Can Sex-Positive Feminism Exist?

When I tell people I am a feminist, I get a wrinkle of the nose. Their face screws up, like they have smelled something bad; it is the expression I pull when the milk has soured.

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“But you’re so sensible,” they protest. As though feminism requires the loss of brain cells for participation.

For a while, I even shunned the term myself. “It’s too gendered,” I’d say, feeling that my views were about gender equality, and therefore should not be posed as something one-sided. I’d phrase my views awkwardly – I’d call myself a “gender egalitarian”, for instance. I justified that it didn’t have the same ring to it, the same catchy title, but at least it was more precise in representing my views. Then, when I graduated, I sat through an eye-opening speech by feminist writer and critic Linda Grant. Grant had written books on politics and sex, and novels to boot. She was the woman I always wanted to be. And she was a feminist.

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“I tried to get a store card in 1984,” she told the audience. “I was declined, because I didn’t have my father or husband present to sign off on the transaction. That’s when I became interested in feminism,” she said. Sitting there, in my mortar board and robes, I felt suddenly far too naïve to be in the ceremony.

I was born only 4 years after Grant’s anecdote took place. I had always considered feminism to be an archaic thing, a movement that brought us the vote and then went off the deep end with fits of misandry, censorship and sex-hating, and that wasn’t me. When I thought of feminism, I thought of Andrea Dworkin. I didn’t think of Linda Grant. I had simplified a complex political movement into a handful of successes and a whole heap of crazy. I had resisted identifying with anything feminist, because I was sex-positive, anti-censorship, totally behind the idea of sex as a fun recreation, someone who enjoyed pornography and vocally supported sex workers. I was someone who saw society’s next goal involving better protection for sex work of all varieties, who wanted consent to be respected by law regardless of whether money or cameras were involved. All this time, I thought that meant I wasn’t a feminist. And all this time, I realised in that audience, I was wrong.

Feminism is a complicated set of ideas, with an equally complicated set of people behind it. Like any complicated ideology, feminism is riddled with nuance and debate, and it isn’t stagnant: there are revelations and evolutions in ideas all the time. I don’t agree with all feminists; I want gender equality, both between the binary sexes and for those who don’t identify in those terms, but I don’t always agree on what that means. For some, it means that removing the idea that women are sex objects means removing women from sex, especially in public expression, and on that note I heartily disagree. For me, and – I assure you, readers who are still scowling, still wondering how such a nice girl ended up here, many people just like me – feminism is about claiming our right to consent. For me, feminism protects my ability to have sex, to enjoy it, and not be shamed; but equally, it protects me from being forced to explain my lack of consent in other situations. Feminism is about my right to say yes or no without being threatened, either by the society that would deem me a slut, or the rejected party who is angered by my audacity to decline.

I am a sex-positive feminist, and I can tell you, we are not on the verge of non-existence – we are not lost dinosaurs, wandering around in a wasteland, looking for creatures of our kind. We are real women, trying to express our views without being shouted down for being “feminist.” If you really want to help gender equality and the progression of society’s view on sex, judge feminists on the quality of their individual content, not the merit of the banner of feminism. Maybe then we can start to get somewhere.

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31 thoughts on “Can Sex-Positive Feminism Exist?”

  1. My problem with the whole equality thing is. If women were equal to men, they would of always been and there’s no need for this debate.

    Women and Men are different, play different roles in the game of life. Both essential and for a women to be on par with a man. she needs to do what she’s designed for and not try to be a man.

    However when a woman dedicates her life like Karen Brady has, to the business world. She can achieve what a man can achieve. When a woman wants a dual role in the family and profession, she can’t be on a level with anyone who dedicates most of their life to their career. As Karen has done.

    The problem is society looks at what women are made for, as second class jobs and that’s the problem.

    My wife took less time off work to have a baby than Karen did and was my partner, co director in our company. She’s far above many men I’ve met.

    As for feminism, why do so many feminist want to look like men?

    1. Both men and women should be allowed to be what they want to be, dress how they want to dress (neither Matt Taylor nor “slut walkers” should be shamed for their dress), and do what they want to do. If a woman wants to look like a man, or vice versa, why is it anyone’s business?

      And I’m saying this as someone who also hates this modern Mary Whitehouse feminism/SJW nonsense.

      Doesn’t mean I stopped being irritated by people want to force people into certain roles just because of their gender.

    2. “Women and Men are different, play different roles in the game of life…”

      This is true, and obvious to all but the most ideological. HOWEVER, equality isn’t about sameness: it’s about having the same rights under law. Men and women can be (and in general, are) equal despite being different.

