Your nose has no place in my bedroom (unless it's invited)

by Natalie Dzerins // 13 January 2012, 15:53

Tags: bdsm, choice, consent, sex

photo of a young white woman on the New York slutwalk holding up a sign that says consent is sexy, with lipstick kisses on it

On Wednesday, Hugo Schwyzer wrote a piece at Jezebel titled "He wants to jizz on your face, but not why you think". For many reasons which I won't go into, this was a pretty awful piece (it's been taken apart at Tiger Beatdown and GarlandGrey by people far better than I). Essentially, Schwyzer seemed to be saying that since facials weren't always about degrading a woman, but rather sometimes a "cleansing" act for a man, it was totally cool for women to like them (and even appeared to imply that they "should" like them).

This is obviously wrong. No one should feel like they "should" perform a sexual act they are not comfortable with for their partner. Even if self-styled patriarchal "feminist" Hugo Schwyzer says it's cool.

However, that's not what I want to talk about. In the furore surrounding Schwyzer's article, there was a rather disturbing theme emerging in comment sections and on Twitter and other corners of the internet, and that was some feminists saying that he was obviously wrong and trying to find an "excuse" for facials, which are always inherently degrading, and no woman should perform one.

Now, here follows a small rant:

Firstly, I am sick to the back teeth of the "pathologising" of fetishes. Even if all facials are degrading, (and without going into too much detail, I am somewhat unconvinced by that) so what? Some people like being "degraded" (OBVIOUSLY there are limitations to this which I will return to), and no more can you "pray the gay away" than can you "feminism the sub away" (I tried to make it rhyme, but nothing rhymes with "feminism"). These desires don't mean that said woman has been "coerced" or "brainwashed by the patriarchy", and to try to dismiss them in this way is removing women's sexual agency. This is A Bad Thing.

A caveat - when speaking in this way I am clearly talking about people who, with their partner(s), have decided between themselves and given "good consent" to a certain sexual act. No one should ever, ever feel pressured into doing something they don't want to do.

But it must be said equally that no one should feel pressured by outside forces into not doing something they do want to do. That's one of the reasons slut shaming is such a bad thing. No one except an individual and their partner(s) should decide what they do or do not do in the bedroom (or wherever).

Just because you might find something "icky", does not mean it is wrong or that people should not do it (as the Crown Prosecution Service found out last week). There is also a strong case to be made for kinky or BDSM sex being more "feminist" than "straight" sex (in that it encourages more discussion of boundaries and clearer 'good consent' than just getting down to it).

One of the tenets of contemporary feminism is that women should be given choices and that we should trust that they will make the choices that best suit them, their lives, their preferences and their personal histories. Once we remove a certain consensual sexual act from the table by declaring it "not feminist" we are effectively removing the choice from the women involved. This is the antithesis of a feminism based on personal freedoms and the right to explore one's sexuality free from paternalistic notions of what's "good" and what is "bad".

In sum - if Nadine Dorries, Stephen Green or the British Government don't get to stick their noses into people's bedrooms, neither do you.

Photo by ctrouper, shared under a Creative Commons licence.

Comments From You

Goddessdeeva // Posted 13 January 2012 at 16:30

Bang. On. Without choice there is nothing. Personal autonomy and personal responsibility should be the framework for all behaviour in my opinion.

Ania Ostrowska // Posted 13 January 2012 at 17:26

Thanks a lot for this post! It inspired me to rhyme:

"To feminism the sub away"/
This phrase has made my day.

Iain Collins // Posted 13 January 2012 at 17:34

This. It's an issue that's come up in the past but still bears repeating. No sexual practice needs attacking (nor defending) in the name of feminism.

Personal sexual preferences between consenting adults have no bearing on 'how much of a feminist' someone is, any more than they make someone more of a "real man" or "real woman" they are for liking (or indeed not liking) doing certain things in the bedroom (or the kitchen, or ... anywhere).

