They say nothing comes without a price. However, in the case of being one of the only coloured girls in my city, nothing comes without a race.
I live in a predominately white city. Not by choice (I'm from Toronto), but to attend university. When I first got to the city, I thought people would be incredibly racist and I'd be excluded and snubbed by my peers. Well, the opposite happened.
Arrogance aside (I promise), everywhere I went, I was white men's object (emphasis on object) of desire. And it wasn't just white men -- all races of men I've never encountered, but white men seemed the most enthralled by my presence. But the initial adoration and my swelled ego soon subsided after I realized that men were not attracted to me for being just a "pretty face" -- I was being objectified, exoticized and sexualized for being one of few coloured girls in a sea of white men. I felt alone. And more importantly, I felt disgusted with myself.
Feminist, social activist and African American author bell hooks terms this kind of attraction to the 'Othered' body as "Eating the Other." This is the phenomenon where white men as well as the media view coloured women's bodies, especially black women's, as a site of difference. The coloured body is stereotypically everything the white woman's body is not: she is not "pure," "fair," or "docile." Rather, her body represents deviance, darkness, temptation, evil, and hypersexuality. This detrimental image generates a deep sense of desire and adventure within the white man -- a desire to colonize her body -- 'eat' it up, and use it to come to know himself.
Through fucking a coloured woman, the white man transcends his 'whiteness' and innocence, moving into more experienced and dangerous territory. Literally through her body, he learns what he is and what he is not. He gains access to cross the border into a dark territory that only he, of all his friends, has yet to venture to. But after 'consuming' her multiple times, he becomes sick and repulsed, as with any overconsumption of food, and spits her out.
I found hooks' theory to be overwhelmingly comforting. It came at a time when I was trying to make sense of what was happening to my body and how it was being perceived. It especially came at a time when I found out the guy I had been seeing had a white girlfriend and was sleeping with me to finally make his fantasy of fucking black girls come true (wasn't I lucky to be the first?). As a mixed-race girl, I also found it unsettling that the colour of my skin allowed people to label me as "Black," or as something tropical and exotic -- it was always one of the two. I was getting sick of being approached at bars by white men, changing their pick up line from "Are you an angel? 'Cause it looks like you fell outta heaven." to "I love black people. I have black friends, you know -- now can I take you home?"
Sometimes it was more of an excited squeal, a wide-eyed gawk, their hands shaking as they coyly tried to place their hands on my ass, exclaiming, "I've never danced with a black girl before," looking at me the same way one would attack a Quarter (Dark Meat) Chicken Dinner at Swiss Chalet. Dressing up in cheetah print made it worse. My skin colour and mixed heritage had given me a label I didn't like -- that "Black" girl at the bars, that "Island girl" on the bus. Nobody knew what I was, so I was immediately placed in a stereotypical category that both separated me from others and made me mysterious. I was always that girl, not just a girl.
After months of self-hatred, feeling dirty inside and out and wondering what I was doing wrong, I finally started to come to terms with what was happening around me. Being a racial minority female in a city of racially dominant men made me exotic. I was a hot coloured commodity in a rather colourless city, because they had so few "people like me." The exotification of women comes from being that racialized woman -- the Other kind of woman who does not carry "white" features or practices "white" culture.
It is not a compliment, because like eroticization, it sexualizes, objectifies and racializes the female body, jamming it into a tight space where hypersexuality, primitiveness, danger, temptation and difference are forced upon us. The exotification of the racialized body is a way for non-racialized subjects to, like hooks reminds us, come to know themselves. By casting coloured women as different, they maintain the status quo of race and sex dominance while marginalizing, sexualizing, and dehumanizing coloured women.
This is not to say I have become the mad mixed woman in the attic and have cast off all white men. It's also not to say that this can't happen with all races of men -- I just have yet to find an interracial relationship where my difference isn't at the forefront. I have yet to find that guy who hasn't used me to see if sleeping with me makes him a new man, or a guy who hasn't made the wretched "I love black people" disclaimer upon meeting me.
Maybe I'm just looking in the wrong place. But I am speaking to something more structural than just the colour of my skin and people's reactions to it; I am talking about privilege, racism, colonialism -- systems and institutions of power and hierarchy that allow for women of colour to be exotified and Othered; to be treated as sex objects and animals instead of humans. To be treated by non-coloured men as cheapened territory that becomes a game of conquering. Until I find that guy and regain my trust in white men, I've saved myself from being checked off someone's "To Do" list again. And although I could be missing out, it's a good feeling to know I'm finally in control. And it feels great.
