March 23, 2015

Feminism 101: Feminists can believe in abstinence too
Or, a misguided attempt to educate Fox News

Today is our Story in Stupidity column, and I promise, I have one for you in just a little bit, featuring our favorite right winger that is slowly slipping into senility: Pat Robertson.

But first, I want to take a moment to talk about something that happened on Fox News a few weeks ago. In an exchange on Outnumbered, Andrea Tantaros (and all of the hosts, for the record) had some interesting thoughts on why there are more people having children while cohabiting.

Raw Story sums up Tantaros' comments like this:
Fox News host Andrea Tantaros asserted on Wednesday that marriage was in decline because feminism had encouraged women to “freely” have “sex like a man.”
There was also lots of talk about "cows" and "free milk", because we all know how much we ladies like being compared to livestock, amirite?

I know that this is a difficult concept for some conservative types to grasp, but feminism, in its most popular form, is about choice.

And that respect of choice includes the choice to remain abstinent.

When I watched the video (you can see it at the link above) featuring Tantaros' comments, I thought about a quote from a blog that I read a while back, before I even claimed the title of feminist myself. Sarah Moon of Sarah Over the Moon said this:
A feminist practice of abstinence would be based in the idea that sex–whether you’ve had it or not–does not define one’s worth. By giving men the freedom to define their worth by means other than sexual conquest, it would also weaken the idea that “sexually conquering” a woman is a positive aspect of masculinity. Hopefully that would lead to a world where sex is no longer viewed as conquest. 
She also says this, and think it is equally true:
A feminist practice of abstinence would reinforce the idea that, whether you have sex or not, your body is yours. No one has a right to it, no matter what you’re wearing, who you’re married to, or how far  you’ve already gone. The right to say “No” is always yours. 
This is a key concept of feminism, in my opinion: you own your body, no one else.

You determine your own boundaries; you determine what you share and what you don't. You draw the lines. You decide where the fall. End of story.

Back in 2009, this faux war between feminism and abstinence flared up, resulting in a tit for tat--a post in Salon about abstinence only education, that was then misinterpreted by a cultural blogger working for Hooking Up Smart, and finally, with a great piece by The Frisky. In that piece, Wendy Atterberry said this:
Clark-Flory is hardly “dismissing” the hookup culture. What she’s dismissing is the idea that hooking up must be a feminist movement simply because young women won’t subscribe to the archaic tradition that if they enjoy sex — casual or otherwise — they’re sluts. Walsh naively translates this to mean: “The new population of feminists has little tolerance for abstinence as a choice. If you’re not into a whole extensive menu of sexual practices, you’ve been oppressed by the patriarchy. You’re not legit.” Well, no, not exactly. You’re “oppressed by the patriarchy” only when you let the patriarchy affect your sexual choices, whether that means abstaining completely or screwing every guy you meet.
Sexual liberation is just that: a liberation from the expectations of others.

It's the ability to choose for yourself how you will express your sexuality, to what degree, what you are comfortable with--all without the judgements of others.

And that is why it's fundamentally different from "purity culture" and the way that abstinence is often taught. Any time that we take control of our sexuality and find in ourselves the power to say, "This is what I am comfortable with, and this is what I am not," we are empowering ourselves. Full. Stop. It's not the action or the choice itself that defines the empowerment; it's the making of that decision, the taking of that action, that does it.

Let's be real, while we are on the topic: comments like those made on that Fox News clip (I really suggest watching the video...believe it or not, these comments are not even the worst of it) aren't just damaging to women. They're damaging to men too. They say, "The only thing men want out of a relationship is sex." They encourage women to use sex as a lure, as a club, to trap men into relationships that they fundamentally don't want to be in.

What kind of bullshit is that?

Men don't have fulfilling relationships without a sexual component? What about men that are asexual? Are they fundamentally incapable, then, of having fulfilling relationships?

My marriage is many things. It is passionate, and it is loving. We both enjoy sex. We also enjoy long, engaging conversations. We enjoy sparring with each other in discussion. We enjoy sharing ideas we've researched, thoughts we've had. We enjoy each other's company--period. (Most of the time.)

Marriage is not just sex. Relationships are not just sex. There are reasons to get into relationships that stretch far beyond just sex. I know you all know this, dear readers, because you're wonderful--remember from the title above, this is a misguided attempt at educating Fox News.

My vision for women, as I look around the world we live in and imagine the kind of world that I'd say, want my stepdaughters to live in, is that we will stop shredding women's choices. We will give them room to make those choices, and regardless of what they choose, respect the empowerment that they claim.

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