The Semantics of Sex are Sexist themselves

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In all honesty, I talk about sex a lot. With my friends, with my family, with anyone who reads my blogs. It’s not that I’m addicted to sex, or am just desperately lonely and horny all the time, it’s just that I’ve been one to let taboo subjects stay untouched, and talking about it can be just so entertaining and/or educational for everyone. And no-one wants an Orange is the New Black situation where you get halfway through your life and realise you need someone to draw a diagram of the female anatomy for you. Knowledge is power after all.

The way we talk about sex is important. And we don’t talk about it enough.

But it is during such conversations that the different semantics used by men and women to discuss sex become pronounced.  For men, sex is narrated in a way which shows them to be the active, powerful ones; phrases such as ‘She’d get it’, ‘I’ve had her’ or ‘I gave her a quick poke’ (as helpfully suggested by my brother), which are more generally used by men  clearly show them to be the ones in control. Regardless of whether this actually reflects the dynamics of the couple, it’s worryingly hard to think of masculine language which doesn’t seem to suggest that the man is the giver, the doer, the one with the power.

Women, on the other hand, are unsurprisingly painted as the more passive member of the relationship. For them, the semantics of sex are based around ancient ideas of the sanctity of the virgin, of giving yourself over to someone, of sex being a type of sacrifice, only justifiable when you feel you can give yourself over entirely to that person.

Let's talk about sex, baby.

Let’s talk about sex, baby.

Now clearly I am making massive generalisations here, and I’m not saying that all men of sex as some huge act of power play, whilst all women are virgins waiting around to be ‘deflowered’. I’ve done my sex ed lessons too, and obviously the sheer mechanics of sex means that men are, in general, the active ones, and so it does make sense that the language used to describe sex for them should reflect this. Moreover, women historically have ‘given away’ their virginity to whatever suitor makes the best offer.

What is interesting is how these concepts still seem to be innately part of how we view sex, with the language we use to describe it directly reflecting our subconscious opinions on it. These thoughts also impact how we view those who have sex, and how the media and popular culture present it to us. The very things which teach us and influence how we view sex seem to follow on from the gendered rules of the semantics we use to discuss it.

Sex is impossible to escape the media, whatever the gender of the audience.

Sex is impossible to escape the media, whatever the gender of the audience.

To take an incredibly basic example, being about two years behind the rest of he world, I recently finished Gossip Girl, a show which, whilst following a group elite American teenagers as they journey into adulthood, also manages to capture society’s views on sex and gender. Though I’m pretty sure the writers of the show would like to think they’ve created quite strong, independent female characters, especially in the cases of Blair and Serena, the way their sexual experiences are narrated in contrast to the male characters paints a different story.

Serena is portrayed at the beginning of the show as a ‘slut’ for having had a large amount of sexual partners throughout her teenage years, with this kind of sexual frivolity being associated with drugs, alcohol and teenage rebellion. The only thing which saves her from her inevitable arrest, pregnancy and death by STD is the fact she meets Dan Humphrey, the classic good guy who rides in to her rescue. So, in short, the only thing which saves her from her disruptive sex, is having more sex, but with a nice virgin.

A 21st century case study.

A 21st century case study.

Chuck, on the other hand, who is notorious for his playboy antics, is shown as a sort of lovable Hugh Hefner character, with his large amount of sexual experience being shown as an incredibly sexy trait, and his love of prostitutes being shown as completely normal. Moreover, when Blair and Jenny ‘give away’ their virginity to Chuck, it is shown as an act which victimises them, as something which can be used to embarrass and blackmail them, and is ultimately what causes Jenny to leave them. How Chuck lost his virginity was irrelevant.

Furthermore, Blair’s love of sex games is seen by her mother as a reason for herself to inherit her family business, despite her ample intelligence and forceful leadership style. On the rare occasion that she does indulge in a sexual fantasy about Chuck, she is warned by her housemaid Darota that ‘God is always watching’.

Everyone knows sexually active women can't be successful.

Everyone knows sexually active women can’t be successful.

This contrast clearly shows how, even in a twenty-first century show about powerful and successful women, the dated ways in which we treat sex differently according to genders are still present.

