| up a level
from the mighty-aphrodite dept.
I call myself a neo-feminist rather than a post-feminist. The term post-feminist implies that feminism may indeed be dead, as was the Cultural Myth for a while there -- and is still under debate -- whereas the term neo-feminist illustrates that the movement is vital, alive, evolving. The term post-feminist gives the impression, however subtle, that there is nothing of feminism to save. To the contrary; there is not just one legacy of feminism to own, but many. Even the "Radical Feminism" of the '70s has left us with growth to salvage. Yes, with many attitudes to discard as well. . . but let's not call it a waste of time.
It took me a while to get involved in the industry. Sex work has always had a certain appeal for me, but there is also an intense taboo around making a profit off of one's body, and more specifically, one's sex. Transitioning into the industry was a slow and painful process. Only recently have I gotten my feet well enough under me to defend my work with conviction, without regret, with pride.
I must admit that I still wonder from time to time if the work I am doing contributes in any way to harm towards women. I don't worry much about objectification as an issue; I think that we all have a right to objectify and be objectified as long as it is not the only relationship one has with the other gender, as long as it is enjoyed by both parties. I have had opportunities to enjoy seeing my own body as a beautiful object, to look at myself through the lust in the eyes of my clients and lovers, to see myself as Goddess in the smoky mirror of the strip club. I have also done my share of objectifying others; who can count the times that s/he has said "Ohmigawd! Look at that ass/hair/face!"?
In my estimation, objectification becomes a real issue only when it is internalized to an unhealthy extent, and usually by those working in the industry. When a woman cannot see beyond her own surface, problems are bound to arise. I think this may also contribute to the phenomena of women's internalization of expectations regarding what I refer to as "the idealized female form." And this is more than an industry issue; the internalization of these often unreal expectations is the neurosis of the '90s, for both men and women. Women, though, seem to suffer the effects (anorexia, bulimia, etc.) more often than men.
However, I have come to believe that the work that I (and many others) do in the sex industry is helping to abrogate the problem of unrealistic portrayals of sexuality, of bodies, and of sex itself. I am 5'3", and usually around 130 pounds. Before I had my first daughter, I had an athletic build, and A-cup breasts. Now I am pregnant again, round, full of body, and still modeling on a regular basis. I am 5'3" and weigh 164 pounds, last I checked. I am not, nor have I ever been, what you would call a "standard" pretty girl. I am beautiful, sexy, commanding, outrageous, strong. And I get paid to pose for photos with my legs spread, making love to my husband, making love to myself.
It has never been easy to be a trail-blazer. There is a lot of self doubt, and I have been lucky enough to find excellent people to work with, people who believe in the work that we do in the adult entertainment arena with an almost religious fervor.
Our Roots: The Marginalized Feminist Legacy
Victoria Claflin Woodhull
One of the least remembered yet most astounding feminists of all time, Victoria Claflin Woodhull was the first woman to run for the Presidency of the United States of America. In the election of 1872, nearly 50 years before women even had the vote and generations ahead of her time, Ms. Woodhull ran a Presidential campaign with a male Vice-Presidential running mate.
In 1870 she announced her campaign. This excerpt is from a notice placed in the Herald:
While others of my sex devoted themselves to a crusade against the laws that shackle the women of the country, I asserted my individual independence. . . While others sought to show that there was no valid reason why a woman should be treated. . . as a being inferior to man, I boldly entered the arena of politics and business and exercised the rights I already possessed. I therefore claim the right to speak for the unenfranchised women of the country and. . . I now announce myself as a candidate for the Presidency.With her sister Tennessee Claflin, Victoria ran an investment firm on Wall Street, and together they published a newspaper that caused much ruckus. Ms. Woodhull was a strong pro-sex feminist, and was vilified in the media of the day, even to the extent of being titled "Mrs. Satan" in a political cartoon. This was in 1872. Victoria Claflin Woodhull was a suffragist, a firm believer in equality of the sexes, and a champion of "free love."
