Thursday, February 4, 2010

Virtually Speaking

So as much as I have been enjoying SL lately I have been having a tough time finding exactly what to DO now that I have figured out how to change clothes and have joined activist groups that look interesting. I have been receiving messages from the groups about meetings and events and I have either felt like I am not prepared to participate or mix up the SL and RL times. One of the messages I received today when I just happened to be online at the right time was an invite to Virtually Speaking with Gloria Feldt, Lynn Harris, and Shelby Knox (here's the info). Feldt wrote The War on Choice which is a book that I have used for a few research papers in the past years so I thought I should check it out. I had some initial issues with sound and had to go through the Virtually Speaking radio blog to hear the discussion but I am really glad I did this. Of course I could have just listened to this talk online without SL but on SL the audience was able to type chat during the discussion which was a really great feeling. There are podcasts available from the discussion minus the audience input which is definitely worth checking out if you are at all interested in the topic. I thought I would include some of the comments that really stuck out, unfortunately I do not know which presenter said which comment.

When I finally got the sound working I heard one of them say "Feminists have more and better sex" which I thought was pretty awesome especially considering my earlier post about a few feminist theorists' thoughts about the incompatibility of feminism and heterosexual sex. I love when there are sex positive feminist discussions. Sex (either straight or queer) should not be seen as in opposition to feminism(s). Instead, feminism should allow for a greater discussion about sex and what the individuals want and feel safe with and enjoy.

The next discussion was about purity balls and one woman said how girls pledging themselves to a male god and to their father leaves no room for women's rights. Another woman asked that if a girl feels she must pledge anything, why not pledge to creativity and self worth? She then added that the idea of needing to pledge anything to a male god or your father is highly problematic but that there are alternatives to pledging virginity.

One presenter then went on to say that "femininity is a way of controlling." The imagery surrounding these purity balls are entirely about femininity and feminine qualities; the girls dress in white frilly dresses, their virginity and "purity" are celebrated, and so on.. This forced femininity is a form of controlling these girls, forcing them into this specific role. The presenter went on to say that women must be seen as "whole human beings... capable of making their own decisions," and these balls do not allow for that. If a girl wants to remain abstinent until marriage that's fine... as long as it's HER choice and she has not been forced into because of some ideal her father has for her.

At this point there was some great dialogue going on between the audience. Some were unaware of charity balls until this talk and everyone was really supportive in explaining it. The word "creepy" was used more than once about this phenomena.

One of the greatest comments from the presenters that I heard was when one of them was talking about her three year old daughter wanting to be a princess. Rather than telling her daughter this is "wrong" or "not-feminist" she allowed her daughter to continue with her princess dream but also challenged the typical little girl's understanding of a princess. She then told her daughter that she can be a princess but that to do this she must spend years studying foreign policy and learning at least eight different languages, and studying other topics important to national and political leaders. The audience response was unanimous with "LOL"s, "She's awesome," and so on.

Another important point that was made was in regards to how few young women wish to be identified as feminist. One presenter commented that it is important to examine how women's history is taught and how it leaves no room for role models for these young women to identify with themselves and feminism.

I am glad that I was able to participate in this. I will try to attend more live conferences and participate in group discussions more often. I could have just listened to the online radio version of this discussion but it was made interactive with SL through the audience chat. This way when there were issues of understanding or questions we could all help one another out. It also got a bit repetitive when some few vocal people became obsessed with discussing women's shoes. One guy said something along the lines "women should know better" many other audience members immediately took offense to what he said and the audience discussion began ignoring the three presenters. While this was not ideal, I could turn my attention to the presenters and keep an eye on the chat.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Student Magazine

So I really do want to address that National Post article in more detail but I just came across this. The article in question, in case the link does not go directly to the page, is "Student MD: Your Sex Questions Answered!!" and is on page 9 of the Fall 2009 issue of this student publication. The article begins respectable enough, addressing possible health concerns of sex such as STIs, "bumps, scraps, the odd bite mark, fingernail tracks, rug burn, latex or massage oil allergies, hair pulling, leg-cramping and/or burning sensations due to friction..." Scraps? Do they mean scrapes? Or scraps as in fights? OK. Re-reading that part I don't feel they even address the STI issue properly. I do not mean to advocate for abstinence only, I do not mean to argue that sex is "bad" because there is no way I feel that way. However, to put STIs, and not just less harmful ones but "incurable and fatal" ones, on the same level as allergies and minor physical pain is highly problematic. Another part that sounds like there is potential for good discussion is when lots of sex for women is advocated. In my previous post I comment on Catherine MacKinnon's stance that all straight sex is rape. I might be jumping to conclusions this early in the article that the author, Justin Sharpe, is referring to straight sex, but the sentence at the end of the article confirms this, which I will get to. Sharpe uses Dr. Claire Bailey's research from the University of Bristol which states that there,

