Reblog: Dangerously Provocative

Feminist Philosophers

Jessica Wolfendale (co-editor of Fashion: Philosophy for Everyone)  is currently completing an article on sexual modesty. Her most recent article, “Provocative Dress and Sexual Responsibility,” is forthcoming in the Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law. and now she’s just published a piece on being “dangerously provocative” here.

The provocatively dressed woman is dangerous. She is disruptive; a distraction and a temptation. She can lead good men to thoughts of infidelity; she can distract men and boys from the important tasks of work and education. The dangers posed by the provocatively dressed woman mean that she must be monitored and controlled. Girls must be forbidden from wearing provocative clothing to school, so that they don’t distract boys.[2] As a principal of a Canadian High School wrote in a letter to parents: “Girls wearing short skirts should think about how they sit and what is revealed when…

View original post 165 more words

Reblog: Walking the Tightrope

This is a great post on the double standards imposed on Women of Colour’s sexuality from Racialicious by Chaya Babu. Enjoy.

This Just In! Ad Industry Exploits Women and Implies Sexual Violence is Funny!

(Warning: graphic images follow.)

Okay, just kidding, that’s old news. And yet it’s not.

Virgin Mobile USA thought better of a clearly inappropriate holiday ad that had gone up online after Richard Branson was like, “Um, no.”

When I think “Christmas Surprise” I think “Chloroform your partner”. In all seriousness, though… I get such a kick out of Mad Men because the absurdly misogynist caricatures of the advertising moguls of Madison Avenue seem exactly that: absurd. But then one realizes: they are still making ads. Only now some people have the good sense to get pissed off when those ads attempt to derive humor from the suggestion of sexual violence.

On the production side of things, however, seemingly little has changed. Take American Apparel ads, for example. I have despised AA ads since their store came to East Lansing while I was in undergrad there. This was how they debuted their new store to Michigan State University students back in 2005.

These ads were banned by the ASA in the UK, as they were considered exploitative and practically pornographic. Getting banned is nothing new for AA. A visit to the AA website reveals that this is not just the theme of their outdoor and print ads; virtually every single [female] item for sale on the site is model in the same pornographic fashion.

For whom are the commodities in these ads intended? Women: does this ad make you want to buy this t-shirt? Why or why not?

These ads scream: MALE GAZE.

American Apparel has long claimed that their ads are unique, progressive, and inventive, because they portray women who are not necessarily professional models, who are not airbrushed or digitally perfected. (Apparently they believe that this promotes self-esteem.) If anything, all that says is that any woman can be turned into a personality-less fuck object. Now that’s progressive.

What has always struck me about AA ads are their resemblance to pornography: vapid, inane expressions, sexually-laden yet childlike behaviors, suggestive postures, faces off an assembly line. How can these ads claim to be a celebration of the natural female body when a) all of these women are of a very particular look, shape, and size and b) their target audience is voyeuristic men and insecure women?

AA is telling us that fat or flat are both repulsive, even “natural” women require makeup, and the only hair you should have is on your head.

I suppose all of this is unsurprising given the kind of person AA’s founder is.

There is nothing unique, progressive, or inventive about what AA does. The “Mad Men” were doing it long before AA ever arrived, and they’ll be doing it long after it’s dead.

Make yourself heard with a survey.

The Return of Vishnu following is the transcript of a dialogue I, Lee Solomon, had with my feathered friend, Vishnu. In case you missed our first conversation, Vishnu is a hen empowered to speak through a machine that translates Vishnu’s chicken thoughts into human language. *Warning: Links are to Graphic Images*

[Transcript Opens]

LS: Hello, hello…

V: Hearing you loud and clear.

LS: Great, it works. So, how are you, Vishnu?

V: Amused.

LS: Eh? How’s that?

V: I’ve just been reading something on this organization called PETA.

LS: Ah, yes– People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. What’s amusing?

V: Well, that they lobby so ardently against animal testing and experimentation, fur, animal products in the food industry, animals used for entertainment, and so on, when their very presence on Earth is a serious threat to the health and well-being of other animals around them. That, and that they distinguish between “people” [makes quote motion with wings] and “animals”. We…animals are always the Other, you know?

LS: So I have come to realize. Well, don’t you think they’re doing some good work?

V: I guess it’s better than doing nothing.

