Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Illegal in Alabama: Sexual Politics, Women's Rights, and Becoming an Adult

I want to say up front that this post is kind of mature. I debated for a while on whether or not to write it because some of the content might be controversial. Then again, when have I ever run from controversy? Once I thought about the topic, I knew I wanted to post. And anyone who has read my books or is a follower of this blog knows the kind of issues I tend to discuss. Still, I felt the need to warn you.


So you've been warned.

As I've mentioned before, I'm about to turn 20. It's terrifying. I mean, I have loved being a teenager so much, and while I know logically being twenty won't be so different, it still freaks me out. I'm growing up. And sometimes that's not so fun. Sometimes it kind of sucks. One way in which it sucks is that, as you get older, you become disillusioned to the world around you. This can be good, of course, but it can also be really upsetting. Sometimes you realize things that are just outright infuriating.

When I was younger, I thought we lived in a nearly perfect society. I know, I know. I was naive. As I got older, I realized that we didn't. There is a lot of hatred in the world. Senseless hatred that ruins lives. There's a lot of poverty. A lot of illness. A lot of abuse. And yet, even up until last year, I truly thought that at least people were equal in my world. Then I took sociology and I learned that, when it comes to gender, we are not.

Sure, we're more equal than we were in the fifties. Women can have jobs - great ones. Women can make choices. Women can make money. Women can go to great colleges and do things besides teach!

And yet . . .

I recently read an argument about feminism. Basically, the argument was that feminism was unnecessary because men and women were, for most purposes, equal. I strongly disagree with this, and I made some points about sex positivity and how women are victims of the virgin/whore dichotomy and how gender roles are still an epic issue. I also mentioned the recent Planned Parenthood drama in congress that threatened to take away some of women's rights.

Still, I was told that men and women were equal enough that feminism wasn't necessary. I put the debate out of my mind for a few days, and then, this afternoon, I learned something that made the issue come rushing back into my head.

And this is where the content is going to get a little more mature.

I learned (rather randomly) today that vibrators are illegal in Alabama. Like, you actually can't sell them or buy them. They were deemed too obscene. Several other states (including Texas, Kansas, and Colorado) used to have bans on vibrators, but the laws were overturned. But Alabama's law continues.

So you can't buy vibrators, but firearms are just fine.

(To be clear, I am actually not opposed to the selling of firearms, but I find it absolutely ridiculous that firearms are considered more ethical than sex toys. I've never, for instance, heard of someone murdering another human with a vibrator as a weapon.)

Now, I know that vibrators can be used by both genders, but statistically and culturally they are more associated with females. Quick History Lesson: The first vibrator was actually steam powered and it was used by doctor's on women with "hysteria." It was not seen as sexual at all, but they believed that "pelvic massages" helped treat hysteria. (Basically, they'd help a woman reach orgasm and they believed it would help her. A vibrating device made that easier.) Over time the devices became used less for medical purposes and more in homes. And today, with shows like Sex and the City bringing them to the forefront of pop culture, vibrators are seen primarily as female sex toys.

And they are ILLEGAL in Alabama.

Okay, why am I harping on this? Because after I learned this, I did some googling. I was just so shocked by the idea that something so simple and harmless could be banned anywhere in 2011. That's when I ran across some info on the ethical debate about vibrators. This quote (which I found on wikipedia) particularly started and infuriated me.

From Wikipedia:

An American Baptist preacher, Dan Ireland, has been an outspoken critic of such devices and has fought to ban them on religious and ethical grounds. According to Ireland, "Sometimes you have to protect the public against themselves....These devices should be outlawed because they are conducive to promiscuity, because they promote loose morals and because they entice improper and potentially deadly behaviors."[17] Ireland believes that "there is no moral way to use one of these devices."[



For full disclosure here, not that it's super relevant, I want to say that I consider myself a Christian, so I in now way mean to condemn anyone for their faith. Not at all. In fact, it's as a Christian that Ireland's statement offends me. Because this statement is just so ridiculous and offensive, and it insinuates that women who choose to use sexual devices are unholy in some way.

