Being an Ace Feminist

I’ve been thinking about the way that my identity as a feminist and my identity as asexual intersect. Although I discovered feminism and asexuality around the same time, I’ve only started pondering their influence on each other over the last few weeks.

One of the big, underlying feminist ideas (for me at least) is the idea that women should be able to enjoy and experience their sexuality in whatever ways they wish. Often this gets read a bit more simplistically as “women should have as much (consensual) sex as they want.” This is also tied in with the idea of women’s sexuality being empowering rather than passive or even demeaning/negative.

I agree with both of these statements, but I also think that a lot of the time, having “as much sex as you want” doesn’t really cover those who don’t want to have sex at all. Asexuality and the asexuality spectrum are still quite invisible in the feminist community, because the underlying assumption is that sex is positive, empowering and “natural” or “healthy” for all women. The desire to have sex is often assumed in the feminist community as much as it is assumed in other communities.

Sometimes I become a little sad at the way that the online feminist community often doesn’t see asexuality, and wish that people would think a little more about statements that sometimes “sex is an intrinsic part of the human experience.” Those ones make me feel particularly good about my own humanity.

On a few occasions I have seen feminists take this even further by saying that sex is physiological, like eating, breathing and sleeping, and that anyone who does not have a sex life that is seen as “healthy” is either supporting the patriarchal paradigm of women’s passivity and lack of sexuality, or as simply repressed, scared or sick. I came across a post like thisthe other day on a blog I read quite often, where the author would not back down from her stance that asexuality could not exist because sex was something everyone “needed.” (She also referred back to the asexual commenters as “crowds of irate consumers of weird identities.”

Sometimes there are also lovely posts such as this one at Feministe.

So that’s the community – and there’s really nothing at odds between feminism and asexuality apart from a bit of visibility. I think they complement each other quite well.

Personally, I often find it hard to put my feminist beliefs into action because of my asexuality. For instance, I can’t personally take any value from the argument that my sexuality is empowering. There are many things that empower me, that make me feel good about myself. My sexuality is not one of them. It’s not that it impacts me in a negative way – it’s just that it doesn’t impact me at all.

This then makes me question my understanding or interest, say, of female characters on TV. Take the Sherlock episode “A Scandal in Belgravia.” I got a bit annoyed at the way that Irene Adler was just oozing sexuality – her whole character seemed to revolve around it. Her intellect got played down by her sexuality, and in the end, she is defined by it. I found myself wishing that we could have a strong, intellectual female character who wasn’t a sex bomb, even an asexual female character.

And then I felt like a bad feminist, because I found myself turned off by a female character’s sexuality, and wanted something that seems more like the traditional patriarchal idea of sexless women.  Although I am of the firm belief that society should be sex-positive, I have a hard time applying those thoughts to myself, simply because a) I’m not interested, and b) I wish that everyone would just realise there’s more to life than sex and relationships. Similarly, I have a hard time understanding and accepting raunch culture, or women who deliberately act in sexualised ways because they feel good about themselves that way. It’s something where I have to step back for a moment and remind myself of what feminism means to me. When feminism has discussions about sexuality, I just feel like none of this applies to me. I might agree with things in principle, but I just feel disconnected from them personally.

I’m not sure what my final argument is here, it’s quite difficult to put the divide that I feel into words. I guess it could be summarised by saying that I am absolutely engaged with the theoretical aspects of feminism, but that parts of the practical side just elude me.

Note: I’ve since thought further on sex-positivism and have revised some of my ideas. You can read them here.

12 thoughts on “Being an Ace Feminist

  1. I’m grateful for the link but the following sound very confusing:

    “Similarly, I have a hard time understanding and accepting raunch culture, or women who deliberately act in sexualised ways”

    – How do you “act in sexualized ways”? Sexualized by whom? By women themselves? They take their ways of acting and sexualize them? How is that process conducted? Or is the idea that somebody else chooses to ascribe sexual meaning to the actions of these women? Who does it and why?

    And most importantly, if we are talking about other women, how do you know what they are doing deliberately and what they aren’t? I know you don’t mean it, of course, but I see a very short distance from “she deliberately was sexualizing herself” to “oh, she was just asking for it. Look at how she is dressed.”