      For sure, it doesn’t help when different choices taken by men and women are falsely given as examples of “inequality”.

      1. Are there laws in the UK that make women second class? If so is there a reason for them?

        Today I saw a news article about women going into the front line in the army. Does this mean a woman will have to match the men she fights alongside in all areas of the training, or be given a lower standard.

        And is anyone asking the men she will fight alongside, risking their lives or coming out disabled, if they like the idea? My cousin, a Royal Marine Commando, says it’s a stupid idea. He was always in the front line.

        As you see some of the most ideological are some feminists.

    3. Paul, you are making the classic mistake of thinking the word “equality” means “same”. No one is arguing that men and women have to be the SAME – that’s not the point of feminism. Of course they are different, biologically, emotionally, hormonally etc.

      Feminism is about the VALUE of women; the choices, options, freedoms and rights that are afforded to them, or not, by the rest of society i.e. men. How we enshrine these rights for women in our culture, law and heritage. For example it was only during the 1980s that it even became a criminal offence for a man to rape his wife. What kind of value does a society place on wives, if it permits rape to happen within marriage, as though a husband has a right to sexual intercourse. Mercifully that is now illegal, but just look at current conviction rates for sexual offences and ask yourself, have we really progressed that much? What kind of message does it send out, that we live in a society where men can do pretty much what they want to women, and get away with it – what kind of value are we placing on female sexuality?

      As for women in business, I don’t understand your point. Karen Brady has got 2 kids. You say she has achieved as much as any man – I’d say she has achieved more.

      Finally when you say “for a women to be on par with a man. she needs to do what she’s designed for and not try to be a man” what exacty do you mean by that? I’d like to know what you think a woman is “designed for”….

      Seems you have a lot to learn about feminism my friend.

      1. While as a stripper, making a very good living because you’re a female stripper. You complain.

        Should a strip club employ similar numbers of men on the same pay as women?

  2. What sums up feminism best for me is in a film about Hugh Hefner. During the film it shows where he encounters a feminist in a TV debate who says, “We women are not bunnies, we are human beings”. I suppose feminists have a point that throughout history women have never been fully accepted as human beings and feminism is an attempt to address this issue. I do feel as a man that somewhere some feminists have forgotten that men are human as well. I actually do recall reading a book (Dirty Man Male) where a man’s experiences with porn make him conclude that it fulfils a need. I believe that all humans must be able to fulfil their needs, be they sexual or whatever. Giving credit, it was a pro-porn feminist who in my opinion gave the best point about censorship, “Censorship does not stop people having evil ideas, the only solution to bad speech is more speech”.

    1. “I suppose feminists have a point that throughout history women have never been fully accepted as human beings…”

      Only someone with a grossly oversimplified and incomplete knowledge of history could believe that.

      “I do feel as a man that somewhere some feminists have forgotten that men are human as well.”

      Rather, ‘radical feminism’ (which is neither radical, nor particularly feminist) has sought to dehumanise men, in furtherance of ersatz Marxist-Leninist gender warfare.

    2. “I suppose feminists have a point that throughout history women have never been fully accepted as human beings”

      She was regarded as a human being, a female one. And she was doing a job nature intended her for. Females of many species are designed to attract males sexually, including humans. Hence the men she was attracting.

      She was fulfilling her need to earn money and men’s needs to look at attractive females.

      In fact she was only doing the job because she was a ATTRACTIVE female. Is Feminism trying to deny her that right and privilege?

      Given their track record I would say yes.

  3. The porn industry employs more women than men and usually on a far higher wage. Except at the very top.

    Women exploiting men’s weakness of being attracted to beautiful attractive women. And being paid more in a day than they would earn in a week in most jobs available to them.

    Same goes for strippers, lap dancers and escorts. This industry can

    How many women are there in the top jobs of an industry they dominate? Top producers, CEOs, executives? Why is this, that after a 5-10 year career most break away to have a family and never come back. Why do they break away to have a family, instead of doing what a man would when he marries and his wife start having children?

    Which is put his head down and start working harder to provide more for the family?

    My wife Eva took a few weeks off work and got back to work helping me to run our business, she became a damn good photographer, ran the accounting side and now runs a team of male drivers. Who respect her. As I do.

  4. Many early feminists argued that bringing up children is a job, just like teaching children how to read and write, caring for a sick person or building a house. Instead of a parent raising a child, why not employ people to do it. After all, the wealthy and privileged have nannies and public schools to raise their children. In many pre-industrial societies, it’s the task of the elder children to care for the younger ones and in some places women actually do necessary tasks, like farming, with their babies strapped to their backs. I’ve actually heard Germaine Greer argue all this. I actually knew a sixties feminist who explained why feminists want to look like men. Men get taken seriously because they look tough, so feminists took the hint that to be taken seriously you got to look tough. Do women who strip and work in porn fulfil a need? Question worth asking.

