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She's Got It 12:25 11 Mar 2021

I do "it" with a vibrator. Why a "sexual" scandal broke out in CEC

Relict of the USSR and patriarchy, double standards and gender stereotypes, sexism, toxicity, narrow-mindedness, fear, shame, witch hunts, and disregard for moral norms: we asked Ukrainian human rights activists and psychologists why official Anzhela Yeremenko's post about the vibrator spurred public uproar in Ukraine and what it says about us as a society and about the attitude to female sexuality.

Photo Unplash

On the eve of March 8, International Women's Day, an incident happened which demonstrates why women continue to fight for their rights.

On February 28, Assistant to the Head of Central Election Commission (CEC), Anzhela Yeremenko published a post on her blog under the pseudonym Bad Mama, with a story about a broken vibrator. Under the post, the official was criticized: "Are you serious? CEC adviser? *** was recruited with the ad. Maybe you should change jobs until you want to change it," "Ukraine, is it normal? CEC adviser doesn't have a clue how primitive she is; in a normal country, if any official allowed at least a part of such statements, the next day, she would no longer have a job."

"I published a post on my blog under the pseudonym about the vibrator and a few hours later, I was told that I was worthless. 'Put it in your ass,' 'Clean the pores, monster,' 'So we got into this mess, gift her a bull,'" Yeremenko stated.

Анжела Єременко

Anzhela Yeremenko

The result of the entire incident was the assistant's voluntary resignation. But is this normal? Are we still ashamed of our sexuality in the 21st century and can't talk openly about our desires? Are politicians not people, and is sex not normal? We decided to ask famous Ukrainian women who support women and continue to fight for our rights, in order to understand the reasons that make people afraid to listen and talk about sex and attack those who allow themselves to do so.

Relict of the USSR and patriarchy 

Coordinator of the Gender Democracy Program of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Anna Dovhopol has been working for more than 10 years in NGOs related to feminism and LGBT people. She has also initiated human rights education programs for high school students. Anna explains the public's acute rejection of Yeremenko's post by outdated cultural traditions and relict of the past:

Анна Довгопол

Anna Dovhopol

"There are two sides to this problem. The first is the Soviet and post-Soviet tradition of not perceiving officials as human beings. For some reason, it's believed that they have no personal life, they can't write or talk about it. There were many similar stories, for example, a teacher posted a photo from vacation in a bathing suit; they also harassed her. That is, when we hold a state position, we cease to be human in any sense, and this, I think, is a kind of deep trauma of a post-Soviet person.

The other side is the fact of specifically Anzhela Yeremenko being bullied. Maybe if she had written something less confidential and personal, no one would've noticed. And here the woman frankly wrote that she uses a vibrator. And it brings us to the question of how sexuality, and especially female sexuality, is perceived in our society. Can a woman say, "Yes, I want to receive pleasure from sex and I know how to do it"? No. It's a problem with sex and sexuality in our society. There was no sex in the Soviet Union, you know that. And we haven't been Soviet people for a long time, but this trauma has remained in us because cultural norms are changing slowly and formidably.

The fact that the woman said it caused a particularly violent reaction. In our culture, which is deeply patriarchal, gender norms dictate to us that there are tightly-regulated roles in the romantic and sexual interaction of a man and woman. The man gives a woman a tulip, takes her to a restaurant, and, sorry, fucks her. And the woman, accordingly, agrees to a tulip, eats a salad in a restaurant, and puts out. Even the language says that a woman gives and a man takes. As if a woman can't demand, can't want sex, can't do it at all without male participation. And it destroys these established norms so much, people are scared of it, feel uncomfortable, and they start to think: I don't do it and I never did it, although maybe I wanted to, and she's a public person and she does it. People suppress their desires and, therefore, are very aggressive towards those who allow themselves to do so.

In our culture, a woman shouldn't speak openly about her own sexual desires and sexuality, because it's against the rules of our culture. And it's obvious that these rules are already legged; they're not relevant and don't work. They can and should be reviewed, and each of us can do that."

Sexism, toxicity, narrow-mindedness

Another problem is the lack of a moratorium and moral condemnation of those who harass and, figuratively speaking, organize the burning of a witch at the stake. Tamara Zlobina, an author of a blog about self-organization, editor-in-chief of the Gender In Detail information resource, shared in detail that she's upset by this situation: "Ough, such an ugly story!" she replied to Rubryka when we explained the reasons behind Anzhelika Yeremenko's resignation.

