How to be a (male) feminist ally -
By Elizabeth Pickett
1) Read as much as you can about feminist issues and feminist critical thinking … and keep reading. Not just mass media either. In fact, with a very few exceptions, reports about feminists and what they do in the mass media are apt to be oversimplified, sensationalised or outright sexist.
2) Talk to women and mostly listen. Or ask questions. Try not to presuppose. Be curious as opposed to critical – for your own education and our good.
3) Think for yourself but do it mostly by yourself. It’s your work, not the work of feminists, to educate yourself. Don’t come to us knowing nothing and acting as if you know everything. We are most often treated by men as if we are in need of their advice and direction and we might just be a little sensitive about this. It’s YOUR job to treat us as true equals – because we are – and because when it comes to women’s lives we know more than you do. It’s true that we’ll make lots of mistakes – just like you. It’s not your job to tell us what they are. We are an exploited and oppressed sex class and it is up to us to define the terms of our own liberation.
4) There are differences among feminists in terms of our analyses and the strategies and tactics we decide are appropriate for our own liberation. Choose those whom you wish to support and then support them by advocating amongst men. Keep your critiques of individual feminists or feminist perspectives to yourselves. As a result of our exploitation and oppression there is horizontal fighting and even bullying between us sometimes. Leave this to us to sort out. Your “contributions” to the fight only make matters worse, divide us further, force us to choose between our supporters, make male opinions the issue instead of feminist opinions and generally stall our efforts. If you think you have some brilliant insight or thought that no woman has had that can save our movement or send us unerringly in the right direction – I don’t believe you. But feel free to send us a secret message via a feminist friend.
5) It’s a fact that you will hear some women/feminists say things that sound negative toward men and about men. Leave it alone. It is the result of our experiences of violence and oppression. There isn’t one single woman who isn’t placed somewhere on the continuum of violence against women either as a direct or vicarious victim. Let us deal with it and accept that a generations-long system of oppression and violence has done its work on some of us. Wait for us. And don’t take it personally – it just makes you sound defensive and it lengthens the time it takes for each of us to come to terms with our lives and the lives of our sisters. Be particularly attentive to this with women whom you know have experienced violence and those of us who work with them.
6) If you feel divided from women and excluded from feminism sometimes, for gawd sakes deal with it. Women are divided from men and excluded from social, cultural, economic and political life in a thousand ways. We have to deal with it. You should be able to do that much. And use it to motivate your actions on behalf of our liberation.
7) If you’re afraid to stand up against sexism, male violence against women and the exploitation of women – how do you think we feel? Speak up and speak out.
8) Your primary job is with men. And yourself.
*This piece was written with the input of women at Feministas of Canada.
The trouble with male allies -
As I’ve said before, when it comes to men being feminist allies, “show, don’t tell.”
Now, more than ever before, feminists should be skeptical of men who claim the title of “feminist” or “feminist ally.” We’ve learned a number of things (one would hope) from the Hugo Schwyzer debacle – one of those things being that we should be skeptical of any man who claims to be an authority on feminism (particularly when these men have a history of abuse, but in general as well).
In an interview with activist and writer, John Stoltenberg, published here at Feminist Current this week, he responds to the question of where “pro-feminist men” fit into our movement with this:
“First of all I don’t think any man of conscience—whether self-identified as pro-feminist or not—can or should presume to speak in women’s place or ‘decide what feminism should be about.’ That’s just a baseline principle.”
You would think this would be fairly obvious. But it’s clear, based on the behaviour of many self-described “feminist allies” or “pro-feminist men,” that they are not respecting this foundational principle.
I, of course, see this often as men try to comment here on this site by authoritatively stating “AS A FEMINIST______,” demanding that we lend him more credibility in these discussions because he self-identifies as an ally. These men tend to be become quickly irate when you tell them that their opinion on feminism or what is wrong with feminist ideology isn’t of much concern. This behaviour, quite quickly, outs them as not an ally at all, despite their frustrated insistence.
This past week I’ve had some decidedly off-putting encounters with self-described “allies,” due specifically to discussions around Hugo Schwyzer. Some men joined in on efforts to harass and bully feminists online who they felt hadn’t responded correctly to the Schwyzer issue/incidents, criticizing them for having been duped by a manipulative sociopath. While certainly people, feminists too, should be held to account for their actions and many have admitted and apologized for their failure to condemn Schwyzer sooner, it is not men’s place to demand accountability from feminists. It is their place to demand accountability from other men.
A particularly frustrating example of this came from an interaction with a man who has been covering the various abuses and decidedly unfeminist behaviours of Schwzyer over the past year or so. I’m not angry he’s covering this, at all — in fact, as a man, what he is doing is trying to hold another man accountable for his actions. If he left it at that, it would be perfectly fine.
The problem, for me, comes when those efforts lean too closely towards righteousness and become authoritative or directive. I appreciate men doing the work of holding other men to account — I do not appreciate men telling feminists how they are failing at doing feminism.
I suggested, in response, that “perhaps as someone who self-describes as ‘ally’ it isn’t your job to decide what feminists are doing ‘wrong,’” but the comment was ignored. Which is fine. It’s Twitter. We can’t expect or demand people engage with us on a such an unproductive (in terms of having full, thoughtful discussions — I’m sorry but 140 characters simply doesn’t allow for it, for the most part) and at times overwhelming medium.
I know many men who truly are allies to the feminist movement. But they don’t refer to themselves as such. Simply, it’s obvious based on their behaviour, work, and their interactions with feminists and the movement. They don’t pat themselves on the backs for being allies, nor do they admonish feminists for “not doing enough” or simply because they don’t agree with their various ideologies.
In the midst of finger-pointing (of which, I have to say, there has been a lot of with regard to the Schwyzer issue), when it comes to male “allies,” (and, I would argue, feminists as well) the finger should be pointed squarely at the perpetrator. But also, for men in feminism, a great deal of the work involves looking at their own behaviours, as men, and the ways they roam the world, equipped with male privilege. My friend (and feminist ally) Reece said to me recently that what he’d realized in trying to be an ally was that, at the end of the day he could understand that “because of patriarchy, women have to live in almost constant fear of being raped, even in what may seem like a totally safe place — but I can’t say I understand what that feels like.” Part of being an ally is knowing that you will never fully understand what it’s like to be female, or brown, or poor in this world, if you are not (though you can still work against those oppressive systems).
My desire in writing this is not to “call out” any individual man in particular, but to remind men that the word “mansplaining” came in to being because it’s something women experience so often. Not because men can’t and shouldn’t have opinions or that they must be silent — but because men fall so easily into the role of “expert” — because they’ve learned they are the “experts” — and seem to expect cookies and back pats for doing the bare minimum in terms of being pro-feminist. I’ve fallen into this myself, being so caught off guard by a man actually saying something feministish that I am too easily willing to trust him.
While “show, don’t tell” should be the basic rule, my friend and sister, Elizabeth Pickett, came up with a set of more elaborate and specific guidelines for men who wish to ally with feminists. I think it is excellent and have published it on this site. Please do take a look.
Femen was founded and is controlled by a man. Exactly zero people are surprised -
Femen, aka, CLASSICAL FEMINISM IS DEAD ALSO LOOK AT OUR BOOOOOBS, turns out to have been founded and controlled by a man named Victor Svyatski.