I'd second the notion of sticking with the premise of only doing what you are comfortable with and let your partner how you feel (and ultimately don't put up with anyone who doesn't respect your feelings).

The conversation can get tricky when it comes to what's shown in pornography and the level of influence it has and, equally, as individuals sexual habits can be influenced by their experiences it may be that living a patriarchal society has influence on sexual preferences and behaviour.

However, that's a much more academic discussion of what happens at a macro level; it isn't appropriate to use that reasoning to try to justify deeming a specific sexual practice as unacceptable or undesirable because it's "too degrading" or indeed "not gender appropriate" if it's between consenting adults.

Good post Nat.

Shadow // Posted 13 January 2012 at 18:59

Ah yes the white male libertarian rhetoric again - everything is fine provided women consent to whatever men demand sexually. Well that doesn't work as regards homosexual males inflicting sexual violence on other homosexual males who supposedly consented. See the spanner case for what happened when a group of homosexual males inflicted sexual violence on the male victims. The court found the male perpetrators guilty. Ah well women never did have any sexual rights so men are still fully entitled to inflict sexual violence on women and claim 'oh it is just BDSM or 'she likes it rough!'

Fact - Sexual domination over another individual primarily male over female is not feminist - but it certainly is reinforcing male supremacist claims women are men's disposable sexualised objects. The myth 'keep government out of our bedrooms' is always raised whenever the issue of male sexual degradation of women is raised. Since when has the male supremacist system ever wished to 'invade a man's private bedroom because what a man does in his bedroom is his private affair not the state's.'

And yes too that male supremacist claim 'everything is fine provided both parties consent' - conveniently overlooks how men continue to have far greater socio-economic power than women and ignores how women continue to be socialised minute they are born into lie their sole existence is to sexually service men. Can individual women really rely on their male sex partner respecting their wishes when male supremacy teaches men they have no sexual responsibilities whatsoever because women are seen as the 'gatekeepers' despite fact women do not have any structural or legal power over men. Illusions, illusions - because it is essential how our women-hating society must not be criticised and instead lets keep promoting the lie women and men are accorded equal sexual power and rights.

Nat // Posted 13 January 2012 at 19:59

Iain - YES! That's exactly what I was trying to say. Thank you :)

Laura // Posted 14 January 2012 at 09:21

@ Shadow - Thank you for illustrating Nat's point so perfectly. I just think it's sad you live in a world where all men are apparently abusive uncaring shits and women are pathetic creatures who can't possibly overcome social influence and control our own lives and sexualities. I guess we might as well give up on the feminist fight as we're clearly so useless in the face of the essential evil that is man.

MarinaS // Posted 14 January 2012 at 11:00

I set out to write a long and thoughful rpely to this post, but before I knew it it got SO long and thoughtful it had to be moved away to a more appropriate space. So please forgive the self-publicising, but I've written a response at the link below:

http://notazerosumgame.blogspot.com/2012/01/decisions-decisions-sex-in-time-of.html

Peter // Posted 14 January 2012 at 12:41

Hi Natalie,

I think you're missing the point as to why some feminists seem to want to "outlaw" some sexual acts outright. Specifically, the issue is whether the type of "good consent" you write of is scientifically possible in a gendered world.

It's all well and good to state that limitations on women's (or men's) capacity to make free decisions threaten agency (of course they do), but that is not an argument for the real-world absence of such limitations. It seems to me that, given the decades of social psychological research into the deep role gender (and other social constructs) play in structuring our interpretation of the world, it is not impossible that the 'facial' has been so embedded in each of our subconsciouses as a patriarchal concept that (unfortunately) women can't "freely" consent to it (although this could change if the hegemonic social norms were to radically change). It's an open social psychological question, to be sure, but one of the possible answers to it can't be discounted just because it would threaten women's agency. One of the most important themes in feminist thought has been the notion that everyone (irrespective of perceived gender) has less agency than they think they do.

