Are blow-jobs feminist? Are shoes feminist? Are Cadbury’s Mini-Eggs feminist? Come on, feminists, get your fucking act together. There needs to be a Feminist List of things that are OK to do, and things that aren’t, otherwise we’ll be dithering around forever and will eventually be crushed under the weight of bikini-waxing strips we’re not entirely sure we’re allowed to use.
Every now and then someone publishes an article letting us know whether a particular thing is either feminist or not. We’ve had high heels, no make up selfies, Game of Thrones, any number of things. Basically there’s an idea that says feminism can be defined by a bucket-list of tickboxes, and if you check the right ones in the Buzzfeed-esque “How Feminist Are You?” test then you get a special golden hammer with which to smash the patriarchy.
It’s mostly toss.
I’m not an expert in high heels, or selfies, or any of that bollocks, but I am certainly pretty opinionated when it comes to sex. That’s why, when Any Girl Friday published a very balanced and interesting blog discussing the feminist merits (or demerits) of giving blowjobs, I was all over it like my own lips on cock.
Are blow jobs anti-feminist?
No, they are not. And you can probably tell that I’m not going to take quite such a balanced view as AGF, because I love giving blow jobs, and I am a feminist, so saying that they are an anti-feminist thing would be to brand myself a disgraceful hypocrite.
Blow jobs are ‘feminist’ in the same way as almost any other act: there is no inherent quality of ‘feminism’ that can be applied to a particular thing. I make breakfast every morning, and that breakfast gives me the energy to write angry feminist rants, but the act of making of it isn’t an inherently feminist one.
I think what makes an activity ‘feminist’ is mostly about the context: your motivation, the consequences of the activity, and so on. The act itself plays only a very tiny role. For example:
Susan stands outside 10 Downing Street holding up a placard that says “equal pay for women.” Is this a feminist thing to do? Yeah, probably. But what if I tell you that the reason Susan is holding the sign is because her mate has gone on a toilet break. Actually she’s not that bothered about equal pay for women, she just wants to help out her mate. Suddenly holding the sign isn’t a feminist act at all.
So, let’s apply this to blow jobs. Any Girl Friday says that:
It’s wrong to ignore that potential pitfalls of unequal power distribution involved in the act of giving head… For one, the giver is in a submissive, subservient position. They are often on their knees or in a vulnerable position – this is clearly a situation where trust is paramount. In addition, we have a whole misogynistic nightmare on our hands with regards to the language sometimes used in porn, rap songs, media. I’ve heard men say things like ‘choke on this, bitch’ and ‘I’ll force you down and make you gag.’ … Instead of being a mutually beneficial sexual act, revered alongside giant chocolate buttons and unicorns, it becomes another way of men claiming our bodies and rights to our sexuality.
I’m down with some (although not all) blow jobs having submissive connotations: I’m a sub, and to be honest I’m mostly interested in giving head as a means for my partner to use me in all kinds of horrible, consensual, utterly cunt-drenching ways. But even female submission itself isn’t ‘anti-feminism’ – it only appears so if you strip it of all meaningful context.
Expecting all women to give head like that, to ‘choke on this’ and ‘gag on it, bitch’? That’s pretty anti-feminist. But when you add in the context – that this is something I not only choose to do but that gets me off pretty hard? Then it’s actually pretty anti-feminist to tell me I shouldn’t do it.
A guy once asked me whether my desire for buttsex was letting down the sisterhood, and I’ll repeat what I told him: sex isn’t a University debate, and what you do in the bedroom doesn’t have to impact your life outside it. Just as you can enjoy getting spanked by your girlfriend yet refuse to take shit from your boss, it’s perfectly possible for your dick end to make contact with the back of my throat and for you to still respect my opinions, and live with me in an equal relationship.
Does head have to be reciprocated in order to be feminist?
AGF raises an interesting question about reciprocation: are blow jobs expected in a straight relationship while cunnilingus falls by the wayside? Obviously it depends on the relationship, but she does raise a fair few examples of people claiming that giving head to a woman is more intimate/difficult, thus it isn’t be a cornerstone of regular straight activity in a way that blow jobs are.
That’s a shame, it really is. Because, you know, if your partner likes getting head just as much as you do, and there’s an unequal balance of head-giving in your relationship, then that’s pretty crap for your partner. But likewise if your partner likes you to cook for them and you never bloody do it, that’s pretty crap for your partner too. Whether it’s anti-feminist or not depends on the context – in this case, the ‘why?’