Тамара Злобіна

Tamara Zlobina

"I'm very upset about this situation," Tamara said. "Politicians who 'solve issues' in saunas don't stick out like a sore thumb, but an official who considers her sexuality, or even in general, is simply young and attractive, it's a reason for sarcastic and derogatory comments."

Among the reasons that provoked such a reaction, she named four points, four interrelated factors:

  • Sexism towards women: "From the general point of view, everyone in politics is a thief and a liar, and women, in general, are someone's mistresses, info is 100%," she comments.
  • Toxic manner of communication on social media and "working off steam" on an office scapegoat: "It's not even a close-minded attitude to sexuality. Not that the official wrote something about the vibrator. It could happen because of a photo in a swimsuit, or for a comment on the 10-year-old Facebook page. Anything that can be perceived as permission to bully."
  • Total distrust of politics and unwillingness to understand what's happening there: "Most of these commentators have no clue what Anzhela Yeremenko did at the CEC, and what's happening at the CEC now. And they don't want to know, because their goal is to legitimately 'work off steam.' That's the worst."

According to the editor, it is unnecessary to worry about the appearance or sexuality of public figures at all, and only evaluate their actions in office, except in cases of violence; it's what a healthy response of society should be.

"Unfortunately, women will have to talk about difficult topics, face harassment, and keep talking until society has worked out adequate ways to react.

Double standards and gender stereotypes

What about resignation? After all, men who allowed themselves unequivocal sexist statements in public and even within the walls of Parliament, still unfairly hold their positions and "got off" with a couple of dozen publications in the press. Ms. Yeremenko had to leave the position, and quite a prestigious one. The lawyer who defended the interests of citizens in the Strasbourg court, Ukrainian writer, journalist, and TV presenter Larysa Denysenko explained if it's legal from the point of view of protection of human rights:

Лариса Денисенко

Larysa Denysenko

"The case of Anzhela Yeremenko's resignation and outrage over her post about a low-quality vibrator that she shared on her blog can be viewed from the standpoint of the ethics of a public figure/civil servant and the standpoint of gender stereotypes.

Of course, we can't imagine a rule of law on the civil service, which would state: a civil servant is strictly prohibited from sharing information about their vibrators.

The current provisions of this legislation include the obligation of civil servants to take care of the authority of the state service and service in local governments, and the positive reputation of state bodies and local governments, including compliance with etiquette, proper appearance, ensuring high-quality work, and internal service regulations.

Is it possible to spoil the positive reputation of the Central Election Commission by talking about a vibrator, and, for instance, not with poor preparation for the election? Doubtful. Etiquette rules apply to how a person communicates and does their job, but it doesn't affect the way a person looks, and if a person uses a vibrator if she doesn't do in the workplace, for instance.

The oath of a state servant can't be violated by the fact that a person uses or doesn't use a vibrator.

Paragraph 9 of the General Rules of Ethical Conduct for State Servants and Local Government Officials obliges civil servants to respect folk customs and national traditions. If people outraged by the post about the vibrator think it's a demonstration of disrespect for folk customs and national traditions, I can cite a few indecent folk songs. But I won't, because it has nothing to do with this matter.

Because by posting about a vibrator, a person doesn't violate any norm provided by law but confuses people who consider it a violation of public morality, and in turn, react toxically and think that they have permission to violate Yeremenko's personal boundaries.

And here we move on to the double standards driven by gender stereotypes. The history of modern Ukrainian parliamentarians recorded how Illia Kiva "tweaked his penis" (in his words) at his workplace; Bohdan Yaremenko was looking for paid sex options at work, agreeing on the price and type of services; public insulting appeals and statements from men about women continuously emerge, but it doesn't actually outrage society. And the parliament doesn't resent it; people remain in their factions, in their positions.

Because, as Illia Kiva asked the journalist during the coverage of the "tweaking of a penis," "Tell me, do you have a penis?" That is, there's a certain normalization that if a person has a penis, then he has the right to "tweak" it, and if someone was born without a penis, then let this person be chaste and not complain about broken vibrators and not flaunt intimate life.

