Last week, Jaclyn Friedman wrote a post for Feministe which immediately went up on Jezebel as well. Thanks to the readers who sent me the link. Entitled My Sluthood, Myself, it generated quite a bit of buzz and many very interesting comments on various blogs. Ms. Friedman cites numerous personal motivations for writing the piece, many of which reflect a truly tortured history with sex and relationships. However, she also wants something from the reader:
I’m telling you this because sluthood requires support….A slut needs a posse who finds her exploits almost as delicious as she finds them herself, who cares about her safety and her stories and her happiness but not one whit about her virtue…even if you don’t ever want sluthood for yourself, you’re going to be called upon to support a slut. I’m telling you this because when that happens, I want you to say yes.
That’s asking a lot from other women.
Why? Because the current sexual marketplace prioritizes casual sex over relationship sex. Women predisposed to hold out for relationship sex wage a steep uphill battle. Fellow blogger Ferdinand Bardamu explains this quite succinctly:
Now, if most guys who can get laid with regularity are prone to reject girls who won’t give it up within a reasonable time and cost, wouldn’t this mean that good girls…would be much less likely to be the targets or victims of these men? In a world in which sluttiness is not stigmatized and sex is much easier to obtain, looser women would suck up most of the attentions of men with good game, thus leaving the monogamous girls alone.
Women who understand the power of sex, the incredible chemistry of it, women who know that sex is not casual physiologically speaking, women who do not embrace a life of sluthood, are indeed left alone by many men. That’s a good thing in some ways, but terribly disappointing in others. Very few women embrace the notion of receiving zero male attention once word gets out that they are not slutty. They cannot compete with determined sluts in the marketplace among these men. Sexually discriminating women have every reason to withhold support from sluts. Sluts are wreaking havoc on the supply side.
Ms. Friedman touts the healing powers of sluthood, a way of burying past traumas and protecting oneself from undue emotional distress. I will now proceed to deconstruct her argument, and demonstrate that it is not only fallacious, but dangerous for women. I’ve tried to present a fair representation that honors Ms. Friedman’s intentions.
“I’m telling you this because of something else that’s also true about me: I’d really like to be in a long-term, probably monogamous relationship. That’s right, folks, I’m a slut who craves a stable, loving, committed relationship. File me under “Lookin’ fer luv: ur doin it wrong.”“
The only remotely self-aware statement in the piece. On her own website, she describes herself as “a queer Jewish writer, performer, and activist.” She is widely known and respected in the feminist community, having co-written Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power & a World Without Rape with Jessica Valenti.
That’s the story we get sold, right? That women who sleep around are destroying their chances at True Love. Something to do with bonding hormones getting all used up? Or is it that we have so little self-esteem that no one could love us? Or maybe it’s that we’re all used candy wrappers or dirty masking tape. I can never remember. Thing is: I’ve done it the other way. Until my mid-30s, I was largely a serial monogamist.
She is around 40, and confesses several ill advised relationships that resulted in a torrent of emotional distress. Taking refuge in snark is a favorite maneuver among feminists. “Something to do with?” “Getting all used up?” Snark, snark. Sneer, roll eyes. Ms. Friedman’s piece was hailed for its bravery, but this is a cowardly move.
Thing is: Relationship science is hard science. Oxytocin is not some disinformation cooked up by the evil patriarchy. It’s a chemical that floods your body after sex, during breastfeeding, and through the early months of motherhood. Men also experience it, though its effect is tamped down somewhat by testosterone. The effects of sex hormones are bound to reside on a spectrum. Some women may produce less, which leads to less emotional attachment. Some men are suckers for oxytocin, and love spooning after sex. Anyone who regularly dismisses a large body of peer-reviewed academic studies in this area is as ridiculous as a member of the Flat Earth Society.
As for self-esteem, the answer to her question is yes. One may love, and pity, a person with low self-esteem. But a healthy, robust, falling in love experience with such a person is surely impossible. How can we fall in love with someone who is wearing a big virtual sandwich board that says “I’m a lemon! Damaged goods! Everything in this bin is 50 cents!”
After [a] year and a half of nothing [no sex], I went to bed with a woman I barely knew on our first date. Nothing wrong with that, we had a great time, and seriously, did I mention a year and a half? The problem came the next morning, when it became obvious that she was much more into me emotionally than I was at that point. Did I tell her that? And potentially get exiled back to my affectionless desert? I bet you know the answer. What followed was a two-year relationship in which we were unhappy for about the last year and a half.
