I’m not a stereotype–the paradox of female representation

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In one of my classes the other day we talked about how to correctly represent women in advertising, the media… everywhere, really. While it’s easy to answer that question with “just the way we represent men,” that doesn’t solve anything. Personally, I don’t want to be objectified–I don’t want to feel like my body and my face and my outward appearance is being scrutinized rather than my character and the things I do, but there’s another element to that as well.

I’m a multi-faceted human being, as is everyone else in this world. Which means, while I don’t want to be portrayed as a sexual object, I don’t want to be portrayed as the sexless homebody either.

That isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with asexuality–and no, that doesn’t mean like the plant. Asexuality is a completely valid orientation, but I am not asexual. I want to be shown that my sexuality is just as important to who I am as my intellect, as what I do for fun, as my passions. I am not the oversexed-succubus-vixen, dumb and distant, but I neither am I the polarized sex-phobic-cat-lady that is only interested in intellect and doesn’t own a mirror.

While these stereotypes differ depending on culture, race, class, etc., the two polars can be loosely described as the Good Virgin and the Bad Whore. And it’s always been that way. Look at the Bible–The Virgin Mary was the ultimate woman. She was the mother of the so-called savior, and abstained from sex her entire life. Then there is the representation of the prostitute, or the sinner. The one who has demons in her.

Honestly, it sounds much more fun to be the demon lady.

I care about what I look like and my sexuality is important. I also value my character, my schoolwork and pay attention to what’s going on inside my head. And that’s not some wild, crazy concept–women are multi-faceted and have many interests.

The solution to sexual objectification is not to remove my sexuality nor is it to make me out to be some hyper-intelligent android woman who rolls her eyes at the advances of any man. That’s ridiculous–women are humans, too, and we deserve the correct representation.

Young girls need to know that they have the freedom to care about what they look like and to pay attention to their sexuality. Stifling that important part of a person is both unhealthy and unrealistic.

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College girl life 101: Own your sexuality

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When I look at the most influential female celebrities (especially musicians) in my life, I realize I’ve grown up listening to a lot of women who own their sexualities and haven’t given any shits. Starting with Britney Spears, then Christina Aguilera, then the Pussycat Dolls, to Amy Lee of Evanescence and Pink, to Shakira, to Lady Gaga and Beyoncé and finally to the most risqué and bizarre of them all, Yolandi from Die Antwoord, I’ve been letting sexually liberated women subliminally teach me how to be a bad bitch since I was six years old. And I think that’s awesome.

 

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(my parents are actually pretty stoked that I went with the Sinead over the Yolandi)

While there is a lot of controversy surrounding whether feminists should be trying to reclaim the label “slut,” similar to the reclaiming of “queer” and the use of the n-word in black communities, I think we should be trying to at least reclaim the topic of our own sexualities. Our bodies belong to us. We should do what we please with them.

However, there’s a confusing intersection between self-objectification and owning one’s sexuality for some. The question of Beyoncé–is she objectifying herself and holding back the feminist movement, or is she owning her sexuality and moving it forward? In my opinion, the former argument is so weak it can barely be made. The line blurs more when one thinks about women like Rihanna and Miley. Miley has been getting a lot of hate, especially after her performance with Robin Thicke. Many claim that Rihanna and other black artists (Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj to name two) suffer from internalized misogyny and are overly sexual, which have extremely racist roots in themselves.

Owning one’s sexuality can look different from Lady Gaga’s “do what you want with my body” and “I wanna be that girl under you” consenting but sex-saturated ideology. Being empowered doesn’t mean you have to sleep with every guy who shows interest in you, but it can mean being free from sex, or asexual. It can mean putting on your Freakum Dress every now and again for a significant other. And it can mean you just want a Rude Boy (or boys…). As long as it’s, again, consensual on both sides and the other party is totally down for all of that–because owning your sexuality doesn’t mean objectifying anyone or expecting sexual favors from them.

Nobody should feel ashamed for the sex or lack thereof that they’re choosing to have. Nobody should shame anyone else for it. And it’s not just men who are shaming girls for perceived sluttiness: A study called “Birds of a Feather? Not When It Comes to Sexual Permissiveness,” shows that women, even those who have more sexual partners, are less likely to befriend a girl who has a number of sexual partners. And that really bites.

So let’s take the advice of our beloved female pop stars and own our sexuality. Don’t feel ashamed of your sexuality–whether you’re not that into it or you’re the nymphomaniac 50 Cent referenced in Candy Shop. Don’t let anyone tell you what you should or shouldn’t do with what you got goin’ on; only you can decide how you use your sexuality. And that’s pretty damn liberating.

Gay men are not accessories.

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In one of my first blogs, I discussed the ways in which we objectify men, often for the pleasure of straight women and to hold a certain type of masculinity on a pedestal. Now let’s talk about the objectification of gay men by straight women.

Recently I was headed out with a friend of mine and a girl we had met that day. The girl and us had a mutual friend, so I asked how they knew each other in order to spur conversation. She said they were from the same town before college, but what followed put me in a very sour mood.

Yeah, he’s my gay.

Um… what? Did I hear that right? He’s your gay? Your gay. Are you his “straight?” Because I’m confused.

Some suggest that straight women and gay men are natural allies, and both benefit extraordinarily from a relationship with each other. But we’ve all heard a straight woman, at some point in her life, say that she wants a “gay best friend.” Looking at the stereotypes of gay men, it seems like we’d all want a friend like that. First of all they’re a man, and men totally make the best friends, right? But they still act like enough of a woman that you can relate to them. And they love shopping and can always give you fashion tips. And they’ll go to a Lady Gaga concert with you. And you can be as sexual as you want around them, because they’re gay, and gay men are promiscuous. So no judgment.

Barf.

First of all, the pursuit of the ability to say, “I don’t like girls, all my friends are men, I’m drama-free!” is ridiculous and that needs to stop in itself. The next stereotype, which infuriates me, perpetuates the idea that gay men aren’t really men. We see it all the time. Cam and Mitchell of Modern Family even address the topic in one episode. Oh, you’re gay men in an exclusive relationship. Which of you is the man and which is the woman? Watch out, spoiler alert: both of them are.

Stereotypes hurt, and straight women should be making all attempts to halt their stereotyping of gay men, and halt their desperate search for a gay best friend. Wouldn’t it be nice if you picked your friends based on, you know, your compatibility instead of the status indicator of having a “gay best friend?”

Of course, oftentimes straight women don’t think about this. A gay best friend is ideal for a straight woman because it gives them insight into a man’s brain, it allows them to talk about sexual topics with a man without fear of tension or misunderstanding. Gay men often are able to understand women in ways that straight men may not. A friendship between a straight woman and a gay man can be a very healthy and successful one.

My advice to my fellow straight women is to not search so hard for a gay best friend. It’s demeaning and hurtful, reducing the man to his sexuality and to the stereotypes that he has most likely worked very hard to refute. Gay men are not an object to give you reassurance or status, just like you are not an object to give straight men sexual pleasure. Meet new people organically instead of trying to outdrink every man at the gay bar and asking them for advice on your outfit. Friendships should be based on equality and mutual respect, not on striving to make real some twisted teenage fantasy.