Jennifer J. Lacelle
Mar 14, 2023
18+ | Women's History
TW: Discussion of SA | 18+ Recommended
“He would storm out the door — sometimes letting it slam — and have a smoke, drink a beer, come back and start a fight with me again…”
Who knew the word “no” could start a battle? Here what it’s like being a woman sometimes, though Paris Paloma’s newest song, Labour, sums it up a little faster.
1. You’re expected to be sexual, yet keep your chastity
2. Never age, because we surely can’t be beautiful in our different phases of life
3. Never gain weight, but don’t be too thin.
a. If your BBW (big beautiful woman) you have to be an extreme plus size or you don’t fit in. But if you’re too skinny or thin you’re gross. The middle ground between the two is an upspoken territory that has no place.
4. Let’s not forget playing mother to your partner instead of being equals and the expectation you’re submissive to them.
That’s not to say men don’t have it rough or that all men will carry such expectations with them into a relationship. There are many good partners out there, so don’t get this wrong. Yes, the expectations placed on men can also be too much:
1. Don’t express your emotions (or feel them)
2. Don’t have mental health issues
3. Have to be strong all the time
4. Can’t be broken hearted, open-minded, caring, melancholy, etc.
But it’s a different topic. Today, it’s all about women’s sexuality and health. This piece was originally written in 2019 but has been updated as of February 2023.
Many women who speak up about SA (Sexual Assault) are looked at with disdain and disbelief. Or, a common occurrence, is they’ve been told it would “ruin his life.”
Worse still, I’ve heard other women say (in front of me) that if a woman didn’t go to the police immediately, they don’t believe her.
Let me share an experience with you: “I lost my sex drive during a brief relationship a few years back. I was coerced into saying yes, or letting it happen out of fear. I didn’t just lose my libido; I couldn’t feel anything… you know, down there, for months after the fact. That was after going through burning pain during the act and rectal bleeding after intercourse (from vaginal penetration).”
For anyone who might ask, “did they go to the police?” No. It took almost a year to realize what happened.
You see, most women aren’t taught that they have rights to their body and that they’re allowed to say no (especially without fear). They’re not taught that coercion, which is not consent, is wrong and is, in fact, rape.
This is actually fairly common among women who are raised in religion because they are taught to submit. Of course, it’s not all churches but it’s common enough for there to be books and public testimonies in recent years.
Just when things seem to be equaling out for women there are still unfathomable crimes committed against them, headlines reading:
“Italy outraged as court finds victim too ugly to be raped”10 or;
“Suspension urged for New Jersey judge who told woman: 'Close your legs’”10 or;
“Edmonton prison guard charged with sex assault against female guard”10
September 12, 2022: the CBC reported that a woman was told to return to a hospital later on as there were no staff trained in performing a sexual assault exam. She was told to use the bathroom as little as possible and not to shower until after her appointment the next day. Can you imagine the mental and emotional consequences?
Even some politicians have made remarks (verified by Snopes).
“Rape is kinda like the weather. If it’s inevitable, relax and enjoy it.” — Clayton Williams
“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” — Todd Akin (is he confusing women with the animal known as a duck).
While travelling with a friend, Kathleen — whose identity is also protected — experienced sexual harassment in Athens, Greece. They stepped off the train and were immediately catcalled and whistled at.
Later, while sitting, an older man walked up to her and raised his leg, stepping on the bricks next her and put his “junk” in her face. The girls fled only to be pursued and bystanders unchanged. They ended up running down streets, terrified, until they lost him.
“The worst part is that no one, no one helped us!” She laments. “And it was very busy in the square that night.”
The treatment of women throughout history has created long-lasting, negative impacts on society. Sexual harassment and assault occur regularly and women tend to be blamed for it. It is one of the many reasons the majority of people don’t report their assaults to police.
Statistics, Law & Court
Sexual assault is the least likely incident to be reported to police, with only approximately 1 in 5. In Canada, women were 85 per cent of all sexual assaults reported to police in a 2002 report. Furthermore, most women will experience sexual assault more than once in their life time.
Disadvantaged groups of women are even more likely to experience sexual assault.
