Why are women considered non-sexual beings? Is it that she stops being sexualy attractive to her partner once she has a baby? How is it that it becomes her burden to almost get back to pre-baby shape just a few weeks after the baby is born? And the resounding question is, why do men think that they always want sex more than women?
Over a week ago, I was in a room full of diverse women; single, married, with partners, with children, childless, over 18, mid 40’s, working women, female students. The poignant thing was that we all had so much in common when we got to discussing contraceptives and their side effects, agency over our own bodies and sexual harrasment. It did not matter how we presented, or the level of education or how much money we had in our pockets.
Unmothering the Woman is a brave space where people who identify as female and who also happen to be mothers collectively do brave things. Say brave things. But we also have permission to be vulnerable. We laugh, we cry, we ask the hard questions and sometimes get no answers. But at the end of the day, we have the courage to speak.
Two weeks ago, I was moderating a panel on regulating sexuality for women (click on the hyperlink above if you want to watch the session recording). That was where all those questions above came up. The conversation was centred on existing regulations concerning sexual reproductive health rights for women. Are these policies there to protect us or do they cause more harm than good? We hear a lot about public participation before drafting policies, but who are they speaking to? The majority of the women in the room, with the exception of those who actually work in policy development, were not aware of these sessions.
Contraception was also a thorny issue. Given that the majority of the women in the room were speaking from a point of privilege, it did not negate the fact that service provision for these services still left a lot to be desired. The options are limited and almost every single form of contraception available to women has various side effects. The beef I have with side effects is that no medical professional can narrow it down. Pick the pill, or patch or IUD, you could have hormonal acne, or weight gain or irregular periods or all symptoms at once. When you get on any form of contraception, you may experience all or none of these symptoms. You would think with all the advances made in science, that someone somewhere can put you on the pill and the only side effect you can experience is acne. Catch my drift?
One of the panelists shared an experience she witnessed in Uganda. Forgive me if I am sketchy on the facts. In certain parts of Uganda, it is almost sacrilegious for a woman’s naked body to be seen by anyone other than her lover. However, something happened in the community that angered the women. They tried to have it solved with the elders for a period of time but nothing happened. So what did they do? They waited for the next meeting of elders and they marched to the meeting place. And these women stripped down naked in front of all the men in attendance. It was the only way they knew how to get their attention. As the story goes, these men wept and begged the women to dress up. If there was a ranking for curses in order of small to big, this was mega! Only then, did the women relent, when their voices were heard and the issue they had was solved.
What’s the point of sharing this story? This story is a reminder of the power we hold as women, even in just our physical states, in our bodies. Our nakedness has the ability to bring men to tears, whether in pleasure or pain. Our bodies have the ability to speak where we have no more words. Our bodies yield all this power. And yet, we don’t always have the agency to use this power. It is stripped away when medicine takes precedence over our welfare. It is taken away when a woman dies in childbirth because science failed to save her. It is stripped away when the government decides whether you choose to keep or terminate a pregnancy. It is stripped away when you are forced into cultural practices that denies you sexual pleasure and replaces it with pain and a scar that will be hell when it is time to give birth. It is stripped away when you are made to feel shame because clothes are not made to fit your body. Yet you are expected to make your body fit into the clothes.
These conversations also opened up deep seeded pain that women deal with almost on the daily. Few have the privilege of a support system willing to listen or provide solutions. And even those that do, almost never speak on it. Because women cannot be talking about sex. Women cannot be seen to be having sexual desires. Women are supposed to be in service to their partners. Women are to look pretty when required and matronly after having children.
Oh! I also got to learn about the Madonna whore dichotomy (MWD) where as a woman, you have the ability to give life and sustain it and that is an honor that cannot be defiled because you symbolize purity and all of that. But on the other hand, you are also perceived as promiscuous, a seductive whore. According to the American Psychological Association, whereas prior theories focused on unresolved sexual complexes or evolved psychological tendencies, feminist theory suggests the MWD stems from a desire to reinforce patriarchy. Read more about it here. These findings support the feminist notion that patriarchal arrangements have negative implications for the well-being of men as well as women. Specifically, the MWD not only links to attitudes that restrict women’s autonomy, but also impairs men’s most intimate relationships with women.
Strange how a lot of women’s challenges cannot be devoid of men. This is not to bash the men in our lives. But whenever patriarchy is involved, how can we not mention male involvement and how it always trumps the needs of women?
That day for me will be significant. Because of the experiences we shared. Because of the wounds we opened up. Because of this magical thread that runs through all of us and unites us in our experiences, in our pain and most importantly, in our womanhood.