In which, the benighted Davies attempts to explain feminism to women and they thank him for it

A thought that has been on my mind (look, you might as well get used to it. I’m never going to do that fucking Steven Levitt series. I have even thought of another thing that I have to do after this one before I get back to it. Sorry and all that). I was reading a few newspaper articles about Ariel Levy’s new book about “Female Chauvinist Pigs” (all about how despite what they say in press releases, the makers of the “Girls Gone Wild” series of videos care less than they say they do about the empowerment of female sexuality). I’ve been thinking about the question of “sex positive feminism” for a while (here are a couple of my contributions to the “LBO-talk Sex Positive Feminism Wars”, as if you give a shit). My thoughts were kind of crystallized by the rather excellent “Bitch Lab” blog, which I will add to my small but exclusive link list some time in the near future.

Anyway, I’ve sort of changed my mind. If you look at the links above, you’ll see that my default position is that I have historically regarded “sex positive feminism” as basically a joke; a bad-faith attempt to bring the cause of women’s liberation into the service of supporting planning applications for strip clubs. I still think that there is a lot of this sort of thing out there; enough that any particular piece of “pro-sex, porn-friendly feminist” literature ought not to be given the benefit of the doubt. But on the other hand (and it is always a good idea to change hands once in a while), a historical analogy convinces me that there is probably more to it than that.

I think it was Evelyn Waugh, but it might have been someone else who raised an interesting question about the decline of dueling. In the eighteenth century, if someone challenged you to a duel, it was a deadly serious matter; you might try to get out of fighting the duel, and dueling was certainly illegal, but duels of honour were in general taken very seriously. By the twentieth century, if someone tried to challenge you to a duel, you would laugh it off; some people might still be trying to fight duels of honour (I think that there are some German secret societies that still do) but it was basically a concept that had gone into abeyance.

Waugh’s point was that this meant that for much of the nineteenth century, the institution of dueling must have been in a strange sort of limbo; that if someone challenged you to a duel you wouldn’t necessarily have been certain what the deal was; whether this was a highly serious thing which had to be met on the field of honour, or whether someone was just being an arse.

I think something similar is going on in human sexuality, in what we might for want of a better term refer to as the “sexual revolution” (there should probably be some capitals there but I find it sufficiently embarrassing to type the phrase in lowercase, thanks). We know that, at some point in the past, there was all sorts of taboos about sexuality, particularly female sexuality and they were taken very, very seriously indeed. We can also reasonably expect that there will be some future state in which there are no such taboos, that terms like “slut” will be regarded as basically meaningless archaisms, and that all forms of interaction between the sexes, including commercial transactions involving sexual intercourse, will be dealt with in a matter-of-fact, adult way between equals. Many people (at least partly including me) might think that in this future state something will have been lost in terms of mystery and romance, but many people no doubt felt the same about dueling and it didn’t do much to save dueling. It’s as well not to be too sentimental about these things.

So that’s my new view. I still think that there are a lot of actually existing sex-positive feminists who are either acting in bad faith, kidding themselves or just showing off for the sake of it, but as a movement it’s clearly on the right side of history. And if you don’t agree, then you can slap me in the face with a glove and see what happens.


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