Feminism and Sexual Empowerment

Women who embrace their sexuality are criticised. That is a fact.

They are criticised by the mass media despite it having sexualised women for the majority of their lives. They are criticised by our patriarchal society and the very people who have treated them as sexual objects.

Unfortunately, women who embrace their sexuality are also criticised by other women. The reasons for this may vary however today I want to think about the way they are criticised by women who identify as feminists. I want to think about the way they are criticised by other women for wearing clothes and behaving in a way that they believe are damaging to feminism, in a way that they believe are damaging to women.

Over the years we have seen first wave, second wave, third wave, and post feminism to name just a few. There have been so many different feminist waves and movements, some more extreme than others, that many ideas of feminism conflict and we can become preoccupied with trying to decide what kind of feminist we are, rather than just being a feminist.

I’ve recently been reading some of Roxane Gay’s essays on feminism and it really prompted me to start thinking about how divided feminism has become. We seem to spend so much time arguing amongst ourselves about what behaviour is empowering to women that the entire point of feminism becomes lost entirely. We have been divided.

Let me make this clear, no feminist is better than another.

You can wear baggy clothes and be a feminist. You can wear miniskirts and be a feminist. You can wear a headscarf and be a feminist. You can have tattoos and be a feminist. You can wear makeup and be a feminist. You can choose not to shave and be a feminist. You can enjoy watching porn and be a feminist. You can take part in beauty pageants and be a feminist.

When I think of feminism, I think of women having the ability to make their own decisions. They are free to choose what to say, how to act and what to wear. Providing it is safe, I believe a woman is entitled to do whatever she wants with her body and if that involves embracing her sexuality then so be it.

The only person who can decide what is empowering to a woman is that woman.

Women receive enough criticism from the rest of the world without needing it from fellow feminists too. I want an inclusive kind of feminism where we accept one another, where we stop arguing among ourselves and tearing each other down because our opinions differ slightly.

Instead of criticising one another, surely we need to simply accept that every woman is different and stand together regardless of this.

We are all striving towards a common goal; we just have different methods of getting there.

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Male and Female Sluts

I was recently speaking to a male friend of mine who confessed that he had two separate dates lined up for the coming weekend. As an afterthought at the end of our conversation he asked me not to mention it to anyone, (so yes I’m writing a blog post about it), because, get this, he didn’t want people to think he was a slut.

A man was concerned about being seen as a slut. I was shocked.

I have only ever met two men who have expressed concerns about being viewed as sexually promiscuous whereas it is a fear that is present in pretty much every woman that I know.

As a general rule, it is women who are slut shamed, not men.

A woman doesn’t even have to sleep with anyone in order to be labelled a slut. She could still be a virgin but God forbid if she has male friends, wears revealing clothes, wears a lot of makeup or speaks to the bloody milkman too often then she runs the risk of being called a slut.

Unfair as it is, a guy can go out and sleep with three random girls in one night and receive praise for his actions whereas if a woman went out and slept with just one random man, she would be called all kinds of names by people attempting to shame her for embracing her sexuality.

This is not the greatest example but let’s just compare the treatment of celebrities who have worked as strippers in the past. Look at the difference between the way the media and society treated Channing Tatum and Amber Rose, (I’m expecting my friends to be impressed that I know who she is), because of their past professions. Amber Rose was humiliated and shamed for having worked as a stripper but Channing Tatum was celebrated and two movies were made about it.

Surely other people are able to see the double standards here? Why is it seen as acceptable to shame one sex but not the other when they are basically behaving in the same way?

We should not be shaming anyone, male or female, for having more than one date in the same weekend. We should not be shaming anyone, male or female, for stripping. We should not be shaming anyone, male or female, for engaging in safe, consensual sex once in a while. As long as nobody is getting hurt, we shouldn’t be shaming anyone for doing anything, ever.

Image via Jamie Noella.

Bad Feminist

“For whatever reason, we hold feminism to an unreasonable standard where the movement must be everything we want and must always make the best choices. When feminism falls short of our expectations, we decide the problem is with feminism rather than the flawed people who act in the name of the movement.

The problem with movements is that, all too often, they are associated only with the most visible figures, the people with the biggest platforms and the loudest, most provactive voices. But feminism is not whatever philosophy is being spouted by the popular media feminist of the week, at least not entirely.

I openly embrace the label of bad feminist. I do so because I am flawed and human.

I have certain… interests and personality traits and opinions that may not fall in line with mainstream feminism, but I am still a feminist.

I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying- trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself: a woman who loves pink and likes to get freaky and sometimes dances her ass off to music she knows, she knows, is terrible for women and who sometimes plays dumb with repairmen because it’s just easier to let them feel macho than it is to stand on the moral highground.

When I was younger, I disavowed feminism with alarming frequency.

I disavowed feminism because I had no rational understanding of the movement. I was called a feminist and all I heard was, “You are an angry, sex-hating, man-hating victim lady person.”

This caricature is how feminists have been warped by the people who fear feminism most, the same people who have the most to lose when feminism succeeds.”

Exerpts from Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay.

 

 

The Time I Sunbathed Topless.

Last year on holiday I sunbathed topless. A friend of mine was also sunbathing without her bikini top on as were a couple of other women, not to mention all of the men, around the pool. No big deal.

At one point I sat up to get a drink and my long hair fell in front of my chest, hiding my breasts but leaving my bare back exposed.

Upon seeing my strapless back, a teenage boy who was around sixteen or seventeen, exclaimed, “Oh my God, that girl hasn’t got a top on.”

I then heard the boy, who was also shirtless might I add, telling an older family member that he didn’t understand how I could bring myself to take my top off when I was surrounded by people. He then blew my mind completely by making a comment about how it was illegal.

