Tag Archives: women’s rights

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.

Force of Nature: Beyonce as a Feminist BEAST

17 Dec

You may have heard that Beyonce mysteriously dropped an iTunes-only album, complete with artsy, dreamscape music videos accompanying EVERY song. It’s at its worst an egotistical experiment, but I imagine that’s the nature of every daring artistic endeavor. At its best, this album is a feminist musical revolution. Some have argued over the concept of Beyonce being a feminist, but this album is a deep exploration of her maternal instincts as her social consciousness has been raised by having a female black child in America. Clearly, this has forever changed her, and she presents a deeply developed cultural and spiritual perspective through a gendered lens.

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Perhaps most importantly, this is her guerilla musical endeavor. She has broken rule and convention, and gone against every music label and institutional convention. That’s radical; that’s powerful. Her forceful push through these barriers could help usher in a new era of musical creation and changes in the institutions that have hindered musical brilliance. She’s owning her incredible power as a force of nature, from every possible perspective. As a black woman, she is reclaiming each and every particle of agency that is traditionally taken from women of color, especially as entertainers. That’s fucking BADass.

The controversy of Beyonce’s right to claim herself a feminist stems from the pettiness that grounds every social movement, least of all women’s rights. So she dyes her natural African American hair blonde and uses her sexuality as an entertainer. Well, that’s her choice and prerogative. It’s even more profound given that women of color in music and pop culture are often the most sexually objectified without consultation.

But before you might criticize her for claiming feminist agency, check yourself. Look in the mirror. I don’t just call myself a feminist – I AM a feminist. But yes, I shave my arms and underarms, wear makeup, high heels to work, and fake eyelashes for photo shoots. Why? Because I’ve been socialized to carry some shame otherwise. Just like her – though even more so because as a woman of color she enjoys even less privilege than I do. I imagine that you and every other feminist has some contradictions as well. But that’s what makes us human – and our fight to exist merely as human is exactly what defines us as feminists.

This album is at once high feminist art, even musical haute couture, and it is obviously ignited and inspired by her motherhood. But furthermore, she is deconstructing her own flaws, contradictions, and humanity. Thats’s the ultimate artistic endeavor – to bare one’s soul as we simply exist – as imperfect, simple, complex, confused, enduring human beings. Through soundscapes that evoke a glimpse of the music of tomorrow, Beyonce explores her existential demons as she exists- as just another human. That is the ultimate feminist statement.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/beyonce/id780330041

International Day Against Victim-Blaming, Steubenville, & Steven Landsburg

3 Apr

Oh, no, he DI’INN!

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Let’s take a step back here. Roughly a month ago, University of Rochester Professor Steven Landsburg publishes a couple of blog posts. The Dean of the University, Joel Seligman, described them like this:

[Professor Landsburg praised] Rush Limbaugh for a “spot-on analogy” with respect to his offensive remarks about Georgetown student Sandra Fluke (although Landsburg parted company with Limbaugh for calling Fluke a “slut”).  Landsburg went further.  He stated that Ms. Fluke’s position deserved “only to be ridiculed, mocked and jeered.”  He further stated that the right word for her position was “extortionist,” characterized those who disagreed with his view as “contraceptive sponges,” and added that there is nothing wrong with being paid for sex.

Further, Professor Landsburg has blogged about the Steubenville rape trial as well, defending the rapists.

From Women Organized to Resist and Defend:

In a shocking March 20 blog post titled “Censorship, Environmentalism and Steubenville,” University of Rochester economics professor Steven Landsburg questioned the harm of raping an unconscious woman who may not remember the attack, and wondered why rapists should not “reap the benefits” of women’s bodies. Landsburg’s hypothetical “dilemma” ignores material reality in a hateful attempt to further his sexist beliefs, and goes on to question whether rape should be against the law:

“Let’s suppose that you, or I, or someone we love, or someone we care about from afar, is raped while unconscious in a way that causes no direct physical harm—no injury, no pregnancy, no disease transmission. (Note: The Steubenville rape victim, according to all the accounts I’ve read, was not even aware that she’d been sexually assaulted until she learned about it from the Internet some days later.) Despite the lack of physical damage, we are shocked, appalled and horrified at the thought of being treated in this way, and suffer deep trauma as a result. Ought the law discourage such acts of rape? Should they be illegal?”

