Saturday, September 4, 2010

Guest Author: Elizabeth Black

I'd like to welcome Elizabeth Black to Three Wicked Writers Plus Two today!
Condemning Sexually Active Women
By Elizabeth Black

What I'm about to say is a variation of that old joke: when I was in grade school I was pure as the driven snow but by the time I got to college I drifted. When I became a college freshman The Pill had been around for just shy of twenty years. For the first time, women could enjoy sex free from the fear of becoming pregnant. I wanted to enjoy my sexuality the way men had done for aeons and I made sure I did.

To some men and women, that made me a slut.

I wrote about the shame fostered upon women for the premiere feminist magazine On The Issues. Here is an excerpt from my article Good Girls, Bad Girls: The Kinkiness Of Slut Shaming:

American society is not kind to sexually active, single, straight women, especially when virginity is so popular among political talking heads. The purity movement and "hooking up" culture are at loggerheads, creating a great deal of confusion.

Chances are, if you're a woman who enjoys playing the field, you've been called a slut, whore, tramp, and a host of other slurs. There is no equivalent set of words for guys who play the field, and the words that describe them are positive, something to aspire to: Lothario, player, stud, Casanova. "Slut" is designed to humiliate and negatively judge a sexually active woman simply because she has a vagina.

But what if a young woman wants to explore her sexuality? What if she does not want to wait for marriage or isn't really all that interested in marriage to begin with?

I remember one of my college girlfriends showing me her collection of contraceptives. I was overwhelmed by it all. She had a drawer full of condoms of all stripes, several different tubes of contraceptive gel and cream, a container of birth control pills, and a diaphragm. Most other women on campus had a drawer full of curlers and makeup. Not Peggy. She had a treasure trove of birth control. She told me she often used two methods together to make sure her eggs didn't get fertilized. This was at the onset of the AIDS epidemic so men and women used condoms and contraceptive gel to prevent the spread of disease as well as to prevent pregnancy. At the time the man I was seeing had a vasectomy so I didn't need to use birth control but for a fleeting moment I wondered if I should anyway because I wasn’t aware of just how sexually active he’d been

My work in progress "Don't Call Me 'Baby'" deals directly with how sexually active women are viewed by their friends and colleagues, especially in the heady 1980s when my book is set. Catherine Stone is sex on wheels and she has multiple partners. Women around her are both judgmental and envious. The men? Well, let's just say she shares her bed with several of them and they are happy to be chosen as one of her sex partners. This book, while not based on my life, does indeed draw from some of my own experiences with plenty of fictional elements added, of course.

I had a rather disheartening experience with my former best friend when I was in college. We both grew up in conservative Catholic households. She went on to become an even more conservative Protestant (she converted to her husband's faith) and I went on to become a progressive feminist firebrand. Talk about a total 360 degree swing! She saved herself for marriage, believing that being a virgin had value. I didn't hold those beliefs. I wanted to be rid of my virginity by the time I turned twenty and I found the man to accommodate me.

My friend, upon hearing that I had sex out of wedlock, put me down by saying "why buy the cow when you get the milk for free?" I felt too hurt at the time to respond to this common condemnation of sexually-active women but later I thought about it and realized how horrid it actually was. First, I was not livestock that could be bought and accorded a monetary value. Second, I did not give away my body for free to any man who wanted me. In my experience too many men assumed that because a woman is sexually free she'll have sex anyone who asks. Nothing could be farther from the truth! She also assumed that by not being a virgin I was "damaged goods". Same thing – I'm not produce that can be bought by the highest (male) bidder. And I like to think that my sexual experience makes me a better and more attentive lover.

I like to work out my thoughts and beliefs in my fiction and non-fiction articles. I'm a sex writer in addition to writing erotic romances and my sex writing definitely colors my erotic romance writing. "Don't Call Me 'Baby'" and my On The Issues article are cases in point. There is definitely a double standard in place for sexually active women who are viewed as sluts when sexually active men are given positive reinforcement, seen as players, Casanovas, and lotharios. I'd like to see that double standard change and hopefully it will in my lifetime.


Anonymous said...

Yay, loved this post. Yes, yes and yes.

Well, I'm from England and now live in Germany and we Europeans have a more liberal view on women and sex. Of course women can be sexually active, why the heck not????


in Germany

Elizabeth Black said...

Glad you liked it Valerie. My husband was born in Rome so I have the European influence right in my own home. And I high five you - of course women can be sexually active! :)

Tess MacKall said...

