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ISSUE 117 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/12/2004

Sex on the Hill

By Jennifer Hancock
Contributing Writers


Friday, March 12, 2004

"There's a revolution in my pants. No really, there is."

"The Vagina Monologues" was performed at St. Olaf this weekend. This year's performance resulted in as much if not more controversy than last year's show. Some students believe the "Monologues" promote promiscuity and crassness -- not to mention the moral dangers of chocolate vaginas. Others believe the show's honesty and openness is its greatest strength.

After seeing the play for the second time, I realized that its controversy brings up greater issues of relevance to the St. Olaf community. A show on the subject of vaginas is obviously somewhat sexual, but a show on the subject of violence against women is obviously political. What happens when someone brings together sexual sensibilities and political loyalties? In other words, does a political agenda have a place in a relationship?

If you are familiar with feminist theory, you learn that "the personal is the political," that every private event has a political repercussion and rationalization, and vice-versa. This could not be more evident than in a sexual relationship, where feminist partners strive to forge egalitarian ground in a patriarchal romantic society. Urban Outfitters used to sell a book called "How to Date a Feminist," which was aptly named. In an increasingly PC-obsessed world, romantic partners feel obligated to be sensitive to their partner's political background.

In the case of dating a feminist, partners are encouraged to look at their behavior from a woman-friendly standpoint, i.e. does your feminist partner feel that you are applying the sexist standards of pornography to your sex life? If so, how can you be more sensitive? One man i spoke with, who dated a feminist for over a year, broke up with her because he felt he was "always walking on eggshells." He was convinced that anything he did, holding open a door, offering to carry groceries, constituted sexism and, therefore, made him a bad partner.

Whether it's heterosexist relationship standards applied to a lesbian couple or racist sexual expectations applied to women of color, the personal and political have become inseparable. How do we, as educated people of the twenty-first century, sensitize ourselves to the influence of politics on each other? How do we keep the fun in relationships without being offensive?

First off, get educated. If you're dating a politically conscious Latina, know your stuff. Understand the movement and her background. Secondly, ask questions. If you want to be in an intimate relationship with someone, you ought to want to know their thoughts on political issues. Thirdly, get a sense of humor. Many couples laugh about their political leanings. I am a feminist and my boyfriend occasionally makes mock-sexist comments, just as I occasionally make mock "femme-nazi" comments. It keeps things light and reminds us not to let our political affiliations take over our lives.

But what do you do when your partner doesn't agree with your political beliefs? How do you reconcile your devotion to a political movement with your devotion to a person who resents that same movement? I interviewed a couple: one identifies as "patriotic," the other as "anti-war." An unlikely match to be sure, but they made it work through, you guessed it, communication. When the patriotic partner went to pro-Bush rallies, the anti-war partner went along, and the pair talked about it afterward. "It's really important to discuss things, even if you disagree," the patriotic student said. When asked about the effect of differing political views on their relationship, the anti-war student said, "Sometimes it's hard, just knowing how differently he feels about these things than I do. But I don't think politics rule our relationship, nor should they."

In the meantime, keep smiling and keep it real. Stay sensitive but don't let yourself become a tool of political correctness. After all, who wants to date a social construction?


The Manitou Messenger's resident sex columnist is available for questions and comments on all subjects sexual and otherwise. Contact her at sexcolumnist@stolaf.edu.


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