‘I believe in the radical possibilities of pleasure’

‘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.

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About Rachel

zinester/diy-til-i-die/love hate relationship with arts admin/girlpunkfeminist/geek
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34 Responses to ‘I believe in the radical possibilities of pleasure’

  1. Lisa says:

    I agree with everything you’ve said here! I saw that documentary featuring Object and I thought they were very overly prescriptive and ultimately sounded very closed minded. Sounded a bit like a club that you could only get into if you denounced porn or something. What happened to just realising that everyone who believes in the rights of women is a feminist, regardless of gender etc?

  2. Brilliant piece, sister!

    I utterly agree with your final conclusions that we have to keep doing positive things, making things and organising events we believe in. I think there is a point in arguing with the Puritanical Prohibitionists such as OBJECT, but not to the detriment of our own creativity and sanity!

    I feel very heartened by some of the brilliant stuff that’s happening ‘in the margins’ of feminism or not even in the margins of feminism, maybe even separately from it, depending on your perspective.

    I would like to put this in my new writing project http://www.gamespervertsplay.wordpress.com as the first theme is ‘objectified’ and I want something on OBJECT. Hope you might let me put it in the deadline is not till Sept 1st!

    XXQRG

    • Hey thanks for the feedback, was genuinely a little bit nervous about putting this out into the world. Feel free to reproduce at will.

      On reflection I do remember kicking off big time about the use of the name ‘bikini kill’ for a solely burlesque\’glamour’ night in Leeds recently. As far as I could see it was solely a titilation event, whose connection to riot grrrl was in name only. Its a complicated debate and I get why pro-porn feminist arguments can be taken out of context to fuel exploitative practice ‘hey they love it, they choose to do it, its empowering’ etc. So in that respect I’m not ‘pro-porn’, just not unthinkingly ‘anti-porn’. If that makes sense.

  3. V says:

    Although of course I agree with some aspects of this article, e.g. the still white and London-centric nature of the feminism that tends to get reported – (I don’t think anyone refutes this fact, and that it needs to change), I find this article perpetuates out-dated arguments which serve to further divide feminists. I do not find attacking feminists, such as those belonging to Object, helpful. I think generalising and stating that some feminists who find porn inherently sexist and degrading are automatically unable to enjoy sex or are not ‘sex-positive’, a demeaning and offensive argument. It’s a way of shutting feminists up who believe the porn industry is a largely harmful one. ‘Prescriptive, judgmental, puritanical ‘feminist police’ model’ – sounds familiar as a backlash used against feminist per se… I don’t think it’s very helpful, we need to come together.

  4. Hey – I did think * a lot* about the feminists attacking other feminists issue before i wrote this, but I felt it was important because I really don’t agree with Object’s agenda or methods and that’s not a perspective I see being articulated very often. or at all.

    Coming together is fine, but I will not tow the feminist party line for anyone. I demand the right to a questioning, critical feminism. I’m not going to shut up and say that I think Object are right because that is in the general good of feminism. Even if I thought that was true (and I really really don’t) I want to be able to think for myself and not be some cardboard cut out feminist-bot.

    ‘I think generalising and stating that some feminists who find porn inherently sexist and degrading are automatically unable to enjoy sex or are not ‘sex-positive’, a demeaning and offensive argument’

    I did not at any point say this.

    What I said is porn doesn’t automatically have to be exploitative or miserable, because it is the depiction of sex to arouse and excite. As such it can be whatever we want it to be. Oh I’m not denying that the majority of the porn industry is unpleasant and exploitative to women. BUT what about other women exploring the genre, taking the p*ss out of it, making it their own. shops such as babelnad http://www.babeland.com/ or an artist such as carolee schneemann, or a musician such as peaches, do we automatically discount what they do as exploitative because it references porn?

    show me one thing object have done which celebrates female sexuality or supports people working in this field. Fine criticise exploitation in the porn/sex work industry, but when you extend that to slam other women who are exploring and enjoying sex and porn, merely because *you* happen not to like it: you’ve lost me. And if that means I have to stop labelling myself as a feminist and start calling myself as a queer, so be it. To be honest it looks a hell of a lot more fun over there right now anyway.

