In the heydey of second-wave feminism, young women began declaring that "the personal is political." Understanding the gender-based problems in their personal lives, they felt, would allow them to better understand the changes that needed to be made politically when it came to women's rights.
But in recent years, it seems like the idea behind the phrase has gotten a little twisted around. Rather than encouraging individual exploration, it begs the question as to whether our personal decisions need to line up with our political beliefs. Does our sex life need to adhere to feminist doctrine? Do our exploits have to be approved by a panel of Gender Studies professors?
Such is the concern at the heart of a recent letter to Salon's advice columnist, Cary Tennis. In it, a young woman explains that while she's "a feminist," she likes to be objectified in her sex life:
I'm a young, vibrant woman. A feminist, you could even say. I'm the first to speak out against a womanizer or misogynist....
When I'm having sex, all I want is to be objectified.
It doesn't make any sense. It isn't as if I want a man I'm sleeping with to think I'm nothing more than something for him to use, but I do want him to tell me that. It's puzzling because, like I said, I would classify myself as a feminist...
Why are my kinks so not in tune with the rest of my personality?
She signs her letter, "I Hate My Kinks."
This writer certainly isn't the first to explore what happens when her sexual fantasies involve activities that strike her -- or that she worries will strike others -- as anti-feminist. Jessica Wakeman of The Frisky has written extensively about coming to grips with her spanking fetish. Writer Katie Roiphe recently explored the reasons behind women's rape fantasies in an article at Newsweek.
What these pieces have in common, like IHMK's letter, are the authors' desire to reconcile their intellectual beliefs and their sexual preferences. Can one be a feminist and still fantasize about getting raped? Can one be empowered and still want to be dominated in the bedroom?
In a word, yes.
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First of all, there's the issue of consent -- in situations where it's mutually given, no one looking in from the outside should be concerned about the potential sexual politics involved.
Second, there's the unfortunate fact that our libidos don't always care about our politics. In fact, what turns us on might be the exact opposite of what we believe is right or moral if it were acted out in the real world. We might find a man spanking a woman in public abhorrent but discover that lo and behold, when the doors are closed and the lights are off, that's exactly what gets our juices flowing.
But more than all that, it's naive to think that anyone can live up to the highest iteration of political ideals, because ideals are just that; behaviors that would exist in a perfect world. However, we don't live in a perfect world; we live in a world where we embody contradictions and commit actions that we don't always understand and over which we don't always have control. Our sexual fantasies don't always make sense and don't always follow logic, let alone politics...and that's exactly what makes them so exciting.
So, IMHK and her ilk should worry less about being politically correct in the bedroom and more about understanding exactly what they want, why they want it and how to get it in a safe way. Because at the end of the day, the best way to be feminist within our sexuality is to know ourselves and not be afraid to go after our desires.