Resist cock privilege! Free the clitoris!

Inspired by Anne Koedts The myth of the vaginal orgasm and Robin Morgans Goodbye to all that, guest blogger Santina Sorrenti presents a 21st century (waveless) feminist manifesto.

FRIGIDITY. Women, hold that word in your hands, put it in your pocket, keep it a secret. Ice-cold, lamenting, uninviting, unpenetrable for pleasure and lost in our heads–these are caws heard from men nearby as they stand in groups with their pint in hand stimulating each other’s erections by conversing about their “cock privilege”. A privilege that manifests itself in men’s ability to penetrate a woman both in bed and in her workplace.

It’s the 21st century, and still we cannot be legitimized as autonomous beings, whether we are a freak in the sheets or make money in the streets—these are the rhymes of (what we think is) sexual emancipation. We may feel more sexually liberated now than in the 1970s, but how much freer are we?

Our anatomy is still the same and still sabotaged the same. Our clitorises still exist but they are refuted, ignored, operated on and cut off. ‘Girls nights’ prevail, as we reflect on ideas that men consider whingeing and can’t bear to listen to. We speak about masturbation, our failed Tinder dates and the unpleasant experience of having sex with our lovers and still failing to cum to our senses. “But I love him so much”, exclaims my best friend. “But I love my clit more”, utters another who shows her desperate friends how to utilize sex toys after her husband goes off to work.

Wake up! Wake up! It’s 2017 but it still feels like 1970. It’s 7am and you have to get to work. You run your own business, you own your own ‘bachelor pad’ in the West End and drive yourself to the office where you manage a team of 150 people. Yet here is your boyfriend at 7am rubbing his erection against you even though you blatantly said NO three times. You feel imprisoned, you feel guilty and you feel annoyed. The fourth attempt is coming and you try to race to the shower but he pulls you close to him as he demands your affection and he promises to make you breakfast. You fall into the trap and there you are on your back thinking about all the tasks that need to be completed today at work. It’s hard to manage these thoughts as your boyfriend hovers over you while his cock revels in the privilege of being able to be pleasured, by your vagina NOT you. But at least you get some free breakfast that you do not have to labor for.

You get up and race to work, your body overworked and your clitoris underwhelmed. You arrive at your desk and open your Facebook feed only to be confronted with visuals and slogans or feminist memes that your friends persistently share. One promotes the hashtag #metoo, bringing awareness to the (male based) sexual violence that women continue to face. Another shows a girl taking selfies with men from whom she has faced street harassment. Click! Down the page you scroll. All you see is a barrage of activist slogans with one that reads ‘free the nipple’ displaying a picture of a woman posing topless with a refusal to have her nipples blurred out. Free the nipple? What is one nipple going to do?

In 1970 Anne Koedt’s ‘The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm’ spoke to the false assumptions made about female bodies. Women were described as ‘frigid’ because they were unable to orgasm from vaginal penetration. But it’s impossible! The vaginal canal has no sensitivity, only the clitoris does. We have been defined sexually in accordance with what pleases men. And nothing has changed. More than ever this idea is perpetuated through visual and media representations such as mainstream pornography and Hollywood films.It’s also pervasive in the school system, through heteronormative sex education classes, teen magazines and student gossip in the cafeteria.

Heteronormativity is such bore, it is a disease that infects every institution. It is strong and dominant but it has an inferiority complex. Men are scared. Worried that if they give power to the clitoris it will take over. That a giant clit will storm in and grant women equal pay, stop sexual harassment in the streets, put an end to home cooked meals and a clean house.

We must resist sexual submission. Goodbye to weekly sex. Goodbye to fulfilling his sexual fantasies. Goodbye to making sure you go down on him when he won’t even use his mouth on you. Hello to sexual explorations with other women and yourself. Hello to diffusing information on your latest self pleasing techniques to your girlfriends. Hello to refusing sex unless it is on your terms. Hello to meet-ups IN PERSON in the 21st century. Mobilizing, educating, getting your voices heard (but not just online).

Free your body! Free your anatomy! Free yourself from submission! Free yourself from alarm clocks in the form of erections! Free the psychologically ill women! Free your vagina! Free yourself through mental fantasy! Free your flesh! Free your hair! Free lesbianism! Free your mind! Free yourself from heteronormativity! Resist cock privilege! FREE THE CLITORIS!

