TW: sexual harassment
In a Woman’s Body is a global movement of women who want to feel empowered and connected to their bodies through learning about female sexuality and understanding their menstrual cycles. Founder Marina Ollero hopes to reveal currently repressed knowledge and create spaces for women to talk about their sexual experiences.
In this GRL Talk installment, Marina shares her story (via Zoom, obviously) with FGRLS contributor Harriet Clifford, she discusses how talking about sex can lead to female empowerment and, ultimately, the end of sexual harassment in the world…
Can you tell me how In a Woman’s Body came about?
One day I saw a woman in the street who was being abused by her partner. You could see that he was abusing her psychologically, so I tried to speak with her and protect her, but it didn’t work. After this happened, I cried for an hour, feeling a huge pain knowing that this woman might be mistreated again by her partner, even physically. I thought about how many women are mistreated in the world and I felt hopeless, not knowing exactly what I could do.
I promised myself that I wanted to do something with this issue, and at that time I was already going to workshops about female sexuality. I realised how many women were having issues around their sexuality and how so few teachers were working with this theme on a bigger scale. I saw that I had something to contribute and it all came together. I decided that I wanted to work on ending sexual harassment in the world through building knowledge around female sexuality and through creating safer spaces for women to speak about sex and their sexual experiences.
Was there a pivotal time in your life when you began to feel differently about your sexuality and your body?
I want to say that it was not something that changed overnight. It was a process of five years before I felt really comfortable in my sexuality, and this is still something that I keep working on. But if I think about it, there were two moments that really changed this relationship. The first one was saying out loud that I have a problem with my sexuality, and I have traumas with my sexuality. I said out loud that this is how I feel in my body, that it’s uncomfortable and I don’t know what to do. This gave me the freedom to stop lying and having to perform during sex. It was obviously really painful, but at the same time, it was really freeing to be able to let this pain just be.
The other one was when I began to feel comfortable playing during sex. I came to realise that because my body had been sexualised for a long time and when people have followed their desires they had misused my body, I was afraid that when I followed my own desires, I was going to misuse someone else’s body. I was in this cage. When I began to follow my desires, I realised that this was obviously not the case – I can follow my desires and respect someone.
Do you think women feeling traumatised by their sexual experiences is more common than people realise?
Definitely. I was recently reading some research that said that 81% of women have gone through sexual harassment in their lives, which is huge. However, if you ask people, most don’t know that it’s that high. That’s why one of the things that we do at In a Woman’s Body creates a space for women to feel safe talking about their sexual experiences. They realise for the first time that they are not alone. That’s really empowering for them because they don’t believe anymore that there is something intrinsic in them that makes them unable to go through this experience. It’s really difficult for a woman to have a healthy sexuality, that’s a fact.
Something else we don’t speak enough about is the repercussions that this has for a woman – that three out of four women have gone through sexual harassment. It’s not only the horrible act in itself, but what the woman experiences afterward. She doesn’t feel that her body and the world are safe anymore, or that other people will respect her boundaries. I think this is important to take into account and speak about – how this is affecting half of the world’s population.
In your work, what have you found to be the link between female sexual empowerment and sexual harassment?
Something that is proven is that when a woman empowers herself, it doesn’t only affect her, but the whole community around her. I have found that the reason women are not allowing themselves to have a healthy sexuality is because we don’t have enough education about sexuality, and we don’t have spaces to speak about it. These are the main pillars of what In a Woman’s Body stands for.
A lot of the wrong that happens to women sexually happens because we just don’t speak about it, neither women nor men – there isn’t a clear line of communication. That’s why I think empowering women in their sexuality is a big piece in the puzzle to ending these problems.
You speak a lot about connecting to our bodies through being in tune with our menstruation. Can you explain what this looks like in practice?
What I usually say to the women I work with is that there is a way to follow your cycle and stop fighting with yourself. I’m a huge advocate for understanding your own body and understanding how it works, and what I want to do with the menstrual cycle work is help women understand their own pattern, so they can know what their body wants and what it yearns for.
