A few years ago I did a course called Dancing Eros, where we explored feminine sexual archetypes through embodiment and dance. I’m talking sacred sexuality. Not sexiness. Real, earthy, gritty sexuality. Sensuality. (Don’t get me wrong – learning strip tease and burlesque can be awesome for your confidence. But this was very different work.) This was work that you did for yourself.
This shit can be scary, because to truly own your sexuality as a woman, means allowing yourself to be both truly vulnerable and truly powerful. Not many of us have been taught how to do that. It’s a tricky thing to negotiate, but it turns out that sexual empowerment demands no less than complete surrender to the deepest parts of ourselves. There is no hiding. No masks. No roles. No more emotional armouring to keep us safe.. We need to give that shit up. We need to become naked in a way that goes far beyond the shedding of clothing.
It was quite challenging for me to engage in this work, but I recognised it as an important part of healing my sexual wounds, to make sure that I was able to model something a little bit healthier for my daughter. To prepare for this course, by far the biggest work was to allow myself to be vulnerable. I realized that following my divorce, I had developed a kind of protective force-field in place to keep men away from me. The thing was, it wasn’t keeping all the men away. Only the good ones. The shitty ones who don’t respect boundaries aren’t much put off by anything, so once I decided I was ready to consider dating again, that’s the only attention I was getting. I needed to take that force-field down. It was quite a realization for me that in order to really keep myself safe, I first had to allow myself to soften.
It turns out the most sexually empowered women actually have the softest and most open of hearts. Not an easy thing to achieve in a world where 1 in 4 women is sexually assaulted during her lifetime, and then blamed for it. In a world where fear and suppression make sexual expression come with a side of guilt, shame and judgement. And yet, here in the heart of Melbourne, such creatures are quietly being forged. Shedding their conditioning and self hatred, and learning to trust themselves enough to become truly open and connected. And discovering the strength and power required to live that way.
Here’s the thing. We live in this bizarre society which increasingly sexualises women and children (by objectifying them), while simultaneously shaming and suppressing them for being sexual.
Every woman wants to feel beautiful and desirable. And we are bombarded by the advertising of products to help make us feel this way. But it is not actually safe to feel beautiful. You get attacked! Sometimes literally. Sexual assault is alarmingly high. And anyone even remotely attractive would have experienced the nasty sense of entitlement that is felt by some men. That pretty much equates to “You’ve turned me on, so now I have a right to your body.”
We are attacked by other women. I saw it when I was growing up. If you were caught thinking that you were attractive, then you were up yourself. You were pretty quickly cut down. I remember a girl in high school who was quietly beautiful, and graceful from years of dance training. Her exquisite posture made her breasts display quite prominently, and she was actually teased for this! As though it was something she was doing deliberately to make others feel bad. And the inference was certainly that she should stop doing it. I hope she didn’t. Her loveliness was a gift. And she was not the least bit conceited. All I ever saw of her was very gentle and sweet. What a shame to dim that light.
We are attacked by our own mothers, so that we don’t outshine them. So that we are not judged. So that we are “safe”. There are many motivations for these behaviours, which keep us small. What a shame we were never lovingly coached to appreciate ourselves instead, and to support and appreciate each other. To recognise the unique, inherent beauty that is present in every woman.
Objectifying means making you a “thing”, rather than a person. We do it all the time, if we feel hurt or threatened by someone. We create a label for them. A bitch. A slut. A control freak. It makes it much easier for us to lash out at them. To justify making them a target for our anger or frustration. Instead of looking at ourselves.
This is the world our daughters are growing up into. Let’s change the pervading attitudes towards women. And towards sexuality, for that matter. Let’s notice what is happening and take charge of the dialogue around women’s bodies. Let’s guide our young women towards harmonious, loving relationships with the body they live in. Let’s not just play out the hand that was dealt to us. Let’s completely change the narrative in our own heads. Because it starts with every one of us. Have a good look at yourself, and keep looking until you find the things that make you beautiful. Stop looking for your flaws. Draw your focus to something more empowering and useful to all women. And to men, for that matter.
The ancients had a much better understanding and reverence for feminine energy. Ancient priestesses used dance as a transmission of divine emanations/life force. When men came back from war, they would go into sacred ritual with the temple dancers, to be healed and integrated back into society and their families. They were the conductors of sacred feminine energies. The keepers of the creative force. What the hell happened? How did we get from there to here? And how can we shift things back? Courses like Dancing Eros are certainly helping. And books like “The Keys To The Kingdom” by Alison Armstrong, which help to shed light on the dynamic between men and women in the modern age, and help us discover better ways of understanding and communicating with each other.
I’m off to do more research on this topic. I’m fascinated to learn more about the nature of feminine sexuality. It’s my legacy to my daughter, to lead her towards a healthy sense of self, as she grows towards womanhood.
*Pic by Vic Natoli.