“This was the eighties, when sex with a near stranger seemed feminist and daring, not self-harming and slutty. Actually, you know, in truth it’s probably all those things.”
(Mary O’Connell, The Sharp Time)
It’s awesome how this quote describes briefly yet accurately how attitudes towards sexual behavior change over time.
And why does it matter?
Because there are still way too many people out there who believe that there is a formula of some kind that prescribes how people should behave when it comes to sex and all things related. And they get very cranky when someone does not follow the path, especially when that somebody happens to be a woman.
Now, it’s no secret that our society has always had stricter rules for female sexuality. Historically, men could get away with much more than women. The fact that English doesn’t even have a male equivalent for the word “slut” is a big testimony to that. Men can do whatever they want and they don’t get labeled. Women, on the other hand…
One might wonder why, if I feel that way, became so alienated from the feminist movement. Feminists are supposed to fight for female liberation, right? And being liberated surely means being able to make one’s own decisions about one’s body without fear of judgment?
American attitudes toward human sexuality remain a never-ending source of frustration for me, because they are very conservative compared to Europe. What does fascinate me to no end though is how even those folks, who are supposed to actively fight for gender equality (like for example feminists – or multiculturally sensitive counselors), are convinced that they know exactly how all women should behave, and they are not afraid to call out every woman who for whatever reason doesn’t not submit to their rules.
I can’t quite believe it myself but it was all that hullaballoo about Miley Cyrus and her music videos that first inspired me to write this post.
Don’t take me wrong - before the (in) famous MTV Video Music Award performance, I was barely aware that Miley Cyrus existed. I don’t listen to popular music (I’m either an opera, or a heavy metal girl, depending on the day, thank you very much), and even if I did, I wouldn’t care what Miley Cyrus does with herself in her videos. (The public obsession with celebrities is one of the life mysteries I have yet to solve.) But after she did all that VMA twerking, people wouldn’t shut up about it on Facebook and so I felt obligated to google up the video to see what the fuss was all about.
To be honest, I was a little surprised that it was Miley who got the entire bad rap, because yes, it was her wiggling her ass around, but it was Robin Thicke, who was singing a song that basically glorifies a date rape. But hey, if the public is more concerned about the state of Miley’s bum than about the lyrics, be my guest – it’s live and let live, right?!
So I was ready to forget the whole thing, except that ever since it seems like everyone out there is concerned about Miley and her morals, and I’m getting a little tired of it, because to me, in the end it’s not about Miley. It’s about history repeating itself in that sense that us chicks are not allowed to express our sexuality as we see fit, because people around us are only too ready to pounce on everyone who doesn’t fit into their neat little box.
Yes, I do get that Miley Cyrus is a celebrity and that if she decides to do a performance like this in public, she has to count on the public reacting to it. But I find a little strange when people, who by default are supposed to be more accepting and open-minded than the average Joe (for example future counselors), show the same level of judgment that I would expect from a member of Westboro Baptist Church.
I’m a very opinionated person; that is, after all, one of the reasons why this blog exists :) But never ever in my life I would dare to assume that I’m qualified to make a decision for ALL women it the world about how they should live, sexually or otherwise. When a Facebook friend shares Sinead O’Connor’s letter to Miley and adds a comment that all the women who base their value exclusively on sex need to read it and wake up because we as women are not meat for men to play with, and that we don’t need to reference our bodies and/or sexual appeal; all I want to do is to scream that as far as I’m concerned, the only person who has the right to make a decision about whether I reference my sex-appeal is me and me alone, NOT anybody else - and certainly not Sinead O’Connor.
Why is it such a problem to understand that we are all different and that it’s okay? Just like the quote on the top says, one behavior can have two different meanings for two different people - and don't even get me started on how our perception of sex change not only over time, but also under the influence of whoever just happens to have the political power. (I can sense another column coming right up!)
But O’Connor’s letter is NOTHING compared to this gem that, alarmingly, was also shared on Facebook by a counseling colleague. And what worries me even more is that said colleague actually liked the article; a piece written by a female expert who perceives herself as qualified to decide what kind of women will get married and what kind will not. When it comes to singling out the wrong kind, she has no mercy, this Ally Batista (a self-proclaimed “housewife in training”) – the message of her article (by the way, very poorly written), is as follows: “If you are not behaving like I think that all women should, then you are a dysfunctional slut."
What the hell!?
A slut-shaming in its worst. Apparently NOTHING has changed in our (supposedly) equalitarian society compared to the patriarchal past; when you are a woman, you better behave, or else!!! If you dare to make a decision about your sexuality that are not approved by me, than you are “disrespecting yourself” and I feel justified to call you a “slut” and a “bitch” at will. The idea that you might simply have a different life philosophy than me when it comes to sexuality doesn’t even cross my mind, because I am clearly the only person who can decide what is acceptable and what not!
Nice, isn’t it?! But the fact that a person like Ally exists (and unfortunately, writes) doesn’t bother me as much, because it’s not exactly news to me that people like her are out there. What I find more ironic that I, who is currently at odds with most of my multiculturally sensitive colleagues when it comes to gender issues, because I often find their arguments about female oppression in America petty, am apparently also the one who is willing to give other women the freedom to make their own choices without labeling them or judging them.
So tell me honestly, in the end, WHO is more oppressive here: A person who has her mouth full of gender equality but is ready to throw a stone when another woman dares to show more skin than she approves of, or a person who might not have the need for feminism in her life, but is perfectly willing to give other women their freedom to choose how they want to live?
You tell me, my dear reader!