"Like it or not, sex sells!" I can't think of a more irrelevant thing to say. About anything, in the history of things to say about stuff. "Sex sells." Ugh, seriously YOU ARE SO BRILLIANT. Tell me more! "Women's naked bodies are more beautiful than men's naked bodies." GO ON. "Men are more visual than women." Stop, stop...because my mind? BLOWN.
Sure, sex sells. Criticism of the objectification of women's bodies (along with criticism of the porn industry) is one of those weird zones in which Feminists sometimes overlap with some social conservatives. But whereas the latter group aims to restrict women's sexual empowerment, and thus disapproves of any depictions of sex, which 90% of the time is represented by a woman's body, Feminists argue that dehumanizing women, by turning their bodies into objects, is a disempowering tactic that alienates women from their own sexuality. Patriarchal culture teaches women that their bodies are not their own. One need look no further than the controversy over reproductive rights that is happening in this country (and all over the world) to see that. Whether a fully-developed human woman has less legal rights than a zygote, is a thing that's actually being debated. It's gross. So after taking the photo below, I had to think about what caused the instantaneous feeling of revulsion and disgust that I felt, when I first snapped the scene, and if my feelings were justified, or feminist.
Is American Apparel attempting to appeal to female customers by marketing a pro-sex and pro-sexual empowerment agenda? Or is this sign for the male customers, the "sell it with a sexualized female body" tactic? Putting aside the company's history of pseudo-pornographic ads featuring "real American Apparel employees," and the sexual harassment accusations against their ex-CEO (totally not setting the tone for the company there), the notion that depictions of naked or "neon-stripper" women are merely part of a pro-sex/pro-sexy agenda is contradicted by the lack of naked/sexualized men in their advertising. And man-shaped neon strippers.
Like with the issue of matrimonial name-changing, these things don't happen in a vacuum. If a woman keeping her name after getting married was more common, then the trend of women taking their husband's name wouldn't be inherently sexist. (It's not always inherently sexist. Just mostly. It's a complicated topic, but tangential to this post.) In regard to sexualizing human bodies, if the world was spotted with just as many depictions of male bodies, as there are female bodies, there wouldn't be a problem with the odd neon lady stripper.
(The comparison above is just to make an analogy. Sexualizing/objectifying women's bodies translates more directly to sexual violence, and is thus a much, much more serious problem in our world than the multitude of "romantic," Western wedding traditions. Symbols can be powerful, but name-changing is comparatively harmless, and for my generation and succeeding generations, more of a consolation prize for men, who must relinquish some of their power in the interest of equality.)
The point is, it would have looked strange to see the outline of a male stripper in the window of American Apparel. It would have come off as either "funny" (especially if the pose was typically "female"), or "gay-friendly neighborhood." In any case, I would have Instagrammed it with the caption: "Equality!" My caption for the photo above, on the other hand reads: "Because nothing is more empowering than giving money to a business that respects my humanity! #americanapparel" The "giving my money to" isn't an exaggeration. My current favorite skirt is an American Apparel skirt. ...I sicken myself. (Damn you, American Apparel.)
For anyone who thinks I'm being ridiculous about a neon sign, here's what you see when you click the geo-tag in Instagram for the American Apparel at this location:
At least she's wearing clothes. But something makes me think that when the model posed for that photo, she was more of the "I'm starving and can barely afford the rent in this city" position, as opposed to the "I hope some dude-bros pretend to fuck this photo of me from behind" position. (The dude-bro photos were taken on different dates, by different Instagram users.)
Which isn't to say that photos of people fucking signs and statues and trees, and whatever else people enjoy joking about fucking in photographs, aren't funny. They sometimes are! But American Apparel seems committed to the strategy of depicting models as soft-porn stars. It's problematic because it's unbalanced, and therefore dehumanizing, and the sign in the screenshot above is just one more example of that.
I've considered whether the "objectify everyone" point of view is necessarily the most positive corrective. If "sex sells!" then companies are going to use sex to sell. The idea "men are more visual" and that's the reason we see women's sexualized bodies in ads, media, videos, movies, everywhere, rather than men's bodies, is some unscientific bullshit.* Obviously, a patriarchal culture in which women are punished for having sex is going to argue that women don't want sex, and thus ads selling sex won't appeal to women. Historically, women haven't been allowed to make overt expressions of sexual desire (after the adolescent "celeb-covered bedroom walls" stage, that is). Women's sexual desires are not catered to - by and large, and especially in the past - in the porn industry, because as lower beings, women weren't allowed to act as though they crave sex. (Ex. Dissatisfaction with one's sex life is viewed as a superficial reason to leave a relationship.)
Further, it's been proven that women are less likely than men to have sex with anyone who propositions them because women disproportionately suffer the negative consequences of sex: greater risk for sex-related disease, pregnancy, pregnancy-related complications including mortality, sexual violence/rape, murder, and of course the good old-fashioned "being called a slut." In addition, women are less likely to experience the positive consequences of sex, most-pointedly, orgasms, with a partner who barely knows them and is therefore probably less invested in the woman's sexual pleasure. This is the famous "would you have sex with a stranger" study that supposedly proved that "women don't like sex as much as men," and was subsequently debunked. If women could have orgasms whenever they had sex, as men do, and become impervious to pregnancy, less likely to contract disease, and drastically less likely become the victims of violence and murder - and of course if their characters were not denigrated for doing so - women would be just as sexually empowered as men (ie. they would rack up an equal number of sexual partners). And therefore just as "visual."
Speaking to the visual aspect, specifically, whenever some study comes up that "proves" men respond more to visual stimuli, it tends ignore the gender-based socialization that humans experience from the moment they are born. Finally, there is a more insidious aspect to the objectification of female bodies and how it ties in with male visual stimulation: the soothing feeling of superiority over humans you were put on earth to objectify, judge and fuck. OF COURSE I don't believe that most men consciously think this way. But I have observed that for some men,** there is a gleeful sense of "winning" in situations where being a woman is demonstrably less fortunate than being a man, like whenever I see men snickering at the long line of women who are suffering because they have to wait so long to pee in public restrooms. Advertisements and the media communicate to us over and over, via millions of depictions of naked and sexualized female bodies, that women's bodies exist for the pleasure of straight men (while the comparative absence of naked/sexualized men communicates to straight women that their desires are either non-existent, irrelevant, or shameful). Considering that we've been bombarded with these messages since birth, can we blame people for believing them?!
Well, yes. After a point.
*There is no argument I find more annoying than the "I think this thing because this is just the way I think things are" argument. A BILLION ARGHS!
**If you are a man, and you don't do these things, then I am not talking about you. xoxo!