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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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51 Responses

  1. betsyl
    betsyl June 19, 2006 at 10:43 am |

    While my feminism allows freedom in our choices, and while my feminism never shames the individual women who make those choices, it does require that we examine the system in which those choices are made. And sexual choices aren’t immune to scrutiny.

    yes. exactly.

    ugh. i have no brilliant analysis here, sadly. but just because a feminist does it doesn’t make it a feminist action. even in bed. twisty posted some things on the subject of bdsm a few months ago that made me realize that she was exactly right– bdsm is eroticizing the patriarchy. it’s also what gets me hot. this is a tricky combination, and i think it’s important that i, and other feminist bdsm participants, be aware of it.

  2. zuzu
    zuzu June 19, 2006 at 10:47 am |
  3. Pete
    Pete June 19, 2006 at 10:54 am |

    Nice post.

    What gets to me about this debate is that there seens to be an assumption that a generic social construction of a sex act has to be applied by any given couple within the context of their own relationship. There was a similar argument put forward about “doggy style” sex on the Ms. Boards a few years back to the effect that since frat boy assholes saw it as demeaning, it was demeaning… which begs the question, “why are you letting frat boy assholes define the scope of your sexuality?”

    There are certainly any number of circumstances and attitudes towards blowjobs that are unhealthy, sexist and demeaning… but if someone thinks that my going down on a woman makes me weak or less-than-masculine would I hold off because of what they think? Do these attitudes, by inversion, make giving a woman head anti-patriarchal? Ultimately, is my doing something because I know that it will please the person I love inherently different from them doing the same solely because of some asshole’s opinion?

  4. piny
    piny June 19, 2006 at 11:17 am |

    Just so we’re clear, I’m definitely not anti-oral sex, and I took pretty deep offense at a lot of the descriptions in Twisty’s comment section about how oral and anal sex are “disgusting.” It struck me initially as startlingly homophobic, since that’s the context in which I’m most used to hearing that sucking dick and butt sex are teh icky. I was genuinely shocked to be reading that on a feminist blog. So I’m the last person here who’s going to argue that good feminist women everywhere should refuse to give head. And I also chafe at this “perfect feminist” model which tends to alienate a lot of women, especially when we’re arguing that the real feminists get it and all the rest of you ladies are just suffering from a bad case of false consciousness. I’m generally disheartened by the purposeful ruckus-raising, the sister-shaming and the disgust at sexual acts; I’m further disappointed by the response which centers on the idea that as long as its a “choice,” it’s unassailable.

    I don’t want to come off as saying, “Those poor unfortunate prudes! They just need to learn how to do it right!” But I didn’t read those comments as homophobic per se, just kinda ignorant (it’s true that they did reiterate homophobic comments about the ickiness of teh butt sex). They were mostly depressing. Neither of the sexual acts described has to be painful. Ever. Even a little bit. The fact that so many people–women, really–believe otherwise is a sign that they’ve had insensitive, inept partners, or even that they were introduced to this kind of intercourse as abuse.

  5. SingOut
    SingOut June 19, 2006 at 11:21 am |

    Great post, though I disagree about Punkass. I’d never been there before this whole bj mess. As soon as I’d read that the women who questioned bj’s as a tool of the patriarchy were “idiots” who never got over abusive sex, I was done with the Punkass blog.

  6. EL
    EL June 19, 2006 at 11:50 am |

    I do think that there’s value in having feminist voices like hers who cut through the bullshit and call it like they see it, unapologetically and caveat-free.

    Honestly, I don’t think Twisty’s argument can be called “cutting through the bullshit”. I think that calling men’s bodies gross is quintessentially bullshit – it’s clouding the issue, it’s deliberately inflammatory (not to mention hurtful to people who happen to have been born with or chosen those bodies, as well as many of those folks who desire those bodies), and it isn’t about feminism anymore than Miss NYU calendars are. She got the argument she asked for – yes, some of it (though certainly not all of it) was shallow and knee-jerk, but she framed her side in a way that obscured any kind of real content in favor of shaming. So, some people responded as though they’d been punched in the gut. Makes sense to me.

    I think that, given Twisty’s baseline that women don’t actually enjoy this activity – if they do, their souls are dead or something like that – a lot of people responded by saying, “Yes I do enjoy it and no my soul isn’t dead.”

  7. zuzu
    zuzu June 19, 2006 at 12:13 pm |

    “Coeds”? Et tu, Jill?

    More thoughts, from meloukhia

  8. kate.d.
    kate.d. June 19, 2006 at 12:36 pm |

    this is a comprehensive and clear-headed take on this particular shitstorm. thanks for that.

