Sexual liberty for women was achieved through the abolishment of oppressive laws and changes in perceptions of female sexuality in society. But in reality, we must analyse to what extent females have really in fact been sexually liberated and how far are we from breaking down the patriarchal social structures dominating various groups of women.
The second wave feminist movement from the 1960s to the 1980s around the world focused on the sexual revolution of women; namely to remove traditional ties and barriers to relationships, reproductive and family rights. Out of the removal of traditions of heterosexuality and ‘normality’, came the mainstreaming of pornography and nudity, enabling a developed sex industry to emerge. Whilst being liberating for women, a negative part of the sexual liberation movement saw a high volume of involuntary prostitution and sex trafficking; in particular female and child trafficking. Sex work, again whilst liberating for female sexuality, has resulted in violence against women not only in the industry but around the world itself.
Third wave feminists, including Andrea Dworkin in Pornography: Men Possessing Women (1981), note that the pornography industry works to objectify women and results in the abuse of women in the home and in society. Dworkin understands how physical strength becomes a right and men (as a structure) thus create fear over women. We see this throughout society in the arts and literature, and further in the interpersonal relations between men and women. Money and sex also represent the power structure of men over women. Sex, for Dworkin, brings forward the beauty standards of women and sexual behaviours of being ‘tempting’ for men. Whilst ‘second wave’ feminists believe that porn has become liberating for female sexual behaviour, in reality, all it has done is open up these power structures in which men in pornography exemplify physical strength and sex portraying the woman as the ‘temptress’ and holding a specific beauty standard in order to suit men in society.
Pornography is not the only element of the sex industry which instills the exploitation of women and the female sexuality where men thus control women. Societies prize heterosexual relationships, and this is highly recognisable in the sex industry. In this, sexuality is a major area in which men can exercise their powers of domination over women. The ways in which feminine beauty standards and feminine behaviours are presented in society are controlled by the structure of men through the beauty industry itself and through the institution of sex. Sylvia Walby noted in Theorising Patriarchy (1990).
The sexual liberation of women may have changed the ways in which women are allowed to engage in sex, and how their bodies may be presented in society, but in reality, these have benefited men with their own desires taking precedent and has in fact controlled the sexual behaviours of women to an extent.
Prostitution has highly been the result of the ways in which men are in control of their own sexual desires over women. Prostitution may allow women to control sexual relations with men and enables women to feel a type of power over men, however, as Dworkin understands; women being the temptress for men is what is completely desired by them. Men hold women as powerful in that they can control the sexual behaviour of men, but on a wider picture; the woman has been constructed in a sense which creates the desire for men and the man must be aroused by the woman. If she is the opposite, we arrive at the humiliation and further levels of misogyny as a result- perhaps even leading to violence or rape so the man can assert his dominance. Involuntary prostitution comes as a result from the sex industry and the exploitation of women takes place in a similar sense to the woman being the temptress, but rape and sexual violence become highly more explicit in this context.
The second wave feminists who believed that they had brought such sexual and personal liberation for women may not have been as successful as once thought. Abortion rights and discrimination rights came as a result of the movement, but we still understand a wider social context that some achievements did not equal liberation for women around the world as a whole. The dominance of men in sex and pornography has trickled out into society in which male structures of strength and control of women have become the pillars of society where not just rape, sexual abuse, and the sexual exploitation, but everyday misogyny and rape culture are rife in the contemporary day and both, to an extent, have become rather acceptable.
By Tammara Lesko