dress in a particularly trendy (or even flattering) way, and even now that she's in her fifties and her hair is graying, gets hit on all the time, including by much younger men. She has lovely skin and naturally perfect eyebrows and thick, dark eyelashes, so she doesn't (even need to) wear makeup. None of this matters- she still is very appealing to men. I think perhaps because of this, because of the fact that she never tried to be sexy and still got all this attention, she thought that women who do try to be "hot" are just attention seeking. When I was in my teens, she told me she'd rather see me doing hard drugs than having sex. She told me I looked like a slut because I'd been making out with my boyfriend. So now, even though I am now monogamous, I think reveling in our sluttiness is great, that the mentality of modesty is the same one that leads to burqas, and that my daughter (once through puberty, obvs) is never afraid to let her parents know that she has had sex.

    I guess what I'm getting at is, thank you.

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  97. Absolutely!! Of course we're all somehow influenced by the surrounding culture and of course it's good to be aware of the social currents that inform one's choices, but avoiding being oneself just to go against the current is flat out immature. I live in a very sex-positive feminist part of the internet, so I'm usually quite astonished to hear that this kind of sex-negative feminism still exists, and it annoys me because it feeds into the negative cliché of feminism that is still so prominent in society...

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  98. Agree with what DFL said earlier. Some commenters have suggested it's mean to pick on radical feminism because it's already "ridiculed and marginalized." It is always completely unacceptable to marginalize a group of people (based on race, gender, sexuality, or anything else). The same doesn't apply to groups of opinions. Beliefs and opinions make referential claims about the outside world. If those claims seem notably false, it's okay to ridicule them or view them as fringe-y. Yes, even if they're "already" marginalized. For instance, it's okay to mock anti-vaccination activists, even though they're already not mainstream. And even if they otherwise agree with you on many important issues. Most anti-vaxxers are left-wing environmentalists, but I don't think I have any special responsibility to avoid mocking them, because they're my allies.

    I feel the same way about radical feminism. Some examples of claims I've seen on Twisty's blog that strike me as false, sexist and harmful: That men can't be feminists, that men shouldn't express their opinions on feminism because it'll automatically come out sexist, that it can't ever be liberating to talk or write about sex so you shouldn't try.

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  99. "Some of their views seem crazy to me, to be sure, but it's not as if anybody is trying to put their crazy views into practice (except in those cases where their crazy views align with those of a more powerful faction, and in those cases the more powerful faction is surely the real problem)." I dunno about this, either. I don't think an idea becomes acceptable just because those who hold it aren't powerful enough (or interested enough in effecting change) to put it into practice. I have serious problems with "men can never be feminists" and "straight men's sexuality is always harmful to women" even if no one ever finds a way to oppress men with them. They're still bigoted, patronizing toward straight women, and plain ol' inaccurate.

    And, I didn't really mean to spend so much time sniping at radical feminism. I think it's okay to have debate within feminism -- "feminist" ideas don't deserve any special immunity from substantive criticism. That said, the "sex-positive" in s.p. feminism should be taken to mean that mainstream society itself isn't at all sex-positive, not that "we" think we're better than other factions.

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  100. This is Sarah J/Ellie over at Manbooz--I haven't said thanks for the post yet, Holly, so...thanks. And radfems: if the way you arguing reminds me of the fundamentalist Christians I used to attend church with, you might want to reexamine a few things. That's all.

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  101. Okay I made an inappropriate joke earlier and it was removed. Let me try to be more serious and thoughtful this time.

    I just want to say we men have a much more difficult time with body acceptance than women do. Ask the average man if he "feels sexy" and chances are he'll either play along jokingly or he'll be weirded out by the question.

    In our culture sexiness is mostly produced by women and mostly consumed by men. No wonder so many feminists see it as something patriarchal. It's all geared toward the male gaze. What about the female gaze?

    Until society starts paying closer attention to the male body and more men become sexualized, you'll never have gender equality. And sexiness will always be this one-sided thing where women are the objects.

    Or we could just de-sexualize more women and that's what radical feminism seems to want to do.

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  102. "Until society starts paying closer attention to the male body and more men become sexualized, you'll never have gender equality. And sexiness will always be this one-sided thing where women are the objects.

    Or we could just de-sexualize more women and that's what radical feminism seems to want to do."

    I think men are becoming more sexualized, which I never wanted to happen. But maybe humans in general are so fascinated with sex that equality can only come from objectifying men as much as women rather than trying to stop objectification.

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  103. Emily

    “Agree with what DFL said earlier. Some commenters have suggested it's mean to pick on radical feminism because it's already "ridiculed and marginalized." …. it's okay to ridicule them or view them as fringe-y. Yes, even if they're "already" marginalized.”

    I think you misunderstand. It's not mean towards radical feminists, it's mean towards every single feminist, or woman who gets labelled feminist with or without her consent, who isn't privileged enough to set the tone for the debate. The problem for a lot of people, women especially, is that the stigma against feminism and the stereotype of the feminazi is used to ridicule and shut them down, even if they're not radical at all.

    In my experience, sex-positive feminists often have it easy compared to other people discussing equality from a feminist perspective. When I argue that it should be OK for women to go topless at beaches, I'm usually considered to be quirky and harmless at worst, and cool, sexy, edgy, liberated, politically incorrect, and dozens of other good things at best. If I say that the extreme focus on female butt-cracks is part of what turns me off superhero comics, I'm considered ridiculous and jealous at best, and a threat to freedom everywhere at worst. When I soften it up by mentioning all the other sexual material I like, the critique often softens too.

    Being sexy and talking about sexual issues gives you a privileged position in regards to many progressives, and since staunch conservatives aren't likely to be sympathetic to feminist issues either way, that's the position which counts. When sex-positive feminists use that privilege to bash other forms of feminism, it's those of us who focus on something other than sex who pay the price.

    When the kind of feminists Rush Limbaugh always portrays are given this huge amount of attention, held up as a problem bigger than the Vatican and the architects of the Bush administration combined, and made out to be such a large part of feminism that anyone wanting to discuss women's rights have to place their focus on criticising it yet again, it's rarely the sex-positive feminists who're called feminazis as a result, it's everybody else.

    Most people's impressions of feminism, what is acceptable to say about it, and which people it is acceptable to bash for being feminist, are not based on what actual 'feminazis' do, it's based on how it's talked about and portrayed in the media. When sex-positive feminists define themselves first and foremost in opposition to other feminists, it creates this impression that they see feminism itself as a bigger problem than sexism, and that every feminist who isn't them is sex-negative and prudish.

    I guess sex-positive feminists want to see themselves as the people who disprove the negative prejudices about feminism, but they're rarely going about it by promoting their own brand of feminism and just not back up the parts they consider harmful, they instead appear to focus on telling everybody about the horrors of feminism and how special they are for not being part of it. Even Holly, who's a very moderate sex-positive feminist compared to what I've often encountered, sometimes manage to portray the whole thing as being mostly about how we really need to stick it to the feminazis. Again.

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  104. Other Anon -"i don't see Jess's xoJane post as trying to have it both ways but rather as observing that it IS both ways. We do have agency, but not in a vacuum."

    YES! This is the point I was trying to make earlier in another comment. Even if a woman doesn't personally buy into a single iota of the crap that society tells her about her sexuality and what it should look like and how she should act, she still lives with a choice between doing what she's 'supposed' to do and a whole range of possible negative consequences.

    I also really don't like the idea that going against the norm is immature or bad. There are a lot of norms that need to be challenged, and someone who's doing so is probably not just "trying to be different." If they are trying to be different, it's probably because that's part of the point they are trying to make, or because they believe it's the right thing to do. It is not an act of immaturity.

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  105. I didn't interpret this post as an attack on radical feminists. Holly was very specific with her points. They are legitimate points. You talk about sex-positive feminists as if we're taking the easy way out and that's a really offensive implication. It's difficult to talk about sexuality. It's especially difficult for some of us, thanks to religious or cultural backgrounds. I really think you're attacking a strawman here, AB.

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  106. Anon 6:18-
    "I just want to say we men have a much more difficult time with body acceptance than women do. Ask the average man if he "feels sexy" and chances are he'll either play along jokingly or he'll be weirded out by the question."

    Now, I'm not in any way going to argue against the idea that men can and do have a difficult time with body acceptance, or what you said about the production and consumption of sexiness. But I'd just like to point out that body acceptance is often about a lot more than how sexy one feels. That's a big component, sure, but not all. I have serious issues with accepting my body, but when I look at it and think that I hate what I see, I'm very often not thinking about how sexy I might look. When I want to change my appearance, it's not always so that I'm more sexually appealing.

