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Letter to the Editor: No feminism without sex positivity

By Felicity Phelan     11/1/23 12:37am

Editor’s Note: This is a letter to the editor that has been submitted by a member of the Rice community. The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Thresher or its editorial board. Letters to the editor are fact-checked to the best of our ability and edited for grammar and spelling by Thresher editors. 

Last week’s Thresher included a guest opinion objecting to the 2023 Night of Decadence theme, “NODie Dreamhouse: Cum On Barbie, Let’s Get NODy.” I applaud the article’s authors for their commitment to challenging latent and linguistically-embedded sexism in their campus community — everything around us, even something as silly and salacious as a NOD theme, can and should be examined for carried biases and perpetuated marginalizations. But “Cum on Barbie” is not one of those cases.

The article claims that “cumming” on Barbie  (taken to be a stand-in for women more broadly) “diminishes Barbie’s autonomy and reduces her to an object designed solely to satisfy the cisgender heterosexual male’s desire.” I find no basis, however, for the idea that ejaculating onto a person implies a lack of autonomy or enthusiasm on the part of the receiver; ideally, people of any gender would be able to engage in any consensual sex act without it having any bearing on their autonomy or personhood. I don’t dispute that some instances of ejaculation could hold meanings of misogynistic domination and female passivity for viewers or participants. But applying that reading of the act to all possible “Cum on Barbie”’s actually perpetuates a patriarchal view of sex as something that men enjoy, seek out, benefit from and women passively endure but are ultimately degraded by, rather than a mutually-desired experience of intimacy.

The article correctly points out that Internet search results for “cum on” overwhelmingly display male hegemony over women and thus indicate a patriarchal bent. To that, I would say that pornographic media is going to be dominated by phallo- and androcentrism because media in general, and our society in general, are dominated by phallo- and androcentrism. I would argue that popular depictions of any sexual allusion, including those used for past NOD themes, would carry the exact same undertones of misogyny and female objectification the articles’ authors unearthed in their search. But that doesn’t mean we as individuals, as Rice students or as NOD attendees can’t reject and rewrite the narratives that are being handed to us. 

As America Ferrera’s “Barbie” monologue so astutely discussed, you’d be hard-pressed to find a trait or action that has not at some point been weaponized against women or used to enact domination. These past instances of harm should not be reasons to cut women off from aspects of public or intimate life. Just because sex — or, for that matter, Barbie — has been used to stigmatize, degrade and marginalize women doesn’t mean we don’t have a right to take it back.

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