Slut-shaming, whorephobia and “that” word

A few days ago I used a neologism which caused a lot of disagreement. I knew exactly what I meant and I was also clear about what I didn’t mean. However, difficulties do arise if for other people, for whatever reason, it comes to mean something else, particularly if that causes hurt. I’m genuinely sorry for that and hence I’m not going to use it here, but I do want to write about what lies behind it. To me it refers to something important (and whatever it ends up being, I still think we need a word to describe it).

Funnily enough, I don’t have a position on whether one should be openly discussing sex or having lots of sexual partners or none at all. I don’t see why I – or, in an ideal world, anyone else – should. I do, on the other hand, have strong opinions about objectification and about how we weigh up the cost of broadcasting particular messages within an unequal, patriarchal society. It’s a cost that isn’t necessarily offset by the free choice of individuals to participate in the creation of these messages, at least if these messages risk having a far broader impact on the freedom  and safety of others. I think this should be fairly obvious (regardless of the final judgment one reaches) and yet when it comes to campaigns such as No More Page Three, Lose The Lad Mags and banning rape porn, somehow it isn’t.

This is something I was recently discussing with a group of fellow feminists. We all shared the same fear of saying the “wrong” thing on these matters and of the comeback from a particular group of feminists and their (surprisingly misogynist) male supporters if we did so. That’s when “that word” first came into being. Not through a fear of other sexualities (we are not, in any case, all heterosexual) but through a basic resentment of the way in which responses to female sexualisation are being policed by a certain group of people: those who deem themselves to have shagged their way out of the quagmire of prissy feminist privilege and on to far greater heights of sexual awareness.

And there they stay, looking down on the rest of us privileged fools, making sage observations such as “No More Page Three feels like a synecdoche for the shortcomings of a particular flavour of liberal, bourgeois feminism” and “[Lose The Lad Mags and NMP3] soothe the anxieties of conservative men and bolster patriarchal, sexist and religion based ideas about women”. Anyone who disagrees is over-privileged and unable to think for herself. And why would she be? After all, she’s clearly a woman who just hasn’t had enough fucks.

The knee-jerk way in which the terms “slut-shaming” and “whorephobic” are applied to women who don’t play by the rules of the self-appointed sex positive elite has become deeply disturbing (and of course has very little to do with choice, or indeed being positive about sex). The intimation is that it’s impossible to have a rational, logic-based argument against hardcore pornography or Page Three; the objector is, rather, in some way lacking, suffering from a type of sexual dysfunction that requires remedy. What’s your problem – are you frigid or what? The stereotype of the grim-faced, repressed feminist, who simply needs a good seeing-to to sort out her issues, is embedded within the words. Of course, whorephobia and a pathological hatred of overly “sexual” women exists –  they are real phenomena. However, this problem does not lie with mythical feminists who are “a bit funny” about sex. It’s rooted in misogyny and a far broader antipathy towards female sexual responsiveness of any kind.

Muddying the waters of any critique of this phenomenon by suggesting that it is motivated by polyphobia, biphobia or queerphobia misses (at times quite deliberately) the point. If anything, it reinforces normative ideas of appropriate sexual conduct by defining them as the fixed counterpoint to any form of activism. The working-class NMP3 campaigner cannot be a radical but, by contrast, the sexually adventurous middle-class woman is, not by virtue of doing but simply by positioning her sexual experience as type of currency. The more sex you have, it is assumed, the more of a voice you have earned on all matters that lie on the margins, regardless of your own privilege and personal investment. The more unusual you can make your sexual habits appear through fanciful description, the more authoritative you become (regardless of how mundane said habits actually are). Those who question this are somehow defined as “white feminists” by the equally white (but dare I say less feminist) avant garde. It is, in short, not just a cop-out, but a repressive, disingenuous one at that.

This kind of approach is the would-be radical offshoot of Katy Perry singing about kissing a girl and liking it, or Robbie Williams boasting about swinging both ways. It’s not that the experience is necessarily inauthentic (although in those two cases it clearly is), it’s that it’s being used to sell something else: records, calendars, misogyny, status, or a substitute activism that still doesn’t require you getting out of bed. It’s prioritising shocking those oh-so-privileged observers instead of laying your own privilege on the line. It’s self-differentiation at the expense of others, masquerading as inclusion. It’s Madonna kissing Britney Spears, accusations of appropriation and lesophobia drowned out by cries of “LOOK at ME!” It’s telling women they have to approve of every sexualised message that surrounds them, no matter what the context, because it’s all a test: are you anti-porn? Are you a prude? Are you a slut-shamer? If so, then you are privileged, conservative, sexually repressed, and you have no place in our movement (and don’t dare protest, or we’ll pathologise your objection by diagnosing a phobia to boot).