“Outed” by Australian film-maker Kitty Green, she says: “It’s his movement and he hand-picked the girls. He hand-picked the prettiest girls because the prettiest girls sell more papers. The prettiest girls get on the front page… that became their image, that became the way they sold the brand.”
I swear I don’t want to go all “I TOLD YOU SO SUCKERS” but seriously. We talked about this.
We talked about the fact that the whole point of Femen was to capture the male gaze, thereby capturing the attention of the media. We talked about the fact that we should be skeptical “anytime anyone makes reference to a “new face of feminism” and that face is either lingerie, something about pole dancing, or boobs.” We talked about the fact that “if a dude posts a photo of boobs and tells you it’s feminism, it’s not.”
All feminists who are smart and unfooled by the self-objectification-is-empowerment crap and who haven’t come down with a bad case of burlesque-brain like the rest of the third wave also knew better than to fall for the Femen garbage. So now is the time we all join together and rub this news obnoxiously in the faces of every dumbo who fell for this crap. WE TOLD YOU AND WE ARE RIGHT AND YOU ARE WRONG. FOREVER. Oh do we sound gloaty? Do you not like that? DON’T CARE. Feminism needs smarty-pants gloaters more than porn-loving FEMINISM IS ABOUT LOOKING HOT AND SEXY AND DOING WHAT WE WANT FUCK YEAH mush-brains. Also! Feminism isn’t here to give you a boner. If it is giving you a boner you may want to question whether or not that’s because this “feminism” is actually porn in a verysexy nurse outfit shoddy disguise.
Green, who made a documentary about Femen (which is currently screening at the Venice Film Festival), lead her to discover Svyatski’s influence over the group. He sounds like a real gem, too.
The Independent reports that “Initially, Mr Svyatski refused to allow Ms Green to film him but she was determined that he should feature” and quoted Green as saying: “It was a big moral thing for me because I realized how this organization was run. He was quite horrible with the girls. He would scream at them and call them bitches.” “He is Femen,” she said.
Svyatski admits, in the film, that maybe somewhere in his “deep self-conscious,” he started Femen to “get girls” and seems to think the women are incapable of doing feminist activism without his leadership.
Creepily, one Femen activist in the film is said to have compared the relationship between the women and Svyatski as being like a kind of “Stockholm syndrome.” You know, like when a bond forms between victim and abuser? Or like how people who have been kidnapped develop an emotional connection to their captor?
New headline: “Abusive man sells new brand of feminism under banner of boobs. All media falls for it, as per usual.”
Subhead: “Dear media, stop selling us out. Love, actual feminism.”
Pay close attention to this one, defenders of “Go Topless Day,” Slutwalk, “feminist porn,” burlesque, and sex-work-is-an-empowering-and-sexy-choice-for-sexy-empowered-women. Feminism isn’t a sexy thing to look at. Nor is it a brand. Feminism isn’t fun and sexy despite the fact that many fun and sexy feminists exist. The fun and sexy part is maybe a sidebar, but it isn’t the main event. The main event is a lot of decidedly unsexy activism and law-changing and fighting and hard conversations. The main event is about ending violence against women and rape and incest and objectification and harassment and the practice of men paying to abuse women and girls under the guise of free speech and all that very, very unsexy stuff that dudes don’t like taking pictures of or jacking off to.
Kathleen Hanna pretty much says it all about dudes and feminism -
Oh man. I just love this video of Kathleen Hanna explaining the origin of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” I recently discovered via The Frisky.
Hanna’s rendition of the song is amaaaazing, of course, but what I really loved was the way she was able to point out how ridiculous so many dudes are when it comes to understanding and actually giving a shit about sexism.
Along with the story of how the classic Nirvana song came to be, Hanna shares that, while on tour with her band, in the 90s, she had to get a job as a strip club in order to get enough money together to fix the van that would enable the band to go on tour.
At about the five minute mark, Hanna talks about having to open for a band called “Mutton Chops,” whose lead singer came up to her to ask what “guys can do to help you feminists.”
It was later that night that this band came in to the very strip club Hanna was working at. So she ends up having to strip for these dudes who had, hours earlier, faked a kind of vague interest in feminism until it became inconvenient (i.e when they’re dicks came into question).
Isn’t it all too predictable? Oh yeah, yeah, feminism. Totally into it. So… Strip club?
Anyway, watch the video. She’s so rad.
This week in Idiotic Things People Do In The Name Of Feminism: Boob parade! -
Sunday was, apparently, “Go Topless Day." According to media coverage of the event in Vancouver, the purpose of the march is to "stand up for women’s right to go topless in public."
CBC’s headline read: “Topless women march in Vancouver for gender equality,” which naturally led me to wonder what, exactly, about fighting for our “right” to bare our breasts in public had to do with gender equality.
First things first. In Canada, women won the right to bare their breasts in public in 1996, so the claims that this march is about gaining rights is a little misleading. Spokesperson, Denise Belisle, said the women participating in the event in Vancouver were fighting for women in other places where going topless isn’t legal: “For the women who do want to go topless, they should have that option. They do here in Vancouver, that’s great, but not everywhere.” How, exactly, women parading topless down Robson Street, in Vancouver, where it is already legal, impacts the law in other places is unclear.
Second, it seems relevant to mention that Go Topless Day is, as The National Post reported, “organized and promoted by the Raelians, a UFO cult founded by former French journalist Claude Vorlihan (i.e. a dude), author of ‘Extraterrestrials Took Me to Their Planet.’” The National Post seems to stand out as an exception, calling the event “a publicity stunt,” unlike the many other media outlets who placed it under the banner of “gender rights.” Though this information should be cause for skepticism, in terms of the credibility or relevance to feminism, the media seems to be taking it quite seriously. It’s no strange coincidence that news outlets seem most interested in covering “gender rights” when we’re dealing with either Slutwalk or female nudity.
It is true that there is a double-standard. Aside from the douche-factor, people tend not to pay much attention to men who go shirtless in public places. Women, on the other hand, are likely to be gawked at, harassed, cat-called, or treated as though they are doing something socially inappropriate.
Now, as far as “gender rights” go, near the bottom of the list of concerns I have about inequality is my “right” to go topless. There are very few moments in my life wherein I feel I would be freer or cooler if only I could bare my breasts. That said, the reasons behind the fact that women don’t go topless in public places as casually as men, do matter.
Breasts are sexualized in our culture. In general, women’s bodies and body parts are fetishized in a way that men’s are not. This is why people get so worked up when women breastfeed in public. Because breasts are, we’ve been made to believe, reserved for male sexual fantasies. Feeding babies with sexy sex toys doesn’t fit very well with that notion.
It is for this same reason that The Province covered Sunday’s march with the headline: “Everyone’s a photographer on Go Topless Day in Vancouver.” Because, obviously, a bunch of disgusting pieces of shit felt that a march that (were we not so terribly simple-minded and misguided) could have been about women’s right not to be objectified should actually be about objectifying women.
The National Post reported that “at least one participant had to hold the crowds back shouting ‘You’re too close,’” because, of course, female nudity is an invitation to men to behave rapily. Men think they have the right to access women in public spaces regardless of how clothed we are, but they particularly believe that women’s naked bodies exist for them. What else could they possibly be for?
