Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The problems of feminism wrapped in a sex toy

Lucky for me, the Professor does not have a blog, which means that, whenever she says something interesting, I can immediately steal it for my own. Hurray! Let us talk for a moment about ben-was balls, or, more specifically, the hype surrounding them. Here's a pretty concise look at the problem over at Good Vibrations. But I want to draw your attention to the portion by Dr. Jayne, who says:

Presently, women are taught to perceive their vaginas as either birth canals or as reception rooms for penises. Both of these perceptions involve us in fairly social events which require the presence of another person. The use of penis-like objects for vaginal stimulation (by self or others) only serves to reinforce this deplorably limited state of affairs. In addition, the use of tampons, handy though they are, reinforces our notion that the vagina is insensitive. Optimal use of tampons only teaches us to ignore or disregard subtle sensations in the vagina.

Okay, the idea of birth and vaginal intercourse as social events tickles me, but there's something about her tone--that participants in heterosexual vaginal intercourse as celebrated by our culture fail to understand that the "culture of [ben-was balls'] origin prizes the subtle and understated, not the neon flashing blaze of quick excitement"--that grates. I mean, first of all, if something doesn't work for me, why is that some evidence of my unsophisticated relationship to my body? Shoot, can I go around adding only one grain of salt to my dishes and, when my guests complain that they're bland, chastise them for not prizing "the subtle and understated?" But the other thing that bothers me is the subtle condescension towards the penis. As the Professor wisely asks, "Do we have to be mad at the penis to learn to love our vaginas?" Must we continue to see each other only as binary opposites? Oddly enough, on this very day, Summer reminds us that Cixous is wrestling with this same crap. She (Cixous) says, "The same shadowy impulse, divided in direction, and always its own reverse, pushes you, restraining you, to lose." Now, honestly, I always read through Cixous once and say "what the fuck is she talking about," so I could be wrong about this shit. Still, she's talking about this same thing, in part, I think. I think she's saying that these dichotomies by which we understand each other hurt us. You are the big strong man; I am the small weak woman. You thrust unfeelingly; I envelope in subtle sensations. But on the other hand, I am the strength of fidelity, while you cannot help your weak will and must stray. I am the cold bitch and you are the thoughtful poet. See? Divided in direction and somehow always its own reverse.

Seeing each other as only a collection of stuff that is not us doesn't get us anywhere. It keeps us from each other.

There's got to be ways to do this, to talk lovingly about ourselves in ways that don't degrade you. To talk about the things we need--pleasure, security, well-being, etc.--without conceiving of it as having to come at the expense of someone else.

I truly understand why some feminists hate men and advocate for women-only institutions. I understand it intellectually, but I don't get it in my heart. Again, these are my guys--my brothers, my father, my nephews, my lovers, my friends--and my life would be vastly diminished without them.

Can't we conceive of a feminism that doesn't always have to concern itself with being in opposition to men? What if we just acknowledge the shittiness of the patriarchy and get about the business of figuring out how to enjoy life (which, of course, includes healthy doses of picking on the patriarchy) as best we can?

Again, Cixous: "Let yourself go! Let go of everything! Lose everything! Take to the air. Take to the open sea. Take to letters. Listen: nothing is found. Nothing is lost. Everything remains to be sought."

How can you not want to be a part of that?


Blogger Twyla said...

You make sense. I like that.

8/16/2005 10:23:00 PM  
Blogger Taketoshi said...

I think the penis-denigration is one of the to-be-expected growing pains of feminism, as limited and limiting as it is. I mean, what kind of a model has existed for self-affirmation and empowerment for the most part? A male-dominated one which generally has relied on the reduction of the other as part and parcel of the valorization of the self. I think it's understandable, if something we still have to work against, and myself--I don't take it too personally.

8/17/2005 08:46:00 AM  
Blogger Kat Coble said...

Modern Ben Wa Balls don't seem to be filled with Mercury.

They used to be and I can see where that would be more pleasurable.

Regardless, I read in a book (okay, novel) that the physiology of the female is actually superb design in that we can achieve both vaginal and clitoral orgasms. This is a good thing, because the vagina was often damaged or desensitized during childbirth.

8/17/2005 12:15:00 PM  

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