Sexy Time: What is Empowerment?
Because it was utterly uncouth and unheard of for women to openly discuss sex for many generations, in the last few decades, there has been an onslaught of women taking the opportunity to be just as brash, raunchy and explicit as men have been allowed to be. Whether it’s in the form of Rihanna singing about how whips and chains excite her, Chelsea Handler writing a memoir about one night stands or regular girls blogging explicitly about their sex lives, ladies are definitely not afraid to be open about their sexual proclivities.
I’m a firm supporter of breaking taboos and not treating sex like it’s something grimy and shameful. However, sometimes I wonder how much of this openness is about finding empowerment and how much of it is about seeking validation and/or catering to the male gaze. Women are taught a very specific kind of sexuality that emphasizes tits and ass, and to a lesser extent, seductive eyes and pouty lips. The women who have the space to share their sexual experiences and receive feedback tend to be straight, cisgendered, and at least somewhat conventionally attractive. The kind of female sexuality that is constantly reaffirmed aligns pretty closely with the general tastes of heterosexual men.
It’s not any woman’s fault that we are objectified and sexualized in a certain way, and we are certainly free to indulge our sexuality any way we want to. But I can’t help but be a little critical of the idea that every single overt expression of sexuality is in and of itself amazing and progressive. For example, why is it the case that nearly every single female pop artist has that moment where she starts singing sexually explicit songs under the guise of adult female empowerment? Why is this very stylized form of sexuality the only way that these women think they can express themselves? The intent and the thought behind it are just as important as the act itself. If you’re only overtly sexual because you desperately seek validation of your femininity and desirability from others, that’s not a symbol of strength. What’s more, if you are a reserved and modest person who isn’t interested in being the next Samantha Jones, that doesn’t mean you are repressed. Empowerment isn’t only found in stilettos and red lipstick. It comes in finding out what makes you comfortable, what makes you feel good, and finding the mode of outward expression that is best for you. Sexuality is complicated, nuanced and constantly evolving, and I think it does everyone a disservice to whittle it down to its most superficial, shallow, titillating form time after time.