 

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Them too

This year’s Second Wave class met for the first time this week, and we talked about a set of readings which discuss the origins of the US Women’s Liberation Movement. The women who formed the earliest feminist groups, beginning around 1967, had been (and in some cases remained) active in the radical social movements of the 1960s, like the Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee (SNCC, a civil rights organisation) and various ‘New Left’ groups. But as the 1960s wore on, they became increasingly discontented with the way their male comrades treated them.

It wasn’t just that women were excluded from leadership positions and expected to do the menial jobs. There was something else as well–something which, this week, had a very familiar ring. Robin Morgan, writing in 1970, called it out when she asked:

Was it my brother who listed human beings among the objects that would be easily available after the Revolution: Free grass, free food, free women, free acid, free clothes, etc.? Was it my brother who wrote Fuck your women till they can’t stand up and said that groupies were liberated chicks ’cause they dug a tit-shake instead of a handshake?

The term ‘sexual harassment’ did not yet exist–it would be coined by Lin Farley in the mid-1970s when she was teaching a course on women and work at Cornell University–but it was rife on the radical left, and (then as now) it covered a spectrum from objectification to rape. A very common form of it involved pressuring women to have sex with male activists as part of their contribution to the struggle. As Anne Koedt would recall in 1968, female activists were largely used for ‘food-making, typing, mimeographing, general assistance work, and as a sexual supply for their male comrades after hours’.

Robin Morgan’s words, quoted above, come from a bitter polemic entitled ‘Goodbye to all that’, her feminist farewell to the male-dominated counter-culture. But it had been a long time coming. Women on the left had spent several years trying to raise their concerns about sexism, sexual harassment and sexual abuse. And they had not been heard.

In 1964 two white women on the staff of SNCC, Mary King and Casey Hayden, wrote a paper for a staff retreat called ‘Women in the Movement’, laying out what they and other women saw as the problem in the hope of sparking a constructive discussion. This was, after all, a radical, egalitarian political organisation. They believed the men would be willing to take women’s criticism on board. But in the event, they were the ones who were criticised. This was the occasion on which Stokely Carmichael (in)famously declared that ‘the only position for women in SNCC is prone’. (Originally King and Hayden took this as a joke, regarding Carmichael as an ally–but he went on to repeat it at many other SNCC meetings.)

In 1965 SNCC became an all-Black organisation, and many white activists joined Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). King and Hayden made another attempt to have the question of women’s position discussed at an SDS conference at the end of the year. Women present began to share their experiences of sexism, but according to the historian Ashley Eberle, ‘Instead of concern, the discussion elicited “catcalls, storms of ridicule, and verbal abuse from the men.” Men hurled insults like, “She just needs a good screw” or “She’s a castrating female”‘. In the end most of the men walked out, leaving the women to go on talking long into the night.

Incidents like this one were the second wave’s ‘me too’ moments–moments when women spoke openly about their experiences, realised they were not alone in having those experiences, realised that they were understood and supported by other women. Allowed themselves to feel anger, and to think that their anger might become a force for change. In ‘Goodbye to all that’, Robin Morgan wrote:

There is something every woman wears around her neck on a thin chain of fear—an amulet of madness. For each of us, there exists somewhere a moment of insult so intense that she will reach up and rip the amulet off, even if the chain tears the flesh of her neck. And the last protection from seeing the truth will be gone.

I thought of those words when the first women came forward to accuse Harvey Weinstein. And again when all the ‘me too’ stories began to flow–stories which weren’t just about wealthy and powerful men like Weinstein, or ‘unreconstructed’ men of his generation. Some of them were about the contemporary equivalents of the hip radical leftists Morgan took aim at in 1970. This view of women, this treatment of women, goes, as Morgan put it, ‘all the way down’. And women’s resistance goes all the way back in time. When we call men to account today, we are building on the insights and the actions of an earlier generation.

I’ll end with another quote from ‘Goodbye to all that’ which seems pertinent this week:

Let it all hang out. Let it seem bitchy, catty, dykey, Solanisesque, frustrated, crazy, nutty, frigid, ridiculous, bitter, embarrassing, man-hating, libelous, pure, unfair, envious, intuitive, low-down, stupid, petty, liberating. We are the women that men have warned us about.

 

Whose Joy of Sex?

