Wanton Hussy - Column for 4/20

Looking Back on Social Change

I was reading an article recently in "Bitch," an interview with Susie Bright (one of my heroes and role models) talking about the changes in the last ten years of sex-writing and sexuality in our culture. Her conclusions (or at least my impression of them from the interview) seem to be that not enough has happened and that she's pissed off and disappointed. Which caused me to have a lot of thoughts, some of which may be a bit rambling, but I'll get to my point eventually, I swear.

First off, someone had to be in the first group of people to be saying things like that, writing and talking openly and honestly about sex. I think every thinking person owes a debt of gratitude to women like Susie Bright and Annie Sprinkle and Carol Queen and the other forerunners of sex-positive feminism. At the same time, I recognize that looking back can be a daunting task - in every endeavor to reform society less progress is always made than you hope. Change always happens more slowly than the revolutionaries would like and there is always a conservative backlash.

Look at the progress of social movements like feminism or racism over the last 100 years and you can clearly see the trend progress happens slowly, is always followed by a backlash, and then more progress is made in response to that backlash, and so on. Changes swing further to one side on each round, like a pendulum slowly creeping in one direction. Luckily for us, it's always creeping toward a more liberated, enlightened, freeing direction, even if you do have to look over a span of a whole century in order to see it.

Seriously, think about it: turn of the century women's rights suffragettes, working for women's right to vote. See how far we've come? No one even questions that women should have the right to vote today. Yeah, we have a long way to go don't get me wrong there - but we *have* come a long way, baby.

Point being that important things in our culture change much more slowly than topical, surface things and this is right and good.

And besides, once the topical surface things change, the important things slowly follow and begin to match. We strive against cognitive dissonance, even in the silliest things. From a time when women weren't allowed to wear trousers (like men) to it being so common and normal that no one even notices anymore. And (like men) now women work outside the home. Of course we get paid less, but at least it's recognized that that's an injustice and people are working to change that. Recognition of injustice has to come before correction, and it's the little things that slowly worm their way into the collective unconscious that eventually win ground.

So even though I can understand Susie's point that the changes about sex in our culture over the last decade have been mostly focused on consumerism and surface-level pop culture, that the real changes have yet to happen that would result in us being a sex-positive culture rather than sex-phobic, at least we're talking about sex much more openly now. Sure, it's all on TV shows and is the source of jokes and titillation, but at least it's out there. Ten years ago no one was joking about gay prison-rape or BDSM or cross-dressing or pedophiles on "The Simpsons" or "Family Guy" or "Drawn Together" and while that's not how I'd *prefer* such topics be addressed, at least they're not hidden in the closet anymore. It's true that the jokes are tasteless and offensive, and the articles and books on the best-seller lists about sex are for the most part are about "Prostitutes' Tips for Pleasing Your Man" or buying the right props and sex toys rather than being sexually authentic and having an emotionally healthy sexual identity. But it's a step forward, even if it's a small step.

To use one of the examples from her interview, "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" was probably *not* one of the places the Gay Rights movement of the 70s really intended to go, but at least it's in the news, on mainstream television, and shows queers and straights getting along. In particular, straight *men* not being assholes or feeling threatened by gay men. It's almost *gasp* as if it were normal. Straight men getting along with faggots sure it's packaged in a ridiculous way, and the show plays into the stereotypes of gay men being into fashion and design, but that's how things sneak into our society. The Religious Right is quite correct in their exclamations that these things sneak in subtly and insidiously through the media. I think it's great much easier to get a TV show on the air than to get a bunch of straight white men to change the laws out of the blue.

Sure, we've got the conservative backlash of making gay marriage illegal, but anyone who has studied history knows that things aren't outlawed until there's a reason to spell it out as illegal. There are no laws prohibiting things that are totally 100% beyond the pale - is eating feces explicitly illegal? See? Bad for your health certainly, like driving faster than 65 MPH, but not illegal.

And when those laws are cultural, their codification into law is usually the last gasp at trying to hold sway over the minds of people who disagree and then the laws are repealed. Seriously. Look at the fiasco that was Prohibition morality was legislated and alcohol made illegal in 1919. By 1933 the law was repealed. Similar cases can be found through history look at slavery, if you like.

Getting back to my point - someone has to begin these social movements and I see clearly how they can be draining and how one can lose heart, especially if you're only taking a ten-year perspective. But that's why other people have to keep social change going. Trends and fads may not last, but they are the Most Likely To Succeed path for changes to our culture look at the fashions of the flappers of the 1920s and tell me that's not a major social revolution in the making. It may not be direct, but it works. And it lasts.

So cheer up Susie I know the last decade has sucked as the pendulum swung back to the Right, but it'll swing back to the Left, guaranteed. Progress may be topical and the real changes may be yet to come, but it will and it'll be better than you could ever imagine, even if it takes another 100 years to get there.

Keep the faith, everyone.

~ Posted 19 April 2006, property of . Please do not re-post without permission.

Columns by Wanton Hussy