Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sexual Repression and the Politics of Domination

In ancient Sumeria and Babylon, the queen was the center of the civilization. If the queen goddess was not sexually satisfied by the male of her choice, it was considered a sign that the land and its productivity --and the collective itself-- were in trouble. In today's post-modern sexual "revolution" many women rebel who are sexually frustrated because of religious considerations, societal mores and beliefs imposed upon them as an aspect of societal structure from an early age. We have moved our consciousness from cultures that celebrated feminine sexuality to ones that stigmatize it.

Within North America, the restrictiveness of attitudes toward eroticism varies according to one's particular religious and moral beliefs. In general, people whose religions condemn sexual activity occurring outside of marriage and including acts other than procreative coitus are at greatest risk for sexual dysfunction. People who are taught to repress or despise sexual desire and bodily sensations have difficulty being comfortable even with marital sex.

But even within this idea there are many primary factors that inhibit sexual expression:

Current Sources of Sexual Dysfunction

The most frequent contributors to current sources of dysfunction are:

a) anxiety, perhaps over sexual performance, and ideas that interfere with sexual arousal;

b) inadequate information about sexuality that leads to ineffective sexual behavior;

c) failures in communication;

d) stress (Cranston-Cuebas & Barlow, 1990; Kaplan, 1974; Masters & Johnson, 1970; Morokoff & Gilliland, 1993) (1)

How did civilizations move from the goddess society to the male patriarchal societal structure we now see as the most dominant perspective? I would submit for consideration, that religion had more to do with it than any "scheme" by the male sex to suppress women. There once was an equal respect and freedom of sexual expression between the sexes. Now, there is a profound double standard in the way the sexes are viewed regarding sexual expression. Prostitutes are treated as "things" because of their sexual activity. Men are "players", virile, "normal" or simply "the way males are" if they are sexually prolific. It is the female that somehow lost the idea that her sexuality was equally "normal" natural or vital and positive. If a woman expresses sexual interest, she is a whore, a slut, or promiscuous.(2) Lolita is created and recreated by men, but she rarely writes her own account of events (3). But these discrepancies are not because of any inherent differences in sexual potential or prowess between the sexes. The effect is from the denigration of the feminine sexual state, that has been alienated. Men are generally defined positively in their sexual expression and experiences. Women are much more likely to fear any expression of sexuality will define them negatively. The differences have everything to do with power in a culture that is steeped in hierarchy, and little to do with sex itself.

". . . within the lesbian community I am Black, and within the Black community I am a lesbian. Any attack against Black people is a lesbian and gay issue, because thousands of other Black women are part of the lesbian community. .Any attack against lesbians and gay men is a Black issue because thousands of lesbians and gay men are Black. There is no hierarchy of oppression.....I know I cannot afford the luxury of fighting one form of oppression only. I cannot afford to believe that, freedom from intolerance is the right of only one particular group. And I cannot afford to choose between the fronts upon which I must battle these forces of discrimination, wherever they appear to destroy me, it will not be long before they appear to destroy you. . . ." Audre Lorde

Acknowledging that privileged groups see their expression as positive, and the oppressed groups are then defined as negative in the expression of the same energy, what mechanism alleviates and/or creates oppression? Is it "battling" the oppression as the above author states that will free women or the oppressed from sexual limitation or negativity? I am a feminist. I am also an advocate for self-empowerment of all individuals. There is a fine line we walk here where self determination and empowerment are lost if the "remedy" is not defined clearly. Full freedom from all limitation, means full responsibility for one's reality. The only way power is ever lost, is by giving up responsibility for aspects of one's reality. The "Feminist Majority Foundation" defines feminism as: "the policy, practice or advocacy of political, economic and social equality for women." The way women have lost this equity is a bit more complex than we might at first imagine. The importance religious doctrine plays is often overlooked. This is sacred territory. Dogma resists developmental growth. But much of the ideal of marriage and its foundations and definition comes from religious perspectives. Sex is not immune to these definitions. Societies that remained oriented to feminine values and equity (many African and Mesoamerican tribes) in the recent past were seen as "primitive." Religions of Europe, primarily the Christian religion, then began defining "values" that denigrated not only women but whole nationalities and races who did not fall into this prescription of proper, correct, or "right." Because the Renaissance relit the candle of the classic Greek era, masculine virtues were again given top priority, and the rise of Christianity was through the political systems of Roman hierarchy, hence, values of domination and control held hands with religion, and an order was installed that then denied both certain races and women a powerful place within that dogmatic structure. (4) This structure crept up upon an expanding society in the Americas, and by the 1960's was so accepted as normal and correct, that it was seen as "real." When the feminist movement and marches began, the rebels were seen as "abnormal" even by their children:

