Open thread: blow jobs are not empowering

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Glamour Magazine has an interesting article on the popularity of blow jobs, which they put down several factors:

  • Bad sex education in the US. We teach kids that coitus can lead to STDs, but don’t explicitly state that oral sex can, too, so some kids go away thinking oral is safe, or at least safer. Adding to this is the idea many evangelical kids have developed in the absence of quality adult guidance: that oral sex isn’t really sex (thanks, Bill Clinton), so they can do that before marriage without Baby Jesus weeping.
  • Porn. Porn, the article contends, has created a blase attitude that leads to men asking, “Well, if you don’t feel like having sex, can you at least give me a blow job?” I mean, they’re entitled, right? And women feel that pressure.
  • Empowerment. Oh, god, here we go again. Somehow, women have got it worked around in their minds that blow jobs are for their own pleasure and empowerment, not his. And hate is love and freedom is slavery. By the way, these women are talking about the obligatory first-date blow job, not long-term relationship blow jobs.

I’ve got to tackle this empowerment bullshit once and for all, because I just cannot stand it. What these women are saying is this: “When I give someone an orgasm with no consideration for my own pleasure, I find it empowering.” In that case, please immediately PayPal me as much money as you can afford. I’ll be thrilled, you’ll get nothing – won’t that be empowering for you! How lucky you are!

No, no, no and no. [ETA: I later wrote an article explaining clearly what "empowerment" actually means. It's not just "feeling powerful."]

If you’re in a relationship where there’s give and take on various levels, giving your partner an orgasm without any expectation of reciprocity can be a nice thing. Not empowering – nice, pleasurable, enjoyable. Not empowering. Outside of an established relationship, in that early dating phase where you’re still trying to work out whether this person has anything to offer you, offering a blow job screams, “Please, take from me! I like being used!” Empowering, my ass. It’s like prostitution, except you forgot to charge. He’s the empowered one, not you. He’s learning from you that he’s entitled to pressure every woman he dates to perform this service for him, no matter how she feels, no matter what she wants, no matter how completely incapable he may be of providing anyone but himself an orgasm to save his life.

I’m not saying oral sex is bad, or that there are no reasons for a woman to enjoy performing it. But seriously? Empowering? Under no circumstances is it empowering. He’s not grateful. He doesn’t feel he owes you. He’s not bewitched by you, since half the other chicks in the bar would do the same, and tops of heads all look pretty much alike. Where’s the power?

I think women are so confused about sexuality and their rights to it that they somehow (mistakenly) think blow jobs carry all the benefits of intercourse without the potential unwanted side effects, and performing blow jobs makes them fully sexual not-prudes who are in charge of and comfortable with their own sexuality.

I think you need only look at the behavior of men to see how far off the mark that is. Men don’t derive power from giving women orgasms. Sometimes they derive power from other men based on how many women have given them orgasms, but women having orgasms never enters into any part of the equation. True empowerment would be saying, “Well, if you don’t feel like having sex, could you at least go down on me, lover boy?” Now there’s a sex act that’s “safer” than the ones involving male ejaculation. There’s a sex act that involves whatshisname Mr. Friday Night on his knees, and little worry of repercussions for you.

I think a lot of people just don’t understand what power actually is. Really, the whole idea that sex has anything to do with power is a product of rape culture.

Comments

  1. says

    “obligatory first-date blow job”

    Holy cow am I ever glad I’m not the least bit interested in this whole “dating” thing. Ew ew ew.

    Even the (now kind of outdated) “third date obligatory sex” made me retch. Why are sex acts even obligatory at all?

    And then there’s this little anecdotal gem: Overheard two male coworkers talking about dating various women (at my old job). They mentioned that if a few dates passed and the women wouldn’t “do anything”, then the guys would move on because the women were “wasting their time”. But some time after that, one of the guy mentioned that he had turned down a woman who practically threw herself at him on the first date. He seemed really put off, saying that if she did that with him she must really be a slut and must do that with every guy she dates.

    :headdesk: WTF DO YOU GUYS WANT?! A woman who “puts out” or not?!?!

  2. says

    “…offering a blow job screams, “Please, take from me! I like being used!””

    …Or maybe it just screams “I enjoy giving blow jobs!” Because, y’know. Some women just genuinely DO ENJOY GIVING ORAL. Is that really such a foreign concept that you’re going to paint ALL women who offer oral to a cis male partner early in a budding relationship with the doormat brush?

    I agree that an obligation or expectation without any thought of reciprocation is extremely not cool, and that we have a culture that rewards women for giving men orgasms and it’s not far-fetched to imagine that being twisted into a “girl power” Cosmo-style empowerment sort of thing. I haven’t been in the dating scene for a long time, so I don’t know how legit or widespread the idea of the “obligatory first date blow job” is, but if it is, that’s absolutely unacceptable and fucked-up, and yes please, critique the fuck out of that.

    However, the whole tone of this piece is incredibly shaming of women who do genuinely enjoy and choose to give blow jobs without requiring the context of a long-term reciprocal relationship to do so. It’s the sexuality-version of “Makeup is never empowering no matter how much you enjoy it and find a personal empowerment in claiming/reclaiming your joy in it (and if you ever do it in X context [where x=whatever context the writer dislikes] you are FEEDING OPPRESSION)!”

    I would argue that it could absolutely be empowering on a very personal level (not on a social-change level, which is an entirely separate question) to reclaim one’s unique, individual sexual preferences – like giving blowjobs – from the feminist-guilt induced by pieces like this. Fuck knows I had to reclaim my sexuality (sexual submissive, most often played out with a male dominant partner just because that’s who I’ve ended up with) from feminist guilt, and for a long time, I DID regard practice of that aspect of my sexuality to be *empowering*, because it personally gave me strength gained from disregarding other people’s attempts to shame me for my desires. There can be enormous personal power in choosing to do something you *know* goes against messages you’ve received from other people, whether that’s feminist establishment “If you do that, you’re supporting patriarchy!” or “good girls don’t” – which has apparently now become “good girls do but don’t talk about it” or something, and like I said, yes please critique the fuck out of that – or religious indoctrination against sex as sin or whatever.

    I really like Hathor Legacy, but this piece is wildly off-base and sounds like it was lifted from and belongs on an anti-porn anti-sex radfem separatist blog.

  3. M.C. says

    True empowerment would be saying, “Well, if you don’t feel like having sex, could you at least go down on me, lover boy?” Now there’s a sex act that’s “safer” than the ones involving male ejaculation.

    That “safer” was ironic, right? Because it is possible to pass deseases by male-on-female (or female-on-female ect) oral sex. I just needed to clarify this.
    And guys, if you don’t want Baby Jesus to weep, then ask your sex partners to get tested for STDs before you have any kind of sex that doesn’t involve a condom.

  4. says

    “Under no circumstances is it empowering. He’s not grateful. He doesn’t feel he owes you.”

    Oh cool, thanks for speaking on me behalf!

    “It’s like prostitution, except you forgot to charge.” Oh! Oh, oh, WHAT? Oh…what?

  5. Lindsey says

    Jadelyn,

    It’s possible to enjoy something that isn’t empowering, and being on your knees, sucking a man’s dick, is not really empowering. On several levels, it isn’t. There’s also all the baggage created by our culture that presents giving a blow job as a required act of female submission by which masculinity is defined–music lyrics and videos, marking for Duke Nukem Forever, portrayals pornographic and otherwise.

    It’s not empowering. It’s okay to enjoy it or enjoy pleasing one’s partner, but an act of defiance it is not.

  6. says

    Lindsey,

    YOU don’t find it empowering. That does not mean it categorically ISN’T empowering for anyone ever. As I said, I agree that our culture has a lot of fucked-up shit around blow jobs. And they are very often depicted as inherently submissive, also required, thus a sort of symbol of compulsory submission in a sexual context, etc. All of that, I agree with.

    But why are you suddenly the arbiter of what is and isn’t empowering in some sort of objective sense? Empowerment is a very personal, subjective sort of thing, at least individual empowerment is, which is what I made it clear I was talking about. If a woman personally feels a lot of pressure to *not* give head, then for her, flipping the bird to those pressures and expectations and doing so anyway *because she wants to* CAN be an act of defiance, and thus empowering. For HER. Not for you or anyone else or the wider culture, but for her, it IS empowering, and by saying it just ISN’T and CAN’T be, you’re trying to police what other people can find empowering for themselves, which is really fucked up.

    Also, is it just me, or is all this “it’s *okay* to like it” stuff really condescending? “Well, we’ll forgive you for enjoying it, but don’t you ever forget it’s a BAD THING ANYWAY.”

