What happens when you beat a sex object? Or hang her? Or rape her? Or hogtie and torture her?
Pop culture is filled with images of women as objects. It’s also filled with images of women as abused objects. But then, the two go hand in hand: Objects have no feelings to empathize with, no lives of their own to interrupt or worry about. They can exist just for sadistic pleasure.
Oddly, I’m not seeking to shame anyone who gets aroused by these images. People tend to unconsciously absorb their culture like a sponge – we all do. Even my women’s studies students and the feminist blogs I read register a taste for this stuff. No surprise that so many find it sexy, our society is so filled with these images.
At the same time, I’m not dismissing the issue. Whether you want to participate or fight it, at least have eyes open and look at the downside.
When I was a little girl I got a children’s book from the library. In one story a woman was punished: She was stripped, placed in a kettle-like contraption with spikes to poke her, and driven through the town in humiliation. That’s my first memory of sexualized abuse.
My second encounter was flipping TV stations as a child, and seeing a man throw a woman over his knee to spank her. Apparently, if I’d flipped through a magazine I could have seen an ad with the same image.
When I got older the Rolling Stones promoted their “Black and Blue” album with a picture of a woman bound and bruised.
At the movies women are killed – in sexy bras and panties – in popular horror flicks. In tamer fare, Scarlett started out resisting Rhett, but ended up enjoying a night of passion as “no” turned to “yes.” In the soaps, Luke raped Laura and they fell in love.
Devo’s “Whip It” showed a man whipping the clothes off a mannequin. The red hat from this video is now in the Smithsonian.
In magazines and billboards we are bombarded with ads depicting violence against women.
Romance novels and erotic tales tell stories of women who are abducted and raped and who fall in love with their captors. Mainstream movies like 9-1/2 Weeks and The Secretary depict women enjoying abuse at their lovers’ hands. Justine Timberlake slapped Janet Jackson around at the Super Bowl before ripping off her bodice. Megan Fox got beat up in a popular video that you can view over and over again. In the background Eminem mouths “I’m in flight high of a love drunk from the hate,” to which Rihanna replies, “I like the way it hurts.” And then there’s the porn world full of “no’s” turning to “yes.” Or “no” remaining “no,” but that’s sexy, too.
On a feminist website, one woman described the joys of being a sex slave avatar to a dominant man in the virtual world of “Second Life.” Another explained the appeal with the help of a poor understanding of evolutionary psychology: Through evolution, she explained, women have come to want male domination in their relationships.
That’s not really what evolutionary psych says (and I have issues with that field, anyway). How would craving your own abuse be adaptive? Pain is meant to warn us to stop doing something. Women’s genes don’t crave poor treatment. If they did, we’d find eroticized violence in every culture, but we don’t. Egalitarian societies like those of the American Indian (before contact with patriarchy) did not sexualize abused women.
Here are two big problems with eroticizing male dominance and women’s pain: First, women and men can both come to crave the abuse of women in real life. Second, when we make male dominance seem sexy, we become more accepting of male dominance.
As Mary Elizabeth Williams over at Salon described it:
He flexes his numerous tattooed muscles to the tune of “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” glowers in an “I mean business here” way that’s remarkably persuasive, and uh, I forget what I was talking about.
See the ad here.
Does Beckham bring balance to the scales of objectification? From Ryan Reynolds to Ryan Gosling to Taylor Lautner men’s bodies are increasingly drooled over.
While we are seeing more sexy guys, the fact that it’s newsworthy says it’s a bit unusual.
But last November DETAILS’ tackled men’s rising fixation with their bodies. Their slide show traced the phenomenon from 1986 home gym informercials through Mark Wahlberg’s giant Times Square boxer briefs ad (that snarled traffic in ‘92) to the emergence of light beer and the “the slim silhouette.” By 2002 Us, In Touch, Star and OK! eagerly exposed men’s six-packs. In 2008 Beckham’s Armani briefs overtook giant billboards on Main Street. And Emma Stone could be heard shrieking, “Seriously?! It’s like you’re Photoshopped!” as she gaped at Ryan Gosling’s rippled abs in Crazy, Stupid, Love.
So is this a turn for the good?
I don’t think it’s a problem to see some sexy men and women in ads. The problem comes when this is the main way people (okay, women, in reality) are portrayed.
And when ALL we see is sexy women, even women start to see females as “the sexy ones.” What are we supposed to look at? It’s hot to see some sizzle emerge in a male form.
And so long as men continue to be portrayed in plenty of other ways Beckham, et al., will hardly transform men-at-large into sex objects.
On the other hand, men are becoming more body-conscious and young men are increasingly falling victim to anorexia and exercise addiction, while cosmetic surgery has increased 88% among men between 1997 and 2011.
Some had hoped that if men were objectified they wouldn’t like it and would stop objectifying us. Instead, men and women now both obediently follow body “perfecting” dictates.
But then, it’s not men so much as marketers, male and female, who know that 1) pretty bodies draw attention, even when they have nothing to do with the thing being sold and 2) inciting insecurity moves a lot of product as we spend endless sums hoping to embody a phantom perfection.
