Of all things that can be learned in an office, I learned the most about men & women. In the confines of a relatively small, communal insurance office, most people were nearly forced into workplace gossip, “Did you hear he said this?” or “Did you see she wore that?”
Most of the gossip sessions I witnessed were not particularly engaging. In fact, they were pretty uninteresting for the most part, but I too engaged in this adolescent behavior to escape from the boredom of my job.
One day at the office, I overheard a ‘locker-room’ type conversation amongst three men in the cubicle behind me. The three men were of different ages, ethnicity, and works status. I could not have found a more diverse group of men if I had picked them out myself.
As I sat listening, I heard the one man speak about a very young, attractive female worker. “Doesn’t her ass look great today?” The other men laughed and agreed. He continued, “You know, she seems like she’s sweet & innocent, but I heard she slept with three guys in this office already. What a slut, right?” The other men laughed and agreed once more.
I was shocked. I knew guys talked about other women. I just didn’t think they attached such a level of judgment to their sex lives. Before I could even process my emotions entirely, the conversation continued.
This time, another man spoke, “Well I got a better story. You know Bill’s daughter? The new intern with the nice rack? I heard from the office manager that she bats for the other team. Do you believe that shit? She likes women!”
They all laughed.
I sat bewildered after the conversation. For minutes, I just blindly stared into my computer screen, totally removed from hustle & bustle of the surrounding work atmosphere. I was hurt, disgusted, and angry. How could they be so insensitive? How could they be so judgmental?
How could hardworking, kind, talented & beautiful women still be measured solely by their sexual conquests…or lack thereof?
Female sexuality is a very interesting concept. If you look around at billboards or advertisements, it becomes clear that society remains fixated on classifying women into two categories: the Madonna & the whore.
Strangely both the ‘slut’ and the ‘prude’ are depicted as socially acceptable, albeit the stigma that naturally ensues with each persona. The promiscuous woman is considered used goods, but her image nearly represents hip-hop, advertisements, movies, television etc. She is not ‘marriage material’, but she is quintessentially the object of male sexual desire.
Then there is the prude. The good girl. The marriage type. This girl is pure, innocent, & not yet tainted. Her virginity is alluring, only if it is regarded as a prized possession to the man that gets to sleep with her. Otherwise she is considered too great a challenge for many men to pursue.
As I perseverated on this topic that day at my office, I came to an interesting conclusion. It seemed society (men especially) had mixed feelings about the very labels they self-imposed on female sexuality. Even as men criticize whores & prudes, they still typecast women into categories that deprive them of their own sexuality.
She is either owned or exploited. She is either the prize or the object. She is not the person who owns her sexuality; she is the sexual entity that is created based on how men perceive her.
When a woman does emerge as the controller of her own body, it is quite intimidating for men. ABC executives were displeased with Meredith Grey’s sex life in the beginning scenes of hit show Grey’s Anatomy.
According to the show’s writer Rhonda Shimes, ABC execs told her that, “nobody was going to watch a show about a woman who had casual sex and threw a guy out the night before her first day at work, that that was completely unrealistic and nobody wanted to know that woman.”
Meredith Grey is smart, beautiful, funny, & talented. Still ABC execs predicted her likeability to be low based on this sexual conquest. She was not being exploited, nor was she being controlled. She was a person who made a decision based on her own sexual desire.
This is a great challenge for men. Meredith Grey cannot be typecasted into either category; her sexuality is neither a possession nor an object, it is an aspect of her personality that she controls.
The reality is that all women are Meredith Grey to an extent, whether we are consciously aware of this phenomenon or not. Even the most promiscuous woman has an innocent streak; even the most prudent girl has lustful desires. We all fall somewhere in the middle, because as human beings, we can never just be an object or a possession.
That is an illusion.
It is truly the insecure man who abides by these rather rigid, narrow-minded notions of female sexuality. It was hard for ABC execs to understand the persona of Meredith Grey. As with any strong, sexually empowered female, they were faced with the scary alternative of acknowledging their own sexuality. And perhaps what they found deficient in themselves…their bodies, their emotions, their performance anxieties, their fears.
Instead they tried to change her character. Much to the surprise of ABC execs however, Meredith has become one of the most popular personalities on television today.
That day at the office, I took comfort in my new-found realization. If it weren’t for judgement of their own sexual conquests, I doubt those men would’ve been so preoccupied with judging women for theirs. For minimizing women to sluts & whores for merely acting out what is rightfully theirs…their sexuality.