My issue is not ultimately that males and females talk about sex differently, for this seems natural given how different sexual experiences can be for both genders. The problem I have in that the language used for women to describe sex needs modernising. Girls shouldn’t be made to always feel like they are ‘giving’ or sacrificing something when they have sex, thereby completely removing any idea of empowerment or ownership over their own bodies. It also causes women to associate sex with guilt and shame, and undermines the idea of women enjoying casual sex or actually going out and seeking sexual experiences themselves, instead of just passively waiting for a man to come to her.

The way we talk needs to change.

The way we talk needs to change.

Though clearly the stakes are often higher for females engaging in sex than males- need I say more than pregnancy- we need to move the semantics of sex away from the Victorian era and into the times of birth control, where women are not all sitting around in their pearls waiting to be wooed by their knight in shining armour, and consensual sex isn’t something women should feel guilty or victimised about.

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Why clubbing embodies all that is wrong with the patriarchy… and I still feel empowered by it

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As a university fresher, I spend a large amount of my free time in clubs. Which effectively means I am choosing to spend valuable money to go and stand in a crowded, poorly lit, claustrophobic underground room, filled with smelly, sweaty strangers, whilst consuming overpriced alcohol and listening to music I would probably never think of adding to my Spotify playlist.

Yet, every week, without fail, I find myself donning a pair of heels, standing in a ridiculous queue, prepared to throw away my student loan for a night out.

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Can feminism really thrive here?

However, even worse than the smell or the price is the environment of misogyny clubbing creates. Girls, though not forced to, are expected to wear as little clothing as she can, and attempt to dance as alluringly as possible in front of men they’ve never met before, in the hope that one of them will buy them a drink and return a bump to their grind. Phrases such as ‘She’d get it’ or ‘I would’ are constantly heard uttered by men at the bar, and a woman is expected to feel pleased that her crop-top and hot-pant combination has been received with such approval by these male voyeurs.

Why, as a feminist, and self-respecting woman, would I volunteer to put myself through this?

Though clubbing is a hardly the place Emily Pankhurst was envisioning the feminists of the future to end up, I like to think that not all hope is lost when it comes to clubbing. Choosing to support feminism does not mean I am consigned to a life of staying in every Saturday night with my Gossip Girl box set and a mug of mint tea. The patriarchy isn’t going to beat me that easily.

Though clubbing clearly has the potential to be a patriarchal prison, this can be turned around… All through the power of a woman’s right to choose.

For instance, the clothes a woman chooses to wear out clubbing shouldn’t make her the victim of misogynistic thinking. One could argue that I have been socially conditioned to think I need to wear a short skirt and Wonderbra to impress men, or peer pressured into dressing this way because everyone else is doing it. But I think there’s more to it than that.

In all honesty, I’m picking out that bodycon dress as much to impress other woman as other men when I go out. And to impress myself. As someone who goes to the gym 5 days a week and is (relatively) careful with what they eat, when it comes to showing off a little flesh, the truth of it is, I want people to notice the effort I’ve put in to keeping in shape, as shallow as that may be. However, I also find it empowering to choose to wear an outfit out clubbing and feel happy with my body and how I look. When it comes to clubbing clothes, the choices I make aren’t to impress men, it’s to reward myself.

Furthermore, the clubbing culture of dancing with/getting off with/going home with random strangers is one that many find offensive and morally corrupt. Surely it’s just cheap to start making out with a man who you’ve never met before and may never see again? And don’t get me wrong, there are A LOT of creepy men in clubs, who use the lack of space and light to try and get as close to any female they possibly can, and without any consent. And they’re 100% not ok.

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Can this be the dress code of a feminist?

But, if there is a man you find attractive, and want to get to know more, then why shouldn’t you? As long as it’s safe and consensual both ways, then I see no reason why a woman shouldn’t you be allowed to kiss a stranger? And why she should be judged for doing so any more than a man should. Though the chances are that guy isn’t going to end up being your husband, you have every right to be with him, if that’s what you choose. Being able to say yes and no to guys is incredibly empowering; to be able to pursue a man you find attractive gives women the authority they have long since lacked, and allows them to objectify men in the same way they’ve been doing to us for years. I’m not saying it’s right or healthy, but at least it levels out the playing fields; if both genders are going to be shallow, at least let them do it equally.

