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Media Representation and Women’s Sexuality

I like to believe that American women are now liberated and equal.  I make the distinction of “American” because there are many countries and cultures which do not share the same progressive ideas which America has.   And there has been progress – starting the vote, women – even if under represented –  are in careers and have positions of power in boardrooms, public institutions and other arenas.  And women have more choices with what they do with their bodies – not just with birth control and abortion, but also sexuality.  However, talking about sexuality (not sexual preference, but rather the female/maleness of humans) and nudity, it seems that it has been one step forward, two steps back for women.

In class we talked about the host of the Oscars, Seth MacFarlane singing the boob song and read two very different feminist editorials – one bashing and one mostly applauding the provocative theme of his humor.   We also talked about how “outing” topics of sexuality, nudity and sexual oppression, be it in satire or more mainstream avenues, is better than not being able to discuss what needs to be said to break down barriers.  I agree with the premise of having public dialogue, but question the results so far. If there really was sexual equality, feminists opinion would likely not be so radically different and  neither showing boobs in movies or humorously singing about seeing them would noteworthy.

Like many women’s issues, there is a double-standard.  American media shows women owning their own sexuality – which is as it should be – telling them they participate on their own terms.  Women can have sex “like a man” and flaunt their bodies (provided they conform to the popular standard of beauty) in whatever manner without reprisal.  So, I would like to believe that such participation of women in movies, hip-hop or even porn and prostitution is about choice and liberation rather than objectification, degradation and misogyny, but I am not convinced.  However, women’s sexuality in put under a microscope in ways men’s is not.  Not only are women universally judged by media representation, there can be quantifiable repercussions from it, up to and including rape, abuse or stigma.  Many even think that unplanned pregnancy is a “failure” of women’s sexuality.

It seems that women sexually “acting like men” primarily benefits men because they have more access to women’s bodies – physically and visually – but still get to call the shots.  Overwhelmingly women are judged by men’s standards, be it about beauty or worth.

This media portrayal of women’s sex liberation is not unlike the idea that when minority or oppressed groups co-opt traditionally negative language – for example “dyke” as one recent blog pointed out – they take back power.  In either case – language or media representation – I am not sure when I look beyond the surface that I buy the argument that this advances women’s or minority’s equality or power.

Hip-hop is a example of this.  I love the rhythm and energy of hip-hop music, especially for working out, but some of the lyrics are horrendous.  This morning on the treadmill, Dance A$$ came on and because I had headphones on, I was able to really hear the words – an excerpt below (warning, very explicit):

I’m sta-stacking my paper my wallet look like a bible
I got girlies half naked that shit look like the grotto
How your waist anorexic and then your ass is colossal, like whoop
Drop that ass make it boomerang
Take my belt off bitch I’m Pootie Tang
Tippy tow tippy tay you gonna get a tip today
Fuck that you gonna get some dick today
I walk in with my crew and I’m breaking they necks
I’m looking all good I’m making her wet
They pay me respect they pay me in checks
And if she look good she pay me in sex, do it
Bounce that ass it’s the roundest
You the best you deserve a crown bitch

This may be an extreme example, but I have a hard time understanding how this liberates or benefits women.  What it does, in my opinion, is objectify, dominate and degrade women – even if it is hypothetical.   Any yet many girls and women listen to this song, and ones like it, without even batting an eyelash.   Which makes me concerned that such songs, videos or other media in the same vein teach the glorification of women as objects and playthings not only to men but also to women.

I do not know what the answer is, and I am not advocating that we go back to our historically Puritan views about men, women and sexuality.  To the contrary, I think that more taboos need to be broken, but only in such a way that it truly benefits both men and women.  What I see in the media today makes me question whether women are really as sexually liberated as they think they are.  Perhaps what America needs is not for women to behave more like men, but for men to behave more like women?


5 Comments

  1. selmasri2013 says:

    I strongly agree with you that women’s sexuality has way more higher standards than mens. Women have come a long way since 30 years ago, but with the media that is present today it seems that women are taking a few steps back. Hip-Hop songs are one of the numerous examples of how the media portrays women these days, and women are portrayed to agree with every word or action. I don’t think that men need to behave more like women, but they need to step into women’s shoes in order to understand.

  2. meganparuta92 says:

    This is super irritating to me. In my last media class, we did a presentation on the stereotypes in music lyrics and we went to a high school to give the presentation. It really disturbed me to hear that the majority of them just said they were just listening to music. The truth of the matter is that regardless if you think you’re listening to the words or not, you’re hearing them subconsciously and you’re hearing the message. Which the message is always derogatory and diminishing towards women. Like the lyrics in the song you posted are so messed up. How have so many songs like this become so popular? We constantly see them on top 40 lists and stuff like that. Its so sad that that is what our society listens to most.

    • khamida23 says:

      I am also very confused on how these songs almost ALWAYS become hits. It seems that any song which has explicit material and speaks about women in a degrading matter become hits. This makes me wonder if many artist feel the need to sing/rap about this type of material in order to make money, or make it higher in this business.

      • meganparuta92 says:

        It’s awful. I respect the artists who chose to sing about other topics. I honestly believe they become hits because of who sings them. It’s all about the name and if that name does something out of the ordinary, say..not sing about these messages, then the song will not be as popular unfortunately. And that’s the saddest thing of all.

  3. khamida23 says:

    This issue is beyond frustrating, yet it is apart of our every day lives. No wonder many feminist are “seen” as angry, because we have the right to be! Although I believe recently men have also been objectified through the demand of a built body, yet they are not degraded in any way through the media. women must face these degrading aspects through media, as well as the ignorance presenting on a daily basis of both males and females. Sadly even women need to realize these issues we are facing because participating in degrading music videos, shows, and extremes such as pornography, is a choice! If our women would make wiser decisions in how they portray their bodies as well as stand up against these issues, maybe men would start realizing that this stuff is not ok.

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