Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Fun Feminism for Today's Womyn

At one time I was a staunch feminist – angry at the “patriarchy,” offended by men and their sexual natures, and victimized by any uninvited sexual attention I received from them. Anger can be a powerful feeling for awhile, but it always ends up turning bad. I felt terrible all the time.

Especially in my romantic relationships.

I’ve known many women who were the same. Women who scorn certain female celebrities because their husbands are fascinated by them. Women who break up with their boyfriends for surfing porn on the internet. Women who insist on accompanying their partners everywhere so they can keep an eye on them.

I used to cry and yell if I saw my man even subtly appraise another woman. I would be filled with insecurity, anger, and jealousy. Once I found a big stack of “girlie” magazines under one boyfriend’s bed and threw them all away when he wasn’t looking. I loathed the women who displayed themselves to men.

Then I became a woman who displayed myself to men. Hard up for funds, young, a small-town girl trying to make it on her own in the big city. It was easy to rationalize. I already hated men and loved to dance. I’d skinny-dipped in my hometown, so stripping was the natural next step.

I reasoned that I could make money off men’s perverted sexual natures. But my feminist education told me I was the one being exploited in such an exchange. I felt conflicted by my feminist beliefs – ashamed for “perpetuating women’s oppression” by going over to the other side of “bad” women and men. But exploited? Not at all.

I began to develop some feminist theories of my own, based on my experience. When I proposed to expose them in a university setting, my instructor gave me some great news. These theories had already been around for awhile, just hardly anyone knew about them.

And there began my transformation. I read literature by Norma Jean Almodovar, Veronica Monet, and Scarlot Harlot. My world opened up and my shame dropped away - shed as easily as my clothes were the first time I stripped.

I found words and experiences I could identify with. I learned there were feminists out there whose theories about sex did not lay blame, condemn, and criticize. I realized the reason my feminist education hadn’t jived with my sex industry experience was because it was written by women who’d never found empowerment through sex work – women who’d never even been sex industry workers.

Women like Nina Hartley, on the other hand, reinforced my own perceptions about how men love all women’s bodies, not just the ones shown in popular culture. Exotic dancers are flesh and blood which means zits and cellulite. They have bloated days and bad hair days. They come in all different shapes and sizes, and yet they are admired equally by their audiences. Barbie has nothing on this narrow-hipped, freckle-faced, short girl with small breasts.

Suddenly, I had permission to enjoy my job. I didn’t have to compete with other women anymore. And men. Suddenly, I could love men again. It was a moving and freeing experience.

I began to feel more confident, more empowered. I hadn’t realized what a burden it was trying to control the men in my life. Letting go of my anger allowed me to let go of my anguish as well.

Now I take for granted that I am a woman and therefore men admire me. Instead of feeling victimized by men’s attentions or jealous of their attentions towards other women, I feel joy and understanding. Men aren’t evil, perverted beings. They are strong, coarse, sexual beings. Their capacity to see beauty in women’s bodies is a natural gift, not a perversion. Men are pretty damn great just the way they are, actually.

Camille Paglia helped me to discover that I am not an object in mens’ eyes. I am a warm, soft, feminine body – not a collection of dead parts. They might look at any pretty face to be sure (so will I), but it is the woman showing through that draws them. It is the person within that will ultimately bring a man to his knees.

Armed with this knowledge, I realize how my formerly insecure behavior and disgust for the opposite sex was actually making me less attractive. It was souring my relationships. And it was making me unhappy.

Likewise, learning to accept and value men just the way they are and embrace other women regardless of how beautiful they are, has made me more attractive. My friendships are stronger, my relationships deeper, and my sense of self truer.

This complete turnaround in perception changed my life. Still a staunch feminist, I seek equality through harmony rather than conflict with men and other women. I feel like this is what it means to be a woman – offering nurturing and unconditional love.

“Girlie” magazines are now a part of my library, having found I enjoy them more than the ones targeted towards women. I’ve also found that pornographic movies are a great way to get your man in the mood even when he’s hopelessly tired from work. Not surprisingly, my new attitude has improved my sex life too.

This realization has also impacted the lives of women who know me. Women who have embraced my philosophies have thanked me for freeing them from themselves. They’ve learned to embrace their natural sensuality as women and value man’s natural response to it.

Feminism like this unites women rather than polarizes them on one side or the other. “Bad girls,” like strippers and prostitutes, can be part of the debate and share their valuable lessons with all women. “Good girls” can look on other women with camaraderie rather than competition.

