The problem was, she didn’t know what she wanted. She had never had an orgasm. (“Never? No self exploring? No boyfriend pillows?” “No.”)
It makes me wonder sometimes just how misinformed Muslim women may be about the workings of their own bodies, and just how correct those Media stereotypes are.
As she mentions in her post, Muslims in the past had always been very sex-positive and referenced sex quite liberally in literature and poetry. Somehow over the years we’d become more and more restricted in our approach to sex.
This didn’t bother me growing up. I wasn’t really a sexual person, at least not as early as a few of my friends. I had a curiosity of how I looked, but had no desire to self-explore. I was also afraid of hurting myself. I won’t know what I’m doing I’d think, if I get married I’m better off letting him to do it.
Looking back, I’m a little horrified that I ever thought that someone else would know better what to do to me than I would know myself. It was not only a dangerous assumption but an unrealistic, unfair expectation. And I have no idea where it came from. It must have been communicated to me somehow, that I–a woman–was not skilled or intelligent enough to know my own damn vagina. That a man would be able to do it better.
My mother never spoke to me about masturbation. To this day, I’m not even sure if she knows what it is. I definitely am not going to ask her. Not because she wouldn’t answer–she’s talked about [marital] sex with me before in passing–but because I simply wouldn’t know how to bring it up… or define it comfortably: I suspect the physical act wouldn’t horrify her as much as the notion of arousing thoughts, which would make things awkward for the both of us. But as she never even mentioned it to me, I’m pretty sure I didn’t gather this idea of he’ll know what to do better from her. Somehow I’d come to understand it to be truth through society itself, which doesn’t surprise me. It’s amazing how the values of society can penetrate through to even the most sheltered lives–I only ever watched PBS on TV, rarely saw movies, talked to friends about amazing books like the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and engaged in imaginary quests to fictitious lands that involved fighting dragons. And yet I had this prevalent, sexist impression that I should just let a man do it because he’d magically know what he was doing better than I did–because I’m just a woman with an inferior woman-brain and might end up hurting myself.
In the ninth grade–high school, age 14–I decided to look. I should know what I look like, I thought. I hadn’t “sexually awoken” yet, so I had no desire to do anything else. I was also indefatigably curious. I was considering majoring in biology. It bothered me when I didn’t know something. Everyone should know everything! was my mentality. So I tried to position myself in front of a mirror so that I could look. It took effort.
Once I finally managed to succeed, I only became more frustrated. Why was I “different”? Why can’t I find anything? Why don’t I look like the textbook says I should?
Unfortunately, this only confirmed my earlier mentality: that I didn’t know what I was looking at, because I’m just not capable of understanding, that someone else could do it better. It’s because I’m not a doctor, I thought.
Of course, the truth is that textbook illustrations are so generic they are practically inaccurate. The truth is that every woman looks different. The truth is that women have been robbed of the knowledge of their own bodies, told that they didn’t know what they were talking about or what was best for them–not only anatomically but in the history of pregnancy and midwifery. “Fine… it’s a little early, but I’ll just get the caesarean section two weeks before I’m actually supposed to give birth because the doctor says so, and they know best! It must really not be typical/healthy that I haven’t delivered yet.”
To this day, I still don’t know where anything is, but it’s not something that really occupies me like it seems to other people. And that is fine and nothing to be self-conscious of–sexuality is a spectrum. I didn’t try again for a long time, mostly because I feel it takes too much effort to even get a view (I don’t own a hand mirror–I should really get one) and everything seems way too indistinguishable. And it’s uncomfortable.
At 16, the fantasies began. I didn’t do it on purpose. They sort of crept in. And at first, I resisted. I felt guilty. I apologized to God. They didn’t involve anyone I knew, or anyone who existed, but men who could possibly exist. He was flawed. (Originally, I typed “they were flawed” but it felt strange, because it was really…. one person. [Probably because I’m clingy, maybe?] But as different characters. And yet they were different people. Does that make sense?) I’m a writer now and I was a writer then, so “characters” seem probable. Sometimes we argued, like characters do when I write (and later I was informed this was healthier than fixating on a real person). They might have been different parts/possibilities of one person, but still whole. Either way, I felt overwhelmingly embarrassed and resisted. It didn’t happen often, once in a while, late at night, but every time it did–What does God think of me? I thought abashedly.
God, of course, created me this way. And I hadn’t known it then, but eventually discovered, that there was no shame. The amazing thing is, is that the religious leaders in my community told me this. “We are made to be attracted to each other,” they said. “It’s okay to have these thoughts and feelings.” Yet somehow, it still didn’t get through to me until much later. Instead I became frustrated with what I saw as a human flaw, a barricade from goodness and proof of impurity.
That is how much of an impact dominant society mentality can have. You see, I also believed that I, a woman, did not deserve to desire. Men get to do that. Not women. We don’t choose, we are chosen. So stop being so self-absorbed in thinking you have any right to want anything from anyone!
What’s almost tragic is that if I had known this was what I was feeling I would haven been able to correct it immediately. At the time, I was familiar with gender injustice and even actively fought for equality. But I didn’t know, didn’t realize that this horrible sexist concept was the underlying process of my subconscious thought. All I knew was that I felt very insecure, and very guilty, and very undeserving. I had a key, but didn’t know I had a key, and didn’t know which lock to fit it.
Three or so years later, I attempted self-exploration, because orgasms are awesome apparently. Searching myself, it felt uncomfortable rather than pleasurable, and I haven’t really the desire to try again, because I am quite happy with indulging in only fantasies on those rare occasions. I think that, for me, what must be essentially moving is words and concepts and thoughts rather than physicality, and it is the meaningfulness of the actions that make them passionate. I sort of know this because, a couple of times, I’ve woken up mid-orgasm–and the first time it happened I was terrified. It was too much, overwhelming. And I did it without even doing anything, physically, to myself. I don’t even know what I’d been dreaming about.
Well it doesn’t terrify me anymore, and while I still know nothing about the workings of my own body or where anything is, the insecurity and embarrassment is gone. I know not to feel guilty for sexual thoughts. Thank you, Islam. And thank you, feminism.