Feminists should not be afraid that the consequences of discussing the sexual objectification of women is to be considered bad or mad by those more openly expressive than them (people who may be so for no other reason than disclosure privilege). When I wrote this piece about slut-shaming – thinking not of No More Page Three, but of police responses to the Yorkshire Ripper – I was desperately fearful it would be misunderstood. It’s rare that men are called slut-shamers these days. It’s not the done thing. We point the finger not at those who rape, murder and mutilate women’s bodies but at those who question the positioning of these bodies within a deeply unequal social structure. To do otherwise is considered a little bit second wave, a little bit rad fem, hell, a little bit too “privileged” for the liking of the sexual world’s Common People.

I’m not particularly precious about coining words or phrases and guarding them with my life (just as well, because all evidence is suggesting I’m crap at it). If people see words I’ve used differently to how I intended, then I’d rather discard them than perpetuate the damage. But women who’ve been pushed back by thinly veiled accusations of prudery, frigidity and sexual failure due to their feminist position need a word for the attitudes they’re facing. They need a word for the way in which they are dismissed as both overly privileged and lacking in authority regarding the sexualisation and objectification which affects their lives, too. They need a word for the ways in which they are talked over, belittled and laughed at.

If there’s no other word available, I’d go back to misogyny. Because that is, after all, what this is.

32 thoughts on “Slut-shaming, whorephobia and “that” word

  1. Yes, yes yes! Thank you for articulating so lucidly what is happening here.
    I especially like this:
    “It’s telling women they have to approve of every sexualised message that surrounds them, no matter what the context, because it’s all a test: are you anti-porn? Are you a prude? Are you a slut-shamer?”
    Yes, this. It feels like our boundaries (our individual personal boundaries, as well as what we feel may be appropriate for the world outside our own heads) are constantly being pushed or infringed, much of it in aid of selling us stuff we don’t want and making us discontented with the stuff we have.

  2. I completely disagree on a fundamental level with NMP3, Lose the Lads Mags and banning consensually produced porn. That doesn’t mean I doubt your motives. I agree with you that good faith debate can be had around these issues.

    I do agree with you that sex-positivity can be expressed reflexively/defensively and can be experienced (and often sadly intended to be experienced) as snobbery and vanilla-shaming. I can see why people feel they are being accused of being “frigid”. I also think many people who ask people to check their privilege fail to check their own. Often privilege is assumed with no proof. Often class is forgotten. Sometimes people with large platforms (at least on twitter) attack people who they (rightly) accuse of having large platforms.

    However I can also understand why people with socially unacceptable sexualities feel attacked and judged. They are all the time by everyone. Sometimes by feminists. And I understand why they would be defensive, they are constantly under attack. I can understand why they want to celebrate their sexualities, they are told constantly that they are shameful so why the fuck should they not? If they are sexworkers or they are trans* they have extremely good reasons for being wary of people attacking their livelihoods or their right to define themselves however they like (note – I am not calling you transphobic or anti-sexwork, I am suggesting why it makes sense for them to be angry, defensive and suspicious.

    Ultimately I agree with a lot of what you say in general and find your writing to be great but in a reasoned and in good faith debate on these issues I would suggest that enjoying looking at other humanbeings sexually is not the problem, the problem is the patriarchal system (and many other intersecting systems) that frames it. We agree on that I would imagine. But we just see different ways of addressing that issue.

    In terms of what you are generally saying about intersectional feminists, I think their is a fair critique there, but there is fair critique on both sides. And for all the reasonable good faith feminists on both sides there are also bullies on both sides. It’s not even a binary opposite situation as there is a spectrum of points of views including views that dismiss or challenge both sides.

    And ultimately, sadly and also not sadly, there is the human element. Everyone involved is liable to get angry, defend their friends, bitch about other people, get together (in public view) and share battle stories and lick war wounds. I personally wish it wasn’t a war or a battle. I don’t like warfare and patriarchy but so it goes. But my point is being fly off the handle, we hold grudges, we make mistakes, we are hypocritical without noticing it, we get jealous, and lots more besides. I think both sets of people involved in this are worth listening to. Both have a lot to teach each other and both have taught me loads as an observer.