Now’s a great time to be a feminist. You don’t have to burn your bra or stop shaving your armpits. And when you walk past a construction site and get a few whistles – you’re allowed to enjoy it. I know I am. With stripping a thing of the past and Mom-duty the focus of my days, I’ll take what attention I can get and make no apology for it.


Inanna said...

I'd like to know how you think that women who are not working in the sex trade can experience the liberation you're experiencing through your work. It would really appreciate hearing your suggestions.

Annie Temple said...

Hi Inanna! I've been working all weekend (not as an exotic dancer anymore but a support worker in a transition house for women) so I apologize for not answering your comments until now.

To experience the liberation I have experienced, I would suggest going to strip clubs and seeing the beauty and skill that is involved in striptease. Watch with an open, appreciative mind. Buy pornographic magazines and allow yourself to be aroused by the images. Pick one that you would like - I prefer Penthouse over Swank and some of the other more hardcore stuff. Penthouse has artistic pictorials usually and great stories. Not every image will do it for you, but some might.

Although I am not gay, I get aroused looking at women's bodies. Women are so beautiful naked! What I like about strip clubs over magazines though is that you see REAL women of all shapes and sizes, with cellulite, zits, you know - the normal little things about being human that mainstream pop culture makes all our little girls feel are flaws. I developed a much broader appreciation of beauty after seeing so many naked bodies and the men's responses to them.

The guys who prefer the media "ideal" are few and far between - usually the more shallow, or younger guys who have been brainwashed just like all our little girls have been.

I'm not sure if you're heterosexual or not, but if you have a man and he has any desire to look at porn once in awhile - let him! And don't let it make you feel bad. In fact, check it out with him! My guy seems to like women who look the opposite of me in his porn. But instead of feeling inadequate, I feel like I am the woman he wants in reality - those are the women he fantasizes about.

How can I be jealous of him fantasizing about other women when I fantasize about other men! That's another thing - indulge your sexuality. Recognize your own desires and engage in fantasy. I do it all the time. Although I would NEVER cheat on my man and he's honestly the only man whose penis I want anywhere near me, I still fantasize about sex with other men. I have a thing for garbage truck men. Those young, muscular guys who are swinging the bags into the back of the truck. They are almost always HOT!

I also think that recognizing that our sexual natures are natural - men's and women's. Forgiving men for what many of us consider perverted or degrading to women. They don't intend to hurt us because they are sexual beings. (unless we're talking about actual violence here, of course) Porn does not equal rape. And enjoying looking at beautiful, naked women/men is (in my opinion) not objectifying them. It is appreciating them for the physical reaction they cause in you when you see them.

Men are so victimized around sex. We expect them to be strong but sensitive too. We expect them to be good lovers but not be sexual beings. They are highly criminalized. Our school systems are not designed to suit their learning. Boys and men have it rough too! When you can stop blaming men and learn to love yourself (including your sexuality) at the same time - you are liberated. I've seen it many times with girlfriends and it happened to me.

I hope my long-winded post helped a little. I don't mean at all to assume that you don't have a good sex life or are not in touch with your sexuality. I'm offering suggestions based on knowing nothing about you. xoxo

Inanna said...

Thanks very much for your post... I liked it a lot. Your last paragraph made my laugh out loud (in a good way) because it was so nice and considerate.

I agree with pretty much all you have said and have already put many of your suggestions into practice and plan to try more of them in the future! :)

I think it is important to recognize however, that many of the options you have suggested for women to liberate themselves sexually involve women exploring and fitting themselves into what is predominantly an expression of male sexuality, and comes out of a patriarchal context which tends to objectify women and has a inveterate history of doing so.

I think we can't just look at what men have put out there and developed as an expression of what is sexual and what is beautiful and what is arousing. I also believe we really need to explore our own fatasies, feelings, and realities (which also include our feelings about how we feel when men [and even ourselves] consume sexual products created primarily for their pleasure). I also think we need to make pornography and other sex work somehow more inclusive and equal and open to diverse expressions of sexuality and perhaps more diverse body types.

