Op/Ed: The Positive Feminist

by Alphaville Herald on 06/03/10 at 8:43 pm

by Meleth Oakleaf

This isn't an article about a role-play sim, this is an article in which one reporter tackles a delicate topic and probably pisses off a few readers. Hopefully, beyond just pissing off a few people, I can make people think about an often underrepresented feminist view.

I spoke to Pixeleen today about beginning another article series, in which I interview a number of people in SL about the job they hold. I'm excited about this topic, because just like role-playing sims there are a wide variety of professions available in SL and a lot of them are unique things you'd never really think about in your day to day explorations of SL. The other side of the coin is, just like role-playing sims, a lot of SL professions have a sexual component.

In my covering of role-playing sims, I've elected not to cover sex dominated sims. There are many reasons that contribute to this decision and I may re-evaluate it later, but the largest reason for this decision is that my goal in this article series is to expose opportunities for role-play in SL that you might not otherwise be aware of, and sex-based role-playing in SL is easier to find than a virgin in a Star Trek convention.

However, I don't feel that this logic holds water when applied to the topic of people. I find that while it's certainly true that there are more dancers than curators of art museums, one individual dancer's experience is no less valid than a curator. I appreciate that I have gathered a few vocal feminist supporters in my writing about role-playing sims, and I appreciate that to some of these supporters the people I chose to interview may prove to be offensive. So before I chase you off I wanted to offer my point of view on feminism.

I am a feminist, but I'm the kind of feminist that gets pissed off by a lot of other feminists, and in turn I can tend to piss other feminists off. In the non-pixelated world, I worked construction to put myself through college. I got my college degree in Computer Science and Psychology from a private school that wasn't co-ed until 1977 and two out of the three Computer Science professors had been teaching there since before the school was co-ed. One of my professors even gave me the sincere advice that “women often have trouble with math” when I questioned a formula that was presented. I graduated from this environment to take a job in a brokerage firm, where I was the only women on my floor who wasn't a secretary and most of my peers had children my age. I promise the feminists out there that I have fought the good fight and I appreciate the women who fought before me to give me the opportunities I had.

That being said, I feel like modern feminism has stumbled over itself a fair amount recently. We've stood up, gained the right to vote, the right to work outside of the home without raising eyebrows, the right to an equal opportunity for education; we've gained many rights that sadly a large portion of our sisters across the globe do not enjoy. But now it seems to me like a lot of feminists have moved away from giving women opportunities and now want to take things away from women. Some feminist are quick to chastise strippers, alternate lifestyles, stay-at-home moms, etc as hurting the feminist movement. However, in my opinion these feminists hurt the moment worse than all of the others put together. Why did we fight for the right to give women the right to chose their lifestyle only to condemn them for the decisions they make?

Certainly if a woman feels like she has no other option than to strip for a living, then we want to create alternatives for her. But what about the woman who loves the exhilaration she gets from holding men captive in their desire for a chance to glimpse one more inch of her flesh; in the cultivated movements of her well toned hips, standing safely on the stage given the opportunity to indulge her sexuality and chose when and if she chooses to take a lover? Why did we push for reforms in this industry to create an environment where this woman is safe in her exploration of her sexuality, only to chastise her for taking advantage of that effort?

What I find more repugnant than feminists who want to limit options or shame women who make decisions other than their approved idea of what a woman is, are women who want to stand up and define for others how I should be treated as a female. I was given a link in college by a well meaning professor about “HOWTO encourage Women in Linux” This article basically put women in a box labeled “fragile handle with care” and to this day makes me nauseous when I read it. I know the women who worked on this article did so with the best of intentions. I know they wanted to give others tools to make women more comfortable in their field. But in this case, applying the advice they offer and treating me like a timid field mouse, would have driven me from the profession. While the advice they offer would certainly help some females feel more comfortable, they present this information as if they have been vested the authority to speak for all females and I certainly don't remember signing off on that.

For me personally, this whole approach seems counterproductive. Yes, I am female and that affects my world view, but I'm also left-handed. I grew up on a farm. I'm the oldest of three kids with eleven years between my age and my youngest sibling. My parents are divorced. I moved out of my house when I was sixteen. All of these things affect who I am, how I see the world and what I need from the world as much, if not more than, my possession of two X chromosomes. I don't think being a woman means I need a self help group or that my peers need a class on how to handle me. If they do need that class, I think I'm the most qualified person to teach it. (Pro-tip, bring me an offering of tea and perhaps a video game of some sort.) I've gone off on a bit of a tangent, but my point in a nutshell is, after freeing women from these preconceived notion of what it means to be feminine, it seems quite silly for women to be standing up and painting us all with the same brush stroke.