    (Forgive me if I'm just explaining something you already know. I just thought I should bring the point up, since it seems to be missing from a lot of discussions on body acceptance.)

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  107. AB-

    Maybe it's just because I currently spend more time in sex-positive feminist circles than radical feminist ones, but I do see sex-positive feminists doing a lot to combat certain types of sexism and promoting their ideas, rather than attacking other kinds of feminists. Maybe I haven't come across all of the bad things that are out there, maybe I just stick to reading things by particularly reasonable people, I don't know. I do agree that there is some attacking going on and that it can be a problem, but I think that there's a lot more productivity and well-intentioned discussion than you seem to think.

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  108. AB said: "...staunch conservatives aren't likely to be sympathetic to feminist issues either way..."

    You must not be familiar with the wildly powerful and influential alliance between conservatives and radical feminists focused on fighting harm reduction efforts aimed at women in prostitution.

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  109. Anthonybsusan:

    “I didn't interpret this post as an attack on radical feminists. Holly was very specific with her points. They are legitimate points.”

    I didn't say they weren't legitimate points. I said that sex-positive feminism was often focussed on combating a certain other form of feminism, which Holly said was not in her interest. I don't care about the points, I'm commenting on why, among all the many forms of sex-negativity prevalent in society, sex-positive feminists choose to focus the majority of their well-reasoned arguments on why radical feminism is wrong.

    “You talk about sex-positive feminists as if we're taking the easy way out and that's a really offensive implication.”

    Considering the name sex-positive feminists chose for themselves, and the sheer amount of contempt it implies for other people's sexuality, I think the least they could do was to not nitpick about the potential offensive implications they read into other people's words.

    I think sex-positive feminists are privileged because their chosen focus is a lot more glamorous and easier to understand for a lot of anti-feminists, and I think their focus on how much they're wronged (mostly by radical feminists) have blinded a lot of them to that privilege.

    When they make the choice to promote the feminazi stereotype, by focussing on the feminists who embody that stereotype as their major opponent, their privilege protects them from a lot of the consequences. If that's “taking the easy way out”, then yes, I think they're taking the easy way out, but that's hardly any different from the multiple times sex-positive feminists ask other people to check their privilege.

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  110. I'm commenting on why, among all the many forms of sex-negativity prevalent in society, sex-positive feminists choose to focus the majority of their well-reasoned arguments on why radical feminism is wrong.
    Have you read a sex-positive blog? (Like this one!) That's incredibly wrong. I think I've talked about radical feminism about twice a year and about other forms of sex-negativity in society only CONSTANTLY! And that's a pattern I see in most other sex-positive blogs.

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  111. FeministWhore: “You must not be familiar with the wildly powerful and influential alliance between conservatives and radical feminists focused on fighting harm reduction efforts aimed at women in prostitution.”

    I've heard about it. Apart from the fact that I think it's offensive towards the many prostitutes who don't think of their work as being sexual (for them) to focus on the sex part of it, rather than the work part, that temporary (and very American) collaboration doesn't mean the fractions have any problems badmouthing each other.

    Most of the time, in debates about gender outside exclusively feminist spaces, talking about sexism against women is a bit like having a discussing about rape. Two minutes in, and you're flooded with people demanding that the conversation be dedicated to discussing false rape accusations, and that people acknowledge that it's only the presence of false accusations which make people doubt so many real victims (never mind that false accusations happen in all other crimes too, and aren't used to justify the same amount of hate and mistrust).

    I'm not against people who oppose false rape accusations. I do too. I'm not against people condemning it when it happens either. I don't want to deny that it happens. But I do think the focus on false accusations often serve the purpose of legitimising the distrust and derail the original topic.

    In the same vein, people who use the argument “But feminism...” to justify why something isn't sexist, and demand apologies in advance from everyone they perceive to be feminist (while at the same time complaining about 'white/male guilt') before even entertaining the notion that they might have a point, is an issue I've encountered a lot and which bothers me to no end, especially because I'm not even associated with those feminists.

    Sure, sex-positive feminists are sometimes the good feminist critics, just like some people are the good advocates against false rape accusations. Most of the time however, I know my point becomes a lot harder to get across, and my issues stand a greater chance of being dismissed, when the prevailing attitude is that distancing oneself from the badness of some feminists is an important priority.

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  112. Holly: “I think I've talked about radical feminism about twice a year and about other forms of sex-negativity in society only CONSTANTLY!”

    But funny enough, this was your article about sex-positivity, about why do you what you do and believe what you believe, and it was mainly focussed on all the ways you differ from radical feminists and all the wrong things they say and mean. Not that I don't agree with most of it, or think you're particularly bad in that area (you're not, or I wouldn't read your blog), it's just a pattern I've seen with people identifying as sex-positive.

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  113. @AB, we must be reading very different sex positive blogs then. Other than this current fiasco, I haven't noticed much attention paid to radical feminism. Which sex-positive feminists are you referring to?

    "Considering the name sex-positive feminists chose for themselves, and the sheer amount of contempt it implies for other people's sexuality, I think the least they could do was to not nitpick about the potential offensive implications they read into other people's words"

    I'm sorry, what the hell? That is completely contrary to sex positivity. And where the fuck do you get off tell me what I should or should not be offended by? You offered the badly reasoned, degrading implication that sex-positive feminists identify as such because it's glamorous. I must have missed how it's glamorous to be labeled a slut.

    So no. It's not actually easier to be a sex-positive feminist. It's never easy to acknowledge your sexuality in a culture that sees it as something to be used. It's especially difficult if, like me, you come from a conservative religious or cultural background. There are serious consequences to discussing your sexuality if you do so in a way that defies your community's standards. And as long as that is the reality, as a sex positive feminist I believe my energy should focused on changing that, and not on proving radical feminists wrong.

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  114. What is going on here?

    http://www.hookingupsmart.com/2011/10/10/hookinguprealities/screwed-either-way/

    .

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  115. I've been told I can't be feminist because of my sexuality.

    I've read so many "yes, I am sexually submissive, and yes, I am feminist" articles that it's positively tiresome... and yet, in the comments, there's always an argument, always dismissal.

    So... I'm a feminist. And I'm sex-positive, in that I think sex is a cool thing that people should have when they want it, how they want it -- and should be free of pressure when they don't. I think consent is the thing, and wish we could be talking about genuine intricacies of consent; unfortunately I still can't reliably sell the idea that consent is fundamental.

    I also really, really want that consent to always be free and uncoerced. Coercion can be social or economic, it can be systemic, it can be internalized.

    I also care about economics and intersectionalism and all kinds of other feminist things. So I guess I'm a sex-positive feminist.

    I know that trans women are women and that I'm not your sister and bisexuals are real and that privilege exists and I have it and so do you. What kind of feminist does that make me?

    Since everyone in the feminist movement is *also* part of a patriarchal, kyriarchal society, they're going to say a lot of busted shit. You and me both.

    Instead of "clean your house" how about saying "am I missing something about what these people are saying?"

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  116. miette:

    Off-topic, but I'm just curious about something in your post... what do you mean by "I'm not your sister?"

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  117. Hershele OstropolerOctober 25, 2011 at 12:38 PM

    AB: I also think the tendency to attribute whatever a woman does to please a man to her own sexuality is a much more disturbing trend.

    Stipulating the sharp line between "pleasing men" and "her own sexuality," how can you tell what's on which side of it?

    Or, rather, not stipulating that. Why does each and every woman's sexuality exclude things that please men? What about straight submissive women?

    I don't want you to think I'm leaning back with a smug expression. That's not my finishing move, I really want to know your answer, so that I can either agree with you or determine precisely why I don't.

    jek: The confusion I have with radical feminism is that it seems to boil down to "Put sex and femininity on the backburner until THE REVOLUTION has come. Once everyone is free and we can be sure its not hurting anyone, then we can think about it. Maybe."

    I'm not sure if the implication is supposed to be that if patriarchy ceased to exist, that no one would want those things anyway.


    I have seen (though I don't know how representative it is) that sort of strawberries-and-creamism from feminists who do not label themselves sex-positive. I don't think it's true, but I'm not sure how much it would bother me if I did. I've never really accepted the notion of "wanting to want" anyway.

    Also, there seems to be an idea that its possible to build a world where people are entirely free and aren't influenced by anything.

    I know I've seen that. I always wonder what the criteria are for "authenticity," what makes your thoughts/feelings/beliefs/desires truly your own. Otherwise the whole idea is unfalsifiable.

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  118. @ Noxious Nan: I'd like to note that sexualizing isn't the same as objectifying. It is possible to note that someone has an attractive body AND respect them as a person, value their opinions, etc. I think that's what we're shooting for (at least it's what I'm shooting for). I think it's important to give equal time to the male and female gaze.