    1. “Men get taken seriously because they look tough, so feminists took the hint that to be taken seriously you got to look tough.”

      Is that the REAL reason? And what about men who DON’T look tough, i.e. who don’t conform to a very narrow gender stereotype which was last taken seriously in the 1970s?

      “Instead of a parent raising a child, why not employ people to do it.”

      That’s what many couples HAVE to do, as present economic conditions dictate they BOTH have to work full-time in order to pay the bills. How is FORCING both partners into full-time work, rather than having one stay at home to look after the children (and bear in mind that society’s acceptance of stay-at-home dads lags far behind that of working mothers), or both partners working part-time and sharing the childcare, in any way progressive or feminist?

      “In many pre-industrial societies, it’s the task of the elder children to care for the younger ones…”

      But thankfully, school-aged children in our society have access to free, full-time education.

      “Do women who strip and work in porn fulfil a need?”

      They fulfil a want, like most economic activities in our society.

      Seriously Ged Hession, what point is it you’re trying to make? And why is your worldview stuck 40-50 years in the past?

      1. Anyone who thinks Steve Jobs and Bill gates were taken seriously because the looked tough, is kidding themselves. Add Ed Milliband, Dave Cameron, Tony Blair, do I need to go on?

        Feminist need to cling to these myths to validate their thinking.

        Are men tougher than women? Yes, they are physically tougher.

        Are they mentally tougher? They have had to be to fight the wars, needed to protect the community for 10,000s of years, Also better hunters.

        Women are better at having, raising and caring for children. However some Feminist want them to have equal rights in acting like men. Rather than concentrating on what nature designed them for.

        Societies problem is not valuing their place and role as essential, Even Feminist have that problem.

        1. “Are they mentally tougher? They have had to be to fight the wars, needed to protect the community for 10,000s of years, Also better hunters.

          Women are better at having, raising and caring for children. However some Feminist want them to have equal rights in acting like men. Rather than concentrating on what nature designed them for.”

          Paul, you appear to me to be taking a Biological Determinist stance on gender, which I’d take issue with. Care to comment on that?

          1. Survival has formed us all over the 1,000,000 years we walked the Earth. Darwin has pointed out, and it’s been confirmed, the Natural Selection process.

            So over the years the genders have become formed to do certain jobs. It’s only been recently that the attributes we needed to survive in the past, aren’t so important today.

            Whether it’s biological or not, I have no clue. Biologically are we the same?

            Then why don’t women compete with men in the Olympics? That has to be a Feminist dream. LOL

  5. I recall a sociologist once saying, “The world changes but that doesn’t mean the old problems don’t go away”. There are lots of old ideas, doesn’t mean they are bad or lack relevance to the issues of today. Whilst children have free, full time education ( though for some children it is inadequately resourced) the care and nurturing of children is still placed upon parents, particularly women. When I first became involved in politics, the women I knew regarded free, 24 hour nursery care for children as a basic right for women. Free, 24 hour care. It’s an idea I’m still prepared to defend.

    1. full time educations and and 24 hour nursery care, aren’t free. Unless your neighbour does it for free. So are you prepared to pay for what you demand?

      Or expect others to pay for it?

    2. Ged Hession:-

      “There are lots of old ideas, doesn’t mean they are bad or lack relevance to the issues of today.”

      No, but some of the notions you’re peddling relate to a model of a society which no longer exists economically. I note that you’re sidestepped my point about the economic need of BOTH parents to work, in very many cases…

      “[T]he care and nurturing of children is still placed upon parents, particularly women.”

      Given that men still don’t enjoy equal paid parental leave to women, and that many of them (being the main breadwinner) can’t afford to take the leave that they ARE entitled to legally, is it any surprise that the burden of childcare still fall mainly on women? And don’t even get me started on the cultural prejudices against stay-at-home dads (which again, I see you’ve chosen to ignore)…

      “When I first became involved in politics, the women I knew regarded free, 24 hour nursery care for children as a basic right for women.”

      How long ago was that? Or, to put it another way, why a basic right for women, and not for BOTH parents? Why the sexist assumption about who benefits from free childcare?

      Whilst I agree with the idea of affordable – ideally, free – childcare for working parents, let me share a couple of questions with you about the kind of arrangement you describe:

      ‘Free’ childcare is only free at the point of use – SOMEONE has to pay for it. Given that childbirth is a choice, and one which a growing number of people choose not to make, is it fair to impose the cost of childcare on the childless?