So, back to the title, what's a positive feminist, and why does choosing to write about people with different ideals or lifestyles, make me one. I think a positive feminist, is a person who focuses on giving women things rather than taking them away. I have served as a mentor to two young women in technology and in both cases, I tried to give them tools. I encouraged them to think for themselves. Rather than give them answers to their questions, I helped them find their own answers. I helped them feel comfortable asking for the things they need from their peers and authority figures, instead going to these peers and authority figures and speaking for them. I know my experience with these two women left me better off, and it is my sincere hope that they too are better for the time we spent together. I also see giving a wide cross-section of women (and men for that matter) a chance to speak, regardless of their profession as an act of feminism and my duty as a journalist.

So, I hope it is in that light that you will take my first article in which will focus on the manager of a club that features pole-dancing and a cage. I hope you'll chose to read it and be exposed to a lovely woman and see second life through the eyes of a unique individual for a brief moment, If that isn't your cup of tea, I suggest skipping it and waiting for an article that discusses a profession that is more inline with what you wish to consume. I promise to find a museum curator to interview as well.

Until next time this is Mel the over-opinionated over and out.

13 Responses to “Op/Ed: The Positive Feminist”

  1. Scylla Rhiadra

    Mar 7th, 2010

    Thoughtful and interesting article, Mel.

    It’s a little difficult to shake the perception that, to some degree, this article features a polite and well-argued salvo in my direction. Forgive me if this seem presumptuous; in any case, even if this is so, that’s entirely cool. One of the things I’ve always believed is that there isn’t one “feminism,” anymore than there is one “liberalism,” or, indeed, any other “ism” that humans have invented. And for feminism to continue to make strides, those different “feminisms” have to be able to talk with each other, find common ground, and work together. It’s probably fair to say that feminism has never been more splintered than it is now; frankly, I grimace these days before turning to one of the main feminist blogs online these days, because as often as not they feature acrimonious name-calling between “2nd” and “3rd Wave” feminists, feminists of colour and “old guard” feminists, poststructuralist feminists and “essentialist” feminists, etc., etc. It’s all very disheartening, particularly because it reinforces the perception that we have lost our way.

    In fact, as personally painful as I find this kind of in-fighting, it is probably in some ways a good sign, one that signals, not merely that feminism has “come of age” as a mode of thought and action, but that it is increasingly encompassing a broader and more diverse range of perspectives and ideas. I don’t much care for the name-calling, but I value the new opinions being expressed, and the fact that we are now engaged in debate about some really important issues, important not just for women, but for everyone. Part of valuing that diversity means accepting that, whatever the differences in opinion, we are all ultimately working towards the same essential goal. We ALL are, in other words, feminists.

    There is very little in your article here with which I actually disagree. One area where I might take issue with you, however, is in your suggestion that there are many feminists who now want to limit women’s choices. I think you have accepted too readily the disparaging language of those who oppose feminism on principle. The “censorship” card is a cheap, lazy, and reductive response that dismisses rather than examines the real import of what these feminists are saying. The pejorative label of “antisex” feminist, for instance, is a red herring. I’ve never met a feminist who was “antisex.” What worries many of us is that available choices of sexual expression, as for instance, pornography, are too often dictated by a misogynist standpoint that belittles and degrades women. In a more perfect world, of the sort that I hope to see within my own lifetime, posing nude in a magazine or in a movie would no longer be problematic, because pornography will no longer be characterized by the sexist and often violent subtexts that distort it now.

    In truth, the point isn’t to limit woman’s choices: it’s to target the continued misogyny, the structural sexism, and the social conditioning that is warping and limiting those choices. Most feminists, I would venture a guess, now support the legalization of the prostitution in RL. That isn’t because prostitution, and all of its attendant ills, are suddenly now “okay.” It’s because the structural misogyny of the system has criminalized the sex worker, who is, in point of fact, the main victim of the sex trade. It may seem like a paradox to oppose the sex trade, which objectifies, commodifies, and exploits primarily women, while supporting the women who for any number of reasons choose or are forced to work in it, but it is not. Opposing the sex trade isn’t about limiting women’s choices: it’s about making those choices REAL ones, so that choosing one kind of sexual expression doesn’t mean having to accept the misogynist baggage with which it is currently laden.

    In SL, the issues are a bit different, and somewhat starker. In theory, no one really has to be a sex trade worker in SL: it’s unlikely that most of the women stripping here are doing so to forestall the violence of a pimp, or feed hungry children. The sex trade in SL is an “option,” a “hobby” in the way that it isn’t in RL. Unfortunately, what may be true is that many women find it appealing to strip because they have been conditioned to be excited by the idea that men are, in fact, objectifying them: they have been taught by that women MUST package and sell themselves to men in order to attract a “better” mate. We are told, still, that to be “desirable” is the very pinnacle of achievement; the fashion industry, as well as the sex trade, are based on this premise, which essentially tells us that we are at our most successful when we have “packaged” ourselves as a premium top-dollar product.

