Parent, Teacher, Activist
I was listening to Jonathan Storment yesterday, and something that he said really caught my attention. He talked about how we can spend hours of our day, months of our lives, pursuing things that in the end have no value. He gave the example of his obsession with the Rat on a Skateboard game on his smart phone. Jonathan was so proud when he figured out that he was ranked number 37 in the world on Rat on a Skateboard, but the more he thought about that, the more uncomfortable he became in realizing how much time he must have spent on this silly game. On thinking over our tendency to be distracted from worthy pursuits by trivial ones, Jonathan said, “The worst thing that you can do with your life is not to fail, but to succeed at something that doesn’t matter.”
This idea struck me as what really bothers me about the sexualization of girls and women. At the heart of it, sexualization is about accepting the overall idea that women and girls are primarily objects for someone else’s enjoyment. Sexualization promotes that idea that the most valuable thing that women and girls can be is desired by men. It completely takes all of the other amazing things about female individuals out of the equation. To be clear, I am not talking about healthy sexuality here, I am talking about sexualization. If you are unclear on the difference between the two, please follow the links I’ve provided in this post and check out my series on Exploring Objectification. If you still feel unsure, feel free to ask for clarification. In a nutshell, sexualization involves seeing a person primarily as an object for someone else’s pleasure while healthy sexuality allows the active choice and mutual enjoyment of everyone involved in a sexual relationship.
People have told me when I make this argument that, of course everybody realizes that women are complex creatures! But do they? Then why are women overwhelmingly depicted as decorative figures, with even lead female singers taking substantially sexier roles than their male counterparts in their own music videos? Then why do statistics from the Screen Actors Guild show that 69% of women cast in films and television are under 40? Why, when women 40 and over represented 45.2% of the US Population in 2008, they only represented 28% of characters in TV and film? Why do women feel the need to maintain a pornified, youthful appearance, attempting to fight and claw their way backward in age?
If women and girls really felt valued for their complexity as human beings, they would not feel the need to seek empowerment through major surgery, needles injecting foreign substances into their body or scanty clothing. They would not say, “I’m doing this for me” about these things, because they would not feel that to gain value they needed to change their appearance. Women wouldn’t say they were doing these things to feel empowered because their power would not hinge on their sexuality. As a woman I don’t judge them, because I understand where they are coming from. I get it. This is why sexualization is so insidiously dangerous. It completely trivializes the female, hanging all of her worth on the thin, gossamer thread of her sexual appeal. Age, gain weight, have small breasts, be smarter than you are pretty, and bang, there goes your value.
We must work to help girls and women see that their value is so much more than what they look like. We must show our young girls examples of women who are valued for their wisdom, their kindness, their intelligence, their integrity. We must stop criticizing the bodies of women and girls and start praising the things that they do that really matter, from running a business to raising a family, from science to soccer, from kindness to genius, we must think and talk about women and girls differently. These are things that we can do in our own lives to make a difference. But we also must be willing to step up and speak out when we see women and girls being sexualized in the media. It’s time for those of us who care to push back on the idea that to be valuable as a female means to be physically appealing to men. There is so much more to women and girls than their sex appeal, and we must loudly and clearly call for a more complex representation of them in the media. Because, in the end, all of a woman’s sex appeal means nothing if she isn’t convinced that there’s more to her than that. In the end if all one accomplishes as a woman is being really sexy, forgetting to be kind, compassionate, authentic, and brilliant, then she misses out on being all that she can be. She misses out on making this world a better place. My friends, you were made to shine, to pour the light of your beautiful and authentic self out on this world. Believe in that, and move forward into your own beauty and complexity as a human being.