The divide isn't between 'sex negative' and 'sex positive' feminists — it's between liberal and radical feminism

I’d prefer not to draw hard and fast lines between feminists and have tried, lately, to avoid painting what feels like an overly simplistic “liberal feminist” vs. “radical feminist” wall that divides us. It isn’t always that simple. Some feminists I know disagree with me on the best way forward with regard to prostitution law, for example, yet don’t fall squarely into the category of “liberal feminist” and I myself don’t actually identify as any particular brand of feminist either — I simply call myself a feminist and a socialist. I also am trying to avoid vilifying all of those who might be described as “liberal feminists.” Some feminists do and say good things, despite the fact that I may disagree with them on, say, selfies (I know, I know, I’m having a “nice” day — I must be getting more sleep or something), but I wouldn’t necessarily view them as working in political opposition with me (though often they are).

So, to be clear, this isn’t a post about labels and identities, it’s one about ideological divides.

In an article over at The Frisky, entitled: “The ’80s Called And They Want Their Sex Wars Back,” Kitty Stryker writes that, after having attended the Feminist Porn Awards and the Feminist Porn Conference, she “realized that the sex wars are still very much A Thing.” She goes on to say:

There are still Good Feminists and Bad Feminists, though the definition of which is which varies depending on who you ask. It’s saddening to see us fighting each other, women who have been called prudes for asserting their sexual choices attacking women who have been called whores for asserting their sexual choices… and vice versa. This is, of course, exactly what the patriarchy wants. While we bicker about whether or not porn is empowering, we are being systematically marginalized, turned away from jobs, thrown out of school, our kids and our workspaces and our money and our privacy taken away from us. The act of having sex on film or any other sex work may empower some and humiliate others, or we might start feeling one way and eventually feel another.

While Stryker claims to feel sadness over the (often quite vicious) divides among feminists, she goes on to label the supposed two camps of feminists as “sex negative” and “sex positive.” No. Noooooo. This is so, so wrong. This characterization is responsible for so many misconceptions around feminism and what women’s collective empowerment looks like and I’m baffled that anyone who is familiar with the theory, arguments, and history of the feminist movement could frame it in this way.

I know for certain that many have used these labels in order to intentionally misrepresent and discredit radical feminist theory (and, actually, feminists in general — see: ye old “man-hating prude” trope) and scare women away from forming critiques of the sex industry, lest they be labelled “anti-sex;” and I also know that, as a result of this intentional misrepresentation, many women have legitimately bought into these ideas.

I don’t know where Stryker stands on that spectrum of “intention to misinform” to “legit misinformed,” and am happy to give her the benefit of the doubt (though I’m thinking her claim that she’s “read a fair amount of sex negative feminist theory” shows that she hasn’t, in fact, read and understood radical feminist theory or feminist critiques of the sex industry very thoroughly).

To clarify — “sex negative” and “sex positive” are relatively useless terms with regard to discussing feminist approaches to issues of sex and sexuality. The terms convey the message that “sex positivity” equals support for a vision of sex and sexuality that is defined by patriarchy and one that is primarily libertarian. What’s defined as “sex positive feminism” tends to translate to: non-critical of the sex industry, BDSM, burlesque, and generally, anything that can be related to “sex.” “Non-judgement” is the mantra espoused by so-called “sex-positive feminists,” which is troubling because it ends up framing critical thought and discourse as “judgement” and therefore negative. Since I tend to see critical thinking as a good thing, the “don’t judge me”/”don’t say anything critical about sex because it’s sex and therefore anything goes” thing doesn’t sit well with me.

“Sex negative,” on the other hand, tends to be ascribed to feminists who are critical of prostitution, pornography, strip clubs, burlesque, BDSM and, really, sex and sexuality as defined by patriarchy and men. The reason that feminists are critical of these things is because they want to work towards a real, liberated, feminist understanding of sex and sexuality, rather than one that sexualizes inequality, domination and subordination, is male-centered, and is harmful and exploitative of women. To me, that sounds far more “sex positive” (from a feminist perspective, anyway), than blind support for anything sex-related, because sex.

Stryker says the “infighting” between these two groups upsets her and reminds feminists to “remember who the real enemy is.” And I agree with her that we should indeed “remember” and that, too often, feminists attack and blame one another for problems that result from larger systems of power like patriarchy and capitalism.

Nonetheless, the divide is real. And while it isn’t black and white as not everyone fits squarely into one category of feminist or another, the reason the division exists is because there are very real ideological divides among feminists that have nothing to do with meaningless terms like “sex positive” or “sex negative.”

The divides are more accurately described as existing between liberal feminist and radical feminist ideology.

Liberal feminism is takes an individualistic perspective on women’s liberation. So the priority, for liberal feminists (for the record, it’s very rare for any individual to actually identify as a liberal feminist, so you’re going to have to make your own assessments based on their approach to feminism), is about the ability of individuals to make choices. Liberal feminism also focuses on achieving “equality” through legislative reform. What this means is that liberal feminists don’t aim to attack the root of the problem, but rather make changes within the system that already exists in order to help enable women to hold equal status to men in society. To be clear, I don’t think these aims are bad, in and of themselves, I just don’t think they will successfully address the problem of male power and female subordination. The main problem with liberal feminism is that it’s focus on individual rights and choices leads feminists to attempt to fix problems like violence against women and sexual exploitation through superficial means, for example: “maybe if we just make more “woman-friendly” porn, the porn industry will cease to be completely misogynist and exploitative;” “maybe if we just regulate the sex industry, prostitution will cease to be a violent industry that preys on marginalized women and exists purely for male pleasure, at the expense of women’s lives;” “maybe if women consent to shaking their breasts on stage for an audience and choose their own outfits (!), stripping/burlesque will no longer be about presenting women as pretty, sexy things to look at and become feminist;” “maybe if women choose to self-objectify in selfies, that act will become an empowering one;” and on and on. You get the picture.

Radical feminism looks at patriarchy as a system of power, not as something you can simply regulate or talk or imagine out of existence. Taking back words or inventing new ones won’t upset male power, nor will your own personal feelings of “empowerment.” You can’t simply change your own individual perspective on particular acts, trends, and behaviours in order to change reality. Radical feminism aims to attack gender roles and the social inequality and male violence against women that results from these prescribed gender roles. Therefore, from a radical feminist perspective, there can be no glorification of the “feminine” or “masculine” because 1) those roles are oppressive, and 2) they aren’t real, but are invented and enforced by a patriarchal society. “Feeling good” about self-objectification is fine on an individual level (I mean, feel however you want — no one’s stopping you), but has nothing to do with feminism or with changing or challenging an oppressive system. If more women make porn that is “female-friendly” (whatever that means), it won’t destroy the porn industry or make that industry one that isn’t a primarily sexist one that promotes the abuse and degradation of women. If we regulate the sex industry, it won’t change the fact that prostitution exists on a foundation of colonialism, capitalism, and patriarchy and is an industry that exists to benefit men and reinforce women’s roles as subordinate.

Whether or not you identify as a “liberal feminist” or a “radical feminist” is irrelevant, because the proof is in the pudding (I find that saying gross, but am using it regardless) and this is where and why there are such tense and explosive divides among self-described feminists. It has nothing to do with this mythical “sex positive”/”sex negative,” anti-feminist garbage — it has to do with how well one understands this system and how one believes it should be addressed.

Stryker quotes a self-described sex worker who asks: “Why do you need me to be empowered or degraded in my work?” in order to argue that this is a bad question because the issue is more complicated than that. But she, and the woman she quotes, doesn’t get it. It isn’t about deciding whether or not an individual woman feels either degraded or empowered in doing sex work — it’s about the system that led her to prostitution, it’s about why she made that “choice,” it’s about the fact that women and girls are funneled in to this industry in order for men’s every desire to be met, no matter how it impacts these women and girls — it’s about the fact that prostitution exists at all, and that it is primarily men who buy sex and primarily women who are forced to sell it. Any individual can feel “empowered” in any given situation, but that changes nothing in terms of the overall structures and systems and it changes nothing in terms of women’s collective liberation from said system.

Call it the “sex wars” if you like, but know that this “war” is less about sex than it is about power. Despair about “infighting,” but know that some of these divides are irreconcilable so long as there is no common understanding of what the oppressive forces we are fighting are, how those systems work, and what our end goal is.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • A very well written, interesting piece (as usual).

    I don’t understand liberal feminism as trying to orchestrate change using a system controlled by men is in essence appealing to powerful men to reduce their own power. Generally people with that kind of power and influence don’t relinquish one iota of it unless they are forced to.

    On a separate note I believe the saying is “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” which dates back to a time when “to prove” meant “to test” rather than its contemporary meaning. I hope that makes you hate the saying a little less 🙂

    • Meghan Murphy

      Yes, it is unlikely that the powerful will simply give up their power voluntarily. Has this even happened before?

      Re: the “pudding” phrase — I know, but I feel it’s been used in gross ways and it interferes with my ability to use the phrase without find it a bit yucks.

      • People sometimes cite the Ghandi thing or the civil rights movement for that kind of stuff. They’re terrible comparisons though, since post-ww2 britain literally couldn’t afford to keep India anyway and the civil rights movement was marked by quite a lot of conflicting violence and a particular political climate that saw southern power broken and divided. Ultimately civil rights changed very little about the power of african americans, it simply shifted the de jure segregation to de facto and inspired a generation or two of white americans to believe that racism was over and anyone who brought it up was unreasonable. So, no, not in recent memory.

        • Having a memory that dates back to the 1960s and historical reading way further, two questions occur to me. !. What is”recent memory?” and 2. What is “Voluntarily?”

          From Caroline Norton in the divorce courts ( through the response to Chartists such as William Cuffay (sent to Australia as a convict for suggesting that common men should have the vote to no-fault divorce and equal pay in the modern civilized world, there have been people in the power classes who felt moral obligation to share power to address inequity. There was certainly no violence involved in the Australian government in 1966 abandoning the requirement that women resign from their employment on marriage, or in extending the vote to Australian Aborigines. Yes, the steps are small and yes, it can take a long time, but over multiple generations we see vast changes.

      • Donkey Skin

        ‘Yes, it is unlikely that the powerful will simply give up their power voluntarily. Has this even happened before?’

        As Lierre Keith says in her talk ‘Liberals vs Radicals’, liberals fail to understand that ‘power is not a mistake out of which the powerful can be educated’.

        This speech was very important in my own development as a radical feminist, as she outlines the differences between the two political approaches very clearly (the talk is not about feminism, but liberalism and radicalism in general). The basic unit of analysis in liberal thought is the individual, whereas for radicals it is the group; liberals are idealists who think change happens through education, by changing people’s minds, whereas radicals are materialists who think change happens through dismantling oppressive institutions.

        Similarly to Meghan, she says that the differences between liberals and radicals are essentially about two fundamentally different ways of understanding society and the way power operates within it – is it primarily about autonomous individuals making choices, or is it about structural relations between classes of people? As Lierre says (and this is also a large part of Meghan’s point I think re: the feminist ‘sex wars’), if we understood these basic points of difference between us, we would have fewer useless political arguments where we all talk past one another.

        • I can’t watch the video right now (bandwidth caps… eugh), although I’m definitely putting it on my list. My question, though, is this:

          You say “liberals are idealists who think change happens through education, by changing people’s minds, whereas radicals are materialists who think change happens through dismantling oppressive institutions.” It sounds to me as though you’re saying education doesn’t play a role among radicals. Isn’t education a prerequisite to said dismantling, in that it opens people’s eyes to the realities of the oppressive systems? Or do you have a more specific definition of “education” in mind?

