Judith Butler wrote about the imperative to recognize all bodies as human. Today, for International Women’s Day and as a new installment of my body positive series, I write about the need to recognize all bodies as deserving.
What does “equal rights for all” mean to you? To me, having equal rights means deserving. To have a right to something means to deserve it without having to prove yourself or earn it or live up to some set standard.
Among other things, all people deserve pleasure. During the body positive challenge, I have discovered how important it is to find healthy ways to act on my body’s desire for pleasure. But I’m not always able to perceive myself as deserving of such pleasure, and neither are many people I know.
Often we use pleasure as a reward for children. As a teacher, I know it’s useful, and I’m guilty of this trap myself. Students earn candy, extra snacks, a party, or a chance to listen to music. We teach children that pleasure is a reward for hard work and success.
The media continues this lesson when it comes to gender or sexual dynamics. Men deserve pleasure if they’re rich, if they’re assertive, if they’re convincing. Women, well, women rarely deserve pleasure, but at the very least she must be thin and buxom if she wants a chance.
Equal rights for all means we all deserve pleasure, no matter how much money, weight, or homework we may have. The pursuit of equal rights for all means that we must empower each other to pursue pleasure. We must validate desire as important and informative. We must want and seek more, together.
To conclude, I return to my students — to adolescents. Instead of teaching them that pleasure is a reward doled out by others, how about teaching that pleasure is something they deserve to ask for?
Learning and teaching sexuality education has helped me connect to myself as a person among all people deserving of equal rights. Furthermore, I see sexuality education as a potential site for teaching adolescents to exercise agency — to identify how they feel and what they want, and to communicate their desires effectively. Such education includes learning to ask explicitly for consent and understanding that yes means yes and is just as valid a response as no, which means no.
In order to counter the ways in which the psychology of sexism and patriarchy prevent us from feeling deserving and accessing or equal rights, we need to turn to conversation and education amongst ourselves, with our neighbors, and especially with teenagers. Let’s empower the next generation to get theirs.