    @ Anon 8:08: I'd like to clarify my own feelings about going against the norm. Going against the norm, in and of itself is NOT bad or immature. It's only bad if you're going against the norm NOT because it's the way you feel most comfortable expressing yourself, but just for the sake of doing the opposite of what's expected.

    Now, I'm not accusing anyone here of behaving that way. The problem happens when someone assumes that a person behaving in a mainstream, socially accepted way hasn't examined his or her choices and is just mindlessly doing what society says he/she should. You don't know that that's true unless you ask the person. If everyone has to make the same choice, it's not really a choice. It's kind of like this story I read once where the mother hated mowing the lawn, but did it anyway because she didn't want to reinforce gender stereotypes.

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  119. Sorry, I forgot to add that if you assume that a person is mindlessly following society when they're not, it can feel like you're demanding that they do the bad/immature type of going against the norm that I talked about above.

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  120. Thank you! I don't care about celebrities, but I like painting my nails. Like hell am I going to stop painting my nails because it ruins my feminist street cred. My wedding was small and took place in my mother's garden, but many feminists would decry having a wedding at all, so why exactly should we concern ourselves with everyone else's opinion? Just conform to what others tell us to prove we're enlightened? Seriously?

    Great post.

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  121. I think big part of the confusion is because:

    Your view of sex: basically everything that leads to an orgasm/erotic feeling, whatever the poeple involved like.

    Their (other feminists and mens) view of sex: PIV (Penis in Vagina), i.e. most males' narrow definition of sex, which most women simply just don't enjoy, or can't orgasm from, and do mainly to please the man.
    So what they mean with "sex positive" is more like "PIV positive".

    And I must say if I look at "sex pozzies".. they always say they do what they want and how they want it etc. but I don't really believe them, because so many women have PIV while so few can orgasm from it or really enjoy it (medical and statistical facts).
    Also "consent" seems to me a term you would use when speaking about entering *property*. Like it's something you grant or bestow, so that the OTHER can benefit from it, not YOU.

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  122. Elin:

    And I must say if I look at "sex pozzies".. they always say they do what they want and how they want it etc. but I don't really believe them, because so many women have PIV while so few can orgasm from it or really enjoy it (medical and statistical facts).

    Speak for yourself. You don't like PIV sex? Fine. Don't do it. But don't tell those of us who do like it that we're just doing it to make men happy. Telling women that they don't really like what they say they like, that what they say about their own experience is either mistaken or outright lies, is pretty much the exact fucking opposite of feminism.

    (Also, not all sex-pos feminists are into PIV sex either, and I'm not sure where you got the notion that they are.)

    Consent means that every person involved in a sexual encounter has to agree to be involved. It's the bare minimum of making sure that said sexual encounter is not rape, which I think we can all agree is a good goal.

    Setting the bar low? Sure. But since a significant chunk of society seems to think that lovers should just be able to psychically divine when/how/whether their partners want to have sex, actually having the 'do we want to do this and if so, how?' conversation is a pretty important step.

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  123. I've had RSI for over a year and as a result am no longer able to blog....

    Thank God you're here to say so many of the things that I want to say. Thankyou.

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  124. Hershele Ostropoler:

    “Stipulating the sharp line between "pleasing men" and "her own sexuality," how can you tell what's on which side of it?”

    For starters, the first time I heard the arguments about women expressing their sexuality, it was in regards to fictional images of non-existing women. They obviously didn't have any agency, but it was obvious that they were made to appeal sexually to an audience of primarily straight men. And yet, it was used as an example of female sexuality, not male.

    My line for real women goes between whether the woman in question is getting paid or not. If a woman has sex with someone, or makes a pass at them, simply because she likes it, I think it's reasonable to conclude she's probably attracted to that person. But if she's paid for it, there's no way to tell unless you know her personally, and acting like her job must reflect her sexuality is offensive.

    Or to make it concrete, I believe it's fair to conclude that a woman who dates other women is usually either lesbian or bisexual, but I don't think a woman who's paid to stick stuff up another woman's vagina, or suck on a phallus-shaped piece of plastic held by another woman while moaning loudly, will necessarily want to date or have sex with other women in her spare time.

    “Or, rather, not stipulating that. Why does each and every woman's sexuality exclude things that please men? What about straight submissive women?”

    Strawman. I merely said I didn't like the tendency to attribute WHATEVER a woman does to please a man to her own sexuality. I think it's an extremely dangerous situation that most of the sexual services or depictions which include women are controlled by men (pimps, porn producers, strip club owners, artists) and made for the benefit of groups of men, and yet people think it's OK to claim that they represent women.

    Some of the workers (the non-fictional ones) might have sexualities which collide exactly with what's already asked of them by their customers and employers, but I don't see why the sexual fantasies sold to men by sex workers or purveyors of male-focussed erotic material have reason to be any more realistic than the portrayals of male characters in Twilight or Laurell K. Hamilton novels.

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  125. Wait, when did we get the idea that most women don't like PIV sex? Yes, it's true that most women either cannot orgasm from it alone or have not figured out how to, but that doesn't mean they don't enjoy it. Sex can feel good even if it doesn't result in an orgasm. There can be emotional gratification.

    Cultural ideas about PIV sex can be all kinds of wacky, but I think that most women who have PIV sex voluntarily and not solely for procreation enjoy it.

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  126. I have a lesbian friend who loves it when her girlfriend fucks her with a strap-on. Won't she be embarrassed when I tell her she's only doing it to please a man!

    ...Embarrassed, and also confused...

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  127. I'm so angry right now I don't care if Holly deletes this.

    Perversecowgirl, you are acting like a liar and a bigot right now, exactly the kind of behaviour I have come to expect from sex-positive feminists. I have seen your posts before, you're not that stupid, there is no way that you, even if drunk and driving and texting at the same time, could possibly miss that the key point in my post, repeated so many times even the self-righteous and intellectually dishonest mind of a sex-positive feminist should be able to register it, is WHETHER OR NOT THE WOMAN IS GETTING PAID.

    Did you see that? PAID! PAYMENT! THE MOST COMMON REASON TO DO SOMETHING NO MATTER WHETHER YOU FEEL LIKE IT OR NOT. THE WAY TO SEPERATE WORK FROM PLAY. MONEY. PAYMENT. GETTING PAID. THE DIFFERENCE IS IN WHETHER OR NOT SOMEONE IS GETTING PAID!

    And in case you missed it (which you didn't, because you're not stupid enough for that), I only said there was no way to tell EITHER WAY, so therefore making ANY conclusion, good or bad, is offensive. There's no way someone doing something with no motive besides pleasure would fit the description of someone doing it for money.

    Heck, even someone doing something for money would not make it justified to conclude she's not also expressing her own sexuality. At least not by my definition, because my argument is specifically about how it's not possible to know either way unless you personally know the person. Gah! I can't believe how many times I have to repeat this. What the fuck is wrong with your people?

    You're so entrenched in your own ideology as the noble and enlightened defenders of free sexuality and tolerance that you've become incapable of seeing what's right in front of you. You can't even distinguish between “if she's paid for it, there's no way to tell unless you know her personally” and “everybody who does this is only doing it to please men”, because all you do is lazily skimming someone's statements to look for buzzwords, so you can make the standard reply about how everybody who doesn't accept your every gospel is just mean and sex-negative.

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  128. Anon@11:44:

    Sometimes there's talk about sisterhood and sisters have to stand together and all that. It turns me off. I don't stand with a woman just because she's a woman, I stand with her if I stand there anyway.

    @Elin:

    Do you have another word for "people should only have sex when they want it"? I like phrases like "respecting autonomy", too, but that confuses people even more than consent does.

    And I guess I'm okay with the entering property implication that you have when you hear consent. Because my body is my property*, thankyouverymuch. If you want to do something with it, to it, or on it, you need my consent.

    I suspect you are uncomfortable about the property analogy because usually, when someone talks about women or women's bodies as property, they're talking about them being someone else's property. Public property, if she's on the street, or her partner's, etc. When people tell her to smile, or ask her if she's got a boyfriend before hitting on her, that's all treating her as if she's someone else's property. If that's what you think about when you think about consent and property, then it's gonna feel icky to use the word.

    I own myself. I am my property*. You are your property.

    * More accurately, and less connected to stuff, I think the body is a property of myself, as is my personality and so on, in a way different from how this computer is my property. In the sense that color is a property of my hair. I own my body, but it is also an inseparable aspect of me.