  9. Ledasmom
    Ledasmom June 19, 2006 at 12:42 pm |

    Ah, thank you, zuzu – I have loathed the word “coed” ever since I figured out that it only meant women, making the essential ingredient of coeducation women – rather than both men and women, because the men are assumed to be there.

  10. Guilia Della B.
    Guilia Della B. June 19, 2006 at 1:29 pm |

    And I also chafe at this “perfect feminist” model which tends to alienate a lot of women, especially when we’re arguing that the real feminists get it and all the rest of you ladies are just suffering from a bad case of false consciousness.

    Link?

  11. Bitch |Lab
    Bitch |Lab June 19, 2006 at 1:35 pm |

    There were a lot of comments. Which commenters said that “it’s my choice and you can’t touch it?”

    Bitch PhD certainly didn’t. Nor did hedonistic. Or MsKate. So, who argued it was their choice and thus unassailable.

    My argument is this: If my theoretical position is that changing the patriarchy doesn’t happen in our bedrooms, but elsewhere. Then it’s my choice is none of your business because we differ politically on that issue. And those differences should be debated at that level.”

    But, if you’re a radical feminist and identify with their program, then it’s up for grabs.

    It’s really pretty simple.

  12. Bertson
    Bertson June 19, 2006 at 1:36 pm |

    I particularly enjoyed Bitch|Lab’s take on the issue.

  13. Earl
    Earl June 19, 2006 at 2:17 pm |

    What I got out of it was a strong undercurrent of misandry. What do you think Twisty’s response would be if I characterized vaginas as, oh, something equivalent to a funk filled bratwurst — maybe bloody ground up raw beef — and then footnoted my characterization with
    “*answer: it’s disgusting”

    I’m pretty sure she’d call it misogyny, and she’d be right.

  14. Earl
    Earl June 19, 2006 at 2:18 pm |

    Particularly since I don’t see how sticking my “funk filled bratwurst” in a vagina is any less intimate than a mouth.

  15. Chris Clarke
    Chris Clarke June 19, 2006 at 2:25 pm |

    Yes! What about the men?? We’re oppressed too!!!1! Isn’t it your job to think of our feelings????6?

  16. punkass marc
    punkass marc June 19, 2006 at 2:36 pm |

    Thanks for the kind words, Jill. [And sorry you had a bad go of it, SingOut; we can be a little feisty.]

    Kneejerk defensiveness should always set off alarm bells. If someone won’t examine her/his assumptions, sometimes that’s because s/he’s afraid there’s at least one s/he doesn’t want to acknowledge.

    Perhaps we should develop a phrase in the blogosphere alerting readers when a post is about the broader social conditions surrounding an event/activity/issue and its general implications, and that any specific individual participating in it shouldn’t automatically assume they are being attacked personally.

  17. Francis
    Francis June 19, 2006 at 2:51 pm |

    I think it all depends on context. A BJ can be degrading, patriarchy approving etc etc. A BJ given outside of a longer term relationship probably is.

    But a BJ can also be a way of giving pleasure to the one you love, in which case its probably going to be reciprocated, if not immediately then at some point in the future (or the past) – ditto anal sex, cunnilingus and so on. The point about being in a loving relationship with someone else is that sometimes you get pleasure by giving the one you love pleasure even if you don’t get much out of it yourself. If you selfishly refuse to do things that you don’t like doing but that your partner does the relationship probably isn’t going anywhere.

    You could I think make the argument that a BJ is not much different from being dragged along to a sporting event, film, play or whatever that you know your partner wants to go to in your company even though it bores you rigid. The deal is that you do this in the expectation that your partner does the equivalent for you.

  18. sarah
    sarah June 19, 2006 at 3:09 pm |

    A BJ given outside of a longer term relationship probably is.

    I can see how this might be perceived as such, but I don’t think this has to necessarily be the case. It creates a bit of a slippery slope – like saying that having sex outside of a long term relationship makes you a whore/slut/etc.

  19. Julie
    Julie June 19, 2006 at 3:44 pm |

    I think there’s some truth to that Francis. Like Sarah said, I’d be cautious only because it does have the possibility of leading down a slippery slope, but I think the difference is just in the one-sidedness. For instance, sex outside of a non long-term relationship is usually mutually pleasurable for it’s own sake. You both have fun, it’s over and everyone moves on. Even reciprocal oral sex could fit into this equation… everyone gets off and even if you didn’t really enjoy giving it, you did enjoy receiving it. Non-reciprocal oral sex outisde of a long term relationship to me would be tricky. For me, the enjoyment comes from watching a guy I love and adore have fun, pretty much plain and simple. It’s not that I dislike them, it’s a pretty much neutral act for me. With someone I didn’t care about, I can’t see myself bothering to do it though. Now if you enjoy giving head just because you find the act pleasurable in and of itself, then it wouldn’t be any different than inside a long term relatinship. A lot of the comments I saw though, were along the lines of “I enjoy doing it because I enjoy seeing him get pleasure”.