Of course, the message that this double-standard is sexist (I actually don’t think that was the message, or really that there was any message at all — but let’s pretend for argument’s sake) failed because those behind the march don’t quite get it. The chant, “free your breasts, free your mind,” tells me that the GoTopless folks have avoided looking at the root of the issue. There is little that can be changed at the surface, particularly when we we don’t understand why the inequality exists in the first place. There is also little that can be changed, with regard to the objectification of women, simply by “freeing one’s mind.”
Belisle, said: “It’s an education for men. Men are learning and they’re learning to be more respectful.” Of course, as demonstrated by the behaviour of the men witnessing the event, the exact opposite was achieved. Men did not learn to be more respectful, nor did they learn anything about women’s rights or “gender equality.” The march merely reinforced their belief that women’s naked bodies equate to pornography — they are to be looked at for the purposes of male pleasure.
I find it consistently sad and lazy (many days I simply don’t have the energy to feel angry and am certainly not surprised) that the media and the general public refuses to engage withfeminism”gender rights” unless it can somehow be pornified.
Liberals want more lies in ‘Lovelace’ -
Lovelace was hard to watch. It was hard to be reminded that there was a time when women couldn’t legally testify against their husbands. It was hard to watch a woman trying to escape from an abusive man, but have nowhere to go. It was hard to watch yet another woman’s trust and love for a man be repaid with hatred and violence. But it felt refreshing to see Hollywood deal with the sex industry in a way that didn’t make light of, glorify, or sexualize women’s experiences in it. John Stoltenberg wrote: “cinematic justice has never been so bittersweet.”
Deep Throat holds a significant place in pop culture, pinpointing the beginnings of porn culture. It was seen as fun, sexy entertainment then and is seen more as kitsch today — continuing to be, more often, the butt of a joke rather than a reminder of the brutal reality that is misogyny.
Today the project of mainstreaming pornography that began back in the 70s is complete. Hipster culture loves vintage porn. We’ve brought it back via burlesque and pin-ups, as well as in fashion photography. Our larger cultural attitude towards porn is that it’s an ordinary part of life. Objectification is something fun we do at parties, porn is decorative — something we put up on walls or play in the background at parties. It’s something that brave, open-minded, sexually liberal women do. Feminism had something going there for a while in a solid critique of pornography during the 80s (galvanized, in part, by the publication of Linda’s memoir, Ordeal). But we lost the plot on that one, handing porn over to liberals, capitalists, and pop culture.
Feminism has come a long way and so has porn culture. No longer relegated to dark theatres, no longer a subculture or something that’s purely masturbatory — it’s a look.
We’ve all seen enough American Apparel ads to know that grainy, soft core porn style that’s supposed to remind us of the good old days before breast implants and hairless crotches, as though it’s more ethical to objectify women with real breasts. We don’t see it as sexism, we see it as a throwback. Or art. Or irony. Or something.
But hair or no hair, real or fake breasts, the only thing that’s really changed since the 70s, when Deep Throat came out, is that porn has successfully woven it’s way into our everyday lives. It’s our fashion, our entertainment, our celebrity culture, it’s in the bars and at the parties we go to. That the foundation for our current reality was built, in part, on the abuse and exploitation of this one woman, Linda Lovelace, is not insignificant.
Linda Lovelace was called the poster girl for the sexual revolution, if that tells you anything about the sexual revolution… Women really got screwed on that one (pun acknowledged). Informed of our liberation, we became free to become the public, rather than just private, sexual playthings of men. What was different now that we were “liberated” was that we had to like it. We had to be turned on by our own objectification and enjoy whatever male culture deemed sexy. Our own “liberation” was used against us, to shame us into subordination — albeit with smiles on our faces, moaning and groaning in feigned ecstasy.
Most media outlets covered the film with an appropriate level disgust for and critique of the reality of Deep Throat, the popularization of which turned out to be, essentially, a celebration of abuse and exploitation. “This is the Linda that the world didn’t see and who, even as her body became a public spectacle, nursed her wounds in private,” reads a review in The New York Times. How often do male fantasies come at the expense of women’s lives?
In The Week, Monika Bartyzel argues that Lovelace failed to capture the extent of the abuse inflicted on Linda, saying that the directors “frame Chuck and Linda as some pair of doomed, star-crossed lovers by ending on the note that Chuck died exactly three months after Linda on July 22, 2002.” Bartyzel points out that Chuck began abusing Linda and prostituting her even before they were married, though the film shows the abuse beginning on their wedding night when he rapes her. As grim and as upsetting as it was to watch the film, the reality was actually much worse.
Stoltenberg points this out as well, saying:
The movie makers left out the worst of what was done to Linda, which was abominable and included forced bestiality. Had they not, I have no doubt, Lovelace would have been not only unreleasable but unwatchable.
Even the most tepid version of reality is almost unbearable.
Gloria Steinem, who befriended and supported Linda when she came out about the abuse and wrote the article, “The Real Linda Lovelace,” for Ms. Magazine in 1980, said something similar after attending a screening of the film — that Linda’s life with Traynor and in porn was much more violent than Lovelace let on.
Yet liberals and even some feminists are unsatisfied with that truth. Desperately clinging to the “empowerment” narrative sold to them first by the porn-makers themselves, back in the 70s, and again by third wave feminism today, they continue the victim-blaming that began so many decades ago, questioning Linda’s credibility and asking why she returned to the industry years later. (Newsflash: she needed the money.) They say, over and over again, that Linda eventually rejected the anti-porn movement years later, as though that somehow compares to or negates the abuse and exploitation she experienced in the industry.
In a rather convoluted review at Art Forum, writer Sarah Nicole Prickett accuses the film of painting Linda as a victim (well, I’m afraid she was), calling it “pro-family, anti-porn-industry propaganda.” Angry at the lack of nuance and the perpetuation of simplistic tropes, Prickett sees the film as, “at surface, a morality play” which falls back on the “happy hooker/sad hooker dualism.”
Prickett’s main source of frustration seems to be that the filmmakers painted Linda as a “good girl.”
In 1972, Linda found millions of Americans willing to think any woman would believe that her clitoris was in her throat, and in 1980 she entered a world ready to accept that a woman regretted, without complexity, every sex act she’d ever committed. But this year—what gives? Must a heroine still be proven innocent?
A piece in The Atlantic reminds us that things are oh so different in today’s porn industry — full of fairy dust and ponies. Whatever you do, make Linda’s story the exception, not the rule, the writer warns us.
Somehow, no matter how many tales of abuse and exploitation we hear, no matter what we actually see in the world around us, we are loathe to point the finger at the perpetrator.
The liberals are angry, no doubt. But not at the gang rapes or the beatings inflicted. Rather they’re mad that Linda wasn’t the “sexual revolutionary” society wanted her to be. Mad that she wasn’t the “happy hooker” or the “carefree if drug-addicted superfreak” that would be so much more palatable (and more titillating) on screen.
