Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Feminism and Sexual Empowerment

As a post-feminist, I am both a staunch supporter of women's rights and the equality of the sexes, and critical of various non-humanist strains of feminism. One of feminism's blunders that I cannot forgive is propagating the myth that female sexual empowerment (a woman taking control of her sexuality) in a way that caters to male sexual desire is - instead of a natural part of mating ritual - an insidious influence of the male patriarchy.

Thus, female actors and characters in the media who incite male lust through their image or their deeds are not positive feminist role models, but icons of women's 'prison of sexuality'. Unfortunately, this attitude is rampantly sex-negative, and whatever progress it might inspire in the realm of female empowerment (in the non-sexual realms), it achieves at the cost of further maiming our already diseased and demented views of human sexuality and relations between the sexes.

Now I believe, as somebody who generally believes in the good - if seriously flawed - nature of humanity, that this view comes from a place of genuine concern. Namely, the pressure that is placed on women to be sexual agents and only sexual agents in the social sphere. I get that. A woman should not necessarily be judged solely or even primarily by her sex appeal, to the marginalization if not total exclusion of all other aspects of her personality.

But. The solution isn't to wipe sex totally out of the equation. We should encourage women to be more than sexual agents, and acknowledge them when they make accomplishments of a non-sexual nature, and above all, treat them like human beings and not single-minded sex objects, and with equal status and potential as any male. But while we're doing this, we have to also be careful not to criticize women for wielding their sexual agency, otherwise we're limiting women's options and not treating them humanistically like they have their own will and can make their own decisions.

Especially when flaunting a woman's sex appeal has the common affect of rendering males subservient. How can that not be feminist at its core? It becomes patriarchal when we look at common responses and criticisms of the woman who freely wields her sexuality. Slut-shaming, for example, is massively anti-feminist. What is it about psychologically or even physically abusing a woman for expressing her sexuality that speaks to women's rights and empowerment? Victim-blaming, also, is a symptom of the patriarchy.

Consider this hypothetical. A woman decks herself out in a really slutty outfit and heads to a bar to attract male attention. This is basic preening behavior. Nothing about the basic fact of relations between the sexes indicates a necessary imbalance of power or influence. Now say that the girl, in the process of expressing her sexuality, doesn't find what she considers a suitable mate. But a man decides to rape her anyway. This is patriarchy in action - a man denying the woman's choice.

Now the story makes it to the news and what happens? The woman is shamed for dressing like a slut in the first place, and people say she deserved to be raped because she was 'preening' without being willing to give it up. In casual parlance, she was a cocktease. But this view depends heavily on the idea that women exist, as objects, to sate male lust - when and where it is incited - as if it is their duty and responsibility to please males, and to hell with what the female wants. That's patriarchy, folks.

So, I believe that women - girls, especially - should be given the opportunity to do everything and anything with their life - just as much as boys are. Whether that's to become a doctor, a scientist, a mother, or a stripper. Maybe we put too much pressure on girls to be sexy. Maybe. But there's nothing wrong with that alone. The problem is in the balance. So instead of shaming the sexuality angle - which only harms females and reinforces the paternalistic impulse, we ought to merely add other options to what's already available, and focus instead on cutting out our own disparaging treatment of women who make their own choices - no matter what those choices are.

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