Feminism Friday: Open Thread on gender dominance issues in sexuality, slurs and raunch culture

Where do you point a male feminist ally (whose alliance up until now has been based on largely unexamined egalitarian impulses, but who hasn’t read any theory) to find good introductory analysis of gendered dominance in sexual behaviours, and how attitudes towards and about sexual behaviours play back into gender relations more widely?

Some of his questions:

  • Do languages other than English use slurs based on domination by penetration to designate others as inferior or designate events as problems e.g. “we’re so screwed”?
    (I believe the answer is yes, but languages aren’t my forte.)
  • If other languages use such slurs, does that mean that the penetration=domination paradigm is not just cultural?
    (I warned him against the essentialist fallacy here, in that acculturation is not just ethnically specific, and shared cross-cultural behaviours don’t necessarily mean an underlying biological explanation.)
  • Why is popular culture emphasing acquiescence to brutal domination in sexual encounters as being somehow more satisfying than consensual non-brutal egalitarian sexual behaviours?
    (I said “more satisfying for who?” and pointed him towards Faludi’s Backlash.)
  • If the penetration=domination is such a monolithic worldwide point of view, how can subverting that paradigm in favour of egalitarian sexuality be done?

There’s an awful lot to unpack in those questions, which is why I’m a bit stumped.

As a start, I’m pretty happy with Backlash as an overview of much background that will be required before he can fully examine the issues he has raised. He’s old enough to be moderately familiar with a lot of Second-Wave personalities and broad concepts from a pop culture point of view, but hasn’t delved more deeply.

What else other than Backlash?

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14 comments on “Feminism Friday: Open Thread on gender dominance issues in sexuality, slurs and raunch culture

  1. It’s really been awhile since I read it, and I’m trying to remember specifically, but Brownmiller’s Against Our Will sounds right up his alley if hs’e interested in some analysis of domination/penetration. Its second wave language might come off as a little Western-centric (I don’t really remember to what extent), but it does take on the issue as a global phenomenon. She also addresses the pop culture aspect by hilighting how rape scenes are exoticized in movies.

    If he wants to read something about how masculinity fits into all of this, I could recommend anything by John Stoltenberg, like perhaps The End of Manhood. I think his work beautifully demonstrates some theory behind institutionalized dominant masculinity and the interest men have in asserting this dominance over women.

  2. Faludi’s second major gender-related work, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, might help answer some of his questions. It may be similar to the Stoltenberg recommended above, but it goes into how men are harmed by the patriarchy — with regard to sex, masculinity, culture, work, etc. — and how they can subvert those dominance paradigms and work toward egalitarianism within themselves and in their cultures.

  3. Thanks for the recommendations, Tracey and L. Those all sound right on-topic.

  4. This thread includes a lot of ugly, sexualized threats (definitely a big trigger warning) against radical feminist bloggers that very nicely illustrate how patriarchal ideas of sexual gratification are not too far from violence against women.

  5. Eek, the link doesn’t work!
    Try this link

  6. There’s an awful lot to unpack in those questions, which is why I’m a bit stumped.

    Of course you are. When you remove any real discussion off the table it gets very hard to come up with an explanation that isn’t laughably absurd. Ideological purity and reality are not bedfellows.

    Dominance displays, even verbal ones like those referenced here, clearly point to an underlying biological reality. Sex involves penetration for virtually every life form on this planet. There is little use denying that. That you cannot deal with that simple fact tells us more about you than it does about anything else.

  7. You keep arguing elsewhere that you’re not advocating Biology=Destiny, and then you come up with stuff like this.

    Reproduction involves penetration. Sexual behaviour, especially in humans, often doesn’t. [Edited to add: Your automatic equation of penetration with domination is also exactly the matter under discussion. Where is your evidence rather than simple assertions?]

    “Underlying biological reality” would have each of us crapping in the woods, hunter-gathering our food, a very few alpha-males having a harem of females while regularly bashing and killing any lesser males who offended them etc. Instead our cognitive capacities have led to humans developing a complex abstraction called “society” and “law” whereby we developed sanitation, agriculture, nuclear families and employer contracts instead: accreting social traditions made those underlying biological realities less and less relevant to new ways of organising human interaction.

    The underlying biological reality of physical power leading to sexual dominance displays may well exist. But new social traditions are arising with every technological innovation that takes us further and further away from the restrictions of our other underlying biological realities. There’s no reason that the dominance fetishes currently infesting popular depictions of sexuality can’t be made obsolete just as agriculture made running hunts obsolete.

  8. Sometimes I don’t think we even speak the same language. “Underlying biological reality” equals “crapping in the woods”? wtf? I think that main problem is that I reject the ideological frame you want to put everything into. “Essentialism” to you seems to equal “everyone who disagrees with me”.

    “There’s no reason that the dominance fetishes currently infesting popular depictions of sexuality can’t be made obsolete”

    Well sure although I think it is going to be a lot harder than you think. Not that it wouldn’t be a good and perhaps desirable thing. However, if you are looking for an explanation of where those dominance displays come from then the “underlying biological reality” looks to me like a good place to start. They don’t exist for no reason you know.

  9. I discovered recently that in Hindi, when accusations of homosexuality are used as an insult the word used specifically refers to the man being penetrated, not to the penetrator.

  10. Noen, you’re not addressing the flawed nature of the penetration=dominance assumption.

    When the males of a species perform dominance displays they show off for the females, but any violence they enact is directed at other males. The females then choose the more likely candidate to have sex with, and the neither the males nor females treat that act of sex as an act of violence. Normalising the equation of penetration with dominance is a societal human perversion of natural sexual relations. You’re playing the Desmond Morris trick of imposing an interpretation of behaviour that makes you feel powerful onto the scenarios presented by natural science.

  11. Its not really the response to the question you’ve posed but in German the words for vagina and pubic hair roughly translate as ‘lips of shame’ and ‘hair of shame’.

  12. bluemilk: English has the same situation: pudendum/pudenda for the female external genitalia. From pudere: to cause shame, ashame, “that of which one ought to be ashamed”.

    On paper, it doesn’t necessarily refer only to female genitalia, but in practice it does so exclusively. And it isn’t even obsolete; the nerve innervating the external genitalia is still called the pudendal nerve, and one variety of obstetric anaesthesia is called a pudendal block.

  13. Where to point him: Allan Johnson’s book *The Gender Knot*. There’s no better introduction for the well-intentioned but somewhat clueless man (or woman, but especially man).

  14. French has a real variety of words to design sluts, prostitution and everything, and they’re used happily everafter…
    The words “being fucked” and “asshole” are also widely used to talk of men.

    (In german, “asshole is the worst insult you can call someone)

    I’d say european have their share, but they use prostitutes words for girls and gay for men. :S

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