The way it is
In almost every country on earth, women are sexually disempowered. Despite the invention of the pill, increasing awareness about sexual violence, and growing support for feminism, women do not enjoy the same sexual empowerment as men. This is often because they still don't feel safe. As well, they feel judged.
Though progress has certainly been made, sexual freedom remains a hidden fantasy for women around the world.
Women’s sexuality continues to be policed in ways both obvious and subtle, from outright sexual assault to more nuanced sexual policing from the various male-dominated institutions in society. Combined with issues of body ignorance, sexual shame, and dangerous objectification, women have a long ways to go before achieving the dream of sexual empowerment.
Perhaps the largest threat to women’s sexual freedom is the prevalence of rape. In the United States, one in four women experiences sexual assault over their lifetime. This phenomenon is by no means limited to the U.S; 17-30% of women in rural Tanzania, Peru, and Bangladesh reported a forced first sexual experience, and about 20% of women worldwide were victims of sexual violence as children. With these high rates of violence, many women learn to be fearful of sexual encounters. Women are taught to arm themselves against assault by watching their drinks, traveling in groups, and not acting or dressing provocatively. Unable to embrace sex fully and safely, women are trained from a young age to view sexual encounters as potentially life-threatening.
Even when sexual interactions do not escalate to violence, smaller aggressions are still incredibly unsettling. A majority of women experience street harassment as well, with women worldwide fighting back in larger and larger numbers, from America to Afghanistan to Brazil. A congresswoman in Panama has even introduced an anti-street harassment bill, but it has been met largely with derision. And in India, street harassment is so prevalent and has so little stigma it is known as 'Eve Teasing'.
Women are viewed sexually wherever they go, whether walking home or in the workplace, and more times than not, they are punished for this sexuality through brute force or outright harassment. Many women find their bodies in the disturbing eyes of others rather than being able to control how their sexuality is perceived.
Restraints against women’s sexuality are not always as upfront as violence and harassment. Perhaps more common is the various sexual policing occurring on religious and societal levels, preventing women from embracing their sexuality and taking care of their sexual health. Body shaming begins at a young age, with female students often forced to adhere to a dress code so as not to distract male students. These dress codes send the message that their female bodies are sources of temptation and shame, and teach boys that it’s acceptable, unpreventable even, for them to view their female classmates as sexual objects. Protesters are fighting back against these rules across America, but for the time being, girls are still being raised with a negative image around their body and their sexuality.
The obsession with female purity has horrifying effects on all genders, with serious consequences in the U.S. as well as worldwide. Virginity pledges are a common aspect of many Christian faiths, with young men and women promising to remain abstinent until marriage. While not a harmful practice in of itself, these pledges tie virginity to purity and worthiness, with sex associated with something dirty and wrong. This creates problems later on in life, when women are unable to enjoy sex even after marriage, so out of touch with their bodies that they cannot even instruct their partner on how to help them feel pleasure.
The weight of purity becomes more dangerous when women are killed by partners for infidelity or assumed infidelity; overall, over three women are killed by their husbands or boyfriends every day in America. Indeed, in many countries, adultery is still considered a crime that comes with serious punishment, and more often than not, the law tilts in favor of the man.
Forced on a purity pedestal, women grow up knowing little about their own bodies, what pleases them, and how to stay healthy and safe. Sexual health, including contraception and access to abortion, is not widely available. The focus on abstinence in American schools means that many women are ignorant of their own anatomy and what pleasures them due to abstinence’s focus on avoiding sex.
Movies are disturbingly lenient with depicting sexual violence against women than sexual pleasure experienced by women, a sad reflection of American values in regards to its female population.
It is incredibly difficult to be sexually empowered in a society that shames women for expressing their sexuality while simultaneously reducing women to their physical value alone. Objectification is rampant, whether in the workplace or on the street, and this harassment can often escalate into outright violence. Even when women’s experiences of sexuality are not explicitly distorted through traumatic events, women are still restricted in the exploration of their bodies through societal messages of purity. To be pure is to be passive, and this passivity leads to women who are ignorant of their own sexual anatomy, much less their desires or dislikes.
How can women be sexual in a society when their physical self-exploration is shamed? How to be sexual without becoming reduced to only an object? How to be sexual without risking one’s safety altogether? These are the questions plaguing women today, question mark after question mark blocking the path to sexual freedom and empowerment.
The Way it Could be: Sensual Enterprise Solutions
In feminine sexual empowerment, one would have to become more imaginative in thinking of feminist enterprise solutions. While there are many businesses that cater to male sexual enjoyment there are so few for women.
We suggest different areas where one can create entrepreneurial 'solutions' to the issue of female sexual disempowerment.
1) Intellectual: The saying that the mind is the biggest sexual organ could not be more true than it is for women. When a woman is intellectually liberated with regard to her sexuality, often her body will follow! Here are two websites from our portfolio that promote intellectual sexual liberation:
Hedonista is n ethical guide for creating business products or services that work positively with sexuality in order to address societal and environmental challenges in the world today.
Social Issues Addressed: Gender Equality, sexual dysfunction in modern society.
2) Physical. So much of a woman's sexuality is warped by the sense of physical vulnerability and even danger when she is with a man. Whether the male is her husband, boyfriend or someone she just met, fear of personal safety can dampen any woman's libido.
Women are told that to be feminine they must be the 'weaker' sex needing strong men to protect them. But what if that 'strong' man is a rapist or wife abuser? Who's supposed to protect them then?
As we argue in the Female Physical Empowerment section, when a woman can defend herself she is physically empowered. Strong women do not have to be less 'feminine'. That is a lie put out by male-dominated institutions to keep women in their place.
Ironically there is one rather surprising institution that understands that women can be violent, feminine and sexy. And that institution is Hollywood! Whether it is Lara Croft, Wonder Woman, Cat Woman, the lead in the Hunger Games or many others, only Hollywood seems to have woken up to the idea that a strong woman who can fight back, is also sexually empowered to make her own decisions.