Ignore what advertisers want; women more than just bodies

By Donna Steele

If you remember the show, “Seinfeld,” you might get this reference. There was an episode in which someone thought Jerry was gay. He denied it (because he wasn’t), but he and George enthusiastically defended the right to be gay by saying, “Not that there’s anything wrong with it!”

Their ubiquitous inclusion of “Not that there’s anything wrong with it!” any time someone mentioned being gay implied their desire to be politically correct.

Fast forward to now and the #metoo moment. Powerful men tumble down as women who’ve been subjected to their abuses — some major, some minor — tell the stories of their tawdry behavior. And, of course, rape goes beyond tawdry to illegal, reprehensible, an outrage. And there is something wrong with all of it.

But to focus only on men’s bad behavior without discussing women’s sexual personae in the 21st century is a missed opportunity for a cultural shift. The reduction of women to their bodies by the mass media, and the Pied Piper way in which women follow these degrading norms falls on everyone. And it’s time for a change.

For millennia, women have been subjected to sexual slavery, second-class status and in some places sexual mutilation. It is no surprise that most women have a Me Too moment. Even the strong ones. And there is absolutely no justification for this.

Yet, currently, anything goes: celebrities and fashionistas bare all; children are dressed to look much older than their true age — they bare midriffs, wear stiletto heels, expose décolletage and combine thigh-high boots with mini-skirts. Now I feel pressured to say, “Not that there’s anything wrong with it!” But isn’t there?

Women’s sexuality is exploited, exalted, marketed, touted, flaunted, abused, profiteered, manufactured, insinuated, promulgated, blasted, flashed, hawked, wholesaled, mystified, de-mystified, glorified, defiled.

This happens daily on magazine covers, in pornography, in movies and music. And some women think this is empowering, weirdly interpreting an “our bodies, ourselves” mindset.

Young girls’ role models perform in the skimpiest of clothes to make these entertainers even remotely mass marketable in our current cultural milieu. Beyonce. Britney. Niki. Being an inspired singer isn’t enough for a female performer; she must thrust, bare, shake, bend, pout, twerk, stroke and caress while scantily clad.

Sexting is commonplace, even for young girls. Lyrics cross every sexual boundary; this music is piped into shopping malls and restaurants. You can hear how much someone wants to undress their lover while sipping cappuccino with your mom at Starbucks, all to a rhythmic beat.

I suggest women have to quit being led by their earring loops down the hall of sexual infamy and take ownership of their messaging and not just their bodies. “Clothes make the man.” They make the woman, too.

If, as a culture, we don’t reinvent women as something more than sexual play-things, women have lost. Until women understand their true power lies not in their ability to titillate men but in their power to refuse that tired, degrading role, women have lost. Women must define themselves for themselves, not for what advertising wants them to be.

It’s a case of the emperor’s new clothes if women equate sexual exploitation with sexual liberation. Sexual education is required for both girls and boys. Boys and men need to be held accountable for their actions. But so, too, do girls and women.

Mothers, tell your daughters the ugly truth about sexual predation. Raise them to be strong enough to walk away from pressure. And don’t dress them like sex workers, because there is something wrong with that.

Donna Steele, a retired educator, hails from Alabama and made Hancock County her home in 2011. She can be reached at dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com