Open Letter: Sexual Liberation Is About Dignity Not “Sluttiness”

Dear World,

Open LetterEven if you believe pre-marital sex to be immoral for religious reasons, there is no denying that women in particular are treated cruelly for falling short of this standard. I have had a hard time convincing moderate, conservative, and religious Ghanaian women to shun a sexual double standard that praises men for sex, yet degrades women for exerting sexual agency. I have failed in part because my personality does not appeal to the sensibilities of many Ghanaian women.Striving to emulate a British Victorian construct of a “lady”, many Ghanaian women abhor women feminists such as myself. They say we are crude, vulgar, and that no man will marry us. Even with justice on our minds, a well “trained” Ghanaian woman will refuse to listen to the content of feminist messages as the presentation of such a message is not dressed with “lady-like” language. If women find our reputation so distasteful that they refrain from listening to well thought-out arguments on women’s liberation, it feels as if the sexists are winning.

Nonetheless, this essay is not about me and my sordid relationship with many Ghanaian women online. It is the first of a series of “open letters” aimed at Ghanaian women clarifying infamous feminist positions. It is about sexual liberation and its central message. A major misconception is that sexual liberation only seeks to encourage women to have sex. In reality, sexual liberation seeks to remove sexist insults and devaluation to better allow women to make individual sexual choices without shame, disrespect, dehumanization, or men’s control. Whether you want to abstain, sleep with the entire block, or somewhere in between, the choice and power is yours. It is your body and no one should insult you for the sexual choices you make, just because you are a woman.

Sexist Metaphors Used To Argue Against Women’s Sexual Liberation Rob Women of Dignity

It is often the case that men that seek to enforce a sexual double standard, utilize silly metaphors. The central message of these metaphors is that women who explore their sexuality outside the confines of marriage are “used” and thus possess less value. Interestingly, this same logic is not applied to men. The metaphors themselves rarely conceptualize women as autonomous, rational, people capable of making choices. These metaphors often maintain men’s status as people, yet reduce women to cows, apples, cars, and other non-human objects or animals incapable of self-determination.

Exhibit A: In this metaphor:

woman/vagina= car
man= person purchasing car

Sex A

A car is used to represent a woman, yet the person buying the car, the representation of a man, is still human.

Exhibit B:

woman= apple
man= person eating/biting the apple

sex B

In this metaphor, an apple is used to represent a woman, yet the person eating the apple causing the supposed “decay”, the representation of a man, is still human.

Exhibit C:

woman= cow
sex = milk
man = farmer/person purchasing cow

sex C

In this metaphor, a cow up for purchase is used to represent a woman, sex is milk, yet the purchaser, the representation of a man, is still human.

So why is it relevant that metaphors that seek to argue against women having sexual liberties, continue to use purchasable commodities to symbolize women, while men are symbolized as autonomous humans? 

  1. Dehumanization: These metaphors demonstrate how sexists think, and the ease with which women are dehumanized. In the mind of sexists, men and women do not share equal dignity, and as such women are often reduced to objects while men remain human.
  2. Objectification: These metaphors illustrate that many men view women as their possession. Whether it is a cow, or a car, or an apple, women are represented as commodities that men purchase and own, rather than equal human life partners.
  3. Sexual Illiteracy: These metaphors also demonstrate sexual illiteracy. Contrast to popular opinion, sex does not taint, widen, or spoil a woman or her vagina. Frankly it is insulting to give penises so much power, that we falsely think that penile-vaginal penetration drastically changes a woman’s physical or spiritual essence, while men stay intact.

It is clear then, that the harm of women’s sexual repression is not just the inability to live a fulfilled life filled with sexual exploration. The harm of women’s sexual repression is also the dehumanizing, objectifying ideas about women that accompany the rationale of sexual repression. These sexist ideas about women are widely circulated and ingrained within our collective social conscience.

Your Greatest Achievements In Life Will Have Little To Do With Your Sex Life

Do you know about Harriet Tubman’s body count? Yaa Asantewaa’s sexual history? Are you aware of how many people Ama Ata Aidoo has bedded? No.

No you’re not, because it is irrelevant to their accomplishments as social revolutionaries. It is ridiculous to use a woman’s sexual life as a basis for determining worth and respect. It is even more ridiculous to use a woman’s sex life to determine morality, as morality is inherently about increasing or reducing human suffering. It is better to focus on the ways that women improve society, every single day.

Once you are buried six feet under, your legacy will be about what you have done for this world, not who you have done in this world.

Thus I continue to push for sexual liberation. Not only because I want women to live fully fulfilled lives that do not require marriage for sexual pleasure, but also because I want women to transcend genitalia based politics. I want women to understand that our worth in this world has little to do with who we sleep with, and everything to do with how we treat others, what politics we hold, our intellectual capabilities, and most importantly how we maximize our human capital as citizens for a better Ghana.

