Tag Archives: patriarchy

Construction of a Feminist Sexual Consciousness

15 Aug

Presenting a new theory of feminist sexual consciousness. Drawing on gender studies theory, ancient goddess archetypal literature, artifacts of the divine feminine, theories on the origins of patriarchy, neuroimaging and studies of physiology of women’s orgasm, and an attempt to formulate a radical and cohesive perspective on women’s contemporary sexual agency. Hopefully this presentation can awaken a feminist sexual consciousness in the viewer, regardless of gender.

0:00 – Introductions
0:47 – Oppression of women throughout history & sexual agency
1:35 – Feminist consciousness-raising and sex
2:30 – The origins of patriarchy as a response to the divine feminine
4:25 – Creatrix myths & women’s sexual power
5:00 – Patriarchy & the rise of the state; origin of property following Neolithic revolution
6:40 – Ancient art representing mother-creator/ creatrix cosmic origin myths
6:52 – Minoan snake goddess
8:18 – Mother atop the mountain goddess image from Minoan gold signet ring
10:15 – Sumerian god/ goddess and the Tree of Life; transliteration of divine feminine myths into Biblical stories to justify patriarchy
12:13 – Egyptian goddess Nut, Grandmother Spider (Hopi pottery), gold statue of Hindu goddess Durga, Creatrix of the universe
13:15 – Enheduanna poet & priestess; Sumerian sacred sex rites & fertility; sensual hierophants
14:31 – Female-authored Tantric texts, autonomous definitions of the sexual self
15:01 – Transpersonal sexual experience, core energies & tantric philosophies on liquid substrates of life
16:00 – Sexual & spiritual disconnection in contemporary life, the sexual revolution, casual sexuality vs. meaningful sexual connection & transpersonal sexual experience healing power
17:05 – controversy of sex & spirituality, vulnerability, the ego, human connections & contemporary values vs. ancient traditions
18:04 – depression rates, the death of human intimacy, and digital life; the distraction from the status quo; healing the Judeo-Christian-Islamic patriarchal sexual narrative
19:09 – extrapolating ancient values to awaken a feminist sexual consciousness; the vulnerability in intimacy, radical definition of women’s sexual experience
20:05 – new models of women’s orgasm, neural pathways to orgasmic consciousness, 16,000 ways to stimulate orgasm, ESR orgasms, transcendental orgasmic experiences, status orgasmus, synesthesia, blended orgasms, oxytocin pathway through intercostal nerve, similarities to psychedelic & spiritual experiences; similarities to ancient descriptions of invoking the divine through sacred sex rites
23:37 – therapeutic applications of feminist sexual consciousness theory
25:56 – incongruous social construction of women’s sexuality requires a thorough examination of historical perspectives to inform contemporary sexual agency
26:06 – healing sexuality from a humanistic perspective as a mode of feminist liberation and human sexual awakening; the cheapening of sexuality in the media and pop culture; the subversive power of women’s sexuality
27:25 – recommendations for new paradigms of feminist sexual consciousness as a new theory in sexuality & gender studies; application to clinical practice

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Pathologizing Women’s Sexuality: Then and Now

15 Jul

Pathologizing and medicalizing women’s sexuality is nothing new. Here is a brief timeline of just some of the appalling highlights throughout human history of how women have been treated regarding sex:

Here is a great article from the New York Times on the pathologizing of women’s sex drives in modern times. To briefly cover how women’s sexuality has been pathologized throughout the ages, see below:

1. Actually, low female desire is ‘normal.’ Women have been made to feel that having a low libido means something is wrong with them. Currently women with chronic low libido are pathologized as having a type of female sexual dysfunction called hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). The trouble is, many of the researchers who have come up its nebulous definition have financial ties to pharmaceutical companies.”

