Sex and the Double Standard

Since yesterday was the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I read a lot of articles discussing how important reproductive rights are to the lives of women.  One that really struck me was an article written by Lizz Winstead at the Huffington Post called “Abortion is a Medical Procedure”. Winstead writes:

“Of course, those are the sluts like me: Unmarried women who are stigmatized because we choose to have enjoyable, non-procreative sex, a concept that is hideous and freakish and out of the mainstream. And to ice the slut cake, if our birth control fails, we may choose to have an abortion.

Actually, I am surprised they haven’t started spelling it, abwhoreshun.

Yes, women like me are called whores and worse, when, if an accident happens and we choose abortion, we don’t offer the proper amount of remorse and contrition.”

I quoted that particular section because it is perhaps the motivation behind this post. I’m not foolish enough to think that my words might convince anyone to believe in the right to choice if they believe otherwise. This is one of those arguments where nobody wins, and it can turn into an ugly battle of words that just leaves everyone with an awful taste in our mouths.  (On that note, please remember that I welcome comments, but reserve the right to block any comments that attack others or are disrespectful of my readers)

No, my discussion today goes back to an argument I’ve made in the past, words matter and words have power.  I learned that in a different matter this week, when United Airlines agreed to refund the fare difference after my somewhat public display of anger at the way I was treated, which resulted in many of you joining your voices with mine and several e-mails and letters. Words won that battle (but I still will try to fly other airlines as the money doesn’t really make up for how I was treated).

[Update: I am leaving this passage in and crossed out because I just found out they only gave me a refund of $82.88 on my $205.06 extra costs. NEVER FLY UNITED!]

In that small instance, words had (a miniscule amount of) power.

But they always do, which is the subject of this post. This morning, a few questions began to float around my head, based on all the articles and videos I watched yesterday.

  • Why is it that, if a teenage girl has sex, especially if she becomes pregnant, she is labeled as whore, slut, etc. while the male part of the equation is called . . . (drumroll) . . . the father of the child?
  • Why is that a young woman who has been raped or molested is labeled as asking for it, whore, slut, etc. while the male perpetrator (unless actually convicted) is called . . .(drumroll) . . . the accused, a star athlete who made a mistake, a misguided youth, and (if the young woman becomes pregnant) the father of the child?
  • Why is it that there have been hundreds of movies where the main premise is the guy intends on getting laid, and sometimes will even go so far as to buy a prostitute to help him lose his virginity, and they usually go after women who may be called whore, slut, prostitute, etc? There are some movies where the women set out to do the same, but somehow the men in those pictures (at least the one that the woman hooks up with) don’t come off as players in any way, or if they do it doesn’t remain a negative.
  • Why is it that women who speak up about the rights of women–the right to reproductive choice, equal pay, and equality under the constitution–are sometimes labelled whore, slut, bitch, hag, etc? Vocal men usually don’t get similar labels placed on them (except the most extreme ones like Rush Limbaugh, but even then the terms don’t seem quite as ugly).

I could go on and on with this list, but the point is that there are not really terms applied to males that are as derogatory as those applied to females. I mean, I suppose a male could be called a “man-whore” but that still implies that whoredom lies in the realm of women.

Let’s face reality folks. It takes two people to have sex! I’m not talking about self-pleasure and other things. I’m aware of those. But, it takes two people for a girl to gain a reputation. It takes two people for a woman to become pregnant. In the reality of sexual behavior, the male has to take the more active role. A woman can lie there, but a man has the appendage that does the work. So why then, is all the negative terminology about sexual behavior aimed at the woman?

The answer is simple, words have power. As long as we continue to allow these words their negative connotations nothing will change. As long as the men who want to to stay in power (I’m not saying all men, I mean the ones who use this language on a regular basis) continue to label women with these words, nothing will change. As long as women continue to call other women by these words, nothing will ever change.

I turn again to a quote from Lizz Winstead’s article:

And to all the people who claim we shouldn’t talk about abortion, or even say the word abortion because you claim it will be used against us by those aforementioned haters:

That is true only if we let them.
We must stop letting them control the language around this issue. They are trying to control everything else and I say no more.
I am taking back the word abortion.

Words have power, so how can we use that power to claim the rights of everyone to be happy, healthy, independent, sexual beings?

Let’s reclaim the words.

