Is the separation of eroticism and feminism a problem?

Guest Blogger bio:  Sabia McCoy-Torres is a PhD candidate in sociocultural anthropology at Cornell University. Her research focuses on race, the African-diaspora, and popular culture. She is an avid dancer and proud native Bronx, New Yorker.


Some of the backlash, commentary, and critiques Beyoncé has received for using Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi’s words from “Why We Should All Be Feminists” in her song “Flawless” has inspired me to react. Not in support of Beyoncé, but instead against a notion that I do not support implied in these critiques: that somehow her “hyper” sexuality is a contradiction to her being a feminist. I put “hyper” in quotations because what exactly denotes “hyper” sexuality differs from person to person and referring to Beyoncé’s persona as hypersexual is a matter of opinion. “Hyper” also always seems to imply deviance. Maybe there is nothing deviant about her sexual persona, but rather how acceptable representations of sexuality for self-loving women with a firm sense of agency are typically framed. Still, the message is being sent loud and clear: if a woman embraces and illustrates her erotic self through her dance or dress then she is somehow not a feminist. But is this true? Is the drawing apart of eroticism and feminism worth breaking down a bit?

Birth of The Big Question

A situation I regularly find myself in doing anthropology field research on reggae culture also inspires my line questioning. I am constantly faced with women dancing in sensual and at times sexually suggestive ways. When I read theories about women who dance as they do, all point to the notion that these women are victims of a patriarchal society that causes them to sexually objectify themselves, they are responding to a history of dehumanization of the black female body, they are dancing for the male gaze. In other words, they are framed as agentless victims, living out their inferiority to men, and, in their supposed sexual objectification, clearly not empowered women.

But there is a problem. In conversation with these women, these ideas about them are rarely validated by what they say about themselves and how they see their own dancing. They mention loving their bodies, feeling confidence in themselves, how good it feels to experience the music through their chosen movements. And here comes the best part, I have arrived to clubs early enough when there are almost exclusively women present and seen dozens of women dancing by themselves, facing mirrors, watching their own reflection, dancing for no other gaze but their own. I’m sure most of them do just the same, by themselves in their bedroom mirror, like I can frequently be caught doing. Where is the male centered story here? Where are the victims of their own sexual objectification? These women are empowered movers and shakers, authors of their own movement and image, showing their agency, and, as they dance alone, their independence from men. They demonstrate senses of their female and human selves that feminism upholds.

If a woman embraces and illustrates her erotic self through her dance or dress is she then somehow not a feminist?

The historical script

There is historical background to the placing of feminism and overt displays of sexuality as opposites of each other, especially as it they relate to black women. I am indebted to Carol Batker and Treva Lindsey for my knowledge on the subject. To put it as short as possible, the Enlightened-Feminists-Us’s were placed as opposites of the In-Need-Of-Saving-Way-Too-Sexual-Them’s unintentionally. In the early 1900s, black middle class intellectuals and elites wanted to debunk racist propaganda that African-American women were hyper-sexual, and all of its savage and animalistic connotations, to underscore the humanity of African-Americans and campaign against lynching. To show their humanity, these women demonstrated that women of all races were hypersexual, especially lower class women, and that good middle class women like themselves were proof of the respectability of African-American women. I am hugely indebted to and grateful for their efforts, and it brings me great sadness that our country’s racist history necessitated their work. However, there were some unintended effects of the way they framed their activism and respectable African-American female identities. “Hyper”-sexuality became “low class behavior” and activism was linked to demureness, a-sexuality, and respectability, placing representations of female erotic and sexual selves as opposites. They created a stereotype of what a feminist, middle class, respectable black women is, leaving little room for a diversity in representation, and no room for the expression of sexual identities.

This history, while specific to African-Americans, is translatable to the historic forming of feminist personas as they apply to white women as well.  The fight for women’s equality and safety has been closely concerned with tearing down the objectification of women in its many oppressive forms. What has followed in result is a sensitivity to women’s behaviors that can be thought of as coming from our historic objectification and victimization. Sex, eroticism, sexuality, all benefits to men and so frequently at the center of women’s objectification, then are demonized as deriving from a male agenda or seen as a response to the male agenda. The desire to express eroticism and sexuality are inherently a part of women as well and also to our benefit, but history seems to have pitted open expression as taboo and against the feminist agenda.
In addition to creating ideas of what a true feminist looks and acts like, both of these tales have resulted in a policing of women’s bodies, and how women represent themselves. This policing might be well intended. The use of sex, nudity, and women’s bodies for money, marketing, and advertising makes the lines between sexual self-expression and exploitation quite blurred. Still, when we resort too easily to policing, we reproduce a form of social inequality that says that men are allowed to be fully sexual beings but women aren’t.

That’s my momma’s feminism

I want to put out there that perhaps what Beyoncé was getting at when she included Adichi’s quote in “Flawless” is the idea that feminism should allow room for full displays of sexuality, eroticism, and desire, just as men are allowed, challenging one dimensional views of what a feminist looks and acts like. Citing the relevant parts of the quote as included in “Flawless,” Adichi says: “We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are. Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” It seems Beyoncé was speaking directly to what people seem to think she missed as a contradiction. It seems she is actually saying, by including this quote, that her decision to embody her full sexuality and represent it as she pleases is her right just as it is a man’s and does not exclude her from being a feminist.

Beyoncé further speaks to this point at the end of her newly released (to those who didn’t buy the album) steamy video for “Partition.”
The video concludes with a rough interpretation of a quote from The Big Lebowski spoken in French. The voice says (translation): “Men think that feminists hate sex, but it’s a very stimulating and natural activity that women love.” Her position on the separation of feminism and eroticism is clear.

A real life example from a real life girl putting out real life images brings to light some of these points and questions even more. It’s the documentary video Kimari Carter submitted to apply for rapper Juicy J’s “twerk” scholarship, college funds to be awarded to the best twerking applicant. She is twerking, then, to show how well she does what many consider a complex dance, as opposed to for shock value, which is hardly concerned with skill. In the video, Carter captures herself twerking in her dorm room with a scholarly text in hand, twerking in a dark club with glow in the dark designs painted on her body, and herself having fallen asleep studying in her bed with books written by prominent black and feminist scholars surrounding her. She represents herself as a studious, hard-working woman, reader of black women’s scholarship, and avid twerker, mixing these identities together into one. Her words are interesting. She is a self-proclaimed activist, teacher, leader, and twerker. She explains twerking as being an essential part of her womanhood and also her black identity. She also reminds her viewers that this “is the new age” and old ideas of respectability need to go.

