In our society, we have a big problem with objectification; that is, seeing people (who have dynamic personalities, feelings, and characters) as objects that serve a purpose. The dominant conversation on this topic is the issue of women being objectified, primarily by men, in the media, pornography, stereotypes, and even in personal, everyday situations. In these cases, women are seen as symbols of sex, there to fulfill a man’s needs and look good for him. A woman may be catcalled on the street by males who see her as eye candy walking along for them. She may be referred to in country songs as a pretty little thing who shakes her “money maker,” or in rap songs as a bitch who will “drop that ass.” Explicit photos of women (meant for one person, but leaked) are often circulated through social media websites and cell phones without any regard to her feelings. Men go to see some movies because a famously “hot” or “sexy” actress is in it, not really caring about her acting skills, but just about her appearance. In many cases, pornography focuses on women being there to get the man to cum, not on mutual pleasure or experience. The continued objectification of women perpetuates the idea of women as being only as good as how pretty they are, with little to no regard to women’s skills, personalities, or accomplishments. Continue reading
Hair and shaving in general helps define gender norms. Society says that women should have long hair on their head but should have hair nowhere else. It reinforces the idea that women should be innocent and pure, just like a child. Society wants women to express their sexuality but not act upon it. Women are supposed to be innocent yet seductive at the same time. They are supposed to be sexual objects rather than sexual subjects. The “good girl” ideal is brought up in “Adolescent Girls’ Sexuality”; “if girls want to be considered good, nice or even normal, adolescent girls are not (really) supposed to have sexual feelings of their own”(p.154). Young girls bodies are supposed to be viewed upon as desirable, yet not engage in their own desires. To keep this sexual image up, girls turn to shaving their legs. Shaving is just another way of society expecting women to change their outward appearance to make their bodies easier to identity. Shaving adds target these beliefs by showing women with long flowing hair shaving their legs in very seductive ways. Long hair is a defining characteristic that is used to show which gender you associate with. Women with short hair are sometimes seen as elderly or a “dyke”. Short hair has become less of a stereotype due to a trend in famous actresses cutting their hair off.
While on women lack of body hair shows femininity, on men it is the opposite. The gender norms for men say to be hairy is to show their masculinity. As it talked about in “Sexualizing Asian Male Bodies”, hairless bodies are seen to be feminine, homosexual or asexual. The desexualizing of Asian men is due to their “softness” The importance correlation between body and masculinity are clear. To be masculine every part of your body needs to match expectations. Just like females the amount of hair that is on your body is how people judge what sex you are. Men with long hair on their head and no hair on their legs are viewed as homosexual because society places people in binaries based on gender, sex and sexuality. Due to society connecting sexuality to masculinity, once act can cause men to be seen as homosexual. If men aren’t explicitly masculine, they are right away viewed as the opposite of that, which is feminine .
The manic pixie dream girl (MPDG) archetype is recurrent in numerous films. The most popular and recent examples of the MPDG are in 500 Days of Summer, Love & Other Drugs, Garden State, and Almost Famous, which we covered in class a while ago. The narrative of the MPDG follows a typical pattern. According to Wikipedia, they are cinematic “creatures” that are usually bubbly, weird, and quirky, and they exist solely to uplift and support a sensitive, brooding man. For the purpose of the film, MPDGs are typically static characters that serve as the romantic interest for the person that really matters, the male protagonist. They are girly and cute and encourage men to embrace life by teaching them about the happiness and adventure that life brings.
I can’t speak for anyone else’s experiences, but regardless of how much of a feminist critique I can offer on the MPDG, I still love movies featuring this stock character. I always end up liking her, rooting for her, or seeing parts of myself in her. I assume that lots of women and girls feel the same way when they watch films with MPDGs. Moreover, I also assume that men also like the MPDG, considering her desirable and attainable. This is troubling and potentially problematic because it relates back to issues of sex, power, and “compulsive heterosexuality,” topics that feminist scholars Adrienne Rich and Catherine MacKinnon explore in depth.
All aspects of society, as Adrienne Rich argues, act as social forces toward heterosexuality. In other words, society romanticizes and normalizes heterosexuality. Rich calls this “compulsive heterosexuality,” and it’s a way of thinking and behaving that goes unquestioned. For Rich, every sexual desire and behavior in a patriarchal society is related to gender dynamics and ultimately expresses male dominance or women’s resistance. Catherine MacKinnon goes one step further and insists that sex is a tool used by men to control and manipulate women.
“To the extent that men have the power to define what desires, feelings, and behaviors are sexual, they can define women’s sexuality in a way that positions them as subordinate. […] Women’s sexual liberation involves fashioning a sexual life that reflects their own needs, feelings, and desires.” What does the MPDG have to do with what these feminist scholars have to say?
