…be dissolute, be despotic, be an anarchist, be a suffragette, be anything you like, but for pity’s sake be it to the top of your bent… Let’s live, you and I, as none have ever lived before.” ~ Violet Trefusis to her lover Vita Sackville-West (who never did leave her husband) (early 20th century), quoted in Janet E. Hardy’s book, ‘GirlFag’.
I’m mostly still in this head space of, “I’m allowed to be in school?” not to mention art school, and ‘sexuality studies’ school? in Montreal? and then add to that that sometimes I do really well on projects and stuff? This all still seems like someone might be playing some sort of prank on me, and if you are, like it’s not funny guys!
But since, contrary to instinct, it still all appears to be real, I’m just going with it.
I wrote this essay for my ‘Intro to Sexuality Research’ class, which I got a little bit obsessed with (read ‘totally obsessed’) and it was kind of super hard because I’m pretty sure the last time I wrote a research paper it was on ‘Flying Squirrels’ in like grade 8. So, I was really paranoid about everything, like I HATE SCARY PLAGIARISM LAWS and does anything I write make sense? Also because I felt like I should have picked a way simple-er topic and like I was basically trying to fit an entire thesis into around 3000 words. BUT! you know what? I got an A+ on it! So, chicken butt! Also because I started it with this sentence:
“I once had a therapist, who when I said I’d never really dated during high school, told me that this was highly unusual.”
Which I love, but I was paranoid about it being some sort of huge academic faux pas (which it probably is, but apparently taking the chance paid off). If you’d like to read the entire essay, (with all of my current most favorite quotes and all) you can see it here. I realize it’s in a strange format, but the prof said the outline should be: ‘intro to topic-3 questions-discussing 5 sources-conclusion’, so I just followed that. In case you don’t want to read the whole thing I’ve included the most important parts (with the most most important parts in bold, obviously):
—– “I once had a therapist, who when I said I’d never really dated during high school, told me that this was highly unusual. She explained that normally, girls who are stereotypically attractive are likely to subconsciously find themselves in long term relationships, particularly during adolescence, as a form of protection. Protection, one can assume, from taunting, teasing, sexual abuse and rumors that she’s a slut, because even in our contemporary society, as women we are still questioned and treated like a threat if our sexuality isn’t serving a man.
From before we even enter puberty, before we even have a concept for what sexuality is, we’re sexualized, we’re taught that we serve a sexual purpose, and it is so common place that it goes almost unquestioned. Yet, we’re not allowed to own that? To enjoy it, to understand it, to challenge it, or to take pride in it?
What we’re taught as women, as girls, as female adolescents; is that our sexuality is the most important factor in our lives and relationships, but that we should be nothing but ashamed of it. We’re taught that we shouldn’t flirt back, fight back, use sex to get what we want, or desire sex much at all. That we are only meant to be enjoyed, not enjoy, experienced but not experience, that our sexuality is nothing but for the desire of men. Women have the capacity to be incredibly sexual, but are taught otherwise. We’re just thrown blindly into this web of mens desires with very few resources for how to navigate within them.
Instead, we’re just paraded with these sparkly ideals of romance, monogamy and marriage, particularly during adolescence and early adulthood, while we’re establishing our sexualities and trying to build an understanding for our sexual selves and overall identities. If we do not understand what it means to be sexual beings, than how can we articulate our needs, our desires, or our rights? How can we say that women and men are equal when we’re taught to be fundamentally out of balance?
The institutions at the foundation of our contemporary society do not in any way want us to have this awareness, they never have. The Catholic church, for example, has placed fear of female sexuality and independent thought at the heart of their creation of humans existence. Eve did wrong by Adam, and we’re forever paying for the freedom allotted to such a careless and curious woman.” —— (the intro)
—– “The truth is that we do live in a patriarchal society, and so as a woman, isn’t the manipulation of that institution and male gaze for our own gain a feminist act in itself? Male industries have been using the female image as a tool in business probably for as long as there’s been money to be made. In her articles, White asks “Why not subvert the system and use it for your own gain, your own art? Why can’t that be a woman’s choice?” and quotes feminist writer Chris Kraus on his interpretation of the nude self portraits by artist Hannah Wilke, “As if the only possible reason for a woman to publicly reveal herself could be self-therapeutic. As if the point was not to reveal the circumstances of one’s own objectification.”
As a female artist, I am particularly inspired and comforted by these sentiments, especially since a lot of what I’m interested in is performance and self portrait based. I find it personally helpful to think of myself and my work this way. Beauty, sexual appeal and femininity are clearly very powerful, in many ways. I have often wondered if beauty and esthetic appeal can be a resource in activism, since they have such an effective impact in attracting attention, and the Femen movement demonstrates this wonderfully. For women to own what it means to live in a world where our appearances are so highly discussed, valued and scrutinized, both negatively and in more admiring ways, seems essential in order to move foreword”—– (important personal chunk)
—– “For as long as modern society functions as it does, built on the bones of an agricultural idealism; obsessed with worth and possessions, equality between the sexes will be impossible because women will always have something men don’t but want desperately, the ability to control the ambiguous and endless possibilities of female sexuality. Our society as it stands would never function in a world where every women were sexually empowered and “equal” to men because our sexualities would no longer be a commodity, no longer so rare and taboo enough that they could be sold and bought at the rate they are, both as an object of desire for men, and as a goal to attain, by women themselves.
Without the manipulation of female sexuality that presently exists over all, women may act, expect from and treat their lives and choices very differently, and this is why it’s seen as incredibly dangerous, because it’s literally a danger to society as we know it. Therefore, the patriarch will do everything within it’s means to keep women scared, self conscious and compliant to men. We are taught to feel ashamed of our sexualities from childhood, in so many different ways, from schoolyard slut bashing to the fairy tales we’re read to from at night. We’re taught to doubt ourselves, and our instincts constantly, in pursuit of some sort of moral rightness and idealistic romance, all because of a centuries old fear. The irony, to me, seems to be that if women are able to recognize these societal factors, and examine themselves truthfully, they may just make a mockery of the patriarch by using this over emphasis on female sexuality to their own advantage.“—- (conclusion)