LS: Oh, come on, they have achieved some pretty admirable things, don’t you agree?

V: Such as?

LS: Such as… Well, getting some pretty famous celebrities not only to stop wearing fur, but also to campaign against the killing of animals for fur. That’s pretty remarkable, yeah?

V: Oh, you’re talking about this. [Holds up ipad.]

LS: Since when did you get an ipad?

V: Since I started saving money by selling my eggs.

LS: [pause] Oh. [Takes ipad; browses webpage.] What…the f***?!

V: Ha ha!

LS: [Shouting.] Vishnu, you’re not funny! I know you think you’re funny, but you’re not!

V: Come on, you have to admit, this is pretty funny. [Pause.] In an ironic way.

LS: [Shaking head.] Yeah, or it just makes me nauseous. Campaigning for animal rights by fetishizing and commodifying women? W-T-F?

V: It’s rather incredible…[sarcastically] don’t you think?

LS: [Frowning.] Sometimes you’re just mean.

V: So what do you think is wrong with this ad campaign. Doesn’t it serve a good purpose?

LS: If they reinforce the idea that the female body can and should be use to sell something, then to me it defeats the purpose. The ends does not justify the means.

V: Maybe, but it’s not so bad, is it– how exactly are they commodifying women?

LS: By depicting their bodies as hypersexualized, passive, consumable objects, slung with slogans and brands.

V: It is disturbing the way they are posing nude with those rabbits… [Shudders visibly.]

LS: Both the women and the various animals posing in these pictures look really vapid and devoid of thought.

V: They look rather stupid, yes.

LS: The women– oh wait, and this one guy, too [holds up ipad]… But even this picture is not hypersexualized, the pose is not erotic or suggestive, he is just standing on a runway with this sign. Anyway, the women in these ads are not on a level with animals, or as you say, V, the Other– they are like pieces of meat. The underlying tone of these ads, [makes quote motion] “CONSUME ME”, speaks louder than their so-called “good message”.

V: That’s a little dramatic, don’t you think?

LS: What’s dramatic are these stupid taglines. Is sexual double entendre really necessary to convince people to respect animals, even if it worked? Which it doesn’t, by the way. The idea that PETA, who are supposedly all about the rights of animals, would use tactics so degrading the rights of human beings makes me doubt that any outsider would possibly take the issue seriously. When has that ever worked? [Mimicking a man’s voice.] Oh, well, this sexy ad has caused me to reevaluate my moral position on eating animals. [Scoffs.] Yeah, right. Not to mention it’s playing on detrimental norm-enforcing dogma. I mean, look at this one. [Holds up ipad.] Masculine stereotypes are also being reinforced in these ads, though virtually never in a sexual way– no, no, that would be too feminizing, emasculating. The men are necessarily shown in strong, powerful poses with forceful, aggressive expressions. Or they just general look like bad-asses. The women, on the other hand, are posed suggestively with seductive looks. I’m sorry, but how does soft-core porn encourage one to become a vegan?

V: [Smiles.] Indeed. It is surprising that a group so devoted to the rights of animals would not see a problem in their using this particular kind of animal– female humans, I mean– in such a way… [Silence for some moments.]

LS: [Browsing with ipad.] What the– really? Not all…? [Sighs.] Here’s your ipad. [Hands back ipad.] Let’s watch a movie or something.

V: Sure.

[End of Transcript]

Addendum: A brilliantly written article from Lucy Uprichard on Huffington Post Students. The real problem with PETA– couldn’t agree more.

Fresh Bites

The Cambodia Daily (7.12.12) reports that the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and rights group Licadho both noted that reports of domestic violence were down in the first quarter of 2012 compared to the same period last year, but for different reasons. Licadho says that reporting has actually decreased, versus incidents of violence. MOWA, on the other hand, believes that laws enacted to end violence against women have effectively reduced such instances. This article appeared in the same issue with articles titled “Thief Sentenced to Life for Brutal Murder of Woman” and “Woman Found Dead; Heart, Stomach Cut Out”. Hmm…

The police beat the sh*t out of a key representative of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions during a peaceful rally in Phnom Penh yesterday. And you thought union-busting in the States was bad!

This, at the same time that some foreign companies have agreed to raise wages for garment workers after months of striking.