    I strongly believe that a woman should have the choice to embrace that kind of thinking, and the sorts of behaviours that go with it, if she chooses. But I also firmly believe, especially in the context of SL where necessity is not an issue, that any individual, including women, are accountable for the choices that they make. I’d never try to ban stripping in SL, but when a woman exercises her option to express her sexuality that way, I should be free to exercise MY option to comment on what I believe are the implications of that choice. And those implications include willingly buying, and in effect, reinforcing into a system that sees a woman’s body as a saleable item.

    With liberty comes responsibility. I would never want to take that liberty away, but that doesn’t mean that I have to agree with the particular choices every woman is going to make. And when I think that a choice includes reinforcing the very attitudes that women have had to fight tooth and nail against for the past 50 years, I’m going to speak up. An analogy I’ve used before, because it’s a good one, is political choice in a democratic society: I strongly believe that you have the right to vote for any hideously right wing party you choose, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to tell you why you have made the wrong choice. Arguing that someone has chosen poorly does NOT imply a desire to take that choice away; arguing for a more liberal political alternative does not mean that I want to ban right wing parties.

    Sorry, tl;dr I know. But I hope that this puts in perspective somewhat better the perception that many feminists want to restrict choice. None of the ones that I know do. As for your stories on the sex trade in SL, I look forward to them, under the assumption that they will be balanced, both by an objective and questioning journalistic approach, and by stories that do, indeed, demonstrate that pole dancing is not the only career option available to women in SL. I see nothing but good to be gained out of stories that provide real insight into the inside of the SL sex trade.

  2. James Freud

    Mar 7th, 2010

    Anyone running these articles past a grammar & spell checker?

  3. Mary Elizabeth

    Mar 7th, 2010

    Good article. My issue with feminism, and I consider myself a feminist, is that I don’t think those early victories are complete. We’ve come a long, long way, but pay parity isn’t quite there. Health care issues still remain. I get frustrated when people are insisting that bits of language change, such as the -man ending on occupational titles, but don’t notice that women still make less than similarly qualified men in that job. Call me a postman, fireman, councilman, whatever, as long as my job and it’s benefits are the same as a man in that position with my qualifications would receive.

    On the topic of strippers in SL. First, I don’t think its every woman’s secret dream to work the pole and have men begging for her to reveal the next inch. It is SOME women’s (or men posing as women) dream, however. Whatever, enjoy yourself. I wish, however, that the sex industry in SL wasn’t such a haven for people who are genuinely in RL pain over things like abuse or assault. I guess you can say the same thing about the RL sex industry. I’m not sure you can differentiate between the people who come to the SL sex world looking for a bit of fun and those who are hiding in the symptoms of their RL emotional issues. Personally, I don’t want to spend my time and creativity in SL working so that some guy or group of guys can beat off in front of their computers. It seems more pathetic on their part than liberating on mine, but again, whatever.

    Why do I complain about the string of stripper interviews or sex, rape, and slavery RP reviews that appear here on this blog? Because there is MORE to SL. Much more. The interviewees and topics at times seem picked to appeal specifically to those guys beating off. Show the range of roleplay in SL. Interview a wide variety of people.

  4. rudi dutschke

    Mar 7th, 2010

    @James Freud – Cannot find any typo. Anyway, it’s about CONTENT!

  5. Meleth Oakleaf

    Mar 7th, 2010

    Scylla – I really enjoyed your response. I certainly didn’t mean to give the impression that all feminist do these things. Especially since that would make me the very thing I railed against.

    James – Spell check yes, however I apologize for the sentences that got away from me in the passion of the article.

    Mary – I can definitely respect not wanting to be inundated with all sex all the time. I really hope to provide you with the variety you crave.

    Rudi – I’m glad the content distracted you from my coma abuse! Thanks for the comment.

  6. LOL

    Mar 7th, 2010

    I for one will be intrested to see Meleth Oakleaf’s findings and conclusions after interviewing SL residents about thier Second life role playing game\job. I only wonder, how many of the Second Life feminist avatars being interviewed are actually women in thier real life. Perhaps the interviews should be conducted on SL voice or dare I suggest it, the Telephone to avoid any bias or tainted results.

  7. Scylla Rhiadra

    Mar 7th, 2010

    @Mary Elizabeth

    Great post! I agree. Other bits of “unfinished business” for feminism relate to trying to extend newly-won women’s rights to cultures outside of the West, which is (of course) problematic because of the issues of cultural and religious differences.

