Every day all of us are bombarded with media messages, messages that translate and create a larger culture, a culture influencing our beliefs, shaping our ideas, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Culture: a : the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time.
(Image of recent film cover promoting a teen-friendly film, “Jumanji,” in which the only character sexualized is a teen girl.)
The reason for this lack of female perspective in our culture is not a result of magic stones or voodoo dolls. For much of our history, women were simply banned from being media creators; Men have been the sole scriptwriters, ultimately having sole power to shape our notions of sex, lust, desire, and attraction. With men creating the media/cultural narrative, women have been portrayed via the fantasy of men, while men have had the advantage of portraying themselves. It is no wonder that when women do appear on-screen, we are younger, more attractive, sexualized, and more naked than our male counterparts.
Think of the hit show, “Game of Thrones,” and it’s male nudity problem. Despite the show demanding a level of gratuitous nudity that apparently only porn stars can handle (porn stars had to be hired to meet the demand for female nudity), the first five seasons boosted only two full frontal male nude scenes to its thirty-three nude scenes for female actresses. To add insult to injury, these super sex kittens, not limited to, “Game of Thrones,” naked on our screens, are often in portrayed in subordinate roles, dependent on the men around them, for better or worse, to save the day. In other words: men do while women appear.
The following clip from, “Game of Thrones,” depicts a man, fully clothed, teaching two women (bare body), how to engage in lesbian sex, because women are clueless about how to do this (sarcasm).
Only in very recent history have women started gaining traction in being media creators becoming writers, directors, producers, and such, leaving us with a lot of catch up work.
Here are some unsettling statistics from the Women’s Media Center (WMC):
-Men dominate “hard news” (science, world political coverage, etc.) 65-70% of the time.
-Men dominant media public opinion at 70%.
-Hollywood executives are overwhelmingly white and male with studio senior management being 82% male. Of Hollywood’s top paid union executives, a man makes 60% more than the top paid female union executive.
Women and Hollywood report similar disturbing statistics:
-Of the top grossing film in 2017, only 8% of the directors were women, and only 10% were writers.
-Only 5 women have ever been nominated for best director, with only one, Kathryn Bigelow, actually winning.
Things are not much better for women—in terms of equal representation— in the music industry or in government either, with women comprising only 23% of government positions as of 2016, according to Center for American Women and Politics, with many of these positions still being subordinate to men.
Unfortunately, oftentimes, even when women do have a role in the cultural creation, they regurgitate the patriarchal script because, sadly, this is all they have known, making the solutions to this problem more nuanced than creating equal representation. Alongside equality in representation, we need education on these sexist messages and their effects.
The Evolution of Sexism:
As culture is dynamic and ever-changing, so are its messages. The messages that have been created for women have evolved in shifting climates. If you look at the big screen, women have moved from the kitchen on their hands, and knees scrubbing linoleum, prim, proper and pure to the “working” girl, in stilettos—and yet, strangely, things have not really improved for women. For one, despite the TV depiction, women are still primarily the ones doing the caregiving, cooking, and cleaning. Only now, they generally have to do it after working a full day, with, according to the Department of Labor, 47% of the workforce being made up of women. Secondly, just as sex to the housewife in “Leave it to Beaver,” was strictly male business, it remains so for the stripper on the pole. Though women have apparently traded aprons for miniskirts, hot and heavy, cued for sex, it–it being pleasure–still has nothing to do with her at all. Her body is simply his commodity, having been bought and sold a long time ago, alongside bubble gum and toilet paper, centered on the covers of Playboy and Hustler, and today, on the digital pages of PornHub.
Today, we women, still find ourselves on hands and knees, scrubbing floors, but also giving unreciprocated oral, waiting on his money shot, the word his being very appropriate given that it was men who commodified our bodies, a commodity that has earned them billions of dollars.
Where the Hell is My Cookie?
The image above is quite common, portraying women as overtly hypersexualized, again from the perspective of what men want to see, translating to women who are literally clueless about what may bring them pleasure sexually, or even what they may find visually stimulating. In fact, the only pleasure a woman is promised in exchange for all her gratuitous flesh is HIS PLEASURE; His pleasure is meant to be her pleasure. A few clicks on internet porn shows just how severe this message is forced. In much of mainstream porn, women’s bodies are violently pushed to extreme limits as a man/men twist and torque her body for his use until all that pleasure ends up in her face.