    ** I happen to be my fiance's property as well, because we both want it that way, but it's more like a lease or a co-ownership situation. If I don't consent, it don't happen, even though I am his. If he didn't respect that, I wouldn't be his anymore. I must be freely given. This is our kink.

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  129. @AB, I'm pretty sure perversecowgirl was answering elin there, who did in fact say that she doesn't believe women are having stuff put in their vaginas because they want them there.

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  130. @miette
    “I'm pretty sure perversecowgirl was answering elin there, who did in fact say that she doesn't believe women are having stuff put in their vaginas because they want them there.”
    I considered that, but she was talking specifically about PIV sex, while I was talking about girl-on-girl action featuring dildos, so it seemed closer. And I was also mad over having to explain myself so many before, this was just the final straw.

    Also, Elin talked about most women, not all women, so making yet another sex-positive “This must refer specifically to these friends of mine, because many=all, so let me just tell you how ridiculous you are for saying that they're definitely only doing this to please a man even if we can all see that's absurd”-remark is in bad taste either way.

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  131. @AB, wow, "liar and a bigot" for stating what she sees as a truth about some actual women?

    And Elin may have said "so many women" not "all women," but it was in the same breath as saying that sex-positive feminists "always say they do what they want and how they want it etc. but I don't really believe them," which I find SERIOUSLY offensive. @Elin, you have a generalization and some sort of statistics, so therefore we are lying?

    I swear there was something in Feminism 101 about listening to women's actual truths and experiences. (Anyway, sign me up for that hot consensual PIV and/or strap-on sex! After I catch my breath, let's have coffee and then fight social injustice together...)

    flightless

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  132. AB - While it may be the only issue in your mind, other people have raised issues besides WHETHER THE WOMAN IS GETTING PAID, so it's totally inappropriate to go off screaming about how we're all "self-righteous and intellectually dishonest" because we responded to any other issue.

    Look at some of the other comments disputing this post; prostitution is not the sole issue on the table.

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  133. Hershele OstropolerOctober 26, 2011 at 10:38 AM

    AB: “Or, rather, not stipulating that. Why does each and every woman's sexuality exclude things that please men? What about straight submissive women?”

    Strawman. I merely said I didn't like the tendency to attribute WHATEVER a woman does to please a man to her own sexuality. I think it's an extremely dangerous situation that most of the sexual services or depictions which include women are controlled by men (pimps, porn producers, strip club owners, artists) and made for the benefit of groups of men, and yet people think it's OK to claim that they represent women.


    Not a strawman. JAQing off :p

    I was actually unclear whether you meant "anything a woman does that pleases a man isn't 'her own sexuality'" or "anything a woman does in order to please a man isn't 'her own sexuality'." I don't think either of those is the case, and I guess you don't either (though I think it's a reasonable reading of what you said), but the latter is a lot more defensible than the former.

    I'm not going to disagree that the porn industry is controlled by men and exploits women (though come to think of it,my only source is "everyone knows it," but it seems likely enough that I'll go with it). But is pornography controlled by men and exploitative of women by its nature? Can a woman really not be sexual/perform sexuality for money without being programmed to do so? Many people turn their hobbies, so to speak, into their jobs.

    miette: Do you have another word for "people should only have sex when they want it"? I like phrases like "respecting autonomy", too, but that confuses people even more than consent does.

    I was wondering the same thing. Elin, if you believe mutually autonomous sex is possible, what term would you use? Do you have a problem with the word "consent" or the concept of consent?

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  134. Hershele Ostropoler: “I was actually unclear whether you meant "anything a woman does that pleases a man isn't 'her own sexuality'" or "anything a woman does in order to please a man isn't 'her own sexuality'." I don't think either of those is the case, and I guess you don't either (though I think it's a reasonable reading of what you said), but the latter is a lot more defensible than the former.”

    As I've said several times, I don't think it's correct to judge either way. Saying that a woman in the sex industry is expressing her sexuality, taking control of her sexuality, making money off her sexuality, or anything else related to her sexuality, is making a judgement too.

    “I'm not going to disagree that the porn industry is controlled by men and exploits women (though come to think of it,my only source is "everyone knows it," but it seems likely enough that I'll go with it). But is pornography controlled by men and exploitative of women by its nature? Can a woman really not be sexual/perform sexuality for money without being programmed to do so? Many people turn their hobbies, so to speak, into their jobs.”

    I didn't say the porn industry exploits women. I've heard of a lot of cases, but I wouldn't be categorical about it. And no, I don't think it's exploitive by its nature, but I do think the porn produced will tend towards fiction more than documentary, no matter how liberated the people participating are, and is thus likely to have a negative influence on people's perception of sex if they confuse it with real life.

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  135. Miette is correct, I was responding to Elin's idea that most women don't enjoy PIV (apparently this is a "medical fact"...?). Granted, she said "most," but her overall post still seemed highly skeptical that a woman could possibly enjoy penetration for its own sake and not because it's pleasuring their (male) partner. So, as a counterpoint, I mentioned a situation where men aren't involved whatsoever and penetration is still desired and enjoyable.

    I agree that women getting paid for sex or sexiness can't be assumed to enjoy it (or NOT to enjoy it), AB. In fact that idea seems so obvious that it didn't need replying to; it would be like earnestly agreeing with someone that the sky is blue. So, yes, I'm really NOT stupid enough to miss your repeated point.

    I've also never said that I identify as sex-positive; I'm not sure I've ever explicitly stated here that I identify as a feminist. So it's kind of annoying that you're making sweeping assumptions about me and using them to justify some huge rant/vendetta.

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  136. Never treating people as objects is both impossible and undesirable. The former is perhaps more important, but the latter is more relevant to the present discussion, so focus on that. I really like being treating like a valuable object; I wish it happened more rather than less often. No doubt that's what the anonymous commenter who talked about men and body acceptance issues was getting at; a lot of men feel like they would like to get the sort of attention some feminists seem to be complaining about. But of course there are complexities they are ignoring (and that the feminists also often ignore). Consent is crucial, even if it is murky.

    I pretty much always like being treated like a valuable object because I am privileged, and it is my default assumption that people care whether I consent or not. People do not commonly try to do things to me that they expect I'd be opposed to, and they pay enough attention to me to form some reasonable expectations about what I would be opposed to. They don't always get it right, of course, but such minor misunderstandings as occur can generally be cleared up, since if I do complain about something, people usually listen. Because of this, being treated like an object almost never feels to me like a threat to my autonomy. On the other hand, even in otherwise very similar circumstances, a less privileged person may quite reasonably be very suspicious, since being less privileged involves others being less concerned with one's autonomy and consent. And threats to autonomy are a big deal; it really is a bad thing to have your consent disregarded.

    Of course, privilege comes in degrees, and the less privileged person won't always be right to suspect others of not respecting their autonomy. Nor will they always have such suspicions. Presumably that's where the sex-positive feminists are coming from when they say that they sometimes enjoy being perceived as sexy and insist that there's nothing wrong with that.

    Issues of consent and autonomy just are complicated. One who actually takes them seriously is Simone de Beauvior, but that's why The Second Sex is so long and still draws few and relatively vague conclusions. Still, I think hers is the only way to do things; tempting though it is to simplify, the simplifications never work. It certainly doesn't work to do what far too many in these discussions seem to do, to treat someone as autonomous and consenting when they make choices we sympathize with or approve of, and not otherwise. That just leads to comment threads that go on forever.

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  137. Aaron: It depends on how you define "treating people as objects." If by that, you mean "treating people as though they only exist in order to please ME," then yes, that's a problem. If you just mean "using a person, with their consent, to help you get off," then that's...actually not what most people mean by "objectification."

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  138. Indeed, it depends on what you mean, goth-is-not-emo, but things are hardly as clear cut as you suggest. There are plenty of cases that seem to fit your second description that are often described as involving objectification. I suppose a lot of it comes down to what you mean by "consent" as some of those who would say all or nearly all pornography objectifies (a not uncommon view) would also insist that participation in pornography always or nearly always involves less than full consent.

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  139. Anonymous said...

    Wait, when did we get the idea that most women don't like PIV sex? Yes, it's true that most women either cannot orgasm from it alone or have not figured out how to, but that doesn't mean they don't enjoy it. Sex can feel good even if it doesn't result in an orgasm. There can be emotional gratification.


    This. Plus, not only can it be emotionally gratifying, but it's possible to physically enjoy something even if it doesn't lead to orgasm. I've never come from a backrub or a hair scritch or a foot massage, but I enjoy them. PIV feels to me, when done well, like a vag massage. It's quite pleasant! It doesn't get me off, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy it.

    But I spent months trying and failing to convince an ex of this fact. To this ex, anything that didn't make me come must be something I found odious.

