By Nicolette Clairmont
This article was originally a response by the author to an unsavory post on Reddit on the sexualization of women.
Have you ever seen images in a documentary of African bushmen and their tribes? Where the women are able to walk around topless and no one gives a shit? Why do you think that is? Because the cultural mindset of those tribes does not view women as sexualized objects, therefore their exposure is not cause for any arousal.
Now compare that mindset to the mindset in America. We’re very different, right? In fact, many would argue that the cultural mindset of Americans hyper-sexualizes females. For a long time, women were viewed as having little role in society other than pleasing the men in their lives. They were not encouraged to enter the workforce, not allowed to vote, not able to oppose their man (he’s beating her? She needs to put up with it, she’s his woman). Their literal function was to make their husbands’ lives easier: clean the house for him, cook for him, pleasure him sexually, provide him with children, and then raise those children.
I’m sure you are aware of how bad it used to be (if not, do a little research) and luckily, a lot of that has changed. Women are more widely recognized as competent, equal human beings here in America. However, there is one perception of them harking from outdated times that has managed to stick around over here…sexual objectification.
Sexual objectification undermines women in all that they do. It adds a layer of pressure to all women that men don’t have to endure. It undermines female politicians and business leaders and in reality all women. Even today, it is not unusual for a woman’s opinion to be taken less to heart than a man’s.
It causes women to be viewed as less capable than men in certain “non-sexy” fields, such as STEM fields, which in turn causes professors/employers/what-have-you to favor men and leads to discouragement in women to pursue these fields. For more info, read this NYT piece, Why Are There Still So Few Women In Science?
If you don’t believe me, think about this: what if a pornstar got on-stage to address our country over some super-critical, super-complex issue. Would you listen to what she had to say? Some would be open minded and judge her solely on the merit of her words, but the vaaaaast majority of people would dismiss her almost immediately, because of what she’s viewed as “good for.”
That same, automatic dismissal exists to a lesser extent for every female living in America, more-so for the ones that are actually attractive. How many times have you heard someone say something along the lines of: “yeah, like you wouldn’t expect her to be so smart because she’s really pretty, but she’s actually really smart.”
This is a problem, and the only way to fix it is to bring attention to it. Which in turn causes feminists to point out the following:
1. Ads that blatantly sexualize women.
Sure, the ads sell, but why? They are profiting from our cultural mindset. However, if we could change the mindset, the ads would no longer be any more effective than other effective means of advertising. What is effective advertising you ask? Anything that grabs your attention and holds it.
Sexy women in ads is not the end-all be-all, there are so many other ways to advertise, such as using humor, that are just as effective. No one’s saying you can’t have attractive people in advertisements, but to blatantly turn a woman into a sexual object, such as that in the new Carl’s Jr ads. Yeah, that’s really not contributing to the cultural enlightenment that we’re trying to achieve here.
And as a side note, the “unrealistic beauty standards” debate is a completely separate issue from sexually objectifying women. Feminists and women alike have problems with the sexualization of women because of everything mentioned above about how it reduces a woman’s power, influence, and worth in society.
Feminists have an issue with unrealistic beauty standards because of evidence that points towards it as being a major cause for esteem-issues, anxiety, anorexia, and other problems in children. There are girls as young as eight years old who are turning to anorexia to look like the photoshopped images they see in magazines. Eight years old!
The problem isn’t using beautiful women in ads—this has always been done—the problem is taking the absolute 1% of the most beautiful women on the planet, having them starve themselves, and then cutting off another 3 inches of waist with photoshop while removing the ribs poking through their skin so they look that little without being starved. This standard is not attainable by anyone, not even these women! Cindy Crawford is famously quoted as saying “I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford” in reference to the unreality that the makeup, lighting, and photoshop produces. Look at the unretouched versus retouched of Kim Kardashian’s break the internet photos http://hollywoodlife.com/…/kim-kardashian-untouched-butt-p…/
You may say “guys know this isn’t what most girls look like.” This isn’t what ANY girl looks like. From your text, you don’t seem to be familiar with the extent of photoshop—I suggest you look into it. And ultimately, the biggest problem with it all is that children don’t get it.
Have you seen the south park episode about photoshop, Kim Kardashian, and Kanye? There is a part where one of the characters shows another an unretouched photo, retouches it before his eyes, and shows him the final version. He is unable to grasp that the photo is unretouched (even though he literally just watched her do it) and believes the image to be real. This is a sadly true portrait of REAL kids. Even if you explain to them that the pictures aren’t real, they just don’t get it. And it’s been hurting them.
2. Using women on TV shows/movies as nothing more than an—often sexual—accessory to the male protagonist.
This problem is found when a woman has no purpose to exist in a movie or show other than as a device for the male. For example, the wife dies and the husband goes on a killing spree. The wife character was written for no reason other than to enhance the male character; same goes for female characters that are only written into the script so that horny teenage males to flock to the theater and ogle.
The female character is on the same level as, say, a lamp. Maybe that lamp is the cause for a big shift in the story, but it’s a fucking lamp: 1 dimensional, no character, not worth paying attention to. This is not conducive to the notion that we are all equals, and it does nothing to dispel the “women are sexual objects” mentality.
Sometimes it’s okay to have this traditional dynamic in movies, it’s not like most feminists advocate that movies like this be banned completely. We simply ask that they make up only a minority of what the market is producing, or are at least balanced by an equal number of movies that feature a female protagonist with male objects on the side. As has been shown by the success of franchises such as the Hunger Games and Divergent, a strong female lead is not a recipe for a tank in the box-office. Therefore, there is no argument that action movies need to focus on males to be successful. The fact that most do just points to a bias in our culture, a belief that only men protagonists are worth watching. This needs to change (it already has but it needs to continue). There needs to be reinforcement in all aspects of society that women are equals in order for the mindset to actually change.
3.”Man up” reinforces traditional gender roles that have been proven to be toxic to many people.
This includes not only people that don’t seem to fit in the “traditional” boxes of gender identity but also those who do but feel like they can’t express themselves sometimes. You need to think about the message that is conveyed by these sayings. “Holy shit!” conveys an exclamation of surprise or shock, but “man up” conveys “strong qualities are to be associated with men; you’re not doing a good job being what you are.” It’s a negative message, which is why people have been bringing attention to it.
Furthermore, I’m sure that there are some old, racist sayings that have since been filtered out of polite language as a result of cultural enlightenment, would your argument of “it can’t be offensive because its ‘just an old saying'” hold up for defending those?
Obviously there are more examples but, as in your post, I’ll cut it off here.
The argument against the problems of sexualizing women is basically “these things aren’t sexism, they’re just the way society is.” You’re right; this is the way society is. That’s exactly why it needs to change.
So with that, here are my final word:
Do more research than you currently have. It seems to me that you have misunderstood a lot of the feminist arguments against these aspects of society.