Landsburg’s awful, misogynist rant continues, musing:

“Why shouldn’t the rest of the world…be allowed to reap the benefits?”

The rapists, "reaping the benefits."

The rapists, “reaping the benefits” of an underage girl.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that his role as an educator of young adults should preclude him from engaging in this kind of rhetoric, online or anywhere. Unfortunately for us, him, the college, and especially his students, he didn’t appear to know any better.

I wanted to give him some credit. He appears to be otherwise rather bright. Though the elephant in the room is really, how can you argue that rape is ever “harmless?!” That was the most glaringly obvious and telling mistake of all (keep in mind, she may have been passed out, but she is receiving DEATH threats now. Harmless my big fat feminist ass).

At first, I was furious, and then I received an email alert from Women Organized to Resist and Defend (WORD) to sign a petition calling for his immediate termination. Suddenly, I realized this got very real for the professor. As a veteran academic provocateur and all-around hell-raiser, I knew that if it didn’t happen now, sooner rather than later, this professor would lose his footing on the thin ice upon which he stands. Academia does not want to stand upon free speech. That is a given. But million-dollar schools don’t take too kindly to such negative publicity from the keystroke of one short-sighted, foolish, and chauvinistic man.

I felt that his doom was imminent. I signed and promoted it on twitter. But then – I had an idea. I called the college.

First, I called the Dean. Then, I had a lengthy conversation with a VP of Communications and we definitely agreed on some mutual feelings and points. Ultimately, though, colleges are spooked at the idea of intruding upon free speech. They don’t want to be sued or anything. Obvs. But what if there was something else that could be done?

Next, I reached out to the professor himself on twitter. I told him to man up, hold himself accountable, own up to his mistake, retract the articles, issue a public apology, take a sensitivity course, and enroll in the college’s introductory women’s studies class, WST 100.

The Women’s Studies Department had their own response as well. I’m glad to see people speaking up about this. They wrote up some great pieces. But Professor Misogynist was back at it, trying to pick apart points and debate people to death. No sense of ownership or accountability for his shameful statements. Needless to say, I left my own comment on the page.

Finally, there was a conference held today at the school (coincidentally) on sexual assault on college campuses. Word on the street was clear: there was no sign of him there. What a missed opportunity to educate yourself, Mr. Landsburg, and show some respect and humility. After all – an educator is, if nothing else, a seeker of knowledge – some seeker you are.

So after talking to the school representative and investigating this further, especially after learning that the Professor did not attend that conference, I can wholeheartedly endorse the petition to have him fired. It’s one thing when you admit that you were wrong. It’s another to take a hateful, dangerous stance in the name of free speech, violating the trust of the students you are charged to guide, and run like the devil with it!

Please sign, share & feel free to shame Mr Landsburg on twitter (@StevenLandsburg). He definitely needs some educating for himself!

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Happy International Day Against Victim-Blaming – read more about today, what you can do & tweet your support with #vaw, #victimblaming, #IDAVB & #endrape!

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AWESOME IWD Infographic

8 Mar

UNF-infographic-V3

When I Gaze Into the Looking-Glass (Video)

7 Mar

 

In honor of International Women’s Day 2013, over the yearning tune of Mary Lou Williams, I present my freeverse Everywoman’s tale: an allegory and an homage, part radical feminist piece, part performance art. A universal women’s narrative, playing out through a global lens, pointing out who we are and who we have become, and the parallel internal and external battles that rage on.

 

 

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The Girl Effect: How Girls Can Save the World

6 Mar

The Girl Effect: How Girls Can Save the World

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Learn more about what you can do to help women and girls in the world, and the issues facing them globally.

View & share! Hope you enjoy my presentation…

When I Gaze Into The Looking-Glass ©

6 Mar
When I gaze into the looking-glass,
I despise what I see.
A woman. Flawed. Insufficient. 
Pillow lips of blushing roses
A youthful face of innocence
Breasts made for sustaining life
Hips made for giving it
Even the hairs above my lip 
Seem meaningless
And yet, I must remove them.
Hair above my genitals-
Isn't it disgusting?
A healthy vagina, and yet so grotesque. 

Sent to me to process like a torrent
My already overwhelmed psyche
And for me, to somehow, change. 
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