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June 09, 2006

Comments

x

Okay, I get it's okay to have thoughts so long as you don't do anything that objectifies women. But where do you draw the line? I'm sure we all agree that rape/gropeing/wolf-whistling is out, but what's in? What is/isn't objectifying behaviour?

If you find something - say stilettos - sexy for 'cultural' reasons is it okay to act on that and ask someone out because of it? Because I reckon some feminists would say you're buying into Patriarchal norms and being oppresive. Say you want to ask your girlfriend to wear stilettos because you find them attractive - I imagine that would be totally objectifing and a big no-no.

I just get the feeling that if you have any desires which are in anyway linked to Patriarchy (and most guys don't choose these desires, they have them inflicted upon them by growing up in a particular culture) then you're totally not allowed to act on them. I can totally see the criticism that pro-feminist men are condemning themselves to intense sexual fustration and self-loathing. Maybe you can take this if you've had a religious conversion and are living on a higher plain, but the rest of us are shafted.

Arwen

Oh, x. I have a pro-feminist husband, and we have no problem sharing erotic fantasies and entertaining each other. As long as you treat your girlfriend as a human being with whom you're interacting with mutual enjoyment and consent, the two of you can do whatever you'd like.

There is a difference between looking at the world and seeing patterns and what they might mean and being a person living in those patterns. Bitch PhD loves high heels, and she's a feminist. Amanda Marcotte likes country music, and she's a feminist. Hugo has a penis, and he's a feminist. To say that country and heels and penises have both been explored negatively in the patriarchy is not the same as to say an individual person must eschew their tastes. To be a feminist is to engage in social critique, not to stop being an individual: to say "Oh, hey. I just noticed that only women are allowed to wear high heels without comment, but it wasn't always so. I wonder why *that* is?"

I love to cook: I'm a feminist. I like the colour pink: I'm a feminist. I like sexual acts with men: I'm a feminist. I'm married: I'm a feminist. I've had babies: I'm a feminist. All of those aspects of my life have been subject to feminist critique at one time or another.

Analysis is not the same as prescription; feminism just asks to you really *think* about your preferences and your actions in light of the society we're from. Different people come to different places; different feminists have different things that tweak them and things they're okay with in the dominant culture.


Anthony

Hugo: " but there's a colossal distinction between having a desire and giving voice to that desire. The former is something to which we are entitled by virtue of our humanity -- the latter isn't."

I disagree. I have every right to verbally express my desires, provided I'm willing to take the consequences of doing so. If I'm rude or inappropriate in expressing those desires, the consequences are likely to be not to my liking, as Sophonisba points out, which will temper my willingness to express those desires. But you are either conflating "giving voice to" and "acting on", or you are telling me that my desires are inherently illegitimate and may not be voiced.

Lynn Gasix-Sax: saying "I'm not attracted to tall women" is not "insulting or demeaning" tall women. Pretty much everyone understands that. Change "tall" to "overweight", and suddenly that understanding evaporates.

Every company I've worked at that's bothered to talk to a lawyer about it has had a pretty strict "sexual harassment" policy, most of which would seem to indicate that if a male employee asks a female co-worker for sex, and she's upset by that, for any reason whatsoever, he's violated the policy. This advice comes from the same lawyer who advise vigoruosly defending against any claim of professional malpractice, and even in cases where the company was obviously wrong, to try to get a settlement which acknowleges no wrongdoing. The letter of the law may not say that men may not express sexual desire, but the law is what courts rule, and the best minds in corporate law believe that the courts will rule otherwise.

Douglas: recent feminism, as a movement, appears that it would rather punish all men for the mentality of the few assholes rather than attempt to work on the men who are the problem. Hugo at least recognizes that there is a difference.

Amanda: I'm surprised that Hugo has allowed your vile ad hominem spew to remain posted.

Kiki

Hugo, thanks for the thoughtful analysis and extrapolation on my piece. I really enjoyed reading it. I've already been a lurker on your blog for awhile and I always look forward to your incisive and thoughtful commentary.

jfpbookworm

If you find something - say stilettos - sexy for 'cultural' reasons is it okay to act on that and ask someone out because of it? Because I reckon some feminists would say you're buying into Patriarchal norms and being oppresive.