      Would it not be preferable for parents, rather than having to work full-time, to enjoy more leisure time to spend with their children as they grow up? Shouldn’t leisure or childcare, along with work, be viable options for average people?

      I suspect that you haven’t even begun to address the underlying reasons why the cost of living has risen so dramatically in real terms since the 1960s (when these kind of ideas were first mooted), which is why you come across as having one foot in the past!

  6. Giving women the right and access to free, all day child care gives them the freedom to work when needed, to create wealth and to engage as members of society. In fact, to fulfil many of the aims of feminism. If women are creating wealth, then some of that wealth can be used to provide the resources for the provision of child care. I am childless myself but I am happy to pay for our children to be educated since, as our politicians and business leaders, we all ultimately benefit from having a well educated population. I would extent the same argument to free, universal childcare.

    1. “If women are creating wealth” they can pay for the child care direct.

      And that’s where your argument falls down. Karen Brady and Eva, could afford it. A shop assistant can’t. Because she can’t generate enough wealth.

    2. The UK Government spends 44% of GDP and can’t raise enough tax revenues, so has to borrow. The top 20%, an income of £39,800, pay more in taxes than the other 80% combined.

      So who will they squeeze next to give more away for “free”.

      This is the problem with the concept of free. Little in life is free, it has to be paid for and earned. Those screaming for more “free” expect others to pay for their free stuff.

      As for education, yes education is wonderful. But at the end the better educated demand a reward for their efforts. Not to have it taken and given to those who didn’t put in the effort.

      Not sure what you do for a living Ged, but would you do it if your take home pay was worth little more than those who didn’t put in the extra effort?

    3. “Giving women the right and access to free, all day child care gives them the freedom to work when needed, to create wealth and to engage as members of society.”

      Are you saying that women aren’t engaged as full members of society if they aren’t part of the workforce, or only employed part-time? Does all paid work equate to ‘wealth creation’? And does only activity that is paid for by an employer make a valuable contribution to wider society?

      I note too your continued sexism with regard to the question of stay-at-home dads, and your refusal to address the structural changes in the British economy in the last 50 years.

      Are you here to have a proper discussion of the topic in hand, or merely to recite cliches which appear to support your static worldview?

      1. If you’re a man and your child has just been born and you feel the need to be with your child instead of working so be it. It’s none of my business. It’s all about people and their needs, be they men or women.

        1. So why is it my business if the woman decides to stay at home with the children? My business = Me paying for it and her havng the rights to come back to work after being out of work for a year.

          Or do women want more rights than men?

        2. “If you’re a man and your child has just been born and you feel the need to be with your child instead of working so be it. It’s none of my business.”

          No, indeed it isn’t – yet many people still try to MAKE it their business! But thank you for FINALLY acknowledging that stay-at-home dads actually exist.

          “It’s all about people and their needs, be they men or women.”

          Which brings me to the point that most people don’t work because they WANT to, but because they NEED to. And even people who love their work don’t necessarily wish to spend every waking hour doing it. The idea that work is an unqualified good is a distinctly Victorian concept.

          1. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the “utility/disutility” concept of work. As in the words of Pink Floyd, ” Get a good job with good pay and you’re okay” is something worth aspiring to. I do think there’s a lot of truth in the saying , “You are your job”.

          2. Ged Hession:

            “I’ve always been uncomfortable with the ‘utility/disutility’ concept of work.”

            “I do think there’s a lot of truth in the saying , ‘You are your job’.”

            Because you’ve never really questioned the Protestant work ethic, perhaps?

            And quoting Pink Floyd lyrics in the context of this discussion serves to demonstrate your level of political sophistication! 😛

      2. A shop assistants are providing a service to the public, which anyone can provide. So why reward them as much as a doctor, or businessman who do a far harder job.

        Sorry that your engineering degree wan’t good enough to get you an engineering job. At a time when they’re very needed.

        I have found that lazy people rarely rise high enough to employ people. You must have met different people to the rest of us.

  7. Actually , I have found that being well educated doesn’t necessarily mean you will get “rewarded”. I have an engineering degree but worked as a low paid lab technician for 20 years ’til my employer decided to give me the boot. Overeducation and underemployment are a feature of many modern economies. Even when I was at school I felt that they were drumming the idea “we educate people, then we employ them” into my head. The reality is a little different. Oh yes, some people won’t make the effort but then again I’ve found that in the 20 years I worked some of the laziest people I know have jobs. I find the situation with the shop assistant unacceptable. A shop assistants are providing a service to the public and should be well rewarded, including the provision of child care needs.

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