    I hope this makes sense and I apologize to anyone if anything I have said was inconsiderately phrased. I generally try and stay out of this stuff as I am a man and so it’s not my place to push too strongly within feminism (although I am a feminist and so I guess entitled to talk about feminism, albeit hopefully more from the position of listening) but I guess here I go. Also I was quite severely bullied at school and don’t have a big platform so please go easy on me.

    Thus endeth the mansplaining.

  3. As a student who has only recently become involved in feminist politics and who has been following this dispute with growing confusion and disbelief, can I respectfully suggest you take a step back and rethink this crazy spat?

    I don’t doubt that you feel strongly about this, but the situation that has emerged here is the unedifying spectacle of two closely related factions of radical feminism apparently out to destroy each other, both writing vicious personal articles on their respective blogs about stuff which to an outsider seems totally arcane.

    Meanwhile my prospects of getting a well paid job after university remain restricted by my gender, millions of women are still oppressed and compelled to act in ways defined by an accident of birth, and religious and cultural norms condemn many others to life as second class citizens.

    This whole pathetic feud is like an unfunny version of the Judaean People’s Front. Can you all please grow up, stop engaging in puerile civil wars and get on with fighting the battles that really matter. Like the one against the patriarchy.

    1. I hope that, as you grow and develop as a feminist, you come to see that telling women to keep quiet about abuse because it looks bad and distracts people from more important things isn’t a feminist thing to do. Good luck.

      1. Gee thanks for that unnecessarily patronising response, really appreciated. Maybe when I’m a grown-up I’ll understand, huh?

        Well, if you can cope with another of my gauche contributions: as somebody who knows one or two things about ‘abuse’ I think your use of the term in the context of a playground squabble is highly questionable.

        And, frankly, if modern feminism is about this sort of nonsense, I don’t see the point.

        1. No, I think there have been quite enough gauche contributions from you. Once again, you know sod all about abuse if you see it before you and reduce it to a “playground squabble”. You are a victim blamer and a poor excuse for a feminist ally, and a self-serving one at that. No one needs your “help” if the only abuse you’re ever able to identify only relates to you. I’m sorry you feel patronised but seriously, grow up.

  4. This reminds me of some important work done by one Radical Trans Feminist on ‘imagining an authentic sex-negative feminism’ (http://radtransfem.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/the-ethical-prude-imagining-an-authentic-sex-negative-feminism/) and it’s certainly something I’ve encountered: arguing against porn with a gay man who told me that I (a lesbian, unbeknown to him) was revealing my straight privilege by presuming all porn was degrading of women (which as it happens wasn’t my argument anyway). That my anti-porn stance was censorious, repressive and repressed, pathological and prudish almost didn’t need saying. However, I wouldn’t say that it’s an inherency of ‘sex-positive’ feminism (sex-coercive feminism more like) to appropriate marginalisation or for its members to deny their privilege: it can just as often be framed as the enlightened stance of an intellectual elite against the conformist, ignorant, doubtless unwashed and un-STD tested masses. A lot of pro ‘feminist’ porn arguments rest on the alleged middle class educatedness of those who appear in it, for example. The problem with sex-coercive ‘feminism’ is that it’s sex-coercive, then, not that it necessarily makes false accusations of unchecked privilege.

    The currency of privilege checks has already been diluted by false accusations of false accusations of the kind (there’s a post-modern sentence!) and that dilution is a loss: we don’t need to exacerbate it.

