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January 30, 2006



What about love? Even a voluntary, mutual, pleasurable physical interaction, if minus love and commitment, still carries high risks of commodifying the other person and (as you suggested in a wonderful recent post on marriage) allowing both parties to avoid personal growth. To me, this strand of feminism will always be spiritually impoverished and tone-deaf until it starts seeing people as more than autonomous individuals conducting transactions.


Jendi, I hear you -- and that's where I think "mutuality" comes in -- a deep and abiding concern with the other person and with the consequences for them of the sexual experience that is shared. I'm not sure that that's how all of my fellow feminists would define mutuality, however!


I think this is a wonderful post and I am definately going to think more on the five pillars. The only thing that I disagree with it is that our sexuality and the pleasure of it should not be thought of without also thinking of procreation and taking it into accord. Plastic surgeons always say that you have to give function just as much consideration as form. Translation: Its nice that you want your body to look a certain way but don't forget about what your body is designed to do.

Too many people are so interested in the "form" of sex that they are surprised by the "function" part when they find themselves pregnant.


Fair enough, but let's remember that "sex" is infinitely more than heterosexual vaginal intercourse. It's fair to say that one particular sex act --out of many -- is closely correlated with pregnancy. It's wrong to say that vaginal intercourse is the "be all and end all" of human sexual experience.


But the fact that these are the "peak experiences" of food and sex that we have as Christians does not mean that enjoying these gifts in other contexts is outside of God's plan.

Hear, hear! This Jewish feminist -- eating dinner happily in front of the laptop, husband being at this moment en route to Qatar for a business trip -- applauds that sentiment. Is eating alone the same kind of joy as sharing a table with my loved ones? Of course not. But I can still sanctify this plate of falafel and tabouli with mindful blessing, even if I'm eating alone.


Hurrah for eating in front of the computer!


What does love have to do with sex? Don't get me wrong, sex is better if you love the person, but it isn't necessary (and quite frankly complicates a lot of things). Mutual respect is far more necessary than something as fickle and unpredictable as love.


False dilemma, Antigone.

Q Grrl

Without addressing how rape and compulsory heterosexuality impinge on female sexuality, you aren't addressing feminist sexuality. You are addressing Judeo-Christian ethics and theology, but I think you are mistaken if your pillars teach you anything about female/feminist sexuality. The majority of women in a rape culture cannot approach your five pillars with a blank slate mentality. Especially when the Virgin/Whore dichotomy is still the most favored view of female sexuality.


Q Grrl, yes -- and no. You're right that far too many women have been damaged by traditional misconceptions about sexuality; this is true for women both in and out of the church.

Freedom refers, first and foremost, to liberation from the most harmful aspects of traditional culture's view of the feminine and the sexual. Mutuality means revisioning sexuality on explicitly feminist terms that are nonetheless congruent with faith. These pillars, properly understood and embraced, have tremendous potential for liberation.

Q Grrl

"Freedom refers, first and foremost, to liberation from the most harmful aspects of traditional culture's view of the feminine and the sexual."

Well said... for a man trying to define for women (and feminists) what freedom and liberation might mean to our spirits and our bodies. You're searching for concepts that already work for men and trying to see if the shoe fits for women too. I personally do not think that a feminist sexuality can *ever* be congruent with patriarchal religion and the concepts of faith that surround that. Christianity and Judaism are EXPLICITLY founded on rape myths. You seem to be holding "traditional culture" and "faith" [to a patrichal religion] as two separate experiences. I see them as one.


Mythago, pardon? I'm not saying that love and respect are mutually exclusive (far from it, in fact) I'm responding to Jendi's assertion that the five pillars are incomplete because they don't mention love. Love is an unnecessary part of sexuality: the two are not exclusive, but neither are they mutually inclusive.

That's all.


I really like the idea of mutuality, rather than love. Love means different things to different people, and the word carries a lot of baggage. Mutuality, however, seems a lot easier to define and perhaps a better measure of equality.

Great post, Hugo!


Q Grrl, it may indeed be an impossible project -- but I'm not doing the defining by myself as a man! The FSEP project is woman-run, after all; they're the ones who came up with the "five pillars" -- I just added the tag and the praise!

