Sexual revolution: feminist project



Radical feminist debates about sexuality must be brought to the fore

It seems absurd to thank those who came before, those who fought for us. It seems almost ridiculous to appeal to the defense of the sexual revolution in today's hypersexualized world. However, many public discourses again exude a certain puritanism, and most of them come from feminism itself. Discourses that say that the sexual revolution was made “for men”, that contribute to fixing female sexuality to a certain normativity – “women have a different sexuality”, “we want affection, not just sex” or that claim that “we don’t we like pornography”.

I do not doubt that the socialization of men and women is still different, but the ways of experiencing sexuality are becoming more plural and freer. And that has been thanks to those who organized and changed our culture and customs forever. Perhaps we have to look back and recognize all that we have gained, although we can certainly reflect on what we still have to achieve. Why is sexual freedom so scary? Why do we seem to be returning to a reactionary atmosphere on these issues?

Sometimes, to know how far we've come, we need to look back. My mother, born in the 1950s, married to escape the family's control. Specifically that of her mother, my grandmother Pepa, a fierce defender of traditional morals who kept her on a tight leash, with strict rules about when to go out and when to come in—night was forbidden territory—and what you could do. Only men… better not. It is true that at that time there were already other models, but not so many in the place and social class she inhabited.

My grandmother wasn't a bad person, she just grew up in an environment where dancing was wrong, where being with men was considered dangerous. She reproduced this in her creation. She was not an obsessive or pathological controller, she had simply learned, at the cost of her own happiness, that deviation from the moral norm had a high price that could be paid for a lifetime. As she did. When she was very young, she became pregnant and was forced to marry a man she didn't love, who would soon leave her with two small children after a sad and violent relationship. It was her life experience, the ever-whispered danger of what could happen to “lost ones,” that gave her and the women of her generation the mandate to enforce a patriarchal sexual morality.

My mother got married early because she wanted to get away from it all. She wanted to decide for herself something as basic as when to enter and leave the house. It is true that she could have gone wrong, say, if her husband had been the surrogate mother's control. Until 1975, in Spain, marriage implied a restriction of women's freedoms, including the institutionalization of rape, which was not recognized because of the figure of the “marital debt”, the obligation to be available to the husband that existed until 1992. In any case, my mother says she was happy, but also that she was never with anyone else while my father was alive. That is, until the age of 68, his expectations and possibilities for experimentation were very limited by his environment and education.

It was my mother's generation that made the sexual revolution in this country. Maybe she wasn't at the forefront of any countercultural movement, but I have her to thank for quickly coming out as part of a society that had changed, and my upbringing and the freedom I enjoyed were totally different (although I still remember one generational war and my grandmother tells me that only prostitutes came home as late as I did). In any case, those of us who came later had an easier time enjoying sex and more freedom to do so – both symbolically and in real space. With all the contradictory speeches that could be uttered – again the “whore”, if you date a lot of boys, etc. – the road was less paved.

Another aspect of this world of possibilities that opened up was that I, too, could fall in love and have relationships with women, something my mother scarcely dared to imagine when I was young. This is becoming more and more common. Just talk to younger children to get an idea of ​​how they experience this issue more normally than previous generations. In Spain there are no surveys, but in the US nearly 21 percent of Generation Z – born between 1997 and 2003 – identify as LGTBI. This is a huge number and much higher than in previous years.

There also appears to be greater diversity in the ways in which these non-normative sexual preferences are experienced. Not just homosexual or bisexual: we are now talking about pansexuality – sexual attraction to other people regardless of their sex or gender identity, that is, also to trans or non-binary people. Queer also exploded many of these label categories, breaking new ground. Talking to many young people about these issues today means learning new things (it also opens up new conflicts, such as the debates we are experiencing about trans children, paradoxically now that it is becoming normal and more children are declaring themselves as such).

Anyway, I feel like I keep stating truisms, but when I read that “the sexual revolution was made for men”, I wonder what kind of world these people enunciating it inhabit. Don't they remember where we came from? If you don't remember the radicalism of the feminist movement of the 70's, when we had everything to conquer and the discourse was that of “liberation” – reproducing the language of anti-colonial struggles and civil rights.