          • Meghan Murphy

            Yeah, I have to admit I had an issue with that point as well (though maybe I’m not fully understanding it), because I think education is imperative in terms of changing minds/effecting change.

          • “You say “liberals are idealists who think change happens through education, by changing people’s minds, whereas radicals are materialists who think change happens through dismantling oppressive institutions.” It sounds to me as though you’re saying education doesn’t play a role among radicals.”

            I’ve watched the video in question and in it Lierre Keith says that education does play a role in organising movements. I think what Donkey Skin meant to say was that liberals think change happens through education ALONE. For example, liberal feminists think that all rapes occur because men are insufficiently educated about consent, not because of indoctrination into masculinity and the dominance/submission based sexuality of porn/BDSM. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t educate men about the consent only that this is an insufficient solution. We should also educate people about the need to abolish gender, but until gender is actually abolished (through a real life transformation of social institutions), the oppression of women will not end.

          • “I’ve watched the video in question and in it Lierre Keith says that education does play a role in organising movements. I think what Donkey Skin meant to say was that liberals think change happens through education ALONE.”

            Exactly and just by looking around us we have more proof than one can count in how education alone does not really change anything.
            But one example that clearly demonstrates this, I think, is the palm oil industry and the destructiveness ait brings. Through education a lot of people know just how bad it is and still the palmoil industry is bigger than ever and the destruction has not stopped at all. The education to this is important so that people become aware but education alone don’t stop the destruction it brings.

          • Missfit

            ‘For example, liberal feminists think that all rapes occur because men are insufficiently educated about consent, not because of indoctrination into masculinity and the dominance/submission based sexuality of porn/BDSM.’

            Yes, it’s as though they believe that simply shouting ‘please don’t rape’ above a flow of messages telling men that women exist solely to fulfill their desires will do. They don’t look interested in changing the bases leading to the current situation, while it’s the only way to change the outcomes. I find that liberal feminists do not want to challenge the structures of the system; they’re happy to let them as they are, they just want a bigger part of the pie for their individual selves. As we know, the system can not maintain itself without someone being exploited.

          • Donkey Skin

            Lierre’s point isn’t to dismiss the importance of education, but rather to say that it is not enough, because oppressive systems do not exist because of ignorance. They are corrupt and brutal arrangements of power, deliberately sustained because they benefit the dominant group, and that is what she means when she says that power is not a mistake out of which the powerful can be educated.

            Consciousness-raising is a crucial part of any social movement, because it is essential to helping people to understand the situation they are in and motivating them to do something about it. However, consciousness-raising by itself will not effect change. That comes only from dismantling the institutions by which power structures sustain and replicate themselves.

            When it comes to relations between the sexes, men do not rape, murder, brutalise, denigrate and oppress women worldwide because women have not educated them sufficiently about our humanity. Women’s humanity is obvious. Men deny it because they enjoy oppressing us, because they directly benefit from it, and they will only stop when women organise politically to MAKE them stop, when we dismantle the institutions by which they perpetuate this. Patriarchy is not a mistake, it is not some glitch in the system that has arisen due to ignorance on the part of men. It is a deliberate arrangement of power.

          • Nia

            Holy fucking shit, that is everything I have wanted to say but never had the right words for. Thank you for making this comment, it really helped me to organise my thoughts and ideas.

  • pj

    Very insightful and well-written, you did a good job of communicating how I feel on the subject but am far too tired to do myself. Thank you!

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thanks pj!

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  • The way I see it, there are actually three types of feminism: Liberal (fake) feminism, which does not fight for equality between males and females and instead is all about ensuring that liberalism is applied universally (to men, women, whites, blacks, low income workers, middle income people, etc.) Radical feminism, which seeks to abolish the power that men have over women by abolishing masculinity (which is about gaining power), femininity (which is about losing/giving away power) and the institutions/behaviours which result from the existence of masculinity and femininity (pornography, prostitution, BDSM, beauty practices, etc.) and moderate feminism, which seeks to reform gender by promoting “healthy” masculinity/femininity.

    Nobody identifies as a “moderate feminist” but there are people who fall into this category including Anita Sarkeesian (a.k.a Feminist Frequency), Jackson Katz (who made the films Tough Guise and Tough Guise 2, which I loved up until the ending in which he praises policemen and soliders for modelling “a better form of manhood”) and Ariel Levy (who rejects “rauch culture” while embracing other feminine practices.) I’m sure there are others who fall into this category too. They are anti-pornography, anti-sexualisation and generally opposed to extreme gender conformity, so they would be “sex-negative” by liberal standards, but they want to reform gender rather than abolish it, so they’re not radical feminists. In the eyes of liberal feminists, moderate feminists are sort of like respectable “sex-negatives” they’re not totally evil (whoops, I mean “moralistic”, afterall nobody’s “evil” in Liberal Land) so you’re allowed to consider what they have to say, but you should be careful not to embrace their viewpoint too much, because you then you might end up like Andrea Dworkin and Shelia Jeffreys and that would be terrible! That’s quite literally what I was told at my university.

    I think that what I’ve termed “moderate feminism” is probably closer to radical feminism than liberal feminism. I’m happy to view moderate feminism as a genuine form of feminism, because it really does seek to end male domination in the form of rape, domestic violence, pornography, prostitution and extreme beauty practices. Liberal feminists only talk about domestic violence when they feel they have to (e.g. Laci Green begins her video on domestic violence by saying that she really doesn’t want to talk about it, because she’d rather be talking about “empowering” stuff) and they only talk about rape when doing so enables them to push their sexual libertarian agenda (e.g. Slutwalk, the argument that opponents of prostitution are to blame for “sex workers” being raped and killed, the argument that BDSM/pornography is super awesome because the people involved in those things supposedly have really high consent standards.) Don’t get me wrong, the more people there are condemning rape and domestic violence the better, but the way liberals talk about these issues leads me to think that they care more about their own sexual liberation, than about ending rape and abuse. And of course pornography, prostitution and extreme beauty practices are totally endorsed by liberal feminists and failure to endorse them gets you labelled a prude.

    Moderate feminists can also be viewed as being closer to radical feminists than liberal feminists because they (the moderate feminists) sometimes collaborate with/endorse radical feminists and their allies, instead of denouncing them as male-hating prudes. Ariel Levy wrote a sympathetic introduction to Andrea Dworkin’s “Intercourse” and Anita Sarkeesian includes Gail Dines’ “Pornland” on her list of resources along with an anti-pornography book by Robert Jensen (a male supporter of radical feminism), which makes it sort of ironic that Anita Sarkeesian received so much money and support from liberal feminists. It seems as though liberal feminists are more interested in what a person symbolises (e.g. Anita Sarkeesian symbolises brave resistance in the face of internet misogyny, Audre Lorde symbolises intersectionality, etc.) then what a person actually believed. So Gail Dines and Andrea Dworkin are seen as embodiments of evil (or rather “sex-negativity”) while Anita Sarkeesian and Audre Lorde are seen as saints (in spite of the fact that all four of them are quite similar when it comes to issues concerning sexuality.)

    So to summarise, I think there is a basis for an alliance between radical feminists and moderate feminists, but no such basis when it comes radical feminists and liberal feminists. Aside from opposition to things that any decent person would oppose (e.g. rape, domestic violence, etc.) and abstract sayings like “smash patriarchy”, “liberate women” and “end sexism” (which don’t really mean much unless one explains what they mean by “patriarchy” and “sexism”) there isn’t much that radical feminists and liberal feminists have in common. In fact a brief examination of liberal, “sex-positive” feminism shows that it was formed in order to fight against radical, “sex-negative” anti-pornography feminism. Of course there were non-radical feminists around before the emergence of the feminist anti-pornography movement, but they didn’t form their own “sex-positive” feminist movement until the anti-pornography side started to gain ground. Hell, even the term “sex-positive feminism” implies the existence of a “sex-negative” brand of feminism.

    I daresay that the liberal sex-positives were ones who started the “feminist sex wars” (which is a pretty dramatic term for a conflict that no involved no guns, no punches and no deaths, only heated arguments, protests and exclusive conferences.) The anti-porngraphy movement fought against an industry while the lesbian feminist movement sought to escape oppressive sexual practices. The radical feminists did not “declare war” on liberal sex-positive feminism. They couldn’t have, since at that time it did not exist as a movement. The sex-positive movement formed in order to oppose radical feminism. If the liberals truely favoured feminist unity at all costs they would never have taken a stand against the anti-pornography feminist movement, they would never have formed FACT (the Feminist Anti-Censorship Taskforce) and they never would have stopped the anti-pornography ordinance from passing. They would have spent the 1980’s focussing on “more important things” (as if some women’s lives were somehow more important than others.) Instead they started a “sex war” because they didn’t want to lose their precious orgasms and now they’re winning so they want it to end. This is not about “unity”, it’s about solidifying the pro-pornography side’s (hopefully temporary) victory.

    Apologies for my massive comment.

    • jo

      Great comment!

      I agree that the sex war is bullshit. The only war is on women as usual.

      Anita Sarkeesian is great but as a feminist who is against gender roles I’m disturbed by her use of “all genders” (instead of saying both sexes or all people) and worse, “sex worker”(!)

      • Isn’t it interesting how non-violent conflict between women is called a “war”? I guess women only have to behave in a less than totally passive and harmonious manner to be accused of being “at war” with each other. Or maybe it has something to do with the idea that sex is this special thing with superpowers? It is so powerful in the eyes of liberals that it can start “wars” and “revolutions”. For me the word “revolution” implies an event in which the ruling class is overthrown by a lower class. No such thing happened in the 1960s. It was more like the capitalist class changed its mind and realised it could make a tonne more money if it shoved sex down everyone’s throat, but I guess if you care more about getting laid than you care about the liberation of humanity then increase access to images of super thin women with enormous boobs constitutes a “revolution”.

        When (or rather, in which video) did Anita Sarkeesian say “sex workers”? Was it after she suddenly became really popular? But yeah, I have heard her say “people of all genders”, but what really tipped me off to her reformist status is her defense of mild beauty practices (high heels, make up, etc.) in her “Ms Male Character” video. She seems to recognise that some aspects of feminity (e.g. the Damsel in Distress trope) are bad and her earlier videos contain many strong critiques of masculinity, but she’s not prepared to do away with gender. She says we need “new gender paradigms”. I’d be curious to know what these are, but I doubt liberals would like them. They seem totally devoted to the current gender paradigm.

        • jo

          Independent, she used the term “sex worker” in her latest Backer-only Kickstarter update: “Women as Background Decoration is also a common element in modern RPGs and open world games. They typically take the form of NPC sex workers that populate virtual strip clubs, back alleys or brothels and are meant to add a “sleazy” seasoning to the in-game universe.”

          I worry that she will include it in the next video. Her videos are important and watched by so many people.

        • I’m curious about what your issue with the phrase “all genders” is? There is a large spectrum of genders, not just male and female, and many find the concept of “sex” to be too limiting and exclusionary to those who do not conform to the cis gender binary.

          • Mads

            “I’m curious about what your issue with the phrase “all genders” is? There is a large spectrum of genders, not just male and female, and many find the concept of “sex” to be too limiting and exclusionary to those who do not conform to the cis gender binary.”

            It seems you’re conflating sex and gender. Male and female aren’t genders, they’re the sexes. They’re biological fact. Gender, on the other hand, is a social construct that we’re fed since birth. It’s a binary and a hierarchy based off the biological sex that ensures the dominance of men over women. There are two genders, masculine and feminine. The way they’re constructed is to be opposing sides and firmly places all gender traits attributed to women as LESSER than. Strong – weak, logical – emotional, dominant – submissive, etc. pp. It all becomes much clearer when using “sex role stereotypes” instead of “gender”.

