Raunch=Empowerment? Think again…

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.

8 thoughts on “Raunch=Empowerment? Think again…

  1. Danni Miller says:

    Warning to those who might wish to comment – Edublogs will not allow comments that use certain words (e.g: p*rn) so please use asterixs if you do not wish to find all your eloquent ideas automatically deleted. 🙂

  2. Danni Miller says:

    Another issue I want to raise here – why are women who feel uncomfortable with the sexualisation and objectification of other women so often labeled prudish or repressed? Why must they be silenced?

    It must also be pointed out too that the sex industry that is so often glorified by raunch culture is not all just harmless fun. Research clearly shows many women involved in it are abused physically and emotionally, much of the money goes to the men who manage these women, and drug addiction is rife. Why does our society glorify an industry that is in reality very damaging to many of the women who are in it?

    I want to see women free to explore their sexuality in a variety of healthy ways.

    I also want to see women explore their power in a variety of ways – sexual power is just one form of female power after all and, when it is based solely on being eye candy for men, a pretty limited form of power at that.

    When I was a teen girl we felt pressured to be thin, pretty and nice. Now girls are told they need to be thin, pretty and HOT – up for anything.

    “Nice” was damn limiting but make no mistake, so is “naughty.”

  3. Selena says:

    Great post Sonia. I also highly recommend Ariel Levy’s book to give some voice and power back to women who are upset by this stuff but don’t know what to say.

  4. Lisa Porter says:

    Fantastic post, Sonia! I found myself nodding along to it and probably disturbing my colleagues with my mutterings. I consider myself blessed to have a partner who respects me, and women in general, enough to not buy into the strip culture. The respect is mutual though – I know some women who will ban their partners from going to clubs but will cheerily go on a girl’s night out to Manpower. I figure, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander!

  5. Georgia says:

    Hello, it’s Georgia here.

    I thought I would take part in a “healthy debate”. Although what I have to say is not a point of view, a matter of opinion or a value system, I’m just a healthy-minded girl. Let’s talk about Danni’s comment (number 2).

    First of all, Danni states that the sex industry is “not all just harmless fun”. Not all just harmless fun! Not one iota of the sex industry is harmless fun. This is an industry that in all its forms degrades and sexually objectifies human beings. Harmless fun? That sounds like Jo Lamble.

    She also declares that “many” women involved in p*rn are abused physically and emotionally and that it is “very damaging to many of the women who are in it”. Many women. Many women. So some are not? What?

    Everyone involved in the p*rn industry (including those who view it) is miserable, lost and empty. This is because they have no truly close relationships, and no idea of how to be emotionally intimate. This is the root of all objectification.

    And “sexual power is just one form of female power”. I’m sorry, Danni, but if we lived in a healthy world there would be no such thing as sexual power. Sexual power only exists because men objectify women (and now vice-versa). There would be no way for us to tease and titillate them if they saw us so clearly as human beings. This insidious conditioning is now part of our society, so much so that even the majority of psychologists no longer understand.

    What is with the statement about “Nice” being “damn limiting”. I’m “Nice”. Obviously, I find it terrrrribly “limiting”.

    I am so disturbed to find the CEO of Enlighten has such an unhealthy attitude. I can’t believe you tell the girls at the schools you visit  “sexual power is just one form of female empowerment”, the sex industry is “not all just harmless fun”.  Wow, that’s enlightening.

    I made the mistake of assuming Enlighten Education understood the cause and ramifications of objectification. However it is clear that not even the CEO understands the devastating effects this has on both the sexes.

  6. Danni Miller says:

    Hi Georgia,

    How wonderful it is to hear from a girl with strong opinions! I would like to put your mind immediately at rest and reassure you that I also absolutely believe there are serious, inherent dangers in objectifying and sexualising girls and women. This is why I have made working to combat both my life’s work.

    The reason I posted Sonia’s piece, and helped her work on this post, was as I support and share her opinions.

    Unfortunately, if one or two words or phrases are taken out of context it is possible to twist meaning and, more importantly, the writer’s intent. My comments on the post attempted to expose the darker side of the p*rn industry that is often not publicized or discussed – the serious emotional and physical exploitation of the women within it. I clearly state that the sex industry is NOT just harmless fun. It is harmful, and I give examples of just some of the types of harm it causes women.

