Cartoonish vs Authentic Sexuality
Posted by BroadBlogs
“I believe we should afford our daughters and ourselves a right to our own authentic sexuality,” to paraphrase psychoanalyst and author Joyce McFadden. “Not the cartoonish MTV kind, but the kind where we respect ourselves enough to listen to what our bodies and hearts feel is right for us.”
What is authentic sexuality? In a recent post I suggested it is neither shameful nor a crutch for powerlessness or low self-esteem. But what else?
Young women are flooded with images screaming “sexy is” which can feel foreign or unpleasant. Or the market offers limited choice. Some have a hard time finding anything they feel comfortable wearing because sexy is all that’s offered.
Cartoonish sexuality is all about surface. It’s about plastic and peroxide, feeling famished and wearing clothing – or even implants – that don’t quite fit.
Actor Gabriel Olds tells a story about a woman he met at a party who blurted out, “By the way, these fake boobs are so not me.” He asked why she’d gotten them. A former boyfriend had awoken her one morning with the romantic proposition, “Hey, you ever think about getting better tits?” So she bought D-cups. He left her soon after. Eventually, she got the implants removed because they had never felt like “her.”
I asked my students how they imagined cartoonish sexuality. They saw it as a freakish figure not found in nature: Huge boobs combined with small waist and hips, big lips, bleached blond hair. Also, how society sees sexy – not what comes from inside. Artificial and superficial.
Taking it further, how cartoonish are seven-year-olds wearing Abercrombie and Finch padded bras or ten-year-olds in thongs? (Do parents actually buy these or does Abercrombie just stock them knowing they’ll bring plenty of free publicity?)
And authentic sexuality? When it came to looks, my students described it as natural, appreciating a range of sizes and body types, including your own. Light makeup (or none), a real smile, good personality, a sense of humor and confidence. Who you really are. I’ve got some pretty wise students.
Let’s turn to what inauthentic sexuality feels like. Having sex out of feeling pressured from friends or boyfriends. Having sex because it seems like the “right time,” but not because you want to.
Experiencing sexuality through the male gaze is not authentic, either. Women too often focus on how they look instead of how they feel in the bedroom. They are observing (and often criticizing) but not experiencing.
Inauthentic sexuality involves unhappily acting like porn stars for your partner’s pleasure, but not your own. (If you’re both enjoying it, that’s different). Some do things they don’t like just to keep the guy. One woman called these experiences “harrowing.”
We can all take a page from our ancient sex-positive Tahitian sisters who were not objectified in the way Western women are today, who learned the beauty of sexuality, and who did not act only for others. Of course, we live in a complex world so our sexuality must be conscientious. We must protect ourselves and others from sexually transmitted diseases. We must take care not to bring lives into the world when we are not ready for the responsibility.
Here’s what one commenter on Part I of this series wrote.
Personally, I’m constantly questioning myself when I get dressed; am I choosing this outfit for attention or simply because I genuinely like it? I try to embrace my sexuality and my femininity and dress/act in a way that’s natural for me. I don’t like playing games or feeling like I have to put on a show for others… Perhaps one small step towards liberation is dressing and acting for oneself rather than for others.
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 May 4, 2011, in body image, feminism, gender, objectification, psychology, sex, sexism, women and tagged authentic sexuality, body image, culture, feminism, gender, objectification, perfect body, psychology, sex, sexism, sexual objectification, sexuality, social psychology, women. Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.