We’ve learned to look for nuance at the expense of truth. Grey areas and character flaws don’t alter reality to the point where we can’t say that which is glaringly obvious. We remain so uncomfortable with the victimization of women that we look away — pointing towards Andrea Dworkin and vilifying Catharine MacKinnon, women who supported Linda and fought tirelessly against male violence. Whether or not Linda remained a staunch anti-porn campaigner for life doesn’t change her history in porn and her experiences at the hands of abusive men in her life.
Feminism is an easier target, to be sure. And perhaps if you silence the voices pointing out oppression, it will cease to be a reality for you. Of course the privilege of ignorance will never save those who bear the brunt of our collective fantasy.
Pin-ups, porn culture, and white-centered postfeminism: On Hilda, the forgotten, plus-size pin-up -
A lot of folks have been posting about a “forgotten plus-sized pin-up” named Hilda who was created in the 1950s as she’s more full-figured than we’re used to seeing in sexualized images of women. Hilda was recently rediscoverd by the mainstream and now, it seems, feminist outlets everywhere are celebrating her image, mostly because she’s plus-sized (an expression I hate, for the record).
They’re not critiquing the fact that she is sexualized and objectified in the exact same way as the thin models; they’re just applauding their efforts on being superficially diverse.
Feminist blogs are celebrating Hilda’s image and calling her “beautiful” and “inspiring.” Meanwhile, those of us who routinely critique sexist displays of women in mainstream culture are left on the sidelines confused because we are well aware that the pin-up girl image helps facilitate women’s dehumanization. Okay—maybe I didn’t get the memo, but why, as feminists, are we celebrating the pin-up?
Ok, I get it. We live in a culture where we claim to be post-everything. So, we pat ourselves on the back, acting like we’re so progressive because we hang up sexualized images of large women on our walls instead of thin women. Damn—so many activists!
Pin-ups were not created for women, no matter how many women’s eyes grace the model’s body. I mean, they’re called PIN-UPS. How much more objectifying can you get? They were created for the heteronormative male gaze. The fact that women keep trying to appropriate heterosexist male culture for their own liberation demonstrates a deeper problem.
We currently live in a “pin-up” culture where women are only granted visibility when they display their bodies for public consumption; therefore, most women are groomed and disciplined from young ages to have pin-up ready bodies.
That’s what white-centered postfeminism is all about. A vision of sexual liberation that hinges on the male gaze and male approval. Now we can sit here and have that long, uncritical, derailing conversation about women who “choose” to strip and enjoy being “pin-ups”; but I’m going to spare myself a stroke and move on, because talking about “individual agency” is irrelevant when we’re discussing hegemony.
When women fight to end negative media representations of women in contemporary culture, yet still circulate vintage images of white, female, pin-ups, they’re missing how the culture surrounding vintage pin-up girls largely informs the sexism that we’re trying to fight today.
This is what happens when we only focus on the individual and not the system that conditions the individual.
If we have a superficial surface-level understanding of oppression, then we will have superficial surface-level solutions. It’s that simple. Posting up any sized sexualized woman on your wall, originally created for men, won’t solve the reality that systemically, women are degraded, dehumanized, and are robbed of understanding their sexualities organically. It also teaches men that sexualizing “diverse” or “alternative” bodies is progressive and therefore acceptable.
Additionally, as I reiterate all of the time, the idea of publicly displaying your sexualized body is largely a white enterprise and endeavor. Black women are not granted the same privileges when we showcase our bodies because we’re viewed as public property; evidenced through our high rape rates and low pay-rates in spaces of sex work, etc.
The idea of a woman’s (sometimes nameless) body being on display for public consumption, ironically repackaged as “sexy” and “liberating” for women today, is merely another hint that feminism is being co-opted by patriarchy. I guess this is what happens when the most privileged, women are allowed to decide how feminist sexual empowerment looks. I’m afraid I just don’t understand how we can simultaneously critique sexist media culture, but then subscribe to the idea of pin-ups as feminist.
“Pin-up” images conjure up nostalgia for an era where women were disciplined to be “in their places” and had to comply with men dominating women. This is another example of how “ironic” sexism and hipster culture is impacting women and feminism.
The pin-up girl image replicates some of the most damaging, clichéd, commercialized stereotypes of women’s sexualities — that we exist to invite the male, heterosexual gaze, that we need to “perform” sexiness publicly in order to be viewed as authentic sexual women — that we cannot conjure up any authentic sexual feelings without catering to a man’s desire first.
This kind of binary logic is not liberating. For example, I keep seeing this image posted everywhere:
The issue is not body size—the issue is that beauty standards (regardless of what they look like) define a woman’s worth. Since these “beauty standards” are being created through a white supremacist patriarchy, they will inevitably be exclusionary and limiting. Many fail to realize how exclusionary and limiting the actual concept of a “beauty standard” is — we are stuck in a perpetual battle over which expression of beauty is the most “real” or “beautiful.” The idea that a “real” woman is defined through surface-level measurements, like skin tone, hair length, and body size is merely a manifestation of living in an uncritical neoliberal white supremacist patriarchy where women still do not have access to “defining” themselves.
In fact, I would argue that women are not even viewed as sentient human beings anymore, and the pin-up image helps solidify women’s dehumanization, alongside contemporary porn culture.
In reality, women have become units of measurement to help bolster men’s masculinity; therefore, women cannot benefit from these pin-up images as men do. In fact, it’s impossible to do so in a heterosexist patriarchy.
Even if you individually feel aroused by pin-up images of women as a woman, she is not meant to be your source of liberation. She is meant to be a symbolic tool of men’s oppression towards women. Her image is used as a discursive lesson: that life as a woman can be so easy if you just follow the gendered rules. All you have to do is flaunt your body and use your commodified femininity, and you will be celebrated. What better celebration can there be than men AND women gazing at your sexualized body and hanging your image on their wall for their needs?
We cannot conflate women’s natural sex drives with commercialized institutionalized mass-produced images of “sexy” women by men. If we do, we are being bamboozled into believing that women’s liberation can ever be *celebrated* in a patriarchal sexist culture that takes every opportunity to dehumanize women.
There’s an irony inherent in these “celebrations” of women’s bodies—an irony that’s worth paying attention to. Be suspicious of a culture that has to keep convincing you that you’re free and liberated while profiting off of your enslavement and oppression.
Remember, the pin-up is a distorted expression of men’s sexualities, not women’s. We have yet to have an expression of sexuality because we’re still trying to figure out what sexuality means for us. We cannot “reclaim” or “celebrate” women’s sexuality or bodies because being able to “reclaim” something means that you know what state it is currently in, or who currently possesses it. As women, if we are not aware that our sexuality does not belong to us currently, we will only be reclaiming and celebrating an expression and an image that was designed to keep us oppressed. In other words, in celebrating the pin-up, we are celebrating our own dehumanization.
Now, we can either start engaging in real feminist conversations about the pin-up, or we can just keep staring at the two dimensional images of women, who don’t speak, don’t think, don’t move, don’t eat, but smile.
Aphrodite Kocięda is a graduate student in Communication at the University of South Florida and a contributor to the Vegan Feminist Network. Her current graduate research focuses on feminist activism in a postfeminist rape culture climate.
