Category: Sexual Objectification

Young Sexualities Conference Cardiff University 25/01/13

Conference Summary

A few months ago I attended a conference in Cardiff (25/01/13) which focused on ‘Young Sexualities’. The conference title and programme attracted me and the scheduled talks on sexualisation, youth and sexuality, constructions of femininity and girls’ advertising experiences, all fell within my research interests.

After paying the conference attendance fee I booked my return train from Liverpool to Cardiff with the aim of making it a day trip. In the lead up to the conference it had been snowing a lot so I put my wellies on in preparation and upon arrival I found Cardiff to be as sludgy and cold as I had imagined it to be!

IMG_0376[1]I was all organised and knew where I was going. I had to get a train from Cardiff Central to Cathays, but while I was on this train I was told that it was running late and wouldn’t be stopping at any of the planned stations! So basically, I ended up in Ponty-somethingoranother at the end of the track which took about half an hour and then I had to wait another 20 minutes for a train back to Cathays!

After this detour of random Welsh towns I eventually arrived at the conference 45 minutes late. Luckily I hadn’t missed anything too exciting because the first talk I’d planned to attend had been cancelled and next up was the talk I was most looking forward to: ‘The Trouble with Sexualisation’ by PhD student Helen Williams.

Prior to the conference I had emailed Helen and we had a brief exchange about our research interests so I was really looking forward to hearing her speak.

In her presentation, Helen addressed the debate surrounding the term ‘sexualisation’ arguing that it is a troubling concept which problematises young female sexuality. Focusing on The Sexualisation of Young People Review by Linda Papadopolous (2009), Helen critiqued the policy approach to sexualisation by raising some very interesting points relating to moral panics, conservative values and the demonisation of young female sexuality. Helen argued that much of the discourse surrounding sexualisation tends to neglect female agency by adopting a protectionist approach through which young women are portrayed as the victims of a sexualised culture.

IMG_0374[1]Although heavily critical of ‘sexualisation’ as a concept, Helen also argued that there is a need to address the sexual images in society as well as a need for research into how young people themselves interpret sexual imagery. Helen suggests that addressing the sexual images in mass media should involve a more frank and open approach to sex education which includes the discussion of pornography and sex within relationships.

Overall, the presentation by Helen Williams prompted some helpful ideas for my own research. I was also introduced to a different point of view to my own as the points raised were something I had not previously considered in great detail. The talk made me reconsider how I had initially interpreted Papadopolous (2009) and having since re-read the review and having explored other critiques of sexualisation, I have now developed a more critical view of the framing and language used when focusing on issues surrounding sexism, sexual objectification and sexual imagery in general.

IMG_0363[1]The other speakers and posters displayed during the day added to my ideas about youth, sex and subjectivity. The whole event was really interesting and touched on issues surrounding female sexuality, agency and empowerment, which is what I had hoped for when I first read about the conference.

I was definitely pleased that I attended the conference, although, when it came down to the content of the presentations, there were only a few talks that I could draw inspiration from or apply to my own research. However, I don’t see this as a negative, I suppose that is what conferences are all about, you never know what research will be useful to your own until you hear or read about it.

During the day there were a few opportunities to network but as this was my first academic conference, I felt a little bit out of my depth and didn’t feel confident explaining my research to people. I kept myself to myself but hope to get more confidence over the coming months so that I can network successfully in the future as its a shame to waste such an opportunity!

Reflecting on the day, I feel that my trip to the ‘Young Sexualities’ conference in Cardiff was a very worthwhile experience. Having travelled there alone and attended talks which excited and inspired me, I was left with a great sense of achievement and independence.

My next post will feature a conference I attended at York University in March entitled ‘Body Projects’.

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Book Summary: Walter, N. (2010). Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism.

This book summary is part 3/3 and focuses on a contemporary feminist text written by Natasha Walter a British journalist, author and feminist.

Walter, N. (2010). Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism. Virago Press, London.

Natasha_Walter_-_CR_Bohdan_CapNatasha Walter is a well known feminist and the author of The New Feminism (1998). In this text, Walter focused on what she believed to be the most worthy cause for contemporary feminism: economic and political equality. Walter (1998) claimed that women should not worry about objectification or sexism because these kinds of issues will fix themselves when women achieve equality in other areas. However, in Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism (2010), Walter admits to having a massive change of heart and executes a successful U-turn arguing that sexual objectification of women is something to worry about and that if anything, it is becoming more, not less of a problem.