Liberation that was also of the family, of desire and, of course, sexual, and that shaped a new world. A world that discovered that an important part of female oppression was contained or mediated by sexuality, but that did not design it only as a place of oppression, but as a space that had to be ours. These struggles, moreover, took a very concrete form in Spain, moving for rights that we did not yet have – against the crime of adultery, to be able to have an abortion or to decide when to be mothers. The demand for sexual freedom has always had a counterpart in the fight against violence, but it was never just that.

In those years there were also criticisms of sex that focused only on penetration, there was talk of clitoral orgasm and pleasure, pleasure in capital letters. Sexual fantasies were discussed, and whether or not they had to be a certain type to be feminist, or even whether sadomasochism was an "acceptable" practice. Things that now seem obvious to us, but that at some point had to be named to make them ours, that expanded worlds and possibilities. The most liberating feminism is not the one that establishes norms or rules or says who can or cannot participate, or what sexuality or what pornography is legitimate, but the one that opens up new possibilities and freedoms for all.

Today, the ultra-attack, the sexual counter-offensive of the right is still a reaction to the struggles of the 1970s and their aftermath. Especially those that demanded the separation of sex and reproduction – something at the heart of every conservative project. Back to the truisms, but all of that was the sexual revolution. Was it made for men? Some still say yes, and that the promiscuity that has now been normalized is a win for them. While we can't equate promiscuity and sexual liberation, at least we've found that it can be an option for many women, if we will, one option among others, not their territory. Thank you to those who came before us, for opening that door for me too.


Sexual neoliberalism

Other criticisms focus on the commercialization of sex, or point to the sexualization of the female body in hegemonic representations. They blame neoliberalism for all of this, a kind of “we made the sexual revolution and now they are selling us sex”, as if we didn't know that every achievement is susceptible to becoming a commodity. We inhabit these paradoxes in the world that produces value from signs and experiences, but we also know that this commercialization is fueled by “deposits of authenticity”. Someone has to go through the experience, in real form somewhere, for it to sell – and the fact that it produces value for someone else doesn't invalidate it.

But less is said about another aspect of neoliberalism. It also served to install the idea that any social or cultural problem can be solved by resorting to more penal code, more prisons or fines, the punitive state. Today there is a strong conflict between two feminisms. For one of them, punishments should be the main way to guarantee women's sexual freedom in the face of aggression. For another, we need to go further, because most assaults don't make it to court and because we don't all have equal access to justice – class, roles and race are clear boundaries. Punitive feminism is precisely a type of feminism that promotes and multiplies narratives of “sexual terror” that are harmful to our own freedom and that often coincide with positions that want to prohibit and punish pornography or prostitution as if they were the origin of violence. against women.

Gayle Rubin said that already in the 1980s much of the feminist literature attributed the oppression of women to graphic representations of sex, prostitution or even transsexuality. “What happened to the family, religion, education, parenting methods, the media, the state, psychiatry, job and salary discrimination? Rather than targeting the system, pointing out structural issues, it's about banning the things we don't like. As I explained in another article, moral outrage works well as a political trigger. We put our fears somewhere, we create scapegoats. These “communicative” forms of politics are easier than organizing and generating your own alternatives that do not involve demanding state protection. What we need, says Raquel Osborne, "are women who are strong, empowered and resourceful to step back from what is hurting them and to fight to change it." In the #MeToo era, the representation of sexuality as a space of danger returns to haunt us, but today, as in the past, there is a feminism that also imagines it as a place of its own, also one of resistance. The sexual revolution is our victory.

So thank you, sisters, for the possibilities of enjoying sexuality, for having desacralized it. Nowadays, in the media, sexual violence is reported in such a sometimes alarmist way that sex tends to be perceived as hostile terrain. Let's go back to talking about pleasure and freedom. Let us recover the whisper of the past, where our sexual practices, in the words of Bell Hooks, “can opt for promiscuity or chastity; for embracing a specific sexual identity and preference, or for choosing a mobile, uncastrated desire that is awakened only by interaction and engagement with certain people with whom we feel the spark of erotic recognition, regardless of gender, race, class or even preference sexual".

Radical feminist debates about sexuality must be brought to the fore so that the sexual liberation movement can restart.

*Nuria Alabao is a journalist and doctor in Anthropology. Participates in the Fundación de los Comunes.

Translation: Antonio Martins for the website Other words.



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