I have run my tongue lightly across something small and hard and reached up as far inside a girl as I could get. I’ve woken up with her smell all in my hair and on my skin and I enjoyed it. I have begged and pleaded with beautiful men to fuck me and I have run my fingers over the damp spot in the bed and smiled to myself at the evidence that my pleadings have been successful. And I’ve been chagrined when my begging has not been enough.
Because it feels good.
And because it makes me happy to feel good.
And because I don’t often feel good about myself as a sexual being.
I carry around my Protestant upbringing like fucking Jacob Marley dragging around heavy chains for eternity. I believe myself to be ugly and unattractive and desperately awkward and uncomfortable in my own skin. I believe myself to be unworthy of happiness and unlikely to find it. And that bullshit colors my whole worldview. It ruins my whole life. Chris Wage told me I have a negative worldview. Chris Wage, you don’t know half of it.
I’m like a well that’s gone bad, cut off from its source, there’s nothing fresh to keep me from going stagnant.
I tell you all this because I want you to get it when I tell you how freeing pleasure is for me, how amazing it is for me, a person who goes days without so much as a handshake from another person, to find herself fumbling in the back seat of a car with someone equally as delighted to be there. I don’t do it often, I can’t do it as often as I like, because it means crossing some chasm in myself that scares the shit out of me. But when I do, when I just go ahead and give myself over to pleasure for its own sake?
It heals me. It makes me a better person.
But I think I mean “better” in a much different sense than most people. At least I get that feeling.
My whole goal is to live in such a way that I am happy, that my life is pleasurable to me.
Being a feminist, for instance, makes me happy. I’m not a feminist only because it’s right or just, but because it both brings me pleasure and proves a framework, I believe, for bringing pleasure to a large amount of people. And I believe pleasure and happiness to be libratory.
This whole weekend I’ve ended up discussing with a lot of people in various incarnations how most people seem hell-bent on being miserable and inflicting their misery on others.
But isn’t this weird? Why do we continually organize our lives in ways that make us unhappy? In ways that seem guaranteed to continue to make us unhappy?
Why don’t we try experience pleasure and to bring pleasure to others? Why don’t we make room for happiness–our own and others?
Living only for pleasure is often framed as selfish, but how can it be any more selfish than misery? At least sharing pleasure and making room for happiness doesn’t hurt anyone.
But more importantly, to bring us to the main point, each of us knows when we’re experiencing pleasure. It’s a measure of success we each can judge. To focus on pleasure, to be selfish in a way that suits us and encourages us to share happiness with others is a useful measure of whether we’re doing the right thing in any given situation. And, to keep Bill Friskics-Warren in the conversation, pleasure can be transcendent and, regardless of what all the stories of ancient martyrs might try to convince us of, misery rarely is.
So many feminists derisively call feminism devoted to the libratory functions of pleasure “fun feminism” that I’m starting to realize that many feminists are instead devoted to a worldview that privileges misery, that encourages suffering as a measure of one’s dedication to the cause.
Well, fuck that. If I wanted to be miserable, if I wanted to suffer, I’d stay under the thumb of the patriarchy. I’d be starving, depilating, and stupifying myself into some perfect flower of femininity and working at it, day after day, to make myself into some kind of idiot maid/prostitute/nanny. Because at least that suffering holds out the hope that, if done right, I can make a man give me all his shit.
I’m perfectly aware what the arguments are regarding feminism and beauty culture and I wrestled with the implications of my choices for several years while I tried to figure out how I could be true to my beliefs and still indulge myself in the pleasures of femininity, because I personally find many things deemed frivolously feminine in Our Dear Patriarchy pleasurable.
To which I say both “Preach on!” and “Oh no.” On the one hand, I’m thrilled to see someone talking about pleasure, talking about the importance of figuring out how to experience pleasure in a very fucked up world. But on the other, pleasure ought not to be an indulgence. Why frame the problem as if feminism and pleasure are incompatible, that one must compromise feminist ideals in order to let some pleasure leak into one’s life?
That, my friends, is bullshit. It’s that old sexist bullshit idea that “good girls” don’t like pleasure recast as “good feminists” being the ones who wrestle with implications of choices in order to show that they’re not like those “bad girls” who don’t give a shit about anything other than their own pleasure.
But please, if there’s one thing we should be suspicious of by now, it’s when any discussion devolves into making distinctions between “good girls” and “bad girls” and if there’s one thing we should be certain of by now, it’s that, if there is such a split to be made–between good girls and bad girls–the feminist position is almost invariably on the side of bad girls.
