Tag Archives: sexual violence

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.

Advertisements

Interview: Director of Surf Doc ‘Isolated’

6 May

ISOLATED – Documentary Film Trailer from Something Kreative Films on Vimeo.

Crossroads at the End of the World

At the imagined edge of the world, where one might envision the oceans dropping off into the universe, a ragtag team of feral surfers went on an epic quest for the wave of a lifetime. In the new surf journey film Isolated, the team found both waves of pristine waters – and the limits of humanity. Expecting only to find waves in rogue surf wilderness, the filmmakers stumbled upon an explosive human rights situation in the remote region of West Papua.

Exposing both the bounds of human cruelty, and discovering the inexhaustible human spirit, Isolated takes us on the truest surf pilgrimage yet. For if surfing is an exploration of our own existence, Isolated stands alone as the ultimate surfing adventure.

Without spoiling the story, the premise is groundbreaking; feral surfers break convention (and ignore warnings) to explore West Papua for awesome waves. They try to stay under the radar due to the volatile social and political status of the area, under Indonesian occupation. The group inevitably attracts attention and makes lots of new friends – but just as quickly, they discover that their new friends are in danger, and answer a clarion call for action. The surfers, and their new friends, will never be the same.

At the edge of the world, multinational corporate interests, surf tourism, and the decline of indigenous communities collide at the crossroads of duty and adventure. Isolated is a journey like no other, and a story that demands to be heard.

I traded words with Isolated director Justin LePera about the movie, which is in screenings across the country. Narrated and executive produced by Ryan Phillippe, Isolated is sure to leave its mark on the surf community, and possibly signal a paradigm shift in our collective consciousness.

 

 

What is the number one thing that stayed with you about your time in West Papua? 

The people and the fear they had that no one would ever know about their struggle and come to help them. They are a proud people that live off the land only using what they need and are totally content. They never asked for money, and were always so welcoming. They would do anything for us and really wanted us to be a part of their community. They love their land and are very proud of it. They respect nature and each other. Their huts, beaches and communities are immaculate because they take pride in their homes and culture. There is a lot we could learn from them. The film does an amazing job balancing its competing priorities – being a modest but transformational surf documentary about the eternal search for the perfect wave by feral surfers, and evolving into a second hand account of human rights atrocities on the same scale as Guatemala and Honduras. The film closes with a clarion call to action to raise awareness of the plight of the West Papuan people.
This central storyline is unfortunately a common theme in the narratives of many countries in the world. Multinational corporate interests hire oppressive militaries to crush the local people who stand in the way of profit. Do you think that the public and the international community will respond soon enough to combat the erosion of the way of life of West Papua, the violence against the indigenous people, and to combat the commercial development taking place?

I really do believe as more and more people get awareness of the atrocities going on in West Papua, real change can occur. It was the awareness of East Timor that caused change in that region of Indonesia. I believe one of the main reasons why there has not been much of a response to issue in West Papua is due to the lack of awareness. Indonesia prohibits journalism visas, so until the past few years there hasn’t been much documented in the area. Now with everything going viral and being able to capture video on your cell phones, more and more is being leaked out about the human rights violations in the region and the world is starting to take notice.
Many surf pilgrims travel the world to find incredible stories of suffering in the communities they learn to love. What is your advice to people who may discover their own West Papua story one day? Do you think this film will be a part of a greater paradigm shift in the context of the whole global surfing community, bringing more of a focus on the people and problems encountered, as opposed to just checking in and clocking out when their flight departs?