“What do you mean, this is an unacceptable way to advertise products?”

An excellent post from Sociological Images demonstrating common forms of sexual objectification. Here is another on objectification and yet another about the sexualization of violence (which I should note is rather disturbing, for those of you with sensitive dispositions).

That so many of us can glance over such images due not so much to our desensitization of violence but largely because of the normalization of hypersexualization (mainly of women) makes me want to douse myself with a bucket of ice water. It’s the feeling that I’ve been sleeping for most of my life, presented with cultural icons and imagery which I accepted without question as normal, tolerable, even mundane. That it has taken me this long to recognize this hostile cultural environment for what it is– one that simultaneously shames me for not wearing a bra whilst demanding that I shave my legs and grow out my hair, subtly urging me to play the tart but never, ever discuss my sexuality or sex life– makes me realize how much farther I have to go.

Germany, wow, progressive. Letting kids make decisions about their bodies after they have come of age, rather than letting adults have life-changing control over issues that have the potential to negatively impact health and sexuality? Circumcision isn’t a dire necessity like the polio vaccine, after all. Some decisions should not be left to parents. Like arranged marriages.

Also: voice your opinion on the next UN Conference on Women! What issues do you want to see discussed?

They’re Not Commodity, Either

As promised, the “male counterpart”, so to speak, to the last post on commodification. Hah.

I should clarify up front that I believe the fetishization, hypersexualization, and sexual commodification of any person is wrong, regardless of their gender, age, race, location, etc. My ideal world would be one in which we choose to learn about and relate to other people, celebrating diversity while exploring commonalities– which means, sexual objectification has got to go. I know, you love your shirtless firefighter calendars and your semi-pornographic “news” websites, but that shit got to go. (Non-sexual idolatry, admittedly, is still one of my major weaknesses, but putting someone on a pedestal of aesthetic appreciation, amazement, and/or worship is still rather othering, isn’t it? What are people’s thoughts on this?)

The fact of the matter is that every group of people gets objectified. Sometimes it’s racist. Sometimes it’s pedophilic. And sometimes it happens to men. In fact, it probably happens to men more than we acknowledge it does.

Men are not immune to being portrayed as fetishized accessories. It may stand out to us as unusual, however, when we see them posed in ways that reduce their dominance or emasculate them. Male sexual objectification typically idealizes the male body as strong, powerful, visceral, whereas the female body is merely a prop or confection. Male bodies can be admired and envied, and are consumed by males and females alike, whereas female sexual objectification is chiefly for male consumption and female bodies are desired for consumptive (and thus disposable) purposes. Also, it is not so much male sexuality that is being commandeered as it is the male body. It is more common for female sexuality to be appropriated for consumption and sale in conjunction with the appropriation of their bodies and body parts.

Cisgender, straight males may even be offended by the overly effeminate or emasculated portrayal of their gender; it is socially abnormal, even unacceptable. The female body, however, is perceived socially as much more aesthetically pliable, and can be feature in situations which play up either hyperfeminine or masculine traits– so long as the woman is still visually sexually consumable. It’s also common to see the blatant pricing of female sexual entities, but this form of commodification would still be perceived as offensive by cisgender straight males.

It remains, however, that “real” men do the consuming, and aren’t consumed. If you are consumable, you are something less than a man– maybe you don’t even deserve that penis, which is why society semantically castrate you by calling you emasculated. Emasculated men are consumed, real men consume.

One could rephrase Rich Zubaty’s extremely effed-up quote, “Our job is not to get along with the Goddess. Our job is to fuck the Goddess.” as “It’s not our job to accept mutual consumption with the Goddess. Our job is to consume the Goddess.”

So, at the end of the day, everyone is commodified and everyone suffers. As commodification is an unsurprising side effect of Patriarchy, we should really say, everyone suffers under Patriarchy. But some people definitely suffer more than others. Maybe that calls for a post about the particularly horrid depiction of the black female entity.

I’m Not Commodity

For some unexplainable reason, I woke up at 5 this morning with R.E.M.’s “King of Comedy” (from the Monster album) stuck in my head. Obviously that means I need to write about the commodification and objectification of women.

