Mar 262012
 

I’ve been thinking more about the position of anti-sex-positive feminists, and I’ve come up with this analogy. Tell me what you think:

What if I told you I were “FOOD POSITIVE?” What would you assume I meant?

Me, I’d assume that “food positive” meant something like,

“I enjoy food and desire to have a positive, nourishing relationship with it, despite the fact that I live in a culture with a seriously fucked up up food system, complete with global injustice. The poorer and more disenfranchised you are, the less healthful your food environment and food culture are likely to be, but even those at the privileged end of the resource spectrum suffer at the hands of our broken system.

“But it doesn’t have to be that way. Food and an appetite for food are both gifts of being a human. Humans are capable of a variety and complexity of food that no other species can even begin to match. We can enjoy delicious, nutritious food, celebrate its abundance and diversity, and experiment with the unending potential of food in human life. We can play with our food, rejecting wholesale the notion that food should be one thing or another; we can listen to our own bodies’ needs and desires, and meet them, unashamed and unafraid. Furthermore, we can of recognizing the systemic injustice built into our food system, denying some people the right to nourishment without limit, and we can CHANGE it – but only if we recognize what else is possible!

“I believe that by promoting a food positive attitude, I can help to rectify the food negative attitudes and systems that harm so many people. I believe we can create change by recognizing what it possible and no longer accepting the dominant paradigm of processed, refined bullshit.”

FOOD POSITIVE!!

In contrast, I think the anti-food-positive feminists would hear me saying,

“I enjoy food and desire to have a positive relationship with it. The food system is good the way it is and people who complain about it are food-hating whiners and probably have eating disorders or else are fat.”

Which is totally not what I meant. And anyone who read my blog would know that’s not what I meant.

Under what circumstances would someone so utterly misunderstand me?

Well, I’ve learned from various blog readers that people misunderstand, for example, my biological approach to sex as “essentialist” and “reductionist” because the language I use reminds them of other people who have made those mistakes. So maybe the anti-food-positive feminist hears me say “food positive” and hears a recapitulation of language they’ve heard elsewhere that meant something different.

That’s my working hypothesis. To test it, somebody run this by any anti-sex-positive feminists they may happen to know.

EDIT: Charlie Glickman got there before me! He wrote, “It seems disingenuous to say that my sexuality is only a personal issue, just as it seems disingenuous to say that choosing to eat fast food isn’t participating in agricultural monoculture. Many of our sexual decisions affect how we move through the world and what impact we have on other people.” And the question of who is impacted by our sexual decisions seems like a really crucial one to me.

emily nagoski

  12 Responses to “if I were FOOD positive…”

Comments (12)
  1. I guess I have a different perspective. The folks I know who are anti-sex-positive have a really bad relationship to sex (often with excellent reasons) and are angry that anyone has a different one (for often much less excellent reasons).

    A serious feminist is not going to mix up the difference between a sexual object and a sexual actor unintentionally. Especially not after the error has been pointed out. So after a while, you gotta accept that some people aren’t in a place where good faith conversation is possible and move on with the work you’re doing.

  2. I wonder if where some of the miscommunication is happening here is that the sex-positive critique of some feminists is about a movement, not about every single individual person who identifies as sex-positive. Kind of like how women of color criticize feminism for where it fails to be inclusive of WOC and challenge racism within the movement are not calling ME racist, just because I too happen to be a feminist. In fact, anti-racism work may be one area where I’m really “getting it” but that shouldn’t mean that I dismiss the concerns of WOC about racism in feminism just because I get it.

    I see the analogy with the food-positive thing if you were just talking about yourself, but the crux of this conversation is not about you/your beliefs (or the self/beliefs of any individual person). It’s about a movement. And you can bet that if there was a food-positive movement that said everything you said up there, but had some problematic things about it (say it named eradicating obesity as one of its primary tenets) then I would have criticisms of the movement. But maybe *you* would be food-positive, and also body-positive, so my critique of the food-positive movement in that case would not be a critique of *you* and you, as a person within that movement, may actually join me in its critique as a way of making it even better and more effective.

    • I can see how that COULD be what an anti-sex-positive feminist would say, but it just doesn’t sound like what they ARE saying. They’re saying, “Sex positivity is conceptually tolerant of the objectification of women because it says porn is okay.”

      And I’m saying, “Sex positivity just says porn is not inherently bad; it’s as critical of the means of production as any other thinking feminist would be, but it leaves open the possibility of feminist, pro-woman, healthy and healthful porn, full of adults giving authentic consent.”

      I really think they don’t hear the difference between, say, “sexually explicit media” and “the production of sexually explicit media,” or the difference between “sexual being” and “sexual object.” I’ve read a bunch of these critiques now, and it really sounds to me like they’re not making that kind of distinction.

      • I really think they don’t hear the difference between, say, “sexually explicit media” and “the production of sexually explicit media,” or the difference between “sexual being” and “sexual object.” I’ve read a bunch of these critiques now, and it really sounds to me like they’re not making that kind of distinction.