  5. V says:

    i am queer myself…
    I’m not defending Object, I’m not part of the organisation. I never said don’t express your opinion or that you should shut up! I too have the right to express mine, to think for myself and be critical of your article, which i’m sure you’ll appreciate. the whole point is that just because it is not a view that you have, it doesn’t translate as ‘slamming other women’: it’s about having a dialogue. I think that recognising the damage done by the porn industry and extending the political analysis to beyond ‘individuals’, is definitely integral to truly celebrating female sexuality. I do not agree with the statement that:
    ‘porn doesn’t automatically have to be exploitative or miserable, because it is the depiction of sex to arouse and excite’
    I believe porn is inherently exploitative and is not the depiction of sex, but rather the depiction of violence more often than not…it does not exist in a vaccuum removed from the reality of rape, child porn, and sexism…that is a separate issue from being able to embrace sexuality and have a great sex life.
    You’ve proven the dismissive attitude often encountered when one steps out from any ‘feminist-bot’ quiet position and declares she finds porn damanging, by stating you have ‘a lot more fun’ than women who can see porn as a truly damaging industry… that’s quite a mindless statement to make. Women can have fun, queer, exciting, meaningful sex lives, AND be against what the porn industry stands for. That’s all I was stating.

  6. Jen says:

    It was my understanding that prostitution is already illegal?? The Object website states that it supports the de-criminalisation of prostitution and the criminalisation of those seeking to purchase sex…the opposite of what you state in your article.

  7. sorry when I said ‘you’ in the context of

    ‘Fine criticise exploitation in the porn/sex work industry, but when you extend that to slam other women who are exploring and enjoying sex and porn, merely because *you* happen not to like it: you’ve lost me.’

    I probably meant ‘Object’.

    Object’s reaction to Ladyfest’s Leeds and the other Ladyfest’s who even debated putting on an event incorporating what Object define as ‘porn culture’, was to go to the mainstream press with an offensive, inaccurate release belittling their whole project. As far as I’m concerned this was shameful behaviour.

    ‘stating you have ‘a lot more fun’ than women who can see porn as a truly damaging industry’

    I did not at any point say this. I said I might define myself as queer because that seems more fun. This is because, generally queers seem less judgemental of the multiplicities of desire and more inclusive. Maybe its better for me to avoid labels altogether, never liked em anyways.

    ‘I believe porn is inherently exploitative and is not the depiction of sex, but rather the depiction of violence more often than not…it does not exist in a vaccuum removed from the reality of rape, child porn, and sexism…that is a separate issue from being able to embrace sexuality and have a great sex life.’

    I disagree. I know women make their own porn, in private, for their lovers, or for strangers. I’ve been to women only events with burlesque and stripping, seen women who dress up, play with gender roles, for themselves and each other and I don’t perceive that as inherently exploitative. I refer back to the examples of the women I mentioned in my previous post.

  8. oh and RE the legal situation my understanding is: it is not illegal to pay for sex: it is illegal to pay to have sex with workers who are coerced/trafficked.

    I know this isn’t what the object website says. (no comment) anyone who can settle this either way? If I’m wrong am happy to ammend.

  9. It is illegal to pay for sex with coerced/trafficked workers that’s right!

    It is also illegal to ‘solicit’ as a prostitute, normally on the streets, but it is not illegal to work as a sex worker per se.

    I think this wikipedia article is up to date on the current laws regarding sex work.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostitution_in_the_United_Kingdom

    I think Object keep this information from the visitors to their site as they like to promote the idea that all sex work is illegal even though it is not.

  10. V says:

    I think you got to the crux when you wrote that you disagree.. we both do not agree with one another’s views on porn, and thats the point of having a diverse feminism – there are disagreements and varieties of views. What irritates me is the inability to differentiate from someone’s view that porn is inherently and structurally demeaning, from that person’s personal sex life…as if that person can not possibly be sexually liberated to express such views. And before you tell me that that wasn’t exactly what you said, well, sometimes you may insinuate such views… the whole ‘sex-positive’ remark- i mean what does that even mean?! I return to my initial point – I do not find it helpful to attack feminists for having different views to your own, and I found your article pretty belittling and misinformed.

    Individuals do not exist in a vaccuum, whether in stripping in so described ‘feminist space’, or if a woman is behind the camera, it is still within patriarchal, sexist notions of what, for example, constitutes ‘sexy’ e.g. infantalised no-hair, demeaning camera angles etc, that is nothing to do with being positive and liberated about sex and sexuality, that is my view, you disagree, that’s good that we have views of our own…
    I still think your energies might be better spent channelled into feminism (if you do any feminist actions?) than attacking women in Object. Full stop.

    • Ai ai ai. I think asking someone to prove their feminist credentials in a public forum (well in any forum) is wrong on so many levels, but we’ve already established we disagree on stuff and I like a challenge.