  5. “women who’ve been pushed back by thinly veiled accusations of prudery, frigidity and sexual failure due to their feminist position need a word for the attitudes they’re facing” Are you serious? The anti porn and abolitionist feminists have a highder public profile and more power than sex working feminists or sex positive feminists (and please remember that some sex workers do not identify as sex positive and may have problems with sex positivity, just as you do. You’ve reduced my argument to high-school bragging about how much sex I’ve had. Actually I have never bragged about my sex life on my blog or Twitter, and have said in at least two blog posts that I haven’t had many experiences. To address another of your points about white feminists labelling you and your mates “white feminists”, I have not a single white gene. “responses to female sexualisation are being policed by a certain group of people: those who deem themselves to have shagged their way out of the quagmire of prissy feminist privilege and on to far greater heights of sexual awareness.” Er, “policed” is a pretty strong word when anti sex work and anti porn feminists and orgs have all the funding (eg the rescue industry) and all the fame (most people assume I’m anti porn because I’m a feminist) and all the respect (sex workers struggle to raise awareness of their issues and terms like whorephobia and slut shaming are less publically known than the porn debates and NMP3; there are feminist and anti-porn politicians, but Cameron will never stand up for sex workers’ rights cos respectability, innit.) I could go on and on, but you’ll probably not even approve this comment, so I’ll keep it short n sweet. ” it reinforces normative ideas of appropriate sexual conduct by defining them as the fixed counterpoint to any form of activism. The working-class NMP3 campaigner cannot be a radical but, by contrast, the sexually adventurous middle-class woman is, not by virtue of doing but simply by positioning her sexual experience as type of currency.” Er, not sure what you’re going for here. 10 points for use of the word “currency”, that’s always a winner as it makes the article sound smart and makes the thing you’re criticising sound dubious and dangerously capitalist. But I don’t think any sexual experience should be the norm- that’s the whole point of my blog! Neither do sex workers want all women to be sex workers- or they’d lose their business, right?! THINK about it for two seconds! And if I really was a high school-esque sexual bragger, I wouldn’t want sexual adventurousness to be the norm either as I’d have nothing to brag about. The line about activis without getting out of bed is just juvenile and low class, and as it mocks the idea of women having sex, it has shades of slut shaming in my opinion. And if you’re going to deride every activist who doesn’t attend demos and only does online activism,, there are like thousands of them. Those in rural areas may not have the chance to attend demos. Not that I consider myself an activist. And as far as I know, you haven’t organised a march, so I don’t think you should be looking down on others (and at least I attended a public debate so I could interview an MSP and two other debaters. I have a limited budget and can’t travel across the country all the time to get to demos. But I’ve written to MSPs, I sign petitions frequently, I RT petitions, I interview campaigners via email, I do what I can with my rural location and limited travel budgret. I’ve lost all respect for you. I won’t unfollow you on Twitter cos that’s childish and actually it’s silly, as you might tweet stuff that is useful to me or that I want to RT. But I just wanted you to know that.

  6. Can you stop calling Zoe able when she’s open about her disabilities?

    There is a critique of sex positivity to be made but coining a new slur and attacking queers and disabled people for our liberation isn’t it🙂

    Thanks, a “fake feminist”.

  7. I’m sorry, but I just can’t get on board with this. I’ve liked you for a long time, but I think your interpretation here is inevitably subjective and I honestly don’t think you’re correct in the way you’re viewing this. This is also a verbal assault that isn’t deserved. In this post you’re setting up false dichotomies and then knocking them down. How is this feminism? How is any of this feminism? On all sides women are verbally bashing women with thunderous applause awaiting them from those who’ve taken a side. It’s almost like bear baiting. How will this in the least part aid women? How will this further the place of women in our society? As someone who’s always gotten on with you, I’m asking you to think about what you hope to achieve with these posts. This is placing so many feminists in an awkward position of having to take sides when they just want to be able to talk to whomever they choose. You might not understand that, but so many women have said as much to me this evening. Making them feel like that is not feminism. These personal attacks people are making on each other are not feminism, they are silencing women, except the people who are fighting are not being silenced; it’s everyone who’s left in the middle. It’s everyone with grey areas in their thinking- people like me who take no issue with sex workers, yet despise page 3, or who feel it’s important for women to be open about their sexuality, but are rendered impotent themselves (or rather BECAUSE they are impotent themselves).. There are so many of us who don’t fit in the black or white boxes who are feeling incredibly stressed by all of this. I don’t recognise these posts from the woman I’ve known for 2 years. I don’t recognise the woman who is taking personal feelings and socialising them. Please just think about what this will achieve because honestly, I don’t think this fight will help a single woman, I just think it’s going to silence a large group of us, and that cannot be right.

    1. Yes, I agree, except I’ve got to say I’ve chosen my side and it isn’t the one represented by this blog.

      Not because I am judging Glosswitch’s or anyone else’s sex life, but because I was personally hurt and alienated by “smugsexual” and “made-upsexual”, and more widely horrified by the tweets that Glosswitch, CCriadoPerez, Marstrina and others were making to other women that I follow.

