More responses to ‘Whose Slut?’

Natasha Forrest's article "Whose Slut?" in The F-Word in July prompted many responses - probably the most on one specific article this site has ever had. Here are the latest comments received during August-October.

, 16 October 2002

Recieved August and September

From Andy Roberts

Just read Natasha Forrest’s article & all the responses, which were fascinating, especially Catherine Redfern’s thoughtful reply.

As a(nother) het boy, I’d like to point out that unlike ‘Gandalf’, I’m not entirely against the idea of being objectified. I’ve witnessed this debate in the women’s movement for over 20 years, and one of the most memorable statements I’ve heard was from a friend, Lucy Thane, who once told me “lesbians have a real problem with the feminist thing about objectification”. By lesbians obviously she meant herself specifically, but it made me think. Supposedly, focusing on a person’s body denies them as a person, as a full human being; and it’s true that the obsessive reduction of women to their body parts is harmful, but the idea that any degree or instance of objectification is wrong assumes that we are all too stupid to understand that a breast, a leg, a penis is part of a human being.

Body fascism does make men feel uneasy too, but on the other hand I’ve always felt constrained and frustrated by the restrictions – which are aggressively policed – on expressions of male sexuality. I don’t want to be dehumanised, but I wouldn’t mind being objectified just a bit. I want women to fancy me, goddamnit!!

The subtleties & contradictions of these issues are really interesting – I could write huge amounts about it, but I think this ought to do for now…

From Amber Wainwright

I have read Natasha’s email and everyone’s responses, and am delighted by how so many people have responded to an article that left me seething, hissing, spitting, and generally very happy that i was going to be able to say what i am about to, except I then read your response which said it all, and much better than I could.

So I’ll be brief. There is no such thing as lesbianism, nobody is bi, and nobody is heterosexual. As gandalf said, we are all people, and I don’t see how Natasha can justify saying this is anti-gay, anti-feminist, etc. Because if we are all people then we are all equal- if we use any other words to group ourselves and others, such as ‘straight’ then we are limiting that person’s sexuality to the confines of what society expects that person to be under that label. This leads to people like Natasha saying ‘women and gay men are more likely to want to decorate themselves’ or something like that, which makes me go beyond my initial pussy-cat hissing annoyed reaction to full on doggy-style barking and growling and general anger. In order to justify this, Natasha would have to believe that a requirement of female sexuality was self bedizenment, hence one who was not decorated was less female, and less sexy. I do not enjoy wearing makeup and dancing in clubs. because by wearing mascara I am wasting time by accenting the things that I was born with- like the length of my eyelashes- when I should be, and others should be, more interested in things I can change, like the thoughts I have. Because THIS is who I am: otherwise lets go the whole way and kill black people because they are more primitive than us. Women are products of society. People are products of the language inflicted on them. But we all know that.

Nobody is lesbian or bi etc because nobody can be categorised because we are all individuals because our sexuality if undiluted is unique. Natasha supports this by describing her masturbating over female images, as if we haven’t all tried this, and accepted this, long ago, as if we actually were naive and badly-read enough to believe that our sexuality was anything like what the dominant masculinists would have us believe.

I agree with Natasha in that we should celebrate our sexuality. But celebrating sexuality does not mean endorsing prostitution or pornography- as the undoubtedly sincere missmogga eloquently informs us, they are not pleasant. They exist because of poverty- and poverty would not have to necessarily exist if we allowed everybody to be an individual, as then we could have no hierarchies.

It is basically positive for Natasha to be so open about her sexuality, and now that I have calmed down after making lots of silly wild misjudged statements, I would like to end by saying: whatever turns you on. As I am an idealist, too, and believe that sexuality is positive, but don’t try to inflict it on anyone else. Especially if you collect Britney Spears memrobilia.

From Natalie Babbage

I would like to make a point for discussion.

Sexualisiation of media has been argued to make girls self conscious and i think the main reason for this is that society pushes a set ideal of what is sexy and what men like. This is ultimately the slim, tanned, big busted girls of FHM. I think there should maybe be a greater focus on making attraction to features other the stereotypes acceptable and the norm as opposed to just a perverted desire. This could help more women feel sexually empowered if they want to and only confidence is holding them back.

From Ann-Marie

Hi – just a brief comment to throw into the pot on the response to ‘Whose Slut’ – following Catherine’s points about the research around straight women watching women and straight men watching men. It really shouldn’t be all that surprising that this happens, given the emphasis on the female body as a signifier of sexuality in our culture. Feminist cinematic and cultural theory from the eighties pointed out how reliant western cultures had become on imagery created through and within a male ‘look’. In short, mainstream cinematic and other images had developed conventions commensurate with a male-centred viewpoint.

This would, so the theory goes, create images in which the view itself is constructed from a male standpoint, and females on camera are bearers of that look. In short, men look, women are looked at. ‘And what happens when it is women who are watching these male constructed views?’ I remember asking my tutor (many, many years ago…) ‘Then they see other women as men see them. They are shown themselves through male eyes, ideologically speaking.’ She then showed us some of the things women were doing to subvert the conventions – not desperately gripping, some of them, but – it must be said – that this was part of the problem. Readers/audiences had become so accustomed to the objectifying lens that anything else was simply disjunctured, disturbing, unconfortable – a sign that the male look had become more established than any other. I did question why it was a ‘male’ look specifically – and it didn’t really take long for the tutor to show the class why, with the aid of clips from most mainstream popular films! In fact, one of the funniest moments of the discussion came when she showed a clip from ‘Gentlemen prefer Blondes’ – when the camera is applied in the same way to blokes who are amassed around a swimming pool into which one of the female stars is about to dive. What actually happens is that the director decided to focus upon the male bodies in the same, objectifying way that convention had treated female bodies to that point. The result? Hilarious, and disastrous – it didn’t work! The lens of convention, as was pointed out to us all – is not gender-neutral. It is gender-specific, and is predicated upon the looked-at-ness of the female form.

