Sex, Freya and maybe a little bit about what Feminism is not.

So, I am a feminist. There, I have said it. It’s often a word that makes people squirm and for so many (lots of them very good) reasons. It’s a name, an ideology, I have identified with on some level or another for most of my adult life and feminist theory is now a subject I am lucky enough to teach my undergraduates. It is always an interesting challenge to pick apart their many preconceptions about what feminism is and very definitely is not. Yet, the word is also something that makes me profoundly uncomfortable sometimes and it is usually other feminists and my resultant association with them that is the reason for this, rather than society’s attitudes to feminism itself. After all, feminism has a bad name, it makes people uncomfortable because it challenges some of the very deeply entrenched behaviours and attitudes of society, which is why I love it. It also says some profoundly stupid, although usually well-meaning things at times, which is why I don’t. I’ve been wanting to write about this subject for sometime, but to do so probably means revealing things about my own nature that it often feels uncomfortable to share. There will always be judgement on a woman for not behaving as she should and that is as true within feminism as anywhere, it’s just that here we tend to be seen to be letting the side or the sisterhood down.

There was never a subject that feminism had more to say about than sex and of late, I have found myself reading some ‘interesting’, well-intentioned, but rather misguided articles and opinions which have sometimes downright disturbed me. As usual it’s often the fault of Facebook, where these things get shared with abandon without much more thought than it takes to click a button. But I am worried about the perpetuation of some of these ideas and the effects that they have on women, men and every gender and none in between. It is the (apparently) feminist ideas that tell me how as a woman, I (or indeed anyone) should or should not behave and express my sexuality, the school of thought that suggests that if you are male you are responsible for rape culture by default, the articles which turn women into victims by removing their personal responsibility and autonomy and imply to us, often without meaning to, that all men are dangerous sexual predators just waiting to do harm. It is the feminism that compounds and protects those very stereotypes that it set out to dismantle in the first place, that concerns me.

Because Feminism is really an umbrella term covering a collection of ideas and movements, I should probably start by defining feminism as I understand it. This is coloured very much, as a Heathen woman, an animist and my relationship with the Gods, particularly Freya, the goddess I am devoted to. For me, feminism is the understanding that all people should be equal, politically, economically, culturally, socially and sexually and that no person should be at a disadvantage in any of these things as a result of their gender. To experience disadvantage on the grounds of gender is to experience sexism. I also consider that freedom is an essential component of feminism believing that no one has the right to limit to the freedom of another where that person is acting with consent and within the law. This means that ultimate personal responsibility is also essential because freedom cannot work sustainably without a conscious understanding of how what we do, directly affects others. Freedom does not mean the freedom to abuse because that again, limits the freedom of another. When talking about feminism, I tend to steer clear of a definition based solely in gender, or describing it as being only about women or women’s rights. Sexism disadvantages all of humanity and ultimately all people would find advantage in liberation from it. However it is true that feminism found its roots in women’s emancipation and suffrage and much of the work of feminism today is still focussed upon women and their lived experiences, because it is women who are so often the most likely to experience disadvantage because of their gender.

If such terms mean anything to you at all, I would best describe myself as a sex-positive, third-wave feminist. This means that I consider sexual freedom to be absolutely essential and a source of women’s power, and I believe that modern feminism needs to reach for equality far beyond the entrenched gender stereotypes of the previous feminist waves. It also means holding the belief that we are now free to define feminism for ourselves as individuals. For me that does not get much more complicated than believing in freedom, equality, autonomy, respect and absolute personal responsibility. My feminism also believes that I don’t have to be defined by my gender, but as I take complete and utter, unbounded delight and joy in being a woman, I often chose to do just that.

As a Heathen woman I am devoted to the goddess Freya. This means that I consider my primary purpose is to serve her, to celebrate and manifest her in the human world in a way which is positive and I seek to learn her mysteries, journeying into the depths of her being and stories. For Freya, so many of those mysteries are about the very many ways of being a woman: Lover, Priestess, Seer, Healer, Witch, Wife, Whore and kick-ass-independent-take-no-shit Shield Maiden. For me she is the ultimate goddess of women’s freedom and agency and a guiding principle of my life is that of striving for my own freedom and the intention never to limit another’s as far as I am consciously able. This means examining my own demands, jealousies and insecurities within my relationships with others on a fairly constant basis. As an animist, it means doing it with the non human world too. Sexism is simply one means by which an individual’s freedom can be limited, but then so is racism, abuse, homophobia, and the manipulation of others to make them behave as we would wish, and the dreadful generalisations that seek to strip a person of their individuality and autonomy.

