Monday, December 31, 2007

Girls, Girls, Girls

I'm reposting this comment I made over at Echidne's because I think it's something that you, my (whole three) readers might find interesting, and because I might want to expand on later. For context, go here.

Because men like to see women naked a lot more than women like to see men naked.

I call bullshit.

It may (or may not) be true that men are more visually stimulated than women are, but it's absolute BS that biology alone accounts for the fact that pornography is aimed almost solely at men - which is what I gather you are trying to argue.

As I said on my own blog just last night, anyone who thinks that women aren't turned on by pictures of men has never had the task of cleaning up the teen mag section of their local bookstore/supermarket.

I've been that girl. I know what they are looking for in Bop, Tiger Beat, etc. And it isn't that so and so likes Mars Bars but hates peas.

However, unlike boys, they often can't ever find what they are looking for, and so they settle for his favorite color instead. In part because they know that, unlike the boys, they aren't supposed to be looking for it. They aren't supposed to be masturbating. (And I don’t mean “people will tease you” - I mean “your parents will wish you weren’t their daughter.”) Girls aren't supposed to want sex – popular media may show women wanting sex more positively that it used to (but still usually not) but everyone is still very, very frightened of the fact that girls want sex. And so, during the time when they are just learning about their sexuality and are feeling very unsure about themselves, girls usually still hear over and over again that only bad girls want sex.

And so they learn to subvert their sexuality into something more palatable to the general public. One either learns to be asexual or to pretend that one's sexuality is defined only by what other people (men) find to be sexy in you. Often that weird mix of both that keeps us always on the losing side.

That isn't to say that wedes is wrong when she argues that it's normal for women to be aroused when others find us sexy. That this would be true seems obvious. But if it's so obvious, why isn't it obvious for men as well? (And how does who is looking at us come into play?)

I think that it's problematic to talk about freedom of choice and feeling sexy because someone is watching you without also addressing the male gaze, the absence of the female gaze in popular media, and the extent to which women are still often trained to view their own sexual pleasure as secondary, sinful, and/or non-existent. The fact that all this desperately needs addressing elsewhere does not mean that it shouldn’t be addressed when it comes to stripping and porn.

(Although I do agree with wedes that porn gets picked on a lot - because doing so allows us to pretend it's all over there, not in the middle of everything.)

Mostly though, I think it’s just dumb to talk about the gender division in stripping and porn as if it isn’t affected at all by the sexism that affects all other kinds of gender imbalances.

Why is prostitution a mostly female occupation? Do I really need to answer that question?

I’m guessing that you should think about your answer to that question a little more, at the very least.

And when you do, keep in mind that prostitution isn’t really a mostly female occupation. Worldwide, it’s mostly an occupation for women and children. Which isn’t to say that prostitution in inherently exploitive. Just that there’s lots of evidence that the extreme gender division in prostitution, like gender divisions elsewhere, is very much rooted in gender inequality and power structures, not biology.

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