Anna Goldsworthy, gender, feminism and misogyny

I have just finished reading Anna Goldsworthy’s Quarterly Essay: Unfinished Business. It is an intelligent and exhaustive look at women, power, misogyny and feminism in today’s Australia. The essay begins with Julia Gillard’s now famous misogyny speech and from there it twists and turns into so many areas of female representation and female silence in today’s society. One of the central questions of the essay is: will young girls and women sitting at home, watching our Prime Minister being beaten and shouted down because she is a woman—will these young girls and women want to stand up and attempt to take power for themselves one day?

It is a powerful idea and one that I am also concerned about. Our current political situation is demonstrating, live, in front of our very eyes, how women are torn down if they stick their heads up and try to have a voice.  It is brutal and horrible to watch.  In Queensland we watched the same thing happen with Anna Bligh. If I had a daughter I would be very concerned if she wanted to get into politics. This is how we treat women who speak up in our society and it isn’t pretty. Anna’s essay has given me a chance to reassess my own relationship to power and finding my own female voice in a world that is more attuned to hearing male voices.

Recently at the Alice Springs Writers Festival Eye Of The Storm, I was on a panel about women, sex and power.  Anna Krien was talking about a woman being like a rabbit trapped in the glare of headlights when she is caught up in seduction by a man. She may be unsure how she feels about the seduction. She might even be a bit or a great deal resistant to it, but sometimes she feels powerless to stop it once it has begun.  I admitted that I have been in the situation where I have allowed myself to be like a rabbit in the headlights, but I have also behaved exactly like those headlights.

I have been a sexual aggressor. I have had sex with people who were perhaps a little unsure about going to bed with me. I feel like perhaps, on occasions I have overlooked the fact that I had coerced a partner into bed with me. Sure they said yes, but only after an effort at seduction.   My sexual aggressiveness is not always greeted with approval. I have always felt like I have been considered too masculine in my sexual adventures. Even talking about my sexual adventures has caused observers to occasionally suggest I am over-sharing. Here is a woman speaking out about her sexual appetite. Here is a woman who enjoys sex and who is not afraid to talk about enjoying sex. In my relationship to sex I make myself into the subject rather than the object. This is why I am occasionally criticised by men and women as being unfeminine.

I am a fat woman who enjoys my body and who speaks up about enjoying my body.  I don’t look the way you would expect a sexual being to look.  I have lots of flesh, I have labia that poke out unevenly and at odd angles from an often wild patch of pubic hair. If I shave that pubic hair now and then it is not for a partner, it is to increase sensitivity around my vagina, to get more bang for my buck in bed. I am unafraid to appear naked in my own work and some people find that offensive.

Reading Goldsworthy’s essay has helped me to articulate this more clearly. Her section on pornography exposes all the problems that I have with some pornography.  So often porn places the woman in a position of silence. It is not about her pleasure, it is his pleasure we have come to see. No one is interested in her orgasm. A woman is there to pleasure a man, or to pleasure another woman for the titillation of a man. For me sex is all about my own pleasure and I truly want to address this imbalance by creating good porn, pornography which places a woman as the subject and not the object, pornography that is about the mutual pleasure of people no matter what their gender. Pornography that proves that women can and do enjoy sex and that we don’t have to look a particular way to do so. In fact it doesn’t matter how we look, our pleasure is the most important thing.

Like Lena Dunham of Girls fame, I refuse to be polite and get back in my box (no double entendre intended).

Someone I know, a real person in my real life, once said ‘I just don’t know why you would want to write publicly about your sex life’. It was a criticism of my memoir Affection. Writing about my sex life was abhorrent to her because I was speaking publicly about something that she thought should remain private.  Men speak about women’s sexuality publicly all the time.  They speak about my own sexuality whenever they make disparaging comments about my appearance or jokes about one of their friends having sex with me as if I were a booby prize. They laugh at the idea of having sex with me because I am fat and I am old. Every time I walk out into public on a Friday or a Saturday night I am running the gauntlet of sexual judgement. Men wave their images of young beautiful women at me like a red flag. If I then redress this and write honestly about my own sexuality there are still those who would criticise suggesting I have no right to flaunt my own body in public.

Anna Goldsworthy’s essay has reinvigorated my urge to appear naked in public in my own work. I will not be spoken for. I need to speak for myself.  I need to walk around naked, like a big fat walking fuck you to those who would silence me. I also want to show young women who come after me that the haters can’t tell me to shush up. I will not put my clothes back on and I don’t care if I have offended their sensibilities. I refuse to be quiet like a nice girl should. I refuse to be shackled by their rules of femininity. I will not get back in my box.

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