Can Somebody Tell Andrew Wyatt That The Sex Wars Are Already A Thing And What’s Happening In Washington Is Not That Thing?
When Bill Cosby was handed his conviction for raping Andrea Constand, the United States was dealt a crucial barometer with which to measure the open-ended conversation about sexual misconduct.
Two sides clearly emerged amid the carnage. The same two sides that have risen from the carnage of this entire year (and throughout our history of rape accusations): those that stand with the accuser(s) and those in support of proving the innocence of the accused.
Among the latter in this instance is Andrew Wyatt, Cosby’s spokesperson, who called out Judge Steven O’Neill and his wife as taking part in the“sex war...going on in Washington today with Judge Kavanaugh.”
What’s going on in Washington today, though brutal, is not a sex war. Or at least not by any imaginable definition that pulls in favor of Wyatt’s argument.
If we were to define what is happening as a sex war, and I’m not suggesting we do, that label would better describe the use of sex as a weapon against women’s bodies, historical attacks that have been continually undermined or ignored and that remain prevalent today. It could be a label for the internal war that women struggle with because of that weaponization: the desire to embrace their sexuality but also be valued for more than that.
Yes, there is a fight for women to gain credibility when they try to convince men like Wyatt that this is a cultural phenomenon (shall we call it rape culture??), but, for this to be a “sex war”, we’d at least need to align on what sex is. This isn’t a sex war because only one side thinks this is about sex, while the other side knows it is about power structures and consent, simply summed up as rape.
Furthermore, can somebody please tell Wyatt that the sex wars are already a thing? And what’s happening in Washington is not that thing.
The feminist sex wars started in the late 70s - and remain pertinent to modern day feminism. Their start defined a heightened period when feminists split in two: those against porn & sex work and those for sex positivity (1).
In the 70s, it was a struggle to understand how female sexuality should be understood, as for most of history women didn’t get to choose. And once they realized they had a choice in regards to their sexuality, it wasn’t clear if women should embrace their sexualization, and advocate for their agency over it, or if they should strongly reject it to show that women’s bodies have been misrepresented and misused.
While we’ve progressed to a place that leans towards the sex positivity end of the spectrum, the tension between empowering women sexually and shaming them for their sexuality is still ever-present. If you don’t get what I mean just look at the conversation on the topic of sex work. Is it empowering or degrading? The way a lot of us talk about it, you wouldn’t know.
A lot of females still don’t know how to feel about their own sexuality because of how the female body has been represented, and, those that do feel strongly about one position or another have put in a lot of hard work to get there. This could be defined as a sex war; a war between our various ideas of what sex is for everybody and what it means to have consensual and empowering sex.
Women coming forward to say that men should not be glorified or awarded if their past is blotted with mistreatment of women and misuse of power - this is not a sex war; this is a demand for us to open our eyes and change the toxic power imbalances that control our lives.
If it is a war, it is a war on rape and the culture that perpetuates it - the culture that continually finds reasons to undermine and disbelieve the experiences of the women who are victims of it.
And this distinction - sex war or rape war - is the very reason why we’re in this mess in the first place.
1. Introduction to the ‘Feminist Sexuality Debates’, Estelle B. Freedman and Barrie Thorne. The University of Chicago Press Journals, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Autumn, 1984), pp. 102-105