In 1899, a private journal that belonged to Gaspard Gourguard, a French soldier, was published. In his 9th of January 1817 entry, Gourduard had transcribed French leader, Napoleon Bonaparte as saying among other things,” … in reality, women are nothing more than machines for making children.”
It is a shockingly impudent statement but has remained an unarticulated running principle for the modern world. In fact, Hakio Yanagisawa, who was a Japanese health minister unabashedly called women “birth giving machines” as late as 2007. These are just two men of many others who have either expressed or secretly subscribe to the same beliefs. Patriarchy, after all, reduces women to their wombs and then tries to control the functioning of those wombs. It derives its power from sexual control.
Commenting on the oppressive condition of women’s sexuality in a patriarchal world, the International Centre for Human Rights as quoted by Maureen Kambarami in the Undertanding Human Sexuality Series says, “Many cultures express leniency on male sexual behaviour but are very proscriptive when it comes to female sexual behaviour.”
Many African cultures have more rules governing the condition of womanhood yet the same do not exist. Young women have stricter curfews, weightier responsibilities and an overall difficult standard of good behaviour to attain. Men, on the other hand, are given the room to make mistakes while women are expected to tolerate those mistakes to prove their character. The unfairness does not lie in the face of the differing regulations but in the influencing philosophy: sex. Women’s sexuality is a threat to the world’s patriarchal foundations and the rules are therefore created to contain the “lethal threat to society” that is women’s sexuality. Therefore, where men are praised for sexual conquests, women are shamed and branded prostitutes for the same behaviour to dissuade them from being like men.
There is a greater focus on women’s chastity in sexual relationships with younger women being expected to be virgins until marriage in the Yoruba culture (as an example). This is the concept of ibale which in the Shona culture affects the social standing of the lady’s family. In the Shona culture of Zimbabwe, the son-in-law does not pay the “mombe yechimanda” to the girl’s family if she is not a virgin and she may be abused in the marriage for having been a non-virgin. Men are therefore owed “sexual discipline” and it is not wrong to say they own female sexuality. They owe nothing in the manner of sexual behaviour in return.
If patriarchy is built on sex, then male dominance in every conceivable sector is built on sex too. Sex therefore becomes a political, economic and even social currency. According to Almog and Yefet, heterosexual sexual activity can be taken as occurring in a market in which sex constitutes a resource and where female sexuality is of significantly greater value than male sexuality. Women are, therefore, expected to convert their ownership of the sexual resource into other forms of symbolic capital and into economic and social power yet that is not the case.
The female power has been choked by sexual stricture and absurd rules that serve no other purpose but to keep oppressing women. Almog and Yefet argue that the system is a humiliation scale with the most sexually expressive women attracting the most humiliation and the “decent” and submissive wives, the least. Women who dare have and respect their sexual desires are branded sluts yet men who do the same are the studs of the world.
The world looks keen to keep hiding behind the conveniently dark curtains of culture and religious dogma in justification of sexist rules that make female sexual expression a taboo. It is shameful in the 21st century that women are still being reduced to their reproductive system…which system they do not even own.
It is shameful that men still define what females can and cannot do with their bodies and even more shameful that society maintains its double standards. Women should be allowed to own themselves, their sexuality and their manner of expressing it. A woman’s nature is not so vulgar that it needs some external control to make it tolerable but even if it was vulgar, it is not men’s place to control female sexuality.