Definitely in the “throw out of your suitcase” category are the many mixed messages women have received throughout millennia in what is commonly referred to as the “Madonna/whore” complex.
This extraordinary binary between “seductress that will bring down entire civilizations with her wily ways” and “the revered mother of all mothers who didn’t even need the taint of such a thing as sexual behavior to gain such status.”
Wow! How in the heck are women supposed to be able to manage the navigation between these extreme, yet common, portrayals of what female sexuality represents? Prostitution, seduction, loss of control and babies. Again... Wow!
Instead of positing women in a position of power and agency… where what matters is their relationship to pleasure, personal desire and responsibility as they make sexual decisions… it puts them in a position of considering other entities first. Whether it’s their culture, their parents, their religious leaders, their mate, etc…. the message isn’t about the woman herself… it’s about what influence she is having on others.
This creates what is often referred to as a “gatekeeper” role. Where the woman is responsible for the “desire meter” that may be going off in either the potential partner reacting to her sensuality, body, etc. (or any stranger walking down the street)… or her own desire that may pose a danger to herself and others.
This is where “rape culture” comes from. Because when sexual desire and its consequent behaviors are seen through this lens, the woman is held responsible for the amount of desirability and availability she supposedly offered within the context of the most heinous of crimes. It excuses the accountability of the perpetrator, because after all... how could he have controlled what was supposed to be controlled by the woman. (I do not mean to imply that all sexual assault happens in this dynamic of man towards woman... but it is the majority as far as statistics are concerned)
Modesty rhetoric is a very common piece of rape culture. With the monitoring of what attire is “too sexy” or "not sexy enough," again… the message is not about a woman’s autonomy and personal comfort. It’s about the comfort of those around her.
It is not uncommon as women become mothers to feel desexualized. Again… a mother is conceptualized as “righteous.” An example and pillar in the community and to her children. A personage representing safety and discipline. None of which have been paired with the language or imagery of sensuality. Remember the ruckus Demi Moore created when she confidently bore her pregnant body in a sensual way on the cover of Vanity Fair back in 1991? This was not a comfortable interweaving for society to deal with... confidence, sexiness, and a baby bump to boot.
So what can we do to start reversing the negative impacts these messages have had.. as it’s probably been difficult to not internalize them at some level for both men and women?
Take a deep breath and consider the following:
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