    I also do not think an emphasis on sexual power is ideal. However, like you, I also recognise that at the moment it exists. I was challenging women to seek other ways of finding power apart from being just “eye candy”. We are indeed so much more than just our bodies!

    My comment about “nice” being a limiting label did not imply I think being “nice” is not a wonderful quality. What I meant by this was that in the past when women were pressured to be “nice”, this implied they should be passive, that they should not argue, nor speak out. This was a limiting view. I apologise for not elaborating on this point to make my meaning clearer there.

    I can assure you I do not speak directly about sexuality, sexual power or the sex industry in any of my work with teenage girls. I must admit I was hurt that you suggested I would based solely on reading a brief comment I made on the dangers I see in adult women buying into, or glorifying, raunch culture.

    What do I actually say to teen girls? The hundreds of teenage girls I work with each week clearly articulate how positive, affirming and in fact life changing our workshops are for them. You may be interested to read what they say about themselves and about our work – https://www.enlighteneducation.com.

    Finally, let me summarise by being crystal clear so there will be no more misunderstandings – I do not, nor have I ever, supported, promoted or defended the pornography or the sex industry.

    Thanks Georgia for getting involved in a healthy debate. I am so pleased I have had the chance to clear things up.

    Long may all girls and women challenge, support and respect themselves and each other…

  7. Jane Higgins says:

    Wonderful post Sonia! If my sexuality was based on my closely shaven legs, my trim taught and terrific tummy, my smooth, soft and sexy body …. I would be in big trouble. I do not have any of these external qualities or looks!!! My sexuality is based on the belief that I am beautiful and strong and wonderful and sexy and empowered. It has nothing to do with what media and culture tells me I must be to be attractive.

    Raunch culture is damaging and destructive to our young girls in so many ways. We see the results of our beautiful girls exposed to it every week when we work with them to empower them to be strong, educated, media savvy, compassionate girls. By showing girls there are alternative role models such as ourselves (hairy legs and all) we empower them to be who they really are.
    What a wonderful job we have!!!

  8. Odette says:

    Hmmm…these posts are very interesting. I am a law student who worked as a stripper for a year in 2008. Overall, I felt the experience was very liberating. To be a stripper on stage, you have to be truly unafraid of your body and your sexuality. If anything, I became more confident in myself during that time. I even put on a few kilos – something which would have bothered me previously, but no longer did. Through working as a stripper, I realised my value as a whole woman, a beautiful package, a gift. I came to care less about the little things – whether my nose was a little crooked, or my bottom a little big – it didn’t, and still doesn’t, matter. Contrary to what you might expect, being in the “sex industry” (not that we ever had sex commercially, we just sold the fantasy) taught me more about my own individuality. I never played the blonde playboy bunny. I played me – the brunette with a penchant for black lace and a bookish attitude. Being yourself works in the industry – it’s attractive. I think people shouldn’t pay out the industry as necessarily ‘exploitative’ or ‘objectifying’ – I got a lot out of it, and I felt much more empowered being well paid for being a gorgeous, talented dancer, than I had in previous jobs as a bartender, where I was treated as less than the scum on the bottom of the manager’s shoe.

    Oh, and another thing. I just don’t buy all this stuff about hairy legs demonstrating your empowerment. I’ve been in a serious relationship (engaged) with the same man for over 3 years, and while I accept him regardless of his looks, it’s sexy when a guy looks after himself and his appearance. And if I expect (or at least hope for) that from my partner, why shouldn’t he expect it from me? Let’s face it, hairy legs don’t feel as nice to the touch as shaven legs do, and both men and women should make an effort to stay sexy for their partners or their potential partners, as well as themselves of course! Women should be appreciated for their minds, but we should also be appreciated for our bodies – both mind and body are a part of our nature and there is no joy in denying either one. As for ‘raunch’ culture, I find it amusing that people try to emulate us strippers in the clothes they wear on the street – there is a time and a place for everything, and I must say a lot of the clothing on the market is downright distasteful – stuff I wouldn’t even dream of wearing to work, as it would be too tacky for words!

    Come on femmies, embrace your sexiness! That means embracing not just your minds, but also your bodies – in a healthy, balanced way 🙂

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