I emphasize that Ms. Yeremenko's post didn't concern her work, didn't apply to her work, and didn't contain any visualization of masturbation or the purchase of women or men.

But people started bullying, motivated by different factors, but the main thing here is that a girl should be chaste, a mother should behave with dignity, we don't want to know anything about vibrators; it scares us, because it's too bold, challenging and brazen for a woman to talk about.

Anzhela Yeremenko resigned on her own, and if she had been fired, I would advise appealing this order in court. In such situations, I advise you to use a mixed approach: to analyze the legislation to understand whether there are no formal violations by both the fired person and the leadership; analyze violations of human rights and freedoms in terms of discrimination. If you notice discrimination based on gender, you have every reason to draw the court's attention to it."

Fear, shame, witch hunts, and disregard for moral norms

Why do some topics not scorch people, while others cause outrage and an inclination to bully a person? This question was answered by Dasha Nepochatova, a psychotherapist, sexologist and writer, co-founder of the first women's creative space in Ukraine, Creative Women Space, and women's publishing house, Creative Women Publishing:

Даша Непочатова

Dasha Nepochatova

This situation shows everything connected with sexuality, and corporality is permeated with a sense of shame for one's body, a ban on feeling pleasure, insecurity, and sexual coercion. People's reactions demonstrate the saying: "The best protection is an attack." Anzhela Yeremenko showed she can afford a little more sexual freedom than others. Thus she stirred up the internal conflict of other people related to their own sexuality, and her looseness, that she uses a vibrator, speaks of the number of missed orgasms because of its breakdown, confronts their complex feelings of shame and guilt. Their reaction is protection," Dasha comments.

But people have reacted to sexuality this way for centuries; the sexologist looks back and makes a historical analogy:

"Female sexuality has always scared people. It's about corporality. Since the female genitalia is hidden, you can't see them. The female reproductive system is also hidden, and we learned how things work not so long ago. Female physiology and sexuality have long been a mystery and an active woman who wanted sex and talked about her desires openly frightened people. We know that in Europe, such women were burned at the stake, called witches; what happened now was the same witch hunt, only less radical," the expert considers.

And she's absolutely right. The world is evolving, and supposedly becoming more humane, but only the methods are changing, but the objects of society's attacks on female sexuality aren't changing:

"I read the comments. Yes, we focus on harassment and bullying, but there were also good comments. Many people supported Ms. Yeremenko. Some wrote that sexuality was good, but why writing about it in such a position? An official still needs to filter what he/she writes. That is, some people didn't criticize sexuality, but what a person in office writes about it. Of course, aggressive feedback is very offensive; it shoots at the heart of a person's identity and confidence. We see many examples where a manifestation of sexuality can cost politicians a career: remember the story of Bill Clinton, which threatened him with impeachment.

[It refers to the scandal surrounding the disclosure of sexual relations between 49-year-old US President Bill Clinton and 22-year-old White House intern Monica Lewinsky, which exploded in 1999 – ed.]

Therefore, people holding a certain state or public position are under greater scrutiny in terms of their sexuality. There are more inflated moral attitudes for them, and it seems to me that Ms. Yeremenko felt this, which was the reason for leaving the post. Public, state positions limit our sexuality because, in these roles, we represent a particular organization or institution, and our behavior can affect the reputation of that institution. These rules of the game also apply in developed democracies and are distributed 'by default,'" Dasha Nepochatova explains.

But, unfortunately, this norm, as the situation shows, applies only to women in our country. Let's remember at least "Sit on a talk show, close your legs" by Mr. Chervonenko; he addressed this phrase on the air of a talk show to a colleague, People's Deputy Halina Yanchenko. Or "Don't worry me if you're below 175 cm" from Oleksandr Dubynskyi; he published this phrase in a post on Facebook in the context of finding an assistant. Besides, the requirements for the level of qualification of women in "serious" positions, of their morality is much higher, and meticulous attention is paid more to personal life than professional qualities. Withstanding it is morally difficult, says Dasha Nepochatova:

"Women politicians and deputies complain that when journalists interview them, many questions concern their private lives and body care," says Dasha. "Meanwhile, men aren't asked such questions. In our country, it happens more often, but in Europe and America, this trend can be observed too.

