‘Just cause my world sweet sister, is so fucking god damn full of rape – does that mean my body must always be a slave of pain?’
Bikini Kill, I like fucking.
You know what, I really think contemporary feminism has better things to do than criticise other women’s conceptions of feminism. Bigger things to fight than each other.
However: when I read in the Guardian article on feminism the line that ‘Object, who many feminists I speak to mention as the most inspiring campaign around’ http://bit.ly/90nAWU I nearly spat out my tea. ‘For God’s sake, can you people not speak to some other feminists??’. Add this article to the recent BBC documentary on ‘contemporary feminist activism’ which was a hilariously selective, white, middle class, london centric, Object love in and I can’t help but feel this is the beginning of a backlash against the plurality of feminist voices and a deliberate attempt to ignore the problematic (in this context) activity of third wave feminist activists: be they sex positive, queer, gender queer, DIY, trans-activist, anti-capitalist, working class, race agitators, punk rock bitches or whatever. This is why object don’t inspire me and why I have again begun to feel very alienated from mainstream feminism.
Who are Object? Object are a feminist lobbying group who work under the headline ‘women not sex objects’ They are ‘dedicated to challenging the sexual objectification of women in the media and popular culture.’ http://www.object.org.uk/ They are fiercely uncompromisingly anti-porn and they also run a sister campaign ‘Demand change’ whose slogan is ‘Prostitution is exploitation. Stop the demand’ who lobby to criminalise prostitution. Object are gaining power and are being championed as the voice of young feminism in the UK. I find this problematic.
The first time I met Object was in the context of Ladyfest Leeds in 2007. Ladyfests are grassroots community run, not for profit feminist festivals run by volunteers. They feature music, workshops and performance and work to provide alternative feminist spaces and cultures. Object sent out an inaccurate and frankly offensive press release with the title ‘Ladyfests or pornfests?’ (http://www.womeninlondon.org.uk/notices/object0704.htm) based on a rumour (untrue) that Ladyfest Leeds and Leciester would be having a pole dancing workshop (http://blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendId=100278716&blogId=254470076) Object also went on to boycott the debate Ladyfest Leeds had organised on porn and censorship which essentially closed down conversation http://ladyfestleeds.nothovel.net/?q=node/795. Let’s just say Object and me didn’t get off on the best foot.
Now I don’t want to learn how to pole dance, because it is not my thing, and as such I probably wouldn’t attend any such workshop. The difference between me and Object is that if other women find exploring their sexuality and bodies in this way, then they have the choice to do so. If they can experiment in a safe feminist environment, if they can use what they learn to turn on their partner (s) and themselves: good for them, if this is what does it for them who am I to judge? Being a feminist does not give me the right to push my morality or sexuality onto other women. It does not give me the right to judge what other women find enjoyable or empowering. If they are not hurting other people they can get off on whatever the hell they like. This prescriptive, judgmental, puritanical ‘feminist police’ model which object ascribe to, is essentially my major issue with them. As is the simplistic ‘ALL PORN IS BAD FOR ALL WOMEN, mmm’kay?’ Well, there’s a lot about the porn industry which is ugly, exploitative and damaging. This is undeniable. But: what about women consuming and enjoying porn?, what about women making porn?, what about how porn effects men?, what about men who work in porn? what about women’s agency and their ability to critically respond to images presented to them in the mainstream press? Their ability to build alternatives based on their desire? What about that huh??? Huh???
I also sincerely do not believe that making prostitution illegal is going to make the working conditions of women in the sex industry better, in fact probably the opposite. Do we really want to return to Victorian England here people, where we push the sex industry out of sight and make the conditions for the women involved worse than ever? Look me in the eye and tell me which are the women who are most at danger from being hurt by their work in the sex industry, are they the women who work in visible, legislated establishments or are they the ones who work in hidden backstreets, offering sex for £20, out of sight, out of mind. And I may hate that sex is a transaction, and I may find the acts clients request distasteful, but I’d rather have it in my face and offending me: clean, safe and regulated. Criminalising prostitution won’t make it stop.
So what now? Us underground queer feminist agitators must work to demand and maintain a plurality of feminist voices, be that by writing, campaigning, arguing yr position publicly. Keep making things you love happen, keep offering alternative visions of feminism to those who are alienated by Object. Support sex workers, sex educators and fight for an open cross-gender dialogue on sex, sexuality, desire and respect.
Because this is what I believe:
Sex doesn’t have to be miserable. Sex doesn’t have to be exploitative, and porn, the depiction of sex to arouse and excite doesn’t *have* to be these things either.
‘I believe in the radical possibilities of pleasure babe. I do. I do. I do.’
If that fails, we move, on mass, to San Francisco.