Given this, it is no wonder that when young girls engage in sexual relationships with their male peers, they bring this sexist script to the relationship, absolutely unaware of what may bring them pleasure, what they desire to look at, feel, or express sexually. How would they know? Playing along, they objectify themselves and surrender to what their male partner/s desire, engaging in behaviors that make them uncomfortable or even bring them physical, emotional and/or psychological pain. This phenomenon has been documented through research. Researchers have walked the halls of our high schools talking to young girls and boys. What they have found is disturbing: Our young girls feel pressured, and are engaging, in coercive sex practices, such as sending explicit photos of themselves in hypersexed positions. Photos that could be, and are often, used against them later in what is being termed, “revenge porn.”
These girls are also engaging in anal sex, despite many finding it physically painful. The males in these studies tell researchers that despite realizing certain sex acts are painful to their partners, they feel compelled to imitate acts that they see depicted in much of mainstream porn. Research has also documented that young girls report feeling pressured to engage in oral sex, without expecting it in return. The boys back this claim up, stating that they expect oral sex, but do not feel pressured to return the favor. Further, both boys and girls are more likely to refer to the female vagina in negative terms such as “gross,” or “nasty,” while male genitalia is not described in such debasing terms. Note that this trend is common in mainstream discourse with the female genitalia being used to disparage someone, i.e., “Don’t be a pussy.”
(Image from Cosmo encouraging women to engage in Anal sex for male pleasure despite it being painful to MOST women)
A Lot of love, Free for Men:
Despite the image of the liberated woman, one inclined to casual sex, no strings attached, or regrets, reality sets in, doesn’t it? The majority of girls and women who do the hookup sex thing do, in fact, have regrets (including depressive symptoms), one of them being that hookup sex really isn’t all that enjoyable for them, yet carries all the risks.
According to research studies, women are less likely to reap the same benefits from casual sex that their male partners reap, benefits such as orgasms, and social status. These free-loving females admit that they do not even feel comfortable telling their casual partners what may bring them pleasure, while the male partners report that they do not even feel obligated to focus on her pleasure. Ironic, given that his pleasure is all she seems to focus on, with woman after woman admitting that they will pull out all the stunts to make sure he is pleased—oftentimes at her own expense. With such inequities in pleasure, it is no wonder that women are significantly less likely to reach climax during sex, even in committed relationships, with many women reporting never having had a single orgasm during sex.
“The male psychology on women’s orgasms is comparable to their psychology on housework: Men don’t pull their weight on either front because no one makes them.” -H. Seligson
Then there is the aftermath, the ever-suffering double standard following all the hard work of getting Tom, Dick, and Harry off: A man who sleeps around is a playboy, a hustler, a bachelor, a player, while a woman who sleeps around is a slut, a scant, a whore. The fall out of loose sex for women, especially younger girls, still in High School, or, let’s be honest, middle school, can be devastating, as they are branded with derogatory terms by their peers, taunted on the school bus, and down the hallways, while their male counterparts are propped up as real men.
“…But Women Do this to Themselves.”
When society tells an entire group of people–women in this case– that their pleasure/power equates to whether men deem their bodies (rendered objects) as worthy or not, it is not hard to understand why young girls and women willingly, and frantically present themselves as sex objects, egged on by a fashion industry all to willing to monopolize on the inevitable insecurities such a culture creates. This tendency can be seen even in the most unsexy of places: The gym floor. If you have ever spent more than a few minutes in a gym, you will notice quite quickly just how differently men and women dress to sit on a leg lift machine. While men wear sweatpants and loose fitting shirts (manufactured by the fashion industry), women are doing their bent over rows in spandex—now see-through, and crop tops. Women are given two options: Fuckable or Invisible? And who wants to be invisible? This internalization of these negative cultural messages by girls and women is not hocus-pocus. It is a common phenomenon, having its own term: Internalized Oppression, described as:
“When people are targeted, discriminated against, or oppressed over a period of time, they often internalize (believe and make part of their self-image – their internal view of themselves) the myths and misinformation that society communicates to them about their group.”
