It’s 2012, and we’re still having a world-wide conversation about women’s sexuality. Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t get it either. So, allow me to throw my .02 cents in the ring with a resounding “What in the ever-loving HELL is going on around here?”
I wish I could tie this all up in a neat package and lay it at the feet of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey — blame/thank this trilogy for stirring up the hornet’s net after Lisbeth Salander kicked it. But as a former soap opera journalist and current editor at a romance novel magazine, I’m well aware that female-centric media and women’s desires have always come under fire. It doesn’t matter if you’re Anais Nin or SamDeanLuvr12 on Fanfiction.Net; it doesn’t matter if you’re watching General Hospital or Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon or Verbotene Liebe, someone’s going to judge you. And by “someone,” I mean men. Or, at least, the male-driven media machine and the societal voice that seems to come from a deeper register than the average female one.
On the one hand, we have American media salaciously up in arms about “mommy porn” and women daring to enjoy the biggest fictional juggernaut since The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. On the other, we have an Indian cable channel that can’t even show a married couple engaging in chaste foreplay without the woman looking like she’s being led to the slaughter. Despite being on opposite sides of the liberal spectrum, what do these two things have in common? Shame. Exploitation. The male gaze. The idea that women can’t willingly enjoy something sexy; they must simply submit, like a quivering maiden in a ’70s rape-y romance. And that’s just two head-scratchers that have “come across my desk” recently. There are countless mind-boggling examples of double standards, oppression and pointless judgment…all engineered to paint women as being without autonomy over their own bodies.
Why is society, on a global level, so freaking scared of women having agency over their sexuality? Is it because once women are allowed to say when and how they want sex, they also have the power to deny access to it? (Mind you, I think women have always had that power…it just hasn’t occurred to people. And by “people,” again, I mean men.) As though reading Fifty Shades of Grey or sighing over James Deen or just admitting that you want someone not only reveals a woman’s inner craving for sex, but also the need to sometimes just say, “You know what? I’d rather eat chocolate and read a smutty novel…go away. I don’t need you.”
If the enjoyment of one’s own sensual wiles doesn’t include the world’s socio-economically dominant gender’s participation…gasp. What’s the fear? That society itself is going to fall apart? If we don’t need menfolk to tell us how to be turned on…why, we probably don’t need them to tell us how to vote either, right? Or how to raise our kids. Or what to do with our uteruses. Whatever shall we do? Won’t somebody think of the delicate moral fabric of our known universe?
Michael Fassbender starred in a film about sexual darkness and shame and was lauded by critics for his bravery, for how unabashedly he bared himself and walked around naked. Women don’t need movies about sex and shame: that’s our lives, being stripped daily in the public forum for what we read, what we watch and what we do in the privacy of our homes.
When’s the pearl-clutching going to stop?
Why are we still talking about this?
And when will what women want stop being the question and start being the answer?