I'm not going to write about my mother in this post. Because she could easily take it over, and though I sat witness in the sidelines of her sexuality as a kid and suffered near-blackout discomfort about it, I interestingly developed an independent and relatively healthy sense of sexuality despite that. Almost. Actually, hearing the sounds of sex makes me light headed, nauseous from swirling embarrassment. It is instantly horrifying. Any porn I've ever watched has been on mute. Sexy breathing, even, in music or jest will give me hot flashes of rage. But god has been kind in that any noises I personally make, I am deaf to. Man, that's merciful.
So, I won't write about my mother here. Or not too much.
In my forties, I find it fascinating, and sometimes funny, remembering my history of sexuality with its accidental buoyancy and occasional pitfalls. I'm fascinated most about the whole concept of female sexuality; and I do mean concept because I'm not one of those women from say Real Sex who would go on a masturbation retreat or swing unabashedly with the neighbors. I don't even sleep naked. I don't write this post to put my sex life on display, past or present, either, but to express that my main interest in women's sexuality is purely in relation to our empowerment, our sense of freedom, our comfortableness, our confidence. Isn't this connected to our sexuality? Or more, isn't it related to not the overemphasising of it, but our lack of self consciousness about it?
This has been dangerous territory for us, hasn't it? Since the beginning of time? Because our sexuality and the appropriateness of our sexuality has always been open for judgement, which, in general, is fucked.
This grows in interest to me not just because I feel so comfortable with myself at 42,but monumentally as my daughters bud into their own. And oh lord, there's the rub; here's where the entire history of sexuality, personal and worldwide, becomes overwhelmingly important because I'm determined to make them feel at ease. And confident. And beautiful. Mostly, I want to obliterate the shame. And all this without embarrassing the shit out of us.
Handling menstruation was a first step. I mean in the mechanics of it all because the first steps start from the second they observe you, as a baby even, and they do watch. I mean, we did, right? We watched our mothers and aunties and grandmothers fumble around about themselves, sometimes gracefully and more often not. But when crushes start and they attract attention and when their flow beings, a hands-on approach goes to a new level. So, when Maya started her period, no matter how much I emphasised the shamelessness of it, Maya still felt it. I can't block the outside world and waves of perceptions, you know, which is why even the most well-adjusted kid has to be armed constantly with our reassurance. Especially in terms of their bodies and sense of self. It never ends. I knew this going into motherhood. I'm in the thick of it. I can't say I always feel prepared, but I will say I never back down from it. I can't trip on my own issues. I'll hollow myself out and get pummeled with every personal fear, secretly, to help them build their own foundation stronger.
So, tackling menstruation was not so hard, but their looming and unstoppable sexuality is on the horizon, and I'm honestly not too worried about it because it is unstoppable, it will come whether I'm of help or not so my nervousness lies more in preparing them enough. Strengthening their base enough. Eliminating enough of the shame no matter how much everything on the outside wants to injected it back in. And it started with: No, menstruating is not nasty or evil and it is what it is and you tell me what boy in school is giggling, tell me if his mother doesn't get her period. Then we'll be interested in what he thinks.
My boobs went from budding cute to god-damn! in a matter of months, the summer I turned seventeen. It was like that Skipper doll where you pulled down her arm and her boobs grew ta-dow! and then she was Barbie? That entire summer I was selected to work for a mini Peace Corp-type project on a West Indian island. The first time our group went down to the beach, I rocked a white bikini and one of my group mates, Will from the Bronx said, "I'm gonna take a picture of you for the boys back home." Unashamed, I said, "Knock yourself out." I didn't pose or look coy. I stood there, impatiently, because I wanted to get into the water. That summer I also lost my virginity, on the island. It was the influence of the sun and island breezes and the remoteness and my body bursting into curves which were photo-worthy, apparently, though my want of touch was completely an internal decision. Nothing was put upon me. I had zoomed in on a man I liked, a 23 year old from the island, who helped tour around our group. He did a double take on my interest and we connected. I did not want to be his girlfriend. I wanted the connection and the experience with him. And it was the ultimate empowerment to go after what I wanted and have the exact experience I wanted. I look back on it -- not him exactly, but the experience -- with great fondness.
That was all by accident -- or more by absence of thought or conditioning -- because on that island I was not my mother's meek shadow of a girl. I was not shackled by her overt and desperate sexuality, nor hindered by the few violations I had experienced, experiences that were not completely life-depleting, like what many of my sister-friends have experienced. I don't mean to downplay the violations against me because had they happened to my daughters I would've ripped somebody's fucking throat out, but I do know worse things have happened to so many girls, my friends included. Anyway, on the island, all that stuff fell away like cracked egg shells and I stepped out a beautiful woman, lit with a self-piloted desire.
Maya's boobs are growing. Bigger than mine at fourteen. She is unaware of how beautiful she is and unaware, for the most part, of the womanliness of her shape. She wears old tank tops where her boobs spill out and I blurt, "Dude, they're not little anymore. Might want to cover them more." And then I wonder if that embarrassed her. Or am I teaching her self respect. I do say those things in the name of self respect. Then I wonder if the whole concept of self respect (for women) is sexist.