After reading all of this, I was left asking myself why people are so afraid of vibrators? Is it fear that women will no longer "need" men in a sexual way? Or is it fear of women seeking sexual pleasure for themselves? We do have a strange idea in our society that men want sex and women don't, and those who do are "promiscuous." What I have to ask is, how is using a vibrator (particularly if someone decides to use it by themselves) promoting promiscuity? Isn't it actually doing the opposite?

But if there's one thing I've learned over the past several months it's that female sexuality is something many people fear. I don't understand why. I'm not really sure I want to understand why. It's something that bothers me so much, and its a huge part of the reason I wrote Shut Out. This idea that women should keep topics of sexuality secret because they are "dirty" is ridiculous, and yet it still affects even me. I hesitate to write this post for its content, but why should this discussion be considered inappropriate? It isn't graphic. It isn't overly personal. It's all just fact. And the fact is, by banning the buying and selling of vibrators, Alabama is taking away women's rights.

Which brings me back to the beginning of this post. Growing up. It sucks. It sucks to realize that the world you thought was perfect is actually kind of unfair. It sucks to realize that a society that masquerades as being equal actually has a long way to go. It really sucks to know there's not much you can do about it.

Except, actually, there is. I'm doing something about it right now. It's a small thing. I'm sure no Alabaman politicians are reading this post. But this is about more than Alabama. Its about our culture, how we view the world. If we came telling ourselves the genders are equal, we'll never fix the problems we still have. And the only way to change culture is to change minds, to help the next generation move past the stereotypes and fears and prejudices of the world we live in. And to make that happen, we have to speak up.

I speak up through my books and this blog. But you don't have to have a platform to speak up. You can do something as simple as standing up for yourself or others when issues of sexual politics or women's rights come up. You could help a friend get over her embarrassment about issues of sexuality. You could have a sex talk with your kids that didn't leave them feeling awkward or embarrassed or afraid to be honest. You can speak up and make a difference in so many ways.

This is my way.

So you know, growing up sucks, but as a kid, I never thought I could make a difference even if I wanted to. Now I know that I can. So in that sense, that knowledge that my voice matters, growing up has its perks, too. I might not be happy to know some of these things, but I'm happy to know that I can change them if I try hard enough.

And so can you.



24 comments:

Christi Goddard said...

A law here in Texas: Up to a felony charge can be levied for promoting the use of, or owning more than six dildos.

At least their legal, but a girl's gotta have variety. Like shoes.

I think we have a long way to go in regards to sexual equality where actual sex is the topic. A man is a 'stud' and a girl is the 'slut' in regards to promiscuity. It is that way in almost all societies in the world.

Perhaps it is more deeply ingrained in our conscience not because of religious beliefs, but because the male is the 'aggressor' or 'dominator' and the female is the 'passive' or 'dominated' and are thought to be inferior in some way for allowing themselves to be submissive. Just a bit of half-baked psychology there.

Mac said...

I wish I sounded this mature when I was nineteen. -- rmw

Kaitlin Ward said...

*murders someone with a sex toy*

I clearly have nothing useful to add to your lovely post <3

Chelsey said...

That is plain ridiculous.

It's true we're far from when they'd tie girls (and some boys) up at night to keep them from masturbating, but sometimes it doesn't seem like we're that far.

Amy said...

Such a ridiculous law, thanks for talking about it. The world is a messed up place and sometimes it seems that talking is all that we can do... but at least we can do that! LOVE your books because they fight these stupid ideas and stereotypes :)

Rowenna said...

These kinds of laws exist all over--not just dildo-specific, but laws against sodomy, oral sex, giving a monkey a cigarette. Arcane and usually reacting against something that wasn't actually a problem to begin with (though I don't advocate giving monkeys cigarettes--poor little guy was trying to quit!) I think a lot of it has to do with lack of perceived control--and it upsets me that any law would feel the need to control anyone's sexuality as long as it doesn't hurt others. Great points :)

Pam Watts said...

