Using the Internet to Aid in Female Liberation
Women experience a wide variety of forms of oppression, whether it be the wage-gap or the glass ceiling, there are many forces working against a woman’s complete freedom. One of these restrictions of a woman’s capability to make her own decisions comes in the form of sexual repression. Sexual desires are common in both sexes, but only acceptable for one, men. Men are able to be sexually promiscuous without fear of being cast out socially for their “scandalous” behavior, women do not enjoy this freedom. Men and women can both be sexually repressed from their true desires, but most women cannot even partake in a casual sexual relationship without facing scrutiny. A first step to sexual liberation, would be the acceptance of alternatives to monogamy.The internet is an amazing resource, it brings people together from all walks of life. Women can access the internet and see an array of opportunity other than the socially accepted norm. That means that partaking in blogs, Reddit forums, Facebook posts, putting pictures on Instagram, all have a consequence; they open up society’s eyes to different types of lifestyles. In addition, the existence of well informed and credible websites can provide answers for men and women thinking about sex, sexuality, and relationships. The use of the internet (including social media and dating apps) helps to inform on sex and sexuality and thereby lead to the destruction of female oppression through education and acceptance .
Women are typically made to feel ashamed about having sex, while men are championed for their incredible virility. Speculations about the origins of these feelings of shame and guilt range from the cultural family dynamic to the very evolution of human beings. One theory dictates that the way society evolved in its early phases is a leading factor in the existence of the patriarchy. For instance, Sam Richards and Paul Saba attribute man’s transition from hunter-gatherer to agricultural communities as the roots to female oppression (and as an extension, sexual oppression). Explaining that as women stayed within the villages to tend to the children, because at this time the only way to feed them was through breast-milk, the men were able to assume the role as an overall provider. Slowly, villages began to depend on the men for skills that women were unable to harness because their free-time was occupied with raising a family. According to Laurel Limpus’s piece, “Liberation of Women: Sexual Repression and the Family,” the success of the patriarchy is attributed to the fact that men are able to go out and create their own worlds; acquiring wives and giving them children. Women do not acquire their own world, they get acquired by men and raise children. Limpus directly states,”Within the present social context, however, it is still true that men are trained to go out, work, shape their own lives; and that women are not, and that thus, even within the context of their alienating nature of work, they have often more opportunities to satisfy their needs for creativity than do women.” It is this fact that leads to the sexual oppression of women: men are able to satisfy their needs for creativity and women cannot.
Oppression does not only exist within the realms of a household, it is ever reaching in all aspects of life and society. Nothing is as far reaching and expansive as the internet, a sea of web pages and commentary about anything and everything. One of those topics being the sexual prowess of women. There is a multitude of resources available to internet users, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Reddit are just a few of the most prevalent. Through these sources women can have honest discussions and formulate a collective voice in a way never seen before. Caroline Haythornthwaite sums up the connectivity of the internet when she says, “The Internet is a technical means of connecting people. It provides an easy way for individuals as well as groups and organizations to adopt peer-to-peer communication.” The oppression of women can persist on the internet, however, discussions of sex, sexual expression, and sexual freedom are also coming into the arena. These discussions are the positive results of the connectivity of the internet and continue to be grow. Websites like positivesexuality.org, (which belongs to the Center for Positive Sexuality), are a prime example of the opportunities for positive sex talk that the internet provides.
With all of this talk about connectivity and discussion, one is reminded of dating apps. Something designed specifically to bring people looking for romantic partnerships closer together. There is a positive relationship between dating app popularity and female sexual liberation, more of one means more of the other. Through the use of dating apps, women can find sexual partners that are not socially or romantically demanding. Dating apps are not to be confused with dating websites (i.e. Tinder vs. eHarmony), dating websites have been widely used for years now, they do not have the same effect. Dating websites perpetuate monogamy, and the construct that a woman cannot have sex and be single and somehow be happy. Pantea Farvid and Virginia Baum’s view on monogamy and happiness includes ” The prominence placed on life-long heterosexual unions (and romantic love) is socially and culturally produced but ‘naturalised’ within the institution of heterosexuality (Rich, 1980) and heavily tied to notions of ‘happiness’. ” Farvid and Baum argue that monogamy and long term committed relationships are the goal for most members of heterosexual society. This argument is further cemented within a journal entry called “‘Good Girls’: Gender, Social Class, and Slut Discourse on Campus” provided by the American Sociological Society, which states “Although young men are expected to desire and pursue sex regardless of relational and emotional context, young women are permitted sexual activity only when in committed relationships and ‘‘in love’’ (Crawford and Popp 2003; Hamilton and Armstrong 2009; Schalet 2011; Bell 2013)” One way to combat this restrictive ideal, is to normalize other behaviors. This is done through practice, taking casual sex out of the obscure and showing that it is something even the average woman might want is one way to do that. Hookup apps such as Tinder make acquiring a casual sex partner very easy, and the convenience of it is very enticing for its users. Also, the pop culture support of the app is encouraging for women considering a casual sexual relationship.
