Musings on politics, erotica, philosophy and whatever else comes to mind
I am a political scientist, a humanist, a feminist and I write erotica - here I share thoughts, considerations and perceptions related to all, interlinked and interwoven, academic or merely thoughtful.
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|"I am not a feminist, but â€¦.." - Feminism and Erotica III
Today's blog will be an expression of annoyance and mild puzzlement. Students are back, teaching has begun and, once again, a new crop of students utters the words "I am not a feminist, but â€¦" in prelude every time they say something gender related. It drives me up the walls. Mainly because of two reasons: a) because they blatantly are and b) why do a bunch of obviously intelligent people manage to say something so stupid? How can they accept the creation of "feminism" as a word with a negative word without even giving this a second thought?
So what has happened? I am entirely aware that I am not qualified to speak of this with authority, I have simply not done any research, but some impressions have lodged themselves in my brain. So disclaimer done: here we go.
The argument in most serious conversations seems to be that the premise of feminism has been warped in popular culture to be synonymous with an impractical, idealist imaginary state in which women separate from men, or actively hate men, and that therefore any pronouncement of feminist sympathies will, in the eyes of the beholder, automatically identified the speaker to be of that persuasion - not a good image to have if you are a 19 year old girl. This argument is often followed by the assurance that the "other side", not men but conservatives, have done well there in the representation of feminism in the public arena.
I am not entirely sure I disagree entirely with the first aspect of that completely, but I believe the second to be a function of neglect on our, the feminists, part rather than an active campaign by conservatives.
What's my point? Well, we got scared of sex. Not literally, but figuratively. We were so frightened that the feminist movement would be linked theoretically with the concept of sexual freedom, we shied away from the topic entirely, to a level where we gave the impression to hate sex - or at least to be too far removed to engage in it with men, and with other women only if we have to.
As a result we have created generations of women, and I include my own generation here, who see feminism as the theory of asexuality, even of active hate for sex. Added to that comes the image that as a result a feminist is also utterly uninterested in her looks, eschews the concept of beauty as imposed by a patriarchic society. No wonder we do so badly.
So, the next time my students open a sentence with "I am not a feminist, but â€¦", instead of simply telling them that I am, I will point them to one of the many erotica novels written by feminists.
|Powerful Erotica - Power and Sex
Another of these blog posts which blatantly will have a second and a third part in the future. I was talking about submission fantasies last week and a large part debates on submission fantasies is related to the question of power. Power is a word used constantly, but often without attention to definition or implications. Philosophy, Political Science, as well as Legal Sciences, have spent centuries on trying to define the term - and failed to come up with a satisfactorily definition. It is argued that power is an aphrodisiac and the reason why submission fantasies are interesting to so many is due to the concept of a more powerful partner. Many claim this to be an evolutionary imperative. I would debate this view and rather hold there to be a misunderstanding in the common perception of power leading to this assumption. But first what does the term power mean for erotica and arousal?
Most people would argue a satisfactory, everyday, definition of one person having power over another is: one person can make the other do something not in their own immediate interest. The problem is, if we actually apply this definition to real life situations. If a shopper asks to pass by me to reach for something, I politely move out of the way. Does this mean he has power over me? If so, does this power extend outside that one moment? If it does not, is it truly power? The whole question becomes even more complicated when we talk about people with an emotional link to us. If my partner asks me for a coffee, it is very likely I will bring it to him. I might even be the case I bring it to him before he has asked me for it. Does he have power over me?
In some ways he does. Emotional bonds are powerful, and more enduring than the simple politeness induced reaction to the fellow shopper. So, he does have power over me, but not more so than I do over him. We are both powerful in our relationship. If power is considered as two balancing bowls filled with liquid, then there are moments in which his pull moves some of the liquid into his bowl from mine whilst in others it is the other way around. It is a constant exchange.
What does that mean for erotic interactions, for sex? In sexual situations, from the physical perspective, it is traditionally argued the man is more powerful (uhh - another weeks blog post coming up). The reason why power even comes into the debate in sex is because we have the emotional bond which leads us to want to do something nice for others. Just as is the case when my partner asks me to get him some coffee. The amount of power he has over me is exactly the same - and in both cases the reason why it makes me happy is not the recognition that he is more powerful, but the recognition that I can do something loving for him, can satisfy a need. The reason why a submission fantasy is interesting from a power perspective is not because of a biological need to look for the supreme partner - but because it frees our ability to show love, to do something for another, from doubt and considerations of social convention.