Wouldn't we all love for this one to be true? Many experts and studies have found that about <a href="http://www.marieclaire.com/sex-love/advice/sex-question-orgasm-problems" target="_hplink">70% of women do not have orgasms from (heterosexual vaginal) intercourse alone</a> (without external clitoral stimulation). This clearly contradicts all the sex scenes we watch on television or in movies where it appears that everyone can climax on demand. (Which is really a shame because that would be nice.) So if you have been wondering what's wrong with you... well, absolutely nothing at all. We are not built the same as men, but the lens through which we talk about sex (or see it) is often male. Many of us wind up feeling badly if our experiences don't match our expectations -- or we start to question the prowess of our partner (but that's another blog post altogether). And don't get me started on pornography -- it can certainly be entertaining, but hardly represents reality. That aside, yes, there are some women who suffer from medical conditions that make orgasm (and even intercourse) difficult or impossible. However, the majority of women are not experiencing sexual dysfunction; we just haven't been given great sex education.
I always find it interesting that we seem to have a hierarchy of sex behaviors. Consider the rationalization:<em> I can have oral or anal sex but it's not really sex so I don't have to count it as having a sex partner. Or I can do this and still be considered a virgin. Or</em>... you get the point. And to complicate matters, depending on who you ask, that hierarchy may change. So here are a few thoughts: All forms of sex are sex. They are all intimate personal behaviors with the capacity for great pleasure and if practiced without protection, the potential for certain negative outcomes, too. Did I convince you? If not, try this: Sex is not just for straight people, which is basically what we're saying when we suggest that vaginal intercourse is the only true form of sex.
In my eleventh grade health class, our teacher showed us photos of penises and vulvas (notice I did not say vagina?) ravaged by sexually transmitted infections. My health class probably wasn't unique. Lots of us were shown these photos as a means of curbing our sexual behavior. Did it work? Nope. It actually backfired. I remember my fellow students squirming in their seats. "That's disgusting!" they screamed as they looked at images of cauliflower-like warts and oozing blisters. While on the surface it may sound like a great way to scare us out of any or all sexual activity, it didn't (shocking, I know). What it actually did was incorrectly teach us that sexually transmitted infections have visible (and quite grotesque) symptoms. (They don't, most of the time.) The fact is, you cannot tell if a partner has a sexually transmitted infection just by looking at their genitals. The only way to know for certain is for you and your partners to get tested.
In addition to not having enough time for conversation, doctors don't always know how to bring up sex in their short time with you. How do I know? I've conducted numerous medical school lectures in an effort to help future medical professionals in this department. But don't just take my word for it. In the last few years there has been some scientific discussion about about how our physicians lack the skills and confidence to talk to patients about sex. In a study published in the <a href="http://www.livescience.com/19230-sex-talk-doctor-office.html" target="_hplink">March 2012 issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine</a>, researchers at the University of Chicago Department of Medicine explored how (and if) 1,150 OBGYNs (people who are literally handling our sexual and reproductive body parts) were broaching issues of sexuality in their practices. Even within the field of obstetrics and gynecology, only 40% of physicians routinely asked about sexual problems; 28.5% asked about sexual satisfaction. Pleasure, sexual orientation and sexual identity were discussed even less than that. In a <a href="http://journals.lww.com/academicmedicine/Fulltext/2010/08000/Medical_Student_Sexuality__How_Sexual_Experience.17.aspx#" target="_hplink">2010 study published in Academic Medicine</a>, researchers explored how experience and medical school education impacted medical students' comfort in talking about sexuality. Over 53% of medical students felt that they did not receive enough training in how to approach issues of sexuality with patients. So it is clear that while sexual health should be a subject talked about in the doctor's office, it is sorely lacking
No. No no no no, and no. But by the way, if you fantasize about other women and do identify as a lesbian, that's totally cool. Do we have to discuss (yet again) the role that fantasies play in our lives? I must admit, I'm getting tired of having to justify the fact that women have a myriad of fantasies -- some of which may not fit the good girl image that people may have of us. Nonetheless, thinking about someone or something doesn't mean that you want to act it out in real life; it's possible, but not definite. And by the way, I know many (let me repeat, many) heterosexual women who enjoy all sorts of lesbian erotica and pornography and are quite fulfilled by their heterosexual sex lives.
So maybe this isn't a myth, but rather, a frustrating social commentary. It seems like we devote lots of science to demystifying the female orgasm. We contest how many types of orgasms there are, whether or not they even exist, where they may or may not come from and their evolutionary purpose; we even question women's experiences with orgasm if theirs doesn't match ours. While I do believe that science should explore all aspects of human sexuality, I often question how and why we choose to focus (quite frequently) on female orgasms. I find that what this conversation does is delegitimize what many women experience. Who am I (or anyone else for that matter) to tell someone that they didn't experience an orgasm in a particular way? Orgasms are subjective and there is no one (no one) who will ever be able to know what you felt and how or where you felt it.
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