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  140. Thank you for this post, Holly.

    As a relatively attractive woman (as far as social standards are concerned) and a stripper, I am so so SO sick of being told that I can't *possibly* be a feminist, since I like to wear make up, heels, acrylic nails, and take off my clothes to pay my bills. It doesn't seem to matter that I have made a conscious choice to look how I do and make a living the way I do (I love my job, by the way). I've submitted to the will of my Patriarchal Overlords!! Oh Horrors!!

    The most important thing to me is choice. It seems to me that the most feminist thing I can do is participate actively in my life and encourage others to do the same. To have control over my life is empowering, and I certainly want other women to feel the same way.

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  141. To get back to the OP, this bit is mystifying to me:

    "Well, for the long answer, see this entire blog. But for the short answer: because it's impossible for women to be accepted as human beings if we aren't accepted as sexual beings. If women's dignity is contingent on our not being too sexy, we're never going to have dignity. We have to accustom ourselves to the idea that someone can be highly sexual, publicly sexual, sexual in a way that we would totally never do ourselves because whoa... and still have dignity."

    What has being sexual to do with looking sexy?

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  142. I am also in love with this. Especially the notion of being yourself and being your sexual self. The need to draw a distinction so arbitrarily only strengthens misunderstanding, within the individual and their relationships with others. Amazingly expressed.

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  143. Excellent point! I feel the same way. ALL human interactions should involve respect and clear communication.

    It's fun to play a game of tag with your friends, but it's not so fun if someone starts chasing you when you just want to sit still. Why should sex be any different?

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  144. " Meanwhile, all Twisty and her ilk have said is "BDSM inherently begets patriarchy, but do it anyway if you have to", which, since in her view EVERYTHING begets patriarchy, is hardly something to cry about. I don't mind acknowledging the truth: that every action one can possibly take causes suffering on some level. Including my sexytimes. That's far more palatable than some dreadful woman degrading my sexuality in the name of raising it up. "

    Seconding this Anon's concise and well-reasoned overview. Philosophically, I turn to Twisty's variety of radfem to confront and unpack the omnipresence of the patriarchy in everything we all do. No exceptions. Choosing not to reinforce the patriarchy is like choosing not to participate in capitalism: you COULD, in theory, if you really want, donate all of your possessions and go Occupy full-time. But we don't, because we have stakes in this system.

    Also like capitalism, femininity can be simultaneously coerced and desired. These are usually intertwined, in fact. The strawman which annoys me is Holly's: "She was coerced into wearing lipstick! No woman ever REALLY wants to wear lipstick!"

    because, no. Plenty of decisions are made under coercion that may well have gone the same way without it. That doesn't mean the coercion wasn't there.

    We buy things partly because we want them, and partly because there's societal coercion TO want them. Advertising creates and has created demand for lots of things! Sugar in tea. Bleached toilet paper. Subprime mortgages. Does that mean we should go down the list of consumers and say, "okay, YOU honestly have a bigger sweet tooth, but YOU just put sugar in your tea because that's the classy thing so you're not sincere! THIS guy didn't really want the subprime loan, so he never should have gotten it no matter how good the deal was and how attractive he thought it looked at that second, but THAT guy really wanted it so it was okay!"

    Or, even more dangerous:

    "He really wanted that loan! He probably really needed it! So it's unfair to say that the 2007 crisis was caused by subprime mortgages, because that guy chose to get his loan of his own free will!"

    Which brings us back to:

    "It's unfair to say that femininity reinforces the patriarchy, because feminine people choose to be feminine of their own free will!"

    The first is easily countered by the argument of Occupy: The debtors aren't at fault here. The banks and markets who pushed it are. The coercers should be punished, dammit! It doesn't matter that we all reinforced the system that stuck them on top - we had no goddamn choice!

    So do we also, sometimes, blame the pushers of femininity - the porn industry, Cosmo et al, pseudoscientist shills releasing studies on the benefits of makeup use that then get published in the New York Times - instead of blaming each other.

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  145. But the analogy isn't perfect. We don't have a Patriarchy Street. We don't have a 1% of the Super-Masculine. We DO have an increasing trend towards gender-polarization, assigning gender roles and colored clothing and sexualized toys to our children at younger and younger ages. I could draw parallels to rising inequality if I wanted to make this post longer. But I want to conclude on a hopeful note, by saying we have more power over the patriarchy, as individuals, than we do over capitalism.

    Every identity decision we make is personal. Every identity decision we broadcast to the world is political. We can't escape being both. That's how we live.

    I think, Holly, that there's a responsible distinction to make between being yourself, being your sexual self, and taking a stand on it. "I do like sex" is, you're right, personal. "That's who I am and I'm not going to hide it" - already, a political act.

    And finally, so as not to be completely abstract: my own personal political stand. I'm trans. This is my dog in this fight.

    Performing a gender - any gender - is reinforcing the gender you're performing. If you're performing one of the Big Two, you're reinforcing the binary. And reinforcing the gender binary is one more tiny stone laid on a wall miles high that every non-binary person struggles to climb. Meanwhile in climbing it, in acknowledging it exists and railing against it, we too are dropping stones on the top.

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  146. Egal - I'm very confused by this part: If you're performing one of the Big Two, you're reinforcing the binary. And reinforcing the gender binary is one more tiny stone laid on a wall miles high that every non-binary person struggles to climb
    If someone's gender is binary (and mine is not, by the way), what are they supposed to do? Pretend to be non-binary?

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  147. ...there's a responsible distinction to make between being yourself, being your sexual self, and taking a stand on it. "I do like sex" is, you're right, personal. "That's who I am and I'm not going to hide it" - already, a political act.

    I'd like some clarification on this sentiment. Are you saying that being unapologetically one's self constitutes deliberately committing a "political act," or that when someone goes against societal norms they're seen as being some kind of strident protestor - that the context automatically makes the situation political?

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  148. Now that's just breathtakingly offensive. If someone's class is upper-middle, what are they supposed to do? Pretend to be poor? If someone's race is white, what are they supposed to do? Pretend to be a person of color?

    You know better. I've read your blog for years. I know you know better.

    I also remember that the word 'privilege' sets your teeth on edge, but I'm prepared to confront you with that discomfort, because that's the applicable concept to this point in the discussion: We acknowledge the privilege we have, cop to it, stand as allies, and try our damnedest to do whatever we see we can. Because our comfort isn't more important than their suffering.

    That's how anyone in power survives as conscious perpetrators of an oppressive system without slitting our own wrists.

    You know this already. You must. You face down oppression in this blog every week. How can you honestly ask me that?

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  149. I think what you're saying goes beyond privilege, though. You're saying that the existence of people in privileged classes is a form of oppression.

    I'm really bothered by definitions of "oppression" like this. I don't mean to dumb it down to "only deliberate targeted violence is oppression" either, but I don't like the idea that binary people contribute to oppression by existing. They benefit from it, yes, but the fact that they were born binary is not an act of oppression. In a post-oppression world, whatever that would be, some people would still have binary genders.

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  150. @perversecowgirl - In identity politics, the second you're public, you're political.

    You matter.

    You're a marketing demographic, a consumer group. You're a voice that others hear. You're a mark in a million other people's mental tallies. Going against societal norms makes you more visible, but going FOR societal norms is ALSO a political act. You're a vote in a lopsided democracy that changes other people as they move through this world.

    You can choose to hide, duck down and shut up; in that case, your politics will be assigned to you. Absent context, a full Anon is assumed to be straight, cis, white, male by other members of the relevant normative class. A silent voice is assumed to be majority. (A lot of good social science has gone into proving this one.)

    You can't choose to voice yourself in such a way as to not affect identity politics. Because the second you speak out, you're contributing to a society-wide discussion that influences other people's identity formation just by making itself heard! Isn't that cool?

    (Personal answer: well no, it's scary as hell, and my hands are shaking as I type this which probably means I need to leave this space for awhile. I've put my voice out there in a small way and even this will change things; I believe this, and it scares the living fuck out of me. This is what comes of hiding too long! The act of saying who I am scares me. And do I really want to influence anyone else into becoming as screwed up as me? Ahaha, but 'norms', I'm changing them. As are we all.)

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  151. @Holly-

    First, to quote myself with emphasis and an elaboration:
    "Performing a gender - any gender - is reinforcing the gender you're performing. If you're performing one of the Big Two in this overwhelmingly Man/Woman society, you're reinforcing the binary."

    Performance is an action, not a state of being. Nobody was born with lipstick on.

    Second, I would say that in a post-oppression world, gender would be a spectrum; the people you cite would be on opposite ends. "The binary", here, is the political statement that "there are only two genders". In this sense no-one is "born binary", either.