Thank you for this great piece! Unfortunately, the more you learn and think about the gender inequities and things like this in our country, the angrier you'll get.

For instance: period supplies are taxed as non-essential items at the grocery store. Most states don't tax food because it's considered essential. Now people: cat food is optional (I mean, at least having the cat is optional). Potato chips are optional. Tampons? Not optional.

Also, most grocery stores and pharmacies still have a section for "sanitary supplies" or somesuch. I'm sorry, why are we considered dirty when we bleed? Blood isn't dirty. And TP which wipes *&#^! is not called a "sanitary supply." Half the population menstruates folks.

And? How much money do we spend yearly on researching viagra? A whole butt-ton, let me tell you that! How much, comparatively, do we spend researching sexual abuse? Very little. We don't even have enough research to provide accurate statistics on the incident of abuse. But many conservative statistics say that anywhere from 1 in 10 to 1 in 2 kids will be sexually abused, harassed, or raped before they turn 18. 95% of those cases are females.

Draw your own conclusions about our country's priorities, folks. (Sorry to rant!)

FBF said...

I feel the need to share the fact that you are my favorite person right now.

Lissa said...

You are my new favourite person ever. I was heartbroken when I first took sociology as well. I was actually surprised to learn about gender roles.
Here I was thinking all this was 'normal' and my wonderful sociology lecturer, who admitted it wasn't in his interest to teach women about gender roles because it made his wife tell him to pick up his own damn shirts, is still to this day one of my role models.

Stephanie said...

I live in Alabama and I can say I honestly never heard of that one. I'm willing to bet it's one of those laws that the state just forgot to repeal. There are many on the books in a majority of the states that just get forgotten by time. I'm pretty sure the sex police are not going to knock down your door for owning a vibrator. As for not being able to buy one, there's a sex shop just up the street called the G Spot that I'm SURE sells them.

elizabeth norris said...

Wow. Great post. I had no idea there was that law in Alabama (and I love your line about no one murdering someone else with a sex toy!), and that history lesson is so interesting!

We've come a long way since the fifties but we still have a long way to go. Ingrained attitudes in society take a long time to change.

Kody Keplinger said...

Thank you so much for all your comments, everyone!!!


Stephanie - no, it isn't just one that was forgotten. the law was up for repeal in 2009, but the state upheld it. It was actually only put into place in 1998, and it has been appealed twice since, but both times vibrators were deemed "obscene." So it's still a functional law. I'm sure almost everyone breaks it, but the fact that in 2009 it STILL wasn't repealed, says a lot to me.

Savannah J. Foley said...

I live in Alabama. I assure you, they are being sold. They're not called sex toys though, they have to call them 'marital aides'.

Alabama as a state has very conservative policies... practically no stores are open on Sundays, you can't buy alcohol on Sundays, and they even criminalized salvia! Also no gambling.

Thankfully I live near the TN border, but... Just wanted to let you know that you can get your sex toys in Alabama if you want to :-)

Kody Keplinger said...

Savannah - haha! Yeah, I figured it wasn't being followed necessarily. It would be hard to enforce that law. What will they do, raid nightstands? And even if they closed down all the stores, there are online ones now.

the "marital aids" bit kills me. As if you're only allowed to use them when you are married? ugh.

Becca C. said...

"Marital aids" made me laugh out loud.

The fear of female sexuality is something angers me so much. Thank you so much, Kody, for speaking up on this subject.