  8. Transwoman

    Mar 7th, 2010

    This highlights one of the problems with anyone calling themselves ‘feminist’

    in that the choice of ‘brand’ has widened

    this is inevitable given that women are not identikit clones

    for example muslim women state the birka is enpowering while others see it as male based imposition

    and inevitably also some women will be more pro sex than others

    however the basic bottom line is the same
    equal pay for equal work and access to equal social privelages to those that men enjoy
    access being the key- as not all want access to the same things.

    if you beleive in and uphold those basic principles then you are a ‘feminist’-
    the details of what you consider comprises that ideal are just details

    ps we would not need feminism if the world lacked men who oppose it

  9. Nelson Jenkins

    Mar 7th, 2010

    Feminism is a label, get used to it. Not all feminists want to permanently change the occupation “postman” to “post office mail delivery specialist”.

    Same way not all SLers are the same. Or furries, geeks, Asians, blacks, homosexuals, etc.

    It’s not what you think that matters in life, it’s what people label you as. Being labeled as a feminist has negative connotations in most respects because of the sole purpose that you are different from the majority and thus must be shunned. The easiest way to do that is turn you into a negative influence.

  10. Edna

    Mar 8th, 2010

    Your instructor was actually correct, research has time and again shown that males are indeed better at mathematics. Of course you can find a female who is exceptionally gifted in math, however, in general, males do better with math. It has to do with the different ways in which male and female brains work.

  11. Inniatzo

    Mar 8th, 2010


    I agree with most of what you posted, although not so much with this:

    “The sex trade in SL is an “option,” a “hobby” in the way that it isn’t in RL. Unfortunately, what may be true is that many women find it appealing to strip because they have been conditioned to be excited by the idea that men are, in fact, objectifying them”

    Of course our culture puts a value on beauty and fashion, on supermodel proportions and all that. No one can argue with that, and i’m sure that does have an influence. But I think you discount the possibility that there are plenty of women who just like this sort of stuff, or the idea of these ‘nasty’ and naughty things. In other words, i don’t think you give women enough credit to have brains to figure out what they like and don’t like.

    We’re all a product of our culture, and it is impossible for a woman to escape these images or to avoid comparing themselves to the media and advertising ideals. In SL where we can all be beautiful and have great clothes (well, if you spend some lindens) and so why not go for it? I certainly do. It’s something i want to do, and while the details depend on our culture (a 100 years ago thin and tanned was bad) the basic motivation is not. I want to have a beautiful, sexy avatar because i just do, and the desire to be attractive to sexual partners one of those things that are hardwired into our brains, i would say.

    Going into sl sex work strikes me as even less likely to be motivated by some media brainwashing. There are some who try it, or say they’ll try it, because it seems to be an easy way to make lindens. In a land where free sex is right around the corner it’s not. (no, i don’t, but i do know some people). The ones who do it and stick with it are those who have desires to do this, or who want money and are patient enough and good enough to be able to work that out.

    So, i think that its far more likely that a woman will do some nasty, naughty sex things because sl is a place to express nasty, naughty fantasies than because their are programmed from reading too much Glamour when they were teens.

  12. marktup

    Mar 9th, 2010

    WOW i see that you finally came across downloadfreetemplates for your blog !! cool, about time! XD. now just need some quality writing. nevermind, it looks good!

  13. Ka Kimagawa

    Mar 9th, 2010

    Thank you for your wonderful article that I have so accidentally stumbled across. In SL, I am a dancer and escort myself, and I enjoy it. To me SL is a way to explore the “What if..”, “I wonder…” and of course the “I have always wanted…” scenarios with full anonymity.

    In RL, one of my two jobs is to work as a dancer-cum-PR for a club. In a job where most of my earnings come from commissions from the customers who tip me with drinks and cash, it is often ideal to take advantage of what I have, and show it.

    … or not. I do not strip naked. I do not sleep with the customers. I wear clothes that enhance what I know would entice men. I know how to dance to make them stare mouths open. I know how to talk to them and get them to drink, so that the tips come freely. I know what makes most men tick, and would go the extra mile to make them happy, and in return, be rewarded. In a way, I am more of an escort then an actual escort is!

    And I do get quite a number of women that start getting rather invasive, and essentially trying to dissuade me from doing what I do. Some get the idea that I was forced into what I do. Some think that what I do (Or in particularly, what I wear and how I act) just demeans women. And some just think that I would catch a chill in the air-conditioned rooms wearing what I do, and <3s to them!

    I work there for much needed extra money, yes, but I can't deny that it is fun too. I mean, free alcohol, playing around with men while hey, possibly finding one that I could really love, I don't think many would turn down that job if they were offered!

    I usually smile, nod, and avoid going back to that table if a woman tries to impose her ideals on me. But hey, to any good-intention sisters out there, please do understand that more often then not, especially in this day and age, a choice made is due to many reasons, and for my case, I just find it more attractive then doing say part-time data entry in the wee hours of the morning and get paid less then half the amount to do so.

    All I ask is to be treated with respect by both men and women alike, and I really can't ask for more! :)

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