There are many ways to see her bio documentary as a huge problem, especially given the history I mentioned earlier; but this video is also useful to understanding what she, in the “new age,” sees as not being contradictions: intelligence, feminism, and sexuality, even erotically expressed through twerking. Is it possible that she is not a victim of a misogynistic society living out her own subjugation, but instead loving her own body and celebrating it through twerking as she does her mind through scholarship? Arguments about appropriate sexual representation cannot always start and stop at internalized historical legacies, or turn to patriarchy for answers.

What happens if they come too close?

Bringing sexuality and feminism intimately close can create a slippery slope and brings into question what are “acceptable” unions between feminism and the erotic. Is Miley Cyrus seemingly for no apparent creative or artistic reason licking a hammer in slow motion in “Wrecking Ball” the same as a near nude pole dancer posing acrobatically upside down in a split in Rihanna’s music video “Pour It Up”? Is one, a clear reference to oral sex without any context, better than the other, a demonstration of a certain skill though a controversial one? Is dancing as erotically or suggestively as one will for her own financial gain less harmful to young girls’ gender identity than watching women hired to dance in a male rapper’s video? I have posed many questions here that I do not give answers for, but present anyway to open dialogue rather than simply making eroticism and feminism contradictory terms. What I will say definitively is that we should distance ourselves from the idea that sexuality (in all of its representations from demure to erotic) is incongruent with feminism, and accept the possibility that all of these representations, when women self-consciously author them, represent the diversity of how women see, experience, and feel themselves.


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119 Responses to Is the separation of eroticism and feminism a problem?

  1. ldouglas says:

    Would it be possible to link to the critiques you’re responding to? I tried Googling but came up dry.

    Thanks for a great guest post!

  2. AMM says:

    For some reason, Spike Lee’s film “She’s Gotta Have It” comes to mind.

    IIRC, it was about a woman who had three boyfriends (and, yes, they knew about each other.) Each of them tried to convince her that she needed to pick one (himself, of course :-) ), but she kept insisting, basically: I’m happy this way. I enjoy each relationship, and see no reason why I should give any of them up just to satisfy _your_ idea of what’s right. It’s _your_ idea of how I should be that is messed up, not me.

    And in the film, she comes off as the most reasonable and sensible of the four of them.

    • EG says:

      Isn’t that the one in which the “happy ending” is that one of the dudes breaks down her door and functionally rapes her and she realizes she needs to be his woman? I remember bell hooks’s essay about it. She was not best pleased.

      Spike Lee can’t deal with black women’s humanity for shit.

      • ldouglas says:

        Isn’t that the one in which the “happy ending” is that one of the dudes breaks down her door and functionally rapes her and she realizes she needs to be his woman? I remember bell hooks’s essay about it. She was not best pleased.

        At the end of the movie she decides she can’t settle down with one guy and she goes back to her independent ways.

        Also, I remember the sex scene as being rough-but-consensual; I think the woman initiated the sex. But I saw the movie ages ago, so I could be completely off base.

  3. Athenia says:

    Awesome article! I love talking about this topic. ^_^

    1) Do you think there’s something different about going to a club and dancing and dancing in a music video to sell music? I feel there is.

    2) “We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.” I love this quote and I’m glad Beyonce included it. However, I do think we need to point out that when Beyonce is dancing in the strip club in Partition that she’s really not engaging in sexuality “the way boys do.” If she did, she would be the one sitting in the audience, and Jay-Z would be one the poppin’ his tush on the couch. Beyonce does include “women love sex” line (again, which I love), but what Beyonce is doing in the video isn’t sex. Jay-z is watching her dance. Of course, though, within the context of the song, she is engaging in sex “I don’t need to you to see Yonce on her knees.”

    I don’t think it’s any secret that Beyonce is all about catering to her dudes needs– that’s done out of love and sex, not submissiveness. I’m just glad we have songs like Blow and Rocket where her needs are catered to too. :)

  4. Please allow me the opportunity to try to speak to these points. [snipped by moderator]

    [Moderator note: your post addresses nothing about tensions between eroticism and feminism, so it's off-topic]

    • epinetron says:

      And… what does this have to do with the topic at hand?

      (Also, the discussion in so much depth of Quaker principles, in a discussion that has nothing to do with religion, makes me pretty uncomfortable, because it seems to me to be hovering a bit too close for comfort to proseletyzing.)

      • tigtog says:

        Agreed. The Quaker principles content in Comrade Kevin’s comment has been snipped as off-topic.

      • I really think a second look at what I wrote will answers many questions. I’m not seeking to proselytize, in fact, you’d be surprised how much I try not to give even the appearance of feeling a need to convert other.

        I meant only that many people feel as though they have to conform to one perspective or another, be it eroticism and feminism. I was stating a new way to look at the issue. Instead of having one centralized understanding of this intersection, we can agree upon some of the same arguments without forsaking our own individual interpretation.

        That’s it, in a nutshell. But I really wish people would not be so easily offended by religion, particularly because it’s not nearly as taboo or offensive as they might think.

        • [Moderator note: moving off-topic again. If you want to explore your tangent further, do it in spillover. ~ tt]

        • EG says:

          One might, but that’s a different discussion. I read your comment many times, and could not see any relevance to the actual discussion we are having here.

        • Donna L says:

          I really wish people would not be so easily offended by religion, particularly because it’s not nearly as taboo or offensive as they might think.

          That depends on both the nature (or aspect) of the religion and the nature of the discussion, I think. But none of that, I think, was relevant here, given your failure to tie what you said in any way to the subject of this thread.

        • That being the case, I will try harder next time to connect the dots.

  5. tinfoil hattie says:

    I don’t think it’s any secret that Beyonce is all about catering to her dudes needs– that’s done out of love and sex, not submissiveness.

    I don’t see how this isn’t about submissiveness, or at least about subverting her own sexuality to his. Given that female sexuality is defined solely through the lens of patriarchy and the male gaze, I also fail to see how it could be otherwise.

    • Athenia says:

      Well, on “Jealous” she cooks dinner naked for him and he’s not there to enjoy it and it pisses her off. (Although I’m not sure what she’s jealous about exactly.)

      • tinfoil hattie says:

        I don’t think I’m quite grasping your point here. At first I thought it was dry humor, but after reading Academic Hustla’s comment, below, I’m confused.

        • Athenia says:

          My point is that she’s cooking him dinner naked cuz she wants to and it’s part of their erotic relationship not because she’s being submissive. Her anger is evidence that she is not submissive.

        • EG says:

          But the point is, why does she want to cook him dinner naked (cooking naked is a terrible idea, anyway, unless you enjoy burns and suchlike)? Why is the idea of her naked service eroticized, unless it’s that female submission is eroticized?

        • Caperton says:

          I think a lot of it depends on a given couple’s relationship. Does performing an act that is associated with submissiveness mean the act itself is submissive in all contexts? Female submission is frequently eroticized, but does that mean that cooking dinner naked can never mean, “Here, baby, I made you dinner, and I’m feeling all sexy, and you know what that means”? In my mind, there’s submission, and there’s doing something nice for your partner, and one doesn’t have to imply the other.

