Sex on Tuesday has been harmful this semester

Read Brett’s response to criticism of his column here.

We are writing to address what we see as a failure on the part of the writers of the Daily Cal to make use of the “Sex on Tuesday” column as an instrument of education and intelligent dialogue.

“Sex on Tuesday” has the opportunity to be an informative and thought-provoking tool for the UC Berkeley campus. Yet, as long as we have been students here, there have been far too many articles written that leave out important aspects of sexual health, reinforce existing stereotypes and address relevant issues in problematic, sexist ways that often leave the reader more confused than they were before reading the column.

“Sex on Tuesday” comes from a campus known for pushing the envelope, and the column has, in fact, gained national attention for some of its articles. Many of the articles in our time here have had shallow, ill-researched claims put forth as factual evidence, however. Many of the articles start off by addressing important issues, but instead of delving into existing research or interviewing relevant experts right here on campus, relay only anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence is flawed, and relying solely on the written experiences of one student is dangerous when put forth as fact. The current writer of the column hopes to “stimulate thought and conversation on sex through an unorthodox perspective” this semester, yet, as a self-identified “heterosexual male,” he fails to recognize or address his privileged position in society, particularly when cisgender, heterosexual males’ narratives and attitudes about sex are the most prevalent in the media. For instance, the column propagates notions of women as objects, denies the existence of female sexuality and female desire, excuses rape culture and does nothing to challenge the unrealistic image standards set for women in our society.

In last week’s “Sex on Tuesday” article, author Brett Tanonaka discussed the legalization of prostitution. We do not wish to take a stance on the issue — that would be outside the scope of this discussion — but we do wish to address the way it inaccurately addresses the causes of rape in our society. He claims that legalizing prostitution may reduce “rape and sexual patriarchy [...]  by allowing people (specifically men) to release bottled sexual urges.” This argument is flawed because it asserts that men cannot control themselves and that their unfulfilled desires are “manifested in vicious impulses.” This is a myth perpetuated by rape culture that is simply a restatement of the old “boys will be boys” adage. Men have autonomy. They have the ability to control themselves and take responsibility for their actions. Unfulfilled sexual urges do not cause men to rape; rather, the societal acceptance of masculine dominance and aggression does nothing to discourage rape, especially for male perpetrators.

In his column “Victoria’s Secret and male body image,” Tanonaka once again brings up a relevant societal issue — unrealistic body and image standards presented by the media — but fails to analyze it in a thoughtful way. These standards have been and should continue to be scrutinized for their harmful effects on all people, but instead he discusses how difficult it is for him and other men to find an average, nonsupermodel woman sexually appealing after being bombarded with images of women he thinks “embody heterosexual males’ sexual fantasies.” He claims, “Many men (at least inherently) have a difficult time separating the media-projected world from realistic expectations. By sculpting flawless women who represent a paragon of beauty, the brand only heightens the requirements women need to satisfy the male libido.” While we agree that there is a problem with the media promoting one singular view of beauty, we take offense with Tanonaka’s assumption that women want — need — to satisfy men sexually. Instead of analyzing how these image standards affect those who are expected to live up to them (in this case, women), he provides an anecdote about how he only found his girlfriend sexually appealing if she wore a “lacy thong” from Victoria’s Secret and not if she wore “Walmart panties.” It’s unfortunate that he was unable to separate the fantasy presented by the media from reality and that he took issue with how hard this made his life and not with the unrealistic standards set for women by the Victoria’s Secret fashion models. Furthermore, Tanonaka himself fails to challenge society’s (unrealistic) standards of female beauty, publishing in his “Shopping for a ‘Casual Encounter’ on Craigslist” article that he was searching for a woman sexual partner of “any ethnicity and no particular body shape — just someone who isn’t too curvy.” Personal preference is one thing, but to display this opinion in a public column just serves to perpetuate our society’s attitudes that women with curves are not desirable, that curves are something to be ashamed of and that only skinny people are sexual.

