Sunday, August 17, 2008

Jane Sexes It Up: Real Live Nude Feminists

Younger Women’s Task Force-NYC Metro Chapter hosts monthly book club meetings. See the end of this post for more information.

Many people see a contradiction between feminism and sexual desire. Even feminists sometime have trouble harmonizing their personal sexuality with their political values. The authors of Jane Sexes It Up are smack in the middle of this contradiction, trying to sort out what it means to be a woman, a feminist, an academic, and a sexual being. However, the debate about feminism, sex work, and public sexuality has changed drastically in the past few years.

We are now living in what Ariel Levy calls “raunch culture,” in which feminist sexual desire is rarely represented. Women of all ages are trying to express themselves sexually in a split culture where you are either making out with your girlfriend for the Girls Gone Wild camera or pledging your virginity to daddy. Feminist debates have raged for decades about the possibility of feminist sex work, but today, “reality” sex workers are paid in t-shirts and “(over)exposure,” not hard cash. They have no say in the image they present, and are edited to fit into misogynist roles. There might be young women who are positively exploring their sexuality on Girls Gone Wild, but (to state the obvious) it is not a safe space where women can assert themselves or ask for a share of the profits.

You may not always agree with the authors of Jane Sexes It Up, but there are no whores (even when there are sex workers) and no virgins. The authors are much more nuanced in their analysis of women’s—and men’s—sexuality and the possibilities of a feminist sexuality for both genders.

There are few simple answers in this book. There is a general agreement that a feminist’s sexuality must be reflected upon and examined (by the feminist herself, not by others). But what constitutes feminist desire or what doesn’t is a bit of a false question. It isn’t about what is or isn’t feminism, but rather, what feminists will make of their current realities. What does it mean that we are turned on by sexual power differences but fight power inequity as feminists? How do issues like abuse, anorexia, and cutting affect our decisions in sexual relationships and sex work? And that old question, what does it mean to be a feminist wife?

The authors vividly (sometimes pornographically) describe their sex acts, sex partners, and the mundane details of their sex work. In this way, they aren’t so different from more recent phenomena like the anonymous blogging celebrity Belle de Jour or the memoir The Sexual Life of Catherine M. But honestly, in our current culture, I don’t care much to read about the details of other people’s sex lives. The most liberating moment for me was when Lisa Z. Sigel, a pornography scholar, answers the question of whether or not she is turned on by porn: “I am not the object of study, so it’s none of your business.” (257)

Yes, my sexuality is none of your business. I will not be examined by you. I am not hiding anything; I am not in the closet. You are simply not allowed to take ownership of me, or my sexuality. Although normally I advocate for a sexually-open culture, after reading Jane Sexes It Up, the right to privacy is my biggest turn-on.

YWTF-NYC’s next book club meeting will be on August 20 at 7:00 PM at Tea Spot (127 Macdougal Street, NYC). Check out our Meetup site for more info on upcoming meetings.

Rebecca Andruszka is Director of Communications and co-chair of the Book Club Committee at YWTF-NYC. All opinions express are those of the individual, not of Younger Women’s Task Force.

6 comments:

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