I was going to start doing this blog properly and write some actual philosophy about actual philosophers. Unfortunately, I’m in the process of moving house and don’t have all the books I need for that in one place right now…and then I got really angry.
Sorry, folks; you’re stuck with angry me until I sort out my library
What’s gotten me this angry is the use of the term ‘sexual conservative’ as an insult in debates around gender issues and the kind of views it is used to attack. It’s mostly used against female commentators but I and some of my male friends have been accused of this supposed ‘conservatism’ as well. It’s implications are clear; it is merely the pseudo-intellectual way of accusing a woman of being ‘frigid’ or a man of lacking ‘man points’ because they refuse to accept as valid a certain form of leering, pluralistic sexual desire. The term, simply, insinuates that the person arguing an opposite point must be shit in bed.
But what hideous political or theoretical positions must we be defending to be rebuked so harshly? Are we holding that socially conservative positions that deal with sexuality are correct? Are we opposing equal rights for LGBTA people, affirming the nuclear family or claiming that monogamy is an iron moral law? No, we are definitely not.
The position that we oppose is the one that normalises the universal objectification of women through arguing that conceiving women primarily as sexual objects is somehow an escape from Idealist and religious dogma and a return to ‘naturalism’. Of course, if one disagrees then one is un-natural.
It only seems fair to label this position – which posits ‘sexual conservatism’ as its avowed opposite – ‘sexual liberalism’. It’s attitude is bound up, fundamentally, with political and social liberalism; the belief that the individual must be free to follow their own inclinations until it impacts on the running of bourgeois society; that the dominant mode of desire (which is always defined by the dominant class and stratas) must be seen as the primary one. By liberal logic, as we shall see, anything which opposes this mode of desire is already a threat to it and an assertion of a different kind of subjectivity. As Mao Zedong points out:
‘Liberalism stems from petty-bourgeois selfishness, it places personal interests first (…) and this gives rise to ideological, political and organizational liberalism.’
This form of liberalism demands that the body of the other be open to the liberal’s enjoyment at every moment; either in actuality through some kind of re-creation of the ‘free love’ principle or vicariously through its being passive to objectification; both of these modes of sexual liberalism are concerned with manufacturing consent. It is well documented now that the during the western ‘free love’ period of the 60s, women felt pressured to have sexual partners that they did not want for fear of being ostracised from the prevalent youth culture and becoming a ‘persona non grata’ in the groups of friends that constituted their social network. Similarly, the body is objectified without the consent of the gaze’s recipient. By positing objectification as a natural right, the liberal encourages the other to not object to the gaze in the false belief that it cannot be averted. Sexual liberalism exists to stop liberals being told to fuck off when their desire contravenes consent.
The attempt to manufacture consent is not new; though these arguments and the modes of their dissemination are relatively historically recent. It has existed as long as the patriarchy; it has been implemented through beatings, starvations, sexual violence, banishments and torture. It has been open or surreptitious, ideologically sanctioned or merely ignored. It is a tool of political control carried out in the domestic sphere; as long as political control is held by an oppressive class power, the domestic social and sexual relationship will tend towards recreating the necessary conditions and practices of this class power. As such, we could call the project of sexual liberalism an attempt to re-justify the essential social relations of the sexual act.
We are not conservatives in that there is none of this self-indulgent bourgeois nonsense that we wish to conserve. We don’t give a fuck about how many consensual lovers anybody has, whether they prefer men or women, what gender’s clothes they feel more comfortable in or what they want to do with informed adults in the privacy of their own bedrooms. We refuse to accept, however, that they have a right to demand any form of sexual consent from the other.
This is not, as the liberal will insist ‘anti-sex’; it is anti-oppression. The supposed ‘anti-sex’ leftist and feminist lobby simply does not exist. It is poetic that the modern pinnacle of Western virility spends his time howling at people who aren’t there.