When a woman is shown in a sexualized way – no depth beyond her appearance, perhaps to sell beer, cars, burgers, razors – we call it advertising. You see it everywhere. Television, magazines in the check out stand, billboards, buses. We are bombarded by sexualized women attempting to sell you everything, and hardly anyone objects.
When a woman is shown in a overly sexual way – nude photos, videos, on any device – we call it porn. You won’t see these in public spaces, but we all know where to quickly and easily find porn. You have a phone that you can open porn on right now. And as a culture, we look the other way. We excuse the excessive consumption of porn with “boys will be boys”.
When a woman shares a sexualized image of herself, to any degree, we shame her. Call her “slut” or “attention-whore” or just “whore”. When a woman is active in how her sexuality is expressed, we reject it.
It’s OK to sexualize women for the purpose of selling something. It’s OK to look at porn. But it’s NOT OK for a woman to be in control of her own sexuality.
Men like the women in porn because the women are presented as passive to the male gaze. They are unyielding, with no complication of a personality, no danger to the male ego because a woman in porn will never say “no”. Women in porn exist purely for the pleasure of men. Women in advertising are simply body parts – belly buttons, cleavage, endless legs, booty – they aren’t people, they are objects. Women in porn and advertising are a non-threatening sexual encounter, where consent isn’t even a factor.
Advertising and porn are times when a woman’s form and sexuality are acceptable. When a woman’s sexuality is purely for the consumers purpose, and they can’t threaten rejection, we are comfortable sexualizing women. And with this bombardment of sexualized women in every corner of our day, it leads to us forgetting that those aren’t real women.
Stolen or leaked celebrity nudes or sex tapes? Have at it! But if Kim Kardashian wants to post a nude selfie all of her own accord then she is a slut and we don’t want that being an example for our young girls! If a woman feels good about herself and feels like presenting her sexual energy exactly the way she wants to, she is condemned and disrespected. Maybe even threatened, assaulted, or even killed.
When a woman feels good about the way she looks – empowered, beautiful, sexy, confident – and expresses this by sharing a photo of herself (clothed or nude) we punish her. She is a “slut”, “trash”, “seeking attention”. But if her photos are stolen, well she deserved it.
Porn is fine, advertising is great, and taking a woman’s control away from her expression is totally cool. Right?
The message is this: it’s OK to commodify a woman’s body, it’s OK to co-opt female sexuality, as long as the woman in question is passive in the expression of sexuality and it is for the gratification of men. If the woman is actively in control of her sexuality, and god forbid, she is receiving satisfaction in her expression, we want nothing to do with that.
Women are set up to lose. Whether it’s ignoring their sexual assault claims, calling them names, or sending middle school aged girls home for wearing clothes too distracting for boys – it’s all connected. And none of it’s really about sex.
It’s all about controlling women. Taking away their right to power, autonomy, confidence, control. You can enjoy our bodies, but we can’t. Our culture upholds a norm that women’s bodies are for being used, and demand her self-ownership and choice. When a woman’s choice comes into her sexuality, that’s when it’s a problem.
Women are told from birth to cover up, to be modest. Because men cannot control themselves, and therefore have no ultimate responsibility for their actions, but rather woman do. Men are enabled to desire sex, domination, and power over women. And they are bombarded all day every day with the message that they should. Men are encouraged in their objectification of women, women are held responsible for any unwanted encounter because women are just too enticing, and neither are taught to respect women.
Modesty is presented often as a form of protection, a defense against men’s impulsiveness. But not only does “modesty” fail to protect women, it’s actively harmful. It perpetuates the idea that respecting women is dependent on what the woman is wearing, or not wearing. It perpetuates the idea that men have an inherent right to sexualize women, and no consent is required for that. Modesty isn’t intended to keep women safe, it’s intended to justify men in their disregard.
Advertising, porn, modesty, they are all socially acceptable ways to sexualize women. They are all ways we communicate to women that they are to be passive in their sexual experiences, and they are to submit their bodies for male gain. And when a woman dares to defy these controls, dares to take command of her own actions, dares to make her own rules, we ridicule her. She is dangerous. We have become so used to the passive sexualized woman that we fear the active sexual woman.
An empowered woman is dangerous because a women who can say yes is also a woman who can say no.