The Smearing of “Lusty Lady” Rachel Kramer Bussel: or, When Sex Liberationists Become “Anti-Sex” Submissives

It’s bad enough that those of us who are sex radicals get whacked from the Christian Right and the usual conservatives as being beyond the pale….but what can you say when it is supposed liberals who simply can’t get the idea in their heads that women can be free to make their own damn choices in matters of sexuality??

Case in point: Rachel Kramer Bussel’s latest Lusty Lady column in the Village Voice titled “Fucking and Feminism”, whereas she lays out the defense of the full program of sexual freedom and liberty for women from the attacks from the latest round of neoliberal feminists such as Ariel Levy (Female Chauvinist Pigs), Pauline Paul (Pornified), and Rabbi Slumbley Boteach (Hating Women: America’s Hostile Campaign Against the Fairer Sex). (Actually, Boteach is more of a wingnut Rightist than a feminist, but he was included in Rachel’s column.) Some nice excerpts:


There’s a world of difference between being branded a sex object and choosing to be one under certain circumstances. Recall Tad Friend’s classic 1994 “do-me feminism” Esquire article, in which Lisa Palac said, “Degrade me when I ask you to” (emphasis mine). Women’s true desires may not make for perfect propaganda, but sex is justifiably complex. I may like to get spanked until I scream, but I still deserve to be treated as an intelligent human being. Submitting sexually doesn’t equal becoming a doormat outside the bedroom.
Men are also unfairly judged—as brutish horndogs selfishly out to get as much sex as they can. The truth is, they’re confused and constrained by the “macho” role too. Recently, a man asked me whether wanting to get fucked up the ass by a woman was “normal.” Men have plenty of desires that aren’t sanctioned by popular culture, leaving them to wonder if any woman will embrace such kinks as men wearing women’s panties, getting tied up, or being penetrated with a dildo. On the other hand, women often question whether our dirtiest dreams (especially those involving BDSM) make us unfit as future leaders.

Feminists are just like any other women, with a range of sexual desires and practices from doggy-style to bukkake, and it’d be a shame for us to hold back in a misguided attempt to live up to the legacies of Susan B. Anthony and Gloria Steinem. We can choose to be celibate or to have someone come on our face. Having a full range of sexual options should be a high-priority feminist goal.

[…]

I encourage all men and women to make the sexual choices that are right for them, regardless of what’s “cool.” I can’t tell you how to fuck. Instead of looking to gurus, activists, porn stars, and how-to books, you’d be better off looking inside, spending some quality time with your fingers around your cock or pressed against your clit figuring out what sets you off. Forget about the judgments of your friends and neighbors (who are probably just as wild in the sack as you are).

The feminist sex wars were largely fought before I was born, yet sadly, women continue to battle each other over what we do in bed, as if coming up with the most politically correct form of orgasm will automatically solve other inequities. I believe in advancing the cause of sexual freedom for everyone, by increasing our knowledge and offering room for fantasy and safe, nonjudgmental experimentation.

Sexual freedom is not the only, or the most pressing, issue facing American women today, but it’s vital to any true feminist movement. Excoriating other women and berating them for a host of erotic sins creates unnecessary divisions and puts people on the defensive. No one has the right to tell you how to fuck.

Sounds reasonable and radical, and definitely pro-sex, you think???

Apparantly not to Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon, who decided to drop her supposed “porn liberal feminist” cloak to attack RKB in one of her latest entries as a not-so-closet “submissive” who only want to liberate women to serve men. Indeed, Amanda derisively retitles Rachel’s essay “I Really Like Being Submissive” to prove her supposed point that RBK is really, like apparently so many sex liberationists, just another sellout to THE MAN and his penis. Some lowhighlights:

[…]…[RKB’s] thesis is that feminists need to quit telling other women that we’re hurting the feminist movement by having sex wrong, and her evidence is that Twisty trolled her own blog, that a non-feminist rabbi wrote a book where he argued that women’s sexual freedom is hurting us, and that Ariel Levy wrote a book criticizing the Girls Gone Wild trend (particularly those manifestations of it where girls seem to be doing stuff that has a whiff of being less than fully consensual). But this column is an example of how not to convince people that you’re a pro-sex radical feminist. For instance, this paragraph:

[from RKB’s column] Feminists are just like any other women, with a range of sexual desires and practices from doggy-style to bukkake, and it’d be a shame for us to hold back in a misguided attempt to live up to the legacies of Susan B. Anthony and Gloria Steinem. We can choose to be celibate or to have someone come on our face. Having a full range of sexual options should be a high-priority feminist goal.

