– Is your ring a little lady?”
– Why, yes. Yes it is.”
Later, different person:
– Is it a penguin?”
If people want to believe that my ring represents a little lady, a penguin or the Big Bang, then who am I to make the decision to shatter their dreams? Nonetheless, my ring is not actually a little lady or a penguin (and probably not what you think of when you picture the Big Bang). It is a stylized anatomically correct representation of a clitoris that was created by New-York based designer PenelopiJones. And man, do I love it.
To be frank, though, I think it would have been much funnier if they had called it the Clit-O-Ring, but it might already have been taken, probably by Durex or Spencer’s.
I do not wear it to shock people or to flip a (not so) metaphorical finger at them. In most cases, people do not stare at my hands, let alone ask me what it is. I do not wear it because I am a sex-addict. I do not wear it because I am a feminist maniac (hint: those do not actually exist). I wear it the same way I only answer emails that address me as “Ms.” I wear it because I grew up in a culture in which women were (and still are) denied all forms of agency — including sexual agency — and in which your biological sex by and large determines the range of choices that you are going to be offered in life. I did not grow up in Beijing in the early twentieth century, or in Kabul in the 2000s, but in Belgium, Western Europe (Capitalist Inc. ®), circa 1995.
I belong to the post-eighties generation. When I was a child, David Bowie was not performing as androgynous anymore: he even had a goatee . Madonna had got rid of her sexual independence phase and was in the middle of a Kabbale-ish existential crisis. Even Cher was not a gay icon anymore. Freddie Mercury was dead. Britney Spears was about to sexualize schoolgirls worldwide (as if they needed it). I do not remember seeing on telly any lady whose armpits were not perfectly shaven. Nope. No ambivalence for the children of the nineties. When it came to gender issues, our role models were as stereotyped as those of the kids of the 1950s were (and then you wonder why we, thirty-somethings, are fascinated with Mad Men).
To be fair, I do not know how it could happen given such context, but I grew up to be a feminist. I believe that we need to get rid of patriarchy as a system that enforces inequalities not only between genders, but also between social classes and individuals. I do not believe that women need to access the same power spheres as men: I think that those spheres have to be done away with altogether and replaced by a more egalitarian society. As Finn Mackay beautifully puts it, “Feminism is about change, not a changing of the guard.”
However, I perform as feminine, which is hardly surprising when you are a cisgender straight woman. The keyword here being perform and I reclaim it from a non-binary gender identity standpoint. I choose to wear lipstick and nail polish and winged liner. I do enjoy it. I am no less a feminist when I wear make-up or heels. It makes it obvious that I am a woman (by conventional old-fashioned standards anyway), which is part of my personal manifesto because I work in a place where women tend to mimic their male colleagues, as if you had to be discreet on the female side of your personality “to make it.” In other words, being a woman is all right as long as you are not too much of it. So as far as I am concerned, let there be high heels and dresses, because I am as entitled to the public and professional spaces as any of my male counterparts. In other words, I AM NOT SORRY FOR BEING A WOMAN.
What’s all that got to do with a ring that represents a clit, you’ll ask. Here is what. Endometriosis is often ignored and passes as “all part of being a woman.” Medical professionals tend to overlook pain in female patients and to tell them that their symptoms are psychosomatic (that is, emotionally induced), as found in the study The Girl Who Cried Pain: A Bias Against Women in the Treatment of Pain (2001). With nearly half of young women in the UK not knowing where their vagina is, the conclusion is easy to draw: because women lack basic education on their own bodies, they may die from diseases such as gynaecological cancer without even being able to express the pain that they are suffering, let alone be listened to. Women do not know their own bodies because they are not taught about said bodies. Because the female body is shameful and should not be mentioned.
When in 1970 my grandmother told her (male) doctor that she was worried about the fact that she was bleeding a lot outside of her period, he told her not to be hysterical about this, that she simply was going through menopause. She died of womb cancer the following year. When in 2005 my mother told her (male) doctor that she was worried about a pain in her colon, he told her not to worry, that haemorrhoids were quite common in women nearing menopause. She died of colorectal cancer in 2011. At that point, it was easy to see a pattern.