"is little or no risk for females on 'overdosing' on sex. There are in fact gender specific health benefits associated with having lots of sex, such as improving posture and firming the abdomen."

I am all for promoting healthy sexual lives and establishing a culture that celebrates female sexuality rather than condemns it. At the same time, it should be an individual's choice whether to have sex or not, and with whom, and when. They should not be scared into having sex because of medical research showing that,

"...women who abstain from sex may face greater risks later in life. The opening of the vagina narrows from disuse and in post menopausal women, a condition called Dyspareunia is much more prevalent among sexually inactive women. Dyspareunia is characterized by pain associated with intercourse and could result in vaginal scrapes, should they choose to have sex."

I will not deny there are issues when arts students take on medical issues and vice versa but the way this article is set up is problematic to both fields of study. Women should be able to enjoy sex. They should not feel guilty for wanting and enjoying sex. They should also not feel obligated to have sex because doctors tell them they should. The same applies for men, I just am discussing female sexuality right now because that is what this particular part of the article addresses.

The article continues to say that there are potentially more health risks for men 'overdosing' on sex than women. This is interesting in that there is normal an expectation of men to enjoy sex at anytime and all the time and this article is questioning that assumption. Is it though? It is not questioning social and sexual expectations of men but is instead pointing out potential health risks. These health risks are also considered not much more concerning than the occasional "scrap" suffered during sex though according to this article.

My main concern and point of contention with this article is the conclusion. Until this point, although there are different issues, the article itself is just a piece of harmless fluff. It even has the potential to create discussion around expectations of sex, even if it is as medical concerns rather than social ones. Sex should be discussed. It should be something that is no longer taboo, and if it weren't for the conclusion, this article could potentially be seen as an aide to this, despite its problems. This is how it ends:

"So now it's time to face the facts. STUDENT does not condone whoring by any means, but ladies, for health's sake, now just might be the time to let loose... I'll be at Tap House, Fridays at 11."

I understand this is meant as a joke. I really do. This is meant to be a humorous wrap-up to an article that might be embarrassing or awkward for some people to read. But there is just so much wrong with this, and it being a joke makes it possibly even more problematic. First off - whoring? Really? You just spent a decent time discussing the benefits for women to have as much sex as possible, which I was even willing to give you some credit for maybe wanting to create a space for women to feel comfortable with their sexuality and you then cut it down to "whoring." A practice that you just argued was healthy for women, you are now using derogatory terms to define. Not only that but you say you don't want them to go so far as whoring, as in there is a limit still to how much sex you can enjoy before it becomes whoring. My Mac dictionary defines a whore as "a prostitute; a promiscuous woman." The verb is "(of a woman) to work as a prostitute" but "(of a man)" is "to use the services of prostitutes." Alright, so I could make a whole blog entry about that definition, and maybe I will, but I need to finish something for another class still tonight. So STUDENT doesn't advocate for women being promiscuous? Current social understandings of promiscuous women vary from sex before marriage to various sexual partners is a certain period of time...and all these understandings are hypocritical and problematic. All of these definitions apply only to women. From the dictionary understanding, for a man to whore it only means to have sex with a prostitute. So what counts as whoring to STUDENT? Female students sleeping with more than one guy (and I do stress "guy" because this article is only discussing heterosexual sex) in a school year? A month? A week? A night?

And another thing - "for health's sake"?? Obviously it is for Sharpe's sake alone that this line refers to. Is this the only way he can get women to sleep with him? Advocate that he is only sleeping with them for their benefit? Who is the one whoring here? If that's the term he wants to use, the only "whoring" seems to be Sharpe to the entire female population of UWO. Again, it is a joke but it is a terribly condescending one, and not even a funny one at that. And to assume that all sex women engage in is with a man. Or do the same health benefits not apply to lesbian sex?

For those who haven't seen this yet...