    PS: “on your knees” is not the only way to give blowjobs, trust me. Think creatively.

  7. says

    Oh, and something else that bothered me about this post that just crystallized into words:

    “Under no circumstances is it empowering. He’s not grateful. He doesn’t feel he owes you.”

    So the fuck what? Maybe it’s not about how he feels toward her. Maybe it’s about how she likes giving head and feels like she’s giving the finger to “good girls don’t”/feminist guilt/oppressive religious upbringing/whatever and it makes her feel good to do that. And why the fuck are we suddenly measuring “empowerment” by how the man feels toward her afterward? That is really, really, really fucking not what empowerment is about.

  8. says

    Oh FFS everyone. I’m in a het relationship and I enjoy giving them too. The post is not about merely giving BJs.

    “However, the whole tone of this piece is incredibly shaming of women who do genuinely enjoy and choose to give blow jobs without requiring the context of a long-term reciprocal relationship to do so. It’s the sexuality-version of “Makeup is never empowering no matter how much you enjoy it and find a personal empowerment in claiming/reclaiming your joy in it (and if you ever do it in X context [where x=whatever context the writer dislikes] you are FEEDING OPPRESSION)!””

    She specifically said that this most often does NOT apply to long-term relationships! And what’s so wrong with examining WHY you might like something? To me, that’s what continual growth is all about. Why do I enjoy makeup and BJs? Maybe I will come to the point where I say fuck it,I like it, Imma keep doing it. But feminist critiques of reasons why it might be liked have their place. When we have all been seeped in cultural bullshit since the cradle it’s like a fish trying to realize it’s in water.
    I am not a lesbian separatist and never will be (and I’m pretty sure JK isn’t either), but damn if those gals don’t make me think about things in new ways. I just try not to take it personally and close myself off (which helps me in checking privilege as well as really thinking about WHY I continue to do certain societal things or not). And like Lindsey said, if at the end of the day you do it and like it, fine, but it isn’t *empowering*. You know what’s really empowering? Full reproductive rights.

    On a personal note, I have heard what men say about their dates being willing to give BJs (and intercourse, too). It has never been anything nice and not disgusting. We need to change the attitude around BJs: knock off the entitlement that men and boys feel around it. Stop men from slut-shaming the women willing to do it. Stop framing it as a power trip; that a guy “got her” (even though she might have been hesitant) to do it for him, haha SCORE HIGH FIVE BRO!

  9. says

    I think we might be conflating “empowering” with “fulfilling” or “enjoyable”. Empowering means to give power, of course, and I think of REAL power. Autonomy, rights, agency, financial command. Not sexual or pussy power, which I’ve been fed from girlhood as the only power a woman could really enjoy. Would men be satisfied with “cock power”? No, because it isn’t actual power.

    So I think that’s the issue women like me have when we hear “empowering”. BJs are certainly enjoyable, and sexy, to me. The goal is not to shame or call BJs bad. But as soon as someone tells me I should feel empowered giving them, I’m going to have a problem with that.

    ***All of this would not be an issue if we lived in a world where women DID have exactly as much power as men. Context is everything! Because women are still considered inferior and sexism is still rampant, especially worldwide, critiques of BJs (and everything else) are absolutely necessary***

  10. sbg says

    JT,

    +1

    Honestly, the way I’m reading this is the phenomena of calling a woman giving blowjobs as empowering is one of those things where we try to “take back” a cultural meme which has resulted in (some or many) men believing they are entitled to this method of their own orgasm from (all) women, whether or not (all) women enjoy that particular act, with hardly a thought about her needs/wants.

    And I’m really not sure how proclaiming that giving blowjobs is now empowering is “taking back” anything at all.

    Yes, of course, some women enjoy giving head; enjoyment =/= empowerment.
    Yes, of course, not all men are dickweasel assholes who think every woman is just dying to get on her knees before him.

    (ETA just a little tweaking.)

  11. says

    M.C.,

    No, I used the correct terminology. In the 80s, people called sex with condoms “safe sex” until someone pointed out it only reduced (significantly) the risk of HIV/STD transmission – it wasn’t truly safe. “Safer sex” is the term for acts of sex that naturally carry a lower risk of transmission than intercourse or sex performed with apparatus (like condoms) that reduces the risk. Oral sex performed on women naturally carries a lower risk than intercourse or blowjobs, but it’s not “safe”, so I used the term “safer.”

    http://www.avert.org/lesbians-safe-sex.htm

  12. says

    I still don’t get why heterosexual men DON’T compete about giving the most orgasms. Because it’s too difficult? Because you can’t show off with something that would implicate that you actually care about your sex partner?

  13. says

    Jadelyn: Empowerment is a very personal, subjective sort of thing, at least individual empowerment is, which is what I made it clear I was talking about.

    And it’s definitely NOT what I’m talking about. Power, by definition, is about relationships – it’s something you have OVER someone or something else in your environment. What you call “individual empowerment”, I would call “inner strength”, which you can have regardless of how powerless you may be over your environment. While inner strength is of great benefit psychologically, it doesn’t change our status in the world (what JT is talking about). It doesn’t protect us from rape culture, ensure or extend our rights under the law, or make anyone take us seriously. It also doesn’t (by itself) upgrade your individual status in any of these ways, even within your own social circle. (In anticipation someone will argue that having inner strength makes people respect you and treat you better, no, it really doesn’t: for example, a poor woman or WoC who dares to feel strong is Scary and Difficult, and people tend to band against her.)

  14. Ida says

    I don’t get it, but somehow people think that pointing out oppression is an attack on the oppressed.

    Feminist: Women are disproportionately pushed into roles as homemakers where they do thankless, unpaid, insecure work.
    Response: How dare you attack housewives?

    Feminist: Prostitution exploits low income women who are put into degrading, potentially traumatic situations in order to make a living.
    Response: How dare you attack prostitutes?

    What is with this? It makes me a little suspicious that it’s intentional derailing and gaslighting, but I do want to give it the benefit of the doubt.

  15. Megan says

    If some guy I had just met and was on a first (second, third, etc) date with asked me flat out to give him head, I would laugh in his face and walk away. All else aside, that is just the epitome of crassness.

  16. says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    The other problem is that even if we go with your definition and distinction between empowerment/”inner strength” (which I still disagree with; a person empowered on an individual level may go on to work on empowerment on a social level, yes? I don’t see these as being two non-overlapping things, as you seem to), this piece has still got some serious issues with slut-shaming which remain unaddressed here.

    “…offering a blow job screams, “Please, take from me! I like being used!” … It’s like prostitution, except you forgot to charge.” That is incredibly fucked-up and shaming of women who CHOOSE to give head early in a relationship – or, heavens forbid, OUTSIDE a relationship. It’s also shaming of sex workers, by using “like prostitution” as such an OBVIOUSLY bad thing that you would NEVER want your sexual dealings to be like it. So it’s like prostitution, without charging (which of course would make it not prostitution, but hey) – so what? Why is this such a bad thing? I guess I just don’t get how shaming women who make a choice you don’t find empowering is supposed to help the situation any. There’s definitely plenty to critique as far as cultural construction of BJs as obligatory, submissive, etc, and the use of girl-power rhetoric when it comes to an act that is so often constructed through popular media to be a submissive act of male gratification offered by compliant (read: good) women, as in the linked article. I just would have liked to see actual nuanced critique instead of slut-shamey “WHY would you EVER give head except in a long-term relationship?!?!” like this.

    (BTW, a quick aside to JT: you misread the part of my comment that was about context, in a long-term relationship versus not; I was pointing out precisely what you say, that the author specifically gave the OK to BJs *in* a long-term relationship, which is contrasted with giving BJs in other contexts, thus implicitly [and, I would argue, explicitly as well] judging and shaming those who give them in contexts *other* than in a long-term relationship. Yes, I know the author said BJs are fine in long-term relationships, that’s part of the problem.)

  17. says

    Ida,

    Wow. Seriously? First of all, at least WRT the second exchange written, you’d need to change that to “Feminist: … Other Feminist:” Secondly, I am not gaslighting, nor am I derailing, and I find it amusing, in a morbid sort of way, that I’m being accused of it because I dared to call out slut-shaming and ask for nuanced deconstruction instead of BLOW JOBS ARE OPPRESSIVE THEY JUST ARE OKAY. (At least, I assume this is at least partly directed at me, seeing as thus far I’m the only one arguing about this. If I’ve genuinely taken it too personally, I apologize.)