|Erotica, Feminism, Objectification - submissive fantasies
As seen form the title I have decided to combine the two threads of blog, Objectification of Women and Erotica and Feminism, because this post relates to comments made in, and to, both of them. It comes all back to the question of "choice", sex and feminism, at least when it comes to capture fantasies. The point made here is that the prevalence of submissive fantasies, fantasies in which a woman, or a man, choses to allow the dominance of another person in sexual matters, are often seen as completely anathema to feminism. The fact they are so prevalent often presents a real problem for the feminist. I would like to make the point here, that this view is simply too narrow, too limited. I want to argue here that a) the prevalence of the fantasies has nothing in the least to do with feminism or even the female gender but with being human and b) that it is not counter to the idea of feminism in the first place
a) The prevalence of submissive fantasies in humanity
These fantasies are, in my opinion, not an expression of humanitie's desire to shift blame when something goes wrong, to have another make decisions for us - but rather an expression of a deep-seated perspective on relationships. Many of us, if not most, are caught in a constant miasma of conflicting pressures and walk a never-ending tightrope of demands. At almost every moment we are aware of the fact we will not be able to fulfil all obligations as well as we would like to. That is the reality of life. Every second we take off, we feel guilty because we could be spending it on work, on that one thing we promised out friend to do, by knitting, by â€¦. you get the point. We are expected to be so much, successful in so many areas. There is no space to stop anymore, and taking a breath feels like being lazy. There is a hole world of questions of protestant work ethic and catholic sinner perception in this. Giving control to someone else means, just for a few hours, we CANNOT do anything.
There are two other aspects to this argument. One is the fact that most of us live in a world in which achievement is not easily measured. We are academics, professionals, lawyers, secretaries, â€¦ we do not create measurable things with our hands. We do not end the day being able to shown tangibly what we have achieved. Giving control to another who sets out the clear parameters of what has to be achieved provides this measure of tangible achievement. I would, and will in a few weeks, argue the other side, the controlling partner deals with the same aspects by chosing the dominant role.
The other aspect lies in what we want from a relationship. Most of us have, at some point, done things we are aware of were not good for us, have run ourselves into the ground. Hell, I regularly do. My life only works if I sleep no more than four hours and spend very little time on myself. I know this might, potentially, be a very bad thing. I also know it is the ultimate test - we want a partner who is strong enough, and caring enough, to be able to say stop and still stay with us. We want to know that there is someone at our back no matter how stupid we are being - but that that person is not mindless in their support but can challenge us when needed.
b) feminism and submission
I believe this will deserve its own blog post in the future - but just some thoughts here. Are we not misunderstanding the concept of feminism if we see chosing to submit to a man, or another woman, in the bedroom? Feminism is a movement to try to create a world in which men and women can make the same choices - not to proscribe on other women the path they should take, but opening all paths to them. There are questions of power, and perception, involved in this and even some considerations if these fantasies are not a function of a partriarchic and brainwashing society. And though I disagree with most of these considerations I recognise they have their place, though will have to be considered next week in their own post.
But I do want to make the point that in a submission fantasy we bring together two essential parts of modern life - our need to deal with life and our ability to chose.
|Erotica and Porn - differing perceptions of voyeurism
This blog post is in response to a comment which has been made regarding last weeks objectification of women in pornography and erotica. The commentator argued that one of the differences between erotica and porn, and the reason why he avoids erotica, lies in its level of voyeurism. He argued that in his mind pornography creates unemotional images, which he can simply enjoy, whilst erotica involves so much emotion, he feels he is intruding on a very personal moment between two, or more, people. He therefore feels like an intruding voyeur in the second, but not the first.
The interest for me lies in the perceptional shift - for I would feel the exact reverse. Erotica lets me become one of the characters, live through the experiences describes vicariously in a way, whilst porn simply leaves me on the outside looking in. However, where it relates to last week, the objectification of women, is the realisation that in pornography both partners therefore become the object. They are the object of the pleasure of the viewer - for both my commentator and me. The only difference between us lies in what kind of voyeurism we enjoy.
In erotica, on the other hand I am making myself the object, and the subject, by stepping into the role and living it. I am not simply looking on, I am experiencing it. This changes my position extensively. In pornography I accept the role of the onlooker, in erotica I desire to be the participant.
I am wondering if the question of objectification of women in erotic expressions such as pornography or erotica has not more to do with our taboo of considering if the quality of sex matters - and the way the participants approach it openly. It might have nothing to do with voyeurism at all.
|Objectification of Women and Erotica I
One of the most common negative reaction I get when people realise what I write (aside from the embarassment issue) is the question how I, a feminist, can square the objectification of women in porn with my feminist beliefs. Leaving aside entirely the issue the difference between porn and erotica, and the whole debate if this distinction is artificial for another time - I will have a first look at the objectification of woman in erotica, as I see it, here.
Control over fertility and active participation in the sex act have been the main aspect of the cultural debate surrounding feminism in the last few decades. It is not as if the female quest for true political and social equality has yet finished but there is a realisation that change has to be effected on a cultural level. One of the main points of contention, for many feminists, is the objectification of women in pronographic materials.