Of all the radical ideas then current, free love was the most controversial. It represented the ultimate expression of female liberation and profoundly threatened a male-dominated society.Victoria, after a somewhat brief yet intensely tumultuous rise to the forefront of the women's movement, was shunned and abandoned by her community. She ended her days a "proper matron" in England.
On the heels of Victoria, Emma Goldman gained notoriety. "Red Emma" as she was called (regardless of the fact that she was not a member of the communist party) is one of the most famous anarchists in American History. Like Ms. Woodhull, Ms. Goldman was also devoted to free love, and to the right of women to control their own fertility and destiny.
At the tender age of 18 Emma was already the survivor of a miserably failed marriage. Already disillusioned, she claimed her freedom from that time forth.
. . . I had seen enough of the horrors of married life in my own home. Father's harsh treatment of mother, the constant wrangles and and bitter scenes that ended in mother's fainting spells. . . Together with my own marital experiences they had convinced me that binding people for life was wrong. . .The year was 1887. Though Emma did marry again, she also divorced again. She stayed true to her vow of freedom, loved honestly, passionately, and often. On occasion, she took more than one lover concurrently.
Emma did not claim feminism as her battle; she was viciously devoted to equal rights for all. In her autobiography she wrote:
. . . I was invited (to speak) by the Women's City Club. Five hundred members of my sex, from the deepest red to the dullest grey, came to hear me speak on "Feminism." They could not excuse my critical attitude towards the bombastic and impossible claims of the suffragists as to the wonderful things they would do when they got political power. They branded me as an enemy of women's freedom, and club-members stood up and denounced me.Emma was an anarchist and a humanist. Aside from her ceaseless crusading for freedom for all, she worked as a nurse and Midwife to the poor in New York. She was arrested for a great many things in her life. Among her offenses was providing birth control supplies and advice to poverty stricken women, and lecturing openly on the same issues while the Comstock Law was in effect. Ms. Goldman was deported to Russia in 1919 for having opposed the military draft, along with 248 other Americans.
In the book Herstory (edited by Ruth Ashby and Deborah Gore Ohrn), Margaret Sanger is hailed as the founder of "the American birth control movement." She wrote articles about birth control, one of which was declared obscene under the Comstock Law.
Beginning in 1914 Ms. Sanger produced a newspaper called Woman Rebel that was devoted to the issue of birth control and sex education. For this, she was arrested. She left the country on the eve of her trial, and spent a year in Europe researching family planning methods used in other countries.
Upon her return to the states, Sanger's former charges were dropped. She (with the support of her sister) opened the first birth control clinic in America, in Brooklyn, New York in 1916. Margaret and her sister were arrested and charged with creating a "public nuisance." The publicity helped Sanger's cause, and eventually the law was changed in New York to allow doctors to offer birth control information for "the cure and prevention of disease."
In 1921 Sanger organized the American Birth Control League, later known as the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She worked tirelessly to overturn the Comstock Law, and devoted her life to establishing reproductive rights for women. By 1938 more than 80 birth control clinics were operating in the United States. In 1936 the Comstock Law was reinterpreted to allow for the mailing of contraceptives. By 1937 the American Medical Association recommended that contraception be taught in medical schools, and that birth control methods be researched.
After more than 50 years of devotion to her life-long cause, Margaret Sanger died of heart failure in an Arizona Nursing home. The year was 1960.
The Feminist Battle For Respect from the Mainstream
Every movement hits a point where there are internal battles over the best way to get recognition and respect, over how to be "taken seriously." In the feminist movement this has over and over again culminated in the ostracisation of whole groups of women. Each generation of feminism has had its bogey-woman, scape goat, "other" one. The message the movement has been trying to send out, wave after wave, is "We are not as bad as you think." In the '70s-early '80s the delineating line was that Lesbianism was not a feminist issue.