            “When a person is cisgender, they identify as the gender that matches the sex that they were assigned at birth.”

            Not refuting the biological fact of your sex doesn’t equal identifying with the sex role stereotypes that are attributed to it. Cisgender is a complete misnomer and assumes that most people identify with their gender. Plenty of women and men don’t.

            Personality traits, something that is actually rooted in biology, is attributed as gender to either one sex or the other. Personality traits are so diverse and all science points to men and women being more similar than different as a whole, but diverse from one person to the next.

            Why should we want to create more boxes? Because that is what gender is. Boxes that you have to fit into. Even if we had a hundred boxes, some people still wouldn’t fit in one. The only way to allow everyone to be who they are is to abolish gender. All of it!

          • I mostly agree with what’s you’re saying, but I have minor issues with a few of your statements.

            “The way they’re constructed is to be opposing sides and firmly places all gender traits attributed to women as LESSER than. Strong – weak, logical – emotional, dominant – submissive, etc. ”

            I think femininity is about subordination and the traits you’ve listed all lead to subordination. If a person is told they’re “weak” they will think they have no chance of defeating their oppressers (the strong.) If a person thinks they’re emotional (or rather “whinny”) they will see any problems they have with the current order as “whines” that ought to be dismissed. If they are told they’re submissive…. well that one’s obvious.

            It’s not just that feminine traits are deemed to be “lesser” than others. In fact reactionaries sometimes place a high value on feminine traits (when they occur in women.) They despise men acting feminine, because reactionary men want to maintain their dominant position (and they feel that feminine men are a threat to that.)

            In any case, women may be praised like crazy for having feminine traits (e.g. “oh you women are so pretty and nuturing and gentle and we love you so much for doing all the housework for us and making babies” or the liberal version “oh you girls are so sexy with your naturally enormous boobs and you smooth hair free legs and your desire to have sex with us all the time”.) I think use of the phrase “lesser than” may imply that femininity is simply undervalued. Even if this were correct, the solution is not for femininity to be more valued. The “femmephobia” that liberals complain about is totally justified. Men will generally stay the hell away from femininity because on some level they know that feminine behaviours are the behaviours of subordinate people (especially beauty practices, which they know cause physical pain) and I think that in an ideal world women would not practice them either.

            “Even if we had a hundred boxes, some people still wouldn’t fit in one. The only way to allow everyone to be who they are is to abolish gender. All of it!”

            You’re right of course, but I think you’re playing by liberal rules and appealing to liberal concerns about everyone’s right to be themselve. Being yourself is all well and good when we’re talking about morally neutral traits (like what kind of music people listen to) but for some people (namely those who most thoroughly conform to masculinity) “being yourself” means being an aggressive, violent, ruthless, selfish, sexually callous jerk and I don’t know about you, but I don’t think anyone should be that way, even if that’s who they “truely are” (whatever the hell that means.)

            I think the abolition of gender should include making it clear to people that masculinity, as it is current defined by the culture (to include aggression, violence, emotional coldness, etc.), is morally unacceptable and that nobody should want to practice it. We should all simply be human instead. That doesn’t mean everyone will be the same, it just means that they’ll behave in a way that doesn’t involve dominating or submitting to others (and which doesn’t lead to that sort of behaviour.) There are a lot of ways to “be human” in the sense that I’m talking about being human, just as there are a lot of ways to be masculine or feminine, but being human is much better (assuming one values equality and liberty.)

          • jo

            Male and female are not genders, they’re what the two sexes are called. It’s biology. I find the socially constructed concept of “gender” too limiting and exclusionary. What’s wrong with “everyone, all people” etc?

    • Meghan Murphy

      Don’t apologize, Independent Radical — that comment was thrilling.

    • MLM

      My apologies if this a tangent but I find the point you raise about the way that Dworkin and Dines have been demonised while Sarkeesian and Lorde have been sort of canonised to be a fairly important one, as it hints at the way dominant power structures self protect through selective narratives about the individuals who most famously challenge them.

      It was interesting to see, for example, how Nelson Mandela’s communist leanings were largely erased from discussion in favour of the “symbol of peace” angle when he died. Even how Jesus Christ somehow became the “just forgive everybody” guy, as opposed to somebody who caused enough trouble (trashing temples and criticising rich people etc) to be nailed to a cross for it. And how the notion of forgiveness itself has often been used (and distorted, in my opinion) to erode resistance to oppression.

      I think part of the problem, and part of what makes certain radical thinkers so easy to demonise, is that the very notion of compassion itself has also been hijacked and distorted. People think compassion is about protecting somebody’s feelings, and sometimes it is. But sometimes it’s having an understanding that there are more crucial issues at stake. And doing the right thing may actually hurt someone’s feelings, and not make you or them feel good. Sometimes the deepest compassion is the type that requires you to be the sword which cuts through the bullshit and say “No, Im sorry. I can’t and won’t go along with that. It’s not good for me or you or anyone”. (I’m learning this more and more as a parent…)

      Going along with falsehood and delusion just because you are afraid of hurting someone’s feelings or because you feel sorry for them is not compassion, it’s a type of sycophancy. And while it’s so important not to lose sight of the fact that you are dealing with another human being when you find yourself in opposition with them, it’s every bit as important to point out that facilitating injustice in the name of “compassion” is actually precisely the opposite. Fierce defence of justice is actually the truest kind of compassion, but often also the easiest to mischaracterise.

      Anyway, hope that makes some sense and isn’t too off track.

    • Great post Meghan, thanks.

      Great indepth comment Independent Radical. Probably, my guess is that the group now deemed ‘moderate feminists’ were the liberal feminists of old – certainly reformist not radical, tinkering around the edges of gender roles and beauty practices etc. And the ones now called ‘liberal feminists’ are really the ‘3rd wave’ (aka the men’s movement!). The problem with this shift, takeover, is that the moderates have no real ‘name’ to go by – and now some of them think they are ‘enough’ like radical feminists to call themselves radical feminists. Personally I prefer to call the ‘moderates’ – anti-porn liberals, which most of them seem to be.

      Perhaps the only solution really, is to call the 3rd wavers ‘libertarians’, which they are (and really not feminist, they are handmaidens doing male bidding) and return the ‘liberal’ label back to those now called ‘moderates’, who are in limboland, without much of a name/branding. I don’t blame them, distancing themselves from the libertarians – but radical they ain’t. It is probably important to note, that most of us radicals start of being ‘a bit liberal’, then grow out of it and wake up to what is going on.

      Slutwalk – really had to be the biggest clueless joke of the 21st century. With slogans like “I’m a slut, please don’t rape me!” – yeah right, like begging and asking nicely ever stopped males raping.

      And ‘war’? Seriously? How can you have a war without a shot being fired?

      • Meghan Murphy

        I don’t think that the ‘moderates’ are necessarily liberal feminists though. I think many of them are a little radical but are (justifiably) afraid of what will happen to them if they are more forthright with their “radical” positions… Either they will lose their audience and/or their career, or they will be attacked (likely all three). I do agree that the third wave is mostly rooted in liberal feminist/libertarian thought, though.

    • There are several types of feminists. I’m a socialist, and nowadays I’d say an ecosocialist feminist. For many years, ecosocialism and its forerunners have studied the issue of “reconversion”, or abolishing harmful parts of the economy while ensuring that workers in those industries do not suffer from something that had been impelled by capitalist forces. They were focusing more on industries such as weapons or the production of individual motor vehicles though.

  • I think this clip with Lierre Kieth is really good in explaining the difference of a liberal worldview and radical wordview in this clip:

    The word radical has been very demonized throughout history by western society and usually is used as a slur in many ways because people don’t really understand the concept behind it.
    Anyway, hope it helps for anyone that have a hard time wrapping their heads around this.

  • I find this so ironic: ‘Stryker says the “infighting” between these two groups upsets her and reminds feminists to “remember who the real enemy is”.’ It would be a very good start if one group stopped calling the other “sex-negative.” That framing simply adopts the “real enemy’s” insistence that feminists who object to men’s institutionalized use and abuse of women are really just prudes who hate sex, and that dominance-based sexuality *is* what sex is. Those forms have a culturally specific history, growing out of the demonologist pornographies and sexualized torture of the witch hunts (dungeons, chains, torture, gags / witch’s bridles, branding) and through the slave trade. That history of trauma imprinted itself on European culture, and percolated out through multiple channels ever since. If anyone can think of other (pre-modern, because this sexualization of confinement and torture has long since gone global) cultural histories that sexualize torture in this way, I would be interested to know about it. I haven’t found any.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Exactly. It’s like intentionally creating “infighting.” If you invent a group to “war” with and invent reasons to “war” with them, then I suppose you can also invent a “war.” Why do that and then complain about said “war?” And how can you even call yourself a feminist while pushing such sexist ideas (i.e. that feminists who don’t support sexualized violence against women are prudes)?

      • Missfit

        These concepts of sex-negative and sex-positive are so limiting and utterly ridiculous. This binary system came up from the self-defined ‘pro-sex’ camp, the ones being labeled ‘sex-negative’ having never asked for such restricting labels. ‘Sex-positive’ does not allow for an in depth analysis of sexuality. Concepts like fear, exploitation, fear, power and socialization vanish behind the sole valid concept of ‘consent’ (a concept meaning agreeing to something which terms has been defined by somebody else). As Andrea Dworkin wrote:

        ‘In this reductive brave new world, women like sex or we do not. We are loyal to sex or we are not. The range of emotions and ideas expressed by Tolstoy et al. is literally forbidden to contemporary women. Remorse, sadness, despair, alienation, obsession, fear, greed, hate—all of which men, especially male artists, express— are simple no votes for women. Compliance means yes; a simplistic rah-rah means yes; affirming the implicit right of men to get laid regardless of the consequences to women is a yes. Reacting against force or exploitation means no; affirming pornography and prostitution means yes. “ I like it” is the standard for citizenship, and “ I want it” pretty much exhausts the First Amendment’s meaning for women. Critical thought or deep feeling puts one into the Puritan camp, that hallucinated place of exile where women with complaints are dumped, after which we can be abandoned.’

        I think this is very convenient for our common ‘real enemy’…

  • contentious

    A basic problem with this article is that you don’t seem to understand the sense that Kitty Stryker is using the term “sex negative”. She’s pretty strongly influenced by Radtransfem, a self-described “sex-negative feminist”:

    And since you don’t get that context, you launch into an extensive riff about *your* understanding and dislike of the use of “sex-negative”. If you want to do that, fine, but you shouldn’t use your misreading of another persons writing as a pretext for that.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I think the terms in and of themselves, the way they are used and understood pretty universally within online feminist discourse, the way she discusses the terms in her post, and the actual argument she makes in the post are a pretty clear signal as to what it is she means. I’m not going to reiterate all the points I make clear in the post, but “sex negative” is used to describe second wave feminists and/or feminists who are critical of the sex industry, the sexualization of violence and inequality, things like BDSM, objectification, and, more generally, a male-centered understanding of sex/sexuality.

    • morag

      If you want to go even deeper, I would say that Radtransfem shouldn’t refer to themselves as a radical feminist, since radical in this context doesn’t simply mean super cool and subversive. Also transwomen shouldn’t co-opt a movement that was built by and for females. A man can never be a radical feminist because radical feminism isn’t about men at all.

    • Missfit

      It is not about Meghan’s personal [mis]understanding of the terms. ‘Sex-positive’ and ‘sex-negative’ were invented to create a seperation, they are meant to be opposites. They were set up for and used against feminists critical of the sex industry and BDSM. Radtransfem acknowledges that ‘sex-negative’ are terms that were invented ‘to stop us in our track’ and that ‘to some extent they have’. She suggests a reclaiming of those terms, like ‘slut’ have been reclaimed by some. I am personnally not in favor in reclaiming terms that have been invented solely to discredit, insult or shame me… I think Radtransfem’s ‘Ethical Prude’ articles are awesome though, and she also has good ones on consent too.