          There are things I do for The Boy that I do because I want to make him happy, not because I think it’s my role to provide them. I’ll make him a drink at the end of a long day. I’ll bring him his laptop so he doesn’t have to get up. I’ll rub his shoulders if they get knotted up. Sometimes, if he gets sent out of town on short notice, I’ll even iron his shirts while he packs. And on occasion, I’ll perform sexual acts without expectation of immediate reciprocation. Because such things make him happy, and I’m happy when he’s happy. He does the same thing for me — things that make me happy, because my happiness makes him happy. (‘Sides, there’s pretty much always immediate reciprocation, whether I expect it or not.) If that kind of activity is automatically submissive and can’t be anything but, I’d have to say that The Boy and I basically submit to each other equally, which sounds… equal.

        • EG says:

          Yes, but this isn’t a private interaction between a couple (and cooking dinner isn’t the same as cooking dinner naked). It’s a music video. The context isn’t their private relationship. The context is reductive images of sexuality.

        • Athenia says:

          EG–In “Rocket” Beyonce sings “Punish me please”–I think it’s ok to express erotic submissiveness, but what I like about the line is that it’s clearly consensual. Notably, Rocket features a lot of metaphors and you don’t even really see Beyonce’s body during it–mostly her face and liquid.

          But I’m not crazy about Parition’s view of “sex” cuz it’s a particular type of eroticism that’s only a symbol of sex–and paid sex at that. SImilarly, I’m not enamored with the “Annie Mae” line in “Drunk in Love.”

        • EG says:

          Sure, but given that Hattie’s original point was that she doesn’t see how this isn’t about submissiveness, saying that it’s consensual submissiveness doesn’t address that.

          Moreover, of course it’s portrayed as consensual. Freud himself described “successful” female sexuality as masochistic–why is female sexuality expressed as joy in submission so much in our culture?

        • ldouglas says:

          Moreover, of course it’s portrayed as consensual. Freud himself described “successful” female sexuality as masochistic–why is female sexuality expressed as joy in submission so much in our culture?

          Right, but can’t we critique the essentialism of defining all female sexuality as submissive without telling women who get off on masochism that they’re doing their own sexuality wrong?

        • EG says:

          Sure. Where do you see me saying that anybody’s doing it wrong? What I’m saying is that it’s not an accident or happenstance that those are the images that are eroticized.

        • tinfoil hattie says:

          Everything EG said. Also, expression of anger does not equal “not submissive.”

    • Safiya Outlines says:

      Also, I cannot be the only person to have noted that Beyonce’s last album had videos which were far less sexual and it sold (by her standards) quite poorly.

      Is it really nothing whatsoever to do with increasing sales that her new album is far raunchier on the video front? Also, people seem very intrigued by her relationship with Jay Z and oh look, there he is in at least two of the videos.

      I feel that so many of these discussions treat Beyonce as anything other then a recording artist whose job is to sell records in vast amounts.

    • Funty says:

      Concur.

      Society’s decided that it’s only valid, good, womanly fun if you’re making someone else happy too. Do something by yourself, for yourself and there’ll be trouble. Do something by yourself, for yourself and at someone else’s expense and you’re basically classed as demonic.

      Now go figure where sex fits into that.

      If you’ve not noticed, congratulations, you are close enough to the patriarchal ideal to have gone about your life largely unchecked.

      And you should probably also know that with an awful lot of “slut shaming”, the problem’s not so much with the sex, it’s a problem with women being “selfish” and acting outside the helpful and compliant ideal.

      Beyonce, you’re naked already. Don’t be angry, take the meal, the whole meal and eat in the bath. And congratulations on publicly loving a fully grown man, the music execs should be only too happy to hand over Michael Jackson’s royal pop crown and give it to you now.

  6. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for the blog.

    I beleve that female sexuality is intrinsic to the feminist movement.

    For me the struggle is to be recognised as complex sexual beings in our own rights and not just for the amusement of men.

    Being able to express that sexuality freely, without fear of assult or judgement and to live without being defined by the contents of our knickers alone would be, for me, a Utopia.

  7. AcademicHustla says:

    I would have to disagree that sexuality is defined solely through the lens of patriarchy. The erotic, which defines the sexuality of all genders in part, can be expressed in a myriad of ways that have nothing to do with men or patriarchy but rather intimacy with oneself and experiencing oneself. When that intimacy and knowledge is openly expressed or shared with another in the way that a person pleases, it is my argument that then it is a personal expression though one that might also satisfy a man’s gaze. I think the convenience of sexuality and its expression satisfying men (in addition to oneself) should not always be scapegoated as deriving from patriarchy simply because it does also satisfy men. Also, when my man massages my feet, neck, and back, cooks me dinner, and serves me cool drinks while I lay on the couch it is not out of submissiveness. Nor is it out of submissiveness when I do the same for him, including when I dance alone for him. It is out of the pleasure of sharing and serving, which we do for each other, not because we feel obligated to but because it brings us each pleasure to do so. I think Athenia has a great point.

    • tinfoil hattie says:

      There’s a difference between “a man’s gaze” and “the male gaze.” Patriarchy exists. Sexuality is defined through the lens of patriarchy. We have no idea what sexuality woukd be like for any of us in the absence of patriarchy. We are the fish: patriarchy is the water.

      • TimmyTwinkles says:

        This raises a fascinating point. Can individual experience/perspective define or alter the nature of the Patriarchy? That would have some interesting ramifications.

      • Angel H. says:

        We are the fish; patriarchy is the water.

        Not all of us swim in the same waters.

        • Ms. Kristen J. says:

          So much this.

        • tinfoil hattie says:

          Of course we do. Where does patriarchy not exist? You can’t opt out. You can dislike it, fight it, and rail against it, but you are in it. We all are. There is no choice involved.

        • Donna L says:

          Some of us do our best to swim against that particular current! And I don’t know how far one wants to take the oceanic analogy, but there are obviously many different currents that affect people simultaneously, to different degrees. Patriarchy is only one of them, and doesn’t encompass the entire societal ocean.

      • EG says:

        Meh. That’s certainly patriarchy’s ideology of itself, that it’s all-encompassing and all-powerful, but I see no reason to buy it.

        • AcademicHustla says:

          Ditto! Such an idea is definitely worth complicating a bit.

        • tinfoil hattie says:

          Your not wanting to believe it does not make it true. We are in patriarchy. All of us. Everywhere.

        • EG says:

          And your dogmatic repetition doesn’t make such a simplistic assessment true.

        • tinfoil hattie says:

          Perhaps you might want to read up on what patriarchy means before you insist that it’s a “dogma” I’m pushing. Ha. It’s not theoretical.