"Some feminists would" is a bit of a rhetorical cheat, because no number of people saying "I'm a feminist and this wouldn't be a problem"

Incidentally, I'm a feminist and this wouldn't be a problem. What would be a problem is if

Say you want to ask your girlfriend to wear stilettos because you find them attractive - I imagine that would be totally objectifing and a big no-no.

Not at all. What's a no-no is *expecting* that she should wear stilettos because you find them attractive, even if she says they hurt her feet.

I just get the feeling that if you have any desires which are in anyway linked to Patriarchy (and most guys don't choose these desires, they have them inflicted upon them by growing up in a particular culture) then you're totally not allowed to act on them.

I think this idea is actually a combination of a feminist idea - treat women with respect - and a patriarchal one - the idea that sex is dirty, shameful, etc. Together, you get the conclusion that sexual desire is inherently disrespectful to women.

I just don't see why it's always the feminist side that has to be scrapped when this happens.

jfpbookworm

Anthony: saying "I'm not attracted to fat women" isn't demeaning. It gets demeaning when: (a) it's universalized; (b) it's phrased as entitlement; (c) it leads to discrimination in impersonal settings.

As far as propositioning your co-workers being harassment, that does not mean that all approaches between men and women in all settings are off-limits. It just means that a workplace has different standards than other places.

Anthony

"I just don't see why it's always the feminist side that has to be scrapped when this happens."

Because if my choice is between two different forms of oppression, I'll choose the one which has had a few millenia of providing some sort of social stability and ways of working around its restrictions to the one which arose in my lifetime and which still inspires zeaoltry.

Feminism has moved from being a liberating force to being an oppressive force. This movement was more or less inevitable, since 1960s feminism partook of the spirit of the times, demanding the sweeping away of all sorts of constraints on sexual behavior. Unfortunately, some of those constraints were there for reasons that even feminists could appreciate, once faced with the consequences. So now we have a society in which the more jerky and predatory of men feel free to openly be predatory (or just jerks). Rather than saying "hm - maybe some of those old patriarchal rules weren't so bad", feminism instead wants to regulate all sexual interactions in an attempt to stamp out those with which it doesn't agree. Four legs bad, two legs good.

jfpbookworm

Dude, try responding to what I actually wrote:

I think this idea is actually a combination of a feminist idea - treat women with respect - and a patriarchal one - the idea that sex is dirty, shameful, etc. Together, you get the conclusion that sexual desire is inherently disrespectful to women.

If the idea that women should be treated with respect - not whatever straw man you're claiming feminism *really* is, despite what actual feminists in this discussion are saying - is oppressive, and the only way to deal with it is to go back to being disrespectful, I suggest you get to work on building a time machine.

The Countess

x wrote: "If you find something - say stilettos - sexy for 'cultural' reasons is it okay to act on that and ask someone out because of it? Because I reckon some feminists would say you're buying into Patriarchal norms and being oppresive. Say you want to ask your girlfriend to wear stilettos because you find them attractive - I imagine that would be totally objectifing and a big no-no."

I think the second scenario sounds like fun. I don't consider it objectifying at all. I think the difference here is that in the first scenario, you're asking the woman out because she wears stilettos, not because of anything in her personality that attracts you. I think the second scenario sounds like fun. You obviously would already know your girlfriend and likely love her. The stilettos would just be a fun addition to your already established relationship.

The Countess

Anthony: "Feminism has moved from being a liberating force to being an oppressive force. This movement was more or less inevitable, since 1960s feminism partook of the spirit of the times, demanding the sweeping away of all sorts of constraints on sexual behavior. Unfortunately, some of those constraints were there for reasons that even feminists could appreciate, once faced with the consequences. So now we have a society in which the more jerky and predatory of men feel free to openly be predatory (or just jerks). Rather than saying "hm - maybe some of those old patriarchal rules weren't so bad", feminism instead wants to regulate all sexual interactions in an attempt to stamp out those with which it doesn't agree. Four legs bad, two legs good."

