17 March, 2010

We're not in a supermarket - please stop sticking labels everywhere.

What type of feminist are you? First, second or third wave? Anarcha-feminist or Difference feminist? Anti-pornography or sex positive? And most importantly, does it really matter?

Now, before we start, I'd like to say I am fully aware of the irony involved in writing a blog denouncing feminist in-fighting by engaging in what looks suspiciously like feminist in-fighting. I'm not perfect, okay?

What has me a little riled is some of the terminology that's been bandied about in the publicity surrounding Anna Arrowsmith (AKA Anna Span, porn director) and her standing for the Liberal Democrats. I say this may look like in-fighting because I take issue with the way Arrowsmith describes herself: as a "pro-sex" or "sex-positive" feminist.

For those not au-fait with all the various forms of feminism purporting to exist, pro-sex or sex-positive feminists are generally pro-pornography and to varying degrees, supportive of the sex industry, from stripping and pole-dancing to prostitution (I don't claim to be especially well versed in the intracacies of the pro-sex movement, so be kind if you feel I'm misprepresenting you). The ideas follow largely on from those first touted by second-wave feminists.

I am, to stick yet another label on myself, anti-pornography. I do not believe that stripping or pole-dancing are "liberating" or without negative impact on women and while I agree with legalising prostitution (but criminalising men who use prostitutes) I'd be far happier if the oldest profession ceased to exist altogether. But here's the rub: I'm not "sex-negative". As Hadley Freeman of the Guardian put it in an article on the same topic today, "I've never met a feminist who was 'anti-sex'".

No one actually uses the terms "sex-negative" or "anti-sex" concerning feminism as far as I have seen, but they are implied by their positive opposites. "Pro-sex" instantly sounds argumentative and snide: if you're not "pro-sex" you must be anti, therefore your opinion on issues relating to sex and feminism is not valid because you're just an uptight prude. Maybe I'm reading a *little* bit too much into people's intentions with their terminology, but you've got to admit, the implication is there.

And it's not helpful, not in the slightest. Whether you're "sex-positive" or "anti-porn", first wave or third wave, we're all working towards the same overall goal. Why weaken the movement by dividing ourselves into little groups and cliques? What's great about your in-house bloggers here at Feminazery is that we all have different ideas and opinions about what feminism means to us personally, but we're all good feminists and largely good friends, because we know we're united where it counts - working towards equality and fair treatment for women everywhere. The detail is just a distraction.


  1. ah, i feel the same way about the the term sex positive and it's implied opposite, of sex negative.
    nice to know i'm not the only one with this beef.
    I'm not neccesarily pro or anti porn - i think it is possible to make non sexist porn, and operate non sexist lapdancing clubs, I'm just not sure how many of them exist at the moment. (and I don't think women saying they feel liberated by taking lap dancing lessons means that strip clubs aren't sexist - the majority of the sex industry is sexist)

    but I still wouldn't describe myself as sex positive.

  2. I think the sex-positive label came about as a reaction to the attitude of "zomg you like porn you can't be feminist", in the same way pro-choice (and pro-life, the biggest misnomer ever) came about. Being sex-positive, for me, is a reaction against the school of "you can't be a feminist if you give blow jobs/have sex with a man/enjoy whatever sexual act" thought - it's a way of saying that claiming one's own sexuality is an important part of being a feminist, because it's the body politic again - and it also ties in (to me) with the right to sexual health, choose one's relationships and so on. Just as not all feminists choose not to shave, some choose to own a collection of porn. That said, I'm very against the pornification of culture - you want to look at tits? Awesome. Just don't call it a newspaper. It's porn, not a fucking "lads' mag", put it on the top shelf.

    That said, I'm not going to bitch anyone out for not wanting to watch porn. I don't like coffee. She goes to church. He hates cats. Ze listens to Lady Gaga. You wear lipstick. Fuck it all - we're all feminists.

