CW: This article discusses topics of sexual assault which could be distressing to some readers.
Artwork by Eve McFarlane Salvo
2023 is a year of juxtaposition for women. It is the cruel trick of 'take a seat', but then pulling it away just as you are about to sit down. On one hand, there has been progress from the idea that women were placed on this planet to make dinners and babies. Years of feminist action have without a doubt yielded results when it comes to obtaining fairer opportunities.
However, undeniably there still exists a great deal of gender-based oppression, specifically when it comes to the expression of sexuality. Sadly, the truth of the matter is that we live in a world where stereotypes and sexual-related danger are all around us. And this is only half the battle. Encouragement for women to speak out about their sexuality often turns to judgement. Although the question is not 'where is the line?’ but instead, WHY is there one to begin with?...
So many people pride themselves on the idea of being ‘woke’, which has become more of a fashion statement than a state of mind. However, when push comes to shove, the traditional frowned upon response to a woman talking about orgasms, is more often apparent than not. And apart from feeling unable to comment on sexual desire, women also have to face the injustices of sexually charged issues and again are only able to do so in, what will come as no surprise, silence.
Did you think women’s only responsibility was to censor their own sexuality? Think again. The responsibility does not end there, as they are expected to also be accountable for male sexuality by taking contraception. In 9 months, a man is able to impregnate 9 women every day which would result in roughly 2,430 pregnancies, whilst a woman can produce the great sum of, 1. Historically this has not been a considered factor in scientific development, with the focus having been to produce contraception for women and not men. Now let it be known, the list of side effects for most contraception would be a struggle to get through for even the most avid reader. Yet women are expected to deal with these, sometimes even life-debilitating consequences, and all with a smile on their faces.
Moreover, sexual intercourse should always be an optional module on the human syllabus, yet condoms are available free of charge. In contrast, periods and having a reproductive system is compulsory for many women, yet sanitary products are priced with figures that many cannot afford. Years of highlighting the absurdity of this logic (or better said, absence of logic) and campaigning for change has unfortunately led to little success.
In 2023 there have been acknowledged achievements, such as Tommy Fury defeating Jake Paul in the ring or the release of Prince Harry’s new book, both of which escalated into media frenzies. However, despite these ‘revolutionizing’ moments in history, women are still expected to be the ones to prevent pregnancy and yet 1 in 10 girls in the UK aged 14-21 years old are still unable to afford products for their own bodily functions.
Whilst women are often silenced from speaking up about their sexuality and topics concerning them, others make it their duty to voice their own opinions. The ground-breaking new meaning of ‘body count’, has only reinforced the gender divide when it comes to more sexual partners equating to a triumph for men and a disgrace for women. Instead of valuing a woman for her personality, intellect or intentions, society states that a woman’s worth is determined by the number of her past sexual relations.
The stereotyping only continues with many behind screens or even in person feeling the need to give their fashion critiques on a woman’s clothing. Suddenly, a crop top is a symbol of promiscuity and a turtleneck is a synonym for ‘frigid’. The way in which a woman applies her eyeliner, her posture and her vocabulary can all entrap her into a certain category dictated by society. There are people out there that will take it to the extreme and even attempt to use the way in which a woman presents herself, as the justification for a man’s actions. The underlying reality beneath all of this, is that when it comes to the toxic game of societal expectations, women are always dealt a losing hand.
During a global pandemic, we were all in essence locked up in our towers and after the lifting of restrictions, the reality has set in that there are ogres out there, but not the green, Scottish or donkey-befriending kind. This has been highlighted by a rise of recorded sexual assault cases. Horror stories of women being kidnapped and assaulted have become more frequent on the news, which has created a wave of fear amongst the female population. Should travelling, exercising or even just getting fresh air, really come with a warning label?
Artwork by Eve McFarlane Salvo
It is evident that whilst strides have been made regarding the position of women in society, it is not time to roll down any sleeves just yet, as there is plenty more work to be done. There is no doubt that this world can be unjust, cruel and scary but that does not detract from the importance of celebrating the glory of what it also means to be a woman.
Whilst it might seem easy to point the finger at men, there are also women who have sadly not recognised the value of ‘women supporting women.’ However, through unity and empowering each other, we can replace the ‘s’ word, ‘survival’, with the mission to make the world ‘safer’ and turn ‘stereotypes’, into an acknowledgement that we are all ‘special’ for being who we are. As for ‘sexuality’, we can reject the notion of it being unladylike or derogatory and ‘simply’ just embrace it.