Why women still can't enjoy sex

Feminism

"Men and women at a base level still aren’t viewed as being the same."

"Men and women at a base level still aren’t viewed as being the same." Photo: Getty

Three weeks ago, conservative US shock jock/hell demon Rush Limbaugh took to his radio show to launch a sustained three day attack on one Sandra Fluke, a 30 year old Georgetown University law student and reproductive rights activist. Fluke had recently given testimony at an unofficial Democratic Congressional hearing on whether or not employers with religious affiliations should be forced to provide health insurance covering birth control.

It was an unremarkable enough topic, and would probably have gone unnoticed except were it not for a) the current war being waged on women’s reproductive rights in the US and b) the unleashing of ignorant, vitriolic bile that consumed Limbaugh’s daily radio show over the following week. For the singular crime of advocating access to insurance provided birth control, Limbaugh labeled Fluke a ‘slut’ and a ‘prostitute’. Gobsmackingly, he later demanded that if Fluke and her friends (or ‘slut of whores’, as is the preferred collective term) wanted to be subsidized for having sex, the least they could do is film themselves and post it on the internet for everyone to enjoy. O_o

Both the ferocity of Limbaugh’s attacks on Fluke and the ignorance with which they were issued have yet again revealed the depths of loathing particular pockets of society still hold towards particular kinds of women. Perhaps more worryingly, they reveal how people like Limbaugh (as I pointed out recently in the example of sportsmen and former IMF heads) make clear delineations between moral women deserving of care and respect…and sluts. 

Slut. I used to fixate on the unfairness of the accusation, particularly given that it seemed to be issued with no particular rhyme or reason other than the accuser’s desire to be hurtful. But recent events (including Limbaugh’s outburst) have made me realize that this isn’t about the kind of sex women are having or even the amount. It’s about the fundamental view that women should have only a peripheral relationship to sex and certainly no active engagement with it – and that these two things will determine if she’s a Lady worthy of respect or a Slut deserving of contempt.

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In the subconscious social view, Ladies are naturally disengaged from their sexuality in any kind of human way at all. They view their sexuality peripherally through the gauzy veil of fluttering, dreamlike vistas and romantic fantasies and never, ever as a visceral event involving sweat, dirt and animalistic howls. Those who seek to take charge of their sexuality by, say, accessing birth control aren’t responsible adults making responsible decisions about their future – rather, they’re bitches on heat planning (planning!) grunting sexual encounters to satisfy their craven, unladylike lust for dick. And they pose a threat to masculinity because, given their addiction to birth control, they might now sleep with someone who’s not you.

You can screw these Sluts – but how can you respect them when they have no respect for themselves?

But it’s not just extreme conservatives who diminish women this way. Discomfit around women and sex permeates our culture, and the act itself has become a darkly comic battleground. Otherwise fair-minded women perpetuate the idea of Woman as Gatekeeper, warding off the advances of men and only buckling out of necessity – or worse, pity. This has less to do with women’s natural disdain for sex and more to do with a cultural expectation of how women should participate sexually.

Rather than a fulfilling pursuit in and of itself, Ladies should view sex as a gift to be bestowed upon a worthy suitor. It’s something that should vaguely interest them because it feels good (particularly under the masterful hand that guides them) but its role pales in comparison to the ultimate objective.

Love.

On the fraught path to love, sex is something ladies agree to, not something they do, and those of us who engage too excessively with the latter are pityingly accused of demeaning ourselves in order to find affection, or satisfy our own tragic lack of self esteem.

The conversation is lost in the problematic discussions of double standards. Women become Sluts when they engage in the same kind of behaviour as men, who are apparently called ‘studs’ although I haven’t heard that used since about 1983. But a double standard implies two different treatments of the same thing, and the core issue is that men and women at a base level still aren’t viewed as being the same. Worse, women are just as guilty (if not more so, on occasion) of depicting other women as Sluts in order to leverage themselves into the role of Ladies.

And so the accusation of ‘slut’ or ‘whore’ or ‘prostitute’ is less about how much sex women are supposedly having and how we judge it differently to men, and more to do with how much we demonise women’s enjoyment of sex in general. Think about that for a moment. In order to diminish women in our culture, we accuse them of enjoying sex. Worse, we accuse them of wanting it. We talk about them as looking ‘used’, or having ‘done the rounds’, or needing a ‘solid pounding’. It’s no coincidence that the majority of criticisms made towards Yumi Stynes had to do with how much sex she’s supposedly given away for free.

