This is a copy of a poster distributed earlier this semester at an East Coast college campus (not our own). Our reaction to the poster was generally positive: young women are making their personal pleasure a central aspect of their lives; women are encouraging each other to learn about their bodies; women are creating women-only space to discuss issues of importance. And who can be against “self-love” and “self-respect?” Not these FeministLawProfs!
Does this poster tells us anything about feminism today? We agreed that, in the main, this poster tells us that women interested in women’s issues are alive and well on college campuses. It is never too early (or too late) to claim the importance of one’s own sexual pleasure. Women in particular need to learn and re-learn this lesson, because we are socially conditioned to elevate men’s pleasure and preferences over our own.
But one’s comfort level with attending a sex-toy party, talking about a sex-toy party or even looking at the advertising for a sex-toy party should not be a proxy for “open-mindedness,” “progressiveness” or “feminism.” It is perfectly reasonable to feel uncomfortable walking into a roomful of strangers — even if they are all women — for a discussion of sexual techniques and personal satisfaction. Discomfort does not mean you are a “prude” or lacking some sort of special feminist credential.
We raise several questions. How is this type of “advertising” on a college campus perceived by the students themselves? Do students’ views of the poster differ by gender? If so, how should women and men be educated about the meaning of a women’s “sex-toy party” on campus? Do “sex-toy parties” contribute to a hypersexualized atmosphere? Are women (and men) flourishing in this atmosphere? Are they feeling pressured to be more sexually adventuresome than they otherwise might want to be? What is the relationship between a sex-toy party and centralizing women’s pleasure? How does moving a sex-toy party into the mainstream of campus discourse impact the choices that women and men make?
BTW, we’ve blocked out the name of the school where the flyer appeared because we want to focus on the ideas issues raised by the poster, not the particular college involved. Feminism can inform many different viewpoints. Sex-toy parties exist, but an “approved” feminist “party line” does not. We don’t have conclusive answers to any of the questions, and we don’t even agree between ourselves on possible hypotheses.
-Bridget Crawford and Audrey Rogers