A quick note to those coming here from reddit

I”ve noticed a fair bit of traffic coming over today to my “Prudes Progress” tag from a reddit subforum, http://www.reddit.com/r/feminisms . I’ve tried to leave a comment there but the moderators deleted it, so I’m making a note here instead.

In that forum, moderators have a history of deleting comments from trans* women who criticise radical feminism. They also delete comments from anyone who points this out.

To make it worse, the moderator who’s most active in deleting trans* comments, yellowmix, is a man. A man is deciding which women have a say about feminism and which don’t – or rather, what can and can’t be said. Including comments by the author of a post about her own post.

I’m a radical feminist who produces radical feminist work. So my articles are valid tender there. But the comments of any trans* sisters who want to challenge them aren’t.

I’m deeply uncomfortable with any situation in which my voice is promoted over my trans* sisters'; even when we might disagree, even profoundly. So if you find links to my work there, I hope you enjoy it; but please also be aware that the view you’re receiving of trans*feminism is deeply distorted in a way that I find outrageous as a trans* woman and as a radical feminist.

(Note that, sadly, http://www.reddit.com/r/feminism isn’t exactly better. It’s run by Demmian, who’s an MRA. For a decent feminist forum on reddit – or at least the best you’ll find – I recommend http://www.reddit.com/r/srsfeminism.)

The Prudes’ Progress: Re-membering Feminist Desire, Part VIII – Conclusion and Bibliography

This is the final part of an eight-part series of articles, The Prudes’ Progress, about non-objectifying, woman-identified sexuality based on ideas of equality and whole-personhood, in the tradition of lesbian feminism. For the first article in the series, which includes a table of contents, please click here. The articles don’t have to be read in order and contain many backwards and forwards links so you can follow them in whatever way is most useful for you.

In Conclusion

Every feminist work should be prepared to answer the question, “What contribution does this make towards a broad-based, international movement for the ending of sexist oppression?” (credit to bell hooks’ Feminist Theory: from margin to center for fixing this question in my mind). I have four justifications for this piece:

The first is that politically-minded sexual and emotional joy can be a powerful source of energy within feminist movement. For a movement to be Self-sustaining it must also replenish us. Feminist desire can both heal and motivate us within the feminist struggle, and so it contributes to feminist movement.

The second is that sexual misery, degradation and violence are not just the forces we’re opposing, they are realities in our lives and living with them can leave us exhausted and unable to join in feminist organising. In writing up this Progress I’ve aimed not only to reveal some aspects of how sexual degradation functions, but to chart a positive movement away from it. To the extent that we can free our lives from sexual degradation, we’re also freer to participate more fully in a broader movement.

The third is one I’ve stated throughout but I’ll repeat it here: The Prudes’ Progress naturally brings us into conflict with the forces of woman-hating, because while an isolated few individual women may be allowed to discover feminist desire under the current system, women as a class are not. Our collective Progress will inevitably create very concrete encounters with many of the structures we need to dismantle. If we were travelling individually, each of us would certainly skip over some of these encounters, as her privileges gave her a “free pass”. But Progressing together means that we are all bound to fight for all of us. We’ll still miss many of the issues, but this way we’ll catch more than we otherwise would. And so it makes our feminism wiser.

The fourth is that some women will encounter too many barriers to continue the Progress right now. This is likely to be more the case the more and more powerful forms of oppression a woman faces in her life. It may be that the situations of many women just don’t allow for this Progress. If that’s the case, we have to know that and, when we list the ways in which classist and sexist oppression, or racist and sexist oppression intersect and create new oppressions, we have to be able to include, “and they make it difficult or impossible to realise feminist desire!”. But despite the fact that women first mapped the paths decades ago, the route of the Progress is so covered over right now that I think very few women know either way whether this Progress is possible for them, and how systems of oppression affect that. And so it makes our understanding of sexist and other forms of oppression wider.