Learning the Power of Words: Words and Power

I just read a post called “Why Are Women Letting Men Wage a War Against Them? Cut Them Off, Ladies!” after Good Ole’ Woody linked my post from yesterday to his. In it, he too mentions the “deny sex” option. That made me laugh.

However, as I was reading, I suddenly became very aware of the dangerous power of language and our choice of words. I felt that power surge through me yesterday, as I tried to craft a piece of writing I could be proud of that truly spoke from my heart.  I am, indeed, proud of that post.It seems I always write my best posts on Fridays, when fewer people read. But that’s not what I want to talk about.

In the above post, Good Ole’ Woody wrote:

“Men, women are smarter than you. Let them control their bodies. Let them be involved federal conversations about laws which affect them.  Let women have the leading voices.  Experts agree: We would be a better country if women ran it. We, men, cannot look with pride on what we have done to America. Yes?”

Now, while I agree with the sentiment of this statement, I found myself stumbling over the choice of words. “Let them . . . Let them . . . Let them . . . ” When we let someone do something, it implies that we have the power to stop them, and we give over that power. Women are indeed, and have been for a long time, letting men control the reins. However, men shouldn’t have to “let us” take control over issues that concern not only our bodies and our freedoms but the very future of our country.

This is by no means a criticism of Good Ole’ Woody’s post. I admire and am wowed by the men who recognize that women are their equals if not their betters, and that this whole situation is ludicrous. I only use this as an example of the dangerous power of words, and the danger of using words for power. Like it or not, our language guides our perceptions. In languages like Japanese, the power dynamics of male vs. female become more evident, when even the characters show dominance and power.   For example the Kanji for man combines the characters for rice field and power:

The kanji for “wife” in Japanese (Kanai), combines two kanji 家内. The first represents house, the second inside. The symbol for “husband” 主人 is even more demeaning to women, combining the symbol for “lord, chief, and master” with “person.”

I am not trying to teach a Japanese language lesson, but using what little I know of the language and its construction to show how deeply language can affect perception in any culture. English is no different. The words we choose to use can unintentionally establish dominance or weakness.

I have begun to find my voice in writing, as I keep returning to writing things about and for women, justice and equality. Sometimes I fear I come off as a man-hater, although I never intentionally lump all men in one lump. Sometimes it seems like I cannot avoid making sweeping statements about groups of people, when I know that individuals within certain groups do not represent the whole. I am limited however, by words. It can become utterly unwieldy to try to write in completely non-judgmental, non-gendered language.

The limitations of language can be frustrating, especially for someone who loves to write.

I won’t let it stop me though. I will just be much more conscious as I craft my words, so that I can be heard and understood.

I Have Something to Say!!!

Warning! This is a statement about politics, religion, female issues and sex! Read at your own risk!

I am a woman, and my voice deserves to be heard.

Do you believe women have a right to be heard? Then why aren’t there more women out there screaming about what is happening in our society?

Where are modern day feminists? Being feminist is not a bad word. It means that you believe that people are people no matter whether they have a penis or breasts.

I am a feminist. I believe that women can do anything men can do, except for a few limitations based on biology. We don’t grow as big as men. We aren’t quite as strong. But what we lack in physical strength we make up for in intelligence, talent, stubbornness, and the ability to withstand pain.

So why are so many people trying to push us down? And, more importantly, why are we letting them?

I don’t care whether or not you are pro-choice or anti-abortion. I don’t care whether you are Republican, Democrat or something else. The issues have moved beyond that. This is about power. It is about control.

Control our bodies, control our ability to make decisions about when and how we have children, limit our access to justice when we are raped, control our choices about whether or not we work–and you have made us second-class citizens. Again.

This is what some men want. Why? Because they are afraid of our power. What would happen if women joined together in true feminine power to stand up for what is right? For justice, equality, kindness and sensitivity.

I’ll tell you what would happen, if we can learn to support each other as women rather than tear each other apart because of difference:  the world would become a better place, and men would lose control.

It’s all about power. It’s all about control.

Perhaps you believe that women should be subservient to men, or that the Bible or some other religious tome tells you to behave certain ways or believe certain things. You have a right to your beliefs, but don’t I have a right to mine? This country was made (after destroying the Native American Peoples) because groups of people from all over the world wanted the right to believe as they pleased. What happened to that idea?

