“Dressing Like Prostitutes”? Authentic Sexuality?
Posted by BroadBlogs
Why do moms let their daughters “dress like prostitutes?” asked Jennifer Moses in a Wall Street Journal piece that got people talking.
Moses thinks it’s because the moms had a sexually free past, which they now regret. “Not one woman I’ve ever asked about the subject,” she declared, “has said that she wishes she’d ‘experimented’ more.”
So wouldn’t you want your daughters to NOT look like prostitutes, then?
Yes, but mom’s don’t want to be hypocrites, she says, so they don’t know how to advise their daughters.
Joyce McFadden, writing in the Huffington Post, sees things differently. “I think the real problem is that dressing provocatively is one of the only outlets we allow our daughters to express their sexuality,” she said.
McFadden prefers a healthier approach, recommending moms help their daughters to own an authentic sexuality.
Sounds good. But what would that be?
As I see it, authentic sexuality contains many parts.
Authentic sexuality is not shameful
Bombarded with words like slut, skank and whore, it’s easy for sexually interested young women to feel polluted. I’m not aware of even one positive word that specifically communicates women enjoying sexuality. Compounding the problem, when parents avoid discussing the matter with their daughters the silence shows embarrassment. Meanwhile, church elders warn of the untamed libido, but the message can come across as “sex is sinful.” Opposing images of “Madonna and Whore” emphasize the point. Even when sex is forced upon women against their will, they can end up feel shamed, themselves.
Instead, women and girls need to know that sex it is completely natural. Understanding and exploring their bodies and what pleases them is, too.
Authentic sexuality is not a crutch for powerlessness or low self-esteem
More than one commenter on McFadden’s piece felt girls dressed provocatively to gain power over boys, or to simply feel empowered, generally. I’m all for female empowerment. But how much strength is there, really, in drawing the male gaze? Or in gaining a favor here or there? Is this power substantive? Some women may skillfully use their sexuality to manipulate, but manipulation is a weak form of power. It’s what people do when they feel they have no other choice.
Another commenter sees the matter differently: “I’ve worked as a school counselor and there is a difference between girls wearing clothing they are comfortable with and girls who wear clothing to manipulate and have power over boys, which is a self-esteem issue.”
Really about self-esteem? Maybe that’s right because I don’t see a lot of real power in sexy dressing.
Nothing wrong with feeling good when people find you attractive. But hopefully it’s not a primary source of self-worth. That sort of beauty is all about the surface, and it is fleeting.
Instead, real contributions create real power and substantive esteem.
Authentic sexuality also involves cutting through the lure of the market, peer pressure, and the flood of images that scream “sexy is” to discover one’s own sexuality and authentic pleasure.
But I’ll save that discussion for next week.
About BroadBlogsI have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych, women's psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State University. And I have blogged for Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos.
Posted on April 25, 2011, in feminism, gender, objectification, psychology, sex, sexism, women and tagged culture, feminism, gender, objectification, psychology, sex, sexism, sexual objectification, sexuality, social psychology, women. Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.