Ms. Friedman made a calculated decision to spend two years in a relationship that she did not feel emotionally invested in. She believed, as so many women do, that any relationship has got to be better than no relationship. Two years is a long time. It’s a longer time in your 30s than it was in your 20s. While you’re halfwaying it, emotionally stable people are lookin’ fer luv and finding it.
Fast forward through a few more relationships to last fall. As I crawled out of the acute grief stage of my breakup and into the Land of Reboundia, I launched myself somewhat full-throttle into dating. It was comforting to me to find that there were other people I found appealing who felt similarly about me. But each person I’d meet, if there was any kind of a click at all, I’d throw myself at them whole-hog, wanting so badly for them to be The One that proved I wouldn’t have to do die alone with a shriveled-up vagina and no cats. (I’m allergic.) And then (sing this with me if you know the tune), when something would inevitably go wrong, however silly or minor, however nascent the connection was, it would feel overwhelming. Like I was dying. Like I was broken all over again.
Red flags? Let me count them for you:
- Fast forward through a few more relationships. Rapid fire serial monogamy is a clear indication that something is wrong. Ur doing it wrong. You might be choosing the wrong partners, or behaving the wrong way, or conveying that you loathe yourself.
- I launched myself somewhat full-throttle. Again, the prevailing drive is impulse, perhaps even compulsion.
- It was comforting to me to find that there were other people I found appealing who felt similarly. Seeking relationships as a form of sexual validation works in the very short-term. It’s a house of cards, though, as Ms. Friedman learned.
- If there was any kind of a click at all, I’d throw myself at them whole-hog. Ouch. Not a good strategy. Leads to shouts of “Psycho! Leave me alone!”
- When something would inevitably go wrong… it would feel overwhelming. Like I was dying. Like I was broken all over again. This is painful to witness. I do understand the profound need that Ms. Friedman must feel to be healed, and loved.
And then a miracle occurred. Via the unlikeliest source of miracles ever: Craigslist Casual Encounters.
OMG! As a parent who still worries about what time my now adult kids come home, my heart was pounding as I read this. In the 70s, when one-night stands were still novel in mainstream America, women met men in bars and went home with them. Bad stuff happened. The 1977 film Looking for Mr. Goodbar was based on the true story of the murder of a NYC schoolteacher who picked up a handsome guy in a bar.
…one Friday night last fall, after having been blown apart yet again by some minor rejection that felt so huge it sent me to my bed. I hadn’t showered or shaved or left the house in days. And so, glass of wine in hand, wearing a robe and dirty sweatpants, I posted an ad just so I could watch the replies come in and feel like I had some kind of choice in the world. That somebody wanted me, even if they were gross and I’d never want them back.
And then B. responded. He was smart and charming. His picture looked cute. He seemed like a grown-up, and not like a psycho. He knew how to banter. He made a funny joke about punctuation. And, after a few emails were exchanged, he wanted to know if I’d like to meet him for a drink. That night. Then. And, to my great shock and terror and excitement, I found that I did.
The next hour was a blur of furious grooming, during which I kept up the following internal monologue: I’m going to get axe murdered. I’m going to get axe murdered. You don’t have to do this, you can call it off. No, I want to. I can handle myself, I have good instincts and great training. Oh, god, I’m going to get axe murdered.
She knew. She made a decision to risk not just another profound emotionally devastating experience, but her life. Her need for validation, the need to “have some choice in the world” was so enormous that she eagerly ventured out to meet a man about whom she knew only one thing: his explicit desire to keep sex casual. No emotions, no history, no mess.
As an aside, note the switch to men. Though Ms. Friedman identifies as queer as of today, she went trolling for heterosexual sex. She says that her trauma history means she “still has triggers to manage,” and she states on her site that she was sexually assaulted in college. I’m in no position to untangle this skein, but it certainly raises questions about her motivation in seeking men on Craigslist.
I left my roommate a note telling her what I’d done and where I was going and to call me at 11 and if I didn’t answer to call the police.we spent a lovely hour chatting over a couple of glasses of wine, he used the phrase “male hegemony” critically in a sentence (entirely unprompted by me), and then he asked me if I wanted to go back to his place, which was nearby. And once again, to my shock and terror and excitement, I found that I did.
When, oh when, will feminists learn that men are usually spouting complete BS when they throw around phrases like male hegemony, patriarchy and heteronormative?
Driving home late that night, I was overcome with an uneasy feeling. What had I just done? What did it mean? What would my friends think? Was this who I wanted to be? I sat in my parked car, paralyzed, for ten minutes that felt like an hour. And then I climbed upstairs, slid into bed, and fell into a troubled sleep.