Fewer than half of reported assaults (2009-2014) ended up having charges laid; of those only 49 per cent made it to court. Of those that went to court only 55 per cent had a conviction while 56 per cent of those ones were sentenced to custody only.
In short, only 1 in 10 reports of sexual assault to police got a criminal conviction, that’s a mere 12 per cent overall.
The World Health Organization (WHO) released an article in 2021 that states 1 in 3 women will experience violence (worldwide): “This violence starts early: 1 in 4 young women (aged 15-24 years) who have been in a relationship will have already experienced violence by an intimate partner by the time they reach their mid-twenties.”
In Canada, 1920s-60s, women were prosecuted for sexual deviancy — sex outside of marriage — and suggestions of sterilization were made to prevent “future criminals.”4
“Many working-class parents accepted mores censuring extramarital and premarital sex and endorsed the idea that women needed to assume more sexual self-control than men,”4 Joan Sangster writes.
One of the problems with this structure is men were often not held accountable for their actions. Husbands who abused their wives were most often not arrested. Rather, women were instructed to submit.
It was found that many men had, and some still do, the belief they could have sex with their wives whenever they wanted. However, the topic of consent is finally being discussed publicly. But, significant others, dates, and guys looking to pick-up can be quite persistent.
“…after clearly stating that you’re not interested, men will continuously pester you until you give in,” says Tommi-Lee Gauthier, a graduate of Laurentian University. She specializes in sociology, with certificates in human sexuality and family studies; and, social research methods. “But that’s not consent, its coercion.”
Non-compliant, coerced, or violent sexual acts leave victims with scars, worry and/or humiliation. If you’re interested in learning more about marital coercion, I highly recommend following Mending Me on social media.
The movie North Country is based on the Eveleth Mines (Minnesota) and the female employees. The male workers were insulted at having to work with women and thus assaulted them, mocked them, ridiculed them and more. Worse yet, the managers and business owners didn’t care to fix the problem.
Finally, two women stood up for them all and managed to bring them to court. It took over ten years (between case and court) but they finally won and the business was forced to enact a policy and educate their workers on sexual harassment.
Despite eventually winning the case, the women’s personal and sexual lives were picked apart and spread into the public eye by the company’s lawyers — despite it having no relevance to the case.
The settlement was in 1997 and the women didn’t even get a decent amount in renumeration let alone an apology. Furthermore, it’s important to note that by the end these “women were sick, exhausted and bitter” with lasting emotional scars.
How about the Netflix show, Unbelievable (based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Article, An Unbelievable Story of Rape) which were based on a true story.
In 2008, Marie Adler was raped but her case was seriously mishandled by the authorities. They, along with friends/family, basically accused her of lying until she finally agreed and said she’d made it up just to make them go away. The police accused her of telling them several different stories that didn’t match up and essentially bullied her into retracting her statement.
Did you know remembering traumatic events coherently is extremely difficult? As example, in my own personal experience, after telling a woman at my church that I was masturbating she had me promise never to do it again. Then we prayed for forgiveness. But while writing this article, I finally — after 17 years — remembered that after I told her about what I had been doing, she insisted on checking on me when I took a shower or bath to make sure I wasn’t masturbating.
There’s a great deal more to the story Unbelievable; essentially the rapist got away with it for years. It took a group of women detectives to finally believe the women and pursue and obtain justice.
Society consistently cries that women “make it up” but statistically speaking, only 2-10 per cent of accusations are false. Some reports state that only 8-10 per cent of women even report their assaults, but of those the reported statistics on false statements remains very low. According to the Cut (previous link), the closer probable rate on false accusations is .5 per cent (based on calculations of reports versus non-reported estimates).
As previously stated, there are long lasting effects of trauma. At seven years old, Kaitlyn Vallieres remembers being assaulted by a cousin twice her age.
“My current partner (2019) doesn't even know because it makes me feel disgusting,” she shudders. “Thinking about it still makes my skin crawl… He ruined intimacy for me for a long time. He made me suspicious of men and their intentions.”
How does anyone know another person’s intention if it is never said aloud? Communication is essential, but there have been that men have openly admitted to lying to women just to get sex.