6a00d83451bcff69e201310f267332970c-300wiWalter’s (2010) main stance throughout Living Dolls is that there is a hyper-sexualisation of mass culture occurring across Western society. Accompanied by the proliferation of sexually objectifying images found in mass media, women now face an added pressure in order to fit the mould of femininity which is offered. Not only is beauty and slimness a must but increasingly so, sexiness is falling into the definition of what it means to be a woman.

Walter (2010) claims that female sexuality is often celebrated throughout the media but it is narrowly defined and fails to represent reality. Adopting the ethos of the sex and glamour industries, sex is framed as something a woman should perform; therefore women should continuously strive to improve in terms of sexual allure and their ability to please.

“The image of female perfection to which women are encouraged to aspire, has become more and more defined by sexual allure” p3.

In the first few chapters of the book Walter (2010) addresses the gender stereotyping of products and toys marketed at young people discussing the usual in regards to pink for girls and blue for boys. Then Walter (2010) moves on to argue that women are encouraged to look like dolls. Referring to the Girls Aloud dolls, the author argues that they are eerily identical to the real thing; both are perfectly airbrushed with big hair, smooth skin and trim bodies. For Walter (2010), they are interchangeable consumer objects and act as models for the next generation.

girls-aloud-pic-pa-841252739The book moves on to glamour modelling and lads magazines with the author able to offer an insight into the working of the glamour industry. Walter’s (2010) recall of the ‘Babes on a Bed’ contest she attended (where the girls compete to win a Nuts photoshoot) and her interviews with glamour girls are what make this book interesting and different. Walter (2010) successfully combines her evaluation of the hyper-sexualised culture she sees around her with the insider knowledge and words of women who work within the sex and glamour industries. In a non-judgemental manner she gives them a voice in her book. However, a critique of Walter (2010) is that whilst she does not neglect the agency and autonomy of the girls, she does not draw too much attention to it either. Some of the girls are happy doing what they do and some of them are not which is probably a fair analysis, but I do feel that this approach leaves the question open as to whether or not their work is truly empowering for women and this is something I would like to have read more about within the text.

Nuts UK September 11In reference to the book’s subtitle ‘the Return of Sexism’ Walter (2010) argues that the current feminist discourse surrounding female sexuality is more damaging than it is liberating as it merely encourages women to accept a sexist and sexual cultural landscape which largely caters to the fulfilment of male fantasies, ignoring genuine expressions of female sexuality and pleasure. Almost hijacking the rhetoric of choice and freedom, third wave feminism has taken the original feminist message and distorted it so that it fits the mould offered to women by the patriarchal system we live in. For Walter (2010) it is problematic to the point where women are almost taking part in their continual subordination.

Walter (2010) believes that the feminist rhetoric of choice and empowerment is now so deeply submerged within our hyper-sexualised culture that it can no longer represent true choice or real sexual liberation. The representations of female sexuality which we see most often are too tightly confined within the limited model of femininity continuously thrust upon us.

Walter (2010) really reminds me of Ariel Levy’s (2005) Female Chauvinist Pigs: The Rise of Raunch Culture, which is a good thing. In fact, I think it goes a step further than Levy (2005) as Walter’s interview data makes her observations stronger than Levy’s (2005) which lack any real, empirical evidence.

The main criticism I have of the book is that it fails to address aspects of race or class in any great detail. Walter (2010) does briefly touch on class in relation to the career aspirations of young women. Referencing an interview with Dave Read, the Director of Neon Management, she claims that middle class parents do not have the same concerns regarding their daughters and the possibility that they might want to work in the sex or glamour industry. This is an interesting topic in its own right and it would have been beneficial to Walter’s work if she had expanded on some of the points made.

Despite some criticisms, I thoroughly enjoyed this text, from beginning to end. I felt like it said everything I want to include in my own work. Walter (2010) explores different aspects of society and focusing on how sexual images are becoming increasingly dominant in mass culture, argues that sexism still exists and calls for feminists to recognise the new ways in which it works. This book builds on Levy’s (2005) Female Chauvinist Pigs: The Rise of Raunch Culture and adds to the current debate surrounding sexualisation and women.

IMG_0268If you are interested in reading more of my book summaries please visit my previous posts in which I have written about feminist texts by Betty Friedan (1963) and Ariel Levy (2005).

Book Summary: Levy, A. (2005). Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture.