If seeking pleasure is bad, then slip your hand between my legs and cup my boob in your hand. If it’s a choice between purging the ranks of the women who aren’t trying hard enough to be miserable and whispering things that make me blush and giggle in my ear, then put your lips on me.
Because here’s the truth. I will never be miserable enough to make some folks in feminist circles happy, but I can, I’m convinced, find a way to be liberated by pleasure, because I have, often enough to feed hope, caught glimpses of what such a liberation might look and feel like.
Is this your way of saying you got laid in Memphis?
If so, then perhaps stalking the Oxford American paid off.
If the body is an legitimate means of knowing oneself in the world, then pleasure is an intuitive vehicle. Many scholarly types are just not that comfortable outside the friendly confines of Ideas and Rationality. As you note, this hostility to the body (and especially to female pleasure) is an old idea, but one that I’m learning wasn’t accorded universal faith and credit in the early modern/colonial world. I’m currently reading Sex Among the Rabble (Clare Lyons’ brilliant look at the pleasure culture of Philadelphia, 1730-1830). I think you’d love it.
It is always about the "good girls" and "bad girls" and every group has its own definition of good and bad. Trying to keep track, trying to keep score — exhausting, impossible.Great post.
This IS a great post, B. This is the stuff I was talking about the other night when I told you that people read you because you are brilliant and a terrific writer. Even if they don’t agree with everything you say, it would be impossible to read this and not walk away thinking.
Aw, now YT, you spoil me. Bridgett, I’ll have to check that out.Sarcastro, better. I ran off and got married. To Kleinheider. Just for kicks.
Then I guess I owe you a shiny nickel.
I guess I agree with what you have said here. But maybe your equation of "pleasure" with "physical/sexual" pleasure alone is kind of limiting. I mean, in the context in which you begin the post, sure, you’re talking about sexual pleasure. But then when you move to the question of happiness, and living one’s life to achieve it–and I don’t think most people find their happiness just through the body. It feels kind of picky to point this out–but I do think it’s an important distinction, especially in understanding why some people (ancient martyrs, anti-sex feminists [are there really so many of those, or shall we just call them strawfeminists and be done with it?]) don’t mind a little deprivation/mortification.
No, I don’t mean to equate pleasure with purely sexual pleasure. I mean, come on! Clearly here’s a girl who takes great pleasure in acquiring knowledge. But what I want to get at is that I find the whole "can you be a feminist and wax your cooter?" argument (it’s not that simple, but you know what I mean, the whole "how feminine can we be and still be good feminists?" debate) to be missing the point.If it feels good and it makes you happy–in other words, if you don’t feel coerced into it–why can’t you do what the fuck you want? And why isn’t doing what the fuck you want a feminist goal?I’m not worried about the anti-sex strawfeminists. I’m worried about the real feminists who run around playing "police the behavior of other feminists" and the feminists who buy into that, as if every action of every woman is open to group vote.It’s already that way. There’s nothing feminist about setting some unreasonable standard and then holding women to it. That’s already how the world works.That’s why I think we’ve got to encourage a way of thinking about how to tell if what we’re doing is working based on some internal standard.Not that we can’t be accountable to each other, but the tones these discussions have taken across the feminist blogs seem to me to be downright "Puritanical" (which I put in quotes because of course the Puritans are not the easy boogeypeople they seem on first glance) in their views of pleasure and happiness.But pleasure, in all its forms, is a great tool for liberation. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t work so hard to deny it its place.I was just framing it in terms of sexual pleasure because that’s my hangup.
Thanks for the great post Aunt B.
