Friday Feminist – Carole Vance (3)

One clue lies in an obvious form of danger – the sexual violence committed by men against women: rape, sexual harassment, incest. As women began to speak out, it became clear that these apparently taboo acts were far from uncommon, and their damage to women was great. Beyond the actual physical or psychological harm done to victims of sexual violence, the threat of sexual attack served as a powerful reminder of male privilege, contraining women’s movement and behaviour. The cultural mythology surrounding sexual violence provided a unique and powerful route for it to work its way into the heart of female desire. A rag-bag of myths and folk knowledge that the contemporary feminist movement opposed depicted male lust as intrinsic, uncontrollable, and easily aroused by any show of female sexuality and desire. The main features of this ideology have been roundly critiqued by feminists, primarily for blaming the female victim while letting men off the hook, but its corollaries are equally pernicious. If female sexual desire triggers male attack, it cannot be freely or spontaneously shown, either in public or in private.

Carol Vance, “Pleasure and Danger: Towards a Politics of Sexuality”, in Carol S Vance (ed.) Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, Pandora: 1992, extracts reprinted in Feminisms, Sandra Kemp and Judith Squires (eds), Oxford University Press: 1997

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