Prior to the elections, when the Gawker article regarding a supposed one-night stand then Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell had – to include claims that O’Donnell did not shave her pubic region, was published, it was met with a landslide of condemnation, from both the left and right. While feminists were justified in defending O’Donnell against sexism and misogyny, the right’s defense of O’Donnell, it seems, lacked the foundation – and was based on getting sympathy votes.
More than anything else, it also showed the right’s hypocrisy as well as a lack of thoughts – particularly in regards to comprehensive sex education. Rather than talking about real issues, the right reverted to, as it has historically done, claiming feminism while not doing anything to support it. This, then, explores the two conversations that the right – if they were truly feminist, should have taken on – namely pornographic culture and the need for comprehensive sex education.
Perhaps the most telling of the article is the expectations of sexual partners to look a certain way – a product of porn culture, to be sure. While, of course, we each are entitled to having preferences in the physical attributes of our partners, an important question remains: are the expectations of how our partners should look and behave a manifestation of pornography? That is, without pornography and the social constructs of what a naked woman should look like, would we be having this conversation about the status of Christine O’Donnell pubic region? Further, if men are affected by pornography, how are women also affected by pornography? Just as O’Donnell’s partner “lost interest” — or, more specifically, probably lost the ability to perform because she did not look like a porn star underneath, are women’s sexuality and ability to feel good about their bodies also affected by pornography?
But it isn’t just how women and men are affected by pornography from a personal context that feminist lens need to be applied. If our lives and personal conducts are somewhat affected by the media we consume – pornography in this case – how else are we affected in our interactions with one another? Do the racist messages that often come in pornography affect the way we see those of a different color than us? Does pornography teach us to value young women for their bodies, but not their minds? Could it be possible that, implicitly, we learn from pornography that features women being bought for sex, then kicked off “bang buses” that women are disposable? If pornography only features certain types of sex acts, does it also mean that pornography limits the imagination within sexuality, thereby limiting what we consider intimate?
By no means am I advocating, of course, that the sex acts depicted in pornography aren’t erotic or stimulating – I, however, posit that the message pornography sends is harmful to both gender and race relations, as well as our intimate lives. It is pornography, the vehicle that allowed men to make women’s bodies public property, that is also responsible for the objectification of O’Donnell’s body.
Yet, another point worth examining is the author’s assumption that if a woman chooses to make out, or to take off her panties, that the next automatic step is sex. This expectation, too, is the reason that many rape cases are bore on dates. Women – and men – should be able to set the limitations of their sexual comfort levels without ever having to go beyond what they wish to do. Sure, O’Donnell’s decisions were respected – but such mindset – the belief that making out automatically leads to sex – makes one wonder how many young people, and especially young women, have been labeled as a “tease” for having put an abrupt stop to an explosive sexual situation. Further – how many of them didn’t get their wishes respected? After all, faulting women as teases also makes them more liable, and thereby, making it much easier to not respect their wishes. It is a mindset that treats sexual intercourse as a “decision” yet everything else as mere “teasing.” That is – women empowerment – and the rights of women to be liberated, are only valid if women made the right decision- to have full-on sex. To put it more bluntly, how many have started out the night with an innocent crush, meaning only to make out, yet end up coerced or forced into sex against their intentions?
It’s no secret that the majority of us, as teenagers growing up, learned more about sex from pornography than we did in school. How many of our first sexual experiences, then, were modeled after porn? Further, how many young women – because society still dictates that men must always be the ones to initiate and push for sex – were pushed further than their comfort levels? Even more broadly, how then, can we define rape when messages about sex are muddled by fictional acts and situations? How many young girls – also the recipients of pornography’s messages, did not know they could or had the right to say no, and that by choosing to engage in a certain sexual act, they did not have the responsibility to also go further to other sexual acts?
By no means am I advocating that pornography should change and include pro-feminist messages of consent and mutual respect. I am, however, advocating that the assault on Christine O’Donnell points to one thing – that we need programs of comprehensive sex education, that will talk about consent and respect, safer sex and intimacy, body image and expectations of partners, boundaries and choices. Only in doing so, only in providing young people with said programs, can we prevent another future politician from the mean-spirited attacks that O’Donnell had to endure.
Sadly, rather than embracing comprehensive sex education, O’Donnell and much of the right, has stood against it – and will continue to do so. Although it would be profoundly unfair and anti-feminist to say O’Donnell reaped with she sowed, it is acceptable to say her stands – as well as the stands of right-leaning who claim feminism, created the environment in which sexism – and the discrimination against them – were bred. In short, if the right truly wants to claim feminism, perhaps it’d be best that they actually embraced feminist policies, as well as give cultural issues, some thoughts. For now, though, all they’re doing is playing the victim role, and more specifically, approaching important issues like porn culture through a very narrow paradigm of sin – neither of which is helpful to women, nor feminist. In short, conservatives – and particularly conservative women, are partly responsible for sexisms directed against them – after all, they are the ones advocating for such policies.