Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Feminist issues vs. women's issues

I mentioned Emily Bazelon's response to the Limbaugh debacle in an update to the earlier post, but since that one's getting unwieldy as it is, I'll move this on over to a new post. Anyway, Katha Pollitt, who has produced the most succinct and on-point take on this that I've found thus far, sees a connection, as Bazelon does, to the SlutWalks, concluding:

When the topic is anything remotely connected to female sexuality, every woman is a ho, a prostitute, a slutty-slut-slut, from a teenage virgin who needs to control her acne to a tired and put-upon 40-year-old mother of five. Even the feminazis! Those slutwalkers were really on to something.
As a feminist, I'm convinced. The surprisingly common view that woman=prostitute probably should bring about solidarity between the chaste, the promiscuous, and the vast middle. It probably ought to serve as a reminder that virtually all women have crossed the line over to "slut" in someone's definition. (Do you go out with your face visible? Bingo.) People in glass houses and all that. And in terms of my own values, I think it's incredibly important not to judge female and male promiscuity in different terms, and somewhat important not to stigmatize any respectful, consenting-adults goings-on, assuming no one involved has kids or is cheating on a partner.

But as a woman horrified by the thought that some mix of ignorance and malice could bring the U.S. back into the Dark Ages on this issue, I'm not sure the route to take is to insist that to support access to contraception means being equally supportive of all choices contraception facilitates. A no-judgements empowerment message has its place, but I'm not sure this is where to place it.

Just as all women are "sluts" in someone's eyes, all of us - men and women alike - make such judgements, or, put more accurately, draw lines, both in terms of their own behavior and in terms of what they think falls where more broadly. This certainly doesn't necessitate use of terms like "slut," or asking that one's own line be the basis for legislation. But it can't but mean the implicit shaming of certain behaviors. Even Dan Savage, a writer who supports all kinds of polyamorous living arrangements, who questions the wisdom of monogamy, draws a line, and not only in the libertarian do-no-harm sense of disapproving of rape, coercion, and cheating (as to be distinguished from negotiated non-monogamy). He often advises against super-casual, or anonymous, sex, as well as bringing in certain acts too early. And this is Dan Savage, sex-positive advice columnist and activist extraordinaire. What about the rest of us?

The problem we're now facing isn't that sex-positive feminists aren't supporting access to contraception. It is, in a certain sense, that supporting access to contraception is viewed as something sex-positive feminists do, and the percentage of beneficiaries of contraception who fall into this category is, well, slight. So, while I get the appeal of arguments along the lines of, 'if you support access to birth control, you are a sex-positive feminist, whether you thought you were or not,' I don't think that's exactly accurate, and it ends up alienating a lot of potential allies on this issue.

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