Why Feminism is the Anti-Viagra: could you imagine a title more calculated to warm my feminist, sex-loving heart? Based on the title of that article, as well as some write-ups of sketchy work they’ve done in the past, I was all geared up to hate the authors. But I read the article, along with parts 2 and 3, and found myself in sympathy with much of what they had to say. The fact that sex and gender are such politically charged questions make scientific research difficult; having politically incorrect fantasies is often unreasonably stigmatized; the neuroscience behind different sexual tastes doesn’t have any bearing on human rights. I agree with most of what they say on these issues.
However. Feminism is the anti-Viagra? Nuh-uh. In this, their-jumping-off point, they make a critical and common error: confusing the street and the bedroom. Almost any time you hear someone raising questions about whether a woman can be sexually submissive and still a feminist, whether a man can be sexually dominant and still respect women, you know they’ve made this error.
The writers begin by claiming “Gender equality inhibits arousal”; that low libido in women can be blamed partly on feminism’s insistence on equality and respect. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they made this statement carelessly, without thinking through its foundations and ramifications. Because if they were going to make it seriously, they’d have to argue that not only are men more often inclined to be sexually dominant and women more often inclined to be sexually submissive, but that social inequality makes it easier for people to imagine and enact male dominant/female submissive bedroom dynamics. And they’d have to argue that women’s libidos were higher in the pre-feminist days.
I don’t buy it. I don’t think Ozzy and Harriet were doing sizzling Dom/sub scenes in the bedroom (although I’m sure there’s fanfic of it somewhere.) Nor do I imagine that the institutionalized prostitution of most pre-modern marriages had most of the women panting with desire for the men they had to fuck in order to keep a roof over their heads. Yes, male dominance and female submission are common fantasies for both sexes, and yes, that appears politically incorrect from a naïve point of view, but that doesn’t mean that feminism has made sexual fulfillment harder to come by. Quite the reverse.
There are two things you have to understand about erotic submission. First, it has little to do with power dynamics in nonsexual contexts. Indeed, it’s been observed that executive or political power often goes hand-in-hand with sexual submissiveness. Just because a man treats a woman as his equal on the street doesn’t mean he can’t or won’t rough her up in the bedroom (in a good way.)
Second, erotic submission only works if it’s freely chosen by the submissive. Fiction and fantasies of being dominated are always, always in the writer/fantasist’s control, and happening according to his or her desires. Just try walking up to a submissive at a BDSM party and ordering them around, and see how well that works for you. Someone who’s turned on by erotic submission is usually very clear about who they want to be dominated by, and when, and how.
Given that last point, it’s plain that feminism makes sexual dominance and submission more possible, not less. The more choice a woman has about who to be sexual with, and when, the more possible it is for her to enjoy Dom/sub fantasies and roleplaying. Gender equality has not made sexual arousal more difficult; it’s taken a step toward making things easier. Claiming anything else (without serious comparative evidence of the state of affairs before feminism) is foolish.