03 November 2010

Sex Made Me a Feminist and Human Rights Advocate

Although the first human rights conference in Southeast Asia was only 2 days long, it provided information that changed my entire perspective on the issue.

Prior to the conference I wasn’t really interest in human rights and I wouldn’t have considered myself a feminist. While I think everyone should have freedom and access to certain things simply because they are born, I definitely wasn’t passionate about the idea. Likewise, while I believe women should be considered equal to men and I firmly believe in women’s rights, I would have never labeled myself a feminist. Then I went to the human rights conference where I attended a session on women’s sexuality and sexual rights and immediately my thoughts on both ideas changed.

The main focus of the first speaker in the session was the notion that women enjoying sex is often looked down upon, especially in the Philippines, where the speaker did her fieldwork. The speaker advocated that women are “sexual beings” and it is their right to both openly explore their sexuality and enjoy sex. Despite the fact that I am female, I had never considered the ability to explore my sexuality and find pleasure in sex a human right. Coming from America where we are desensitized to sex because it is everywhere, I’ve always taken sex for granted. Yet, honest and open conversations about sex are still taboo. Moreover, I have witnessed the societal norms that degrade women for comfortably expressing themselves sexually. This is a blatant contradiction and to be completely honest, I had never really stopped to think about that prior to this session. As the speaker continued with her presentation I found myself realizing just how much of a victim I was to social constructs about sex. Why had I never thought about these things? Why isn’t a woman’s sexuality considered a human right? Or maybe the real question was, why had I never thought of these issues in terms of human rights?

This realization was only further confirmed by the second speaker who spoke about utilizing spiritual activism in the form of Buddhism, along with feminism to empower people, but especially women. She advocated using the framework of spiritual activism because it focuses on understanding the self both as an individual and as part of a larger world. For the feminism part, Bell Hooks’ definition of ‘a movement to end sexism, sexual exploitation and oppression” was used. Together, feminism and spiritual activism are used to empower women. In Thailand, as well as other Buddhist countries, many people, but especially women, use karma as a reason for their suffering. For example, because someone was a bad person in a previous life that is why their husband beats them in this life, as well as various other things. This mindset forces people to think that they can’t change their situation and they are stuck suffering. This is similar to what the first speaker mentioned, where women should be sexually liberated, but they allow social constructs to restrict them.

The connection of the two changed my ideas about feminism. As a young female who identifies as a sexual being, feminism wasn’t something I had ever associated myself with. However, if being a feminist means I just want the right to be a sexual being without being oppressed or exploited because of my sex, than I am and have always been a feminist. Moreover, if this has to be defined as a right, that I support it and definitely consider it a human right.

At the conference I encountered numerous examples of human rights violations and ways in which human rights are researched, taught, and promoted. Maybe it’s sad that my feelings for human rights were indifferent before this conference since I believed that they were bigger than anything I could address. By the end of the conference I had an entirely new perspective on it. Human rights and human rights violations are just something that happens on the state level and to groups of people. They happen every day by individuals as well. Moreover, living a fairly decent life in the US doesn’t make me immune to them. It would be a lie to say that I am passionate about human rights because I’m not. I’m now an active advocate and for the rest of my life I will make sure to fight against human rights violations at the individual level whenever I can.

Jessica Bohanon
University of Rochester


Jake T said...

You bring up a lot of great points, J-Bo, especially your use of the term feminism. I feel in today’s time (and ones past) there is a taboo against using the word, or at least negative connotations associated with it in a lot of circles. But people are just completely misinterpreting the idea. And one thing people (or more particularly boys) can do to confront this misconception is to call themselves feminists. There is such an inherent belief that to be a feminist means to be some shaved headed woman, pissed off at the world, who blames men for all the problems ever created. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The real meaning of being a feminist is just someone who believes that women deserve the same equal treatment as men. Asking for equal wages is not wrong. Asking not to be objectified is not wrong. Asking to be seen as nothing different than human is not wrong. In fact, everyone should be a feminist. And to not be one is a crime against half of the world’s population.

Brett Srader said...

J.bo! I am truly excited that you were able to find the beauty in utilizing a human rights framework to analyze a critique an issue as complex as sexuality. As you know, hundreds of millions of people around the world find themselves as a sexual minority in their respective societies and this can often have lethal results for those in the minority. I have long believed their is an essential need for women's rights and sexual minority groups to find the common ground they stand upon and flip the status quo of power in this world. I believe your new found passion can be channeled to create some beautiful change in this world. Stay feisty, empowered and engaged because it is always "easier" to do otherwise!

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your post. It brought a lot of interesting ideas to my attention that I did not get from the conference. Your take on the topic is really enlightening to me. I have been one to cringe at the word feminism and would definitely never consider myself a feminist. After reading your post I realized that maybe this is a topic that I should explore more and that I have bad feelings about it due to generalizations and stereotypes. I do not know how I could be against “a movement to end sexism, sexual exploitation and oppression” and if that what being a feminist means. Count me in. Sexuality is still so taboo in our society despite the fact that sex is everywhere. It is not an idea that I had really considered before, so I thank you for giving me something else to reflect on.

Anonymous said...

I totally resonate with your response to the panel discussion. I never realized that I had the power as an individual, or a woman, to reclaim my sexuality. Structural violence portrayed in the mass media has established societal norms of how women are expected to approach and use their sexuality. Religion can also impact personal and societal perspectives on women and sexuality. I have the right as a woman to enjoy sex and act on my sexual desires. I should not feel ashamed of my sexual impulses. We are human beings and sex is a natural, biological desire. Why can’t I, as a woman, enjoy it? It angers me that structural violence and societal norms force many women to question their bodies, sensuality, sexuality. As a woman, I want to enjoy sex without guilt. I felt very empowered after the International Conference on Human Rights. I am proud to be a woman. I love my body. And I too can take pleasure in sex.

earth songs said...

J Bo, that conference was so cool to be a part of. I feel really lucky that we were able to go and learn so much from it. I agree with your confrontation about the word ‘feminism.’ At my college in the US I am a women’s studies minor. Sometimes, I’m ashamed to tell this to people because if they are not aware of what feminism is they create assumptions about me. Our society needs to either work to delete the stigma of the word ‘feminist’ or come up with a new term. I love feminism because you can be any type of feminist you want. It can be used as a tool to empower so many individuals and by giving more rights and freedom to women entire communities benefit. I agree that sexuality is not something that I would consider a human right. Today there are so many organizations working to raise the status of women. The book “half the sky” is a great place to find out more about womens issues across the globe.