Archive for the 'Guest posts' Category

Losing beauty in our porn culture.

This is the second installment of Harriet Long‘s reflections. It’s worth remembering that sexuality is something so deeply personal, so defined for each of us in terms of our unique experiences, so much an ongoing conversation we have only with ourselves and those we allow close to us; that statements about what it should or should not be like will always be tenuous and contested. The language one person uses to express this may jar with some and resonate with others.We need to challenge our culture’s sexual practices and boundaries where they oppress or exploit but beyond that, we are all simply contributing ideas. This is what Harriet has done in these two posts and she invites you to do the same. If your ideas are different to her’s they are equally as welcome at soisaystoher.


On dance, porn and beauty…Part 2

And so to discuss pornography, something in my view that has become an industry as well as a culture; exploitative, manipulative and one sided. Pornography whether in magazines, films or on the internet is mainly sold to men, whether heterosexual or homosexual. It breaks down the expression of human sexuality into body parts, coarse language, sexual positions, sexual acts and sexual boundaries. As well as an industry and culture that objectifies, exploits and abuses women, it objectifies, exploits and abuses sex. It is also associated with infidelity, shame, deceit, secrecy and obscenity. I would like to suggest that there is huge potential for what I prefer to call erotica; paintings, films, photography and writing all hold hidden and not so hidden glimpses into a world that draws out the beauty of bodies, the sexual act, the relationships between the sexes, arousal, orgasm and intimacy. I think sex and sexuality should be celebrated in culture and society, but it should be classy, respectful, beautiful, honest, open and equal.

Finally, a few thoughts on beauty. I always come away from a changing room experience in the gym or the leisure centre, thinking about the huge distortion in our culture between real beauty and created and imagined beauty. My sister who works in fashion, always feels sad for celebrities and models who only ever view themselves on a computer screen in photoshop and then post airbrushing in magazines etc – they never see what they really look like. The other day I was disgusted to see in a magazine that three celebrities had been photographed from behind and then commented on as their body shape had changed over a year. Women, far more than men, are judged, measured and criticised in terms of beauty. Much of their beauty is directly correlated to their sexuality and their sexual availability and horribly, their sexual rating. Despite my views on equality and mutuality, and my underlying belief that women’s interest in beauty is a gendered condition, I was recently challenged to wonder if our differences as men and women, and our abilities to deal with, approach and respond to beauty in different ways has something to do with attraction and arousal in the first place. Jack Holland in his book “A Brief History of Misogyny” proposes that somewhere in the evolutionary process the female species suppressed the oestrus cycle, meaning that unlike in other species it is never possible to know when a female might be interested in, aroused by or attracted to the male, the consequences being the male has to work a lot harder for the female’s interest and attention. Beauty, is about showing outside what might be going on inside. Therefore, misogyny that forbids beauty is about fear and a lack of control, and industry that distorts beauty and criticises diversity has missed the point. I would suggest that the ugliness of human nature led to men bulldozing over this wonderful subtle mystery in our species and used rape, prostitution, marriage and pornography to control the relationships between men and women. Despite advances made for women’s freedom and autonomy, in contemporary Western society we are caught up in even more despairing dereliction left by the patriarchal bulldozers. On one hand we find ourselves living in a culture where many women have no concept of their mystery and subtlety as a sexual being. The potential for gentle, suggestive, provocative engagement with other sexual beings whether male or female is ignored in favour of the patriarchal legacy of power, control, monetary value and industry. On the other hand, we observe the patriarchal bulldozers leaving room for developments of abuse, exploitation, objectification, simplification, distortion, violence, ignorance, industry, sexual consumerism and consumption. We may well despair for future generations of men and women who, whilst relishing the freedom for sexual expression, after throwing off moral and religious shackles, find they have no concept of the sensitivity, the beauty, the subtlety of attraction, arousal, intimacy and relationship between men and women. I find as a feminist I am not only speaking up for women, but for sexuality, for beauty and for humanity as we wrestle with body parts, sex acts, coarse language and description and sexual boundaries being scattered across our culture with no honour, respect or mutuality for men or women or the wonderful relationships we have the potential to have with each other.

Howard looked at Kiki. In her face, his life. Kiki looked up suddenly at Howard – not, he thought, unkindly. Howard said nothing. Another silent minute passed. The audience began to mutter perplexedly. Howard made the picture larger on the wall, as Smith had explained to him how to do. The woman’s fleshiness filled the wall. He looked out into the audience once more and saw Kiki only. He smiled at her. She smiled. She looked away, but she smiled. Howard looked back at the woman on the wall, Rembrandt’s love Hendrickje. Though her hands were imprecise blurs, paint heaped on paint and roiled with the brush, the rest of her skin had been expertly rendered in all its variety – chalky whites and lively pinks, the underlying blue of her veins and the ever present human hint of yellow, intimation of what is to come.”

Zadie Smith, On Beauty

I am a gendered woman, conditioned by Western predominantly White/English society and by the fortune I had to grow up safely and free from abuse and exploitation and to be in a mutual, respectful and sexy relationship. I am confident that I know nothing, I have ideals, hopes, prejudice and bias. This is my disclaimer, please discuss.


Lap dancing may oppress women, but is it also an insult to dance?

Another community post for you: This time it’s from Harriet Long, an English lass living in Belfast and working to support women through some of the most difficult periods in their lives.

Following Shirley’s reflections last week, this is another deeply personal and at times provocative look at the distortion of female sexuality in our popular culture. Presented in 2 parts, here’s the first installment.