This guest post revisits Anne Koedt’s ‘The myth of the vaginal orgasm’–and asks whether women in the 21st century are still being ‘defined sexually in terms of what pleases men’.

In 1970, Anne Koedt described in detail the myth of the vaginal orgasm-the shape of the myth itself and the reasons it continues to be reinforced.

The myth says: the vaginal orgasm exists and is separate from the clitoral orgasm.

The myth says: the vaginal orgasm is the True Orgasm.

The myth says: if a woman cannot orgasm from penetrative sex, she is broken in some way, she has failed, she is “frigid”.

The myth says: women ought to get pleasure from pleasuring men.

Today, the word “frigid” has come to be used slightly differently-a frigid woman is not necessarily a woman who can’t achieve that (mythical, magical) vaginal orgasm, but usually a woman who refuses sex in the first place. A woman who spurns a man’s advances is often dubbed a “frigid bitch”–cold, unfeeling, withholding something imagined to be his due. Frigidity is not just about failing to be pleased by pleasing a man, but about refusing to please him at all.

The myth is still real, and frigidity–in the sense that Koedt describes it– is still pathologised. What Koedt did not write about, though, was the way in which some level of frigidity seems to be expected of women, even as it is pathologised. Women’s sexual pleasure isn’t just imagined in terms of men’s, it does not belong to women at all: women cannot be seen to embrace their own sexuality. Even today, ‘respectable’ women must appear, at least initially, as frigid beings.

For women’s sexuality to be acceptable, it can’t be on their own terms. Nude leaks inspire hype and excitement in the online sphere, but when celebrities like Emily Ratajkowski voluntarily release nude photo-shoots the reaction is disgust and misogynistic shaming. Women who embrace their own sexuality are decried as sluts, whores, slags, hos—made dirty by their own desire. They’re only sexy if they are sexualized by someone else. Eventually women are expected to submit, but they must be “hard to get”- just frigid enough to maintain their respectability.

Even if they play the game right, women often end up frustrated: the myth of the vaginal orgasm still lives. Nothing appears to have changed since Koedt observed that men did seem to understand the importance of the clitoris

during “foreplay,” when they want to arouse women and produce the necessary lubrication for penetration. Foreplay is a concept created for male purposes, but works to the disadvantage of many women, since as soon as the woman is aroused the man changes to vaginal stimulation, leaving her both aroused and unsatisfied.

A general lack of awareness of how female bodies work has to be partly to blame, and the lack of a compulsory and comprehensive sex education curriculum in schools must take some responsibility here. When I was 16, my sex education class consisted of an awkward explanation of “how babies are made” and a vague allusion to how that can be prevented (though as it was a Catholic school, the only mode of safe sex defended explicitly was abstinence). The only description of male and female anatomy made available to us was in our biology textbooks, in which the clitoris was absent and the vagina was presented as permanently open and ready for penetration. With this kind of education, supplemented only by pornography for most of my male peers, is it any surprise that the myth of the vaginal orgasm still reigns?

Koedt tells us that our model of sexuality cannot be improved or adjusted, it must be rejected:

What we must do is redefine our sexuality. We must discard the “normal” concepts of sex and create new guidelines which take into account mutual sexual enjoyment. While the idea of mutual enjoyment is liberally applauded in marriage manuals, it is not followed to its logical conclusion. We must begin to demand that if certain sexual positions now defined as “standard” are not mutually conducive to orgasm, they no longer be defined as standard. New techniques must be used or devised which transform this particular aspect of our current sexual exploitation.

A look at the “sex-positive” feminism of the new century suggests that this project, if it ever got off the ground, has failed. Male fantasies have been repackaged and sold back to women as not just “empowering” but also “feminist.” Lip service is frequently paid to the idea of mutual enjoyment, and yet in practice women continue to be expected to perform above and beyond what they will ever be repaid.

The writers of the popular self-help manual Being Orgasmic encourage women to try anal sex if their male partner wants to, advising that ‘If any discomfort does occur, try again some other time’. It seems that a woman’s comfort–not even her pleasure–is considered secondary to a man’s desires.

The bar for “frigid” women has been raised. Now, possibly even more than before, we need to follow Koedt and reject the dominant model of sexuality. As Natasha Walter puts it:

If this is the new sexual liberation, it looks too uncannily like the old sexism to convince many of us that this is the freedom we have sought.