      • Angel H. says:

        Everything Donna L. said.

        There’s cissexist patriarchy, homophobic patriarchy, racist patriarchy, freshwater patriarchy, saltwater patriarchy, tropical patriarchy…

        Yes, they are all forms of patriarchy, but to say that patriarchy is what defines sexuality is simplistic and completely ignores all of the other systemic and institutional forces at work.

  8. When I think of eroticism, it isn’t about the performances on music videos – performance being the operative word.

    • AcademicHustla says:

      Agreed, but an element of these performances, it seems, is to push the boundaries between public and private performance. That is, the performance of eroticism in private or public, the experiencing of it in private or public, how it is illustrated in private and public.

  9. epinetron says:

    Fantastic post!

    Slight nitpick, though– it’s Adichie, not Adichi.

  10. theselkie says:

    I think there’s a lot to be said about how Beyonce is often uniquely dismissed as unfeminist for doing the sexualized performance we expect of all women in media. I also think there’s endless things to say about how Beyonce has created this narrative (whether it’s 100% true for her all the time or not) where she doesn’t feel any tension between the roles of artist, sexual being, wife and mother, but joy at how all these aspects of her life intersect.

    However, I’m skeptical of such a heterocentric lens for talking about eroticism. Certainly there are many women whose erotic lives have nothing to do with men and many more women whose erotic lives have nothing to do with public performance of sexuality and it seems like a mistake in framing to focus in on that.

    • AcademicHustla says:

      I agree wholeheartedly with your points, particularly in your last paragraph, which is yet another reason why I think framing sexuality in terms of patriarchy is misguided.

  11. Valdi says:

    I’m trying to think through what eroticism/sexuality means in context with feminism. (And forgive me – I’m still thinking obviously.) I think this post is right for denying the connection between the two. Part of embodied experience is sexual, and while many sexual concepts center themselves on the viewing pleasure of heterosexual men, one can still find power, freedom, or satisfaction in those practices. The lines between repression and self-action may be blurred, but that doesn’t man it should be policed.

    What this post does, and what I value – I think it’s also important to emphasize that eroticism, understood as a connection to one’s body in relation to oneself and to culture, need not be sexual. Intimacy, bodily comfort, and gendered presentations need not be thought of as centered on sex, even when they conventionally appear “sexual” – dresses, lipstick, tight clothing, pole dancing, and the like. Sex may always be a part of how we see and think of erotic expressions, but the performance of self does not have to be reduced to sex.

    The reggae dancers are outside my field of expertise, but it sounds like they already demonstrate this tendency – yes, the dancing may be sexual, and there’s no other good term for it, but terms like feeling confidence for themselves hints at something different. Self-esteem, kinetic experience, something. I think of it through premodern sexes and intimacy. For several contemplative women like Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, religious ecstasy seemed to give a performative agency that was erotic, but also outside of any conventional sexuality. They were certainly outside of conventional notions of reproductive sex (Margery Kempe struggles to renegotiate her marriage into a chaste one; Julian is an anchoress, unmarried and mainly in contact with the woman who serves her). Yet their writing, and their performances within their writing, maintains a combined intellectuality and sensuality that was highly valued. Calling their works “sex with God” is too reductive, as is denying any sexual element to it. Erotics could be powerful without being centered on a male gaze intent on sex.

  12. E.H. says:

    I think a very important variable is missing from this equation. No one has yet to mention love. While eroticism and feminism have an evidently complicated interaction, I feel the blurred line is made more clear by the presence of love. Whether it be women loving themselves or women loving their sexual partner, the dynamic between man and woman is completely altered when emotions are involved. I agree that sexuality is often viewed through a patriarchal lens; however, much of what women do is out of love for their partner. Is that going against feminist preaching? I do not believe so. I think it is a testament to a woman’s independence and confidence in herself if she knowingly commits to the pleasure of her partner. I believe we should embrace women having come to place where pleasing our man no longer translates to the submission to patriarchy, but rather an expression of the love between two equals.

    • AcademicHustla says:

      AMEN!

    • tinfoil hattie says:

      So as long as a woman performs a degrading act out of “love,” said degradation becomes okay? Or not patriarchal, maybe?

      • Yonah says:

        It’s also weird to see equality in a relationship defined as something people ARE rather than what they DO — as if one half of the couple can be submissive to the other without that being a meaningful part of the power dynamics in the relationship.

      • Fat Steve says:

        So as long as a woman performs a degrading act out of “love,” said degradation becomes okay? Or not patriarchal, maybe?

        I would say if she does it with another woman, possibly. With another man, I would say never. (not patriarchal, I mean)

    • QuantumInc says:

      The problem with EH’s statement is that the patriarchy also has a model for a loving heterosexual relationship. Neither side is humiliated or degraded, but both the man and the woman have specific roles to full fill, and the man’s role is the one with all of the power and decision making capability, while the woman attempts to his sexual and emotional needs.

      • QuantumInc says:

        *…attends to his sexual and emotional needs. MRAs and Feminists might debate over who was truly exploited in traditional relationships, but it is no secret that the man was considered the “Master of the House”. It’s hard to imagine that doesn’t make a difference for the worst, even if they both genuinely love each other.

        • E.H. says:

          I am not saying that I imagine relationships where the women is always the submissive. I just believe that judging acts of love as always being acts of submission might be too close minded. There is a commitment made by both parties in the relationship, whether it be male and female or male and male or female and female, to make one another happy. And in doing so, you make yourself happy. After all, isn’t love about making each other happy and supporting one another?
          With that said, I also believe there is a separation between this so-called “submission” in the bedroom where the woman appears to be catering to the male gaze and the submission of women to men beyond the bedroom in a societal context. We all agree that the latter is never acceptable. However, I see no problem in a woman making her own decision to please her partner in whatever ways she feels comfortable, confident, and sexy. Someone who supports equality of the sexes would embrace the decision of woman to play whatever role she wishes in the bedroom and in the eyes of her lover. By saying that women shouldn’t be submissive, you are telling women what to do, a complete contradiction to the feminist way.

        • EG says:

          Nobody is saying that a woman shouldn’t be submissive in the bedroom. The feminist way is to analyze the cultural implications of that.

        • EG says:

          Or, I should say, nobody is saying that a woman shouldn’t consensually perform submission in the bedroom. I actually do have a problem with a woman consistently truly prioritizing her own sexual desires below submitting to her partner.

        • ldouglas says:

          Or, I should say, nobody is saying that a woman shouldn’t consensually perform submission in the bedroom. I actually do have a problem with a woman consistently truly prioritizing her own sexual desires below submitting to her partner.

          Yeah, I think that’s a really important distinction to draw.

        • Ally S says:

          By saying that women shouldn’t be submissive, you are telling women what to do, a complete contradiction to the feminist way.

