Sunday, January 9, 2011

In the Good Old Days

In the good old days, women were not as promiscuous and sexual as they are now. False. That would mean that either women like Mae West and Josephine Baker were sexual aberrations, or women have been using their vaginas for a lot longer than we as a society will admit. Once we managed to pull our pussies from under the ruling thumb of the white male majority we became more sexually competitive and expressive, but the biology of desire has always been there.

Throughout Western history, literature is often the only vehicle through which women vocalized social opinions. Heroes of that kind of expression are women like Charlotte Perkins Gilman, author of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” who challenged assumptions in modern medicine about psychosis and sexuality. Contemporary with her time, though not addressed in her story, a sexually expressive woman was considered mentally ill. Were I white woman in 1892, I’d be banging some male nurse and journaling about it from inside a white-walled room.

Well, in class on Early to Medieval English literature, I was unceasingly bothered by the statements that typically emerged when we read female authors. My colleagues were either surprised that the women were writing, that the women were writing well, and that some of their stories were so sexual. There surprise was all relative to the fact that it was “back then”. Mind you pre-Medieval England was not a Christian place, and the sex politics were vastly different, but even Chaucer’s Wife of Bath had very powerful and distinct ideas about sex despite her piety.

Listening to the girls I wondered if perhaps they were all chaste half-virgins, or if we women have internalized this societal prognosis of our simple sexuality. If they had internalized this system of belief, that would then denote that they were in denial about the urges in their own vaginas. When all women are portrayed as feeling a particular way about sex, you personally will come to feel that you are the only woman in the world with a needy vagina. We are biologically designed to sexually desire insertion. The when, where, and with whom is determined by personal views on the politics and morals of sex.

In one of my favorite movies, Six Degrees of Separation, Will Smith’s character says, “I was just so happy I wanted to add sex to it. Don’t you do that?” Sex for pleasure is frowned upon by religious types, but it’s an expression of the body that is often the least expensive way to dope ourselves up. Love and sex expert, Dr. Helen Fisher claims that sex does the same shit to your brain as cocaine does.

If sex is so good and all the grown-ups are doing it, how have we also allowed ourselves to be so misinformed about it. First, is the myth of The Good Ole Days. They never existed, because humans were as sexually, emotionally, and mentally complex now as they were at the beginning of our written history. Therefore, we were always as selfish and prone to evil then as we are now. Though, as a species we’ve become like hoarders when it comes to written information, we still manage to deny the ugly parts of history. Women would have had less opportunity to have casual sex and may even have been less likely to because they were married just as her flower was beginning to bloom. The conditions surrounding your sexuality are far different than your grandmother’s.

Further, the censorship in Hollywood promotes limited depictions of sexuality. The rating committee (the people who give a movie an R rating) are more likely to give high ratings for depictions of a woman experiencing pleasure than pain. Sex is either violent or comical, but never enjoyable. In the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated, filmmakers express their frustration over the politics behind the ratings. One says that sexism and abuse of women is promoted through these depictions. Pleasure, specifically an orgasm, is often juxtaposed with pain, so that the encoded meaning is that a woman will be punished for her pain. This portrayal of punishment for the sexually satisfied promotes submission, fear, and self-hatred amongst its real life viewers. Whereas huge amounts of violence are acceptable in even G-rated films.

Believe what you will about the moral value of chastity, waiting, etc. Personally, I wish I were better at the whole waiting thing. It could possibly make things better. I don’t know. However, do not assume that women have only just recently emerged from the dark. We’ve been been fucking – and writing about it – for a good minute.

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