Telling Sexual Stories: Power, Change, and Social Worlds

By Ken Plummer | Go to book overview

Chapter 5

Women’s culture and rape stories

I have found my voice. Amen to that.

(Jill Saward in Rape: My Story) 1

Forty years ago, I was the victim of childhood sexual abuse. I still sleep with a gun under my pillow, get up in the middle of the night to check every noise, and to make sure doors are locked. I thank you for the courage you displayed… keep speaking out, perhaps some other person, alone, without the support of a lifemate, needs to hear your words.

(Letter to Nancy Ziegenmeyer in her Taking Back My Life) 2

Stories of female sexualities have changed dramatically over the past century. In 1890, the lives of most women were largely lodged in the stories told by and about men who simultaneously denied women any autonomous sexuality whilst turning them into obscure objects of desire. Those women’s stories that did exist in the world of diaries and autobiographies—which may well have been at that time a more feminine mode of writing—were often lost, silenced or interrupted. 3 Yet by 1990, a generation of women had produced an array of new stories with their own autonomous desires and bodies at the centre. New stories of ‘liberating masturbation’ and ‘female pleasures’; tales of women’s erotic fantasy worlds-‘secret gardens’ and ‘forbidden flowers’; narratives which spoke of ‘total orgasm’, ‘G spots’ or desires for ‘dominance and submission’; and raunchy tales of ‘looking for soldiers’. The change was so visibly significant that some started to speak of ‘the feminisation of sexuality’. 4 If ever there was a textbook case of social constructionism—of people constructing and changing sexual meanings 5 —then it is most surely here in the active work of some women, though probably not most, building new stories of the sexual for themselves since the 1960s. A radical reconstruction of women’s lives in the western world—but especially North America—starts to appear. Note that I am not saying here that whereas women were once repressed, they have become liberated: that would presume a nineteenth-century drive awaiting a late twentieth-century release. I am saying that many groups—but particularly feminist groups—struggled to produce new stories about women’s sexualities which helped produce a multiplicity of ways for women to be, to relate to and to become sexual. Most significantly, some rescued

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