A post at B‘s place has gotten me to thinking. “Sex-positive” types often object to my posts on porn, sexuality, etc. in comments that accuse me of being anti-sex or of attmempting to shame women. They tell me they have fought long and hard for women’s freedom of sexual expression and against the idea that women who like sex are sluts. Did it ever occur to anyone that I take for granted that women’s sexuality ought to be freed from the constraints placed on it by the virgin/whore dichotomy? That I approach everything with the assumption that women’s sexuality should not be a source of shame? It’s foundational and unassailable for me, and so I’ve moved beyond it; I operate under the assumption that we ought to be free to express our sexuality without the fear of being condemned as sluts by the agents of patriarchy. But that doesn’t mean that all sexual activity is inherently feminist. I see three stages of thinking about women’s sexuality:
- Reactionary: People who have absorbed what the patriarchy has to teach about women’s sexual suboordination are frightened by women exercising their sexuality and voicing their desires, so they attempt to shame women who transgress patriarchal norms to force them back into line.
- Libertarian: Anyone with a brain can see that’s bullshit, so many women have fought for our right to participate in and enjoy sex without the fear of recrimination. That’s a good thing, but women’s sexual liberation has yet to be achieved, and sexual libertarianism has led to some problematic ways of looking at things. Many women have absorbed the idea that women’s sexual liberation is the goal, and then have gone on to assume that any sex act a woman might want to participate in is liberating and thus unproblematic and/or unassailable.
- Liberationist: It is taken for granted that women ought to be free to express and explore their sexuality, but that does not mean that sex is a sacred cow and that we have no right to question the morality of a sexual behavior. Does a sex act hinder the cause of women’s wholesale sexual liberation or the progress toward women’s legal, social, and cultural liberation? Does it pose the risk of harm to individual women? A sexual Liberationist would never argue that a sex act ought to be banned or that women ought to not be allowed to participate in whatever activities they deem appropriate, but she might question the choice to do so and the impact that choice has on women as a whole. With freedom comes responsibility, blah blah.
What often happens is that sexual Libertarians and sexual Liberationists often go in circles, with the Libertarians calling the Liberationists reactionaries and the Liberationists calling the Libertarians sell-outs. I understand the Libertarian viewpoint: the smidgen of sexual freedom we do have has been hard-won, and other women coming in to question what we do with it might seem outrageous coming so close on the heels of our wresting that small bit of freedom away from the phallocrats. But Liberationists want to push things further. We’ve got the freedom to fuck, but how about the freedom to be treated like human beings with sexual desires that might not match up so well with what men want out of us? How about the freedom to develop our sexuality in a world free of misogyny and the message that we ought to be aroused by being used? I wish that these Libertarians would quit pretending they don’t understand the difference between a Liberationist and a Reactionary. If we could all acknowledge each other’s real positions and quit getting caught up in a circle of accusations, we might actually get somewhere.