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  152. ps. I responded to perversecowgirl expressing my thoughts on identity politic, but it was erased, or moderated. I don't know why. I do know that I'm out of space and time to re-iterate how important everyone's voice is, or how scared I am to be here adding mine.

    Short answer, PCG: the words you say affect people; the identity you express affects society-wide discussions on identity. Once you're out there, pretending not to have affected anyone is, well, blind. This goes for the oppressed and the privileged alike. Stay silent, and others will assume your identity for you. This is not ideal.

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  153. It's up now, it just got caught in the spamfilter.

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  154. I think that what Egal is getting at is that the choices we make affect those around us, and that sometimes, the effects created, even just by someone being themselves, can be oppressive. This doesn't necessarily mean that the person is at fault - oppression that happens just because someone happens to have been born a certain way is lightyears away from intentional, knowing oppression. There are a lot of shades of gray in there, though.

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  155. (I'm sorry if this is derailing)

    Gender as a spectrum as the ideal? Wow, that's more than a little transphobic. I mean, there are genders that have nothing to do with the binary. (You know that, right?)

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  156. It's quite possible they didn't. Is it transphobia if they were honestly unaware of that particular one?

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  157. Well, I was waiting for this day to come: the first time I've ever agreed with everything a feminist has told me. I love you.

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  158. I do. I didn't mean to be linear, only anti-binary. I apologize for that connotation.

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  159. This is a really interesting discussion. I do want to take issue with one of the things Holly has said in the OP. I quote:

    "A woman being sexy doesn't make women part of "the sex class"; refusing to see a woman as a powerful individual because she's sexy absolutely does."

    Twisty is the only radical feminist I read so this will only apply to her work but I understand she believes that all women are part of the “sex class”, no matter what they do. It has nothing to do with a particular woman being “sexy”. This is what it means to be in the Patriarchy.

    I find this completely incontrovertible and it's such an important point that a misstatement of it shouldn’t go unaddressed.

    Otherwise, in terms of sp feminism fighting against sex negativity in a patriarchal society, that’s totally a worthwhile mission. I want my children to grow up in a society that does not judge them on how much or how little sex they have and who with.

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  160. Wow. How does it even make sense to talk about a "post-oppression world" when you define "oppression" to include having an identity? And here I thought my ideal world was unrealistic. All I'm asking for is an end to oligarchy, authoritarianism and every form of discrimination.

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  161. Holly,

    I know I'm jumping into this really late, and the comment thread has gone its own way, but I think you are significantly misreading the XOJane post. It is not arguing what you are arguing against. You are right, it really isn't talking about you or about sex-positive feminism, but it doesn't claim to be.

    I really liked this post and was all behind it, until I went and read XOJane's post, and then I had the dissonance of "these two things are in violent agreement with each other."

    The point of the XOJane piece, as I read it, was that one woman (now some women) saying that they are okay with the "Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street" (HCoOWS) and okay with having been included in it without their consent does not make HCoOWS okay, and that the women who are okay with being included in HCoOWS should not be defending HCoOWS on that basis. That HCoOWS is indefensible because it involved public ogling of women without any concern for whether those women wished to be ogled or merely happened to be good-looking women engaged in protests.

    No one should take the fact that they like to be ogled in public, or have their photos put up on a web site, to mean that it is okay for people to do this to others without consent. This is obvious. Nothing of yours that I have ever read suggests you would disagree at all with that statement.

    XOJane never actually uses the term sex-positive feminism in her post, so I think that you are right that when she uses the term "choice feminism" she is not talking about you, or indeed about "sex-positive feminism." She is incidentally talking about people who make the sort of arguements you mock in your post as arguing that working at Hooters is "totally the most feministical choice," but she is directly talking about someone who appears to have argued that (paraphrasing, not quoting) "if I'm not bothered by, then it must be okay when you do it to other people."

    I think the paraphrased position is worth arguing with (I mean, I think it is so basic and obvious of a point it hardly needs to be made, but sometimes the really obvious points need to be made), and from what I've read of your writings (and even specifically from this post of yours) I can't imagine that you would disagree.

    There are specific stylistic things on XOJane's post that I would guess set you off (the quoted passage here is certainly over the top, and could easily have been found in a completely different piece) and the term "choice feminism" seems to be an accusation that is hurled against sex-positive feminists of all sorts, so I can see how her post connects to your post, but I think the connection is much more tangential and incidental than I expected when I first read your post.

    Relatively recent reader, first-time poster, I also post (very infrequently) and comment as Charles or Charles S on Alas A Blog, just to give you some context (if you happen to read Alas).

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  162. Love this post. When I wear makeup, I wear it because I feel fancy. Much in the same way I feel my house looks fancy when I finally decide to tidy it (I MISS YOU EVERY DAY, DIRTY PILE OF SWEATERS). I've been told that the REAL reason I feel good when I wear makeup is because I have been brainwashed my whole life to think that women can ONLY be happy when they wear makeup. I must say, I feel pretty darn happy when I don't wear makeup (I CAN RUB MY EYES AAAAUUGH FEELS SO GOOD). 85% of the time, I go without makeup: dates, parties, work. But sometimes I just feeeeeeeel like feeeeeling fancy.

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  163. oh man, great and NEEDFUL post.

    we used to clash a bit about the "Twisty" posts - because while i consider myself sex-pos, i can SEE where she's coming from. i don't AGREE with her, but i can understand it.

    i had a HUGELY long comment, but... it was all babbly and doesn't really matter. the gist of it was:
    [not to pigeon hole people, even though i'm doing exactly that, i'm doing it for a REASON and not to pigeon hole people;]
    i think there are, broadly, 3 "types" of women.
    1: "modest"-type women, who buy into the hype around virginity, and only EVER have sex after marriage. or at least have this reputation.
    2. "non-modest"-type women, who DON'T necessarily buy into the hype, but they don't spend all their time trying to "be modest", and are branded "whores" or "sluts" regardless of their sexual activity. the person i know with the *worst* "she's a GIGANTIC WHORE" reputation? is a 27-year-old virgin. why does she have this rep? [i have her permission to share this, so long as it stays anon] she was raped at 15, by her ex-boyfriend. she broke up with him because he kept pressuring her to have sex, and refused to listen when she said "i'm not ready". so she broke up with him; that weekend, he broke into her house while everyone was asleep, held a knife to her throat, and raped her [i do NOT believe that being raped "counts" as having sex. others have different beliefs. but both she and I consider her a virgin - she's never done more than KISS a guy consentingly. she's never even done heavy petting!] the consensus at the time was "she brought it on herself" by "being a cock tease" - in other words, if she'd just had sex with him, he wouldn't have raped her.
    and because of that rape, almost EVERYONE believes she's having sex with anyone who even looks at her. despite the fact that NO ONE has ever claimed TO have sex with her - it's all "she had sex with so-and-so". it's disgusting. and whenever i try to defend her, i get some speech about "well, maybe she didn't have sex with HIM, but where there's smoke, there's fire." [i've given up defending her because she asked me to - she says me defending her makes it worse. the whole thing breaks my heart - she's so AWESOME. and terrified of sex, and terrified that if she gets over her fear, she'll automatically become the whore everyone thinks she is. i don't even know how to help her, if defending her doesn't help. she won't go back to counseling, since all she got the times she tried was shit like "what can you do to stop this from happening?" and "what did you do to lead to this, so that you can not do it again?" in otherwords, her PSYCHOLOGISTS slut-shamed her. fuckers]

    then there's the 3rd type - those of us who manage to have whatever sex we want, and no-one cares.

    i don't KNOW why no one cares. i just wish EVERYONE could be a type 3. i wish i knew, ao i could share this "secret" with every woman i know. you're a type 3, Holly, or rather, you APPEAR to be a type 3 from what i know about you from this blog [and manboobz]. other than our ability to fly below the slut/prude radar, what do we have in common?


    because you're right - equality in sexuality will do a LOT to dispell many of the harms committed in our fucked up culture. equality seems to be being a type-3 - no one cares if you have sex and etc.

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  164. Thank you so much for this post! My first reaction was that I want to share this with everyone. But I'm a (pozzie cis-)guy and feel that I should just shut up and listen sometimes, so I shared your post with just a few good (cis-girl) friends instead. From me and my friends: thank you for your thoughtful and well-written words.

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  165. Denelian, that is a horrible story. I'm not sure it's under anyone's control whether they're a type 2 or a type 3. It's mainly down to whether the people around you are assholes, isn't it? Sometimes you can escape from the assholes, and sometimes you have some kind of power that gives you leverage over would-be bullies, but lots of people are not lucky enough to have either of those things. To get people out of type 2, we all (women and men) have to work at making assholery less socially acceptable.

