I know labels shouldn’t matter but I have struggled with this for a while as I wrote here whilst pondering the privilege of feminism. If you have read any of my previous posts, you’ll know I have been toying with rejecting the term feminist for quite a while.
The latest pop music debates surrounding Lily Allen/Cooper have added to my confusion and utter bewilderment.
This article by the fabulous Katie Lowe made me determined to write a new post on The F Word.
I have been frustrated for ages now with Feminism TM. The need to dress a certain way, object to the sex industry, jump on every slogan-wearing bandwagon. Where are the campaigns for equal pay; for sexual harassment at work; for ending the unpaid double shift (great book on which is here); for a surge of research and funding into post-natal depression; for better maternity pay and rights; for more choices and less coercion in contraception (please read this book, Sweetening the Pill); for the medical profession not to push sexual intercourse as the bar by which ‘normality’ in women’s sexuality is judged; for improved mental health services for women; for improved women’s prisons; for improved pregnancy care and birthing options… the list goes on and on. Why the obsession with sexual images?
Why do only sex/y campaigns get attention?Then today, this latest offering, that Leeds students call for a ban on page 3 (one of the least offensive things in that vile rag The Sun). “In 2012, Harriet Rankin, the Union’s Welfare Officer, attempted to get rid of ‘lads’ mags’. The motion was pitched to the Better Union Forum as a protest against the objectification of women”.
I have blogged a few times about the Lose the Lads’ Mags campaign and my main problem with these campaigns if they imply that a woman’s body can cause rape or violence against it. I think this is the most anti-feminist concept ever. It also implies men cannot help themselves. The Lilith Project/Eaves flawed (and withdrawn from most websites) study of lap-dancing clubs have a causal relationship to rape, is rehashed in all of these campaigns as I discuss here.
I worry that the process of these debates is compounding the popular image of women as passive. Women as a monolithic group needing protecting from these images. Rather than calls for covering up women in an ever-increasingly visual culture, why not embrace the chance for a variety of ages/ shapes/ races to make an active sexual appearance? Why not petition for lads’ mags to change their language, to feature articles on domestic violence and rape? Why fight against instead of engaging with? Why not campaign for an increase in articles on women’s authentic sexual needs?
‘Objectification’ is used in these debates as exclusively negative, as meaning ‘sexual objectification’ (other forms don’t matter apparently) and as equalling dehumanisation. The campaigners objectify the women by refusing to engage with them, denying their agency and trying to put them out of work. Why not focus on popular material for women? Bring back Scarlet, make other mags for women, push for educators and medical professions to actually utter the word clitoris, and for women to know how to use it, and how to assert what they want in their sexual lives?
Then today, I had a conversation with someone… she didn’t mean what she said, but on discussing marital rape only being illegal since 1993 in UK, she said it doesn’t really count, that the boundaries are blurred, and that women should “give it up for their man more”. And within a second I knew, I’m a f*cking feminist. This isn’t the opinion of one woman, it’s widespread, so many women (and men) believe that a man needs sex, and that it’s a woman’s obligation and responsibility to provide, regardless of what she wants. That a man’s orgasm is necessary, but a woman’s isn’t. And it’s here, in these private interactions, that we comply with ‘rape culture’ and patriarchy. It’s when we believe that if a woman says no, she will want it eventually “once it gets going”. It’s when we see the vagina as passive, the clitoris as redundant, the woman who needs orgasm as a nymph, and the man who rapes just getting his ‘needs met’, that we commit violence against women.
It’s the medical system we need to be protesting against:
“A GP can prescribe anti depressants or anxiety medication so a woman can partake in penetrative sex. A common side effect of these strong and highly-addictive drugs? An inability to orgasm. It would make you laugh if it wasn’t so horrific. For women suffering from various vaginal or vulval pains, online medical sites helpfully recommend they apply anaesthetic gel so that they can “tolerate” intercourse.
On forums and blogs that discuss conditions such Endometriosis, Vulvodynia, Vestibulodynia, Pelvic Congestion Syndrome and Dysesthesia, the same heartbreaking replies come up. That the woman won’t ever “find a man” or be able to “keep a man” because she isn’t “normal”. That she can’t have “real sex” . There is little dialogue around her pleasure, whether she can orgasm: her sexual worth and sexual success is defined by that one act”.
We need to push the envelope, not close it. Push for women to be shown as active sexual subjects.
Emily Dubberley recently released Garden of Desires, in which she kindly mentioned PlasticDollHeads several times. This work is what we need more of. I was a fan of the original, Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden. Read them.
If these recent incidents have shown me anything, it’s that I am definitely a f*cking feminist.