It is the silence about sex and sexual freedoms that allows for things like female oppression, and by extension, slut-shaming to continue.These are limiting factors in a woman’s social arena that would prevent her from making independent choices revolving around their sexual conduct. Slut shaming is harassment that targets a woman’s sexual practices and even appearance, it is an offshoot of sexual oppression because it limits a woman’s capability to be free in her sexual decision making. Once again in reference to “”Good Girls”: Gender, Social Class, and Slut Discourse on Campus”, it is mentioned that slut-shaming is the fallout to stepping out of the accepted norm for sexual behavior among women (as in, anything other than a committed romantic partnership.) The threat of being slut-shamed hangs over every decision a woman will make, because it can not only affect their social lives but also their professional-good-name. Women will continue to partake in monogamous relationships and not dare to partake in any alternatives; no matter if they are better suited for the individual or not. Laurel Limpus states
Many young girls, who feel only revulsion when they think they should feel ecstasy, react with immense relief when they are told that this is a quite common experience. Since of course this is not the kind of problem one ordinarily talks about, they did not know that anyone else had been through this, and they had thought that they were monsters.
Which basically solidifies the idea that women and girls are taught to be very coy about sex, and when they learn that they can actually be outward sexual people, it comes as a surprise and a relief. Limpus also touches on the fact that it is not “the kind of problem one ordinarily talks about,” the internet is there to make this, the kind of problem that is normally talked about. Online forums can offer confidential or anonymous opportunities to have these frank discussions that otherwise would not occur, and girls do not have to suffer alone anymore. Through internet posts that show normalized alternatives to monogamy, women can discuss and interpret their options and choose to be involved in the type of relationships they really want, not just what is accepted presently (monogamy).
As stated previously, the internet is an outlet for conversations about sex and sexuality. That means more than just users talking about sex, it might mean educating about sex. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only 20 states within the U.S. require sex-education to be factually accurate, and only 24 states and the District of Columbia require public schools to teach sex-education at all. Even within these public school sex-education classes lessons cover “safe-sex” to prevent pregnancy and the acquisition of STDs, and not much else. While these topics are important to teach to high school students, there are other aspects of sex that can be taught to high-schoolers. Lessons surrounding sex positivity, sex and gender identity, qualifications for consensual sex, and much more, can be very beneficial for young adults that are beginning to explore the sexual realm. Thankfully, the internet is there to pick up where the board of education leaves off. There is a disclaimer, not everything found on the internet is true; but finding credible sources to give factual answers is not difficult, and there is nothing wrong with looking for suggestions and advice from online forums. Ignorance to sex and sex positivity is a causal factor in the sexual oppression of women. The internet helps to educate users on more complex levels of sex and sexuality, and this helps to further the sexual liberation of women. An article written by Point of View India covers the idea of using the internet as an outlet for getting advice, “One woman interviewed for a research study undertaken by EROTICS India says, ‘There is no support system (in cities) that women have, and they are often all alone, without advice, and wanting some validation that what they are doing [raising children] is okay or that their experience is shared by others also.’” The women discussed in this article use the internet as a sort of community to discuss and share advice that they would otherwise not have access to.
Social media and the internet is full of monogamy; internet shows, advertisements, and other media sources all mostly still portray monogamy as the norm.This is because monogamy is the default relationship for many people, and it can be very satisfying emotionally, sexually, and romantically. This is all true, but the growing presence of alternative modes of sexual expression carry a lot of impact despite their small percentage. Their media presence is integral in society’s interpretation of women and even in women’s interpretation of women and their sexual behavior. Consider a woman who never enjoyed the confines of being in a committed relationship. She might be reading an open letter published online written by a successful business woman, who has a good relationship with her family, is happy and stable, but lo and behold; she is single. Not only is she single, she is not ashamed to discuss her preference for casual relationships with romantic partners as opposed to a committed one. She can focus on work, or her friends, or literally anything she wants. The woman reading this open letter at home is inspired to live the life she wants, after all she can still be happy and successful if she does. This type of representation is becoming more and more common through the internet, and has an immense effect upon society.
