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.

I Will Not Be Silenced

I forced my family to head to Boston with me today, to attend the rally Unite Against the War on Women.

Jaclyn Friedman was an amazing speaker who articulated what I am unable to say.

I found myself sitting on the steps of City Hall, crying silent tears.

In the midst of all these people who had come out to show concern and express anger, to share stories, to speak out against repression and injustice I felt very much alone.

Nathan is interested, but not nearly as passionate about the issues as I am. Sarah really had no interest, despite my explanations that everything happening there had to to with making the world a better place for her. She was distracted by pigeons, the Circus that stood right next to the rally, and the fun potential of steps.

So when I cried, I cried alone.

Where did the tears come?

When I first walked into the plaza, my heart tightened. Around me people carried the signs that should not have surprised me, signs about not being sluts, or stay out of my vagina, or whatever. But seeing them made me realize that the issues we face are so much broader than contraception/choice. If we only focus on those issues, we are focusing our energy in the wrong direction.

The issues move beyond our bodies, to the fact that women are not inferior, second class citizens who serve no purpose other then as incubators for future generations. We are being treated as less than men, as barely human, and that is the real issue.  The laws that are being made affect anyone who is marginalized, and that is a bigger problem than a vaginal ultrasound. I am not diminishing the importance of those aspects. I’ve already written about them as passionately as I could. But, I’ve had the growing sense that we might be fighting the wrong part of the war, and if that is so we could be heading to disaster.

When I heard Jaclyn Friedman (pictured above) speak  I felt pressure release. She broadened the message, speaking of the effects on all people, especially poor people or people of color. She reminded us that this is a battle for all people, where men and women must stand together. She spoke for my thoughts.

But it was not enough and I still ended up in tears.

The tears started when I heard Reverend Aaron Payson Minister of Unitarian Universalist Church of Worcester speak. The title of this post actually comes from his use of “We will not be silenced!” His words showed me that there are some truly religious people out there who recognize that perhaps the words of the bible are being interpreted incorrectly, or perhaps they were written by people who want to keep control of their own power. He too, spoke for my thoughts.

Some of the tears came from hearing people express themselves so beautifully. Some from the power of the stories. Some from the sadness and frustration expressed by women who started this fight in the 70s and could not believe that we were fighting this battle again, now.

But I admit, that some of the tears were personal.

Two incredible women spoke. Idalia, who is described as “” a Puertominican (Puerto Rican and Dominican) writer, performance poet, healthcare advocate, and kitchen table feminist” (http://idaliapoetry.tumblr.com) and Spectra, “n award-winning Nigerian writer, women’s rights activist, and the voice behind the African feminist media blog, Spectra Speaks (www.spectraspeaks.com). [Note that I shortened their bios for this, these women are truly amazing.]

They spoke with the honest voices of their hearts, including their sexuality, their race, and their womanhood. They spoke and the floodgates opened as my heart broke into a million tiny pieces of confusion.

Why? Because when I hear the voices of the truly marginalized I am reminded that I am a white, middle class, heterosexual woman. True, I am a Jew, and that carries with it a different kind of marginalization, but I do not experience rejection based on the color of my skin or my sexual identity.

Sometimes the reality of my identity makes me feel like I should not speak.

I flash back to a time when I presented my dissertation for an award. I wrote a doctoral dissertation entitled, “Theorizing Diversity in Three Professional Theatres for Young Audiences.” Basically I was looking at the fact that most professional TYA companies were white owned, white managed, and yet the audiences they served represented diversity. I wanted to understand the messages being sent in that interaction. I wanted to explore the intersection between what we thought we were doing and what we were really doing. When I presented this for the award, the only thing I was attacked for was the fact that I was a white woman looking at issues of diversity, of race. I explained my position on that, but the explanation was not enough and the question kept coming, “Why do you think you have the right to speak for others?” I did not try to speak for others, I tried to observe and learn and use their voices, but that did not matter to the questioner.

I won Honorable Mention for that award, but nobody won the award that year. Everyone was shocked that I didn’t win.

But this isn’t about that.

It’s about the fact that I should not feel silenced because I haven’t experienced the same level of struggle. If we separate ourselves that way, then we only hurt ourselves. I’m not saying we ignore the differences, but we must embrace those differences and acknowledge that all our voices have the right, the need, to be heard.

I am a white woman. I can’t change that. Nor should I have to apologize for it.

I also have a daughter who is a woman of color. Will she face different challenges than I did?

I can’t answer that, except to say that if we allow the powers that be to control women then her world will be even more challenging than mine.

I can’t allow that to happen. I will not be silent.

What Am I Fighting For?

Official portrait of Vice President of the Uni...

Official portrait of Vice President of the United States . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I’d like to ask you one question right now: Of all the issues important to you, what’s the bottom-line reason you’re with us in this fight?” (e-mail from Joe Biden)

Yes, I know, this was not a personal e-mail. It is an e-mail sent out to anyone who has shown support for the Democrats in the past, and I am on that list.

But the question gave me pause to think.  What am I fighting for?

