beyond virgin/whore: the art of creative womanhood
The two women exchanged the kind of glance women use when no knife is handy. ~Ellery Queen
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. — Rumi
I walked into a party at a film producer’s house. There were a lot of people in black (including me) and a lot of well-toned women in Herve Leger dresses showing miles and miles of leg, balanced, sometimes precariously, on very high heels.
“Look at the Hollywood skanks,” said one of my girlfriends.
This would be an example of slut-shaming.
Slut-shaming is, as this blogger describes:
“…. the idea of shaming and/or attacking a woman or a girl for being sexual, having one or more sexual partners, acknowledging sexual feelings, and/or acting on sexual feelings. Furthermore, it’s “about the implication that if a woman has sex that traditional society disapproves of, she should feel guilty and inferior” (Alon Levy, Slut Shaming). It is damaging not only to the girls and women targeted, but to women in general and society as a whole. It should be noted that slut-shaming can occur even if the term “slut” itself is not used.”
Said blogger goes on to say
“Put in the most simple terms, slut-shaming happens when a person “publicly or privately [insults] a woman because she expressed her sexuality in a way that does not conform with patriarchal expectations for women” (Kat, Slut-Shaming vs. Rape Jokes). It is enabled by the idea that a woman who carries the stigma of being a slut — ie. an “out-of-control, trampy female” — is “not worth knowing or caring about” (Tanenbaum, p. 240).”
It’s not exactly a secret that women can be vicious to each other. I can’t remember the last time I walked into a room with a man who immediately denounced, in one sweeping, offhand statement, members of his own gender whom he didn’t even know. But instead of slamming women for slamming each other, it’s worth shifting to something called “the pro-woman line”. This is a perspective that acknowledges how women do the best they can to survive and thrive within the context of a society that demands certain behaviors from them.
When my friend was calling those other women skanks, she was in effect declaring that she was not a skank. By calling you out as that, I am declaring myself to be not-that, so other people won’t accuse me of also being that.
The problem with this approach is that you’re still buying into a version of reality that devalues female sexuality as vile and shameful. Which, as a woman, is probably going to complicate your relationship to your own sexuality, or to your body in general.
Remove the issue of sexuality from your own female equation and what are you?
Or a lady.
Author and psychoanalyst Harriet Lerner points out that even though
“it might seem like woman, lady and girl are interchangeable terms….only the term woman has sexual and aggressive implications and connotes reproductive functioning.”
To prove her point, she presents a fill-in-the-blanks kind of exercise:
“She feared that after her hysterectomy she might no longer feel like a real _____.
Jane is sweet, soft-spoken and modest. She is truly a ______.
When Sue began to menstruate, she knew she was on the road to becoming a ____.
Why are you always fighting and screaming? Can’t you behave like a _____?
She felt very passionate with him; he made her feel very much like a ______.”
She points out that men are not called or do not refer to each other as “gentlemen” with the same kind of frequency. This
“…reflects the very different cultural pressures and expectations for their sex. While women have been encouraged to inhibit their sexuality (as in the glorification of naivete or virginity) males are encouraged to make open displays of their sexual prowess (hence the difference between a loose or promiscuous woman and an experienced man.)”
You don’t risk being called a slut or a whore if you’re a girl or a lady. The word woman, though, carries that taint of sin and transgression, all those possible, undesirable female selves: messy and primal and slutty and aggressive and ambitious and loud and dirty and angry and selfish and obnoxious and the other things that a good girl, a lady, is not supposed to be, that get split off and assigned to those stereotypes, those shadow-stories about women that continue to haunt this culture: the slut, the golddigger, the bimbo, the femme fatale, the temptress, the homewrecker, the militant feminist, the rape victim who isn’t really a rape victim but just out for revenge, attention and/or money: all those identities that women feel, on some level, they have to defend themselves against, have to reassure the culture how they are not-that (which only reinforces the idea that other women are).
There’s something dangerous about being a woman: to others, to society in general, to yourself.
Womanhood raises the possibility of rebellion, of rocking the boat, of breaking taboos, of being ambitious and competitive, of taking your creative and intellectual work as seriously as any man’s (and prioritizing it accordingly), of being sexy and sensual and sexual not to please men in general or your partner in particular but because you enjoy it. Womanhood goes beyond wife and mother to be artist, CEO, wanderer, adventurer, trickster, road warrior, rebel, revolutionary, sage, scientist, visionary, spy, elite athlete, general badass…whether she’s in black leather or a Herve Leger dress.
Even a lady isn’t a lady all the time.
Even a good girl isn’t good all the time (witness Good Girl Reese Witherspoon’s recent DUI and subsequent “do you know who I am?” mouthing off to the cops).
To transcend the whole good girl/bad girl, virgin/whore thing means to accept ourselves as good and bad, to recognize that the ‘good’ can have a shadow side (self-righteous, narrow-minded, self-erasing, weak, deceptive, judgmental) and the ‘bad’ can show some good (assertive, self-protective, creative, authentic, trailblazing, fun). That way we can rise into a new realm of possibility, a way of being that doesn’t depend on amputating the self and scapegoating others.
Call it not just womanhood, but creative womanhood: creating new myths and stories and heroines to inject into the soul of this culture, a new sense of what it means to be feminine without feeling that feminine means frivolous and weak.
The divine feminine, if you will. The badass feminine.
I have to end this, now. It’s getting late, and I have to get ready to go out.
It’s time to put on the high heels and the tight sexy dress….