According to the Criminal Code of Canada, someone who lies (fraud or misrepresentation) to obtain sex has committed sexual assault. Yes, that includes STDs, fertility and birth control.
I happened to be raised in an environment that included the constant reminder that the only thing men want is sex or that I’m asking to be raped by what I wear. Despite consciously knowing this isn’t true, and that rape isn’t about sex but power, it’s hard to push beyond what’s been engrained. Thus, one of the issues with Purity Culture.
Furthermore, how can women know which ones are safe to talk to about sex or anything that’s happened to them in the past? Of course, it’s “not all men” but the problem is knowing which ones.
Culture, Religion, History
Media presents sex as the “ultimate pleasure”9 but society also presents it as something to be feared. These polar opposite expectations from sex is cataclysmal for both men and women, heterosexual or not.
“Sex is great but it’s even better when it’s done with ongoing enthusiastic consent from everyone involved,” says Gauthier.
A society that claims to preserve a woman’s chastity through their methods of control leave the woman helpless. Not to mention, if true chastity and protection were the case, there would be no, or at best, fewer cases of sexual manipulation, coercion, rape, assault, or harassment.
Mona Eltahway writes that women are “infantilized”8 in places like Saudi Arabia because they require permission to travel, work, or seek medical attention. Additionally, Eltahway believes “purity culture”8 causes unfair blame on women for the harassment they face.
“The obsession with controlling women and our bodies often stems from the suspicion, that, without restraints, women are just a few degrees short of sexual insatiability.”8
… Yet women also have no libido?
Moreover, women are often considered corruptors; think Adam and Eve. It was the woman who ate the forbidden fruit and convinced man to follow her into sin.
Victorian era doctors believed that a “modest”3 woman wouldn’t masturbate and had no sexual desire apart from maternal instinct. Lydia Murdoch writes that some doctors went to extreme measures — removing the clitoris (Female Genital Mutilation or FGM) — to reduce “hysteria:” a condition primarily women had. It was supposedly caused by having a high sex drive and was “rooted in her reproductive organs.”3
Men, however, are expected (or supposed) to have strong sexual needs. The idea that men are purely sexual creatures denies them their truth: they’re human with real emotions and real needs (and sex is not a need).
These ideas that have been perpetuated create a culture wherein women are regarded as less righteous than men and also as property.
Worst still is that FGM is still common. Eltahawy writes nearly 90 per cent of women in Egypt have been mutilated to preserve “purity.”8
Speaking of, the “virginity pledge” in the Western culture (1990s) had a massive overhaul within religious communities. These girls promised to God, and family, that they wouldn’t commit sexual acts before marriage (including masturbation). This is most commonly known as Purity Culture by the women speaking out against it.
Linda Klein’s recount in her book includes “stumbling blocks”7 girls of this generation must overcome to obtain their autonomy. A couple of these are strict gender roles and the incorrect classification of rape and sexual violence.
She further discusses guilt (and shame) women have struggled with as a result. Masturbation or sex outside of marriage are still widely considered sinful, predominantly for women.
Remember that woman I confided in? She was from the church and I was publicly embarrassed weeks later when they brought in a special speaker to discuss masturbation and its sinful, demonic nature — directed at me.
It took me eight years to masturbate without shame or guilt.
I had sex for the first time at 26 years old and five and a half years later I still struggle with detaching the shame and guilt that’s been manipulated into my psyche. It is so wholly engrained in girls of the purity culture — as it’s supposed to be — as a means of control.
There’s a user on TikTok who has made a few videos about masturbation. According to the Christian teachings she’s learned, masturbation is a form of witchcraft, pulls one further from their intimacy with God, brings pride and shame and that masturbation is self-indulgent (we weren’t created to be that way).
As it pertains to this perception, the rules are again not in favour of the woman let alone equality between the sexes. It is meant to subjugate and annihilate a woman’s bodily autonomy. When women don’t know what they enjoy, want or how to ask for what they desire, or truly feel pleasure it’s easier to keep the boot on women’s necks.