To sum up, every stage of this Prudes’ Progress has been about closing distance and re-membering the erotic. After orienting ourselves, this was done most generally in the form of Self-love and the love of others’ Selves, more specifically with regard to general mechanisms of objectification as we look to treat all women as subjects, more specifically still with regard to the love of dominance which lingers as we contemplate and undo our remaining fetishes and then most precisely when it comes to creating spaces of safety and then within them Kindling friendship and feminist desire between Progressing Prudes.

The task of re-membering feminist desire is to re-verse the ways our Selves are covered over by femininity, pornotypes and fetishes and held apart by distance, to bring those Selves closer and create the possibility for a more genuine encounter. To become, in Mary Daly’s words from Pure Lust, “women-touching women”.

I want to end this piece with two longer quotes which I wasn’t able to integrate elsewhere in the text. The first is from Rebecca Whisnant, an anti-pornography feminist, and the second is from Audre Lorde, who I’ve quoted extensively elsewhere in this piece.

To open up the space for new thinking and experimentation, we need to detox, to get out of the path of the porn culture’s cynical, manipulative, and hateful messages. To start thinking our own thoughts and dreaming our own dreams, first we have to get away from the bastards who are shouting at us through megaphones. Second, we need to draw on our own experiences of love and sex as joy and communion (and encourage others to draw on theirs). As radical feminists have long emphasized, patriarchy constructs our sexuality very profoundly, and even the most enlightened among us are not immune to that construction. But the construction, for most people at least, does not go “all the way down.” Despite everything, many people do have experiences of mutual and egalitarian sexuality – or at least hints or glimmers of it – and that’s really good news. We need to encourage people to tap into these experiences, hints, and glimmers – to remember what they know from their own lives, that no pimp or corporation sold to them or ever could, and to want more of it.

As we continue to tell people what sexual freedom isn’t, we should also encourage them to think deeply and creatively about what it is. What would real sexual freedom look and feel like – the kind that everyone can have, instead of the kind that amounts to freedom for some at others’ expense? We need to richly imagine, and encourage others to richly imagine, another world: one in which no woman or girl is ever called “slut,” “prude,” “bitch,” “cunt,” or “dyke”; in which no woman, man, or child ever has to fear rape or suffer its damage to their spirits; in which men do not control their own and other men’s behavior by the threat of being seen and treated as women; and in which lesbian [sic: bisexual women’s love for women is also reduced this way] love and connection is not reduced to a pornographic fetish for men. In this world, every woman and girl sees her own body as beautiful, no man or boy is made to see his as a weapon, and people take part in sexual activity only when (and only because) they expect to enjoy it and to be honored and fulfilled therein. It can be painful to think in this way, because we become more acutely aware of just how far away we are from this better world. But the third wave has one thing right: desire can be, or can become, a form of power. We need to use the power of our desire for this world – our desire to bring it into being for ourselves and for our children and our grandchildren – to unite us and to animate our thinking and strategizing about how to take our culture back from the pornographers.

Rebecca Whisnant, Contemporary Feminism in a Porn Culture

The erotic cannot be felt secondhand. As a Black lesbian feminist, I have a particular feeling, knowledge, and understanding for those sisters with whom I have danced hard, played, or even fought. This deep participation has often been the forerunner for joint concerted actions not possible before.

But this erotic charge is not easily shared by women who continue to operate under an exclusively european-american male tradition. I know it was not available to me when I was trying to adapt my consciousness to this mode of living and sensation.

Only now, I find more and more women-identified women brave enough to risk sharing the erotic’s electrical charge without having to look away, and without distorting the enormously powerful and creative nature of that exchange. Recognizing the power of the erotic within our lives can give us the energy to pursue genuine change within our world, rather than merely settling for a shift of characters in the same weary drama.

For not only do we touch our most profoundly creative source, but we do that which is female and self-affirming in the face of a racist, patriarchal and anti-erotic society.

Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider, Uses of the Erotic (Quality Paperback Book Club collected edition, 1993), p59

Appendix: A Bibliography of Feminist Desire (Dis-covering Women’s Words)

Not all the books and articles referenced here are about feminist desire, but all of them are either quoted in the piece or otherwise relevant. I don’t endorse every part of every resource mentioned here, in particular some parts of Daly’s Gyn/Ecology, particularly where it covers transsexuality and non-Anglo/American patriarchy. Conspicuously absent from the list is Daly’s Pure Lust. Reading and incorporating Daly’s insights on this subject was too large a task for this series, so Pure Lust, my copy of which only arrived late in writing this, is waiting on my shelf as a treat for once this series is published. I expect it to heavily inform my future thoughts, wellbeing and practice on my next spiral movement around the Prudes’ Progress.

So, sister, perhaps I’ll see you there.

Books and Journal Articles

  • Linda Bacon, Health At Every Size (BenBella Books, 2010)
  • Sandra Lee Bartky, Femininity and Domination: Studies in the Phenomenology of Oppression (Routledge, 1990)
  • Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape (Simon & Schuster, 1975)
  • Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought (Second Edition) (Routledge, 2000)
  • Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (The Women’s Press, 1979)
  • Angela Y Davis, Women, Culture and Politics (The Women’s Press, 1990)
  • Andrea Dworkin, Woman Hating (Plume, 1974)
  • Andrea Dworkin, Right-Wing Women (Perigee Books, 1983)
  • Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse (Arrow Books, 1988)
  • Shiri Eisner, Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution (Seal Press, 2013) (not yet generally available as of this series’ publication)
  • Sarah J. Gervais, Jill Allen, Sophie Campomizzi et al., Integrating Sexual Objectification With Object Versus Person Recognition: The Sexualized-Body-Inversion Hypothesis (Psychological Science 23, 2012)
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland (The Women’s Press, 1979)
  • Nancy Henley, Body Politics (Prentice-Hall, 1977)
  • bell hooks, Feminist Theory: from margin to center (South End Press, 1984)
  • bell hooks, Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood (The Women’s Press, 1997)
  • bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love (Atria Books, 2004)
  • Sheila Jeffreys, The Lesbian Heresy: A feminist perspective on the lesbian sexual revolution (Spinifex Press, 1993)
  • Sheila Jeffreys, Anticlimax: A feminist perspective on the sexual revolution (The Women’s Press, 1993)
  • Gloria I. Joseph and Jill Lewis, Common Differences: Conflicts in Black and White Feminist Perspectives (South End Press, 1986)
  • Anne Koedt, Radical Feminism (Quadrangle, 1973)
  • Audre Lorde, A Burst of Light: Essays by Audre Lorde (Firebrand Books, 1988)
  • Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider (Quality Paperback Book Club, 1993)
  • Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (Quality Paperback Book Club, 1993)
  • Catharine MacKinnon, Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law (Harvard University Press, 1987)
  • Catharine MacKinnon, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (Harvard University Press, 1989)
  • Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, In Harm’s Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings (Harvard University Press, 1997)
  • Susie Orbach, Fat Is A Feminist Issue (Arrow, 2006)
  • Krista Ratcliffe, Anglo-American Feminist Challenges to the Rhetorical Traditions (SIU Press, 1996)
  • Janice Raymond, A Passion for Friends: towards a philosophy of female affection (The Women’s Press, 1991)
  • Barbara Smith, Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology (Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, 1983)
  • John Stoltenberg, Refusing to be a Man (UCL Press, 2000)

Web Articles and Other Reading

The Prudes’ Progress: Re-membering Feminist Desire, Part VII – Re-membering Feminist Desire

This is the seventh part in an eight-part series of articles, The Prudes’ Progress, about non-objectifying, woman-identified sexuality based on ideas of equality and whole-personhood, in the tradition of lesbian feminism. For the first article in the series, which includes a table of contents, please click here. The articles don’t have to be read in order and contain many backwards and forwards links so you can follow them in whatever way is most useful for you, although forward links won’t work until the relevant article is available.