(Image of men wearing gym clothes designed for women)
One example that profoundly illustrates the sheer power of this trend among the oppressed is the 1940’s doll test, conducted by Kenneth and Mamie Clark. Young black children were presented with black and white baby dolls. The children were then asked which baby doll they preferred. They were also asked to describe the baby dolls. Sadly, these young black children preferred the white baby dolls, describing them in positive terms, at the same time, describing the black baby dolls as “ugly,” ‘stupid,” etc.
An example of this phenomenon as it relates to sexism is the unfortunate case of Miley Cyrus. This young girl was intentionally sexed up by her agents, and producers to help her shed the “Hannah Montana” look. In order to be accepted in the big girl world of pop music, she needed to look like and act like a porn star.
Cue the Music for #MeToo:
This inequality translates beyond consensual sexual relationships to rampant sexual assault and harassment. Men who are sucking on a media message that they deserve access to women bodies can act out behaviorally when the cultural script does not play out as expected. Elliot Roger, a 22-year college student went on a shooting rampage in Santa Barbara, California, after posting a video in which he promises, “I will slaughter every single blonde slut I see.” Elliot confesses in the same video that he blamed women for him being a virgin. Elliot, making good on his threats, killed six people before committing suicide. Sexual misconduct is not always criminal, or fatal; however, it almost always creates a sense of oppression. An example, for reference, is the accepted belief that men have a pass to stare down and size up every woman who walks 500-mile radius of them. This behavior is usually excused with a simple, “boys will be boys.” Let’s be clear: A middle-aged man having to check out a group of teens is not excusable, and a clear symptom of a society that has given men saturated access to female bodies. All this leering, paired with society’s hyperfocus on women’s bodies makes it uncomfortable for women to even walk down the street. Couple this uncomfortable feeling with the prevalence of sexual assault, and you have women living with a keen sense of fear.
(An image reversing the roles to show viewers what it would look like if men were sexually exploited like women.)
My Barbie Doll Has Brains
Our bodies on constant display, and objectified, again translates to real-world statistics. A young girl, Maya Nava, 18 and dying to be Miss. Venezuela, had four surgeries to win the title, only to be the first runner-up. She confessed to an interviewer that she had breast implants, a nose job, dental work, and a plastic mesh sewn to her tongue so that eating solid foods would be harder, making it easier to lose weight. The plastic mesh is extreme, I suppose. Most of our young girls are just starving themselves, without the aid of plastic, with astounding numbers of young women engaging in extreme dieting behaviors. Given that only a rare breed of women (usually young, white, tone, slim, large breast/bum, flat stomach) met the physical characteristics of the “ideal” so often presented as “worthy” in the media, many women suffer from anxiety and depression centered on body image issues, desperate to be worthy. To alleviate these anxieties, many turn to surgeons, all too willing to shape them into the “ideal” woman.
The rates of plastic surgery among women versus men are extremely telling, with over 90 percent of cosmetic surgeries being performed on women. And another shocker: Over 80% of these surgeries are being performed by men, leaving women not only forced on display, but men actually designing the display with their very own hands. The top procedures being breast augmentation, face lifts, and liposuction, with butt enhancement being one of the fastest growing procedures, egged on by the surgeries of the Kardashian clan. Since 2000, plastic surgeons have seen a growth rate of 115% according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, with a chunk of this growth being teen girls seeking to imitate the newest Hollywood hypersexed icon. Currently, Kellie Jenner is the most followed woman on Instagram, encouraging young girls to imitate her plastic look. At just 22 years old, this young girl has had multiple surgeries, which have dramatically transformed her face and body.
(Dramatic before and after of Jenner)
As if perky breast weren’t enough, women are now seeking surgery on their most intimate parts. With women’s vagina’s being on constant display in pornography–now seeping into the mainstream media, labia surgery is on the rise (39% spike in 2016), with plastic surgeons reporting a sharp rise in women–and even young girl as young as nine years old requesting labiaplasty (procedure to trim the vulva’s inner lips).
(Image of labia surgery)
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