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Friday, June 25, 2010

Savage Love Letter o' the Day: Feminism For Dummies

Posted by Dan Savage on Fri, Jun 25, 2010 at 9:43 AM

I liked your column today. Although I have to say, it was really male centric. "Cock" can just be used in place of vagina, are you kidding me? You do realize that women are often forgotten by our semantics and the male form of many words have become default for both men and women. It is a pretty women-negative cultural problem, actually. Reinforcing that, not to mention encouraging people to adopt new ways of male-centricism, is very sexist and damaging to our society.

You might want to go pick up some good feminist reading sometime. I think you could use it.


My response—and Aaron's response, and mine to his, and his to mine, etc.—after the jump.

So... what would you recommend?—Dan

I'm pretty partial to more recent feminist writers. Jessica Valenti has written some great books. She wrote Full Frontal Feminism which is a great overview of our current needs for feminist action. Naomi Wolf is also a personal favorite, although I don't remember if she goes into the problem of a male-centric culture as much. Gloria Steinem is also brilliant, but I definitely don't remember her going much into male-centricism. At least not directly. To be honest, my favorite feminist book was the text book from my Intro to Women's Studies class. It's called Women: Images and Realties: A Multicultural Anthology, 4th Edition. I really liked this because it was a collection of writers, both current and classic, and goes through many of the issues women face, a male-dominated culture being one of them.

Off the top of my head (and looking at my bookshelf) I don't see anything that jumps out as solely discussing the problem of male-centricism. But any general reading on feminism would most likely include that. If I see anything that really hammers at that topic, I'll let you know.—Aaron

Would it have been better if i had described that guy's dick as a huge clit instead of that other guy's pussy as a disassembled dick?—Dan

I would say no. Doing that would essentially just create a female-centric way of looking at things, and I honestly don't think that that is any better (even if it is combatting the larger cultural problem). Same reason why I don't go up to a group of people and say "Hey ladies" as opposed to "Hey guys." Generalizing diversity down to simplicity is problematic, no matter how you're doing it and I don't really support that. Of course, because the larger cultural problem isn't female-centricism, it's male-centricism, it was (in my opinion) worse to reinforce that larger cultural problem.

Do you think that you would have said "think of this dick as a huge clit" if it was a different situation? Or do you think that you jumping to viewing the vagina as a cock may have been the product of a male-centrist way of thinking?—Aaron

Well, I encouraged a gay man to view his gay FTM's partner's genitals as a dick... because the gay guy is a gay guy, and he likes dick, and I wanted him to like his FTM's partner's genitals, which aren't dick... but coulda/woulda/shoulda been. (Not "shoulda" in the gay-male-centric sense that all pussy should be dick, but "shoulda" in the probably-what-the-FTM-woulda-preferred sense.) If it had been a lesbian angsting at me about her lesbian-identified MTF's partners cock, I would have encouraged her to see it as a huge clit. But it wasn't so I didn't.—Dan

This makes sense. And if it was limited to this guy, I would support that in this particular situation, of course. I think that having a gay guy try and view his partners vagina as a penis could be helpful, because at the end of the day he is a gay guy. He likes cock. Who can blame him. What caught me up was the last thing you wrote. "If he won't eat your pussy... make him suck your cock." This was not necessarily a gay guy dating a transperson. This was ambiguous. These people could be anyone. Yet, you jumped back to that male-centricism, viewing vagina as cock. That is what I found to be problematic.—Aaron.

But that last response, of course, was meant entirely in jest—and it had a super-feminist subtext.

That last letter was sent in by a straight women (sorry it was ambiguous; I should have made it clear she was a woman during the edit); her partner is a straight man. He apparently doesn't like eating pussy—he would, presumably, enjoy sucking cock even less. Women are socialized to be less aggressive about getting their sexual needs met, men are, of course, socialized to be too aggressive. I was encouraging the letter writer, a woman, to be as aggressive as a man, to the point of encouraging her to use a phrase a man might use, complete with intimations of force, so as to 1. more clearly and assertively state her needs and 2. help her boyfriend to see that things could be far, far worse.—Dan

Hmm. That is a lot of subtext for a one sentence answer in print form where tone is completely up to the reader. I can see your response being taken as a joke, but I could also see it being taken more literally. I guess I just don't assume that the average reader of your column exists on some higher plane of social awareness, where they can read something like that and see the implications and the humor and walk away with positive empowerment. I tend to assume that the average reader is still like most of society and is still very much plugged into the construction that is our society, and could legitimately walk away feeling their female anatomy is just really a cock, because men are what matter and women just sort of exist. Maybe I am just some crazy ass feminist who is pulling something out of thin air?—Aaron


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