Kristen Barber, “Sex and Power”
MPDGs are defined in terms of men and their purpose throughout a film is to help men pursue happiness. They are assumed to have already figured themselves and the world out, and as a result, MPDGs are static characters who are not concerned about themselves, only their male interests. MPDGs, with their eccentric personalities and their hyper-femininity, are the center of male desire. What does it mean that the MPDG is super feminine and cute? What does it say about her gender and sexuality that she exists to serve a man.
As we’ve learned in class, the film industry is like a microcosm of the larger patriarchal society and they have a lot of power and influence in media and culture. Those in the film industry send subtle messages about culture to the public, especially creators of movies with MPDGs because these films with this stock character are inherently structured around particular values about gender and sexuality.
In the poem above, the four young women tackle issues of sexism, adolescent sexuality, and gender expectations. Instead of talking of lofty ideologies that can be difficult to connect to, they have chosen to focus on one outlet in which these issues intersect. The poets attack head on the idea that costumes for women and girls can either be innocent or sexy without an in between. Instead, the poets suggest that a woman’s representation of her body should be whatever that individual woman wants it to be, proclaiming “A woman dressing, acting, or being should be her choice”. As the poem is spoken word it is easy to connect to, with strong, powerful statements that hit the viewer in short, fast blasts. Much of the power of this piece comes from it’s ability to draw on most stereotypes about women, and destruct their power. The piece excels in its ability to combine multiple perspectives on feminism in easily accessible words, avoiding scholarly language making it relatable to the average person. While it does explain the issues and the way a woman’s dress should be viewed, it lacks when it doesn’t give a way of changing the perceptions for the better and just says it should be better.
The poem discusses the difficult double standards surrounding female sexuality, calling out the stereotypes surrounding female dress saying “but when you get older the costumes tend to get smaller, finessing curves into eye candy instead of masterpiece”. This emphasizes Tolman’s statement in her piece on the sexuality of adolescent girls’ sexuality in which she states “to be popular, with girls and with boys, girls are told to wear less to be more and more sexy, but girls who dress in skimpy clothes look like prostitutes”. Both Tolman and the four young women speaking their poetry are stating the common contradiction that young women and girls face everyday; we are told to dress promiscuously to be attractive, but when we do so we are shamed for being “sluts” and “whores”. We are told that to be the “masterpiece” we must flaunt our bodies, but then are viewed solely for our bodies, the eye candy, or “slut-shamed” for our choice of clothing.
This contradiction between the way women are told to gain attention (typically from males) and the way women are treated when they go through with this is found on Halloween and beyond. While the women reciting the slam poetry acknowledge issue as it relates to costumes on Halloween, the movie Mean Girls asserts that this actually the only day where girls are allowed to dress as they wish, free of all judgment. Cady claims that Halloween is the one night a year where girls can dress as they wish and avoid the judgment of their peers, specifically that of other females. This puts forth the somewhat terrifying idea that while sexuality, and more specifically promiscuous dress, is encouraged (and almost enforced) on Halloween, the rest of the year women are being judged by their clothing choices and told what they can and cannot where by voices other than their own. This is something I have definitely seen since I’ve been at college, with friends planning their Halloween costumes since before they arrived on campus because they “can be as slutty as they want” and know they can “make anything slutty”. Because society puts such high expectations on a woman’s modesty the rest of the year, subduing each woman into a state of sexual propriety, this one day of release is taken advantage of to such an extreme because of how stifled women feel the rest of the year. For indeed, it isn’t that on one day each women all of the sudden feel the need to dress in more provocative clothing but far more likely it is a sign that during the rest of the year women long for the chance to break free from the constraints put on their body and their outward sexuality.
Women live life on a precariously narrow bridge, navigating the lines between appropriate sexuality and sexual deviancy. According to Tolman, girls are taught to be “sexy rather than sexual” an idea which involves a tough negotiation between what each word means and how to behave in the “right” way. Each morning when a woman wakes up, she must dress in full intentionality of how she intends to portray herself. Each outfit has the potential to encourage and allow for judgment by her peers. With something as simple as clothing creating such a potential for peer isolation and judgment, it is no wonder women struggle to create a healthy sexual identity that meets their expectations and the expectations of those around them. Judgments and slurs directed at those who do not meet the expectations of sexy versus sexual are often intended more as ways of maintaining power over another person. Often times, according to Purity and Pollution written by Fischer, a study by Leora Tanenbaum found that “calling someone a slut had little to do with a girl’s actual sexual behavior… but the label was used as a weapon in social conflicts between girls.” This matches up precisely with Cady’s realization in Mean Girls, the clothing we wear gives other girls and women just one more way to judge and belittle each other. Why do so many women work so hard to disempower each other and what can we do to little this? Personally, I am working to eradicate the words “slut” and “whore” my vocabulary. But if these specifically negative words are removed, will other words spring up in their place? Are we destined to forever judge one another in attempts to better ourselves?
“If girls want to be considered good, nice or even normal, adolescent girls are not (really) supposed to have sexual feelings of their own” (Tolman 154).