          And by ignoring context, you are undermining a meaningful analysis of the influence of sexism on women’s choices. Of course feminism shouldn’t police women’s choices, but surely women’s choices don’t exist in a cultural vacuum.

        • Fat Steve says:

          Sorry for going off topic, but when I see EG and E.H. amidst an argument, I can’t help but make the Spinal Tap-esque comment that E.H. is ‘one louder’.

  13. friday jones says:

    Part of the reason for the accusations of “hypersexuality” leveled at Beyonce is misogynoir. And that notion that feminism is somehow immiscible with sexuality is SO Second Wave. It’s really a form of internalized misogyny and is mostly the result of patriarchal indoctrination.

    • tinfoil hattie says:

      Contrary to your starement, so-called “second wave” feminists never said sex itself is anti-feminist, They said it’s born of, and immersed in, patriarchy.

      • ldouglas says:

        Well, that’s an easily falsifiable statement, at least as it applies to PIV.

        You’ve seriously never came across the claim that PIV is always rape in your second-wave feminist readings?

        • Ally S says:

          That view isn’t nearly as common as it’s made out to be by critics of 2nd-wave radical feminism. Andrea Dworkin never held that view, contrary to popular belief. But I have certainly run into some radical feminists who think that there is no such thing as consensual PIV sex.

        • EG says:

          That said, PiV is not the same as sex itself.

        • ldouglas says:

          That said, PiV is not the same as sex itself.

          Which is why I said

          at least as it applies to PIV

          right there in my first sentence.

        • EG says:

          I wasn’t actually arguing with you, ldouglas. That can happen.

        • tinfoil hattie says:

          I’ve come across people who believe that well-known feminist writers said this. I’ve read blogs on the internet by women who believe this. But I’d love to see the particular quote you have in mind.

        • Miranda says:

          You’ve seriously never came across the claim that PIV is always rape in your second-wave feminist readings?

          As I understand the most famous defense of this idea, the problem is epistemic, not necessarily normative. In other words, the problem is that in patriarchy it is impossible to tell what is rape and what is consensual. I find the claim unintuitive and dislike it, but it also doesn’t strike me as so batshit insane that it deserves to be a reductio ad absurdum for all of second wave feminism.

          Honestly, I dont understand the feminist blogosphere’s extreme reaction against a lot of second wave feminisms’ claims. That women’s desires are actually constructed solely through patriarchy and “all sex is rape” or “heterosexuality is impossible” is actually only a few steps away from plenty of other ideas in social justice about our inability to trust or know ourselves: plenty of people here will buy into the idea of unconscious internalized misogyny; implicit bias; the inability of white people to really ever fully not be racist; and so on. Our inability to have full conscious control of our desires and the way that society works to instill pernicious thoughts in us…that’s, like, at the heart of social justice.

          One objection is that it seems unethical to tell women that they have “false consciousness” about themselves, but isn’t that what we do all the time when we claim women have internalized misogyny?

          Don’t take this as a defense of second wave feminism, just some provocative thinking.

        • EG says:

          That women’s desires are actually constructed solely through patriarchy and “all sex is rape” or “heterosexuality is impossible” is actually only a few steps away from plenty of other ideas in social justice about our inability to trust or know ourselves

          The steps between those other ideas and “solely,” “all,” and “impossible” make the crucial difference. Claiming that patriarchy is this totalizing all-powerful force is just more bowing down before the supposedly awesome power of masculinity, removes all agency, constructs women as without resistance or contribution to the cultural landscape we inhabit, and thus erases the very resistance and contributions that we supposedly seek.

        • Donna L says:

          Plus, I think the reason people find that sort of absolutism to be so infuriating is that most of the time it just ends up being used as a rhetorical device that allows people to “win” any argument: anyone who disagrees with them is, by definition, a victim of false consciousness, etc. The very act of disagreement is seen as proof that the disagreement is invalid. A nice way to insure that you live in a closed, impenetrable, belief system.

          I most recently saw this used — over and over, by many different people — as a way of arguing that it is impossible that any feminist could actually and genuinely believe, on a truly informed, uncoerced basis, that trans women are women. (EG can certainly attest that I’m not making this up.)

          When taken to this extreme, as it often is, I don’t see much resemblance to social justice concepts. (Not any kind of social justice I’m interested in, anyway! I’m tempted to make comparisons to Soviet psychiatry as it was applied to dissidents in the 1960s, but I won’t.)

        • Donna L says:

          This, by the way, is a recent example of the “all PIV is rape” argument, from a few months ago:

          http://witchwind.wordpress.com/2013/12/15/piv-is-always-rape-ok/

          I agree with tinfoil hattie that this was not authored by a prominent second-wave feminist, unless it’s under a pseudonym! I also agree that Andrea Dworkin never said anything of the kind.

      • Donna L says:

        I wish I could remember who it was, but one self-identified radical feminist quite recently wrote a piece that actually became rather notorious, rather quickly, for going way beyond PIV and strenuously arguing that there’s no such thing as a straight woman — in other words, that uncoerced heterosexual desire on the part of women does not and cannot exist in the patriarchy. I know Adrienne Rich had thoughts on that subject, but this was quite definitive. And she certainly isn’t the only person who holds this belief. But I wouldn’t suggest that it’s as commonly-held among radical feminists as some other views I can think of.

        • TimmyTwinkles says:

          Oh yeah, among the more intellectual-ish radfems still working with theory those views are generally accepted or at least not challenged. I got bored and read most of the stuff on RadHub a couple of months ago; pretty freaky stuff. My opinion from the outside looking in is that they are a perfect example of what happens when you put theoretical purity above actual human beings. Theory is supposed to be a tool, not an end in of itself. On the other hand, I can’t say that the other extreme where rational thought/analysis is replaced by a shifting adherence to whatever person’s lived experience happens to be front and center is working any better.

        • TimmyTwinkles says:

          I take back the “isn’t working any better.” Acceptance is always better than intolerance. But a framework where nothing can get done because nothing’s inclusive enough is one where, among other things, Roe v Wade will continue to get picked apart state by state at the hands of the bigoted but highly effective Christian Right.

        • Donna L says:

          If you mean the late, not-so-lamented Radfem Hub (which was the subject of brief discussion here some time ago), I would suggest that what to you may only be freaky, would be extremely traumatizing to some because of the openly eliminationist views expressed. People should proceed with caution.

        • Donna L says:

          I would also dispute that anything ever posted there bears any resemblance to anything “intellectual,” no matter how broadly one construes the scope of what’s encompassed by “-ish.”

          But all of that is for another discussion.

        • TimmyTwinkles says:

          Oh yeah that stuff is not something i would suggest anybody exposing themselves too. And i wasnt intending intellectual to be complimentary, just to indicate those that are still trying to develop their thought.

