Ask a Feminist
Jess McCabe // 12 July 2008
Answers are provided by regular F Word contributors, and represent only their own potentially fallible opinions. In the spirit of pluralism, we will try and work in more than one response if we can. There is no definitive ‘F Word line’ or ‘feminist line’, and our answers are given in that spirit.
Of course, we will never publish anyone’s name or identifying details. If you want to ask us something, please just use this form
I’ve been facing something of an ethical dilemma lately, and I was hoping you could offer me some advice. It relates to that always problematic issue of sexuality – more to the point, what is “ok” to find attractive, and what is just degrading.
As a young bisexual feminist, I find the idea of men treating displays of lesbianism as a spectator sport thoroughly enraging. Equally, I hate women being sexualised and de-valued in mainstream society. So here is the problem:
If two non-homosexual men are getting it off – for a bet, a film role, or just public attention, whatever – I think that’s hot! I’ve managed to live with this for a while feeling completely guiltless, telling myself that because I’m a feminist, and because men aren’t sexualised and devalued as routinely as women, that this is ok. But it’s been pointed out recently that my behaviour is actually incredibly hypocritical, as it makes me the same as men who find non-homosexual women together attractive.
In my mind, I’m sure there’s a difference between my feelings and those of That Type of Man. I just can’t quite define what it is – if it even exists at all. Just for the record, I should point out that I don’t actively encourage men to engage in this kind of behaviour, but if it’s there, I’m happy.
Is this wrong of me?
Dear Guilty Mind,
I am personally with you on this matter: there is difference between fancying two heavily-objectified heterosexual people putting on a gay act and two hardly-at-all-objectified people doing the same. I have always been quite annoyed at the portrayal of lesbians as if they exist and have sex only to please heterosexual blokes and assist in their wanking.
So whoever told you that you are hypocritical and that fancying straight blokes getting it off is wrong has either didn’t think much beforehand or is unaware of gender inequality in general, and inequality in visual representation of men and women in particular.
If it was a guy, he might be the type who sees nothing wrong with “girl on girl” action for his entertainment, but dislikes the idea of his own sex being objectified. Objectification belittles, and people understand it almost intuitively. If it was a woman, she might just repeat some commonly held notions.
Women were always discouraged to treat their sexuality like men do theirs. Actively speaking up about what you fancy can still ruffle some feathers, sadly. The problem is not with you but with that person’s response. What does it signify? Does it boil down to the fact that that person is scared by your sexuality and your honesty about what arouses you? Does he or she want you not to talk so openly (and thus appear more “normal” or feminine)? If that’s the case, sod such opinions. People will always employ guilt to silence female sexuality. It is just this person appeals to your feminist views in order to convey the same old message: woman, you are not here to look, you are here to be looked at. When someone makes you uncomfortable, think first where exactly they are coming from. Usually there is no reason not to carry on as you did before
– Irina Lester
Dear Guilty Mind,
If two non-homosexual men are engaged in sexual activity solely for the purpose of public attention or just to prove they can ‘shock’ heterosexual men then yes this is sexual exploitation. Reason is because it is ridiculing homosexuality. The viewers know these sexual acts are not real they are ‘acting’. Homosexuality becomes a parody and similar to pseudo acts of lesbianism becomes a ‘spectator sport’ for male heterosexuals.
Take women who engage in pseudo lesbianism in order to promote themselves as ‘edgy, sexy, risky’. This is not genuine lesbianism but is in fact for the sexual gratification of heterosexual men. The implication is that lesbianism does not exist because all women just need that good ‘old penis thrusting in them again’.
But, if two male actors who declare themselves to be heterosexual and are acting in a serious film wherein they play homosexual roles then depending on how it is treated it is not sexual objectification of men.
But far too many mainstream films and series parody lesbianism and pander to male heterosexual fantasies. Take the L Word series for example. This series was nothing more than a male heterosexual’s sexual fantasy of how lesbian women are supposed to behave and act. The women were sexualised objects whose sole purpose was to titilate male heterosexuals.
There is nothing wrong in viewing two non-homosexual men enacting a homosexual scene if the aim is not to sexually exploit and sexually objectify homosexuality or homosexual men. It is when lesbian sexual acts and homosexual acts are deliberately represented for the sexual titilation of heterosexual men predominantly. Lesbian sex scenes are not primarily for lesbian viewers but are for the male heterosexual.
So, your feeling sexually aroused by scenes of non-homosexual men enacting sexual acts is not wrong in itself. It is when and if you view the males as sexualised objects. They are just sexualised objects, nothing else exists. They aren’t human just sexualised objects. So, if two men are deliberately trying to shock and ridicule homosexuality then
this is wrong because homosexuals are human too. Just as women are not men’s sexualised commodities – that is sexual exploitation.
– Jennifer Drew