What’s your commute to work like? Is it one of those normal ones where you get on a bus or train or into a fancy-pants car? Or is it a female commute? Do you eat breakfast, or female breakfast? When you take a piss, is it just, like, a regular piss or do you partake in female urination?
Today someone tweeted me a link to an article ‘what do you call female masturbation?‘ As you might be able to tell I have some Thoughts On This Topic.
In answer to the question: wanking. I call it wanking. Sometimes I will try to mix it up by talking about a hand-shandy or rubbing one out. If I’m feeling particularly coy, then I may refer to it as ‘alone time’ or taking a ‘freelancer’s nap.’ But in general, I rarely refer to what I do on my own with a sleazy fantasy and a fistful of glass dildo as ‘female masturbation.’
The article was about the new word ‘klittra’ – an invented word, being promoted by the Swedish Association for Sexual Education, because “If we don’t have a word in the language, how can we even talk about it?”
We live in a world which treats men and women as if they’re radically different – members of a different species, from different planets, what have you. In this world, where masturbation has for a long time been considered a gentleman’s activity, it’s important to highlight the delights of ladywanking. It makes young girls feel less alone or weird or dirty or any of the things I was vaguely tempted to feel the first few times I explored the contents of my knickers and realised they gave me The Good Feelings. What’s more, it enables us to discuss things like the ways in which female masturbation (as opposed to male masturbation) is presented in the media, in porn, and all that jazz.
So: I 100% understand the need to discuss female masturbation in a gendered way. I do it a lot when I write here as well as for other people, because if you want to tackle gendered assumptions about something, sometimes you have to state it to slate it. BUT it would be super-kickass-awesome if we could discuss ‘female’ masturbation in a way that doesn’t simultaneously prop up the assumption that regular old ‘masturbation’ is ‘male’ by default. So, an article that asks ‘why are we more comfortable talking about male masturbation than female masturbation?’ Fine. An article which asks ‘how can we ever possibly talk about female masturbation if we don’t have a special word for it?’ gets my hackles up. In an ideal world, the word ‘masturbation’ would suffice.
In the article linked above, the intro says:
“Here’s a fun game: how many words or phrases can you come up with to describe male masturbation? (Hint: A lot of them seem to begin with the letter ‘j’. Or ‘w’. Or ‘b’.)”
I can’t help but think that the ‘w’ in this case refers to ‘wanking’ – since when was wanking a gendered thing? Are they looking for ‘female’ words here because these words are all specifically and exclusively male, or because (hint: it’s actually this one) they already have a predisposition to hear a euphemism for masturbation and assume that the wanker is a guy. Personally, I think jerking off, beating one out, jacking off, whacking off – any of these things can equally be applied to female masturbation – and what’s more each and every one of them can be used in a way that challenges the idea that masturbation is radically different depending on your gender.
Genitals and gender
If I use the phrase ‘jerking off’ to apply to ladywanking, there may well be some people who crack out their special ‘let’s edit the internet’ red pen to point out that if you have a clitoris you don’t technically ‘jerk’ it as you might a penis. I’d disagree on that, because it depends on the size of your clit and how you like it stimulated, but more importantly I’d disagree on the grounds that not all women have clits: trans, non-binary, genderqueer, and intersex people all exist. Some will have clits, some won’t, some will have cocks, some won’t: they are all still part of the pool of people who masturbate, drive, and eat breakfast with varying degrees of frequency depending on preference and whether they passed their driving test. I am not an expert on gender (and that is an understatement of truly mammoth proportions) but if you want to read more check out Meg John Barker’s blog, particularly this piece on the future of gender, and this talk on non-binary genders.
Anyway. The article I took issue with originally was about this new word for female masturbation, invented by the Swedish Association for Sexual Education. To be fair to them, they invented this word for good reasons. They, I think laudably, wanted to help challenge this idea that masturbation is a hobby predominantly enjoyed by dudes. Unfortunately, the word they picked was:
Klittra (A cross between their word for ‘clit’ and the word ‘glitter’)
Which is a Big Fucking Let-Down. Firstly: not all women have clits (see above). Secondly, not all women who do have clits rub them when they masturbate (a minor point compared to the first, but perhaps worth mentioning). And finally because we seem to have yet another instance on top of fifty-thousand others where something is marked ‘female’ by the inclusion of some sparkly glitter.
Male and female masturbation inequality
I’m not going to rock up in Sweden and march through the streets or anything – apart from anything else I hear that the booze is quite pricey. I love what the people who came up with this word were trying to do – their stated aim is to help remove some of the stigma around discussing female masturbation, and promote an ‘open, positive view of sex and relationship issues.’ They said that:
“When it comes to masturbation, people mostly think about just men doing it and we don’t think of it as common for women. If we don’t have a word in the language, how can we even talk about it?”
- Women hardly ever masturbate
- Women are more likely to masturbate if we give them something cute/pink/sparkly with which to do it and
- Men who use sex toys are creepy and weird
… then yeah, we can’t just use the word ‘wanking’ interchangeably. Likewise if we – as I’ve done in the past – want to talk about how female masturbation is portrayed in porn, or how it’s discussed in sex education classes, and what have you – then that qualifier is valuable.
But it’s important to remember why we’re distinguishing something. In any given context, are gendered terms helpful? Or are they contributing to something that’s already unhelpful – a simplified view of the world in which all women are identical, and less likely to enjoy masturbation than men?
I’m not here to tell you what to call your own alone time – masturbation, female masturbation, klittra, jerking off – as with masturbation itself, I’d advise you to pick what feels good to you. What I am saying is that words can be frigging awesome and powerful and dangerous and exciting and everything that makes me tingle. Feel free to call me a wanker if you like (I most definitely am one), but given this great power, I reckon it’s worth thinking hard about which words we use, and why. Especially if we’re inventing a whole new one.