And regarding the liberationist possibilities of alternative sexual practices (eg BDSM), such possibilities don't derive from the ability of all parties to "consent", but (as Foucault taught us) the ability of all parties to be inventive, to discard and subvert oppressive social norms by doing creative things. I would argue that (at least for most people in the West) there is nothing inventive about men giving women facials.

Laurel // Posted 14 January 2012 at 12:58

"Ah well women never did have any sexual rights so men are still fully entitled to inflict sexual violence on women and claim 'oh it is just BDSM or 'she likes it rough!'"

Actually, I think this post is referring to when women claim themselves that they like it themselves. and not just women with tricky pasts and women in the sex industry. Nobody is saying that it isn't going to be heavily influenced by media aimed at men or at past abuses and guilts that women have over their body, or that women don't sometimes feel pressure to do stuff that they're not really into, but don't really mind, in order to please their partners. I have been known to think that men should feel this pressure more often in fact, and perhaps put a little pressure on a partner to pleasure me when they're not into giving oral or whatever.

"Can individual women really rely on their male sex partner respecting their wishes when male supremacy teaches men they have no sexual responsibilities whatsoever because women are seen as the 'gatekeepers' despite fact women do not have any structural or legal power over men."

Well if we can't then we may as well give up sex and relationships with male partners now. It's true of course that most abuses happen with people that you know and you never can be 100% sure that someone isn't going to have those underlying issues, and that they might do something to you, but I think it's perfectly rational not to expect that from someone who hasn't shown any signs of it. If a guy is more pushy, be sure it is noted in most feminist's heads as something to bring up with them, if not something to stop them from seeing each other again, or something which means stopping it now. We all have different limits, and unfortunately some of us just go along with smaller things for an easier life. That there is a big problem, but it is something we need to work on by empowering women to know that they can make their own decisions in the bedroom through trial and error and are perfectly normal and well within their rights as a human being to try nothing at all either. I feel like once you limit what decisions a woman is able to make then it makes it harder for women to overcome their insecurities in stating what they want from sexual and romantic relations. You tend to have the rhetoric that because the men have the power as oppressors in the situation that they should take full responsibility and blame as individuals and as a group to make life better for women and stop abusing us, but yet you have little interest in addressing men as individual people, and have stated that they can never be trusted because of their brainwashing, despite the fact I'm supposing you don't think your opinions all sum up to being brainwashed yourself and that it is possible to shake certain beliefs off? Of course men have more interest in upholding the current system, but that's all the more reason for women to be empowered to feel confident in finding out and doing what they like to in the bedroom and exploring every outcome. Lots of sexual encounters are female initiated and I don't think it's fair to erase their experience, even if you don't agree with their conclusions.

Nat // Posted 14 January 2012 at 14:43

Shadow, Peter - I expanded more on this topic in a comment I left on MarinaS' blog (link above - it's a good post), in which I was more open than I was here. I think reading that may help you to understand what I was driving at a bit more. (To summarise - No, I don't feel brainwashed by porn, human sexuality is far too broad for anyone to guess why anyone else likes anything). Please stop trying to remove my sexual agency from me by way of crude stereotypes.

Laura, Laurel - thanks for explaining what I meant in better terms than I could!

I think it's interesting that no one mentions reciprocity in these kinds of discussions. I mean, not everyone subs all the time. Yes, the denoument of the sexual encounter might be my partner coming on my face, but how do you know I haven't just been fucking him up the arse with a strap-on and calling him my bitch? Is that him being brainwashed by the patriarchy, or is that part totally cool?

Human sexuality - does not fit in boxes.

Holly Combe // Posted 14 January 2012 at 20:37

"In sum - if Nadine Dorries, Stephen Green or the British Government don't get to stick their noses into people's bedrooms, neither do you."


100% YES to this. Actually, I really couldn't agree more with this whole post and have nothing whatsoever to add. Thank you for writing it!