Let’s start with objectification. Objectification is simply the process of recreating or using a person as a thing. We do this all the time. Some time ago, a friend told me that I was objectifying them by resting my head on them; I had turned them into a pillow. It is objectification to lean on someone when exhausted, as if they are a crutch. It quickly becomes apparent that some objectification is fairly mundane or benign, and other kinds of objectification are harmful. Sexual objectification is an obvious example of this.

Sexual objectification means turning a person into an object, accessory, or tool for sex. If you like sex in which either you or your partner is not an active participant, not giving and receiving pleasure mutually, then sexual objectification is probably gratifying to you. If sex is more than you using another person as a means to an end (your own sexual satisfaction), or being used to this end, then this kind of objectification is problematic.

The traditional view of heterosexual sex is deeply entrenched in objectification. The man is the pursuer, the initiator; he is necessarily aggressive, maybe even forceful. The woman is the pursued, the “end goal”, the object; she is passive, submissive, although in many ideal fantasies she also secretly wants to be pursued and caught. This view is reinforced in mass media the world over, in magazines, TV shows, movies, music videos, books, advertisements, video games. It is no wonder that lots of boys and young men are both confused and resolute about their understanding of a girl or woman who says no as just playing a role, and of girls and women who say yes as breaking that role (that is, as being sluttish).

Sexual objectification unavoidably sets the stage for the commodification of sex. Commodification is the process of recreating or portraying someone or something as a commodity– a good, an object for consumption. The ways in which sex is commodified still conform neatly to traditional views of heterosexual sex, which are also patriarchal. In this situation, men are the subjects and women are the objects. Patriarchy holds that sexual pleasure is naturally (or should be) centered around men; there is an emphasis on the uncontrollable nature of male sexual desire, whereas women are either passive recipients of this desire, or objects used to cater to it.

Women, specifically, have long been commodified as sexual objects (and men have, too, in a different fashion and to different ends). We aren’t just used to sell things, but we are things; we are figuratively “on sale” for consumption all the time. Although women are hypersexualized in this process of commodification, as individuals they are stripped of their own sexuality. If an object has a perspective on its own sexuality, its sexual identity or desires, it is in danger of becoming real, a subject. Commodification thus also means the smothering or eradication of female subjectivity.

I think a lot of men find all of this difficult to swallow. On the one hand, I guess I can see why it would be challenging to view things from such a different perspective– if you have always been the buyer, the consumer, there has probably never been much reason or incentive to view things from the perspective of the good/commodity. On the other hand, I think men can understand this perfectly; a large number of them are sexually objectifying and commodifying females all the time. I have a large number of very close guy friends who would adamantly deny this, but even if they truly see all human beings as, well, human beings, they surely experience their peers doing this much of the time.

What surprises me is when men have absolutely no qualms about doing this blatantly and shamelessly in front of women. I think this is because they feel either there is nothing wrong with it, or that there will be no consequences for doing it. For example, I was fundraising outside of a supermarket (for a project to end gender-based violence, no less) not too long ago, and I was observing a security guard as he was…observing a young woman coming out of the store. She was loading her groceries into a tuk tuk. She was wearing a dress, though by American standards I can’t say it was “too short” or what have you. The security guard was standing not far from her, staring at her– no, not staring at her, but staring at her behind. His stare was long and open, and at one point he even licked his lips. I had been talking to him earlier about the project I was helping fundraise for, so I felt it was not too out of place for me to ask, “What are you doing?” His answer was phrased completely innocently: “She’s a beautiful girl, why shouldn’t I look? Why is she wearing that dress if she doesn’t want me to look?”

This is an argument that I’ve heard time and again. Women secretly desire the male pornographic gaze on them. It’s what compels women and girls to wear make-up, to dress like the models on magazine covers, ultimately to sexualize themselves. Under the surface, all women really want to appeal to male sexual desire.

If that woman wanted that security guard to stare at her while licking his lips, I’ll eat my hat.

But that’s besides the point. This idea of women’s secret desire for men to visually consume them is based on a much more sinister myth: the idea that women secretly want men to fuck them. This sounds so absurdly egotistic and narcissistic as to be unbelievable, but when I look around myself I can see how it sort of…makes sense, in a sort of droll, male-centered way.

