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On fandom and "Expressing Sexuality" - Dude, it's a journal!
August 29th, 2011
11:07 pm

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On fandom and "Expressing Sexuality"
So one of the things that I've noticed about certain objectifying tropes is that they're often ham-fistedly defended by non-feminist (or pseudo-feminist) people as being "empowering" or a means for women to 'express their sexuality".  Recently this attitude was used to laude a new TV series about playboy bunnies in the 60's, claiming that the job was one of the most empowering positions a woman could have at the time.  So, there are things to be said about what could be claimed as personal empowerment for individual women, but it's laughable to claim that a corporation so widely known for commodifying and selling the bodies of women, in print and in real life, could be purported as an empowering outlet for women to express their sexuality, I started thinking about this tendency to claim sexual objectification as 'power'.

One of the most ridiculous things I've heard people argue, usually when trying to prove something about how men aren't privileged because women have advantages too, is that women have all the power in society because "They're the most sexually desirable/beautiful beings in existence".  The idea is that women are empowered by being sexually desired and being able to use that 'power' as a bargaining chip to control straight men.  Which is a really gross idea; trying to dress up a means by which women are treated as commodities to be bought and sold, not sexual beings to be respected and treated on equal terms with all other adults- as if it were actually a form of legitimate power.


The only widely socially accepted way for women to "express sexuality" is being sexually desired.  It's not always oversexed and overt; lingerie and bunny ears; sometimes it's just by the sitcom trope of 'woman witholds sex to make husband do what she wants'.  There is very rarely an accepted narrative of women desiring; of women actively lusting for lust's sake, seeking out sex not for a femme fatale seduction, but because she's into fucking.  There's rarely a narrative of sexually active women that doesnt' focus on those women dressing up sexy to do it.  And it isn't that dressing up to look sexy, or being turned on by being desired, aren't legitimate ways to be turned on; kinks are kinks.  It's just sick how widely accepted it is that womens' sexuality is only about being desired by straight guys.


This is part of the reason, I believe, that slash and yaoi fandom is viewed with such disgust.  It's jarring to see a form of erotica primarily created and consumed by women that has absolutely nothing to do with the desires of straight men, and why it seems to be such an outlet for queer women.  Unlike so much 'lesbian' porn, it doesn't put women on display for the consumption of straight men, and it doesn't involve straight sex.  Even though it's ostensibly all about men, it's a rare form of erotica that isn't all about catering to straight guys all the time.


Tangentially, my feelings on this subject were touched on when I wrote my female!Ciel AU fic, which focused a lot on her sexuality, and directly grapples with the trope that being sexually 'desired' (read- objectified) by men is an inherently arousing experience, even for a woman with heterosexual desires.  Ciel loathes being looked at with lust by men, and feels their lust as inherently linked to the widespread attitude that her beauty (just as her mother's beauty was regarded) is all she's good for.  She knows that her social power is constantly compromised simply because she's a woman, and she has to fight to maintain a position of power and respect.  She also knows how sex can be used as a weapon against her, and has unfortunately experienced the worst of that.  She expresses her sexuality through fantasies about Sebastian, because she knows she has absolutel control of their relationship, which is still present even when her fantasies are about him being rough, dominant or violent.  Even though she fantasizes about a sexual dynamic that fits into the accepted narrative of female submission, she is in absolute control of the situations, both over the theoretical Sebastian, and Sebastian in reality, and in that sense, it is subversive and empowering for her.  (In that sense it also kind of hits up a meta commentary regarding rape fantasies contrasted with actual rape, especially relevant as Ciel is a survivor herself.)

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From:ivy_chan
Date:August 30th, 2011 03:58 pm (UTC)
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I also hate that idea that female power = their ability to be sexually desirable to men. Doesn't that just underline their position as subordinate to men, since 'plain' or 'unattractive' or hell, older women are therefore powerless, while male power is linked to intellect and strength and charisma, none of which are connected to how they affect women at all?

Awesome piece of meta here.
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From:t3h_toby_chan
Date:August 30th, 2011 07:51 pm (UTC)
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Ugh, yes. And I think the devaluation of less attractive women only further emphasizes the concept of women as a 'sex class'; men are sexual people with desires and autonomy, and women are sexual objects to be used by them, and the only way those objects can raise their level of control over any situation is by using their position, playing by the rules of the sex class, and using themselves as bargaining chips.

I think there are elements of male power connected to how they affect women, although the power dynamics are still skewed there: Male prowess is strongly linked to quantity or quality of female 'conquests' or collections, which still emphasizes the gathering of a woman as a sex object. The very idea that seduction is the way that women have power over men still makes obvious the fact that it's assumed that men hold all the power to begin with and it must be somehow compromised or seduced-away.


(Icon relevant because the character is doing her little seduction-dance number because she actually just wants to fuck the guy.)
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