Why do women objectify themselves?

I did warn everyone that one of my (endearing?) faults is that I think too much about things. So I warn you, this post is the result of a lot of thinking that has been going on inside my head after seeing a poster promoting Playboy Mansion quilt covers last week.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, the poster features a scantily-clad young woman reclining on a quilted bed with paparazzi behind her taking photos( I mean, can you be any less subtle about visual objectification? I think not). Along with the infamous Playboy bunny image in the foreground are the words proclaiming, “Live the Dream.” So I guess through buying the Playboy Mansion quilt set, we too can Live the Dream of being a Playboy Bunny.

Ok, hold up. The Dream?

Is it really a Dream to be an objectified plaything for a decrepit and perverted octogenarian? Is it really the Dream to live in a house of equally desperate women who have so little self esteem that their only worth is tied up in their sexual appeal? That when they hit the ripe old age of 21 they are discarded for a fresh young bunch of equally deceived girls whose one hope is that they too may Live the Dream of having as many people see them naked as possible?

Is this REALLY what young women dream about?

I know I’m generalising, and that there are plenty of young women who would be appalled at such a notion. But one only needs to look at the fandom of Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton to ask – what is going on with the sexual identity of young women?

I had previously asked myself this the other day when I heard two articulate young women on the radio promoting Lingerie Football. They were themselves players, and they were hawking the game as a “fun” outing that was “basically no different to beach volleyball” and “really a great family event”.

Now, something I really can’t stand is when people make up their minds about things in a knee-jerk fashion without actually thinking it through and formulating a coherent argument. Think of all those nut-cases who claimed Harry Potter was from the Devil without ever actually having read the book, for example. So I didn’t want to do that with Lingerie Football – I really did have to work out why it went against my beliefs and if it actually was different from a game of beach volleyball, when, let’s face it, there’s a fair amount of ogling going on in that game too. So I did some reading and some thinking, and then I read this http://bit.ly/MwaBwx.

Well after I got past being just plain disgusted, I felt I knew what was different. The core identity of the beach volleyball players is athletic. Sure they aren’t wearing much – which I’m sure some in the crowd enjoy – but they are there as athletes, people are there primarily to see them playing the game well. The women playing Lingerie Football however, are first and foremost, sexual objects. Their core value is in being sexually appealing. To make the difference even more clear, just try imagining the crowd celebrating beach volleyball goals by making the “pussy sign” above their heads, or passing around a blow-up doll (as was the case at one Lingerie Football match, if you check out the link above). Even the player on the radio admitted, “it’s marketing, we can’t get people interested in the sport without this”. Well, how heart-breakingly sad that the only way these women believe they can get themselves recognised as athletes is to objectify themselves as sexualised fantasy playthings at the same time.

In some ways, we have come full circle. Women broke free of the patriarchal virgin/whore dichotomy, whereby society denied women sexual or reproductive rights, setting them up as either socially acceptable virgins who played by the rules set out for them, or whores who broke the rules when it came to sexual freedom. I am a libertarian – I do believe that, under law, we should be able to pursue whatever lifestyle we choose as long as there are protections for those who can’t protect themselves and it harms no one else (what constitutes harm is of course a huge area for debate and worthy of another post at another time). But I feel like women have just exchanged one form of tyranny for another –  we have simply re-commodified ourselves as sex objects in an all-pervasive raunch culture. Everywhere they look – from Bratz dolls to those girls on The Shire with lips so big they hit their noses to Katy Perry singing about threesomes in the park with people you don’t know and Designer Vaginas and Paris Hilton’s sex tapes –  girls are socialised into accepting that they only have value if they are sexually appealing.

I hate that my funny, witty, confident, creative and crazy daughter is growing up in that culture. I hate that when I tell her she’s beautiful, I wince a little, because that term has become so plastic and sexualised and commodified and stripped of any real meaning. I am determined she will have strong, opinionated, intelligent, kind and corageous role models – Anne of Green Gables and Jo from Little Women, Elizabeth Bennet and Anne Frank and Joni Earekson or Aung San Suu Kyi – that she will know her value as a person has nothing to do with how she appeals to men. I think I’ll start with a ban on all reality TV shows where banality is celebrated instead of skill – and certainly no dolls with knee-high boots and nightclub attire. Or, for that matter, Adairs Playboy Mansion quilt sets.

It’s a tall ask, I know. But I’m betting there are lots of you out there with daughters who feel pretty much the same, and want them to actually Live Dreams that bring deep and lasting fulfilment to themselves and others.

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