Elements of sexual fetishes are common in most people’s sexual fantasies – the strong and attractive look of a high heeled shoe, or the invulnerable appeal of the “bad boy” character – but these mild fetishes are not necessarily preferred routes to sexual pleasure and release for everyone. In contrast, some people require the presence of a particular fetish in order to become aroused, however is cases where the fetishization is mild and perhaps not even noticed, we can learn something about the milder appeal to most, by understanding the role the fetish plays in more extreme examples.
In his book, Arousal: The Secret Logic of Sexual Fantasies, Dr. Michael J. Bader explains that with fetishes, “the part is treated as if it were the whole, or, conversely, a whole being is reduced to a part.” In sexual terms, a person is said to be fetishizing when they objectify a person, or personify an object, or as Bader puts it, “when we reduce something human to the status of a thing, or imbue things with human qualities.” Specifically, fetishes work to remove the human dimension of a sexual interaction, thereby freeing the fetishist of any guilt or worry they might have for their partner which would ultimately interfere with their ability to abandon control and climax.
How does leather, rubber, or latex function as a fetish? These materials are imbued with a human quality, being that they are suggestive of a second skin, one that is taut, smooth, shiny, and perfect. To the wearer or onlooker, the qualities of this second skin are suggestive of strength and invulnerability, youth even. The unconscious impact is to counteract feelings of worry or guilt on the part of the onlooker, and shame or insecurity on the part of the wearer. This is particularly evident when we imagine the opposite appearance of skin that is looser, vulnerable, older, and wrinkled.
Some examples of this fetish in action are given by Dr. Bader. He mentions a women who reported that she felt strong and invulnerable wearing an outfit made of leather, rubber, or latex. Her usual feelings of insecurity and weakness were smoothed over, so to speak, and she was able to become the strong, confident woman she longed to be. For someone who simply enjoys wearing these materials in a sexual scenario, but for whom their arousal does not rely on them, the element of strength and confidence will likely still be related to the appeal.
Another example is of a gay man who found leather on other men very attractive because it immediately suggested to him that this man would be a “hard-edged top,” thus allowing him to overcome his feelings of guilt for being strong or hard-edged himself. Only a partner who appeared stronger than himself would do, so he could assure himself that he couldn’t possibly hurt his partner by losing control sexually. My post on slave Master fantasies explores this dynamic further.
A third example is given, of a man who also felt guilty about hurting others were he to lose sexual control, and this man enjoyed being tied up to assuage his guilty feelings about this, a concept explored in my post on bondage and beating fantasies. He also enjoyed wearing a rubber suit, and specifically enjoyed being tied up by young boys. Unfortunately, not much explanation is offered for these aspects of the example, but perhaps the rubber suit served as a protective, and youthing layer, to decrease feelings of bodily shame around younger and presumably more smooth and taut sex partners?
Bader doesn’t mention the protective aspect of the second skin, the fact that one’s own skin is literally covered up, that one’s own senses are paved over, but I would suggest that this is another way to look at how this fetish serves the wearer. The covering of one’s own skin would likely have a numbing effect, therefore lending to the feeling of strength and invulnerability, because like with the use of drugs or alcohol, one’s senses are blunted. Yet another way to understand setting free feelings of shame or vulnerability.
~ “I urge you all today, especially today during these times of chaos and war, to love yourself without reservations and to love each other without restraint. Unless you’re into leather.” – Margaret Cho
I still have post-traumatic stress disorder – PTSD – from being drugged and raped in 2007. I used to just think that the PTSD symptoms were just negative personality traits of mine. I thought I was just irritable, easily provoked, and agitated by nature. I thought I used marijuana habitually because I was too “weak” to give it up, and yet I was aware that I felt more “normal” with it than without it in terms of sleeping, eating, and mood. I’ve never sought an official diagnosis, but since February 2011, when I became consciously aware of the rape, it was suddenly painfully obvious to me that I’d been suffering from PTSD for years.
I’ve always felt shame when expressing my “negative personality traits,” and simply attributing them to PTSD has made no difference in this respect. Perhaps the shame is there because I haven’t taken the time to appreciate the adaptive purpose PTSD can serve? I feel I’ve begun to gain a deeper understanding by reading Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror by Judith Herman, particularly of how PTSD initially affected my life immediately following the rape, even though I was completely unaware that it had happened.