This post is part 2/3 and follows on from last week’s summary of Betty Friedan’s classic 1963 feminist text, The Feminine Mystique.

Unfortunately due to having started a new job, I am now working 12 hour days which has left me with no time and no energy! Therefore the three planned ‘book reviews’ are turning more into ‘book summaries’ and although they lack any real critical reflection I hope that they will provide people with a general overview of the books considered.

Levy, A. (2005). Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. Simon & Schulster, London.

ariel levyAriel Levy is a contributing editor at The New Yorker and was fairly unknown before breaking out in 2005 with one of the latest feminist texts to have mass appeal. The book looks at what Levy claims is ‘the rise of raunch culture’ and detailing the cultural context in which this is occurring, the author points the finger of blame in the direction of what she calls ‘Female Chauvinist Pigs’ (FCP).

According to Levy (2005) FCPs are women who make sex objects of themselves and other women and they are everywhere. Levy illustrates her theory with an array of testimonies and examples including the reality television programme ‘Girls Gone Wild’, the adoption of the Playboy brand logo by young girls, the popularity of celebrity sex tapes and the increase in cosmetic surgery procedures, in particular, breast implants and labiaplasty.

“We don’t even think about it anymore, we just expect to see women flashing and stripping and groaning everywhere we look”

The main point made throughout the text is that contemporary American culture is saturated with images of cartoonish Jessica Rabbit style representations of femininity- breast implants, collagen lips and stripper heels. Levy (2005) claims that this image is now so pervasive that it has become embedded in the subconsciousness of women to the point where they will imitate what they see to win approval from the opposite sex.

The author holds porn and glamour industries responsible for this uniform, ubiquitous representation of femininity, arguing that it creates a social context in which women are expected to be sexy at all times whilst remaining ‘pure’ and ‘innocent’ in the eyes of the potential partners.

Levy (2005) contends that girls and young women feel pressured into conforming to the characteristics of a FCP, however, she fails to question whether their actions are in fact a true expression of their agency and sexuality. In reference to FCPs, Levy often describes a one-dimensional woman whose only way of expressing her personality is by “spinning around a pole”. I could almost taste her disapproval.

“Sex is one of the most interesting things we as human beings have to play with, and we’ve reduced it to polyester underpants and implants”

Levy (2005) argues that the rise of raunch culture has resulted in American women embracing a false model of sexuality. They do this by imitating those whose job it is to fake lust and ecstasy- porn stars. She believes that this threatens the liberation of female sexuality as opposed to being the epitome of it as some feminists suggest.

In a 2008 radio interview, Levy said that she “doesn’t buy into exhibitionism as a form of empowerment” and whilst I tend to mostly agree, I recognise that there are women out there who do feel empowered and I would like to have heard more about these women in the book.

books_bgI really enjoyed Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. I am not a big reader (yet) but I found the text really accessible. Being a teenager in the late 90s/early 2000s I was familiar with a lot of the media references Levy made, I remember when boob jobs blew up (no pun intended) and I understand where Levy is coming from when she talks about the bombardment of sexualised images coming out of American culture. I got through the book very quickly and would recommend it to anyone who would like to know more about debates surrounding contemporary feminism.

I will post the next book summary in a week or so, time permitting. It will focus on Natasha Walter’s Living Doll: The Return of Sexism.

Book Summary: Friedan, B. (1963). The Feminine Mystique.

This short book summary will be the first of three which collectively focus on a mix of contemporary and classic feminist texts. I hope to provide people with a general overview of each book, the author and the social context in which the book was written.

Friedan, B. (1963). The Feminine Mystique. Penguin, London.

femininemystique1Let me begin by expressing how much I enjoyed reading this book. It was given to me as a gift when I left my voluntary job and I began reading it a couple of weeks before Christmas . I read the majority of it whilst in work, sometimes before I started if I happened to get in early, but mostly on my breaktimes. I had heard so much about the book being great but not a lot about the actual content or main arguments made within the book, however, when I started to read it and place it within the social context of post-war America during the late 1950s and early 1960s, the magnetism of the book drew me in and I began to realise what others had spoke about in reference to The Feminine Mystique (1963). I suppose it was a kind of realisation that yes, most women are unhappy when placed in the mould of housewife and mother alone and yes, in their hearts they strive for more, but do they go out and get this ‘more’ which they long for? Friedan (1963) informs us that no they don’t, not really, and if they do, it most often stops short of the point of satisfaction.