    I'm sorry I haven't got more to say that will just make people stop mistreating your friend; I read that and felt like I had to say something.

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  166. Well, I've noticed that women who are generally fetish objects (overly large breasts, like GG+, women over 6'2", amputee and women in wheelchairs for example) are also not covered at all in feminist spaces. Trying to get feminists to acknowledge 1 out of every 7 women (disabled) is hard, to then move on to sex and disability: HA!

    When I was into sports competitively, I wasn't a feminist because I was a femme (and femmes can't be feminists, as you show in your 'what a pro-sex woman should look like), when in a wheelchair, not a feminist even with corsets and wet-wear because...well, I'm in a wheelchair.

    But then again, it appears that anyone outside certain middle class bands (like migrant workers for example) aren't feminist either. Which makes me wonder what the point of feminism is?

    Onward then, into female realities.

    Elizabeth

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  167. latest anon: i don't know, either. i agree that some of it's assholes being assholes, and we *DO* need to stop that. *I* don't have either of those things [my life is, sadly, not asshole free, and i don't have any sort of power over the bullies - they just ignore me]. and the fact that the difference between "type 2 and type 3" is how OTHER people react... yeah. it's depressing.
    and thank you for saying something. it's better than nothing [that isn't meant to be harsh or anything. it's true.]


    Elizabeth [hi fellow Elizabeth! want to join the Lizbian Army to Take Over The World?]
    i have overly large breasts, and am in a wheelchair. i've noticed either impeding my-being-a-feminist-ness. it has, on occasion, caused friction with other feminists, specifically those who don't want to examine their own privilege, but that doesn't stop me from being a feminist - it just stops me from working with THOSE feminists.
    i also think you'd be a bit surprised at the number of feminists [and/or womanists] in the blogosphere who recognize the intersection between disability and feminism. Pandagon goes off on it, as does Feministing - my favorite is Womanist Musings [because it's RACE, disability, and feminism/womanism intersectionality]

    i mean, it still BLOWS MY MIND that there are feminists who think transwomen should be exluded, feminists who think lesbians should be excluded [or that all feminists should BE lesbians - depends on the decade of becoming a feminist, i think. not sure] that there are feminists who think black/asian/latino/native/any-non-white woman should be working solely on RACIAL issues, as if our different ethnic background makes us less female than "white" women [and why do we use "white" and "black"?! most "white" people are beige, and most "black" people are brown. /randomosity]
    to be perfectly honest, i recieve as much "grief" over being Cherokee as i do over being disabled [and more grief than EITHER because i have almost 5 feet of hair.]


    on sex and disability - oh gods, don't get me started.

    migrant workers are middle class? since when? i've know LOTS of families who depend on migrant labor, and they're invariable destitute.

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  168. Elizabeth - (and femmes can't be feminists, as you show in your 'what a pro-sex woman should look like)
    No, that's one possible way a pro-sex person can look. Femme is another possible way. It's how I happen to look (and a counterargument to all the accusations of being a Barbie doll bimbo), but there was no "should" in there.

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  169. oh, i just re-read your post, Elizabeth, and you were using migrant workers as examples of NON-middle-class-ness. sorry for my misreading!


    my response to that is: there are more feminists in heaven and earth, horatio... most of the feminists i know *DO* work in intersectionality - now, no one can do ALL of them. i know feminists who work within disabilty rights, within race issues, within class issues - VERY few do more than 1 intersectionality [at least, on a regular basis] because it's grueling and grinding.
    a place where feminism meets classism [and atheism!] is the blog "Forever in Hell" written by "Personal Failure" [i found her, and her blog, YEARS ago when i searching for support groups for porphyria. so that was random, but awesome] she writes CONSTANTLY about class and wealth discrepencies.

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  170. Hi Holly,

    Not sure if you'll see this comment. This is some commentary on sex positivity and what you look like...

    I saw this blog about a year ago, and at the time, I didn't know what you looked like. I saw that you were practicing what you preached about sex positivity, and you were engaged in BDSM stuff, etc.

    At the time, I dismissed your viewpoint partly because I pictured you as an attractive female in her early 20's. Let me elaborate. It seemed that being a slut was working for you -- you had a healthy and loving relationship, etc., and were fine socially. However, a mid 20's female for whom things are "working out" is not much of a datapoint. Finding sex partners, getting attention, and getting treated generally well (for now) is easy for almost any mid-20's female. There is hardly a group with more sexual power. Analogy: Holly is shooting fish in a barrel... one cannot read her blog and infer that she has good aim. (Maybe she does, maybe she doesn't... but one cannot know it.)

    That is the fear for women like me who are a little older. I'd love to go off the beaten path and be sex positive, and freely spend all the social capital that comes from having sexual restraint. But, could I still get the other things I'd like? Loving relationships, long term fullfillment, someone to stay with me and love me when I'm old? The fact that Holly gets those things in her young 20's does not provide reassurance that another woman could get them when she's older, when her social and romantic capital falls off a cliff anyway.

    Somehow (and I won't make a judgment on this but present it just as a phenomenon), seeing that you are not a typically feminine, especially "hot" female (by movie star standards) lends a little more extrapolability to your story. This woman is making it work -- and she is not doing so as THE #1 most sexual powerful category of woman for now, but maybe she is doing it as someone who has at least a little bit less sexual power.

    Just an observation of some of the thoughts I had in reading this. Though, I must say I already knew what you looked like, at least as of a few months ago, because you have pictures posted on another website. The fact remains that picturing you as something other than a typically "hot" mid 20's female changed how I heard your voice when I read your blog.

    [Obviously, this is not to say you aren't "hot." You clearly are -- you have a sex blog and a sexy boyfriend and girlfriend-ish who have sex with you all the time. What I am talking about is mainstream Cosmo-girl hot, or anywhere in that ballpark.]

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  171. Veronica: sex-positivity is the KEY to getting the things you want!

    When I was in my 20s, I was still hangin' with the slut-shaming, rape culture crowd (it's the culture I grew up in and I didn't know how to think outside that box, or even that I was in a box to begin with). And yeah, I guess I got laid easily enough, but there was a CONSTANT struggle to uphold some mysterious balance between "slut" and "prude" so a guy I liked (various guys at various times, I mean) would deem me worthy of dating.

    When I did get into long-term relationships, a lot of my value hinged on what I chose to do with my body, or what I'd done with it in the past (that went both ways, of course; if one of my boyfriends so much as kissed another person, I'd've branded him a cheating asshole and dumped him immediately). I felt like I had to lie about my number of past partners because my real number would probably drive a guy off.

    Somehow, over the past few years I've managed to climb out of that societal box and into a much more sex-positive space - and when I expected to be treated as an autonomous and inherently valuable human being (regardless of what I do with my vagina), I suddenly started meeting guys who treated me that way. I didn't have to be the "sexual gatekeeper" anymore because guys weren't constantly and aggressively storming my gate; I didn't have to lie about my "magic number" because nobody asked. And if I slept with a guy within three hours of meeting him, he'd stay in my life because 1) more sex! and 2) He wasn't all bogged down in Madonna-whore bullshit.

    Now I'm 38, and living with a boy I got naked with on our second date. We've been together for two years now and are still ridiculously in love and hope to be together for the rest of our lives. Also, I've acquired a makeout buddy on the side (with everyone aware of the arrangement and okay with it) so I get to have all the perks of a secure long-term relationship AND hot sexy makeouts with someone (relatively) new.

    Sex negativity benefits no one. When you start insisting that your value as a person is intrinsic and not related to your sexuality, your life will improve. It sure as hell did for me - and I'm not young OR Cosmo-hot.

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  172. Holly, I just want to say that I think you are awesome. I have been reading your blog for a while, and you say all the things I think about and wonder about but you do it so much more clearly and in a more structured and well-considered and informed way, and I just think you are so great. And this post was just an extra bit of fantastic awesomeness. Thank you so much.

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  173. @Perversecowgirl, thanks for writing, that was heartening. Long term boyfriend and new guy too sounds sexy! I often wish there were an It Will Be Ok movement for feminism, like the It Gets Better campaign. It would be nice to hear from more people at different ages and in different situations who stepped outside of the "conventional female expectations" box and ended up happy.

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  174. @Veronica: Holly's blog kind of IS my It Will Be Okay campaign. :D

    Actually, when the It Gets Better campaign first began, I was tempted to write an It Gets Better post (of sorts) on my own blog...a ray of hope for other weirdos like me. But then I must have gotten distracted by something shiny. Thanks for reminding me of this idea - I'll write that post soon!

