A lady in the street, but a freak in the bed
Yes, that’s what Ludacris and Usher and countless other men have told me and my friends that they want out of a woman.
Everyone knows “you can’t turn a ho into a housewife,” but nor is a prude desirable. The result is that women have a very narrow space in which to acceptably deal with heterosexual desire. A woman who likes lots of sex—unless its lots of sex with you in the confines of your bedroom—is slutty. And a woman whose straight-laced “lady” image extends past the street and into the confines of your bedroom is problematic as well. These notions pervade our everyday lives and affect the way women are treated by men, as well as how we deal with each other.
Lately I have been increasingly frustrated by the social stigma and behavior resulting from traditional power relations between men and women. From the time that many young women are born, they are raised to think about their sexual reputations.
Having sex with multiple partners makes you less ladylike, and if one does, it is not something to be talked about. Even the concept of waiting until marriage is often more heavily targeted toward females, despite the fact that it takes two to tango. The more men a woman has had sex with, the lower her social status plunges, while male social status increases as his numbers increase.
At the same time, a woman who does not want to engage in sexual activity fares no better. She is pressured to believe that, while she can make rational choices concerning her sexual activity, men need sex for physical survival and cannot overcome these desires, and if she wants to keep one, she will have to comply.
These conflicting messages that society sends to women can be very confusing. They result in a society where the female “closet freak” is the most celebrated, for she appears virginal in the public places reserved for men to feel free (or more often pressured) to glorify their sexual exploits and only reveals this side of herself in hidden spaces.
If she chooses to engage, or not engage, in sex by any other rules, she faces age-old double standards or pressure. The restrictive boundaries under which female heterosexual desire can act can be seen in many common examples. For example, many have trouble grasping that a woman who is not a virgin might not want to have sex with every man she dates.
Contrary to some notions, there are other reasons women can choose not to have sex. Another example, stemming from the disdainful way that uncontrolled female sexuality is viewed, is the notion that a “ho” cannot be raped.
Often when a woman is involved in high profile rape allegations, her past sexual history is brought into question. Whether a woman has had sex with zero men or 1,000, does that really have any relation to whether one could rape her?
Many of these attitudes that stem from a desire to control and police female sexuality manifest themselves in the laws of our nation and in healthcare as well. While health insurance companies still will not cover birth control in many cases unless a doctor recommends it for “nonsexual purposes,” they have recently decided to cover drugs that increase sexual desire and stamina in men, like Viagra. This reinforces age old ideas that “normal” men should want sex all the time and at all ages, while female desire to freely have sex solely for purposes of pleasure is abnormal. It maintains that female sexual desire should not be accommodated, or celebrated as a normal part of a woman’s life in the same way that male sexual desire is.
What I find equally frustrating as these double standards themselves, is the way women are often instructed to combat these phenomena. I’ve never considered myself a “feminist” in the stereotypical sense. For a long time, I associated it with white women, working for white women’s issues, condemning all those who did something “old-fashioned” like cook for a man or stay at home.
This reverse vision of what it meant to be a real woman confused me, because it seemed just as limiting to me as the one women were trying to break free from. I have since realized that there are many ways to be a feminist, and not all of them have to involve burning bras.
I will not insist that you take off your pearls or dance on tables and take on a reactionary stance toward your womanhood. In the end, whether you choose to obey patriarchy, or simply react inversely to it, you are still defining yourself around male patriarchy. The goal of attacking unjust roles of male power should not be only to flip that power and act this way towards men, for then we are not escaping oppressive forces, but simply attempting to take on those roles seen as unjust to begin with. Similarly, ridiculing women for choosing not to assert their liberation in the same way as you, is just as bad as ridiculing women for freely expressing their sexuality.
The goal should not be to construct a new, equally restrictive counterdefinition of proper womanhood, but rather to create an open space where womanhood and female sexuality can be self-determined and have many faces. A space where female liberation can mean freely engaging in sex or choosing celibacy, being a “freak” behind closed doors or celebrating your sexual desire, wearing your black lace or wearing your pearls—or wearing both at the same time. A space where you can be a “lady” or a “freak” in the bedroom, the street, or wherever you please.
Amelia Herbert is a Trinity senior. Her column appears every other Thursday.