a bird and a bottle

Baumgaudner Breaks Down Another Taboo

Jennifer Baumgaudner, a creator of the film “Speak Out: I Had an Abortion,” is at it again. The Feminist writer, who has co-authored books feminist and progressive books including Manifesta and Grassroots, has spent a lot of time defending feminism from its detractors (even from those who call themselves feminists).

And now she is at it again. With the publication of her first solo book, Look Both Ways, Baumgardner is going after the cultural taboo against bisexuality. In the book, Baumgardner argues that women’s bisexual exploration is a new (and perhaps final) frontier of women’s liberation. Women are now free not only to explore their heterosexuality, but also to test the boundaries of that sexuality, and to depoliticize sexuality more broadly (showing it to be a spectrum and not a gay/straight divide).

This books is important — and interesting — in its own right. But it’s also important because it is helping create a bridge that feminism has been inching towards for a long time but hasn’t quite undertaken to construct. Feminism, I think, to be successful or even viable today, needs to embrace and explore sexuality as central to its underpinnings and its goals. Some feminist authors have explored sexuality at length (particularly second wavers like MacKinnon and even Butler, though I am not sure she would want to be confined to a wave), but, Butler aside, most of that exploration has been heterocentric and sexuality-bashing. Baumgardner’s book helps highlight the continuing centrality of sexuality in women’s lives, and shows that young women today do not and need not think of exploring that sexuality as taboo. Baumgardner also suggests that a woman’s exploration of bisexuality might help her demand equality in later heterosexual relationships. Perhaps feminism’s next wave will look like a mix of queer studies and traditional feminist thought….

Whatever one thinks of Baumgardner’s claims of the importance of bisexuality, I think we should applaud a current feminist’s examination of “alternative sexualities”; it’s important not only for understanding sexuality but for sustaining – and productively challenging – feminism itself.