You obviously don't know any sex-positive feminists. There are plenty of them out there. Feminism certainly doesn't want to regulate all sexual interactions. There has long been a rift between anti-porn feminists and feminists who didn't agree with that stance. Feminists want to see a healthy expression of sexuality. They certainly don't want to regulate all sexual interactions in the way you describe.

By the way, during the sexual revolution in the 1970s, feminists were aware that some of the sweeping away of constraints on sexual behavior included the notion that because of The Pill, lots of patriarchal men thought that contraception made women more available to them. Jerky and predatory men have always been jerky and predatory men. They just changed their language. Women were told that there was no reason for them not to have sex now, because they were less likely to become pregnant. That was the same old commodity view of women, just dressed in a different manner. Feminism encouraged women to explore their sexuality for their own sake and enjoyment, especially when pregnancy became less of a fear. At the same time, feminists were also aware of the new dressing up of old sexual pressure and stereotypes when The Pill was introduced.

SingOut

Anti-porn activists are not anti-sex. "Pro-sex" feminists are named as such in the same manner as "Pro-life" activists -- to color their opponents as "Anti".

The Countess

I know that anti-porn activists aren't anti-sex. Anti-porn activists and other feminists differ in their opinions about porn. Neither are anti-sex, and neither want to regulate all sexual activity. That's what I was trying to point out, albeit probably not very clearly.

I never cared much for the term "sex-positive feminists" because of that idea that there are "sex-negative" feminists. I know that's not true. I've never seen a better term for feminists who address sexuality. If anyone ever runs across one, I'd like to know about it.

sophonisba

Agreed, SingOut. I'm pro-porn, but I don't call myself pro-sex, because it's a transparent attempt at caricaturing anti-porn activists as anti-sex, as you say. In any case, responsible pro-porn feminists want to combat the abuse, coersion, and misogyny in the sex industry, just as anti-porn feminists do. The "rift" between the groups is unfortunate and in many cases unnecessary.

Porn doesn't define sex. Sex isn't limited to porn. Sex happens in real life, not just in film or magazines. I think talking about porn when the subject is sex is pretty anti-sex itself.

mythago

Because if my choice is between two different forms of oppression

It isn't. But it's easier to excuse one's privilege by pretending that the alternative is more of the same, eh?

if a male employee asks a female co-worker for sex

You don't need to talk to a lawyer to know that it's a really bad idea to go around trying to sleep with your co-workers. The "hamburger rule" predates HR policies about sexual harassment.

SingOut

Sophonisba,
So, what do we do? The porn issue is ripping the feminist movement in two, weakening each side against a common, powerful foe. Ulimately, pro-porn and anti-porn feminists have the same goal, right? But all the infighting is weakening our position. Any ideas?

Anthony

jfpbookworm: If feminism was only "the idea that women should be treated with respect", then I'd be a feminist, and there'd be very little hesitation among young people (especially young women) to labeling themselves as feminist. But that hesitation does exist, and it's because the leadership of the feminist movement has redefined feminism to be something narrower than just "the idea that women should be treated with respect".

Countess: Feminism may have been aware that it empowered jerky and predatory men by removing some of the traditional constraints on those men, but it didn't try very hard in the 60s and 70s to do much about it. Lately, the feminist response, as evidenced by lots of the comments I read here (and elsewhere) has been to characterize all men, or maybe all non-feminist men, as jerks or predators, in order to justify restrictions on their behavior.

Mythago: While the "hamburger rule" may predate sexual harrassment law, I've worked in one large corporation which encouraged employees to socialize with each other, and was very friendly to the idea of its employees marrying each other.

perplexed

If the idea that women should be treated with respect - not whatever straw man you're claiming feminism *really* is, despite what actual feminists in this discussion are saying - is oppressive, and the only way to deal with it is to go back to being disrespectful, I suggest you get to work on building a time machine.

jfpbookworm: I agree with that notion. I go one step further: I would like to see all humans treated with respect. Yes, all humans. I find it disrespectful when I'm called (implicitly or explicitly) an oppressor and privileged. That's disrespectful and presumptious to call me that. It's like me calling a woman privileged and she should acknowledge that and correct her behaviour accordingly given that fact - just because she has white skin - that's trying to control another person's behaviour and I find that disrespectful.