The full range of sexual options, from her examples provided, appear to vary from sporting a patriarchy-approved purity ring to sex acts that are about men humiliating women. Awesome. I feel so empowered. I hate to sound like a sex-hating strawfeminist, but when coming up with a bona fide full range of options, I’d like to at least imagine that there’s women who aren’t religious nuts or sexually submissive might enjoy. And not to sound like a man-hater, but it seems a little more fair if the range of options involves women who are dominating as well as men who are. She does include examples of men who like to be humiliated in bed, too, but otherwise, despite her claims to sexual radicalism, she avoids the larger issue of whose sexuality is actually considered a threat in this society—you know, the non-submissive sluts of the world.

That’s kinda interesting, since nowhere in RKB’s essay does she even mention that she in fact is that submissive, nor does she explicitly say that submissiveness is the only desirable thing in sexual freedom for women. All Rachel says is that women should be allowed the full freedom to engage in consensual sexual acts that provide them with much pleasure, while still insisting on their rights to be respected as human beings. But I guess that for Amanda, only “non-submissivess” who follow her “porn liberal” feminist analysis should be allowed to engage in sex for pleasure; all others are simply tainted by male patriarchy, apparantly.

But wait…that’s not all. Not satisfied with smearing Rachel’s personal sex beliefs; Amanda goes on to fundamentally distort RKB’s beliefs on so-called “rape fantasies” (actually, more like “ravishment” fantasies, because the woman only surrenders out of and recieves only pleasure rather than violence or injury as in real rape).


(From RBK)Sara DeKeuster is one of my heroines. In 2005, in The UWM Post, an independent student newspaper, she ran a photo essay exploring her rape fantasies. The uproar was instantaneous. One blogger, Kyle Duerstein, wrote (but later deleted), “Sara DeKeuster ought be[sic] raped today. And after that, she ought be [sic] raped tomorrow, by someone else . . . she might be killed by her attacker. Maybe then, she’ll get it, and if not, she’ll be dead, and the world will be a less f*$!ed up place.” The Women’s Resource Center claimed the spread created a “hostile campus” and was “an active act of harm.” In response, DeKeuster evoked Cindy Sherman: “I am not sorry for my art! It would be like saying I’m sorry for being a woman and that I like sex (or to be fucked rather).” 

(Amanda’s response) Very selective quotes from the Women’s Resource Center that make me wonder what the full statement said. But more interesting to me is that she uses for evidence of some sort of feminist anti-sex crusade a blog post from a young man who seems to have rape fantasies of his own. I would point out that men who really get all wound up imagining raping women is indeed something that we feminists are concerned about. But generally speaking, our main concern is the large numbers of men who actually act on the fantasies and go ahead and rape someone.

Funny, but I saw Duerstein’s commentary as more typical of a radical feminist attack on DeKeuster for making public and acceptable such “rape fantasies” and encouraging and enabling men to actually rape women….hardly a thinly veiled desire to rape anyone. But, since Duerstein is a man, and men are innately, according to some radical feminist doctrine, compelled to rape and attack women, I guess that I could understand Amanda’s conclusions. Of course, Rachel’s point was NOT to even mention Duerstein, but to defend DeKuester’s right to explore and speak openly about such fantasies, which many powerful women — even feminists — admit to having without any harm to their feminist credentials or any assaults by men. Nothing about dismissing the problems of real rape anywhere.

And the fact that Rachel doesn’t include female-dominant/male submissive sex in her analysis does not translate into dismissal of those acts; what I got from Rachel’s essay is that a full defense of sexual freedom requires an acceptance of ALL consensual and mutually pleasurable activities, whatever the personal taste or variety. Unfortunately, that tends to cut right across the general radical/liberal feminist goal of regulating and controlling sex that doesn’t meet their standards of non-“patriarchial” purity….not to mention the personal dislikes of women who use feminist language to justify and sanction their own personal sexual myopias.

