Guest post by Enlighten Education’s Victorian Program Director Sonia Lyne:
Why is it that popular culture has now connected the sexual excitement of men with the “empowerment” of women? Why is attaining sexual power through stripping, fishnets and mimicking porn stars seen as the only way to be desired and desirable? Why is sexual power an attribute that we value so highly?
Many women today are preoccupied with their bodies and looks and have forgotten about the power of their minds. We live in a world today that is saturated with products, services and advertisements selling us the idea that we need to always look “perfect” and appear sexually available.
We are inundated with images of women that are not reflective of how women really are. We continually see a cookie-cutter stripper/porn star version of “sexy”. Real female sexuality can be far more contradictory, complex and interesting. Real female sexuality is not solely focused on being “eye candy” for men.
80 Year old Hugh and Paris. Is enticing “Granddad” really liberation? For whom?
Many young women feel defeated and engage in self loathing because they cannot live up to this “Hugh Heffner-esque” ideal. Ariel Levy’s insightful book Female Chauvinist Pigs, Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, looks at the new breed of so-called “empowered women” who are really only being sold a type of male centered pseudo empowerment and buying into their own sexualisation and objectification:
Only thirty years (my lifetime) ago, our mothers were “burning their bras” and picketing Playboy, and suddenly we were getting implants and wearing the bunny logo as supposed symbols of our liberation. How had the culture shifted so drastically in such a short period of time?
What was almost more surprising than the change itself were the responses I got when I started interviewing the men and — often — women who edit magazines like Maxim and make programs like The Man Show and Girls Gone Wild. This new raunch culture didn’t mark the death of feminism, they told me; it was evidence that the feminist project had already been achieved. We’d earned the right to look at Playboy; we were empowered enough to get Brazilian bikini waxes. Women had come so far, I learned, we no longer needed to worry about objectification or misogyny. Instead, it was time for us to join the frat party of pop culture, where men had been enjoying themselves all along. If Male Chauvinist Pigs were men who regarded women as pieces of meat, we would outdo them and be Female Chauvinist Pigs: women who make sex objects of other women and of ourselves.”
Just one look at the “Girls Gone Wild” brand reminds us that this raunch obsession has indeed become mainstream. In our hyper-sexualized culture, to gain attention even very young women will adopt stripper-like dance moves and bare all. How telling are the song lyrics to the hit song ‘I Kissed a Girl”:
“This was never the way I planned
Not my intention
I got so brave, drink in hand
Lost my discretion…
I kissed a girl and I liked it
The taste of her cherry chapstick
I kissed a girl just to try it
I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it…”
( I Kissed a Girl, by Kate Perry).
It seems for this girl the act of kissing another girl had more to do with the drink in hand and the coquettish desire to provoke her boyfriend than any real pressing sexual urge of her own. Teen girls tell me it is now almost passé to engage in a girl-on-girl kissing session in front of the boys at parties. One girl I spoke to explained it thus: “Getting smashed and then getting it on with a girl friend used to be a guarantee of getting attention at parties, but now the boys expect more. They’ve seen it all before. Now it’s like, ‘yeah, yeah, whatever’.”
A recent essay titled “The Pornification of Girlhood” by Melinda Tankard Reist, published in Quadrant Journal (JULY 2008 – VOLUME LII NUMBER 7-8) delves into this concept and highlights the disturbing home truths about the effect this is having on even our young women and girls. Tankard Reist writes:
…the movement for women’s equality was overtaken by the movement for sexual license-the sexual revolution. To be free has come to mean the freedom to wrap your legs around a pole, flash your breasts in public, girls-gone-wild style, or perform acts of the oral variety on school- boys at weekend parties in lieu of the (as traditionally understood) goodnight kiss. In an age of “Girl Power”, many girls are feeling powerless. They are facing unprecedented social pressure, their emotional and psychological well-being at risk in ways never before imagined…
To quote[Joan Jacobs] Brumberg: ‘We have backed off from traditional supervision or guidance of adolescent girls; yet we sustain a popular culture that is permeated by sexual imagery, so much so that many young women regard their bodies and sexual allure as [their] primary currency.’ ”
Sexual allure as our primary currency? It is disturbing that it has come to this.