2. Freud himself pathologized women’s sexuality to the point of literal “hysteria.” He popularized the idea that a sexually interested woman was not only unhealthy, she was mentally ill and wishing she was really a man with a penis. Though he certainly wasn’t the first person to present these ideas. “In his early theories, Freud simply extended his views of male sexuality to women, viewing women as simply men without penises (Cohler & Galatzer-Levy, 2008). His male perspective of sexuality is understandable, but nonetheless problematic, as it marginalizes female sexuality. Female sexuality, according to early Freudian theory, is exactly the same as male sexuality up until the phallic stage of psychosexual development; since women don’t have a penis, however, they experience penis envy. He also fell prey to the general sexism of the time, writing that in men alone is “the sexual life…accessible to investigation, whereas in the woman it is veiled in impenetrable darkness, partly in consequence of cultural stunting and partly on account of the conventional reticence and dishonesty of women” (Freud, 1905). Dismissing women and their sexuality in such a way seems troublesome not only because he treated many female patients, but because his theories are still so prevalent today, continuing to influence psychologists and sexologists alike (Jayne, 1984).”

3. Victorian ideas about women and sex were particularly appalling. The vibrator was invented by doctors in Victorian England for a stunningly awful reason. During these times, doctors believed that women became unhinged and unhappy due to either having a uterus that was unattached to anything in their body and “roving around” inducing so-called “hysteria,” or they needed either a REMOVAL OF the clitoris (clitorectomy) or stimulation of it. Yes, doctors had well-to-do women in Victorian England visit their offices for the doctor to “perform a treatment” of manual stimulation of their clitoris to induce orgasm. This treatment became popular and therefore the vibrator was invented to save doctors from incessant hand cramps. As hilarious and ridiculous as it sounds, it is but one example of devastating erasure of women’s sexual agency and identity. This is one of the most egregious examples of pathologizing women’s sexuality to the point of extreme violation of their bodies. 

4. The clitorectomy was also popular around this time. From an excellent article on the history of clitorectomies and vibrators: “In a series of papers, Baker-Brown argued that the professional manipulation of the clitoris to induce paroxysms was no cure for hysteria. In his view, it only made the problem worse by feeding the patient’s lust for gratification. The only effective solution, he insisted, was a permanent one: the surgical removal of the clitoral glans. As Martha Coventry wrote in a famous article for Ms., Baker-Brown promised that after a clitoridectomy, “intractable women became happy wives; rebellious teenage girls settled back into the bosom of their families; and married women formerly averse to sexual duties became pregnant.”

Happily, Baker-Brown was soon discredited by his fellow gynecologists, many of whom objected to his habit of performing clitoridectomies on women without their consent. Unfortunately, the surgical procedure he popularized survived his fall from grace. Baker-Brown may have fallen out of favor with his British colleagues, but his ideas found a more enduring footing on the other side of the Atlantic. As early as 1866, American doctors began performing clitoridectomies to stop hysteria, nymphomania, and above all, masturbation. As Coventry discovered, medical textbooks continued to recommend clitoral excisions as late as 1937, and some doctors continued to perform the procedure for at least a decade after that. (Coventry interviewed a Michigan woman who underwent a clitoridectomy in 1944, at age 12: “…as she sat on the exam table, an attendant clamped an ether-soaked rag over her mouth from behind. When she woke up, her clitoris was gone. ‘They tried to keep me from masturbating,’ she said. Then, after a pause, added, ‘Didn’t work.'”)

5. None of this is anything new. During colonial times in Europe: “Although ordinary women could never aspire to [political or religious positions in the public sphere] they had other powers unique to their sex: Women were disorderly, sexual, and lustyÉ With woman’s intellect at the mercy of her lower nature, she would be prone to the evil powers of witchcraft. Her very sensual and deceptive power, in fact, dictated the necessity of her subordination within marriage” (Evans, 22-23).

The medical perspective was limited in that males dominated this profession. “Even diagrams of female anatomy in medical books are limited to male eyes only. Plans to instruct midwives in anatomy were thwarted. Physicians were reluctant to give their patients too much knowledge”(Porter, 86). Women during this period really had nowhere to turn to obtain helpful knowledge about their bodies and/or sexuality in a world dominated by men.