You might be wondering how I could not be aware of being raped – I wondered that too! I can only assume that because I was drugged unconscious, and perhaps also because I was badly injured during the rape, my conscious mind automatically denied the possibility of rape to me, this being an adaptive response so I could remain functional. It wasn’t conscious denial, it’s just the prospect of rape didn’t even cross my mind. As Herman notes, “This voluntary suppression of thoughts related to the traumatic event is characteristic of traumatized people.” I told myself it was just that I had a mystery back injury from drinking. “Did I fall?” I wondered to myself. The point is, after the rape, I was unaware that rape had occurred, and yet my life began to disintegrate before my eyes. At the time it was a mystery to me why I felt compelled to make so many bad choices, but compelled I was and there was no stopping it. This post is an attempt to understand this “bad behaviour” as adaptations for survival instead of simply shameful behaviour.
After the rape, I was suddenly afraid to live alone, so I moved in with Sam, someone I’d just started seeing and barely knew. I couldn’t roll over by myself to get out of bed due to the rape injury, so I told myself that I simply needed Sam to help care for me. My job performance immediately crumbled into shit, and as I watched myself fail I felt powerless to fix it, but also felt uncharacteristically neutral about it. I was more confrontational with bosses, and more antagonistic with peers. I started drinking heavily and blacking out regularly. I just trusted that Sam would take care of me and babysit me when I was drunk, which he usually did. I wasn’t attracted to him, and I was in no emotional state to be dating anybody, but I knew he’d do anything for me, so… in that respect he was perfect! Sam eventually pushed for sex, and I was so numb I let him and honestly didn’t care if he was using me. I broke things off with the attractive Italian architect I’d been seeing because I didn’t want him to know what a mess I was. I now know all of this was a reaction to the rape, but at the time I hated myself for letting everything go to shit and could make no sense of any of it. The only explanation was that I was a terrible person, and that’s what I believed about myself.
In Trauma and Recovery, Herman discusses the three cardinal symptoms of PTSD: (1) Hyperarousal; (2) Intrusion; and (3) Constriction. Having read examples in the book about how these symptoms manifested in others, I was shocked to see how my “bad behaviours” were actually attempts at mastering my own feelings of helplessness and reestablishing a sense of control of my environment.
Hyperarousal is the first cardinal symptom of PTSD. It means constantly being on guard for something bad to happen. For me, this first manifested as insomnia, explosive anger, and aggression, but years later has turned into generalized anxiety and a fear of alcohol, night clubs, and even fear of walking past strange men on the street. I have a strong startle response to loud noises as well, and was recently reminded of this when Hallowe’en fire crackers started going off two weeks ago. The question is, how is any of this helping me?
The adaptive purpose of this chronic arousal of my nervous system is that I “feel ready” should I be faced with any further traumatic events. It’s actually an elaborate illusion of smoke and mirrors though, since there’s really no way to prepare oneself for an unknown future trauma. Rather than offering me any real control, hyperarousal serves to allow me to feel a sense of mastery and control over my environment when in fact no one is capable of that level of control. Complete vulnerability is the fundamental state of humanity, and that’s hard to accept for anyone. Even those who have not been traumatized feel a false sense of control over their environment when in truth, if someone really wanted to hurt them they could find a way to do it. But there’s comfort in this illusion, and therefore it is adaptive.
Intrusion is the second cardinal symptom of PTSD. It is a replaying of the trauma, either in dreams, in actions, or in words. Herman explains that people often feel compelled to “recreate the moment of terror, either in literal or disguised form,” and that “in their attempts to undo the traumatic moment, survivors may even put themselves at risk of further harm.” Since I had no conscious memory of the rape, for me the intrusion manifested more like it would for a child who’s play scenes reenact an early trauma of which the child has no conscious memory. For me, it seems this played out as drinking heavily and blacking out, and also letting Sam “rape” me. Herman further explains that even when voluntarily chosen, there is something about these reenactments which feels involuntary. These behaviours appear maladaptive on the surface, but there is something more subtlety adaptive at work here.
