Calibrating and Recalibrating Sex Positiveness

Continuing our discussion (see Making sense of our fights on the Internet, Power and Presence on the Internet and Elsewhere, and A Spectrum as a Slippery Slope and OMG Hitler is a Nazi!!!!) …

I was at a local event recently where a group of sex-positive third-wave feminist women had traditionally used a certain amount of overt sexuality to raise some money. They had been doing it for a few years and had gained a certain reputation and a certain following. A friend of mine who knew of their work but did not know them personally joined in during this most recent event and volunteered to work the door, as it were, to help to relieve some of the visitors and participants of a little cash (this was a fundraiser). I was not present for that part of the event but some of the people involved, who had been involved for several years, later said to me that they felt my friend had gone a bit over the top in her performance. I asked for a description of what concerned them, and when I heard it I had to laugh a little. You see, over the years, these women have changed their own act from a more to a less sexy parody version of themselves, toning it down and calibrating, for a number of different reasons. The young woman who joined them this year had calibrated her own approach to their reputation and not to their current approach. She was a blast, as it were, from the past, and that was a little shocking.

It seems to me that there is a spectrum of sex positivity along which sex positive third wavers exist, and that not everyone is in the same place at the same time. The disturbed and disturbing universe of Elevator Gate seems to involve, to some extent, the pitting of people in one place against those in another. I’m seeing this mainly in places outside the immediate discussion of Elevator Guy and Rebecca’s talk, etc., but this does really seem to be happening. Have a look at this piece by Greta Christina. Greta discusses the potential outcomes when outspoken people are far from each other in their calibration of what is acceptable, what they expect of each other, and how they are willing to view other people.

It pisses me off that, in order to be taken seriously as a female intellectual voice, I have to hold back my sexuality. Especially since it’s such a no-win situation. Women who are too sexual aren’t taken seriously, and women who aren’t sexual enough aren’t taken seriously. Women who are conventionally attractive get valued solely for their sexual appeal; women who aren’t conventionally attractive get dismissed for their lack of it. Women who are conventionally attractive are assumed to be dumb bimbos; women who aren’t conventionally attractive are assumed to be either bitter or desperate. Women who are conventionally attractive get trivialized; women who aren’t conventionally attractive get treated with pity and contempt. We can’t win.

We could, if we want, stand on different parts of the multi-dimensional spectra of sex positivity and scream at each other for doing it wrong. Or, we could do what Third Wave Feminism is supposed to do: Recognize diversity and work with it, like it, love it, deal with it. And have those conversations.

And now, on to the next part in this series: Knowing when to shut up!

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9 Responses to Calibrating and Recalibrating Sex Positiveness

  1. I don’t really see sex positivity, or at least different calibrations of it, as an issue is this mess. I see the old, tired idea that a woman who makes any part of her sexuality public has no business drawing lines on what is private or boundaries for what is welcome in public. I see a lot of straw prudes propped up by people who don’t seem willing to allow women the agency to draw these lines and have them respected. But I don’t see different degrees of sex positivity clashing with each other.

    Where do you see this?

  2. Greg Laden says:

    well, I saw it in the example I gave

  3. Sorry, badly phrased. You mentioned you’ve seen it mostly outside “Elevatorgate.” I meant, really, did you see it anywhere within that particular mess?

  4. Greg Laden says:

    Absolutely. I think that a major difference between what is being called “feminism” by Abbie Smith, the Franc Hoggle Sock Puppets and the rest of that gang and what, for instance, you or I would call “feminism” is in what is seen as expected or normative behavior.

  5. Greg Laden says:

    I should say that the comparison or the relationship is not straightforward, and I wouldn’t expect it to be, between thoughtful rational people and that particular hoard … so in a way it is like comparing apples and special poisoned apples provided by the wicked queen.

    Have a look at the conversation on “Periodic Table of Swearing” ( http://scienceblogs.com/erv/2011/11/periodic_table_of_swearing.php ) about sex positivism.

  6. Azkyroth says:

    Yeah, really. I don’t see “sex positivity” concerns on the other side being involved except as a stalking horse.

  7. Greg Laden says:

    Wait, hold on there … what the heck is a “stalking horse” …? Is it made of straw, or is it very thirsty, or dead, or what?

  8. julian says:

    @Greg Laden

    A stalking horse is a sham or decoy. Misdirection basically.

  9. nillbond says:

    Calibration
    I don’t really see sex positivity, or at least different calibrations of it, as an issue is this mess. I see the old, tired idea that a woman who makes any part of her sexuality public has no business drawing lines on what is private or boundaries for what is welcome in public. I see a lot of straw prudes propped up by people who don’t seem willing to allow women the agency to draw these lines and have them respected. But I don’t see different degrees of sex positivity clashing with each other.

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