Feminists can’t decide what to do with their bodies. If they show too little, they’re allowing the patriarchy to oppress and control their sexuality. If they show too much, they’re allowing the patriarchy to exploit and take advantage of them.
Our current crop of feminists find themselves in quite a bind — a pickle felt by actress Natalie Dormer when critics of her new film In Darkness attacked its sadistic elements and “gratuitous” female nudity. Dormer, who co-wrote the thriller with Anthony Byrne and plays a sight-impaired pianist in the film, defended her artistic choices and her commitment to feminism.
“There has to be sexuality in the power play of a thriller,” she told The Guardian. “We have all got bodies, after all. In this film the sex scene, which for me was a love-making scene, is a metaphor for the way my character connects with the part played by Ed Skrein. Nakedness is a good equaliser and the shower scene also shows the tattoos on my character’s body and makes it clear she is not quite who you think.”
Dormer, known for her sexy character in Game of Thrones who was well versed in sexual power plays, is no stranger to nudity in film or its criticism. She has been praised and derided by feminists for her seductive wiles and willingness to bare it all in the name of art, exposing the long legs of the on-going debate between Sunday-school feminists and their free-sex, libertarian, porn-advocating sisters.
This tug-of-war over how a woman should use her sexuality is a lost cause, dragging both sides into the muck because the premise is wrong. They both see sexuality within the framework of power instead of an intimate relationship. They fail to understand the basic purpose of their sex in relation to men and therefore come to wrong conclusions about its function in that context.
Such a view is understandable because feminism is a reaction to a history of men abusing women’s sexuality through oppression and exploitation. Too often in the past, and still in some regions today, men either saw women’s sexuality as a threat to be subjugated or an object to be used. Instead of righting that ship, feminists have merely turned the tables on themselves, oppressing their own sexuality or exploiting it, claiming victory because at least they’re the ones in control.
They might be in control of their choices, but they are still enslaved to a determinative narrative that forces them into a mold of power and control, and when we are locked in that frame of mind, no one is free. We are still acting and reacting according to the assumed intentions of the other side and mirroring them as a result.
The feminist quest to understand the expression of a woman’s sexuality is futile because their holy grail has become unmoored from its teleos. The end purpose of sexuality is not the empowerment of the individual or an identity group. Sexuality is not meant to elevate the self but to foster community by joining with its opposite.
Masculinity that stands alone will always be alone. It might be powerful in and of itself, but it is still isolated. The same is true of femininity. Sexuality in isolation is meaningless, and when we make sexuality about power dynamics, we are separating, not joining, the two sexes. They stand apart, fighting one another for the self to hold the center.
When sexuality is joined with its opposite, the masculine with the feminine, then we have a connection of two selves. We have community. We have a relationship. This relationship is not formed of power, but of love, need, vulnerability, and desire for completion. When the quest for power is abandoned, no one is alone.
Sadly, too many feminists misinterpret the sexual tension between men and women, the masculine and feminine, as a power play. Instead of excitement, she feels fear. Instead of moving closer, she steps back. She sees it as a threat, but sexual tension only becomes “power” when one side or the other decides to use it to control the other. If both allow tension to create the bond instead of transforming it into coercion, they will be drawn to each other by a force that is mutually and equally shared.
As long as the self is at the center of their ideology and feminine power is the goal, feminists will be forever tormented by how “to be” in a world where they are in society with men. Once they take their eyes off themselves, obsessed with their own nakedness to either bare or hide it, they will see the other who completes them and find peace in the power of that connection. It will take bravery and strength, but the more women who do it, the less divided our world will be.