Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: Towards a Sex-Positive Utopia

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  • Megan Wegan, in reply to Jackie Clark,

    Who is Caitlin Moran? And why is she so disturbing?

    She's not disturbing. She's kind of awesome. (Funny, smart, talented, etc, etc.)

    She doesn't mind porn. She thinks the porn industry is problematic - as does anyone with a brain. However. She says things like this:

    Brazilians (the wax jobs, not the people) are a horror. She teaches her daughters to pity the girls on MTV, and that there are consequences to dressing like them when you're too young: "Even if you're not getting raped, but you have some bloke who's not listening to what you're saying, he's just looking at your legs – you don't necessarily realise, when you're still a little kid in your head, that that's what's happening. So, you know, you have the option to put your legs away and simply engage this person in conversation by smiling instead."

    Which, OK, let's ignore the shade of victim blaming there, cos that'd be a massive derail. But why are brazilians bad? who says so? Why is she the Queen of What's OK To Do With Your Pubic Hair? And what if, even as a teenager, you don't want to put your legs away? What if you like your legs. What if you think - with full knowledge of the industry and mechanisms it comes from, that looking like a Pussycat Doll is what you'd like to do, actually?

    You and I have had this conversation any number of times, so I don't need to say it, but feminism shouldn't be, can't be about telling other women what to do, whether that's in the bedroom, or on screen, or between them and their waxer.

    And to bring it back to the larger point, that kind of is the, um...point. The sex-pos utopia will only ever exist when we all get over the notion that what happens between two people (or three, or 15) is in some way our business. When we can say, well, that's not my particular bag, but you have fun. Katie Roiphe tells me I'm meant to be appalled by the latest BDSM novel sweeping the interwebs. I've read it. I was appalled. By the writing. (Seriously, it's awful.) But I'm not perplexed (as a feminist) by people enjoying submissive sex. I'm perplexed that anyone else cares what someone is reading on their kindle to get off.

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1273 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Megan Wegan,

    And what if, even as a teenager, you don’t want to put your legs away?

    It worth noting that the time you are a teenager is most likely the time your body is the most wonderful. Nothing much hurts, various bits hang where they ought to. So why can't we encourage teenagers to glory in their bodies instead of shaming them into hiding them because someone might look. The problem is not the teenager it is the person looking with evil intent.

    Note I'm aware that could look like a creepy post but it is simply meant honestly.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3420 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    The problem is not the teenager it is the person looking with evil intent.

    Word. I was going to make that point in the original point, but I had Said Enough. "but you have some bloke who’s not listening to what you’re saying, he’s just looking at your legs." Why the hell is that the girl's fault?

    And yes, encouraging teenagers to understand and celebrate their bodies - of whatever type - wouldn't that go a long way to making the world a better place?

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1273 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark, in reply to Megan Wegan,

    Thanks, Megan. I had genuinely never heard of her. You know that my thinking has changed because of you, don't you?

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3123 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Emma Hart,

    Even if people are unimpeded by inhibition or repression from whatever sex they like, they may still be not getting sex they like. Utopia could end up being not much different to how things are now. Some people are going to still be sexy to far more people than others are, or far more competent at getting sex, and there will surely be sexual jealously, and people making commitments which they are later unable to honor, cheating will still happen. I can't speak for more repressive societies, but within this one, people already can do pretty much whatever they want within the law. So it seems to me that sexual liberation (for everyone), whilst being something that is happening, should be happening, and will continue to happen, could easily still be a world full of unhappy people. Utopias are weird like that. Or should I say humans are weird like that.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8592 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    So why can’t we encourage teenagers to glory in their bodies instead of shaming them into hiding them because someone might look. The problem is not the teenager it is the person looking with evil intent.

    Quite, and I know this term raised all kinds of hackles but you know what… when we tell young people (and not just women) that their bodies are the problem not harassing pervs there’s a whole lot of slut-shaming up in the room.

    But I’d like to walk this out a step further. Yes, I’m entirely capable of figuratively walking and chewing gum at the same time. I can frankly appreciate a pretty piece of man-ass and know there’s a line between flirting and being creepy and still respecting the boundaries in the relationship I go home to at the end of the day. (Reader’s Digest version: Look with your eyes not with your hands. And always always take “no” and “dude, you’re creeping me out” as a definitive answer.)

    Katie Roiphe tells me I’m meant to be appalled by the latest BDSM novel sweeping the interwebs. I’ve read it. I was appalled. By the writing. (Seriously, it’s awful.) But I’m not perplexed (as a feminist) by people enjoying submissive sex. I’m perplexed that anyone else cares what someone is reading on their kindle to get off.

    Totally agree with you re: the literary merits of Fifty Shades of Grey. Sorry, prose that bad is an automatic boner killer. But not for the first time, I'm shocked (but not surprised) that people like Rophie are so, well... damn unsophisticated about the idea that our fantasy life is NOT directly congruent with our waking ones. And fuck you Freud, women's sexual fantasies aren't automatically symptomatic of pathology. Really. Promise.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12034 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    Saying that Caitlin Moran is Teh Terrible Feminist because some of the things she says are problematic is like saying that Naomi Wolf is Teh Wonderful Feminist because some of the things she wrote are good.