        • tinfoil hattie says:

          People with whom we disagree are not automatically non-intellectual.

        • Donna L says:

          There’s nothing remotely “intellectual” — or “intellectual-ish” — about disgustingly eliminationist transphobic screeds, or manifestos advocating the murder of baby boys, which is pretty much what used to get posted on Radfem Hub if you’re at all familiar with it.

        • ldouglas says:

          People with whom we disagree are not automatically non-intellectual.

          Let’s not reduce “people who literally want trans* women and baby boys to be murdered” to “people we have some disagreements with, k?

          There’s nothing remotely “intellectual” — or “intellectual-ish” — about disgustingly eliminationist transphobic screeds

          The root of the disagreement seems to be that different people understand the word ‘intellectual’ differently. I don’t personally associate it with a moral judgement; I can imagine really ‘intellectual’ transphobic arguments. Not sure any actual conflict exists here.

        • EG says:

          Let’s not reduce “people who literally want trans* women and baby boys to be murdered” to “people we have some disagreements with, k?

          Strongly agree. I hadn’t seen Hattie’s comment last night. It’s possible, in my opinion, to intellectualize almost any dangerous bullshit murderous opinion. But this is not a matter of saying “I disagree.” This is a matter of “I am disgusted by.”

        • Donna L says:

          Hattie is not transphobic, so I give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she wasn’t familiar with Radfem Hub in particular, and was referring to radical feminist theory in general.

          And I still say there’s nothing intellectual about the arguments made on that particular website. Just because they came from somebody’s brain doesn’t make them intellectual, given the dismal lack of intelligence they reflect. I’d like to think that something more than that is required, even if it isn’t necessary to be familiar with the Partisan Review and be able to hold one’s own in a conversation with Lionel Trilling, Edmund Wilson, Mary McCarthy, Hannah Arendt, and Irving Howe — which is what I grew up thinking of as “intellectual”! Moral judgment has nothing to do with it.

        • Fat Steve says:

          Hattie is not transphobic, so I give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she wasn’t familiar with Radfem Hub in particular, and was referring to radical feminist theory in general.

          Yes, and IIRC she was actually told that she should have killed (or at least aborted) her sons on a radfem website so she definitely knows what some people on there can be like….

        • tinfoil hattie says:

          Thanks, DonnaL – as usual, you are right in your assessment. I appreciate your going to bat for me. I do not consider “hateful screeds” against anyone to be of any value, but neither do I consider all radical feminist theory to be hateful. For instance, I am unwavering in my seemingly radical opinion that we live in a patriarchy from which it is not possible to opt out, AND I consider myself to be fairly intellectual.

          Transphobic? Absolutely I am not, and I have no regard for people who are so callous as to work themselves into a froth over things that are none of their business at best, and pose extreme danger to people at worst.

  14. QuantumInc says:

    Part of the problem is that patriarchal thinking affects how people understand the acts of others. You and your lover might be having perfectly feminist sex, but the person who hears about it the next day imagines something else. Patriarchy insists that all sex is degrading to women. The specific woman might feel differently, but a 3rd party would think the dancing or whatever is indeed degrading, even if they see it all in detail.

    I think most humans want to feel like they are at least somewhat sexually attractive in general; however the examples of sexually attractive people are completely different whether they are a man or woman. For women, the focus is what they look like, for men it includes a wider range of factors. For women patriarchy insists they need to all be at least somewhat attractive before they attempt to achieve something else, (ex: you need make up to go to work). Men can achieve things unrelated to sex, and become sexier because of that (ex: successful businessmen are ostensibly sexier because they’re successful at business).

    One of the few expressions of female sexuality that is unarguably non-patriarchal are women who are fans of various science fiction and fantasy media franchises (ex: Star Trek, Supernatural, Harry Potter) will sometimes write homoerotic “slash” stories based on those franchises. They share their homoerotic stories online, forming a distinct subculture with a myriad of acronyms. My sister once explained that PWP stands for “Porn Without Plot” to a friend while I, her brother, sat on the other end of the couch. “Kirk/Spock” pronounced Kirk Slash Spock, would refer to a story of a torrid love affair between the two characters. Such stories are obviously strictly unofficial, a subset of fan fiction. It seems most erotic fan fiction is between two men, and is usually written by women. Nerdy men are frequently mocked in the mainstream media for their sexual attraction to fictional characters. Mainstream media also mocks and/or celebrates men who watch two women kiss. However their are online communities of women doing the same exact thing, and nobody notices, and unfortunately I know why.

    • EG says:

      However their are online communities of women doing the same exact thing, and nobody notices

      Nobody notices? What you describe is well known. It’s not some esoteric, hidden secret. I also would not be so quick to assume that most erotic fanfic is between male characters. There’s plenty of het and femslash out there as well.

    • piny says:

      This comment is adorable.

    • ldouglas says:

      And frankly, I’m not sure if we can uncritically position slash as a positive expression of female sexuality. A ton of it comes across as super homophobic; I go back and forth on whether the entire idea is homophobic at its roots. Straight ladies writing stories about gay men having sex in order to get off really isn’t distinguishable from straight men fetishizing lesbians.

      • EG says:

        I think it’s a somewhat different power dynamic because of gender, but that doesn’t necessarily make it less objectifying, just differently so.

        • ldouglas says:

          I think it’s a somewhat different power dynamic because of gender, but that doesn’t necessarily make it less objectifying, just differently so.

          Sure, but the relevant axis of privilege is also straight/gay, not just male/female. While men objectifying lesbians have an additional layer of privilege, when it comes to the question of homophobia, I’m not sure the gender difference changes the core nature of the practice.

        • EG says:

          Yes, I understand that, and I’m disagreeing. I think the layer of gender privilege being different does make a significant difference.

        • EG says:

          Sure, but the relevant axis of privilege is also straight/gay, not just male/female.

          I also wouldn’t be so quick to assume that slash is written only by straight women.

        • ldouglas says:

          I also wouldn’t be so quick to assume that slash is written only by straight women.

          No, but we were discussing slash written by straight women, which is why I qualified my comment with the line

          Straight ladies writing stories about gay men

          Anyways, to your second point:

          I think the layer of gender privilege being different does make a significant difference.

          I really don’t think the fact that gay men have gender privilege over straight women means that it counts less when said women are homophobic (and while I’m pretty sure you don’t either, I’m not sure I can find the distinction between that claim and yours).

          Furthermore (and this is probably the start of a longer conversation) I have some real problems with the common conception of ‘privilege,’ one of them being that I don’t think you can talk about gay men having one privilege and one oppression over straight women, as if those two facets of an identity don’t affect the way the other works.

          Male privilege, if we’re going to stick with that framework, is not available in it’s entirety to all men. The current way people seem to talk about intersectionality is to say “well, he has male privilege, but he’s a POC so he has racial oppression,” without examining whether being a POC changes that privilege or whether being a man changes that oppression.

