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Sexuality and Gender-Role Abolitionism

Sexuality, objectification, sex work, and pornography were active topics within second-wave activism; they may be more settled matters in third-wave activism, but as I am opposed to the third-wave and would like to see it undone, I present some thoughts for how I feel it should be handled in either a revived late second-wave activism, or more specifically in a gender-role abolitionist framework.

In later periods of the second-wave, some factions of feminism concluded that because any sex between men and women has an inherent power context, no choice to have sex is truly free, and so heterosexuality is marked as having some of the properties of rape, and women choosing to try to be attractive to men is a form of self-abuse. With effort, I can understand this perspective, but I believe it should be strongly rejected. On the latter point, the simple counterpoint that men also often make an effort to be attractive to women suffices, and on the former, we need a more sophisticated analysis. The existing gender-role dynamic between women and men, throughout most of history, has restrained women; norms existed (sometimes enshrined in law, sometimes just cultural in ways that often crept into courtrooms) where women were expected to submit to their husbands, sometimes generally and sometimes in certain ways. The financial dependence that women had on their husbands in times when it was hard for women to work added coercive elements to many marriages, and often coerced women into marriages where their choice was indeed constrained (or where the option of either remaining single or being with another woman was not permitted). In cultures where that is still strongly the case, the argument I outline above has (some) weight; it is overstated in that romantic marriages among people who acted as equals existed, and in some subcultures they were relatively the norm, and even where people were not equal the existence of a power dynamic does not adequately create the context of rape in all sexual relations of that sort. Still, there is a social injustice (even if mischaracterised) that we would do well to address. Changing how relationship defaults work requires a change in social norms on marriage as well as workplace equity. We should do that, and there has been promising advance on that front at least in the United States. In nations where that has not taken place, we should try to make it happen, and the (not obvious to everyone) insight that economic equality helps create relationship equality fact should be spread. Still, what we have done is offered a deradicalised interpretation of a claim that is on its face crazy, having offered a moderate, concrete analysis with clear goals that satisfy the equality principle I outlined in previous posts.

We likewise note that some flavours of feminism have rejected the idea of monogamy as a reaction to that power dynamic; while we regard alternatives to monogamy as acceptable, we reject that reasoning; transformation of monogamistic into partnerships is more in line with gender-role abolitionist ideas, at least as a response to power, than dissolving the institution (of marriage or monogamy) altogether.

How should sexuality in public be handled? I observe that while sexuality is not a shameful topic, it is one that both evokes instinctual thoughts/behaviour in ways that might displace or distract from reasoned thought, it can easily engage people in feelings of jealousy for desired future or past partners, and various people might have other issues with seeing such content. I believe the most reasonable approach to the topic then is to recognise various levels of sexual activity and to have increasingly strong taboos for increasingly intimiate activity except in contexts where it is explicitly considered okay by all likely viewers or by presence in a venue. Recognition that a relationship exists (of whatever pairings) should be generally entirely acceptable; holding of hands, brief-moderate kisses, and the like should be accepted by society in general. Making out in public should probably be frowned upon but permitted in most venues (in some clubs and other circumstances, different norms may be present), and sex in the presence of others should not be accepted except as a result of unconsequenced choice. Outside of acts, I believe it should generally be frowned upon to attempt to evoke sexuality of any kind in professional settings (except where the sex is relevant to that profession, more on that later).

I do not take much of a position on proper attire or nudity, except to mark as forbidden any social or legal norms that require coverage of the entire body except the eyes or that differ strongly between the genders (except possibly to handle areas of strong sexual dimorphism differently). I would be comfortable with societies that either permit nudity or those that have norms similar to those in which we exist now.

On objectification, I don't have a problem with it, so long as it is compliant with the equality principle; men and women objectify each other in various ways in society, significantly as workers, and by that equality principle, we would need to be as comfortable with criticising women for objectifying men as the opposite. I believe sexual objectification is okay provided it does not create actual injustice; so long as the context of objectification is not to the exclusion of a reasonable standard of care to the person involved or to gender-equity, that objectification is acceptable (this can lead to difficulties and consent issues/norms in some communities with unusual interests; these developments are generally positive although I don't intend to present a full analysis on them nor to approve of them en bloc). Objectification that ends up creating personal failings in following the equality principle should be avoided as a personal matter, and if patterns develop in this (high percentage of a type of objectification leading to actual mistreatment) it might be acceptable to frown on the specifics of that.

On sex work, I hold that prostitution should be forbidden, on the theory that consent in sex should be judged on immediacy rather than contractual basis (meaning that any contract for sex should be dissolvable at any time by either party with no heavy consequence; a higher contract consent standard than general labour), and that having sex as a means of income necessarily creates a dependency on sex labour that is effectively not immediate. This is a principled objection; in practice sex trafficking often creates situations for prostitutes that are far worse than this. I believe the production of pornography, by contrast, should be permitted but the business dealings therein must be structured in ways where the contracts respect immediate consent rather than binding consent, and means should be in place to make the decision to walk away from the industry at any time not one that leads to unacceptably large consequences.

As above, in parallel to these issues of consent in business, I believe it is obligatory for society to provide means for people to leave a marriage without unacceptably large consequences; shelters should be in place for the beginnings of a transition and basic/reasonable needs should be certainly met for anyone to walk out, should they so choose, from a nonabusive marriage as much as an abusive one.