Interview: Meghan Murphy on the sex industry, individualism, online feminism, and the third wave -
This interview was done for and posted (in French) on Isabelle Alonso’s website. Isabelle is a French TV personality and ex-president of the “Chiennes de garde”, a well-known feminist group in France. The interview was conducted and translated by Sporenda.
1) The blog, Feminist Current, that you launched last year, is attracting quite a bit of attention. It won “Best Feminism Blog” in Canada and has quite a few followers. Do you explain this success only by the quality of your writing or by a increased interest in feminism?
M: Well, I can’t say for sure. I get the feeling, based on the climate in feminism these days and from connecting with other feminists online, from around the world, that there is a lot of frustration towards and disappointment in the way feminism is represented by more mainstream or maybe third wave sources. The analysis is often quite superficial and it’s become acceptable to advance this sort of derisive attitude towards both radical feminism and the second wave. The smearing of the second wave and of radical feminism, more often than not, is unfounded and comes from those unfamiliar with the theory and the history of the movement. There’s a real lack of critical thinking and an unwillingness to make larger connections around things like the mainstreaming of porn and the sex industry to women’s status in the world and violence against women.
There’s also a kind of bullying (I realize that’s an overused term these days, so perhaps it might not feel like the ideal descriptor to some, but it sure does feel like bullying to me…) that goes on and has become acceptable online, in particular. You have to really toe the party line or risk getting blackballed. It discourages honest conversations and critical thinking. There are these trigger words (often various words attached to “phobia” or “shaming”– “whorephobia,” or “kink-shaming,” for example) that are thrown around and, once uttered, the conversation is done and people are accused of being some kind of “phobic” regardless of what’s actually being argued. Critique is repositioned as “judgement.” People seem to conflate critiques of larger systems of power with critiques of individuals and individual choices. You know, to be critical of the sex industry isn’t to be critical of prostitutes — it’s to be critical of male culture and inequality and oppression. It’s a real problem as well as an excellent way to squash critical thinking and scare people into accepting certain movement mantras and language without thinking or questioning it. It’s a bit cult-like.
So I think when I started writing about feminism online (rather naively, I must admit) back in 2010 and was critical of things that you’re not allowed to be critical of in mainstream feminism — things like burlesque, porn, stripping, prostitution, etc. — maybe people felt a little relieved? That isn’t to say that I’m the only one writing about this stuff, but I know that feeling of relief that comes when you’ve been uncomfortable or unsure about something but you aren’t sure why, and everyone else seems to be ok with it so maybe you should be ok with it too, and then you read something where someone really articulates exactly what was bothering you and it’s like, THANK GOD. You know, there are so few feminists blogging about the Nordic model, for example (in a positive way, anyway). When I learned about it, first from Trisha Baptie, and then from other feminist organizations and Aboriginal women’s groups, and I was like, yeah this is so obvious — this makes sense. But people have been taught the politically correct stance is legalization. Abolition isn’t fashionable.
There’s an incredible backlash when you are critical of the sex industry. It’s not the popular position to take these days — we’ve been so indoctrinated with this idea that if you’re critical of the sex industry, you’re critical of sex (when in reality it’s the opposite) so it’s not an easy thing to advocate for in public. You will really get shit on. So that probably discourages a lot of feminists from supporting that model and abolition in general, publicly. The more of us come out and say this stuff publicly, though, the more other women will feel free and encouraged to explore these ideas without fear of attack and being shut down. They’ll feel like, oh, ok, maybe I don’t have to like porn in order to pretend to be sexually liberated – maybe my discomfort with prostitution is justified – maybe I’m not crazy. So I think that’s why Feminist Current is growing in popularity. I think maybe it’s just a relief to see this kind of discourse happening publicly and see that other women and men want to get on side.
2) From what one reads, Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) are big in Canada. Some of them visit your site to attack your posts and try to advance their position – that men are the real victims and are being victimized by modern women and feminists.
Why is it, in your opinion, that there are so many MRAs in Canada? What do you get about these men based on what they post on your site?
M: Oh gosh, I have no idea why Men’s Rights Movement and MRAs are so big in Canada! I think it’s partly that they’ve found a place in AVFM and CAFE, for example. So the existence of those groups, who are putting forth these ridiculously warped and anti-feminist ideas and manipulated statistics, likely reinforce the idea that it’s acceptable for men to go public about their hatred towards and fear of feminists and the feminist movement.
The MRAs who comment on my site (or try to comment on my site) are mostly just kind of confused. They don’t understand what feminism is or what the feminist movement is about. They say the same things over and over again — they think feminism is about advocating for a matriarchy or that it’s all about women having power over men. They really don’t get the idea of patriarchy and the fact that it’s systemic — that it isn’t about individuals. Their arguments are always about how “Men are victims too!” or that men are the real victims in this world, not women. And it’s like, yeah, of course. Of course lots of individual men experience violence and suffer throughout their lives. And, yes, some men are oppressed on a systemic level too, via race and class. But the idea behind feminism is not that everything is rad for all individual men – it’s that women experience oppression on a systemic basis as a result of being born into and socialized based on their assigned social class of “woman.” Because in our society there are two social categories when it comes to gender – men and women – and based on the fact that we’ve decided, as a culture, that women are “feminine” and men are “masculine” and that masculinity equals power, dominance, strength, etc. whereas femininity equals submission, weakness, passivity, etc. So sure, an individual woman might have a specific kind of circumstantial power over an individual man — for example, if she is white and part of the upper class – but that doesn’t change the fact that, in our world, women as a class are subordinate to men as a group and, as a result, are prostituted, abused, murdered, raped, objectified, harassed etc. specifically because they are women and in a way that’s gendered.
MRAs pretend feminists think that being a man is consistently this amazing, perfect thing, but the fact is that patriarchy isn’t necessarily “good” for men either. Masculinity is shitty. It means you’re taught to be violent and aggressive and that you can’t have feelings, that you can’t ever be vulnerable or weak. I feel so sad for men who never learn it’s ok to have and talk about their emotions and be vulnerable. It’s awful.
This is also why things like homophobia happen — you know, because gay men aren’t properly performing masculinity. Part of the thing about masculinity is that you fuck women. If you don’t do that, you’re messing with the whole system. Women are the fuckable ones — Men are the fuckers, women are the fuckees, as it were. So when men are having sex with other men or women are having sex with other women, it challenges that system and that’s one of the reasons some people hate or fear gay people.
Fitting in to these two categories is hard. It’s not natural. We shouldn’t have to be either feminine or masculine. To fit in takes work. It’s bad for everyone. I mean, it’s worse for women in many ways, but really, it’s not easy for anyone.
3) You have underlined that, for women and feminists bloggers, posting their views on the internet can be kind of a double-edged sword, as it’s also the place where extreme misogyny is being expressed, not just through huge amounts of pornography but also through vicious attacks, harassment and threats.
Have you experienced this “free for all” on women? What does it say about men’s feelings toward women and feminists?
M: Well, yes, I experience a lot of vitriol online. Especially because of the things I write about the sex industry, as I mentioned earlier. And it doesn’t just come from men. In fact, I think women sometimes feel freer to attack me in really vicious and hateful ways – even sexist ways (you know, calling me “bitch,” “cunt,” etc.) because they’re women and so it’s ok, somehow? I mean, I get attacked by men too, all the time, but some of the worst has come from other women.