So why the lengthy preamble and why am I writing about this anyway? Well I suppose it comes back to having been ‘told’ a few things online very recently by supposed feminists, that as a feminist myself have made me concerned. I’d like to address a few of the things that have made me hopping mad over the past month or so and look at why, despite having been espoused by feminists, these views really have nothing to do with my understanding of it at all. Those things have included such crazy things as being told that my love of dressing up in corsets, high heels and other ‘girly’ paraphernalia is not helpful to my sisters because it panders to sexual stereotypes and makes other women feel they have to conform to that idea of sexy. What the hell? Seeking to limit another woman’s freedom of expression and telling her how she should dress is not feminism. Next, that sexual submissiveness, power games, and BDSM even within consensual adult relationships, are demeaning and abusive; ergo a large part of my sexual identity is just dirty and wrong and damaging to myself and others. Hmmm, how affirmingly sex-positive. To my mind curtailing another womans sexual freedom where she choses and consents is also, not feminism. But perhaps the most short-sighted and stupid thing I have read to date is that if you are a man, you are part of rape culture, whether you like it or not.

Now, this is the one I am going to look at in detail because not only is it ridiculous, it’s also really dangerous and damaging to all involved, feminist ideologies, the way that feminism is perceived in general and above all, men! I have no doubt that the chap who wrote this piece is an honourable well-meaning gent and it’s sad really that he’s the one on the end of my pointy stick, having put together such a coherent piece which has been widely shared. But really I have chosen it as just one example of this kind of thinking I have come across. Whilst the writer of this article does not claim to be feminist, the ideas it describes are clearly feminist ideology and so it is fair to offer feminist critique of it. The first and most obvious point is that in stating that all men are part of rape culture you commit the cardinal offense of defining a gender by something a person does or does not do. Third wave feminism rejects essentialist definitions of gender that rely on such generalisations believing that the individual, their experiences and their personhood are more defining characteristics than gender. Secondly, to define an entire gender in this way is to suggest that rape culture is a biological characteristic of maleness, if this is so, it is inherent and cannot be changed. Therefore, there is little point in making the recommendations the author goes onto present in order to help men counter rape culture. Because he’s already told you that whether you like it or not, you are it, you can’t help it, and you’d better get used to it. The whole thing is a nonsense, not to mention it compounds our ideas of a binary gender structure, it really only speaks to heterosexual gender normative ideals.

Whilst the argument is fairly easily dismantled, the biggest problem with it is that it is so alienating, particularly if it gives the impression that all feminists think this way. I feel alienated by it because I don’t hold men responsible for ‘rape culture’ (I actually hate that term and could argue with that too, but I simply havent the space here!). I’ll say it again, I do not hold individual decent men, responsible for ‘rape culture’ by virtue of their gender. Please guys, you don’t need to do that for my benefit, I would much rather judge a person for their actions and behaviour because I’m the kind of pagan who believes in honourable relationship. That doesn’t mean that you have permission not to be a decent and honourable human being, guys, it just means that the rape and abuse that happens in the world is not your personal fault. If I were to hold men responsible, as a woman, what would that mean? Well the exact same thing I complained of earlier, I turn women into desperate victims without agency, freedom or responsibility and I fall into the trap of perpetuating the belief that all men are dangerous sexual predators. Conversely, the implication that men are the only ones who can change ‘rape culture’ is to suggest again that women are always in need of the protection of the ‘good guys’ who have changed their behaviour, from the bad behaviour of the guys who haven’t.

