A woman’s body and the way that it is seen, interpreted, and scrutinized is usually a reflection of the culture that it is in. Western culture will have you believe that in order for a woman to be of value she must be conservative. I think what is important to mention is that men are not the only oppressors of women, but women to themselves and other women. There is internalized sexism, and then there is outright body shaming, and slut shaming done by other women. I want this writing to be less text-booky, and more of an examination of the common experiences, experienced by women.
My first uncomfortable experience with women shaming other women was on the topic of ‘strippers’. I remember a friend saying “I could never be a stripper”, “they’re dirty”, “they don’t respect themselves”, followed by more unimportant denigrating statements, and I remember thinking, “word, I couldn’t do that shit”. But at the same time in my head I’m like “well damn, why she gotta be all that”. I remember going back and forth in my head wondering if women who strip are worthy of the same respect that I am? (as a woman who doesn’t strip) Of course I consulted with my male companion who said they would never date a stripper- and so that steered my thoughts in a direction of me feeling *better* than ‘those kinds’ of women. I went on to believe that there was this unspoken ‘ranking’ of women dependent upon profession, amount of sexual partners, personality, etc. To give an example, I really used to not go out because I thought that my partner would find me less desirable if I went out a lot; I thought that the *better* kind of woman was the woman who stayed home. I wouldn’t form any platonic relationships with men, because I didn’t want to make my partner feel uncomfortable or insecure.
Now through life experience and reading, I am unlearning all of the ideas about how a woman should be. I let go of the assertion that their is a ‘ranking’ that exists among women. I let go of the thoughts I had about sexuality, gender, marriage, family, sex, careers, and its connection to a patriarchal way of thinking. This returned my power back to me. Thinking for myself, instead of using our society’s standard perception of women and our rights, and our power. Now, I view all women (inclusively) as my sisters. When I view them as my sisters, it is a reminder that together we are powerful, and we have a natural relationship just because of what/who we are. We have experiences that are specific to our womanhood, some being a direct result of the society in which we live; I sat with my girlfriends one time talking about our experiences of ‘cat calling’, sexual harassment, sexual assault, unequal pay, domestic violence, body-shaming, double standards, etc.. I never realized the amount of experiences I had with sexual harassment until me and my friend were going back and forth with endless stories about things that have happened to us, and have been said to us. I realized at this point how much we as women have in common just on the basis of being women.
Wow, there is much work to be done.
Thoughts on Internalized Sexism
The thing is, we as women can be many things, and we are many things. It’s not even that we’ve been taught to feel boxed in, it’s that patriarchy has been so ingrained in us, that we have never considered another way of thinking. We followed the blueprint given to us, without a second thought. Some women are so set in their thoughts about sensuality, womanhood, feminism, etc. they don’t even know they’re boxed in. The reasoning for that, at least for me, was the lack of connection, and honest dialogue between me and other women. I never talked about sex with other women, deeming it as something private and sacred. But when I did have that conversation(s) with other women on sex, I felt something had been bridged. Certain things I thought I was alone in, and then I realized I was not. The revolution has and will always be, women connecting through vulnerability and transparency. Outside of just sex and sensuality- our difference in culture, sexual orientation, race and class, is not something that should be used as a way to separate us, but connect us. I feel more comfortable in spaces with women that look like me, and come from a similar background, but that’s not where the revolution lies. When I meet women who come from other countries, and women who don’t share the same politics as me, or who are older than me…I always leave them feeling like I have been taught something. I always feel grateful and excited. Just being a woman, and seeing another woman should be enough for conversation.
Reclaiming Femininity through Emancipated Sensuality
sen·su·al·i·tyˌsen(t)SHəˈwalədē nounnoun: sensuality
- the enjoyment, expression, or pursuit of physical, especially sexual, pleasure
It is defined by me in its relativity to the culture in which I live. I think it is important to understand that sensuality will be defined differently dependent upon the culture in which a woman lives. In most cultures, sensuality isn’t something women have put too much thought into because of the shame, embarrassment, and discomfort that comes along with it. Sensuality for me, is the bravery and confidence to feel and express your emotions physically- especially in a way that is sexual. I think of it as my sexual body language. Being sensual is a radical assertion of ownership over your body.
Sensuality is affirming; It is the bonding of my mind and body. It is having agency return over to me, whereas with sex, agency is shared, and sometimes taken. Although it is expressed physically, I think it has nothing to do with your body and it’s form, but of something that is felt intrinsically. I think too often, women place their sexual desires secondary to that of men. Us receiving pleasure in a way that we would like is an after-thought, a special occasion, or only comes at our request. I find it interesting the dynamic between men and women during sex, more specifically those who have been in a long term relationship.
