FemSex at Marquette
The Female Sexuality Workshop (FemSex) is a 12 week co-facilitated, student-led workshop that aims to create a mindful, safe, respectful, and open environment for participants to validate their experiences, challenge their ideas, and learn with and from others. Evolving from long-running courses at UC Berkeley and Brown University, FemSex seeks to bring values of empowerment, diversity, and collective learning to Marquette University and the Milwaukee community.So just what is FemSex? Since it started at Berkeley, an article in the Berkeley student newspaper may be a good place to begin.
Mission: To provide a safe space for exploration, encourage honest dialogue, facilitate collective learning, engage and grapple with the social forces that inform individual experiences, and build allyship. The workshop is free and open to the community.
Workshop topics: health, gender, identity, body image, sexuality, desire, power and privilege, spirituality, pleasure, communication, consent, relationship, empowerment, and more!
Workshop Activities: large and small group discussions, speakers, readings, in-class activities, and take-home exercises
When: Monday evenings, 6 p.m.-9 p.m. the first session is Monday, February 4th. The last session is Monday, April 29th.
Who: We welcome people of all genders, sexualities and sexual orientation, ethnicities, religious affiliations, political inclination, and abilities. All participants must complete an application and sign a participant contract.
Interested in Learning More? Attend an Information Session.
Dates: Tuesday, January 22nd or Thursday, January 24th
Time: 8 pm. – 9 p.m.
Location: The Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, AMU 425
Come to learn more about the workshop, complete the application, review the workshop syllabus, and ask questions. All are welcome!
If you have any questions, please contact Rachel Bruns at Rachel.firstname.lastname@example.org or Claire Van Fossen at email@example.com .
*FemSex is sponsored by the Marquette Gender and Sexuality Resource Center*
According to facilitator Amelia von Gerer, two queer women started FemSex in the spring of 1993, after taking a class called Feminism and Pornography. Inspired, they spent the semester learning to orgasm and later sought to teach a Decal course on the matter, initially titled “The Orgasm Class.”Of course, if women have trouble having organisms, it would seem that a licensed sex therapist would be the person to see, and hard to see how the undergraduates who typically lead these discussions would be much help.
The pair ended up broadening the curriculum to include additional topics in female sexuality, and the DeCal has continued to evolve since then. Today, FemSex is a space for free discussion of power and privilege related to gender, women’s health and sexual practices, among other things.
FemSex students (fondly called “FemSexies”) are instructed to be open-minded, non-judgmental and respectful when discussing the controversial issues put forth by facilitators. Discussions range from views on pornography and sex work to gender-based violence and having healthy relationships.
At Berkeley, the students leading the class all seem to major in Sociology, Psychology, Ethnic Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, with minors in related fields. In other words, they know all about how to talk about how women are victims, but actually know little about sex.
So it’s not surprising that the description goes on to add an explicitly political dimension:
The pair ended up broadening the curriculum to include additional topics in female sexuality, and the DeCal has continued to evolve since then. Today, FemSex is a space for free discussion of power and privilege related to gender, women’s health and sexual practices, among other things.How you help women have better sex by telling them that men are evil exploiters isn’t clear, at least if we are talking about women who aren’t lesbians.
A more complete account of what the typical course involves can be found on a syllabus used at Carleton University, and on a syllabus from the FemSex website a Berkeley.
Some of the entries seem innocuous enough, for example “Communication in Relationships” (Carleton) and “Women’s Health and Menstruation” (Harvard). But most involve hot-button moral and even political issues. For example:
- Porn and Erotica
- Reproductive Choices (including abortion)
- Exploration of sexual practices and lifestyle
- Orientation of sexuality and gender
- Power and Privilege
- Pornography, Erotica, and Sex Work
- Self-Love, Pleasure, and Orgasm
- Sexual Practices and Orientation
- Contraception and Sexually Transmitted Infections
- Power & Privilege
- Womyn’s [sic] Empowerment & Final Projects
At Cornell an even wider variety of subjects is discussed:
Topics include: anatomy and physiology, cultural influences on sexuality, body image, STIs and safer sex, reproductive choices, solo sex, partner sex and relationships, gender identity, orgasms and inhibitors to orgasms, pornography, kink sex practices, BDSM, and more ...If the syllabi of these course suggest some rather provocative topics, the actual activities are far more provocative. The student newspaper at Berkeley gives some examples:
In 2002, Female Sexuality-as well as the male version of the course-faced scrutiny by administrators after a Daily Californian article cited illicit sexual behavior in class. The incident sparked new guidelines for faculty oversight of student-run courses, but both DE-Cals have endured.The version of the course at Harvard was hardly less outrageous. As described by a woman blogger who was not at all sympathetic to the project:
“Some people have a negative impression, but it’s not like that at all,” said senior Christie Santos, who took the course last semester. “The total goal is empowerment.”
