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.

Dress Codes; Policing the Next Generation of Women

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From elementary school through high school, dress codes are a hot topic for disgruntled young people who just want to wear their spaghetti strap top or their ripped jeans (do high schoolers still wear ripped jeans?). While certain dress codes are reasonable and there for protection, such as only allowing close-toed shoes in gym class and science labs, other dress codes are simply sexism dressed up in the idea that we want students to look “professional.”

I call bullshit.

I challenge you to think about how many times your administration has had a female student change, and how many times that same administration has had a male student change. Maybe an unfair comparison, as many girls wear shorter shorts and shirts with narrower straps than boys. But why are girls in yoga pants criticized, but boys in sweatpants whose junk is all but in your face fine? As a college student, I see just as many outlines of men’s nether regions in sweatpants and athletic shorts as I do women’s nether regions in yoga pants and leggings. I see just as many men’s nipples poking through their thin shirts as I do women’s thighs in short shorts. Why are women so often told they’re being offensive and too sexual? Why are we telling these women that their clothes are “showing too much?” Why are we saying that “leave most to the imagination” is sexier than showing it off, all the while obsessing over Kate Upton in bathing suits and celebrity nudes?

Dress codes in schools simply police what is and what isn’t allowed for a girl to be. We’re teaching young girls that their body is shameful, it’s something to be hidden, and those three inches above your knee and that shoulder is way too sexy for boys to even control themselves. And this should be offensive to boys, too. Strict dress codes imply that boys are so animalistic that they can’t possibly focus in class while the strap on little Sarah’s training bra is showing. It normalizes insane sexualization of the female body from a young age. It tells young girls that their bodies are to be made a spectacle of and tells young boys that if he can’t control himself, it’s the girl’s fault–she was seducing him. To me, that sounds like a slippery slope that leads right into rape culture. Ooooh, she said the thing!

Sure, there’s the argument that we should dress appropriately for a situation. But public school classes are by no means a red carpet affair. It’s not right to tell girls that they’re not dressing appropriately for class when the boy sitting next to her has his bunched-up plaid boxers proudly displayed like a baboon. And don’t even get me started (just kidding, too late) on parents and teachers who think that girls should be sent home for wearing something they deem is too sexy. Let me reiterate: parents think preteen girls should be sent home because they’re too sexy. Still too abstract? Sexualizing girls, sometimes girls who haven’t even hit the double digits yet, is considered okay and normal.

Sending girls home from school because of the way they’re dressed sends a huge, disgusting message slathered in sexism. Think this doesn’t happen? I guarantee that any girl you ask can tell you a story of how she or one of her friends was sent home or was taken out of class to change her clothes. This says that a boy’s right to objectify the female body is more important than a girl’s right to obtain an education.

Take a look at your local high school, middle school or even elementary school’s dress code and you’ll see a common theme. Or look at mine–here’s the first rule from my elementary school’s student handbook, organized under “dress code.” Keep in mind this dress code is for girls aged between five and 11 years of age:

Low-cut tops, see-through blouses, midriff tops, tank tops, spaghetti straps, very short skirts or shorts are
examples of styles which are considered unacceptable for students.

Can we start realizing how sexist this is, or should we continue to tell young girls that they are all succubi who are waiting for boys to feast their eyes on the girls’ too-sexy shoulders and thighs? Let’s stop being hypocrites. Telling young girls to be proud of, and feel good in their bodies after years of saying that they should be ashamed and sexualized is backwards and all kinds of nasty.

Stop strict dress codes. Stop the sexualization of the female body.

Equality to be Sexy: Women aren’t the only ones being sexualized

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Let’s mix it up and talk about the sexualization of men.

While yes, women are sexualized constantly by forces greater than them, and it’s important to take notice and remove this sexualization and focus on one body size, we’re making breakthroughs. Take the Dove Real Beauty Campaign, for example, which aims to help women of every size feel beautiful. And, well, we can actually argue the campaign is still hurtful, considering its implication that thin or petite women aren’t “real.” And where are my bald women at? But we can talk about that sometime later.

Sexualization of men, while it might not be in the public eye, is apparent once you start to take notice.

We can talk about video games all day long in terms of sexualization, but think about the nature of them; in general, two body types are present in video games. Women are tall with hour glass figures and men are built like Olympic wrestlers. One shape that heterosexual men find attractive across the board, another than heterosexual women find attractive across the board.

Both are examples of a sexualized gender. And no, they aren’t created equal; look at video game armor and clothes for men vs. for women. But think about it; society has told men that they want to look like muscled brutes with zero percent body fat and women want to look like Sofia Vergara. Video games reflect society’s highest standards, and men are pressured to look a certain way just like women are. Just because it’s hilarious, check out the greatest example of sexualization of both genders in TERA Online. We all look like succubus, amazon women and The Rock as Hercules, right?

Another wonderful example is the H&M commercial during the Super Bowl this year. Check it out below.

Who doesn’t want to watch David Beckham get totally naked while buff, bearded model Ricki Hall takes pictures of him? For more fun, check out the comments on that video.

ImageUmm. Yuck. Imagine if these comments were about women, made by men. I don’t think very many women would be happy, and these comments directly contrast the uplifting and “reclaiming sexy” comments on a Victoria’s Secret lingerie commercial. Is this because we haven’t seen an anti-sexualization of men movement like we have for women? Is it because we see men as being able to “take it?” Is it because of the ridiculous stereotype that men are always looking for sex and always want women to call them sexy?

Spoiler alert: it’s all three.

The second word in gender equality is equality. And that means equality for all genders, not just the one that has access to less privilege. We need to recognize objectification and correct that if we are to achieve that equality.