So far, I have only mentioned diseases and pain. Now, what if women actually wanted to use their bodies for pleasure? What if fruitful intercourse was not (yet another) male privilege? What if (God forbid) women did have a built-in device for pleasure only? That would be wonderful. Oh wait. They do. But then again, it would be too easy to think that all things being equal, everything is good and fine under the sky. The WHO states that more than 125 million girls and women alive today have been “cut” in the regions of the world where female genital mutilation is concentrated (which overlooks the regions where it is not concentrated but takes place all the same). The UNICEF report on female genital mutilation gives an excruciatingly heart-breaking description of the four types of cutting (p. 7), ranging from clitoridectomy to infibulation. So much, so good for pleasure.
Moreover, if you are a woman and you have managed so far to escape female genital mutilation, patronizing doctors, neglect and misdiagnoses (congratulations!), chances are that you have experienced catcalling, groping, inappropriate remarks, unsolicited innuendoes or gender stereotyping in the workplace or on the street. And if you have been particularly unlucky, you might even have browsed r/TheRedPill or what I personally believe to be an anthropological experiment, Return of Kings.
Here is a random example from r/TheRedPill (TRP). It is a rant from a guy who feels the education system has to be reformed in order for boys not to read books written by women:
Boys are being dumbed down, receiving less academic acknowledgment, and just being discriminated against in schools. Zero tolerance rules in schools are destroying boys “boyishness” by not allowing them to express their true interests which are guns, violence, and just anything your average 7 year old would be interested in from. Kids are getting expelled from schools for drawing guns, shaping things into guns, or just not acting like a lady.
I do not feel that this needs further commenting. And just for fun, here is a screenshot of the headlines of Return of Kings:
The Internet is a dark place.
If, on the other hand, you have never had to put up with all that (and it probably means that you have lived in outer space for quite some time), you have seen ads, women’s magazines, mainstream magazines and films. You have heard Blurred Lines. You have sat through unsolicited and improvised lectures by random men who mansplained you issues that you mastered better than they did in parties or at the post office (up to the point that a man tried to mansplain “mansplaining” to me on Imgur while completely missing out on the irony of the situation).
As a consequence of all this, things are not looking great for women.
The paradigm seems to be set as follows: you have to be thin (as thin as to almost entirely disappear), silent, obedient, yet pretty and sexy. At no point it has been said that you could be clever, or original, or powerful. Womanhood seems to be doomed on so many levels it is difficult to name them all. The picture is quite gloomy.
However, feminism is a battle that cannot be won in the darkness of a testosterone-ridden battlefield. It is not only about grim facts and figures, anger and despair, frustration and dialectics. As far as I am concerned, I believe that we can only achieve equality by celebrating what and who we are. No more hiding. No more concealing. No more shame to ask the right questions, because a woman who knows her body is less likely to be influenced by fabricated outer conceptions of it, and ultimately, less likely to die in excruciating pain. We all have to admit, for once and for all, that being an object of desire is only acceptable if you also are a subject of desire — in other words, that women too participate in sex and do not passively lie on the bed praying The Blessed Virgin Mary for it to be over soon. Do not be afraid of the female body, dear, it does not bite.
Cliteracy, in the end, might very well make way to agency, and agency to equality. To me this ring is very much a symbol of feminism and freedom, and I wear it with pride because it reminds me of the past victories, of the current challenges to overcome and of the possibly brighter future. Above all, it reminds me that the female body is glorious — not shameful — and that being a woman is a great experience, not an accidental non-default setting.
— Is your ring a peeled banana? I wish I had one.”
I bet you do.
2. On the other hand, I obviously believe that everyone is free to perform as they feel like and all this being personal, I’m not encouraging anyone to wear make-up or any other so-called female apparatus if they do not enjoy it.