On dance, porn and beauty…

Whilst I have never really made the issue of women as sex objects a particularly defining feature of my feminism, I guess I would describe my sexuality and body and confidence as a defining feature of me. I treasure the freedom I have in my relationship with my partner, my friends, my family, my community and my city to reveal what I choose to in terms of my beauty, my femaleness, my sexuality, my character, my skills, my interests, my humour and more. I believe my sexuality and my beauty to be an important and essential part of who I am. I think that many of my beliefs about women and men are rooted in a desire for equality and mutuality, and I tend to kick against the emphasis culture places on difference. I constantly try to suggest when encountering strongly conditioned thinking about gender, that we each, male and female are not as different as culture and society, and the powers operating within that, would like us to think. I would like to hope that if men and women treated each other with a more respectful mutuality there would be less power and control involved in our relationships to one another. If we realised what we had in common and celebrated difference, there would be less opportunity to exploit that which we do not understand, we would not need to objectify the other in order to break down the mysteries of our differences, we could perhaps enjoy discovering and exploring the fun that is to be had in attraction, arousal and the choices we make and the actions we take.

As I thought about the backlash feminists have encountered because they objected to a sexist, degrading depiction of women’s body parts, not even the whole woman, I noticed that anti-feminist backlash accuses women of being anti-men, anti-sex, anti-freedom. I would like to suggest a couple of ideas for people to mull over…

Firstly, dance, which is what pole dance or table dancing is essentially, is a beautiful thing, it always has the potential to be provocative not just sexually, but emotionally and physically too. Dance is mesmerising, stunning and captivating. Where it has been taken and manipulated to exploit and oppress women it has been corrupted. Where it is placed so that it is not even appreciated, adored and applauded it is ruined. Where it is used to pleasure men who are lonely, violent, misogynistic, unattractive, drunk, high, tired, depressed, angry, uninterested it is a disgrace. But dance should be celebrated. Dance reminds us to get in touch with our bodies, our shapes, our rhythms, our energy, our freedom and passion. Dance expresses our sensuality as well as our sexuality, dance makes the dancer feel sexy and beautiful as well as potentially making the audience feel the same thing. The thought of men with erections, hoping to get a sexual favour out of a lap dance, laying money on a woman not because they love the dance but because they are hoping for sex or enjoying the masturbation images she provides, is disgusting and of course its disrespectful. But it’s disrespectful not only to dance, but to beauty and to the shared experience of our humanity that the expression of dance can evoke. If a man despises a woman for the way she can make him feel, out of control, at her mercy in terms of his arousal, and desires to hurt her, to master her, to wound her, he is sick and diseased in terms of his understanding of woman, of himself and the relation they could have to each other.

I adore dance, I think it is fun, I think it is clever, I think it is attention grabbing and I think it is sexy. I believe in monogamy and I believe in fidelity but in the context of respect and mutuality I think dance as a sexual and sensual expression is something to be celebrated, explored and experimented with. I believe dance of any form has the potential to be reclaimed back from those that choose to strip back sex to body parts, and coarse language, to monetary value, to relationships of power and abuse.

There are all kinds of exploitative, patriarchal, sexist reasons why dancing is culturally associated with women, the more men and women can celebrate it as an expression of humanity, body, energy and more, the more potential we have for equality and the levelling of hierarchy. I love seeing tv and film footage of tribal dances where first the men dance for the women and then the women dance for the men. These dances are propositionary, but also celebratory of culture, tradition and tribal life.

Word made flesh.

I’m delighted to have had people send their thoughts to post on soisaystoher and begin the process of making this more of a dialogue than a monolgue.

This piece is from Shirley McMillan who writes the most incredible reflections on childbirth I have ever come across.


How much of what we experience of our bodies comes from the memory of the experience as attached to the particular words and selves we have learned? Perhaps that is impossible to answer; like trying to describe a moment which is beyond words to the point where the most vivid memory of it only brings a feeling to mind. So the description I am about to attempt is beyond inadequate and yet, again and again, I am compelled to try to describe it.


I sometimes imagine that the compulsion is down to my angry mind needing to own that event which was so far out of its control that I could not even hear its voice at the time. How frustrating for my mind, which had convinced me so well for so long of its power and authority so suddenly have me in thrall to another. I could only hear my body. And it was screaming.


I have heard people talk of giving birth as an ‘out of body experience’ or a spiritual experience. Something takes over and performs a bloody and painful miracle. It felt as if it was not me but someone or something beyond me; intervening. Life happens, all of a sudden. There is yelling and then crying, joy, laughter.


But it was not a spiritual experience. It was the opposite. A total body experience. A completely human experience. Just one that was so unusual that my mind had been shocked into silence for the first time ever. I realised then that it was not God who was beyond me, it was myself. I am beyond me. More than I realise. And, because someday I will die, more than I will ever realise. Perhaps it is possible to lose God and gain God in the same word-becoming-flesh moment. You can lose control of your body like that, but then, who is your body if it is not you? You are then in control but also not in control. Beyond words, who are you?


Consider that the younger a person is, the more spiritual we deem them, the more connected to God. They who have no words, who are not aware of the boundaries between others and themselves, their bodies and the universe. Our minds will not let us remember this. But perhaps our bodies have not forgotten.


When we break bread together we do it in remembrance of the spirit-made-man and our minds say, get up, take the bread, say Amen. But, as you swallow, feel how little control you have. Your body may accept the bread, may digest it, may glean the goodness from it, may expel the rest. This is beyond words. This is the sacrament of word made flesh. Feel where your words end and your flesh begins. Your helplessness, like a baby. Your power, your connection to the universe. This is your body. Do this in remembrance.

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