I think maybe this happens because they don’t want to name the perpetrator… It’s often women who aren’t ready or willing to acknowledge that men are the ones out there who are perpetrating violence against not only women, but also against trans folks and, actually, against other men too.
Instead they target me. I’m an easy target. You know, I’m out there, as public person, I’m not protected by an institution, I don’t work for anyone, really, I work for myself. And they know that when they start a pile on, others will be eager to join in. It’s funny, in a way. I mean I’m not exactly raking in tons of cash blogging about feminism. It’s not as though I’m the one committing violence against women, but maybe it’s easier to focus on me than it is to focus on those with real power in this world. Maybe the reality is too hard for people to face. It’s a harder problem to address – widespread violence against women and misogyny. So they tweet nasty things at me instead. I don’t know. You’d think they could come up with something more productive to do.
People want very much to believe that things are ok. That’s why there’s such a concerted effort to pretend as though sexism can be empowering. It’s easier. You don’t have to change anything or confront any of the difficult truths about what’s behind the sex industry and how deeply misogynist it is. You don’t have to acknowledge that, you know, there are probably a lot of men in your life who’ve bought sex and who watch porn and probably your boyfriend goes to strip clubs and tells you that you’re supposed to be ok with it because “all guys do it” and “you’re just jealous” or whatever other b.s. we’re fed with regard to accepting sexist behavior from the men in our lives – so we feel like we have no other choice.
We love our boyfriends and they watch porn. What do you do? Especially when your boyfriend and the world at large keeps telling you that all men do this and it’s normal and that you should be ok with it. Fuck that. First of all, all men don’t watch porn. Maybe most do, but not all of them. Secondly, in no way do you have to be ok with it. We’re told we have no other option. No alternatives. So instead we try to cope. Things like “sex-positive feminism” are coping mechanisms — so, you can pretend you’re empowered as an individual, that women in prostitution just love fucking strangers all day, that you’re objectifying yourself, rather than being objectified. If we can trick ourselves into believing the sex industry empowers us then maybe it will become true! We’re desperately trying to make “good” that which is not “good”. We’re grasping for power anywhere we can.
I think that’s much of what this burlesque-is-empowering-for-women thing is about, for example. You know, it can feel good to get that kind of positive attention. I get that. I’ve been there. Everyone likes to feel desired. But the folks who are doing burlesque and calling it “feminist” or “empowering” aren’t honest about that. They aren’t honest about what’s motivating them to strip onstage for an audience. They want to pretend that it’s some kind of nouveau-feminism when of course, it’s just the same old thing. We’re used to seeing women as pretty objects to be looked at. Getting strangers to watch women strip isn’t anything new… Women get positive reinforcement for shaking their tits on stage and men are stoked that this is (supposedly) feminism! It’s empowering, they’ve been told. So it’s cool, right? I mean, no wonder people are into it. It’s no mystery.
Maybe we’ve become so hopeless about the feminist movement, because there’s still so far to go, that many women have just given up and are, like, ok, let’s just make the best of this. So we end up with “feminist porn”, burlesque, prostitution as “empowerment”. It’s about giving up on something more, something better — real power that isn’t temporary and that isn’t based on our ability to get men to pay in order to objectify us or to get positive reinforcement because we’re shaking our tits around on stage. It’s really sad, actually.
4) One of your most commented on posts underlined that, based on a recent study done in Sweden, the Nordic model not only reduced prostitution (by 85%) but seems to have reduced violence against prostitutes as well (48% less rapes, 38% less physical assaults according to the prostituted women who were polled).
This goes against the prediction made by the pro-prostitution advocate –: that the penalization of johns would increase violence against prostituted women.
Not only did the media fail to relay the results of this study but a “sex worker union,” — Prosentre — even used it to assert that the Nordic model did not work, since prostitutes were verbally insulted more often now (because the johns didn’t dare physically assault them). What do you think of this silencing and twisting of facts by the media and pro-prostitution groups?
M: There is a vested interest in maintaining and promoting the sex industry as “ok” or as simply another form of work. Mostly this happens (obviously) because the sex industry is highly profitable. We live in a capitalist system, which means that anything that is profitable is defended vehemently, at the expense of human lives and of the planet, as we see via the push for pipelines in Canada. I mean, we all know full well that pipelines will inevitably be an environmental disaster, yet these projects move forward despite known consequences. Capitalism is a very powerful system. If it weren’t for capitalism, the sex industry wouldn’t exist. At least not in the same form as it does today and to the extent that it does.
“Sex worker unions” have been shown, thanks to journalists like Julie Bindel, to be little more than lobby groups for the industry. They aren’t about protecting the human rights of women, they’re about promoting the sex industry as being like any other “safe” industry – “a job like any other,” they say. But in the end it’s about profit (at the expense of women) and, of course, male pleasure.
Places like New Zealand are often used as examples by sex work advocates of how legalizing prostitution “works” – but all that’s changed in countries where they’ve legalized or completely decriminalized prostitution is that there’s more prostitution (and more trafficking). Women in the industry are still raped, abused, and murdered. Prostitutes still go missing. What it does is to create a two-tiered system, where a few very privileged women “get” to work indoors in legal brothels (which we are told is safer, despite the fact that women are abused and raped and murdered indoors as well), and everyone else – women of colour, women with mental health and addiction issues, illegal immigrants, trafficked women, etc., still work in an illegal market, most of which continues to be run by organized crime. The danger is still there and it’s still there because of male demand. The only real way to stop violence against prostituted women and to stop the exploitation is to criminalize the men who are doing the harm. Demand is what keeps the industry going, so curbing demand is the most obvious way to stop the exploitation.
The industry finds a few spokespeople – women who will say: “Oh this is great! Everything is fine!” and then those women are touted as representative of all prostituted women. It’s quite disgusting, actually. Because those people know full well that most of the women in the industry aren’t happy and want out. They know full well that the silent women, the women who don’t get to speak their truth and to be public about their lives and experiences, are trapped in the industry – in massage parlours, trapped by poverty, addiction, abusive boyfriends/pimps, etc. To want to keep your job, I get, but I don’t get throwing all these women under the bus in the process.
5) Advocates of prostitution and porn call these Nordic reforms “anti-sex” and “moralistic” but it’s interesting to note that these laws are passed in countries (Sweden, Norway, Iceland) that are known to have the most open, relaxed and non repressive attitude about sex. Your comments on that?
M: Yeah that’s a funny one. I mean, if we’re talking about free sexuality and a real liberated vision of sex and sexuality, you’d think you’d be advocating for consensual sex. But prostitution isn’t about female desire or “enthusiastic consent”, which is supposedly what we’re touting in feminism these days. I mean, sure, sometimes a woman “consents” to letting a man have sex with her or agrees to perform other sex acts, in exchange for money, but she isn’t “consenting” because, you know, she’s really into this guy and really wants to sleep with him. If she did, she wouldn’t have to be paid to do it. That whole argument – the one that says that feminists who are critical of the sex industry are anti-sex, shows a real anti-intellectualism and lack of critical thinking.