The list of suggestions in Biden’s e-mail included these important issues:

“For some folks, it’s making sure we’re continuing to create millions of good jobs here at home, and building an economy that’s made to last — not for the next election cycle or the next couple years, but for the long run. Or the idea that we ought to be protecting and strengthening Social Security and Medicare for future generations of Americans.”

But are those the issue’s I’m fighting for?

I don’t know that I can name a bottom line issue. Why? Because it is all intertwined. Because the things that I get most passionate about involve fairness, justice and equality. All of the things that this country was supposedly founded for, but, in my opinion have disappeared to the gods of greed, supremacy, and war.

I am fighting to regain a country that I can be proud to call my home.

So, what am I fighting for?

  • I am fighting for the rights of children to be educated in a system that supports teachers and supports learning, which does not always mean teaching to the tests, and does mean incorporating arts into the process of learning, because the arts teach us how to be human.
  • I am fighting for the rights of women to achieve all their goals, be payed equally, and have nobody intruding on their rights over their own bodies and medical decisions.
  • I am fighting for the rights of all races, to not have to live in fear of being thrown out of the country for not having their papers, or to be shot down for the color of their skin without justice being served.
  • I am fighting for the rights of the unemployed who got trapped in a system that values money over individuals and now face the reality that greed controls whether or not jobs are created.
  • I am fighting for victims of bullying everywhere, including those who have been bullied by our country. Right now I don’t think the US holds any moral right to judge anybody, when day by day someone attempts to strip rights from someone else in the name of  “God” or children commit suicide because society supports and models a system where the bullies have the power.
  • I am fighting for equality. For gay, straight, transgender, black, white, brown, asian, rich, poor, male, female, atheist, Jew, Christian, Buddhist, undecided . . . the one thing that seems to get lost in all the bickering is that fact that we are ALL HUMAN!
  • I am fighting for the future of our planet. I don’t care how much money gets made or spent, if we don’t find alternative solutions to energy and a kinder way to treat our planet, even the richest will fall victim to their own greed. The ultimate power here is mother nature, not human kind.
  • I am fighting for the right of every individual to have quality affordable health care, and to have access to life-saving medicine without lining the pockets of the wealthy.
  • I am fighting for the right to live and think and be free in a country that is supposed to have been built on the premise of freedom.

So Mr. Biden, I can’t answer your question with one statement of a bottom line issue. The craziness of this country right now cannot be boiled down to one campaign issue, because each of them affect the others. We cannot be a free country if money controls power. We cannot be a free country if one attitude toward religion dominates all, or religion plays a role in politics. We cannot be a free country if men control women. We cannot be a free country if everyone does not get treated equally. That is my bottom line.

Today I Speak for Women

I know, I cannot speak for all women.

But I still have to speak.

I am a woman. I have a brain, a heart, a body, a mind. I have feelings and emotions. I can think for myself.  I can support myself. I am educated, perhaps over educated.

I am a mother. I have also lost a child to a miscarriage.

I am a wife, but I lived single for more years than I ever had a partner.

I have been sexually molested, not rape exactly but molestation. I have only shared that story with a few. In addition,  I have large breasts, and in my younger days they become objects of lust and ridicule. I have felt shame in my body, and fear because of my body.

I have been silenced and I have spoken up.

But no matter what has happened I have always believed that I have value and that I offer more to society then just the ability to give birth. I have always believed that women were equal if not stronger than men. I have always believed that women could stand against tyranny, if they could only learn to stand together rather than compete against each other.

I have always been grateful that we had moved beyond the time when a woman was property of first her father, then her husband. I thought that we were slowly coming closer to recognizing the value of all human beings, no matter what race, sex, sexual orientation, religion or any other defining characteristics.

I guess I thought wrong.

Every day, every piece of news I hear makes me weep or scream! I become angrier and more ashamed of  who we have become with every ounce of injustice that is being introduced into our country, as hypocrites try to push us back in time where women are nothing but property and the only people who matter are the ones who look and act the same as everyone else.

Today I speak for women. Today I speak for gays. Today I speak for immigrants. Today I speak for anyone who is feeling oppressed by a government out of control and a group of righteous people who clamor for their rights to believe what they believe while trying to control anyone who believes differently.

I have had enough!

I decided to reread Lysistrata by Aristophanes, a play about women from different countries who unite together in withholding sex until the men of their worlds agree to declare peace.

After all, this fight has become about sex, religion and power.

What would happen, I wonder, if we gave into the demands of no contraception and no sex before marriage? If we said, okay, don’t give us contraception but then we will not have sex until we are ready. Well, some would argue, it is a wife’s duty to have sex with her husband. Okay, then we choose not to marry until we are ready to have children, until after we have created our careers and lived the lives want to live. We will not marry until after 30 or 35 or maybe we will choose never to marry, and we will not have sex before marriage. Having children will become more difficult, but at least we won’t be on birth control.

Is the next law going to be that women must marry before they are 25? Are we going to become nothing more than property again?