- A man’s orgasm is priority, even if yours too is important- a man’s is still mandatory and primary. Imagine a woman being priority, imagine you being a priority.
The dynamic is more interesting than I thought as my mind unfolds to the idea; But lets get into it. If a woman’s orgasm was the main concern, imagine the amount of men who would carry feelings of shame, and disappointment when they could not produce an orgasm for a woman. I mean wow, if our culture was designed for the pleasure of women, then more men would know our body’s and its’ functions. It would be a discussion. It would be exactly how our society is designed now for the catering of men, just the roles reversed. What would it take to reclaim our sexual needs as being just as important as a mans sexual needs?
2. I think being honest about your sexuality, sexual desires, sexual trauma, sexual dysfunctions, can all be revolutionary to your relationship, and to yourself. I was having a conversation yesterday and it went like this.
Girl: I asked my ex if she would be into polygamy, and she said absolutely not.
Me: It’s funny you say that, because in the past when I was in a relationship, when I was asked about anything that was outside the ‘normal’ lines of sexual things, like “would you do this, or would you ever do that”, and I would quickly say ‘no’ because I knew that saying “no” is how he wanted me to respond, to keep up with this image he had of me. Now if I was being honest with him and with myself, I would have said well, yeah lets explore that…but I was so scared of the judgment.
If we could release the fear of being a sexual being, and what that means for us– I think it could be life-altering and really liberating.
3. Take up space in your sexual liberation. Understand that their are some women who are still scared to speak about sexual desires…too scared to even speak about it with their friends, let alone partners. The more we express our freedom, the more other women won’t feel the shame and fear in expressing theirs. I don’t do it for the male gaze, I don’t do it for the benefit of men, I do it for me. Just being a sexually liberated woman, and especially publicly, is a political statement- and I have never shied away from being bold, being brave, and being controversial, it is what I was made for.
4. Sensuality as Self Care- Ain’t it crazy that even touching ourselves is looked down upon? Like for real, me touching my own body is shamed. I’m laughing right now too, because I remember a partner asking me like “why you gotta do that, I’m not enough for you?”like first of all, this aint got nothing to do with you!! I am allowed to give myself pleasure. I am allowed to learn my body. I think that through pleasuring myself, it strengthens the relationship between me and my body, and my sexuality. I think it helps me (us) release shame, and the stigmas regarding women and pleasure.
Things I Needed to Say Like Yesterday
I believe in sexual liberation and sexual agency for all women. ‘The freedom to be sexual’ as a woman has to be inclusive because the women who are often left out of the conversation are usually sex workers, trans women, black women, disabled women, etc., the women who need other women’s’ support the most. The shame from other women to other women disgusts me. Some women like to be with multiple partners and some women don’t, and what governs you to judge that woman, and to see her as less than you? It is okay to say that a certain lifestyle is not for you, but in saying it to elevate yourself to be seemingly superior to another woman serves no one but patriarchy. As women we have sexual desires, they are about as natural to us as being hungry- and yet we reject the idea. The problem is not the desire, the problem is the judgment that we place on ourselves for having the desire, and then we project that onto other women.
Being sexually liberated is easily reduced to a woman having her ‘hoe phase’. What do we call this same behavior for men then? Or are they more attractive because they are sexually experienced, and sexual experience is appealing too right? Oh but not for women, I mean you want me to be experienced but not too experienced, otherwise I’m a hoe, and not worthy.
I think the problem with social media is that sexual liberation is seen and learned from Instagram accounts featuring women with plants all around, and crystals, and sage, and she is celebrated for her ‘evolution’, but the woman who has on a tight Fashion Nova outfit, posing sexy with her skin out, is seen as unsophisticated and unworthy (even by women). If your feminism is rooted in being anti-hoe, it ain’t feminism and its wack. If it’s rooted in shaming women who have gotten their bodies done, you can also miss me with that too. If you put other women down to make yourself feel better, you’re also wack. The natural vs. unnatural, the makeup vs. no makeup, the skinny vs.fat, the natural hair vs. weaves, perms, it’s divisive, and does nothing for us.
We need to unlearn the ideas of what we have learned through a patriarchal society, and find what it means for us to be a woman. Independently think of what it is that you would like as a woman, sexually, socially, and culturally- and then be that woman. Be that daring woman to live outside the lines.