There is this metaphor of the menstrual cycle as the seasons – so when you are bleeding, it’s winter. After you bleed, you go into the spring and you kind of open up, and then when you are ovulating during the summer you have an increase in energy. In autumn, your inner critic is more active, and this is a good time to reflect on how your month has been and what isn’t working in your life. That’s a framework which really helps you to understand, but after that I want women to know what this could look like for them, because we are unique and we each need something different. The question is how you can be even more efficient and also respect your body – that’s the key to the menstrual cycle that can really help us.
What would you say to women who don’t menstruate, for whatever reason?
The first thing I would say to them is that I think it’s really healing to share your experience with other people who are going through the same thing. This is just really healing because you stop seeing yourself as a unique person who is the only person experiencing that.
The other thing is that I did a workshop with a woman who is transgender, and we were speaking about menstruation, and she said to me, ‘I know that I am a woman because I can feel it. So, I don’t care what other people tell me it means to be a woman, I won’t allow anybody to tell me that I’m not.’ I think that’s where we are now as a society – women are finally saying ‘I’m a woman and I know it, and I don’t care if I don’t fit within your structure of what you define as a woman. You don’t define that; I define what it is to be a woman.’
How does In a Woman’s Body support and empower women on a day-to-day basis? Can you tell me a bit about your podcast?
The podcast came about because I wanted to have a space where the women who come to my workshops could continue to grow in their sexuality. Also, because there is a lot of knowledge about female sexuality, menstruation and all the in-between themes that usually isn’t that easy to find in the mainstream areas. It’s a free platform where people can just learn about it. I’m interviewing women whom I deeply admire, such as Tami Lynn Kent and Claire Baker, who are doing such important work. Together we can explore what it means to be in a woman’s body – something for which I don’t have the answer; nobody has the answer.
In our other work, we are growing a community of women and are in the process of creating a platform of online courses. We do different things – we used to do offline workshops, but now with the restrictions it’s not possible anymore. We build knowledge through the podcast and the blog that we have, and also do one-to-one coaching sessions for women who want to get personal support on their specific journey. For every woman who wants to be part of our community, they won’t be judged in who they are or how they experience their sexuality.
In your experience, what does it feel like to feel genuinely empowered as a woman?
For me, the opposite of power is fear. When you are empowered as a woman, you are not afraid to speak up for yourself or for other people. You are not afraid to ask for what you desire or what you need, or what you yearn for in the world. I think you trust what your body and what your intuition tells you much more – that’s what power is for me.
What steps, in your opinion, does society need to take in order to move in the right direction regarding female sexuality?
I think one of the reasons that we have this weird relationship with sexuality is because there is a lot of shame around it. There’s this thought that sexuality is dirty, which it’s not. So, one of the things we need to do quickly is to normalise sex and speaking about sex and the fact that we are sexual beings. It’s how we get here – it’s beautiful.
The mainstream can change the way sex is treated – not just so that we speak about sex. Because we do speak about sex, but in a really weird way. It’s important to speak about sex in a healthy way in mainstream media.
Also, we can no longer allow this lack of sex education. For example, it’s proven that when women are more educated about sex, they have fewer unwanted pregnancies. They also make wiser decisions about when to have sex. Some people think that when we speak to teenagers about sex, we are making them have sex earlier, but it’s proven that it’s actually the opposite. We’re making people be more careful and aware of what sex is, what its implications are and that it’s important to be aware of all these issues like consent, desire, pleasure and respecting others.
Where can women find out more about your work?
People who want to stay connected and join the community can subscribe to our newsletter. Those who want to learn about sex in a holistic way can go to our podcast, In a Woman’s Body. Then for those who want to really understand their sexuality and heal, I would invite them to go to the website and read about all the different things that we work on. When you heal your sexuality, it has huge repercussions in your personal life.
Finally, the question we ask everybody we speak to: what advice would you give your 16-year-old self?
I would tell her to trust what she feels, to follow her intuition, and to believe that she can create what she envisages creating in the world. I would also say the same for every 16-year-old girl. If they feel it is true, and whatever they feel ambition to create in this world, I invite them to do it. I hope that this crazy and beautiful dream they have becomes our reality in the future.
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