Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Oh, You Sexy Geek panel at San Diego Comic Con. Since the blog world seems afire with controversy about it, I'd like to add my own two-cents to the mix.
I will address three things from the panel getting a lot of flack in the blogworld right now:
1) Chris Gore's "I'd like to stick my penis in all of these women" comment.
2) Adrianne Curry's remark about sexual prudishness in the US
3) The 'girls are bitches' comment
MASCULINITY, FEMININITY, AND MR. GORE
Okay, first and foremost, I'd like to take this opportunity to say that I don't believe Chris Gore's comment was okay at all. If it was meant as satire, it was poorly executed. One of his follow-up comments on twitter (@ThatChrisGore) read: "I find it sad that acting like a real man is perceived as sexist today. It's the pussification/castration of the American male."
So, what is 'acting like a real man'? If acting like a real man involves degrading jokes about women, then I'd like to meet some fake men.
Let me put it this way: If a male coworker approached a woman in a work environment and said that he'd like to put his penis in her, she'd have one hell of a sexual harassment suit.
I'd like to make one thing clear. I consider myself a third wave bisexual feminist, and not all of my views are traditional. I DON'T believe it's wrong for men to be sexually turned on by women, just as I don't believe it's wrong for women to dress in a revealing manner. But I do believe it's highly offensive to make unwanted, crude sexual remarks and advances to anyone, male or female.
We can also problematize his term 'pussification,' as it is a crude slang term for 'feminizing.' Aside from the problems of using slang for a female body part as a term of disdain, let's tackle a deeper issue: Why masculinity is held up as higher on the totem pole than femininity.
This is a much bigger issue than Mr. Gore's uncomfortable faux-pas. This is an issue that I've noted even in feminism as it struggles to make women equal to men in our society.
To me, one of the greatest ironies of second wave feminism is this: It actually idealizes masculinity.
Both hyperfemininity and hegemonic masculinity are problematic for our culture. So too is the idea that women should be only feminine and men should be only masculine.
But second wave feminism asked women to fully eschew femininity in favor of masculinity. Perhaps that was the only way to break through into the male dominated world, something which desperately needed to be done. But it also led to the harassment of women by women for maintaining traditional femininity or taking on traditionally feminine roles (stay at home parenting, for example). Instead of equalizing femininity and masculinity and suggesting that women could take on both feminine and masculine qualities, and that men could do the same, it reemphasized masculinity as an ideal.
This is not to say that women should embrace hyperfemininity as a goal. Rather, I would suggest that both femininity and masculinity have positive functions in our culture, and should both be accessible to men and women without resulting in the fear of ridicule. It should not be considered 'unmasculine' to treat women with respect and refrain from making crude sexual advances toward them.
ADRIANNE CURRY, PRUDISHNESS, AND CODES OF DRESS
At one point in the panel, former America's Next Top Model contestant and winner Adrianne Curry commented that America was too prudish in regards to nudity. On this, I happen to strongly agree.
It is no secret that my academic work is devoted to understanding the development of sexual morality and gender roles, and that my stance is one that might rankle the sensibilities of other feminists of our time.
I believe that one of the ways to eliminate sexual objectification and repression of women is to embrace nudity and female sexuality as natural and healthy.
I would suggest that our heavy critique of scantily clad women serves to reinforce the idea that the female body is somehow dirty and that female sexuality must be contained.
This is not to say that no critique is necessary--these clothes and the women who wear them do not exist in a vacuum; rather, they exist and are interpreted in a culture that still often views a women's body and sexuality as her most valuable attribute. This is just as problematic as the other extreme, which can serve to separate a women from her body and sexuality entirely.
I defer to Ruth P. Rubinstein, a scholar on dress in culture. In her book, Dress Codes: meanings and messages in American culture, she writes: "...by covering and uncovering, all parts of the female body have been sexualized..." (Rubinstein, 148-149). Anthropologists have found that in societies where nudity is the norm, clothing is sexual. Likewise, in the Victorian era, being so completely covered led to the sexualization of female wrists and ankles, which are barely a thought in our modern discussion of female sexualized body parts.
For this reason, I would suggest that if 'Slave Leia' were the normative form of dress and it didn't feed into a taboo image of female sexuality, it might attract less attention and less sexual leering.
ARE GIRLS REALLY 'BITCHES'?'
We can problematize girls calling each other and themselves bitches until the end of time. But the unfortunate reality of our society is that girls, via nature or nurture, seem to be each other's harshest critics, ESPECIALLY when it comes to issues of sexuality and dress.
Girls sanction each other's sexual behavior all the time with 'slut baiting.' I will agree that it's problematic to assume that women's behavior toward one another derives purely out of jealousy, HOWEVER, in a cultural context where we significantly value certain female body types over others, jealousy can easily arise. This is where the point about broadening the cultural definition of what is beautiful and sexy comes in: if we stopped idealizing a size 0 with rock hard abs and big boobs, we might stop being so jealous of the women who sported that body type.
And slut-baiting is real. Women critiquing other women's dress as 'immodest' and presuming it makes them somehow less moral is a real issue. It happens all the time, and it's a well documented phenomenon. Many girls who have worn revealing clothing have experienced dirty looks or unwelcome comments...from other women.
And to the idea that women who dress sexually are agents in their own oppression: That's a complicated issue. It's not black and white; some women do see their only value as sexual and believe that emphasizing their sexuality is the only way to secure male attention. And that is a problem. But where in this debate do we allow for women exploring and feeling comfortable with their own bodies and sexualities? Where do we allow for the woman who dresses like that because she feels comfortable in her own skin? Or because, for one day of cosplay, it's fun and liberating to escape the bounds of everyday sexual morality, and be given the opportunity to dress provocatively without being called an immoral slut?