I am not sure this article merits a response or deserves my time but I am going to try to respond to the following: Women's Studies is still with us. While responding to this, I am going to pick out particular arguments they make and attempt to understand where they are getting these ideas. At best, I can guess that they may have flipped through an introductory women's studies' textbook and taken it with the assumption that because a student reads one particular theory he or she must automatically believe it. This was written by the National Post Editorial Board - I am not entirely sure who or how many individuals this means. The article begins with stating,

"The radical feminism behind these courses has done untold damage to families, our court systems, labour laws, constitutional freedoms and even the ordinary relations between men and women."

I am always skeptical when people use the term "radical feminism," especially when they then apply to mean "all feminism" and "all women's studies students." The term "radical," defined by the dictionary application on my computer, means, "relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough... characterized by departure from tradition; innovative or progressive." Another definition: "advocating thorough or complete political or social reform; representing or supporting an extreme section of a political party" and, "of or relating to the root of something." Defined this way, "radical feminism" is an attempt to find the root of female oppression and may involve complete social or political reform. From Wikipedia:

"Patriarchal theory is not always as single-sided as the belief that all men always benefit from the oppression of all women. Patriarchal theory maintains that the primary element of patriarchy is a relationship of dominance, where one party is dominant and exploits the other party for the benefit of the former. Radical feminists have claimed that men use social systems and other methods of control to keep non-dominant men and women suppressed. Radical feminists believe that eliminating patriarchy, and other systems which perpetuate the domination of one group over another, will liberate everyone from an unjust society."

One important issue of radical feminism (and it is important that just as radical feminism is a branch of "feminism," there are still many branches of radical feminism) is to challenge heteronormative beliefs; that is the social assumption that heterosexuality and other qualities such as monogamy and reproduction are normal relationship standards. This obviously does not mean that each woman graduating from Women's Studies rejects relationships with men and it also does not mean every lesbian is a lesbian because she hates men or wants to be a political statement. There are theorists, however, such as Catherine Mackinnon, who go on to construct all of heterosexuality as a dominance of men over women. MacKinnon was very important to current understandings of rape and did much work to bring this topic into the public arena and to draw attention to how often rape happens. She then went, at least from my perspective, a bit too far to suggest that all heterosexual sex is rape. She does still bring up some interesting ideas. In her essay, "Toward a Feminist Theory of the State," she writes,

"To be clear: what is sexual is what gives a man an erection... All this suggests that what is called sexuality us the dynamic of control by which male dominance - in forms that range from intimate to institutional, from a look to a rape - eroticizes and thus defines man and woman, gender identity and sexual pleasure." (Feminisms 354)

This quote on its own might still have merit. I think definitions of sexual are changing in today's culture, not always towards a feminist expression but not always on man's terms. At the same time, however, much of what is defined as "sexy" is essentially what advertisers expect men to find sexy. I word that intentionally. To say all men agree on one definition of sexy is highly problematic but I do see some merit to what MacKinnon says.

HOWEVER. And this is an important however, MacKinnon then continues to argue,

"Male sexuality is apparently activated by violence against women and expresses itself in violence against women to a certain extent." (355)

MacKinnon does not define what she means by violence could be violence to women's intelligence, independence, etc or it could be physical violence. She continues:

"Rape and intercourse are not authoritatively separated by any difference between the physical acts or amount of force involved but only legally, by a standard that centers on the man's interpretation of the encounter." (356)

MacKinnon raises an important issue of creating a space for women to discuss and define their own sexualities and what they find sexual, but I do not see why she must compare ALL heterosexual sex as rape. Perhaps she feels there is no space at all for women to speak up and only do what men want. The point here, is that when I read this I do not automatically agree with MacKinnon. I instead read the article and find points that I can agree with and parts that I must question and wonder where she is coming from. Is this what the National Post means when they write,

"Over the years, Women's Studies scholars have argued all heterosexual sex is oppression because its "penetrative nature" amounts to "occupation."" ??

MacKinnon has only come to my attention because I have done quite a bit of research on violence against women and rape but obviously there has not once been a professor presenting her theory, or any theory for that matter, as fact. Not one of my professors has told me I am oppressed because I have a boyfriend, and not once has a professor tried to tell the class that we should all become lesbians. This is why I feel there is no point responding to this article. All of this seems so obvious. That being said, this will probably be followed by another post to respond to more of the article.