We all use examples of what we are not to define and illustrate what we are, and in this case, mainstream feminism wanted to be accepted by the middle class. Lesbianism was too "out there" of an issue to talk about without intimidating those who held dear the status quo.
Sharing my ideas about the second stage with the feminist network in Kansas City in April 1981, I was asked by a troubled sister: . . . ". . . why don't you talk more about gay families?". . .Lesbian needs are still fighting for a place at the feminist table. The lesbian movement, and I'm not just referring to the separatist movement, is still marginalized.
In the '90s the big issue that has caused a major split in the feminist movement is the issue of Pornography, and even sex in general. This split is so pronounced that Katherine McKinnon, a well-known, strongly anti-porn feminists, refuses to speak at the same events -- or even have writing presented in the same written works -- as Nadine Strossen, the director of the ACLU and author of Defending Pornography.
. . . This strategy is a consistent strategy of McKinnon and her allies. They want to convey the impression that they speak for all women, and more,. . . for all traditionally disempowered groups. Therefore they uniformly refuse to debate me, or other women who have different perspectives on these issues.Strossen also points out that the "McDworkin" agenda (named for Andrea Dworkin and Katherine McKinnon) goes beyond just the pornography issue. This anti-sex, ("Victorian" in the words of Nina Hartly, Porn Star/feminist extroirdinaire) view of and response to sex has implications ranging far beyond the porn/censorship issue. In this radical/traditional sector of the feminist movement, sex has become an issue of rape, intercourse itself a metaphor for female inequality.
The Feminist Underbelly
The outlook has been not so good for feminism. Just last year Time magazine ran a front cover that trumpeted the question "Is Feminism Dead?" And a good many of us at times have felt ready to abandon the title, if not the fight. Yet that which adapts survives; a new feminism is alive and well in the Sex-Positive underground. I have never met so many amazing women (and fewer, but just as refreshing, men) who are breathing vitality back into feminism in one place as I did at the World Pornography Conference, which took place August of '98 in Los Angeles.
I have also seen prime examples of this new and fearless form of feminism in other places; in the adult entertainment community, and also, perhaps especially, among younger women, who (inspired by heroes like Madonna, and even the Spice Girls) aren't afraid of flaunting their sexuality, nor of defending themselves from unwanted responses. The younger generation "gets it" in a way that the older does not, perhaps cannot.
Just because someone is beautiful, doesn't mean that they're being beautiful for public consumption; just because someone is sexy doesn't mean they're on the market.I say fearless feminism, because this new feminist genre is based not in the propagation of the myth of victimization, the idea that all woman are victims, all sex (between a man and a woman) is rape, but in the true strength and liberation of being who we are, who we want to be. This new feminism does not disallow and disavow lipstick and bras, but encourages a creative mix of sexy and strong, saucy and strident.
In this generation we have new models of strength to look to for guidance. Madonna (to me, the quintessential icon of neo-feminism) is not only a physically strong beauty, she also is a strong business woman, and a single mother by choice.
Single motherhood, in and of itself, is a beacon of the changes in social structure. Much of the stigma of being a single mom has been done away with, at least in parts of America. Though leaving the comfort/stability of a partnership or having a child alone is rarely an easy choice to make, women now know that we can survive on our own, that it may be a better option than waiting for the "perfect partner," and certainly better than staying in a bad relationship.
Additionally, there is a whole generation of young men who have been raised, by feminist mothers, with a mind for equality. The social aspects of the feminist movement have taken hold in an almost covert manner. Female heads of house and "bread winners" are not at all unusual at this time and in this place. The assumptions have changed, the rules have shifted, and women, though paid less, are just as often employed; at least at the entry level.
Each generation is born with a new set of expectations for social
interaction. We have come a long way, as a nation of people striving for
personal freedom. We stand upon the accumulated accomplishments of our fore
bearers, the trail-blazers who were (and are) not afraid to live in their
personal freedoms, or to give the freedom of the moment up in exchange for a
grander, more complete and true freedom for generations to come.
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