I’ve always considered myself a feminist since I first heard the term in my undergrad. For me, most basically it means that women and men should be treated equally. And if I use Wikipedia’s definition of feminism (“Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women.”), I feel safe in saying that I can ascribe to the basic concepts of feminism ideology.
Now I’m no bra burner. I like my bras. And I’ve spent a lot of money on them (I guess some would say that makes me a feminist sell-out, too, huh?). But over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had to reconsider what being a feminist means to me when confronted with statements and positions that, in my opinion, can only belong to radical feminists. Here’s why…
I attended a number of the sessions at the recent Women’s Worlds 2011 conference here in Ottawa. The campus was buzzing with women from all walks of life for the duration of the conference, which was so great.
I attended a one-day symposium on the history of the pill, where Dr Carl Djerassi (a chemist who was on the original team of chemists who determined how to synthesize progestin norethindrone) which was incredibly interesting.
Give the cage-rattler that I am, I picked some other controversial sessions to attend. I missed the panel titled The Stigma of Sex Work: Addressing the Problems, Organizing for Change. This session, along with a display titled Fleshmapping has sparked a hot bed (too much?) of debate among all types of feminist groups. A quick skim of the comments of this Xtra article should give you a taste of the controversy surrounding this session at the conference – mainly regarding how sex workers were treated both during their session and throughout the conference.
I wasn’t at that session on Sex Work so I cannot comment at all. But what I saw in a pornography session titled Harms of the Pornography Industry: Re-igniting Feminist Resistance was very unfortunate. Over the course of an hour and a half, I heard the speakers discuss the evils of pornography (because of its connection to prostitution) and some related outfalls including:
- liken using lubrication for anal sex to prostitution because prostitutes engage in anal sex
- shun women for taking pole dancing fitness classes because strippers have made these classes popular
- compare using bondage and S&M practices in consensual sexual activity to lynching during the slavery period
I was tweeting some of these statements live from the session and I echo a response from one of my followers after I tweeted about using lube for anal sex:
Being the curious kitten I am, I asked the speakers to comment on Feminist Pornography and how that factored into their discourse on pornography given that Feminist Porn is often produced by and for women and showcases female sexual pleasure. I got the distinct impression that the speakers did not know much about Feminist Porn because their response was basically “Porn is porn is porn” and another comment to the effect of ‘Today you tie me up, tomorrow I’ll tie you up’ does not mean there is equality.” Ummm…ok, nevermind.
I loved this other question from another young woman in the audience.
Audience member: Maybe I missed something but how exactly is lynching in the slavery period the same as practicing S&M? Are you saying that women have no decision-making power in their sexual activities?
Panel response: Why does anyone need to tie anyone up? Why does there need to be any violence in sex?
I was really surprised at this feminist-shaming that was immersed throughout their presentation. I buy lubrication for all types of sexual activities. I’ve donned the odd costume or two, played an escort. I’ve been tied up. I’ve tied someone up. I’ve even taken a pole dancing class (our instructors informed our class the only club they had worked in was a Good Life Fitness club). I didn’t know that doing any of those behaviours meant that I could be kicked out of the feminism club.
I think Dr Christine Bruckert, Criminology professor at the University of Ottawa and avid supporter of sex workerrights, said it best in regards to this anti-feminism that was displayed at the conference: “I am at a loss to define this as anything other than second wave feminist imperialism.”
For more insight into pornography and feminism, see Dr Jennifer Evan’s recent article titled It Shouldn’t Be a Dirty Little Secret: A Feminist Makes a Case for Porn.
So on behalf of all feminists who engage in anal sex with lube, take pole dancing classes, incorporate S&M into their sexual activity and any other ‘non-feminist’ behaviours sexual or otherwise, rock on.