"No, I don’t mean to equate pleasure with purely sexual pleasure. I mean, come on! Clearly here’s a girl who takes great pleasure in acquiring knowledge."Of course. I know this about you. But this post in particular seems to be making that connection. And I think it kind of limits your argument. As I said, I know I’m being picky about it. But only so you’ll get a better grade in the long run.</teacher voice>"If it feels good and it makes you happy–in other words, if you don’t feel coerced into it–why can’t you do what the fuck you want? And why isn’t doing what the fuck you want a feminist goal?"(a) Because I (I am using "I" in the sense of "the person telling ‘you’ what to do." And I’m using "you" in the sense of "one," as you’re using it. Not because I want to tell you what to do, but because it’s a lot shorter to type) think I see long-term ramifications of your doing what the fuck you want that you’re not going to enjoy (because you’re only eating Big Macs or having unprotected sex with multiple anonymous strangers or whatever), and I think you don’t see them, so I’m telling you what will happen. And you seem to be ignoring me, so I have to repeat myself a lot, and that makes me cranky and I start to make Big Prescriptive Statements.(b) Because I (I am using "I" in the sense of "communitarian feminists" here) don’t think that ding what the fuck you want is the ultimate feminist goal. The ultimate feminist goal is creating a society in which women (and men) live happy, fulfilled lives in harmony with their neighbors, and in which the inevitable conflicts that will, of course, arise, are not solved by using gendered power dynamics. And sometimes your doing what the fuck you want harms others. (Although, it’s true, your sexual behavior is less likely to do this than your other behaviors unless you have some nasty kinks, or unless you are messing with my supposedly monogamous partner.)(c) Because telling people what to do is an artifact of the patriarchy that I have internalized without recognizing it.
I think you’re right, but I really think, too, that we’ve got to find a way to both train folks to have good feminist sensibilities and then to trust their own desires.You know what I’m saying?
I like to think that once we have trained ourselves, our children, our communities into good feminist sensibilities, we will trust our desires a lot more easily, kind of by definition. And we will trust others’ desires a lot more easily, too. I like to think a lot of things that will probably not come to pass during my lifetime, but I sure do like to think them.
great post, thanks
>I like to think that once we have trained ourselves, our children, our communities into good feminist sensibilities, we will trust our desires a lot more easily, kind of by definition. And we will trust others’ desires a lot more easily, too. I like to think a lot of things that will probably not come to pass during my lifetime, but I sure do like to think them.>So essentially, how I read this is, during this lifetime, you don’t think you can trust your desires very well; and you don’t really other women who trust their own desires either.If that’s the case: I’m not down with this."Be the change you seek," you know? Also, per Calvinism: chastising ourselves in the hopes of someday being worthy of/bringing about the World To Come (which we may or may not ever attain anyway) is -also- a part of this our particular patriarchal heritage."Jam tomorrow, jam yesterday, but never jam today."Just for an experiment: what happens if you say "fuck it" and just have some jam already?
Hey, I found your blog via belledame. I love this post. I could really relate to it. I was nodding my head the entire way through. Later I’ll probably quote from it at length on my own blog, so consider yourself forewarned!
"So essentially, how I read this is, during this lifetime, you don’t think you can trust your desires very well; and you don’t really other women who trust their own desires either."Huh? In the present, most women (most people of both sexes) *don’t* trust their own desires. And *don’t* trust the desires of others. Witness the constant brou-ha-has (should that be brous-ha-ha?) about the question. I’m expressing the hope that in the future this won’t be the case.As for right now, I have seen, and continue to see, people acting on desires that I consider foolish to the point of self-destructiveness. Often these desires have been instilled by the precepts of patriarchy. I’m not going to start pretending that I think they’re being wise and calling it "jam today."
"As for right now, I have seen, and continue to see, people acting on desires that I consider foolish to the point of self-destructiveness."Well, NM, why do *you* get to be the arbiter of what’s acceptable and what’s not, for everyone?
Well, in all fairness, I think it goes beyond what’s acceptable. I’ve been avoiding this because I don’t know where one draws the line, but clearly, there’s some kind of line to be drawn. What I mean is that carving up your body so that you look "better" is not feminist. It’s just not. Even though feeling "better" might make you feel more powerful or able to enact more agency in the world or whatever.But I think, again, this goes back to the importance of learning to trust your own desires and balancing that against the well-being of the community. For instance, you might desire to fuck your sister’s husband–that’s a desire and fucking him might well be very pleasurable–but you don’t because it would harm the well-being of the community.And I think NM’s concern is that we don’t all of a sudden say, "Whatever feels good, I’m going to do it" without having some kind of check in place that asks, "Is this really good for me? Is this really good for the community?"
Amber, I’m not the arbiter for anyone but myself. But if I have a relationship (or am in the midst of a conversation) with someone and I see that person involved in self-destructive behavior (let’s say binge drinking, to leave feminism out of it), am I required to think it’s wise? Should I not, by virtue of the claims of that relationship, try to suggest that it’s maybe not a good idea? The person is perfectly free to ignore me, after all. But I *don’t* have to see it as a daring act of self-expression.