“Uptight Millennial” Feminists Aren’t Killing Sex, They’re Trying To Survive

Karol Markowicz, a columnist for the New York Post, published an op-ed yesterday called “Whiny Feminists are Killing Sex.” It is as much of a bummer as that headline portends. That the demand for gender equality is harbored by grumbling lady-losers with cobweb-bedraggled hoo-has is the oldest trope in the book. But the “whining” Markowicz describes in her piece is very different from that antiquated, sexist view of feminists. Markowicz attempts to deflate the necessity for safe spaces, affirmative consent and the demand for reciprocity in bed as anti-feminist. What she did in actuality was write a countlessly misguided takedown of modern young women while resting very comfortably in her own internalized misogyny and disregard for simple journalistic competencies, such as research.

Early in the piece, Markowicz paints an unflattering, example-free picture of what safe space-seekers are like. Here are her grievances (parentheticals are mine):

“These days, women are treated as perpetual victims (Really? Because last time I checked, most women were still too afraid to admit actual victimization). In need of safe spaces at their colleges (Yes, because men keep raping and killing us) so they dare not hear alternative opinions (No, trust me we are intelligent and empowered enough not only to hear “alternative” opinions, but to combat them if we feel it’s worth our time), suspicious of all men as predators (Yes, because, again, men keep raping and killing us) and infantilized by people in power seeking to protect them (And by “them,” I assume she means “straight white cisgender women” because most everyone else is not afforded this same luxury.)

What Markowicz fails to comprehend within her intersectionality-free worldview is that not only are the demands for safe spaces rarely heeded, but that the voices that are being heard are coming from a place where strength and tenacity supercedes our rightful fear. To equate these desires with whining is the rhetoric of an MRA, the precise people we need to seek shelter from. They are the ones who encouraged Elliot Rodger’s May 2014 shooting spree in May 2014 in Isla Vista, California, which killed seven and injured 14. His documented motive was sexual rejection. It takes fortitude to leave the house every day knowing that you might end up at the hands of some antisocial dude who hates you just because you are a woman. But according to Markowicz, young women today do not embody the “strong girls doing cool things” feminism she learned as a teenager in the ’90s reading Sassy magazine. Do you know what happens when you die? You can’t be a strong girl doing cool things.

Markowicz also mentions that the women of Sassy—and, for real, no shade; I used to go to the public library and read back issues like it was the Bible—called themselves “grrrls,” as if it was a word of Sassy’s invention, not from the punk feminist movement riot grrrl. One of the figureheads of that subculture was the band Bikini Kill, whose lead singer Kathleen Hanna is still an inspiration to young women today. In an interview I did with Hanna back in August, she cited the École Polytechnique massacre as one of her biggest inspirations. She said:

We’re still in the age of mass shootings, but this was the time when Marc Lépine, a man in Montreal, went into a technical school and said he wanted to kill feminists. He lined the women up against the wall and shot and killed 14 [of them]. I remember walking around crying and wondering why everyone in my whole town wasn’t sobbing. When people would say, ‘Who are you inspired by?’ I’d say 14 people in Montreal.”

By safeguarding ourselves from people like Rodger and Lépin, we are not killing sex. We are protesting being killed over the perceived entitlement to sex. And in these processes, we’ve become empowered to have agency over it in its entirety, including in the development of affirmative consent. This is another one of Markowicz’s gripes. Referring to it as an even deeper form of infantilization, she mockingly writes, “Now consent must be verbally granted at every step of a sexual encounter” as if this is somehow a detriment to enjoyable boning.

You know what’s not fun? Being really into fucking someone who then pulls a move on you that makes you uncomfortable—and then doesn’t stop when you tell them to. Affirmative consent does not hinder a woman’s control during sex; it protects her from when it goes from being something safe and pleasurable, to crossing a scary, non-consensual boundary. It is an active form of rape insurance. It is also a marker that young women have navigated gender disparities in such a way that will teach upcoming generations how to not be total garbage monsters to each other. Still, Markowicz views requiring a conscientious partner who is accountable for both your safety as anti-feminist. She feels the same way about the expectation that a male partner should also be accountable for pleasure, as well.

On that she writes, “Apparently men are too self-involved and need to provide more in bed for women. The constant ‘men should do this for women’ is the antithesis of feminism yet frequently embraced by self-described feminists.” Perhaps I am wrong here, but this quote belies the de rigeur lack of mutuality in sex that still exists in 2015. “Men should do this for women” does not mean “bust it wide open for me,” it means—assuming that Markowicz has written this entire article through the lens of heterosexual relations and responding as such—don’t just use my vagina as a soft, warm place you’re going to pump your dick in a few times like that is enough. It’s that we’re both in this together and if I am going to do work, you are going to do the same.  

When Hanna sang, “I believe in the radical possibilities of pleasure, babe” on Bikini Kill’s “I Like Fucking,” she wasn’t taking a Markowiczian stand against “whiny feminists killing sex,” she was imposing double meaning onto our bodies, saying not only can you be an anti-rape activist and enjoy sex, you can also have standards that need to be met in the boudoir without any need to be apologetic about it.

We don’t need to be apologetic to Gen-Xers who can’t see what is being accomplished here. Who think their Sassy mag icons are more important than people like Amber Rose, whose recent L.A. Slutwalk was the synthesis of both rape protest and sexual empowerment rally. Or that we don’t have female-outfitted bands who carry on the legacy of the “grrrls” Markowicz seems to think we’ve never heard of. (Seriously, lady, check out White Lung’s Deep Fantasy, which tackles both believing survivors and liking submissive sex as a feminist. And you know what? Beyoncé’s last album does a lot of that, too.) The women that Markowicz aimed to take down are not looking for regressive treatment. Instead, we are seeking an actualized, pro-sex will to self-preservation. We are the ones with the Male Tears mugs on our desks, but still down to bust it wide open for a real one on a Saturday night. We are not whining, we are commanding our voices without denying ourselves our wants. And this is too vital to our survival to let flippant dissent get in our way.

Markowicz ends her piece with, “Women need to step up and take responsibility for their own pleasure, just as men do, and not wait for men to provide it for them.” What she has failed to realize is that with all of these measures, we are charting a path toward equality. We are not ceding our control, we are dictating more. She says that we are the ones rigging the game and that we are losing. But after that piece, the only thing we’ve lost is dead weight in a fight that we never needed anyway.

Claire Lobenfeld is a music critic and culture writer based in New York.