A History of Marriage
Historically, what’s the purpose of marriage? “…to bind a women to men.” Women were already property, but now she belonged to her husband. There are claims that the religious inclusion of marriage gave women more respect from their husbands, though they were still to defer to them.
For example, in the Bible, King James Version, Ephesians 5:22 it reads: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.”2
Yet, for many centuries men were permitted to beat their wives so long as the rod wasn’t thicker than their finger.
It was in 1920 (US) when women were granted the right to vote and only then were women even considered their own person. Even then, it wasn’t until the 1970s that marital rape became a crime because the husband owned his wife’s sexuality.
In the 1960s birth control was finally legal.
Women were able to own property and run businesses in certain ancient societies until some religious texts were popularized. These “new” civilizations created a system that dominated the already few rights women had. Now, this is not to say that these ancient civilizations were actually civil with equality, because for the most part women were still only property and not viewed as “complete.”
Here’s some more interesting history I’ve learned:
1. The Witches’ Craft states that most villages had a wise woman (witch) to help with sicknesses and such. They weren’t evil, they were women doctors more or less.
2. There was a 300-year campaign slaughtering old and beautiful women, as witches, but included midwives, wizards, surgeons and homosexuals.
3. The book further mentions a German town that literally had no women left by the end the campaign against witches.
The Current Abortion Bans
Anyone who uses their religion as a reason to stop abortion should check themselves. The Christian Bible even says that life began after first breath, not a clump of cells (you can check Genesis 2:7).
In ancient times, abortions were permitted to save the mother’s life! Two convenient pieces of their religion that they’ve “forgotten” (ignored) for the sake of their rederick.
As of November 2022, there are 13 states that have banned abortions. According to the NY Times article, about half of the states are predicted to enact bans. In some states, doctors and healthcare practitioners can face fines. Worse still, these bans include cases of rape and incest.
There’s even discussion of states making abortion pills illegal for women and some insurance companies are apparently now discussing removing birth control pills from their coverage. Accounts from women in the US include being required to provide a pregnancy test when leaving and entering their state.
Others speak of being arrested after a miscarriage. Another still had a miscarriage but the doctors couldn’t legally remove the fetus, an abortion, until it was officially dead — this led to sepsis and other issues, nearly killing the woman.
Now, there are reports of proposed legislation that would make abortions eligible for the woman to receive the death penalty.
“If a woman has [the right to an abortion], why shouldn’t a man be free to use his superior strength to force himself on a woman? At least the rapist’s pursuit of sexual freedom doesn’t [in most cases] result in anyone’s death.” — Lawrence Lockman
It’s terrifying to think that people who make such statements are in charge of governments. And where the US goes, Canada typically follows. I fear a Conservative lead government with such statements as “abortion should be explicitly excluded from Canada’s maternal and child health program in countries where Canadian aid is delivered.”
According to the article in the Toronto Star, the Conservative party is the only federal party (with holding) to introduce bills that would restrict abortion. In 2021, the majority of the members voted favourably to “curtailing abortion access.”
There’s a lot of questions in the air for Canada with the overturning of Roe V. Wade. Some wonder if the Conservatives will manage to get their way in the elections coming in 2025.
So, what will it take for women to finally be free? Eltahway may say it best in regards to oppression, control, virginity and women’s bodies since men have still not granted women sexual autonomy: “Our hymens are not ours…”8
1Armstrong, Sally. Uprising: A New Age Is Dawning for Every Mother's Daughter. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2014.
2Ephesians 5:22 | King James Version (KJV)." Ephesians 5:22. Accessed April 11, 2019. https://www.bible.com/bible/1/eph.5.22.
3Murdoch, Lydia. Daily Life of Victorian Women. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2014.
4Sangster, Joan. Regulating Girls and Women: Sexuality, Family, and the Law in Ontario, 1920-1960. Canada: Oxford University Press, 2001.
5Mitchell, Penni. Women’s Rights. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2015.
6Millett, Kate, Catharine A. MacKinnon, and Rebecca Mead. Sexual Politics. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016
7Klein, Linda Kay. Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018.
8Eltahawy, Mona. Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution. Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers, 2015.
9Hills, Rachel. The Sex Myth: The Gap between Our Fantasies and Reality. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2015.