As 4thWaveNow says, what the hell is going on? This is all rather ironic given that liberal feminists are currently defending Cosmopolitan as ’empowering’, after it was moved from tills (but not from sale) at Walmart. As Meghan Murphy at Feminist Current reports:
It’s unfortunate that, for American liberals, the only possible way to maintain “freedom” is, apparently, to embrace any and all portrayals of sex, sexuality, and women’s bodies. The false binary perpetuated by liberal feminism that demands opposition to the right by embracing everything it opposes, whether or not those things are in fact useful things to embrace, oversimplifies too many issues and has made a mess of feminist analysis.
While I don’t necessarily trust the motives of an organization with connections the religious right, I also believe feminists should respond on their own terms, rather in knee-jerk defenses that mark every challenge to porn culture as “prudish,” while claiming everything that could possibly be construed as sex or related to the sexualized female body as “empowering.”
Part of the problem here is a modern desperation to play “cool girl,” thanks in large part to a youth-centric third wave that failed to challenge (and indeed supports) accusations of prudishness and “sex-negativity” launched at any woman who dares challenge male-centered sex and objectification. There is also the fact that Christianity dominates in the United States, and many of the young women who embraced liberal feminism came from homes that said any and all sex outside of heterosexual marriage is “bad,” so these women are still stuck in a kind of teenage rebellion wherein they think “sex” is inherently liberatory. But another factor is that, as a culture, we really don’t understand the difference between “attraction” or “desire” and objectification. We have conflated these ideas to such an extent that it is near impossible for many people to understand that porn does not equal sex, and that challenging men’s objectification of women (or women’s internalized self-objectification, for that matter) does not mean that men’s attraction to women is inherently bad or off-limits.
Two recent studies found that sexual objectification increases men’s aggression towards women. One study showed that when a woman was sexualized, it increased men’s sense of entitlement towards her body, and that, as a result of this sense of entitlement, men responded with aggression when rejected. The other explains that “sexual objectification is the perception of an individual solely as an object useful for fulfilling sexual desires, rather than as a person in their own right, with moral rights and a complex mind.” In essence, when we view a person as only body parts, rather than as a full, complex human being (this idea can be applied toward non-human animals, as well) it allows us to consider that person with less care and empathy — indeed, it becomes easier to harm or abuse that person. “Sexually objectified women are viewed as lacking human nature, as cold, incompetent, and immoral, and as possessing relatively impoverished mental lives,” the researchers explain.
Beyond drilling in the message that women must spend countless hours and dollars turning ourselves into fuckable objects, we are also taught to master the art of pleasing men. Of late, this has meant using the sex industry as a guide. Cosmo suggests literally making ourselves objects of the voyeuristic gaze because it’s “hot” to watch a man watch you — in other words, what is sexy is to turn yourself into live pornography. In recent years, the magazine has begun publishing sex tips written by women working in porn and prostitution, simultaneously promoting the industries as empowering, harmless options for women, and presenting “sex” as something women do for men, rather than for their own pleasure.