Friday, April 23, 2010

F*cking While Feminst

FEMALE - biz card project for MA

So, as you may have gathered from previous post, still in US. Luckily, we have met so many interesting people there's always lots to keep us amused should we find ourselves bored in NY?!

Last night we went to an event at Barnard College, this is a part of Columbia University, the campus is wow, so grand all the neo-classical erections and wot not, but that said, size and grandeur isn't everything and I like Virginia Woolf's ideas about universities in 'A Room of One's Own' that they need not be so grand and imposing and full of themselves and that the learning is more important than however many slabs of granite and however many years of secret handshakes and society traditions *cough-Oxbridge-cough* so, moving on. The event was a workshop called 'F*cking While Feminist' by a most inspirational young feminist called Shelby Knox whom we'd been lucky enough to meet twice before on this trip.

This was a real eye opener for me, everyone that participated in sharing their observations about sex in general and also their own personal experiences were eloquent, open and respectful of one another. Ideas of feminist sex positivity, which I've always considered to mean that as a feminist you can be a woman with a pulse and desires and not just the stereotype of a craggy old spinster in dungarees yelling that all sex is subjugation and by extension rape, although it's an option taken up by some who spoil the term for the rest of us subservient lot with libidos; I suppose a good analogy is the stereotype of a religious fundamentalist who spoils the image of any religion for those who just have faith and get on with it. [Disclaimer: for the record it's an analogy, I am NOT espousing feminism as a religion.] But from this came other definitions of sex-positive; being open/respectful to all notions of gender and sexual experience; consensual, enjoyable sex where all parties are concerned about each other's fulfillment etc.

The way we express ourselves and the ways in which female sexuality is described and subsequently understood, came under fire quite a bit and it became even more apparent to me than previously that what we understand about sex, our bodies and our (shock horror sexual desires) as women are often abandoned by language, and yet it is communication that would make all of the difference. For women the other major problem, as one girl put it, is that sex is presented to women as about appearing sexy rather than feeling sexy. If all we ever do is contort ourselves so that we look slim and alluring and only our best 'side' is on display then no-one's ever going to get off. Sex is quite silly at times and yet it is used over and over in all manner of media as dead serious and mystical and blah blah blah.

To hear so many down to earth takes on the subject was interesting but there were also troubling things. One girl said that her sex education at school was thus: each girl was given one fresh glass of water and one glass of water with an oreo cookie crumbled into it. They were asked which one they would want to drink from and which one they thought would be appropriate to give to their husband. End of class! Outrageous. In the next room the boys we being told what sex was and how it worked. So, one might wonder, who were the girls these boys were supposed to be having sex with after acquiring this new found knowledge.

There were lots of stories about shame and feeling like they were wrong because they'd had sex young and then Shelby asked me to mention whether my experience with pressures and education was any different from a European perspective and I said that our sex education was fairly adequate but that at my secondary school the pressure was to have sex young, to want to hang onto your virginity was social suicide, to ditch it was a talking point and a trophy. This is as sad as treasuring it beyond all reason. It is not the most valuable or significant thing about anyone. There are lots of first times for all sorts of things sexual and otherwise.

This innovative approach where women have the freedom to discuss their experiences and concerns is real education, younger girls should be privy to panels such as this and be able to voice their confusion or ideas around sex. Sex education isn't just about mechanics and fear, it should be about pleasure too and about how to feel entitled to it without feeling like some hormonally charged slapper! Also very importantly the freedom not to have sex in our sex-saturated (sorry bad image) culture, opting out is as much of an option as opting in, it's about choice y'all after all.

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