Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Feminism and sexiness.

I'm officially done with the Twisty Faster Is Fucking Insane posts. Not that she got any saner, but I worry the point of those posts was lost. The point was "these people are hateful and unreasonable under the guise of 'feminism,' and that isn't feminism at all," but it too often seemed to come out as "look at these feminists, they're so hateful and unreasonable." Every time someone says that they're not a feminist because they like men and sex and they don't feel miserably oppressed--well, I don't want to feel like I'm contributing to that. The old posts stay up but there will be no new ones.

A common charge, one visible on the "Feminisn't" blog linked in the last post, seems to be that feminism opposes sexiness. This is actually close to the truth. Feminism (at least my brand) doesn't oppose sexiness, but it opposes compulsory sexiness.

It's the difference between putting on makeup to look like your slutty fantasy, and putting on makeup to leave the house. Between wearing heels because they make your ass tight and your legs long, and wearing heels because they're in your dress code. Between smiling at a sexy stranger and having "hey honey, why aincha smiling" yelled at you. Between having sex because your pussy is wet and your muscles are quivering, and having sex because it's time to put out.

And I'd go further and say it's also the difference between being a sex worker because that's a legitimate career option, and being a sex worker because it's the only way you can eat. It's the difference between sexified female bodies being used as porn, and them being used as decorations and advertisements. Maybe most importantly, it's the difference between women being taken seriously when they talk about sexuality, and women not being taken seriously when they're not sexy enough.

I love sucking cock. I don't love having to suck cock. Whether "having" consists of direct coercion or merely a subtle set of social expectations, it not only ruins my day, it ruins the blowjob! You might get my mouth on your cock by convincing me I owe you or I'm supposed to, but the only way to feel me thrill to your reactions, to hear me make little moans around your cock, to see my body sweat and tighten and quiver with the act, is to let me suck cock when I want it.

Because compulsory sexiness isn't just demeaning and creepy, it gets in the way of real sexiness. Makeup and heels aren't even sexy any more, and even the ever-present images of mega-sexed-up models are barely a blip on the bonerometer. If women could be sexy on our own time--if looking and acting sexual was an indicator that we were actually interested in being sexy, rather than just doing what we gotta--then sexiness would mean something. We'd realize that actually, women aren't sexless when left to our own devices. We'd discover the many different things that make women feel sexy (some of us kinda rock the cargo pants, thank you) and we'd be more comfortable with women being unsexy when they had other shit to do.

I think that if women--if people--were free to express their sexuality when and how they wanted, there'd end up being more sexiness in the world, and this is why feminism is ultimately pro-sexy.


  1. Extreme brilliant post, Ms Holly that make Svutlana think deep about classification of latest blowjob...am no exact sure if it be coercion, rampage desire or simple want for move things along.

    It seem for me that compulsory sexiness encourage womens for experience their sexuality second hand and, as everybody know, it be extreme difficult for have orgasm via proxy.

  2. This is a beautiful dream.

    Seriously, though. Yes. This. When there's a baseline level of sexiness that women are expected to maintain at all times, a woman being sexy doesn't really mean much of anything at all (and a woman not being sexy is, like, an affront.)

  3. The fact that you even have a "slutty fantasy," much less think that "sexy" is some kind of static thing that women perform, shows that you are not in the least feminist.

  4. if looking and acting sexual was an indicator that we were actually interested in being sexy, rather than just doing what we gotta--then sexiness would mean something.

    I sort of agree with this...but then my mind flips over to the whole "look how she was dressed! She was asking for it" attitude that society clings to and it seems like the sexiness-means-something mindset would bring a lot of trouble - in the world as it is now, anyway.

    So...obviously alongside the "women don't have to look sexy unless they want to" thing, we also need to add the "...and it's not necessarily for the benefit of men, so calm the fuck down" thing. The two attitudes have to go hand in hand.

    Really it all boils down to: "women are actually people with our own needs and wants and opinions and personalities, not just helpers/fantasies/appendages for men" I guess.

  5. Yes, please, anonymous, let's have an nameless baseless assertion that someone Can't Really Be A Feminist if they have those views.

    Try harder, please. Or really, don't try at all.

  6. I'm going to put myself out there for flaming as a not-anonymous and say that...I also did get a bit of a twinge from the things anonymous pointed out, to be honest. I think you're an awesome feminist, but I do think there are some really strange implications in "putting on makeup to look like your slutty fantasy" and "wearing heels because they make your ass tight and your legs long."

    I appreciate that you threw in the reference to cargo pants, but it was kind of an after-thought. Of course, feminism is about women being free to do whatever they like to feel sexy but I just wonder why the first two examples you reached for were so superficial and so conventional. In my sluttiest fantasies, my first thought isn't to do *exactly* what society says I must do in order to be sexy.

    Again, I realize everyone is entitled to their own fantasies. I just wish you'd started with some different examples. Or used different phrasing. The way you set up the contrast implies that IF feminism ISN'T about putting on makeup to leave the house, then it IS about putting on makeup to look sexy. And that's not true.

    Anonymous is crazy overreacting and probably a troll, but I can see what set him/her off.


