Breaking down the backlash No.2: Somebody’s not getting enough cock…

OK so no one actually said that on the Nolan show, and if anybody tried to let me know it through the Telegraph comments they didn’t make it past the moderator. But it has been said to my face and no, it’s not pleasant and I suppose that’s why I put it in the title. I hope you’ll forgive the shock tactics but it never ceases to be a shock to me when somebody assumes the right to comment on my sex life purely because I don’t fit their narrow definition of how women should express their sexuality. There has to be some room for anger when your privacy is violated in such an arrogant self-righteous way, and it’s right up there with rape jokes as the thing most likely to get me into a pub brawl. However, I did promise respectful, intelligent discussion of the issues so here goes…

A word that did come up in the Nolan analysis was “repressed” along with a suggestion that anyone who objects to women’s bodies being used in this way must be anti-sex. It is the more generic version of the “cock” argument, without the offensive and dangerous homophobia, and is an accusation that has plagued feminism for decades. Images of heavy-booted, braless man-haters dominated the media packaging of feminism throughout the 1960s and 70s and precluded some of the central messages of sexual liberation and fulfillment that  the second-wave movement offered.

Today’s young feminist leaders have made it a priority to smash these myths and reframe the debate on what is really wrong with the representation of female sexuality in society. Little girls demanding Playboy bedroom sets, the mainstreaming of pole dancing as a fun and healthy activity, the sexualisation of teenaged pop starlets and general pornification of our MTV culture… all have been the subject of feminist critique in recent years and the main criticisms have very little to do with repression. When I hear accusations of prudishness from young men and women who don’t want to engage with these feminist critiques I always wonder what they’re actually afraid of. As it stands, the balance of sexual power in our society is working very well for some, despite it oppressing and endangering others. Upsetting such a well established system has repercussions for those men and women’s sense of sexual identity, their sources of esteem, their freedom to get what they want, or their ability to provide this. It’s little wonder the messages of all those from Friedan to Valenti have been distorted since any attempt to illuminate the fact that women are getting a shit deal in all of this, will not go down well. I’d have thought sticking a pair of boobs on a billboard and calling them headlamps would have been seen as the illusion beginning to slip a little but apparently this was not enough to put many people off.

As we think about how to raise a feminist voice in Northern Ireland, I’m very conscious of the cultural and religious context within which we live. When I first heard of Object’s Feminist Friday protests highlighting the normalisation of porn in lads mags I imagined recreating it in WHS on Donegal Place and my first thought was, ‘people will think we’re Free Presbyterians’. In interviews for my recent dissertation, one of my respondents recalled her activism challenging the opening of a lap dancing venue on Botanic Avenue and noted the “unholy alliance” with the religious right that was uncomfortable but necessary to achieve their goals. While both perspectives may have a concern for the dignity and esteem of the women who sustain the sex entertainment industry, where they may part ways would be in their ability to meet the needs of these women with sensitivity to their experiences and respect for their choices. I expect to spend many more blog posts delving further into this issue as we begin to formulate ideas for action, test things, learn from our mistakes. For now I’m content to say, the place of sex within feminist ideology and politics is contested. There is no feminist position on porn or sex work or monogamy or orgasms or marriage. There are feminist conversations on all of these things and I’m eager to hear your input.

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2 Responses to “Breaking down the backlash No.2: Somebody’s not getting enough cock…”


  1. 1 Deeply Flawed But Trying... November 7, 2009 at 8:16 am

    I am a feminist. I get quite enough ‘cock’. I dont like that I take my 3 year old daughter to the newsagents, and 4 feet away from Balamory Magazine and the other magazines designed to bring her eye to newstands- she sees the cover of the Daily Sport-with soft porn on the front. And it is soft porn-women shot to look like male porn fanasties-waiting to be fucked. I want my daughter to see the naked body- she sees the people around her naked- this is not the same as her being exposed to pornographic images which objectify and degrade women, before she is even old enough to know there is a difference.
    Its not on the topshelf anymore- these images are part and parcel of the lower end of tabloids, magazines(NUTS) and even her brothers Mixmag magazine.

  2. 2 Deeply Flawed But Trying... November 7, 2009 at 11:46 am

    http://www.deeplyflawedbuttrying.wordpress.com

    Blog post inspired partly by this one!


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