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Sexualized, Not Sexual
Keeley Jones and the way we want women to be
Thanks to everyone who’s been sending me your anonymous sex stories! Keep them coming, and stay tuned at the end of this post for a reader submission + next week’s topic.
We’re just going to have to make peace with something, friends.
Truth? I like to be funny in my writing. But about every fourth post or so, I’ll probably have to emote, probably have to rage, and it probably won’t be funny at all, because this is a Substack about sex and culture. And sometimes, both by effect and by design, the culture’s a real prick.
That was a rather aggressive throat-clearing. What I meant was: did you catch the last episode of Ted Lasso?
Cards on the table: I adore Ted Lasso, and I adore the way they’ve bumped up the feel-good factor to an 11 this season. But I have to admit, I didn’t understand Keeley’s purpose as a character anymore, untethered from Roy and the team. Oh sure, she’s got Rebecca, and their bond is a lovely thing to behold. You can sense Ted Lasso is on a mission to model healthy friendships: women being admiring instead of catty, men being vulnerable instead of tough. I want to issue every man in my life membership to their local Diamond Dogs chapter, with their very own breathless Higgins running down flights of stairs to help process your emotional problem.
Back to Keeley, though: spoiler alerts ahead.
In addition to her non-integrated plot line (and OK, hating on wardrobe’s outfit choices for her), I didn’t get her relationship with Jack, a walking red flag dressed in hot power suits. We all knew this was going to end, all knew it would probably have something to do with Jack’s latent narcissism, but here’s what I didn’t expect. A standout line, a whole societal diagnosis packed into one sentence, when Rebecca asks her, “is there anything I can do to help?”
And Keeley answers,
“Restructure society so women aren’t constantly sexualized while simultaneously being crucified for being sexual.”
Keeley’s video, ostensibly of her masturbating, has just leaked. Take a walk through the 2010s with me: do you remember when Blake Lively had her own nude photos leaked?
This was 2011, high Gossip Girl era, Blake herself just 23 years old. Blake’s team said they were fake, and furthermore, that “Blake has never taken nude photos of herself.”
Which is so telling.
It implies that the real crime, here, would be Blake taking naked selfies, and sending them to a lover of her choosing. Not the overt violation of an Internet stranger reaching into your phone, and stealing your sexual agency.
Years later, in 2017, Sia released her own nude photos on Twitter, after paparazzi took naked pictures of her standing on her balcony, then tried to sell them. I loved Sia for that.
I was thinking about all of this today after reading Elise Loehnen’s On Our Best Behavior: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Price Women Pay to Be Good, out later this month. It was a press galley I was reading for work, and inside, Elise makes the anthropological point that Chris Ryan (Sex At Dawn), Wednesday Martin (Untrue), and historians the world over raise:
That when cultivated agriculture began some 12,000 years ago, the concept of private property was born. And slowly, so was the concept of women as private property.
This solidified gradually, over a long period of time. But between 3000 and 1300 B.C., it was official: women were kept, especially their sexual and reproductive capacities. Proof in our modern times: it wasn’t until the 1970s that unmarried women could access birth control. A fact that still blows my mind.
In hetero-world, which despite everything is still mainstream-world, you often see women’s bodies and money in a tight relationship. When you hear the phrase “sex sells,” what do you picture? I’m gonna guess a scantily clad lady. When you imagine dollar bills at a strip club, what do you imagine tucking them into? I’m gonna guess a lady’s thong. There’s a consumer, and there’s a product, and whether the woman helps sell the product or actually is the product, the point is – there’s a capital transaction. But she’s not the one buying.
Shortly after the fall of Roe, I was posting angry screeds on Instagram Stories, which, as we all know, is the most effective form of activism. Soon enough, a Republican friend of mine reached out. Here is what they asked me:
“How much welfare would you want to have for you to agree to bar abortions in all cases? From what I’ve seen, choicers can’t answer this question because for them, abortion is primarily about sexual autonomy.”
It took me a moment to realize what they were asking.
“How much money do we need to give you to stay pregnant?”
They were right, choicers can’t answer this question. Because – speaking for myself – sexual autonomy is priceless?
It exists in a realm beyond capital?