Q Grrl

Hugo: I had checked, but hadn't seen anything that indicates taht FSEP is a woman-run project. It is funded through Brandeis and the Ford Foundation, neither of which are women-run. ... unless you have a different definition of woman-run! :-p

Also, everything that I have perused at the FSEP takes compulsary heterosexuality as the bed-rock of sexuality. So much so that I have not seen any reason why they bother putting the "feminist" in their sexual ethics project.

Did you see info there that you thought was specifically feminist?


Well, on the FSEP splash page it lists the executive director as a Bernadette Brooten. "Funded" is not the same as "run". Lots of progressive organizations get Ford Foundation money, much to the chagrin of some members of the Ford family!

And I think the "five pillars" is congruent with the best traditions of feminism -- unless your view of feminism cannot see the Judeo-Christian tradition as compatible with feminism! As for compulsory heterosexuality, I see no condemnation of alternate sexual lifestyles here. An absence of a discussion of lesbian identity is not the same as endorsing compulsory heterosexuality.

I feel we may have arrived at a lovely epistemic gulf, Q Grrl, and can respectfully disagree -- even in feminist solidarity!

Q Grrl

Oh, yeah. I hope you're not reading me as trying to be antagonistic. I was in most ways just curious about why "feminist" was being tagged onto this. I don't see anything wrong with the pillars. I do see that they are stemming from a patriarchal belief system and from patriarchal discourse (compulsory heterosexuality).

FWIW, I don't see compulsory heterosexuality as the absense of lesbian sexuality or lesbian identity. I do however, see it as a constellation of beliefs and discourses, such as the five pillars you mention. But that's shades of grey that I cannot even address today... much less present in a coherent nutshell.


Antigone, I was referring to your last comment about mutual respect and love.


Can't we just say "Christian" when we mean "Christian" instead of pretending to be all thoughtful and inclusive?


"Christianity and Judaism are EXPLICITLY founded on rape myths."

I'm curious to know what this means.

"Love is an unnecessary part of sexuality..."

I prefer to think of it as the other way around (reiterating my negative views of the idea that love is "consummated" by sex), but okay...

boy genteel


I forgot to laud SmartBlkWoman for her great post:

"The only thing that I disagree with it is that our sexuality and the pleasure of it should not be thought of without also thinking of procreation and taking it into accord."

That's the Catholic belief of sex: that the recreative and procreative go hand in hand, and it's cheapened if either one is stifled. But you put it better than I.

"Plastic surgeons always say that you have to give function just as much consideration as form. Translation: Its nice that you want your body to look a certain way but don't forget about what your body is designed to do."

This also reminds me of those who obsess over women's breasts -- only to be repelled when women actually use them for the thing they were designed for: nursing babies. "How are we supposed to fantasize about your breasts when you're using them for THAT?"

Men's Rights = Women's Rights = Human Rights

The Happy Feminist

To me these five pillars make a lot of sense from a feminist perspective. They seem to take into account all the issues that made women second class citizens in the realm of sex. Freedom, consent and mutuality seem to address the issue of rape. Freedom and pleasure seem to take into account the notion of different sexual orientations.

Obviously, these pillars are all big ideas that can use some fleshing out, and maybe that's what Q grrrrrl is getting at.


Q Grrl: Can you explain what you mean when you say "Christianity and Judaism are EXPLICITLY founded on rape myths"?

I'm also missing the notion of compulsory heterosexuality. Can you explain a little further what you mean in this context?



I had the pleasure to meet with one of the founders of this statement, Bernadette Brooten, in an excellent examination of her work on lesbian love in the ancient world. I've mulled this statement over for a long time and I still find it relevant for thinking about sex in Christian terms that redeems pleasure as a good itself (which Aquinas comes close to as well btw). Thanks for highlighting this. Please do write on each of these points. I look forward to conversation.


Thanks for the encouragement, Christopher -- is Brooten's work published? (I suppose I could just surf over to Amazon and find out...)


Hugo, it is indeed published, and I've offered some further thoughts on your post.

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