  • qwertyuio

    How can someone claim that liberal vs radical debates are “infighting” when one side has the monied industries of BDSM and porn behind them? What is “in” about billions of dollars controlled by men?

  • Well said, Missfit! “Concepts like fear, exploitation, fear, power and socialization vanish behind the sole valid concept of ‘consent’ (a concept meaning agreeing to something which terms has been defined by somebody else)” And this has to be put front and center in the debate over the sex trade, in which extracting initial “consent” so often looms large, and leads through a maze of predetermined “choices” that render the woman utterly trapped in the end-game. She doesn’t get what she intended, she gets what others (pimps, johns, etc.) want to make her do, and the costs do not become visible until she is in up to her neck. But those singing hosannas to “choice” and “consent” prefer to ignore these deeply engrained social mechanisms, and the entire historical structures that perpetuate the entrapment, the nowhere to go, the addiction and isolation.

  • Mads

    Thank you, Meghan, for your website and everything you write. Reading your articles has given me the words to articulate what otherwise would stay hidden and invisble.

  • Thank you Megan. It feels like everyone around me wants to legalize prostitution and it’s such a relief to read this.

  • marv

    I find the terms “sexist negative” and “sexist positive” more accurate descriptors of both sides. Sexist positive people fight against sex class consciousness.

    • Brilliant, Marv. That’s a useful retort.

      • Brilliant indeed, Marv. And, way more accurate. Thank you.

        • marv

          No, I am not, although thanks for your well meaning compliments. I was/am as dopey as the liberals but luckily ran into intelligent people – abolitionists. I do like to amuse myself with catchy idioms to break up the tedium of dealing with pro-sexism apologists. It is so easy to multi-task when debating them.

  • Kitty Stryker

    Hey, fair enough on the sex positive / sex negative thing – I have plenty of critique of sex positive as a thing as it stands, because I feel sex positivity SHOULD cover critique, and sex negativity SHOULD be respected because sex isn’t always nice or pleasant. Not all sex negative feminists identify with radical feminism, though, particularly because of the gender/sex essentialism you state above. Still, the terms were the terms used in the 80s, and as my article was about that, I used the same language. 🙂 I think you’ve got an accurate read on most sex positive (and now, sex critical) feminism, or at least the people who identify as such. I’d suggest that’s because it’s been co-opted by people who are NOT interested in critique about issues of race, sexism, heterosexism, class, etc. Much like radical feminism, when it comes to being anti-porn, anti-sex work, anti-BDSM, transphobic, can be easily co-opted/cited (and has been, historically) by the Religious Right.

    The transphobia I see in reference to Lisa Millbank, who, yes, inspires me quite a bit, saddens me greatly and is why I could never refer to myself as a radical feminist. I guess that makes me one of those useless liberal feminists? I’m ok with that.

    I hoped it came across in my piece, but I actually *agree* that the sex industry is based in capitalism, patriarchy, and colonialism… I just ALSO think that’s true of work, generally, and that while we continue to fight capitalism and patriarchy, it’d be nice to treat workers decently and ethically. I guess I disagree that people wouldn’t continue to make sexual exchanges of some sort, if those things didn’t exist? But until that world exists, it’s completely hypothetical. I can create porn with companies that focus on fair treatment of their workers and with producers who are very aware of these issues, and model what I want to see – sex that’s not coerced, that’s enjoyed, that’s between partners who want to have sex and just happen to be doing it on film. That’s a rarity in the porn world (hell that’s hard to find in *feminist* porn) and I’d like to see that not be the case.

    I wish we could really have a conversation about these topics, and leave space for the myriad of ways women fight oppression. None of us are outside of the context of patriarchy or capitalism or colonialism. So we find different ways to work within and against. I’ve learned a lot from radical feminism, and it’s given me a lot to chew on about sex work and choices. But radical feminism doesn’t seem open to learning from those of us who they’ve decided are the “other side”… even though we’re also women. :/

    Anyway, I’m glad you read it, and posted about it. I hope it continues to spur dialogue.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, Kitty. I understand perhaps you meant to convey something less divisive with use of the terms “sex negative” and “sex positive”, but the terms, in and of themselves, are divisive and are misleading. And the way they are used and understood, more widely, tend to be in a way that assigns “good” value to “sex positive feminists” and “bad” value to “sex negative feminists” because fun sexy feminism that’s pro-porn, etc. is more popular than fuddy duddy, sex-hating, no-fun feminists who are critical of the sex industry/male-centered visions of sex and sexuality. Also, there are almost zero feminists who would describe themselves as “sex negative” (aside from maybe Lisa? not sure if she does or doesn’t) because being critical of the sex industry or sexualized violence doesn’t = “sex negative”…

      I don’t agree at all that radical feminism isn’t open to learning from the supposed “other side.” Most women who come to radical feminism — myself included — came to a more radical analysis after trying very hard to make “sex positive feminism” work for them. We come to radical feminism after realizing that nothing else makes sense. I find it’s the “other side” who consistently misunderstand and misrepresent radical feminists and radical feminist theory and arguments. The number of people who routinely slander and misrepresent Andrea Dworkin, having never read her work, in the name of “sex positive feminism” is ridiculous.

      You yourself have been busily slandering me online just today so I find your post here to be quite disingenuous and your lies about me to prove the exact points I make in my post

      If you can’t tell the difference between critiques of systems and ‘hatred’ of people marginalized by said systems, you’re not going to do very well in your efforts to effect political/social change.

      • Welp I guess it only makes sense you’d ignore the points I make about my article and sex work/within and against, as it seems your education/reading ended before Judith Butler. :/

        I did ask you to prove me wrong on the anti-sex worker sentiment (specifically your hatred of the term sex worker) and the transphobia, because I’m very open to being proven wrong (I’d love that!) but instead of doing that you shut down my critique. It’s too bad.

        • Meghan Murphy

          Lying isn’t critique, Kitty. And I won’t respond to people who lie about me. You are publishing slanderous statements about me online. If you can’t engage with integrity and without lying, I see no reason to engage with you.

          I find these kinds of lies to be pretty gross and lazy but also to be part of a larger effort to silence feminist voices and dissent. It’s not the kind of behaviour I respect. I’m sorry I gave you the benefit of the doubt, because you clearly don’t deserve it.

          Also, I completed both a BA and a masters degree in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies and have been writing about and producing feminist radio about feminism for years. So my education/reading is pretty alright. You might try reading more than one book before embarrassing yourself publicly via misinformed and lazy arguments.

          • Actually, I have a BA in Psychology and Cultural Anthropology with a focus on issues of international feminisms, the history of social reform movements, and global sex work. I didn’t get a Master’s because, funnily enough, I had to work for a living, not being financially privileged and not wanting to go into debt. I think suggesting my reading is lacking is pretty inaccurate, therefore, and somewhat hypocritical, especially if you want to say that I’m lying and slandering you while making things up about my experience/education.

            I did offer up citations as to why I’ve formed those opinions, mind, so they aren’t lies, and they aren’t my opinions created out of the void- they’re created by your comments. I think it’s lazy to continue to point and say “liar! liar!” rather than address the points I make about sex work, choice, and capitalist, colonialist patriarchy.

            But thank you- you have, perhaps inadvertently, proved the point in my original article. While I have made points about where I agree with you, and where I feel your critique is narrow, you have instead chosen logical fallacies and defensiveness. Critique has to go in every direction, or it’s pretty useless. I don’t quite understand why *your* critique needs to be accepted without further discussion or counter-critique, but mine is not? But hey, I guess I need to read more books to understand why some women’s voices are ok to silence. I’ll get right on that and leave you to it! x

          • Meghan Murphy

            “Actually, I have a BA in Psychology and Cultural Anthropology with a focus on issues of international feminisms, the history of social reform movements, and global sex work. I didn’t get a Master’s because, funnily enough, I had to work for a living, not being financially privileged and not wanting to go into debt. I think suggesting my reading is lacking is pretty inaccurate, therefore, and somewhat hypocritical, especially if you want to say that I’m lying and slandering you while making things up about my experience/education.”

            Great. It’s unfortunate your BA didn’t teach you the difference between critiquing oppressive systems of power and “hating” (your words) the individual people oppressed by said systems.

            It took me almost nine years to complete my BA because I had to work. I went into extreme debt to finish both degrees AND worked through both of them. I doubt I will be able to pay off those loans in my lifetime. Most of the work I do today is unpaid. The work I am paid for, doesn’t sustain me. I struggle to pay my rent every month. I can never figure out why people are so incredibly delusional about how much writers are paid for their work, when they are paid at all.

            I have said nothing about your education. I am commenting on your lack of knowledge re: feminism and your comments regarding my education/knowledge.

            “I did offer up citations as to why I’ve formed those opinions, mind, so they aren’t lies, and they aren’t my opinions created out of the void- they’re created by your comments. I think it’s lazy to continue to point and say “liar! liar!” rather than address the points I make about sex work, choice, and capitalist, colonialist patriarchy.”

            You have offered zero “citations.” You have said that I “hate sex workers” and am transphobic. Those statements are outright lies. When you publish lies that constitutes libel.

            Go and read my entire website. Right now. Go look at the most recent podcasts I produced. Guess at how much work goes into producing those shows and into this site. Go look at my entire body of work. And then talk to me about “sex work, choice, and capitalist, colonialist patriarchy.” Go. I’ll wait.

            “But thank you- you have, perhaps inadvertently, proved the point in my original article. While I have made points about where I agree with you, and where I feel your critique is narrow, you have instead chosen logical fallacies and defensiveness. Critique has to go in every direction, or it’s pretty useless. I don’t quite understand why *your* critique needs to be accepted without further discussion or counter-critique, but mine is not? But hey, I guess I need to read more books to understand why some women’s voices are ok to silence. I’ll get right on that and leave you to it!”

            I was perfectly prepared to respond to your comment here and dialogue with you respectfully and civilly until I noticed you trashing me and lying about me online for absolutely no reason at all. I didn’t attack you, I didn’t insult you, I didn’t lie about you. Yet you, for no apparent reason felt my critique/post was enough reason to resort to slander. Why? What is the point of this? What do you hope to achieve? Clearly NOT respectful dialogue, which is what you pretend to want in your post. You’ve shown yourself to be a hypocrite in saying you want respectful dialogue while attacking and lying about feminists who don’t agree with you. This tells me you have no integrity and/or are incapable of critical thought.

            Again, go read my entire body of work. Also, go listen to the talk I just posted by Cherry Smiley on Indigenous feminism. Listen to the entire talk. THEN tell me (and Cherry) whose voices are being silenced.

            You accusations and your response are ignorant and, frankly, repulsive. You are dismissing my entire body of work without having looked at it. You are ignoring the marginalized voices that are ON THIS SITE. Go read the piece I just published at Vice. Go listen to the podcast I did last month about ‘comfort women’ — who suffered abhorrent abuses during WWII and are, quite literally, still being silenced, 70 years later. What work are you doing to support and ally with these women? Does attending the feminist porn awards count? What work are you doing to raise the voices of and support the struggles of Indigenous women and girls who continue to go missing daily — who are among the most marginalized in this country? Your selfish desire to defend your little blog post is not an acceptable excuse for this behaviour. Our fight for the liberation of women and to end violence against women is more important than your ego.

