The Myth of Female Sexual Power
Power defines our relationships. It determines how we relate to one another on a personal level and how we fit into social hierarchies. Until very, very recently in human history, women have had little or no power in relation to men. While this imbalance is gradually being corrected by education, financial independence, equal legal rights and employment opportunities, progress is also simultaneously being eroded by the misconception that self-sexual objectification is empowering. The idea that women can use their bodies, appearances and sex appeal to put themselves in a position of power is geared towards masculine interests and supporting the patriarchal system. Fundamentally, encouraging women to use their looks and bodies to get what they want encourages women to value themselves as objects, and not as people. It discourages women from deriving their sense of self worth from their personalities, intelligence and other talents. It means that in social situations women think “I hope he/she thinks I’m attractive” instead of “I hope he/she likes me”. Furthermore, the idea of female empowerment through self-sexual objectification sets women up to fail. Beauty and sex appeal are ephemeral, and so is any power or influence gained from them. This thereby reinforces the idea that young, attractive women are more valuable than older women.
While individual women may be rewarded for objectifying themselves and “flaunting it”, the gender as a whole looses out. Sure, an individual woman might get lots of male attention, get something for free, get a job over someone else etcetera, but women as a group are dehumanised and their abilities are underestimated. It also instigates female competition. Women are led to critically judge the appearances of others and compare themselves to these. This makes women more hostile to one another and more self-conscious about the way they look. It prevents women from setting their own standards of beauty, and being comfortable and happy with their own unique body shapes.
Gender equality isn’t about women becoming like men, but it is about women being valued as people in the way that men currently are. Men are not widely valued just for their appearances; they are valued for their professional success, their confidence, their intelligence, their wit, their humour, their personal talents, and generally for being good guys. The underlying assumption is that men don’t have to rely on their appearances because they have so much else going for them. I want women to be thought of in this way too. I want women to be defined by who they are not what they look like. While it can be fun and lucrative to sexually objectify oneself, remember, women are more beautiful on the inside than the outside. Female objectification is dehumanising, and one cannot be empowered whilst being less than human. Furthermore, real empowerment does not come from desire or lust; it comes from respect.
Annathea Curry is a First Class Honours graduate from the University of Western Australia, with a BA in English and History. In a family of entomologists, psychiatrists, doctors, physiotherapists and engineers she is the literary exception.