Feminist Claim: Sexualisation of Women by the Media - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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Feminists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries frequently claimed that women were being ‘sexualized’/’sexually objectified’ by the mass media. Given the political roots and objectives (discussed below) of this claim, it is not surprising that it was poorly conceptualized/defined. However, the idea was based on the observation that some images of women used to advertise various products and services or used in various products and services (e.g., movies, video games, magazines, etc.) seemingly focused on women’s sex appeal. At the same time, it was either implied or explicitly stated, by the feminist proponents of this claim, that:

1. Allegedly, a majority (rather than a minority) of images of women used by the media focused on women’s sex appeal.

2. Media (e.g. advertisements) with images of women that had apparent ability to attract the consumer through their sex appeal alone, were allegedly focused on nothing beside women's sex appeal (e.g. an advertisement for food, with a pretty feminine face and a verbal/written message which can be construed as being sexually suggestive, would be given as a ‘clear’ example of how media 'sexualizes' women).

3. Media (e.g. movies, video games, magazines) which could contain potentially sexually appealing images of women, were allegedly focused on nothing beside women's sex appeal (e.g. superhero comics of the time, which were heavily dominated by images of male, rather than female, characters, and collectively showed considerable complexity in terms of plot, themes, and character development of all characters, were described, by the feminists, as pornography targeted at heterosexual men).

4. Comparable images of men used by the media were allegedly fundamentally different (e.g. they didn't focus on men's sex appeal, or they were much rarer).

The above claim, with its just outlined components, inspired additional public support for the feminist movement by painting a picture of widespread discrimination against (i.e. unequal/'unfair' treatment of) women by the media. This claim, of course, would not, in any way, paint a picture of discrimination against women by the media, if most members of the public did not view (if only below the level of clear conscious awareness) the images of women, used by the media, as being somehow equivalent to the real women they were meant to represent. Consequently, any perceived unequal/'unfair' or ‘unfavorable’ use of images of women, by the media, was seen as unequal/'unfair' or ‘unfavorable’ treatment of real women. This perception of widespread discrimination against real women by the media, not surprisingly led to additional public support for the feminist movement, in virtue of its appeal to the social/political value of equality (which was, in those years, strongly internalized and highly prized by most citizens of the Western world).

To make the above-described claim into a more explicit picture of the widespread discrimination against women in the Western world, a number of additional claims were put forward by the feminists. First, it was claimed that the inevitable viewing of these supposedly ubiquitous sexually appealing images of women, led people (especially men), to view women as nothing more than 'sex objects' (hence 'sexual objectification'), devoid of any personality, intelligence, emotions, etc., 'designed' only for sexual satisfaction of those who take sexual interest in them. This, it was further claimed by the feminists, led men to treat women as inferiors in every social sphere (not just love and sex); while women, it was claimed, were compelled to view themselves as unsuitable for anything other than sexually attracting men and depersonalized love making.

The above claims, in part due to their appeal to the social/political values of equality, freedom and independence as well as narcissistic personality traits, were widely taken as facts and yielded great support for the feminist movement. It is not difficult to see, however, that these propagandist claims would not be widely believed if they did not tap into pre-existent widespread beliefs relevant to the subject matter. The most obvious of these beliefs, is the conviction that words and images 'fed' to people on a large scale (i.e. mass media) somehow led people to adapt the views and behaviors depicted and even merely implied (to acute observers) by these media. While, as of 2018, this belief has no credible empirical support, its long intellectual history goes back at least to Plato, who argued that Greek tragedies, which were, in Plato's time, a popular form of public entertainment, were socially harmful; since they portrayed 'pathological'/criminal behaviors and views, which, in Plato's view, did, or at least could, compel the members of the audience to adopt them.

The above-described feminist claims apparently also tapped into another belief. In particular, it appears undeniable that an average member of the public (a layman) would find these feminist claims confusing, instead of clear and convincing (as was the case), unless she or he believed (if only below the level of clear conscious awareness) that many (if not most) men, in fact, viewed women as 'sex objects' and treated them as inferiors in every social sphere; while also believing that many (if not most) women did, in fact, view themselves as something akin to robotic prostitutes. Hence, the feminist claims described above did nothing more than provide a scapegoat for a 'social problem' believed to exist in their society by many members of the public.

These claims, about sexually appealing images of women utilized by mass media being harmful to society, were often presented together with implicit or explicit calls to ban them. The calls to eliminate scapegoats of fictional or real social problems have a long history in human societies. This one, ironically enough, closely resembled what at the time was viewed, in the Western world, as extreme conservatism. After all, in the West, attempts to suppress anything which appeals to people's (especially men's) sexual urges go back at least to the early days of Christianity which viewed sexual (or any other) lust as one of its 7 Deadly Sins. Even more ironic was the fact that feminist calls to eliminate this scapegoat of a fictional social problem contradicted other objectives of the same feminist movement. In fact, Second Wave Feminism (which started in the late 1950s) was part of a broader Civil Rights Movement, which was all about achieving greater rights and freedoms for its various subgroups (e.g. women, African-Americans, homosexuals, and nearly every other social group many members of which could be easily convinced that their social group has been traditionally prevented from receiving its 'equal'/'fair' share of wealth, power and prestige which it deserves) and was directly opposed to contemporary conservatism. Not surprisingly, 'sexual liberation' (i.e. freedom to have sex with whoever one wants, without regard for social norms; or more broadly, freedom to satisfy one's sexual urges without regard for traditional norms or morals) quickly became a part of the Civil Rights Movement and led to the 1960s coming to be remembered as the decade of "Free Love" in the Western world. Not surprisingly, this push for sexual liberation and for the freedom to wear (or not wear) in public whatever one wants (another outgrowth of the Civil Rights Movement) quickly landed on the feminist agenda and remained on it well into 21st century.

Finally, it is worth noting that while potentially sexually appealing (i.e. semi-nude) images of well-built men have been used by mass media (e.g. advertisement industry) since at least the late 19th century; the mass media's use of potentially sexually appealing (i.e. semi-nude) images of women was virtually non-existent until the Civil Rights Movement and its opposition to contemporary and earlier conservative morality (which viewed public display of the female body as obscene) and its calls for an end to conservative censorship of mass media.

(Source: https://roughdraftsofnewtheorie.wordpre ... the-media/)

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