Now I am not foolish enough to think that anything like Lysistrata could actually succeed. The women in that comedy won, because they banished egos and overcame their own libidos to stand strong together for peace. That could not happen now, because there is too much disagreement between women, and because women compete too often against each other. Nor am I foolish enough to blame all men, or only men, for the craziness happening in this world.

The only thing that I seem to be a fool to believe is that somehow people will ever recognize that equality, justice, fairness and peace are more valuable than power, control, money, and war.

I have no answers, but I have a voice that needs to be heard. I can only hope the more I speak, the more I write, the more other people might join their voices.

We can only fight this insanity if we join together as a group, and agree that our diversity makes us stronger. We can only fight this insanity if we recognize that every person in society is valuable, and that nobody is more important than anyone else.

I am a woman, and today I speak for my daughter.

Finding Queen Esther in Myself

Today is the 14th of Adar according to the Jewish calendar. Or, more famously, it is the Holiday of Purim, I was born on Purim. So, in terms of the Hebrew calendar today is my birthday. (It is March 14th according to the secular calendar).

Roly Poly Lisa

My Grandparents wanted me to be named Esther. Back then, that was the name for old women, although it has had a resurgence of late. So I appreciated my parents decision to name me Lisa instead. My Hebrew name is Leah Hannah.

Baby Lisa and Big Sister Deb

I was originally planning a different post today, about wandering alone through the snowy grounds of a botanical garden and discovering the difference between being alone and being lonely. However, a discussion on Facebook about Hamentaschen (sparked by my craving for that special treat) made me think about the Story of Esther, the story of Vashti, the story of women. It made me think about all the craziness going on in our country and the need for women’s voices. So now I am writing this post.

Vashti was a queen, married to King Ahasuerus until he made an unacceptable drunken demand. He wanted to show off the beauty of his wife, and insisted that she appear in front of his banquet of guests. That might not have been an issue except that he wanted her to appear wearing a crown and NOTHING ELSE.

As any proud, feminist (before the term was coined) woman would and should do, she refused. In defense of his male ego, Ahasuerus (encouraged by other men) decided to replace her by holding a beauty contest.

Yes, the next queen would not be selected for brains or anything else but her beauty. And, let me point out, the contest was judged in this way:

English Standard Version(©2001)
In the evening she would go in, and in the morning she would return to the second harem in custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch, who was in charge of the concubines. She would not go in to the king again, unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name.” (Esther 2:14)

In case you are missing that, she had to spend the night with the king and then would be sent to the harem for concubines. So, she was not acceptable to marry until he had sex with her. Who is to blame if women are called whores?

Many criticize Esther, saying she should not have agreed to take the place of Vashti. But what is a young Jewess to do in a world where men hold all the power, including enough power to discard a wife for her refusal to appear naked in front of a group of strangers? In other words, in a world where MEN controlled the decisions a woman could make about HER BODY.

Haman Begging the Mercy of Esther, by Rembrandt

Image via Wikipedia

Esther became Queen, and then Haman entered the picture. Haman was a noble and vizier to Ahasuerus, who set out to have all the Jews destroyed when Esther’s uncle Mordecai refused to bow down to him. Esther had listened to the instructions of her uncle, and never told anyone she was a Jew. She set out to save her people (although some say she was pressured into it under fear of her own death) by reminding the king that Mordecai had saved him in the past by revealing a plot to kill the king. She also pointed out that if the Jews must die, then she must die. In the end, Haman was killed and Jews gained more power in the kingdom.

Perhaps Esther only became strong to save herself, but I don’t criticize her for that because sometimes it takes the realization of danger to gain the strength to fight. I am sensing the danger to myself and my daughter all around. I now want to fight.

This morning Sarah and I snuggled up for a chat in my bed. Yesterday I read “Am I Pretty? Really? You Sure?” over at Broadside, a post that in some ways directly relates to the story of Purim. All the women in that story were judged by their beauty, but they all had something much more important to offer. Vashti took a stand that basically destroyed her life, but she stood for what was right. Esther took a chance to save her people. Yet still today women are so often judged by appearance and sexuality, and we let it happen. So, while chatting with Sarah, I talked about where true beauty lies, and that it has very little to do with outer appearance. You’ve all seen pictures of Sarah. I know she is beautiful, but I would much rather her have the strength of conviction of Vashti or the courage of Esther then outer beauty.

After this conversation she jumped up and said, “I want to read something with you.” She ran over and got a book she had been avoiding: American Girl’s The Care & Keeping of YOU: The Body Book for Girls. We read the first chapter and she said, “I’m more comfortable reading this with you.”

She is growing up.

I am fearful of the world she is growing into. A world where women’s voices seem to be fading instead of growing in power. A world where men still try to control women’s bodies. A world where we are still being judged by sex.

I don’t want her to have to live in that world. So, it’s time to take on the mantle of  the Queens. To stand up for what is right like Vashti. To protect my people, other women, like Esther. To fight for a world which values intelligence over beauty, and equality over power.

I don’t yet know what that means, but I know I have to try.

But first, I really wish I could eat some hamentaschen.

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