When women cease to be defined by our sexual behavior and our appeal to men and can fully participate in public discourse without our gender being dismissively scrutinized, and when our experiences are considered human instead of strictly female and outside of the norm, there will be no such thing as a barfly. Until then…
Women who frequent bars by themselves do it for a number of reasons. (Just like men! Imagine that!) Sometimes it’s to get shitfaced drunk and forget about everything that stresses her out. Sometimes it’s as simple as wanting to be alone in public, or to be with those wacky bar friends who don’t judge her as harshly as everyone else does and don’t pretend to know her well enough to explain all the ways in which she’s not living up to her potential.
She does it to not be home alone. To not be home with someone she doesn’t want to be at home with. To feel attractive for the first time since the last time. She does it because dusk always reminds her of her mother and she doesn’t want to think about her mother. Or because she has a physical craving that she has to satisfy despite not really wanting to, sorta like taking a 1-minute smoke break by the dumpster in the rain with no coat on only because your body is demanding that you do so.
Imagine: Broken-hearted dude goes to the local tavern where everyone knows his name, sits at the bar for many hours chatting up the bartender, drinking whisky shots with PBR backs. Says stupid shit, accidentally cries a little, drunkenly sings along too loudly to Tiny Dancer, goes to a lady’s house late night, has stupid semi-hard drunk sex, does the 2-mile walk of shame home in the morning, passes out. Repeat. Goes on 3-year-long bender of public drunkenness and sleepovers in strange places.
You know what that is? A song with gravelly vocals and elementary guitar chords. Americana. The human experience. Crazy Heart.
Imagine: the broken-hearted is a woman who does all of those things. You think: So sad! Why isn’t she at home making dinner for someone, or painstakingly scrutinizing her appearance? Where does she get the ludicrous notion that she has the right to be in a bar by herself? Doesn’t she have ladylike things to do somewhere? Does she not know what people think of her? Why doesn’t she care what everyone thinks? For fuck’s sake!
According to Urban Dictionary, and seemingly the general public, a barfly is a woman whose purpose is debauchery and destruction. She has no motivation for being in that bar other than to manipulate and eventually destroy the men that are stupid or drunk enough to pay attention to her. She does not exist in and of herself and has no self-awareness or integrity. She’s a slut, a drunk, a terrible mother, a washed-up spinster, a ruined woman. She deserves to be treated like shit, and in fact expects and seeks it out.
The hours she spends on the bar stool would be tragic if anyone actually cared about her well-being. But they don’t, because she’s just a barfly.
The truth is, a barfly is nothing more than someone who, like everyone else, tries to create her own brand of temporary happiness in the way she knows works. She just happens to do it in a bar – which, if she were a man, would be hardly notable. Cheers was full of ‘em.
That woman that sits at the bar by herself is not who we think she is. Let’s stop being deafened by the standard-issue patriarchal white noise that makes us think we know her and get over our rickety judgments about her worthiness and tragedy level before my freaking brain explodes.
And really, feeling so sorry for that woman who sits alone because you just can’t imagine how horrible her life must be, simply because she’s there, at the bar, drinking and maybe flirting? That’s not a whole lot better than judging her according to her fuckability score and next-day-embarassment index. We don’t know shit about her life and thinking that her mere presence in that place is enough to understand her… well, that’s plain fucked up.
I’ve been trying to figure out sex-positive feminism for a while now, I’ve read a bunch about it, but ever since this Twisty post and this post at Rage Against the Manchine I’ve been preoccupied with figuring this shit out.
I’ll admit that I’m a total n00b when it comes to this topic – it took many years of considering myself a feminist before I could meaningfully articulate what that meant to me, so understanding and being able to take a side on all the controversies ostensibly existing inside the feminist sphere is this whole other level of challenge.
What I do know is that this sex-positive feminism thing has never sat well with me. I suppose it’s partly because my sexuality isn’t really that important of a thing to me and expressing it isn’t anywhere close to the top of my list of things to do in a day. Sex is fun sometimes and the freedom for women to be sexual is paramount, but I don’t understand the preoccupation with needing to turn and be turned on. Maybe other women understand feeling sexy and having orgasms as an important part of their identity and their mission. Okay, that’s fine. I’m not against sex, just a little sex-neutral (as defined here)
But now I’m realizing how much sex-positive feminism rankles me, mostly because the mainstream world seems to think it’s the cool young sexy fun and entirely non-threatening part of the whatever Wave we’re riding these days. And also because it has the word feminism in it. (And from this point on, I will call it sex-positivity).
I dunno, but trying to make misogyny work in our favor doesn’t feel like any kind of a feminist movement to me. I know that women as a class do this every second of the day for various reasons and at all levels of oppression, but doing it is one thing. Calling it a feminist movement just because some women choose it/enjoy it/feel sexy and empowerfulled because of it – well, that feels like delusion.
Female sexual empowerment in the form of lap dances and porn parties and hawt women making out for the sole purpose of titillating the menz as a path towards gender equality? Whatever. I think true sexual empowerment would look a whole lot different than a 16-year old boy’s Tila Tequila-inspired spank bank and from where I sit, equality has very little to do with sex. Gender equality, or as I like to envision it, gender devaluation, would have to come before any meaningful sexual empowerment for women.
