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.