In many books discussing media, culture, and sex, the same contradiction is highlighted: our media is becoming increasingly “pornified,” even as we judge and punish any woman who has sex for pleasure. These books then point out the tie that binds the contradictions—patriarchy. Patriarchy is all about a woman’s skirt: one hand is up the skirt while the other points a finger at how short it is. The hand up the skirt is about forbidden fruit, the sin of the body and the woman as vessel of sin, sex as dirty, guilty, violent male pleasure—and establishing male ownership of women. The hand pointing at the skirt is about the sin of the body and woman as flawed temptress, man as weak in the face of his own base lust—and establishing male ownership of women. What gets lost, on this side and on that, is the humanity of sex: connection.
Today’s post is brought to you by Jenn Neilson, the founder of Jill and Jack Kids (www.JillandJackKids.com), a new company …
Whore. The word is a threat held over every woman’s head, a dark promise of what she will become if her sexuality is hers alone. Whore, every woman knows, is irredeemable—there is no coming back from it. Once a whore, always a whore. And if the woman should be a literal prostitute? Heaven help her, because no one on earth will. The word, though it hurts all women, hurts women of color most deeply, for imperialist patriarchy has chosen the non-white woman as the receptacle for its most virulent hatred, its most callous indifference. And this pain is not only metaphorical—it is brutally literal, as women the world over are sold into sex slavery. Adolescent girls are regularly taken for this purpose—a mother’s baby, stolen, raped, called a whore, and forgotten.
The short answer is yes, women can hold and express sexist ideas about both women and men. That’s because patriarchy is sexist, and patriarchy is the bedrock of our lives—so it gets in everyone’s head. And yet, conversations from the banal to the highly intellectual often assume that if a woman participates in an activity or makes a statement, her femaleness justifies her judgments and actions as empowering to women. The logic goes: if a woman does or says it, it must not be sexist. This logic assumes that no woman is capable of holding ideas or taking actions that would harm her self-image or our national concept of free and empowered womanhood. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It feels like eons ago that I wrote this post, trying to figure out where I stood on the “birth control mandate” in the Affordable Care Act, which requires employers to provide all FDA-approved prescription medications to their employees, including birth control. At the time of that post, I was struggling with a tenet of American ideology and law: religious freedom. When employers said they didn’t want to do something that would go against their religious beliefs, I found myself frozen in place, as I used to be when someone said the phrase “freedom of speech” or the word “choice.” These words are very powerful in American rhetoric—they have the ability to shut down conversation that might lead to reinterpretation of their meanings. They have the power to ensure the continued freedom of the privileged while oppressing the less free. To have a true conversation about religion, contraception, and freedom, we need to free our minds and our tongues from our inherited definitions of those words, which are all firmly entrenched in patriarchy.