In Defence of Raunch Feminism

18 04 2008

(Note: This is a post for the second Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom and Autonomy. Woo-hoo!)

About a year ago, I read Ariel Levy’s book Female Chauvinist Pigs. If you haven’t read it, I’ll sum it up for you: essentially, Ms. Levy takes issue with “raunch culture”, especially that which is assumed to be masquerading as feminism. While some of her points are well taken, I think the entire premise of the book was somewhat misguided.

Never mind the fact that nobody really considers Girls Gone Wild or Sex and the City feminist. Not even sex-positive feminist.

A few weeks ago, the 3rd annual Feminist Porn Awards took place in my city. And the feminist blogosphere jumped on it. I don’t feel like linking every single post, so just do a google blog search if you want to read what people posted. There were quite a few positive responses, but also a lot of stuff along the lines of “How DARE you take the exploitation of women, and call it feminist?”

My friend Chanelle Gallant actually helped spearhead the first FPA’s, and trust me, she knows what she’s doing. I always found it interesting that even though she says that the Feminist Porn Awards were meant to combat sexism and racism in porn, and that while a lot of porn sucks, not all of it does, the knee-jerk reactions are still the same. And whether the debate surrounds porn, sex work, or a woman simply wearing a low-cut top, the same word keeps popping up from a lot of feminists.

Victim.

As in, “women who are in porn are victims of the patriarchy”. Or “Sex workers are victims of exploitation”. And if someone points to organizations like the Sex Professionals of Canada or Scarlet Alliance or Empower, people concede, “Well, there are some who choose to do that, but they’re in the tiny minority”.

It’s true that a number of women (and men) are coerced into sex work. But the assumption that seems to come up over and over again, at least the way I see it, is this: women do not have the power to consent to sex work.

And this seems to be coming from a blatantly sexist assumption – women are too weak, or too stupid, or too easily controlled to be able to make such choices for themseleves. I doubt many people would admit it, at least in those words, but that’s where it seems to be coming from. Not to mention it’s incredibly heteronormative – pornography and sex work can involve people who are queer or straight, transgender and cisgender. It’s not always about “men vs. women”.

The way I see it, trying to regulate people’s consensual sexual activities is often inherently anti-feminist in itself. It’s usually an effort to control women’s bodies. We see it time and time again with the religious right – restrictive abortion laws, restricted access to birth control, and abstinence-only sex education. And we’re seeing it with people who call themselves feminist. Because, supposedly, no self-respecting woman would ever do THAT! And then there’s the good old “Would you want your daughter doing that? What about your sister?” Never mind the fact that nobody wants to imagine any of their relatives doing the nasty. It’s all about control – people wouldn’t want their children, their family members, their friends doing that. So then they shouldn’t. Actually, if I had a friend or relative in the sex industry, I’d want them to be safe, but I’d support them just the same. I don’t see a need to be judgemental about other’s sex lives.

And I think, if someone is making an informed choice (and choice is the key word), more power to them.

And then there’s the other false assumption that people use against this so-called “raunch feminism”. And I think most people are guilty of using it from time to time. It’s that sex, sexuality, or anything that has to do with it is inherently unintelligent, superficial, and vacuous.

I call bullshit.

I think eroticism is one of the most powerful things out there. Or, in the words of Audre Lorde, “We tend to think of the erotic as an easy, tantalizing sexual arousal. I speak of the erotic as the deepest life force, a force which moves us toward living in a fundamental way.”

Think of when you’re attracted to someone. I mean really attracted. Can you feel it throughout your whole body? Does it take over your mind? I think that’s why we use eroticism so often in media and pop culture. It’s a powerful tool. And it’s usually not done in the most tasteful or equitable way, which is why we should critique what we see in the media. But I think the mistake a lot of people make is to automatically assume sex is either vacuous and stupid, or inherently exploitive. It can be, and sometimes it isn’t.

Which is why we have a responsibility, if we choose to use sex in one way or another (and almost all of us do, eventually), to do it in a smart way. Yes, you can have really smart, thoughtful sex! Casual sex, or other sex outside of a relationship, I don’t think is excluded from this either – sex for its own sake, in my opinion, is neither disgusting, nor degrading, nor a sign of being “low class”. It just, well, is what it is – sex for the sake of pleasure. I think we have to look at power structures, and critique them, without jumping to unnecessary conclusions or making unnecessary assumptions or judgments. Don’t assume people’s reasons for doing things. I think, if you look at it, a lot of people, including sex workers and those who use their services, are smarter than you think.

So here’s to raunch feminism. The smart, sexy kind that’s breaking down boundaries and ensuring sexual freedom for everyone. It may not be what you think it is.

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3 responses

19 04 2008
Tirade

Freedom doesn’t just mean that everyone’s free to agree with my opinion. 🙂

I’ve been around the internet enough to see plenty of different kinds of porn… and there is some that is definitely what I’d consider to be mysoginistic. Not all, but some. My solution: I just don’t watch it. I encourage others to not watch it. The less demand there is for such things, the less support there will be for it monetarily.

On the other end of the spectrum… anyone who tries to control a woman’s body and a woman’s choices is not what I’d call a feminist. Not by a long shot. I personally disagree with something, I refuse to support it. That’s my right. But if a woman wants to go on camera and get paid money to do things that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, that’s her right too. I may think it’s (*&%ed up, but it’s still her decision.

Attention needs to be focused on those who are coerced or forced into doing such things and we need to make sure that stops… but if we try to stop consenting adults from doing what they want to do in the process, it’s just going to make it impossible to get anything done. Because consenting adults don’t like people meddling in their sex lives, and they’ll stand up and fight.

21 04 2008
Being Amber Rhea » Blog Archive » links for 2008-04-21

[…] In Defence of Raunch Feminism « Miss Nomered “And then there’s the other false assumption that people use against this so-called ‘raunch feminism’. … It’s that sex, sexuality, or anything that has to do with it is inherently unintelligent, superficial, and vacuous.” (tags: porn feminism sex sexpositive sexuality sexwork stereotypes society) […]

22 04 2008
Sarah J

Excellent post.

I too read Female Chauvinist Pigs, and I too had a few issues with it. I did think that her main point was that sex has been commercialized to the point where we don’t know what we’re really into anymore because we’re just told what we’re supposed to be into, and she didn’t really go anywhere with the sorta-Marxist-feminist critique she could’ve gotten into. But she’s not a theorist, she’s a journalist.

And yes, I call bullshit too. On all of it.

I broke up with a man who wanted to tell me how to dress. I don’t need to turn around and have other women telling me the same damn thing.

and Audre Lorde was so right.

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