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Sex Positive                         Thorn No 17                  Cunst Art 1996

It is possible to relish the profusion of feminist opinion and theory, the energy of the debate that encourages the liberation of intellectual inquiry. Some feminist theory and opinion appals me, for instance: second wave feminist theory-critisism that ignors or condemns women (like me) who paint and write in defence of active adult female sexuality and the female gaze. But I am a feminist. I owe a huge debt to 1960's radical feminist theory and activism, as well as Radicalesbians and the cultural feminism that followed in the 1970's. My understanding of the indivisibility of race, class and sex has been transformed by feminism's engagement with what sociologist Deborah K. King describes as "the diverse cultural heritages that affect the lives of many women". My feminism combines elements from many different feminist articulations, strands and groupings.

I learn from different intellectual positions and strong disagreements about important ideas. For me consumption has never been negative or passive: buying a fridge, a washing machine, a fishing rod, dress, lipstick or car has always been active, liberating and practical, the pleasurable profit of my labour, albeit in a male dominated work place that still, like capitalism, needs to be negotiated and equalised. There is not one favorite feminist theorist whose writing I swallow whole.  But I am a feminist. Unlike being a Marxist or a Darwinist, where you follow one person’s theory, being a feminist is like being an economist. Economics is the study of wealth and human behavior and there are many different economic theories often in opposition to each other. E.g. John Maynard Keynes, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. Feminism is the study of gender in patriarchy that proposes that women are equal to men - feminism is the politics of human equality which means economic equality as well as sexual equality. But there are many different feminist theories, often in opposition to each other. Dale Spender’s research and writing has profoundly influenced my thinking, I am mostly a Andrea Dworkinist, I am never a Camille Pagliaist female essentialist (although I admire Paglia’s brilliant prose style) but I am a feminist, a person who advocates for the rights of women. Feminism articulates the social and political character of the self and private life and, as Martha Rosler says 'insists on the importance of gender as an absolute social ordering principal and also on the politics of domination in all social life, whether personal or public'.

Because feminist theory in practice means power sharing between women and men, which means a loss of male privilege, feminists have always been considered a dangerous threat to patriarchy and the male dominated status quo. Historically, feminism has always implied dangerous disruptions, covert and overt actions, and war on patriarchal beliefs, traditions and social structures to create a world without gender roles. No wonder the backlash against feminism is frequently violent! To call yourself a feminist, whether you are a woman or a man, is like sticking the label ‘hate me’ on your forehead. Made afraid of being ‘hated’ and falsely characterised as ‘man-haters’ many women eschew the feminist word. Experience has taught women that attaching feminist to your name can reduce employability and the salability of your work. So threatening is the socio-political revolution implicit in the word feminism that the word is frequently banished, avoided and denied – feminism is a dirty word, the F-word. Of course revolution is threatening, of course learning to share power is difficult, but gains of happiness and equal human rights for women and men that occur when gender apartheid patriarchal systems are destroyed far out way any losses. I love the word feminism. Feminism has given me my life and my freedom. I stand shoulder to shoulder with women and men all over the world who are refusing to shut up about sexism and gender apartheid.

Of course, women can be as mean, sexist and misogynist and men. Women and men have the same human emotions from hatred to love and peace to violence as each other but because we are socialised in sometimes extremely different and unequally gendered ways, our same innate emotions are expressed unequally and differently.

Research has found that 'women's hostility toward women can be thought of as internalised oppression or as false consciousness - the holding of beliefs that are contrary to one's personal or group interest'. Women who are 'hostile' toward women will continue to 'collaborate in maintaining a misogynist culture' and will also 'resist bonding in feminist ways to oppose it.' (Gloria Cowan. 2000.) As Phyllis Chesler says: ‘To the extent that women are oppressed, we have also internalised the prevailing misogynist ideology which we uphold both in order to survive and in order to improve our own individual positions vis-a-vis all other women. [ ] Given the reality of female oppression, how women treat each other matters more, not less.’ (Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman. 2001.)

The position I have taken in relation to sex in my life and my art is brilliantly formalised in the work of third wave feminist scholar Kalliopi Minioudaki who writes about ‘active, aware and in control [] representation of the sexual – woman by woman.’ I have not allowed the power of dominant ideas of sexuality to repress my female sense of pleasure, nor have I been terrorised by the stigma of ‘bad girl’ or ‘scarlet woman’. I am fearlessly ‘bad’ and definitively ‘scarlet’ since, in so being I am not a female eunuch, I am wholly human. My work is a celebration of self- possessed sexuality, a ‘flaunting’ which challenges patriarchy and much second wave feminism’s fraught relation to popular culture, the ‘pin-up’ and consumption, a relation that has been an obstruction to an appreciation of how art like mine* is a form of resistance to conventional models of ‘femininity’. But never mistake me for a libertine - boundaries are necessary to protect children as well as adult human relationships. Frequently in my life I have had to exhort myself to:

Know the ground on which I stand (my principals).

Stand my ground.

Strengthen myself with scholarship and work.

Do not commit suicide.

Sexual desire is no excuse for violence. I valorise women who as adults, to survive in and negotiate the male dominated workspace, ‘take their kit off’ or work in the sex industry.  Some feminists believe that if women censor their sexuality and what they wear – cover-up not skin, dungarees not mini-skirts, bare face not make-up – then male attitudes and behavior will change from calling women whores to respect. Censoring what women wear to control male sexual violence and engender respect for women is an unworkable failed tactic. This ‘looking respectable’, this anti-sexy tactic, this modesty tactic that some feminists advocate, plays into the power that patriarchy has to blame women for rape. Feminists who want women to cover-up and who denigrate women when we dress sexy are colluding with patriarchy’s hysterical panic about female flesh, they are endorsing patriarchy’s control of women which taken to its extreme leads to the nikab and the burka.

My feminism states that it is male behavior that must be modified not women’s dress. Feminists, instead of damning women for dressing sexy demand that men learn the rules: No Means No and Look Don’t Touch!


I am a SEX-POSITIVE feminist.

A Slap Hand            Thorn No 4      Cunst Art 1996

* See artists like Suzanne Valadon, Pauline Boty, Evelyne Axell and Francine Van Hove…

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