Seduction Without Sex: a dilemma for the modern feminist

Although I am somewhat ashamed to admit, especially in this circle, there is a vulgar, misogynist joke that I rather enjoy.  The set-up is familiar to all of us: How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb? Like all good jokes, the punch line is immediate and affecting: Two…one to screw it in and the other to suck my dick.  Every time I hear the joke, I am surprised to find myself laughing because I truly resent its implications.  However, I do appreciate the irony that the joke embodies.  The whole of feminism can be undermined by one, simple, boorish, common, crude demand from a man.  Perhaps we as women have not come so far, perhaps we have gone too far, or perhaps we can only go so far and we must accept there is a point where all we stand for can be destabilized.  Still, we’d better keep standing for all that we stand for lest we relinquish into a world where these simple, boorish, common, and crude demands are not jokes but reality.

My struggle over this joke is emblematic of my greater struggles with feminism.  Often, I am torn between applauding women and hating women.  I support sexual freedom and pornography, but I think the Pussycat Dolls are appalling.  Why this inconsistency?  Why am I more comfortable with outright sex than I am with the hint of sex?  I see an honesty and an equality in pornography and yet I feel that somehow I am being deceived, as I have no experience of the porn industry, and I have been susceptible to socialisation patterns of the patriarchy in other instances.  I think I can support explicit sex over the alluded-to sex due to the mere fact that pornography is taboo; accessibility lends a high degree of frivolity for me.  And I recognise that I do not want men readily able to continue to keep stereotypes of women pegged into evil, ignorant, or frivolous.  Vouching for the idea that sex is something to be considered serious does not mean that I am prudish or oppressive.  I say this as a complete stranger to the porn world: I think it would be impossible to engage in public, industrialised, videotaped sex acts for a living (to differentiate it from instances of forced coercion into illicit porn) without having a fairly serious approach to sex; after all, it is the act itself and not one’s ability to suggest it, that supplies a living.  I know from non-professional experience that dancing, dressing, and behaving provocatively, teasingly, that sort of I’ll-flirt-with-you-but-we-are-not-having-sex-mating-dance, is easy, empowering, and highly frivolous.  When I gauge my relations vis-à-vis men or society in general, I find no meaning in that flirting beyond a sordid satisfaction in my success at deceiving another person and effectively tricking them into a sort of self-induced oppression.  Yet, I acknowledge that to some women, such actions are meaningful, not frivolous.  I am also not suggesting that dressing sexily or acting with sexual abandon are bad things in and of themselves.  I dearly hope for the day when women are not either sluts or virgins.  Hence my dilemma.  Where I see an advance of feminism in pornography (and a clear desire for more), I see a lack of consideration for women’s rights.  Put another way: I see Jenna Jameson as being honest about her sexuality and her choices, but I see a mixed-messenger like Britney Spears as fuelling the confusion of men and possibly distorting their actions into violent oppression on a global scale.  Sexual norms cannot always be translated culturally, but the fact that porn is taboo everywhere (and illegal in some places) means that fantasy and reality are less likely to be blurred than when inundated with images of fickleness. 

The act (sometimes even art) of seduction has a long and varied history.  Many times it is even done without the promise of sex.  From mythology to belly dancers to geishas to harems to pin-up girls to go-go dancers and beyond, the tantalising image of women behaving seductively has been a powerful force in both shackling and liberating women.  The main difference now is that is done for the same find of fame as conventional celebrities, and it is the desire of women, not men, who celebrate it.  The commercialisation of seduction has indeed provided support for women to behave as they wish to.  I do have to confront the possibility that I am a victim of patriarchy and that perhaps I am uncomfortable with women having the power to discover their own seduction and exploit it for their own gain.  In most other areas, I readily applaud that direction. 

It is important to know that I am talking about porn vs. suggested porn on a commercial scale.  The individual choices of women are individual choices.  I may make judgments about individual choices, but I open myself up to people judging my individual choices.  As any feminist knows, it is tricky to condemn one of your own, so I invoke the umbrella of immunity through the reiteration that I am talking about my personal struggle through analysis of commercial endeavours.  Quite the disclaimer, but there is something to be said about understanding how individual choices are impacted on macro scales, and vice versa.

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