So – where does this take us in terms of the way that, Catherine suggested, women (lesbian, bi or straight?) are more likely to be turned on by images of women than men (straight?) are likely to be turned on by images of men? I would suggest that, given our social ‘training’ (ok, yes, I know we are not passive consumers of conditioning- we wouldn’t be feminist if we were! So let’s say ‘assimilation’ or ‘acclimatization’?), we are more expert at seeing women’s bodies as lures for desire/projecting desirability. Just a thought.

Oh, and a final word on contemporary takes on ‘irony’ – its only ironic if everybody get’s the joke – and let’s face it, if people haven’t ‘got’ feminism after all these years, they are not going to ‘get’ it that women are making any statement beyond ‘yes, it’s okay, we’ve changed our minds – you can objectify and see us as bodies to be imagined and acted upon according to your own desires after all’. If anyone wants some more on contemporary irony, there is an interesting article in the latest ‘Direct Action’ (quarterly mag) which is online if you go surfing. Keep up the good work, Catherine and others – it’s really heartening to know you are all out there, talking and doing!

From Holly Combe

I found missmogga’s comments really oppressive. For a start, I don’t think any of us were ever under the impression that there was anything radical about having a wank. But, more to the point, does missmogga think it’s radical to come down so unforgivingly hard on other women’s masturbatory choices?

As for the reality of ‘porno shoots’ and the ‘poverty trap’, I’d say that driving porn even further underground, by making women feel guilty about any association with it whatsoever, hardly helps the matter. Work in the sex industry needs to become as legitimate as any other job. This means tax, NI contributions, health and safety considerations and, above all, retribution for sleazy pimps who it seems, under the current clandestine way of doing things, can easily get away with completely running the show and abusing the workers.

Whether the scorn is feminist or conservative doesn’t matter, moral outrage about porn and, particularly (Shock! Horror!) the women who dare to get off on it, is part of what helps keep sex industry workers on the margins of society. Adding to people’s misery? However feminist her intentions, I’d suggest that’s exactly what missmogga is doing.

Received September and October

From H

Natasha Forrest argues that women’s self-sexualisation can be positive if it is a fulfillment of a desire, and brushes aside the suggestion that this desire has been implanted by patriarchy. Does the same apply if I desire I nice new jacket made in a thrid world country by vulnerable female workers who are barely paid a living wage? Capitalism functions in exactly this isolationist sort of way, telling us that if it feels good, we should do it, regardless of the consequences.

It’s naive to view a woman’s decision to objectify herself as an isolated act.

Every time a woman makes this choice, she colludes with the myth that women are there for sex and nothing more. This narrows the options the rest of us have, and makes life more difficult for the woman who has no desire to use her sexuality to manipulate others.

From Jennifer

I totally disagree with Natasha Forrest’s article on “Whose Slut.” Ms. Wilson in one of her replies claims that an individual demanding the right to be treated as a person and not a sex object harks back to the bad old days (still on-going) wherein according to Ms. Wilson anti-feminists used this tactic to oppose Gay and Lesbian Rights.

My argument is do, women really want to be insulted and called “Sluts.” If so, why do we not extend the word to include men who have multiple partners and behave in a promiscuous manner, or are men’s sexual behaviour and attitudes exempt from criticism and judgement, because male sexuality is still believed to be uncontrollable once aroused!

Female sexuality does not mean it is acceptable for women to be treated as sex objects – this is sexist. My understanding of feminism is the right for both women and men to be treated and seen as individuals – not sex objects. Feminism does not depict women as asexual or anti-sex – this is a myth created by anti-feminist media and unfortunately like most myths, many women and men believe it. Feminism has been decried and written off for years because the media has persistently refused to allow feminist views to be expressed and published. This is why so many young people today view feminists as man-hating extremists intent on dominating all men.

Feminism is about women’s rights and for all women, regardless of sexual orientation, race or class to be seen and respected as human beings not inferior sex objects. I do not want to be objectified and vilifed as an inferior being simply because I happen to be female. Women who have spoken out about female sexuality have been dismissed as “deviant” or abnormal. Sexuality continues to be male-defined and male-centered and therefore it does not surprise me when numerous surveys all report that the majority of women are dissatisfied with their sex lives.

One of the male respondents [Gandalf] made several important points, one he too does not wish to be treated as a sex object and secondly he was surprised to learn that recent research once again confirmed women are more at risk of experiencing rape and sexual violence from men they are acquainted with than sexual assaults from strangers.

As long as women are seen as either madonnas or whores, there will be no real sexual freedom. Sexual freedom does not mean women being pressurised into unwanted sexual relations with men. It means both women and men have the right to refuse, accept or even say maybe. It does not mean yes or no to sex.

One other point, Feminists are not anti-sex – this is a myth which has deliberately been perpetrated by the media. Read Susan Falludi’s book “Backlash” which explains how anti-feminists have and are still using the media to distort women’s rights. Also, read Shere Hite’s books on both Female Sexuality and Male Sexuality. Ms. Hite has conducted well-researched surveys on women and men, wherein women’s and men’s own experiences of sex and sexuality clearly show how women are still expected to put the man’s sexual needs first and suppress their own needs and desires.

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