Porn doesn't define sex. Sex isn't limited to porn. Sex happens in real life, not just in film or magazines. I think talking about porn when the subject is sex is pretty anti-sex itself.

Well said sophonisba. Porn can co-exist with people's sex lives. It can even supplement it in a positive way. There are many women who actively and positively make a career from the porn industry. To those who say that porn objectifies women, what do you have to say about the fashion industry? Women's magazines? Even women's attitudes themselves and the way many of them dress when they go to nightclubs? Aren't they objectifying themselves if you say porn objectifies women? I say let women do as they please and express themselves as they please.

The Happy Feminist

Anthony,

The fact that young women often hesitate to call themselves "feminists" proves nothing one way or the other about feminism. It simply proves something about how people in general think about feminism. How people in general think about feminism is not necessarily based on accuratae information.

I am not sure what you mean by all of these "restrictions" on male behavior, unless you are talking about sexual harassment laws that apply only to the workplace. There is no law, by the way, against having a relationship with your co-worker. Your company is wise to have a policy against it because such relationships can be abusive if, for example, you have power over your co-worker at work, or if it affects the work environment after you break up. The law only prohibits coerced sex or a hostile sexual environment in the workplace. I don't think that's too much to ask. By the way, these laws also protect men from sexual harassment.

Not all men are jerks and predators. To the extent anyone has expressed such a view (and I do not hear such views expressed at all among femiists), it is not inherent in feminism.

evil_fizz

I find it disrespectful when I'm called (implicitly or explicitly) an oppressor and privileged.

Except, assuming that you are a white man, you *are* privileged. It's completely unavoidable. I consider myself to be enormously privileged (I'm white, my family has plenty of money, etc.), but that's not an insult. It means I'm lucky and that I can frequently afford to be oblivious to things that affect people who are not as financially well off or not white. (No one ever thinks I look suspicious in nice neighborhoods, nobody thinks it's weird that I drive a nice car, I can afford to be picky about where I live, what I eat, and thousands of other little things plus some huge ones too.)

The thing for me is not to be oblivious to the fact that I've got a lot going for me, to work on issues of racial injustice (yeah, it's nice that I'm less likely to get pulled over for speeding as a white woman, but it's hardly just), and not pretend that stuff isn't a problem because it's not a problem for me personally.

I know this is kinda disjointed and definitely thread drift, but I wanted to throw it out there anyway.

sophonisba

To those who say that porn objectifies women, what do you have to say about the fashion industry? Women's magazines?

This is a bit like saying, "To those who say that the American Revolution was a big deal, what about WWII? The Civil War?"

Embrace the power of "and", as the kids say.

Porn does objectify women, and it does so in different and more harmful ways than it objectifies men, not because of any inherent quality of pornography, but because contempt for women permeates our culture, of which pornography is a part. All serious pro-porn feminists recognize this and consider it a problem. The existence of offensive material in women's magazines doesn't magically make porn problem-free. There's lots of feminist scholarship comparing and contrasting the abuses and pressures put on mainstream models and on pornstars, as well as the effects that they both have on other women's lives.

We live in a sexist culture. There's more than one bad thing going on at a time. Nothing is stopping us from looking at more than one thing at a time. Nobody says you can't critique fashion mags just because you critique porn as well.

It's like me calling a woman privileged and she should acknowledge that and correct her behaviour accordingly given that fact - just because she has white skin

As a white woman, I have absolutely no problem having my privilege pointed out to me, if I seem to be unaware of it. I'd prefer that it be politely done, but it's not disrespectful at all. It would be doing me a favor.

Even women's attitudes themselves and the way many of them dress when they go to nightclubs? Aren't they objectifying themselves?

No.

perplexed

The existence of offensive material in women's magazines doesn't magically make porn problem-free.