      When I was 15 I recovered from an eating disorder and I wrote a zine called toast and jam which collected the stories of survival and recovery of men and women. it went down really well, I think it helped a lot of people and I was so proud of it. To date its one of the most feminist things I’ve done. I went to uni and joined the womens soc there, I studied feminist theory and tried to incorporate it in my daily life. when I graduated in my first job I had I got my boss sacked for sexually harassing and bullying a female colleague. It was horrible and scary. I helped out at ladyfest and a bunch of other diy riot grrrl events. I self publish a feminist perzine. I curated an exhibition of female artists working outside the mainstream of the art establishment. I’ve marched and protested but that’s not what I see as my primary feminist actions. What I see as feminist actions in my life are conversations, debates with others where I try and encourage them as best I can.

      Is this enough for you? I’m sorry if I don’t measure up.

      I will be critical if I feel its just, but I’m not just a critical person. I try and be encouraging as I can to anyone trying to make things happen.

      The reason I’ve tried to be so explicit about what I did and didn’t say in my original post is because I felt you were reading between the lines and crediting me with views I do not hold.

      I agree ‘sex positive’ is a wank term and I’ll def think more carefully about using it in future.

      You know in the real world, we’ve met, you are friends with my friends. And I’m genuinely sorry if you’ve taken what I said as a personal attack. It wasn’t meant to be. I stand by my original post which is; I disagree with both objects methods and agenda. I disagree that they are currently being heralded as the face of UK feminism. I await the offer of my guardian article/bbc documentary with anticipation. I also believe a feminist pornography is problematic but possible: a variety of bodies, desires and pleasures. Made for love not money, outside of the porn industry.

      Thank you for taking the time to challenge and engage.

  11. AndyVGLNT says:

    Applying thoughtful criticism to established organisations within feminism IS a feminist action.

  12. Hi V
    I dont want to get into a big row, but I think that if you look around this blog you will see evidence of some of the great, creative feminist stuff the author of this post is involved in.

    The fact is, OBJECT are a charity-funded organisation who have influenced the law this year. They have much more power than individual feminists who may disagree with them. When individuals articulate their disagreement with OBJECT they often get a lot of hassle. I have had my comments blocked by various bloggers who sympathise with object,.

    Feminism is diverse, but certain versions of it hold a dominant position and it is difficult to challenge that dominant view without being attacked.

    And, as this post has said, when Object are asked to come and argue with other feminists e.g. on issues around sex work, they often refuse.

    Also, I have never had someone admit to being a member or an active campaigner for object. sometimes it seems like a secret organisation. But it is funded by charitable trusts. Go figure!

  13. AndyVGLNT says:

    I do agree with V’s criticism of sex-positive as a term though. It’s as much a piece of linguistic propaganda as pro-life and should be used carefully, if at all.

    • Agree with AndyVGLNT’s comment re: sex-positive as a term.

      • Ema Stafford says:

        I have to say I am enjoying reading the responses on here. Thanks for publishing this article. I feel sorry that the responses are getting personal!

        I also, have had problems with Objects methods. They have consistently been seen to seek to belittle and control other feminist groups that don’t sign up to their agenda. I am not even going to go into the aspects of their agenda I disagree with because honestly, I am not up to date and I haven’t done my research, I can only speak from past experience.

        When you have an organisation so big and one that holds so much influence in this country through the media as Object do, then I believe they must be challenged on these things.

        V, I think you are right when you say ‘we must work together’ but what about OBJECT? They have proven time and time again that they are not prepared to even enter into a dialogue that acknowledges the diversity of opinion within feminism. I find their methods offensive. They don’t work with grassroots organisations unless it is to further their cause and because they have a national agenda they often leave local, grassroots activists with a bitter taste in their mouths.

        And I too can vouch for R’s feminist credentials, not that ANYONE has to upload an activist CV before expressing an opinion. This is the beauty of feminism and the beauty of the internet!

        Em x

  14. I don’t really understand the logic behind the idea that driving prostitution further underground is going to help anyone. Isn’t the idea to make life safer and easier for sex workers? Legislating against it won’t make it go away and we’re barking up the wrong tree there, I think.

    If prostitution can be legalised, unionised and properly run, surely that is the best way to improve the working conditions, profits and safety of the average sex worker?

    Perhaps I’m looking at it simplistically but we’re idiots if we believe we can just click our fingers and make prostitution go away, even if we do dislike the idea of sex as a transaction.