“Find fits for every body type,” the ad says.
Hmmm, I see tall and skinny in the first frame. Tall and skinny in the second frame. Tall and skinny in the third frame. And tall and skinny in the last frame.
Lisa Wade over at Sociological Images wonders,
Are they actually mocking us? Do they really think we are so stupid as to not find the text and visuals in this ad laughably mis-matched? Are they trying to offend all people outside of this “range” of body types so that they don’t wear their clothes? I just… I don’t know.
She goes on to observe that fashion advice almost always aims at “Getting women’s bodies, whatever shape they might be, to conform with one ideal body type: the skinny hourglass figure.”
The advice is all about trying to hide the shape of a woman’s actual body so that everyone looks just one way. Here’s advice for women with a “pear” shape. Use clothing to:
- slim your hips and thighs
- draw attention to the upper part of your body
- balance your figure with shoulder pads
- a roomy top will de-emphasize your bottom
- offset your hips
- avoid side pockets, they add bulk where you least need it
“Why not highlight that awesome booty and tiny waist and shoulders?” Lisa asks. “Work that pear-shape!”
Others celebrate variety as the spice of life. Check out these lines from a piece called, “That Girl: What Makes You Different Makes You Beautiful” @ Absurd Grace.
I want to teach my daughter appropriate and healthy ways of seeing herself so that she doesn’t have to go through the same self-deprecating madness that I went through. It horrifies me that she could possibly grow up to be fearful of being perfectly herself, imperfections and all.
I think I will start with making a rule that she doesn’t look at Teen magazines in order to know what beauty is. Instead I am going to teach her that to look differently is real beauty. To use your natural physical attributes that are unlike everyone else is what makes you charming. And to have a balanced, kind, compassionate soul is desirous. If you can look deep inside of yourself, into your heart, and know that you’ve acted with those characteristics – that is beauty.
Everything else is just detail that can and will change. But who you are, inside, and what makes you different on the outside, that is where the stunning comes in.
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It’s that time of year again—Halloween!–when corporate America encourages girls and women to celebrate our inner sluts.
I took my 11-year-old son to a newly opened “Halloween City” in the small southern town where I live. After wading through all the wonderfully gory zombies, steam- spewing skeletons and catapulting ghouls, we came to the costumes.
From past experience, I generally know what to expect, but even I was surprised at what I saw. All along the back wall in Halloween City were pictures of hundreds of costumes for females displayed under a sign that read “Hot! Hot! Hot!”
I’m amazed at the ability of Halloween marketers to turn any kind of cartoon character, profession or sport into a sexpot costume for women and girls. The sexed-up witch, nurse or cheerleader is predictable, but here’s what I also found:
Police officers: “Officer Naughty,” “Your Busted,” “Handcuff Hottie,” “Dirty Cop” and “Sexy Border Control Costume.”
Fire fighters: “Fire Fox” and “Smokin’ Firewoman.”
Sports: “Tackle Me,” “Boxer Babe” and “Fastball Fox.”
Fairytale characters: “Seductive Snow White” and “Racy Red Riding Hood,” and “Dorothy Diva” (as in the Wizard of Oz).
Pirates: “Pirates Treasure” (yes, she IS the treasure), “Pirate Wench” and “Sex Swash Buckler” for adults, and “Pirate Cutie” for girls, complete with very short, off-the-shoulder dress, hip wrap, fishnet tights and fishnet elbow-length gloves.
Students: To fulfill men’s sexual harassment fantasies, there’s “Teacher’s Pet Sexy.”
At this small-town Georgia store, hypersexualized costumes far outnumbered other costumes for women (by 10 to 1, easily). And there were no sexualized costumes for men, except for pervert costumes like “Banana Flasher” and “Dr. Howie Feltersnatch, M.D. Gynecologist.”
For little girls, there was “Indian Babe” and “Geisha” (sexualizing and exoticizing the non-white other), while for the boys you had the “MacDaddy” pimp costume, complete with hundred-dollar bills.
Many of these costumes come from Dreamgirls. Their Dreamgirl Junior page includes “Robyn da Hood,” complete with corset, lace-up gauntlets and money bag.
After all this, I finally came upon the costume that clearly wins the Most Sexist Award: “Anita Waxin.’” Designed to be worn by men, it includes a long blond wig, artificial breasts, pale flesh-colored stockings and a red lifeguard bathing suit with black hair protruding out of both sides of the crotch. All for $30–a steal!
The costume’s contempt for the female body is palpable. It oozes scorn for women who don’t wax and says that natural women are disgusting and a joke. Can you imagine a world in which comparable scorn for the male body existed to the degree that it ended up in Halloween costumes?
In sum, the costumes I saw at Halloween City are all about women as objects of men’s sexual pleasure, abuse or scorn.
How about you? What Halloween costume have you seen this year that should get the award for most sexist?
Reposted with permission from the Ms. Magazine Blog.