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 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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The Ethical Prude: Imagining An Authentic Sex-Negative Feminism

Introduction

“A slut is a person of any gender who has the courage to lead life according to the radical proposition that sex is nice and pleasure is good for you,” write Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy in The Ethical Slut: A guide to infinite sexual possibilities.

In doing so, they create space for every sexual possibility except for one: the possibility to consider whether sex may not be nice.

Some might suggest this space exists, already populated by woman-haters, given the shame, hatred and violence on offer for women who dare to have sex on their own terms. But these moralistic right-wing views don’t hold that sex is not nice – they hold that women who have sex (and others who are seen to be treated as women in sex) are not nice.

As such it is both progressive and radical to say that sex is not shameful for women, and that a woman should not be punished for her sexual choices; radical, because shaming and punishment are both commonplace.

But in the present day it is not radical to say that “sex is nice”. If anything, it’s tautological. Sex, for all practical purposes, is defined much of the time as only “that which is nice” – in many feminist discourses, if it is not nice, it is not sex.

This precludes certain ways of thinking about sex. I would like to look at the things we are able to think when we allow ourselves to criticise not just singular sex acts but the ‘niceness’ of sex under patriarchy as a whole.

We will describe sex-negativity as a worldview or mode of analysis, not a belief system or a system of morals. The goal is not to determine that ‘sex is bad’ – though the analysis does not preclude this conclusion – but to use this way of thinking to better understand sex and sexuality under patriarchy.

Trigger and Content Warnings

Trigger Warnings: This article discusses the intersections of sex, violence and power. It discusses rape and, tangentially, prostitution and pornography. It reproduces (in order to criticise) date-rape apologism. It uses the word ‘fuck’ a lot, in the carnal sense. There is one graphic description of the sex/violence/power overlap which is warned for in the text and preceded by a link to skip it.

Content Warnings: This article talks about the violence and power relations inherent in heterosexuality and in intercourse. It touches on the ways in which under male supremacy the receptive partner in intercourse is considered to be demeaned. It describes compulsion into heterosexuality and into sexual power relations reflecting heterosexuality.
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Sex Educations: Gendering and Regendering Women

Summary

Radical feminism holds that what is currently known as ‘gender’ is not a condition which naturally arises either from an individual’s sex or from any other innate source, instead being an ideology of ‘sex roles’ which support and are constructed by the patriarchy.

While the way in which gender is produced is often described as “socialisation” or “conditioning”, this article suggests modelling it as a lifelong process of sex role education, covering more than just the sex role an individual is expected to play.

This model allows us to explore in some detail the experience of transsexual people under patriarchy and to question some binaries around the political features of transsexual identities.

With these considerations in mind we revisit the political category of ‘woman’ – as used to understand structured sexism – from the point of view of transsexual women’s inclusion.

Trigger and Content Warnings

Trigger Warnings: This article contains mentions of emotional, physical and sexual violence against women and children. It contains one historical account of mistreatment in captivity.

Content Warnings: This article contains discussion of feminine socialisation and a direct account of the positions of women and men in society. It goes into considerable detail regarding medical establishment gatekeeping of treatment for transsexual women.
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Under Duress: Agency, Power and Consent, Part Two: “Yes”

This article is a follow-up to Under Duress, Part One: “No”, which discussed “no means no”, ambiguous sexual requests, implicit refusals and drunken consent.

Trigger Warnings

This article contains discussions of rape, rape apologism and narrative examples of the ways in which multiple systems of domination can be used to put pressure on sexual consent. It contains a fictional account of retraumatisation after abuse.

If, after reading this, you feel like you would like to talk to somebody about personal experiences of non-consent:

Summary

When rape apologists are using our models of consent to defend rape and to deflect feminist analyses, it’s at least worth considering the limitations of the models. This article is part two in a two-part series of articles examining the issues.

Part One: “No”: Understanding consent as a binary is powerful because it allows us to say that “no means no”, a statement which has had and still has incredible power to change attitudes about rape for the better. However, it can make it more difficult for us to conceive of what else might mean “no”, as well as to distinguish between different kinds of “yes” given in different contexts. It can be used to victim-blame. It doesn’t always accommodate some of the complexities of communication (although we should beware, because “miscommunication” is a shield rapists often like to hide behind). And admitting “no always means no” seems to mean that we must also admit “yes always means yes”; this can conflict with the subtleties of a fully radical feminist analysis of rape culture.

Part Two: “Yes”: Modern feminist views on consent have often been in conflict. One way to resolve that conflict may be to look for unified models of consent which takes into account ideas from multiple feminisms. Here I suggest a non-binary power model of consent, which looks at systems of domination such as patriarchy, and the pressure they enable people to place on consent. In this model, “no” still means “no” but “yes” should be understood as a statement meaning, “I choose to say ‘yes’, understanding the consequences of saying ‘no'”. A focus on systems of domination – plural – allows us to consider other dynamics of rape beyond men raping women without moving away from fifty years of feminist work on rape and consent.
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Under Duress: Agency, Power and Consent, Part One: “No”

Trigger Warnings

This article contains discussions of rape, rape apologism and victim blaming. One survivor who previewed this article said they found a definition of rape used here “particularly triggering”.

Summary

When rape apologists are using our models of consent to defend rape and to deflect feminist analyses, it’s at least worth considering the limitations of the models. This article is part one in a two-part series of articles examining the issues.

Part One: “No”: Understanding consent as a binary is powerful because it allows us to say that “no means no”, a statement which has had and still has incredible power to change attitudes about rape for the better. However, it can make it more difficult for us to conceive of what else might mean “no”, as well as to distinguish between different kinds of “yes” given in different contexts. It can be used to victim-blame. It doesn’t always accommodate some of the complexities of communication (although we should beware, because “miscommunication” is a shield rapists often like to hide behind). And admitting “no always means no” seems to mean that we must also admit “yes always means yes”; this can conflict with the subtleties of a fully radical feminist analysis of rape culture.

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The Gender Ternary: Understanding Transmisogyny

Summary

A common understanding among gender activists is that most people think of gender as a binary, and that most institutions are built around a fixed concept of two genders.

I suggest that mainstream society actually uses a threefold ‘ternary-gender’ model of gender, dividing people into ‘women’, ‘men’ and ‘freaks’. I use this model to discuss a common area of disagreement between gender activists: male privilege as experienced by transsexual women.

This article also discusses the concepts of transgendering (gendering somebody as trans*) and unpacking ‘male privilege’ into internalised, social and power-over privileges. Continue reading