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Here’s The PROBLEM With Telling Women That Their Power Lies In Their Sexuality

Last night, I stayed up late putting the finishing touches to a piece I had spent countless nights on. As I was nearing the end, I decided to take a detour on the fascinating lanes and alleys of the internet, for some mindless entertainment.  That’s when I chanced upon it- a horrifying ‘women empowerment’ comic that showed how a woman’s ability to grant or deny sex to her boyfriend was a potent tool to control his behavior. I knew pop culture was filled with countless examples of women who felt empowered by their capacity to withhold access to their bodies. Like rejection was some feminist power that tagged autonomy over one’s body as the ultimate liberation trophy. But the blatant propagation of this idea disturbed me. Digging deeper, I found e-commerce making use of this gross idea as well. ‘Access Denied’ underwears are their idea of empowering women!! What a truckload of BS!

Angry and upset, I knew I wouldn’t be calling it a night anytime soon. I had to do something about this. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am all for women’s right over their bodies. One hundred percent. But I do have a problem in telling women to wield sexuality as a weapon to gain power. The power so gained is deeply problematic and consequentially, not as powerful as the proponents of the idea may have you believe.

Nicki Minaj_New_Love_Times

Image source: Youtube

I can prove it. Remember Minaj’s Anaconda? Yes, the massive hit in which our seductive lady gives her lusty interest Drake a lap dance but slaps his hand away right when his carnal instincts have been teased to the point of an ‘inviolable right to satiate his libido?’ While a certain section of feminists would laud such power as a powerful statement of Minaj’s complete authority over her own body, so as to deny permission and hold the ultimate power, I have my own doubts. There are two things at play here. One, the message about a lap dance or any form of physical contact NOT being an invitation for more is definitely an impactful statement about autonomy and consent. But denying permission in order to assert the rights of this autonomy and prove one’s power isn’t an indication of the woman’s power- if anything, it is a token of how powerless she is.


Suggested read: Sexist remarks women are tired of hearing

I will explain. You see, having autonomy over your body to do with it as you please is power, in and of itself. Allowing or withholding sex or any form of physical interaction is a hollow measure of power, as it only reinforces the idea that ‘sex’ is an activity primarily sought out by the male species, a pursuit of men in which women may ONLY be allowed to choose to indulge or reject. The fact that sex, in this sense, becomes a primarily male territory in which the female species is only allowed to freely rove or not trespass at all is a highly misguided and inaccurate representation of woman power. While there is no denying that a woman has the right to consent to or refuse sex, we cannot and should NOT use women’s rights to do so as a parameter for empowerment. By doing so, we only teach them to respond to the male desire, rather than exploring and owning their own sexuality and learning to enjoy sex as something that can be mutually desired and enjoyed.

If you still aren’t convinced, here are the problems with the notion spelt out for you:

1. It is objectifying

saying no_New_Love_Times

Image source: Pinterest

The notion that a woman can gain control by eliciting men’s desires plays into a deeply sexist notion about women’s worth being vested in their ability to arouse a man’s affection (or just his erection). The problem with this idea, if you have been blind enough to NOT notice, is clearly one of objectification. In reducing a woman’s worth to a singular ability to be ‘desirable,’ we shift the focus from a woman and a human to simply a body. We divorce the elements of talent or personality from the person she is to simply focus on the aesthetics (or assets) of her body. This is far from empowering. If anything, it perpetuates a terribly damaging ideal for a body image that women should conform to. In telling her, she is only as worthy as her ability to draw and win a man’s affections, you are telling her that her value lies in her ‘power’ to control and regulate a man’s desires as long as she is desirable (read: conforms). This harmful idea devalues all women who do not fit into the ‘desirable’ category, ousts women formerly ‘desirable’ as they age and reduces them to the level of objects who can be used and discarded. The same idea is used in popular culture- the most striking example being advertisements where the woman is dehumanized to the extent that she is simply a prop or an accessory to decorate or celebrate a man’s ‘manliness.’ Is that empowering? Hell no.

Where in this twisted schema of things do you find your power to allow or withhold sex celebratory? This is something to challenge, not celebrate.

