Public masturbation masquerades as an act of 'empowerment'

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Just when you thought the silliest thing that US Cosmopolitan magazine had come up with recently was telling women to get their boyfriends to pile refrigerated loose change on their vulvas, a piece written recently for US Cosmo’s online presence has really shot the mag into a new stratosphere of questionable “journalism”.

There’s not really any way to introduce it other than to quote heavily from the article:

“Jennifer Landa, MD, author of The Sex Drive Solution for Women, recently suggested women spice up masturbationwith a public session only you know about (meaning, you drop a vibrator in your underpants rather than going out in public bottomless). [...] My editor assigned me this essential piece of field reporting, because everyone else who writes for Cosmopolitan.com is sane and I am therefore the de facto Earl of Sexual Humiliation. I decided to make a pit stop in the People’s Republic of Hands-Free Diddling on my way uptown to (appropriately) therapy. The train ride from Brooklyn to 57th Street would be long enough for me to make sex to myself and then scamper into a different car like an unshowered deviant.”

Yes, bringing a new level of unfortunate meaning to the NQR LinesCosmo writer Anna Breslaw was commanded to get her rocks off on the Q train, all in the name of… investigative journalism? Empowerment? I would really love to have been a fly on the wall in that editorial meeting: “So we’ve got the interview with Nina Dobrev, the fall fashion spread, an online gallery of Ryan Gosling photos… oh and Anna, can you bring yourself to climax on the subway? 

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(I appreciate that journalism and new media is a competitive market these days, but if I were Breslaw I’d be considering going my editor for sexual harassment rather than filing my copy.)

Like me, The Gloss’ Samantha Escobar is at a loss as to precisely how or why this piece was greenlit, let alone run. She makes the salient point that there are people/readers/idiots who would excuse this sort of behaviour simply because Breslaw is a woman. “Historically (and, let’s be honest, currently), female sexuality has been suppressed. Society, the entertainment industry and the media want women to be sexual objects, but not sexually active; to be coy and sexy, but still virginal; to please others, but never please themselves. For this reason, I think talking about female masturbation is a wonderful thing. But I am very, very cautious about making exceptions for people publicly masturbating based on gender.”

Let me tell you a little story: I was in the park a month or so ago, looking at the roses in bloom, when I accidentally locked eyes upon a bloke having a very urgent toss in the middle of a flower bed. Though I initially considered yelling “PUT IT AWAY, MATE!”, in the end - after he started staring at me and really going for it - the experience was so disturbing that I ended up crying in front of a large pack of tourists and tearily reporting it to the local cops.

Now, had I locked eyes on a young new media journalist giving herself a guilty tingle with a pocket vibe in the middle of that rose garden, would I have reacted differently? Would I have waved my hands in the air and shouted “You go girl!” and marched off feeling empowered? No.

As Escobar notes, with regards to the fact that Breslaw wasn’t whipping it out on the train (and, ergo, the fact that what she did was excusable), “What people don’t know can’t hurt them, right? But then, I contemplate realizing a guy sitting down the train was masturbating and didn’t think I realized it. I would be very uncomfortable. While I don’t think that was Breslaw’s intention, it could have been the outcome.”

Whether or not you consider Cosmo a feminist text - the magazine’s founder, Helen Gurley Brown, certainly declared herself in so many words - this sort of “advice” isn’t exclusive to glossy magazines. There’s a spurious undercurrent to “sex positive” feminism that tries to push the agenda that things like wanking in public are empowering and help to set one’s true self free, and other absolute bunkum.

In a piece on “sex-negative feminism” (buzzwords abound in the new era), Jillian Horowitz nailed one of the major flaws in sex-positive (or, if we take the Cosmo model, just sex-mad) feminism: “Sex is not a realm separate from politics — it is always already political and social and it doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  Kinks are not necessarily harmless.  Even the notion of consent, considered by so many to be a simple matter, is problematic — in a patriarchal society where women’s agency is circumscribed by male supremacy, how meaningful is consent? These issues are purposefully obscured by sex-positive feminists who believe that sex is an inherent good and that to feel otherwise is somehow aberrant, abnormal, a position that should be remedied.”

This Cosmo piece is a good example of this sort of thought process: why not emulate the behaviour of creepy weirdos on public transport that has for decades made us feel uncomfortable at best and violated at worst? Why not put some cold money on your moot? Why not drag the tines of a fork up and down your boyfriend’s thigh and drive him wild?

Or, why not stick a fork in me, I’m done with this “sex as empowerment” nonsense.