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  175. Errr, make that, *Holly's blog is essentially an "It Will Be Okay" campaign, as far as I'm concerned.

    That's better. My initial statement made it sound like I am in some way responsible for what's written here, when in fact I'm just a drooling fangirl.

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  176. Holly, thank you for your blog. I don't come from a family terribly concerned with sex, although my mom at least thinks it's nice but not to be treated too casually. I have no idea what she thinks about kink.

    I figured out that thinking about kink turned me on at around age 13. Seriously, as soon as I started thinking about sex, I started thinking about spanking, and being pinned to the bed, and a bunch of other fairly mild kinky things. But I also really didn't have much an interest in thinking about purely vanilla sex. I figured it would be fun, but it wasn't as interesting to think about.

    I knew there were kinky people out there, but I didn't know how prevalent it was, and I didn't know if I would ever even get to try my fantasies, or if I'd find them sexy in practice.

    Only recently, at age 19, did I get that chance. And... Oh my. Yup, I'm definitely kinkier than most. I'm not exactly super adventurous, not by kinkster standards, but I'm not vanilla either.

    But almost all of my friends are very vanilla. When conversations turn to sex (as conversations sometimes do) things get a bit awkward. Things they'd consider weird or kind of gross or in the category of "I guess whatever floats your boat..." I tend to consider interesting or hot. I was feeling awkward and self-conscious about that again today (I'm probably more outspoken than is good for my sanity), until I looked at your blog again. Your blog helps me feel like my interests are not strange, and certainly not shameful, but rather, that they are perfectly reasonable.

    So, as one overly self-conscious and very sex positive teenager, I thank you. I thank you for helping me feel like my preferences and interests easily within the realms of normalcy, and that I'm not slutty, or screwed up, or doomed to scare off all of the guys (which, between intelligence, kinkiness, and being something of a smart-ass, has often seemed probable). Thank you!

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  177. This is a great post, and one more people should read. The freedom to express ones sexuality without the fear of judgement is something as a society we need to work towards. Feminism isn't just a female topic, it's one we should be teaching our young boys and men about as well.

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  178. Nuh-uh. The issue with the term "sex-positive feminism" is that they've chosen a term, much like "pro-life" that leaves a really inaccurate and unfair term for anyone who disagrees with them. I'm anti-porn and anti-prostitution because I think they make it much more difficult to enjoy a liberated sex life. Sex-positive basically means pro-porn, in much the same way pro-life actually means anti-abortion. But now I can't be against porn, the commercialisation of sex, without being 'sex negative'? No. Fucked.

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    1. Sex-positive means a lot more than pro-porn. And you certainly don't have to accept the label sex-negative to be against porn!

      Still, I think being "anti-porn" is not a well-considered viewpoint, because "porn" is such a wide category. If sex is okay, then pointing a camera at sex ought to be at least sometimes okay. Definitely not all the time! Porn can be (in fact, commercial porn mostly is) exploitative and sexist and generally horrible. But the concept of porn, the mere presence of the camera, doesn't create these things.

      Criticizing "porn" as if it's one thing is lumping together way too many very different things for me. You can't say a lot of things that apply both to a porn shoot hiring desperate young women who will tolerate things they hate for money, and a porn shoot that's just friends screwing around and having fun with a camera. Both exist, and acknowledging that difference is necessary to deal with the bad stuff.

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    2. I was not expecting a reply on such an old post!

      When I say 'porn' I am referring to commercial porn: that is, prostitution on camera.

      Sex+camera does not equal exploitation although of course it can be abused (but what can't?)

      Sex+money/capitalism... a lot more likely. Sex+money+society with massive socioeconomic inequalities: starting to get pretty certain to lead to exploitation, camera or no. The main issue here is the women involved in production, but it also really bothers me to think of people masturbating to what is at best tenuous consent. That I have probably myself masturbated to something that doesn't meet the consent standard I would apply to sex with that person. Makes me feel hella creepy.

      The other major reason I refer to myself as "anti-porn" is that although healthy porn exists, the majority of the men I interact with on a daily basis, including cops, my employers and politicians who make decisions that affect my life, are not watching niche feminist porn, they're watching mainstream porn.

      So if you want to look at porn as a cultural entity, how it affects the world I navigate, where I basically have to live, you have to look at mainstream (sexist, awful) porn, the porn that's being watched by the majority. And that, I am anti.

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    3. I feel like this "I just mean the bad stuff!" is a very, very lazy intellectual cheat.

      I could refer to myself as "anti-book" or "anti-film" on the basis that many--probably most--books and films are anti-feminist. But that would be silly. My problem with a misogynist book is with the misogyny, not with the fact that it's a book.

      Porn and sex work can be--probably mostly are--exploitative and full of shitty-to-nonexistant consent. But to locate the problem in the fact that it's sex, instead of the fact that it's exploitation, misses the point by miles.

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  179. I know this is an old post but I think one of the issues people who object to the 'sex-positive' term are having is that they're focusing on the idea of the word 'sex' and all the baggage that may come with it for them....

    if there was a way for people to better understand that the 'sex' in 'sex positive' is 'consensual sex' (because there's nothing positive about non-consensual sex) I wonder if it would clear up a lot of the controversy....

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  180. oh my god, i now hate you, you have made me bitch want to be a feminist. stop being so goddamned intelligent about everything. just go back to having hairy legs and smelly fannies AND GIVE ME BACK MY GIRLFRIEND.

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  181. hi im rebelsmith :)wow great post :) and old into the bargain. fuck it im commenting anyway. so happy to have found this.Would like to rant a bit about anti-sex feminists claiming they are the definition of radical feminism. This is me: I dont wear make up or shave anything... and i mean bushbushbush :) not that im against that stuff its just i dont feel i need to to be happy and my parteners dont need it either. i am a radical anarchofeminist who recognises other forms of oppression. I am a psychodelic shaman philosopher nomad who believes in the oneness of the entire universe...subjectivity and multiple truths. I value direct experience as a way of knowing. so shoot me right? i also believe in consent. Been running into a lot of shit like this lately... http://wwomenwwarriors.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/intercourse-effects-on-root-and-sacral-chakras/ where they call sex PIV... WTF? i begged to differ, i shared my experiences as a sex loving, man loving, sharing loving woman, i admitted i've never been raped (what???) and that for the past 5 years, parallel with my spiritual growth, i have only become involved with men who are feminists, respect me, do not dominate me, and interact with me as an equal. The article attacks PIV (again, seriously WTF?) as being unnatural, damaging etc and that mens body boundaries are rarely 'invaded'. I described some tantric experiences of mine, ie prostate massage, you know just a generally joy sharing kind of comment being like' hey so this has been my experience and thats why each individual man does not represent the patriarchy for me.' the article says basically that penetration damages your chakral energy which effects your feelings of guilt, fear, security, trust and self worth in a negative way. JUst wanted to say that despite all the sex, I am growing and learning and happier everyday and independent and balanced and love myself and those around me. So they deleted my comment and proceeded to invalidate my experience because i have not been abused or something. Apparently i dont have my own life and i'm deluded because i listen to my body (my female body) and trust myself and my judgements. so i have delusions of happiness and self worth? they get all down on new agey stuff here and sprituality but its an article on chakras for fucks sake... Apparently my consent is worthless because im my sexuality is controlled by brainwashing, oh ok thanks, not! and im not really a radical feminist. i say fuck off. also my experiences are apparently disgusting... someone almost threw up because i wrote prostate massage... repressed much?

    im australian and i say fuck a lot too........ fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    so angry right now... why is my experience invalid just because it is not the same as their experience? i feel a fair fucking bit judged on my sexuality here... isnt that what patriarchy does? as a radical anarchofeminist i have to say this is like some weird strain of fascist feminism...wait, oh! feminazi! i get it now! its not just some fuckhead ignorant word for feminists... it really exists!
    this post is great :) thanks you for restoring my faith in feminism however you want to call it. time for me to chill a bit now, maybe eat some mushrooms, or meditate or something, zoom out a bit :)
    and let go :)
    thanks again
    and sorry for ranting
    actually not sorry tho ;)
    rebelsmith

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  182. Exactly, a lot of arguments like the one you described have people arguing past you rather than an actual debate. Also I think the unraveling that you describe is a key part of feminism, that a person has many facets to their personality. The focus on 'sexyness' by the people you spoke about as well as the patriarchy is dehumanising for all, as it reduces people down to one component of their personality. I think once this tendency to reduce people down to one part of them is stopped, recognising people are complex and their personalities the result of a combination of traits, which can be conflicting, we'll be able to move past a narrow definition of 'normal human'.

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