  20. Esme
    Esme June 19, 2006 at 4:20 pm |

    This is the most sane comment I’ve seen on the whole discussion, and I agree wholeheartedly. I am frustrated to be so alienated, but likewise I recognize that many of my actions cannot be disconnected from their social meanings. That means evaluating my own choices, figuring out why I do what I do. It doesn’t mean feeling ashamed for enjoying what I enjoy.

  21. Nymphalidae
    Nymphalidae June 19, 2006 at 4:43 pm |

    Who the fuck cares?

  22. piny
    piny June 19, 2006 at 4:48 pm |

    You’re absolutely right! Let’s talk about anti-geek hate crimes instead.

  23. Dr. Free-Ride
    Dr. Free-Ride June 19, 2006 at 5:37 pm |

    RE: “coeds”, for what it’s worth, at the (women’s) college I attended, the coeds were male (exchange students, part of the consortium of colleges where a student at one college in the consortium could take classes at any of the others, etc.)

    I have nothing more to contribute to the blowjob wars.

  24. Anna
    Anna June 19, 2006 at 6:21 pm |

    Personally, I don’t particularly enjoy giving head, but I’ll do it in exchange for receiving head. It’s not complicated.

  25. Cathy Mac
    Cathy Mac June 19, 2006 at 7:21 pm |

    There is nothing wrong with bashing stuff like this in feminism, it must be done! This kind of anti sex feminism so closely mirrors conservatism and fundamentalism and obviously is hateful and misandristic, to make normal sex with boys seem like some oppressive evil, c’mon! Some one needs some therapy and to stop spreading their neurosis around, that’s all. The “patriarchy” is like 2% of men all the rest are your friends!

    Ps your logo girl disturbs me on many levels.
    Cheers.

  26. none
    none June 19, 2006 at 9:34 pm |

    has anyone else had their comments deleted over at ibtp’s bj posts? i’m feeling like a troll, and all i did was suggest that women who give head might be able to enjoy it more if they learn a few tricks.

    i can see how this would make me seem like a spammy lecher-man, but really i’m a woman whose sex life was improved by a guide at decidedly-not-unfeminist babeland. rather than link it and run the risk of losing another comment, i encourage gals to look it up. it helped a lot.

  27. femmespeak
    femmespeak June 19, 2006 at 11:29 pm |

    All this reminds me of sitting in a women’s studies class a few years ago tenaciously jamming Foucault’s concepts of Power into my head in terms of women’s sexuality. One of the things that made it in to my skull and stayed there was the idea that everything we know and think is held in the center of a ball of power, the edges of which we can’t imagine. So all of our decisions are based on what we know of power and our interaction with it.
    Fact: Women have less power than men, on average, accross our society. Fact: Many men use sex as a tool to demonstrate their superiority over women as well as other men. This applies to ALL sex and sexuality. Blow jobs included and not special from.
    So, if we enjoy giving head, does that mean we’re succumbing to the power of the man we’re pleasuring, or does it mean we actually enjoy it. And how can we tell which it is?
    This is soooo sticky (no pun intended), and, I think, it ultimately comes down to a personal feeling and a case-by-case decision on whether you can give head and still be an empowered woman.
    Personally, when I was in a relationship with a man, I gave him head because he went down on me in order to make me feel great. So I wanted to reciprocate. And I know I’m still an all-powerful feminist woman.

  28. mikey
    mikey June 19, 2006 at 11:33 pm |

    okay, i had to offer my blowjob theory.

  29. Bitch |Lab
    Bitch |Lab June 20, 2006 at 12:42 am |

    If you linked to babeland, None, and had never posted there, I could see that she might think it was spam. I’ve had people, real humans, and not spam bots, try to pitch some web site actually related to the post at my blog.

    OTOH, maybe she can’t stand Babeland, which I would guess would be something T would really despise: supposedly feminist women, lesbians to boot, pushing sex toys for fun and profit? yeah. I can’t picture T being too thrilled with their philsophy or MO.