Freud called this reenactment the “death instinct” since he could not understand why a person would voluntarily place themselves in great danger again and again. I certainly could not understand why I was doing these things, only that I was compelled to do them. I can see now that I was unconsciously trying to recreate the scenario so that I might gain mastery over it. I had more control when I made myself lose consciousness then when I was forced unconscious by another. I had more control when I agreed to be “raped” than when I had no choice in the matter. Dreams that replay the trauma are also part of the intrusive symptoms, but I would not experience an intrusive dream until four years later, which was an exact replaying of my memory of leaving the rapist’s apartment, and not really a “dream” at all, a quality shared by the traumatic dreams of other PTSD sufferers. After I had that dream, I indeed found a way to master the situation by reverse engineering and fixing my rape injury.
Constriction is the third cardinal symptom of PTSD. This means going numb, giving up, being the proverbial “deer in the headlights” calmly surrendering to death or danger over which you have no control. This is the response seen in animals caught by a predator, knowing they face certain death. I felt this most in my inability to respond to the fact that my life was disintegrating before my eyes. I also experienced constriction when I cared nothing about letting Sam use my body for sex. It’s like it wasn’t even me, like my body was no longer a part of me. It was a simple trade-off for the protection I needed and was in no way an expression of sexuality on my part. Sex was the furthest thing from my mind. Taking drugs or alcohol in hopes of intensifying the level of dissociation is also part constrictive symptoms, and I was drinking every single day to achieve maximum numbness. Years later I was, until recently, using marijuana on a daily basis to deal with the constant anxiety I felt. One of the unexpected side effects of ceremonial shamanic use of ayahuasca was no longer feeling the urge to numb myself with substances every day, and I truly feel that this was where healing began for me.
Although constriction is a merciful reprieve in the moments before death, or expected death, its continuance is ultimately maladaptive to healing if one survives the attack. Healing only happens when we feel, and numbing my feelings day after day was a huge obstacle to healing. I feel my substance abuse was one of the most shameful aspects of my PTSD because I attributed it to shortcomings in my personality, not understanding its purpose. It was only after I no longer smoked every day that I understood and forgave my reasons for it, so harsh was my judgement of it.
Now that I have a better understanding of how PTSD has affected my life, I hope it will be easier to accept that I’m human and not superhuman, and that I was simply reacting to a trauma in ways that were normal and ultimately adaptive for me following the rape. The shame I feel about these behaviours has been felt for a number of years at this point so it’s now a case of deconstructing false negative beliefs I’ve created about myself, and honestly, I feel better already after simply writing this post. This post focused more on how PTSD initially affected me, and less on how it has morphed as the years when on, but that is definitely something I’ll be writing more about in a future post.
If you have any stories about how PTSD has affected your life, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Although PTSD looks messy on the outside, it’s all just an instinct for healing and mastery. However, I also feel that in my experience and on the grand scale, PTSD symptoms have been adaptive behaviours to simply feeling powerless. What has made all the difference for me is knowing that I have the power to manifest healing in my life, and that I do not have to be a passive reactor to my environment, using these behaviours as crutches to limp through life. I don’t always remember that I have this power, but I do my best to remind myself of it often. I have the power to heal myself, I have the power to choose change, and I have the power to be happy.
~ “Enjoy where you are or you will never get where you’re going. Enjoy where you are and you will BE where you are going.” – Bashar, channelled by Darryl Anka
I sometimes wish that I could remember all of the abuse from my childhood, just so that there would be no more surprise landmines to step on every time a new memory surfaces. I know that memories come back when a person is ready to deal with them, but some days it’s just really hard not knowing everything. I still can’t seem to remember anything around third grade when I must have been seven or eight years old, I don’t even remember the name of my third grade teacher or what my classroom looked like. I know my brain must’ve shut off in some capacity in order to protect me, but protect me from what I don’t exactly know.
I’ve discovered that my feelings, the same feelings I was blaming myself for or numbing myself from for so many years, are of paramount importance. I’ve only just begun to respect and trust these feelings, and I’ve also learned that feelings are the essence of a memory, far more so than any narrative of a recollection. I’ve come to trust and respect my feelings through ceremonial shamanic use of ayahuasca in Peru, and also through dreams, particularly because the inspiration I’ve had from dreams have been instrumental in helping me to heal from a more recent rape that occurred in 2007. I’ve been allowing myself to feel more lately. I try to remember how it felt to be seven years old again ask the feeling to show me where it goes next. I’m having more information come to me in dreams when I do this. Specifically, I had a dream of my father voyeuristically staring at my naked body, where I am blind and struggling to open my eyes as l try to cover myself and get away from him.
