I’ve not long arrived home after attending a screening of “#Female Pleasure”. I found it affected me deeply – all cinema films take me into their world and it takes time to re-emerge, which is why I must stay to the end of the credits, if not longer. Ideally, a companion to dissect the film with afterwards helps, too.
After this one… my first desire was to go buy a beer, or a second beer, I should say: the first I had during the film, just for the novelty of it that I’m still not over. But the second, that started to feel more like a desire to numb out, so I decided not to. Then, a desire not merely to eat, because I was hungry so many hours after lunch, but to tear at food, preferably meat, with my teeth. Yet it isn’t some dead animal flesh I really wanted; or it would not, in any case, sate what lies beneath the need to nourish my body.
Rage. Underneath these surface desires and signals from my body, which it seems to have taken me much of my life already to learn how to hear: rage. Were it possible to tear at human flesh with my fangs and my claws, I would turn that desire on those who perpetrate misogyny. Better yet – those who enshrined the subjugation of women in patriarchal religious systems. I would, I think, commit murder if it meant I could stop what is being done to women, what has been done to us for hundreds and thousands of years. What we have also done to each other in an effort to adjust to our place in society, to fit in and be good little girls, to not have the violence land on us but to stay safe and live another day. There is not a woman alive who has not been subjected to violence, discrimination, devaluation, solely because she is a woman; would that there were a place where we are free to be human beings, equal to all other human beings and able to unfold our human potential, but I can’t think of one. So I feel rage, and grief, and frustration, anger, misery, hopelessness, but mostly rage.
I feel it because I love women. I love them in every way: they, we, are beautiful to me, every one of us. I admire our courage that means we keep going, we keep trying to build a better world that we can birth our children into. We are wise, and funny, and sensual, and strong, and resilient. We are, most of us, not like men: we exist in a world that is built for them, but we carve our own paths wherever we can. And at our glorious best, we support and uplift each other as sisters, we mother each other when the women who gave birth to us cannot, and we heal what is broken in each other. Although I spent a long time trying to love men as well, as it turns out, I do not. I cannot move past the cataclysmic rage that I carry, and in the end, I only compete to be “the better man” – and I win. I emasculate. And I wish, sometimes, I had more than words to do it with.
From this love of women stems my incomprehension how anyone, anywhere, at any time, could have decided that women are lesser. Misogyny is outrageously offensive to me: it conflicts with one of my most deeply held beliefs. I also tried to be a good little liberal and acknowledge that all human beings matter, that we should love the person and not their gender or their genitals, and that anyway all of it is just a construct, i.e. made up. Obviously there is some truth to these assertions: I, too, have experienced Oneness with All (another of my most formative experiences as a young person), and of course I know that all dichotomies must fall in the face of that. But. BUT. The stark injustice of what is being done to women BECAUSE we are women gets me every time: I cannot and will not move past it to be “reasonable”. The way women are treated, in societies, cultures and religions, is not “reasonable”. The way we are taught to hate and mistrust our bodies is not “reasonable”. The violence enacted on us is not “reasonable”. It has quite simply got to stop, and we must have our time to grieve and heal, and then maybe we can talk about “reasonable”. For now, and perhaps the rest of my life, my love and support and spare cash goes to women and my own healing.
So what is this film that has catalysed me into writing? Well, #Female Pleasure is a documentary by Barbara Miller, a Swiss filmmaker, in which she interviews five women and films them going about their lives and their work. These five all come from different countries and cultures and from five major world religions; each of them has come to be critical of the role religion has played in subjugating women. They are: Deborah Feldman, who grew up a Hasidic Jew in the US, leaving the community and religion after an arranged marriage because she didn’t want to bring up her child in this environment; she wrote a book about her experience and continues to engage with the impact of Judaism on women. Leyla Hussein, who comes from a Somalian and Muslim background, has been subjected to FGM, and now works globally to end the practice, fuelled by her desire to protect her daughter. Rokudenashiko, a Japanese artist who works with moulds and 3D prints of her vulva, for which she has been arrested and taken to court on a charge of obscenity; it is not clear whether she is part of Shinto religion but its practices, especially around publicly celebrating phalli, are contrasted with her art. Doris Wagner, who was raped when she was a Catholic nun and found that nobody believed or supported her, much less engaged with the issue of systemic abuse in the church; she went on to write a book about her experiences, having realised that any change can only be forced onto the church by public scrutiny, and now lives a secular life with a husband and child. Vithika Yadav from India runs Love Matters, a website working towards equality for women and better information for both men and women about sex, consent, and relationships, mostly taboo topics in Hindu society.
The film seems to be an independent release; the bulk of it is in English with German subtitles, while the parts about Wagner are just in German. I’m not sure where it has been released, apart from Germany on a fairly limited run; but if you can catch it, I would recommend doing so. Better yet: get outraged about misogyny, too, and help me build a better world.