“Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?”
Maya Angelou, And Still I Rise
Even in 2014, even in these United States, any woman who lays proud, open, sassy, FULL claim to her sexuality opens herself to the danger of violation by others. The dangers are of physical, sexual, psychological, social and emotional assault. Some may say that’s too strong a statement, in fact my sweetie of 20 years just did, but I think not.
Travel with me a moment. Imagine you have a beautiful 13 year old daughter, Ruby, just coming into her womanhood. Her menses started a year or two ago, but now finally she has the breasts she has waited so long for, and hips, and the cutest high, tight butt! She just naturally wants to strut her stuff. She walks differently, she moves her hips differently, she is lit up with the blossoming, glorious sensual joy you hopefully want her to experience in her body.
“But not yet, oh God, please, not yet,” you scream inside.
Ruby is gorgeous and she knows it, and she wants all the boys to want her. Yes, want. Even though she doesn’t fully appreciate yet what that means. She wants to be that queen bee all the fellows serve. So she paints her face even if you don’t allow it and dresses in clothing as tight and skimpy as the law allows. She walks suggestively, flirts outrageously. Boys are on her mind morning, noon and night, and guaranteed, she’s on their minds too.
And you, you fear for her.
Yes, she may have her first sexual experience in the back seat of a car instead of on her wedding night. In fact, that’s pretty much guaranteed. Yes, she may get pregnant before she can care for a child.
But those wonder-filled, tender, lusty, consensual explorations are not honestly your deepest fears for her, are they?
If Ruby lived in an aboriginal tribe, especially a matrilineal tribe, everyone would be celebrating her blossoming womanhood. Tribal customs vary, but the older women would generally do everything they could to help her to fully experience and accentuate her newfound ripeness.
They would guard her, yes, from the untoward attentions of unsuitable or perverted men, but never would they shame her. Her sexuality is a treasure to the tribe. In some societies, her coming of age may even be celebrated with a gentle, experienced grown man “opening” her to the joys of womanhood.
Of course, there are other, mostly patrilineal, societies where she would be the property of a man all her life, like a cow, with no rights of her own, and in the worst case her clitoris may even be surgically removed lest she ever derive any deep pleasure from her own ripe body.
In our own modern world, somewhere between those extremes, Ruby’s prettiness may be celebrated, but her sexuality and her desire are routinely shamed. “Sleeping around,” even in consecutive monogamous relationships, as most of us do, and even wanting birth control while married – meaning having sex other than to make babies – makes a woman a “slut” to many powerful, arrogant old men and more than a few self-righteous, closed-down women who do not hesitate to loudly plaster that “S” all over her forehead and symbolically, stone her.
Ruby’s older brother Jake’s physical attractiveness is largely irrelevant. His masculine virility and his sexual conquests are celebrated. “Another notch on the old belt.” He could even get away with sexually assaulting his pretty young sister without jail time, simply because she was alluring and he wanted her.
“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them.
Women are afraid that men will kill them.” – Margaret Atwood
After the recent shootings on a Santa Barbara campus, a long-sleeping giant has awoken and suddenly, worldwide, a powerful movement decries the cultural expectations and the sexual violence against women I described above.
The perpetrator claimed he was motivated by the fact that no woman would sleep with his sick self, and he was still a virgin. Not surprisingly, reporters uncovered Internet sites of other men who hate the women who wouldn’t “put out” to them, as though they should be ENTITLED to sex. Really? Try to imagine a similar site for women who hated men who wouldn’t put out. I cannot.
The #YesALLWomen twitter movement draws attention to the physical and social power differential between men and women that leaves ALL women, even old women, even sick women, but especially young women, perpetually aware of the possibility of being overpowered by some (usually) man, and sexually violated.
And then, even worse, everyone blames the woman for the violation. Somehow, rape is the natural prerogative of men and they are rarely held to account for not controlling themselves. It is evidently up to women to prevent rape in our culture.
Now, perhaps you are Ruby, all grown up. As women we are taught we must be sure not to turn these men on.
You never know until it happens, even in marriage it happens, so you concentrate on NOT “being sexy.”
You may have been taught your pleasure in your sexuality was somehow “dirty” and unladylike – you might have been educated in how to ward off attacks from men at parties, in parking lots, in elevators – and worst yet, you may have been sexually violated by a trusted man.
Yes, you may be among the too-large percentage of women who decided, deep inside, that the easiest and safest solution is to be unattractive.
Stay tuned- there will be a follow-up article to this one, for all of us whose weight loss dilemmas stem not from love of ice cream or lack of self-discipline, but from a deep, subconscious FEAR of being attractive and thus vulnerable either to violation or to experiencing our own forbidden lust.