Women in the United States and other Western nations owe a lot to feminist movements. Not only are we no longer considered the property of our husbands or fathers, we can actually vote, run for office, own property, not get legally raped by our husbands, and have abortions—although if some Republicans get their way, that last right could evaporate at any moment.
Women elsewhere haven't been so lucky, and this is painfully apparent in #Female Pleasure, the 2018 documentary that focuses on how women's sexuality is viewed in places where women are treated more like it's the 6th century than the 21st. And there are, unfortunately, plenty of these places left on earth.
The film, by Swiss director Barbara Miller, profiles five women who have emerged from under the heavy weight of inequality to find some kind of liberation. One of these women, Deborah Feldman, was raised in Brooklyn's Orthodox Hasidic community. If you've ever been to Williamsburg, you've likely seen members of this group yourself: the men wear payot, or long corkscrew curls around their ears, and shtreimels, a type of elaborate fur hat. They also, in Hasidic communities, both literally and metaphorically wear the pants. Hasidic women, meanwhile, wear long stockings and plain-looking dresses and keep their hair covered, usually with wigs. It's an incredibly restrictive environment, especially for women, who are expected to marry in their teens and start popping out babies—and fast.
Feldman, who was raised by her grandparents after her own mother got out, escaped soon after having a child herself. Afterward, her family treated her as though she were dead, and the film shows her returning to Williamsburg for the first time in years. As they drive through her old neighborhood, she asks her son in the back seat if he'd like to stay there, and he quickly says, "No, let's get out."
Another woman, Somali psychotherapist Leyla Hussein, talks about going through genital mutilation as a child. This procedure—this assault—was performed by women she loved—moms, aunties, grandmothers—and she says in the film that she didn't just lose the ability to orgasm, she lost the ability to trust. Now she campaigns against this fucked-up, abusive tradition, and she has been instrumental in changing the perception of female genital mutilation among the Somali diaspora.
Other stories include that of Japanese manga artist Megumi Igarashi, who goes by the pseudonym Rokudenashiko—Japanese for, roughly, "good for nothing." Rokudenashiko has actually been arrested—more than once—because her work features (gasp!) female genitalia. She says growing up, she'd never seen any representation of the vulva, which later led her to create her own vulva-themed art. She's made vulva necklaces, vulva cars, vulva iPhone cases, and a kayak based on a 3-D scan of her own vulva. This art isn't just banned in Japan, it's actually illegal—and in 2014, her studio was raided and the police confiscated her vulva art. "I thought it was just funny to decorate my mold [of my] pussy and make it a diorama," she wrote in a blog post after her arrest. "But I was very surprised to see how people get upset to see my works or even to hear me say 'manko,'" the Japanese slang equivalent to "cunt."
These women, along with Bavarian scholar and former nun Doris Wagner and Indian sex educator Vithika Yadav, all have one thing in common besides being born with two X chromosomes: They know that the way female pleasure and male pleasure are viewed in their societies (perhaps in most societies) is both fundamentally unfair and destructive. And all of them are doing something about it.