  15. Jessica says:

    “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”- Eleanor Roosevelt

    Sod the people who feel it is their right to belittle and question your actions/thoughts/feelings.

    SMLO.

    x

  16. Pingback: I believe in the radical possibilities of pleasure « Quiet Riot Girl

  17. Mikey B says:

    Excellent piece. Nothing worse than closed-mind activism.

    “…….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.”

    Amen.

  18. Shell says:

    How true.

    Of course only men like sex, and it’s therefore pretty awful that women are forced to have it, watch it, be a part of it or god forbid actually enjoy it. I’m going to sew up my vulva in shame. I hope they stick their stickers over those poor exploited gay porn stars too.

    Anyway….

    Good to read an article supporting more practical, egalitarian feminism 🙂

  19. redpesto says:

    Good article (I picked up on it via Quiet Riot Girl). It looks like the ‘mainstream’ feminist movement is about to make the same mistakes over sexuality and sexual behaviour that it did in the 1980s during the ‘porn wars’ and ‘lesbian sex wars’ – and then activists wonder why ‘feminism’ got such a bad rep over sex (see this wiki link). Looking at the list of speakers for the UK Feminista conference one can’t help but think ’round up the usual suspects’ – I suspect it’ll be hard for pro-sex worker or sex-positive feminists to get a hearing in that space, even if they do pick up some useful campaigning tips.

    • Hey, thank you! The more I read about the 80’s porn wars, the more I speak to feminists who lived it, the more worried I get. When I said I’d studied feminist theory: I did so as an english student, so I took power from foucault, gender as performativity from butler, from feinburg trans-activism, from irigaray a new understanding of female desire. Partnered with riot grrrl I figured I’d finally found a movement which spoke to me. Later I went back and plugged the gaps by studying suffragettes, kinda missed something along the way *blushes*. But I wouldn’t want anyone to feel they couldn’t speak about these issues without a degree in gender studies. And if anyone has book recommendations, they’d be appreciated.

      I don’t see these differences being reconciled any time soon, and maybe that’s fine (as long as differing opinions don’t get edited out). But I think if protesting against porn becomes the main rallying point for feminism we’re probably going to hit trouble. There are things that unite feminists, but not this. Apparently.

  20. To be honest, redpesto I think most ‘sex positive’ feminists wont even go to that conference. But maybe young women who aren’t sure of their position, or any women who havent thought about sex and the sex industry in feminist terms much who do go, I think, will get a raw deal in terms of the perspectives presented. I have considered turning up with leaflets to hand out outside offering other sources of info. But I don’t think I can be arsed!

  21. Pingback: Rebel Grrrls « Quiet Riot Girl

  22. Dna Holloway says:

    I first found you on twitter chatting to @quietriot_girl, one of the most inspiring people I’ve met in a long while, and now I’ve come over here after reading her blog post.

    I’m a writer, and do a lot of work on subjectivity and identity, and all the points you make are so important. I think feminism has been going through this argument for longer than other movements because its origins predate theirs, but there are some very similar splits emerging in, say, queer theory, with the realisation that actually, once the dust settles (such is the sociology of all revolutions), some parts of a group that had seemed to be united under a single banner have institutionalised privileges and prejudices vis a vis other parts almost if not equally as radical as those they had originally united against (feminism first recognised this in regard to race; queer theorists are starting to adopt a revisionist approach to domestic violence).

    I think your really rather excellent points could maybe be summed in the observation that Object have committed a category error. Instead of opposing “women” to “sex objects” (a statement many critics of slash fiction might want to say is, to put it mildly, less than the full story), surely the phrase to oppose it is “sex subjects”

  23. Hi Dan!
    That’s a very humbling comment from my p.o.v. I have been just as inspired by meeting you and finding out about your amazing projects.

    I suddenly feel a bit dense though and am struggling with my definitions of ‘subject/object’.
    Are you saying that OBJECT don’t actually oppose women being objectified, in our culture but they really oppose women’s sexual subjectivity?

  24. also you have to hand it to them, OBJECT is such a genius name, especially when we start actually unpicking what the fuck it is they object to!

  25. Pingback: A week in links #2 « Earwicga

  26. really amused to see earwicga link to this post.

    when I express very similar ideas to these she calls them ‘shit’ and my politics ‘vile’. when someone else does, she says it is ‘refreshingly nuanced and clever’. Haha

  27. Pingback: Pleasure is still radical | Red Light Politics

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