      I don’t feel I have anything to learn from the discussion going on here except, frankly, how awful people can be.

      1. As someone who is bi, I’m thoroughly inclined to agree, and I don’t think it’s wilful misrepresentation to feel that way. In fact, from my position I’m finding it hard to see how it could not be hurtful. Very upset and disappointed by the attitudes of women I’ve always gotten on with. They are acting in a way I always thought they deplored. Sad times.

      2. Specifically, I was disgusted by the comments that Glosswitch, CCriadoPerez, and Marstrina were making to women of colour, and the agreement of Sarah Ditum and probably some others whose names I didn’t immediately recognise. Looking at the comments, it looks like everyone has gone onto the topic of queerness and sexuality and left the topic of race. I want to make sure it’s absolutely clear that it was these particular tweeters’ responses to women of colour that made me decide I no longer wanted any kind of friendly engagement with these women.

        1. Maybe you should look before you side with abusers? Is this your usual approach to people calling out abuse? You are not a friend (I thought you were, silly me) and you will find that eventually these people will turn on you, too. I hope that when you see non-online abuse your response isn’t “oh, she probably provoked her abuser – the main thing is her now complaining about it is causing me sad feels” but all evidence suggests that’s exactly how you think. Learn, if not to be a feminist, but at least a humane, sensitive, less utterly self-centred person.

        2. I tried to respond to your first post as a friend, and didn’t get a response from you. Which, of course, is fine, it’s your blog and you get to choose who you want to respond to – but it does mean that I’m still mostly not sure who or what you’re referring to when you say abuse and abuser, or where you want me to look. In the mean time, there are other people I’m friends with or who I respect hugely, and I have seen them getting abused by CCriadoPerez and Marstrina. For all I know you hugely disagree with them too – but I don’t know.

          I am not sure where you want me to look or what you want me to base a judgment on? I am really sorry if I’ve missed places where people have abused you, and it seems that I am disbelieving. But I can only respond to what I’ve seen or been told about, and whilst I have followed your Twitter and blog for a few months I don’t know you well enough to immediately understand who you are talking about and what you are referring to. And meanwhile i also have seen other people being abused and hurt and some of that abuse is racist, transphobic or homophobic (which, as a queer woman, I continue to think “smugsexual” is).

          What I have is a situation where you appear to be coining and defending a word which seems to attack me, and appearing to stand with people who are attacking other people I respect in very unpleasant ways, but asking me to believe that this is justified because of abuse that I can’t see. I am willing to believe that I am making the wrong call here, but based on the information I have access to, this is the right one.

    2. Well said. I respect NMP3 supporters and happily interact with some of them, but this stuff just puts more pressure on my relationships with feminists I disagree with. I always enjoy being open about where I stand and even retweeting posts I disagree with so people can read both sides of the argument and pick one, but if this stuff continues it’s likely going to drive a wedge between me and NMP3 supporters who I like.

      1. I’m on both sides of the “sex +ve” fence regarding different things so try to keep polite with my disagreements or I’d probably be hated by everyone (I hope I’m not). I don’t get why that can’t be universally applied. Twitter feminism has broken my will.

        1. I feel ya🙂 I’m definitely on one side but I do respect the other side too and want to keep being on friendly terms with certain anti-porn bloggers. Maybe Twitter feminism will get less drama-y in the months to come; I think this was a bad year cos of NMP3/porn filters etc.

  8. Also, basics. Like, non-queers can’t define biphobia. Monos can’t define polyphobia. And if you don’t have sex work experience, you can’t say you’re not being whorephobic. These are basic, basic things. Just to be clear, you can’t define transphobia or homophobia either.

    1. Basics: I’m allowed an opinion on sex, objectification and the positioning of women in society without being insulted and accused of harbouring phobias. It really is that simple.

  9. What comes off as “smug” about this piece, for example – http://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/esmagazine/the-perks-of-polyamory-8588512.html – is that it reads as a miracle-cure narrative: now I’ve found a way to achieve complete honesty and openness in my romantic and sexual relationships, everything’s become “a brilliant breaking of the bank, / a quite unloseable game”. It’s the same kind of “smug” as radiates from first-year-undergraduate converts to evangelical Christianity: a problem has found a solution, and the problems with the solution have yet to make themselves known.

