The Personal is the Political

feminism

Self-centred bitch. That’s what I think of as the title for this article; slightly ironically admittedly. Still, the very fact that I think that writing an article about putting myself and my needs first makes my mind jump to this title is wholly problematic. The fact I worry about people’s thoughts and opinions when I write this and talk yet again, about female pleasure, makes me feel uncomfortable and angry. I think about the people who will think I hate men for expressing my feelings towards gender inequality and oppression and I think about not publishing this.

I’m sitting at a flat party. It’s getting to the time of the night where every one is suitably intoxicated to speak to one another without feeling awkward. And so I start speaking to a guy. It’s going OK, until I realise that I am probably speaking for about 15% of the time, whilst he speaks for about 85% of the time. For his 85%, I listen intently, nodding along, laughing and adding the odd “yes” or “I know what you mean”. For my 15%, I try and keep what I say to a minimum because it is becoming obvious that this guy doesn’t give a shit about what I am telling him. And I mean, who wouldn’t want to listen to me talking about the importance of social policy for underprivileged groups? Instead, his mind clearly wanders, as he is either looking around the room or at my exposed legs or my tits.

As I came to this slow realisation, I begin to distance myself. Making an excuse to leave and chatting to other people, whilst he still appears very much interested. And then it hits me…the wave of guilt. The guilt for rejecting someone who quite literally let me speak for 15% of a conversation, barely asked me anything about myself and didn’t even look at my face when speaking to me. I woke up in the morning, having left the party alone, and felt an overwhelming sense of relief and gladness that nothing had happened between us. But it got me thinking about what might have happened if I had invited him back and something had occurred between us, and the links started establishing themselves, the wires connecting in my head.

Despite considering myself a confident person, I can almost wholly predict that whatever sexual encounter might have happened between us, would have been on his terms and for his pleasure. If the sex we had was non-penetrative, I would feel that guilt that ‘pleasuring a woman takes too long’ and slowly become self conscious about this and stop enjoying it. If it was penetrative sex, then that sex would be over as soon as he came. And it is this conceptualisation of the ‘end of sex’ which is one of the most problematic things in a heterosexual encounter. In porn, films, literature, and real life, it is depicted and accepted generally that sex ends when a man ejaculates. Put quite simply, this epitomises the argument that women’s pleasure is secondary in the vast majority of depictions of sex. The female orgasm is an extra, a gift, a favour. It is not a right in the way that the male orgasm is. And no, it is not made ok just because men get “blue balls”. Do not try and tell me that the only reason we wait only for a man to orgasm is nothing to do with personal pleasure. Women do not leave sexual encounters where they haven’t reached orgasm feeling a-ok physically either. It is just that mentally, we have been taught to accept this as a norm. The female orgasm just isn’t that important, so we are taught.

This anecdote is no personal attack, but rather an example to illustrate feelings I have felt for years. It is about how gender affects what kind of sex you will get and the distribution of pleasure you will receive. It is about an unfair balance of power that exists not only in the streets, but in the sheets. It is about the fact that women feel inequalities even in one of the most natural of human activities. When we discuss women’s rights/liberation, we focus on what is public, when in many ways some of the most obvious inequalities and oppressions that exist, are things that remain taboo. The personal is the political. 

It’s about time we started talking about this and changing people’s attitudes towards sex. It’s time for real sex education for men and women that includes sex for pleasure of all genders, not just sex for reproduction. For, as long as women are having shitty sex, they will never be equal or liberated.

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