    There are ways to point out oppression without painting the oppressed with a very broad and unfair brush. Saying simply that “prostitution exploits low income women etc” is too broad, and erases the experiences of those who choose to engage in sex work, or those who do it because they have few other options but still enjoy it. There *are* women engaging in sex work who do not want to but have no other options, and they genuinely *are* being exploited, and I would absolutely support both a: critique and activism around the way sex work and prostitution in particular are positioned and treated in this fucked-up kyriarchal culture we live in, and b: seeking to bring better options for those who would rather get out if they could. Working to fix the situation on both the theoretical/social and practical levels, as it were.

    Your example given *does* attack sex workers, however obliquely, because it makes all kinds of assumptions about women who work in prostitution, and coercively applies them to *all* low-income women prostitutes (god, type that word enough times and it starts to look *really weird*, doesn’t it?) whether they’re correct or not, denying those women voice and agency to describe their situation themselves.

    Anyway, this *is* verging into derailing at this point, so let me just say the tl;dr of it is that it *is* possible to discuss oppression without attacking the oppressed; but that’s not what’s happened here, so I wanted to address that.

  18. DNi says

    “Would men be satisfied with “cock power”? No, because it isn’t actual power.”

    I wish it was, though, because then I’d be having sex with bank vaults. It’d just make me feel so classy.

    “Men don’t derive power from giving women orgasms. Sometimes they derive power from other men based on how many women have given them orgasms, but women having orgasms never enters into any part of the equation.”

    I don’t necessarily agree with this.Telling a dude that he can’t give a girl orgasms is like telling him that he has a small penis, or that he’s impotent. It’s tantamount to emasculation.

  19. says

    Jadelyn, you are twisting my words, and spewing strawman arguments all over the place, and that’s how you get on moderation around here.

    I’m not saying there’s any context in which it’s automatically WRONG to give bjs, because I don’t think there is one. I’m saying there is no context in which a bj is empowering. No one ever said BJ’s are socially oppressive. And in breaking down the idea that bjs are empowering, and I am absolutely NOT shaming anyone for giving them. (Is there something unclear about “I’m not saying oral sex is bad, or that there are no reasons for a woman to enjoy performing it. But seriously? Empowering?”). You pulled these arguments out of your ass, and you can put them straight back in.

    Now. Can we discuss what was actually said in the post? As always, you’re welcome to disagree and debate what was actually said.

  20. Casey says

    ITT: some people who don’t know what “empowering” means.

    EFF-WYE-EYE, I’ve always felt the concept of performing any sort of sexual act as being “empowering” to be laughable. It’s just sex (and thanks to the dude-bros that JT describes, you usually can’t even really enjoy (heterosexual) sex without wondering what sort of awful things the guy on the other end may be thinking about you…that’s why I’ve dropped out of the human race).

  21. says

    (BTW, a quick aside to JT: you misread the part of my comment that was about context, in a long-term relationship versus not; I was pointing out precisely what you say, that the author specifically gave the OK to BJs *in* a long-term relationship, which is contrasted with giving BJs in other contexts, thus implicitly [and, I would argue, explicitly as well] judging and shaming those who give them in contexts *other* than in a long-term relationship.Yes, I know the author said BJs are fine in long-term relationships, that’s part of the problem.)

    I did misread it, and I apologize for that. But even so, I’m sure Jennifer wasn’t saying that if you give BJs outside a long-term relationship, you are a slut who needs to be shamed and good girls get married, etc. I took it as it is more likely, in an LTR, that BJs are not as one-sided. In an LTR, there is a long tapestry of give-and-take and negotiation.**

    **of course LTRs can be abusive and one-sided, too. It is not a panacea against women being used and abused.

  22. says

    Jennifer Kesler:
    Jadelyn, you are twisting my words, and spewing strawman arguments all over the place, and that’s enough of that.

    I’m not saying there’s any context in which it’s WRONG to give bjs, because I don’t think it’s ever wrong or anyone’s business but the individuals involved. I’m saying there is no context in which a bj is empowering.

    What, not even a personal one? Would you make the argument that sex isn’t empowering, out of curiousity? O_o

    And you HAVE spent quite a bit of time dissing the act of giving blowjobs, AND slut-shamed in the original post, pretty undeniably. So fucking what if women like to give blowjobs early in a relationship? Or on a first date? Or a ONS? It reads like the post is blaming women for men’s overinflated sense of entitlement. It isn’t hard for that to happen, and it could be anything, not just blowjobs. It’s too easy to extend the argument to something like, “how can sexual intercourse on the first date be empowering? It just leads to men expecting sex on the first date! You’re no different from any other hole he fucks!”

    I’ve given blowjobs before with no expectation for any return, besides the plain fact that I liked it. I’ve done it because I’d rather do that than have sexual intercourse, which I find distinctly LESS SAFE, emotionally, physically. There is something definitely FAR MORE POWERFUL about having someone’s Very Sensitive Organs vulnerable in my hands than coitus, even if the coitus involves a condom. Yeah, I do find it empowering to get into a guy’s pants like that, with no expectation that I should have to let him get into mine in return. But it’s okay, I guess I’m just delusional or something for coming to my own perspective on it without considering what a guy thinks about the whole encounter.

    It’s not that I’m ignorant of the whole dynamic involved in blowjobs, nor the fact that a lot of guys seem to think getting a blowjob is a sign of superiority, or that we somehow see blowjobs as demeaning, an act of submission. Sure, I get that in the larger culture, somehow, blowjobs are interpreted as a sign of submission, and thus, not empowering. But erasing personal reasons for giving blowjobs, personal perspectives for finding the act of giving blowjobs empowering, is also not cool, and just plays right into sexism. And it reifies the idea that blowjobs are demeaning too, anyhow.

    And yes, I’ve given money away, PayPaled folks money, with no expectation for return, sometimes without even knowing who they are besides the fact that they need it. And yes, it felt pretty damned great. And depending on the person, yes, it does feel really special to have to been able to help someone out. People have various ways of feeling stuff, yanno.

  23. says

    JT: I did misread it, and I apologize for that. But even so, I’m sure Jennifer wasn’t saying that if you give BJs outside a long-term relationship, you are a slut who needs to be shamed and good girls get married, etc. I took it as it is more likely, in an LTR, that BJs are not as one-sided. In an LTR, there is a long tapestry of give-and-take and negotiation.**

    **of course LTRs can be abusive and one-sided, too. It is not a panacea against women being used and abused.

    This. This is what I was saying, and I find is disingenuous that others are claiming to the contrary.

    Jha: Would you make the argument that sex isn’t empowering, out of curiousity?

    Yes, I would. Rapists often experience sex as empowerment over their partners, but then that’s not really sex, is it, once power gets involved? I’ve known many women who get it on with stars, thinking somehow that makes them (the women) powerful. THAT is what I’m seeking to debunk. Please do absolutely whatever you like with any consenting adult. Just don’t try to convince me it’s “empowering.” Again, JT’s comment: people are conflating something with empowering, and I so didn’t anticipate that level of confusion, or I’d have found a way to clarify it at the start.

    Jha: So fucking what if women like to give blowjobs early in a relationship?

    Exactly. Again, I never said differently.

    Jha: But erasing personal reasons for giving blowjobs, personal perspectives for finding the act of giving blowjobs empowering, is also not cool, and just plays right into sexism.

    Except, I never did that. I really struggled to find the wording that conveyed, “Do whatever you like whenever you like” without sounding like a superior giving permission to an underling. So, I have Jadelyn arguing that I did just that (gave permission in a condescending way) and you arguing that I “erased” personal reasons (when I explicitly said there were other reasons for women to enjoy giving bjs).

  24. Megan says

    Oh my god, you guys.

    We’d get a lot farther in the world if we didn’t take everything personally and actually addressed each others’ arguments rather than getting personally offended by them.

    “I give blowjobs and I love them!” is not a valid counterargument to anything said in the original post.

    And we wonder why, at the first mention of feminism, all anyone can say is, “They’re so damn radical and divisive, I don’t want to be associated with them!”

  25. Casey says

    Megan: And we wonder why, at the first mention of feminism, all anyone can say is, “They’re so damn radical and divisive, I don’t want to be associated with them!”

    This is semi-OT, but what I usually hear is “FEMINISTS ARE JUST IN IT FOR THEMSELVES, I’M AN EQUALIST/EGALATARIAN/WHAT ABOUT TEH MENZ?”

