In order to make this evenings worth of reading, thinking, and scribbling on a chalkboard worthwhile, I am going to make myself write something on the subject before I go home to pass out in my bed. In this forum, dropped threads, incomplete theorizing, grammatical mistakes, and any other intellectual or functional foibles are allowed in the name of getting “something” down. Here goes!
I am trying to unpack a qauntitative study in which the researchers test the following hypotheses:
women’s feminist identification —(+)—>egalitarian role expectations in committed relationships
women’s feminist identification —(+)—>sexual assertiveness (ie, safer
sex practices, initiation, etc.
They also tested for a spurious relationship between egalitarian role expectations and sexual assertiveness; although the two variables are associated, they postulate that feminist identification causes both.
They find that non-feminist women scored low on egalitarian role expectations as well as sexual assertiveness, which isn’t terribly surprising. They also found that feminist women tended to endorse egalitarian role expectations, yet they weren’t necessarily sexually assertive (scores were positive, but not significant). Although the researchers specuated on the harm that non-feminist women may be facing in thier intimate and sexual relationships, I found the results among feminist women more intriguing. Why aren’t feminist women taking their egalitarian role expectations (which are indicative of thier ideological committments) to the bedroom? Why the disconnect between theory and practice?
A student in the class dealt with this disconnect by criticizing the validity of the theoretical model. She claimed that the model assumes one takes on a feminist identity rather unproblematically once they’ve transcended a “revelation” stage; however, women tend to negotiate this identity continuously. Their progressive model tries to account for the complexity of women’s relationship to a feminist identity by accounting for variations in women’s ideological committment over time; previous studies also showed that women can display attributes of all levels of “feminist” identification at once, and the measures derived from this model account for this as well. However, the model cannot account for some of the other difficulties that might prevent a feminist woman from endorsing egalitarian relationships without explaining this in terms of her committment level; since a model simplifies “reality” by definition, other factors that may inform a women’s egalitarian expecations are excluded. So the apparent disconnect between theory and practice might have something to do with the inadeqacy of these measures; it is possible that a woman may consider herself to be a committed feminist, yet she may be having difficulties enacting that in daily life. Since it was developed in 1985, it may more adequately reflect the ways in which the “second wave” generation of feminists came into conciousness (in 10,000 Roses, they often described feminism as a revelation, and became variously committed to the cause, as this model suggests); yet during the third wave, what it means and looks like to be a “feminist” isn’t as straightforward or unproblematic as this model implies.
That critique (and the model) assumes that coming to conciousness and acting upon one’s convictions was more straightforward than it probably was even during that time. However, questioning the model itself was an interesting approach, and was kind of criticising myself for taking it at face value.
I do think that dropping the ball on the theory/practice disconnect was an oversight. While that was due to theoretical reasons, I still think that the model is credible enough to merit a discussion of that particular finding. In the discussion, the researchers were worried about the negative concequences non-feminist women might face, particularly if they are ending up in unhappy non-egalitarian relationships and/or are being sexually exploited. However, the lack of action among feminists (whatever their “degree” of committment) is a concern as well, and my ideas on why that might be will be the topic of the rest if this post. In my mind, feminists may not be sexually assertive because doing so poses thorny ethical, political, and personal problems for a feminist woman. They need to continuously interrogate thier own desires and engage with it in a world that does not automatically understand that they are operating from a feminst standpoint (ie, desire can be co-opted within relationships to the detriment of the parties involvd, and the feminist cause in general). Feminist women may be reluctant to engage in “sexually assertive” because they are still trying to sort through thier identities within a social world that does provide any clear scripts for “sexually liberated” women, and continues to regulate women’s sexuality.
1) Although some feminist values have become norms, there are still no viable scripts for women who want take ownership of thier sexuality without being exploited/exploitative (the “fuck like a man” script) or idealizing relational/loving sex (I’ll call this the “feminine feminist” script).
-I can explore this further using Kimmel -he explores that “fuck like a man” script
-There is the assumption in “that anti-porn movie” that “feminist” sex must be loving. What place is there in that world for women who don’t necessarily want to mother or love every person with whom they share a bed? Why do we need the idea of “love” to protect us from our desires?
-Both options re-inscribe gendered norms, and that just isn’t enough for me.
2) Feminist women may not be engaging in “assertive” sex because we still have to contend with the S-Bomb from the rest of the world if we are engaging in any non-normative sexual behavior; we may still be putting the brakes on what we do because we’re concerned about our reputations.
– sub-point about my own desires in the kinky community – I haven’t fully come to terms with that myself, so I don’t want to “out” myself in a place that I appreciate for the opportunities it affords to engage in non-hierarchical styles of relating
3) Spaces that allow for sexual adventurousness are not necessarily feminist, and may be unacceptably anti-feminist.
ie, kinky community again, however, it does provide an avenue in which to learn about and explore desires; discourse of “consent” is preferable to the “casual sex” subculture, even if does not necessarily establish norms that I personally find acceptable
4) Difficult to negotiate feminist principles and desires – ie, am I labouring under false conciousness, or is my involvement in the kinky community politically acceptable as long as I am acting in a self-aware fashion, c0ntinuously negotiating consent (and checking in with myself to see if I am engaging in certain behaviours because I feel like it’s expected, or because I find them pleasurable).
5) The nature of desire – does the “erotic” require a power imbalance, or at least a degree of mystery?
6) Any “solution” likely to be temporary; listening to one’s own moral compass and sense of discomfort is a compromise that can be considered feminist
Each of the points could be used for an eassay in an of themselves, but maybe the decent ones will jump out at me once I post this.