When I went to Love 146’s conference in Connecticut last year one of the most difficult sessions to sit through was about the pornification of our culture. It’s not that it was boring, but the material was really difficult to see and hear, and that’s saying something since the conference was about the sexual trafficking of children. The session was right before lunch and afterwards I remember joining a group outside to walk to a restaurant and no one saying anything to each other. We all kind of looked at our feet as we silently made our way to the restaurant. (And I made friends with some of those people later that weekend, so they weren’t just weird anti-social people. We were all really bummed, is what I’m saying.)
The speaker talked about Alfred Kinsey and Hustler and online porn and Beyonce, and made obvious all the ways women in our culture, but particularly in the media, are oversexualized. She spoke about fetishes and genres of porn I didn’t know existed, showed how slowly those types of ideas and images have made their way into mainstream culture, and discussed what that means for women and men.
So what does that mean? Well, it means men come to expect everyday women to be as ready for sex as the women in ads appear to be, and to think they have every right to expect that of the women (and children) they come in contact with. And it means women start to think of themselves as objects created solely for someone else’s pleasure, and that for them to ever be attractive to someone else they must always be ready (or at least appear ready) for sex. And when boys and girls grow up seeing those images, those ideas are even more ingrained and harder to overcome.
The whole presentation made me a lot less tolerant when it comes to oversexualized women on magazines with their chests out and their lips parted. You know how the grocery store has those black sheets of plastic it puts in front of Cosmopolitan to protect the childrens’ eyes? I sometimes, when I’m in a more activist mood, take it one step further and flip the magazines around. I feel a little silly, especially when the magazine rack has those stupid metal bars holding the magazines in place and I have to stand there for a minute pushing the other magazines back so I can fit the turned-around magazine back into place. But I’m not really embarrassed since I’ll do it again the next time I’m there. I’ve also started avoiding local restaurants with overly-sexual ads (not just Hooters and Twin Peaks). And I’ve become much more impatient with the portrayal of women on TV. Basically, I’ve become a lot of fun to live with. No, really, I am a lot of fun! What’s more fun than enlightenment? Nothing, that’s what.
ANYWAY, a study was recently conducted that further backs up what the speaker presented at the conference. Some researchers at the University of Buffalo looked at the covers of Rolling Stone magazine from 1967 to 2009 to study the sexualization of women and men. They found that the portrayal of women has become “hypersexualized,” and at a much higher rate than that of men.
And this is what one of the researchers said as to why recognizing this trend is important:
“What we conclude from this is that popular media outlets such as Rolling Stone are not depicting women as sexy musicians or actors; they are depicting women musicians and actors as ready and available for sex. This is problematic because it indicates a decisive narrowing of media representations of women.
“We don’t necessarily think it’s problematic for women to be portrayed as ‘sexy.’ But we do think it is problematic when nearly all images of women depict them not simply as ‘sexy women’ but as passive objects for someone else’s sexual pleasure.”
The review and analysis is important because an abundant research has shown similar images to have a range of negative consequences:
“Sexualized portrayals of women have been found to legitimize or exacerbate violence against women and girls, as well as sexual harassment and anti-women attitudes among men and boys,” Hatton said.
“Such images also have been shown to increase rates of body dissatisfaction and/or eating disorders among men, women and girls; and they have even been shown to decrease sexual satisfaction among both men and women.”
I encourage you to read the article on the study here or look for the full study in the September issue of the journal Sexuality & Culture. (What? You don’t subscribe to that one?)
And I encourage you to join me in my fights against the magazine aisle and those nasty restaurants.