2. It promotes stereotypes

woman in bed3

Image source: Google, copyright-free image under Creative Commons License

Our culture levies disproportionate shame on women for having high sex drives. One does not have to look far to notice the sexual double standards- it is present everywhere. This social norm is largely responsible for contributing to the notion that men possess higher libidos and a larger interest in sex than women- not to mention that such interest is viewed positively in their species and looked down upon in the females. However, there is scientific evidence to prove that women experience optimal sex drives to need and crave as much sex as their partners.

As such, indoctrinating women with the myth of sexually voracious men whose drive they need to ‘check’ by being ‘powerful in the right to deny’ is damaging to both sides. Women indoctrinated with this trope may feel ‘unfeminine’ for craving as much sex, may feel less inclined to initiate it and as such, may damage the fabric of their relationships. Worth the ‘false power’ you thought your ability to deny sex vested in you? Thought so.

Suggested read: Sexist romance novel tropes that need to STOP

3. It promotes rape culture

woman in bed_New_Love_Times

Image source: Pixabay, under Creative Commons License

We often think that a man’s approach is checked by our own responses to the situation. When he approaches, if he can talk to us, if he can buy us drinks, if he can get a dance, if he can get our digits, take us home or get a second meeting are all apparently controlled by us. But this perceived control is always accompanied by a secret male agenda. The man DOES want something. Our society has led men to believe that if a woman has allowed him to buy her drinks or take him home and he has paid his dues (commensurate with what is at stake- how ‘desirable’ the woman is), he is entitled to something.

The women-can-control-men-through-sex trope encourages the belief that men themselves are incapable of controlling the ‘inviolable rights of their male libido, undeniable when aroused’ and excuses sexual assault or even rape by assuming that sex does not have to be mutually consensual as long as a man has paid his dues! Flips power that you thought you had? Well…

4. It taints intimacy with manipulation

woman in bed_New_Love_Times

Image source: Google, copyright-free image under Creative Commons License

The twisted model of exchange on which the dynamic of ‘owing’ each other something for sex works is highly disturbing. It promotes manipulation on either end and makes sex a bargaining tool, for each partner to negotiate their own interests. As such, sex ceases to be a loving, intimate act and becomes a tense battleground where each party may stand to get the longer or shorter end of the stick and carry over the resentment of getting the poorer side of the bargain into the dynamic of the next exchange.

Most of all, anything you receive vis-à-vis the use of such power stands to be lost in the blink of an eye. If you don’t see how ‘using sex to control a man’ is vacuous power, just hang ‘sex’ over his head to try and get him to commit and you’ll tire of his fake commitment soon enough!

5. It represses women’s sexuality

couple in bed_New_Love_Times

Image source: Google, copyright-free image under Creative Commons License

As I mentioned already, society leads women to believe that their power in controlling men’s motivation with the promise of sex can get a lot in exchange. However, the problem with this notion is that in teaching women to say ‘no,’ they are making them believe in the image of an ideal woman who excels at self-restraint and uses abstinence as a weapon to get what she wants. Not only is the economic exchange model highly damaging for both genders, but also encourages women to stifle their own desires and hide their sexuality in a conformist move. It represses women’s sexuality and tells them that any exploration in the realm is unfeminine and taxes their bargaining power.

Suggested read: Why the world needs to accept women with beauty AND brains

Turn the tables for a moment and think how it’d be if we told our women that instead of believing that a ‘no’ lends them power, they had the right to say ‘no’ when they really wanted but also the right to say ‘yes’ if that’s what they really wanted? How it’d be to teach them that their power is not in a lame-as*ed conformist move to deny sex but in asserting what they want, even if it meant saying ‘yes?’

Sounds empowering, right?

Because it is. True empowerment lies in autonomy over our own bodies and knowing that our decisions are our own- and that expression of our sexual desires (or myself) does not make us any less powerful, when the morning wakes us.

Featured image source: Google, copyright-free image under Creative Commons License

Article Name
Why Women's Sexuality Doesn't Equal To Women Empowerment
While women's sexuality is a legit area to demand liberation in, binding it with a power dynamic isn't exactly liberating. Here's why...
Sejal Parikh

Sejal Parikh

"I'm a hurricane of words but YOU can choose the damage I do to you..."