  26. says

    Feminism itself often has many points of conversation and debate that I *could* take personal offense to.
    They criticize marriage as an unequal perpetuation of oppression. I am married.
    They criticize housewifery. I have been a housewife.
    BJs and sometimes hetero sex itself. I am het and sexually active and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
    Femininity practices? Well, I shave, wear female clothing and sometimes makeup.

    And I feel weird about pulling out the “don’t take it personal” argument because lard knows dudes bring that one out when they say something sexist. But the difference is that feminists are merely asking other women to *question* and really think about these things. Most feminists I read do not pronounce judgement: they want to shine light on subtle, often insidious societal things that can keep patriarchy alive.

    It’s not about YOU, or ME, personally. It’s about the system.

  27. says

    There are a lot of comments in the queue right now, and the mod won’t get to them until tomorrow. For now, I’m just going to clear up one thing, and then I’m shutting up for now (you’re welcome to continue discussion).

    The definition of empowerment (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/empowerment) is: “To invest with power, especially legal power or official authority.” That’s how I’ve been using it and how I assumed all of you would understand the word (I’m big on using dictionary definitions, in hopes of avoiding these semantic miscommunications). Feeling powerful is not “empowerment” because it doesn’t increase your authority over anything or anyone. By definition, you cannot “find bjs empowering” because they do not increase your authority over anyone or anything. You certainly can find that they make you feel powerful, but that’s a whole different topic. You may also find them fun, sexy, fulfilling, and any number of other positive things, but that is really not at all relevant to the fact that they do not increase your authority in any sense or context at all. They simply do not meet the definition of “empowering.”

    That’s not “my” usage, note. That is the dictionary, the final word on what words mean. And this is not one of those words with 17 nuanced and potentially contradictory meanings. It’s a very straightforward term with legal leanings, which is why JT’s initial point was so bang-on.

  28. says

    Jennifer Kesler: okay, let’s go with the dictionary definition of empowerment. Someone giving head has several kinds of power over their partner. On a physical level, their partner is in a vulnerable position, often naked or partially dressed (and sometimes hobbled by clothing), and with very delicate organs in someone else’s hands. On a more emotional level, the partner giving head is more or less in charge of the pace and style of what’s happening – in charge of their partner’s enjoyment, of the timing and manner of their orgasm, if the giver wants their partner to have an orgasm at all. It’s something like the power you have when cooking someone dinner – it’s not going to get you out of jail or stop a violent assailant, but your choices determine what kind of experience your partner has.

    (I should say that there are instances of oral sex that fail to match the situation here – partners giving each other head simultaneously, for example. There’s also all kinds of social singificance assigned to all of this, but I wanted to focus on the basic statement: “blow jobs can never be empowering”. I disagree, for the reasons above.)

  29. Azzy says

    I think the problem is that the word “empowerment” takes on a different meaning in people’s heads when it’s used in the context of female empowerment. You can say “giving BJs makes me feel empowered!” and the average joe will hear “giving BJs makes me feel feminine, in spite of all those scary feminists who have turned gender roles upside down, but still in a post-feminist and modern way!”. From what I’ve seen, society will only approve of women finding empowerment in things that ultimately benefit (straight, cis) men. Does stripping make you feel empowered? Awesome! The Patriarchy approves! Does playing American football make you feel empowered? You awful feminazi bulldyke, how dare you make the Patriarchy sadface! Put on these hotpants and start apologizing!

    I don’t know if I’m making any sense, but it’s just become one of those words that has gained a subtext beyond the dictionary definition.

  30. M.C. says

    Jennifer Kesler:

    No, I used the correct terminology. In the 80s, people called sex with condoms “safe sex” until someone pointed out it only reduced (significantly) the risk of HIV/STD transmission – it wasn’t truly safe.

    Oh, ok. I guess it is safer. Just not safe enough imo. I really wish that everybody would get tested regularly for STDs. Which of course is a class problem, because there are countries where you can’t get tested for free…

    Casey:
    and thanks to the dude-bros that JT describes, you usually can’t even really enjoy (heterosexual) sex without wondering what sort of awful things the guy on the other end may be thinking about you…that’s why I’ve dropped out of the human race.

    lol. I guess that’s one reason why I’m a virgin. Because I really don’t want guys to talk with their bros about my sexual performance.

  31. Cinnabar says

    Jennifer, I think you should edit the original post and add this is in big, bold text so everyone sees it and gets where you’re coming from, once and for all.

    Jennifer Kesler:
    The definition of empowerment (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/empowerment) is: “To invest with power, especially legal power or official authority.” That’s how I’ve been using it and how I assumed all of you would understand the word (I’m big on using dictionary definitions, in hopes of avoiding these semantic miscommunications). Feeling powerful is not “empowerment” because it doesn’t increase your authority over anything or anyone. By definition, you cannot “find bjs empowering” because they do not increase your authority over anyone or anything. You certainly can find that they make you feel powerful, but that’s a whole different topic. You may also find them fun, sexy, fulfilling, and any number of other positive things, but that is really not at all relevant to the fact that they do not increase your authority in any sense or context at all. They simply do not meet the definition of “empowering.”

  32. Quib says

    I think a problem here is that (in our individualist, highly commodified society) we tend to conflate empowerment with personal feelings, when it has nothing to do with our internal processes, and everything to do with how people treat us outside of our control.

    There are a lot of messages out there (and sold to us) about how having or enjoying a great number of things will empower us, but the reality is no matter how gratified or confident a thing might make one feel, it’s not the same as being made stronger, more in control, or better respected.

    It is important not to define sex or sexual acts as debasing or inherently demeaning, but saying they aren’t empowering shouldn’t suggest that.

    If you find oral sex rewarding, you should feel completely free to enjoy it. If you are less inclined towards it, you shouldn’t feel that it will earn you social standing you wouldn’t have other wise. or what have you.

  33. The Other Anne says

    Anne,

    However, the person giving the blowjob is also in a very compromised position power-wise. They could not see an attack coming. What if the receiver of the blowjob has their hair? What if they are on their knees and could not run away easily? What if they’ve been threatened or feel they have, or coerced, etc? There are gives and takes of power when it come to blowjobs, but I would not consider (personally) the act of having a small amount of control over a penis that is going into my mouth to be empowering just because I could potentially hurt the guy and don’t.

  34. The Other Anne says

    The Other Anne,

    I feel I have to clarify real quick: I would not think it’s empowering because idobt thunk he’s giving any power to the person giving the blowjob. The BJ might be taking place in a room, house, car, alley, wherever, but if you’re alone with him in a situation you might have difficulty getting away from with a man. You might not be able to escape if you hurt him during the BJ, is that really empowerment? I’d say no. Maybe if I had no fear of retaliation if something happened, accidentally or not, but I’ve been pretty conditioned not to hurt men and their sensitive bits as well as trained to fear what men might do to me. So, in the context o this not being a LTR where I really trust the guy, I would bot consider it empowerment and if it were a LTR I would hope the power balances out so that neither of us had to be empowered during any sexual act. I’m not into power stuff in sex.

  35. says

    Cinnabar: Jennifer, I think you should edit the original post and add this is in big, bold text so everyone sees it and gets where you’re coming from, once and for all.

    I dunno, Cinnabar. Look at Anne’s comment above yours, which is essentially: “Okay, fine, let’s go by that definition. While I’m doing a bj, I have all this temporary control over a piece of my environment.” Which doesn’t even come close to meeting the definition I posted here, but she obviously thinks it does. It’s boggling my mind, this thread.

    I’m just waiting for the mod to have a look at all this. I know she will tell me if I need to edit the original post, as well as deciding what of the comments should be posted and/or deleted. My staff is as tough on me as they are on commenters – that’s why I love ‘em.

  36. Maria says

    Holy clusterfuck, Batman.

    I need people to read over our discussion guidelines, which are linked above the little box you use to reply. I need this because we specifically don’t allow straw-men arguments (where you extrapolate a discussion based on your feelings about what Jenn said, instead of the content of the post). Criticizing Jenn personally as well as other posters is NOT ALLOWED. You can’t DEMAND a reply from a poster OR ANOTHER COMMENTER. Moreover, don’t assume Jenn’s suggesting that no one EVER give a BJ, because critique is not censorship.

    Jenn is not saying you can’t give head. She IS saying head isn’t NECESSARILY empowering.

  37. says

    Sorry to comment so much on here, everyone. -_-

    But I thought of something else: sometimes, I’ll do a gender flip to see if something seems critique-worthy from a feminist standpoint. In this case, can I even imagine a man saying that giving his gf head “empowers” him? I can’t even imagine the word coming out of his mouth. Sure, he might say he loves it (or not), or that’s it’s hot. But empowering?