My husband feels alienated by it too, as do most of the men I have spoken to about it. He rejects the idea completely that he is part of ‘rape culture’ and I completely agree with him. I reject the idea that the other respectful, wise, honourable men I know are. It makes him angry that he cannot offer an intelligent counter argument even. To do so opens him up to the accusation of being blind to the ‘rape culture’ of which he is supposedly a part, and is therefore in denial. He is sweet, respectful and kind, already does the things listed as countering ‘rape culture’ and yet still he is guilty as charged; a part of it. Apparently. It is emasculating because it takes his voice, it is dis-empowering because he feels vilified, and it compounds some of the ideas that he has grown up with that he should keep his sexuality safely hidden in a box because it is dangerous. Not only this, but simply blaming a gender for the problem simplifies things beyond belief and goes nowhere to addressing the other factors which are so much bigger: War, poverty, destructive ideologies, capitalism.

So what is my point at the end of all this, other than to express my concern and discomfort; perhaps nothing other than that. Perhaps it’s to wave my Shield-Maiden sword for all the good guys I know who don’t deserve that kind of crap. Perhaps it’s for all the women who fly in the face of sexual norms, playing at the edges of what even feminism finds acceptable, the submissives, the ones with dark and strange fantasies, the sluts, the daddy’s girls, the hedonists, the ones in heels and corsets, the ones who like power games, the ones who refuse to be told what to do, even by the sisterhood; the women like me. Perhaps it’s to give feminism a different voice.

Or perhaps it’s just for Freya, it usually is.

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9 thoughts on “Sex, Freya and maybe a little bit about what Feminism is not.

  1. L says:

    I respect your thoughtful disagreement with the concept as it’s been outlined as of late, but I gotta disagree with your disagreement! First of all, there’s this:

    “to define an entire gender in this way is to suggest that rape culture is a biological characteristic of maleness, if this is so, it is inherent and cannot be changed”

    This is a very, though unintentional, cissexist statement to make. You are explicitly linking gender to biology, and gender roles to biology here, which is just not true. Dismantling rape culture means not holding just cis men accountable for their contributions (as unaware and well-meaning as you were in typing that statement), but also trans men as well, because it’s not any supposed -biology- of maleness that sexual violence appeals to, but the social construct of maleness, which trans men, and other trans-masculine-identifying individuals, are susceptible to internalizing. That masculinity is often constructed on top of violence of all sorts (and this is to use a very broad definition of violence here; manipulation of all sorts, getting preferential treatment by the law, by the financial system, etc, at the unfair disadvantage of another person, concepts like “chivalry”, the drive to compete outside of carefully negotiated situations, and so on) is the responsibility of men to do away with– women obviously can’t achieve their goals of equality without men acknowledging their role in a colonial-patriarchal society, but we cannot do that work for them. It is up to them to acknowledge, reject, and dismantle.

    And for the record, my husband 100% believes in the construct of rape culture as outlined by feminism and works to dismantle it in his day-to-day interactions. Many of my male friends–all of them, in fact, or at least the ones who are aware of the concept–also believe and act similarly. I don’t think I can name a single male feminist friend/ally of mine who rejects the idea of rape culture, to be honest. Perhaps it’s a generational thing.

    • Hi L, I think you have completely misunderstand me somewhere along the way! Read the statement again, I am saying it’s a terrible idea not a good one to link gender and biology in this way! And that holding all men and men only responsible for rape culture does exactly this and is the unintentional cissexist attitude. I would not link gender to biology in this way which is why I think we are all responsible for dismantling it, not just men. Thank for your thoughts, always good to receive comment. N x

  2. This is a very thoughtfully constructed and thought provoking piece of writing — and brave. It challenges on many levels. I will have to investigate further the sex-positive, third-wave feminist position. I have had huge problems with identifying with the feminist agenda, attitudes and behaviours towards women as well as men.

    I am curious how you define ‘equality’ in your context, unless it was there the thoughts are so dense I missed it. I don’t think we are all or any of us, men and women alike, equal in terms of gifts, graces, abilities, and so forth, which is where I go when I first consider the notion of equality. To have equal access to education, employment, promotion, etc is not the same thing as having the qualifications, temperament or inclination to take on certain roles or role expectations. Would be interested to know . . .

    Thank you for writing this piece. Much, much to think about and it deserves more than one reading.