Peter // Posted 14 January 2012 at 22:48

Nat, thanks for replying. I read your other post. Can I start by saying that I'm not trying to remove your sexual agency, rather pointing out that you might in fact have much less agency than you think you do (just like me and everyone else). I don't think this is such a strange thing to point out: feminists (as well as the entire fields of sociology and social psychology) have been demonstrating the illusory aspects of agency to us for years. That is not to say you have none (I'm Foucauldian in this respect), but it is certainly to say that whether or not you "feel brainwashed by porn" is a terrible indicator of whether your sexual desires have actually been shaped by the patriarchal world you (and I) inhabit. As for people "guessing" why other people like things, social psychologists are not guessing, they are conducting controlled experiments, repeatedly, and critically evaluating each other's evidence. It's called the scientific method. They may not have all the answers, but their critical value (for feminists, anti-racists, etc) is immense. They can demonstrate the deeply gendered way in which we all (unfortunately) view the world, even those who insist that they have somehow avoided being "brainwashed" by their social environment. Finally, pointing out that all our social experiences are gendered and that this unavoidably structures our understanding of the world in ways that are difficult for the individual to recognize is not the same as deploying "crude stereotypes". I would actually argue that social psychological insights like this are more cabable of subverting stereotypes than reinforcing them.

anywavewilldo // Posted 15 January 2012 at 14:30

feminisms, and women's liberation movement more broadly, are a *group* project - I sincerely wish women would stop bleating about 'how dare you take away my sexual agency away' to other women who are clearly not in a position to be removing anything in fact.

Other feminist women calling you out on sexual practice, especially on the internet, is not the same as the state legislating about obscenity - not even close. I think it's totally legitimate for feminists to discuss, cuss, call out, insult and demand whatever they like - we're adults and we can take this - we can then decide for ourselves - that's agency. And yes our agency is constricted and limited - but so much less by other feminists than by the wider white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

The personal is political - patriarchy is so written on the body that we have to address how our bodies react and what we might think about this. For example I think rape fantasy is a bad thing - I don't think women who have rape fantasies are bad women - but if you tell me feminism is all about defending the rights of individual women to celebrate their rape fantasies I will think you are an idiot and might use my agency to tell you.

I'll keep my nose out of your bedroom - unless I'm invited there - but public feminist discussion is not anyone's bedroom.

ps. stop with the calling this thing 'a facial' - it's a man ejaculating in a woman's face - fisting for example is self explanatory but this term is just putting a floral duvet over a shit heap. If you want a grown up discussion use grown up words.

JessLeeds // Posted 16 January 2012 at 12:03

Missed all this over the weekend, so catching up now-Nat I haven't read your blog post as it is blocked on this computer (so I'm guessing it includes RUDE WORDS etc) so you might have already talked about this...
In the 80s my parents spent 8000 years doing a basic food shop because we wouldn't eat anything from Chilli, Israel, South Africa or a multitude of other places, plus nothing by Nestle etc. I still don't buy Nestle, even thought many of their products are delicious because they are corporate baby-killing dickheads. I also love sharon fruit, the first time I ate it I honestly thought I'd died and gone to heaven, but I personally avoid fruits from Israel, so I don't buy any because the only place I've ever seen them apart from Leeds Market is Morrisons, which is where they source them from.
I'm not saying you shouldn't do whatever you want to do in the privacy of your own home with the person you wanna do it with who obviously respects you, but personally, no one spunks on my face until all women have body autonomy, not just me. (Though I wouldn't advocate using that as a chat up line, or anything, cos people start thinking you're odd...)
NB: I find eating sharon fruit to be as equally pleasurable as shagging, that's my sexual agency or whatever the kids are calling it these days, so I shall uphold this metaphor! :)

anywavewilldo // Posted 16 January 2012 at 17:08

@Jessleeds
"but personally, no one spunks on my face until all women have body autonomy, not just me."

I think that's a perfectly delightful chat up line - some feminists these days think porn and play-along-a-porn at home are the sexiest thing going. Personally I still think solidarity is hot

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