The Women’s Revolution, as we have come to know it, began with sex.
Historically, mainstream religious doctrines have always forbidden women having sexual relations before marriage, but by the 1920s this started to lose its hold, with 10 percent of women having sex before marriage. By the 1950s this statistic rose to 40 percent and a decade later to 80 percent[i]. If we surveyed girls today, it would be rare for a girl to be a virgin on her wedding night at all.
In the 1950s women generally married in their early twenties. Those not married by the age of twenty-five were often viewed outrageously as damaged goods, sick, neurotic, to be avoided or viewed as immoral or unwanted. The pressure to wed would have been felt deeply by these young girls, and to rub salt into the wound even further, a national best seller[i] made the case that it was dangerous to allow single women to teach young children and called for an outright ban on their employment.
During this decade and many before, survival of the nuclear family depended on men being the providers and women tending to the home and children, but in the 1940s this changed when women joined the workforce while men served in the war. When the men returned, many women were forced to relinquish their positions and return to full-time domestic duties. For some, the taste of physical, social and financial freedom was difficult to give up. Placid mothers of the fifties began to tell politicians they wanted their daughters to graduate from college, go to work, and hold off on getting married. The inner rumblings of change had begun.
Having sex before marriage during the 1950s always came with a risk – pregnancy – and this could ultimately lead to illegal and unsafe abortion, a shotgun wedding, forced adoption, or single motherhood where the child was deemed ‘illegitimate’.
The first birth control pill went onto the market in the 1960s and it revolutionised life for women all over the world. The Pill was reliable, controlled by the woman herself and did not require the permission of her sexual partner. Within only a few years, millions of women were on the Pill, taking responsibility for their fertility[i].
Men, of course, benefited from this newfound sexual freedom but for them the change was not a big deal, for although the Church forbade sex before marriage, single men had always been able to avail themselves to sexual relations. To their benefit, the sexual revolution lowered the risk of accidental fatherhood and unwanted marriage, so it was welcomed at any rate.
The Pill allowed women to delay marriage and motherhood, while remaining sexually active. Women took advantage of these added carefree years to improve their position in the labour market.
For the first time in modern history, women were allowed to choose whether to dispense with men, or with marriage altogether, without giving up on sex, children or a loving relationship. Of course, most women continued to choose relationships with men, to marry men and have children with men, but they had a choice and this was liberating.
The nuclear family changed as a result of the changes in the economy in the 1970s, combined with other monumental social changes such as the Pill, the sexual revolution, feminism, increased levels of education for women and men and more acceptance of homosexuality. By the year 2000, the average family had only two children, one out of two marriages ended in divorce, mothers were generally in the workforce, and almost a third of the children were being raised by a single parent or an unmarried couple[i].
And now, here we are well into the 21st century, and what a great time to stop and reflect on where we are as women. --- - Where did the sexual revolution get us? - Are we where we want to be as women? - Are we living life in our fullness and do we feel amazing and vital in our day-to-day lives? - Are our relationships with partners and husbands intimate, delicate and beautiful and, in fact, while we are asking, how is our relationship with ourselves?
The milestones women have made during the 1900s are significant and we live the freedoms and benefits that we have today as a result of women before us who have paved the way. Many continue to advocate equality for women, but perhaps it’s time for each of us to stop and have an honest look at our lives.
Many women in my circle are not loving life, radiating joy nor enjoying living who they are. They are going through the motions, ticking the boxes of what a ‘successful’ woman must do, but they are burdened by the pressures of over-responsibilities and not living true to themselves.
All of this is in line with observations from numerous sources, including a study completed in 2010 by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention indicating women were more likely than men to:
often feel very tired or exhausted
twice as likely from 18-44 years to feel exhausted[ii, iii]
and that 49% of women state their stress has increased over the past five years[iii]
In this day and age, women are expected to be superheroes:
to work and develop a career,
continue to maintain the home,
pay personal bills and budget for the family,
be a great mother,
ensure the children do their homework,
taxi them to tutors,
sports practice and other commitments,
be a ‘good’ wife – lovely and attentive,
an amazing chef,
a sexual goddess in the bedroom,
go to the football,
jump to the needs of elderly parents,
and don’t forget the pets . . . and in all of this perhaps we have forgotten what it is that we need for ourselves.
What is the quality of life that we REALLY want to be living? What would we say No to if only we had the courage to honour ourselves and let the world fall away, as it should as a result?
The trouble is, that whilst the world can put upon us as women as many expectations, beliefs and ideals as it feels it can, even if contradictory to nature – it is each of us that buys into it. We don’t want to feel guilty for not living up to these expectations, so we push ourselves and avoid the criticism from other people who may point the finger. And even if we are not judged by another, perhaps our judgment of ourselves is harsh enough.
When I was a young girl in the 1980s, most had sex in their teenage years. No-one questioned saying No, we just inherited the way it was from those before us. No-one was having the tender discussion about truly honouring yourself and your body and only making love with a boy when it felt true and when there was a deep level of respect, intimacy and trust.
From conversations with young girls today, this hasn’t changed at all, but they have, just like in my era, shut down from their naturally tender, sensitive and delicate way.
We were given autonomy over our own bodies – to cherish and nurture – but as women we continue to sell out to an empty need that has us giving our bodies away in the lure of attention – not love, just attention. The movies have not supported us to love ourselves dearly, repeatedly showing scenes of women falling into the arms of a man and engaging in sex, but also longing to be loved. In the movie scene the man ‘appears’ to ‘love’ the woman, but how many times have women fallen for this in real life but to be left feeling the empty feeling inside. It wasn’t what she had hoped, and she prays that the attention might satisfy her enough, which usually it does not. Give the relationship enough space, and the cracks will form where the foundation is not solid.
In our focus for equality for women, perhaps we have buried something very special that we each know exists within – our sacredness.
We look for the man or our partner to honour our sacredness and it saddens us when they do not give to us what we so long for. And yet, isn’t it our responsibility to honour our own bodies and to choose to share it with another on our own terms, this is not referring to domination within the bedroom nor using sex to control, but deeply honouring and living true to the love that we are.
When we treat ourselves as less than this, we invite by open invitation all others to treat us in this way and so the cycle of lovelessness continues.
Isn’t it time for a true women’s liberation movement – and that revolutionary shift starts with each of us?
It’s a moment of honesty and an openness with ourselves to take the necessary steps to reclaim our lives and to live Love in its true essence and expression.
A love that starts with us having a loving relationship with ourselves first.
If we don’t stop and feel where we are at in our own lives and let go of any guilt or judgment on ourselves; if we don’t stop bowing down to societal pressures to be a certain way; if we don’t draw a line in the sand and say “this is my marker of Love and I will accept no less”; if we don’t begin to honour our bodies and pull back when it calls us to be more still; then we are setting our girls up in the next generation for a life of more disconnection than our own.
This is the real women’s revolution that is beckoning us forward – this is where our real power as women will come to the fore.
*First published on Unimed Living