Some people, quite rightly, highlight the problem of rape culture and clubbing, with it clearly being an environment which can quickly get dangerous for a vulnerable woman. This is obviously a very serious issue, which I’m not trying to trivialise or deny is a problem, and is not one which I want to go into much detail for in this blog. However, I don’t want to automatically imply that all men are rapists either, and I’d like to (maybe naively) hope that most of the guys who are out clubbing probably want the same as me: to get drunk, have a dance, and maybe meet someone along the way.

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If they’re equally committed then does this help push for gender equality?

I’m by no means saying that there are not problems with clubbing, or that it’s exactly a haven of the feminist movement. But I do think that, if a woman is there by choice, wearing clothes she wants and acting in a way she feels comfortable with, then there is no reason why she should be made to feel like she is playing into the hands of the patriarchy by going out. I personally love clubbing, being a fan of both dancing and alcohol, and am often guilty of squeezing my feet into an uncomfortable pair of heels, simply because they make my legs look longer. But I do not believe this makes me any less of a feminist, or a product of social conditioning. Rather, I feel like this makes me a normal student who enjoys getting drunk a bit too much, and this is nothing to do with my gender.

And, in all honesty, I often feel as objectified as I do going out clubbing as I do walking about in my gym clothes or when a car hoots at me when it drives past. I’m by no means justifying that sort of behaviour, but I’m not going to let it prevent me doing anything I want to do either.

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No-one is going to stop me from clubbing!

Can women have it all?

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My question today is this: if a women is a feminist, can she receive help from men in everyday life?

It is an issue which crops up in countless everyday scenarios, and is one of the biggest battles I personally have found when trying to advocate feminism as a philosophy. If I am ever caught letting a man help me carry my luggage onto a train, or asking a guy to help me install something onto my computer, the accusations are instant:

‘You’re not a real feminist’,

‘Shouldn’t you be able to do that yourself’ 

‘And that is why men are better than women.’

But does it have to be this way? By saying I support the idea of gender equality, am I also consigning myself to a life where I can never ask for help from anyone with a penis, for fear of looking as though I am reinforcing the gender stereotypes I am so against?

In all honesty, I can see why men have an issue with me, someone who implemented a Germaine Greer thumbs up/thumbs down system to raise awareness of sexist comments carried made by my friends and family, coming to ask them for assistance when I need it. Having given countless speeches about how they not expect any help from me regarding any domestic activity, it must seem hypocritical of me to then want them to help me with something, especially if it is in a ‘masculine’ area like technology or DIY, for it must seem as if my feminist beliefs are something I am happy to ditch the moment they don’t suit my needs.

Am I just a fake feminist after all?

Am I just a fake feminist after all?

However, my argument is this: THE PURSUIT OF EQUALITY IS NOT A NEGATIVE THING- WOMEN SHOULD NOT BE PUNISHED FOR IT. By saying I want both genders to be treated equally in society, I am not arguing that both genders are exactly the same, or that any given individual of either gender is the same as any of given individual of either gender. On the contrary, I am saying that everyone is different, and therefore you cannot make assumptions or policies based on gender alone.

In the same way that I am not trying to rob a man of his masculinity by arguing he should be treated equally to a woman,  I not wanting to take advantage of them by asking them to give me a hand if I am struggling with something. We all know that ‘no man is an island’, and thus, we are going to need some help at times.

For instance, if I am failing to perform a simple DIY task, I am not asking you for help because you are a man. If I know you are far better at DIY than me, of course I am going to ask you for help putting up a set of shelves. It is not because you have different reproductive organs than me that I seek your assistance, nor because men are traditionally better at woodwork than women, but because I know that I would be crap at the job myself. I am only 5ft 2, simply trying to reach the cupboard is an achievement for me; if you are 6ft 3, chances are you’ll be in a far better position to perform the task than I am.Men have been traditionally putting up shelves for the past 200 years because men have traditionally always been taller than women. It is not a case of male superiority or women’s weakness that has caused this, but simply a biologically fact.

How the shelves would look if I had put them up.

How the shelves would look if I had put them up.

However, it is important to remember that not all men and women are the same, and thus, some women may in fact be taller than other men, in which case, men do have every right to ask them for help putting the shelves up. It is all about the individual’s skills, not their gender. Anyone who knows me would agree that no man in their right mind would ask me for cooking advice, despite the fact I am a woman. Traditional expectations need to be replaced with knowledge of what each person is good at, rather than what they are expected to be good at because of their gender. In the same way I am likely to ask a tall guy for DIY assistance, I often go to my sister with anything remotely science or mathematics related, simply because she is far, far more qualified to deal with the situation then I am.