          • anon
          • ozzie

            These ”citations” you offered up are nothing but bias, lies, and manipulations of fact intended to spread disinformation about Meghan. You use the rejection of the supposedly ”humanizing” term ”sex worker” to try to prop up your unfounded claim that she hates sex workers: have you actually done any reading as to why feminists and exited women/survivors reject the term? It’s because it is an Orwellian, essentially meaningless, obfuscating and euphemistic term that tries to sanitize the reality of women in prostitution–libfems like you think that simply enforcing the employment of empty PC terms like this is substitute for actual activism and sit back self-satisfied though your word-policing has done nothing to help women escape the poverty, violence, brutality, etc. of prostitution. Have you ever asked survivors like Rebecca Mott why they detest the term? It’s because it ascribes agency on people that objectively have very little, thus making them complicit in their own abuse–essentially victim-blaming them.
            Also, your transphobia accusations are way out of line. The incident you ‘cite’ was a non-issue blown out of proportion by Tumblr perma-outraged social justice warriors. Meghan quoted Ngac Loc Tran (sp) not realizing that they use custom pronouns like zie/xer/ou etc and was piled on for ”misgendering”. She fixed the error as soon as she was made aware. Literally, that’s it.
            Really, stop, you’re embarrassing yourself.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Apologizing for and correcting mistakes is transphobic!

          • “Have you ever asked survivors like Rebecca Mott why they detest the term? It’s because it ascribes agency on people that objectively have very little, thus making them complicit in their own abuse–essentially victim-blaming them.”

            Well said. We could start talking about the choice of rape victims too and say that we are robbing them of agency. The fact is exploitation is exploitation and loss is loss. And pretending that exploitation isn’t happening when it is happening is not respectful (or giving true agency) to victims in the least.

            This discussion of “agency” strikes me as really patronizing. It’s like losing a job and having your friends all say, “No you did fine. It’s really alright, we respect you. You are doing so well. This loss of a job is not a problem, it’s alright. Don’t feel bad about it. You did a great job,” while actually the truth is that whether or not they will acknowledge it you have suffered a loss and have lost something. The attempts at “sugarcoating” end up just denying the person’s loss and making it worse. And respecting a person means respecting a person’s right to grieve over their losses and feel their losses, not “We respect you, you did an excellent job. Everything is great.”

            People feel bad when something bad is happening to them, when they are losing out when something humiliating and exploitative is happening to them whether you would like to gloss it over and say that they have agency or not, people *know* something bad is happening to them. It’s like someone losing a foot and people saying to them, “No no, you don’t need to be sad, it’s all OK.”

            True agency and sense of ability to direct one’s own fate comes when people are able to differentiate between situations in which they were powerless and helpless from situation in which they had power and could help themselves and understand exactly what factors are under their control that they can change with their own actions. Telling a person that they have agency in a situation where they don’t have power just teaches people learned helplessness and actually robs them of agency and a sense of competency and responsibility over their own lives.

      • “Most women who come to radical feminism — myself included — came to a more radical analysis after trying very hard to make “sex positive feminism” work for them. We come to radical feminism after realizing that nothing else makes sense.”

        This has been my experience. I tried very hard to make sex positive feminism work for me but guess what it wasn’t positive towards my sexuality and sex drive as a woman and it did not put my sexuality on an equal footing to that of men’s sexuality.

        I am against porn and prostitution because I believe that women have a right to enjoy sex. That is sex positivity to me, sex positivity does not only extend to men, women deserve the right to be sexually satisfied too. I do not want my husband or boyfriend going to prostitutes and paying for sex and then coming home and not knowing how the heck to satisfy me. I don’t want the men having the option to go to prostitutes and get any sort of sex they want and getting their sexual needs met and then when they come to me, they have already had their needs mostly met so they have more bargaining power. That doesn’t improve my sex life and good sex is important to me! I want good sex for myself. I don’t want my boyfriend going to a prostitute and being told that he’s so great at sex when he’s doing all the wrong things that any woman would hate and then coming home and doing the same with me and thinking I’m odd for not liking it. And what about the sexuality of the women in prostitution ? Don’t they deserve the right to their sexuality ? Don’t they deserve the right to enjoy sex ? They are giving up their rights to good sex and to enjoy their sexuality for money in prostitution. They don’t deserve that. What about some sex positivity towards them ?

        And btw transphobia always seems to come up when someone is against prostitution. So let me give my views on trans* people, they are currently being subject to prostitution abuse. They do not deserve that. They should not be relegated to prostitution and caring about trans* people means that it is not OK for straight cisgender men to abuse them in prostitution either.

        As a radfem (I don’t see myself as particularly radical but I would be perceived that way by a lot of people) who thinks that we should do away with the gender boxes and roles completely, I see society as having the problem trying to shove human being into binary gender boxes and roles, male and female instead of letting people just be people. Trans* people did not fit into those boxes and it’s not because there was anything wrong with the trans* people, it’s because there is something wrong with our society that means that if you are born with a penis, people will not accept you wearing a dress and acting as “feminine” as a woman. Even gay men who are allowed to be effeminate are not allowed to cross many lines. They can’t wear a dress every day and french manicure their nails and work in a bank. This is wrong that society cannot accept human beings who would rather not follow all the gender roles that way.

        The fact that people are shoved into these boxes is a societal problem and something society is inflicting on trans* people, they did not deserve to be shoved into the wrong boxes. This is not a disorder with trans* people, this is a disorder with society. Trans* people should not need to have surgery just so that they can wear a dress every day and talk in their preferred tone of voice and act in their preferred way because the problem does not lie with them. The problem is with our society and all of us. Trans* women “working” in prostitution are being subject to prostitution abuse. That is wrong, that is sexual abuse of trans* women. They don’t deserve to have that done to them. They have a sexuality which they are entitled to enjoy for themselves. I am not OK with trans* women being prostituted.

  • As somebody familiar with Kitty Stryker and her work, I wouldn’t call her a “liberal feminist” by any stretch of the imagination. A liberal feminist is the sort of person who doesn’t understand why giving money to pink ribbon is problematic, and thinks Hilary Clinton is a feminist idol. I would rather say that there is a big controversy among radical feminists right now about whether women’s sex work is intrinsically supportive of patriarchy, or whether it is possible to form a criticism of patriarchy through sex work. Personally I am on the fence on the issue, as I see clear and valid points (how sex is almost always exploitative under patriarchy on the one hand, how women’s sexuality and body diversity is threatening to patriarchy on the other). I’m inclined to take the “diversity of tactics” position and say to each their own, but it definitely warrants discussion.

    Dismissing Kitty and what she is talking about and assuming she does not have a systemic critique offhand, while understandably cynical, I think does her a personal disservice which is uncalled for. We need to have discussions about sex work in earnest, and dismissing the perspective of an actual sex worker on the topic as “naive” is really reductive.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I’m not really clear on what it is you are responding to? The post wasn’t about Kytty Stryker… It was about ideological divides in feminism and the problem with using the terms ‘sex positive feminism’ and ‘sex negative feminism’.

      I don’t make any ‘assumptions,’ liberal feminism is liberal feminism, radical feminism is radical feminism — the approach a person takes to feminism defines their ideology, it has nothing to do with their personal life experience.

    • ozzie

      ” I would rather say that there is a big controversy among radical feminists right now about whether women’s sex work is intrinsically supportive of patriarchy, or whether it is possible to form a criticism of patriarchy through sex work.”
      Uhh, citation needed please. That prostitution and everything related to it are oppressive institutions antithetical to women’s liberation isn’t actually a subject of debate among radical feminists.

      ”… how women’s sexuality and body diversity is threatening to patriarchy on the other”. Prostitution has nothing to do with ”women’s sexuality”–it’s system where women are sold for men’s use and the woman’s personal tastes, preferences, likes or dislikes and completely and thoroughly irrelevant to the client. Also, did you just try to pretend that the fetishization of ethnicities, races and body types in the industry is some sort of ‘body-positive’ statement or ‘celebration’ of body diversity? Thirdly, the patriarchy would allow nothing that ‘threatens the patriarchy’ to persist (look at the silencing, suppression, demonization, no-platforming and threats directed towards radical feminists)–how can multi-billion dollar industries supported by men threaten men?
      You seem to have a lot of disdain for liberal feminists because they don’t know much, but really, this is a pot and kettle situation.

  • morag

    Oh great Kitty brought out the old “you don’t unequivocally agree with everything I say so you must be a privileged oppressor who’s racist and transphobic.”

    • Meghan Murphy

      It’s a classic!

      • ozzie

        Another classic tactic she trotted out from the ol’ libfem arsenal: accusing you of being uneducated/needing to read more, then, when you inform her of your advanced degree and years of experience, she implies you’re a wealthy, bourgeois, ivory tower, elitist aristocrat who’s oppressing her marginalized and downtrodden self because she only has a BA and had to work after university (the horror).

  • marv

    @Kitty Stryker. Reformism plays to the law of diminishing returns. Though crisis management has been the priority of the non-radical labour and feminist movements for many years, oppression of workers and women has grown globally. Reformers reinforce exploitation because any harm mitigation makes the male system more legitimate, creating the illusion that human misery is being slowly reduced. At the same time the public imagination towards revolutionary change is stifled by such mediocrity. The moderates are fiddling while the dispossessed are burning.

    • Tobysgirl

      The moderates are fiddling while the dispossessed are burning — very good. As an aging radical feminist, by in the 1970s I thought radical feminism meant an entirely new vision of the human world, one in which we rejected exploitation of any kind, and then I find that some radical feminists (not here!) seem to support the military and the state. (Very confusing, as the military and the state embody violence and exploitation.) I think it is unfortunate to emphasize prostitution as one form of exploitation while seeming to ignore all the other forms; one can end up in very strange company when doing so, such as Gail Dines sitting on a platform in Canada with a right-wing politician and a right-wing Christian. The latter are the sort of people who get all righteous about prostitution but who see no problem with continuing to oppress women in every other way.

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  • Brigette

    I personally can’t wait to buy myself an expensive sexual tantric healing massage. There will definitely be a happy ending. I am a woman. Praise be to this possibility.

    • Brigette

      Oh and the masseuse will be a man. It will be so nice to just lie back, get what I want, not have to give anything (ESP responding to some guys ego), and finally get some nice, stress free attention paid towards my body and spirit.

      • Brigette

        I started out as a radical feminist…. However I wouldn’t say I’m entirely liberal. Right now I’m writing a paper on human trafficking and sex workers rights. Under what I understand radical feminism to be about, I find it troubling and oppressive that I can’t enjoy masculinity or femininity, and that it’s not ok for various genders to be infinite – a mix, of any amount, non gender, or some kind of gender that a person themselves feels themselves to be. I don’t see why we have to limit the amount of any boxes. I find it troubling also that radical feminists attribute the basic nature of sex under the patriarchy to underlying structures of power, dominance and submission which invariably exploits women. I agree with this, but I would argue that by accepting this, we limit women’s sexual choices, and that includes choosing to have sex for money. I understand many women don’t have a choice, but some women do want to do this. Some get pleasure out of it, or are simply appeased by the compensation and don’t feel bothered by what they do, regardless of their perceptions of self objectification. By accepting patriarchies definition of sex, how do we change it? Create sex without gender roles? I hate to say it but I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. There’s just too many women who enjoy being feminine and submissive within sexual contexts, and genuinely. Those same women may enjoy being dominant, etc, and there’s men who will pay to be dominated or who would like that from their lovers. As much as power does seem to be a gendered thing, within sex it easily switches roles. I agree that sex is about power at times, other times it’s about submission – what will you allow someone to do to you, how much pleasure will you let them arise in you, how much pleasure will you allow yourself to feel? Basically what I’m saying is that, humanity’s obsession with power (and how it relates to sex) goes far deeper than merely gender roles, even though this is one of the universally dominant ways it is expressed.

