For years women have fought for their sexual freedom. In some ways, women are still fighting for it–can I get birth control and abortion laws for 500, please? But we’ve mostly obtained that freedom, right? Well, kind of. Women’s sexual expression is highly encouraged in today’s society, and it’s even praised in some instances. From Samantha Jones’s proud promiscuity on Sex and the City to Cosmopolitan magazine’s plethora of articles on how to achieve orgasm, it’s great that a woman can speak so openly about her sexuality and not be ashamed to want to figure out how to please herself. Yet, so many of these articles focus on how to please a man and what he wants a woman to do. One of Cosmo’s articles in particular explains how to please a man orally and one even focuses on a woman’s thoughts before faking an orgasm. (Why is faking an orgasm even still a thing?)
Earlier this semester I had to write a paper for a sociology class about the way gender is portrayed on social media. Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I noted several posts encouraging women to express their sexuality–I mostly focused on heterosexual relationships. However, all too often, these posts encouraged a woman to express herself sexually as long as she was doing it to please her man. Ideas like these, posts like these, articles like these–they’re good for encouraging a woman’s sexual expression, yes, but they also reinforce these gender roles and stereotypes that we should be fighting to get away from.
This sociology class centers on the construction of gender–what it means to be male and female–and often these definitions include regulations regarding how each gender should present themselves sexually. As taught in this class, society sees that men should be dominant, both sexually and generally, and women should be submissive. Yes, women, flaunt yourselves, have sex, make sure you reach orgasm–but make sure he gets there first, even if that means you have to fake it. What?
I’m not saying that a man’s sexual expression or pleasure is not important. Men also have the right to express their sexuality and to make sure that their experiences are satisfactory. But men have literally always had the freedom of sexual expression. Men aren’t fighting for access to birth control. Men don’t wear white dresses on their wedding day to represent their purity. And how often would someone comment that maybe that man shouldn’t be wearing white today?
To take it back to my sociology class, there are just clear gender stereotypes enforced throughout society. Men and women are assigned roles, and most often the roles involving sex are given to men. Women are just along for the ride. Media artifacts like Cosmo and Sex and the City work against the stereotypes, creating new roles for genders or taking away roles completely. However, too often, they end up undermining their progress to break away from the stereotypes, like Cosmo does.
Despite Cosmo’s support of the female orgasm and articles teaching women how to act on their desires, they still spend too much time focusing on teaching women to be submissive. And society is so used to these gender roles that we tend to just go with it and fawn over the fact that female sexuality is even being mentioned at all.
Cosmo absolutely supports women’s sexual freedom. Cosmo provides an outlet for women to talk about their sexual experiences, hear about other women’s sex lives, and get questions about sex answered. Unfortunately, so much of a woman’s sexuality revolves around a man’s, which is why articles still have to talk about faking orgasms. Women are encouraged to be sexual, but apparently not more sexual than men, and the faking orgasms article implies that a woman shouldn’t be comfortable with expressing her sexuality if it interferes with a man’s. And I still find that Sex and the City’s Samantha Jones is a fantastic example of a woman who completely defies these stereotypes and expectations. She takes it to a new level.
While three out of four Sex and the City storylines follow women vying for a man’s attention (though they still manage to embrace their sexuality apart from these gender stereotypes plenty), Samantha’s story always remains constant: she’s about sex and she’s about herself. While Sex and the City is slightly outdated (the last movie came out in 2010), Samantha’s story is a wonderful lesson for women about embracing their sexuality and putting themselves first. Samantha worries about her sexual freedom, not about how it is going to interfere with her male partner’s sexuality. She doesn’t fake orgasms. Both men and women’s sexual freedom is equally important, and neither should be dependent on the other. But the media needs to be more like Samantha Jones, ignoring the gender stereotypes and encouraging your sexuality first for the benefit of you and you alone.