For one project, students were asked to pen their own erotic story. Facilitators have also aired pornography clips in class to counter negative preconceptions about the industry’s treatment of women, Raymond said.
“Before the class, I would be really hesitant to use porn,” Santos said. “I think as women, we have a lot of hang-ups about porn and self-pleasuring ... I think it’s really interesting, because it’s exciting, it’s arousing-there is a lot of porn out there that isn’t degrading.”
Speakers in the DE-Cal have included sexologist Carol Queen-co-founder of the Center for Sex and Culture-as well as midwives, porn performers and members of the transsexual community.
The course has also held optional field trips to bondage clubs to allow students to explore alternative sexualities, Santos said.
Some of the topics being discussed don’t seem that outrageous to me and instead are worthy of discussion: portrayals of women in popular media, body image, women’s health, motherhood, and communication and relationships. But another glance at the syllabus and my jaw dropped. Assignments include coloring an anatomical diagram from the C*** Coloring Book, doing an erogenous exploration exercise, and let’s not forget the creative writing exercise—writing your sexual fantasy (don’t worry, it’s anonymous).Of course, one could quite plausibly argue that all these things are worth discussing. And indeed, they are. But the strong emphasis is that any discussion must be “nonjudgmental.” Indeed, an email sent out to advertise the event at Harvard said participation required the “suspension of judgment.”
Each of the speakers will bring something valuable to the table: a midwife, someone from the BDSM community, a professional dominatrix named Princess Kali, a speaker on open relationships, the two leaders of Harvard’s Office of Sexual Assault and Prevention Response (an organization whose existence I’ve lamented in other posts) and sexologist Carol Queen. If that’s not enough fun, there is a writing workshop on pornography and erotica, a guided tour of Good Vibrations of Boston (a women-owned sex shop), and other field trips involving a porn night and a strip club visit.
In the first place, one can’t imagine a workshop that takes a nonjudgmental attitude toward things the organizers really believe to be evil. One can’t imagine a workshop on rape, or drug abuse, or racism that would be taught in a “nonjudgmental” way.
But far worse is the fact that FemSex is not nonjudgmental at all. It is littered with strong moral judgments. For example, Carleton students “discuss ways in which we learn about sex in sexist and heteronormative terms. Personal stories as well as media portrayals will be welcome.”
What about prostitution? What about pornography? The Berkeley syllabus promises to discuss “. . . the taboos that surround pornography and sex work.” Taboos, of course, are a bad thing.
Abortion? What would one expect when a speaker is from Planned Parenthood? Of course, no version of FemSex that we can find ever invited a speaker from a pro-life group.
Promiscuity? A look at the Berkeley website shows featured readings titled “Slut! Growing up Female with a Bad Reputation,” and “He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know.” Of course, from a Catholic, or indeed any Christian perspective, a double standard is a bad thing. But the proper response is not to encourage women to be promiscuous.
It’s odd that feminists think you can stick it to the patriarchy by making it easier for guys to get laid!
Indeed, when guys respond to female promiscuity in the predicable way, the feminists get huffy about it. An article in the Columbia Spectator gripes:
May we remind you that the joke “Columbia girls to wed, Barnard girls to bed” is still not funny? Barnard women have been immortalized as sluts and sex objects that aren’t worth a guy’s attention for a serious relationship, and the tradition is passed on every year to the next generation of students.
Moralism on SteroidsFemSex, in sum, is not nonjudgmental. It’s intensely moralistic. But the morality is a secular morality that says “if it feels good do it,” and “any sex act one wishes to engage in is OK.” Harsh moral judgment is reserved for anybody who says differently.