I’ve also been appreciating triggers in a whole new way because they always point the way to something important. I now know the reason they “trigger” any response at all is because of prior experiences. I’ve been observing myself and I find I am often on guard with older men. It’s something about the way some of them covertly sexualize me that makes me suspicious of their motives. If they do or say anything to me that is flirtatious or suggestive, if they try to touch me or my clothing, I immediately dissociate. I get extremely angry, but feel paralyzed to respond in the moment. I then avoid them and carry myself with an attitude of anger in the hopes of repelling them. Unfortunately, this sometimes brings me the attention of men who have a sadistic glint in their eye, and that makes me even angrier. I’ve had other women ask me what the big deal is. “That’s just how men are,” they tell me. All I know is that for me, it is very, very triggering.
If a much older man makes overtly sexualizing comments about my body I feel like I want to crawl out of my skin. I am repulsed and disgusted by it. They don’t even have to say anything but if they are obviously leering at me, it stokes the fires of rage in my heart, and they’re probably left wondering why I’m acting so cold and bitchy towards them. That’s one conflict I keep running into. Older men sexualize me, either with stares or comments, and I feel powerless to respond. I react by dissociating, ignoring, hoping they will just go away. And I end up feeling vulnerable and angry. Even at 30 years old I have a terrifying and irrational fear of saying something to these men.
In the past I’ve had well meaning people try to warn me about my angry attitude, women who say that it might not look that bad at 29, but at 35 or 40 it’s going to look grotesque. I only thought to myself, “good, it’s working.” The whole point is to drive away men who might hurt me. I now fully trust that there’s a reason why I feel compelled to act this way, why I feel safer when I do it. I trust that my triggers reflect to me a deeply ingrained emotional reaction to some original situation where I was hurt or threatened, a situation I cannot recall to memory yet. On the flip side, I trust that reacting to present circumstances through the lens of the past can lead to revictimization. It’s those men with the sadistic glint in their eye, that see me more easily since my anger freely promotes the fact that I feel threatened, which could lead to me being a target. Even knowing this, it’s hard to change, it’s hard to feel vulnerable, but I’m going to overcome this, and in the meantime, I am going to trust that my feelings, dreams, and triggers have meaning.
~“Trust your instinct to the end, though you can render no reason.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Every now and then I have a dream that provokes terror or hysterical sadness. It’s more accurate to refer to these dreams as nightmares, or night terrors, but I’ll stick to the term “dreams” for simplicity. There was the dream that was the exact replay of leaving a rapist’s apartment where I was drugged, then there were others in which my father is vying for my naked body and I’m trying to hide myself. There have been others that allude to sexual abuse in more abstract terms, like a baby’s vagina covered in blood and semen, and an old white man with a whip for a penis coming after me and forcing me to carry him on my back. Every one of these had me reeling afterwards, but this is expected given that dreams are a medium through which we can process and address repressed emotions.
Even though it’s obvious to me what the general meaning of these dreams are at face value – rape and incest – it’s interesting to look at some of the research that has delineated some larger overall patterns of how sexual trauma influences the dreamscape. I’ve referred to the book Trauma and Dreams edited by Deirdre Barrett, to see what is commonly observed in the dream experiences of sexually traumatized women. We’ll see that it is usually the emotional reality of the trauma that is replayed to the victim, rather than the actual traumatic event itself. This was certainly clear when I dreamt about leaving a rapist’s apartment, exactly as I had done in real life, but the emotional impact of that dream was devastating.
First, let’s start with the themes usually found in the dreams of women with a history of sexual abuse. Sexual themes are common, not surprisingly, as is an association of sex with negative qualities, such as distrust, shame, anger, guilt, jealously, or anger. For victims of sexual trauma, the sex in their dreams is usually combined with aggression and/or violence, although even in this group, only 15 percent report nightmares where sexual abuse is literally portrayed.
Explicit violence is another common theme in the dreams of sexually abused women, but in contrast to the more general violent themes that are common for many women, sexually traumatized women usually had more details of the violence, like blood or dismemberment present in the dream. There is also more verbal aggression reported in the dreams of this group.
Sexually abused women were also more likely to have a male stranger play a main role in the dream. Often he is faceless, shadowy, or otherwise representative of evil. Many sexually abused women reported dreaming of an evil presence that threatens or succeeds in entering her room or her body. Snakes and worms are also slightly more common in the dreams of sexually abused women, as well as references to body parts or anatomy being more prevalent, especially sexual anatomy. They were also more likely to give more details descriptions of the physical appearance of characters from their dreams.
