“Most men would no longer enjoy conversing with most women if they stopped bringing their vaginas along.” ― Mokokoma Mokhonoana
About two months ago, during one of my reflective moments, I randomly thought about sex and its impact on intimate relationships nowadays. I wanted to understand what would be the status of most relationships in the absence of sex. I wondered, in this patriarchal society in which we live, how much value we can still attach to women if we did not hold them to the standard at which they utilize and manage their vaginas.
Interestingly, this connection transcends intimate relationships and takes effect even in the larger social, corporate and political environments. Whether we highlight harassment, economic disadvantage, workplace discrimination or systemic oppression, there seems to be some sort of connection with the female vagina.
About a month ago, I encountered a guy from Pakistan on a tour bus around Doha City. We both were sleeping over for our connecting flight. Soon, I introduced myself to him and he did, likewise. Curious about having a first-hand account of what is happening in Pakistan as opposed to the coverage of the international media, I started a conversation that eventually led to us being ‘friends-in-transit.’ We discussed several issues from politics to security to development, then gender and women’s rights.
At the general level, he explained how there is still a structural oppression against women in parts of Pakistan. By November 2018, according to him, women were still denied access to education, work, and social amenities. My friend, who was on a four-country vacation for a month informed me, when I asked why he was not traveling with his wife, that his wife was not allowed to travel. It seemed women in his environment, as per his tradition, were not allowed to. Fascinated by this quagmire, my curiosity spewed even more inquiries about the state of affairs of women in his hometown.
Not that they were only denied from traveling, women in his family and local environment were ‘required’ to stay home at all times and manage the affairs. This is an issue Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie would warn against when she cautioned women in Dear Ajiwele to “Do it together” with their husbands as the word “father is as much a verb as a mother.” Further into our conversations, I noticed my friend’s intense attachment to his phone and social media. When I asked him to show me his wife on Facebook, he told me she could not own a phone, not to mention have social media accounts. Whenever he is away and needs to speak with his family, he does through his brother’s mobile. In my years working on gender and women’s rights issues, I have encountered and read about several of these issues, but looking in the eye of a person who was part of a system, fully implementing these acts that seem inhumane to me was shocking. Disgusting, even!
To avoid quickly casting an unfair judgement, I asked of his personal position on all of the issues he had explained. My friend proceeded to inform me that he personally thinks “women should obtain education but to a certain extent and have some of the privileges they were being denied but also to a certain extent because they are not supposed to be as their male counterparts.” These answers undermine the very equality we seek for both men and women in our world today and clearly demonstrate how violence and oppression against women continue to be a structural enigma. And to fully address this menace that does not only affect women, but the very society we men are also found,
…we need to deconstruct these age-old patriarchal structures that have outlived their usefulness and are now being perpetrated through the myth that women are inferior and should be subjected to men’s superiority.
After listening to the explanations, I was left with one question, which apparently linked to my reflection a few weeks prior: why would these women be subjected to these strict rules? I did further research on his hometown, Peshewar, and other parts of Pakistan but found no information on these accounts. There were some great news, nevertheless, about progress being made toward women’s rights and empowerment. However, it seems beyond the media promotions and supposedly supreme interventions of global organizations on these issues, they still remain ingrained into the culture. I believe a major reason for this oppression against their women over the course of time has been to maintain the male chauvinism. But equally so, assuming we hold this reason to be valid, how does the use of social media and traveling, when there are available resources, equate to undermining this concept? The answer? In his case and the case of other men he mentioned, they try to prevent their women from being attracted to men other than their presupposed husbands or husbands, which could eventually lead to them having sexual affairs and render them devalued. Simply put, to manage their vaginas. This begs the questions, “Why the fuck should an organ, belonging to a person, be used to measure their worth and value? What if these women lacked vaginas, does it mean they would be allowed all of what they are being denied because by then no ‘other men’ can get to explore it since it has a designated manager?” Ridiculous!
I was also informed that it is okay for the men to be polygamous or engage into infidelity as long as they informed their women, regardless of their consent — but the women are not allowed. This applies to most of our societies today, men are hailed and celebrated for involving into multiple sexual affairs but women are condemned when they do. This puzzled me and made me think;
…for a long time, men have had the liberty and freedom to live freely and utilize their sexual organs in ways that please them but women are subjected to societal standards of disengaging from these same acts to maintain their “values.” If it is justified for one sex, why then can’t it be for the other?
My experience working as an SGBV and Women’s Rights Ambassador for the United Nations Women Organization — UN Women Liberia and co-leading on other programs across Liberia over the last few years has given me a deeper insight on some of these cases across Liberia. In some cases in the work environment, one of the metrics upon which men think women are qualified for employment or promotion is how well they can serve with their vaginas. Regardless of how much they know and can perform, they are often faced with the problem of male engagement for transactional sex. Likewise, in some domestic settings, husbands deny their wives from working — sometimes educated women. Based on my engagements with some victims as well as perpetrators, I have gathered that they fear these women will either compete with them or have another sexual partner. And as Mel Konner would argue, these “ideologies and methods for controlling, restricting, suppressing, denigrating, and when necessary physically harming women are to have men in charge of their reproductive capacities, limit them mainly to reproductive and other subservient roles, and avoid competing with them in an open market of human effort, talent, and skill.”
In some cases of schools and other development institutions, when women or girls are identified to have a certain learning disadvantage, just as their male counterparts can, facilitators believe they should leverage their ‘vagina power’ to excel rather than actually supporting them acquire the prescribed content. A friend of mine recently wrote to me sharing her experience with a program facilitator. She mentioned that he had acknowledged her brilliance and wanted them both to collaborate for future events. After a few days, she was invited over to his room for a discussion. While she had mentally prepared for a meeting, it turned out that he instead envisioned their pending collaboration be launched not with a meeting, but with a grandeur sexual extravaganza. In addition to her note, she sent a post script that read, “you are the only one I am telling, please keep it to yourself.”
This is the extent to which we misconceptualize women and what purpose their vaginas should serve. This is the extent to which we also need to demystify that women vaginas are for them, and them alone — and their values and worth are more than how “benevolent” they can be with it. And as Mark Manson would argue, “we no longer need to use sex to fulfill our physiological and security needs. Now we can move on to using it to meet our needs for intimacy and esteem.”
Authored by Wainright Acquoi
Featured picture by OctogoStore