The images of women that come out of the media, TV and magazines, and also including pornograph and other images of women in sex work, have a very negative affect on many women. The recent emphasis on skinnier models in the media actually correlates with higher rates of anorexia in North America. More people (mostly women) die from eating disorders than any other psychological disorder that exists. So I'm certainly not saying this is the fault of the sex trade, or sex trade workers, but it is a function of a society that places such an emphasis on female sexual attractiveness, of which sex work/pornography is simply an extension. Also, since the rise in availability of pornographic images, there has been a rise in the number of women removing their pubic hair (not necessarily a good or bad thing, just a note on how these fantasy-based images of women impact our private lives, and what we are willing to do to ourselves in the privacy of our own bathrooms and local beauty salons.) Furthermore, there has recently been a drastic increase in labiaplasty since porn has been flooding the internet. (Labiaplasty is surgically altering the vagina to make it more attractive, the "designer vagina" trend) Basically this involves removing tissue on the inner labia to make the vulva look more neat, tight and attractive. To be fair, some women do this because they claim that longer inner labia cause them discomfort and pain, but many women do this just for appearances. Any of us with labia know that this is a very sensitive spot of the body and is pleasureable to touch, so basically surgery in this area removes sensitive nerve endings which affects our sexual response. Like most surgeries that alter sensitive areas of the body to make it more attractive and enjoyable to men, the touching of that area actually becomes less enjoyable for the woman because of reduction in sensitivity or removal of nerves that contribute to sexual sensations! I feel very sad that women are willing to do this to their vaginas and beautiful sexually sensitive body parts (although I agree that it is their choice and they are free to do so). But most of all, how would women even know what a "beatiful" vagina looks like or how a "designer vagina" should look if it wasn't for the sexual images of women that are now more available than ever. Women are willing to let a surgeon cut apart their bodies to get a look that is perpetuated by a porn industry which some people claim to be liberating. I think there are some things that are liberating about exploring our sexuality through porn, but it is not globally and unquestionably healthy, liberating and edifying for all men and women.

(Sorry this is turning into an essay but I have a couple more points!! haha)

Also, I think that sexual material (other than a real flesh and blood partner) is more available to men than ever before. As soon as we have a new technology, companies are trying to figure out how it can be used to pump through pornongraphic images (e.g., porn being available on cell phones). I just recently thought of an anology between porn and perscription drugs. We wouldn't put a prescription drug out on the market and make it available to the masses without extensive clinical trials. You would not recommend it unless you fully knew the effects of it on people. Pornography is a powerful substance in its own right, affecting our physical, psychological, neurochemical, and emotional experiences. Pornography and the technology which allows it to be brought into our televisions, computers, living rooms, offices, homes, and bedrooms, is all VERY new in the grand scheme of things, and I don't think we really know enough about it to know whether its a good thing or a bad thing. There is no way to know whether this is a productive move, in terms of intimate relationships and individual realities, and there is no one out there who seems to be taking that question seriously, certainly no one who would take it as seriously as the clinical trials needed to make other powerful substances available for our public consumption. Rather than taking a critical or scientific or sociological/psychological view of what this proliferation of pornography and sexual services is doing to the psyche and well-being of both men and women, we are more often encouraged to accept it and be open to it by our partners (who want to get off on this material) and by others. While these materials is obviously available to men (and also women who tend not to consume these materials to the same degree or with quite the same motivations), very few people are willing to engage in a constructive, realistic, well-informed dialog about what is really going on here and what the real impacts are. (Thankfully, you ARE well-informed and are willing to engage in a constructive dialog, so thanks for providing this forum to express myself. Judging by the length of this comment, I'm thinking I might have to get my own blog and stop filling up yours though! ;) )

If women are feeling insecure and hurt by their partner's actions with regard to their consumption of sexually explicit material (live dancers or pornography), is it really that the woman has a problem and needs to be more open to it? Or could it be that the man needs to be more accepting of the situation the woman is in and treat it with slightly more compassion and respect than I have seen most men do in the past? To date, I have only found one man who has truly appreciated my opinions on these matters and treated women with the respect they deserve. Many others make excuses for themselves and find justifications to go to strip clubs with their buddies, even when their girlfriends are at home feeling uncomfortable, yet also doing their own part in justifying it and making excuses to themselves on their partner's behalf.

I think women need to do a lot of work to be comfortable with themselves, their sexuality, and male sexuality, in a world that is predominantly controlled by men and their sexual urges/fantasies. I'm not saying women should feel bad about their partner's using sexually explicit materials, there are many ways to become comfortable with and accepting of this, but I also think that it is more than understandable that they DO feel uncomfortable or hurt, and that needs to be taken more seriously by the men who claim to love them and perhaps also needs to be taken more seriously by our society, including researchers and mental health professionals.