6. Going back further, in ancient Greece and Rome, “women’s sexuality was something to be controlled. To Aristotle, women’s bodies were passive receptacles for men to deposit their seed, what Sophocles called a “field to plow.” Since the key function of women was to produce children, Athenians thought it was pointless to educate them or allow them to participate in public life.” Further, “Rome’s highest priestesses were known as the Vestal Virgins. They were “vestal” because they served the goddess Vesta, and “virgins” in that their untouched bodies were seen as essential to the safety of Roman society. No one else in Rome was expected to stay a virgin, but a single sexual detour by a Vestal was thought to bring pestilence, losses in war and divine displeasure. On several occasions, when no one could figure out why some calamity had befallen Rome, Vestals were accused of no longer being virgins. For that crime, they were buried alive in a tiny room and covered up without a trace.”

7. Back to Victorian times:  “nearly all official measures against venereal disease were directed exclusively against women. In the 19th century, many European governments legalized prostitution, but only to the extent of subjecting real or suspected prostitutes to punishing medical inspections, often called “instrument rapes,” which probably resulted in the transmission of a variety of harmful infections. One French woman described the process in detail:

It is awful work; the attitude they push us into first is so disgusting and so painful, and then those monstrous instruments—often they use several. They seem to tear the passage open first with their hands, and examine us, and then they thrust in instruments, and they pull them out and push them in, and they turn and twist them about; and if you cry out they stifle you….”

8. In modern times, women’s sexual agency is not only pathologized, but women’s lives are at risk throughout the world for exploring their sexuality or deviating from cultural norms. In some countries, honor killings are practiced if a woman’s mere sexual reputation is under threat. Similarly, “crimes of passion” are rampant throughout the world as jealous men attack and murder women for the act or idea of being sexual with another man.

So little wonder that even in modern times, the idea of women having satisfying sex lives according to their own desires is threatening to the fabric of society, since it is built on patriarchal ideals of controlling women’s bodies and sex. Little wonder, then, that politicians are trying to prevent access to reproductive resources such as contraception, emergency birth control, and abortion. Little wonder that young girls don’t receive very much sex education or information about their own sexual pleasure. Little wonder that we can see someone be disemboweled in the movies, but a woman’s face during an orgasm is not allowed to be in even an R-rated movie. Little wonder that the worst thing you can call a woman is a “slut,” especially if she is sexually liberated, yet the worst thing you can call a man is a “woman,” “girl,” or “pussy.” 

This is the legacy upon which our current sexual health conversation is built. I don’t trust pharmaceutical companies to be concerned with women’s health. They are more concerned about making money. Women are going to be pathologized for not wanting sex and for wanting it “too much.” A pill is probably not the answer to this much more complex social issue that reverberates sexism into the interpersonal and sexual-emotional issues in relationships.

Specula from 1847 (U.S. National Library of Medicine)

For more on the systemic violation of women’s sexuality and bodies, review the invention of the speculum by the father of gynecology, who performed “instrument rape” on slave women in early America. That was then, this is now, you say? Yes, and nowadays OB-GYN’s get their license by performing vaginal exams on nonconsenting women who are under anaesthesia for other operations in teaching hospitals. See this article for the testimonies of several doctors who refused to participate and who loudly question the ethics of this practice. The practice is so commonplace for OB-GYN departments of teaching hospitals that in 2003 the residency doctor of Johns Hopkins said, ““I don’t think any of us even think about it. It’s just so standard as to how you train medical students.”

In consequence, there is no precedent set to earn women’s trust regarding their sexual health. It is wise to be suspicious of any product or service that is directed at our sexuality, especially coming from the medical establishment. We like to take a pill for the easy way out. But that may very well cause more trouble than it solves, especially if the root of the issue lay ignored in the context of emotionally unsatisfying relationships that are based on patriarchal norms.

