Outrageous Roots and a Bright Future; Sex and Feminism

Sex Worship

Posted by LaSara W. FireFox on Friday February 25, @08:12AM
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.

I am 28 years old. I have worked in the sex industry on and off for better than four years. My involvement in the industry has run the gamut; I've worked as a dancer, masseuse (the expensive kind), escort and as a model for photos and video work.

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.

– Victoria Claflin Woodhull, from Barbara Goldsmith's Other Powers, pp. 212

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.

–Barbara Goldsmith, Other Powers, pp. 139

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. Emma Goldman

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. . .

“If ever I love a man again, I will give myself to him without being bound by the rabbi or the law,” I declared, “and when that love dies, I will leave without permission.”

Living My Life, Emma Goldman, pp. 36

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.

The incident reminded me of a similar occasion when I had lectured on woman's inhumanity to man. Always on the side of the under dog, I resented my sex's placing every evil at the door of the male. I pointed out that if he were really as great a sinner as he was being painted by the ladies, woman shared the responsibility with him. The mother is the first influence in his life, the first to cultivate his conceit and self-importance. . . Woman is naturally perverse, I argued. . . (s)he idolizes in him the very traits that help to enslave her-his strength, his egotism, and his exaggerated vanity. The inconsistencies of my sex keep the poor male dangling between the idol and the brute, the darling and the beast, the helpless child and the conqueror of the worlds. It is really woman's inhumanity to man that makes him what he is. when she has learned to be as self-centered and as determined as he, when she gains the courage to delve into life as he does and pay the price for it, she will achieve her liberation, and incidentally help him become free. Whereupon my woman hearers would rise up against me and cry: “You're a man's woman and not one of us.”

Living My Life, Emma Goldman, pp. 556-557

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.
Margaret Sanger

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?”. . .

“Because it twists the focus to sexual politics.” I said. “It gets mixed up with the reaction against the female role, and threatens people who feel sex should be private and are mixed up about it themselves. . .”

“But what about Lesbians?” she persisted.

“That's sex,” I said, “not politics. Or it should be. . .”

–Betty Friedan, The Second Stage, pp. 318-319

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.

. . . McKinnon and some of her supporters also go much further in shirking an exchange of views with other women or women's rights advocates, refusing event to appear at the same conference or participate in the same project with any who dare to express disagreement with them. . .

Just a couple weeks ago I. . . happened to learn of one such incident. A professor at the University of Virginia. . . is writing a text book for colleges on various civil liberties issues, including the censorship of Pornography. . . He wanted to include excerpts from some of my writings and some of McKinnon's. But when McKinnon heard that some of my printed words would, heaven forbid, be included in the same book as some of her printed words, she had a tantrum and she told (the professor) that he would have to choose; either her words or mine. He refused to withdraw my piece,. . . she therefore pulled hers. . .

. . . (And) several years ago. . . the National Association of Women Judges. . . abruptly retracted a speaking engagement I had to address their National convention without telling me why. . . Through a series of coincidences I later discovered it was because McKinnon had also been invited to speak at the convention.

I want to underscore that this was not set up as a debate between the two of us. . . but the problem from her perspective was even that both of us would be appearing – at different times, on different days – before the very same convention.

. . . Once it came to light and was confirmed that that was indeed the reason why my invitation had been retracted – and investigative reporters shed the light on that – one of the organizing judges was quoted (in the New York Times) as saying “The general feeling was that McKinnon would be less than pleased to be on the program with Strossen, so we had no choice.”

–Nadine Strossen, from her keynote address at the World Pornography Conference in Los Angeles, Aug. '98

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.

–Aurelia Kaitlyn River, Green Egg Magazine, issue 131

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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The Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them.

Re: Outrageous Roots and a Bright Future; Sex and Feminism
by Shedona~Babalon Chevalier on Saturday April 15, @06:43PM

Truly an awesome & awe-inspiring article. Even though I don't share your fervor for Madonna (*smile*), I certainly share many of the attitudes you express herein. You've earned it … Babalon is linking to this! ;-)

93 93/93

Re: Outrageous Roots and a Bright Future; Sex and
by Mordecai Shapiro on Monday April 17, @10:49AM

For anyone who wants to know a fuller version of the Victoria C. Woodhull story I would strongly recommend that they read the book by Johanna Johnston. She was an authentic forerunner of our times, though an enormous bundle of contradictions as well: part medicine show barker, part liberated leading-edge popularizer. In her lecture “The Elixir of Life” she even hints at a form of sex magic!

Re: Outrageous Roots and a Bright Future; Sex and Feminism
by Marianna Debriej on Sunday July 09, @03:59PM

Dear LaSara,

I have read your article regarding your job as an entertainer in the sex industry. I too worked in the entertainment field for many years. I can relate to a lot of what you say. However, it seems rather odd, your perspective. It seems that you have developed a sort of “manly” type of attitude which permeates through your article, especially toward the end.

I would attribute it a lot to the Emporer clothed in Strength/Lust, which amounts to “balance”, however I find it odd that I have never come across you and your wisdom before in my research.

In my experience, dancing was much different. The sexual “turn on” and interraction with “Clients” was definitely a large factor, however the greater factor was the skill and adeptness at dancing itself. The ability to hone one's skill to move in accord with the rhythm, which is something discussed in many cultures that use drumming and trance dancing as a way to invoke God.

I have found that I would become “at one” more with the music than the customers, and that would self-evolve into ecstasy at my own creative expression. This creation is only what attracted the customers. I have found it to be the case (almost 100% of the time) that in concentrating on an individual customer and seeing the lust in his eyes, that my own abilities would henceforth degrade in accord. The beauty, the skill, the abilitity is mostly an internal affair.

The rhythm of the music, the atmosphere, and the attitude are the three things that attributed to my own success. Without those, a million customers and their lust did nothing for me, and their lack of spending money showed!

Of course, there are certain things which were contributing factors which are the baser animal instincts: the scent, the look, the intrigue of certain customers. When all things go smoothly, one can bank on an excellant and successful outcome. The other women entertainers were not even noticed, except in passing, and the passing of money went unnoticed. At the end of the night, I'd look in my g-string and find I was rich!

93 93/93,


Re: Outrageous Roots and a Bright Future; Sex and Feminism
by <LaSara> on Sunday July 23, @04:50PM

Hey there, Marianna,

One reason you have not seen my work before is that I am a rather young voice, so to speak. I am only now getting my words out there in any really big way. I am a mom, and many other things as well, so my writing time is limited. I have been focussed on stabilizing and publicizing my career for over two years, and have not had undivided focus, as I have a 3.5 year old and a 8 month old. I am also a newly ordained clergy member with Church of All Worlds (the result of many years of work) and am the president of CAW as well.

So, I'm a busy sexy mama! I am attempting to get more of my words out, but this is a fresh, young career you are seeing springing into being.

I agree about the dancing being a trance magick, and I agree that a connection with god/dess is a huge factor in changing people's attitudes and the quality of their experience.

I don't quite get the comment about a “manly” attitude. I do not think of myself as manly. I think of myself as balanced. I like sex, and am open about it. I have spent huge amounts of time in a really andrgynous space. I can see some of my views as being male-identified to an extent, but only if you hold yourself to the social context of what is male and what is female.

I hope that in my children's generation such defintions, in as much as they relate to gender, are much less common.

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