    I also find it curious how nobody in the feminist blogosphere dumps on men who “deliberately act in sexualised ways”. It’s always female sexuality that is too much, too threatening, too overwhelming.

    1. Hi Clarissa,
      I can’t reply in detail as I only have phone internet for the next few days. But I can try to answer your questions, because they are ones I have also asked before.

      What I mean (I think!) is that some women act ‘sexy’ because they feel good about themselves that way. Sometimes it’s personal and just read as such by others and sometimes it’s performative/deliberate, from my reading and observations. I in no way mean to say that woman who act like this are ‘asking for it’ – everyone has the right to be act sexy without it being for someone else. I guess it comes down to the way that ways of dressing/acting are all ways of representing yourself, and that I would not want to represent myself as sexual because it’s just a foreign concept to me.

      As for women getting all the flak about their sexualities being threatening: I could go on ad lib. about the way men’s sexuality is threatening. I’ve written about how angry and uncomfortable things like street harassment and men assuming I am interested in them are. In this particular discussion I’m talking about women’s sexuality because I am a woman, an asexual woman. And I don’t find it threatening – I just can’t connect to it in a way that makes me understand it.

      Don’t know if this helps, but when I’m home day after tomorrow I’ll go back to this.

  2. Clarissa-
    For me, it isn’t women expressing sexuality that I have a problem with per se, but women being socialised to express sexuality in exclusively patriarchal ways. Men who “act in sexualised ways” do not generally behave in the same way as women who “act in sexualised ways.”
    This is the message that women normally send when they act ‘sexy’:
    “Look at me, and look how hot I am. I’m ready for you, so come on over and have your way with me.”
    This is the message men send when they act sexy:
    “I can tell you want me. I’m going to get over there and do all kinds of things to you, and you’re going to love it.”

    It’s the classic dance of the predator and the prey, with one side asserting power, and the other side surrendering it. It is this dynamic that leads to double standards in sexual ethics, and this dynamic that is reinforced whenever we see women in the media, and around us, behaving in such ways.

    1. What comes to mind for me is River Song of Doctor Who, who’s sexuality — in my eyes — aligns more with Leopard’s discription of male sexuality than female. Am I just getting that wrong, or does she really break that stereotype? (I get sexuality wrong a lot; I blame the aceness.)

  3. Ah, I feel like I struggle with “being a bad feminist” constantly. For all my preaching about trusting women to make their own decisions, I certainly have trouble trusting my own! Thank you for writing such an articulate (and honest) post.

    1. Thank you, Gwen! I think it’s something all feminists struggle with at some point or other – being able to but theory into practise can be hard. And possibly not always necessary from a personal point of view. But definitely in respect to others.

  4. This. I’m fairly certain I’m ace (the sexual attraction thing confuses me so I decided to go with the unofficial but still widely acknowledged “and/or does not desire partnered sex” part of the definition as the cornerstone of my identity because otherwise I spend all day monitoring my pantsfeelings which causes all kinds of distress) and I can see how it affects my views on feminist issues. While I get the whole “women should be allowed to celebrate their sexuality” too many times it just seems like a patriarchy party for straight doodz rather than their actual, personal sexuality, and then the times it isn’t just makes me slightly uncomfortable because of the “ace” thing. (Although I try to make light of the situation by commenting on the ridiculosity of such situations a lot of the time, like “OH HAY GUYS WE’RE JUST GONNA HAVE A RANDOM BREAK FROM THE PLOT IN FAVOUR OF SEX MMKAY FANSERVICE Y’ALL”)
    Basically, I just prefer female characters doing badass action things or being super-smart while not being sexualised. (Sexualised does not equal sexy anyway.)

  5. Yeah, it really annoys me when people assume that female characters are only badass and strong and empowered if they’re sexy too! Like it’s their sexuality that makes them awesome, not their actual character.

    I’m sorry you’re experiencing a having-to-hyper-analyse-every-feeling-you’re-having time at the moment – I’ve actually been doing that a bit lately too. Feel free to drop me an email if you want to have a chat or anything.

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