Monday, April 18, 2011

Personal Opinions and Feminism: It Gets Scary Out There

The personal is political. Any person who has read any 101 feminist text is probably familiar with this phrase, which originally comes from Carol Hanisch's 1969 article. The term has come to mean that very personal things, (like your womb, your relationships, your clothes, how much money you make) all have a political context. It's very standard feminist fare.

However, I'm beginning to worry this mindset is starting to get a little over broad. Specifically, I'm talking about personal opinions becoming nonproductive political debates in the feminist world. What I see happening time after time is a feminist sharing her view on something (anything really) and suddenly the chorus of other feminists rises up and say, "WUT!? You think that? HOW OFFENSIVE You've erased the perspective of xyz people!!! I'M NEVER READING THIS BLOG AGAIN!"

For the record, I'm not talking about situations where someone has written harmful, shaming, or hateful shit. I'm talking about when a feminist shares her thoughts on a topic which are simply a personal opinion. Here's my current example. Jill over at Feministe covered a NY Times trend piece which claimed that women are now finding sex "so last year."

Here's the basic premise of Jill's thoughts on this claim:

No. Gladiator sandals are so last year (or so 2009, whatever). Sex is Lauren Bacall. Sex is a pencil skirt. Sex is fucking timeless and totally awesome, is my point. (But maybe I just think that because I have not yet found a husband who will serve the crucial role of convincing me that I never want to have sex ever again. Marriage, can’t wait!).

There are, of course, asexual people who have zero interest in sex. But that’s not what this article is talking about — it’s covering women who at some point did like sex, and now are tired of it. And that is not good! Because sex is really great, and is supposed to be a pleasure, and if it’s getting put on the backburner, that’s an issue.
I honestly thought this was a totally innocuous opinion, albeit an opinion not pretending to be anything else. However, people kinda jumped her case. Objections ranged from claiming that Jill was creating pressure on women to maximize sexual pleasure, saying that everyone should like sex, oppressing everyone with her view of what's normal, and that women who don't like sex had better pretend they do.

Wait, what?


I don't understand. Maybe I should go back and read the whole things again, but all I got was that Jill's basically saying, "Hey, from where I'm sitting, sex is pretty great, and to claim that there is a societal trend that women are viewing sex as 'so last year' isn't cool. If there's a real problem with women's disinterest in sex, then perhaps we should actually examine that and not chalk it up to a trend."

I'm really confused why she can't say that. I'm really confused why we, as feminists, can't share and discuss our personal opinions without it being declared that we're automatically oppressing others, simply by stating said opinions. I just fail to see how an opinion, like Jill's, is causing harm to anyone. Her view isn't creating a system of oppression or perpetuating stereotypes or invoking sexist/racist/homophobic/abelist/etc imagery. She's not trying to pass legislation that requires women achieve X number of orgasms weekly.

I (assume) we can agree that it's very hard to pinpoint a single unified feminist ideology, so why can't differing feminist personal opinions exist simultaneously? Why does sharing one's personal opinion automatically connotate a political attack on another person? I can see how a personal opinion like "homosexuality is evil" can be harmful to others, but "sex is great" doesn't seem to fall into this same category.

I know that it is human nature to find things that challenge our opinions/perspective as threatening. But, if an otherwise generally like-minded feminist shares a viewpoint you disagree with, resist the urge to attack and rather, engage her/him in a discussion.

The truth is, we're all experiencing life and writing from our unique circumstances and identities. If you feel that someone hasn't taken your experience into account, then advocate your view, but take it beyond "I AIN'T READING THIS NO MORE." Use your voice and get your perspective into the mix.

And for what it's is NOT so last year.

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