    You don’t reach for miracle cures, though, unless you have a problem that seems intractable. As a dashing young sex-radical, you might have two wholly incompatible sets of feelings about your own sexual being. The first will be dominated by a “smug” delight in your adventurousness, daring, prowess and – within a small scene in which you are still a novel participant – social acclaim (my new fuck-friends / prayer-group are the best!). The second will be the “old”, never wholly expunged, feelings of isolation, vulnerability and inadequacy – and anger, both at the norms by which you have previously been judged and at those who have enforced them. This may be why the young sex-radical reads any criticism of their “smug” persona as an attack on their “queer” identity: the former shields the latter, compensates for its injuries, and provides a vehicle for retribution (“you said there was something wrong with me, but just look at me now! I’m having more and better sex than you can possibly imagine!”). If you take away the thing that takes away my shame, you are (re-)shaming me.

    The thing about the persona is, it’s not (all of) the person. A lot of what goes on in flamewars is personae facing off, and people trying to tear the masks off each other’s faces. The sheer amount of upset this unleashes is – well, in one sense, it’s the whole point of the exercise. Everyone gets to work up a good old righteous huff, great principles and weighty political concerns are invoked freely and often, and the skies ring with the clashing of mighty titans. But in another sense it’s the exact opposite of what everyone involved is really looking for, which is authentic communication. Behind all that fury is a basic frustration with each other for not bloody *listening*. Y’all need to lower the red lightsabers and parley for a bit.

    What I’d like to ask you to keep in mind is that the injuries people’s masks are there to cover are not always trivial or confabulated: if and when “smug” operates as an armouring of “queer” (for example), then there is a real history of marginalisation and denigration that should be kept in mind, no matter how intolerably bumptious someone is being. Who is the real person behind the persona you are trying to tear down? Do they deserve to be attacked in this way? How might you deal with the undisputed fact that they’re being a bit annoying without making them feel like dirt?

  10. What comes off as “smug” about this piece, for example – http://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/esmagazine/the-perks-of-polyamory-8588512.html – is that it reads as a miracle-cure narrative: now I’ve found a way to achieve complete honesty and openness in my romantic and sexual relationships, everything’s become “a brilliant breaking of the bank, / a quite unloseable game”. It’s the same kind of “smug” as radiates from first-year-undergraduate converts to evangelical Christianity: a problem has found a solution, and the problems with the solution have yet to make themselves known.

    You don’t reach for miracle cures, though, unless you have a problem that seems intractable. As a dashing young sex-radical, you may may have two completely incompatible sets of feelings about your own sexual being. The first will be dominated by a “smug” delight in your adventurousness, daring, prowess and – within a small scene in which you are still a novel participant – social acclaim (my new fuck-friends / prayer-group are the best!). The second will be the “old”, never wholly expunged, feelings of isolation, vulnerability and inadequacy – and anger, both at the norms by which you have previously been judged and at those who have enforced them. This may be why the young sex-radical reads any criticism of their “smug” persona as an attack on their “queer” identity: the former shields the latter, compensates for its injuries, and provides a vehicle for retribution (“you said there was something wrong with me, but just look at me now! I’m having more and better sex than you can possibly imagine!”). If you take away the thing that takes away my shame, you are (re-)shaming me.

    The thing about the persona is, it’s not (all of) the person. A lot of what goes on in flamewars is personae facing off, and people trying to tear the masks off each other’s faces. The sheer amount of upset this unleashes is – well, in one sense, it’s the whole point of the exercise. Everyone gets to work up a good old righteous huff, great principles and weighty political concerns are invoked freely and often, and the skies ring with the clashing of mighty titans. But in another sense it’s the exact opposite of what everyone involved is really looking for, which is authentic communication. Behind all that fury is a basic frustration with each other for not bloody *listening*. Y’all need to lower the red lightsabers and parley for a bit.

    What I’d like to ask you to keep in mind is that the injuries people’s masks are there to cover are not always trivial or confabulated: if and when “smug” is an armouring of “queer” (for example), then there is a history of real marginalisation and denigration that should be kept in mind, no matter how intolerably bumptious people are being. Who is the real person behind the persona you are trying to tear down? Do they deserve to be attacked in this way? How might you deal with the undisputed fact that they’re being a bit annoying without making them feel like dirt?

