Who’s To Blame
Recently, politics and women has been a topic that seems to be everywhere. The Republicans are declaring a war on women. The Democrats are destroying women’s role. In all the hubbub, there was an article at Chronogram that took on a number of the subtopics embedded in this discussion: who’s really attacking women, what are the benefits of pleasure, and should masturbation be encouraged? Now I for one was confused about how all these topics fit together, and for that reason I’m going to focus on the one that I found problematic, but Eric Francis Coppolino also had some really interesting things to say about masturbation, and I’d encourage everyone to read his thoughts.
The main thing that seems to be an issue in this article is that Coppolino seems confused about how women feel towards each others sexuality and how men feel about women’s sexuality. He asserts “The men involved are providing a voice and a projection screen for women’s denial of their own sexual power. The attempt by men to ban the discussion may be a reflection of women’s refusal to take up the discussion, to educate themselves and one another, to educate their children, and to insist on honest sex education in schools.”
This appears to be a huge claim. Apparently all sexism is really internalized, and men are only acting out women’s prejudices against themselves. His evidence? Most mothers don’t tell their daughters enough about sex, women often enforce marriage norms, and the party that is pro-marriage is the “female party”. This is not nearly enough evidence, and it also flies in the face of the fact that men are some of the most active in slut-shaming, in victim blaming in cases of rape, in acting out against birth control and safe sex, and it also ignores that men have had most of the power and the voices throughout history. It also ignores the fact that these tactics are often survival techniques that women practice, similar to the fact that many mothers force their daughters to go through genital mutilation because men expect a marriagable woman to have been cut. Women aren’t behind the scenes running some self-hatred campaign. If they were, then they’d have enough power to change it without much trouble.
In addition, this attitude of pointing fingers doesn’t help anyone. Patriarchy is carried out by all kinds of people: women, men, black, white, children, gay, straight…you can find people who are pro-marriage and anti-marriage, pro-pleasure and anti-pleasure, pro-birth control and anti-birth control in all these categories. Trying to finger the culprit doesn’t help us to recognize the responsibility each of us have to combat our internalize misogyny and it ignores that patriarchy is a group effort. It doesn’t give us any solutions, but rather wastes time trying to understand who’s to blame. This attitude crops up towards men often, and it’s just as unhelpful in that context. Internalized misogyny and misogyny from men both exist and both play a role in keeping women out of positions of power and fulfillment.
An additional problem with this assertion is that it says if women were to decide that they wanted to change things, they could. It relies on the woo premise that “many—indeed, most—of the secrets of fertility and childbirth are contained in the female body”. Making babies is a two way street, and we need to engage men AND women to understand it and open it up to responsible, pleasurable and joyful use. Coppolino asks how women feel towards sex and female pleasure, and then goes on to assert that women don’t engage in exploration of feminine pleasure and have been repressing themselves. Apparently he missed all of the French feminists (see Monique Wittig, who asserted that all sexuality should be radically reformed as a lesbian, female pleasure), and all of the queer theory, kink and other sexuality work that many feminists have been engaged in recently to try to understand how we can better enjoy ourselves and our partners. Many feminists ARE pro-pleasure and pro-freedom, and obscuring the work that they have done in order to point fingers doesn’t help anyone. Despite the fact that much of this work does not get the appreciation that it deserves, it IS happening, and perhaps it's a better idea to try and get it into the spotlight than to opine its absence in the public sphere. If anything, Coppolino's complaints here exemplify how the work that female philosophers, sociologists and psychologists do is discounted by men and ignored by history, NOT that women are not engaging in the work that is necessary to promote gender equality.
This is yet another example of how the idea of a “feminine intuition” or “female power” is really just obscuring the ways in which patriarchy is actually produced (through concrete, individual actions and beliefs that are perpetuated through education and social interactions across all categories). It also illustrates that one of the best ways to continue misogyny is to assert that women have power, which ignores the struggles that they actual face. Instead of making assumptions about who has the power and who is afraid of sexual power, it may be more helpful to take active steps in a project towards sexual liberation, which is what Coppolino does at the end of his article.