Girl Power.

  • Fri, 26, Apr, 2019 - 5:00:AM

The Madonna-whore dichotomy explained

Woman reading on bed / Leah Kelley / Pexels.com

The Madonna-whore dichotomy is the epitome of compartmentalisation. It describes the perception of women as either a chaste, maternal Madonna figure, or a promiscuous, immoral whore with little overlap between the two.

Sigmund Freud, who developed the outdated, misogynistic idea, described it quite succinctly himself, “where such men love they have no desire and where they desire they cannot love."

Today, the Madonna-whore complex doesn’t really pop up as a married man with a mistress. Instead, it’s become more of a subtle dichotomy; a woman can either be respected but not desired, or desired but not respected. Many women have come face to face with this either/or attitude whether they realise it or not.

If you’ve ever felt to need to lie about the number of people you’ve slept with previously, or felt guilty about how early into a relationship the first time happened, just know that these are conditioned responses from a system that places too much worth on a woman’s sexual status.

Let’s take beauty standards as an example. Kim Kardashian is a great example of how society treats sexually assertive women, i.e. the ‘whore,’ who is desired but not respected. There are endless slut-shaming comments about her sensual pictures, but also an undeniable following for them.

Another example of the Madonna-whore dichotomy comes from Peruvian men whose perception of women was split quite cleanly between ‘mother’ and ‘everyone else.’ After frequently sexually harassing women on the street, sports brand Everlast reached out to their mothers and disguised them as other women so they could witness their sons’ appalling behaviour first hand. As you can imagine, their mothers were not impressed.

There are countless contradictory, oftentimes hypocritical codes that women should follow. “Just keep your legs closed,” is a tired remark in the abortion discussion, from men who most likely also expect regular sex from their female partners.

“Don’t drink, don’t wear tight clothes, don’t go out alone,” from sexual assault victim-blamers who then complain about the fear women have developed of men.

It seems we need to find a ridiculously thin middle ground in order to be both desired and respected – if that’s even possible. This has resulted in the idea that women should be sexually desirable, but only if they are unaware of it, thus maintaining all the appeal of the whore and the innocent virtue of the Madonna.

Take note of lyrics like “You don’t know you’re beautiful / that’s what makes you beautiful,” album names containing, “...you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it,” and the angry backlash women received when they started agreeing with compliments they received from men.

The Madonna-whore dichotomy wrongly reduces the characteristics of women to a spectrum on which we need to find the midpoint instead of a melting pot where these qualities just are.

A woman’s sexual activity says next to nothing about the rest of her because, shocker, women are sexual beings. After so many generations of sexual repression, it’s time that we declared an end to the dichotomy and embraced a duality.

A woman can wear makeup and still be authentic. A woman can be provocative and still aspire to become a lawyer (go Kim!). A woman can have casual sex and still be a fantastic role model. A woman can think herself gorgeous and still be compassionate. A mother is still desirable. The Madonna and the whore are not exclusive.

Women can’t be compartmentalised. We don’t fit neatly into labelled boxes. And we all deserve to be respected.

TAGGED IN

  • Beauty Standards /
  • Innocence /
  • Female Sexuality /
  • Compartmentalisation /
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Aimee
Lew

Regular Contributor All Articles