I'm inclined to believe that women, because of the historical heritage we've received from our mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers regarding sexual manifestations, live with a powerful sense of guilt for being women. It's as if we were born with this feeling. Usually, a girl who grows up next to her brother sees different attitudes towards herself and the boy from mom or dad. And she feels shame and guilt: "I'm not like that, kind of inferior." And that's why a woman who went out into the public field and received so much dirt and aggression in her direction needs a lot of internal resources to withstand it. In my opinion, men going into politics have some internal psychological protection. They don't pay attention to it, which is why they can ignore the rules of etiquette so brazenly or the rules by which they should resign after sexism.

A woman who goes into politics may not be ready, because she thinks she's playing by the same rules as men. But much more attention is paid to the woman, she is pressured more. A woman shouldn't wear a short skirt or appear with a deep neckline in public. Much more is required of a woman, so it depends on the personality of the woman, a public figure, whether she can withstand this dirt, this aggression in her direction, the attack on her identity and femininity. Because it's an attack."

яблуко

Photo Unsplash

What to do with it? 

After all, cultural patriarchal norms, shame for one's sexuality, insane pressure from society on women, and demands to be "pure," "chaste" and be women who don't talk about their orgasms are no longer relevant and unacceptable in today's world:

"It confronts a woman with a great sense of guilt and shame. "I was wrong' is guilt, and shame is the feeling that 'I'm a mistake.' These are very complex feelings; they're hard to bear. When a person feels ashamed, one thinks one is alone, that nobody will understand. But having an inner resource and certain skills, a woman can melt these feelings into a resource," the psychotherapist continues.

Acquiring such skills is one of the directions in which feminist movements work. In the 50s and 60s, they were called "radical"; they didn't risk their lives, as did the suffragettes of the first wave in the early 20th century. They arranged another revolution when they realized they knew nothing about their own sexuality and began to take care of these issues. It is the study of one's sexuality and overcoming feelings of shame that can reduce the degree to which people need to defend themselves by attacking those allowing themselves such freedom. Dasha explains:

"Shame can be legitimized by telling a person you trust about it. It could be a psychotherapist, a friend, or a woman's circle where you can talk about things that cause shame, feel it, and get it out of you."

This is the method used by feminists in the 50s and 60s. They united in small groups of 5-6 women and began to talk. These events are illustrated in the documentary about the second wave of feminism "She's Beautiful When She's Angry." There, several women explain how they had the heart to share for the first time that they couldn't have an orgasm and were ashamed of it, thinking that they were wrong, unhealthy, broken. But when they dared to talk about their feelings in a female circle, others heard it and also admitted that they had never experienced an orgasm in their lives.

"Such associations emerging during the second wave of feminism eventually led to sexologists appearing who began to study female sexuality more closely. It was a response to the needs of women who began to voice: 'I don't know what's orgasm.' So a trusting atmosphere helps a lot," says the sexologist.

In modern society, the conversation about sexuality is very tolerant and soft. You shouldn't oppose it, because new knowledge has never bothered anyone. That's why posts like Anzhelika Yeremenko's post about a broken vibrator and orgasms, bloggers writing about female sexuality, projects dedicated to the vulva where it's drawn and shown how diverse the female genitalia can be, are the norm, Dasha is certain:

"God forbid we see our own genitals and the genitals of other women. Men are different from us in this respect as well; they see their genitals and the genitals of other men. And we women live in such a fantasy world, and we don't know what we have inside. For example, about the clitoris. Many women already know that the clitoris isn't just a small pea, but a whole organ. They know where it is located and how it works. But 10 years ago, there was no such thing. That's why we're still moving forward. It takes time, and it can't be done quickly.

I believe the situation will change for the better every year. Even now. There was a women's march on March 8, and many activists stressed that a year ago, there was much more pressure and rejection around the march, but only a year passed! We're taking small steps towards a more tolerant society."

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Попала не пропала

Оце реально хрінь, на відміну від квот гендерних, вигнати жінку за секс-допис чи фото вчительки в купальнику - це треш бюрократичний. Є звичайно межі етики, але не такі. З ЦВК виганяти мають Ківалова і інших жінок, яоловіків, котиків і собачок за фальшування виборів, а не "за неморальний допис про секс".

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