        However, something must be done to help those who are raped and exploited for profit wether as sex slaves or otherwise. I believe that prostitution will ALWAYS exist, and so all we can do is fight for the human rights of those who partake in it. Imagine a society where women have the sexual power again, bc they are in control of the sex market, not pimps. A world where it’s not even ok to rape a sex worker. In such a world, women who are victimized can get help, and reach out into society’s that are comfortable with the reality of a need for sex in society, and are there to defend it’s existence. However, it’s going to take a radically aggressive stance to put such liberal power back into the hands of women where it belongs. Under the current system in the sex industries, this is sorely not the case. Combine this with societies who are not even prepared to acknowledge the existence if our present sexuality (pristitution exists, it’s not going away), and who are not drafting laws to give women FULL AUTHORITY (I believe a special business model drafted on human rights should be implemented as a woman’s body is the product) and we have the present situation – dark unseen places where women can’t get help because it hasn’t been accepted that women will sex for money and men will buy (and vice versa for gender roles) AND laws have not been drafted for all women. Immigrants are NOT protected worldwide and a major issue with this all is that immigrants are hated by boarder police everywhere, regardless of wether or not they are victims of trafficking. They are not offered protection. Basically … The issues of sex work are too integrated with human trafficking, bc of accepted blurred definitions of the two, and actual realities. Then human trafficking is blurred with crimes of illegal immigration.

        I believe capitalism wants nothing more than the idea of a sex worker to have no rights, bc they are the most stigmatized oppressed people within a society, traditionally spit on and fit for everyone else’s use of them. Because once you liberate these women, all women hold the keys to sex wether they chose to sell or not, or have it or not. And then everyone will start to question the issue of both sexual and ESP labour human trafficking which capitalists DEPEND on with their greedy hearts and souls.

        My questions. What are radical feminists goals for eradicating sexual inequality?

        How do you ACTUALLY propose to radically change the way things are? Change usually does not happen like that. I think radical and liberal feminists need to work together because of this. I feel we have the same end goal in sight.

        • Brigette

          I would also like to add I’m very aware that economic and social inequality is the reason that many women choose to or are forced into prostitution and trafficking. However, by stigmatizing the women who choose to do this, we create dark unacceptable places for this to happen, and fail to realize our chance to simultaneously undermine and reorder rights for sexual workers, those who are sexually trafficked (by cultivating a societal respect for WOMENS sexually liberty that in all honesty should be drafted by women themselves, be very consent based, we need to create a world where sexual violation is wrong not accepted, by bringing these problems INTO the open, not by wishing they’d just go away by changing everyone) and we can also give rights to those who are trafficked in labour as well, thereby perhaps improving unjust economic situations that push women into this coercion in the first place. However, these are just some ideas.

        • Meghan Murphy

          “I find it troubling also that radical feminists attribute the basic nature of sex under the patriarchy to underlying structures of power, dominance and submission which invariably exploits women.”

          Why do you find this ‘troubling’? Perhaps you aren’t yet ready to acknowledge and address that reality? Understandable, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok to blame feminists for naming this… You sound like you’re just feeling a little overwhelmed by what we are up against and trying to pretend as though it simply isn’t there by making gendered stereotypes ‘ok’ or even fun. People do this often — try to make the best of a bad situation — particularly when they feel powerless to change it.

          “I agree with this, but I would argue that by accepting this, we limit women’s sexual choices, and that includes choosing to have sex for money.”

          Prostitution is about what men want and men’s choices. Not about what women want. If women wanted to have sex with all those men, they wouldn’t have to be coerced into it and the men wouldn’t have to pay.

          “By accepting patriarchies definition of sex, how do we change it? Create sex without gender roles? I hate to say it but I don’t think that’s ever going to happen.”

          Well, I imagine we could make the same argument around poverty: People like money, capitalism isn’t going anywhere, etc. Should we stop fighting for socialism and against poverty? Giving up on the idea of effecting change and ending oppression simply isn’t a very impressive attitude as far as I’m concerned. That said, most people in the world likely don’t care much about making change or fighting back or have given up or are too busy and distracted. So you aren’t alone.

          • brigette

            And the rest of what I said? Please respond to the other issues I presented, such as finding a solution to this problem. I’m not sure where you missed in statements that I very much support the emancipation of all who are oppressed. I stated it throughout and consistently. You seem to misunderstand what I said – there are women who WANT to sell sex, I know one actually. I asked you to imagine a world where WOMEN determine the values of sex (and what they may do with it). This would include selling it if they so wish to. Do you find the idea of a woman who sells sex threatening? I don’t want to personally, but I do not find the idea to be a problem if it’s something she wants to do. I do however, draw the line at grey areas wherein her liberty means anothers slavery – and i don’t mean by the vague spread of ideology, which can be changed.

            Have you ever considered redefining sex, and dispersing a more respectful ideology into the world? I find something very very defeating, and limiting, to say that expressions of sexuality are entrenched in power dynamics no matter WHAT. I really think that occurs in our minds. If we think that’s what it’s about, than that is what it is about.

            Sure, we have systems of oppressions – forced prostitution. This must be eradicated….. I’d like to hear your ideas on how we go about doing that?

          • Meghan Murphy

            Demanding people respond to boring comments that have been addressed over and over and over again on the site already will get you nowhere, I promise you. I have written extensively on these issues here and elsewhere. Please don’t waste my/our time.

          • Candy

            Would you mind expanding on these points. Some parts of your comment resonated but made me wonder:

            “I find it troubling and oppressive that I can’t enjoy masculinity or femininity,” Well, I find it troubling everything has to be so gendered.

            I agree with you that dominance and submission goes beyond patriarchy considering how the seeking of power even to the detriment of others underscores human behavior, but just because some women will like being a caricature of femininity doesn’t make it some subversive act. And the fact we correlate femininity with submission as you do in your comment is part of the problem.

            “As much as power does seem to be a gendered thing, within sex it easily switches roles.” What’s played out in the role, however, is often toxic societal attitudes and sexist. I mean, do you think a man would like to choke me with his dick and call me a whore because he was born that way, or because we live in a society where aggression and size is correlated with masculinity, which in itself is a huge dick measuring competition, and where being a whore is a female burden to bear? It’s regressive.

            “Create sex without gender roles? I hate to say it but I don’t think that’s ever going to happen.” But gender roles don’t need to exist or infiltrate our culture, period. Imagine sex where a straight man doesn’t feel emasculated, which is in itself homophobic and sexist, for liking to receive anal because it’s trespassing his manly-man gender role.

        • Nia

          re: “Under what I understand radical feminism to be about, I find it troubling and oppressive that I can’t enjoy masculinity or femininity, and that it’s not ok for various genders to be infinite – a mix, of any amount, non gender, or some kind of gender that a person themselves feels themselves to be. I don’t see why we have to limit the amount of any boxes.”

          I understand what you are trying to say. But I don’t want to be a box or a label. I am a person. That’s all I want to be. Why must we have boxes or labels or anything at all? Calling things ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ automatically restricts them, because saying that something is ‘manly’ or ‘womanly’ doesn’t really say anything at all. Who decides what is ‘manly’ and what is ‘womanly’? Why can’t things just BE things? We like what we like; but it’s not because we’re men or women or anything. If you like sports, then it’s because you like sports. If you like wearing a dress, then it’s because you like wearing a dress. Your genitals have no part in the matter, and so why should those genitals have to somehow colour everything you do?

          Gender is honestly a destructive concept in and of itself. I can say from experience that, had gender not been a ‘thing’, it would have saved me a lot of pain and turmoil. All it does is reinforce the behaviour that those in power want those they oppress to exhibit. It’s just a lie, a trick, a fallacy used to control us. I refuse to be controlled by it anymore, and I would like for other people to be able to choose that, too. It doesn’t mean you stop watching sports or stop wearing dresses. It means that you stop calling it ‘manly’ or ‘womanly’, ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ or ‘girly’ or ‘dykey’ to watch sports or wear a dress, based solely on what genitals you might have.

      • Lizor

        If you think that Tantra is compatible with “not giving anything”, you haven’t the first clue of what the practice is about. This comment is ridiculous.

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  • Hanane Khaled

    I’m very positive about sex, hell I am so positive about sex that I don’t like the thought that it is viewed as a product or a service by most.
    I reject the so-called sex work industry altogether because I am THAT much positive about sex.
    To equate sex with prostitution seems alien to me.
    I am amused though at all the new terminology liberal feminism keeps coming up with.
    One day perhaps I will read ‘in herstory womyn are sex positive’
    On a more serious note, I really can’t stand what I call fluffbunny pseudo-feminism.

    • Samantha

      This is *exactly* how I feel about it. I love sex so much, it saddens me to see it reduced to an industry. I think more people should be having sex, enjoying sex, masturbating, etc. and not be afraid to talk about it or experience it fully. Porn is not sex. Prostitution is not sex. Two (or more…) people coming together out of desire, respect, mutuality, now there…that’s something.

  • Jennifer Harley

    I thoroughly enjoyed this article! I really appreciate that you are trying to clear up what the real issue is today. I have posted a few things about this subject and have gotten some negative commentary about having to respect ‘the choice to be sexual’. I feel like this is completely not the issue, and I also would go as far as to say that this could be the last strand to women giving in entirely to the gender roles in which they were forced to learn. I am not attacking any particular woman’s “freedom” by any means, and I don’t believe that most women being objectified decades ago had any less of a grasp that they were sexual beings to-be-looked-at. I feel like women have had the freedom to be sexual objectified for many years now, so I do not see why it would be such a revolution now just to say we are the ones in power. We may have the power to sell our bodies and the man is the one in which desires and/or needs us, but does that make the way he views women as a whole any different? No. Capitalism has always favoured men and women have struggled to find high paying jobs. It is no accident that the sex industry is the largest industry in the United States. The real issue is that he feels in his mind that he can buy any woman he pleases, like a temporary slave, because he is powerful. How the woman feels towards him and however much she really enjoys sex does not change the fact that somewhere else in the world there is a women being sold as a sex slave. The fact that human trafficking exists to the extent that it does proves how damaging those thoughts of power and superiority can be. It is not by chance that many women are excluded from the ideas of liberal feminism by not fitting the mold of society. Just because one woman may be comfortable with her body or her work does not means that there aren’t many more that never will be. We should stand together and think not only for ourselves but as a collective. Some liberal feminism ideas remind me much of Reaganite views of individualism. When we are separated and only worried about our individual being, we are missing the bigger picture and ultimately becoming weaker. We must challenge Capitalism and Patriarchy before we can settle into the comfort of acceptance. When we accept that circumstances “used to be worse” we ultimately stop fighting and lose sight of our true goals.

    Wow, got a little carried away there; I could write about this all day. I really love the website. You truly inspire me! Keep it up!

  • Yan

    Most of the radical feminists I know define things in precisely the opposite way. Liberal feminism spends a lot of time nitpicking commercial choices and their cultural implications (whether those choices are sex work, pornography, commercials, or video game characters) while radical feminism is interested in a broader critique. Liberal feminists talk about sexual objectification narrowly, in terms of how this or that commercial choice is progressive or patriarchal. Radical feminists talk about objectification as a form of commodification under capitalism and imperialism.

    There’s nothing radical about critiquing BDSM, for example — the negative portrayal of its eroticization of power doesn’t sound that different coming from the “radical” left than it does coming from the center or right. It’s a response to a system of hierarchy that, to varying degrees, it both affirms and subverts. The radical goal is to undermine the system of economic, gender, and racial exploitation that BDSM responds to. Critiquing the ways other peoples erotic imaginations try to cope with our lousy system does nothing but pick fights with potential allies and take energy away from the fight. I think your line of thinking is symptomatic of how liberal feminism tends to co-opt the radical left, taking its language but weakening its critique. It moves the boundary of radical left wing thought way over to the right.