Perhaps these books came from a religious source, a God, but they were written down by MEN. The ideas, the rules, the practices were all interpreted by men. The possibility of misinterpretation or intentional misinterpretation can’t be ignored.

Doesn’t that give us something to think about?

Believe what you want. That’s fine. But I want more for my daughter. I want her to grow up knowing that she has a voice in our society, and that she has control of her body. True story, I have been on birth control since I was 16 years old. Go ahead, call me a slut, but here’s my reality– I did not lose my virginity until I was 24 years old. Then why was I on birth control? Because my periods were debilitating, and I could not function without regulating them.

Lose access to birth control, and you are going to see a lot more bitchy women out there.

I also lost a child. I blamed myself because I had started taking an anti-depressant that was not for pregnant women before I knew I was pregnant.  I was crushed! I was devastated. Yet, some of the laws being pushed today would have made that time of my life even worse, because I could have been accused of murder. Miscarriages happen all the time, but if some of the laws pass, women who cannot prove it was accidental can be charged with murder.

Yet, a man who rapes a woman and impregnates her may get off, because this society often blames the victim.

This is no longer about who is the President, or who controls the budget or any of the other divisive party issues out there. This is about freedom and it is personal.

It’s time ladies and gentleman, to stand up for equality for ALL. Women, men, gay, lesbian, transgender, black, white, hispanic, mixed race. It doesn’t matter. We can no longer sit by quietly and let a few pompous, wealthy, arrogant white men clutch to their power and their own fears while making everyone else a second class citizen.

We seem to be lacking in the leadership of women like Gloria Steinem and others who led the feminist revolution. But, we have something they did not, we have the power of social networking. Revolutions have begun because of Facebook and Twitter, isn’t it time for us to stand up against these vicious attacks?

Stand together as women. Stand together with us, men who recognize that women are partners. Don’t let political parties and religion push us back into subservience.

This is my rallying call! If you support it, pass it on or write your own.

I am a woman, and I demand to be heard.

Here are some other posts you should read . . .

Caitlin Kelly at Broadside wrote this post which inspired me to write out my own frustration.

This post, from a (former) Republican, lists many of the attacks being made against women, and why that is so problematic.

Defined by Breasts

“She was outraged at the thought that people would even consider that the letters might not be from Mariana, and I thought of the times when, as women, we are not heard and how after 300 years, Mariana, whose words have changed so many lives, is not allowed the most basic of rights, to claim her own voice.” (Myriam Cyr, “A Note from the Author,” Letters of a Portuguese Nun, xii)

“Be prepared,” my friend Jackie said as we sat working on projects in her fabulous Blue Box Art Studio. “Some artist think that you can only really be an Artist if you’ve taken the proper technique classes, and they will also judge you as a woman.”

I’m just dipping my toe into the world of art right now, and I’m really not doing it because I want to be known as an “artist”. Projects, words, and ideas have all been flooding into me lately, and I’m simply embracing them and then finding ways to express them. This personal journey that I am on is exciting and terrifying and opening me up to so many possibilities.  I don’t really care if  Artists (with a capital A) think what I am doing is Art.

I can’t say the same thing, however, about the Woman issue. If you read my recent post called The Power of Women’s Voices you know that I am fascinated by the stories of women who have pursued their passions and dreams despite society’s expectations. In that post I talked about women historically, but more and more I have come to realize that nothing has really changed for women.

I know, I know. Women hold higher positions throughout the world and have more equality, and yada, yada, yada. But, the reality lies in a subtle manipulation of language that does not allow women to be equal. A woman is almost always defined by her sex: a woman writer, a female artist, a congresswoman, the first woman to run for president. (Yes, yes, I know–Obama will forever be known as the first black president. This subtle manipulation of language to assert power or difference is not exclusive to the description of women).

So, I suggest we change this by our own manipulation of language. How, you ask? Well, here are some examples that have popped into my head:

  • William Shakespeare, perhaps the most well-known non-female playwright of his time . . .
  • Hilary Clinton, who served as Secretary of State under the male President Obama
  • Non-female talk-show host, David Letterman swapped jibes with Ellen the other day, and of course lost (Now . . . I’m making all of this up folks, as examples. This is not intended as a serious statement of fact.)
  • One of the funniest non-female bloggers Mark (aka The Idiot) battles Tori Nelson to a duel of witty banter causing a medical emergency as blog readers every keel over with extreme fits of laughter and tears.  (Okay, I’d really like to see that).
  • The Tony Award goes to newcomer Lisa Kramer who defeats the better-known non-female directors . . . (I told you this is fiction, now bordering on fantasy)

I hope you get my point by now. If we turn the tables, will it reverse the expectations of what is the “norm” or the “ideal”? Or do we continue to stand by and let the “norm” be defined as “white, male, heterosexual etc.” which we all know is a fallacy of the highest order. As long as we continue to define people by their gender/sexual identity/race we reinforce the perception that somehow only certain people define the norm.

