Saturday, 18 October 2014

Sexual Autonomy: How To Actually Empower Women

I've been in outright fights over the Madonna/Whore dichotomy and the faux empowerment offered by the sex industry, my issue being that being reduced to our sexual function thereby is what the problem IS. This has been brought into focus by the furore over the prospect of convicted rapist Ched Evans being given his old job back at Sheffield United.

If you're easily offended, stop reading now. I'm very opinionated.

The fact that I think for myself offends most people at some point, mostly because I'm a moderate conservative. I don't like the left, can't be dealing with the right, and don't get me started on the liberals. As a lover of common sense, I'm perturbed by the trend towards normalising deviant behaviour, sexualising children, and promoting sexual promiscuity as empowerment.

Media distortion and misdirection

Like it or not, people want it, but the choices they're making are based on lies. Read this account of a journalist's experiment with swinging. Her real issue is not feeling attractive due to the idealised images being projected of women in the media. Look, love, they're airbrushed, except in those cheap 'n' nasty celebrity rags where they love to crow about crow's feet and wibble about wobbly bottoms. Now note the last line. See? It's more about self-acceptance than sexuality.

This article in Techdirt offended me because a womens' resource centre should know better.  

According to The College Fix, this week, September 29–Oct 2 is “Sex Week” at UNM—a weeklong [sic] series of programs for students including “Negotiating Successful Threesomes,” “O-Face Oral” and “BJs and Beyond.” Sex Week is sponsored in part by the university’s Women’s Resource Center.

What the actual...?! Assuming the 1 in 5 statistic for campus rape is true, shouldn't they be teaching women how to avoid being raped with classes on perv-spotting, assertiveness, and reporting procedures? Aw, hell, no, let's not be a party pooper or anything. Just look at the comments. Look at them.

So where would you rather they learn those skills if they are curious about them? In a safe, educational environment like the workshops offered, or from some random person they run into later in life, where if they're lucky the other person knows what they're doing, and if not they're both completely clueless, potentially to their detriment? - That One Guy

Skills, TOG? Where have I heard that before? Oh, yes, from them. The idea of being taught that pandering to men is a valuable skillset nauseates me. Who is being empowered but the one being gratified? Gratifiers are ten a penny. Expendable. Replaceable. Buyers will always be the ones with the power until sellers create a scarcity to drive up prices... or convince them that they're worth the price being charged. That is how markets work and, like it or not, we're all in one.

Grey rape - why it's often inevitable

Honestly, I think that permitting ourselves to be objectified sets us up for grey rape — you know, that situation where you've not consented to the act but since it wasn't violent, you're pretty sure that that someone's going to come out with a Judy Finnigan-type remark about "legitimate" rape if you complain about it so you can't really say anything and must needs suffer in silence. Needless to say, they're difficult to prove because the only thing that can be proved beyond all possible doubt is that sex took place — assuming the attacker took no precautions. Result: her word V his. Good luck with getting it to court.

Grey rape may well be the most common type. The "legitimate" type that Judy Finnegan spoke of — the violent assault in the dead of night by a stranger who drags his kicking, screaming victim into an alleyway and beats the crap out of her before having his wicked way and leaving her for dead — is actually quite rare. Actually, most rapes are committed by people known to the victim. They count on the victim's being unwilling to rock the social boat, which is why so many of them get away with it. Even if it goes to trial, if the perpetrator is popular or distinguished in some way, people will defend him and vilify the victim.

Women are socialised to be polite, to respond to men’s conversational overtures, even where earlier on they may have over-stepped a mark, we’re supposed to put it behind us and move on and not think anything of it. So that’s what I did. - Being Feminist

The above snippet explains, in a nutshell, why rape is so common; we women are taught from an early age that we must make ourselves attractive and available to men. Now read this.