    Which leads me to think that perhaps this empowering racket is a bunch of smoke and mirrors used to placate women into expressing their “power” only when it pleases guys. Who needs equal wages and reproductive rights when we can make men slaves to our mad sex skillz? Except abuse and rape is still rampant. You and I could have the most loving, egalitarian BJs ever, but it still doesn’t change the fact that in much of the world being with a man sexually opens a woman up to violence and control. And biting his dick during a BJ doesn’t necessarily mean you have power on a wider scale. What if you live in a country where doing that would get you jailed or killed by the penal sytem? And even here in the US; can you imagine the backlash if a woman bit a man’s junk? It would stir up all the Lorena Bobbit tropes and she’d get slut shamed so bad (and be an evil castrating bitch on top of a slut). The Other Anne is absolutely correct that women are strongly socialized to view the junk as sacred area; never hurt! Not even if he’s murdering you because then he’ll just get angrier and stronger like the Hulk or something!

  38. Korva says

    Quib,

    Very well said. Also kudos to JT for making very good points in various replies. Feeling good is important, but what society sells as feel-good to women is often the opposite of empowerment, IMO. It’s important to point that out, IMO the backlash against women’s right is still so strong on many levels. Also count me among those who didn’t read this article as an attack on oral sex as a whole but rather on the unholy duality of pressure and entitlement that seems so prevalent in many sexual situations. It’s sad that any criticism of anything sex-related, no matter how accurate, is frequently met with hostility.

    On a personal level, I’m just very glad I’m as good as asexual.

  39. says

    I really fucking hate men who feel entitled to sex. A friend of mine told me that whenever she was on her period, her (now ex-) boyfriend would piss and moan and magnanimously settle for a blowjob. “Because we can’t have sex, he should get a blowjob,” was how she phrased it to me. And the reason they couldn’t have PIV sex was because he was grossed out by menstrual fluids. (I promise you, folks, it’s supposed to bleed; you’re not doing anything wrong.)

    I also really hate how blowjobs are shown as a lesser form of sex. Because there are all kinds of people who don’t have PIV sex (and I’m not just talking about QUILTBAGs). Not having and/or not wanting PIV sex doesn’t make one’s sexual practices “lesser”. Yeah, most guys probably derive more pleasure from vaginal than from oral; how is that relevant to every single person out there, again? “Most guys” /= “all people”.

    As far as biting the penis during a BJ, in cases where a survivor bites her rapist I’ve noticed that if the survivor didn’t know the rapist and has all the socially approved criteria of being a good girl, the press will report the case as “Brave woman protects herself from rapist by literally emasculating him! Haha, that idiot got hoist by his petard.” Whereas if she happened to know the man raping her or doesn’t meet all the criteria of rich White virgin (etc., etc.), suddenly it’s reported as “Psycho bitch attacks innocent boyfriend in uncontrollable rage! What can be done to protect our menfolk from these marauding feminazis?! Here, have three paragraphs on how much everyone loves this poor man.”

    So even if you feel safe enough to exercise this option (which many, many survivors do not fight back because in their assessment it will escalate the violence) and even if you manage to wound the man enough to get away from him, the incident will be framed in terms of factors outside your control.

    If the control in a BJ rested with the giver, we wouldn’t see this social phenomenon. Putting your dick in an unwilling person’s mouth would always be framed as the height of stupidity, akin to putting your dick in a cigar cutter or something. Instead, in cases where society has deemed the survivor should not have power, it’s framed as the survivor’s fault, not the rapist’s.

    (No, I am not saying that all blowjobs are inherently rape. But the fact that blowjobs can be used to rape says a lot about the power dynamic there.)

    Azzy: From what I’ve seen, society will only approve of women finding empowerment in things that ultimately benefit (straight, cis) men. Does stripping make you feel empowered? Awesome! The Patriarchy approves! Does playing American football make you feel empowered? You awful feminazi bulldyke, how dare you make the Patriarchy sadface! Put on these hotpants and start apologizing!

    ^ This. Because if cheerleading makes you feel good, then go for it! Best of luck to you. But you won’t receive as much prestige, respect or money as the football players. A professional cheerleading squad brings in an estimated one million dollars of revenue; each cheerleader earns about $50 per game. Personally, there may be benefits that outweigh that to you; that doesn’t change the fact that professionally, your status is closer to exploited than empowered. I’m not saying this to “shame” cheerleaders; I’m saying this because I believe cheerleaders should receive equal pay for equal work. If you see an analogy in this, that’s not accidental.

  40. says

    Jennifer Kesler, power is a complicated thing; there are all different kinds of power. I don’t like to nitpick, but the definition you gave is simple because it punts on all the difficult issues by using the word “power”, whose definition is decidedly complex – it has sixteen possible definitions, as a noun, in the dictionary you used. Most of them aren’t relevant, but there are enough subtleties in the word for this to be an argument over definitions. Personally, I think, to choose a less-charged analogy, that the staff in a restaurant has power over the customers – if the chef chooses to stub out his cigarette in your soup, or overcook your meal, or the wait staff chooses to let it get cold, there’s not a lot you can do about it. Of course you have power over them too, because you’re paying, and you decide at the end how much to tip. Power is a complicated business, and comes in all different kinds. If you want to know who has “more” power, you have to balance different kinds against each other. But I think it’s important to acknowledge that giving head does give the giver a certain kind of power, and I suspect that that’s one of the things people mean when they talk about giving head as being empowering. (And yes, men talk that way too. At least some do.)

    If you want to talk purely about physical might, well, a woman giving a blow job to a man may well be able to physically overpower him, particularly if she is bigger, stronger, and has martial arts training. I just don’t think that’s the relevant kind of power in most social situations, and in particular not in many sexual situations.

  41. OlderThanDirt says

    OMG the blow job wars of ’06! Jennifer, were you around for them at I Blame the Patriarchy? I suck (see what I did there?) at linking but the post was “Judgmental Sex Pedantry” and it was a total shit-storm. Your post pointed out that bjs have nothing to do with being empowered but Twisty’s post said they were inherently gross. You would think that the reaction to the two posts would be different, but no, not on the subject of blow jobs. I don’t understand it, but I’m no longer surprised.

  42. says

    Anne,

    This has been dealt with by other commenters already. What can you do with this great power you have for a couple of minutes? Get yourself a better job? Ensure the Republicans won’t further curtail your reproductive rights? No, wait – you’re right, it’s silly to expect social changes from a personal encounter. So, what, then? You’re not actually going to bite his junk, because (a) you’re not cruel and (b) it would buy you far more trouble than it would be worth, even if you were that cruel or that provoked. So, what will you be doing with this power? Can you use it to make him do something for you? Or not do something to you? Not really. It’s a totally impotent power, which makes it not a power at all.

    The fact that it makes you FEEL POWERFUL is something else entirely. It’s psychology – it’s happening inside your head, and others are not necessarily aware of it, and typically aren’t affected by it. It’s like self-esteem – it’s a good thing, and it can make your life richer, but it doesn’t change the power dynamics in your life. A woman with great self-esteem can be just as oppressed as a woman with low self-esteem, because it’s outside forces unaffected by her inner landscape doing it to her.

  43. says

    Jennifer Kesler, you can control whether he has fun or not. I wish now I hadn’t mentioned the physical vulnerability, because it’s a red herring, distracting from my main point. The more interesting kind of power is that you’re setting the pace, style, and quality of the encounter. As you say, it’s silly to expect world-changing importance from a personal encounter, but at least this part of a personal encounter is under your control. If you don’t think this kind of power is important, well, fine. But do keep in mind that there’s an old picture of sex where the woman is more or less passive and doesn’t really have much control of whether it’s fun or not: she just lies there and he hammers away at whatever pace he likes. If this is the image of sex you picked up somewhere, taking the pace of the encounter into your own hands is giving you more power in the encounter. And some people do feel that this kind of power is valuable, and those people can rightly say that blow jobs give them that power.

  44. Megan says

    Anne,

    But, he’s the one ultimately deriving pleasure from the experience, not you. So you’re still essentially lying back thinking of England, just in a more active way.

  45. Alara Rogers says

    There used to be a cultural subgroup of lesbians (might still be, for all I know), which were identified in Buffalo (although they may well have existed elsewhere), called “stone butches.”

    The stone butch took on stereotypically masculine traits. She dressed in men’s clothing, she eschewed any appearance of femininity, and she expressed her sexuality pretty much entirely by giving her partner an orgasm.

