Is it wrong to sexualize fictional characters? That is the question we’ll be looking into today, and there is no concrete yes or no answer that we can come to. However, we will look into many of the positive and negative aspects that can occur due to the trend within western civilization of sexualizing imaginary people. To clarify, I will not be discussing characters that are innately designed to be sexual, such as historical or mythological succubi and incubi, but rather characters that have storylines and plots outside of their sensual behaviors (though their storylines may be altered and impacted due to their use of their sexuality). We will be using four prime examples in order to dig into this question; Poison Ivy from the DC comic franchise, Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider video games, Lola Bunny from the Looney Tunes, and Megara from Disney’s Hercules. While each of the examples I am using are females, the same arguments can be made for sexualized male characters such as Jereth from the Labyrinth, Li Shang from Mulan, or DC’s Nightwing. The ways in which sexualizing made up characters can be positive and negative fall into two main groups that we will be discussing: Exposure and Normalization.
Miniskirts, short bobbed hair, power suits, what do each of these items have in common? What is the prevailing thread that ties all three of these together? Each of them is, in their own way, symbolic of women’s rights. Throughout history there have been many symbols that represent feminism, many fashion choices utilized by womankind to display the fight and advocacy for our rights. Now, this may seem trivial-I mean, what’s the importance of clothing-but by looking into each of these fashion symbols you can trace a timeline of how feminism came to be what it is today and look into the lives of women who lived and argued for female rights throughout American history. Let it be stated; that while not all of these articles of clothing were accepted and promoted by suffragist and feminist organizations each of them did have a part to play within the history of the struggle for equal rights. So where did it begin? When did women begin to use clothing as a way of displaying their strength and rights?
1850s: One of the first traceable uses of clothing to display women’s rights occurred in the 1850s. In a time period when women were still heavily encumbered by tight fitting corsets and multi-layered petticoats one woman dared to stand up and fight against it. Her name was Amelia Bloomer. Having spent the earlier part of her life working to win women’s rights, even being one of the founders of the first recorded American .feminist paper ‘The Lily’, Amelia Bloomer heavily advocated for trading in the bird and some petticoats and hoop skirts for a wide leg style of pants that later came to be known as the bloomers. And while she did not intend initially for the bloomers to become such a widespread phenomenon of the time, they became the first in many instances women using fashion as a way to reclaim the power.
I began research for a presentation I was going to give in my Queer Literature class taught by Toby Wray, here at the University of Idaho, when I came across the concept of compulsory heterosexuality. Once researching further into the subject, I found it originated from an author, Adrienne Rich, who first developed the theory of
compulsory heterosexuality. What is compulsory heterosexuality? In literal terms: compulsory, meaning required or obligatory, and heterosexuality, referring to sexual relationships with the opposite sex.
This article contains sexually explicit content. The purpose of this guide is to help people of all genders and sexual orientations practice masturbation; however, everyone is different. Some readers may be comfortable with these topics, while others who have experienced trauma, body dysmorphia, or sexism may not be. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments, and I will answer them to the best of my ability. Some other great resources are Sexplanations for great sex education content, Adam & Eve for sex toys, Planned Parenthood for education and medical services, and/or a healthcare professional in your area. Now, it’s about to get real, so find a private place to read this and let’s get started.
We’re going to start by establishing a mantra. Think yogi style, but for accepting your genitals. My vulva is a goddess. I love my penis. I am perfect. These are some examples; use whatever feels right for your gender and sexual identity. Say this mantra a few times to yourself, out loud if you can. If you aren’t comfortable doing that, it’s ok, just repeat it a few times in your head.
When looking into the sex industry, abuses can be found. There is mention of sexual assault and rape in this post but nothing explicit. Several of the links do contain graphic content used to illustrate the realities of the industry. Proceed with caution.
Every day, we are bombarded by sex. In advertisements for fast food or perfume, in TV show plots and music, sex follows us everywhere. At a time where it seems we are talking about sex more than ever, there is still a taboo that many are reluctant to bring up. Porn. Often confined to locker room talk with the guys, no one really talks about it in a critical sense. When was the last time you had nice dinner conversation about the good old topic of porn? How many would admit to family members or employers the amount of time watching people engage in sexual activity on screen? I think there needs to be a critical talk about pornography. I don’t mean from a religious moral standpoint nor do I want to talk about censorship. I want to talk about the science of the brain and the psychological and societal impact on men and women.