    I'm with Megan on this one: a lot of what Caitlin Moran says is great, but some of it makes me wince.

    Manawatu City • Since Nov 2006 • 1323 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah, in reply to BenWilson,

    Well, no one is obliged to provide sex, no matter how much another person may want it. So yes, even in a sexual utopia some people may be missing out because they're just not an appealing prospect. Notwithstanding my longstanding monogamous relationship, in which I only look and don't touch when it comes to people I am not married to (that would be the entire population of the world minus 1) there are some things which are a real turnoff for me, and I suspect for other people too. Like smelly clothes and greasy hair. And some things that are a real turn on (have I mentioned Eric Bana as Hector in a short leather skirt before?).

    Manawatu City • Since Nov 2006 • 1323 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Beard, in reply to Megan Wegan,

    But why are brazilians bad? who says so?

    There's a common argument that says something like "Pre-pubescent girls have no pubic hair, so removing it from an adult woman makes her look like a child. Ergo, the result is, at best, to treat women like children, and at worst, a form of paedophilia."

    So I guess that any woman who prefers men without beards (i.e. most women until the current hipster beard fetish) is really attracted to pre-pubescent boys, then? And so we're back to the boy bands.

    But more seriously, it can become problematic if it becomes the default setting, and young men whose only experience of women's bodies is through contemporary porn recoil in Ruskinesque horror at the sight of a fluffy quim. That sort of social pressure can then make women's choices less than truly informed.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1039 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Deborah,

    Well, no one is obliged to provide sex, no matter how much another person may want it.

    And a corollary of that Islander might agree with: If you're NOT interested in sex, that doesn't mean you're somehow broken or a frigid God-bothering prude or must have been sexually abused. Seriously. I've been through a couple of quite lengthy periods where fucking wasn't really on my to-do list. And that's OK.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12034 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Tom Beard,

    That sort of social pressure can then make women’s choices less than truly informed.

    Perhaps, but can I suggest a guideline for a sex-poz utopia? (And I mean this as a general comment with a side of owning my own penis-privilege, not a bitch-slam on you, Tom.)

    When women talk about their own bodies and sexuality, make the default assumption they know their own fucking minds and aren’t just gynoid sock-puppets of the patriarchal media-industrial complex.

    And that especially applies to things that are all the way out of your social or sexual comfort zone - which is not a universal constant, BTW.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12034 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to BenWilson,

    I can't speak for more repressive societies, but within this one, people already can do pretty much whatever they want within the law.

    But they don't, you get that, right Ben? The law is probably the least influential factor in people's sexual decisions.

    But I'm not the most shy, retiring and unassertive person you've ever met, right? And it took me four years of having sex before I was having good sex, because the sex I liked was basically hidden from me, socially. There is no aspect of my sexual identity that isn't considered socially unacceptable. Without that social judgement, and without the prudery that stopped me talking about my desires and other people talking to me about theirs, I may well actually have lived a completely different life.

    Yes. Always, some people will not get laid as much as they would like. I said that in the initial piece. But currently, as a society, we make people unhappy for no reason at all. No gain. Simply because we don't like the way they shag. I think stopping doing that is actually pretty fucking worthwhile.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4369 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    make the default assumption they know their own fucking minds

    This. So much. But not as much as "Fifty Shades of Grey is an embarrassing piece of shit and the sooner people stop talking about it the better."

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4369 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan, in reply to Tom Beard,

    But more seriously, it can become problematic if it becomes the default setting, and young men whose only experience of women’s bodies is through contemporary porn recoil in Ruskinesque horror at the sight of a fluffy quim.

    And that is her exact argument, and she's not wrong, that the thought of young men not understanding that wound women have hair is wildly problematic.

    But, two things. Firstly, that doesn't mean any individual woman has a personal responsibility to dismantle the patriarchy using her own pubic hair grooming regimen. And second, that makes Bart's point about teaching teenagers about their bodies all the more important.

    So it seems to me that sexual liberation (for everyone), whilst being something that is happening, should be happening, and will continue to happen, could easily still be a world full of unhappy people. Utopias are weird like that. Or should I say humans are weird like that.

    Well, yeah, OK, we don't know how this would look, that's part of it. But surely, sexual jealousy, and Not Getting Enough would be lessened in the kind of world Emma is describing. Jealousy isn't always a product of sex, it's a product of our relationship with sex. Take the shame and prurience out of the equation, and surely jealousy will be lessened. And yeah, you're still going to have problems of mis-matched sex drives, but again, not necessarily about sex.

    Thanks, Megan. I had genuinely never heard of her. You know that my thinking has changed because of you, don’t you?

    I do, and that makes me very proud.

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1273 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Max Rose,

    at its best it’s as good an example of non-verbal communication as you could get outside of the bedroom.