This is the main theme of our story not just for surfers but for travelers who encounter injustices within the regions they visit. So many people have turned their back to the issues that are occurring in the lands they travel believing they are powerless to creating an impact on the region. The fact is, we all have the power to create change by speaking out and bringing awareness through social media, writing, videos, etc. If those who are committing injustices around the world know that the world is watching, I believe they will be more hesitant to commit human rights abuses, especially if they know they will be punished. Our surfers found a world-class wave and met an amazing group of people, which could easily have been good enough for them, but instead, they decided they would go beyond thinking of only themselves and to do their part to help the people. Doing your little part to help in any way you can creates a movement, and it is that movement that can create change.
Chevron is responsible for one of the world’s worst environmental and humanitarian disasters in the world after spilling crude oil the Ecuadorian rainforest. They are now planning to drill for oil and gas in West Papua. They have spent billions preparing to exploit the resources of the region. How might this affect the people living there? Do you think it is possible to engage the community in an open dialogue one day about the interests of their own landscape?

When we met with four Papuan political figures in a secret meeting protected by guards, fearing the military’s knowledge about our meeting, we discovered that many Papuan’s are very well aware of their valuable natural resources and are very open to doing business with foreign countries. What they were most concerned about were the human rights violations. They fear for their lives constantly. This is the main issue they want to see change in. Papuans are concerned about the amount of money foreign corporations spend on the military for security. The foreign businesses enable Indonesia to have such a strong military presence in the region due to financial backing the military gets from foreign corporations. Without the financial backing, Indonesia could not afford to have such a dominant military presence in West Papua. It is within the Indonesian military where change needs to happen for there to be peace in the region.

542133_431669673563143_645718321_n
How do you think this will begin to change the approach of the traveling surfer community, if the regions surf pilgrims visit often end up being further developed due to such surf tourism in the first place?

First, I hope surfers will be inspired to get off the boats, on which they travel taking them to perfect breaks, and actually get to know the people of the land. Take in the full experience and engage with those who allow you to ride their perfect waves.

Second, I hope that when they encounter those being treated inhumanely or struggling to survive, they do whatever they can to help. Even if its just tweeting or facebook posting about it. One little post at least gets it out there to the world.

There are those who may often say that a ragtag group of feral surfers should either butt out or won’t be able to change anything when they encounter something of human or environmental concern. What would you say to that?

As human beings it is our obligation to look after one another. Butting out makes you a part of the problem. Those that do butt out are only empowering those who commit the crimes against humanity by allowing them to get away with it. As long as they can get away with it, they will continue to commit heinous acts.

What is the number one thing you want to resonate with people about the film?

To go out and live your adventure! There is so many amazing things this world has to offer. To take in the experience, learn from it, and give back to those that took you in. And most importantly, to know that we all have the power to create change.

This film was never intended to go in the direction it did. At first, we were like most travelers. We knew there was a conflict in the region and tried to avoid it. But when we really started to experience the people and opened ourselves up to the experience, we became better people and humanitarian in our effort.

Visit Isolated.tv now to answer the call for change, and sign a petition asking the White House to address the human rights abuses in West Papua. Like LePera said, change comes from you. You can also pre-order the DVD here.


One Billion Rising

19 Feb

Every 15 seconds in America, a woman is beaten. Every two minutes, she or another is raped. Rape is the ultimate act of sexism and patriarchy; the physical manifestation of the dehumanization and objectification of woman from personhood to the worth of her vagina, and taking away her rights, choice, and agency as an individual.

Sexism is alive, well, and killing women and girls, right here, right now. Not just halfway around the world, not just during wartime, not just in poor neighborhoods, not just in the Midwest, not just in urban areas, not just in college, not just in prisons, not just anywhere. Everywhere.

To think that sexism isn’t that bad anymore, it’s time to stop navel-gazing and hold up a mirror: 1 in 3 women in this country have been raped and/or beaten. Are you one of them? Do you know one? Maybe you do, you just don’t know it.

Personally, I am very fortunate to have never been in a situation where I ever needed to defend myself, but I am still in my early twenties. Though I feel sorry for the person who may attempt to attack me one day. They have no idea that La Capitana is really a superhero, and will absolutely kick their f**king ass.

You may have heard of it. The Huffington Post was all over it,  both in support of the campaign and also presenting some harsh criticism. But RISE we did, all around the world.

Continue reading