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Sex Lies and Feminism

Sex Lies and Feminism

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Published by Arttemia Arktos

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Published by: Arttemia Arktos on Jan 25, 2013
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07/10/2013

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Sex, Lies and Feminism
by Charlotte Crosonoriginally published in the June 2001This essay grew out of the politics of a specific place and time: theMichigan Womyn's Music Festival over the last 8 years. My work atFestival during this time has been as a critic of both sado-masochistic sexual practice and Camp Trans.The debate about sado-masochistic practice (S/M) at Festival hasbeen a recurring issue. It has a new urgency in light of right wingattacks on Festival over the past year. These attacks are ostensiblyaimed at sexual practices "harmful to children." S/M sex has been -and is - displayed as exhibit number one. In truth the attacks areaimed at all women: the tactic being to make all lesbian sexuality nodifferent from S/M, drawing no distinction between S/M and lesbiansex in any non-hierarchical form. For the Festival community, theattacks have again brought into sharp focus fundamental questionsabout women's political and social community: who defines theinterests of our community? Is it in our interests as women who lovewomen to embrace, or at least leave unchallenged, S/M and CampTrans/transgender politics? Independent of those attacks, whatshould we make of S/M and transgender politics
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: are theyotherwise compatible with our community's interests?Defining our own interests is of paramount political importance for us, both as lesbians and as women. It is equally important that our community have safe space in which to engage in that process of definition. As if the right wing attacks weren't enough of a challengeto that safe space, there is also Camp Trans - literally right acrossthe road. From there Camp Trans activists, like the right wingactivists, have attempted to define our interests as women as afunction of how they define themselves. Perhaps more egregiously,Camp Trans also defines us as women in reference to how theydefine themselves as transgendered. In both cases, Festival space -safe space for women - has been disrupted by these externalpressures.Perhaps it's already clear that these issues of self-definition reachbeyond the context of Festival. These issues are about both definingand working in a broader feminist context - a context within whichwe have to examine the relationship of sexuality and gender identity
 
to prevailing conditions of male dominance. Moving in that directionis my aim here. What follows is a feminist analysis that, whilerelevant to Festival, does not seek to reconcile what may well befundamentally irreconcilable positions being played out around andat Festival. My analysis does not take for granted the S/Mmovement's and Camp Trans' definition of what is in women'sinterests. From a feminist perspective, sexuality and gender identity(both as currently constructed) are tools of male dominance thatbenefit patriarchy. That both, as currently constructed, give each of us as individuals a stake in male dominance is the conflict weexperience every day. Thus, we as feminists owe it to ourselves andto our community to deconstruct and oppose both S/M and CampTrans politics. In a feminist analysis they are, to put it simply, on thewrong side. In opposition to feminism.
Myths and Tactics
 Lately, when these topics are brought up there is a flurry of opposition to discussing them in anything other than unqualifiedlypositive terms. That is, it is often difficult to say anything (or much of anything) critical about either S/M or transgender politics withoutbeing attacked or shouted down. The purpose of the attacks is,simply, to kill discourse and to silence any position that is not pro-S/M or transgender. Some of the most common tactics include theuse of "pro-sex" to describe S/M advocates and "anti-sex" todescribe those who are politically opposed to the practice of S/M.S/M opponents become "puritans" and "new victorians." S/Mopponents are often labeled "censors" simply for criticizing thepractice of S/M. Any critique of women's class condition is dismissedas "essentialism" by transgender activists. The word separatist isused by Camp Trans activists as an epithet, an epithet made moredamning by the addition of lesbian: lesbian-separatists. There isongoing use of "rights" talk - transgender persons have a "right" towomen-only space, S/M advocates have a "right" to practice S/Msex wherever and however they wish. Simply describing male power brings accusations of "victim feminism" and "denial of women'sagency." A Daly-esque reversal if there ever was one. And opposinginclusion of transgender persons in women-only space bringsaccusations of gender-fascism, a phrase which speaks volumes initself.
Minorities and Rights
 
 
In the last several years self-identified "sex-positive" and "gender-queer" activists have formed an alliance. The alliance is not all thatsurprising, given the correspondence of gender ideology betweenthe two. Each group claims to be a minority within women'scommunity that is discriminated against by the larger body of women/lesbians. S/M practitioners place themselves as a "sexualminority" within the presumptively "normal" lesbian sexuality of Festival. Transgender activists claim they are "gender" minoritieswithin the presumptively "gender normal" women who attendFestival. Collectively they argue that they are deprived of the "right"to practice their sexuality and gender and that the reason they arenot welcome at Festival is their transgressive views about sexualityand gender.The minority and rights based rhetoric these movements employ ispolitically powerful. "The idea of sexual minorities has been apowerful one because 'minorities' can lay claim to 'rights.' There is ahallowed tradition in liberal democracies of recognizing . . . theclaims of minorities."
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Politically, it's very difficult to be against claimsof rights, especially so when people present themselves asminorities. Many women and lesbians will identify with persons whoclaim to be subject to stigma and repression on the basis of their sexuality or gender, presumably just like women and lesbians. Thus,the rights rhetoric consciously presumes a commonality of purposebetween S/M and transgender advocates and the feministcommunity and presents S/M and transgender politics as an integralpart of women's freedom. Coupled with that, by presentingthemselves as minorities within women's community, the S/M andtransgender movements cast non-S/M lesbian sexuality and non-transgendered women as both sexually and gender "normal." Theimplication being that those women who fail to practice and/or endorse S/M and transgender, adhere to and practice patriarchalgender and sexual norms and, as such, have access to power thatis then used to discriminate against S/M practitioners andtransgendered persons. Thus, women's community is caught on adouble-edged sword: rights rhetoric casts us all in the same potwhile minority rhetoric places "normalized" non-S/M and non-transgendered lesbians and women on top of some fictionalizedhierarchy. In this construction, women opposed to S/M andtransgender politics are either acting against their own interests or oppressing a sexual or gender minority, or both.

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