    The lesbians who had stone butches for lovers (who were generally femmes, according to the paper I read, because this whole dynamic seems to have been saturated in gender stereotyping) were generally very interested in experiencing physical pleasure, knew what they wanted, and were willing to experiment (in other words, they weren’t typically fearful of their own pleasure because of internalized slut-shaming). The stone butches themselves, however, would not allow their lovers to pleasure them.

    So apparently there were women who found giving their partners physical pleasure empowering, to the extent that they would not relinquish that “power” by allowing their powers to reciprocate. They took on stereotypically masculine traits and were usually observed to be “dominant” in their relationships (which who knows what that means, because I don’t know how much the writers of the paper might have been influenced by heteronormative stereotyping, but given that they were more or less modeling male-female dynamics, I suspect that their public personas, at least, *did* have the stone butches appearing to be dominant over the femmes.) And yet they thought that their “power” as the “man” in the relationship was expressed by giving their lovers orgasms, and refusing to allow their lovers to reciprocate.

    Obligatory bjs are not empowering, because obligatory anything is never empowering. If you cannot refuse to do something, you have no power. But the thing about sexual pleasure is that sexual pleasure makes us vulnerable, even as it is something we desire. Power *can* be expressed by making someone else vulnerable and submissive to something they desire, just as power *can* be expressed by taking pleasure from someone who is sufficiently under your control that you don’t feel vulnerable. And feeling a sense of power over someone else *is* empowerment, because power is pretty much entirely about *feeling* as if you are in control, whether you actually are or not.

    (And for the record, I’m not sure why this widespread image of “woman on her knees” is the only image that comes to mind when we think of bjs; based on my experience, I think of a man lying down, and a woman on top of him, possibly pinning him down and interfering with his ability to get away if he wanted to. Which he probably doesn’t want to, but it still doesn’t mean she’s vulnerable and submissive; *he’s* in the more vulnerable position.)

  46. says

    OlderThanDirt,

    Never profane people’s sacred cows, I guess. I really thought we were beyond this?

    Megan: But, he’s the one ultimately deriving pleasure from the experience, not you. So you’re still essentially lying back thinking of England, just in a more active way.

    This.

    There’s so much concern in this thread about how important it is that I recognize that some people experience short-lived feelings of power while performing bjs. Where’s the concern for all the women who do not want to be having sex of any kind, or in particular that kind, but feel pressured into it because freakin’ third wave feminists have just spent the 90s telling them, “It’ll empower you.” Where’s the concern for young women getting lied to, doing the deed, and then wondering why they feel worse than before?

    I think where this thread went horribly wrong is this: the only way you could think the momentary control you have during a bj (which can be revoked by the very partner who granted it to you ANYTIME he chooses) constitutes real power is if you’ve never had any real power. Then, the article might strike you as an attempt to take away your power. The problem is, I’m not taking anything away – that was never “REAL power” to begin with. Regardless of how it makes you feel, it is not authorizing you to change anything in your life. It may “feel powerful”, but it’s not remotely “empowering” by any standard that would be applied on a fem-crit site.

    And y’all know this – you just don’t want to hear it, because if bjs aren’t powerful, then what in your life is? So, in response we get walls of text, chock full of strawmen! Semantic arguments that carefully ignore the many comments that have already dissected them into oblivion! Personal accusations! It’s not arguing, it’s a knee-jerk “la la la i can’t hear you.”

    From now on, at least until the comment mods decide how to deal with this trainwreck, all comments will be moderated.

  47. Cinnabar says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    Yeah, some people will always take these things the wrong way and feel like it’s a personal attack when it isn’t. I don’t know if spelling it out plainly will reduce that number or not. I think Azzy’s comment it spot on:

    Azzy:
    I think the problem is that the word “empowerment” takes on a different meaning in people’s heads when it’s used in the context of female empowerment. You can say “giving BJs makes me feel empowered!” and the average joe will hear “giving BJs makes me feel feminine, in spite of all those scary feminists who have turned gender roles upside down, but still in a post-feminist and modern way!”.

    I’ve seen this same thing happen a couple of years ago on Pandagon when Amanda Marcotte made pretty much the same point about men coming on women’s faces. The comments section erupted into a frenzy there too – “How dare you tell me what to feel? I love having men come on my face!”, “What if it’s BDSM and he’s subbing? What if it falls on my face accidentally? HUH HUH? ANSWER ME THAT.”

    It was ridiculous. She was right, of course, and so are you. It isn’t about telling someone what to feel or not about the things they do personally, and I wish more people would understand that. Come to think of it, this is what happens when you point out that taking your husband’s surname is an unnecessary patriarchal tradition too. OH LORDY you can see the shitstorm ‘abrewing miles away.

  48. says

    Alara Rogers,

    That’s an illusion. You are all suggesting this fantasy that it’s easy for a woman to physically overpower a man. Bull fucking shit, and please stop spreading this bullshit to young women who don’t know better. MEN ARE FUCKING STRONG. You always hear this from assaulted women, and yet it’s a shock the first time a man holds you down – maybe just as horseplay, not necessarily with bad intents – and you realize, holy shit, you really can’t get up until he decides you can. And while that’s fine in horseplay with someone who’d never hurt you, it’s a terrifying realization in the context of rape culture.

    You’re getting off on an illusion of power. Fine, great, whatever. But it’s not true power, since the typical woman is NOT going to be able to keep her partner from getting up and leaving.

    THE ONLY POWER WOMEN EVER HAVE OVER MEN IS THE POWERS THEY TEMPORARILY GRANT US, and whatever political clout we have in some countries that keeps them from treating us worse than they do. Okay? Can’t deal with it? Get therapy, because that is the reality.

    I always wondered how other people coped with the reality of rape culture, and now I know: they don’t. They just go into denial.

    Welcome to radical feminism, folks. No denial allowed.

  49. sbg says

    FYI, y’all, I just deleted those comments. They were hanging like a pall. I didn’t do it because they were disagreeing, I did it because they weren’t playing by the rules and posting them would further derail this comment thread.

    When Jenn said giving head on a first date out of pressure or “obligation” and that it was like saying, “Use me!” or like prostitution without pay – she was NOT slut shaming. What she was talking about in the whole article was this system we’ve got in place where men = entitled and empowered and women = not so much. She was talking about men’s perceptions in those situations, not judging the women in them because of the system/meme/whatever that ultimately put them there. Grand scheme. Not individual choice (because why DO we make the choices we make, hmmm?).

    Give as many blowjobs as you want, in any given context. I assure you, no one here is judging your pleasure. Generally speaking, blowjobs are not a large scale power play for women and proclaiming them as empowering does not help women. Really.

    (Edited to tweak the last sentence.)

  50. says

    sbg,

    {{{{{hugs}}}}} Thank you for doing it, and that’s exactly right.

    Additionally, when I talked about giving bjs to men who don’t know you well yet, I was trying to get across that the men receiving them certainly aren’t going to know you find it empowering, and that’s probably the last possibility that will enter their minds. According to the Glamour article, guys are all, “I didn’t do anything for it, unless you count buying dinner.” They have NO IDEA where all the lovely bjs are coming from, but damn, they sure have grabbed that bull by the horns and feel entitled to them now. Feeling entitled isn’t a bit like feeling submissive or vulnerable. It’s really just not. So you may have an illusory feeling of power, but chances are the guy is feeling pretty powerful, too. And that’s why I made the distinction against established relationships, in which hopefully there’s already mutual respect and power sharing.

    I think the distinction got lost because people saw “Outside of an established relationship”, got angry, stopped reading, and finished in their minds with, “Jesus will smite you down for giving head.” I was talking about how power dynamics shift as relationships mature, not what you should or shouldn’t do sexually, since that’s an entirely personal choice and it’s all morally neutral IMO as long as everyone’s fit to consent.

    Azzy made one of the best points in this thread (along with JT’s gender flip, which I wish I’d thought to include in the original post):

    Azzy: I think the problem is that the word “empowerment” takes on a different meaning in people’s heads when it’s used in the context of female empowerment. You can say “giving BJs makes me feel empowered!” and the average joe will hear “giving BJs makes me feel feminine, in spite of all those scary feminists who have turned gender roles upside down, but still in a post-feminist and modern way!”. From what I’ve seen, society will only approve of women finding empowerment in things that ultimately benefit (straight, cis) men. Does stripping make you feel empowered? Awesome! The Patriarchy approves! Does playing American football make you feel empowered? You awful feminazi bulldyke, how dare you make the Patriarchy sadface! Put on these hotpants and start apologizing!