Shortly after the march, I began to tease my mother. "Why can't you be a real mother?" I asked. It became a running joke between us. She'd say, "Look, a real mother!" pointing at prim women in matching clothes and frosted lipstick at the shopping mall. We'd laugh together, but there was a serious side to it all. I wanted my sixties mother to grow up, to stop protesting and acting out-to be "normal." I loved her, but at the same time craved conformity. In my mind, real mothers wore crisp floral dresses and diamond engagement rings; my mother wore blue jeans and a Russian wedding ring given to her from a high-school boyfriend. (She had lost the ring my father gave to her.) Real mothers got married in white frills before a church; my mother wed my father in a silver lame mini-dress which she later donated to us lads for Barbie doll clothes. Real mothers painted their nails and colored their hair; my mother used henna. And while real mothers polished the house with lemon-scented Pledge, our house had dog hair stuck to everything. My mother scolded me, saying I wanted her to be more "bourgeois." Bourgeois or not, to me, real equaled what I saw on television and in the movies, whether it was the sensible blond Carol Brady or the Stephen Spielberg suburban land-scape, a world so utterly normal that the surreal could occur within it. At night, visions of white picket fences and mothers in housedresses danced in my head. I dreamed of station wagons, golden retrievers, and brief case-toting fathers who came home at five o'clock to the smell of meat loaf wafting from the kitchen. But real was something I could never achieve with my white socialist mother, my black intellectual father who visited on Sundays, and our spotted mongrel from the dog pound, because most of all, real was a white girl--and that was something I could never--ever be." (5)

These accepted standards were based on religious considerations, not on reality. And now, because of the questioning of the feminine inequity and racial inequity we have arrived at the questioning of religious validity in our society. It is now politically incorrect to think of the Christian religion as the main or real religion, this was not always so--this is because when we challenge one notion of equality, we challenge much more than the inequity that is perceived to be the victim of those perspectives. The question runs deeper and questions our very assumptions of our accepted notions of reality itself. Because the ethic we believed "real" was in essence, a carry-over of a blending of religious and political doctrine from the past, we begin to awaken from the slumber of complacency and comfort that it once provided because the system of support and security it nurtured no longer exists.(6) Although protesting and marches bring attention to issues and force us to look at them, the question now paramount is this: Is the route to empowering women and races or even "persons," truly in the act of giving power to the very structure that created the inequity in the first place, to solve the problems? Although equal wages is a pragmatic demand and necessity for equality, does changing a few aspects of a broken system allow the repressed to take back power? Are there deeper issues that we are moving towards that demand altering, that will change the entire foundation? What happened to free love and women's sexual liberation? After almost 40 years of "women's liberation movements" can women safely approach men with sexual intent without feeling like, or fearing being labeled, a slut? I submit that the slow going of any meaningful change in the overall quest for equity is not because of the number of glass ceilings breaking, but because in essence, the root revolution of the sixties was the recognition of a corrupted and broken system---the foundation of the US itself. Although high-minded attempts by founding fathers for equality were expressed as their motives, they were really based on the power and manipulation of Roman notions of hierarchy, rather than on the ancient Goddess cultures recognition of the validity and trust of the process of life itself. The unoppressed world, is a world where the individual is valued for their unique qualities, without "rulers" either in the church or Whitehouse to tell us what we should be thinking and doing. In essence, The Declaration of Independence deteriorated into another form of what it was intended to eliminate.

The empowered female is the direct and integrated woman. Direct about sex and uninhibited, she can approach a male if she so desires. She doesn't need the hierarchy to tell her when it is right. She doesn't play games, because the games were meant to limit her to begin with. Taboos and myths are shattered. The truth about sexuality is important.

Some experts have argued that natural selection has given women a lower sex drive than men, and that such inhibition makes sense: we shouldn't be out there screwing around and taking the chance of being impregnated by a genetic second-rater. The theory is rank nonsense. Sex is too important on too many social and emotional counts for us to be indifferent about it. Women display abundant evidence of a robust sex drive. They respond physiologically to sexual stimuli as rapidly as men do. Show a woman a pornographic film, and her vagina swells with blood as rapidly as the penis of a male observer does. Yet there is no doubt that a woman's sex drive is an involved instrument. It is tied to mentation, mood, past experience, the Furies. At the eye of the storm is the clitoris. It knows more than the vagina does, and is a more reliable counselor than the vagina-remember that a woman may lubricate during rape, but she will almost never climax. Surely it is more logical for a female to have a sophisticated sex drive than to have either a simple-minded or a stifled drive. If a woman retains control over her sexuality, if she feels powerful in her sexual decisions and has sex with whom she wants when she wants to, her odds of a reasonable outcome are good. She is likely to have sex with men she finds attractive, men with whom she feels comfortable for any number of reasons, and thus to further her personal, political, and genetic designs.

Now, reflect upon the idea of we feminists altering the concept of "fighting oppression" to; empowering persons. One approach implies the powerless "battle" of one idea against another, the other, the simple dignification and imbuing of sacredness to the individual developmental process. We cannot be responsible for others, if we try, we rob them of their own responsibility for their own reality and promote the same problem we seek to redefine. We can only be responsible to others, by being empowered ourselves in the creation of our own preferred reality. Hence, instead of "There is no hierarchy of oppression.....I know I cannot afford the luxury of fighting one form of oppression only"--revise this to "There is no hierarchy at all, this was an illusion I bought into.....I know I cannot afford the luxury of giving my power to it any longer".

Or as Eleanor Roosevelt so succinctly put it; "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." I choose not to give my power to hierarchical illusions, the root of all oppression.

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