As in, there’s no amount of money I would ever accept to let someone rape me, or impregnate me?
Are we really asking if we can pay certain bodies off, to allow other bodies to penetrate them at-will?
It was just so wild to me to have this question framed in terms of capital. They repeated the question:
“Is there any amount of welfare or set of programs that, if satisfactory to you, would outlaw abortion in all instances?”
I wrote back:
“I honestly have never reflected on any amount of social assistance that would make outlawing abortion ok.”
I should tell you that this friend is extremely smart. Educated. But for the life of me, I can’t parse what in their logic disincentivizes rape, if the worst case scenario is: “aww, too bad, the woman doesn’t get to have her sexual autonomy. Guess we’ll just pay her to have the baby, in case she gets raped and impregnanted.”
I should also tell you that this individual and I have a fairly copacetic, if distant, friendship. More of an acquaintance-ship. And I’m not necessarily trying to bash their question, which some might see as reasonable. I had just truly never thought of putting a price tag on my sexual autonomy, and the fact that this bubbled up to them as a potential solution demonstrates the degree to which they thought they were being charitable, by offering capital. Not freedom. Capital.
When men are always already the assumed consumers of sex: women are sexualized, not sexual.
When a woman’s sexual agency is seen as a flippant argument, i.e. “abortion is primarily about sexual autonomy:” women are sexualized, not sexual.
When a fertilized egg sac renders a woman’s agency invisible, no matter how the sac was fertilized: women are sexualized, not sexual.
When a woman’s body is seen as a passive, juicy vessel that now houses a precious human life, when we assume abortion-seekers are loose women who shouldn’t have been having sex anyway and shame on them for seeking it, when we have yet to see a single codified consequence for a man who accidentally contributes to a pregnancy, when we twist up women and capital so tightly that they collapse into indistinguishable categories that, after all, are under someone else’s control, when we pretend that sperm itself doesn’t contain the promise of human life and that promise spilled all over the floor the last time someone masturbated and zero people cared: women are sexualized, not sexual.
When we first meet Keeley on Ted Lasso, back in season 1, she’s a commercial model. Later, we see her in hotel rooms, her image running on stock TV ads to help sell stuff. None of this registers as significant: she’s pretty, “sex sells,” etc. etc.
It’s only when she makes her own video, for her own lover, that people freak out. And so does Jack, who has her lawyers draft up a mealy-mouthed, apologetic statement she wants Keeley to release, saying she was wrong to make a video like that and should have never done it, because Keeley “filmed a porno.”
She should be ashamed, in other words.
For being sexual.
Four letters away from the thing she’s supposed to be.
Which is probably why I got a little misty-eyed when Keeley says she doesn’t regret making it, or sending it.
Maybe this is an obtuse argument. Old stuff. Maybe I’m preaching to the choir. The NRA also loves to bandy about the word “freedom.” Funny that their freedom implies that someone is after you, and you need to be free to defend yourself.
I guess freedom reads differently when it’s a woman touching herself to arouse her body and her lover’s. One freedom is couched in fear. The other is couched in desire. The question is always who.
Who’s allowed to be afraid?
And who’s allowed to desire?
What I’m currently, voraciously, consuming:
Speaking of Substack: here is Tangentially Speaking by Chris Ryan, author of Sex At Dawn: How Me Mate, Why We Stray, And What It Means For Modern Relationships.
Wednesday Martin’s book Untrue: Why Nearly Everything We Believe About Women, Lust, and Infidelity is Wrong and How the New Science Can Set Us Free legit changed my life. If you’re interested in female sexuality, I couldn’t recommend it more.
Here’s that Supreme Court case behind the 1970s birth control decision.
An Instagram account I LOVE for the way men of all bodies sexualize their dang selves: Beefcake Magazine, discovered after a friend of mine was featured.
What I’m watching in preparation for next week’s post: Secretary.
Coming next week:
My experiences with pain as pleasure started when I was a kid...shocking myself with 9V batteries, closing the circuit on a bedside lamp between my fingers and shocking myself, ruining how many of my mother's candles playing in hot wax, and just generally being fascinated with how I bled.
Join me here next Monday, 5/15, for a lil’ talk about pain and pleasure.