Monday, August 07, 2006

The shame conversation continues

Renegade Evolution weighs in with some thoughts on the myriad of ways it touches women especially. The classic double-bind: one the one hand, shame on you if you act too "boyish" (gender policing); on the other hand, being "feminine" is seen as being inherently shameful. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

And "damned if you do damned if you don't," of course, also still plays out very much wrt women's sexuality. Lately in the feminist blogosphere, at least, it's seemed to me like there's been somewhat of an emphasis on the "damned if you don't" aspect. RE here provides a reminder that in fact the brave new world is still not all pole-dancing and roses:

Young women are, by in large, taught to be ashamed of their bodies and their sexuality. Modesty is stressed. Purity is stressed. A girl who develops early, or is large breasted, or any such thing is often shunned and labeled a “slut” even if she has no idea what the word means, dressed modestly, and has never so much as been on a date. The female body is shamed, and thus so are its owners. Parents tell their girl children that they must be chaste and pure, because only “bad girls” mess with boys or show their bodies, and if they engage in such shameful behavior it will bring disgrace and ruin upon them. Girls are not supposed to be curious about sex and sexuality, they are not encouraged to so much as ask questions about it, let alone experiment or masturbate. They are told not to flaunt themselves, to be modest and demure, to keep their legs closed “or else”…or else they will get a bad reputation, pregnant, diseases, and then the whole world will know they are sluts and they should be ashamed.

And I think this is important at this juncture not because one injunction is any more important than the other (do/don't)--lately I've been thinking of this as the "tastes great! less filling!" conflict--but because it's so easy to reproduce that shaming. Sure, dress it up in a different framework, maybe shame different kinds of sexuality than the ones you were taught to growing up--but, what's in a name, really? Shame by any other name still feels like shit.

Which is why, when we feel it--especially if we haven't quite tweaked what it is or why--we tend to want to dump it on someone else.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

This is why--for me, anyway--"sex-positive" matters. And why I'm not, I've decided particularly keen on "critiquing" the sociological meaning of this act or that one; at least not in the contexts that I've been seeing lately. Because people in this culture--women especially--already have way too many reasons to second-guess ourselves when it comes to claiming our desires.

What I am interested in is learning to live in my body; and maybe helping others to do the same.

I do see sex work as one possible avenue toward doing that. It's probably not my own path (although at this point in my "career," who the hell knows). But my own experience in the "sex positive community"--which includes a number of people who technically would be prostitutes or at least sex workers, albeit probably unrecognizable as such to those who assume that they're all femmey young conventionally attractive women who are "wet holes" for men (by and large they're doing therapy as much as anything else; and I know people of all genders who take clients of all genders)--has led me to this conclusion. Which is one reason why I'm not down with the "abolitionists."

The other, of course, is having recently witnessed the ways in which actual (more conventional) sex workers who actually speak for their damn selves have been treated by the people who were supposedly fighting on their behalf. It's been quite an eye-opener. I don't claim to know much about how the "industry" (if indeed it is that monolithic) works; or whose statistics about trafficking in Thailand are correct; or how many patriarchy-enablers can dance on the head of a blowjob/spanking/lapdance for hire. All I know is that I'm good and tired of watching perfectly intelligent and sane adult women being treated as though they were wayward children at best, treacherous puppy-raping villainesses at worst, by, well, pretty damn much everybody, but especially galling, by other feminists. Is preserving your ideology intact, as it were, really that much more important than the person standing (even virtually) right in front of you?


Renegade Evolution said...

Marry me ;)

Lady Aster said...

Thank you. Immensely.

My path to sex work involved the conjuction of an immense number of factors- ugly, practical, beautiful, and divine. But one thing which led me to sex work was feminist theory; reading feminist literature (as a guy, then) eventually led to the discovery of writers like Annie Sprinkle and Pat (now Patrick) Califia who sparked a curious wonder if I could ever try sex work for myself- which when I transitioned I did. This was only one of many factors, but I would not be a sex worker had I not first begun to think of myself as a feminist.

Now I read the likes of Nikki Craft, and imagine the response if I were to try to step into a virtual red tent and identify as a feminist, and I wonder what on Earth could make me want to be so masochistic (and I'm kinky). I just could never, ever deal with the kind of attacks I would get as a post-transgender woman and a sex worker.

I sometimes feel like I can be a feminist only when I'm *not* among other feminists- or at least self-styled 'radical feminists'- which in turn I don't like because I consider myself radical. And that really makes me mad- precisely because I believe patriarchy is one of the central causes of misery on our planet and in some ways the cause of most of the other causes. But I frankly get rather tired, after trying to explain to libertarians that feminism is not 'gender feminist' man-hating sex-hating statism. hearing self-identified feminists attack groups weaker than themselves (including, like, me) as if they are man-hating sex-hating statists.

I just want to thank you for being an exception- or at least outspoken about it, since it is my experience that bigotry among feminists is not the authentic view of most but rather a party line pushed by a vocal minority which enjoys running its petty tyranny. (unfortunately the situation is almost exactly the same with callous corporatistm in the libertarian movement) Every time I have a bad day when I just consider giving up on actually existing feminism as a corrupted movement I read this blog and come back to my senses.

Blessed be.

Alon Levy said...

Is preserving your ideology intact, as it were, really that much more important than the person standing (even virtually) right in front of you?

If it isn't, then it's not much of an ideology. You could just as well ask if adhering to ideological values is more important than reality.

I just want to thank you for being an exception- or at least outspoken about it, since it is my experience that bigotry among feminists is not the authentic view of most but rather a party line pushed by a vocal minority which enjoys running its petty tyranny.

It's definitely not the authentic view of most. It's not even correct to call this a petty tyranny; it's more like the kid on the margin of high school culture who enjoys pretending he's cool and harasses kids even more marginalized than he is.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout describes the reaction of the people to the hick family that accused the black man of rape as, "Okay, we gave you your few minutes of glory, now get back to your swamp." That's how, from my vintage point, mainstream feminism treats the radical fringe. Radical feminists are good when they attack rapists, who are here the equivalent of the black man (no value judgment intended), but at other times they're expected to confine themselves to their own echo chamber and scream about how zippers are patriarchal.

which in turn I don't like because I consider myself radical.

In what sense do you consider yourself radical? Even the plain term "feminism" means so many different things to different people, so it's likely that there's at least as much confusion about "radical feminism."

Alon Levy said...

By the way, I should add that normally I don't make stupid mistakes like "vintage point." I'm not talking about any special point, like a vintage wine, just about my vantage point.

Amber said...


Wonderful post. This is the kind of stuff that's been floating around in my head for the past couple of weeks, but you said it more eloquently than I probably could.

Kick. Ass.

Amber said...


Lady Aster, I hope you will consider writing/submitting something about your experience w/ feminism for the upcoming Carnival of Feminists (hosted at my blog). I would love to include your voice!

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