Are you a straight dude who refuses to give head because you believe that blow jobs are more important/significant than female pleasure? Congratulations: you’re a twat. And you’re also not a feminist.
Are you a straight dude who refuses to give head because you just cannot stand the taste/smell/activity, and you’d much rather do something else? That is a sexual choice. And, while it might upset your partner, it is as legitimate a sexual choice as deciding not to do anal, or saying ‘no’ to hand jobs, or any of the other things that it’s totally fine to refuse. If your partner believes that oral sex should be reciprocal, then you might need to suck up the fact that you’re not going to get head if you don’t want to give it, but your partner cannot demand that you reciprocate just so that you don’t come across as a bad feminist. That’s shitty.
There is a huge problem with the way we talk about this stuff – the fact that in casual conversation blow jobs are often seen as a given, something that straight women absolutely must do if they want to be an enlightened, 21st-Century have-it-all kind of girl. I hate the assumption that if you don’t give head enough you’ll ‘lose your man’, the coy giggling way we pressure women to swallow spunk like they’re chugging tequila shots, and above all the occasional vague suggestion that giving head is a crucial part of a woman’s role in a straight relationship.
All of this is anti-feminist. All of this is shit. But it’s not the sexual act that’s shit, it’s the expectation, and the pressure. I don’t want that pressure on women to be replaced with a new, and equally unfair, pressure on men. If you don’t want to get on your knees and lick my chuff like I’m sponsored by Solero, then you never ever have to.
Which sex acts are anti-feminist?
I honestly cannot think of any. No, really. While almost any act, in a particular context, can potentially be good or bad for women, individual sex acts aren’t good or bad in and of themselves. Anal sex isn’t anti-feminist. Blow jobs aren’t anti-feminist. Giving your partner a hand job on the back of the night bus is not anti-feminist. As I’ve said before, sex is not the opposite of feminism.
What is anti-feminist is trying to dictate women’s sexual choices: tell them that they should or shouldn’t desire a particular thing in virtue of the fact that they’re a woman. Telling me I don’t have to give blow jobs if I don’t want to is entirely sensible and decent advice. Telling me I shouldn’t give blow jobs because I’m letting the side down is unnecessarily intrusive and repressive. Which brings me on to my final point.
Should feminists demand more cunnilingus?
In the article, AnyGirlFriday says this:
“I believe that women who give but don’t ask [for pleasure of any kind – not just oral] in return are contributing to a generation of men who believe they are entitled to pleasure.”
Which is a shame. We’ve chatted about it on Twitter and I struggled to explain why this sentence rubbed me up the wrong way. In a few more words, and after a bit more thought, I think I’ve worked it out:
I don’t like getting head – it’s just not as fun for me as a hand-job or a shag, or any one of a million other things I do to get off. If I don’t like getting head, but I do like giving it, then it would seem that I can’t have the sex I like without ‘contributing to a generation of men who believe they are entitled to pleasure.’ I’m promoting sexual inequality with every dick I suck, and every time I pull his face up from between my legs and say “don’t bother, I just want you to fuck me.”
Luckily, though, that’s not the case at all. Because I don’t believe that an unequal distribution of head is anti-feminist, no matter how problematic society’s sexual attitudes may be. My individual sex life is about giving and receiving pleasure without being made to feel guilty about what I do or don’t want. It’s about enthusiastically sucking cock, and enthusiastically receiving hand jobs, and rejecting those things that don’t get me off.
In fact, let’s take this further: faking orgasms isn’t anti-feminist. Not getting much physical pleasure from sex isn’t anti-feminist. Choosing to have sex because your partner wants it even though you could take it or leave it this evening? Not anti-feminist. Again, these are simple acts, which only become feminist or not when given context. I’m never going to tell you that doing any one of these individual things is good, bad or ugly without fully understanding your reasons for doing them. You’re making a choice about what to do with your body. A choice that no one else gets to dictate. Not even feminists.
This blog post written with huge thanks to AnyGirlFriday for kicking off the discussion – please do check out her blog, which I’ve recently discovered. She writes on loads of interesting topics, and I hope she doesn’t mind my hijacking her thoughts to have a rant around the issue.