At Mad Donna’s, a restaurant in Nashville, you have the opportunity to wine, dine, and listen to drag queens rant as they randomly shout out numbers. You get to play drag bingo.
Young girls in our society face a troublesome contradiction: we are expected to be sexual, desirable subjects of the male gaze, yet encouraged to behave as “good” girls by society’s terms. This is a seemingly never-ending challenge that girls and young women must maneuver from puberty well into adulthood. Too often having to stop and ask, how can we be sexual without being sexualized?
Following the Women’s Liberation Movement of 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, women have been encouraged to embrace their freedoms. However, I think that it is very paradoxical that the same society telling women that we should be all that we can be is the same society that has continually placed so many restrictions on what we can be, who we can be, or how we can be. Society has dictated to women that we must act in accordance to its rules to maintain the heteronormative world in which we inhabit and by doing so, has placed limitations on the livelihood of women. This can be seen in several realms of everyday life including the social aspect. Furthermore, an aspect of women’s social lives that is greatly affected by society’s regulation is their sexual lives.
In her article “Adolescent girls’ sexuality: the more it changes, the more it stays the same” Deborah Tolman defines sexual subjectivity as “having a sense of oneself as a sexual person who is entitled to have sexual feelings and to make active decisions about sexual behavior.” While this idea may seem “common sense,” a deeper look into today’s society reveals that sexual subjectivity is only granted to certain individuals. In her artictle, Tolman makes the argument that society should teach women to have desires, not to be desired. As adolescents, girls are taught that there are “good” girls and “bad” girls. The creation of such parallels with and enforces the belief that “good” girls are considered “normal” while “bad” girls are considered “deviant.” Good girls are defined as girls who behave in agreement with and conforms to society’s heterocentric standards in which women are characterized as straight, docile, and abstinent. “Bad” girls are characterized by their rebellious behavior which may include engaging in premarital sex, having several sexual partners, or engaging in what is considered homosexual behavior. Thus, instead of learning to be sexual, women are taught to be sexy, or as Tolman would put it, women are sexually socialized by society and miss the opportunity to experience sexual socialization on their own terms. To combat these issues, Tolman suggests that society begins to think about the development of sexual well-being as essential during adolescence in hopes that it will foster across our lifetimes. All in all, women should learn to define both what and who they consider desirous, for society teaches us that the right way to be sexual is to be a feminine woman who participates in intercourse with a masculine man.
An interesting point in Tolman’s article comes when she writes “Tackling demands for masculinity in boys that have harmful consequences for girls as well … will be part of the task of articulating and securing sexual rights for teenage girl” (Tolman 157). This statement tells us that as a result of not being able to express sexual subjectivity or experience sexual socialization, women are sexually objectified as props for men and their desires; this aligns perfectly with the idea that women are taught to be desirous and sexy. Seeing as how “sex is about male dominance and female subordination,” (Barber 45) it is easy to see how this is an example of a power based relationship. Sometimes, men think that as men, it is their God-given right to have sex with women when in actuality, that is not the case. Though society does not explicitly come out and tell men that they are entitled to every woman, I think that it would be safe to make the assumption that because society does teach men to view women as subordinate and sexual objects, men grow to view women as just that- a subordinate object. Sometimes, this can result in very violent and sometimes fatal events occurring.
According to the Rape,Abuse, and Incest National Network, 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. Another alarming statistic is that 9 out of 10 rape victims are females. So, what does this say about rape? I think that these statistics definitely suggest that there is indeed a correlation between rape and gender. As Dr. Chapman stated in class, bodies who are read as female are more susceptible to being raped. In my opinion, all of the issues mentioned by Tolman, including sexual objectification,sexual socialization, heteronormativity, and sexual subjectivity, play a part in exacerbating this newfound rape culture.
Rape culture as we know it is described as a culture in which “people are surrounded with images, language, laws, and other everyday phenomena that validate and perpetuate rape. Rape culture includes jokes, TV, music, advertising, legal jargon, laws, words and imagery, that make violence against women and sexual coercion seem so normal that people believe that rape is inevitable. Rather than viewing the culture of rape as a problem to change, people in a rape culture think about the persistence of rape as “just the way things are.” Many times, rapes are justified using heteronormative logic. For instance, the concept of “slut-shaming” which is used to describe the act of making a person, especially a woman, feel guilty or inferior for certain sexual behaviors, circumstances or desires that deviate from traditional or orthodox gender expectations, or that which may be considered to be contrary to natural or religious law. The concept of slut-shaming parallels with the “good girl” “bad girl” argument that Tolman makes in her article. If a girl is considered “bad,” society will more readily blame her for that rape and excuse the behavior of the man using the logic that it is just in the nature of men to be hypersexual. Because it is in men’s nature to be hypersexual, society teaches women that we should “protect” ourselves. For instance, women should not wear short/tight clothing, for that may arouse a man. If women wear “revealing” clothing, then they are, in so many words, asking to be raped. This is an example of how society inhibits women’s ability to experience sexual subjectivity.
While Tolman’s article was very intriguing, I do believe that Tolman left out some important issues. I think that it would have been interesting to compare the differences in the development of girls’ sexualities from different racial backgrounds. For instance, I believe that society views certain female bodies (black) as more sexual. This then raises the question that if these black women’s rights as a sexual being are violated, will those rights be protected or will their rights be denied because society views them as hypersexual? Does the law protect, in the case of rape, all women’s sexual rights equally or are the sexual rights of certain women more important than others’?
How many times has this philosophy been shoved in our faces through any number of social experiences? From movies, to advertisements for food to clothing, and even books, we can not get past this historical moment where EVERYTHING (just about) is sold with sex. Even the diaper advertisements in this country are sexualized! Surely it has always been like this, right?