Reading words which were written at a time when they were rarely spoken aloud, for me, gave the book a controversial edge. As an artefact belonging to the early phase of second wave feminism, Friedan’s (1963) work sets out to reveal and share details of ‘the problem that has no name’- the deliberate manipulation of women by advertising agencies, editorial boards, journalists, educators, Freudian psychoanalysts and others alike, to believe in a false belief system. This belief system tells women that they must fit the mould or have their femininity stripped of them, for to be a housewife and mother is the greatest achievement a woman can obtain and if she fails, she fails as a woman.

OB-VK647_1122fa_D_20121120131535Friedan (1963) argues that this false belief system keeps women trapped in a state of perpetual infancy wherein they are never allowed to grow and realise their own worth and true potential. As I read the book, I felt myself agreeing with a lot of the things she wrote about this. When women live in a society in which domescity is a synomyn for femininity, all other possibilities of womanhood are erased. Domesticity therefore acts as a mass distraction, keeping women from becoming full women- women who know their own femininity, enjoy their sexuality and who do not feel threatened by education, employment or stepping out of their mother’s shoes.

Friedan (1963) explains that during the post-war years, men returned from war and it was no longer necessary for women to be employed, seek education or do anything other than stay at home looking after the house and children. Women were told that they had a choice about what to do with their lives. If they really wanted to they could seek education or a career, but at a time when resisting conformity surmounted to failure as a woman, how could they choose freely?

Betty Friedan published the words that thousands of women had uttered to themselves whilst wading in discontent. Friedan (1963) showed the female population that they could do more than what was expected of them. They could break the mould into a thousand pieces if they were determined enough. Framing her words with excerpts from some of the 200 open ended questionnaires she conducted with her former college classmates, Friedan’s (1963) work was pioneering and daring. Many claim that it planted the seed of second wave feminism by highlighting the social and political stagnation experienced by women across America and having sparked the consciousness of women all over the world, many began to embrace feminism and social activism as a means to achieving equality.

It has now been 50 years since The Feminine Mystique (1963) was first published and the impact the book had at its time remains unparalled. In the decades preceding The Feminine Mystique (1963)the problem with no name’ has gradually drifted away from the realm of domesticity to focus on women’s appearance; their beauty or lack there of. The false belief system Friedan wrote about, to me, is very similar to Naomi Wolf’s description of ‘the beauty myth’. The Beauty Myth (1991) acts as an updated version, a contemporary analysis regarding the new mould women are expected to fit. Therefore this problem; this weight holding women down like an anchor tied around our increasingly thin waists, still exists, the mould has merely changed shape.

As one of the most influential leaders of second wave feminism, Betty Friedan helped to found the National Organization for Women (NOW), the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), and the National Women’s Political Caucus. Friedan continued to teach and write about women’s inequality, consistently voicing her concerns, until she died of congestive heart failure in 2006 at the age of 85.

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I will be posting the next book summary within a week so please check back or follow my blog if you are interested. It will focus on Ariel Levy’s (2005) Female Chauvinist Pigs: The Rise of Raunch Culture.

Feminist Must-Reads Part 2

In December I set myself the goal of reading three popular feminist texts in one month. As someone who doesn’t read a lot and who reads quite slow at times, I thought the deadline suited me, however, I ended up surprising myself by finishing all three books quite quickly. The books I decided to read were: The Feminine Mystique (1963) by Betty Friedan, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (2005) by Ariel Levy and Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism (2010) by Natasha Walter.
ImageHaving now read these popular feminist texts I plan to produce 3 short book reviews. I will upload the book reviews every Friday for the next 3 weeks so please check back or follow my blog if you are interested!

Female Interpretations of Sexual Content in the Music Videos of Popular Female Artists

Undergraduate Dissertation Introduction

Here is my undergraduate dissertation ‘Introduction’. It is a bit dodgy in areas but I hope that this will provide an example and help those who are undertaking research in a similar area.

Introduction

The debate surrounding the effects of sexual media has recently been reinvigorated with children and women’s charities, journalists and the current British and Australian governments, having all made attempts to address and tackle the sexual behaviours and attitudes expressed by female artists in their music videos and live performances. This renewed interest has mainly emerged due to the sexually provocative nature of current female artists such as Rihanna, whose notoriously raunchy performances frequently attract the attention of media critics, and Lady Gaga who has a reputation for wearing outrageous ensembles, often leaving very little to the imagination.

