There's a New Prudery in Feminism and I Hate It
I want no part in any feminism that takes "we know what's best for you" as its starting point.
Image by Sam Taylor
Image by Sam Taylor
I'm sick of being told that being sexual is bad. That being sexualised is bad, gauche and unpalatable. "When was the last time you heard a man describe a woman with an adjective that wasn't dripping in sexual innuendos and defaming premises?" Author Lauren Martin asked in her op-ed for Daily Elite earlier this year, which has now had over 694,000 shares on social media, including the other day on my Facebook feed. "When was the last time you heard a man describe a woman as beautiful?"
Erm, I don't know, yesterday?
I know plenty of guys who lovingly refer to their lovers as beautiful. And smart. And sexy. And every other complex thing that made them fall in love with them. Of course, some men do describe women in rude, reductive ways. But it doesn't mean that every time a man describes a woman as sexy that it's a bad thing, or, indeed, that men never appreciate women for her beauty.
Martin, though, insists on creating a false dichotomy between those well-known polar opposites, "sexy" and "beautiful":
"Hot is smokey-eyed; beautiful is bare-faced...
Hot is the way she moans; beautiful is the way she speaks...
Hot is a one-night stand; beautiful is sleepless nights...
Hot is bending her over; beautiful is baking her blueberry pancakes...
Hot is a facade; beautiful is a woman."
What if she doesn't like blueberry fucking pancakes? What if she'd prefer a good shag? And what makes speech more beautiful than moaning? Is birdsong any less beautiful because it doesn't express ideas? Because it's a mating call?
What could be more beautiful, simple and pure than a genuine cri de joie? It can say so much: "I love you"; "Thank you"; "We're going to need to change these bed sheets later." It shouts out loud and proud that two people have managed to transcend the ugly drudgery of everyday life to glory in shared carnal delight. That's beautiful.
I've been told that I'm hot when I'm bare-faced. I expect most women have. I've also been told that I'm beautiful (all the time – seriously, guys, it's getting boring) when I'm wearing a smokey eye. These things are not black and white.
Shortly after reading the Daily Elite piece, I noticed someone share an article on Facebook called "Attention Instagram 'Models', You are Selling Yourselves". The fact that it is hosted on theproblemismen.com is a bit of a giveaway that it's not to be taken as an intelligent feminist critique, but the 70,000 shares it's had on social media suggest that more than a few people are taking it seriously. Rather helpfully, it's accompanied by a photo of a young girl posing in a bikini. It reminded me of the time Julie Bindel wrote a piece moaning about expressions of lesbianism in pop culture – giving the Daily Mail an excuse to run pictures of young, scantily clad celebrities lezzing up at parties.
Anyway, theproblemismen.com article begins by slut-shaming girls who post saucy pics online. "Posing in a lace bra and a G-string on Instagram doesn't give the perception that you a 'lingerie model'... it makes you look cheap... like the only value you offer is your body."
Of course, there are real issues with underage girls posting sexual photos online, which are then picked up by paedophile sites, but telling girls that it makes them look "cheap" isn't the answer. And why does posing in your bra suggest that the only value you offer is your body? I've got photos of my graduation on Facebook but I don't remember anyone telling me: "Your brain isn't the only value you offer, Paris".
When women start returning library books wearing fetish gear, maybe then we should worry that it's gone too far. For now, though, context is key.
I pose in my bra on Instagram sometimes. I have good tits. No one forces me to do it and no one is forced to look if they don't want to. I suppose the people who are against this sort of thing would tell me that I only think I'm making a decision for myself, when really I'm just going along with what patriarchy wants me to do. Silly me!
The men at Patriarchy Towers must be delighted that they've tricked so many idiots into baring flesh when, deep down, we'd all rather be reading the Bible. Girls of 16 know nothing. They can't possibly make a decision about whether they want to put saucy pictures online. They probably shouldn't be able to have sex at 16, either, or vote in Scottish referendums. Or have access to contraception. How could they possibly make decisions about their own lives at that age?