  11. This post has reminded me of a few incidents a few years ago (long, long before the Twitter rows of 2013!) when me writing about the commercial sexual objectification of women resulted in a couple of women indulging in a giggly and snide conversation about how my views more than likely reflected on my sex life.

    At this point I had a bunch of misogynistic men telling me that to object to the way women’s bodies are treated in the media meant I must a frigid prude bitch who was probably ugly & gay too (I don’t see the latter as insults but you know how they are intended in a society that values women based on whether men find them attractive). So to then be attacked by women in the same way, to be told that my politics basically meant I would be shit in the sack, was quite shocking, or if not shocking, than more hurtful than the attacks from men.

    The stupid thing is you feel compelled to defend yourself by then disclosing things about your sexuality and sex life that you would otherwise not disclose. To go, hey, how dare you, I totes do X, Y and Z, check out how cool and sexy I am! Luckily I pulled myself back from doing that, because it would have no point in the long run, and actually just re-enforces the idea that there is something wrong with your views – i.e. I think this but I’m not like one of *those* feminists.

    Anyway, this post doesn’t really say much, I just wanted to share my experience of when women have attacked my presumed sex life in order to silence my political views, and how tricky it is to deal with. It is never right to attack a woman’s sexuality or make jokes about her presumed sexuality to silence her. It’s just what misogynists do.

  12. You say that these women “deem themselves to have shagged their way out of the quagmire of prissy feminist privilege and on to far greater heights of sexual awareness” and then the only thing that could possibly be interpreted as evidence for this in any of the links you provide is Zoe saying that she has had sex with women. Do you not realise how nasty and insidiously homophobic that is? There is precisely nothing in any of what you have linked to that even implies that someone who disagrees with these opinions is just “a woman who just hasn’t had enough fucks”. Dismissing their views in this way is unbelievably nasty and yes, misogynistic.

    Maybe this “smugsexual” attitude exists out there, but you haven’t demonstrated it. You have chosen to use the word to smear and insult women and provided zero justification for it. Which, of course, only further entrenches the damage and offence caused by your original blogpost.

  13. I really appreciate this.

    I think the trouble is that the kind of feminism that says that anything anti-porn is about bourgeois frigid women is simply ad hominem. It’s about people, not arguments. And to me, that’s so much trash. Not immune to it myself, of course, but it’s no way of convincing anyone who doesn’t already agree with you – certainly not anyone who comes from an opposing position. As someone with a fairly neutral position on Page 3,that stuff makes me want to ban all porn just to irritate people who say such things.

    Similarly, “smugsexual” is totally about people, not arguments. Your definition of a smugsexual person, clarified here, is a ridiculous person. It’s hurling mud back at the mud-slingers, when you have access to a JCB.

    You don’t normally do that. You normally offer really sound arguments about words, ideas and experiences. When you are ad hominem, you’re usually very funny with it and the target is usually invulnerable – a politician, a highly paid journalist etc.. So, at the high risk of being dreadfully patronising, it’s kind of below you to create caricatures of other feminists.

    Meanwhile as a bisexual woman, I’m hypersensitive to any caricature along the lines of “You think you’re so special & claim oppression, but really you just say this stuff in order to seem more interesting and sexy.” This is something I’ve heard in vulnerable moments, when I have just come out to a friend, or amid the abuse of my first marriage. I think there’ll be a lot of people who thought, “Does she mean people like me?”

    1. Goldfish I agree with your last paragraph strongly. While the characterisation of people as ‘biphobic’ who are not actually biphobic feels unfair, I believe it is ACTIONS that matter rather than IDENTITIES and EFFECTS that matter rather than INTENT. Unfortunately, having influence means you need to consider the powerful and often unintended effects of what you say (hence the apology in the post)

      I’m assuming this post is sincere, intended to clarify a position and minimise harm, (including to its author) when I say that it is about behaviour and arguments rather than identity; it characterises the *arguments* of the opposition as misogynistic. I assume the linked post (with accusations of biphobia) was also intended as a sincere self-defence, characterising the arguments, (but also some people) of its opposition as biphobic. But I don’t know the history.

      In any case I feel these posts are written with a genuine sense of something at stake, and am sad to see attacks in these comments. I don’t think it is at all helpful to call the competence and agency of women into question by advising them to keep quiet

Comments are closed.