This boy genuinely thought I was breaking the law by removing my bikini top. Despite the fact he could not even see my chest as my back was to him, (although by this point I probably had turned around to give him my death stare), the thought of my bare body really freaked him out.

He was acting as though I had just chopped off his grandmother’s head instead of having simply sat up on my sun lounger to have a sip of diet coke.

Although I found his beliefs quite amusing, part of me also felt quite saddened by his thought process when it came to the female body. I offended him without even doing anything. I offended him by simply existing.

My body offended him because it is different, because it is female.

Let’s face it, the naked female body can be found virtually anywhere. Over the years, scantily clad and even bare breasts have been used more and more in the media and now nobody bats an eyelid over using a pornographic image to sell a sandwich.

The female body has become so over-sexualised through advertising and the sex industry that it is now the norm to see breasts on screen and on paper everywhere you turn.

Yet, in stark contrast to this it seems that the breasts of real women, (and by that I mean women who have not been airbrushed or made to look like sex dolls), remain taboo.

Whether breasts are exposed because somebody is sunbathing or feeding their child, (the latter is what breasts were created for, remember!), people go bat-shit crazy because they have no idea how to react to them.

The sexualisation of breasts sends out the message that they are taboo and should be forbidden. We have been conditioned to see them as erotic and wrong but, in reality, breasts are just another body part.

The difference between the male and female chest is nothing more than excess tissue and fat. I actually know men who have larger breasts than I do, yet their chests are not deemed as being offensive whereas mine is. Why is that again? Oh that’s right, because I’m female.

Over time the female body has been turned into something sexual, something taboo, something offensive. I am telling you, my body is not offensive. It is just a body.

 

Image under this Creative Commons License.

Sorry, I Have a Girlfriend…

Like many women, I sometimes lie when approached by men who are interested in me.

I often tell them about an imaginary boyfriend of mine in order to soften the blow of rejection. That’s not unusual, right? Every single unattached woman that I know has done it at one point or another.

Except I’m not unattached. I invent a fictional male love interest in my life so that I do not have to explain to these men that I have a girlfriend.

You may be wondering why I do this. You may assume that I dislike “outing” myself to strangers or even that I’m ashamed of being gay but neither are true. Let me explain.

Over the years the whole “I’m a lesbian” response has gained quite a lot of popularity with women who are attempting to turn men down. Men have started to wise up to this little lie and now will rarely believe it when women tell them that they’re not interested because they’re gay.

Unfortunately, that means that unless you fit the lesbian stereotype this pestering will continue and you will generally end up having to show pictures of your other half and answer obscure questions about her in order to prove that she exists.

So after half an hour or so of describing your girlfriend’s favourite colour, you have managed to just about convince the guy that she is real.

Great news, right? You can now be left in peace and continue with what you were doing. Wrong.

The tiny little cogs begin turning in their brain. Suddenly, “lesbian” simply becomes code for “fair game” and they begin imagining all kinds of possibilities for threesomes.

A lesbian, in their eyes, is this hot hypersexual porn star willing to have sex with everybody and not simply a woman who is attracted to and falls in love with other women.

Clearly, being a lesbian and all, I’m so up for a threesome. Sure, please come and join myself and my girlfriend of almost four years for some sex, why didn’t you ask sooner? All this time we’ve been hoping for a man to come and fulfil our sexual needs and validate us as women.

I highly doubt that men ask women with boyfriends for threesomes, so why women with girlfriends? I am in a long term, committed relationship and when men assume there is room for them in our bed it just shows their blatant inability to understand that two women can form a relationship that is fulfilling on all levels.

When approached by men, I will generally try to skim over details and just say “I’m in a relationship” however, when pushed, I do use the term “boyfriend.” Not because I don’t want to “out” myself but because I’m sick of having the same disturbing conversation with a stranger over and over again.

I don’t lie because I’m ashamed of being a lesbian. I lie because I like to skip straight over the seedy propositions and attempts to belittle my relationship to the part where they walk away and hit on someone else.

Image by Jonathon McPherskesen via Flickr under this Creative Commons License.

Please Don’t Pay Me A ‘Compliment’

Why is it that when we try to pay a compliment to someone we always seem to focus on their physical appearance?

I realise that most of the time a person’s looks are the first and most obvious things we notice about them but this still doesn’t really justify our society’s obsession with looks and reducing people to their appearance.

We see it so often with catcalling, a man will make an unwanted comment on a woman’s physical appearance and if she doesn’t respond in the way he hopes she will he complains that he was just trying to “pay her a compliment”.

Here’s an idea, just don’t.

Personally, I don’t see being told I’m attractive as a compliment. In fact, I find it quite annoying. They can call me a bitch and tell me that they were just trying to be nice, I don’t care. Why should I be grateful that somebody finds me aesthetically pleasing? I don’t owe them anything because they noticed me.

Great, someone tells me I’m pretty. Then what? What am I meant to do with that information? All it tends to result in is an awkward interaction where they hope for my phone number and I hope they go away.

Let me make this very clear. Looks don’t mean anything.

I have no control over my physical appearance. In fact, my face is just about the only thing in life that I can’t change, (without drastic surgery, I mean). So, how about instead of trying to compliment me on something I can’t change, compliment me on something I have changed.

I have two degrees. Compliment me on my intellect. I donate to charities. Compliment me on my generosity. I’m goddamn hilarious. Compliment me on my wit.

Compliment me on my hard work. Compliment me on overcoming life’s obstacles. Compliment me on my achievements.

Do not reduce me to my physical appearance. Do not “compliment” me on the one thing I cannot control.

Image by Jake Stimpson via Flickr under this Creative Commons License.