If you're adult and willing there's nothing wrong with being sexual. Or with seeing other people as sexual. So long as that's not the only thing you are expected or expect other people to be. But again, I think this is a red herring.
Even sex workers and porn stars are not purely sexual beings. If anything, people who've worked in the sex industry, myself included, are some of the most romantic people I've met, and not in the crass, vulgar, red-roses-on-Valentine's-day sense either. People who have felt the thrill of being sexually objectified through their own choice (we're not talking about anyone who's been trafficked or abused here) tend to value genuine intimacy and being appreciated for our minds.
We're often told that the British are "sexually repressed" and that may well be true if by "the British" you mean the sexually repressed middle classes who tell the rest of us that we are sexually repressed, and who'd rather launch into an impenetrable essay on what it all means than a real, animalistic, sticky fuck.
I want no part in any feminism that takes, 'We know what's best for you,' as its starting point.
Britain isn't sexually repressed. The bourgeoisie is. Orwell knew that the working classes were free and easy with the sex and it's as true today as it was in the 50s. Common people love sex. Yes, the proletariat judge. Yes, they slut shame. Yes, they can be prudes. But, in my experience, more than a few of them enjoy going to pubs every weekend too, getting pissed and shagging people called Gaz or Leanne in alleyways. And it's bloody good fun, I can tell you.
Posh cunts are no better, either. The upper classes just have better lingerie, better coke and more privacy. All sorts of things go on behind closed doors and expensive houses have the strongest, thickest doors to hide one's animalistic tendencies behind. The semblance of sexual purity, much like dildos and fun-times with prostitutes, is a price-tagged privilege.
I want no part in any feminism that takes "We know what's best for you" as its starting point.
Despite the considerable gains made by sex-positive feminists in recent years, we've seen neo prudery pop up in last week's attempt to criminalise aspects of prostitution in the UK, despite protests by many sex workers and former sex workers. And then there's the "Ban this sick filth!" campaign against lads mags. And porn. Porn! Yeah, good luck with that. Just close down the entire internet while you're at it. It didn't work in the 80s when radical feminists tried to ban adult men and women from enjoying BDSM and it won't work now.
The fact is that you can't stop people from doing what they want to do. I'm sick of ladies-what-lunch, with no worldly life experience to speak of or draw from, judging women who are different to them. You're not better, you're just different.
Much evil has been done in the name of protecting women's innocence. The obsession to protect white women's purity was one of the key factors in America's shameful history of lynching black men. And the idea that women need to be shielded from sexualisation has kept us marginalised for millennia – locked up and shamed if we dared to step outside society's narrow view of just how, when and why a woman might be allowed to be sexual. Moreover, it turned sex into something that men do to women against their will, ignoring the ravenous desire pumping through red-blooded women's veins.
I've heard it said that the woman who wears heels and short skirts, who has breast implants and long hair, is just as repressed as the long-skirted, corseted women of yesteryear. But Victorian foremothers were never allowed to show their ankles. Today, showing your tits is a choice. No one walks around with them out all the time, so when we do show 'em off, save your tears, please.
Sexism and misogyny are always finding new modes of expression, and I don't wish to ignore the very real pressures women face to look a certain way – pressures I feel, too. I shave my legs. But while patriarchy might mean you'd get shamed if you rocked up at the club with hairy armpits, I doubt anyone's going to laugh at you just because you don't have a slutty social media presence. Sometimes people post sexy pictures just because they like it.
I'm getting increasingly sick this neo-prudery, and I don't think I'm the only one. If you don't want to be seen as a sex object and desire sex that is bland and emasculated, fine. Choose a partner who can give you that. Or celibacy. But many of us are just animals. We like animal sex and the mating game that leads up to it. Don't try to impose your prudery and body fascism onto other people anymore than you'd want them to impose their values on you.
Now, does anyone fancy a shag?
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