Many women live with overt, unabashed sexual repression.
There follow a few extreme examples of such repression at its most obvious:
- Physical mutilation of the female genitals, designed to prevent women from wanting or enjoying sex. This is still common in many African and some Asian countries.
- Imprisonment of women in their homes, or outside the home within stifling garments that cover the whole body including the face, designed to prevent women from doing anything unchaste or, indeed, provoking male lust. We all know that this happens, and the ongoing veiling row that reached frenzy last year covered only some of the ground.
- Extremely cruel punishments (such as stoning or “the women’s room”) for women who step out of line and act against the sexual rules, designed to keep all women in line. Again, we all know this happens, particularly in Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia. Ask Sultana.
- Religious indoctrination or other brainwashing, designed to make women associate sexual feeling with guilt, sin, damnation and shame. This happens practically everywhere, including fundamentalist Christian communities in the USA.
Another form of extreme sexual repression, one that doesn’t necessarily spring to mind immediately as repression, is the kind that sexualises women and girls in the wrong way.
For example, sexual violence, and other sexual abuse perpetrated against women and girls, designed to make our bodies the object of male pleasure instead of the means of our own pleasure; with the consequence of subverting the individual’s true sexuality for the purpose of male pleasure. How can a girl or woman even have, let alone express, develop or explore, any native sexuality, when all she knows about sex is that she is its object and its victim?
And what about unrestrained raunch in pop culture, pushed to children as young as six? – children who are not only pre-pubescent but also pre-awakening, pre-sexual. Pornified pseudo-sexuality being sold to non-sexual little children – designed to catch them not only while they are unbelievably impressionable and suggestible generally, but also at an age where they have had no chance yet to learn sex on their own and to attain any innate sexual feelings. This kind of unrestrained pop raunch aimed at very young people amounts to nothing short of mass indoctrination – teaching them what sex is before they have the chance to draw any conclusions of their own, and teaching them lies. Teaching them that sex is pornography. Stopping them from learning what sex really is.
Sexual femininity, too, is a form of sexual repression. By forcing or indoctrinating women into a parody of sexuality, the traditional sexual femininity of submission prevents women and girls from developing a true sexuality of their own in exactly the same way as the newer sexual femininity of raunch.
Keeping girls and women in ignorance is a form of sexual repression. Denying them any information about sex or any opportunity to find out about sex safely makes them prey to myths and lies. It puts them in danger.
Silencing women’s voices is a form of sexual repression. The lack of any authentic culture of female sexuality in the mainstream leaves girls and women with no resources other than male resources: books, magazines, films, music all produced or controlled by men, produced by large corporations totally invested in patriarchy; a literature and language that reinforces a binary gender system, that underlines and demonstrates and glorifies both masculinity and (objectified) femininity, in sex as in everything else.
In all this, where are we women? Where does this leave us?
It leaves us, I think, in a place where most of us have never had the chance to develop our own sexuality. We are stuck with the sexuality ordained for us by the culture in which we live. Of course, we are all creatures of circumstance: but in the case of women and girls, the development of their sexuality is utterly at the mercy of society. What should be the most private journey, becomes a matter of state, a matter of compliance, a matter of morality.
(WATM: The same applies, of course, to men. They too are at the mercy of social mores and cultural surroundings. But there are some important differences. For one thing, the system is designed to work for the benefit of men relative to women, and so the constraints on men are (a) less onerous (b) more flexible and (c) designed in any event for their pleasure. The constraints on men do not, for example, involve male genital mutilation or male “protective” imprisonment or male objectification. So, for men, the sexuality dictated to them is more enjoyable, if not more than a little better or freer than the sexuality dictated to women.)
I grew up in what may have been a golden time and place, from which many of these influences were more or less excluded.
Many, but not all, and I can trace the effects of these influences in my life. I can trace life-altering decisions I made or actions I took because of my unfree sexual development. Sometimes, now that I have awoken from the dream that was not a dream, I wonder what my life might otherwise have been like, how I could rewrite it if I had my time again. I do not do this in a regretful way, because I am happy with where I am and would not change my present merely for the sake of a different past. But I do it. And I know that, had I been free when I was a child, and after, things would be very different for me now.
And if my whole life could have been totally different, but for a relatively insignificant degree of repression… what of my sisters?