I guess this post will get us into trouble with some. Somebody sent me a link to the following article and asked for my opinion. It is an article that raises so many issues and which by implication accuses Sophie and me of being non feminists and much worse. I am going to try and address some of the points raised in the article. I want to start by saying however that while I disagree with the tone and conclusions of the article, I do think some of the issues raised deserve serious and ongoing consideration.
The article can be found here.http://www.feministcurrent.com/2015/12/09/the-sexiest-oppression/
The article by Natasha Chart starts with some very dubious and convoluted claims. Firstly she gives scant details of a story from Britain’s Daily Mirror in which an elderly woman is said to have died after a sex game went badly wrong. She then states quite categorically that in a just, feminist world, the neighbor who was involved in the sex game should have been tried for murder. In fact she equates his actions with the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Now we have looked at the account in The Mirror and it is fair to say there is not much more detail there than in Ms Chart’s account. What is clear is that the local authorities were convinced that there was more evidence for a tragic accident than for murder. Ms Chart wants us to believe that is because we live in a “male supremasist” world. The fact remains however that the only judge who has found the neighbor guilty of being a murderous, woman hating, monster is Ms Chart herself; and this is based solely on the scant evidence contained in a tabloid newspaper and her own very jaded opinions.
Then within a few tortuous, logic defying sentences such as these;-
…This is how you turn oppression into a titillating taboo that isn’t taken seriously. This is how you turn public health and safety threats like rape, torture, and murder, into “sex.” Which is private.
Talking about sex in public is obscenity. So talking about the way women are threatened and physically abused becomes obscenity and, in turn, becomes “sex.” As a result, everything about women’s bodies and oppression is turned into private obscenity that can’t be discussed like other topics…
She blames men in general, pornography, church and religious authorities and women like Sophie and myself for all that is wrong in the world and for the fears and prejudices that clearly dominate her daily life. She finally comes to the conclusion;-
…There is no part of male supremacist culture that doesn’t believe that women owe men sex, by which it is usually meant, she owes him sexual subservience and arousal over his use of force or coercion. Porn and church teachings are simply the most prominent outlets for this view, almost universally held…
I wonder how she would account for women such as Sophie and myself who even without men around, play sexual and psychological games of dominance and submission? I wonder if she is capable of understanding that such activities can be done with love and can be deeply pleasurable and fulfilling to both parties equally (no matter which role they are playing and no matter what genders they happen to be)?
Well I doubt that she can. She states in the same article that she was in the past a serial victim of abusive relationships. And frankly it is the cries and screams of a serial victim who blames the world for her own mistakes that sing out most loudly in this article. That sounds harsh, doesn’t it? And I don’t want to be drawn in to blaming the victim, but…
We have all known women (and sometimes men) who repeatedly wind up in abusive relationships of various types. We try to warn them, but they won’t or can’t listen. Many of us know people who repeatedly have problems with drugs, or alcohol, or gambling… We cannot help the victim until the victim realises the truth of their predicament and owns it. Yes there are some total bastards out there; there are sick, twisted and vicious men and women… But not all men or women are bad because of the sins of the ones we are attracted to… Drugs and alcohol are not bad in themselves… Sometimes we have to acknowledge that the problem belongs to us and stop blaming others and being angry at half the world.
And sadly the article we are discussing here is so infused with that kind of mis-directed anger that it will find no uncritical audience except for other similarly damaged souls.
It is genuinely sad because it does touch on issues which need to be discussed and grappled with more openly. Even those of us who describe ourselves as “sex positive feminists” have to admit that there is still far too much exploitation in all aspects of the sex industry.
Some weeks ago Sophie and I were looking through a site we often visit for sexy and pornographic images. Some of the images we enjoy would be described as fairly hardcore by some and may elude to, or depict quite clearly, things associated with bondage, dominance, submission and mild violence. (Anybody shocked by that revelation has not been following our blogs very closely). However while browsing that site we came across something that made us pause and indeed left us feeling bad and sullied. It was a short video gif which showed a woman being subjected to very aggressive sex by two men at the same time. We both felt that the woman was not consenting, that she was probably full of drugs and that she looked absolutely terrified and out of control. We felt as if we were witnessing an actual rape. We felt sick and reported the image. But I have to admit that reporting that image probably didn’t achieve much and almost certainly did nothing to help the woman concerned. And we can’t escape from the fact that while we choose to believe most of the pornographic images we look at involve people who are fully consenting at every level; some clearly aren’t.
So what are our options? Let’s remove any semblance of kid gloves. We are two women who are unashamed hedonists, who have enjoyed colourful and diverse sexual encounters with each other and with other women and men. Our sexual tastes and fetishes cover most of the BDSM spectrum and go well beyond that. We enjoy porn. Most of our friends and acquaintances have similarly liberal views and tastes in matters of sex and sexuality. But we acknowledge that there is still a lot of exploitation in all aspects of the sex industry and there are real victims.
We could spurn all forms of sexual enjoyment outside of each other. We could stop looking at any form of pornography for fear that there may have been exploitation in the making of it. We could go further and campaign against all forms of pornography. Equally we could campaign against the very notion of prostitution where there is also undoubtedly gross exploitation. And besides all that we could hate all men and blame them for the perversion of sex, sexuality and gender roles in society. I suspect that is what Ms Chart would like us to do.
But this would not work and would ultimately be disempowering for us and all women and men. It would be defeatist. It would be like saying men have fucked up everything to do with sex so we should retreat to some puritanical version of vanilla sexuality where there can be no danger of exploitation so long as we all repeat the same, supposedly feminist, mantra. And if we happen to have tastes which are not vanilla we must remember that this is only because we have been brainwashed by the previous Male Supremacist society. In other words we must remember at all times that We are all victims and live accordingly!
But why should we allow one form of oppressive orthodoxy to be replaced by another one? For hundreds of years the Christian Church and other religious institutions have sought to control people, especially women, by policing sexuality; by determining what we are allowed to do and think in matters of sex and then condemning everything else as sinful. Many women of my parents generation would be envious of the sexual freedoms and independence we enjoy. Moreover those who happen to be gay or transgender or who can’t be pigeon holed anywhere on the sexuality spectrum are just beginning to enjoy liberties and acceptance that their predecessors could not of imagined. We should not allow victim driven forms of feminism to rob us of the freedoms we enjoy and which were many years in the winning.
What we must do however is enjoy our sexual freedoms responsibly. Where we see exploitation and crime we must treat it and report it as such. Some people can be empowered by their consensual participation in the production of pornography, and nobody has the right to judge them for that. But as consumers of pornography we must insist on only buying into that type of porn. We should aid in the hunting down and prosecution of all criminal activity in the sex industry. We should flag up anything suspect as soon as we see it. We should only pay for and share material we are confident is consensual and fully legal. This will not cure exploitation quickly but if there is any truth in the capitalist idea of market forces, eventually the exploitative, criminal side of the sex industry will be squeezed out.
We should aim to defeat the misogynists, the exploiters and the criminals by acting as responsible and empowered adults who are comfortable with our sexuality and our gender. Fearful and vindictive victims are unlikely to achieve anything except by totalitarian control.