Rihanna’s Fertility Fashion Figure

6 Jun

So Rihanna wore a lovely dress the other day.

rihanna-see-through-dress

As expected, people hated on it. Why? Because women’s bodies don’t belong to them – they belong to everyone else, but definitely not themselves. Especially black women’s bodies. God forbid a black woman wears her own body without shame. Why is “shameless” a disparaging term? Harboring shame should be the crime in this context. Why should we be ashamed of our bodies? We weren’t always.

The Venus of Willendorf, the iconic example of a Paleolithic fertility figure. Note the plaited hair at the top. I can't help but compare this to Rihanna's bonnet. It's almost as if her stylist found this as inspiration.

The Venus of Willendorf, the iconic example of a Paleolithic fertility figure. Note the plaited hair at the top. I can’t help but compare this to Rihanna’s bonnet. It’s almost as if her stylist found this as inspiration.

The above fertility figure is but one example of the countless female fertility figures found in excavations of ancient cultures – cultures that cultural anthropologists have reason to believe were female-oriented in their spirituality. This female-orientation especially as it relates to religious practice is suggestive of a pre-Judeo-Christian world when women’s power was their body, and it was revered (not seen as a threat).

I’ve seen some people critique Rihanna’s nudeness as a lack of self-respect for her own body. Why?  It’s important to not conflate self-respect with a shaming of the body. What she did is the epitome of self-love. I am grateful to her that she stepped out, rocking her body with fearless abandon. May we all endeavor to raise our daughters to treat their own bodies with such spiritual sensuality, self-respect, and confidence.

That dress is probably the ultimate representation of what I want to wear to my own wedding, and why not? A wedding for me is a symbol of the deepest sensual intimacy. Some cultures in other parts of the world, before Biblical-era self-body-shaming was placed upon our bodies (and especially women’s bodies), encouraged a newly wedded couple to copulate without much discretion or privacy. It was a much celebrated moment of the propagation of the human species and survival – and not to mention the union of two people for life, to raise children and consecrate their union with the most sacred of bonds – the joint formation of a life.

Indeed, Rihanna’s glorious dress is a celebration of all of these things, and not least the most wonderful example of female fertility – something that as a species, we used to celebrate, with recognition of the Divine Feminine in hundreds of cultures, as referenced by the endless fertility figures that live on only in curio cabinets, behind glass in museums.

The illusion of modesty is merely a relic of the ancient response to women’s reproductive power – one of many efforts to own and control women, especially the women of the world who were not of European descent. It’s all about control and power. But there can be no controlling what is sacred and pure, which is why the efforts to do so may never stop. Its power is simply too threatening to those who define their own power by that which they lack. “Penis envy” is a hilarious term – because in truth, it is quite the opposite. 

I hope that Rihanna has helped to usher in the contemporary exhortations of the Divine Feminine. I hope that we don’t relegate femaleness, our bodies, and our breasts, buttocks, and genitals to simply be relics behind glass and underneath our clothing. I hope that the female fertility figure comes back, and not least in the form of our divine, naked, amazing, glorious selves of all colors and shapes.

If what we really want to do is exercise self-respect, we will cast-off the modern day shackles of shame, partially imposed on us by ourselves, partially by a puritanical culture based on Judeo-Christian values. These values sought to enslave the Divine Feminine, and relegate the goddess to the inner circle of Hell, so great was her power.

Rihanna is a walking fertility figurine, and a celebration of her body, her blackness, her femaleness, and her power. Who could possibly ask her to be ashamed? It is sacred; and it is divine! 

Change Comes From Within

9 Mar

I had the distinct pleasure and privilege to attend a DC event put together by an international non-governmental organization, that featured notable speakers and panelists on global women’s issues.

Hundreds of professionals and scholars gathered to learn more about the pandemic of violence against women and the barriers to universal education for girls. We swapped stories and traded perspectives; we bonded and tweeted; we texted our friends to let them know how much they were missing.