The Seventh Progression: Creating Places of Safety

It’s painful to put this so late in the list, because I think places of safety are essential for all feminists taking on any feminist project. But because “feminist” is such a broad word, and because many self-describing feminists might not be interested in Progressing, I’ve chosen to talk about the process of creating our spaces at a point where Progressing Prudes are aware of and have made significant progress working on some of the challenges of feminist desire.

Few – if any – women will have made it to this point alone. Movement away from instrumental sexuality is movement against the flow of society, and without others around who see things in a similar way, who are supportive and who are moving with us, it can be difficult to sustain. Even those who don’t know anyone else on this Progress will almost certainly have come this far via the support of general feminist community, and perhaps via taking part in specific struggles alongside other women.

Those of us who’ve had time and energy to come this far are likely privileged, lucky, determined or all three. For many people, demands of work, health, oppression and even daily survival have to take priority over the kinds of work described here. Even though I’ve tried to emphasise at many points how so many of the struggles for feminist desire are collective struggles, not individual self-improvement, there’s no getting away from the fact that it takes significant personal energy to do the individual work that’s a part of this Progress.

So I consider it our responsibility to give something back, and one way of doing that is to spend some of our time and energy on creating, maintaining and improving spaces which have political values and practices compatible with feminist desire. These spaces can be political groups, social groups, personal friendships and even sometimes online spaces, although the latter can sometimes lack a personal, empathising quality that I think is important.
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The Prudes’ Progress: Re-membering Feminist Desire, Part VI – Breaking Old Patterns, Cultivating Freedom

This is the sixth part in an eight-part series of articles, The Prudes’ Progress, about non-objectifying, woman-identified sexuality based on ideas of equality and whole-personhood, in the tradition of lesbian feminism. For the first article in the series, which includes a table of contents, please click here. The articles don’t have to be read in order and contain many backwards and forwards links so you can follow them in whatever way is most useful for you, although forward links won’t work until the relevant article is available.

The Fifth Progression: Falling Out Of Love With Dominance

During the previous Progressions we’ve raised our feminist consciousness, prioritised the practice of love towards our Selves and other women, and tracked paths around the various barriers to becoming sexual and social subjects, in other words, more fully Realised human beings. We’re now ready to look at a core part of what makes up identity and our sexual identity in the State of Domination: the love of dominance.

Dominator culture teaches all of us that the core of our identity is defined by the will to dominate and control others. We are taught that this will to dominate is more biologically hardwired in males than in females. In actuality, dominator culture teaches us that we are all natural-born killers but that males are more able to realize the predator role. In the dominator model the pursuit of external power, the ability to manipulate and control others, is what matters most. When culture is based on a dominator model, not only will it be violent but it will frame all relationships as power struggles.

bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love (Atria Books, 2004) p115

The form this takes in the world of sex and sexuality is that we are expected to get off on it. The existing system is a system of the love of dominance, in which sexual subjecthood is defined by an instrumental sexuality which takes advantage of processes of objectification in which the sexual subject uses and dominates those they are more powerful than.
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The Prudes’ Progress: Re-membering Feminist Desire, Part V – Resisting Objectification, Be-coming Subjects (2/2)

This is the fifth part in an eight-part series of articles, The Prudes’ Progress, about non-objectifying, woman-identified sexuality based on ideas of equality and whole-personhood, in the tradition of lesbian feminism. This article continues following the counter-Movements to objectification as part of the process of Subjectification within the Prudes’ Progress.

If that’s too many capitalised words in a row, you might want to start at the beginning of this series of articles as this series has established some of its of terminology along the way. That said, the articles don’t have to be read in order and contain many backwards and forwards links so you can follow them in whatever way is most useful for you, although forward links won’t work until the relevant article is available.