There's a word for men who do this. STUD. lol Yep, the old double standard, Lizzie. You're calling it right for sure.

Women should be able to make choices in their lives the same as men. And other women should not judge them. That's probably the worst part of it--being judged by other women.

As an erotic romance writer, I've been judged and looked down upon by authors who write what we refer to as "sweet" romance. So wrong.

Basically? People just shouldn't judge. Not our job to do a lot of that is it? Good, thought-provoking post, Lizzie.

Elizabeth Black said...

I had no idea you'd been judged and put down by sweet romance authors, Tess. Seems the more explicit you are in your stories the more squeamish some people get.

I do like to write non-fiction as well as fiction. Often my articles are the same subject as my fiction, so I get as much mileage out of a topic as possible. And I love writing non-fiction articles about sex, romance, and the like.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think there should be no difference between men and women when it comes to sex. We are all human and are here to experience life. Everyone should be free to follow and experiment with whatever they like sexually as long as they are not hurting another (or breaking the law, of course).

This by the way, is coming from a man, but wanted you to know that not all men think there should be a double standard.


Starfox Howl said...

Better to be a sexually active woman and have an idea of what you like and don't like once you meet Mr. Right (or Miss Right as the case may be).

From my perspective the ones who should be judged sluts are the ones that tease, lead on, insinuate there's more to come, then drop the date like a hot rock in the most humiliating way imaginable for the situation, then blab about it in his social circle.

If the date goes south and the hook up isn't going to happen, then end it gracefully, not by castrating the poor guy.

Elizabeth Black said...

Hi, Glenn. Yes, I know not all men are like that. My husband is one of the good guys and so is my son. I did recognize that the double standard exists and I wanted to discuss it.

Starfox I remember meeting women like that in college - the ones who teased and dumped. Very unpleasant characters.

Anonymous said...

Great post Elizabeth!
You're so right about the double standard. Although many women, I've notice, are embracing their slutty-hood and kinda throwing it back in their faces. I'm a slut and proud of it sort of thing.

Serena said...

I loved reading this post. and you are totaly correct that this double standard needs to stop.
I find though that girls are the worst for creating this situation. Reacently have discovered that girls are very good at calling the kettle black. calling you on a certain experience telling any one who will listen how wrong it is when in fact they themselves are up to some interesting activities.

I completely agree with Simplyceltic. So longe as your careful, and not hurting anyone there is no need to judge. And starfox howl totaly it is through experience that we learn, how are we meant to keep mr or Mrs right happy if we have no idea, or tricks of our own.
wonderful post!

Anonymous said...

I think it depends on your age re-the double standard. When I'm discussing with a my friends a woman who sleeps around a lot and I call her a slut, I'll call a man who does the same thing a slut. There is nothing attractive about being a walking std.

Regina Carlysle said...

I think Americans have a lot to learn, really, from our Eurpean counterparts. I think women should feel as free as men to explore their sexuality without fear of being ostracized or called names.

And I agree with Tess. We simple WRITE about sex (and lots of it) and feel that same burden of condemnation.

Fiona McGier said...

I went to college in the 70' never occurred to me that by the time my own kids were teens/adults, the culture would STILL be saying "men do, women shouldn't"...Oh for God's sake! Men AND women should have sex and plenty of it before they get married, or else they won't discover they are sexually incompatible until AFTER the law is involved! I'm an unrepentant former slut whose been happily married to my true love for almost 30 years. That old "cow" canard can be updated to say "Why pay for the pig when all you want is a little sausage?" But let's not sink to that level. Let's encourage both men and women to embrace their own sexuality, no matter which way it swings, so that sex can become just like any other appetite to be satisfied according to each one of us, not something other people judge us for!

Tess MacKall said...

You know, I don't really think that the double standard is ever going to completely change. Why? Well, it all stems from the fact that women give birth. We are considered a "sacred vessel", lol, so to speak.

Men, of course, and I'm not accusing any one man, but men basically always thought of women as property by virtue of the fact we carry their seed. So sleeping around was/is taboo. Can't taint the seed now can we? LOL But it's always been much more acceptable for men--and expected.

What's funny is that for men to do all this sleeping around, they have to sleep with someone, yet we're all supposed to keep ourselves pure. What a hoot it would be if suddenly all the women in the world went on sexual strike. Now that's something I'd pay to see.

Anne Rainey said...

Thanks for visiting with us this weekend, Elizabeth! :)

Madison Scott said...

Thanks for blogging with is, Elizabeth. Loved the post!