I was halfway through talking about the political situation in Britain when the Very Respected Journalist called me “baby” (really, people can say that without irony?) and shoved his beer-and-whisky-churned-together tongue down my throat.  After unironically ‘baby’-ing me a few more times, the Very Respected Journalist pushed me towards his bedroom...  I kept telling him to stop, that I didn’t want him to keep kissing me, that I didn’t want him to push me, that he should stop telling me to ‘be a good girl’, but – unfortunately – my voice obviously commands less authority, less expertise, than his own. - Balkanist, First Night in Kyiv

The part where she complains about it to the Very Respected Editor is chilling. Basically, she's told to suck it up (as it were) and dismissed as unprofessional. It hurts her career. And this kind of thing is not confined to any national group, it's a global phenomenon.

What can we do?

Well, if you're a man, you could do a lot worse than read and heed these wise words from a considerate fellow:

...I go out of my way to use clear body language and act in a way that helps minimize a woman’s fear and any related feelings. I recommend you do the same. It’s seriously, like, the least any man can do in public to make women feel more comfortable in the world we share. Just be considerate of her and her space. - Zaron Burnett III, A Gentlemen’s Guide To Rape Culture

If you're a woman, I'm not exactly suggesting purdah, but it's wise to ensure that you're aware of your surroundings and situation. Rely on your instincts; if something doesn't feel right, it's not, get out of there. People can and do take advantage if they can so don't make it easy for them; you wouldn't leave your door unlocked and the windows open, then go out and do the shopping, would you? It's not your fault if some thief walks in and nicks your stuff, it's the thief's; but that won't bring back the iPad, which is probably being sold on now. The point is, it's wise to take reasonable precautions to ensure our personal safety. Here are some pointers:
  • Keep your mobile phone charged, particularly when you go out
  • Be aware of your surroundings and situation; where are the escape routes if you need one?
  • Walk confidently with your bag strap hanging off your shoulder, not across your chest. If you look like you're willing to defend yourself, you're less likely to be attacked. If you look vulnerable, you're more likely to be attacked
  • If you think you're being followed, walk into a crowded or public place, e.g. a shop or pub
  • If a strange man starts up a conversation with you and you're not comfortable, keep walking and go to a public place, don't worry about his feelings. He'll get over it.
  • If you're in a group, stay with the group. Buddy up with another woman if you can, and watch each other's backs
  • Sip that red wine or opaque drink slowly. If you start to feel drowsy, go to the bathroom, lock yourself in, and call the police. Better to be safe than sorry.
  • If he's too good to be true, he probably is
  • If he doesn't listen when you say no to the small things, he won't listen when you say no to other things
  • If someone behaves towards you in a way you don't like, say no firmly and clearly so others can hear you, then move away from that person. Give no indication that his advances are welcome or you may find he won't stop, and if he won't stop now, he won't stop later. Nip unwanted behaviour in the bud
  • Do not permit yourself to be alone with someone you're uncomfortable with, if you can help it
  • Do not be governed by worry about what others might think; if they care about you they will understand and back you up

Genuine empowerment

I've had to put most of those suggestions into practice at some point or other; creeps will be creeps. I don't like it when some random stranger walks up to me and "only" wants to hold my hand and am not obliged to let him. And I'm not afraid to say so because I'd rather not become a victim of more serious abuse.

But then again, I'm not afraid to say no in case I upset someone. I don't associate with people who use sexist language or treat me dismissively. And I'm not part of a moral free-for-all culture in which women are taught that personal empowerment is found in the trousers of a man. As we have discovered today, it's not. Don't fall for the lies. You know when you're empowered when people ask for your opinion because they think you're smart and for your advice because they know you're experienced. You know you're empowered when you can get what you want without working too hard for it. And you know you're empowered when you're treated as the go-to person who Gets Things Done.

Sexual autonomy for a woman is not the ability to go all Casanova on every bloke in sight and not be condemned for doing so. It's the ability to exert control over her own body, to decide who can touch it and, more importantly, who can not, without being condemned as deficient for doing so.

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