Friday, June 23, 2017

Fetishization, Attraction to Personal Characteristics, and Privilege

The idea of someone having a specific attraction to people of a certain ethnicity, disabled people, transgender, intersex or nonbinary people, or people of a certain weight tends to be controversial, with many people describing it as wrong.

However, there is one type of person-specific attraction that is widely accepted, and generally seen as normal - gender-specific attraction. So, what makes it different? Is it just that monosexuality is the majority?

Criticism of person-oriented fetishes tends to focus on people who are not part of the group they're attracted to, but rather a more privileged group, and tends to focus on the following beliefs about fetishists:

Well, I can tell you with confidence that there are heterosexual men who fit every one of these traits with regards to their approach to women. And yet, misogynistic straight men aren't generally used to argue that women should only date men if they're multisexual. (And of course, bi/pan/etc men can be misogynistic too.) Nor have I heard many people claim that a man being heterosexual instead of bisexual is inherently misogynist.

Just as there are straight men who objectify and stereotype women and straight men who treat women with respect, people with attractions dependent on other personal characteristics can have the same range of attitudes towards the people they're attracted to. Any time you have a relationship between partners who have different degrees of privilege afforded them by society, the more privileged partner could wind up using their privilege in ways that hurt their partner. It's not limited to those who have selective attractions.

It's also important to note that person-directed 'fetishes' can easily be accompanied by romantic attraction - and that this doesn't necessarily matter that much to whether the person's pursuit of their attraction target is likely to be hurtful or respectful. Most misogynistic straight men are both romantically and sexually attracted to women, and indeed many of the hurtful expressions of misogyny in romantic/sexual relationships are more linked to romantic than sexual attraction. (Stalking, jealousy, violence in response to possible break-up, double standards and isolating the partner from other relationships are all examples of romantically-coded harmful acts that are frequently related to misogyny.) Meanwhile, aromantic allosexual people can be respectful to their sexual partners, using clear boundaries and honest discussion of feelings to avoid implying a different kind of relationship than what they are truly seeking. And there is nothing wrong with having sex outside of a romantic relationship, whether with a stranger, an acquaintance, or a friend.

So the problems with person-directed fetishes aren't due to the fetish. They're due to racism, ableism, transphobia, fatphobia, and other types of discrimination. Prejudice doesn't cause person-directed fetishes, and having and acting on a person-directed fetish doesn't necessarily mean you're prejudiced. But if you're attracted to people with less privilege in some area than you have, you owe it to your potential partners to unpack your privilege and educate yourself about the discrimination that they face.

Unfortunately, fetishes are stigmatized, even if there's nothing inherently harmful about them. And like anyone else, some people who are targets of person-directed fetishes will be prejudiced against fetishists. In addition, having close ties of any kind to a stigmatized group can result in some of the stigma falling on you (eg "nigger lovers"). And many person-directed fetishes are aimed at people that society generally tends to see as unattractive or undesirable partners, which means that their partners are likely to be seen as lower status simply because they chose a stigmatized partner. ("Couldn't get a good one.")


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