I mean, as you say, the countries that have criminalized johns, banned strip clubs, and are considering banning pornography are the countries that are the most progressive and the most sexually liberated. The US isn’t a sexually liberated country. It’s completely saturated and obsessed with pornography while simultaneously having this huge faction of right-wing, religious groups who think sex should only happen in traditional, heterosexual, marriages for the purposes of procreation (which is, of course, about controlling women’s bodies and maintaining a patriarchal family structure). I find the whole idea that women who advocate for porn and prostitution are “pro-sex,” whereas feminists who advocate against objectification and exploitation and are positioned as “anti-sex,” kind of hilarious and, in many ways, embarrassing. I just picture the next generation of feminists looking back at the third wave with shame. I mean, all these ridiculous women parading around in stilettos and pasties, on stage, pretending they are advancing women’s rights. What a joke. That whole burlesque/sex work is empowering/feminist porn aspect of the third wave is making a mockery of the movement.
6) The proposal to ban hardcore pornography online in Iceland was discussed on Feminist Current. Do you think it’s justified to attack the principle of free speech and promote censorship to advance the feminist agenda? Do you believe pornography qualifies as free speech?
M: The whole “censorship” argument in defense of pornography is illogical. I mean, as a society, we aren’t against censorship. We “censor” child pornography, for example, and are perfectly ok with that form of “censorship.” I don’t understand why suddenly, just because a woman turns 18, it’s ok to objectify or degrade her. The concept of “consent” and the way that the feminist movement has reinforced consent as a crucial part of sex (whereas, in the past, of course, it was acceptable to rape one’s wife – meaning that “consent” didn’t always matter so much to men when it came to sex) isn’t to be scoffed at, but at the same time, it’s really oversimplified the conversation around sex and sexuality in an unhelpful way.
I called it “the tyranny of consent” in a recent post that discussed the way that “consent” is often used to limit the parameters of conversations around sex and force us to accept anything anyone agrees to, regardless of the circumstances under which they agreed. It removes context from the conversation. I mean, it’s not as though, simply because a woman signs a contract or verbally agrees to perform certain sex acts, that’s unequivocally “ok” or necessarily ethical. And, again, what’s the difference between a 17 year old woman and an 18 year old woman? A 17 year old can’t give consent ethically and an 18 year old can? What about a woman who’s been raped and abused and exploited her whole life, since she was a child – suddenly when she turns 18 her, now her life of abuse is erased and she’s simply a consenting adult and therefore her prostitution is A-ok? It makes no sense. People use consent in order to comfort themselves and in order to turn these issues – pornography, prostitution, coercion, inequality, power dynamics, objectification, etc. — into something that’s black and white – as though it’s as simple as consent vs. non-consent. But it isn’t that simple.
Regarding the “free speech” and pornography issue — please. Pornography doesn’t expand the conversation, it limits it. When do we ever talk about corporations and multi-billion dollar industries as being champions of or representative of “free speech” except when it comes to pornography? What a joke. Pornography is about sexualizing the oppression of women. Is oppression “free speech?” Of course not. If we were talking about actually liberalizing nudity and sex and if we were seeing real, feminist depictions of bodies and female sexuality on screen, of course we could talk about freedom of expression. But we aren’t. We’re talking about porn. And porn is regressive when it comes to expanding our understanding of, and the conversation around, women’s bodies and sexuality. It teaches society that women are things that exist for male pleasure – to be looked at and to be fucked. Let’s see some fucking feminist erotica. Let’s see depictions of female sexuality and women’s bodies, on screen, that aren’t objectified and sexualized for the male gaze and then we can have a conversation about “free speech.” But please. Pornography is just about men’s right to hate and profit off of women. Free speech my ass. Men are fully capable of masturbating without objectifying or exploiting women. And if they claim not to be, well, that’s a terrible insult to them.
7) The topic of “grey rape” was discussed on Feminist Current. You told a personal anecdote where a guy who took you back home and with whom you’d had no intention of having sex, finally got you in bed by insisting relentlessly and just wearing you down.
And this guy and his friends were indignant that you deemed his behavior “rapey”– to them, this was normal behavior for a man, certainly not unethical; you were the unethical one by calling it “rapey”.
What do you make of his reaction, and of yours, and more generally, why is it so hard for women to just say a straight no to such men and stick to it?
M: Well actually most of his friends, our mutual friends, that is, agreed that his behaviour was at least sleazy and gross, if not “rapey.” He was indignant because he was concerned about his reputation and because he refused to see his behaviour as problematic or be accountable for it. A relative of his, who I dated years later, accused me of somehow vilifying the “rapey” dude (which I really hadn’t – I’d merely shared my experience with a few friends) probably, in part, because he’d never heard my side of the story and, I imagine, because he also didn’t want to acknowledge that someone he was related to, someone he was close with, could be anything but a “good” guy. Even more likely is that he’d engaged in similar behavior himself at one point or another and didn’t want to examine that more closely.
Many men want to see themselves as the “good guy” – they want rapists to be monsters. They don’t want to look at how they might be complicit in rape culture. They want it to be easy – again, black and white – but it isn’t that simple. That’s why we tell ourselves that it’s fine and natural for men to buy sex and watch porn and go to strip clubs. We draw lines that make no sense. On one hand, we say: “Rape culture is bad. Women are human and deserve respect.” And then on the other we say: “Except for the women that aren’t fully human. Except for the women who exist to be looked at and to be fucked because god knows if men aren’t provided with orgasms on demand, they might die. OR, as some reason, they might rape the “good women” – the women who aren’t “to be fucked” — who are privileged enough not to have been prostituted.” We still seem to want to compartmentalize everything.
In porn there’s no talk of consent. Women are just “up for it” all the time – and somehow we’re still pretending that doesn’t perpetuate rape culture and that “normal guys” aren’t complicit??
I mean, it’s the same thing that happens when women talk about domestic abuse – people say: “Oh but he’s so nice. I know him! He’s so good with my kids. He helped me out when I had car trouble,” or whatever. They want abusive men to be these horrid, creepy, evil, monsters lurking in bushes or in parking lots – but abusive men are just “regular guys”, if that makes sense…
I’ve been in abusive relationships. When I came out about one situation in particular, I couldn’t believe how many people – friends of the man – just refused to believe that he would do what I said he did. They made up any and every reason to convince themselves and others that I was lying. They just couldn’t get their heads around (or didn’t want to) the fact one of their buddies, someone who gave them rides home from parties, someone who watched their kids, could be abusive.
People need to realize that it isn’t fun to go public about rape or abuse. It’s awful. And mostly people blame you and don’t believe you. There’s no reason to lie. I mean, sure, I guess it’s happened the odd time, but please — telling the world that the man you said you loved, and who you lived with and slept with and cooked for and that you called your partner was abusive? It’s embarrassing. It makes you feel hypocritical and pathetic and weak. It shouldn’t, but it does. It’s not something that’s easy to do.
