I started writing this blog with a gentle title: “Knowing our bodies“.

However after seeing these words on the Herald yesterday morning, I felt charged to change the title and write a punchier blog.

WTF! What do you mean “What I should wear next?” I am so over these messages which dictate how women should be in the world. This is 2020! It is time for us to stop listening to this bullsh*t and be who we are. Fortunately at 64, I don’t feel I have to buy into anything – I wear what makes ME feel good – attractive, beautiful, sexy or whatever – depending on my mood.

And, I confess there are days, when I don’t feel so sure of myself – those are the days when I will check in the mirror to see if what I am wearing looks good from the outside. Those are the days when I may well change my dress as a result of looking in the mirror!

So many women hold less-than-loving feelings towards parts or all of their body. Women have described their bodies to me using words like ‘disgusting’, ‘can’t be trusted’, ‘gives me pain and yuck times’. We are so quick to judge and shame ourselves when in fact our bodies are miraculous in and of themselves, let alone how they work.

The Canvas magazine (February 8th) had a real and honest article written by Joanna Mathers about the work of sex educator, Emily Nagoski. It’s a great read.

Nagoski is the author of New York Times bestseller Come as You Are which debunks deeply held myths about females – our anatomy and our sexuality. Emily has a number of TED talks – she is an engaging speaker who is completely unphased by talking about an aspect of our lives that is still a taboo for many women and men. She is able to explain complex brain research in everyday language.

Nagoski describes herself as an writer. educator. researcher. activist. nerd. Her mission in life is to teach women to live with confidence and joy inside their bodies.

This is really important work. I am grateful to women like Emily who combine both the medical neuroscience with a heartfelt commitment to women knowing that “I am normal.” whatever their sexual experience, likes and dislikes are.

Our work here at Women for Women Aotearoa is about creating circles / communities of women who can call us home to ourselves … our essential selves … that free, wild, inner strength and power. Exploring the myths and the messages we have received about our bodies and sexuality is an important aspect of our revamped ‘Woman’s Journey to Herself’ workshop.

living and laughing collaboratively

This is not new. The wave of feminist Consciousness Raising groups that I was part of around 1980 were an important attempt to empower women to know their bodies better. Looking at our cervixes was the rage! It seems that 40 years on, there is still a huge need. Mathers says that in conversation with a friend, her friend thought her vagina and bladder were connected meaning she peed out of her vagina. Mathers was astonished (as I would be) ‘that an intelligent woman in her mid-30’s would have so little understanding of her own anatomy’.

There is clearly confusion about how our anatomy works as well as what to call the different parts of our gentitalia. Mathers again: ‘Vagina has become the defacto term for everything that exists between our legs … What female genitals “should” look like also exists in a universe of misconception. The “closed clam” vulva, denuded of public hair, is the porn industry ideal. But ladies and gentlemen, it’s not “normal:, there isn’t a norm for female gentitalia…’

I really worry about the effect of the information available on the net is having on how young women feel about their bodies. Many women, as mothers of daughters, do not feel comfortable talking frankly to their girl children (or boy children) about sex or our anatomy – words like vulva or clitoris are not well used. This means that girls / young women are going to get their information somewhere – and the easiest place is the Internet. Nagoski maintains that because the ethical porn industry costs money, girls tend to seek out information though sites where the young women haven’t given their consent to take part. (What message is this porn giving boys and young men about how to make love to a female?)

For many women they had little or no messages from the significant women in their lives. No information is as powerful a message as inaccurate or distorted information.

Sex is ….. (fill in the blank)

Our feelings about sex and our sexuality isn’t just about our physical ‘bits’. We have absorbed all sorts of messages about sex and relationships from a young age.

Girls should be ….

Girls don’t ….

I have become very aware of what I say to my partner’s grand-daughters. So rather than just saying ‘ What a pretty dress’, I give other information too ‘and wearing shorts is great when you want to climb trees!’

Let’s work collaboratively together to create as many choices as possible for ourselves and the girls and women who come after us.

Let’s work together to create a culture of confidence and joy for women to enjoy their bodies, whatever shape or size.

arohanui, Jacquie

and I said yo my body softly, 'I want to be your friend.' It took a long breath and replied, 'I have been waiting my whole life for this.'

Post script: I don’t know if any of you have heard of Judy Chicago, the textile artist who, with others, created The Dinner Party exhibition, honouring women throughout history (or should I say Herstory?). The exhibition consisted of 39 ceramic plates celebrating different women, many of which were like female genitalia. I was fortunate enough to see the exhibition in London in 1984. It was breathtaking. The approach to the art installation was through a tunnel of black veils, opening out into a tiangular table set with 13 places on each side, complete with plate, cutlery, goblet on top of a needlework placemat.