The Fourth Progression: Subjectification (continued…)

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The Prudes’ Progress: Re-membering Feminist Desire, Part IV – Resisting Objectification, Be-coming Subjects (1/2)

This is the fourth part in an eight-part series of articles, The Prudes’ Progress, about non-objectifying, woman-identified sexuality based on ideas of equality and whole-personhood, in the tradition of lesbian feminism. For the first article in the series, which includes a table of contents, please click here. The articles don’t have to be read in order and contain many backwards and forwards links so you can follow them in whatever way is most useful for you, although forward links won’t work until the relevant article is available.

The Fourth Progression: Subjectification

Remembering Mary Daly’s definition of a fetish as a necrophilic way of relating, one towards an object, disembodied body part or objectified person which is not able to relate back or whose ability to relate back is limited, we can understand instrumental sexuality as a subject-object relationship between a person and an object. Feminist desire, however, is a subject-subject relationship, between two human beings. In order to have this kind of relationship we need to see ourselves and others as subjects and our partners need to do the same, in other words, we all need to learn to see all women as fully human.
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The Prudes’ Progress: Re-membering Feminist Desire, Part III – Gathering ourSelves

This is the third part in an eight-part series of articles, The Prudes’ Progress, about non-objectifying, woman-identified sexuality based on ideas of equality and whole-personhood, in the tradition of lesbian feminism. For the first article in the series, which includes a table of contents, please click here. The articles don’t have to be read in order and contain many backwards and forwards links so you can follow them in whatever way is most useful for you, although forward links won’t work until the relevant article is available.

The First Progression: Consciousness Raising

Consciousness-raising is a fancy name for a simple process: women (in this case) coming together to tell each other our experiences and figure out what forms of oppression we experience in common, and how those affect different women in different ways. It’s a way of sketching the shape of patriarchy from the inside out by joining the dots between the places where patriarchy has impacted women’s lives.

Consciousness-raising was a key activity of the early Women’s Liberation Movement, as shown in two articles by Shulamith Firestone “based on group discussions held over the past year [1968]”. I get the impression that formally organised women’s consciousness-raising groups are relatively rare nowadays, but wherever women are gathered together in some consciously political sense – even if only united in a moment, like when catching a woman’s eye after a man does something sexist – there is the opportunity for joining the dots.
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The Prudes’ Progress: Re-membering Feminist Desire, Part II – Feminist Desire and the Prudes’ Progress

This is the second part in an eight-part series of articles, The Prudes’ Progress, about non-objectifying, woman-identified sexuality based on ideas of equality and whole-personhood, in the tradition of lesbian feminism. For the first article in the series, which includes a table of contents, please click here. The articles don’t have to be read in order and contain many backwards and forwards links so you can follow them in whatever way is most useful for you, although forward links won’t work until the relevant article is available.

Introducing Feminist Desire

I’d like to make a case for cultivating, in ourselves, in our relationships and in our communities, something I’m going to call feminist desire. I define feminist desire as non-hierarchical desire: a desire which flows over a joyful emotional and/or sexual connection, which draws its meaning from equality, not from power.

A sexuality of feminist desire, then, is a sexuality which is open to joyful sexual connections which draw their meaning from equality. And a relationship based on feminist desire can only exist between two people who’ve cultivated that sexuality (so that we’re open to feminist desire) and who don’t hold significant power over each other (so that feminist desire can flourish). Rather than a doer/done-to model, it’s a be-ing/be-ing model. “Our turn, our turn” instead of “my turn, your turn”.
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The Prudes’ Progress: Re-membering Feminist Desire, Part I – A Sex-Negative Feminist Analysis of the Problem

Introduction

I ended The Ethical Prude by saying:

Under patriarchy, sex is power, power is sexy, and sex is compulsory. That is to say, the sex act is attractive in a way that is conditioned by its qualities of power and violence… sex is not above criticism. Not bad sex, not sex gone wrong, not the sex that other people have. Our sex.

If sex is a thing we do, the way it’s organised is a sexuality. This series of articles is an attempt to answer the question: if sexuality under patriarchy is such a mess, what might “less of a mess” look like, and how do we get there from here?
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