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Lipstick is not Liberation*

The big issue is supposed to be that women are attractive to men, which means there are only two possible alternatives. Women have to be kept in a box (or tent, according to taste) so the poor men aren’t driven to distraction, or women can be distracting and men have to deal with it.

Some man with a very limited little mind came up with that. Those are not our only choices. They don’t begin to cover the spectrum of possibilities. Half of humanity, for instance, is not driven to distraction by women, whether boxed or not. For women, there are issues of being pleased as well as pleasing, and that doesn’t even seem to be on the map for the limited little man.

And then, how about another whole range of choices? Imagine a world where everyone had a good sex life. A world where men didn’t have to come howling out of the woodwork whenever anyone made a noise like a vagina. One where women could express an interest in sex without being trampled. There’d be dozsens of choices then, not just two invented by some guy starving in a basement.

What brought on this rant was an article about the new, sexy music videos appearing in the Arab world.

Habib recalls how one of her early videos helped shoot her to superstardom.

“The video Akhasmak Ah was basically shot in a cafe in Beirut, and the woman was seen as a power figure in the video.

“She was dancing on the table and it was a room full of men and the men were just at her feet. And she was just commanding them. So in some ways it was seen as showing a woman as an object and in other ways it was seen as a woman being empowered.”

Many of the music clips – like those in the West – are selling sex in a way that is new to the Middle East.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I hardly know where to start, the whole world view is so pathetic. (If only it were limited to Arabs, but the BBC reporter himself obviously thinks in those terms too.)

Let’s just start with the whole sex-as-control aspect. Sex can’t be a tool of control if you want it. Then you’d have nothing to withhold and nothing to bargain with. So the first step is to be so out of touch with yourself, so unaware of your own desires, so castrated that you can dole out sex as currency. That is not empowerment. That’s being so thoroughly crippled, your only jollies are hitting people with your crutches.

Depriving a woman of her own life until she’s nothing but a figment of somebody else’s imagination is not empowerment. Not even when she’s given the means to be a disturbing figment. Wearing lipstick is not liberation. She’s still living in somebody else’s world, even if she gets to do it in technicolor.

Empowerment is having your own life. It’s having enough control to be able to choose which life you want. It’s having enough control over your own fate to be able to get what you want sometimes, too.

Everything about the report, and the world view it echoes, rests on the same ignorance about empowerment, and, for that matter, sex. Take the comment about “selling sex.” It’s not sex that’s being sold, but only women’s sex. The implication being the same old myth: only men want sex, women don’t want it and all they do is use it.

Or, take the following statement.

Many Arab women say they find the videos demeaning.

The discussion has been about “sex,” not about sexless (although of course sexy) women. So the quote implies women find sex demeaning. Nobody wants humiliation (except perhaps sadomasochists who’ve bought into the idea that sex equals it). Hence, again, over and over, the message is the same. Women don’t want sex.

Outside the world of sex-deprived men, though, it doesn’t take much to see how asinine the videos are. It doesn’t take a spiritual giant to know that a body slave is not really a step up from a maid of all work. All it takes is any sense of self. Women who see where the videos put them are closer to empowerment than reporters who sound like they have no idea what the problem might be.

The really sad thing is that this pathetic ignorance is far from harmless. It’s worse than not liberating. It is the opposite. It takes everyone further and further away from ever being free of it.

The truth (which on good authority is said to set us free) is that women spend at least as much time as men thinking about sex. Sometimes it seems like they think about it even more. If you’re female, you have no trouble remembering examples. (If you’re male, probably not so much. See “trampling,” above, if you wonder why.)

It’s true that at this point women don’t always dream of exactly the same sort of satisfactions as men, for the simple reason that men have succeeded in making sex either frustrating or even unpleasant for so many women. But it’s not nature that made things that way. Any time we want to stop living inside narrow fantasies, there’s a whole world of other choices out there.

Left to themselves, women are crazy about men. Left to themselves, women are crazy about sex. If they didn’t have to fear frustration or worse, they’d be having a lot more sex, not less. As a result, men would be having a lot more sex too, if they stopped trying to have all of it.


*(Written from a straight perspective. As they say: write what you know.)

Technorati tags: politics, gender, sex, relationships, liberation