Within western society, the female body has been corrupted to be ‘innately’ sexual for the masculine, and thus it has been regarded as unspeakable, unseeable. It exists to serve two purposes; bearing children and conforming to the sexual desires of the valued phallus. Thus, if a woman is not a mother, she is automatically a sexual object and one cannot experience the feminine body outside the sexual male gaze.
This constant sexualization of the female form from the male perspective, is so detrimental as womenfolk have learnt to not experience nor value their body as anything other than for the male pleasure. In order to draw appreciation for the body, it must conform to the sexual desires of men, it must be living pornography.
Whilst men feel comfortable bragging about their penis as it is their trophy symbolizing their place as the “better” sex, women are denied the same. As it is deemed as sexual, it is not appropriate to experience nor talk about the vagina let alone the vulva outside a sexual context. Where adolescent girls are taught about the female body, it is generally limited to periods, pregnancy and STI’s. Although these are important lessons, this is where the conversations end. Girls are not taught about masturbation nor sexual pleasure, whilst many women are only told about facilitating men in their masculine exploration of these things. But absent from discussions about sexual enjoyment, the vulva is often forgotten, even in a biological sense. Numerous girls when talking about their vulva will call it their vagina, as the basic education of their bodies has been neglected due to the sexualization of the feminine external genitalia.
This offensiveness of the vulva continues throughout adulthood as women experience the necessity of medical attention and must impossibly attempt to separate the beliefs which have been indoctrinated into their life from infancy, (Althusser). In a study performed a week prior to 433 women’s planned gynaecological operations, 41.8% experienced embarrassment about undressing and feelings of shame, (Yanikkerem, Özdemir, Bingol, Tatar, & Karadeniz, 2007). 48% of 3,670 women surveyed by Refinery29 reported having concerns about the appearance of their vulva. 22% stated they were unhappy with their labia, and 32% stated that they experienced feeling that theirs was not “normal”. A large group of these women mentioned the porn industry as a contributing factor. Many women within the survey stated that they believe that porn only represented a small group of vulvas skewing the male perspective of reality, with some citing experiences where their partners made them feel abnormal due to the appearance of their vulva, (Gil, 2019).
34% of women surveyed said they would change something about their vagina/vulva, (Gil, 2019).
The shame around women’s vulvas, and the sexual portrayal of only one vulva appearance, has created a concerning 39% increase in labiaplasty within America from 2015-2016, (New Plastic Surgery Statistics Reveal Focus on Face and Fat, 2017). A 45% increase globally from 2014-2015 with Brazil performing the highest number of procedures ( 23,155). (Plastic Surgeries Trends on the Rise, 2017).
The price of menstruation
Menstruation is the rejection of the imposed beliefs upon women. It is believed to be unsexy and is the rejection of pregnancy, challenging both purposes of women, thus it must be taboo and shameful.
“Women must write her self,” – The Laugh of the Medusa, Hélène Cixous
A poll, commissioned by Thinx, of 1,500 women and 500 men, revealed that 42% of women have experienced period shaming, and 58% of women felt embarrassed due to their period. 71% of women have concealed a pad or tampon on the way to a bathroom. (Brannagan, 2018). Feminine hygiene products have been taxed around the globe, as they were classified as non-essential items. Due to the stigma around the vagina, menstruating women were punished for this natural and biological process.
The feminine body: A secret
The shame surrounding women’s bodies continues as legal ‘demureness’ is imposed upon females. Societally women are often shamed for showing their body, any aspect of it, as pornography is not acceptable within the context of daily life and thus women, the sexual objects of men, are not appropriate either.
The female nipple
The breast, the aspect that differs from the opposing binary sex, may be societally shown, yet in many cultures the element that contains sameness of the sexes must be hidden away. An example of this is Instagram’s regulations around the female nipple. Unless the photograph depicts post-mastectomy scarring or actively breastfeeding, the feminine nipple is deemed not appropriate. “Overstepping these boundaries may result in deleted content, disabled accounts, or other restrictions.” (Instagram, 2020) The same regulations are not imposed upon the male nipple. The ‘innate’ masculine attraction to the female nipple is challenged with the existence of homosexual males and cultures where the female nipple is exposed and normalized, consequently illustrating that this belief is merely cultural and can be changed, yet won’t in order to support an original purpose of women; to fulfil the desires of men.
Disrupting the shame
As women, we must take an active stand against the regulation of the female body. It is not enough for women to “talk women”. Men must accurately be informed of the feminine language as well, informed of the individualist female body, in order to disrupt the discourse of the taboo. Women must exist as individualist people in the context, the cultures and the minds of men. We must be able to talk freely about menstruation, sexuality, and biology in the company of men as the fight for equality cannot possibly end until the feminine form is allowed to exist absent from sexual intention and shame.