    I don't think stripping is empowering. Nor is sex work a good thing - I just think it shouldn't be criminalised or penalised, but instead the women - and men - who work in the sex industry should be supported and helped, whether that means getting regular HIV tests or support getting free of addiction and into a "regular" job, is up to them. I too would love to see prostitution disappear. I'd love for it not to be linked to crime and drugs and people trafficking. Did you see Cath Elliot's CiF article? http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/mar/08/women-sex-workers-decriminalise-soliciting

    fwiw, I'm not overly keen on the label "sex positive", because it does imply a "sex negative", and unless you're advocating no touching the no-no square ever, then I don't think it's possible to be completely anti-sex (with the possible exception of some of the more buttfuck mental religious groups out there).

    But I do like the distraction. As long as we're not at each others throats about it, we can have different opinions. That we talk about it is better.

  3. I think half the problem is that, feminism being generally so ignored and derided by popular culture, it's the "extreme" voices that most often prevail. Polemic is all very well, but it needs to be understood by all parties as a device as well as a description of one's views.

    I can't find the link now, but Laurie Penny (blogs, writes for One in Four Magazine and the odd newspaper, etc) did a good piece a while ago on the Poppy Project, and even Julie Bindel I think - both of whom she'd locked horns with in various ways in print, but both of whom she endeavoured to find common ground with as well.

    Activists (about anything, not just in the women's movement) can get so hung up about small differences that the bigger picture is lost. Personally, I've volunteered at different times with both Object and the English Collective Of Prostitutes, because I believe true feminism needs to somehow accommodate both while we work to improve conditions for women in all walks of life.

  4. "Being sex-positive, for me, is a reaction against the school of "you can't be a feminist if you give blow jobs/have sex with a man/enjoy whatever sexual act" thought..."

    That's the problem though - anyone who buys into that line of thought isn't a feminist, but by specifiying that you're a particular "type" of feminist if you disagree implies that those who aren't that "type" of feminist DO agree. And I don't. I think sex is awesome.

  5. I think I was aiming more for the approach than the label, if that makes sense; my sex-positive feminism *is* a reaction against that kind of stupidity, because I think that people listen to them because it fits in with the stereotype of "feminist", so I want to show that we're not all like that - I don't think that people who disagree with me don't like sex though, and I try not to give that impression.

  6. I suppose I'm a 'sex positive' feminist but have to admit I've never used the term as I don't like it either. I don't like it for the reasons you list & also because I don't like that it kinda makes me seem like I have no problems with porn whatsoever which isn't true. I can understand why the terms are used though, I suppose it's easier to deal with people if it's felt that their beliefs/thoughts/opinions are easier to pin down with a little soundbite.

  7. This article articulates really well the problems I have with the label "sex-positive" - especially the fact it implies that those who don't identify with it are "sex-negative"

    Personally, I think these labels are used because it gives a sort of short-hand explanation of what your politics are about. I can understand that it may be useful for getting like-minded people together on the internet. However, I think it ultimately is a very restrictive label and sort of boils down feminism to be all about sex. I wouldn't use it.

  8. This is exactly why i have a problem with the term 'sex-positive'. i don't use it and like JenniferRuth i feel it's very restrictive. Very much in the same vein as 'pro-life'.

  9. exactly for me too, i don't like the sexual objectification of women in porn or the sex industry. in some ways i think this is the real definition pf 'sex positive' as i believe women have richer, more varied and more exciting sexual lives than they are allowed in porn and the sex industry. i find it ironic that an industry which only allows for a very narrow definition of sexuality is considered "sex postive" when in fact, it is the very opposite.
    so i am sex positive, like all feminists, but not in the way the label describes!

  10. I'm very sex positive. Sex is awesome. However, I dislike porn and the pornification of society. I think 'sex positive' is too simplistic.

  11. I don't like labels myself. I dislike the idea that if you do or believe certain things you can't be feminist. It's rubbish. All feminists are first and foremost people - human beings. People come in all shapes and sizes and with many different views.

  12. Perhaps the thing about mainstream pornography and how many people who otherwise think of themselves as ''sex-positive'', stop to rethink when porn-endorsers get into the picture, can be fixed with ''non-sexist sex-positive feminist'' :)


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