Oh, but the real charm comes in the ensuing comments to AM’s column, where her sister and fella feminists are wating in the wings to pile on poor Rachel as a evil male submissive who is also — get ready for this one — “antisex and anti-women’s sexuality”. Witness this series of gems:

Amanda Marcotte Jul 16th, 2006 at 8:51 pm

PR, let me make it clear. She was thrashing a strawfeminist. And the reason is because she’s extremely defensive of something that she couldn’t even find feminists attacking. If she’s so damn proud of her sexual submissiveness, then why is she defending it against imaginary attacks from fake feminists? I think sexual submission is fine, and indeed completely understandable in a male dominated society. It’s not my thing, but I certainly get it. But if it’s no big deal, why is she defending it against attackers that she couldn’t even find?

I should write for the Village Voice. “I think women should be able to have orgasms and I don’t care what all these imaginary feminists say!”

And PR, you’re the one selectively editing, as I say in my post that she does include examples of men who like sexual submission, but while she takes the time to praise men who have non-male-dominated desires, she can’t bring herself to mention women who do. Some radical. Women like me don’t even fucking exist.

14 sophonisba Jul 16th, 2006 at 9:11 pm

but there very much are real, flesh-and-blood women who claim the label ‘feminist’ and do sometimes advance arguments that seem to be very anti-’some women’s sexuality’

Damn right. Women who write and talk as though the only interesting and edgy forms of sexual exploration are the ones involving female submission are both lying and doing harm. Women like that, like Rachel Kramer Bussel, are profoundly anti-sex and anti-women’s sexuality.

And although Amanda’s absolutely right about this being primarily a gesture of contempt and erasure towards women who like to do non-submissive sex, it’s also anti-submissive-women’s sexuality even as it pretends to be supportive of it. It’s really shitty to be unable to know if you really like what you think you do, which is what happens when the entirety of the popular discourse is trying to push you into liking it. The slutty/kinky=submissive model for women fucks up sex for all of us, including submissive women.

15 Amanda Marcotte
Jul 16th, 2006 at 9:27 pm

Thanks, soph. I think there’s a weird issue of people thinking that discussing sexuality will somehow de-magic it, but I don’t find that to be true. I think you can be thoughtful about how power is eroticized in our society without destroying your ability to enjoy your kink. In fact, I’d think a thoughtful approach to any kind of sexual experimentation makes it hotter, because you are capable of articulating your desires so much more when you actually think about them, where they come from, and how you can repackage them for your own pleasure.

I was so moved by this piling on to post a rejoinder to the Pandagon board defending Rachel, which I will not repost here; but considering such Orwellian nonsense as the previous comments (sexual freedom is “anti-sex”; opening up oppurtunities for women to safely experiment for themselves is “anti-women’s sexuality” and “submission to men”…I guess that that means that Andrea Dworkin is truely a sex-positive, then??), I think that I will seperate myself from such “liberal feminists” from here on out. I just find it really sad that those who speak so passionately for women’s rights and freedoms in all other areas are so tone-deaf and blind and so reactionary when it comes to respecting women’s sexual choices.

Sometimes a blowjob is just a blowjob; and a bratwurst is not the same as a penis….and some women really do love sex and can still remain feminists. Although, if this shit keeps up, there might not be too many feminists — or Leftists — around.

P.S. — Rachel has some followup to her VV column posted at her Lusty Lady blog here…just to show that not all feminists or women are so ignorant or dismissive. Feel free to check it out.

UPDATE (7-18-06): Amanda has since posted a rebuttal that clarifies her position on RKB’s article; and I hate to admit it, but I may have been more than a bit harsh on her originally. She sounds now a lot more openminded than I first figured, and she even made some legitimate points about how some women are forced into doing acts that they may not like..which I can’t argue against. As much as she maddens me sometimes, she is usually more right than wrong..and I do respect that. So, she’s back on the positive side of the wall here….though I’m figuring that she’ll go off and say something to rile me up again…lol

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