It’s been interesting to review these themes with the dreams I’ve recorded in the past, dreams that I might otherwise have forgotten because they didn’t seem to have any traumatic significance at face value. It was only after reviewing these themes that the less literal and more symbolic representations of sexual abuse in my dreams became clear, like the dream of the old white man with a whip handle for a penis that was threatening to hurt me. The dreams that most literally pointed to sexual trauma were unforgettable and also tended to be the most emotionally disturbing. No cryptic interpretation was necessary in those cases, and perhaps my propensity to not trust myself has led to a need for more literal representations of the abuse.
Learning to trust myself has been a process I’ve only just begun this year, at thirty years old, and learning to trust my dreams has been a big part of that. It’s interesting that the themes of sexual violence seem to pop up at times when I begin to question my feelings and wonder if maybe I’m crazy for feeling like my dad is a creep. At least this shows me that there’s an aspect of myself, perhaps my unconscious mind, that has my back in all of this and won’t let me deceive myself, because slipping back into the warm comfort of denial tempts me all the time, even though it made my life completely dysfunctional. When you think about how much our unconscious mind holds for us that we don’t “know” about, it’s absolutely amazing that just the right things leak out into consciousness at the just the right time.
~ ” The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul.” – Carl Gustav Jung
I’ve been on a personal quest lately to gain a deeper understanding of the meaning behind sexual fantasies, and have been reading a book by Michael J. Bader, called Arousal: The Secret Logic of Sexual Fantasies, in order to gain some insight on myself. The giant breast fantasy isn’t exactly my thing, but it certainly is a common thing, and I found Bader’s explanation of it pretty interesting, so I thought I’d share.
We already know that hetero men love breasts. Some guys refer to themselves as “breast men” after all, so no surprise there. But have you ever wondered why there’s a sexual fascination with women’s mammary glands whose biological purpose is to feed milk to young infants? If you made the obvious connection and guessed it has to do with motherly nurturing, you’d be right, but according to Bader there’s a lot more to it than that. Actually, this might get weird because it has nothing to do with mothers, and everything to do with mothers.
As I covered in my first post on sexual fantasies, we once again see the primary purpose of a fantasy is to relieve feelings of guilt and worry, which are brought on by pathogenic and negative beliefs about the self and others. Orgasm can only be reached once these harmful beliefs are somehow negated, and the fantasy works to do just that. So what sort of negative beliefs does the breast man have?
According to Bader, he likely has a pathogenic belief that he is undeserving of caretaking, and that his needs are burdensome and greedy, that a woman would experience giving to him as depleting. Therefore he feels he has to prove himself worthy of any caretaking from women. He actually feels guilty needing nurturing from a woman, and feels like it is coercive because, after all, he believes women have nothing to give. That’s pretty harsh. Why would he believe these things? Childhood neglect is a big part of it.
He likely had a relationship with his mother that was very one-sided, one that was all about her: her needs, her moods, her wants. He sees his mother as weak and fragile, as someone who he has to worry about all the time. Bader notes that the result of this relationship is a belief that women don’t “have the capacity or inclination to devote themselves to a man’s pleasure or to their own,” and so to want such a thing leads to extreme guilt.
So with all that unsexy guilt for wanting nurturing in the way, he fantasizes that a woman is turned on by “mothering him,” a.k.a giving him the breast, so that he can get sexually excited. For some men this means fantasizing about actual breastfeeding during sex, but it’s not that he is making any direct sexual connection to his own mother. It’s all about removing the guilt and worry he was trained to have for women. He needs to receive pleasure without having any responsibility for his partner’s needs. He needs her to happily give to him and expect nothing in return.
In the breastfeeding/breast sucking scenario, where the woman wants to give to him and is gratified by giving to him, he is free to let go of the guilt. Not only does she not need him to be her caretaker, she wants him to take from her and isn’t depleted when she gives him maternal nurturing. His desire to take is met with her desire to give. His negative unconscious belief that women are too preoccupied, burdened, depressed, or busy to take pleasure in nurturing him is thus negated. And the bigger the breast, the more nurturing she has to give him.
