This week, I’d like to step a bit out of my typical range of content into the matter of the public view of sex.
That is, I ran across a blog this week about the sexual exploitation of women in comic books. The observation is nothing new, of course, but there is a very interesting element to it which is culturally recent.
That is, the article didn’t object to the idea of super-heroines being portrayed as sexual. It objected instead to them being portrayed more sexually than men, and to them being in weak positions in relationships. Essentially, this is the old argument against objectification, but one that takes pains to say that women being sexualized is not the problem.
This is not the first time I’ve seen this distinction drawn, and it goes far beyond comic books. Somehow, apparently, it is perfectly acceptable for a woman to flaunt her sexuality so long as she’s in control of the situation. To make her desperate or passive is the problem.
At the risk of being that most reprehensible of things: old-fashioned, I find this extraordinary. Could contemporary feminists really not have predicted that insisting on their right to sexual independence (which generally means, in practice, to sexualize themselves) was going to open the door for objectification? Did they really believe the popular media would pause to reflect carefully on their message before grabbing at the chance to print pornographic images?
Rather than insisting that women should take a powerful role in sexual imagery, feminists should insist on their right to be seen as something other than sexual. No, there’s nothing wrong with having sexual desire, or a wish to be found alluring. But I see no gain in announcing this desire loudly, or taking pains to satisfy it publicly.
We need a movement, not for silence about sex, but for a balance about it – to put it in its place. Popular media will make images of women as completely sexualized (and, therefore, objectified) as the surrounding culture allows. So long as feminists support, rather than attack, this tendency, there will be little to nothing left of respect or liberation in popular images of women, which are all incidental to advertisers’ goal of making pornography.