In high school I had a friend whose room was covered with large, glossy posters of Playboy Bunnies. There was one at the head of his bed that I can’t seem to forget; whenever I think about this person, I inevitably think of this poster. In it, a typical white, blonde “Bunny” is positioned on the floor with her butt high in the air, her knees bent, and she is propped up on her elbows. She is looking at the camera with an ecstatic, childish expression, and she is wearing nothing but bubbles. Yes, only soap bubbles, on her breasts and her crotch. I remember feeling horribly uncomfortable when I would go to this friend’s house to play video games with him and our other friends– all of whom were Good Christian Boys who regularly attended church and youth group. And stuff. Only one of my guy friends had the nerve to ask him if it wasn’t such a great idea to put up posters of mostly naked women on your walls– wouldn’t God be offended? (God definitely would be offended, since the Christian God hates women, after all. Ho ho ho, surely I’m just kidding…)

When I look around myself right at this moment, I am in an internet cafe in which every computer besides this one is occupied by a young man or boy. I am tempted to check each screen to see how many of them are watching porn, but I don’t want to get kicked out. Don’t worry, most of the younger guys are just playing WoW… Well, I guess that’s sort of the same as watching porn, isn’t it? Anyway, on the walls are posters advertising various Khmer and other Asian websites, mostly for games. Almost all of them feature partially-naked women, even the cartoon ones. The one behind me features two realistic-looking cartoon women with guns posed between two bulky men in armor; both women have huge breasts and long, skinny bodies. One is wearing a low-cut top with her midriff showing, and the other is wearing shiny black leather (she sorta looks like a dominatrix with that nazi hat on).

I could describe the other posters in here, but I won’t bother. You get the idea. Anyway, from your own experience, you already have an idea, I’m sure. Just looking around us at other people, at billboards and posters, at book covers and album covers, at music videos… We are constantly being inundated by this shit, all the time. Taking all this in, it isn’t hard to see why girls and women are so easily recreated as personality-less, consumable objects devoid of agency.

Perhaps the absolute worst part is that it is not only men who recreate and consume women as sex objects, but women recreate and consume women as sex objects, as well. Actually I think that’s why it is such an immense challenge to confront and negate these processes of commodification and objectification. Women and girls commodify themselves, early on and often for their entire lives. We hypersexualize and objectify our bodies, our sexual identities, but to what end? Ultimately it seems entirely dissatisfying, time-consuming, and hurtful. The results are a preoccupation with unattainable “beauty” standards, self-loathing of our own persons, and jealousy and contempt for other women whom we perceive as surpassing our own efforts. If you fail, all you get is some really low self-esteem; if you succeed, you get to be a sexually-consumable object for male-centered pleasure, which really only holds if you are available for consumption 24/7. Congratulations.

What I would like for us to do, then, is to reject our own commodification. Question yourself, question others, question culture, when you feel compelled to do something, go somewhere, dress some way, say something. I don’t believe this is easy, but I have learned multitudes about myself through such self-reflection and critical thinking of my surroundings. But it is as they say: once you’ve seen, you can’t un-see. Maybe ignorance is bliss, but transcendence is better.

I’m not king of comedy,
I’m not your magazine,
I’m not your television,
I’m not your movie screen
I’m not commodity
I’m not commodity

[R.E.M., “King of Comedy]

p.s. This is a really aesthetically-shit but highly informative website on some particulars of how women are portrayed as sex objects in certain media.

p.s.s Post on the sexual commodification of men forthcoming.


In the States, I don’t wear bras. I stopped wearing them just after graduating college. Sometimes I can’t believe I wore them for 21 years without question. Maybe I’d have continued wearing them for the rest of my life if I hadn’t started spending more time with a “different” crowd of folks, not to mention reading bell hooks. (Okay, not really, bell hooks to my knowledge has never advocated against the wearing of bras– she probably wears them, herself.) I’m referring to feminist-forward thinking, anyhow.

In Cambodia, however, I “have to” wear them. There’s a lot of things I “have to” do here that I stopped doing back home. I guess I still feel obligated to “respect” or at least adhere to certain cultural standards, since I am a “guest” of this culture.