    The 90s were a bad feminist joke. You have to admit, it’s awfully curious that somehow women have decided that an act men have BEGGED FOR SINCE THE START OF TIME is so “empowering” that now MEN EXPECT IT AND FEEL CHEATED IF THEY DON’T GET ONE. It’s awfully curious how stripping is empowering, and how acting in porn is empowering… but how breaking into upper management or the executive wing is all bitchy and man-hating or just an affirmative action kind of thing.

    Not that ANY of this should affect your sex life. Like JT said, marriage IS born of some pretty fucked-up patriarchal abusive shit, but that doesn’t mean YOUR marriage is nasty – many are quite the opposite. I don’t advise importing big social issues into your personal life – we are all flawed, and I doubt any of us lives up to our perfect feminist ideals (I think I will never stop being fat phobic; I love makeup; I’m getting laser hair removal on my legs). We can’t do it. We’re human, and we have baggage, and in 80 years, we’re not going to divest ourselves of it all. So please, live the way that works best for you. Just don’t try to pretend it signifies something it doesn’t. That’s all.

  51. Casey says

    Jennifer Kesler: I think I will never stop being fat phobic

    That doesn’t mean we can’t keep discussing fat-phobia/fat-hatred in the media/society at large, right?[/gets oddly nervous and is also fat]

  52. says

    Casey,

    Exactly! I may never be able to let go of the idea that I need to lose weight and then everything will be perfect in my life, but I can still be an advocate for not passing that sick idea onto the next generation of young women, you know? If we could only talk about the stuff we’ve individually overcome, the species as a whole wouldn’t make much progress,

    sbg: But not in this post.

    LOL, and yet I have to note a LOT of people in this thread seem to get a thrill from bjs, and yet they managed to split that off from the question of whether they’re empowering.

  53. Casey says

    I feel like what Jennifer said in post #49 should be like 101-level required reading. It’s scary but it’s the truth and NEEDED to be said.

  54. Casey says

    sbg,

    I mis-read your comment too, actually…I thought you meant we weren’t allowed to comment IN THIS THREAD anymore, PERIOD (and yet I still posted a comment >_>V). I shan’t derail with fat-phobic stuff though, naturally.

  55. says

    I thought of another analogy here. Makeup was mentioned earlier in the thread. As we all know, women are encouraged to wear makeup as part of a rather misogynistic agenda to make us buy shit we can’t afford, spend time on makeup we could instead spend on advanced degrees or working extra hours to maybe eventually break that glass ceiling, stay frantically self-conscious, etc. The pressure to wear makeup is completely uncool and wrong, period. It’s coming from an ugly place.

    That said, wearing makeup can cause people to treat you differently. Women perceive you as someone who “keeps herself up” and “hasn’t let herself go.” Men may perceive you as more traditionally attractive, or again, at least as someone who makes a patriarchy-approved effort on her appearance. This may seem TO YOU like empowerment, since without this perception you’ve created of yourself, people might overlook you or even think they can treat you like shit because you obviously “don’t care about yourself.” (Note: the quotes here are all things I’ve heard many people say in relation to whether a woman wears makeup or not.) Maybe wearing makeup vs. not causes a noticeable shift, and you are treated with more of what seems like positive attention.

    But you know what? Despite that tiny shift which you may perceive as empowerment, you are not really any better off than any other woman in your demographic. You are still someone who won’t be allowed to advance beyond where men are comfortable with it. You will still be blamed if you are sexually harassed or assaulted. You will still be 100% responsible for the failure or success of your relationships with men – and how your kids turn out. You will still be presumed the cook and housekeeper in your household, no matter how you live. You will still be perceived as a worker who doesn’t “need” her job like a make co-worker who “has a family to support” (yes, it boggles the mind, but I still hear that).

    Wearing makeup doesn’t empower you to get beyond any of that crap. Neither does giving blow jobs. The “empowerment” you think you’re getting is merely patriarchal approval. That’s so not empowerment.

    Now, some commenters talked about “personal empowerment.” IF you wear makeup or give bjs in defiance of some misogynistic expectation people have pressed on you over the years – say, you were taught bjs/makeup were wrong by people who in hindsight obviously didn’t actually have your best interests at heart and therefore can’t be trusted – you may find bjs/makeup incredibly LIBERATING. Liberation means throwing off something that had power over you, but it’s not quite the same thing as “empowering.”

  56. Gabriella says

    Liberation means throwing off something that had power over you, but it’s not quite the same thing as “empowering.”

    This is my new personal quote. Mind if I pilfer it?

  57. Casey says

    Gabriella,

    Maybe we should change the title of this thread to “Blow Jobs Can Be Liberating, They CAN NEVER BE Empowering”, that might clear things up (or cause a greater stink).

  58. says

    As a guy I’d hate to think that my engaging in cunnilingus was in any way dis-empowering. Is it empowering to give satisfaction to a women in that way? I suppose it might be, because I enjoy it and find the idea of mutual satisfaction uplifting.

    If I didn’t enjoy it and a women demanded it, I might find myself dis-empowered if I were to feel forced to go down. Incidentally, in ancient Rome, it was considered unmanly for a free Roman man to engage in cunnilingus – an activity reserved for slaves apparently.

    I guess I’m on the fence on this one.

  59. says

    Going by a lot of the comments we didn’t allow through, there is one piece of massive confusion:

    Saying something “isn’t empowering” does not equal saying it is “disempowering.” We keep seeing this word, and it’s completely irrelevant. “Not empowering” means it doesn’t alter your power in any way.

    This happens a lot, with a lot of words, in a lot of contexts. Does anyone know why so many people immediately assume that if you’re saying something isn’t white, that means you are saying it’s black? It gets awfully tiresome, continuously having to clarify what you didn’t say as well as what you did say.

  60. Karakuri says

    For the most part I’m with you, Jennifer, except this sounds too simplistic (and when we get simplistic we risk alienating people on the fence):

    “The fact that it makes you FEEL POWERFUL is something else entirely. It’s psychology – it’s happening inside your head, and others are not necessarily aware of it, and typically aren’t affected by it. It’s like self-esteem – it’s a good thing, and it can make your life richer, but it doesn’t change the power dynamics in your life. A woman with great self-esteem can be just as oppressed as a woman with low self-esteem, because it’s outside forces unaffected by her inner landscape doing it to her.”

    IMO, psychology affects /everything/. If you lack self-confidence, it shows to the people around you, and it could stop you from landing that job or making that contact or friend. I’m sure I don’t have to explain why it could stop you from gaining political power – if people see you as insecure or weak, you’ve lost them. The wrong psychology, over time, can completely ruin your life. Isn’t the power to lead a good life, a pretty important one? At least when you’ve got self-confidence you have one less oppressor, yourself.

    In fact pretty much all feminist activity has to do with improving quality of life, though it focuses on groups of people in relation to one another. But those groups are still made up of individuals who are all seeking happiness for themselves, in all different ways. As individuals, I think it’s safe to say for most of us, our search for happiness as a human being comes first, as a feminist second. For us the former is probably deeply connected with the latter. But the former still comes first. We may do something that may not visibly help feminism in the way you define, but by making ourselves happy in a world like this one, we are helping feminism in a way. The more happy feminists there are, the more successful and productive we can be, and the more sway we may have over others. As long as our individual happiness isn’t achieved in a way that hurts feminism, which I don’t believe ‘feeling personally liberated at giving a blowjob’ does. Unless you try to tell other women to feel empowered by it too, taking it out of the realm of your own psychology.

  61. Karakuri says

    Or well, at least it’s my understanding that we want power in order to achieve equality to achieve better quality of life for all. Power isn’t the bottom line, although it is the key to getting there.

  62. says

    Self-confidence doesn’t reliably improve your life, and can even work against people WHO BELONG TO A DISEMPOWERED GROUP (that’s the big problem with this line of thinking). Disempowered group members are not *entitled* to self-confidence. A middle class white woman may not run into this often, but try being poor or of color, and how dare you be self-confident, bitch. Let’s remind you of your place by abusing, bullying, harassing, cheating and/or ostracizing you. (I know these things firsthand.)

    But let’s make it even bigger. Second wave feminism. Women get a little bit of political empowerment, but not enough to really protect what they have. Some go to school, get careers, start feeling better about themselves. What happens? Backlash! Republicans start chipping away at our rights. Rape rates soar, especially on college campuses and other male dominated places where women are not “entitled” to be. Because we didn’t have the POLITICAL power to ENTITLE us to be happy. So oppressors who don’t want us to be happy used the power they have over us to wreck it. With great success, in many instances.