  30. Ross
    Ross June 20, 2006 at 12:49 am |

    Yes! What about the men?? We’re oppressed too!!!1! [sic]

    Well, as a “man”, I’d like to express how deeply sad it makes me feel to know that Twisty indeed, does not like penises, blowjobs, nor bratwursts. I have to admit though, that after reading her second post (the mean, crude, and hurtful one) I did get a tad hungry. Did anyone else ever used to enjoy those cheese-stuffed hotdogs when they were young? I remember, my best friend michael and I used to race to see who could suck the cheese out of our weenie the fastest. Ahh, those were the days.

    I’ve heard that Twisty is supposedly a “lesbian,” which would be comforting because I’d hate to think that those couple of.. dozen girls who serviced me didn’t enjoy the act. Hate for them to have figured out I’d still give sans quid pro quo. Oooh, that’d be the end of things.

  31. Bess
    Bess June 20, 2006 at 1:17 am |

    I’m no fan of shaming women for their sexual choices. I think it’s absolute bullshit to call one’s feminism into question because she gives head, or because she enjoys BDSM, or because she engages in whatever other “Patriarchy-approved” sex practice. If I can be a feminist in my make-up, skirts and toe-pinching stilletos, then you can certainly be one while you orally pleasure your male partner.

    You can be a feminist and have sex with men. You can be a feminist and dress femme-y. You can be a feminist and pose for Playboy. You can be a feminist and be a sex worker; you can be in a porno; you can enjoy porn; you can flash your boobs on a Girls Gone Wild video or at Mardi Gras. As a feminist, I’ll argue for your right to make individual choices, and to do what best suits you in your life.

    Lynn Cheney has claimed to be a feminist. So has Larry Flynt. How nice for them that you support these claims.

  32. Bess
    Bess June 20, 2006 at 3:42 am |

    I was more sarcastic than I should have been, and apologize for that, but you render “feminism” meaningless if you see it everywhere. If we focus upon actions rather than upon people, which is probably the best approach, what is “feminism” to you? How do you know it when you see it?

  33. Bess
    Bess June 20, 2006 at 3:55 am |

    Another thought: By declaring everything and everyone feminist you are also being “the feminist police.” It is simply that you enforce a different set of laws. Your claims make you every bit the definer of feminism as someone who takes a more limited view. You just offer a competing paradigm. Is your paradigm better or worse for feminism? That is the interesting question.

  34. Bess
    Bess June 20, 2006 at 4:12 am |

    Hey look, Ann Coulter is a feminist too:
    http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2006/06/16/a_feminist_success_story/

    Yes, sarcasm again, sorry, but don’t you see the problem here?

  35. Freeman
    Freeman June 20, 2006 at 4:35 am |

    I agree with Pete. Are there attitudes about oral sex that are unhealthy? Absolutely. But if SO, the problem is not the blowjob, but rather the attitude held about the blowjob. Political and social attitudes CAN creep into the bedroom, yes, but an intimate sexual contact between individuals? I don’t think THAT, strictly speaking, can be politicized.

  36. Manuela
    Manuela June 20, 2006 at 5:30 am |

    Jill #37
    I agree much with your definitions of feminism, but you are being an arbiter of feminism when you make your definitions. There is nothing wrong with that! But recognize that you do the same thing you criticize others for: you say what is feminism and what is not. Again, quite okay, but be aware you are doing it too.

  37. Lynn Gazis-Sax
    Lynn Gazis-Sax June 20, 2006 at 9:24 am |

    I totally think that people should be able to critique sexual activity in a larger context (as long as it doesn’t involve telling people what they don’t like).

    I don’t entirely understand the business about blowjobs being tied to domination, though. I mean, I sort of get that they often are – but in a way that PIV intercourse isn’t? It seems to me that both kinds of sexual activity can happen in ways that are tied to dominance, or one-sided, or even ways that are painful for the woman. Both can be messed up by wider cultural messages (like the one that says sex is something that wives should always give to husbands when they want it, to keep them happy, instead of something that should be negotiated in a way that both people enjoy).

  38. null
    null June 20, 2006 at 12:30 pm |

    If it were only women giving blowjobs, then perhaps blowjobs might be a feminist issue. But men give blowjobs, too, obviously. This doesn’t mean there are no issues around the practice, nor does it mean that the issues aren’t worth discussing. But how is it a feminist issue? Why make it one? I ask the same questions about (forgive me) BDSM as a feminist issue. There are plenty of issues around BDSM, and they are very much worth discussing. But given the fact that BDSM encompasses not only man on woman but woman on woman, woman on man, man on man, man on dog, xxxxxxx on xxxxxx and god knows what else–how is it a feminist issue?

    Eagerly awaiting enlightenment.