Overall, I think you've made many points about being more open to sex work and our own sexuality that I agree with, have put into practice, and plan to continue expanding on. However, I don't think we can completely sanitize the sex trade/pornography and say it is totally okay and should be whole-heartedly embraced. I think the sex trade is very much tied in with an overall world view (extending far beyond sex work) that has certain expectations of how women should look and act as human beings and as sexual creatures. I think we all have the task of figuring out how to deal with the reality of the sex trade (some people grapple with this more deeply than others) and need to figure out what it means to us as women. Whether we are sex workers or not, these practices DO enter into our lives in the most intimate ways: into our insecurities, our fantasies, our bedrooms, our hearts, and our parters' orgasms.

Ultimately, you and I are both working towards the same cause, equal rights and respect for women, regardless of their background, life circumstances, or choice of employment. I so appreciate your comments and willingness to answer my questions. Your comments are honest and thought-provoking and I just wanted to add a few other comments to the discussion that I hope will be perceived in the same way. If you feel like I'm attacking or argumentative, please know that is not my intent in anyway and please let me know. I've gotten in too many heated, unproductive dialogs on these topics and the last thing I would want is for this to be one of them!

Thanks for being the exact kind of resource that a person who is at this stage in my intellectual/sexual journey is looking for!

(Oh, and PS: You mentioned that men are so victimized around sex. I do not disagree. But so are women. I'm assuming that you would agree that both men and women live in a system where the predominant ideologies around sex are victimizing for both sexes?)

Annie Temple said...

Yay! I've finally found a moment to respond to your post. I am not offended in the least by anything you've said. In fact I agree with almost every single thing you said. Yes, both men and women are victimized around sex and for all the reasons you mentioned. I am all for women exploring their own sexuality outside of the parameters set by men in the porn industry especially! I like to watch porn, but it's so hard to find porn that doesn't look like the woman is putting on a very bad act! I don't want to watch a woman pretending to enjoy sex! lol

In my opinion, the proliferation of porn on the internet and elsewhere is not a great thing. I had no idea about the labiaplasty statistics in relation to easier access to porn. I've known both women who got the surgery for the look and for issues with pain during intercourse. I look at it the same as breasts, tummy tucks, nose jobs etc. If it makes the person that insecure, and they want to get surgery. Go for it. But it is sad that we can't all just love our bodies the way they are. However, as someone who is quite confident and self-assured, I still dream about the tummy tuck - so I can relate to this human desire to alter our bodies.

The internet porn thing bothers me because it reduces customer's reliance on strip clubs which is detrimental to the industry. Now guys can have live, interactive experiences on the internet in the privacy of their own homes and avoid the shame our society places on them when they come to strip clubs. All this does is lead to reduced incomes for exotic dancers though. And webcam work is not as profitable as many might think. It also doesn't involve the stage performance that many of us dancers LOVE about our jobs. So, in my opinion, internet porn is bad. I am also concerned about my daughter stumbling upon horrible images like women being fucked by donkeys and shit like that that makes me ill.

While I do realize some of my suggestions involve fitting ourselves as women into the male forms of sexual consumption, it is not to ignore what women really want - which is certainly different from men by a long shot. It is more to liberate women from feeling victimized around men's sexual tendencies. My intention is to stop judging and blaming men for everything they do, and start appreciating them for what they do. Not including cheating, lying assholes, of course.

Even though I believe women should accept men the way they are. I am not suggesting that we accept anything that harms us. For instance, where one woman may not want her man going to a strip club because she is jealous that he is looking at other women, I don't want my man going regularly to strip clubs to get drunk and act like an ass. (I've just seen these types of guys so many times and the thought my man acting that way disturbs me.) But if my man hung out at a strip club like it was his neighbourhood pub, and he was respectful and in control of himself - then I would never be upset about him going to strip clubs. So what it comes down to is that the strip club is not what I'm concerned about - nor should other women be. It is the behavior of their partner in the strip club that is a concern. And certainly if a woman's partner is behaving in a way that hurts her - she needs to ask him to stop and if he doesn't, well then she needs to move on. Respect herself if he won't, and refuse to tolerate such behavior.

Okay, I'm rambling and jumping around like a lunatic. But I will finish with another agreement. The sex trade/pornography cannot be completely sanitized and women are completely entitled to feelings negative or otherwise about how they or their partners interact with it. I'm just offering some liberation from that kind of pain. It can enhance a relationship and lead to something beautiful.

Thanks so much for engaging in this discussion with me!