Feminine Identity and Sexuality by Caitie Sangalis

Our great-great-grandmothers dreamed of seeing their daughters and granddaughters stand side by side with men: equal in dignity, respect and achievement. Our culture tells us that the Women’s Rights Movement, the Feminist Movement and the Sexual Revolution unlocked our cages and set us free to be man’s equal. But have we really achieved equality?

These past hundred years have done a lot for us as women. Newly enfranchised, we’ve risen to the top of every profession and academic field available. We receive more diplomas than our male counterparts and outperform them at work. We don’t need help lifting boxes, opening doors or starting world-changing organizations. As women, it seems we’ve reached the heights of equality. But, what’s really happened is that our prisons were simply relocated. Chained no longer to husbands and children, we are slaves to sexuality.

As Twenty-First Century women, we are oversexed and underdressed from the time we are strong enough to walk (toddler bikinis or MTV’s Skins). Abstinence and modest attire oppress; the girls who choose this lifestyle must hide their purity or accept being social school outcasts. We see that only skimpy, sexy and skinny get noticed—and there is nothing worse than going unnoticed. Walk into the junior’s department and you’ll stumble into a lingerie shop: sweet 16 lost its sweetness.

Where is a woman’s right to choose to be more than the sum of the sexual pleasure she gives?

The Porn industry is quickly becoming one of the most lucrative industries in the world. And while our culture verbally condemns sex trafficking, it physically consents to it by indulging in easy-access porn and encouraging a hookup culture.

Sure, prostitution and porn have been on the fringes of culture for ages; but our culture’s ideas of personal sexual rights have created an environment where illicit sexuality is standardized and fringe practices become the norm. In this type of culture, the idea of a woman is now hardly more than a sexual object of satisfaction. Instead of broadening our horizons with our own careers, our own 401Ks, and our own pursuits of income equality, we have accepted our prison bedrooms. We trade sex for mere attention.

But casual sex is freedom from restraint, some cry. It is consummating our freedom from oppressive husbands and forced motherhood. We have the freedom and the legal right to choose our own destinies. Far from denouncing feminism and the movement for women’s rights, we must march further.

But are we really free?

On some level we are. A woman’s right to choose is a new freedom and a new idea. Easy access to contraceptives and no-questions-asked abortions allows us to take off our pants at a moment’s notice because we don’t need to make sure that each man is a keeper. Our identity and value in our families and society used to be tied intrinsically to our production and rearing of multiple (male) children. In this last century, however, the ability to chose a pregnancy became a right as birth-control technology and the realization of our independent rights became more solid. The feminist movement unlocked the front door of husbands’ homes allowing us to venture on career paths and to carve out respectable identities based on our own achievements. For the first time in history, a woman can be more than her ability to produce children and to iron pants.

Easy access to abortion makes it easier for men and women to have sex without the natural consequences and responsibilities: babies, families, relationships. But the easy access we have all enjoyed to legal contraceptives and abortions in the United States has led to easier and easier access to our bodies. How is that what once cost men flowers, dinner and a verbal pledge to a lifetime commitment now only requires a look and a nod to the bathroom at the back of the airplane? Lovemaking has been reduced to what we can do with our hands and our mouths. Along our quest for freedom and equality, sex has lost its sacred dangerousness and women have lost their esteem and value.

Historically, women have been the moral gatekeepers of society. Now, many of us are endlessly harassed and sexually abused. Our fractured beings are unable to keep society’s moral gate shut, so it is a sexual free-for-all whether we want it to be or not. The mindset of abuse is so pervasive in our culture that even women who have never been abused walk with a limp because we no longer know what holy sexuality is.

“The Most dangerous place for African-Americans is in the Womb” is the slogan that appeared for a few days on a billboard hanging in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood. The billboard was part of a campaign funded by Life Always, a Texas group whose Board of Directors includes pastors Stephen Broden and Derek McCoy (both successful, black men), Abby Johnson (former director of Planned Parenthood who resigned in 2009), and Brian Follet (founder of Life Foundation). Many commenters boiled on the offensiveness and racism in this advertisement. If we only focus on the use of race, however, we risk ignoring the central message of this billboard.

It was designed to be a provocative image of an even more provocative fact; that roughly 50% of all African American pregnancies in NYC end in abortion. While I am not in a position to validate or invalidate this statistic, it is undeniable many women have abortions and that we often crave without wanting children. But this is impossible; no birth control works that well. Sex and babies are forever linked in a consequential relationship. Easy access to abortions decreased the cost of sexual intercourse and increased access to the female body by limiting the physical consequences of sex.

The problem of over sexualization in our culture goes beyond individual identities and rests in the way our entire culture addresses sexuality and gender identity. As women, we mock our emotions, judge our own intelligence, appraise our bodies and advertise our sexual skills. Throughout the different waves of feminism, we sought to compete with the men on their own turf. In doing so, we’ve conceded our unique gifts and have lost our own sense of being. We need to continue the movement our grandmothers began and continue growing in these freedoms as we fortify them with personal responsibility and biblical truths of feminine identity.

We often define ourselves by sexuality. Attire is often judged by its
sex appeal, not its actual beauty. Do we really consider the aesthetics
of what we are wearing or are our standards of personal beauty confined
to what we are told is “sexy”?

I once heard sexy described as simply being comfortable in your own
skin—we must be sexy like that, but we must not stop doing our hair and
fixing our makeup and caring about our appearances. We must not stop
pursing careers and the passions of our hearts, raising our children,
encouraging our men and being highly successful in everything we do.
Those are the things we must continue. As we live freely in our selves,
we allow and encourage others to be free in their own beings. We are
Women—sacred creators of life.

We must stop judging ourselves by our girlfriends and movie stars. We must not try to be skinny or trade our bodies for attention. We must stop seeking to beat the men and engage them respectfully as peers. We must be ourselves at all costs—no one else can be who you really are. We must believe in our selves and our individuality.

Our right to choose must come before the pregnancy, before the reach for contraceptives and before that first, sweet kiss. Our right to choose must come when we look in the mirror and remember that we are more than our sexuality, our bodies, and our achievements.