Sex will tear us apart again

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
October 27, 2010 /

Click here to view original /

It’s not like I believe there were ever any halcyon days of feminism. It’s not as though I have daydreams about a time when philosophically homogenous feminists plaited each others hair, burnt each others bras and lived in perfect political harmony.

But there was a time when there were at least a couple of things we could all agree upon.

Once upon a time, no matter whether you positioned yourself as a slightly Steinem or fully Friedan-style feminist, the right to control our bodies was a no-brainer: it was what we were all fighting for. Everything else might have been up for debate, but our bodies were our own.

Oh how the tide has turned.

Footballers in recent years have had the (dis)honour of thrusting into the spotlight a host of women’s issues, none more obvious than consent. Forced sex, coerced sex, manipulated sex, sex when she’s too drunk or too infatuated to consent is wrong. Unequivocally. While feminists may agree on this, much less consensus exists around agreed-to sex that deviates from the when-Daddy-really-loves-Mummy variety.

Lovemaking is up there on a list of phrases that turn my stomach, there along with words like panties, pussy and some others that the ABC probably wouldn’t want me to share. Sure, lovemaking reminds me of queasy easy-listening music and a protracted period of courting, proper shoes and good underwear, but most of all, I hate it because it makes consensual sex serious. Serious, heavy, too-political-to-enjoy and so revoltingly vanilla.

The lovely bloke I currently let into my bed uses the word ‘playful’ a lot. I’m always charmed by trivial things and he won me over with that severely underused word. Feminists, myself included, can often lose sight of the fact that sex – sex with all the props and positions and performances associated – is supposed to be fun. That play is every bit as important as feeling okay about it all in the morning.

Calvin Klein’s recent by-the-book marketing stunt raised for discussion a number of sex issues. Consent, sure, but given that we can’t ask those handsomely-paid professional models whether they felt exploited, let’s just stick to what’s in the photo. A few men, a woman, some undone zips and some missing undies.

My approach to sex is very Lennon-esque: provided there’s informed consent, whatever gets you through the night, it’s alright, it’s alright. And being a sometimes sex researcher, any guy sharing my bed will inevitably be cajoled into telling me about what gets him off. Sure, I’d prefer to hear something theatrical involving hard-to-procure props and complicated sets and a killer soundtrack, but inevitably men confess to the three-in-the-bed fantasy: because his manly intervention is the only way to stop those pesky pillow-fighting wenches. And for some reason we readily accept the threesome as a stock standard male fantasy.

Dare do a switcheroo however, dare swap the genders and suddenly the scene is gang rape. Out the window goes any possibility of fantasy, out the window goes playfulness, goes fun, goes imagination. Suddenly it’s all about history, statistics, inequality and the thorough impossibility of consent. Brace yourselves, folks, but women fantasise too. And sometimes, alarmingly enough, those fantasies don’t even involve scented candles or rose petals.

A handful of feminists seem to spend an awful lot of time on Larry Emdur’s couch talking about “female sexuality”. There they sit and stridently lament Lady Gaga’s hem length, Miley Cyrus’s disinclination to stay pint-sized, and generally feed the sky-is-falling paranoias of their please-think-of-the-children audience.

I could use this article to decry over-zealous parents and the disturbing child-rearing-by-the-state call, but that’s another article. Today let me lament the curiously conservative female sexuality some feminists are trying to peddle.

A recent Unleashed article condemned Sexpo; apparently it spelt the death of sex. Let’s leave aside all of my many criticisms and let me just ask one teeny tiny question: the death of what kind of sex?

Much criticism of the Calvin Klein billboard was that the woman didn’t appear to be enjoying herself. Now, how exactly does one properly demonstrate sexual enjoyment? Because the very same feminists who criticised Lara Stone’s expression in the billboard are the very same feminists who criticise the histrionic performances of women in porn.

Just what exactly is the sanctioned feminist demonstration of pleasure?

I am so tired of conservative approaches to sex being packaged as feminism. I am tired of knees-together politics being branded as equality. I am tired of the inference of my false consciousness and I am so so so thoroughly exhausted of hearing all this crap from women who claim to be fighting for my rights.

I’m all for the airing of opinions, in all their diversity, in all their varying quality. And I’m even more for trumpeting the notion that for every feminist bemoaning children’s lingerie and devil music, that there are others – i.e. me – who go to work each day in a padded push-up bra, who owns a few toys that buzz in the night, who thinks her long hair would be wasted if it wasn’t occasionally pulled by a lover and who is no less passionate about equality.

Even if we catfight about everything else, surely equality – equality that includes women’s sexual rights – has to be a precondition of using the feminist label.

© Lauren Rosewarne