As long as I've been doing my Facebook Sexism blog on Tumblr, people have been submitting variations on this theme. Dudes sling this metaphor around like it actually makes sense. And trust me, people are having to actively speak out against it on a regular basis.
So when someone asked me yesterday if I could help him take down this horrific analogy, I was more than happy to pitch in. Here's my response:
Well, let’s back up a second. Even if the lock/key metaphor wasn’t sexist, which it is, it’s also just totally illogical. WHY in the world should we extrapolate a fact that is true about an OBJECT to be true about our genitals? Seriously…how does that comparison make ANY sense? Last I checked my vagina and a lock have very little in common.
Also—have you seen the pencil sharpener metaphor reaction? (A pencil that gets sharpened too much is eventually reduced to nothing. A pencil sharpener can sharpen tons of pencils and be just fine.) It’s a pretty good way to point out (to sexists who need it pointed out) how this whole “it must be true for an inanimate object, so it must be true for genitals!” thing is INCREDIBLY foolish and makes 0 sense.
Now, why it’s sexist—the very fact that someone needed this metaphor to try to justify male sexuality and shame female sexuality, is sexist! It’s an incredibly tired old trope, with absolutely no rational basis (that men are “naturally” more sex driven and women should remain pure, virginal, etc.) It’s all a part of the patriarchy designed to keep women subordinate and to socially control what we do with our bodies. It’s slut shaming at its finest, and it’s just using a ridiculous metaphor to justify a deeply bigoted view. (For detailed reading on this topic, I suggest Jessica Valenti’s Purity Myth.)
And while we’re at it, WHY does your friend need this to not be sexist? Why would he defend it? Is it because he is deeply invested in a world where he is free to express his sexuality but women aren’t? Perhaps ask him that… I hope this is helpful!
I really, really hate that fucking metaphor.The next time that someone tries to tell me that feminism is irrelevant, once I recover from uncontrollable fits of laughter, I'll mention this. I will remind them that just because our culture looks different than it did 25, 50, or 100 years ago, it doesn't mean sexism is dead. Young women are still very much fighting a battle against the same old shit--misogyny, double standards, entitlement to their bodies, etc.--it's just packaged in new language like this metaphor or the "friend zone," or insulting a man by saying he has a vagina. (And that one has some bonus cissexism!)
The day that women got the right to vote or when birth control became available or when women started working outside the home didn't suddenly erase all the misogyny that was in everyone's heads. So yes, the way that society oppresses women might look different with each generation, but the fact remains that oppression is a constant.
All right, y'all. I'm declaring the lock/key metaphor to be the stupidest metaphor or all time! You on board? Now let us go forth and verbally destroy anyone who tries to use it.