We Need Less Sexualisation, More Sexual Freedom



Please, stop me if you've heard these alarmingly commonplace assumptions about women before. If you’re a virgin, you’re a prude. If you’re sexually active, you’re probably a slut. Historically, society has seen these ridiculous standards be applied almost exclusively to women and girls. 

Men and boys are likely encouraged to be ‘players’ or a ‘heartbreaker’ whilst girls are instructed to behave like ‘proper’ women who are simultaneously sexualised from a disturbingly young age as well as being shamed for subversive behaviour by these very same men. Recently, I heard one male family member tell another female family member that they shouldn’t be dating until they’re thirty. Though this may have been said in jest, his sentiment evokes the harmful subtext that lies behind the discourse of the dating scene for women—that dating is a much bigger deal than it should be, and that it is ok for a man to impose rules on a woman surrounding this issue. 

When girls have sex for the first time, they are told they are losing something; that something sacred has been taken from them, their innocence and purity tainted, whilst guys are likely to get a pat on the back. The double-standard is clear. But why is it like that? Sex is a natural thing, perhaps the most natural in the world. We shouldn’t be shamed for having sex, just as we shouldn't be shamed for not having sex. 

It seems that many people are not aware of how the sexualisation of women begins when we are only children. No dating until we’re thirty — we might attract the wrong guy. No makeup until a certain age — some dude might assume I want to sleep with him because I’m wearing lipstick. No revealing clothing — the simple existence of my cleavage might entice a man who just can’t control himself; but that’s my fault, right? In high school, there is nearly always a strict dress code enforced upon the girls: no visible bra straps, no shoulders showing, no running shorts, no yoga pants, no short skirts, because they could be considered ‘distracting’. 

Why do young girls have to censor their bodies to accommodate for a man or boy's inability to control their own desires about an underage girl? What is more important, a student’s education or their bra strap? Instead of normalising bodies — society treats them as something that shouldn’t be seen unless it’s at the express demand of a man; it’s appropriate in a strip club or in a sex scene on the silver screen, but in the park? On a bus? In the supermarket? Put your damn legs away. 

This pervasive and misogynistic attitude leads to boys and men not seeing women’s bodies as human but simply objects that they are at liberty to sexualise and fetishise at their own leisure, without any input from the women in question. This issue of women's bodies being seen as an exclusively sexual object in the face of the male gaze also leads to women and girls not being comfortable with their own anatomy, as they constantly compare themselves to unrealistic standards that are almost entirely defined by men. School is hard enough without the added confusion of puberty, as well as being told you have to hide yourself to avoid disrupting a boy’s education, or being slut-shamed, all of which can cause serious harm to girls’ perceptions of their own bodies. 

Women are casually sexualised and even harassed by men on a daily basis through various media channels, at parties, at work, and even in the street. Women, having grown tired of the relentless inequality, have been disrupting the processes involved in an effort to reclaim the lack of control that pervasive misogyny has imposed upon their bodies, their desires and ultimately, their autonomy. 

Yet for some, when women themselves take control of their own sexuality, it’s wrong. Slutty. Feminist. Too ballsy. Why is it that male society is so afraid of women being open about their gendered experiences and proud of their sexual and bodily autonomy that many nations now actively promote? It is our sociological conditions as influenced by the patriarchy that have deemed the sexualisation and mistreatment of women as the natural order of things in the first place, so women finding the confidence to be comfortable with their bodies in any society that tells them not to (and, notably, this is far worse in many other countries across the world) should be praised and respected.

As the years go by, media reports show that more and more women are determined to take control of their sexuality. The message is clear: we must all do a better job at not sexualising women’s bodies for merely trying to exist within the same spheres that mens’ occupy. What and how we teach our children is pivotal to the way in which they’ll act and treat others as they get older. If we teach our boys to sexualise young girls, even casually, it will become second nature for them and they will grow up with deeply harmful and engrained sexist attitudes. 

If we teach our girls that their bodies are something to be hidden and not talked about, then how will they be comfortable with something as natural as their sexuality? It’s one thing to teach our children what is and isn’t good manners, but it’s another thing to maintain the double-standard that girls can’t be sexual while boys can. To reiterate, feminism does not simply further the cause of women and people who define as women, it seeks to destroy the institutions and practices that cause everyone to suffer from toxic masculinity and patriarchal attitudes. After everything that we have endured historically, women in government, at protests and on social media alike are taking control of how our bodies are perceived and to be governed, and I would encourage everybody else to support them in this endeavour.