I've been reading figleaf's Real Adult Sex (NSFW, but not quite what it sounds like either) and he's been talking a lot about what he's "calling *men's* dominant paradigm of women as the "no-sex" class."
I find the posts interesting because, well, they are (this is one of my faves, for obvious reasons) but also because it's really nice to listen to someone trying to work out feminist arguments in a way that will actually reach other men without intentionally watering them down or twisting them into something they are not.
He explains the theory thusly:
But.... it *doesn't* resonate with men... to the point where we're inclined to say "in our dreams!" Because for whatever indisputable *abstract* privileges such class division might bring to us our *experience* of it is... pretty disempowering.
So in the face of that contradiction -- holding the reins of patriarchy on the one hand and feeling totally out of power when it comes to sex on the other -- I decided to try and (mis)apply a standard strategy from mathematical logic: attempt to prove the contrary position -- that men perceive women as the *no* sex class -- and see what shakes out. And, in fact, tons of fascinating stuff shakes out....
The point being not that feminist theories are wrong but that they are incomplete in that they tend to only describe how men (as a class) act within the system and how women experience being in the system, not how the average man actually experiences being in the system, or even really how women act from his perspective. Which is a fair criticism.
It's also the type of criticism and expansion of feminist theories that is best done with men leading the way - for obvious reasons - so it's really nice to see a man addressing it, because I've been wanting my male peers dissatisfaction to be properly addressed for quite a while now.
But of course, that doesn't mean I agree with all of it. I don't think he's wrong, exactly, just that it's obvious and understandable that he's still working this out - we all are - so it needs some (a lot?) of fine tuning.
It makes me feel like we need some unifying theory.
While he talks about this terminology resonating with men when little else does, and he draws as much from feminist writers as he does from personal experience when explaining the theory, it still bothers me that the terminology doesn't completely resonate with women. (ok, with me, anyway.) So, while it's a very useful theory for reaching out to men, (and again, may I add, thank god, finally?) it still doesn't help much for reaching out to people and has limits in the extent to which it will facilitate conversations between women and men, feminists and not.
Mostly, I disagree that women don't see a distinction between being called "the sex class" or "the no sex class." I think that men and women both identify with being called "the sex class" - or identify with neither. This presents a problem when trying to work things out together.
Well, then, how to resolve this?
I think figleaf got pretty close in his this post on the consent:
I was thinking about someone I quoted earlier on the limits of "no means no" and it occurred to me that even the concept of requiring consent is kind of missing a big point.
We don't seek our friend's "consent" when we ask them to join us for lunch. Instead we seek consent to park our car in somebody's driveway. We don't seek "consent" when we have a couple of extra tickets and ask if our friends want to tag along. We seek consent to use the school gymnasium for a neighborhood fundraiser.
There's been a lot of talk in the feminist blogosphere over the last several years about shifting the goalposts of consent from "no mean no" to "yes means yes."* Which I completely agree with.
But, yeah, still missing the point. Legally, it makes sense to worry about consent, because that's always going to be the legal issue. But culturally, it's both a revolutionary step forward and still so far off the mark. I have the same vague feeling about defining men as the "sex" class and shifting women to the "no-sex" class. It's useful, and good, and suggests some major changes to how we view things, but pretty soon we are going to notice that we've only moved things around a bit. The paradigm shift we are looking for is still buried beneath it all.
I think quite often we are talking past each other.
Not because women are from Venus or men say what they mean, dammit! But because we perceive ourselves differently than others perceive us.
Figleaf classifies women as the "no-sex" class (er....identifies that women are perceived as the "no-sex" class by men) because men have this perception that women don't want sex.
But why the fuck does this even matter? Why does the stereotypical man care that he wants to have sex but women (supposedly) don't? And why do we care? Well, because the stereotypical man wants to have sex with a woman, not a man, that's why!** Shifting women to the "no-sex" class is still focusing on how one gender experiences and perceives the other; it's not really looking at how we both experience living with the system, how we perceive ourselves and are viewed in turn, and, most of all, how this all fits together:
I'm suggesting that either way the heteronormative assumption is that sex is something to be obtained by the man, and dispensed by the woman... that sex is requested by the man and granted by the woman... which in turn assumes that sex isn't something she just might naturally just want to *have.* And that's what I mean by the dominant male paradigm of women as the "no-sex" class -- that by nature women just aren't interested, let alone motivated, the way men are.
Wait!....back up a bit.
....the heteronormative assumption is that sex is something to be obtained by the man, and dispensed by the woman.
Yup, that's the part.
Or, as someone told me quite seriously during the pie fights "A man's sexuality is defined by sexually desiring women. A woman's sexuality is defined by men sexually desiring her." In short form: sex is something that men want and that women have.
That lie that "women don't want sex" is only one part of this very false proscription for sexual behavior.
It's an important one. One that's long overdue for demolishing. And certainly a better one for talking to men than "men hate women." (As is the reasoning behind labeling men the "sex" class - the "boys will be boys" assumption that men are always horny that figleaf picks apart all the time as well.)
However, it's one that doesn't resonate with women not only because, as figleaf constantly points out, we know this for the lie it is, but also because it doesn't speak to our experiences as the class that is responsible for giving out sex.
Now, I don't think that figleaf needs to change his terminology so that it will speak to women as well as men. That would be silly and selfish and counter-productive for obvious reasons. But again, we need some way of talking about this is public, in mixed company, etc. And I think the key there will be found in the dynamic itself - and the tension between how we are taught to be, how other's perceive us, and who we actually are - not just how men or women view the system from the inside.
*the term, in case anybody doesn't know it, is really "enthusiastic participation." But, it tends to be rephrased as "yes means yes" when talking to a non-feminist audience. Which rather misses the point, imo, since the most radical part of "enthusiastic participation" is the idea that one wants to do this, rather than emphatically agreeing to do something.
**because, you know, no one is gay or bi in the prescriptive scenario.