I read this today, which is from John Fisk’s book on the politics of popular culture via an essay collection called “Third Wave Feminism and Television”:
Radicalism’s “progressiveness is concerned with redistributing power within these structures (family, work, education) toward the disempowered; it attempts to enlarge the space within which bottom-up power has to operate. It does not, as radicalism does, try to change the system that distributes power in the first place.”
So first of all, I guess that means I’m radical, because everything that I believe can be done to combat the woman-hating that presents itself in the form of CSI and 14 year old girls cutting themselves and bikini babes on boat-selling websites and 13-year old pregnant FLDS commune wives – they all revolve around changing the system entirely and most certainly NOT around believing that the solution to the problem of mysogny is to make it work in my favor.
Anyway, the Fisk quote makes sense to me. Sex-positivity may be considered a progressive movement because it’s attempting to give a form of power to a traditionally oppressed class. Feminism, on the other hand, wants to change the system that distributes such power and not simply redistribute it.
OR… the alternate way to read this is that it’s all under the feminist umbrella, but the progressive faction is defined by its so-called female sexual empowerment and the radical sect is concerned with making sexual empowerment of women moot because there would be no distinction among gender-specific power and roles in the sexual sphere.
Aw shit. I don’t know what to think right now.
I can’t reconcile myself to calling sex-positives anti- or non-feminist because I just can’t believe that the feminism I believe in is the only thing that can truly be called feminism. That makes me uncomfortable. But I also can’t embrace sex-positivity as a feminist movement because it goes against so much of what I think feminism is. So much of what I feel it is.
All I know for sure is that feminism is a fight and sex-positivity feels to me like an admission of defeat. It’s like the back door to the club with the sketchy dark twisted hallway that distracts you with all its mirrors but then stops at the velvet-roped dance floor where the burly bouncer tells you to go back to the mirrors and check your makeup.
ETA: I realize that sex positivity encompasses far more than the Pussycat Dolls characterizations I’ve made here. I know that it’s about sexual agency and subverting the patriarchy via personal choice and liberation from conventional notions of femininity and female sexuality. That said, I still think that the belief that it’s possible for a woman in a patriarchy to become a sexually empowered subject by choosing to embrace misogynistic objectification is what results in things like Girls Gone Wild being considered the new feminism.
Okay so I know it’s hot out and everything, but where the hell did guys get the idea that it’s perfectly okay to saunter around the 7-11 without a shirt on? I get the no shirt thing when you’re putting a new roof on a house or maybe installing an irrigation system, but out in public, walking down the street, in chilly air-conditioned convenience stores? What’s the deal?
Yeah okay, you have a nice chest. Your celtic tattoos make you an intimidating sexpot. Your nipple piercings make us all quiver with desire. Your well-defined pecs haunt my dreams. Whatever. Put a fucking shirt on.
Here’s the root of my problem with male shirtlessness: It’s profoundly unfair. As you probably know by now, I’m not a huge fan of patriarchical injustice, and this one just reeks of it. Not only is it unacceptable for women to walk around topless, it’s plain illegal. It’s called indecent. Immoral. In too many places it’s still illegal to breastfeed in public, and in the Bible Belt you can be arrested for not wearing a bra.
Actually, I made that last part up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true.
Why? Because it is unfair to tempt straight men this way. See, it’s also illegal to go around feeling women up, and if women could go topless in public it might make it more difficult for the tempted men to not break that particular law. Can’t count on men to control themselves, or course. It’s gotta be up to women to make sure men don’t violate them. Men are not responsible for their own impure thoughts and compulsions to act on them, women are. Fancy that. Classic boys-will-be-boys, women-are-responsible scenario.
Now let’s say I got a strong desire to go lick the pierced nipples of celtic tattoo man. Which, for the record, I most certainly did not. Pretty much. Anyway, it’s fairly clear that no one’s too worried about my impure thoughts and desires, otherwise male shirtlessness would be similarly outside of conventional moral boundaries. Either this is because the world thinks that women don’t have such desires or it’s just not concerned about our inability to control ourselves.
It’s a bit of both, I suspect. Most (American) women have been taught to maintain pretty strict control over our desires and sexual compulsions ever since about the 3rd grade. Such enduring lessons include: Make them want you regardless of if you want them back, and don’t give in to your own want unless it will get you something more meaningful in return. Approach their desire with caution and in a proper ladylike fashion while maintaining your sexual attractiveness at all times. If you express or give in to your own desire, we will call you a slut. If you don’t give in at the appropriate time, when they really need it, we will call you a tease, especially if you dare tempt them with revealing clothes.
Them, them, them, them, them. Blah. What a bunch of horseshit. Too bad so many of us still abide by this stuff. This is the stuff that keeps us fighting with each other over developmentally disabled frat boys, questioning our worth and value in the world because the dude that we’re not even that into doesn’t call us back, and trying to find clothes that reveal just enough to make them wish they could touch us but not so much that they’ll actually try.
Basically, this is the stuff that patriarchies are made of. It’s a very useful tool for male domination: keep the women repressed with concern over how to get men to want them while still keeping their dignity intact, as well as how to prevent men from hitting them, raping them, leering at them, ignoring them, or just generally treating them like shit, and the men are free to walk around town with their shirts off enjoying all the perks of male privilege that are so ingrained they don’t even know they have them.
Oh calm down, I wasn’t talking about you.