  7. Thank you, this is a wonderful post.

    Andy: I understood it that Holly was speaking against those feminists who claim that feminists never wear make-up or high heels, and saying that you can do that as long as you do it for the right reasons. That it was specifically a commentary on how conventionally "sexy" things can be actually sexy AND feminist, because Twisty Faster & co. are saying they can't, ever.

  8. Anon - Oh no! I'll return my Feminist Certification to the issuing authority immediately and shred the wallet card.

    You're correct, though, that "sexy" is not a static performance by women. It's a highly dynamic and subjectively created and perceived performance by people, and I wish I'd gone into more detail on that in the post.

    Perversecowgirl - In my sexual utopia (I'm already blue-skyin' so why not go all the way), people understand the difference between "sexy" and "wanting sex", and the even more crucial difference between "wanting sex" and "wanting sex with whoever."

    Given that compulsory sexiness is often an attempt to shove us into a 24/7 state of appearing to want sex with whoever, this would be a really big improvement.

    Andy - I mentioned the makeup and high heels because I think those are okay ways to express your sexuality, if it's really yours that you're expressing. Dropping conventions does not mean that everyone has to be unconventional now--only that there's no penalty for doing so.

  9. everyone has their own way, and if a woman wears makeup and/or heals because it makes them feel more confident, even if its because, ultimately, social pressures encourage them to do so, then why are they suddenly not feminist - (weak things compared to big bad society)?

    I wear makeup 'when I leave he house' because it makes me look/feel better, not because of a 'slutty fantasy' Am I not a Feminist? Should I also start suggesting women are lesser than men: not earn as much, not be promoted because they're undoubtedly planning on quitting the moment they get preggers?

    We can't and shouldn't have lines for what is and isn't feminism. It's a point of view.

    let me also say that I am often envious of women who don't wear makeup & feel confident without it, although they also seem to have better skin than I do, which helps.

  10. Emmie - I understood it that Holly was speaking against those feminists who claim that feminists never wear make-up or high heels, and saying that you can do that as long as you do it for the right reasons.

    Yes to your reasoning, but I wasn't really speaking against "those feminists"; I was more speaking to people who think that feminists think that. There are far fewer obnoxiously-radical feminists than there are people outside feminism who think that we're all obnoxiously radical. My point isn't "stuff it, makeup-hating feminists," but "hey, most feminists don't hate makeup."

    Which isn't to say that we're pliable and nice and wear makeup to make ourselves more palatable to society (well, we might have to sometimes, but we don't have to like it), only that we sometimes choose to wear makeup if we please.


  11. S - For starters, I'm not telling anyone not to wear makeup. My definition of what is and isn't feministical is pretty shaky to begin with, but I'm pretty sure "telling women what to look like and how to live" doesn't make the list.

    And you're right, makeup isn't always sexual. Sometimes it's fashion, play, or just grooming.

    That said, I do find it a little worrisome when someone thinks they look bad without it, rather than good with it. I wouldn't exactly call it unfeminist, but it's... dispiriting, you know?

    And while I'm being a jerk, I'm going to point out that I'm confident without makeup not because I have good skin, but because I'm good at a difficult job and I think I have interesting ideas. So there's that.

  12. You rock beyond all measures of the word.

    "Feminism isn't against sexiness; it's against *compulsory* sexiness." Quote of the goddamned YEAR.

  13. Holly: There are far fewer obnoxiously-radical feminists than there are people outside feminism who think that we're all obnoxiously radical.

    Good point. And I should have thought of the fact you're probably more against strawman feminism than actual irrational, sex-hating radical feminists, who are a pretty marginal phenomenon.

  14. For what it's worth, the Twisty posts caused some positive change in one person. One of those was one of the first posts I read here, long before I started commenting. And I thought at the time Twisty was the normal face of feminism and it was simply the word for hating men. It was a big surprise to hear there was something else to feminism, and it was a big thing that kept me hanging around.

    If it were not for that post, there's a lot that I would not have learned about feminism, and the problems it opposes. Problems I thought were gone by the 70s are alive and kicking. I learned about problems with things I never realized were a problem. And I learned about problems that I never knew existed at all.

    This isn't a plea to keep the Twisty posts going. It's a note that when you look back on them, if you are thinking about how they didn't work the way you wanted, at least one time they did do something good.

  15. I agree. Feminism is not the radical belief that women are pornulated sexbots unless freed by the revolution; it is not the radical belief that women should be pornulated sexbots, or else they're ugly dyke bitches; it is the radical belief that women are people and can become pornulated sexbots if they want to, but if they'd rather hang out in blue jeans, that's okay.

    Men being able to be pornulated sexbots if they want to is the advanced class.

  16. Holly, I'm newon the pervocracy bandwagon, but I've devoured the archives and am finally caught up.

    Just wanted to say I have abig <3on for you!You have this wonderful tendency to write things that make me go "Holy crap I've spent hours in conversations with people trying to find a sensical way of expressing exactly this! Must forward to everyone I know!"

    All nitpickery in the above comments aside, this is definitely one of those times.