 

These women are angry

Guest blogger Teresa Green wonders what happened to second wave feminists’ rage

I remember being sixteen, and listening to my father talking about the female students he encountered at Cambridge in the 1970s: “These women were climbing the walls! They were so angry.”

Reading the essays and manifestos written around the years that the Women’s Liberation Movement came roaring into view, by women like Anne Koedt, Robin Morgan and Pat Mainardi, one of the things that strikes me most is their anger. It isn’t their anger per se that sticks out, but the fact that they boldly express it with no qualms about the male egos and female delusions they tread on.

Today, that rage seems to be tucked out of sight. Male politicians can bluster and shout and turn red in the face, but women must stay calm and placid lest our anger give us away as “overemotional” and “hormonal.” Koedt and many of the other women who wrote on women’s liberation in the 1960s and 1970s gave their anger a voice and did not bother to sugar-coat their hatred of injustice, or their conviction that things had to change.

Pat Mainardi breaks down the justifications produced by men for avoiding housework, translating her husband’s excuses and refusing to accept them. She’s angry, and she is sarcastic. Anne Koedt is similarly sarcastic in her denunciation of that “incredible invention,” the vaginal orgasm, and refuses to mince her words in demanding a new conception of sexuality. Judy Syfers relentlessly lists the expectations men have of women  and finishes in blunt exasperation: “My God, who wouldn’t want a wife?” Robin Morgan defiantly points at man as the oppressor, male friends and colleagues and family members and partners and comrades, disparaging their self-centeredness and their misogyny.  She invites women to be

bitchy, catty, dykey, Solanasesque, frustrated, crazy, nutty, frigid, ridiculous, bitter, embarrassing, man-hating, libellous, pure, unfair, envious, intuitive, low-down, stupid, petty, liberating.

She makes no suggestion that the system itself can be re-made feminist, but simply says goodbye to the whole thing, tells us it must be destroyed: “Run it all the way down.”

Most academic feminism is written by women, but they know that their work will be scrutinised by men, too, and men control the boundaries defining what is angry and what is “crazy.” When the author is a woman, men have learnt that they can use these words interchangeably and so dismiss her.

Koedt and Mainardi, Syfers and Morgan, are not writing for an audience of (male or female) academics, but for their fellow women. It seems that they don’t feel the need, evident in so many feminist speeches and articles today, to make the issue abstract, neutral. Maybe they don’t feel the need to hide their anger, speaking as they are directly to other women, or maybe they hope their anger will be shared and reproduced.

I can imagine these essays sparking new rage in the women who read them, sending rose-tinted spectacles flying to the floor. There is no attempt in their writing to soothe the male ego by labouring the idea that an end to patriarchy will benefit men too (a lie- when you reach your great heights by stepping on someone’s back, you can’t continue to float there when they pull themselves out from under your weight, which Morgan freely points out). There is also no attempt to soothe or sustain or sweeten female delusions; I can’t imagine any of these women suggesting that we don’t need to change our society or our expectations, we just need to call them “empowering.” Of course, not all contemporary feminists have fallen prey to this need to be palatable, but one wonders where the anger went, and specifically the direction of that anger.

These women, writing in the 1970s, were not simply angry about a system, a structure, a society, they were angry at men. Many of them write about the rage they felt as a result of men’s treatment of them in New Left organisations, the frustration and resentment spurred by the realisation that the redistribution of power between men would change nothing about the fact that women do the “shitwork.” They express their anger towards their fathers, brothers, husbands, even their sons: concrete individuals, not institutions. The Redstockings Manifesto makes their stance explicit:

Institutions alone do not oppress; they are merely tools of the oppressor.

Maybe the reason the anger expressed so vividly by these women seems to have faded from today’s feminist writing, and been replaced by the neutral tones (or anger directed in the vague direction of institutions) of many modern feminist writers and groups, is that anger is exhausting. In particular, anger given the direction embraced by women like Koedt and Mainardi is exhausting. Even as she describes the “fury older and potentially greater than any force in history” of the women of the New Left, Morgan points to the emotional strain of that fury against known, loved men. She describes women rising in powerful rage but

stuffing fingers into our mouths to stop the screams of fear and hate and pity for men we have loved and love still.

To hate the injustice of institutions and social structures is, I think, much easier than to direct that anger towards beloved fathers and brothers, partners and friends.

When I asked what happened to those roaring women in Cambridge, my father said “I think they got tired”.