As I settled in to my seat with my glass of wine and a few chicken cordon bleu hors d’ouevres, I chatted with a neighbor.

Afterwards, I overheard women (the event was 95% female) talking as well. Everywhere, women were chatting, networking, bonding.

But I noticed something else – something beyond the expected. Something disturbing.

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AWESOME IWD Infographic

8 Mar

UNF-infographic-V3

Happy 102nd International Women’s Day! ♀♡

8 Mar

Celebrate! Yay! We’ve come so far, nationally and globally. But there is much to be done. Patriarchy is the law of the land, and women and girls suffer infinitely because of it.

But there is hope. Not only are we close to achieving certain #MDGS (Millennium Development Goals), but organizations around the world are identifying obstacles, appropriating resources, and implementing solutions.

The best part of International Women’s Day is that warm, fuzzy feeling, when all your year-round hard work amongst advocates everywhere is highlighted in a mainstream way, and you see the results of such work: real change. But a lot of the coverage I have seen lately is on solidarity, momentum, consciousness-raising, and awareness. All of those are all well and good, and indeed, the foundation of change itself. But as we all know, caring is not enough. Not even if everyone cared.

Left to right: Christy Turlington-Burns, Stella Mukasa, (Director of Gender Violence and Rights at ICRW), Sarah Degnan Kambou (ICRW President), Andrea Mitchell (NBC Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent), Michael Elliott, (President of the ONE Campaign), and Ravi Verma (ICRW Asia Director)

Left to right: Christy Turlington-Burns, Stella Mukasa, (Director of Gender Violence and Rights at ICRW), Sarah Degnan Kambou (ICRW President), Andrea Mitchell (NBC Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent), Michael Elliott, (President of the ONE Campaign), and Ravi Verma (ICRW Asia Director)

Our bleeding hearts may break together, but even our collective, synchronized heartbeats won’t deafen reality: we must do more, while simultaneously keeping our voices aimed at raising the profile of the issue. We must work on the issue from all angles, simultaneously, in tandem with one another. Balancing this is hard work.

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Murder on Rt 80: The Long Road from Selma

1 Mar

First of all, put on some Jimi Hendrix. Ok, now you may continue.

viola-liuzzo-1

Proud sidenote: Viola was a longtime Unitarian… Go Unitarian Unversalists! (I was born ‘n’ raised, y’all!)

In an instant, teenage Penny Liuzzo was overcome with a sense of dread. While watching television in 1965, she doubled over in a fit of nausea. She knew exactly why. “Oh my God, my mother is dead.” Her mother, Viola Liuzzo, had driven to Selma, Alabama to join the civil rights protests after the Bloody Sunday march to Montgomery. After a premonition, she begged her mother not to go. But Viola, fiercely independent and determined to make a difference, carried on.

Hours later, Penny lied awake in bed, unable to sleep. Her father called. Her intuition was correct. Her mother was dead. ‘Then something happened that Penny still cannot explain 40 years later. Her 6-year-old sister, Sally, walked into the bedroom and said, “No, Mama’s not dead. I just saw her walking in the hall.”‘

…chills!!

Liuzzo’s mother was brutally murdered by the KKK for being a voice in the civil rights movement. Now, the murder that divided a generation is again in the headlines, as it symbolizes a story with a revolving narrative in our society. From FBI conspiracies to the galvanizing of a social movement, to the tragedy of a family forever traumatized by being publicly scapegoated for their tragedy, to the reaching of the point of no return in a nation divided by the murder of a white woman in the deep south of Selma, Alabama.

This story starts out with shock and continues to build upwards past outrageous, finally culminating as an unforgettable injustice made worse by public backlash and government lies. The life and death of one of America’s greatest unsung (s)heroes of the civil rights movement comes to a head as the US Supreme Court heard arguments challenging the 1965 Voting Right’s Act.

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