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Manizing Womanism

posted by shainaagbayani

June 27, 2011

Manizing Womanism

I wrote last week about my observation that women tend to voice their opinions less frequently than men in both educational and casual spaces, and are less assertive when they do voice their opinions. My musings for this week stem from a weekend outing in an all-female space that, for me, bore seedlings of problematic and potentially oppressive "maninzing" of conversation about sexual experience.

It is a common experience to, after reuniting with a group of girlfriends after a long period separation, converse about the nitty gritty of romantic life, which is precisely what I did over at Eat my Martini in Toronto over the long weekend (for Quebec) with a group of friends with whom I'd gone on exchange program to St. Félicien, in Northern Quebec, 3 years ago, as an awkward, green 16-year old seeking to improve her awful Ontario-curriculum-reared French.

Over in the Lac-Saint-Jean area as sixteen and seventeen year-olds, we were very much adolescently fixated with summer romances, and, in in our encounters with one another since then, conversation have oftentimes revolved around the romantic and, more openly and confidently as we strut into our twenties, the sexual.

Enter the "kill count". Perhaps I just live a really sheltered life, but I'd never heard this term of reference to how many people one has slept with. Then followed the qualities of those kills. Listening in on reflections of three-some one night stands and escapades on goat farms in the middle of Spain was fascinating, but I also observed that some, after listening in on the sexcapades and being asked about their sex lives, became embarrassed about their "lack of" To the point that some participating in the conversation felt compelled to justify their "lack" of sexual experience.

Louis Althusser describes this process of being interpellated by the norms of the system we inhabit, and therefore feeling compelled to speak a certain way or share certain types of often ideologically-saturated statements when we find ourselves in a group of a particular type of people. Accordingly, some females in the group felt "interpellated", including myself, and there was a visceral and linguistic, which sometimes translated into a defensive, shift in our manner of speaking about our romantic / sex lives. The responsibility for any discomfort is not to be placed on any particular person in the conversation, but on particular collectivized construction of how "liberated" women ought to conduct themselves, and thus a sense that there is shame to be felt when we're not expressing our sexuality in the way (COITUS!) that has been normalized as properly sexual.

Currently, our society tends to narrowly regard women as independent and liberated only when they display a lack of sexual restraint and thus sexual "agency", disregarding the fact that sexuality and the way we express it are dynamic, not static and one-dimensional.

No female (or male for that matter) should have to justify their "lack" of sexual experience . The idea that women are truly independent and only have sovereignty over their bodies when they are sexually active is as oppressive as the inane concept that women who are very sexually active are sluts and whores. Both ideas are invoked to justify misogynist practices and laws, as evidenced by societal view incarnated by the policeman commentary that incited the Slut Walk , and the controversy surrounding the donning of the hijab in public spaces, brought to the forefront again this week as a 15-year old girl was told she could not longer referee for a soccer association for displaying her Muslim identity.

Confining the idea of "positive sexuality" as possible only within the contours of a sexually-active lifestyle of is part of a larger discourse (hearkening to what Michel Foucault describes in "The History of Sexuality") that institutionally aims to re-enforce certain groups of power by categorizing sexuality in order to have the ability to stigmatize who do not exhibit that type of sexuality. This disproportionately disadvantages certain cultural communities in the workplace and in the legal system. Accordingly, we must question who and what this sexually-charged caricature of female empowerment and liberation serves, and how oppressive it can be, particularly in a nation with a constitutionally-embedded commitment to respecting multiculturalism.

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