So there you have it! Even in “extreme” cases where a man is turned on by fantasies of breastfeeding from a woman, it has nothing to do with any creepy latent desire to be sexual with his mother. It’s just that his mother was a selfish narcissist! Or maybe just dysfunctional and depressed. Either way, it’s not about his mother, ladies, it’s all about your enthusiasm and happiness to give to him… and your super luscious breasts.
In an effort to understand how I could immediately “forget” being raped, only to recover the memories four years later, I started reading a book by Amanda Ripley called The Unthinkable which discusses people’s seemingly irrational responses when threatened by impending danger. What’s interesting is that people are not as rational as we assume they are. Even when the twin towers were hit with planes, people in the floors below (those who survived) hesitated for an average of six minutes before heading for an exit stairwell. One person reported waiting forty-nine minutes before deciding they needed to leave! The first chapter of this book deals with one survivor’s recollection – or lack thereof – of her experience on 9/11. The first impact rocked the building and she says she remembers the sound when it hit eleven floors above her. Her recollection of the events takes her through the stages of disbelief, frantic deliberation, and finally action, but throughout there is a thick fog of denial, along every step of the way.
She reported that when the first plane hit, instead of running for the door, she wanted nothing more than to stay. The theory is that people want so badly to believe that everything is going to be ok, that they simply stay put. Apparently this is especially common in structure fires – we assume everything is going to be okay because it always has been before. This “normalcy bias” occurs because the brain works by identifying patters, and we understand the present and anticipate the future according to past experience. It’s also mentioned that if everything turns out to be okay then we save ourselves the social embarrassment of overreacting as well.
It’s a herd mentality, and after delaying awhile, another painfully long stage of deliberation sets in where people feel the need to check in with each other and see how others are feeling about the situation. Lucky for this woman, a person in her office quickly began to scream at everyone to leave immediately. She still delayed a bit longer, looking for items to take with her. She was circling in her cubicle and said “it was like I was in a trance.” She chose to bring a mystery novel she had been reading.
Once decending down the stairwell, disbelief and deliberation continued to rack her brain. She said she never felt she was in a hurry. She said “it’s weird because the sound, the way the building shook, should have kept me going fast. But is was almost as if I put the sound away in my mind.” Apparently everyone in the stairwell was very, very calm and moving in an orderly fashion. “Crowds generally become very quiet and docile in a true disaster,” Ripley, the book’s author states.
During her descent she began to make up stories to explain the events, first that a pilot must have had a heart attack or stroke, then after being told that a second plane had hit, that two stupid pilots must have been racing. She could not wrap her head around the magnitude of the situation. Her brain was searching its database for a reasonable explanation. Even when a man told that the hits had been intentional during their descent, she simply ignored this new information and put it out of her mind as if he had never said it. More denial.
When the second plane hit, she says she did not even hear the sound. Her senses were switched on and off at certain key points as happens with many people in traumatizing situations. She recalls someone screaming to get away from the windows and running for the center of the building. She was then overcome by intense anger at herself for being in this situation again (she had been in one of the twin towers during a potentially fatal incident in 1993 as well) and she had a moment of clarity and panic saying to herself, “I’m on the forty-fourth floor of a building. Where am I going? I’m still way up high. I can’t go anywhere!”
Then just as quickly everyone stopped running and continued back down the stairwell again in an orderly fashion like mute robots as if nothing had happened. When asked to describe the sound of the second collision she says “ As far as I’m concerned, I’m telling you, it was as if it didn’t happen. It’s not even that I forgot it. It’s just that it was as if it never happened. Never.” Classic dissociation normally used to describe the experiences of children suffering from physical or sexual abuse. Dissociation, the book states, is an “extreme form of denial,” and as the 9/11 survivor put it, “I could not afford to dwell on it. My job was to just take it one step at a time.”
She further explained, “When you’re in trauma, the mind says, this is a very local problem. This is your little world and everything outside is fine. It can’t afford to say that everything outside is horrible. The sound that I heard on the seventy-third floor should have told me, this is bad. The feeling of the building shaking should have told me, this is bad. The explosion when I was on the fourty-fourth floor: bad. The smell of debris is the lower stairways: bad. Yet in every single moment, I made it my little world here. And nothing else exists.”