 

 

 

 

23 comments

  • In related news, Sweden has just determined that public masturbation is fine so long as it's not directed at anyone specific... http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=702533

    But honestly I have to agree with you, Clem. I don't want to see anyone masturbating on the train. If you want to rub one out on a deserted beach or bush track, go for your freaking lives. But if al fresco sex seems risky or inappropriate, the same probably goes for clicking your own mouse.

    Cleo continues to baffle.

    Commenter
    Red Pony
    Date and time
    September 23, 2013, 8:45AM
    • "why not emulate the behaviour of creepy weirdos on public transport that has for decades made us feel uncomfortable at best and violated at worst?"

      This pretty much sums it up nicely. Why?
      This sort of thing damages feminism so much in the eyes of men.
      Men are not ok with men doing this sort of thing. They are not ok with women doing this sort of thing. To publish it in a pop magazine... why??? and then call out "put we have been oppressed".
      It just makes you look stupid.

      Commenter
      cranky
      Location
      pants
      Date and time
      September 23, 2013, 9:37AM
      • First I was like "WTF!", but then I was like "you know, life's too short for me to care what you do". If someone wants get off on the train then go for your life I say. I'm too busy looking out the window and listening to music to either notice them or care what they're doing. As long as you're not stabbing/robbing/gizzing-on me, knock your socks off.

        Commenter
        EM
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        September 23, 2013, 10:36AM
        • @ EM:

          I'm like you. If I saw someone masturbating in public (male or female) and it wasn't directed at me in any way I would most likely think it was funny and just leave them to it. I certainly wouldn't burst into tears. However, I am an adult and I don't think public masturbation is appropriate because kids might see it. This might be why the magazine article endorsed it in the case of a woman using a hidden sex toy - because no-one can tell except the woman engaging in it (whereas it would be virtually impossible for anyone near a man who is masturbating in public not to notice, even if his penis wasn't visible). By the way, I am a mother of four.

          Commenter
          MO4
          Date and time
          September 23, 2013, 12:40PM
        • Are you freaking serious???? So it's okay for a man or woman to sit in a public place and get their rocks off while anybody, including children, walk past??? Why stop there, why shouldn't people be able to just have sex in the street too - as long as they're not 'looking' at me while they're doing it why should I care?? What on earth has society become.....

          Commenter
          JuJuBean
          Location
          Perth
          Date and time
          September 23, 2013, 2:18PM
        • Hell why not, just put a "Deviant Carriage" on the trains, like the women only ones in Japan. Then people who are so inclined to spank it all they like.

          Can you imagine it, the hand-wringers would have a collective stroke :D lol

          Commenter
          EM
          Location
          Melbourne
          Date and time
          September 23, 2013, 2:36PM
        • "So it's okay for a man or woman to sit in a public place and get their rocks off while anybody, including children, walk past??? Why stop there, why shouldn't people be able to just have sex in the street too - as long as they're not 'looking' at me while they're doing it why should I care??"

          You posed those like they're rhetorical questions. They're not.

          What harm exactly is it going to do children to see real people having real sex? It's not porn, so it's not going to be unrealistic or produce unrealistic expectations. At best, they're not even going to notice, children being as self-absorbed as they are. At worst...well, i'm not sure what the 'at worst' is, not being a parent or a child psychologist. That's why i'd like it to not be a rhetorical question, and for people to actually answer it, in a clear and evidence-based way.

          Commenter
          DM
          Date and time
          September 23, 2013, 4:30PM
      • Just because the article in question is obviously more than questionable, and most of the points you bring up are salient, that this isn't sex positive feminism as much as it is shock journalism. none of that in anyway validates bunkum like the sex negative quotes. That vapid statement questioning consent veers about half a degree away from saying "all sex is rape" and that women have no agency. The frippery of one extreme disguised as empowerment in no way validates the other stupid extreme.

        Commenter
        andrew
        Date and time
        September 23, 2013, 10:57AM
        • Relevant: http://www.reddit.com/r/shitcosmosays

          Commenter
          Markus
          Location
          Canberra
          Date and time
          September 23, 2013, 11:11AM
          • While I don't advocate public masturbation per se, I do find the attitude here a little alarmist and prudish. I felt it was overreaction to the flower bed gent perhaps. For me the experiment is an extreme in making women more comfortable with masturbation. Incidentally, I asked four co-workers recently if any of them masturbated at work in the loos - two out of the four confessed they do, one regularly. A private orgasm on a train is still private. I also felt there was a little too much of lean towards an attitude that if we let women do it, men will do it! So you've made this an issue about the sexual actions of women are tempting men to do no good, itself problematic. Lastly Jillian Horowitz has vastly over-simplified sex-positive feminism to the point where she has it wrong.

            Commenter
            missminute
            Date and time
            September 23, 2013, 12:26PM

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