Previously, as in, before the internet existed, media sources included television, cinema, radio and newspapers. The Hays Code (Motion Picture Production Code) limited the amount of sexual content for movies, and Brian McNair points out one if its regulations within his lecture on Sex and the Cinema “Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing.” This component of the Hays Code goes directly against all progress of modern day internet discussion and inclusion. However, the sexual liberation of the 1960’s forced the code to be abolished in 1966. Tv and radio were not far off on their restrictions of sexual content.Michael O’Malley of George Mason University describes how the Federal Communications Commission or FCC was in charge of making sure that productions were kept modest and decent. Now in the age of the internet, boundaries over censorship and “appropriateness” for tv, movies, and radio, continue to be pushed. The internet, is unique, its vast expanses make it virtually impossible to censor completely. In countries with freedom of speech and press, the internet cannot be censored by a government entity, or any entity for that matter. Websites can be moderated for appropriateness, but that is the extent of censorship within the bounds of the internet. Controlling content that is published on the internet is very hard, anyone can set up a website and start posting. Celebrity nude photo leakages, website hacking, the Hillary-Clinton-Email-Scandal, are all examples of the instability of the internet and its defense against censorship.
Clearly, the effects of society’s constructs upon the sexual preferences of women is heavy enough to create the dependence we see upon monogamy. Fear of being slut-shamed and a desire for acceptance fuels the fire of sexual repression among women. That being said, the existence of the internet is helping to lessen the effects, and even change society’s ideals surrounding female sexual behaviors (and by extension sexual preferences in general.) Being sex positive means that one agrees that all enjoyable, consensual sex, is inherently a positive thing, regardless of kink or fetish. As long as the partaking individuals are participating out of their own free-will, then there should be no shame purported onto the sexual act. Taking steps to normalize casual sex in women will no doubt have a direct affect upon sex positivity. If women can be accepted for their desires to be involved in a no strings attached sexual relationship, then that is one more activity that will be spared from shame, which will lead to the growth of sex positive movements.
Sexual relationships have been the victims of guilt, shame, and also innate curiosity for centuries. Yet, the internet was not present throughout this entire time period. The internet is a relatively new invention, and its wide-spread use is an even newer phenomena. The growth of the popularity and access to computers or other internet accessing devices should not be ignored when it comes to this discussion surrounding sexual acceptance. According to the Pew Research center, American internet usage has gone up to 84% in 2015, compared to 68% ten years prior and at 54% in the year 2000. The World Bank estimates that there is an approximate 36% increase globally of internet usage from 1990 to 2015. All of these juicy statistics mean one thing for this discussion, more people are able to use the internet. With more internet traffic that means more people are asking questions, giving advice, and learning a thing or two about, yes, the sex. Areas that had little to offer along the lines of sex education or conversations about feminism and progressive movements, now have online forums to fill the void. Better yet, the growth of internet accessibility is not over, the technological innovation is sprawling all over the globe.
All in all, it is clear that the internet is a persuasive tool in the connection of the people of Earth, also, as human beings if there is one thing we are curious about, it is sex. Put the two together and one has an unstoppable force, capable of many powerful things. It is not all rose-tinted sex positive forums for confused teenage girls or worried house-wives though, there is still harassment and intimidation occurring on the internet. All that aside, the increasing ranks of sex positive internet users is helping to tear down these dangerous habits of internet users. The increasing amounts of sexually-versed individuals as a result of the educational services provided by the internet, results in abolishing female sexual repression because of higher levels of acceptance. People cannot change unless they are taught that current ideals are harmful and limiting others, in this case, it is women. To some, inferring that there is something wrong with a woman because she is in her early forties, and still serial dating, seems like commonplace. The fact is, there is nothing wrong with a woman who cannot or will not nail a man for good, she is living her life and trying her best to be happy and successful. Worrying about the opinions of the neighbors can become quite tiresome and the pioneer women that step out and are not afraid to publicize their lifestyles through the internet are encouraging other women who feel the constraint of oppression over their social lives, to do the same.
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