So, now I’m moving on to the more “serious” or academic part of the discussion. Feel free to stop reading if you would like, although I hope you won’t. After all, despite the fact that I am a woman, sometimes I actually have valuable insight.  😉

I realize there is value in identifying ourselves by our gender, our sexual identities, our races, and our religions. I myself would be really interested to know the numbers of bloggers who are female vs. the number who are male. I know that most of the blogs I follow happen to be by women, but I wonder if that is simply because they write things that I am more interested in reading, or because there are a greater number of female bloggers out there. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were more women, because we all know the reality that it is hard to get published, and I think it is even harder for females unless they are writing in specific genres. Of course, I don’t have evidence of this, but I’m sure it could be found.

Myriam Cyr’s quote from Letters of a Portuguese Nun shows that, historically at least, anything that surpassed expectations and “threatened to upset the delicate balance of power between men and women” (xviii) could not possible be written by a woman. Apparently, the debate over this issue still rages, led by French scholar Jacques Rougeot and Frederic Deloffre who say

“Admit that the Portuguese Letters were written in a convent, by a nun with little if any instruction, having never known the world, is to believe that spontaneity and pure passion inspired a woman to write a superior work of art over and above what the best minds of the greatest period of French literature could offer their public.” (Cyr xix)

I know there were some French female writers from the time period, but I wonder if the objection is more based on the fact that the nun was a woman than on her training (since she clearly was educated to some extent in the nunnery).  Those who disagree, attribute the letters to a male French aristocrat.

Can we even tell the difference between things created by a man and things created by a woman? I mentioned earlier that most of the blogs I follow happen to be written by women, but how do I really know? Identities can easily be faked in this strange world of web technology.  And, I guess it doesn’t really matter if someone is hiding his identity behind the facade of a woman if I enjoy the blog. (Why anyone would do that, of course, is beyond me). In past Comp classes I’ve conducted an experiment with my students. As a class we pick a topic, and then they write about it with a time limit. They hand these papers forward and I read them out loud. The students then need to guess whether the writer was male or female. I can usually (but not always) by the handwriting or the color of pen (for some reason guys rarely choose purple pens, go figure). Sometimes the students can guess, and sometimes they can’t.  When it comes down to writing about the same things, it is often hard to tell the difference.

Does it matter if something is written or created by a woman? Or by someone with more or less education? Or by a black, asian, mexican, alien with five eyes and a tail. . . It only matters if the creation in some way relates to being one of those things.  It only matters if the creation is rooted in actually living a certain experience. But even then it does not matter . . . because emotions and thoughts can be universal, can’t they?

But maybe I am wrong. Maybe the differences between women and men can be seen in everything we do. If that’s true, then that must be celebrated, because it is difference that makes this world such an interesting place. But difference need not imply one is better than another, Difference simply implies difference.

Art is art whether or not you have learned all the techniques. A writer is a writer even without an extra appendage between the legs. Leaders are leaders even if they happen to have breasts. An artist is an artist, even if the art reflects the feminine divine. A movie star is a movies star even if he/she loves someone of the same sex. [Sometimes movie stars are movie stars despite the fact that they are actually creatures from another planet ;)]

Our reality is defined by language. The question is, does the language control us or do we control the language?

 

Elizabeth Barret Browning

 

“A Curse for a Nation”
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1856)

I heard an Angel speak last night,
And he said “Write!
Write a Nation’s curse for me,
And send it over the Western Sea.”

. . . “Not so,” I answered once again.
“To curse, choose men.
For I, a woman, have only known
How the Heart melts, and the tears run down.”

“Therefore,” the voice said, “Shalt thou write
My curse to-night.

Some women weep and curse, I say
(And no one marvels), night and day.
“And thou shalt take their part to-night,
Weep and write.
A curse from the depths of womanhood
Is very salt, and better and good.”

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