How Women Are Pressured into Being Sexy, But Punished for Being Sexual | NLIF

How Women Are Pressured into Being Sexy, But Punished for Being Sexual

The Internet remains intact in spite of Kim Kardashian’s attempt to break it with shiny, digitally enhanced photos of her bare backside. She did, however, manage to break the ice in an ongoing conversation about the objectification of women in the public eye.

As happens when any overexposed celebrity shows skin, people have generally criticized Kim for posing nude as a mother, turned her butt into a short-lived Twitter meme, and vilified her for attempting to use sex appeal to garner attention and wealth.

The feminist response was to point out the problematic racial implications of the photo shoot, distance themselves from her, or — more rarely — praise her bravery and willingness to be sexually open.

Whether it’s Kim Kardashian, Beyoncé, Rihanna, or any other woman crafting a sexualized public image, the public’s response tends to focus on the individual actions of the women at hand.

Even among feminists, there’s a lot of discussion about whether women who use sex as a marketing tool are free agents, empowered, or feminist failures.

The problem with focusing on the choices of individual women is that they aren’t playing to the male gaze in a vacuum.

It’s only in the context of a society that caters to the male gaze, socializes women to tie their self-worth to their sex appeal, and shames women who are openly sexual that things like “Break the Internet” happen.

You will not see Kanye West’s well-oiled butt on a magazine cover near you anytime soon. But you’d better believe that if the media catered to a straight female gaze, say, he’d be just as keen to play up his sex appeal as Kim Kardashian.

But as it is, what captures the attention of straight men dictates a lot of what you see in the media, and what you see in the media affects people’s perceptions of women’s worth and desirability.

The problem with sexy, attention-grabbing photo shoots and the public response to them isn’t one of certain women making individual decisions.

The trouble is that women are disproportionately expected to bank on their sex appeal — in Hollywood and beyond — while being admonished for doing just that.

There is a feedback loop between the way our culture views women, the way women are portrayed in the media, and the way we respond to these portrayals. The result is a social climate that paradoxically pushes women into performing sexy, and then punishes them for it.

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