Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Branding & Activism

Part 2: The "Sex" in "Sex Positive"

Mini intro for those of you who missed P.1:
In activist communities there are movements towards re-defining certain terms, then using those terms loaded with new meaning to talk to a public that has not been educated, consulted or even invited to accept these new definitions. This practice of re-definition mimics the use of language in academic communities. In this sense it is (unintentionally) exclusive. It creates communities of activists privileged with newer enlightened definitions and excludes those that aren't "in the know". The use of community-specific language can be alienating or confusing to a person who is using more traditional definitions. Ineffective and inconsiderate branding harms both the movement itself and those who're invited into an activist community under the banner of poorly branded terms.

I feel pangs of annoyance and resistance to certain branding efforts; for products whose names do not receive recognition in my neural net, campaigns that try so hard to seem natural that they lose their authenticity.  When I see Bing, with their sad product placement and blatant failure to complete with Google, I feel a familiar annoyance and resistance. It's the same awful feeling I get I when see the words "sex positivity" used in a way that demands displays of "pride" (aka performative sexuality) or excludes people based on their appearance or their preferred intensity of sexual expression. I can't stand under the banner of a "sex positive" movement because of the way it has ineptly tried and failed to force a re-branding of "sex".

I believe the sex positive moment is doing some damn fine work. Most sex-positive folks I know will tell you right off the bat that "sex" had a broad definition (this is good!). But In the past when I've dropped "I'm sex positive" in conversation, I always tended to find myself talking about how sex positivity is actually more about consent than about sex (these days I'm using consent-positive). Despite my efforts to the contrary, the people I've spoken with outside of the sex-positive community hear the words "sex-positive" and by and large still think I mean "I like penis in vagina action" or "I like to have sex". 

This is a fundamental yet unacknowledged semantic misunderstanding. Refusing to acknowledge it and make space for this misunderstanding is not only inconsiderate, it implies that whatever understanding a person does come to about "sex" is the one true "sex positive" principle. This is how you get men expressing sentiments like "I'm totally a sex-positive feminist! I love having sex with women!" Refusing to acknowledge the likelihood of misunderstanding stops those we're attempting to educate from taking accountability for their own understandings.

There are consequences to assuming the sex positive definitions of sex & consent are simple easily accepted or free from the effect of mainstreams assumptions about "sex". Folks who don't openly express their affinity for sex or certain types of sex often have their voices invalidated and excluded from visibility. Oppressive stereotypical roles can creep into sex positive spaces. The status quo is often disguised as radical. In the case of sex positive the branding has gotten away from it's original campaign and is being used to justify unquestioned objectification. Under the brand of "sex positive" those who express dislike, or refuse to comply are ridiculed and ostracized. Sexual availability and expressions of desire become compulsory.

1 comment:

  1. I linked this here and said:

    One of the reasons I’ve adopted the term “sex-negative” is to try and destabilise/problematise what has become the ground of “sex-positive” feminism - not the theoretical acknowledging-and-tackling-all-the-problems ground, but the ground which a significant part of the movement describing itself as sex-positive actually occupies. I suggest that shift’s inevitable - either way, it is where it is.

    In a patriarchy, sex can’t become positive without dismantling… well… the patriarchy. There’s no individual action which does that. There aren’t even small group actions. The entire patriarchy system has to go down. The entire system. And every other intersecting system which holds it up. The whole system of domination has to go down before sex becomes positive. Sex should be positive, but it isn’t.

    So perhaps the movement should be called “sex-negative-but-we’d-like-it-to-be-positive-one-day-please-feminism”? :)