In this regard, I somewhat agreed with Peace Corps’ approach to “cultural integration”. Wait, let me back up: Peace Corps’ conception of culture is basically absurd, in my view. That’s the nice way to put it. There’s too much to go into in this post about that particular subject, so I’ll save it for later. What I did agree with, however, was Peace Corps’ idea about “difference”; one of their reasons for “cultural integration” (ah, I cringe to think of it) was that if we are not “alike” enough, then how we are different in a “positive” ways (the relativists are freaking out right now) will be dismissed, overlooked, or possibly idolized but still viewed as unattainable. PC told us that we need to be “like” them enough so that they could see a possibility for change; otherwise our differences would be passed off as unreachable by Cambodians. To some degree, I feel this is true because of my experience with people (especially women) saying, “Yes, that is true/possible for you, because you are American.” In other words, I am fundamentally other— freedom to pursue my own interests as a woman is possible for me because I am American; ability to go to college is possible because I am American; choosing for myself instead of allowing my parents to choose for me is possible because I am American. This is the “I so regret” side of the difference-distance argument.

The other is the optimist, or “It is my culture” side of the argument– also known as “TIC” (This Is Cambodia), which I’m fairly certain was coined by my boyfriend: every time I raise a point, suggestion, idea, theory, example, conception, whatever, that doesn’t particularly match his worldview, he states, “This Is Cambodia.” (Well, I just imagine that all the words are capitalized when he says that.) And this is sufficient to show me why I don’t understand, am misguided, or just wrong. Most of the times I have heard people say “It is my culture” has been in situations where they are apologizing, but do not regret, some aspect of their worldview or behavior, or where they are explaining for the silly barangs who don’t understand “Khmer culture”, or where they are justifying their behavior. This latter reason is one that most concerns me, because it is often used to justify the subjugation of women. Although, for instance, my boyfriend can acknowledge that it is not fair his younger sister’s life is choiceless and predetermined, he justifies the situation by saying “TIC” or “it is their habit for a long time already”. He really believes it’s too late for the situation to change. If that were me, it would effectively mean my life is over: I have two children and my husband does not allow me to leave the house; I have to ask permission before making decisions for myself; even though I am very intelligent and possibly the most creative thinker and diligent worker of all my siblings, I wasn’t allowed to finish high school ’cause I had to get married, and though I still want to study, I am not allowed to. Yes, if that were me… Well, it isn’t me. And his younger sister sighs and groans and looks sad and occasionally confides her anxieties to me, but ultimately she puts her head down. And she never EVER complains to her husband or her family. She appears downright stoic about it.

The other concern I have about the TIC perspective is that I have read quotes in the papers from rapists literally saying, “It is my culture”. I saved one particularly unbelievable article quoting a child rapist excusing himself because of his “culture”, which I’ll post at a later date.

So I give some credit to PC for recognizing that extreme “difference” encourages Cambodians to see their volunteers as Other– in this case, it is an unattainable Otherness, either expressed as regret or reality.

This is why I wear bras here.

And let me just say… I HATE IT.

I hate bras. What a useless, uncomfortable, ridiculous accessory. I have never heard one good reason for using a bra. I will make one exception for sports bras, which some particularly large-breasted women have told me helps them enjoy sports more and eases strain on their backs. But for someone like me, there is absolutely not one sound reason why I would ever need a bra.

If you think this is an overreaction, you are probably not sitting in 95 degree heat with a constantly feeling of itchiness. Even sports bras are uncomfortable in this weather. But the real kicker is that there is just no good reason why culture should require me to wear one.

I have heard lots of reasons which explain the necessity of bras. They make your breasts look bigger. I’ll let you guess what I think of that reason. They provide “support” for older, sagging breasts. Then why are old women so less likely to wear bras than their younger counterparts? They are sexy, as are other kinds of lingerie, and enhance your “appeal”. I suppose, if that’s what you’re into. They disguise a woman’s nipples. Well, we can scratch that off as a disgustingly sexist hypersexualization and fetishization of the female body. I’m sure I’m missing some, but those are ones I most often hear.

Any reason that has to do with fetishizing the female body is completely invalid in my view, but these are reasons oft-cited. The normalcy of viewing and treating females like dress-up dolls, inanimate works of art, and fuck objects is still pervasive the world over. For this reason alone I advocate the end to bra-wearing. No, you don’t have to burn them, but have you ever burned something you despise? It’s pretty satisfying.

I feel better having ranted about bras, but…I’m still wearing one. Should I just apologize to Cambodia and take it off? Should I wait ’til I get home? Who I am really respecting by wearing this damnable invention, anyway?