I disagree with that view, but do not have to go into detail regarding porn and feminism. The argument I want to make here is rather that erotica is the reverse, it allows women to step back from objectification.
Since the sexual revolution of the 70s led to another wave of feminism, one of the strongest pressures and encouragements has been the idea that women should become participants in the sexual process - not anymore the object thereof. Where in the 1800s and often for most of the 1900s, the female orgasm was considered almost a myth, and definitely not something good girls had, the late 20th century introduced a myriad amount of self-help books. The vast majority of these books were about how to achieve a female orgasm, how to have multiple orgasms - basically, how to be supermen in bed.
This is exactly my point. Most of these books either teach men how to be better lovers (the majority of them), how partners play on each others' bodies more effectively or, more so now though still fewer books in number, how a woman becomes a better lover. The problem is, I would argue, all of these are still objectifications - mostly of women but also of men. The object should be sex and both genders need to be step out of the objectification of the other.
Writing erotica means to give sex a sensual component, to create partnerships and joyful couplings in which the sensual interaction is just as important, if not more so, than the poke and spurt. The object is to create stories in which the erotic sensations of sexual interactions become a sensual realisation in the readers mind - not simply pictures in front of their eyes.
Why does this take away the objectification? Because it aims to create an emotional bond to the characters, make it possible to relate to the characters as subjects in pursuit of an object, sex. It created an awareness of both, or more, partners as individuals within the story. So rather than making sex a competition practiced on the other's body, it turns the act into a game, adds a mental element to the competition. Erotica is not an objectification of woman, or men - it is an objectification of sex, empowering men and women. And I am fine with that - sex is an integral part of our human nature, and one of its most enjoyable expressions.
Erotica and Feminism - sexual revolution of the female kind?
Feminism is such a strange animal - partially because even feminist scholars are not that certain they agree when it started, how it is defined or, for that matter, if it has a right to exist as a separate theory. I am a feminist and I am a scholar - but I am not a feminist scholar. I might, some day, write about what I believe should be the answer to the above questions - but not today. Today, I am wondering about our preception of the sexual revolution, and its impact for Feminism.
Traditional wisdom holds that the sexual revolution of the 1960s resulted in, or at least was a major contributary to feminism, the drive for equal rights for women. Even many feminists are uncomfortable with this connection due to three main reasons:
a) culturally and historically we have proven to be leery of sex - do we want to really link a political movement fighting for equal rights with it?
b) a perception of the woman simply being an object in the sexual revolution - not a subject with equal drives. Do we want to support this objectification as feminists?
c) the almost immediate equalisation of feminism with the stigma of lesbianism or separatism by its opponents and the consequent embarassment to be associated with the school of thought. Do we want to be seen as hating men?
Conversely, I am proposing here that feminism has found its own, a second, sexual revolution, not in the permissiveness and contraception of the 1960s, but in the advent of erotica today.
What am I saying? Am I setting erotica on the same par as the invention of the birth control pill? In a way I am. The birthcontrol pill revolutionised how men and women can engage in sex - erotica changes the way we think and perceive our role in it. One is a physical change - one a mental one; but they both change the fundamentals of how we act. And, indubitably, it results in a link between sex and feminism. Contrary to the three points above, I would argue this to be a good thing. Let's address the different issues one by one.
a) cultural and historical bias - well, this is mainly a religiously based bias, even for those of us who see themselves as atheists. We are still caught in the miasma of culturally and socially absorbed norms guiding our society from times when religion actually mattered to governance. I think my point is: we stopped burning witches - why should we not stop burning pictures (and books) containing erotic images?
b) The objectification of women. The second point is for many, even many feminists, the answer to that last question. Pornography, sexual images, erotic images, erotica all objectify the woman. It leads society to see us as furniture and not accord us the respect we deserve. But does it necessarily?
We have been controlled with sex, with the image of the object not the subject for centuries. The whole concept of sex purely for the purpose of recreation, to carry the man's seed, is an example of this historic attitude. The way our society worked was based mainly on the concept that women were bought and sold, if not in reality then figuratively. The man had the choice, the woman had to hope for the attention. To deny sex is purely pushing it into the dark, rather than changing the attitudes. Rather than being the object - we need to become a subject.
What does that mean? Does this mean we have to make the man the object (and therefore play into point c )? No, we need to start realising that there are at least TWO subjects in erotic interactions - and one object. Every human in a sexual act is a subject, non-regarding their gender. The object - the object is sex and its ability to express the intimacy and pleasure, the joy and innovation, the whimsy and empathy of humanity. To deny us that, either gender, is something sad and loses us an essential part of what makes us human.
Erotica allows the writer or the artist to give expression to this new sexual perception of subjectification of humanity in sex. There is much more I can say on the issue of objectivication of women through sex - and I will next week. I will also devote another blog, the week after, on the separation and stigma of lesbianism as used against feminism.