    Maybe I understand this better than some because I was abused by a misogynist in childhood, which gave me both a micro and macro view of the problem. Find a way to be happy, and your abuser will trash it. Find another way to be happy despite the abuse, and he’ll find a way to ruin that for you too. By the end, you are the world’s best poker face, and you know how to hide your happiness so deep that YOU can’t even find it… because if you can, so will he, and he will ruin it for you because he just can’t stand for you to be happy, and because he has the power to do that… and none of your self-confidence or happiness or anything else you’re feeling on the inside will change that dynamic.

  63. Lika says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    That REALLY clarified what the word “empowerment” means. I was taught it was a feeling, which is why in the past I would have called doing something like rockclimbing empowering because it gave me a sense of pride and self-confidence doing something like that despite my fear of heights.

    But I now get it means more of a state of being, an actual change in one’s social or political place where they are given or take for themselves more power. So while rockclimbing makes me feel good about myself and that in and of itself is good enough to grateful for its existence, it isn’t actually empowering because it doesn’t change any power dynamics for me or any other marginalized person.

    I used to think “empowering women” meant helping them feel better and more powerful and in control. I now see that it means changing things so they’re actually in a position where they have more control and agency, and that’s a very different, very complex and much more difficult thing to tackle than simply trying to feel good about something.

  64. says

    Lika, yes! I think women are taught that empowerment is a feeling so they won’t go looking for the real thing, which the patriarchy is hoarding to itself. We feel good/strong/powerful in some activity, and think we can check “get empowered” off our “to do before I die” list.

    An interesting example of the difference between feeling powerful and actually being empowered is: there were a few times in childhood that someone abused their power over me, and I exposed their misdeeds publicly in a way that made it impossible for folks to side with the more powerful person and blame the victim, like usual. I felt SO powerful, of course. But those people still retained their power over me. They could just bide their time, wait for the ruckus to die down, and come back at me – maybe more subtly this time. Maybe too subtly for me to pull the publicity stunt again without looking like I was crying wolf.

    It wasn’t empowering at all. I had temporarily manipulated the bullies’ social “betters” to knock them down a peg, but at the end of the day, the bullies were still one of their own kind, and I was still an underdog. I was learning how to use what little power I had, but I was still far from having enough power to protect my rights against quite a few people who were well-positioned to take them away from me – and seemed inclined to do that. So it felt powerful, and it taught me about power… but it wasn’t empowering.

  65. Casey says

    This is gonna be really ramble-y/nonsensical but this discussion of the term “empowerment” reminds me of an episode of Celeb Sex Rehab where some guy said he wanted to “rape the shit” out of one of the women there ‘cuz they were flirting and he thought it would “bring her joy”; suffice it to say, she was triggered really badly instead. The sex-addiction doctor they had to monitor the situation basically chastised the woman for not “empowering herself” by setting up boundaries before hand.
    Somebody at Shakesville said that nowadays “empowerment” is basically a buzzword that means “we’re going to exploit you and make you think it was all your idea”.

  66. Maria says

    Casey,

    Especially because it’s something that can be used to make women feel like they’re doing something wrong if they don’t want to comply. That’s one of the really sad things about hook-up culture on college campuses — if you’re a girl that doesn’t want to fuck around you’re suddenly the bad bad prude, if you’re the girl that doesn’t give head you’re frigid, etc etc.

  67. "Tom" says

    As a white heterosexual cis male wandering past this conversation, I feel it might be worthwhile for me to mention that I find it empowering to give oral sex and/or manual stimulation to my partners. That is, “empowering” in the “feeling powerful” sense, not in the sense of gaining actual power.

  68. Casey says

    “Tom”: That is, “empowering” in the “feeling powerful” sense, not in the sense of gaining actual power.

    Except there’s no such thing as “empowering” in the “feeling powerful” sense, to be empowered means to literally gain actual power, legal or otherwise. I thought we’ve already hammered this out.

  69. says

    Casey,

    I think he understands the meaning, and at this point it gets kind of just semantic. What I need to write an article about is: the 90s taught people, quite incorrectly, that “empowered” means “feelin’ powerful!” because that definition serves the empowered well. If you feel powerful, and mistake that for being empowered, you think you’re doing fine and society’s fair enough.

  70. Maria says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    I actually let his comment through moderation for two reasons…

    1. I thought it was a useful illustration of how “feelin’ powerful” ISN’T empowerment because hello, he’s already in a position of infrastructural power because the identities he mentioned in his post

    2. That if part of the argument is really BJs are empowering FOR WOMEN (I’m not agreeing just stating that’s what mags like Glamour say), why isn’t eating pussy something promoted as empowering FOR MEN? That it’s not, to me, highlights that this part of Jen’s argument:

    I think you need only look at the behavior of men to see how far off the mark that is. Men don’t derive power from giving women orgasms. Sometimes they derive power from other men based on how many women have given them orgasms, but women having orgasms never enters into any part of the equation. True empowerment would be saying, “Well, if you don’t feel like having sex, could you at least go down on me, lover boy?” Now there’s a sex act that’s “safer” than the ones involving male ejaculation. There’s a sex act that involves whatshisname Mr. Friday Night on his knees, and little worry of repercussions for you.

    Especially because guys will mention that they perform oral sex as though it’s something extra/makes them really awesome, and not just something their partner should expect (like how a woman who doesn’t give BJs is a prude whose fault it is if a man breaks up with her)

  71. Maria says

    Random thought:

    I wonder if the difference between empowerment and “feelin’ powerful” is part of the push back of movies like Sucker Punch. The main char dies in SP but her death helps dismantle an institution that was hurting other girls like her — but because she dies, a lot of people view it as being almost like torture porn or whatever, not a critique of rape culture. So, yeah, it’s difficult to feel powerful about a movie where a girl is raped and lobotomized… but it’s what I would say is an empowering film… at least more so than something like Girl, Interrupted, which doesn’t really critique the institution of the asylum.

  72. Casey says

    Sylvia Sybil,

    Yeah, after reading everyone’s analysis of the film on here I was disappoint to click on FeministFrequency call it a “Steaming pile of sexist garbage” or some such.

  73. says

    Maria,

    ITA, too. I was wondering if it works in reverse (do people get overly excited about movies in which women are powerful but the system is still oppressing them), since that’s often a good way to test a theory, and it does. Sarah Connor is no more heroic than a lot of male “ordinary people in extraordinary situations” characters, but we see her as absolutely iconic because she’s so rare (a self-actualized, truly strong woman fighting a hopeless battle against oppression of everyone). Ditto on Ripley, who was originally written as a man, and as such probably wouldn’t have developed the cult following to the extent she did.

  74. Benjamin says

    I agree almost entirely with the health ramifications of erroneously differentiating between oral sex and both vaginal and anal intercourse: it is a valid conduit for STD’s. I likewise compliment your eloquent and intellectually seductive tirade, but I can honestly say that you are negligent on several levels. I agree that consensual sex does not involve empowerment within the relationship. As a segue, consider men obsessed with hermaphrodites (and there are a lot of them to varying degrees). Most men with this obessission would like to be “pegged” as the Onion columnist Dan Savage would describe it. Even hermaphrodites aside, women pegging men often report that they “feel” empowered and “in charge” while having sex. Correspondingly, many of the men that are on the receiving end of this activity claim that they enjoy the woman’s feeling of empowerment, as well as the activity itself. While you claim that women are not empowered, nor disenfranchised by performing oral sex on a man, the matter is more nuanced. When performing oral sex on a man, the woman in question controls the pace of enjoyment, as well as the moment of climax for the man. In what way is this not empowerment if the man values this moment and the woman decides when and how the circumstance shall arise?I think I should add as a note that I am normally against cunnilingus unless I feel a rare and strong desire to do it. Personally, this arises not from a desire to control, but to experience and incite great pleasure on the part of the woman I am with. The ability to do that does give me power, even though I (for instance) was not originally seeking power. Coincidentally I do recognise the power I gain and ‘feel empowered’, although that is irrelevant for me. I should add that the circumstances of oral sex vary and that either party can feel empowered, as is true for any type of sex. However, the description given above assumes maximum commitment by both parties to each other’s enjoyment.

  75. Russ says

    I love blow jobs. My girlfriend claims that she likes to give them to me. I have a hard time believing this though. As such, I’ve put the thought and obsession out of my head to best of my ability. I won’t ask for them anymore, if she doesn’t make the first move then I just figure she doesn’t want to and think no more about it. I’ve done my best to convince myself that blow jobs don’t excite me anymore. Although I still watch porn with guys getting them.

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