    • BDSM may be practiced by people from a variety of social locations, but we can’t ignore the fact that it is *based* on tropes of oppressive power. Master slave, daddy little girl, cop arrestee, doctor patient. I’m not interested in arguing with people who get off on these tropes, or telling them what they should and should not do; but it’s entirely another matter to deny the sociopolitical foundations they grow out of. A lot of people believe that BDSM is what human sexuality *is*, that it is innnate and acultural; but in fact it is correlated with dominance-based social systems, and has historical links with witch hunts (sexualized torture, dungeons, and “witches’ bridles” /gags) and slavery (chains, whips, etc.) It is a radical act to talk about these things rather than treat them as cool and “transgressive.”

    • Morag

      I agree with you that the “radical goal is to undermine the system of economic, gender, and racial exploitation that BDSM responds to.” But I do not agree that the practice of BDSM “both affirms and subverts” systems of hierarchy and domination. It only affirms. Never subverts. This seems obvious.

      Yes, some practitioners are “coping” with their subjugation by “choosing” to find pleasure in their own pain. This is true, and it’s also true that these people, who are invariably women, are not only potential radical feminist allies, but potential radical leaders. In these cases, radical feminism does not alienate, but offers consciouness-raising, a theory, a way through.

      But the rest are abusers, and apologists, and deserve our criticism. We critique sadomasochism because it’s shit. There’s nothing “right wing” about that. If our liberal critics want to say that we “don’t sound that different” compared to the conservatives or the right, then they are deliberately misunderstanding our critique.

      They can do that if they want to, but they are still wrong. Not to mention, they are assholes who are attempting to shame and silence us because they enjoy sexual violence, and because they are deeply invested in portraying that violence as just another sexual “preference.”

    • Yan you did not understand the position articulated in the article.

      “There’s nothing radical about critiquing BDSM, for example — the negative portrayal of its eroticization of power doesn’t sound that different coming from the “radical” left than it does coming from the center or right.” tells me that you are confused about the meaning of “radical” as Meghan has used it. It’s radical in the “What’s really going on here/dig deeper than the received proposition” sense – i.e. the original etymological meaning of the word. It is not meant in the “Whoa! RAD!” sense that lives in a tired marketing stewpot alongside “_____…to the extreme!!!”.

      The “right” sees women as inherently in need of protection and leads to the absurd narratives we are force-fed by the entertainment industry where “good” men save [young and pretty] women from “bad” men. The “right” objects to BDSM in a “save the kittens” sort of way – if it even gets past a wall of dismissal where they view the entire business as a bunch of “sexual deviants” beneath consideration. Remember, the right believes in an inevitable formation of hierarchy. It not only accepts but applauds power hierarchy as being a good thing – see “trickle down theory”.

      You conflate the recognition that BDSM enacts and normalizes power differential at the expense of the subaltern with a deep devotion to a certain form of sex-based hierarchy that strives for an ideal of benevolent ownership of women by men. Your conflation, which is common, relies on people not having the interest in looking past the surface of things, on not bothering to ask where the roots are. Because when you do that, the implications for one’s own moral centre can be a bit discomfiting. It’s much easier to just misrepresent and reject the messenger and the message.

      “Critiquing the ways other peoples erotic imaginations try to cope with our lousy system does nothing but pick fights with potential allies and take energy away from the fight. ”

      See? Again, you take the individualistic view and you don’t acknowledge that there is next to no critique of BDSM that says “We know we’re reiterating contempt for women. It’s our coping strategy, and we acknowledge what’s really going on here, but we gotta get our orgasms.” Rather what we hear is a bunch of bullshit about how spankings and branding and learning to endure pain and humiliation are subverting the status quo; how the ingrained tolerance for injustice towards particular groups of people will be dismantled if we’d all just accept our inherent kinky sexuality and get with the program.

      Many writers have said over and over and over, and you and others refuse to hear it: we are not interested in telling people what to do. We’re naming what is being done. It’s not the same thing and anyone with a grain of intellectual honesty will acknowledge the difference.

      You should reread the article, especially the two paragraphs that start with “Liberal feminism is takes an individualistic perspective on women’s liberation” and “Radical feminism looks at patriarchy as a system of power, not as something you can simply regulate or talk or imagine out of existence”, as you don’t seem to have grasped what’s been said.

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  • Matthew Bryant

    No offense, but your entire ideology seems to revolve around a begging the question fallacy. I agree that women have more power in our society in terms of the corporate world and politics. The problem even still exists in society to some degree (though the problem diminishes greatly in more liberal locales like California or New York). That being said your argument seems to suggest that you want to completely change society. I don’t even think that’s remotely possible, nor can I fathom for a second how you intend to make that happen. Society doesn’t just change overnight, it changes over time. Do you want a revolution where the government forces equality? Because that doesn’t seem like a very smart move either.

    Civil rights are a slow process. Women are consistently getting more equality over time as society becomes less and less divided on the topic of women’s rights. I know you want to see that change overnight, but I don’t think the idea that it can happen is remotely realistic. You can’t force people to change their beliefs. You can simply stimulate the changes that you want to see. As the late, great Gandhi said: “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” So fight for equality by all means, but arguing that “liberal feminism” is somehow ineffective is silly. It’s been incredibly effective and continues to be effective.

    No offense (and I’m not trying to insult you here), but radical feminism has tainted the word over the years in the eyes of society. Feminism became a dirty word in the 80s because the loudest voices in the feminist movement were also the most extreme. They wanted things immediately that society viewed as extreme. Granted much of that has come to pass in the thirty or so years since then, but that’s because society is ready for that change now. You can’t force civil rights. It happens when it’s ready to happen. By all means do what you can within reason to make your voice heard on the subject, but be careful that you don’t taint the main message of equality either.

    Also, one of the main reasons why people have a problem with the “sex negative” perspective is because there’s little proof that sexualization in advertising and media causes any social issues with overall perspective on women. Some studies show that pornography can cause a change in how some men view women, but other studies show that pornography likely played a large role in the decrease in sexual violence over the years. You can’t paint things as black and white, and you need evidence before your argument can have any logical value.

    The best course of action the “sex negative” feminists can take are more studies on the subject in an attempt to clear up uncertainty and ambiguity regarding sexualization and the media. Simply assuming that they cause societal harm without any proof will just get your ideology ignored. I’d love to see more information on the subject.

    I don’t think sexualization is a big deal personally. I don’t assume that women are sex objects just because I see a few ads with a woman in a bikini. I enjoy the beauty, but I still respect women and the women on the ad. She wants to make money by showing off her body? Good for her. I don’t see a problem. If you can prove it’s a problem, I’ll be more interested in listening. Otherwise, it just makes me wonder why puritanical ideals exist in the feminism movement.

    Also, I think much of the problem with prostitution stems from the fact that it’s illegal. I understand that women can feel that they have to sell their bodies for sex (though this obviously happens less in the US than other developing and third world countries), but I don’t understand why you think that you can somehow get rid of prostitution. It’s a market. There’s demand for it. A supply will generally be created to meet demand. If you want to attack the demand, go for it. I don’t think you’ll win there. The real issue is that we can’t have relatively safe locations for prostitutes to do business. Go to Nevada and you’ll find that prostitution isn’t necessarily about desperation, but more of a career choice. Some females are more sexual than others. It does pay pretty well too. There’s two sides to the argument. You’re arguing that prostitution isn’t a choice, but that’s not always true. Especially in locations where it’s legal. On the other hand, in some locations prostitution can feel like the only valid opportunity for women, and that’s not fair either. As I said previously, there is no black and white. You have to be careful that you don’t trample on personal freedom while fighting injustice.

    • Meghan Murphy

      There is no such thing as a “sex negative” feminist. There are feminists who challenge male-centered sexuality and things like objectification, but that isn’t “sex negative,” that’s patriarchy-negative. Also, what are these “puritan ideals” you speak of?

    • marv

      What a long stultifying speech. It is evident you didn’t read the other comments which covered all the content you are tediously rehashing. It is also tiresomely apparent you are a white male liberal who conforms to the status quo model of analyzing society. I will recommend you to insomniacs.

    • will

      “I’m not trying to insult you here”

      No need to “try” Matthew: your ignorance alongside your misogyny, tossed in with your presumption to speak at [tedious] length on topics about which you clearly know SFA makes the insult quite effortless.

    • Samantha

      Crime across the board went down over the past two to three decades, not just sexual violence. Pornography prevalence likely has extremely little to nothing to do with the reduction in rape and violent sexual crimes. Correlation does not equal causation, etc.

      You also haven’t grown up as a woman, so you’re not really qualified to talk much about objectification and its effects on the female psyche, are you? It’s worthless arguing with someone with your opinions because empowerment=money to you, but all of this sexualization is death by 1,000 papercuts to us.

      And, oh boy, a supply is “created” for prostitution, indeed! Excellent choice of words, even though you may not have realized what you were saying!

  • Meghan Murphy

    Ah, good point. Challenging patriarchy and sex under patriarchy IS a really bad way to, um, challenge patriarchy and sex under patriarchy.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Just so you know, what you are calling “sex negative feminism” IS feminism. If you aren’t critiquing the sex industry and male-centered heterosex, you’re just a liberal, not a feminist. This is why your “arguments” here are irrelevant. We don’t care what anti-feminist liberals think about the feminist movement.

  • Rashida Islam

    Feminist current or this author specifically articulates very well what the problem with liberal views on prostitution. Particularly when there is such a big divide in feminist movement over the nonsensical assertion that prostitution is somehow linked to empowerment this article puts forth really good argument on how to break down the ‘sex +’ argument. Framing it as individualism vs collectivism is super helpful. Good stuff!

  • Meghan Murphy

    Ha! Thanks sister 🙂

  • yrsa

    Finally, this is what I was looking for. Thank you!

  • Anon

    Other than that I agree with pretty much everything you wrote. I hate how people paint feminists as being “anti-sex”, I’m like the most pro-sex person ever. I don’t have a problem with BDSM or pornography if it’s done right- I watch the amateur/homemade stuff, not the overproduced fake crap. But I AM against prostitution as every sane, moral person should be because it’s a horrible and dehumanizing criminal institution.

  • Erin

    Gender identity is taken too seriously, cries the cis man.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Gender identity isn’t a real thing… Gender is socialized, not innate.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Um. Feminists want to criminalize MEN who buy sex, not women who sell. We understand why women end up in the industry, but have no sympathy for the men who exploit them.

    • Martin Langevin

      I personally prefer the Nordic model which criminalizes the buying of sex regardless of the sex of the buyer or the seller. There is a difference between that and the proposal that only male buyers should be criminalized.

  • Celebrindal

    I know this is an old article, but I found it by way of Google after an unfortunate run in on a feminist blog that really shook me up and made me second guess my commitment to feminism; and, this article gave me hope that I shouldn’t give up and gave me insight into what I felt was wrong with me. So, I just had to leave a comment and say thank you (and when I get paid, I’ll tip it as well because it helped me that much).

