THE STRUGGLE FOR UNDRESSING written by Julie.
In the West, our collective imaginary often refers to feminism as women’s sexual liberation. To me, choosing to undress means choosing to say yes to a sexuality that has been denied to women for so long. Being undressed also makes me feel good, may it be topless on the beach, alone in my house, or in the street wearing a short skirt. In an ideal world, all of this I could do without fear of being judged or assaulted. But instead I am met with the structures of patriarchy that control our sexuality, notably through slut shaming and the sexual objectification of our bodies.
Slut shaming: “an act of making any person feel guilty or inferior for certain sexual behaviours or desires that deviate from traditional or orthodox gender expectations, or that which may be considered to be contrary to natural or religious law”.
Sexual Objectification: the “act of treating a person as an instrument of sexual pleasure. Objectification more broadly means treating a person as a commodity or an object without regard to their personality or dignity”.
In Western societies, we are in the middle of a paradox. On the one hand, women are called to sexually liberate themselves. This sexual liberation is often turned into sexual objectification, essentially in the media. Social experiments widely demonstrate that breasts are regarded as sexualised objects of desire rather than as a human organ necessary to feed babies. Women are often pressured to engage in sexual interactions and to fit in this over-sexualised society; they are “forced to be free”. Coy (2009, p.376)  rightly argued that the hyper-sexualisation of society “fixes sexualisation as such a normal route that there is little space outside of it” for women. This is so much pressure.
On the other hand, women are subjected to slut-shaming and asked to repress their sexuality by dressing up in a more “appropriate” way, in order to avoid being categorised as “whores”.
So we are indeed in the middle of a paradox here. I am called to engage in sexual intercourses and to show my body to prove that I am liberated, whilst being openly stigmatised for doing.
In both cases, this is an attempt to control my body and choices. Still, I am grateful for women’s sexual liberation. It can’t be denied that sexual liberation brought major advancements for women’s rights. It is a freedom that is still denied to so many women around the world. In 2017, the World Health Organisation counted that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in the countries where the practice is concentrated (Central African Republic, Kenya, Somalia…). Even in developed countries such as England and Wales in 2015-16, there are an estimated 137,000 women and girls with female genital mutilation. For women, being able to “undress” and explore their sexuality questions the idea that sexual desires and needs are reserved to men. Slut shaming and the sexual objectification of women are founded on patriarchal stereotypes, which encage women. When you freely choose to pursue your own desires, it means empowerment and that is what feminism really is about. So let me undress happily.