cumgirl8 and the Sticky Complications of Feminine Eroticism

original photo by Emmie America

One of the foundational tenets of modern feminism is the idea that sexual objectification has been used as a powerful tool to subjugate women in patriarchal societies. Women’s sexualities have been used throughout time immemorial to deny women everything from professional opportunities to personhood. While the knee-jerk reaction of the early feminist movement was to triage the image of womanhood and distance the movement from these expressions of sexuality, more modern feminist thought tends to acknowledge this as a futile effort. Modern feminists have, to varying degrees, leaned into sexualization, expressing hypersexuality as a form of empowerment. 

Into this modern feminist perspective comes cumgirl8, a group of multimedia artists formed out of New York. To hear them tell it, cumgirl8 uses the mass appeal of feminine sexuality to draw in initial attention to then ease listeners into their broader leftist economic and political views. Sexually evocative performances and lingerie uniforms are meant to attract casual listeners, while anti-capitalist, feminist lyrics are meant to persuade and radicalize those seeking deeper meaning. 

In friction with this ethos, however, is the abrasiveness of cumgirl8’s style of eroticism. Despite performing in nearly nonexistent lingerie for their sets, despite members being professional models, their Instagram posts and promotional material do not evoke the prototypical beauty standards we’ve come to expect from years of Victoria’s Secret standard setting. cumgirl8 are often wearing abrasive colors and distracting layers, pictured posing in bathrooms of varying states of cleanliness. Photos not featuring the members often show sleazy, yonic memes. As a method of accentuating the female form, this branding is highly inefficient. It does, however, force the audience to reckon with this conflict between the sexual near-nudity and the offputting set dressing presented alongside it. In the words of cumgirl, “we reflect peoples’ discomfort back to them.’’ This friction is what kickstarts the aforementioned radicalization, almost demanding the audience think beyond the realm of pure erotic satisfaction. 

This obstruction and subversion of the erotic can be understood as a reaction to its time. Let’s consider, for comparison, Nara Smith, a former model and TikToker who has recently gained some notoriety for her cooking videos and general “tradwife”, short for traditional wife, content. Smith’s videos are always clear and well lit, in her simple yet unmistakably expensive kitchen. Here, she cooks elaborate from-scratch meals for her husband and 2 young children. As put by EJ Dickson for The Rolling Stone, “She makes the daily drudgery of motherhood and household labor look not just easy, but impossibly sexy.” The comment sections on her videos range from remarks on how delicious her recipes look to how this is Smith “thriving in her femininity”. Nara Smith, with her 164 million likes on TikTok, overtly signals the virtues of a femininity which

thrives on the inequity between husband and wife – something which followers in what some have claimed to be a post-feminist society are very willing to accept. Top comments on her videos frequently espouse beliefs like, “When a woman is loved correctly, it’s a pleasure for her to serve her man.” Nara Smith’s online presence is everything that is expected from women in patriarchy; she is domestic, modest, motherly, clean. 

Nara Smith is emblematic of a larger regressive shift occurring among young women. Though most are not as deeply entrenched as some of Smith’s most concerning commenters, regressive attitudes towards feminism have gained traction over the past decade. Michaele L. Ferguson argues that this regressive shift is fueled by “choice feminism”; a term coined by Linda Hirshman which shifts the focus of feminist action away from the realm of practical systemic change and onto the individual woman and her feelings. As Ferguson explains, choice feminism “aims to avoid taking controversial stands that might offend and exclude and to de-radicalize feminist claims.” With this lens, it becomes impossible to criticize the viewpoints espoused by Smith’s regressive commenters. This is entirely unsatisfactory as a means of inspiring political action. After all, we were supposed to have done away with the idea of the natural feminine inclination towards domestic servitude in the 70’s, no? In this way, Nara Smith’s content and following is the inevitable outcome of the regression triggered by choice feminism. 

cumgirl8 is indirectly but undeniably responding to this moment. While Nara Smith’s soothing voice and unchallenging tradwife-ness is all about fostering complacence, cumgirl8 thrives on discomfort. This discomfort, in the view of Ferguson, is both the originator of choice feminism and the only solution to it. “[W]e as feminists,”she writes, “need to cultivate an erotic orientation to politics, one that enables us to hear criticisms of feminism as pleasurable invitations to learn about … how we might make better political claims in the future.” cumgirl8’s porta potty selfies, lipstick-smudged teeth, and tattered outfits evoke both the presentation of feminine sexuality and the disgusting maintenance of that facade. 

In this way, cumgirl8 work to bring us out of this age of listless anti-feminism and into a new and erotic feminist revival. 

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