Friday, September 21, 2007

This almost made me cry.

Who knows. Maybe there's hope after all.

Via Unsprung

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Dealing with the limits of "sex-positive:" Part 1

I guess this week is "questioning essentially good social movements" week here at Circumscription. I want to look at the limits of (circumscribe? ha.) sex-positive thinking and living. It's a movement of which I'm a big fan, generally: I'm a pretty vanilla guy myself, but I think that pretty much anything adults can do consensually is fair game and their business. But there are situations in which sex-positive thinking becomes complicated. I'm gonna look at some of those locations in sexual activity. I'm not going to address pornography, because that's a very very tired topic. Some other time. (Also, Feministe just addressed porn. Ending the debate forever, of course.)

This is going to be a three-part series, from the fairly basic to the extremely problematic. Part one (the one you're reading!) is about competing sex drives. Part two is about cheating. Part three is about taboos: incest, bestiality, and necrophilia (all those things the fundies think will happen if queers get married).

One problem with sex-positive thinking is that not everyone likes sex the same amount. So here's the dilemma. Your committed partner wants sex tonight/this week/ever. You don't. Are you obligated to put out for your partner tonight/this week/ever? Because women have conventionally been put in the position of "owing" sex for a number of reasons, feminists tend to come down hard on the "no" side. But what if, in an attempt to look at this issue normatively rather than practically,* we pretend this is a perfectly egalitarian relationship that isn't inflected by gender expectations. What the heck, let's make our thought-experimental partners lesbians, if that helps. In any event, Dan Savage came down with a resounding "yes" in his column a few weeks ago. He's a proponent of a standard he calls GGG:
'Good, giving, and game' is what we should all strive to be for our sex partners, as in, 'good in bed,' 'giving equal time and equal pleasure,' and 'game for anything—within reason.'
And, he says, this means we have sexual obligations to our lovers:
I happen to believe that we owe our sex partners a few things. Good personal hygiene, for starters, followed by a sense of humor, a willingness to meet our lovers' needs, and cleanish sheets. Someone who's unwilling or incapable of meeting a partner's needs owes 'em permission to get those needs met elsewhere—safely and responsibly, within reason, and on a budget.
Dan's standard puts the power in the hands of the horny one. Which sounds like it means a lot of unhappy lovers who are asked to grit their teeth and suck, fuck, and eat it. Except when you consider that there's a built-in failsafe: an unhappy partner can always leave the relationship. And in the world we're imagining, one in which the burden of sex falls equally on both** shoulders, they'll leave, rather than grit their teeth. The world we're imagining isn't as distant as I've made it out to be, either. Really, if partners ask for what they want, and are honest with each other and themselves, everything works out. Or doesn't work out, but that's for the very valid reason of sexual incompatibility.

So far, we've assumed that each partner is willing to engage in sexual activity at all. In the event that one partner is not ready for sex, for emotional and/or religious reasons, then I think the power shifts back into that partner's hands—agreeing to go down on your partner even though you don't feel like it that night is a lot different from agreeing to go down on your partner even though you are on shaky ground emotionally. It's important to ensure that sex-positive thinking means "sex is a good thing, but it's a good thing that everyone has to come (ha) to when they're ready."

That was easyish. Tune in next time for when it gets harder.

*I think a normative approach here can serve as a model for the practical. After all, we have to assume that some folks can kick The Man out of their bedroom somehow.
**Yes, I'm being monoamory-centric here, for convenience. It all applies equally well to a polyamorous relationship.

This commercial is disgusting.

I don't know where to start. Let's start with "women as non-humans," an enormous problem in advertisement. They are literally objectified, like those creepy-as-hell dolls everyone was blogging about a little while back. And they dispense beer out of their unnaturally thin torsos. And they replicate, as if to prove their non-individuality. Take a look at the comment thread on YouTube if you feel like vomiting.

UPDATE: AAAAHHH!!! You can paste your face on their bodies. ew. ew. ew.

Can we take it too far?

I tend to agree almost uniformly with the opinions expressed in the feminist blogosphere (with the obvious exception of issues like porn where, even in the most homogeneous community, civil blood makes civil hands unclean). So I always end up a little surprised when I run across a post where I think the author is completely off the mark. They tend to be knee-jerk "blame patriarchy" posts, where I have to wonder if the chip we feminists inevitably carry on our shoulder hasn't gotten a bit too easy to knock off.

Here's a good example: Pandagon's post a couple weeks back on the pixar film, Ratatouille. I'll quote it in full, because it's short.
Ratatouille in brief: a male rodent makes a better French chef than the female human who’s been slaving away at the restaurant for years.
Huh? Let me get this straight. Any film that features a prodigious male character is sexist, just because there are hard-working women out there? Or is it only if it also features the struggles of a woman in a male-dominated profession? Feminist critics of Ratatouille who point out that, for example, all the rats in the film were male are on better ground. But the suggestion that every film about a male-dominated profession kowtows to patriarchy unless it has a female lead seems like holding the good hostage to the perfect, especially when the film in question goes out of its way to draw attention to gender inequalities. (The comments section of that post is a good read, especially if you're interested in the Ayn Rand connection to Brad Bird's movies).

The recent example of knee-jerk patriarchy blaming that I came across was one of bean's posts on LGM, about a new clothing line for women in labor. Weird? Sure. Oppressive? Bean thinks so:
The end result is to focus attention on women's appearances and to continue their sexualization....I mean, if a woman still has to worry about her appearance when pushing a bowling ball through her vagina, what hope is there for us to escape an appearance-focused sexualizing and objectifying society?
This line of thought is deeply troubling for me, because it assumes that women's clothing is inherently sexualizing and androcentric. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought that was the argument made by rape apologists—"She was wearing attractive clothing, and there's only one thing that can mean." Now, I'm not an expert, being a man, but every straight woman I have ever heard from on the subject of clothes has told me that she dresses in attractive clothing for herself, not for men who might look at her.

We can't have it both ways. Either clothing inherently says something about sex (EDIT: and can only possibly say something about sex), in which case women who dress provocatively are responsible for harassment and men control yet another sphere of women's lives, or clothing is personal, in which case there's nothing wrong with someone wanting to look good (and consequently feel good) during what is otherwise a pretty stressful time. I'd much rather live in world two, and I think it checks out with the way most women see the way they dress.

What do we do about unreasonable patriarchy blaming? I'd certainly rather we blame patriarchy for too much than too little, and interrogating systems of power is never a bad thing. Except that I suspect that taking unreasonable stances alienates people from feminism, and feminism doesn't need any bad press that it deserves—it gets enough already that it don't deserve. We should be careful not to become wingnuts—even if something's really bad, it isn't responsible for all bad ever. And, as the folks at Pandagon did, we should remind each other to pick the right battles: there are plenty out there.