          Privilege isn’t something you have, is something you experience, conditionally. To take one example, I have a hard time seeing how a trans* man who is ‘read’ as a woman has male privilege; if that same man later is read as a man, he may then have access to forms of male privilege. Similarly, all it takes to change whether one has racial privilege or not is a plane ticket.

          Anyways, that’s a long-winded way of saying that if we’re talking about the specific phenomenon of straight women writing stories about gay men having sex in order to provide porn for other straight women, the fact that the men generally have a form of privilege over the women doesn’t seem relevant to me when interrogating whether said works are frequently homophobic.

      • Donna L says:

        It’s clearly just as objectifying, and just as homophobic. They aren’t really stories about “gay men” any more than straight male porn about women having sex with each other is really about lesbians. Or anybody’s s-m porn [and I don’t mean s-m as in bdsm] is really about trans women. They’re the authors’ fantasies of what they think gay men are (or ought to be) like, and as such, I think they’re kind of creepy and appropriative.

        • EG says:

          I see what you’re saying, and I don’t disagree. But I’m quite uncomfortable with the dynamic on this thread where critiquing massively popular sexualized performances of female submission receives instant pushback in two different places and is equated to telling women how to have sex and what to do, but we’re OK with calling written fantasies by women for women creepy and appropriative. I realize that you weren’t the one pushing back in the first instances, Donna, but surely either all sexual expression is up for critique or none.

        • Donna L says:

          I understand what you’re saying, EG. (I haven’t commented and won’t comment about Beyonce, one way or the other, because I know so little about her music or her musical performances.)

          I should clarify that I’ve never actually read any slash fiction, whether that kind or any other — it’s the idea of it that I find somewhat creepy and appropriative, in the same way that it bothers me when some straight women basically talk about and/or treat gay men as if they’re pets or fashion accessories. As you know — and know exactly why! — I sometimes get hypersensitive and hyper-protective about that particular kind of thing.

          But is there a difference between criticizing someone’s direct expressions of their own sexuality, and their expressions of sexuality manifested through appropriating the imagined sexuality of marginalized groups one isn’t a part of?

        • EG says:

          But is there a difference between criticizing someone’s direct expressions of their own sexuality, and their expressions of sexuality manifested through appropriating the imagined sexuality of marginalized groups one isn’t a part of?

          I…don’t think there is, at least in large part because I’m not convinced there is such a thing as a “direct expression” of one’s own sexuality. Any such expression is always going to be mediated through a variety of co-existing social/cultural vectors. There’s a cultural dynamic by which we have assigned active (as opposed to passive) sexual desire to masculinity, so it doesn’t surprise me that for some straight women, that’s going to result in sexual fantasies about a man who desires men, or even about being such a man. I don’t think that’s any more appropriative than rape fantasies on the part of people who have not been raped are of the experiences of people who have been raped.

        • Donna L says:

          OK. What you’re saying makes sense. Appropriative was probably not the right word to use.

        • piny says:

          Shouldn’t you read some slash fiction before commenting on it?

          I’m really bothered by this comparison for a few reasons.

          There will always be a difference between m/m slash and the “lesbian” fantasy in the context of a culture that condones corrective rape. The “lesbian” fantasy is a fantasy of sexual assault. The reason it’s titillating is not because it’s object-of-desire x two. It’s titillating because these women consider themselves off limits. It’s a violation of privacy and agency – and the usual scenario vindicates that assault. The lesbians are suddenly way into a bisexual threesome.

          I also think there’s a big difference between reimagining a straight male character as gay and a lesbian character as straight. It doesn’t bother me when straight male sexual orientation is not respected by the fandom, or when women get into cosplaying a straight male character.

          Another difference is that women aren’t really objectifying gay men. They’re projecting their own desires onto straight male friendship pairings in the profoundly homoerotic, straight-male-dominated stories they read. I think there’s a difference between getting off on the idea of Legolas and Boromir together vs. getting off on the idea of lesbians whose entire characterization is lesbians and whose entire character arc is lesbians fucking being surprised and then converted by a man in pornography.

          These stories also tend not to have any girls – or tend to have them only as flat, subordinate devices. Their romantic and sexual attraction is usually destructive – or passive. An LOTR slash writer can’t be Eowyn or Arwen. These women are putting themselves into these stories in a way that makes a lot more sense, given the way their subjectivity and the subjectivity of potential female avatars is handled by our culture and by the story.

          Their workaround is in effect a way to preserve the story. It would be weird if Arwen suddenly came riding into camp for sexytimes with Legolas, a lot more weird than if Legolas and Aragorn had a fling. A lot of slash is also not primarily sexual – it’s a way to explore the romantic undertones of character relationships within stories. A lot of writers are attaching romantic value to those specific character relationships. A lot of these relationships happen in a context where male characters are supposed to develop lifelong, life-or-death friendships that have not one hint of gay, ever.

          And, of course, this plays back into the basic exclusion of women: the woman slash writer is arguably writing herself into the story not as a voyeur, but as a catalyst. That’s how women are generally characterized in a lot of the source material: the sex thing that complicates the all-important friendship, the victim who one way or another cannot survive the relationship.

          And it’s a bit radfem, but you could also read this as a “rape fantasy” in the god-playing sense: a lot of the relationships in the source material are shaded with violence, the kind of violence that so often manifests as violent misogyny. They take place in cultures that define masculinity as killing, and quite frequently define manhood as avenging some woman’s rape. This is a way for women to explore their own vulnerability to that tradition, and to flesh it out in a safe space with characters who are canon less vulnerable. Men aren’t just the expendable gender. They’re the heroic gender: they survive. Women are choosing these men as romantic avatars because heroic resilience (and dignity) holds a lot of attraction in that specific context.

          Also, you are correct in assuming that an assumption that m/m slash = straight-female-authored = wrongheaded. M/m slash is mostly a straight thing because everything is; that doesn’t mean that m/m slash is naturally more attractive to straight women. Lesbians have a long tradition of being into this stuff – and it’s really not always easy to draw lines around which fictional characters you are sexually interested in. Or, I think, to define interest in a character as related to sexual orientation.

          And finally, I as a queer woman really like that there’s this wealth of writing out there with same sex pairings. I like that all the men have sex with all the men simply because EVERYONE is gay in slash fiction, because in slash fiction gay is the norm. I would have done anything for a slash fiction library when I was a kid, anything for a universe where straight characters were the minority clamoring for better representation, the n00bs, the poor fit. And I wouldn’t see it as fetishistic if a writer of any gender wrote two canon straight girls into a lesbian love affair that treated them like intelligent, interesting, well-rounded characters. I would be pissed off at JJ Abrams all over again, is what.