A woman blogger at Harvard saw this quite clearly. Contemplating enrolling, she observed:
I thought, perhaps naively, that I would be able to participate. That I could go in each time, listen to other women’s stories without judging, and then give my own perspective. That abstinence until marriage is the best way to avoid STD’s and is in fact a pretty liberating thing (I won’t have to compare myself to my husband’s previous partners, I don’t have to listen to society telling me what to do, I don’t have to deal with the emotional baggage of premarital sex). That sex work and pornography objectify women. That women wouldn’t need to be empowered if they stopped calling themselves victims and instead worked alongside men.And of course, a questionnaire that women wanting to lead sessions at Carleton have to submit makes clear the rigid political correctness of the enterprise. The women are required to explain:
I’m not sure what their reactions to my opinions would be. I’m not sure if my views would be tolerated. I wonder if I’d inadvertently violate the contract I’d have to sign, which requires that I contribute to making the space safe and comfortable. But I do know that as long as we’re watching a film entitled “When Abortion Was Illegal,” being told how great polyamory is, and discussing self-love and masturbation, it can never be a safe, comfortable space for me.
What can you do to make sure issues of privilege are addressed in class? Have you had experience working with diverse communities or dealing with issues of diversity/privilege?
Femsex at MarquetteThe program at Marquette is similar to those elsewhere. This is, after all, “monkey see, monkey do,” and administrators and activists on college campuses ape each other. And of course, those folks at Marquette ape what is done on secular campuses (or on “Catholic” campuses which, like Marquette, are not really Catholic).
Here is the syllabus for the Marquette program.
It has a few concessions to the supposed Catholic nature of Marquette. For example, among the “models of sexual behavior” to be discussed alongside “fantasy, kink, fetish, and more” are “asexuality” and “abstinence.” And it promises “both negative and positive views of masturbation.” And they have stuck in a discussion of “Sexuality and Spirituality.”
But then, projects at the end of the syllabus include:
- Cunt Coloring: Color an anatomical picture from The Cunt Coloring Book.
- Affirmation Assignment: Affirm someone in a manner of your choosing.
- Birth/Adoption Assignment: Talk to your parent(s)/guardian(s) about the experience of your birth, adoption, or how they came to have you.
- Erotica: Create an anonymous piece of erotica exploring fantasy and desire.
- Pleasure Point: Find a new pleasure point or pleasurable activity, and write about (or express in another medium) the experience
- Empowerment Object: Bring in something that you find empowering to share with the group.
Quite obviously, a program that endorses implicitly (and often explicitly) abortion, sadomasochism, prostitution, homosexuality, masturbation and promiscuity is way beyond questionable at a Catholic university — and even at a university that pretends to be Catholic.
But even from a secular liberal standpoint, the program is questionable. As a woman writing in the Harvard Crimson put it:
Oddly, the focus of FemSex is purely sexual liberation. Despite the numerous other issues confronting the modern woman, the class focuses eight out of 10 sessions on sexual and/or anatomical exploration. The syllabus seems to suggest that sexual liberation is a woman’s only path to empowerment—funny, I thought that was law school. Where are the seminars focused on women in corporate America, or women in the military? By diversifying its syllabus, FemSex might lose its shock value, but it would be able to address a broader range of concerns and appeal to more students.The image of college women one gets from FemSex is that of whining neurotics. Really, which would be better for the cause of women’s equality: studying to make a good grade on a Physics exam, or attending a feminist hen party to obsess on sex? FemSex, in reality, is the ultimate way of treating women as sex objects.
Even worse, in its attempt to force its members into an archetype of what liberation should be, FemSex’s approach overpowers the individual instead of empowering her. Empowerment is about making your own choices, not about adhering to the FemSex agenda. I wonder how a class member who made the liberated choice to abstain from sex would be received in this group.
According to its information e-mail; “this class requires dedication, openness, willingness to communicate, suspension of judgment, and BRAVERY.” Bravery? It is difficult to understand what bravery has to do with attending field trips to porn shops or listening to a dominatrix give a lecture, both of which are potential offerings of a FemSex curriculum. Bravery would be having these conversations and trips out of your own curiosity, not as some sort of misguided attempt at finding a pre-determined “liberated” identity.
At the information session earlier this month, one FemSex alum recounted her favorite assignment from last term: taking a speculum and a light and getting intimate with her own private parts. Nothing could serve as a better example of FemSex’s misguided philosophy: while its participants are searching their own insides, they’re missing what’s going on outside. We live in a world with those other people — you remember them, the men — and until we can stop judging our liberation as women (sexual or otherwise) by how separate we are from men, we will never be truly empowered.