The columnist’s objectifying attitudes speak to a larger problem in our society’s attitudes about sex: one that disregards female desire and sexual agency. This is sometimes referred to as “the sexy lie” — an idea that ultimately prioritizes female physical presentation over female pleasure and construes aesthetics with sexual sensation. This absurd notion is so damaging to the female psyche that it can even prevent women from experiencing pleasure during sex because of anxiety about how they are perceived by their partner. In a number of articles, Tanonaka seems to utterly ignore female desire or overlook the possibility that a woman could have/take agency over her sexuality. His column about prostitution fails to acknowledge or account for female desire among sex workers and nonsex workers alike in his imagined scenario of legalized prostitution. He does not recognize that while female prostitutes do claim a certain amount of control over the use of their bodies, there is also a large negation of the sex worker’s own desire in such a transaction. In other columns, he discusses sex in terms of what he, as a man, does or would like to do, but there is little reflection on what his partners want or ask of him. This is problematic at best and potentially dangerous at worst as it downplays the crucial role of communication and consent. Our society misogynistically trivializes female sexual agency and desire, and Tanonaka does nothing to challenge this.

Although many of the current articles have been problematic, “Sex on Tuesday” has been and can continue to be an educational and informative part of the Daily Cal. As the oldest campus-newspaper sex column, it’s important that it continues to be groundbreaking, but even more important that it doesn’t fall into spreading opinion as fact and misinforming students with potentially harmful information. The previous author of the column, Vi Nguyen, covered a vast array of topics from masturbation and female ejaculation to cisgender bias and the bisexuality spectrum by presenting research in tandem with her opinions and experiences. Nadia Cho, the fall 2012 columnist, presented her opinion alongside relevant research and factual information about the topics of her writing. From the Affordable Care Act and its effect on patients receiving birth control to an in-depth discussion of what it means to give consent and safe BDSM practices, Nadia’s articles were not perfect, but they did not reinforce stereotypes about women’s sexuality to the extent the current column does.

We are not the first students to bring this matter to the table and express our concerns, but this has gone on long enough. We implore The Daily Californian to hold its columnists to a higher standard. Yes, these are opinion pieces, but with your reputation comes responsibility. We ask that current and future writers take the time and energy to consider the impact of their writing, because the impact of this newspaper extends far beyond the campus community.

Signed,

Brittany Cliffe, UC Berkeley junior

Caitlin Boise, UC Berkeley junior

Jasmine Sankaran, UC Berkeley junior

Caitlin Quinn, UC Berkeley junior

Ferheen Abbasi, UC Berkeley senior

Matthew Lewis, UC Berkeley sophomore

Terah Tollner, UC Berkeley freshman

Eliza Suppal, UC Berkeley senior

Angelique Adams, UC Berkeley sophomore

Meghan Warner, UC Berkeley sophomore

Sofie Karasek, UC Berkeley junior

Aron Egelko, UC Berkeley sophomore

Meg Perret, UC Berkeley junior

Contact the opinion desk at [email protected].

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  • Jashvina Devadoss

    Thank you for writing this!!!

  • svendlarose

    There is an evolutionary reason for all these “cisgendered,” “privileged” things that you feminists hate about men’s sexual preferences. There is also an evolutionary reason for all the things feminist women, and women in general, desire in men. (Hint: Feminist women choose alpha f***s and beta bucks even more than others, as far as my eyes can see.) So don’t knock it. Accept that Mother Nature made men to want women who present themselves as desirable and women to want men who both respect and ravish them simultaneously.

  • Andrew Pullin

    Citations needed, if you’re going to matter-of-fact rebuff Tanonaka’s conjecture.
    I also don’t see the problem of the writer writing from their own perspective, as seem to be the case with previous writers of the column. Omission does not prove purposeful exclusion; the barbs in this response aren’t useful, except for matters of self esteem.

  • Monica Hay

    The comments on this article are appalling. They also prove why there needs to be a better writer for this column. I guess no one noticed the memo at the bottom requiring people to be civil and respectful. If only they would remove the comments that don’t fit that requirement.

    • Nunya Beeswax

      You can flag comments you feel are abusive. There’s a little flag icon to the top right of each post which allows you to do this. People got the power, yo.

      Personally, I don’t see much value in shutting down people who disagree with me. But then, I’m open to the suggestion that I might be wrong about things.

  • Samuel Diener

    Agree agree agreeeeee.

  • garthbartin

    While in a lot of ways, Tanonaka’s writing has left me unimpressed and in disagreement, this response column is unprofessionally aggressive, personal and public.

    He shows the biases of stereotypical “heterosexual male” opinions on sex, and frankly I think he wasn’t the greatest fit for the column, being that it presents itself as trying to discuss counters to the norm. But when you get so aggressive and stuff your article with overused and often hideously biased/connotative tumblr buzzwords you really hurt your image and your purpose’s image far more than you’re helping. But then again, especially as a Berkeley student, I can say that this university is overfilled with pompous overblown and aggressive tumblr culture so maby degrading your agrument with that bullshit will just help you.

