I have been thinking about this for a while, what with all the ‘prude’ remarks and assumptions of sex negativity that often abound if you decry the sexualisation of women in the media.
The way I see it, sexualisation and sexuality (or being sexual or whatever you call it) are different. To me sexualisation implies something being imposed on someone from outside, where (mostly) women are used as vehicles and vessels to express a narrowly defined idea of ‘sexy’ designed by and for the patriarchy. That is not to say women cannot find genuine pleasure and enjoy being sexual and sexy in tis way, it becomes problematic when it is imposed upon all women (lesbians and bisexual women being invisible except for male sapphic fantasies and asexuality is ignored or presumed to be ‘wrong’ because we must all be up for it at all times right?) and it becomes seen as ‘the norm’. When this image is increasingly based on an ideal the vast majority of women cannot ever achieve and those who do achieve it do so only with help from expensive grooming routines, photoshop and even surgery.
Sexual and pornographic imagery is becoming increasingly visible, yet showcasing a narrow form of female ‘beauty’ and ‘sexiness’. Pubes are becoming endangered and there is an increase in procedures such as ever more extreme labiaplasty surgery such as the ‘Barbie’ which removes the entire labia minora from women, which is explored in depth here by Kirsten O’Regan. There is nothing wrong with women wanting to modify their bodies, but when society is telling us our perfectly healthy bodies are ‘gross’ and ‘ugly’ and we start to believe it, that’s something I do not accept. When the ideal women is becoming increasingly fake, it all seems like the male ideal of a sexual woman isn’t a woman at all but a hollow, plastic woman shaped object on which men can act out their sexual desires. A Female Eunuch as it were. As problematic as Greer’s work is in places (hello vile transphobia) I keep coming back to that central image of a de-sexed woman devoid of her own desire being sexualised as a vessel for male desire, a ‘female impersonator’ as Greer terms it (I am un easy about her language when she verges into transphobic fuckwittery equating trans women with this patriarchal bullshit) in the sense of a woman as imagined by patriarchy not a woman in her own right, I’d suggest a ‘simulacra of woman’ or something to be a better term as ffs patriarchy fucks over trans women even more so on this issue. Whatever you call it, it’s not women defining our sexuality ourselves, it’s an image of women, glossed over and removed from reality, the patriarchy imposes upon us and uses to control our sexuality for the benefit of itself.
So I suppose that’s what I term ‘sexualisation’ as, something distinct from sexuality, our genuine desires and feelings. Sexualisation is commercial, unfeeling, women used to sell goods and ideas. Pleasure, feelings and orgasm none of that matters. Sexualisation is women being used for men, for capitalist patriarchy and kyriarchy. It is being told we are never beautiful or desirable unless we buy certain lotions, potions, treatments or surgeries. It is being told our worth is placed on our desirability to the patriarchy not on our own desire. It’s control, it’s dressed up as freedom and ‘empowerment’ but its anything but.
Sexuality is women and whoever they wish to be sexually involved with, or on their own, expressing their desires and relishing their sexuality, or not doing so. Being at home in your body, feeling the pleasure in it, not hating it and assuming it’s ‘wrong’.
That said this is a complex issue, society is so fucked up over sex it’s hard to figure it all out sometimes, I’m still fighting my way through it all and wondering what to think and feel.