Well, to use your own words here sophonisba :

Embrace the power of "and", as the kids say.

I never said it's a zero sum game, where the existance of women's magazines and women's fashion negates any positive OR negative aspects of porn. All these things co-exist together at the same time. I was highlighting the commonalities inherent with focussing on beauty and looking "sexy". Either all of them are objectifying women, or none do. You will try to pick and choose and subjectively tell me which ones do and which ones don't but it's obvious to me that women's magazines not only use women's bodies as sexual objects, they actually use these images against their female readership : they're telling their readership : "this is what you should look like. You're successful if you're beautiful. You're successful if you're sexy." - it encourages low self-esteem in women, which many women have admitted to.

As a white woman, I have absolutely no problem having my privilege pointed out to me, if I seem to be unaware of it. I'd prefer that it be politely done, but it's not disrespectful at all. It would be doing me a favor.

Actually, this is more my attitude too. I just don't see any privilege I have over women, truly. I am from the UK, and women are treated with great sensitivity here, whereas guys are fair game. This translates in a typical work place to be : don't dare say anything out of turn to a woman, but guys don't count at all. If there was sexism against women, the pendulum has swung back the other way. I would prefer to see the pendulum stopped somewhere in the middle. I honestly don't know ONE feminist in the UK - and I've had discussions with many women on issues of divorce, child custody etc. Most say how messed up the current system is and is in favour of women. So, why are they also not seeing this male privilege?

Even women's attitudes themselves and the way many of them dress when they go to nightclubs? Aren't they objectifying themselves?

No.

Interesting - I've known female friends to deliberately (in their own words) 'tart themselves up for the night' when going out - they were obviously enjoying themselves and fair play to them, but they also knew they were (in their own way) making objects of themselves. They knew they weren't what they were projecting on that particular night (it was just fun), but clearly they wanted to project a particular type of sexual object to people on such nights (again, what they often told me was tantamount to saying this was the case). I see nothing wrong with that by the way, but when you said "no" to my question, I remember such women actually admitting to making sex objects of themselves knowingly.

And in terms of porn, what's the difference if a woman stands in front of a camera and knows she's working ultimately as a sex object, and sees no problem with that? Her body, her choice etc? Aren't you simply hung up on the word 'object'? Men are portrayed as objects too. Success objects, money objects, sports icon objects. Loser objects. All kinds of 'objects'. All these men are more than just their headline description.


therealUK

Just in case anyone takes perplexed's vision of Britain seriously:

he says: "I am from the UK, and women are treated with great sensitivity here, whereas guys are fair game. This translates in a typical work place to be : don't dare say anything out of turn to a woman, but guys don't count at all. If there was sexism against women, the pendulum has swung back the other way. I would prefer to see the pendulum stopped somewhere in the middle. I honestly don't know ONE feminist in the UK - and I've had discussions with many women on issues of divorce, child custody etc. Most say how messed up the current system is and is in favour of women. So, why are they also not seeing this male privilege?"

I say: bwhahahahahaha. What utter utter tripe. More later if I have the time. Meanwhile, off to watch the footy.

Utopian

I don't understand. It's ok to have a desire, but it's not ok to try to achieve the satisfaction of that desire?

Lynn Gazis-Sax

It's ok to have a desire, but it's not ok to try to achieve the satisfaction of that desire?

Well, that would depend, wouldn't it? For some desires, it's not OK to try to achieve satisfaction of the desire (because the desire is for something inherently hurtful). For lots of others, it's just find to try to achieve satisfaction of that desire, in the proper time, place, and manner. But not OK in the sense that any means whatsoever is fair game. And that distinction works whether we're talking about sexual desires, or any other sort of desire.

perplexed

I say: bwhahahahahaha. What utter utter tripe. More later if I have the time. Meanwhile, off to watch the footy.

I say what I see, and thankfully the majority of people in the UK are apparently doing the same. Hmm, and you don't really do much justice to the counterpoint view by simply saying 'it's tripe' - I am armed with facts. I am happy to debate with you in a civilised way, but I would expect you to give reasons why you may disagree with my point of view.

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