In the year of 2012, we still find ourselves gazing between a woman’s legs to see if she’s a Slut or a Lady. In a culture that presumes even the occasional use of a vagina lowers the value of its postcode, we collectively assess such use as a willingness to be defiled, and we judge accordingly.

I’ve never been all that interested in reclaiming the word ‘slut’, because I’m not all that fond of behavioural definitions. But women have for too long allowed the virgin/whore dichotomy to dictate their own progression in society. We cannot gain ground by requesting permission to walk there, nor can we gain it by trampling on the bodies of other women.

With all this in mind, perhaps we shouldn’t be struggling not to be thought of as Sluts. Perhaps we should instead be resisting the urge to be defined as Ladies.

65 comments

  • *fist pumps*

    Commenter
    quirky_yardy
    Location
    Gerangamete
    Date and time
    March 22, 2012, 9:13AM
    • I'm not sure if that is the appropriate expression in the circumstances!!

      Commenter
      interesting
      Date and time
      March 22, 2012, 1:41PM
    • fell on the floor laughing,

      Commenter
      HH
      Location
      Syd
      Date and time
      March 23, 2012, 6:26AM
  • I know this adds nothing to the discussion, but it needs to be said - I have never read anything by Clementine Ford and not found myself nodding in agreement. I gave up journalism years ago largely because I was so disheartened by the utter lack of decent journalism and standards in Australia - but Clemetine is an inspiration. Love the topics (seriously love the topics) and love the well-thought reasoning which is all delivered in the most beautiful style.

    Commenter
    MsJanuary
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    March 22, 2012, 9:35AM
    • I was at university in the 1970 and thought that attitudes towards women had changed and were changing for the better.How sad I am nearly forty years later to see the status of women going backwards and being reset at 1950s levels.It seems that a whole generation of males has nothing but contempt for the women the media has turned into objects. Advertising, TV and the social discourse that takes place online has regressed. Worst of all we have allowed it to do so by not speaking out. Giving tacit consent to the likes of the Footy Show, dismissing it as "marginal", accepting magazines aimed at teenage boys and mildly "tut tuting" as young women are criticised not for what they say but for how they look.

      Commenter
      Male
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      March 22, 2012, 11:11AM
    • I agree largely with the sentiment of the article.
      As a guy, I personally have no problem with women sleeping with whoever they want to. Go nuts. Just don't cheat on anyone or treat them like crap (same thing I would say to a man).
      I don't think my generation cares as much as previous generations (gen y). Women I know are pretty damn liberated, confident and make their own decisions. And good on em, wouldn't have it any other way.

      The only objection I have to this article is that she uses Rush Limbaugh as her example. I mean seriously, Limbaugh? The guy is crazy as a coconut.
      Everyone knows that. He's one of the crazy, right-wing shock-jocks they have in the US. These guys are fundamentalist ultra-right wing nutjobs. They appeal to the lowest common denominator and are intentionally outrageous and despicable.

      Limbaugh does not reflect greater public opinion. You might as well get a quote from the Aryan League.

      Commenter
      Jon
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      March 22, 2012, 12:43PM
    • @Jon

      It was not the main example, Jon, it was the start point that raised a particular issue that had many other points and examples raised.

      And so very decent of you to 'not have a problem with how many people women sleep with' especially since it is none of your freakin' business. Just as it is none of your damn business if women have affairs or behave poorly at times in our relationships. That's kinda our business and something we negotiate with ourselves in within our own relationships there Jon. We do not need a permission slip from you.

      You are illustrating perfectly in a 'lefty disguise' what this article is about.

      Commenter
      AT
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      March 22, 2012, 6:49PM
  • Bloody well said.

    Commenter
    Tris
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    March 22, 2012, 9:43AM
    • This is a well-written and oh-so-true article. The same old thing: if a man "conquers" lot of sexual partners he is admired, he can brag about it and his "masculinity" is reinforced. But watch out ladies - if you flaunt the number of partners you WILL be (in the 21st century) still be labelled a slut etc etc. As if she is doing something WRONG, god forbid.
      @quirky-yardy
      your comment is idiotic

      Commenter
      iworry
      Date and time
      March 22, 2012, 9:44AM
      • Good article; can't believe however that it took that long to come to the conclusion that women should resist being defined as Ladies.

        There was a female student in my class at uni in 1992 who thought that the word "woman" was insulting and insisted on being called a lady. That was probably the pivotal moment when I knew that Lady is a word to resist.

        Commenter
        Hey
        Date and time
        March 22, 2012, 9:57AM

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