In the late 19th century, feminists were raising their voices against the many injustices that women endured. Along with the right to vote, these activists spoke out against one of the most sacred vows of the time: marriage.
One of the most impactful forms of activism of the time came through the power of the written word. Newsletters, pamphlets, essays…these ladies spread the word in whichever way they could.
Historically, independent media was founded on the basis of social, political and economic reform. The idea is simple: if there is a problem, independent outlets would go against the grain of mainstream media in order to call out the injustices perpetuated by the government.
Victoria Woodhull, a prominent activist during the time, began the “Woodhull & Clafin Weekly.” Alongside her sister, Woodhull printed essays and articles that showed the hypocrisy of Victorian men and repeatedly called for a sexual reform. Woodhull sought to redefine the idea of marriage; she wanted people to realize that women shouldn’t be obliged to marry or to have sex. She supported the idea of “free love.”
“I have an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or short a period as I can, to change that love every day if I please,” said Woodhull in 1871. “And with that right neither you nor any law you can frame have any right to interfere.”
Along with Woodhull, other outlets called for a sexual revolution. The traditional ideals of marriage, sexuality and love were being challenged. Biological words and phrases, such as penis and intercourse, were censored in mainstream media. Talking about sex wasn’t just taboo–it was illegal.
Angela Heywood, co-founder of “The Word,” published essays that included this so-called explicit language. Her aim was to normalize the words, since they were, after all, perfectly healthy and reasonable terms to explain sex.
“Why not have character enough to use them and longer be ashamed of your own creative use and destiny?” she wrote. “Why giggle, mince, simper, skulk and dodge about?”
Heywood also advocated for sex education, an idea that was deemed outrageous and downright malicious. Despite government resistance, however, these independent outlets did not stop.
Moses Harman, founder of “Lucifer, the Light Bearer,” strongly advocated for the idea of multiple lovers, an idea that is still very much debated today in popular culture. His argument against laws prohibiting adultery was that it was an “unwarranted invasion of private and personal right.”
Much like Harman and the rest of the free love radicals, there are many movements today that are advocating for a more liberal stance toward sexuality.
In September of 2015, model and actress Amber Rose collaborated with comedy sketch group Funny Or Die to create a skit entitled “Walk of No Shame.” The video features Rose walking home the morning after a sexual encounter, a feat usually considered to be shameful or embarrassing (hence the term, “walk of shame“).
In an age of hook ups, one night stands and casual flings, millennials are breaking the traditional structure of heteronormative relationships. No longer does a man need to ask a woman’s father for permission to court his precious little flower; getting together with someone (no matter what gender, race or sexual preference) is as easy as swiping right.
On the surface, it may seem as if we have it all together: we can do whatever we want with whomever we want. However, despite the immense legal breakthroughs that the United States has had since the Victorian age, there are still social repercussions that go along with sexual experimentation–especially for women.
The video, meant to target those who believe women shouldn’t explore sexuality, mirrors the type of activism that Harman, Woodhull and Heywood did back in the late 19th century.
Sexual reformation, although not a new idea, is still something that is present in today’s media. While 19th century feminists were able to open up the dialogue, there still remains a strong debate on whether or not a woman’s sexuality should be monitored.