This essay first appeared in Cliterati on January 26th; I have modified it slightly to fit the format of this blog.
Modern feminists expend considerable time and energy criticizing societal pressures for women’s bodies to conform to certain sexual norms. While I reject asinine assertions like “clothes, cosmetics, diets, gym membership, trips to the hair salon, the waxing salon and the nail salon [are indicators of women’s] self-loathing” and mercilessly ridicule those who spend their time calculating the body proportions of plastic dolls, I do think it’s worth discussing the way people of both sexes think they have the right to control women’s bodies and to limit what we are allowed to do with them. Furthermore, while I believe in both the free market and individuals’ right to modify their bodies as they please, I reserve the right to criticize sleazy businesses which use deception to capitalize on women’s powerful desire to be “good enough”. In fact, I don’t think mainstream feminism is nearly vocal enough in its condemnation of societal attempts to control women’s sexuality and big business’ efforts to profit therefrom; if anything, most vocal feminists are perfectly happy to reduce women’s sexual freedom if it means reducing that of men in the bargain. But when their publicly-stated goal of “equality” conflicts with their true goal of sexual repression, such women are liable to experience cognitive dissonance which renders them uncharacteristically speechless, as they have largely been on the issue at hand today.
In the last two decades, the pharmaceutical industry has succeeded in medicalizing a number of issues which were previously seen as behavioral or even normal: for example, the ordinary restlessness of schoolboys is often misdiagnosed as “attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder” so that they can then be drugged into docility, and the totally understandable resentment young people feel when they’re treated as “children” is now pathologized as “Oppositional Defiant Disorder” (for which I’m sure some drug will soon be forthcoming). Virtually all male sexual dysfunction (and some behavior that isn’t actually dysfunctional) is now treated with medication even when it really isn’t appropriate to do so, and for years now the corporate pill-pushers have been dying for a “female Viagra” by which they could profit both from women who are unhappy with their sex lives and, more importantly, those who can be convinced that they’re “not good enough”. Unfortunately for their dreams of a vast new source of profit, female sexual response is much more complicated than male; it cannot simply be quantified by measuring how often sex occurs or how long it lasts, and it can’t be cured by improving blood flow to the genitals or raising the testosterone level. Yet there are those who bemoan the fact that female sexual desire has not yet been fully medicalized as male desire has been, and who eagerly await the day when we can see television adverts telling women that there’s something “wrong” with them for wanting sex less often than their partners do:
…there are no medications available in the United States for female hypoactive sexual desire disorder. That’s the technical term for when women have a distressing lack or absence of sexual desire or fantasy. Up to one-third of adult women may experience it…But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has rejected applications to green-light [flibanserin]…If there is no positive action on the drug, it could spell doom for pharmacological efforts to manage female sexual desire…The drug works by increasing brain blood flow in particular ways…it increases levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and noradrenaline, and lowers levels of serotonin. Side effects of flibanserin include dizziness, nausea, fatigue and sleepiness. Unlike some treatments for men, flibanserin needs to be taken once a day, every day…
Let’s break this down point by point, shall we?
1) Calling something experienced by 1/3 of a population a “disorder” is a flagrant misuse of the word. We don’t even consider homosexuality a “disorder” any more, and it’s only about 3% of the population; how then can the sexuality of 11x as many people be considered a “disorder” in any meaningful way? Female desire and fantasy cannot be measured by male norms; we stopped doing that decades ago in most areas, so why are we still doing it with regard to sex? As I’ve written on a number of occasions, “I rarely feel anything like what men think of as normal lust, and I think that’s great; if I felt anything like the kind of near-constant desire men feel, I’d ask my gynecologist if there was anything we could do about it without ruining my looks.” Yes, the word “distressing” is included in the description, but I think it’s important to differentiate between distress deriving from sexual dissatisfaction and that resulting from either partner pressure or from big businesses telling women they’re “abnormal” because they don’t want to fuck like bunnies in every room of the house 365 days a year.
3) Flibanserin is a psychoactive drug which was originally tested as an antidepressant; its whole raison d’être is to alter the mood and behavior of a third of the female population, and journalist Elizabeth Landau appears to think that’s just peachy (and probably even “feminist”). A huge fraction of womankind is being defined as Not Good Enough and told that the very chemistry of their brains is in need of correction; if you don’t consider that troubling, there’s nothing else I can say to help you “get it”.
As I wrote in “Caveat Emptor”, there’s a vast difference between a woman choosing to alter her body and her being tricked, talked or shamed into doing so. And when the characteristic she’s being pushed to change is not merely an aspect of her physical appearance but the very machinery of brain and personality, it seems to me that feminists should be paying a lot more attention to this than to the pressing issue of whether bikini waxing is “feminist”.