At the close of 2013, actress Rashida Jones wrote an article for Glamour magazine entitled “Why is Everyone Getting Naked? Rashida Jones on the Pornification of Everything”, in which she discusses pop stars and the trend of exposing as much of their bodies as possible. She talks about how, while she grew up with a healthy balance of sexuality in pop star performances, they now all interpret “sexy” as showing lots of skin, which she finds homogenous and rather boring. She also makes an important distinction between true expressions of female sexuality and women selling sex. In her closing remarks, she asks men to show up and join the conversation on the larger implications of female sexuality on pop culture. So here I am offering my thoughts.
Each man and woman’s sexuality is different and each varies in the way they express it. For example, as Rashida Jones points out in her article, while some women love stripper moves and a pole, others like getting their feet rubbed. In the same way, for every guy who enjoys stripper moves, there are also guys who like rubbing their girlfriend’s feet. Unfortunately, we often fall prey to the limited belief that the extremely sexualized videos, outfits, and dance moves executed by female pop stars is what all men find irresistibly sexy. This, in turn, leads to the narrow belief that this is the only thing men find sexy. I believe it is important for men to voice their opinions, and my own opinion is that those videos and dance moves play to what media culture has decided men want, and moreover what they should want, but not necessarily what men actually do enjoy and wish to see and find sexy.
This may be partly wishful thinking on my part, but the extremely sexualized pop culture and the limited forms used to express female sexuality seem most often to involve dehumanizing and disrespecting, or degrading the women involved. Examples of this dehumanizing display of sex ranges from the naked dancing girls in Blurred Lines, to, more recently, Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” video.
Do these expressions of female sexuality leave the viewer feeling like they just witnessed a strong empowered feminine expression of sexuality providing a healthy view of women? I can’t personally say they do. In fact, I believe it has the opposite effect because by combining feelings of sexual excitement with unsettling imagery of dehumanized and debased women, boys are taught to associate sexual excitement with female degradation.
Like Rashida Jones, I also miss seeing more variety in how sexiness is displayed. Where have the sultry expressions of “sexy” gone? Give me Grace Kelly in “Rear Window” or Ava Gardner in “The Killers” or, my personal favorite, Lauren Bacall in “To Have And Have Not” with Humphrey Bogart.
Unfortunately, our pop culture has limited female expressions of sexiness to only those overtly sexual, such as revealing outfits or twerking dance moves. As a heterosexual male, I am told by pop culture that if I don’t find it incredibly sexy watching a Miley Cyrus twerk on stage, then there is something wrong with me.
But I, and many other men, find that a woman’s empowered choice in how she portrays her sexuality is as much a factor in what makes the action sexy as is the way she chooses to portray it. For example, when a female pop star is twerking or wearing a barely-there outfit, it is difficult to view it as an empowered expression of her sexuality versus a calculated decision by outsiders like managers or record executives seeking to boost recognition and record sales through her overtly sexualized display.
As both men and women contribute to this conversation, we can work together to limit the impact media culture has on adolescent girls and boys, as well as ourselves, by finding truths of how we feel about beauty, attractiveness, and expressions of sexuality unhindered by media culture limitations.
Jonathan Edwards is an attorney currently working mainly with indigent prisoners on civil rights issues. After completing his Juris Doctor in 2009 at the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, he relocated to the bay area and joined the About-Face Associate Board as part of his dedication to social justice.