The emphasis on sexual freedom permitted the taming of radical feminism to fit the capitalist society from which it emerged. If sex was understood as a commodity that women were choosing to consume, then its problematic aspects could be disguised. The objectification of women as sexual objects could hence be replaced by the objectification of sex and even sexualization. Put in operation this strategy meant this: women could choose to purchase bigger breasts not to please men but because they enhanced the woman’s own self-esteem, enhance her capacity to enjoy the liberation of sex. The focus shifted away from the state and from oppressive institutions to the women herself. Instead of taking on the thorny business of how sex itself replicated patriarchy in complex ways, sex was made into a commodity, which could be consumed by both men and women.
The visible consumption of sex birthed a sort of easygoing, pop-feminism, and as the 80s marched into the 90s it was everywhere. Sex and its avid consumption by women was the basis of the hit HBO television show Sex in the City; the character Samantha’s voracious sexual appetite was popular culture’s way of celebrating all the equality that the Sexual Revolution handed women. Feminism, as it had survived in the American mainstream, was sex positive, and questioning whether the calibration of equality or liberation against the amount of sex consumed was not of much interest. Sex and the female consumption of it, was again an issue in the HBO show Girls. In an effort at greater realism, borne of millennial self-consciousness, there was more awkwardness, more gritty detail (in one episode, Hannah, the main character Googles “the stuff that gets around condoms”) but the show did not contest the premise that the consumption of sex, even bad sex, is a central to feminist liberation.
Rafia Zakaria, “Sex and the Muslim Feminist” The New Republic (13 November 2015) [https://newrepublic.com/article/123590/sex-and-the-muslim-feminist]