back to our regularly scheduled program…
This week I’m responding to L>T‘s request for a post about women and vices – particularly sexual vices. She says, “I wonder how much you think present society sees certain vices/sins, which are considered moral weaknesses, as the fault of women. I am thinking of sex vices/sins, mostly. Do you think women are unfairly targeted as temptresses?”
Why yes, L>T, I do. (incidentally, this post focuses mostly on heterosexual sexual relations, since heterosexism is central to patriarchy; however, it is important to consider the effects on lesbian sex as well, which I do at the end of this post.)
Women hold an interesting place socially in terms of sex. Women’s sexuality is not defined by women – it is defined by and in relation to men. Women are the keepers, if you will, of male sexual pleasure. We are supposed to know how to please a man (right from the start, we are supposed to understand the mysterious male reproductive organs). We are supposed to know how to turn a man on (and it’s our fault when we do, even without intent). We are supposed to be sexual only in relation to a man (lesbianism is frowned upon by patriarchy). We are supposed to stop being sexual when we become mothers, or even wives (I’ve heard of men using prostitutes for “kinky” sex because they can’t “do that” with their wives – and actually think that this is respectful of their wives!), yet we are supposed to always be ready for sex whenever men are (even when there is no reciprocation of pleasure, as often there isn’t). And through all this, we are expected to be passive about sex and sexual pleasure, not have too many sexual partners, not get pregnant unless the man wants us to, and generally not be sluts. inhabiting the space between slut and virgin isn’t easy.
To answer L>T’s question, the idea that women are temptresses is an old one, and just as old is the idea that men are not responsible for their sexual impulses. This is still alive and kicking today – honour killings in the Middle East put all the blame for rape on the woman for tempting the rapist, even when the rapist is legally held responsible – the family sees a non-virginal daughter as bringing shame on the whole family, which of course really only refers to the men. The Middle East is also home to the Burka, a heavy black floor-length hooded cloak with only a small mesh opening so the woman can see. The mere sight of an ankle or a wrist is enough reason to initiate public stonings in some communities. Less extreme versions of veiling take place world-wide, and may include only a head scarf and long sleeves, but the sentiment is the same: women are the property of particular men (fathers or husbands) and if another man should see any part of the woman she is no longer pure – and she is responsible, for it is her responsibility to be properly veiled. ** This is a feminist reading of veiling. There are other reasons for veiling, some of which are political, but the original purpose of veiling is to control women’s sexuality according to the mandates of religion, and is not limited to Islam and the Middle East.**
Making women responsible for male pleasure places women in a dangerous position. First, it prevents women from taking responsibility for their own sexual pleasure. Sex is still defined by penile penetration. I overheard recently a couple of young girls – juniour high school aged, so early teens – in front of me at the supermarket. They were buying the latest copy of Cosmopolitan, and giggling about the references to male sexual pleasure smattered all over the cover without a single mention of female sexual pleasure. They talked about how they were still virgins, because they did “everything but” with their boyfriends, including giving them blow jobs and hand jobs. I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess their boyfriends don’t know the first thing about bringing them to orgasm.The focus is on penises and ejaculation. Many women don’t have orgasms until they are in their 20s – some never do. Understand that all women CAN have orgasms (even some women who have undergone female genital cutting can still have orgasms, depending on how much of the clitoris has been removed – but the clitoral complex extends far deeper into the body than most people think). The women who do not have orgasms either psychologically will not allow it (perhaps for reasons of deep emotional trauma, or perhaps because of societal influences that place all the importance on male orgasm), have a medical condition that prevents sexual pleasure (this is important, although it is thought to be rare), or they never learned. Notice that men are not the keepers of female sexuality. Sex is focused on the penis – no penis, no sex (hence the historical poo-poo-ing of lesbian sex – “what on earth would two women do together?”). What about, “no female orgasm, no sex”?
What is also very important is the flip-side of placing all of the responsibility for male sexual pleasure on women: lack of male responsibility for male sexual pleasure. As I briefly mentioned above, when women are responsible for male sexual pleasure, men can abdicate responsibility for their sexual actions. It paints men as having these wild animals in their pants that they cannot contro, and that they are not responsible for what they do in a state of sexual arousal. This is damaging for women, obviously, because it places the blame for sex crimes on the victims. But it is also damaging for men. Not all men are sexual predators, and they don’t deserve to be painted with that same brush. Some men are very sensitive and careful and respectful when it comes to sex. Thank god.
My last point is about lesbianism. Lesbianism is being subverted for male sexual pleasure. In mainstream pornography (made for men and purchased by men, not lesbian erotica), lesbian sex is not called lesbian sex, it’s called “girl-on-girl action.” It has nothing to do with lesbian sex or female sexual pleasure, and has everything to do with male sexual arousal and pleasure. Even female sexuality that has nothing to do with men is still used by men for male pleasure. Girl-on-girl action can be seen all overmainstream media – it’s on our TVs in the form of beer commercials and Axe body spray commercials every day. Some of my younger friends and classmates tell me about the pressure they get from guys to make out with other girls so they can watch, or dance with other girls provocatively at bars to arouse guys, even if there is no pressure for a threesome – all for the benefit of the male gaze.
Female sexuality is for men under patriarchy. Female sexuality is to be bought and traded, a commodity, and it is fetishized by our society. Women are taught to focus on male sexual pleasure, and as a result, we don’t have the right to our own sexual pleasure, since nobody really gives a shit about it: men focus on their own sexual pleasure, and women focus on men’s sexual pleasure, and so nobody is left to focus on women’s sexual pleasure, save for lesbians, who are subverted for male sexual pleasure anyway.
Like I’ve said before, women’s sexual freedom is very much central to gender equality. How do we as women get more sexual freedom? I say, start by demanding orgasms! And I mean demanding – as in, no reciprocation unless you’ve had one! (only to be attempted in physically safe relationships – I don’t want to see an increase of rape as a result of this idea, that is so not the point.) And for god’s sake, STOP FAKING! Faking orgasms only perpetuates the idea that sexual pleasure is only important for men. Teach your male sexual partners what to do to help you orgasm – don’t be shy! Perhaps this is a movement to be made in every heterosexual bedroom across the world… no female orgasm, no male orgasm!