I’ve heard many times that it’s empowering for women to parade their sexuality by being scantily clad (or nude) in magazines, on TV, in strip clubs, etc. If you define “empowered” as having the ability to get money or attention by using your body, then I would have to agree. I would also point out the obvious comparison to prostitution. However, if you think that kind of empowerment has anything to do with social equality, personal strength, or self respect, I would strongly disagree.
Let’s look at magazines, for example. Magazines for men feature stick-thin, photoshopped women in overly sexual poses and articles like “Do you deserve a hotter girlfriend?” and “How to cheat and not get caught!” (Shocking and disgusting as it is, those titles have actually appeared on the cover of Maxim.) Magazines for women also feature thin photoshopped women. The articles say things like “Lose 20 pounds in 2 months” and “How to keep him hooked.”
They may be targeting different audiences, but they both present a view of women that is aimed at satisfying men’s desires. Men’s magazines encourage male idealistic fantasies and support the idea that men are entitled to use women in whatever way gives them the most pleasure. Women’s magazines give tips on how women can adjust their appearance and behavior to be more appealing to men. Neither of these perspectives strike me as being empowering to women.
For one thing, the opportunity for this supposed empowerment is only available to those who are seen as sufficiently attractive. Average looking women constantly have idealized images thrown in their faces along with millions of tips and products to help them try to achieve that ideal themselves. Low self-confidence, eating disorders, and depression are common because of the pressure women feel to live up to a standard that they can’t achieve. Basically, a lot of their self-worth is wrapped up in their ability to please men. Many women who do manage to achieve that standard are happiest when they’re being lavished with attention and praise by men. They may actually feel empowered, but the truth is that they still depend on men for that feeling.
The “power” gained by women by using their bodies to get what they want exists entirely on a surface level. As much as they may enjoy the attention or the money or whatever their goal is, they are still being seen as objects and used as tools by men. They are happy to use the woman for pleasure in the moment, but as soon as someone hotter or younger or more exciting comes by, the man moves on without a second thought. The kinds of men who look at Playboy or Maxim don’t look at those women as people who would make good friends or life partners or mothers or anything really worthwhile. They look at them as objects of lust that are convenient to help them achieve gratification.
Now here’s the really sad part. I know that men’s magazines are for the sexually immature. (It takes a real man to be happy with just one woman and get all his satisfaction from her.) I know that the unrealistic, overly sexualized standard of beauty is ridiculous and unhealthy and causes many women to suffer. I know that I don’t need to try to fit that standard so I can parade around and have guys ogle me. In fact, I have a wonderful boyfriend who is very happy with me the way that I am. In spite of all that, I feel uncomfortable in my own skin and am frustrated with my inability to lose weight. I secretly wish I could wear a bikini to the beach and sexy costumes on Halloween. The pressure that society puts on women has made my confidence at least partly dependant on how I compare to standards that I could never hope to achieve without starvation and surgery. I hope that someday I can practice what I preach on this issue, but for now I’m just one of the millions of women struggling with a negative body image.