With a large majority of music being centred around relationships, romance and love, sex has always been a popular accompaniment to musical performance, lyrics and most recently, music videos. Early 20th century jazz and blues was recognised as exhibiting a certain level of sexual intensity with the gyrating crotch of Elvis, Little Richard and other rock and roll stars during the 1950s and 60s causing great controversy at the time (Arnett, 2002). Elvis was actually quoted in the 1970s as saying “Man, I was tame compared to what they do now. Are you kidding? I didn’t do anything but just jiggle” http://www.elvis.com. This quote emphasizes the percieved increase in the sexual nature of music from Elvis’ heyday in the 1950s through to the early 1970s.

During the 1980s and 1990s, sexual content had begun to increasingly permeate popular music (Roberts & Christenson, 1998) and can be seen and heard in the music lyrics and videos of female artists who enjoyed stardom at the time, most notabley Madonna, who in 1992 released the album Erotica along with a coffee table book entitled Sex which featured explicit photographs of the singer. Much tamer but still offering music fans scenes of a sexual nature, Britney Spears and Christina Aquilera have contributed to the array of provocative music videos with Christina’s Dirty video and Britney’s I’m a Slave for you consequently causing their own controversies. More recently during the 2000s and up to the present day, videos from artists such as the Pussycat Dolls, Shakira, Ciara, Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Rihanna have all continued the trend (Jhally, 2007).

The majority of research focusing on sexual content of music videos can be divided into three categories: content analyses, effects research and audience interpretations. This dissertation falls into the third and least developed field of research by exploring female audience interpretations of sexual content in female music videos.

As a major source of information for young people and adolescents, the mass media is believed to play a crucial role in their sexual socialisation (Harris & Scott, 2002). The presence of sexual content in music video is so pervasive within popular music that it has now reached the point where it is highly predictable for sexual imagery to accompany the music videos of popular female artists, even when the lyrics do not match the imagery (Roberts & Christenson, 1998). For example, a recent music video by British pop artist Pixie Lott shows the singer in a variety of sexual poses despite the song having nothing to do with sex. This raises serious concerns regarding the effects sexual content may have on viewers, especially young people, who are a significant concern due to the amount of time they spend listening to music and watching music videos (Arnett, 2002).

Supporting the argument that sex is becoming an increasingly pervasive part of mass culture, this dissertation aims to fill a void within existing research whereby it fails to adequately address the interpretations, perceptions and attitudes of young women in relation to the sexual content of music videos.

The main aim of the research is to utilise the focus group technique in order to discover what young women think about music videos and their sexual content. Participants were selected through snowball sampling and are young women aged 18-25. Questions focus on the areas of body image, sexual objectification, self-objectification and sexualisation of young people. The aim is to discover how the participants interpret what they see, how it makes them feel about their body image, their relationships with men, sexual objectification and whether or not they think sexual music videos by female artists impact young girls in a detrimental way.

‘Living Doll’ Vs Real Woman

This is a great image which highlights the fact that not all men desire a ‘living doll’, which in this scenario is someone who does the washing in her underwear, looking perfect in every way. In this image you will see that somebody has written around the model, drawn clothes on her and have even given her a pair of glasses to complete the juxtaposed look!

“I like to see a girl in the study, proof-reading her just completed astrophysics thesis while sipping Earl-Grey tea in her tweed sweater and modest, conservative plaid pencil skirt.”

Why feminists were right all along…

The recent Jimmy Savile revelations have impacted the world of feminism in a positive way, uncovering paedophilia within showbusiness, institutional sexism, sexual abuse and a culture which allows all three to be covered up. The link below, an article which was published in The Times on 17th October 2012, offers a great overview of why feminists were right all along.

Why feminists were right all along

Sexual Objectification, Part 1: What is it?

Dr. Caroline

This is the first part in a series about how girls and women can navigate a culture that treats them like sex objects.

Around since the 1970s and associated with curmudgeonly second-wave feminists, the phrase “sexual objectification” can inspire eye-rolling. The phenomenon, however, is more rampant than ever in popular culture, and we now know that it causes real harm.

What is sexual objectification?  If objectification is the process of representing or treating a person like an object, then sexual objectification is the process of representing or treating a person like a sex object, one that serves another’s sexual pleasure.

How do we know sexual objectification when we see it?  Building on the work of Nussbaum and Langton, I’ve devised the Sex Object Test (SOT) to measure the presence of sexual objectification in images.  I proprose that sexual objectification is present if the answer to any of the following seven questions is “yes”:

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