    • Mel Content

      I have to admit that while I have my own criticisms of Brett and the juvenile subject matter, a good proportion of his opponents haven’t exactly taken the intellectual high road either and have resorted to the usual PC rhetorical drivel.

  • DNAC101

    I love the column as it is. Feminist ruin everything they touch. But let me address a few things here.

    First off rape culture is a theory. A theory that has been debunked by the largest organization dealing with sexual assault in America, RAINN

    “In the last few years, there has been an unfortunate trend towards
    blaming “rape culture” for the extensive problem of sexual violence on
    campus. While it is helpful to point out the systemic barriers to
    addressing the problem, it is important not to lose sight of a simple
    fact: Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious
    decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent
    crime.”

    http://time.com/30545/its-time-to-end-rape-culture-hysteria/

    Next, when it comes to sex workers isn’t it funny how people other people’s experiences should be and look like. The folks at Sex Workers Unite are tired of people to limp all sex workers into sort of enslaved group who needs rescuing.

    “Twitter hashtag #NotYourRescueProject began as a small convo on January 2nd to challenge anti-trafficking activists who see all sex workers as victims in need of moral rescue to the exclusion of all other forms of labor trafficking. For the next ten days, sex workers tweeted their own truths and drowned out prohibitionist myths and lies. A Thunderclap of tweets landed on January 11th “Human Trafficking Awareness Day” demanding that anti-trafficking activists focus on freedom for “the
    millions of people who are trafficked each year, the children sold into debt bondage, the agricultural labourers who are raped and exploited, the fisherman trapped into working.”

    http://sexworkersunite.com/blog

    I tell the people who dissent on the Sex on Tuesday Columns. If you don’t like it, than start a blog and write your own. But no one need to cow-toe to your belief system.

    And as the great Karen Straughan said, “Feminism: Socialism in Panties” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dm3FlbUf5gA

    Honey Badger Radio: https://www.youtube.com/user/HoneyBadgerRadio

    Thankfully the silent majority is not feminists.

    Up with freedom down with feminism.

    http://womenagainstfeminism.tumblr.com
    http://www.ladiesagainstfeminism.com
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/White-Women-Against-Feminism/380570015376616
    http://www.womenagainstmen.com/media/feminism-is-a-hate-group.html

  • My name is Talky Tina

    Yeah, his columns are generally silly (I enjoy capping on ‘em) — but so have been the other boneheaded SoT columnists (Nadia being offender #1). Would you rather that Tanonaka pretend to be something he isn’t (a non-cisgendered, non-heterosexual dude…oh god the identity politicking/policing never ends!) or speak frankly (including cringe-worthy Wal-Mart panties anecdotes)? Seems like you want him to shut up because–like all fucking human beings–he is not a living embodiment of pure Tumblr-approved social justice values.

    P.S. You used the word “problematic” three times in this article.

    • IAmAlcindor

      Wow, Talky. Lots of hate — no positive suggestions. Good job.

    • Kevin Sabo

      Probably because the column this semester was pretty…problematic?

      • Nunya Beeswax

        I think the issue is the rampant overuse of the word “problematic”. There’s an amusing article on Gawker about words which reached the point of saturation in 2013; I posted a link earlier but the comment was deleted.

    • Chong Lor

      Nadia’s sex escapades in mainstacks did it for me. Call it women taking agency over their own sexuality, it’s plain unsanitary for others who use those public spaces for studying. Draw the fucking line somewhere people.

  • Jordan

    Let me preface this response by saying I think the column brings up some really solid points, and I agree with a lot of it. That being said:

    I’m sorry, I really don’t understand the criticism of the column regarding body image. Maybe I’m missing something, but I feel like this section sought to criticize him for offering a male perspective, which is not something which I feel should be in and of itself disbarred from sexual discourse.

    It seems to me like he wrote a column which offered an anecdotal account of the effect of warped societal expectations of women by providing a story about how he was less attracted to his girlfriend when she was in plain undergarments. Is it fundamentally problematic that he did not examine the effects on women, and instead opted only to examine the effect on himself? Perhaps that was simply the structure of his writing, or maybe the purpose behind the column was simply to express how it affected him, personally, as a male.