      • Lolagirl says:

        Wait, is the basis of the argument here that cis/hetero women getting turned on by homosexual sex is inherently homophobic?

        I…really disagree with that. It may have the potential to be objectifying or homophobic, but I’m really uncomfortable with setting up yet another No Go zone where women are once again policed and criticized for even having sexual feelings or inclinations. Let alone fantasizing or seeking out an erotic expression of their sexual feelings or inclinations.

        And are really going down the road of decreeing that only someone who has first hand experience with something is permitted to write about it without it being reductive, objectifying or phobic of some kind? Is this limited to sexual erotica/porn, or does such a rule extend to all areas?

        I’m not trying to be argumentative here, Donna, I hope you know that I’m not inclined towards trolling or baiting. I actually agree with plenty of the criticiquing that has been done of lesbian porn/etc geared towards hetero men. But I think the fact that women still hold pretty much none of the socio-sexual capital in our society, while (cis/hetero) men do is a reality that must not be discounted in this discussion.

        • Donna L says:

          cis/hetero women getting turned on by homosexual sex is inherently homophobic?

          Not at all. At least that’s not what I think. And I can’t exactly articulate why that doesn’t bother me at all, but the idea (rather than the reality, see above) of the kind of slash fiction people have been discussing does bother me.

      • piny says:

        These aren’t gay men, though, and they’re not usually characterized as gay men – m/m slash fiction is primarily about straight men getting off together. Spock/Kirk, Castiel/Dean, Giles/Angel, Mal/Jayne, The Entire Cast of LOTR in Various Combinations: almost all of it is about characters who are canon straight dudes.

        This isn’t only a percentages game, although that’s always an issue. It’s women specifically attracted to straight male characters falling in love with other straight men.

        One very common trope is Yo, Dude, I’m Still Straight Except Now I’m Falling in Love with You. There’s also, I’m Still Totally Straight, It’s Just That We’re Under a Memory Curse or Something Right Now. A popular trope in Whedonverse slash is, I’m Not Gay, It’s Just That Everyone Else on the Entire Show Died Horribly During the Season Finale. Slashed characters usually don’t identify as gay, and they usually don’t describe their preference as “men” as opposed to “Xander.”

        I don’t think that’s the same as the straight male fantasy of female sexuality as plastic, either.

    • tinfoil hattie says:

      Patriarchy insists that all sex is degrading to women.

      More that women are the sex class in patriarchy, and that all sexuality is ddefined in terms of het men and what thet believe sex is.

      Also, women taking stories written about men for men, and changing them around, does not thwart patriarchy. It works within patriarchy.

    • Matthew says:

      Also, just because something is written by cis straight women does not necessarily mean that the audience is solely for cis straight women. Slash fiction for me was a life saver as a young closeted gay man who didn’t feel comfortable (and still doesn’t) with visual porn. It also weirdly enough introduced the idea that men could have romantic relationships rather than just sex, the latter of which is what I had been brainwashed to think as a child.

      • ldouglas says:

        Yeah, I get that (probably more than is immediately apparent)* but… I know gay women who get off on lesbian porn but that doesn’t make the phenomenon of men writing/shooting/consuming it less problematic, you know?*

        I hope it’s not coming across like I’m declaring All Slash Is Homophobic, but rather that it’s a form of fiction that I think by nature has the potential to be homophobic and frequently is, and therefore is worth critiquing beyond “it’s just women expressing their sexuality.”

        *as a bi-ish woman I don’t think I’ve really experienced a great deal of oppression because I’m occasionally attracted to women, so I’m uncomfortable positioning myself as speaking with experience about homophobia, but I’m still figuring this shit out.

        • piny says:

          I think it’s important to differentiate between “lesbian porn,” as in, “porn with some women having sex,” and “‘lesbian’ porn,” which is a pretty specific and different thing.

          I mean, I think there would be a difference between “s/m porn” and “porn with trans people in it;” the latter is a category that can contain a lot of really problematic things, but the former is a particular problematic trope that’s transphobic at its core.

          I mean, I’d probably scrutinize any guy who wanted to direct porn or write erotica that was in any way related to lesbians, but I’d consider any example of “‘lesbian’ porn,” to be terrible period.

        • Fat Steve says:

          I mean, I think there would be a difference between “s/m porn” and “porn with trans people in it;” the latter is a category that can contain a lot of really problematic things, but the former is a particular problematic trope that’s transphobic at its core.

          If anyone is interested in listening to an interview I did with “TS porn star” Kelly Pierce, I’d be happy to try to track it down. A lot of the stuff was inherently problematic, though I felt she was a genuine person who didn’t do these problematic things intentionally. The one thing I remember being the most problematic of the interview was when she said she never fully transitioned because the ‘fans’ wanted to see a woman with a man’s genitalia, implying that she would have done so otherwise. It was an interview, not a debate so I didn’t challenge her on this. (I remember I was quite proud that she tweeted after that I was the most respectful het/cis man that ever interviewed her.) Another thing I learned from the interview is that while I grew up with number of trans role models like Wayne County, Candy Darling, Divine, etc, she almost had no trans role models, her role models being Barbie, Madonna, Marilyn, etc.

        • Donna L says:

          FYI, Divine — whom I always liked, by the way — did not identify as trans.

        • Donna L says:

          Did I ever mention that I’ve met Jayne County? (That’s probably the name one ought to use, by the way.)

      • DouglasG says:

        I’m glad you got something positive out of it; I’d experienced in real life a bit too much of what the authors thought they were representing to be able to take away any other positive than that it might help people in your position or provide women with empowerment.

    • Athenia says:

      Part of the problem is that patriarchal thinking affects how people understand the acts of others. You and your lover might be having perfectly feminist sex, but the person who hears about it the next day imagines something else. Patriarchy insists that all sex is degrading to women. The specific woman might feel differently, but a 3rd party would think the dancing or whatever is indeed degrading, even if they see it all in detail.

      You go on to talk about fanfiction and I agree that I would lump *published* fan fiction as problematic when it leaves your personal erotic sphere, and you are publishing it for others. I mean, your consensual rape fantasies are all well and good when they are *your consensual fantasies*, but then to turn around and try to present that as a finished product–the eroticism is removed and all you have is a rape scene that others are getting off on.

  15. BroadBlogs says:

    I feel that responsibility should primarily be placed in the eye of the beholder. You can see a sexy, sexually expressive woman who is being agentic, and appreciate that. And also know that she is more than her sexuality.

  16. Carolyn says:

    As a zumba and dance fitness instructor, music fanatic, and lover of dance, thank you for writing about this. I definitely like to see dancing/sexuality more in congruence with feminism and not contradictory. Whenever I teach classes I try to encourage my participants to dance for themselves! I love to have people just shake the stress away and embrace their bodies through music. This is awesome.

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