  39. ilyka
    ilyka June 20, 2006 at 1:17 pm |

    But recognize that you do the same thing you criticize others for: you say what is feminism and what is not.

    No, she isn’t doing the same thing. Look, this isn’t hard: The chief distinctions Jill made were–

    Can a woman fight against reproductive rights and argue that women should stay in the kitchen and still be a feminist? Absolutely not, because those actions are contrary to feminist thought itself.

    Obviously if you favor limiting the options of women in society, that isn’t feminism. But that isn’t an arbitrary call made by Jill. It’s based on what feminism IS. You wouldn’t join the Anti-Defamation League and argue that we need to bring back concentration camps; likewise, you don’t call yourself a feminist and then pen screeds about how bitches need to stay in the kitchen where they belong.

    Like I said, it’s not hard to work out.

  40. Thomas
    Thomas June 20, 2006 at 4:19 pm |

    Null, the personal is political. We live in a culture that bombards us with rules about gender roles, including lots of rules about sex and sexuality. These are, by and large, a huge catch-22. The rules are mutually contradictory such that all women are always somehow in violation and liable to be held in contempt by someone. In my view (and lots of feminists agree with me), examining and tearing down those rules is one of, if not the, key mission of feminism. We may have a lot of disagreement about how to do that, but there you go. Lots of women get the strong message that giving blowjobs is mandatory, and also the strong message that only sluts give blowjobs. Lots of women get the message that they are not supposed to enjoy sex, or that they shouldn’t enjoy sex except with a husband, or that sex is for procreation only. Lots of women get the message that their orgasm is not important. As feminists, we ought not to just expect that women will work through those issues in silence. We ought to pull those messages and rules into the sunlight and examine them.

    I’m a sadomasochist, but I don’t think that just because lots of people do BDSM in different combinations it is not a feminist issue. I and my partners are playing with power differentials in an erotic context. If all we’re doing is replicating women’s subjugation in the largur culture in miniature, then that’s a problem. That’s not the conclusion I come to, on the whole, but just saying that the area is unproductive for investigation seems to me intellectually unsupportable. If some guys are replicating patriarchal messages that women are inherently subordinate and that their sexual needs are sinful and should be punished to get women to enter into 24/7 relationships that make them miserable and leave them feeling trapped and dependent, are we supposed to just wave our hands at is as though they make an election to be in that relationship against a cultural blank slate? I don’t think so.

    That’s a straight answer, and a Feminism 101 response, because I’m extending you the charity of assuming you’re asking on the square and not trolling.

  41. Thomas
    Thomas June 20, 2006 at 4:20 pm |

    Please excuse the typos. I typed submitted that without a proofread.

  42. Chet
    Chet June 20, 2006 at 10:44 pm |

    You’re absolutely right! Let’s talk about anti-geek hate crimes instead.

    Well, how about we talk about women’s persistent disadvantage in wages?

    How about we talk about the declining access to birth control and abortions?

    How about we talk about the oppression and ostracism of gays, lesbians, and transsexuals simply to get the Bible-bangers to the polls?

    Eh, fuck it. I guess you can just be an asshole, instead, Piny. None of the rest of that shit must be very important, if whether or not you have to turn in your Feminist License if a dick enters your mouth is the issue that inflames the feminist blogosphere.

  43. Bess
    Bess June 21, 2006 at 4:15 am |

    Right on, Jill! We may differ on many issues, but you nailed that one to the wall.

  44. Feministe » Those Never-Ending Mommy Wars

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  46. Mamacita
    Mamacita June 22, 2006 at 1:40 pm |

    Did you see Christopher Hitchens article in “Vanity Fair” this month? It’s about “America’s Signature Sexual Act” the blowjob. Here is the permalink to my post about it:http://www.mamacitaonline.com/2006/06/go_down_on_christopher_hitchens.php . Mucho macho, I had some fun with it. My view is that as a way for teenagers to avoid pressure by boys for intercourse, it’s not reciprocal and it does exploit them. Otherwise, sexual pleasure between adults will have roots in our heads…and it will be complicated in some cases. The behavior will be complicated, sometimes “good” for the participants, both of them, sometimes “bad,” unfortunately. It will be part of the human spectrum but not necessarily humane.

  47. Internal Monologue
    Internal Monologue June 23, 2006 at 2:15 am |

    Spotlight Lesbianism: girls kissing girls for guys

    It has been far too long since Internal Monologue engaged in some gratuitous titillation thinly disguised with a veneer of social criticism. But upon finding this article on the phenomenon of spotlight lesbianism (my term! I invented it! I hereby c…

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