    Without getting into too messy and long of an anecdote, essentially I’m newish* to identifying as a feminist and to seeking out feminist voices because I was raised in an authoritarian, almost Fundamentalist Evangelical, right-wing politics type atmosphere and it’s taken me most of my twenties to recognize that’s not who I am, what I want to be, good for my health, etc. and take steps toward leaving the oppression. And now close to 30 I’ve been in the deconstruct/reconstruct process, part of which has led me to finally embracing feminism fully. *I say newish because growing up I challenged a lot of the gender norms, female subservience, etc. even if I did so within the confines of what I was allowed (aka, still buying into purity culture, forcing myself to be homophobic and identify as heterosexual via repression, etc.) Obviously the word feminism was a dirty word in my house growing up, say nothing of adding the word radical in front of it, and so I avoided what I saw as the “ills of feminism” for years regardless of already having inherent, if repressed, feminist ideologies. Being newish to the scene, so to speak, most of my interaction thus far has been with liberal feminists, only I didn’t know it. Being new and horribly sheltered/naive, I assumed feminism is feminism and within that branch there were different types of women working together in spite of their differences. I assumed my “sex-negativity” was just a combination of my identification as asexual (although I also identify as bi within that umbrella) and remnants of my “all sexual deviance, especially among women, is bad” upbringing. I assumed that I needed to work hard to work past this because: sex is great! sex workers are strong! women who sell sex because sex sells are empowered! Etc. Even though I don’t believe this inherently regardless of my inherent beliefs that women should be able to enjoy sex and not be ashamed for it and should have full rein over how little or much she is sexual all while not being reduced to only how sexual she is, I figured this was something I needed to change to be a good feminist, cognitive dissonance be damned.

    Of course, as I said, I’m in a deconstruct/reconstruct process, on top of having an inherent personality that likes to seek and question, with the underlying desire for the answers I find to be for the greater good (essentially I’m an NF temperament + humanist as best as I know how to describe it). So when something is giving me cognitive dissonance, just as I often did in childhood regardless of the reprimands, I talk about it. Or at least in most cases. With my foray into feminism online I definitely engaged in a lot of apologetics to try and marry my uncertainty about certain things with my overall desire to reach the same place as seasoned feminists, to reach a point where all of my questioning led to the answers I need to be like the ones answering me – all with the underlying hope that it means I’ll be more humanistic towards the “sex-positive” side of things. The result was it only made feminism seem less and less appealing and more like what it had been negatively painted as in my youth.

    It reached a head yesterday on another blog where I haphazardly suggested that I don’t understand BDSM, and although I framed it with plenty of apologetics (like, ‘people should do what they want, of course’) as I tried to explain how my core understanding of feminism doesn’t mesh with the idea of it being empowering, specifically the Dom/sub aspect in this particular conversation, rather problematic and likely to perpetuate the culture we’re supposed to be fighting. I tried to articulate that it feels like the Dom/sub thing is mostly rooted in Male/female hierarchy and that gendered roleplay (which, to my understanding so far from talking to lots of people online in my quest, is a huge subculture within BDSM) isn’t doing us any favors, with the specific point I was trying to make in that post being: if we tell men that it’s “hot” to be dominated/humiliated/etc. by a woman in the bedroom (or all the time for some I suppose) because this is some sort of kink to have then it sort of contradicts our telling men all the time that it’s okay to be perceived as weak, not traditionally masculine, etc. and not to be so threatened by strong women ad nauseam because all we’re saying is “but the rules of kinky sex, good orgasms, etc. dictate you must still find a woman or man who will dominate you because you’ve elected to fulfill the historically female role and are now in need of the male” (that’s horribly verbose and poorly put, to be fair so I understand why my confusion wasn’t taken well). In short, all but one response was to tell me that I’m naturally wrong to think that. While some responses were at least patient with my wrong thinking, others were terribly curt. I was accused of being a sex-negative kink-shamer who needed to shut up; and, essentially, the why of it all boiled down to: people don’t need to ever give a defense of how they get off, even if they’re participating in problematic behavior, because that’s oppression. I was told if you take away the taboo for some they wouldn’t enjoy it anymore and so that’s the whole point. I literally got the spiel outlined in this article/the comments that because people are having good sex by indulging in/playing with the constructs of our society then it gets a pass and isn’t pertinent to one’s feminism, end of story and no room for trying to deconstruct those constructs because then it might ruin the mood and that’s negative and shaming.

    It was kind of the breaking point for me. I felt ashamed for speaking up, even though shaming others really wasn’t my attempt (even if it read that way, which I own must have been the case and I apologized for it). With those comments, one in particular, I checked out of the feminism hotel in literal tears. I felt like maybe the gap was too wide, like I’d come to the party too late, and that no amount of trying to get better at this was going to work because all I was left with was stronger cognitive dissonance than before. I was asked/told to put up and shut up, was shamed for my sex-negative outlook (I’d never even heard this accusation within the context of feminism before, just assumed sex-negativity was more general like my upbringing of ‘thou shalt not have sex’) and expected to accept without question that giving into urges based on negative behaviors in the real world within the boundaries of consensual sex is positive and even thrilling, because you know what you’re doing is totally depraved. I couldn’t do it. I reached an impasse and couldn’t do it. I came to the horrible conclusion that I’m not a feminist and cannot be a feminist because my convictions are too strong that this divide between what’s gross irl is aok in the bedroom doesn’t make sense and implies we’re cosigning our acceptance of our disturbing society. I had thoughts like: Why does consent actually make any difference if we understand the urges are still disturbing? Why wouldn’t we be totally disturbed by the psychological/societal structures that have manipulated us into having those urges and then fight harder to free ourselves from them in the long run, even if it means we won’t be able to get off to them anymore? And as I had those thoughts and processed them along with my own experiences (e.g. I have my problematic kinks too, but I hate having them and try not to give into them because I personally recognize them as being born from my abusive, misogynistic upbringing and not healthy just because they’re wrapped up in anger, self-hatred, bitterness, etc. I want freedom from that, not orgasms.) I checked out of the hotel crying and feeling like feminism was one more place I don’t belong because I’ll never have what it takes to be empathetic to that ideology.

    Phew, so that got longer and messier than I wanted it too, but ultimately after feeling very unsure of where to go from there, and maybe feeling a little bitter, I Googled “sex-negative and feminism” because the seeker in me at least wanted more insight before calling it a day. I found this article and a light bulb went off. I really wish I’d come across the narrative of liberal feminism vs. radical feminism sooner. Everything here, and in some articles I’ve been gobbling up since, checks the inherent boxes in me. I don’t know if there’s a problem with inherent bias in admitting that, but this article and the others have made me feel so damn liberated at last. To know that this whole time my cognitive dissonance was an ideological one and that I’m not the only one out there like me and that there’s hope for my feminist identity are all welcome reliefs. Ironically, I feel empowered now in a way that I never really did in my initial attempts to understand feminism from, now as I know, liberal feminist voices. This article and site make me once more want to pursue feminist studies. It’s re-awoken all of the radical thoughts that I’ve had in my questioning of feminism, gender, etc. in my lifetime that I’ve tiptoed around or kept silent on or tried to perform mental gymnastics to conform them (either religiously or liberally). So, thank you for doing what you do. I’m certainly early in my journey and still have a lot of baggage to be rid of and learning to do, but I never would have guessed that this whole time I was a potential radical feminist in training. This article/site has made me enthusiastic to answer that calling. A far cry from yesterday. So thank you again.

  • Sulie

    Nope. The divide is between regular people and ideologues who have the sex based privelege of their own university departments and money backed politiks.

  • Sulie

    An op ort unity to better their lives!? Wow…was your mom a prostitute? Mine was so fuck off. Stop encouraging people like my mom to announce to the world their method of income generation or next we’ll have a debate about their breeding and parenting rights.

    Worse than living with a mom in this buisness is our Fucked Up child welfare system, but the parents in this buisness curse their kids. Criminalize JOHNS, let the poor women feed themselves how they can without legal somewhat safer spaces that will only increase the exploitation of Mothers and Children. Yes assholes, being a mother separates you from your extremist political bullshit.

  • Martin Langevin

    On the matter of prostitution, I don’t see how criminalizing the buying of sex is a specifically ‘feminist’ position. Some men and boys sell sex and are trafficked into the sex trade just as some women buy sex too. Furthermore, many turn to selling sex to feed a drug habit and a person can buy or sell sex as a form of sex addiction. That’s why we sometimes read about women who don’t suffer any other addiction, who don’t need the money, and yet struggle to leave the sex trade just as we read about men who likewise compulsively buy sex. Then there is the matter of STIs. Both sellers and buyers can contract and spread STIs either to other buyers or to other sellers or even their spouses. Then we have the matter of sex trafficking and trauma. Some studies show that even buyers often suffer trauma and are effectively compulsively buying sex as a way to re-enact a past trauma.

    With all of the above in mind, even many MRAs favour the criminalization of at least the buying of sex by making it at least a heavily fine-able offence, perhaps combined with mandatory sex-addiction education for the first offence, and at least the limiting of the advertising of sexual services to specific advertising venues and its regulation. The reason for this is that not only does it deter buyers from buying the services of men and boys, but it also deters men themselves from engaging in a potentially highly addictive and destructive habit and so pushes them to seek help for their trauma rather than to act it out on and so traumatize someone else in their turn. The criminalization of the buying of sex would presumably benefit female buyers in the same way.

    If the promotion of the criminalization of the buying of sex is a ‘feminist’ issue, then how is it that the MRM faces just as much of an internal debate on the matter as the feminist movement does, with some MRAs supporting the criminalization of the buying of sex and some feminists opposing it?

    Strangely enough, MRAs and feminists who support the criminalization of the buying of sex probably share more in common with one another than either do with others within their own respective movements who support the total decriminalization of prostitution.

  • Meghan Murphy

    I mean, you can’t very well support the objectification and commodification of women and be feminist… Feminism isn’t just anything and everything — it is a theory and practice.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Trafficking and prostitution are very much the same thing — they are completely connected and exist to fulfill male demand. If there were enough women who wanted to do prostitution ‘by choice’, they would not need to be forced and coerced.

  • Meghan Murphy

    I mean, there are so few women who do this…. My ‘world view’ is just basic facts that everyone knows: the vast majority of sex buyers are men.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Your comments appear to have been approved?

    • Claire Morris

      Which is odd considering how many arnt not here.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Sorry there’s nothing in the deleted folder or the spam folder connected to your email address so not sure how to help. Are these comments from two years ago, mayhaps? Or attached to a different account?

        • Claire Morris

          No there where a series of posts years back which where specifically denied.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Ok well I’m sure there was good reason for that, but they are long gone, if we are talking about comments from a few years ago.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Sooooo you’re here complaining about missing comments from two years ago, yes?

  • Ashley Braman

    Im a womxxns rights activist. I support the womxxns liberation movement. Most ppl call me a radical feminist… And i have sex. Ive been married for 6 years and have 2 kids. Its weird to say radical womxxn dont like sex. We do we just dont like rape which to males and male lovers is the same thing… They honestly believe rape is sex and its pretty pathetic if you ask me.

  • Ashley Braman

    Its economic coercion… As a former sex worker i actually know how womxxn who do this live. They dont like it. They dont feel safe. They wouldnt do it if they got paid double of males and had their bodoes respected. If this was such a great job why are womxxn ripped open doing it. Why do they say prostitutes cant get raped. Considering 1:17 males are convicted of rape and thats with just a 3t conviction rate.. Meaning 97% of the time the womxxn isnt believed. You honestly believe all of a sudden prostitutes will be believed? But just not regular womxxn…. And why should a womxxn have sex with handicap people if she doesnt want to? You are totally sick to think handicapp ppl need to rape people over a womxxns life. And and btw i said i was in the sex industry. I was offered many jobs. I also have herpes. And when i told the peoples… Bc ive been asked 3 times on 3 separate occasions. They tell me herpes isnt a big deal and its not tested. Then i have to say that idc if they dont care about womxxn and males but i do and i dont feel morally right giving ppl an std with out them having a warning.

  • Ashley Braman

    Its not about gender its about sex. For 4.5 million years yall have defined us this way and now that we arent doing what you want you want to say we are not womxxn and wr do not deserve the rights we have fought for