The world of sex and all of its connotations greatly differs for men and women. There are 3 dominant influencers that construct our understanding of sexuality in respect of the sexes. Society, religion and mass media continue to perpetuate a ‘Virgin or Whore’ / ‘Madonna or Whore’ dichotomy when it comes to female sexuality. Constructs such as ‘virginity’ and ‘purity’ reinforce value on a woman’s body. When those constructs are challenged, women are punished for possessing a sexual identity via ‘slut-shaming’.
Forcing women into such restrictive tropes on the basis of morality not only suppresses one of the most natural human expressions, but forces the internalization of harmful constructs by women and men alike. For women, this could mean not fully understanding their own sexuality on a physical and psychological level. Self-objectification, limited access to safe abortion, and the prevalence of rape culture can be seen as an extension of societal attitudes about gender and sexuality. For men who hold traditional values of sexuality, it means limiting their understanding of women into a binary duality, which in return may obstruct genuine intimacy.
It is important to note that by challenging traditional heteronormative relations, the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s was able to advocate for the acceptance of homosexuality as well. Further deconstruction of traditional norms, female emancipation from legal, social, or political restrictions and the continuance of the Sexual Revolution will ensure a healthier and safer future for coming generations.
Dominant religions, be it Christianity or Islam, maintain a stronghold on our conventions of life. Even those who consider themselves moderates still look to the ancient books for guidance.
Both Christianity and Islam talk about sex as a form of a sinful act to be repented from.
“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.” Ephesians 5:3 NIV
Islam shares a similar discerning view towards sexuality where premarital sexual intercourse is forbidden and punishable by 100 whips.
“The woman and the man who fornicate scourge each of them a hundred whips; and in the matter of God’s religion, let no tenderness for them seize you if you believe in God and the Last Day; and let a party of the believers witness their punishment.” (24:2)
Religion might not be as pervasive as it was in the past but the remainder of its dictations still influence us, even on a subconscious level. Now, when you position the core of that idea mentioned above in a context which exempts males via certain privileges and control, the taxation of sexuality is left largely and unjustly imposed on women. Thus, the double standard of sexual morality has condemned certain sexual activities by women while permitting the identical actions for men.
Mass media (TV series, video games and films) have only added to this misconception of sexuality. While there have been some advances, sex and sexuality are presented from a largely male perspective.
The female body in media simultaneously exists in two states:
1- One where she is hypersexualized, fetishized and objectified.
2- The other where she is subjected to control and shame for the exact same thing.
In either scenario, the female body is not free. Media visibility of strong, healthy female sexuality is widely underrepresented. Growing up, I never came across a figure I could identify with. Moreover, growing up in Syria, I was often told to take in regard my virtuous nature and demeanor; not by my parents, but by my surrounding society.
Society has cultivated and perpetuated a harmful understanding of female sexuality; one that looks to condemn and isolate it. Even those of us in progressive states still pigeonholed sexual ‘promiscuity’ in women. Slut-shaming is a form of social stigma applied to women and girls who are perceived to violate traditional expectations for sexual behaviors. Slut-shaming is a sexist notion because only girls and women are called to task for their sexuality while boys and men are congratulated for the exact same behavior.
It starts from early adolescent stages. Boys are told they are in control and encouraged to explore their sexuality. As for young women, they are directed into more submissive roles. The concept of virginity is harmful because “it lets society control female sexuality by tying it so closely to female morality.”
Other than the internalization of those absurd concepts, it harms how society deals with sexual assault and its victims. A horrible attack took place in Morocco in August 2017. A woman was raped by multiple boys on a bus and no one intervened. Critics condemned the woman as she was blamed for her own assault. They faulted her clothing and behavior, saying that “she was asking for it”. Blaming the victim is a recurrent theme we bare witness to in many areas of the world, East and West. ‘No es No’ (No means No) is a feminist movement sweeping across Barcelona after 5 men have been cleared of a teenager’s gang rape.
The suppression of female sexuality is a cultural phenomenon. We must continue to encourage female emancipation from traditional roles and expectations. We must continue the initiative ignited by the Sexual Revolution which seeks to un-stifle female sexuality, where the representation of strong female leads can be used to break away from the heteronormative construct. I ask of boys, men, girls, and women to retire the habit of ‘slut-shaming’ as it only seeks to control women’s behavior. Redistributing power in sexual dynamics and normalizing the basic of human needs will lead to a healthier generation, both mentally and physically.
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