Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Sex Wars: The latest dispatches from the front

Yet more battles in the feminist blogosphere over whether particular sexual acts are inherently degrading to women or not. A few months back, there were the so-called "blowjob wars". More recently, there's been a "double penetration war" going on in several threads on Renegade Evolution's blog.

This started when RE criticized male radfem author Robert Jensen for his implication that no woman enjoys double penetration. (This was in the context of an argument that men specifically desire porn which feature sexual acts that men "know" women find degrading.) RE countered that this is just one more example of a man making some rather large assumptions about what women do and don't desire, this time in the guise of "feminism". (Something male radfems like John Stoltenberg and Dim Undercellar have been criticized for before.) In other words, whatever their concern for women's welfare, these guys are essentially paternalistic.

Much debate followed about whether the fact that some women enjoy DP validated it in feminist terms, and the argument was raised that no matter whether some women enjoyed it or not, men always saw it as degrading toward women and enjoyed it on that level.

That last argument makes some rather large and rather nasty assumptions about male sexuality that to me point out some of the problems with radical feminism. Many radfems (female and male) seem to think themselves experts on how men in general think and feel about sex. (Much the way Jensen can so blithely declare how women in general feel about DP.) From where I'm sitting, as a man with a pretty typical heteronormative male sexuality, their criticisms bear no resemblance to how I think or feel about sex, women, dominance and power, etc. Maybe radfems know my sexuality better than I do? Somehow, I doubt it.

Similarly, there have been a few mini-wars around various topics, like the one between me and LK in the comments of this thread on whether girl-girl porn is specifically anti-woman or not, or a recent discussion on Witchy-Woo's blog on whether dirty talk between partners is OK. And this is not to mention the "wars" going back decades on PIV intercourse, BDSM, etc.

This obsessive focus on specific sexual acts seems to be missing the point, IMO. What matters in issues of sexual exploitation, violence, etc. is whether or not the act is consensual – a gang-bang can perfectly consensual and a kiss on the cheek can be a sexual assault, all depending on the context. It has little to do with the specific act and everything to do with whether two or more partners freely consent to what they're doing. This is simply Sexual Ethics 101.

This brings up the old "Are radical feminists just a bunch of prudes?" argument, which apparently respectful sex-pozzes aren't supposed to go nowhere near. I'm not going to speculate on the sex lives of individual radfems, but I will say, the obsessive focus on which sexual acts are OK and which are "degrading" seems pretty prudish to me, speaking more to a sense of moral panic than a serious consideration of real issues around sexual power and consent.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Ellen Willis, 1941-2006

I just found out over on Bitch|Lab's blog that Ellen Willis has died of lung cancer. BL has several posts about Willis running currently on her blog.

A New York Times obit can be found here. The Wikipedia page about her (largely written by me) gives the basics about her ideas and includes a bibliography and a fairly thorough list of links to Willis' essays that are available online.

Ellen Willis was a huge influence on me politically, and not just on feminist/sex-positive topics, but on ideas about culture (and its relationship to politics), media, consumerism, free speech, war, and Israel/”The Jewish Question” as well. I think her instincts were some of the most consistently anti-authoritarian I’ve seen in any political writer – moreso than many anarchists, in fact. (About the only place I part company with her was in her devotion to Freudianism and Reichianism, which don’t disagree with on a philosophical level so much as I think scientifically they’re dated ideas about how the mind works.)

It could be pointed out that the sex-positive movement has a lot of good writers, but very few theorists. Willis was one of the few who did "theory", and did some in-depth essays on exactly why things sexual freedom and free speech are so important, and indeed, why they are (or at least should be) important radical values.

Its unfortunate that an untimely death (she was only 64) robbed the world of such an incisive and insightful thinker. She'll certainly be missed by me.


There's also a good obit on The Nation website titled "Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday". Very right-on quote:

Writing about feminist anti-porn crusades, she urged women not to "accept a spurious moral superiority as a substitute for sexual pleasure, and curbs on men's sexual freedom as a substitute for real power."

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Nina Hartley speaks

I just heard about a Nina Hartley book tour. Most of the dates are already passed, but there are a few dates listed in San Francisco and Santa Cruz, in case any local readers are interested.

I also came across a flier at my uni, San Francisco State, for an appearance at SFSU that's not listed on Nina's website. Tuesday, November 14th at 2PM, in HSS 124. Not sure if that appearance is part of the book tour or something else, but I'll definitely be checking that out.

Interestingly the flyer for the SFSU even list Nina Hartley as "adult actress, sex educator, SFSU alumnus, radical feminist". I never thought of Nina as a "radical feminist", but if she wants to reclaim that label, more power to her. "Radical feminist" wasn't always synonymous with "anti-sex work", after all.


I hope nobody actually went all the way over there based on this post. (I have no idea if I have local readership.) I was basing it on the fliers I saw last week and was wondering why the fliers were all taken down – they had the wrong date and room that's why. Anyway, Friday, November 17th at 2-4 PM, in HSS 154.