Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Let's talk about (feminist) sex...

Some days, you see something on the web, and there just aren't any words that express how frustrating it is. This is one of those times.

Ace of Spades decides that women are stupid about sex and feminism is teaching them bad lessons. Women are weak and need to be protected and guys want to make difficult conquests and... grrr. I really want to rip this apart line by line, and mock it thorougly. Still, there's the teacher in me that wants to reach out, so let's take a shot at that.

What is the feminist view of sex and sexuality? Well, there's an old joke that the fastest way to get knowledge online is not to ask a question, but to say something wrong, and people will be quicker to correct you than they would have been to answer your question.

With that in mind, I'll tell you what I believe the feminist view of sex is.

Women own their bodies.

Right about here, I wish this was a podcast so I could have a few seconds of dead silence, as if I thought that answered the question completely. Then I could say "What?" in a humorous kind of way, and launch into a further explanation of why this is true, and why it should be obvious. Ah well.

In the mid-20th century, there was an idea about what women were like, and what they really wanted. That view had them wanting a husband, who would take care of her in return for sex and homemaking. It's a bit crude to put it that way, and that wasn't the intention of the people who built that society, but that was the net effect.

Feminism helped change that. With new ideas, and with reliable methods of birth control becoming available, a revolution was bound to occur in our view of female sexuality.

Well, I won't try to provide a timeline, or say who did what, but the gist of the modern feminist view of women and sexuality is this: womnen's bodies are wonderful things, women own their bodies, and should know about their own bodies well enough to make decisions about them. Then, they should make those decisions.

Along the way, feminists have attacked a lot of ideas that a lot of people cherish. Some of these attacks might not have been perfectly justified, but all of the ideas needed to be attacked, to be tested because people had come up with some really stupid ideas about women and sexuality. You can't separate the grain from the chaff without beating up the wheat, and it's even more true of ideas than it is of wheat.

One of the biggest ideas that's been attacked is the idea that women must conform to certain standards about sex, and that, if they don't hold to those standards, they deserve to feel ashamed. Whether it's the notion that a woman should only have sex after she's legally wed, or whether it's a more "generous" interpretation that says a woman shouldn't sleep around so much that she's a slut, there's only one person who should decide how much sex a woman has with willing partners, and that's the woman herself.

I'd like to pretend that no woman has ever felt jumped on or harassed by feminists because she held more traditionalist views, but, of course, it's not true. Sure, some women who've wanted sex with no one but her husband, or who felt that it was "cheap" to sleep around "too much" (usually "more than I have") have been mocked or scorned for their views. And it's a bit of a shame, because feminism is supposed to be about empowering women to make choices. On the other hand, it's hard to tell when a woman has chosen to hold a more limited view while being fully aware of the options, and when she's been pressured (directly or indirectly) into making a particular choice.

So, yeah, there's been some conflict, and some of it has been anti-feminist, insofar as it's berated some women for making fully informed choices.

But for the most part, feminism is about empowering women, and letting them make their own, unhindered choices about sex and sexuality.

Do you feel sexual urges? A fair number of folks say "Whooo, that's dangerous, be prayerful and careful". Feminism says "Cool, yeah, almost all women do. What you do with them is your choice."

Do you want to have sex? Lots of people say "Well, be awfully careful of your partner, because men are real scum (except for Nice Guys, and even if we're not *that* nice, we're not scum like the real scum we just mentioned); you're better off waiting for marriage."

Feminism says "it's your choice; do what you want. You'll make some mistakes; you'll learn from them. That's called behing human."

Do you find yourself wanting to have lots of sex? Lots of people will suggest that this makes you cheap, a slut, or a whore.

Feminism says "make your own choices. Be informed about how to avoid pregnancy and STDs. And if a pregnancy occurs, you get to choose whether to continue the pregnacy, or end it. Make sure they're your choices; don't get suckered into doing something you don't want, but if it's your choice, take it, run with it, and revel in it."

I have to admit, there are times when I think some warnings from a bygone era aren't inappropriate. It's always good to make sure a young woman knows that some menassholes will say anything to get sex. It's a bit less appropriate when a woman's been out and around for a bit. It's good to remind people that they need to pursue what they truly want, and not just what they think is expected of them... and that includes not pursuing sex, that you're not womanly enough if you're not a sex machine. It's even good that there's some preachy moralizers out there, providing the full range of sexual advice. I'm sure some people (note that I did not say "women"!) who are best served by serial monogamy, sex only inside marriage, with marriage being the best shot they can take at "'til death do us part".

What gets me upset is when folks think that their choices should be the rule for other people. Even folks who claim to be well meaning, like our Ace of Spades blogger. Sure, some women will sleep around lots, and they'll regret it. And some women will sleep around a lot and be smug as a cat. And some will sleep with few men, and some with many, and sometimes sex will be an awful mistake, and sometimes the mistake will lead to learning, and sometimes to further mistakes. Sometimes it'll be a terrible greif, and other times a great joy... just like everything else in life.

And that's the key. Each woman has her own life to live, and that includes her sexual life. It's her life to live, her choices to make. At the end of the day, she has her own standards to keep, and no one else's

We'd say that about a man, and wouldn't think twice about it. So, why is it surprising to anyone that it's true for a woman?

Yeah, that.

And for another perspective on the same theme, it's worth revisiting The Talent Show, from nearly two years ago:

I Am Not My Cock.

Happy International Women's Day. (-:
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