    Now, had he set out to say “here’s a comprehensive breakdown of the large scale effects of this issue,” and proceeded to only examine men, then I’d fully agree that his failure to address it’s effect on women would be an issue. But to criticize Tanonaka for focusing on himself and himself alone in a column that sounds a lot like it was written to be either about himself or about men seems… silly? We can’t just call discussions of sex problematic solely because it didn’t talk about women. Some discussions are about men, or about oneself, and that’s fine. While I might agree with the idea that appeals to empirical evidence should be used, is it not possible that he was writing about the perspectives and attitudes of cisgendered heterosexual males from his own perspective as a cisgendered heterosexual male?

    Additionally, someone should have thought over this segment more carefully:
    the brand only heightens the requirements women need to satisfy the male libido.” While we agree that there is a problem with the media promoting one singular view of beauty, we take offense with Tanonaka’s assumption that women want — need — to satisfy men sexually.

    Tanonaka doesn’t say women need to satisfy men sexually. He said that the requirements were raised. He is saying that women who wish to satisfy the male libido face an unfairly raised standard. I’d call this quote mining, but the quote is presented as a whole and then part of it is misread… So perhaps the author simply failed to properly contextualize the phrase “need to satisfy men sexually” in the quote? At any rate, the paragraph certainly grasped at straws when trying to criticize his treatment of the female body image.

    Outside that, I’d say a lot of the criticism hits on some really key ideas and has a good foundation. While I found that particular paragraph to be poorly argued, I think the piece highlights some issues that should be examined going forward, and I agree with the stance that appeals to empirical evidence and fact should be coupled with analysis of sexuality and problem surrounding it, especially in the column.

    • Anonymous

      Rape is a terrible thing.

      But it’s unfair to the men and women in the Greek system to portray women attending fraternity parties as victims of some sort of oppressive environment that’s ‘forcing’ them into sleeping with fraternity brothers. Cal women are free to choose not to attend these gatherings. They go anyway. They’re free to drink and leave without sleeping with the men hosting them. They do so anyway.

      This is the 21st century. Women have sexual agency. Portraying sexually active women as victims who need to be “saved” is just as chauvinistic as calling them “sluts” or “whores.”

      • Jordan

        I really don’t see what this has to do with anything here. Did you reply to the wrong person?

  • Anonymous

    I really don’t see the problem with Tanonaka mentioning his own sexual preferences in a newspaper column about, you know, sex. Dude doesn’t like chubby women and says it, so let’s burn him at the stake?

    If some Cal lady wrote a column about how she prefers guys over 6 feet tall, should like, shorter men across campus start a letter-writing tell her to “check her tall privilege” or some stupid shit like that? No. They should take a breather, stop being overly sensitize little shits and get over themselves, secure in the fact that they can find a special someone who will fuck them despite their shortness. Or they could take it as a learning moment: “Hey, I’m a short, and this girl says she likes bigger guys. I bet other girls feel the same way. I’m not going to get any taller, so I should hit the gym to compensate.” Making positive changes in the face of criticism to make yourself more attractive?! What a concept.

    The whole point of Sex on Tuesday is to promote an honest dialog about a subject that isn’t discussed much in public spaces. Sometimes people will have their feelings hurt, especially when it comes to discussing physical features that are or are not attractive. But wouldn’t most women rather like, know that most guys prefer skinny girls and deal with it, rather than living in a fantasy world where weight doesn’t matter? Tanonoka said something that 99% of guys agree with but would never say in public. He did Cal girls a public service, and should be applauded for his honesty, not shamed in the press.

    • Nunya Beeswax

      As a matter of fact, there was a post to the SoT blog a couple of years back in which the woman posting mentioned that she preferred penises of a certain size and didn’t much care to bother with any that were smaller. She was criticized, she defended herself by saying it was her preference and she was entitled to it, and it all blew over.

      If it’s okay for her to talk about her preferences for men’s bodies, then surely it’s okay for Tanonaka to talk about his preferences for women’s bodies. What’s good for the goose, etc.

  • Ali Arman

    This is SO important. Thank you for writing this.

  • James Hake

    I couldn’t agree more. I’m so glad that people officially addressed this.

  • Richard

    In lieu of what politics writes as equality, today women are still heavily discriminated against in ways that we as society need to figure out how to solve. There are so many different issues to address, the ignorant male writers and their imagined female caricatures being of them, however, the rhetoric that brings these issues to light should not be from an extremist point of view. I understand the appeal of big statistics and big news headlines, but this goes with a general trend of misinformation and later redaction that has been plaguing our news sources today (not in just feminism specifically).