        I just wanted to cast my vote for at least a certain segment of the anti-sex-positive folks having this trouble. I think there are other (in my opinion more valid) critiques of the sex positive movement, much as Lysandra outlines. But like you I’ve definitely had the experience of talking past someone who’s like, “porn is evil!” and I’ll say, “yeah, there are a lot of things to dislike about the current state of sexually-explicit materials … let’s go make some porn that says what we’d like to see expressed about human sexuality!” and the person will come back with “porn is violence against women!” etc.

        I think it happens with other types of interactions around sex too, not just porn, where it’s hard for some people to imagine we could carve out alternative sexualities that aren’t dictated by normative cultural expectations. Obviously we can’t dis-entangle from normative pressures entirely, but I believe in a higher degree of independent sexuality (or the capacity for that) than some of the anti-sex-positive folks seem to. At least judging from how they articulate the way people are oppressed by sexual norms.

  3. I’m not sure if this is a valuable perspective in this instance, but I wonder if perhaps they are of the view that as long as the culture is so pervadingly patriarchal and sexually objectifying to women, that individual women would not be able to divorce themselves of that culture to the point of being truly sexual beings rather than objects. If that makes any sense…like in other facets of feminism, like working vs staying home, it’s easy to say it was a woman’s free choice to stay home but where a man’s work is still more highly valued in a real tangible way, is her choice really a free one? Just a thought. I used to think that feminism was about women choosing to be sexual objects as opposed to being forced into being sexual objects. I have been thoroughly re-educated though and you have had a large hand in that Emily so thank you :)

    • Ya know, that idea is something I’ve been wondering about too – Charlie Glickman writes a lot about authenticity, and in that sex positive post of his I linked to, he talks about “authentic desire” and the challenges of knowing what you want (what you really, really want…). I think it’s a really important piece of the puzzle. For myself, I think it’s as unfeminist to doubt a person when she says that actually she really loves it when her partner ejaculates on her face as it is to doubt a person who says she was sexually assaulted.

      But it’s complicated… actually I’ve got an anecdote that illustrates this well, and i’ll put it in a blog post.

      • I would love to hear your thoughts on this too! Because I agree with you, that it’s unfeminist to doubt. To say otherwise is patronizing. I feel the world would be a much better place if we all said what we meant and held other people to that standard.

    • “I wonder if perhaps they are of the view that as long as the culture is so pervadingly patriarchal and sexually objectifying to women, that individual women would not be able to divorce themselves of that culture to the point of being truly sexual beings rather than objects. “

      And yet I cannot envision a realistic future where feminists would ever admit that the influence of “the Patriarchy” had waned sufficiently. At least no world with an XY chromosome in it.

      Sexual objectification of women is a fundamental aspect of male sexual psychology, and insisting that women can’t be “free” in their own sexuality until it’s gone is essentially a nihilistic wish for the End Of Men.

      If a man of any political stripe insisted that men could not be free to be “truly successful financial beings” until the scourge of hypergamy was ended, he would immediately be set-upon and torn to pieces by every feminist in the room . . . because feminism doesn’t have any problem with the financial objectification of men or a culture where punitive divorce is celebrated so profoundly in feminist culture.

      I’m amused by all of this discussion, but it really begs the question where feminist ideology even has a place for men, much less whether or not it’s interested in the perceptions and reactions of the other half of the human race.

      • @Ian … on the question of sex and gender difference, I’d encourage you to check out some of the latest analysis of research on this front (for example, Rebecca Jordan-Young’s Brainstorm and Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender). In short, research shows tremendous overlap in how human beings typed “male” and “female” interact with the world.

        Speaking up for the men in my life, I don’t see their chromosomes as a barrier to their ability to treat women (and, more broadly, people to whom they’re sexually attracted) as subjects of desire, rather than objects. Insisting that “Sexual objectification of women is a fundamental aspect of male sexual psychology” serves to equate objectification with sexual engagement (false), and also assumes that all “males” are primarily sexually attracted to women (also false).

        Move away from a schema that assumes a sex and gender binary toward a more realistic representation of the world, and your arguments fall apart.

  4. As someone who has followed the fat-acceptance movement for years, I really love and embrace “food positive” as a label. Thank you for giving me that on your way to a right-on analogy about sex-positive-ness!

  5. FWIW,

    I find that the “porn is evil” rhetoric (which can generally but not always be traced down to MacKinnon/Dworkin) is incredibly difficult to challenge in any creative and informative way. That stripe of “anti-porn” feminism has a very fundamentalist flavor, and I specifically mean to summon religious fundamentalism by calling it that.
    Said anti-porn feminism is one of a number of things that fucked up my relationship to masculinity in a permanent way. When teaching around this stuff in class, I use Laura Kipnis’ “Desire and Disgust” (her somewhat infamous “Hustler” article) to try to lay out the historico-social territory. There’s a nice ambiguity to Kipnis on Flynt that I wish would/could crack the fundamentalism of so-called anti-porn feminism.

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