As for why it’s so hard to say no, well, women are taught to be polite and not to hurt others’ feelings. And, like, often we’re attracted to the guys who date rape us – I mean, we went out with them, right? Maybe we even made out with them – but that still doesn’t mean we want to have sex. Sometimes, after a certain point, you’ve said no so many times and it’s like, “Ok fine, whatever.” And clearly I’m not advocating for that but the point is – how many times should we have to say no?? What guy wants sex because he’s had to convince and coerce and pressure a girl into it? I mean, I ask that question with the implication that no man should want that — that ideally we want to have sex with people who are enthusiastic about having sex with us – but the truth is that this isn’t what men learn. They learn to pursue. And women learn to be pursued. We learn to be passive and men learn to be aggressive. So it’s almost no wonder these kinds of situations come up so regularly. Ideas about masculinity and femininity have really messed us up.
8) What do you think of so called “pro-sex feminists”?
M: The term “pro-sex” is misleading. It implies that there is some faction of feminists that are “anti-sex”, which really describes nothing and is wrongly applied to women who are critical of the sex industry. The reason I’m critical of the sex industry isn’t because I’m “anti-sex”, it’s because I’m anti-objectification and anti-patriarchy. Whether or not I “like” or “don’t like” sex is irrelevant.
That said, I do “like” sex. With men (Ack! Am I blowing the pro-sexer’s minds?)! And I know that porn isn’t “good” for sex. It teaches us that sexuality is about domination and subordination and it teaches women that their performance is more important than their pleasure. You know, I don’t want to think about whether or not I look “sexy” while I’m having sex. I want to focus on pleasure and on my partner and on enjoying the actual moment. I can’t have an orgasm if I’m self-conscious or if I’m worrying about what my stomach looks like. Women learn that we are to-be-looked-at and that being “sexy” has nothing to do with our own sexual pleasure. I mean, women get breast implants in order to “look sexy” and, in doing so, often lose sensation in their nipples. So we intentionally numb an erogenous zone in order to look sexy for the male gaze. We’ve made female sexuality into a performance (for men).
So I think “pro-sex” creates an imaginary dichotomy and forces women to believe that, in order to be “pro-sex” or “sex-positive” they must also support the sex industry, which is actually a pretty smart trick the sex industry is playing on us. What’s sad is that some feminists are buying into it. I mean, as we discussed earlier, countries that are far more sexually liberated then the confused and repressed U.S., like Iceland and Sweden, are the same countries that are banning strip clubs, placing restrictions on access to pornography, and criminalizing the purchase of sex. Americans’ concept of “liberated” is completely ridiculous. They think the free market will magically erase exploitation when we know full well that the opposite happens. Prostitution and pornography are not the end all be all of a free society – unless you understand freedom to exist at the expense of half of the population.
9) What are your thoughts on Femen?
Femen. Oh Femen. Well, what to say… They are a little misguided… They seem to mainly be focused on getting media attention and on shock value, which I’m afraid I don’t have a ton of respect for. They have also made some pretty ignorant and offensive statements about feminism: “We’re the new face of feminism…Classical feminism is dead,” for example. So it’s difficult for me to take them seriously or feel any allegiance with them.
They’ve alienated so many women and feminists with their statements and actions — their “Topless Jihad”day being a particularly insulting example of this – as though Muslim women will somehow be “liberated” by baring their breasts… It perpetuates this idea that, somehow, women in the West are completely free and liberated because, I don’t know, we’re “allowed” to dress provocatively, whereas non-Western women are all completely oppressed due to their lack of booty shorts and breasts on display. It’s not accurate and it oversimplifies the issues. It also teaches us, in the West, to not look critically at the sexism and misogyny of our own culture, instead pointing to other cultures, saying “Oh those poor oppressed women, we should teach them the wisdom of our ways”. The West has long been completely self-absorbed and obsessed with the illusion of “individual choice” epitome of freedom. Femen plays into that and simultaneously presents a vision of female liberation that looks like a sexy, naked, thin, white, blonde woman. They are making feminism palatable for the male gaze. And of course, for that reason, the mainstream media loves them – which says a lot about the integrity of their message, in my opinion.
10) What do you think of this opinion seen on AlterNet (US radical progressive site): “Feminism is something individual to each feminist”? Do you consider (as some feminists do, Gail Dines for instance) that neoliberalism is presently the biggest threat to feminism?
M: Well, I’m not sure I’ve seen that perspective on AlterNet, per se (though perhaps it has been, just saying I can’t speak specifically to whether or not that perspective is promoted by the site — they seem to publish a wide variety of viewpoints), but I’ve definitely seen that “feminism is just whatever individual women decide it is” thing in all sorts of places. Certainly I agree with Dines’ analysis with regard to neoliberalism. I mean, neoliberalism is destructive to any movement because, at its root, it’s about individualism and movements are about collective liberation (or they should be in any case – that’s why they’re called “movements” and not “this is just what I feel like doing as an individual right this second so screw you guys”).
The idea that feminism is about individual choice has come about, in part, because of an American kind of neoliberal discourse that places individual “choice” and freedom outside a context of systemic inequality and oppression. It’s like the myth of the American dream – that if you just work hard enough, you can make it, and if you don’t make it, it’s your own fault for being lazy or weak or whatever. It removes any responsibility from the state and places it on the shoulders of the individual which is, of course, the basis for the entire American system.
Privatization says “it’s all on you – it’s not our responsibility to take care of you when you get sick or lose your job or can’t feed your kids – that’s your own failing as an individual.” So that kind of thinking has infiltrated the feminist movement and it has many people believing, as a result, that feminism is just about individual women feeling good or feeling “empowered.” This has led to the idea that, for example, burlesque is feminist because “it makes me feel good in this moment.” Of course, feeling good is great but it has nothing to do with liberating women from male violence and oppression. Whether or not you “like” to dance around on stage in pasties or whether or not you “feel good” in stilettos has nothing to do with feminism. I mean, sure, do it if you feel like it, but don’t call it feminism. It’s selfish and ignorant and shows a lack of critical thinking and awareness of the world around you and the global and historical context of women’s collective oppression.
Thanks for your patience everyone. The site’s been down for almost a month now… Someone deleted the database. BUT through INTERNET MAGIC we found a backup and WE’RE BACK.
Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke: Using their power to keep women down, down, down (NSFW) -
For people with so much money, you’d think they could come up with something a little more creative, no? Justin Timberlake’s new video for “Tunnel Vision” is appallingly boring and blatantly sexist, reminding us, once again, that misogyny has gone, and is going nowhere but up.
It’s difficult for me to express how much I hate this video. Are we literally moving backwards in this movement? Because between this and Robin Thicke’s latest festival of woman-hating, my feeling that we’re losing ground in many areas of the feminist movement is only solidifying.
What is it that people aren’t getting, here? These dudes are literally flaunting the fact that they can get away with whatever kind of sexist fuckery they want, and will continue to be revered, celebrated, adored, and rewarded for treating women like fucking decorations. I mean, are these dudes any different from pornographers at this point? In creating these videos, they’re successfully making millions off of the bodies of women.
Is this liberalism? Sexual liberation? Art? WHY doesn’t anyone give a shit about women anymore? WHERE THE FUCK IS THE WOMEN’S MOVEMENT?
And not only are these videos completely, overtly, unapologetically sexist, but they’re lazy as fuck. Timberlake’s entire video is basically shots of him (clothed) alternated with shots of writhing, naked women.
I honestly feel sorry for the women in these videos. And even more sad that these dudes get laid.
It’s days like these where I’m at a loss to understand why women aren’t joining the feminist movement in droves.