    • Hi Aurora,

      You are absolutely right, it is a dense subject to tackle in a blog post. I don’t define equality here, again it is an essay on it’s own, but suffice to say that I do not consider equality to mean ‘the same’. People are not the same we are each of us individual and if we step outside the binary construction of gender that society likes to hand us, we could even argue that there as as many genders as there are people because we all construct and understand it so differently. Although there are characteristics we share which often help us fall neatly into a gender identification. I love and revel in my identification as a woman, the lived experiences of womanhood are my passion, and so I have no problem doing so. When I speak about equality I mean that on a basic level, each person should have the same rights, freedoms, legal standing, access to health care, education, right to marry freely, employment opportunities, voting status etc and that these should not be prescribed or limited by gender. I do not mean that gender roles must be the same, but I do not believe that we need to be constrained by those roles unless we chose to be. To what extent you percieve difference to be inherent in gender will depend on how much you consider gender to be biologically and/or socially constructed. Even within feminism the jury is still out on that.

      • Thank you for clarifying that, Nell, and I look forward to any specific writing you do on the ‘equality’ topic, and I agree with your bottom line, as it were.

        And as I indicated in my initial response, I haven’t come to any huge conclusions yet about the whole feminist project. I do acknowledge that we have more options, more choices and opportunities . . . and I have benefited from them. I am still conflicted to what extent I’ve not dug around to find out, maybe it’s my age — seeing all the early, angry, reactionary feminists out there. Don’t know. I think this writing and your teaching on these issues are very important. Keep exploring and challenging, it’s good for the mind, the soul and the culture — for women and men alike.

  3. […] Sex, Freyja and maybe a little about what feminism is not- the Animist’s Craft- Nell writes on her own definition of feminism and how she sometimes feels excluded by other feminists for not upholding their ideas. I know for myself, feminism in part about being able to make choices about one’s body, sexuality and general way of life while considering the broader socio-political implications and impacts of one’s choices- the “personal is political” principle. So while I respect her choices to wear corsets & heels and engage her kinks, I do affirm the importance of questioning the context and influences on how those choices are made. Nell also questions the idea that men are all automatically a part of “rape culture”. I noticed the whole concept of “rape culture” only a while ago- perhaps around the time of the Steubenville high school case. Maybe it’s not a new idea, it seems related to a certain stream of radical feminism that arose in the 1970′s but I’ve never cared much for that type of feminism so then I haven’t read much about it. (Radical feminism- this is a more specific ideology- not the way Rush Limbaugh uses it to refer to any woman with an opinion other than Michelle Bachman or Sarah Palin)   […]

  4. acmoyer says:

    An interesting post. I also consider myself a third-wave feminist and share many of your opinions outlined here, but I do believe all men are part of “rape culture” (if we *must* call it that)–and so are all women. Our prescribed roles may be different, but I believe if we call “rape culture” what it really is–patriarchy–then it’s obvious that everyone is caught in that trap, and everyone ultimately suffers because of it. More importantly, if we look at the issue from (what I feel) should be the guiding principle–does identifying men with “rape culture” advance all toward a more equal, less exploitative society?–then I have to say that even if it is overly-simplistic, essentializing, negates individual agency, fails to anticipate all possible critiques, and makes innocent men feel bad, the answer may still be yes.

    If the goal of feminism is equality for all, it is a real concern whether the ends justify the means. But if some men are taking this identification as “rape-culture”-perpetuators for themselves, perhaps this is a positive step insofar as it means a few persons are taking a hard look in the mirror. We are a long way from ending patriarchy, and from what I’ve seen the number of men accusing themselves and each other of complicity is a drop in the bucket compared to the number bemoaning the feminists who are always bothering them with uncomfortable truths. If we want to (and I can’t say this better than you did) “judge a person for their actions and behaviour because [we’re] the kind of pagan[s] who [believe] in honourable relationship,” then maybe we should be more open to those individuals who are bravely speaking against the dominant message in society in an effort to create such relationships.

  5. Heather Awen says:

    I love this. One thing that people forget is that in the United States one in three women will experience sexualized violence ( usually before the age of 18) and one in five men will experience sexualized violence. It’s often at the hands of older women. There is no support system at all for them. They are considered “lucky.”

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