When she finally made it to the main floor to exit the building, there were dead bodies all around, this is how her brain processed it: “I’m slowing down because I’m starting to realize that I’m not just looking at debris. My mind says ‘It’s the wrong color.’ That was the first thing. Then I start saying, ‘ It’s the wrong shape.’ Over and over in my mind: ‘It’s the wrong shape.’ It was like I was trying to keep the information out. My eyes were not allowing me to understand. It couldn’t afford it. So I was like, ‘No it can’t be.” Then when I finally realized what it meant to see the wrong color, the wrong shape, that’s when I realized, I’m seeing bodies. That’s when I froze.”
Freezing is apparently also a common response during disasters, but luckily for this women a stranger linked arms with her and said “We’re getting out of here.” She remembers the woman’s dark skin tone, her red sleeve, but then simply stopped seeing altogether. “There was no smoke there. I didn’t see anything at all.” She was not even frightened by this temporary blindness since she was no numb at that point. She was now relying on hearing, but although these two women talked and talked as they walked away, she can’t remember a word she said except when they finally got outside she heard her say, “Look, we made it.” She remembers replying, “Yeah, we’re outside.” But she could still not see anything, and she never even saw the woman in red’s face.
This story really hit home for me. It is a testament to the lengths our brains will go to to protect us from sensory input when a trauma is occurring. Only that which helps us get out alive appears to be consciously processed. It seemed very strange to me at first that something so awful happen to me and that I could completely block it out of my conscious memory. In terms of survival, it doesn’t seem strange at all. It was my own mind protecting me and giving me a chance to overcome my circumstances.
~ “There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.” – Laurell K. Hamilton, Mistral’s Kiss
Calling women sluts is all the rage these days! Even between women, slut is now a common insult, sometimes passive-aggressively hidden as a friendly jab, but usually meant to cripple a woman’s self-esteem. Popular language is an interesting revealer of collective cultural unconscious beliefs, so let’s see what this particular insult tells us about women’s views on their own sexuality, and why women are using sex as a verbal weapon against each other. I’ll bet you already guessed it’s not looking good.
The word “slut,” in the vast majority of contexts, is meant to draw attention to a woman’s low inherent worth as a human. A slut is probably below human status, actually. There are many different definitions of slut on the Internet, and “dirty immoral promiscuous prostitute” pretty much summarizes them all. I think it’s safe to say this points to a deeply ingrained collective cultural belief in good women’s sexuality and bad women’s sexuality, and I’m guessing that not-a-slut is a “clean moral chaste wife/girlfriend.”
It cuts a lot deeper to call a woman a slut than it does to simply call her bad because of the sub-human connotations of the word. For this insult to work, both women have to believe that female sexuality can even be expressed as dirty, immoral promiscuity. They have to first believe in the sub-human status of the whore. To call another woman “slut” is to pretend she’s that low down dirty prostitute, and also creates the convenient dichotomy in which the name-caller gets to pretend she’s the pure and respected Madonna.
Those wife and prostitute roles are such a super fun game of make believe, aren’t they ladies? In truth, women’s sexuality can’t actually be compartmentalized into good or bad; it is what it is and it’s just sexuality. Your body is literally just a pleasure machine for your own amusement, but since people were also blessed with big imaginations, they can imagine there are two different kinds of sex. Two women could be doing the exact same thing to the exact same man, but one of them is clean, and the other dirty. One is moral and the other is not. One is chaste while the other is promiscuous. One is worthy of respect and the other is not. We’re so amazingly imaginative, right? Because sex is just sex.
In fact, all of society is so imaginative that a woman can still have her reputation “ruined” if she is publicly branded as a slut, and it not even the 1800s anymore. If only there were specific rules and guidelines to follow to keep oneself safe from such an ugly insult, but no clear line exists between Madonna and whore, so it’s pretty much just a free for all in the grey area in between.
Sex doesn’t make the slut, society does. Ladies, we are all trapped in this little box of make believe together and I suggest we focus on how to break out of it, rather than on slinging mud in each others faces. We are not each other’s enemies. We need to stop asking for society’s permission to be the sexual beings we already are. The next time someone calls me a slut, I think I’ll just smile and say “thank you, I’m having so much fun enjoying my life as I want to, and I hope you can afford yourself the same respect.”
And if you missed it, check out my previous post on why men call each other “pussy,” for more fun with words.
~ “If your joy is derived from what society thinks of you, you’re always going to be disappointed.” – Madonna