Rants, Feelings & Opinions

Why, When A Woman Talks Openly About Sex, Do We Instantly Assume She’s A “Whore”?

February 29, 2016
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When women talk openly about sex, even if we’re saying things that men have been saying out loud for years, we’re deemed “inappropriate” and sex maniacs. But why?  By Kristen Cochrane.

I think I started to notice it when I was mindlessly Tindering last summer. I tend to use Tinder as a tool to pontificate and to impose my beliefs on whoever swipes right on my face and my pictures of Slavoj Žižek memes. My potential suitors would ask me what I was doing with my life, and I would go into my academic research interests.

“I like to look at movies, TV, and pop culture, and how it intersects with gender and sexuality.”

Actually, that’s a revisionist answer, because at one point last summer, I was obsessed with becoming a researcher in the genuinely academic, interdisciplinary field known as porn studies. The scholars of this field even came out with their first peer-reviewed journal in 2013, which was basically the first time something in academia-land went viral, and everyone from The Guardian to VICE was like “omg they’re writing about porn,” as if this hasn’t been happening for years. But people love talking about porn with their hands covered over their mouth, moralizing on how all women must be exploited in porn since sex is so shameful, especially sex that is exhibited in the public sphere.

But back to my Tinder friends. I just couldn’t help but tell these strangers about the articles related to human sexuality I was working on, and how exciting it is that we are talking about porn with a critical distance that acknowledges that there are exploitation issues, particularly from a labour perspective, and that there are ways in which mainstream and non-mainstream porn alike can be empowering, from learning about sexuality to seeing your body, whether you are queer, fat, differently-abled, or a person of color.

After a while, I would be blunt: “I’m writing an article on porn, because I think it’s really important that people talk about it.”

I’m actually now friends with some the people I talked to on Tinder who took an interest in my work and life, i.e. my choice to study gender and sexuality because I find a lot of attitudes towards gender and sexuality really annoying. These people did not say the following:

“You seem like a highly sexual person.”

UM… WHAT IS A HIGHLY SEXUAL PERSON?!

Several Tinder people said some version of this to me, and I always felt really defensive about it. I thought this armchair diagnosis of being “highly sexual” by dudes on the world’s most popular location-based dating (?!) app was something only I was experiencing. The annoying Tinder conversations weren’t even prompted by me sharing stories about my own intimate life or sexual tendencies, which are complicated like everyone else’s, but mostly I fantasize about being kissed in the rain while Jesse Eisenberg leads me to a cabin in the woods on a path of rose petals. And although sometimes things pop up in my head that make me wonder if I’m normal* (*there’s no such thing as normal), I’m still on the more vanilla end of the spectrum. Like most academically-inclined researchers, I am obsessive about my research, so I talk about it with people a lot. This leads me to encounters with women of all backgrounds who tell me about their sexual desires and sexual lives (a distinction I want to make because thoughts are just as important as conduct, like a bisexual woman who might only sleep with one man for the rest of her life is still a bisexual woman). When I talk to the women (and men) who tell me their stories, I am simultaneously shocked and happy for them.

So was it uncalled for when my Tinder suitors called me a highly sexual person? These are people who do not know me, but because I believe in open communication, I’m deemed a Sex Maniac. Still, I find it better to be on the same page as someone than to pretend that I couldn’t write a dictionary on sex terms.

I was relieved back in November of 2015 when I was listening to my fifth podcast of the night, trying to fall asleep and trying to not think about deadlines, precarity, or neoliberalism. I turned on Alec Baldwin’s grotesquely bougie WYNC radio show “Here’s the Thing,” a half-hour show that is intercut with jazz music that sounds like a Nora Ephron movie, which is actually really nice to listen to. Then Amy Schumer came on. You already know this, but to reiterate: she wrote and starred in the Judd Apatow-directed Trainwreck in 2015, the romantic comedy that pulled in over 140 million dollars at the box office. In this movie, she’s a commitmentphobe, drinks heavily, and says “inappropriate” things that guys have been saying in movies for years. Inside Amy Schumer, her sketch comedy TV show on Comedy Central, has been another venue where she addresses everyday realities among women that are not only embarrassing, but that are things we don’t think about because it’s so embedded in our social and gendered conditioning.

On this episode, aptly titled “Amy Schumer Grew Up in a Nude House,” Alec Baldwin waits until the opening pleasantries are exchanged to get into the question he’s been dying to ask. “What would you say is the biggest challenge for men who date you?” he says, clumsily  transitioning from the previous topic.

Amy Schumer doesn’t seem to notice that he’s asked her this question. He asks again, but she’s still making jokes about the previous topic. Finally, he gets to ask: “For guys you date, is it intimidating?”

Amy Schumer sounds confused, and asks what the question is again. This episode was broadcast around the time in the fall of 2015 where thinkpieces and op-eds were circulating on whether it’s problematic to label Schumer a sex comic just because she’s a woman talking about sex in her comedy.

Alec Baldwin finally gets a full sentence to ask his burning question, the same burning question that guys on Tinder are implicitly asking when I talk about my research interests. “Is it intimidating for men who are with you to have someone as sexually liberated as you are?”, Alec Baldwin asks.

In a tone that sounds like a you know what? but that still expresses a learned patience, Amy Schumer says “I feel like I’m so normal to have sex with?” she says, until Alec Baldwin makes a joke about what her ex-boyfriends would say if he called them up and asked. She continues: “I’m down to try stuff and I’m cool—I have a real appetite for sex but I’m very normal—it’s just that I talk about it. If people listen to the jokes I’m saying, I’ve never had anal sex, no one’s ever cum on my face, but just hearing those words said, you just think, like, this whore!”

I slept well that night, because I heard an intelligent, witty, and insightful woman answer the question that I didn’t even know was bothering me until she addressed it. We live in a time where we think we have equality, and sure, in many ways we do. But what about all the guys who talk about sex in everything they perform as, whether they’re stand-up comedians or actors in the Frat Pack? Is Jonah Hill a sex comic? Louis C.K.? Seth Rogen? Rob Delaney? These people talk about sex, but when you try to describe them, do you imagine a one-dimensional characterization?

You could argue that Amy Schumer talks about sex a lot, and fine, that’s almost inarguable. But it seems that it’s women like Amy Schumer who are carrying the torch that people like Joan Rivers and the cast of The Golden Girls did decades ago. If we want sex to be normal, and for it to be seen as normal when women talk about it, we have to talk about it. Otherwise, me, you, and Amy Schumer are still going to get asked about whether our romantic partners are afraid of us for being insatiable, man-eating sex demons.

Kristen Cochrane is a writer and academic in Ontario, Canada, who’s researching some very interesting things, like queer Latin American cinema, and the fetishization of the female tennis body. Read her most recent essay for Slutever, “Broad City Makes Being a Megasexual Freak Seem Chill,” HERE :)

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