Today was International Women’s Day. There were articles written by thoughtful well-meaning women and smart indomitable women, coming together to welcome our progress and caution about the obstacles yet to conquer.
I couldn’t help but feel pre-emptively weary of reading these articles. These last few months have been such a scathing beating of American women that I’m surprised women have managed to get out of bed each morning. In fact, that’s why my morning tweets usually begin with: “Every time I “add action” it’s a political statement. Unfortunately now I feel like writing: “Every time I go to bed, it’s a political statement.”
But rise we do, and we must. Perhaps a bit too late, but with added gusto that makes me always want to remind Republicans: women do vote. Of course the question will soon become: which women vote? Because you see, throughout the constant attacks, both sides have paint women into two categories, and it’s always the same: the virgin. And the whore.
Oh we’ve heard this one, I know. We’ve beat it to death. But apparently not. Apparently Rush Limbaugh thought to bring it back out for one last beating. But the sad thing is that in return, our defense of Sandra Fluke was one that only reiterated the virgin diatribe: this white, middle class, law school educated and articulate woman was to be supported. Would we have done the same for an unmarried mother of three? For a woman of color? Would we have reinforced the perfect victim stereotype? We want contraception because we too are white, middle class women who don’t have tons of sex, but are very concerned about our health and our rights. I’m just waiting for someone to say: “We don’t even ENJOY sex!”
It’s the same excuse for accepting laws that circumvent our right to contraception, abortion and women’s health provisions. We become accepting wilted roses of “At least they didn’t…” or “At least they did…” Could we stop with the ‘at least’ mentality? Sure progress is great. But I’m not shying away from voicing my full opinion. Half of women’s rights are not good enough, lets stop justifying that it is. We’ve talked about this before right here at Fem2.0.
We’ve all been rushing to Sandra Fluke’s defense, claiming that just because we all have sex doesn’t mean that we’re all whores. But let me tell you, there are worse things.
I worked for seven months in Swaziland, a country where a woman’s sexuality was not her own. A woman’s sexuality was to be taken, by her husband, by strangers, and at will. With the highest number of rapes and HIV per youth segment of the population, this was no small issue. The one thing I noticed time and again, was that for all the work being done to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, STDs and to educate women on contraception, nothing was being said about a woman’s pleasure during sex. That concept was completely foreign to men and to women. Women had no pleasure and could certainly not ask for some. Sex was for men.
What does this mean, on a broader scale? It means that women are not beings with agency and choice, but objects to use freely, whenever and wherever. If a woman is constantly subjugated to sex without her consent and without a voice as to the actions involved, she is degraded to an object that must accept the wishes of her companion or her oppressor, and this at all times.
But does this oppression transcend the doorway to the bedroom? Of course it does. An objectified woman with no voice or power over her sexuality and pleasure does not suddenly become powerful in social settings and an agent of change in her community involving the same people that remove that power within the bedroom.
A woman is constantly an example of her sexuality, a sometimes unfortunate, sometimes empowering, but always-consistent baggage of being a woman: to be the embodiment of culture, morality, value and tradition. Her sexuality is rarely her own. She is either a body for producing babies or tool for a man’s pleasure, part of a patriarchal bargain or aiming to set her own wishes into action in circumstances that have largely already been dictated by male structures. That is why feminist sex might just be the best sex out there; at least in this context I can make some form of choice based on my wants. On that note, being a feminist does in no way equate to hating men. It does, however, mean that women and men are treated in an equal way, and this equality is highly important in the bedroom. When my pleasure matters and I know that I can ask for my pleasure to matter, this does not make me a slut. It makes me a human being – an equal to the men who have been asserting their pleasure without question since the dawn of time.
It’s tragic that in February of 2012 we can’t turn off the virgin/whore dichotomy. If all women who have sex for pleasure are sluts, who exactly are they sleeping with? Certainly not other women, as most conversation on this subject makes no place for any other sex life than a heteronormative one. Where is the discussion on male sexuality? Oh yes, I forgot. Along with being either a virgin or a whore, a woman is always a temptress. Although a man has control over the act itself, he is supposedly tempted into it by a woman, her whiles, her ways, her wear.
On this International Women’s Day, I want women to be seen as human beings first and foremost. With that comes the responsibility of providing basic health provisions to that very large segment of the population. But let it not be at the cost of denying us our pleasure, our voice, our sexuality and our right to own it. I want access to contraception, but not just because of women’s health issues. Yes, I want access to contraception because pregnancy complications are a leading cause of death for girls 15-19 in developing nations, and when women don’t have access to basic health care like many don’t in the US, this rate applies to them too. I want access to contraception because we all have sex. It is not a recreational activity. Pregnancy, STD’s, abuse, etc. are not punishment for my having sex. And sex is not just for creating children. Sex is for pleasure. And the politics of pleasure expand far outside the bedroom. As a woman, my pleasure counts. And that’s why when I go to bed, I am making a political statement.
Photo Credit: Painting by Joan Griswold