    But that’s kind of what I was reacting against. The idea that dancing is an analogy or substitute for sex. Sure, it can be sexy, but I danced with a lot of great dancers who I had absolutely zero sexual interest in.

    I think seeing all physical pleasure and delight as misdirected sexual energy is fundamentally flawed. Life’s full of awesome experiences.

    And no-one at Ceroc ever took it from there to sexing it up with strangers. No, never.

    What I meant was that a lot of people (mostly non-dancers) assumed the close physical interaction on the dancefloor was sex-without-taking-your-clothes-off.

    Actually, non-artists react in a similar way to life-drawing. They assume it’s pervy and prurient. They’ve got no idea what demanding work it is drawing from a nude model, how bored the model usually is, how un-sexy a time it is! It can be thrilling if it goes well, but there again, it’s not that sort of thrill. It’s utterly different to admiring someone you’re attracted to.

    I think seeing sexiness everywhere is actually a sign of a sexually-repressive culture rather than the reverse.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3468 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Lilith __,

    Sure, it can be sexy, but I danced with a lot of great dancers who I had absolutely zero sexual interest in.

    I'm more interested in the sheer craft of it all - because having heffalumped my way though a dance class or two as a child I know how much "one-two-three- shitshitshit - one-two-three-and-four aaargh! that's not supposed to click like that - don't stand on her toes and hit your mark, rinse and repeat" goes into a few minutes of seeming effortlessness. :)

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12034 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Megan Wegan,

    Why is she the Queen of What’s OK To Do With Your Pubic Hair?

    This was the gist of my argument. It tends to extend to not just telling women what they're allowed to do with their pubes, but guilt-tripping those who don't obey.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18970 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    I know how much “one-two-three- shitshitshit – one-two-three-and-four aaargh! that’s not supposed to click like that – don’t stand on her toes and hit your mark, rinse and repeat” goes into a few minutes of seeming effortlessness. :)

    You are wonderful, Craig. :-)

    And to take a slight tangent, when I tell people I do tai chi, they almost always say, "How wonderfully relaxing!", or, "How meditative!"

    Especially when I was first learning, I wanted to reply, "You must be bloody joking!!"

    The more you practice, the more relaxing and meditative it can be, but even my teacher with her decades of experience tells me, "The moment you stop concentrating, or something distracts you, is the moment you blank and lose your place."

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3468 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan, in reply to Russell Brown,

    It tends to extend to not just telling women what they’re allowed to do with their pubes, but guilt-tripping those who don’t obey.

    Yeah. And how is that different to telling women not to wear short skirts (which she does, anyway)?

    As far as I can tell, if you're willing to go through that kind of pain (because OH MY GOD), then more power to you.

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1273 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Megan Wegan,

    But, two things. Firstly, that doesn’t mean any individual woman has a personal responsibility to dismantle the patriarchy using her own pubic hair grooming regimen. And second, that makes Bart’s point about teaching teenagers about their bodies all the more important.

    Complicated situation: I had a conversation with a woman who does get Brazilians, because she likes it, it feels nice to her, especially during sex. She gets irritated by Caitlin Moran's edicts on the topic. But she's a mum -- and she doesn't want her daughter thinking that there's something wrong with the way she looks, or that waxing is the only choice.

    Come on down, Amanda Palmer:

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18970 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan, in reply to Russell Brown,

    But she's a mum -- and she doesn't want her daughter thinking that there's something wrong with the way she looks, or that waxing is the only choice.

    Which is where, and I am not a parent, but education and communication come in, right. And teaching that "what you want to do with your body, within reason, is fine". Having said that, I freaked out about showing my parents my tattoos, so what would I know?

    Also, this seems like a good time to link to this, in case anyone hasn't seen it, and thinks brazilians are the height of pubic politics.

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1273 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Lilith __,

    I think seeing all physical pleasure and delight as misdirected sexual energy is fundamentally flawed. Life’s full of awesome experiences.

    Can 'erotic' be about more than sex?

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16772 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Megan Wegan,

    The sex-pos utopia will only ever exist when we all get over the notion that what happens between two people (or three, or 15) is in some way our business. When we can say, well, that's not my particular bag, but you have fun.

    I agree with Emma that the current telling people what they can't do or be tends to have no sense to it at all. But this utopia is sounding a tad individualistic and libertarian. What would a 'socialist' one look like? How would 'each according to their needs' work?

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16772 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan, in reply to Sacha,

    What would a 'socialist' one look like? How would 'each according to their needs' work?

    Did you just call me libertarian? Dude.

    But, yeah, I dunno. I tend to think that there's as many kinks and desires as there are people. It's in the finding people that share them that the cooperation comes in.

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1273 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Sacha,

    Can 'erotic' be about more than sex?

    For me, it absolutely can. Which perhaps is being all 'libertarian', but actually I'm calling bullshit on that, because part of living together collectively is accepting that our individual experiences are different, and making space for that.

    But yeah, I find the idea we do have of sorting things into 'absolutely sexual' and absolutely not sexual' really strange, because it's simply not the way I experience life.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4369 posts Report Reply

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