“I shall not today attempt further to define [obscenity]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it”
–former U.S. Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart
It’s important to define the problem before coming up with solutions. The definition of pornography or obscenity in general has been debated in courts for decades. For this post, I am using the definition Matt Fradd uses in his book The Porn Myth: “visual material containing explicit displays of sexual organs or sexual activities, whether real or simulated, in order to arouse erotic rather than aesthetic sensations.”
The Addicted Brain
There have been many studies on pornography and Internet addiction with lengthy talk about how the brain reacts to certain stimuli and the chemicals released. Fradd provides a concise explanation on how pornography triggers addiction:
“When researchers compared brain scans of porn users with scans of nonusers, they found that the more porn the person had used, the less his reward center activated when porn images were flashed on screen. ‘This is in line with the hypothesis that intense exposure of pornographic stimuli results in a down regulation of the natural neural response to sexual stimuli.’
With a dulled reward center, a person can’t feel the effects of dopamine as well as they used to. As a result, the porn a person is using can stop producing the same excitement it did before. This leads many users to go in search of more hardcore material to get a bigger dopamine burst.” Continue reading “Porn: Addiction and the War on Women”→
Who knew four words could be so subversive, so controversial? With those four words, Ariana Grande changed her career, probably forever. These words show us that when it comes to power, especially the extreme power of a deity, gender matters. Gender really matters. You can’t just ignore gender when it comes to gods, artists, or U.S. presidents. Those roles are reserved for men, and when you dare to say otherwise, there will be backlash.
Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam”
Ariana Grande’s version
If you have yet to see the music video for “God is a Woman” by Ariana Grande, I would recommend taking a moment to view it at this link before you continue to read. This video is filled with imagery empowering to women. In my personal favorite part of the music video, Grande literally breaks the glass ceiling with a giant metal hammer. The video also alludes to many classic artworks, recreating them with Grande at the helm instead of a man. For example, the last shot of the video shows a new version of Michaelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. There is also a depiction of The Thinker by Rodin, in which Grande sits in the same posture as the thinking man while men throw gendered slurs at her, trying to tear her down. It is through these gender-reversed images that the viewer begins the realize how infrequently women are shown in positions of power historically. It is almost difficult to recognize how little representation there is until you are confronted with images that you have, amazingly, never seen before.
During my three years at the University of Idaho, I’ve experienced several instances of women being shamed based on their clothing choices. Getting ready for a night out with my girlfriends usually entails picking out outfits we feel confident in. We embrace each other’s style and feel empowered by the freedom of being able to wear whatever we desire. However, last weekend, things took an offensive turn.
During a party, a guy came up to one of my girlfriends, (who was wearing a black long sleeve, low cut shirt,) and told her to, “Cover up” three times. My friends decided to set a social moral standard and asked him to leave the party, because we would not condone those types of comments. The guy attempted to excuse his behavior by claiming, “I’m from a small town.” As much as I wanted to say, “The size of your town shouldn’t indicate the size of your brain,” I realized I must understand what caused a thought process like this and the answer is: Society. So, if I want to help change the way society thinks, defensive comebacks will not be effective in educating people on their flawed logic…
Passing is about performance. Passing is about presentation. Passing is about appearance and external markers of identity. Because most of the world only knows each of us through how we look, and we never get to explain our inner nuances to them, then they only see us for what we are the outside. They make assumptions for what our outward selves signify for our inner selves. Our identity and beliefs are assumed from a quick glance. Usually people think of gender or race with the topic of passing, but passing can involve a huge range of personal characteristics, including race, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexuality, religion, disability or ability, job occupation, level of education, intelligence, economic class, and social status. Passing can signify any personal characteristic of identity.
Gender Trouble by Judith Butler, published in 1999, is a key text for feminist theory, queer theory, and continental philosophy. She wrote several other books on gender and has a position as a professor at the University of California Berkeley. Her books are regarded as difficult to read due to their long, unstructured sentences and many references to other philosophers that it is assumed the reader knows. Regardless, I still think her work is valuable because of its contributions to the larger field of gender theory and how we think about gender today. I will give a summary of Gender Trouble, explaining the concepts she covers.