Pleasures Of Loving

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Feminism


Feminism is a difficult area of human politics and social culture to explore because it raises high emotions in everybody -- whether they know what they're talking about or not.

And yet we probably don't even know what a modern definition of feminism actually is, and we get all upset about it, judging feminism, as men, on the basis of our preconceptions and misunderstandings. I think the reason for this is that we see it as a challenge to male authority, and this in itself is very sad, because it implies that men are very insecure in their own power.

However there are questions here that needs to be examined more carefully. So looking back at the 1970s, it was possible to see that feminism began to challenge the idea that was so widespread in our culture - the notion that just by virtue of being men, one gender was somehow superior in both cultural terms and sexual terms.

I mean, it's obvious that men are not superior to women -- and if you think they are, then you need to examine that assumption very closely -- so why then is that assumption so widespread? And the answer of course lies in the nature of the patriarchal society that we grow up in, where women are encouraged to believe that there is an inferior type of human beings, and they mostly happen to have breasts and a vagina.

So obviously the feminist challenge to male authority -- or least the male interpretation of feminism as a challenge to male authority -- certainly revealed disagreements within the feminist community, particularly around discussions of sexuality.

Some women believed that women could claim sexual pleasure within a patriarchal society, while other women believed that embracing radical sexuality constituted some kind of violence against women and it was in itself a submission to patriarchal ideology.

It's not surprising this conflict emerged when you think about it; inevitably it came to a head, as it did in 1982.

A clash emerged in a conference held at Barnard College, between women who embraced pleasure of sex, and women who wanted to focus instead on the dangers that they saw as being inherent in sexual exploration within a patriarchal society.

Now I wouldn't have thought that these two things were mutually exclusive, but one feminist movement seemed to believe that while there was the acknowledgement of some kind of pleasure being possible in sexual acts, the inherent dangers of rape, domestic violence, and sexual assault certainly outweighed any pleasure that could possibly be obtained from sexual activity with a man.

Other women embraced pleasures and acknowledge the dangers, but were actually focusing on the positive aspects of sexual interaction with men.

I suspect great deal of this distinction emerges from the concept of shadow, and some women, whose experience led them to incorporate negative beliefs about men and sexuality into their unconscious would probably take the view that any kind of sex within a patriarchal society was unacceptable or too dangerous.

Now oddly enough although this debate may seem sterile almost 35 years on, it was certainly useful at the time, because it enhanced understanding of the ways in which feminist discussions of sexuality related to both personal and political issues in society at large. Both personal and political issues in the mutually reinforcing of course, which is inevitable -- although it doesn't simplify the presentation of the issues to a wider public.

  • These heated debates about the role of sexuality within feminism are fundamental to the orientation of the female psyche within a patriarchal society, and fundamentally centre on a number of questions:
  • How can women express and obtain sexual pleasure within a patriarchy
  • And how different women, particularly with regard to class and social status and ethnic origin, relate to pleasure
  • So how do feminist speakers and writers analyse pornography, the male and female sexual tendencies,
  • Can traditional sexuality be questioned?

And so on....

It's possible to get swallowed up in an adversarial dialogue in conversation about feminism from different points of view while avoiding the fundamental issue - the proposal that patriarchal society inevitably denigrates women and diminishes their power.

So divide within the feminist community looks like a case of fiddling while Rome burns, because it avoids the issue of feminism in the wider society while focusing on the understanding that patriarchal control -- as expressed through sexual domination, or merely domination in the cultural discourse.

That in itself could of course be a simple reflection of the deeper issue. So how then is consciousness to be raised in an environment where feminism seems to be on the back foot from the get-go?

Groups which stood out in the 80s such as Women Against Pornography and another group called Women Against Violence Against Women were active in picketing conferences and framing a radical perspective on human sexuality which essentially amounted to confronting the story that society practiced patriarchal control of women's bodies.

There was another feminist version of feminine sexuality in which the portrayal of feminine sexuality in practices such as S and M and Porn could be quite acceptable and even a reclamation of feminine power.

It's interesting also how in this period feminism was finding its feet, and evolving towards a form which would be suitable for the 80s -- a radical and transitional period in all human societies in the Western world.

Unfortunately, feminism was bogged down in further debates and split by discussions of sexuality, which seemed to represent the difference between lesbian and heterosexual viewpoints. But the truth of the matter is, of course, that to make progress towards changes in any useful wider sense in society, any feminist movement must take advantage of all the experiences of all women, no matter how difficult it is to reconcile different viewpoints.