Now, I’m going to discuss the sexism inherent in telling women they’re not really asexual.
It’s true that the misogyny in which we all exist shapes our choices, and that no choice is made outside its influence. If I said, “I’ve decided I want to drop out of graduate school and find a nice breadwinner to support me and stay home full-time raising his two point five children while baking every day and putting on heels and pearls to meet my husband at the door with a martini, and this has nothing to do with misogyny because it’s my choice,” people would be justified in their skepticism; this hypothetical choice (while not a choice that wins, because no choice a woman makes can win in the patriarchy) is a choice that plays right into some very strong stereotypes about women.
It’s also true that even our perception of our own sexuality is shaped by the patriarchy, and it can be hard to determine what is a genuine desire and what has been written onto us. For women who have desires that seem to “cooperate with the patriarchy,” this can create a lot of conflict about how to embrace their desires in a healthy way.
With these two things being true, however, anyone who wants to tell a woman that her sexuality is false, or unduly shaped by patriarchal stereotypes (because no person escapes this shaping entirely), is treading very near to enacting a misogynistic narrative of their own. Telling a woman that her sexuality is not what she says it is plays along with a narrative that suggests women are never really mature enough to know themselves, and that they need some kindly stranger to instruct them, whether about what to wear or how to smile or what to eat during pregnancy or what their sexual orientation is. Telling a woman she’s wrong about her own sexuality plays into a narrative where what women know about themselves doesn’t matter, because who they are and what they want are irrelevant as long as they play along with the script. It’s possible to do it well… but it’s not likely to happen. An outsider might be able to more clearly see the cultural forces to which a woman is subjected than the woman herself, but their potential for more unbiased perception in one area is balanced by an inability to perceive what’s in the woman’s own mind.
To argue that a woman’s sexuality is the result of patriarchal forces, you must be able to argue that that sexuality falls in line with patriarchal norms, and as I have previously discussed, asexuality is not a “patriarchy-approved” female sexuality. Applying standard criticisms of choice feminism to a woman’s sexuality also runs into the further and larger problem that sexuality is not freely chosen. There’s debate about the extent to which sexual orientations are inherent, but most people (at least in my cultural context) who aren’t conservative Christians agree that one’s sexual orientation is largely or entirely not a matter of choice. You cannot logically criticize a woman for her choice on a matter in which she had little or no choice.
I know that I didn’t choose to be asexual. I don’t know if I was “born this way,” but I was “this way” by the time I was a teenager, and when I discovered the concept of asexuality, many years later, a lot of things from my adolescence suddenly made sense. What I have chosen is to accept my asexuality. I’ve chosen to accept that there is nothing wrong with me and that I am not repressed or broken. I’ve chosen to accept and affirm that, even though I live in a patriarchal society and my experiences are shaped by misogyny, I have enough agency to know my own desires; I am as able as a straight woman, a bisexual woman, a pansexual woman, or a lesbian to discern my own sexual orientation. I’ve chosen to accept that I do not need to have lots of (undesired, unenthusiastic) sex, or violate my own boundaries, in order to discover my “real” orientation.
These are the choices I have made, and on these, I both welcome and defy criticism. If you have a problem with these choices that I have made, or with the similar choices of any other asexual woman, I suggest you consider, deeply, what the alternative would look like.
Note: While I did not end up quoting Cliff Pervocracy in this entry, I want to thank her for putting some vague ideas and feelings I’d been having into very clear and concrete words.