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Viva La Vulva: Why the media needs to highlight female pleasure alongside the #MeToo movement

The founder of #MeToo says the narrative in the media has become anti-male.

IN CASE YOU hadn’t noticed, we’re in the midst of a feminist period of history (or ‘herstory‘ as black feminist Dr. Hazel V. Carby would say). 

Ireland abortion laws Source: Niall Carson

The her/history of modern Western feminism has been divided into three waves: the first wave was during the 19th and early 20th century, the second was from the 1960s to 1970s, and the third occurred during the 1990s. 

Of course, feminism has existed outside of those periods, but these three waves signify the times that feminist groups were most active and successful in enacting social change. These are also the times that the media has focused more attention on problems highlighted by feminists. 

So it’s clear we’ve now entered ‘Fourth-wave Feminism’. 

DC: Protesters Demonstrate Against Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Culturally, you could pinpoint the moment that ‘Fourth-wave Feminism’ became mainstream as 13th December 2013.

This was the day Beyoncé dropped her eponymous album. ‘***Flawless’ became an instant hit and featured extracts from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s influential TEDTalk ‘We Should All Be Feminists’.

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Fourth-wave Feminism has been focused on achieving justice for women and on fighting back against sexual harassment, rape culture, and violence against women.  Due to the high profile cases involved, the #MeToo campaign is the most easily recognisable social justice movement to arise from this wave.

InStyle and Warner Bros. Pictures Golden Globes Party - Los Angeles Source: UPI/PA Images

That the fourth wave’s currents have been mostly pulled by the horrific experiences of survivors/victims of sexual assault is understandable. Their voices need to be heard. 

However, this week the founder of #MeToo, Tarana Burke, said that the media has focused too much on individual perpetrators and the salacious stories, and that this thirst for drama has pushed victims to the side.

Bits & Pretzels Source: DPA/PA Images

Burke says that the #MeToo movement:

automatically gets you, automatically believes you, automatically wants to hear you…(but) We have to shift the narrative that it’s a gender war, that it’s anti-male, that it’s men against women, that it’s only for a certain type of person — that it’s for white, cisgender, heterosexual, famous women. That has to shift. And I think that it is shifting…

No publicity is bad publicity. So however salacious the articles might be, at least the issues of consent and sexual violence against women (the main issues of the #MeToo movement) are being addressed in the media, instead of only in women’s magazines.

This attitude may sound defeatist, but its meant to be pragmatic. The mainstream media, through keeping #MeToo in the spotlight, have (hopefully) made citizens more cognisant of how common sexual violence can be and how grey an area consent is. 

However, Burke is right that the narrative in the media needs to be shifted. 

The 75th Golden Globe Awards - Arrivals - Los Angeles Source: UPI/PA Images

But is it the responsibility of #MeToo to have to tell the media that this movement is not ‘anti-male’ and, by extension, anti-sex?

There is a danger of history repeating itself. Second-wave feminism drew attention to the the issues of domestic violence and marital rape, but later on the movement was accused of being anti-male and anti-sex.

As an opinion piece in the New York Times said earlier this year:

(Second-wave feminism) didn’t make a compelling enough argument for freeing women’s sexuality rather than tamping down men’s, a distinction that makes clear the connection between bad sex and rape culture, between Harvey Weinstein’s monster and Aziz Ansari’s Everyman.

As the thought-provoking article highlights, there is a connection between bad sex and the rape culture that permeates in society. Males (and females) are not taught to think of a woman’s sexual pleasure or excitement.   

Despite the fact that the majority of sex that a person has in their lifetimes will be for the purpose of pleasure we think it’s normal that, or we at least allow, our sex education system to teach or allude that sex is a biological act that is only for the purpose of procreation. The problem with this biological procreation approach is that it will always highlight men’s pleasure, because without a male orgasm there is no sperm to impregnate an egg.

giphy (1) Source: Giphy

It ignores that the female orgasm even exists.  

The #MeToo movement and their aims of sexual justice for victims needs to remain in the media spotlight. But the #MeToo movement is addressing the worst parts of what happens under a system that socially conditions us to value one gender’s sexual pleasure over another.  

Those who commit acts of sexual violence are not born that way. They are created and enabled by society, so alongside holding those responsible for their actions (the aim of the #MeToo movement) we simultaneously need to change the system that allows a rape culture to exist. 

NY: March against Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

In its place, we need to create an open culture that unashamedly values female sexuality and pleasure.  

The media can’t change the system, but it can help to create a culture that values female sexuality and pleasure. After highlighting what sexual violence against women is, the media now needs to highlight the feminist groups, Instagram accounts, businesses, and workshops that are talking and teaching about female pleasure. 

As Tarana Burke said the media has been great at salaciously telling us what ‘rape culture’ looks like, but now its time that the media show us what a re-imagined ‘pleasure culture’ looks like.  

*If you follow any sex-positive Instagram accounts, attend any sex-positive workshops, read any books, etc, that you think we should highlight, please email us at tips@dailyedge.ie

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