Do feminists demand equal yet different treatment

Should everything erotic be disenchanted? In what kind of boring times are we actually living?

Feminists want to free the female body from the stigmas of patriarchy: The vulva should also be recaptured. The methods for this liberation struggle are unsexy on several levels.

The fight against real (and alleged) sexism has long been down to business. Feminists are now demanding that we stop fetishizing the female breast. Of all people! Instead, the breast should be viewed as a normal part of the female body. For this struggle of the freed nipples, women even take part in bare-breasted protest marches in larger cities. The goal here is obviously the de-eroticization, yes, the re-normalization of the female body.

If we continue this logic of thinking, we come to a new requirement: The sexual object should be demystified in itself. This can be seen in the books by Laura Dodsworth, for example: After the photographer had published two works with portraits of penises and breasts, she has now photographed 100 Vulvas in her new book. "Often only sexual activity is associated with the vulva," says Dodsworth. "We talked about so many areas that are rather 'unsexy': menstrual cycles, menopause, infertility, miscarriages, abortions, pregnancy, childbirth, cancer."

The mysterious object

Soon “Vagina: A Re-education” will be published, a book by the British author Lynn Enrights. Liv Strömquist's bestseller “Fruit of Knowledge” (subtitle: “Vulva vs. Patriarchy and with stabs at Freud”) deals with the vulva and menstruation. There is a British musical called Vulvarine. Live events in which the body is positively recaptured are very popular: from “body positivity” courses in life drawing to “pussy exploration workshops”.

Is this really progress? If so, then we should consistently bring this thought to an end and also demystify and de-fetishize excrement. Some of us will certainly remember the scene from Buñuel's “Le fantôme de la liberté”, in which the functions of eating and leaving are reversed: people sit around a table in their toilets, have a nice chat and when they are eating want to, they ask the housekeeper very quietly and ashamedly: "Where is the dining room?"

The argument behind this phenomenon is clear: the male fetishization of the vagina as the ultimate mysterious object of (male) desire must be overcome. Instead, the vulva is to be recaptured for women, in all that complexity that is free from sexist myths.

Banal needs

What's wrong with that? Let's go back to Buñuel: there are quite a number of films that deal with the same motive, in Buñuel's own words: "the inexplicable impossibility of satisfying a simple need". In “L’Age d’or”, for example, a couple wants to have sex, but this is repeatedly prevented by nonsensical accidents; In "Ensayo de un crimen" the hero wants to commit murder, but all attempts fail; In “El ángel exterminador” a group of rich young people fail to cross the doorstep to leave the house after a party; “Cet obscur objet du désir” finally shows the paradoxical behavior of a woman who repeatedly postpones the joyful reunion with her old love with various tricks.

What do all these films have in common? It is impossible to carry out a simple everyday act if the act occupies the impossible place of the (sublime) "thing" and thus begins to embody the sublime object of desire. As soon as the object occupies the forbidden, empty space of the other, a whole heap of insurmountable hurdles emerges. The thing remains inaccessible.

Loss of eroticism

Here we should recall Jacques Lacan's definition of sublimation: "an object is raised to the dignity of the thing". An ordinary thing or action suddenly appears in a kind of short circuit as the appearance of the impossible real thing. That is why - the other way around - in intense erotic play, a wrong word or a wrong gesture is enough to trigger violent de-sublimation. From one moment to the next we fall from erotic tension into vulgar copulation.

Imagine that, driven by the erotic passion, one takes a close look at the vagina of the beloved woman, trembling because the pleasure is about to arrive, as expected. But then something happens: as if one had lost contact with her, one falls out of the erotic pleasure, and the flesh in front of the eyes suddenly appears in all its vulgar reality, with the smell of urine and sweat (one can feel the same Introduce a gender-sensitive scene with a penis). So what's going on here?

The vagina ceases to be an object "raised to the dignity of the thing" and becomes part of ordinary reality again. In this precise sense, sublimation is not the opposite of sexualization, but the same thing.

Repressive desublimation

In the erotic, too, there is therefore only a small step between the sublime and the ridiculous. The sexual and the comic act are mutually exclusive. The sexual act stands for intimate occupation par excellence, for a situation in which the participating subject can never assume the attitude of the ironic, external viewer. And because of this, the sexual act can only seem ridiculous even to those who are not directly involved in it. The comical effect comes from the discrepancy between the intensity of the act and the indifferent calm of everyday life.

This brings us back to attempts to "demystify" the vulva. To use an old saying, those who do this do not notice that they are throwing out the baby with the bath water. The feminists' attack on the idea of ​​the vagina as a fetishized object of male desire is therefore also an attack on the basic structure of sublimation, without which the erotic would not even exist - what would then remain would be a boring ordinary world in which there was no longer any erotic tension between people. Feminists would then pass the “de-fetishized” organs for what they are: body organs.

The moment we recognize the arbitrary nature of sublimation (any simple object can be raised to the level of the impossible thing) also makes it clear that sexual sublimation can easily be freed from supposedly patriarchal mystification. What we get in place of this new sphere of the erotic, however, is a version of what Adorno and Horkheimer - the two masters of Marxism of the Frankfurt School - called "repressive desublimation": the result is not a new freedom, but a gray one Reality where sex is completely suppressed. Is that what we want

Translated from English by Judith Basad.