Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sluts, Shame, and Not Being Silent

Let’s talk for a moment about shame. And sexuality. And gender. And … politics.

(Roll up your sleeves, kids, because we’re about to do some work.)

Remember when Rush Limbaugh – that fine example of humanity and rational thought – called Sandra Fluke a slut and a prostitute for wanting to have affordable access to birth control?

I was livid. And wrote a post about it in which I flipped out and spent many paragraphs writing about some women needing birth control – specifically the pill – for things other than actual birth control, and how what Rush Limbaugh said wasn’t okay, and blah blah blah.

I wholeheartedly maintain that Rush Limbaugh is a vile, blathering hatemonger and that he has no business calling Sandra Fluke a prostitute or demeaning her.


I got it wrong in my response.

The issue isn’t that some people take birth control pills for reasons other than, well, controlling birth. The issue is that people – women – should have control over their bodies and, by extension, their sexuality, and they should not be shamed for it. PERIOD. The end.

I’m 36 years old. If I want to take birth control so that I don’t get pregnant, I shouldn’t have to APOLOGIZE for it. I shouldn’t feel like I have to justify it with other medical issues that make being on the pill more or less desirable, and I shouldn’t have to feel like I have to hide behind those other benefits to being on the pill when I make an argument that birth control – like all other medicines – should be affordable.

Why am I talking about this now?

It’s on my mind because of a murder. A student at a local university was recently killed during what investigators believe was a sex act that may or may not have been consensual. Her body has not yet been found.

The media, of course, is all over this. It was one story when she was killed. The fact that she might have been killed during 50 Shades of Grey sex? It’s like gasoline on a fire.

And then someone said, “No one forced her to have sex with him.”

Which was kind of like taking a very big jab right at my flip-out button. Because, you see,  it’s unclear at this time as to whether or not this was consensual. Maybe he DID force her to have sex with him.

But maybe he didn’t. Maybe it was entirely consensual.

Please clarify for me when hooking up with someone gave them the right to kill you. I MISSED THAT MEMO, Y’ALL.

I may be completely incorrect here – I’m sure one or two of you will let me know – but I’m FAIRLY certain that if a man was killed by a woman during a sex act with said woman and his bodily summarily disposed of someplace, no one would be saying “Well, no one FORCED him to have sex with her.” Instead, the female killer would be viewed as predatory, possibly deranged ; since killing someone during sex is deviant behaviour, that would be a rational response.

Flip the genders back around though, and it becomes not about the fact that this guy killed her, but a question as to what she was doing there.  As though it’s not the violence that we should question, but her ability to exert her own sexual autonomy.

We don’t, as a society, seem to have these discussions about male sexuality. Actually, let me be clear. We don’t have these discussions about the sexuality of heterosexual males. There is no equivalent to Rush Limbaugh slut-calling Sandra Fluke for advocating affordable birth control. I see no one telling straight adult men that they have no business dressing a certain way, walking alone at night, having a drink with someone they just met. I don’t see a man getting killed during sex and then having his character dissected by the media and community.

It’s highly problematic to me that the notion that women would take control of their bodies makes them objects of derision and ridicule while, at the same time, women who find their bodies violated are deemed the authors of their own pain and torment. How is it that it is 2012 and our culture cannot accept that women have a right to own their sexuality, and a right to exercise control over their reproductive present and future?  What’s with the notion that a woman should not have sex unless it’s for procreation (which denies any kind of sexuality or sexual drive and makes women little more than broodmares) and yet also blaming her for  being so sexually tempting and aggressive that if she is a victim of a sexual crime than she is also clearly the perpetrator of said crime (which promotes the idea that women are inherently sexual)?  

The part of all this that REALLY bothers me, though, is how ingrained it is. I think of myself as thoughtful, as liberated, as a feminist. Yet when I went after Rush Limbaugh in the wake of the Sandra Fluke comments, I missed the point. The point isn’t simply that women need affordable medical care for all kinds of conditions.

The point is women taking control of their bodies and sexuality is not shameful.

That’s the point.

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