i don't post about feminist stuff as much as i used to. A major part of that is that i've been involved with feminism since the age of 14 (and i'm now 33)1
. i've participated in so many actions, discussions and debates with so many people about so many women's / trans / gender issues that i've lost count. And basically, i'm currently in a state of burnout around this stuff - i get really tired of having the same arguments again and again and again without any reward in the form of deeper / more sophisticated understandings of the issues on the part of all people involved (including myself).
Terminology, sadly, plays a large factor in this. i call myself 'pro-porn', and other people call themselves 'anti-porn'. But those terms are loaded with assumed meanings. The 'anti-porn' crowd usually assume that i think that porn doesn't need to be, or shouldn't be, criticised on issues of class, race, gender, ability, ethnicity etc; that i have no problem with women being exploited by the sex industry; that i'm fine with violence against women. Yet none of that is the case. Conversely, i have all too often assumed that the 'anti-porn' crowd all want to ban anything that they deem to be 'porn' rather than 'erotica' (oh how i loathe that supposed distinction, and particulary its stench of classism), and that they all want to reduce women's sexual expression to the One True Path as described by She Who Knows What Woman Are Really Like, Sheila Jeffreys. Yet i have had discussions with 'anti-porn' feminists in which we managed to discover that our assumptions about each other were incorrect, and that we basically held the same position, but just came at it from different angles and ended up giving our position different labels.
Then there's the term 'radical feminism'. The Wikipedia artice on radical feminism
Radical Feminism is a "current" within feminism that focuses on patriarchy as a system of power that organizes society into a complex of relationships producing a "male supremacy" that oppresses women. Radical feminism seeks to challenge and to overthrow patriarchy by opposing standard gender roles and male oppression of women, and calls for a radical reordering of society.
In that sense, i see myself as part of the radical feminist current. And yet radical feminism segued into currents which have been highly hostile to sex work (and often to the women who do it2
) and to trans people (well, perhaps more to trans women in particular), both stances i strongly disagree with3
A close friend of mine has a number of years' experience both doing sex work and talking to other women who do / have done sex work, as part of her work for a community organisation. She and i are both frustrated by the dichtomisation that all too often controls debates over sex work. On the one hand, there are organisations in Australia that claim that the vast majority women in the sex industry are there on the basis of a completely voluntary, duress-free choice on their part, and that things like the trafficking of women into sex work (as shown by court cases in which people have been convicted
of such trafficking) are merely an aberration. On the other hand, we have feminists who claim that no
women are in the sex industry due to their own choice, that it is always
a choice made under duress, and that the working conditions of women in sex work inevitably involve beatings, torture, etc.
Of course, the reality is much more complex - the above two positions really represent only two extreme points on the edges of the multi-dimensional space that is sex work. Women's reasons for entering the sex industry, and their experiences once there, are diverse. And the issue of the extent to which women enter the industry as a voluntary, duress-free, choice is a complex one.
A good example of this can be found in at least some discussions in the kissmyass_cosmo
community. There, some people claim that they just happen to like what's currently fashionable, and that they're not being influenced by the fashion industry at all; whilst other people respond with something along the lines of "Yeah, right, you just happen to like what's currently fashionable - an amazing co-incidence. :-P"
Amongst the latter crowd, there seems to be an air of "anti-fashion": "anti-fashion" not in sense that fashion shouldn't dictate people's lives and sense of self-worth (a belief which i share), but the notion that unless a woman is doing the opposite
of what the fashion industry is saying is currently 'fashionable', then she's obviously merely a slave to fashion. i can't see the logic in this, myself: it seems to me that this sort of attitude would still mean that one is controlled by the fashion industry, in that when the fashion is to jump left, one has to jump right; and when the fashion changes to jumping right, one then has to jump left.
Having said that, the argument made by some women that they just happen to like to wear the same clothes etc. as are currently fashionable, that they are totally independent of influence from the fashion industry, seems to me to be highly unlikely. We are all
influenced by social, cultural, economic, political and marketing pressures in some way or another. i don't think it's unreasonable to consider the possibility that maybe women are raised to be very sensitive to fashion cues, such that they subconsciously, and with lesser or greater subtlety, alter their preferences to be more in line with what's currently "in".
So i think it's important for people to consider the ways in which their personal beliefs and/or preferences might be being shaped to suit the needs or objectives of other individuals or groups. At the same time, however, given that historically women have had 'choices' imposed upon them, i think that it's very important that any analysis and/or critique of women's choices avoid sliding down the slippery slope to the point of assuming that if a woman engages in something we don't agree with, that she's "obviously" acting at the behest of internalised patriarchy, that she didn't "really" make the choice of her own accord (implying that if she "truly" had free choice, she wouldn't have made that choice). Because once we move away from the realm of obvious physical coercion and into the realm of possible coercion due to "social, cultural, economic, political and marketing pressures", the extent to which we our choices can be said to be truly our own is not clear-cut. Given this, i think it's better to err on the side of caution, and respect women as autonomous human beings who should be allowed to make their own decisions, rather than having explicit decisions made for them with the aim of countering implicit coercion which might or might not exist in specific cases.
Sadly, though, i've too often found that people seem to want to eschew recognition of the complexities of these issues for a "Women's choices are their own, and shouldn't be analysed or critiqued" / "Women's choices are not their own choices at all, but are those of patriarchy, except when i agree with those choices" sort of dichotomy (of which i guess the "pro-porn" / "anti-porn" dichotomy may be a subset). And i really don't have the energetic resources to continually challenge these dichotomies and the assumptions that they usually seem to entail, with the hope that (a) i can convince other people to move away from these dichotomies and assumptions, so that (b) we can all deepen our understanding of the issues. Plus, of course, that's on top of having to deal with all the crap about me not being a 'real' woman, that i'm a fifth column for patriarchy in the women's movement, that i can't be a feminist etc.
Thus, i've absented myself of late from contributing to feminist groups and discussions. i'm hoping that will change some time in the future, when i have more internal resources; but that time is not now.
1. Which is why i'm interested in such perspectives as that of winterkoninkje, who recently posted a thought-provoking entry titled "I am not a feminist".
2. For example, a friend told me about a woman seeking to volunteer with an organisation that works with women who do sex work, but who (iirc) wasn't sure that it was appropriate for women who have done (or still do) sex work to themselves be volunteers. :-/
3. cheshire_bitten recently posted about this issue hirself.