Conclusion 

Sexual liberation is about dignity. When society allows men sexual exploration and attacks women who do the same, men are positioned in a  superior social standing to women. Essentially, because men are given rights and liberties that women are denied, women are robbed of equal social standing with men. Which in turn, robs women of dignity. Especially with the use of dehumanizing metaphors.

Furthermore, sexual liberation is about dignity because women have so much to offer this world. And for women’s worth to be reduced to what we sexually do with our genitalia is beyond demeaning. So Yes sexual liberation is essential to restore women’s dignity, because honestly we are more than our sex lives.

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13 thoughts on “Open Letter: Sexual Liberation Is About Dignity Not “Sluttiness”

  1. My dearest Obaaboni, You make a very sound argument here. I cannot but agree to every bit of what you are saying. However, if this must be solved, it must start from the very beginning. We live in a world of the 21st century where the cultures of the 19th century are in full practice.
    Women in the past will see nothing wrong with being referred to as commodities and possessions because that was the norm. Today, your article alone proves it isn’t the case to some extent. If this notion of owning women could be taken out completely, then certain things must change. We still pay bride price, people expect to make fortunes from their daughters marriages, women still expect to be taken care of and several others that makes a man feel nothing but an owner.
    This brings us down to the point where women, if not married, must keep themselves well so to be good commodities for the merchants(men), and if married, must stay meek, and faithful to their LORDS.

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    1. LOL bride price is not about purchasing women but about compensating families in an agrarian economy for the loss of labor. It is now mostly a symbolic gesture.

      But I do not buy the argument that women historically viewed themselves as commodities. feminist literature from the 19th and 20th century indicate otherwise. Nonetheless I hope to inspire non-feminist women to understand the negative repercussions of slut-shaming

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am wholly in for women’s sexual liberation. as i followed the argument more curiously, there is only on thing that comes to mind and it resonates quite well with the earlier comment that has to do with bride wealth payment and the other roles of the male figure. ” You can’t have your cake and eat it” as the saying goes. women must unlearn the use of their sex organ as an asset to negotiate their well being.

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    1. I’m going to say this again. Women’s body is not yours to negotiate. Women utilizing sex as a means of negotiation is a surviving mechanism to patriarchy. Basically, in a world where systematic economic equity is robbed from you, one way that you are forced to survive is by appealing to men.

      If you are a man, I would advise you to focus more on bringing about institutional access than regulating women’s body. If you are a woman, I would advise you to seek to understand why some women, without the privileges of class, use their bodies as a means to an end. At the end of the day though…it is their bodies. It is theirs to use.

      I also want to address bride price. Bride prices was NEVER about buying women. In an agrarian economy in which families worked, bride price was a way to compensate a family for their loss of labor.

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  3. Interesting piece Obaa Boni. Can’t but agree that gender constraints facing women are laced into socio-cultural structures in most societies. Just curious though. Got a couple of questions if you don’t mind. 1. Is it not a furtherance of your own (women) subjugation to promote “sexual agency” as a way of negotiating the brutality of patriarchy? I mean if the patriarchal game is to objectify women as instruments useful only for sexual pleasure, then would it not be a strategic blow to deny patriarchy this source of power through restraint rather than liberalisation that largely benefits philanderous men? 2. In my view, patriarchy, with its variant; sexism, is rooted in classism, which seem bent on perpetuating its monopoly of economic resources; land, capital, management, technology. My question: if economic injustice is the root-cause, then why expend so much effort on the “branches” or what I call symptoms such as sexual repression, constrained access to political power etc. etc.? 3. Would you consider it a betrayal of feminist ideals for a married woman who supports the deconstruction of gender constraints against women? A contradiction in terms it would appear, but I know many of such ilk. Your thoughts please. By the way, you have a remarkable talent for beautiful letters. You are a compelling writer!

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    1. 1. It is not women that must adapt to patriarchy, it is men that must stop sexist abuse. the goal is to get women to be treated as sexual subjects. to remove men’s power to dehumanize women thereby undermining women’s sexual autonomy. Sexual agency is not about women having sex, it is about women making their own decisions (in terms of sex) without men’s degrading insults and behavior. Alot of anti-sexism is not rooted in changing women’s behavior but curbing men’s abusive behavior.

      2.eradicating class inequality, will not necessary eradicate sexism. even wealthy women are subject to systematic marginalization on the basis of their gender. Sexism intersects with classism, but sexism is it’s own beast and must be resisted. Besides one need not undermine one system of brutality on its own. Intersectionality requires the recognition of multiple systems of oppression and work to dismantle all of them.

      3.I don’t understand this question. Married women aren’t a problem. Never have been , never will be.

      Thank you for the kind words.

      Like

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