Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Death to the Double Standard: Part I

Words have power; that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Over the past couple of years, I've been made painfully aware of the ubiquitous nature of words like "slut", "whore" (or for those pressed for time, "ho"), the sad offspring of those two words,"slore" (insert side-eye here), and all manner of  expressions used in service of slut-shaming. I hear or read those words daily, used by both men and, sadly, women, to describe women who've been "run through" or passed around more than the collection plate during revival week in a mega church. I bristle when I hear those terms, and at the thought that young women are so quickly and carelessly assigned those labels, which sometimes prove impossible to shake.

Why should I care, especially in light of the fact that oftentimes, it is, indeed, other women who hurl the invective? Because I know the damage such words can inflict on a woman's psyche, self image and even the trajectory of her life; because it advances the ridiculous notion of placing a premium on female "purity", an archaic, paternal notion that sometimes has life or death consequences; because there are no comparable pejoratives, nor negative social consequences, for straight men who are deemed promiscuous. Rather, sexually prolific men, more often than not, are celebrated, not castigated or subject to scorn.

I recognize that many a well-adjusted adult woman with a healthy sense of self can artfully deflect, and in some cases, even laugh at others' attempts to demoralize or control her with the threat or use of words meant to cast aspersions on her character, and in particular, to strip her of agency regarding her own sexuality and its expression. But the problem, as I see it, is that many young women, and increasingly, mere girls who have not yet developed the necessary emotional armor, are not only ill-equipped to process and protect themselves against those particularly noxious barbs, they often accept the epithets as accurate descriptors and allow them to inform their feelings about themselves. No matter that it's false; viewing oneself as an irredeemably damaged female can lead to self-loathing and a pattern of poor choices that can have repercussions that last for generations.

Why, especially in 21st century Western culture, do we even still insist on employing such a senseless and potentially harmful double standard? What is with our obsession with controlling women's sexual choices, and further, attempting to convince them that their only two options are to remain chaste until marriage or risk being declared less than and unworthy of love and respect if they dare to exceed the arbitrary number of lovers that separates the "good" girls from the "bad"?  And what is that acceptable number? 1? 50? 100? If any of those numbers give you pause, think of them again, but as applying to a man instead of a woman. Through that prism, too many would view the sexually inexperienced man nearly as scornfully as the sexually experienced woman, and in both cases, that is an outdated and abysmally useless way of thinking.

Am I suggesting that a woman take on countless sexual partners, outmoded societal standards be damned? If that is what she chooses to do, operating from a place of self-love and acceptance (and, of course, safeguarding her health), then yes. The bottom line, to me, should be striving to live a life that honors all parts of who we are, and that is not defined by something as arbitrary, narrow and restrictive as our number of sexual partners. For some women, that will mean remaining a virgin until their wedding nights. For others, that will mean not remembering the number of men with whom they've shared their beds. And as far as I'm concerned, all other things being equal, one of those women is not more valuable than the other.

It's time that all of us stopped with the attempts at slut-shaming; that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

As the great Little Richard sings, "Great Gosh A'Mighty!", because my first blog entry has definitely been a long time coming. I set this page up close to two years ago and have been paralyzed ever since by my self-imposed standard that it be perfect. I have so many interests--politics...the learning...sports--and I want to share my thoughts about all of them while giving each of them the attention they deserve. So, I've been stuck, because I had no idea where to start.

During this time, a few brief but key conversations (along with a steady chorus of encouragement from my dear friend, Penny Law), have ensured that I never abandoned my baby. At a mutual friend's birthday party last year, a talented singer-songwriter with whom I have the pleasure of being acquainted, Lynn Blakey, told me to "just start writing, because people need to hear what you have to say." There is no way she could know how much those words, coming from someone as talented as she, meant to me and helped me to stop doubting myself. I interact a good deal with Lynn on Facebook, and several other Facebook friends (hello, Mandi Thomas!) have encouraged me as well, both directly and indirectly.

In particular, and I'm sure unbeknownst to her, Dr. Elizabeth Howie was a major catalyst, thanks to her conversations with the biggest supporter of my writing, my husband. When Elizabeth shared with him that she thinks I am a good writer, he replied by telling her that he has told me many times that is where my true talent lies. When she asked him why I don't pursue it, his answer was succinct and spot-on: "Because she is afraid."

He was exactly right. I was letting fear of not being perfect(!) keep me away from the keyboard, and all the while, a kind of self-loathing from that fear was growing. Mind you, I am always encouraging others, cheering as they pursue and achieve their dreams, reassuring them that they have all the resources they need to excel in their endeavors. But, sadly, I wasn't buying any of it when it came to myself.

Well, no more.

Life is short, and the first half (and probably more) of mine is behind me. I don't want to spend the rest of it accumulating disappointments and regrets, which is exactly what will happen if I don't start pursuing my dreams NOW.  So, finally, I'm pushing off from the safety of the dock, setting my sails and letting the winds and waves of my interests and imagination lead me where they may.

Over time, my blog will be a place that touches on the many topics which interest me; hopefully, you'll find that some of them speak to you, too. And I'll try to use that pesky perfectionist streak of mine to offer you something of quality that you will find worth your while.

I hope you'll join me, interact enthusiastically, disagree agreeably and most of all, enjoy the journey. And to all who have helped me reach this day, a heartfelt thank you.