Number Three: Tastes of Oppression

I’m thinking on my feet with this one. What I’d like to do is highlight a link between body hair, sexual submissiveness and recycling. Maybe that link is already straightforwardly obvious? Just in case it isn’t, I shall elaborate.

I read an article in Vice a while ago by a woman who was reconciling her feminism with her desire to be masterfully dominated in bed. The article highlights (without really exploring) a tension between being anti-authority, rebellious and pro-gender-equality in everyday life, while wanting to be dominated and properly fucked by men who take control in everyday sex. In some ways the article reads like a coming to terms with being sexual in general, and at points a slightly unfair bemoaning of the sexual ill-confidence and disappointing performance of her lovers who just didn’t get it, a lesson for men in how to nail rough sex (assuming they want to): don’t imitate porn, don’t just do what the fuck you want – you still need to be responsive etc. The tension she notes is in how a feminist could want and need to be oppressed and dominated sexually. Hold that thought for a sec.

A few years back a friend chided me for shaving my legs – in jest, kind of, but it stuck with me. “I didn’t have you down as the sort of person who would shave her legs, god you’re so oppressed!” We laughed. I went away feeling like “hell, I am totally oppressed”. I really want to not care about my own body hair, but I don’t like the way it looks and feels, and I’m sure lots of women feel the same. This, I’ve always assumed, is a by-product (or product) of a fucked up male-gaze based society and a media that feeds us images of women with baby smooth skin from the moment we emerge as real babies, wrinkly skinned and red raw (I’m thinking of the friend who went to get her full bikini wax shortly before she was due to give birth, because she wanted to look tidy for the doctors…).

OK so it’s obvious what the link is between rough sex and smooth legs. On paper I am against oppression and yet I fucking get off on being oppressed in bed, and in everyday life I act in totally oppressed ways. BUT DON’T GET HUNG UP ON IT. Of course, it’s important to question, and not just accept, why we’ve ended up with particular tastes, and if they seem inappropriate or damaging to try and change or overcome them in some way. Try broccoli 10 times and then you’ll like it or whatever. Maybe it is damaging for my daughter not to have a hairy role model? Maybe it is damaging for my psyche to feed a desire that’s rooted in inequality and disempowerment? I kind of don’t care. This is where recycling comes in. Caring about not doing enough in your personal life to tackle inequality is like obsessive household recycling and consumer guilt. It reminds me of friends who suffer almost religiously in lots of small ways, to do their bit for the environment and assuage their consciences about having consumed. It’s just another example of the shunting of blame for the fallout of capitalist economies onto communities, and it works because those communities have been subjected to years of shame-mechanism indoctrination by patriarchal, Christian flavoured societal structures.

The idea that a lone crusader can turn this tide via the whole change-starts-with yourself-strip-the-plastic-film-from-the-plastic-carton-take-a-hovercraft-across-Europe-rather-than-fly-on-the-back-of-an-easy-demon-wastenotwannot-dinner-on-a-shoestring-compost-your-boycott-one-ring-solar-panelled shame frenzy: it’s bullshit. Thanks but I’ll take my dinner on a sky blue shoelace shitface. This special type of individual guilt and concern and turning in on itself prevents real action and change – rebellion against the systems that are really responsible for global issues like climate change, wealth inequality,  over-population. Sure consumers have power, but not as much as creators. This special type of guilty concern is the antithesis of anger. As well as being morally and efficaciously dubious, it’s also inherently egoistic to think that by religiously sorting out your recycling (and it is religious, really) you’re going to bring about world change. We all have to feel like we’re doing our bit though! I hear you cry. Let me just say, there isn’t anything WRONG with doing that recycling and stuff. In fact, we should all do it. But don’t fucking labour it, or think it’s it – question in what other ways you might “do your bit”.

Um, now then. Let’s bring it back to body hair and rough sex. I’m not going to change the way that society perceives women and girls by feeling bad or worrying about my sexual tastes being too in keeping with its inherently oppressive mis-perceptions. I can’t go on a one woman crusade to change how people feel about body hair by doing something I hate with my body (letting hair grow all over it). Well I could, but I don’t want to. And it’s kind of oppressive of you think that I should. Let’s get away from thinking that tastes are the same as opinions. Tastes can be wildly contradictory, there is little requirement for sense or reason. It’s worth exploring and questioning tastes, tastes can change (and do, all the time – sometimes on their own, sometimes with effort). But while both tastes and opinions may at some stage, in some sense have been given to us, opinions have a bearing on the world in a way that tastes don’t – we have a moral responsibility towards coherence and accountability where opinions are concerned. We can explain our tastes like historians hell bent on psychological analysis, we can question their appropriateness, but this might change nothing in the world. We can do the same with opinions, but when we explain why we hold an opinion we also look for justification, it’s not enough to tell the story of how we got there – and if we don’t change our opinions in the face of contradictory evidence, there’s something a bit wrong with us.

Maybe I’ve got this all wrong, and we are just as accountable for our tastes as we are for our opinions. Maybe our tastes, just like our opinions and our feelings, can be inappropriate or wrong. I’d welcome your thoughts on this. The point for now though is not to get hung up on it in such a way that turns your personal battle for coherence into a crusade, don’t be tricked into thinking you’re fighting the good fight, and watch out if “doing your bit” personally seems to numb your anger at the world that made you so bloody incoherent to begin with.

I will join forces to fight oppression through whatever means I can, but I won’t be guilt-ripped into self-hate and inward looking action for my tastes, no matter how fucked up the reasons that I ended up with them: this is victim blaming at its most insidious. Hypocrisy is about falseness and cowardice, not doing one thing while fighting for another.

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