    While the male writers in question are seriously ignorant of gender politics and do reinforce negative stereotypes, I find it deeply problematic that the Daily Cal feels pressured to write an apology for this rather than some of the offensive and inaccurate Sex on Tuesday articles written by women in the past, namely many articles written during the Fall of 2013. I am not saying that this letter is a bad thing, it is very important, but this kind of letter should have been written a year and a half ago addressing the ignorance of a certain writer who soiled the good name of feminism with her personal vendetta against men.

    I cannot remember the name of the particular writer, but among a number of questionable sexist (toward men) articles, her rape statistic one stood out the most (I believe the article was taken down because she slandered a male-pride or something website). The author’s caustic rhetoric against men, setting the tone for the rest of her article, and the invented or, at least in her defense, poorly researched statistics on rape alienate the very people she should want to win over to support feminism.

    Outside of her stereotypes on men, at face value I would have agreed with her argument against rape. Rape is a serious problem on campus. I don’t care how people will defend it, the way Fraternities run their parties are set up to put women in a situation where they will be easy to have sex with– this isn’t always rape, but the way it’s set up sure seems like it. These are the kind of people, the bros, she should be selling feminism to, but since she’s damning men and supporting her call for revolution with fake statistics she’s only preaching to the choir. The people who agreed with her article took it at face value, but those who did not googled the research and found out it was bull shit. Even if the rest of her article had been on the ball about rape-culture, the skeptical and ignorant dismiss feminism because of the exaggerated, extreme and misleading ‘facts’ that are present in her article.

    When you ask the average guy if they support feminism they largely say “No,” because when they think of feminism they think of a dirty word. It is because of these extremist, factually inaccurate and self-satisfying ego trip written articles that we have turned the good name of feminism into something that many men, and even some women, do not want to be associated with. The feminism these people don’t support isn’t feminism, it’s extremism and it has given feminists a bad name. Just because a woman wrote it doesn’t make it scripture and doesn’t mean it isn’t sexist.

    TLDR: Extremist feminism is almost as bad to the feminist cause as the underlying stereotypes and systems that feminism wants to reform. If you’re going to write a letter shaming the ignorance of two male contributors you need to address the exaggerated and caustic articles being sold as feminism that alienate many people from feminism. Those “feminist” articles reinforce false narratives and indirectly harm women by estranging potential supporters.

  • Nunya Beeswax

    The joke’s on you for expecting the Sex on Tuesday columnist to be anything but an exhibitionist dullard.

  • Danny Oueis

    FINALLY SOMEONE(S) WROTE IT DOWN!!

  • http://twitter.com/son_of_guy son_of_guy

    OMG hetero cis-scumz. How dare he not have a vagina! Stupid boyz, will they ever learn!?

    • Kevin Sabo

      Not all women have vaginas, nor do all men have penises. Sooo…yeah.

      • http://twitter.com/son_of_guy son_of_guy

        Um, check yourself. Author/thoughtrapist of Sex on Tuesday definitely talks about his patriarchal phallus in his column!

      • http://twitter.com/son_of_guy son_of_guy

        double post

  • Mel Content

    We are writing to address what we see as a failure on the part of the
    writers of the Daily Cal to make use of the “Sex on Tuesday” column as
    an instrument of education and intelligent dialogue.

    And you were expecting “an instrument of education and intelligent dialogue” from a column called “Sex on Tuesday”? The type of person who writes such a column to begin with isn’t going to be one of the more promising specimens on the Cal campus to begin with. It’s all about “Look at me, everyone, I’m so cool! I’m in college and being hip and edgy, and talk about SEX and Mom and Dad can’t stop me!”. A pure display of adolescent narcissistic exhibitionism, and nothing more.

    • IAmAlcindor

      As always, folks — please do not feed the trolls.

      • Mel Content

        So you have unilaterally decided that criticism = trolling?

  • Sarah Stoller

    Unfortunately this is a long-standing problem with the column: http://archive.dailycal.org/article.php?id=109165. When will the Daily Cal start respecting female desire and sexual agency?

    • brittanycliffe

      Hopefully when enough people cause enough of a ruckus for them to listen to…unfortunately, that feels like the only way to get things done sometimes :/