  17. I'm a big fan of Furrygirl, the author of that previous post you discussed and I can understand a lot of her frustrations with many of the manifestations and distortions of "feminism".

    However, I think my feminism aligns pretty closely with yours, Holly, because I tend to agree with a lot of what this post says.

    I would say more but as usual I'm reading and commenting on your blog during a lunch break. Woot!

  18. as a non-sexy example, I'm thinking about organizing a knitting and crocheting event, and would like to go into the gendered problems of this in the text that announces the event... and what I seem to think, is that

    1. knitting shouldn't be tought about as girly, because I would prefer to live in a world where people could do awesome things without having to think about what these mean for they gender identity, and categorizing some of the possible activities as girly and the others as boyish is downright stupid


    2. if there are women who are linking their love to knitting to their gender identity, or genderqueers who make it part of their effort to confuse traditional viewers [sorry for the wording, I don't mean that your gender expression is only a show, but can't find the right words]... or transwomen whom it means a step towards affirming their true gender... then who am I to tell them, that stop, this is meaningless, this doesn't make you any more womanly, even if you feel so (and society agrees, by the way)?


    3. the conclusion would be, that what I hate, is compulsory womanliness (and knitting-friendliness) for all female-born people and an interdiction of knitting for "<>" men; but compulsory non-knitting, or compulsory genderblind knitting wouldn't make the world any better.

    This can be translated to make-up etc.


  19. ""<>" men" was ""real" men", but the program somehow misunderstood it.


  20. Anon - You bring up a really tough problem with this:
    but compulsory non-knitting, or compulsory genderblind knitting wouldn't make the world any better.

    Because I'd like society to see knitting as non-gendered, but I would never tell any individual "you must knit" or "you mustn't knit."

    "You mustn't be a jerk about other people's decisions to knit or not" is about as imperative as I get, and if I still find my knitting club is 95% women, I don't know what I can or should do.

  21. A random visitor dropping by and commenting... I'll read the backlog sometime soon as well...

    Regarding the make-up, and women wearing it because they "look bad" without it... that doesn't mean those women aren't feminists, although they are contributing slightly to the perpetuation of societal outlooks that are non-feminist (as do almost everyone, however liberal, egalitarian and/or liberated, so no judgement there). Women feeling like that is probably, in my opinion, a symptom of the fact that society is still non-feminist.

    Of course, the same could be claimed for the tendency for women to have fantasies that are compatible with social pressures. That isn't a problem with the person either. I believe that, as society becomes more free and equal over generations, that symptom will reduce; you can't blame the people who exhibit the symptoms of socialisation, as we're all products of our upbringing and our society. We have no idea, as yet, which elements of the "normal" views of either female *or* male attractiveness are hard-wired/evolutionary and which are socialised. If a person is exhibiting socialised behaviour that doesn't actually hurt anyone, and they're fine with, even empowered by, that behaviour, then what's the problem?

    Of course, if that person exhibits that socialised behaviour publicly, they're contributing to ongoing socialisation and pressure, but that's unavoidable without denying the freedom to express socially "normal" behaviour as well as non-"normal" behaviour. The freedom to be non-"normal" means nothing without the freedom to be "normal".

  22. You are talking about the *theory* of feminism. The *reality* of feminism is that feminists tell me that I'm a paid rapee, that I'm a tool of the patriarchy, that I just crave abuse, that my body disgusts them, that my sexuality disgusts them, that to empower themselves they throw up on pictures of me. I'm sure you and I can agree that that isn't very "feminist" of them, but that doesn't change the *reality* of what feminism is, you know, in reality.

  23. Tara - There's some dingbats using the name "feminist" out there. It doesn't discredit the whole movement.

    Hey! I'm a feminist myself! I think what you do is just fine! That's the reality of feminism too!

  24. Somehow you thinking I'm okay doesnt quite balance out the conferences, movies, roadshows, and other propaganda put out by feminist groups like Stop Porn Culture. It doesn't change the fact that 28 women were assaulted and imprisoned here just last week by the FBI's Project Lost Innocence which exists because of feminist activism.

    I call myself a feminist too, but it doesn't change the fact that feminism basically threatens my life and freedom and wants to take away my bodily autonomy.

  25. Tara - There are loony, annoying, and dangerous people in every large movement. It doesn't mean that the underlying idea of the movement is the problem.

  26. No, it doesn't have anything to do with the underlying idea of the movement, it has to do with the actions of the movement, which are much more relevant.

  27. I have no idea if you'll even read this, since I'm about a year late to the party, but in case it matters: your TFIFI posts were the tipping point in deciding to (maybe, if I am feeling brave) call myself a feminist again. I definitely went from "my god, there are a ton of batshit crazy people in the modern feminist movement and nobody is calling them out on it" to "feminism can be for reasonable people too! Possibly even for people who are sometimes unsure about things, or disagree on details!"

    So thank you. I feel so much less alone as a result of your blog that I'm not sure how to properly express my gratitude. So add one to the list of people who were positively influenced, I suppose.

  28. I just want to stark and say that I find the word "bonerometer" exceedingly hilarious.