Are We Really Empowered?
Male fantasies, Margaret Atwood, and the dissection of casual sex
Credit: Pinterest/ @bbrackin
Listening to a group of girls talk about their hookups sounds like the raunchiest episode of “Sex and the City.” Men say statements like, “I hit that,” “we did it there,” “they were huge” or “it was so good.” Women tend to not keep those details so vague. There are intense descriptions of size, shape, speed, duration and secretions. Does it feel like everyone is having sex? Does it feel like everyone is talking about sex? Well, if I were to be honest, a group of nuns or middle-aged moms would probably be horrified by me and my friends' discussions. Conversations about sex are no longer happening behind closed doors. Grocery stores, restaurants and classrooms are all fair game in my world.
It feels like we have taken this incredible step. Is it too much to boast that we have finally normalized sex? Is that really a true statement, or is that just true in the case of my isolated party college campus? Even if it is not true nationally, it is still important. Women are having casual sex and not feeling guilt, shame or like they are being burned at the stake! I feel like we are on the brink of true female liberation.
Or, at least, that is what I thought. A question was posed in my sexuality class about whether women should abstain from casual sex until there is true gender equality. I thought that was preposterous and a horrible notion from the 1950s; however, it is proven that women have worse sex. There is a sexual script in society that not only prioritizes men’s orgasms over womens', but it totally ignores female pleasure. There can be a lack of communication and respect within casual hookups or the feeling of objectification. These can all have negative impacts on a women’s emotions and sexual experience. Without communication, there can be feelings of rejection when clear boundaries are not met. If men cross boundaries in sex like nonconsensual choking or slapping, it can have detrimental effects on women’s mental health. There are countless issues that can occur when engaging in casual sex.
While we might have gotten better at talking about sex, we might not have gotten better sex.
There seems to be this obvious gap: how has sex gotten less stigmatized but not that much better for women. I think back to a famous Margaret Atwood quote:
“Male fantasies, male fantasies, is everything run by male fantasies? Up on a pedestal or down on your knees, it's all a male fantasy: that you're strong enough to take what they dish out, or else too weak to do anything about it. Even pretending you aren't catering to male fantasies is a male fantasy: pretending you're unseen, pretending you have a life of your own, that you can wash your feet and comb your hair unconscious of the ever-present watcher peering through the keyhole, peering through the keyhole in your own head, if nowhere else. You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur.”
This quote destroyed me, and I thought I would share it because I want everyone to endure the mental pain this singular paragraph has brought me. I read the quote and immediately pleaded that I cannot be a male fantasy. Should I start wearing sweatpants to bars or stop wearing makeup? However, that act itself is catering to male fantasies; to pretend to be the girl that does not care about makeup and looking good also satisfies that specific man. If I cosplay as the virgin or the seductress, it is all a mask to appeal to male fantasies.
Whatever I do, they will assume I am doing it for them.
I cannot escape this patriarchal society that has been ingrained for centuries long. It can feel like every action and every emotion serves the patriarchy. I really am my own voyeur.
Does this apply to casual sex? I thought that I had become this ultra-feminist by engaging in hookup culture, but is hookup culture a cleverly devised ploy of the patriarchy? Hookup culture can include bad sex, lack of respect, gossip and negative emotions. None of the previously listed things sound very feminine or appealing. When women engage in hookup culture, they are appealing to male fantasies.
We have been convinced that hookup culture is a feminist agenda, but it comes with very misogynistic roots.
Now, do I believe everything I just wrote? Not always. Casual sex and hookup culture should be approached with caution, but of course there are benefits for women. It’s sex, and sex feels good! Casual sex allows us to be physically intimate, while still maintaining independence. The normalization of sex that has occurred through hookup culture is a step in the right direction; however, it is extremely important to communicate wants and needs with partners and also be honest with yourself. If you want a boyfriend or a girlfriend, do not lie to yourself or to your partner that you are okay with something casual. Casualness should not be the baseline, but rather something that is discussed thoroughly to create well-defined boundaries and expectations. It takes incredible self-reflection, but if you are engaging in casual sex, make sure it is because you want to have sex, not because you want validation.
It is all a personal decision, and those decisions can change and evolve. If you feel empowered through casual sex, go out and have safe fun. If you don’t, there is no pressure. Empowerment does not come from having sex, but rather from being confident in our decisions.
Gwyneth Baker is an online editorial writer for Rowdy Magazine. She can be found dropping first and last names and personal information in graphic detail at the Piesanos on 13th street.