I woke up the next morning feeling unmoored. Like something inside me had been knocked loose, but I didn’t yet know if it was a part I needed, or something that had been in the way. At brunch with friends that day, I nervously let slip about my little adventure, and exhaled as they cheered and pumped me for details. Emboldened by their lack of judgment, I told a few more friends, found more wicked delight.
I’m telling you this because sluthood requires support.
She drove home with an uneasy feeling (after three rounds of good sex). She slept uneasily, and woke feeling unmoored. It was not until her friends let out their war whoops and clamored for details that she felt validated once again. Why wouldn’t they cheer her on? Even if they would never even consider the same behavior, we all enjoy a good train wreck, especially if the victim seems unhurt. We may marvel at their ability to come out unscathed, with no idea of the slow internal bleed that’s begun.
In other ways, too, sluthood isn’t always pretty, and I’m not always good at it. Whether from years of habit or something more intrinsic to my personality, my heart seems to want to attach, and after a couple months of playing together casually, and having long, rangey talks naked in bed together between rolls in the hay, it started to with B. Neither of us handled it particularly well. There were tears; there were accusations.
Of course there were. She bonded with B after a “couple months of playing together casually.” Woman, know thyself! That’s your oxytocin speaking! I think we all know who shed tears and made accusations.
Sluthood saved me. Sluthood gave me the time and space to nurse a shattered heart. It gave me a place where I could exist in pieces, some of me craving touch, some of me still too tender to even expose to the light.
I’m telling you this because, as scary and dangerous as my sluthood is, it’s built on privilege. I’m cisgender and able-bodied and relatively mentally healthy for now, which makes these assignations a lot easier to manage on multiple levels, I would imagine.
I’ve also had some obstacles to overcome. Fat girls don’t have the same pick of partners that smaller women seem to, though I’ve been pleasantly surprised and moved that there are more people out there who are attracted to me than I’d thought. Being a woman who’s “pushing 40″ doesn’t exactly expand the pool either.
FYI: I had to look up the word “cisgender.” It means being comfortable in the gender you were assigned at birth. Apparently we now need a way to express that we are not transgendered. In this way, we can reassure ourselves and those around us that we are not heteronormative.
I don’t have the heart to flag the other troubling expressions in this excerpt, but her desperate need for something real sounds like a scream.
Meanwhile, via CL and other sources, I’ve had emails and dates and crushes and flings, and one thing that looked like it might get serious and then quite abruptly disappeared.
And yes, I still want love. Make that Love. The brass ring. The whole enchilada. A partner in crime, a permanent teammate. A mutual admiration society of two. Someone who feels like home, and who feels the same about me. Someone to catalogue my wrinkles as they form. Whatever you want to call it. When I think about it, it involves monogamy, but who knows. Maybe I’ll find it with someone. Maybe I won’t. I can’t pretend I don’t care. But most days, sluthood helps me be patient. It keeps desperation at bay. It reminds me to enjoy the life I have now, instead of waiting for someone to come start it. It helps me know my heart better, and my libido. It makes me better at communicating about both of them, and much less likely to confuse the two. To my mind, far from ruining me for real love, sluthood is preparing me for it.
It’s a choice we should all have access to because it has the potential to be liberating. Healing. Soul-fulfilling. I’m telling you this because sluthood saved me, in a small but life-altering way, and I want it to be available to you if you ever think it could save you, too.
Most of the comments online have been from women who said they cried, they were so moved. Many offered humble and profound thanks.
Leah, from Not a Dirty Word writes:
Jaclyn’s honesty was so raw and pure…My Sluthood, Myself left me holding back tears and whispering “thank you.” …an act of bravery both fierce and shocking…
I am censored. I am voiceless. My Sluthood, Myself gave me, and women like me, a voice. We do not have the freedom to explain how sluthood can be healing, uplifting, empowering – or to explain how women that ultimately are looking for love and monogamy can still find periods of sluthood fulfilling.
And here is where I have to stop. I can no longer continue to write how I feel. I cannot type the words that explain why her words resonate so deeply with me, and elicit such an emotional response from me. As I am typing this right now, I am starting to cry.
Jaclyn Friedman has clearly struck a chord among women with this piece. I imagine that many women cried with relief. Someone with a media platform has gone on record describing her pain, her littany of hopeful but poor decisions that make love always elusive. They cannot see that as she proclaims her detachment from sex, she gets emotionally wounded every single time. They take heart from her proclamation that sluthood is a healing thing.