Maya is not self deprecating because that's never been allowed in our house, and she's not very self conscious for a fourteen year old. She just Is, which makes her all the more radiant. That's not to say that's the ultimate type of beauty -- this unconscious beauty -- because Mina, at only 10, knows exactly how beautiful she is, and it is a gorgeous quality as well. She is confident and a tad wicked. I feel they are both coming down the shoot, y'know, on a tight rope and I have to teach them to stay true to what they naturally are, and let them know they are beautiful no matter how that beauty manifests which is every which way in terms of women as far as I'm concerned, and that they are just as smart as beautiful, and strong, and they don't have to be one or the other because as women we not only can have it all, but we simply ARE all. Period. And I have to do all of that when most of our outside information, and sometimes our inside information, is conflicted and jumbled and telling us otherwise.
Growing up in the center of the first-wave feminist movement, I was hardly ever told I was beautiful. That was not important. Our strength and our mind was important. And I did believe that only those things were important until I wondered if I was desirous at all or appreciated in a full spectrum kind of way. I don't believe that's solely a woman thing either because I tell my husband constantly, sincerely, how fucking beautiful I think he is, his body, his hair, his smile, and he says Thank You shyly, but I see how it revs his engines even when he appears to be the most confident dude on the planet. Our partners want to know they are desired and wanted, and so do we. So, as a kid my mother didn't like people telling her how pretty I was, which I understand in theory. At fifteen, a grocery store clerk told my mother while looking at me, "You are in such trouble in the coming years." And my mother said, "Why?" though she knew exactly what the clerk was getting at, which made the situation awkward. I laugh about it now because I did like that about my mother sometimes, when she just cut people down awkwardly, against the grain of normal thinking. But mainly, I didn't know I was beautiful for a long time, which might have been a good thing. I'm not sure. See? Confusing.
Being among the feminists of the 1970's, I did learn that whatever women wanted to wear was fine no matter what, army pants, ties, cowboy boots, but the conflicting part was their judgement against women who wanted to wear anything revealing or wanted to express their sexiness in more conventional ways. It was perceived as sexist and degrading. I told you the high heel story; how I was told high heels were invented so women couldn't run from rapists. I've never been too much of a high-heel person, but when I have worn them, I generally feel bad-ass in them, not victim-like. But when they hurt my feet, then fuck that, why wear them. Comments about how good our legs look in high heels have never had an effect on me. I feel no pressure from shit like that. Men sound like fools to me when they say things like that.
That's not to say I can't strut when I want. It's a conscious switch to my hips that makes me feel theatrically sexy. It's not to say that I can't lower my head when I walk into a room and split the air, leading with a sonic-like vibe. I don't always turn it on like that. The 70's feminist voices nag at me, about using anything physical to get attention. "What if it feels good to me?" I fight the voices. I don't think it's different from when a man knows how to stand in a room or sit in a chair with his sleeves rolled up and lower his head and split the air and fully look at someone he's attracted to in big swallows. So, I've made peace with strutting and splitting. But not while showing too much cleavage because I can't get the feminist voices out of my head about that.
I witnessed the ultimate convergence of strong feminine sexuality at an art fair once as a kid. She was a hippy type who straight-lined passed any perceptions to honest earthiness and she oozed free-spirited love. She was all hair and brown shoulders and boobs and hips in flowing skirts, but mostly she was true smiles and sparkling eyes free from judgement of herself or others. She was all acceptance. That was ultimate beauty for me as a kid.
Her, and Brigitte Bardot.
I rented And God Created Woman during high school and couldn't believe this film and this woman was not on the lips of everyone. Granted, the film was from the 1950's so most likely it was talked about then. I thought I had discovered my personal guide to sexuality, which included free dancing to live drums! and rebellion against men AND women, in all forms I knew. I wanted to be Brigitte Bardot. Inside at least I did because I was not even close to being that rebellious. I didn't share this with anyone because I wasn't sure it was ok to admit that I wanted to be sexy. My friends were athletes. My mother, a conflicted feminist. Would the feminist counsel say that the Bardot-level of sexiness was degrading? I kept it to myself, deeply buried, until I landed on a West Indian island a few summers later.
As a mother, I know that expressing ones sexuality is not the safest of endeavors, emotionally or sometimes physically. It is an exploration of dicey waters, fine lines and murky definition even though the other side, when it all connects, can be phenomenal and soul deepening. Not that I'm encouraging them to express it anytime soon obviously. I know they'll have to figure out most for themselves no matter how much I hope for nurturing and healthy experiences for them. Most of all, I do hope for that. I want them to feel good for themselves and love all aspects of being loved. I want them to cherish their role in that love. I can only think that building the base is the thing. A balanced and strong base of their womanhood and every aspect of that, inside and out, around and through. To know that the sexiest women are the ones with their shoulders back, with self-lit smiles and the eyes that spark all acceptance. Or however else they want to be.
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