manifesto

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“I Know You’re Smarter Than Me” 2: Backlash, Feminist Ideology, and Flexibility

This was originally posted over at Feministe! and Clarisse Thorn: Pro-Sex Outreach, Open-Minded Feminism.

It’s dangerous to start posts with anecdotes, but I’m gonna try it again. This one is from when I was a little baby proto-feminist, and I got my period. My mama, who was born in the USA in 1945, regaled me with stories about old myths around menstruation: she talked about how when she went to college, for example, her home economics teacher very seriously reassured the students that “Now, it’s just not true that if you bake a cake while menstruating, the cake will fall,” and “Now, it’s just not true that if you milk a cow while menstruating, the milk will sour.” Imagine, if you will, living in a world where that kind of myth-busting had to be offered at the university level.

Mom then told me all about how PMS used to be viewed by doctors when she was young; how many male doctors used to simply refuse to accept the existence of PMS; how patronizing doctors would be when she was growing up, about her body and her experience. Mom suggested that I someday take a look at the gynecological sections of 1950s-1960s medical textbooks, just so I could see how medieval they were. She talked about how it used to be accepted among doctors — who were almost all male, natch — that a woman who felt cramps while menstruating was making it up. That a woman who felt unusually emotional or even in physical pain while menstruating was just being all hysterical, moody and useless — you know the way women are! She explained that as more women became doctors and feminism gained traction and science advanced with a broader perspective, PMS became recognized as a real thing. Cramps were no longer “typical female hysteria”.

I thought about this recently when I saw the 2009 film “Jennifer’s Body”, which was written by avowed feminist Diablo Cody (who wrote “Juno” too), and which I ended up liking a lot more than I usually like horror flicks. Here’s the menstruation-relevant exchange:

Needy [the main character]: Are you PMSing or something?

Jennifer: PMS isn’t real Needy, it was invented by the boy-run media to make us seem like we’re crazy.

Interesting, right? Especially in context of my mother’s analysis. But I can totally see where it’s coming from. PMS may not have been invented by the media (and maybe other women of my mother’s generation would like to comment if they’ve got a take on this subject) — but regardless, PMS has sure as hell been co-opted by the media, and by sexism at large. I have definitely seen plenty of dumb assholes in my generation dismiss feminist arguments, or really any emotional thing ever said by a woman, by snickering: “Oh, she’s just PMSing.” And I would be astonished if the Feministe commentariat hadn’t experienced an overwhelming amount of those same shutdowns. That is the kind of treatment that Diablo Cody is trying to push back against with those “boy-run media” lines — and justifiably so!

Clarisse Thorn's picture

“I Know You’re Smarter Than Me”: Clarisse Thorn’s Feminist Ideology

This was originally posted at Feministe  and Clarisse Thorn: Pro-Sex Outreach, Open-Minded Feminism.

I haven’t been on a lot of capital-D Dates. My relationships tend to develop through friendships and mutual interests, mostly because I am a huge nerd. My first on-purpose Date took place when I was seventeen; it was with a local boy who I barely knew — most of our contact was through brief chats on AOL Instant Messenger. (Am I showing my age?) He’d heard a lot about me, I guess, and for some reason he was impressed by my reputation for being smart and weird. He took me to a pool hall and gave me adorable lessons on how to hold the cue, how to break, etc. I don’t remember much of what we talked about … except for one exchange that is burned into my brain forevermore.

Prostitution had entered the conversation, and he said something about how it’s immoral.

“Immoral?” I asked. “What makes you say that?” I had not yet researched sex work or evolved the complex opinions that I have about it today, but I still knew there was something extremely weird about dismissing prostitution as “immoral”. I’d felt fairly bored by the conversation thus far, and was genuinely curious about how this would go; I remember smiling and thinking, hey, this could be interesting.

He was across the table from me, leaning over his pool cue, lining up a shot. He glanced up — looking surprised, like it was totally weird that I was challenging such a fundamental thing as prostitution being immoral (gasp!) — and he gave me a heart-melting smile. “Oh,” he said casually, “I know you’re smarter than me, so let’s not get into it.”

I blinked. I shut up. I think I might even have smiled, out of confusion if nothing else. We chatted about whatever he brought up next. He took me home and dropped me off without a kiss; there was no chemistry (at least not on my end, I certainly can’t speak for him). No second date. But “I know you’re smarter than me, so let’s not get into it” … that line, and the friendly way he said it, stuck in my head. It was an amazingly complimentary, amazingly condescending, amazingly effective way of shutting me down.

Clarisse Thorn's picture

The Alt Sex Anti-Abuse Dream Team

Originally posted at Clarisse Thorn: Pro-Sex Outreach, Open-Minded Feminism

This was originally posted on September 28, 2010 over at Feministe, where it picked up a fair number of comments. I’m posting it here today partly because I’ve been reflecting on my identity as a feminist and partly because there is an upcoming Chicago workshop on abuse in the BDSM community, to be held at a local dungeon and facilitated by Sarah Sloane. The workshop will take place on February 12, 2011; feel free to email me for more information, or keep track of my Time Out Chicago “Love Bites” blog, where I will post a wide-release public description once it’s available.

* * *

BDSMers face a lot of stigma around our sexuality, and this can be a major problem when BDSMers are trying to deal with abusive situations. I’ve written before about generally negative conceptions of BDSM — they can briefly be summarized as:

* S&M is wicked,
* abnormal,
* a sign of mental or emotional instability,
* inherently abusive,
* or even antifeminist.

Given this climate, it’s not surprising that two things almost always happen when BDSM and abuse come up:

1) People of all genders who are abused are often unwilling to report. People of all genders who are abused within BDSM relationships tend to be particularly unwilling to report. Victim-blaming is already rampant in mainstream society — just imagine what happens to, for example, a woman who has admitted that she enjoys being consensually slapped across the face, if she attempts to report being raped. And that’s assuming the abuse survivor is willing to report in the first place; ze may prefer not to negotiate the minefield of anti-SM stereotypes ze will be up against, ze may be afraid of being outed, etc.

2) Members of the BDSM community sometimes push back against real or perceived anti-SM stigma by talking about how abuse is rare within the BDSM community. This BDSM blog post and comments claim that not only is abuse within the community rare, but abusive BDSM relationships seem more likely to happen outside the community. In fact, if you look then you can find posts from submissive women who found that getting into the BDSM community, being exposed to its ideals and concepts, helped them escape or understand their past abusive relationships.

I tend to think that #2 is a really good point — particularly the bit about how abusive BDSM relationships are more likely to happen outside the community, due in part to lack of resources and support for survivors. For this reason, I tend to stress the role of the community in positive BDSM experiences, and I encourage newcomers to seek out their local community. But lots of people don’t have access to a local community at all, especially if they’re not in a big city. Plus, lots of people have trouble enjoying their local community for whatever reason, perhaps because they have nothing in common with local S&Mers aside from sexuality, or because they don’t have time to integrate into a whole new subculture.

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