And yes, I will admit, I have been guilty at times of asking a boy to take the bins out, because it is a job I really really don’t want to do. But, at the same time, I know that some guys have left their mess across the kitchen because they know that a girl is likely to clean it up if they leave it there long enough. I’m not naive enough to argue that we never use gender stereotypes to our advantage, especially if it means we get out of doing a particularly hated task, but I do want to emphasise the point that, a very large majority of the time, if I’m asking a man for help, it is because of his skills and not his gender.

Women shouldn’t have to choose between being a feminist and being part of a community; if you believe this to be the case then the chances are you have misunderstood the feminist movement. People have different strengths and weaknesses, and it should be these that we use to guide us, not our genders.

Should chivalry die with the birth of feminism?

Should chivalry die with the birth of feminism?

As an end note, I do realise that this topic extends further into other everyday issues, such as men being expected to pay the bills on dates or required to hold doors open for women; gender expectations are not just issues which constrain the behaviour of women, men have to deal with the remnants of the chivalric code too. However, my rant about DIY took up so much space that this discussion is going to have to spill over onto another blog post, so watch this space for the next instalment of this argument, I will get there eventually…

F is NOT a dirty word!

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And yes, I’m talking about the actual F Word.

Throughout my first year at university, I have often found that, once people have discovered I am a Feminist (being required to declare and defend this allegiance in the same one would when supporting Communism, or being Scottish), their first reaction, after checking for any obvious signs of lesbianism, is ‘But we don’t need Feminism any more’.

This is not such a surprising reaction: women do now have the vote and equal legal rights to men; the fact that I am able to attend university and have this discussion in the first place shows that many of the barriers women faced in education have also been eradicated; and many guys, often rightly so, feel insulted when accused of treating women any differently then they would men.

Many are trying to keep the feminist cause alive.

Many are trying to keep the feminist cause alive.

However, although the feminist movements of the past century have undeniably achieved a great deal for women’s rights, and it is a philosophy which has a great deal of publicity and support from both genders, it is clearly not a problem which has been eradicated altogether. Though unnoticed by many, ingrained misogynistic views still bubble under the surface, subtly creeping into the thoughts and words of many, ensuring that women are still prevented from being perceived equally to men.

This leads me on to my tale of the F Word. One  afternoon, myself and my (now ex) boyfriend were in the kitchen. Being unblessed with any culinary abilities, the apparently ‘simple’ pasta dish I had been trying to create for the two of us  had, somehow, exploded across the kitchen. As is a natural reaction to such a cooking disaster, I began to swear loudly before trying to scrape said pasta off of the ceiling with a spatula. My boyfriend, however, was horrified, not at my inability to cook even the simplest of meals, but at the fact that I had used a series of 4 letter words which would not be allowed on the BBC before 9pm to announce my distress at the event.

‘Women shouldn’t swear’, he announced in trying to justify his disgust at my behaviour, ‘it’s just so un-lady-like. It makes them less attractive’

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The domestic sphere: the perfect site for misogyny to occur.

Here is a clear case of 21st century sexism. Why is it that he felt that it was acceptable for men to swear, but not women? What part of me having a vagina means I have less of a right to use expletives than he does? I know that this is a one off case, and I’m by no means claiming that this is the way all men think, but I do think it highlights that there remains an unacknowledged set of expectations over how women should act, which is still heavily influenced by guidelines which stem from the Victorian era.

Women should not use vulgar language.They should be sweet and delicate.They should not enter into the semantic systems possessed by males; that makes them far too close to the masculine world they need to be excluded from. 

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A sickening site for some.

My argument here is not to advocate swearing, but rather, to highlight the fact that there are still different expectations over how man and women should act, despite the fact that many people would claim both genders are equal now. It mirrors the reaction some women receive for having a large amount of sexual partners or choosing not to have children; acts that are deemed as acceptable or normal for men are perceived very differently when performed by a woman.

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Should women be expected to change?

Just think about it next time you hear a woman swear on television or in the street. Does it change your perception of her in a negative way? Do you suddenly see her as aggressive or lesser educated; does she become less attractive or lady-like? And, most importantly, would you think about a man in the same way if you heard him to tell his destroyed dinner that he’d see them next Tuesday?