Anonymous said...

i totally get it. like the other day, i was with my friends + some friends of theirs and the topic of masturbation came up. a little random, but haha alright....no big deal. until one guy remarked "oh, i totally understand guys masturbating but girls? that's sick, man" and my jaw dropped. girls have every right to their bodies, just as much as guys. i told him so and guess how he responded. it'll blow your mind, his stupidity. he said that women aren't like men, they don't need sexual pleasure. sex serves two sole purposes: to reproduce and to satisfy the man. like WHAT? BS! seriously, kody, i was so pissed i could literally feel myself twitching. i told him off and left.
it's ingrained in society that women should act a specific way while when men commit the same whatevers, they turn a blind eye to.....and i'm not really sure where i'm headed with this, but i'm fifteen and i understand how sexist that is. so why can't some freaking adults?
i guess i just wanted to tell you how lucky i am to have someone like you to look up to. i'm proud to be a girl who sticks up for other girls.
and i love reading your blog and all your controversial feminist posts. they make my night. so
thanks :)
oh,
and i'm also psyched for september, when SHUT OUT releases. you'll always have this reader!

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The Romance Bookie said...

Wow what a great topic! I love it when serious issues are discussed sometimes!

There have been a few times in my life where feminism has been discussed. For instance, my senior year in high school, I did a volunteer project where it came up, and we brought up the point that a lot of words associated with feminine things have some association with male oriented topics. For instance "MENstration" and even words associated with both sexes are mainly associated with just male, such as the common everyday word "huMAN"!!

It's frustrated! I have even had issues with friends and family on this issue. Like a male family member saying "Oh I think this is a job for a guy, sorry".

Something I have sort of noticed over the years is that America is pretty prude...I mean, obviously not everyone, but a lot of subjects involving sex (especially before marriage), are frowned upon.
I mean, don't get me wrong, I completely respect peoples decisions if they want to wait, but that doesn't mean that everyone else in the world feels that way, and should. Everyone should be able to make up there own decisions. It's sick actually, because it feels like our rights in this country are slowly being taken away.

Abortion is an issue, involving taking women's rights away. And now sex toys. It's not ok for females to find pleasure in a sex toy if they feel it, but it is perfectly ok and LEGAL for a man to watch porn?? That doesn't make any sense to me!

Great topic, and yes, I also agree it's tough growing up. I just turned 20 last month, and it was weird, not being able to say I was a teenager anymore, now I get to say "Oh I'm in my early twenties" haha.

Jade said...

Maybe people are scared about the thought of women using vibrators because it indicates just one more reason why women don't need men anymore. Everyone likes feeling needed or appreciated, right? But, the thing is, with advances in technology and laws and whatnot, the female need for a male partner is dropping drastically. We don't need a man to provide for us anymore, we don't need them to protect us and (in regards to vibrators) we don't need them to orgasm anymore.
Even, up to a certain point, we don't need them to get pregnant anymore. Sure we need their sperm, but we don't need to KNOW them to get it. And, with future advances in medicine, even that might change. I think that as society stands right now, needing contributions from both genders, people feel stable and secure because they know they are fundamentally needed in one way or another. Take that away, and they get scared.
Again, all my thoughts, so I'm sorry for rambling :)

My Life With Books - Jennifer K Jovus said...

Kody, I really enjoy reading your blog and opinions.
Thanks for sharing them. :)
Jen
PS The older I get the more I realize how wrong the world can be.

Casey (The Bookish Type) said...

Kody, I just want to tell you that I really admire you. You're my age, and you're tackling tough and important issues with intelligence and class. That's a big part of the reason I loved The DUFF -- you didn't shy away from topics our society tries to push under the rug, and you did it with an authentic, honest voice. It's humbling to see someone use their platform to take on the prejudices and injustices of our world. I swear sometimes it's like you read my mind -- I've been feeling very jaded lately, like the more I learn about the world, the less it seems worth living in (I don't mean that as a suicidal comment -- I just mean that the world kind of sucks and it makes me really frustrated and dejected). Thank you for this post, and thank you for reminding us that we can all make a difference. "Be the change you want to see in the world."

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Aisyah Putri Setiawan said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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