Porn chic for women and girls

Two articles I found today irked my feminist sensibilities, which I don’t think are terribly unreasonable.

Fashion Aims Young
by Ruth La Ferla
NYTimes.com, 8/24/06

“Today designers and retailers are training their sights on even younger consumers, girls roughly 4 to 9, diminutive in stature but with great big eyes for style. Indeed, to judge by the wares — miniaturized drainpipe jeans, footless hose, cashmere tunics and press-on nails — fashion and cosmetics makers are intent on capturing the hearts of pint-size fashionistas, and the purse strings of their parents.”

Is it a coincidence that young boys are spared this marketing assault or that the fashions are often “scaled-down versions of adult runway looks”? If you’re seeking to put the blame of the objectification and sexualization of women on the shoulders of the women—and solely the women—themselves, then I suppose indoctrinating them as early as possible is the way to go. After all, if women learn that hyper-femininity and fashion-obsession are the only acceptable ways of being a woman, then it’s their own fault if they can’t be seen as anything other than an object, right? And they really shouldn’t complain, considering how respectable sex work is becoming, and how lucrative it’s always been.

Is it attractive to us that young girls look like miniature adults? One theory is that it’s the other way around—our culture is practically pedophiliac when it comes to what makes a woman sexually attractive. Consider the primary mainstream/media-perpetuated idea of a desirable woman: small, thin, cute, big eyes, quiet, not taking up a lot of space (physically or verbally), obedient, submissive, as hairless as possible (except for head hair). This sounds more like a child than an adult.

And now, with girls younger and younger dressing like models, the lines are skewed even more. It makes me kind of sick.

“‘These girls are expressing their views earlier than ever,’ [Lisa Strubel, the trend director for the Children’s Place] said.”

And what so-called “views” would those be? The idolatry of whatever latest plastic, hyper-feminine teen celebrity they want to emulate? The “view” of the knowledge that the best a woman can do is be appearance-obsessed and as unnatural as possible, for the purposes of competing with other women and pleasing men? Since when does fashion (especially mainstream fashion) even begin to encompass the range of “views” and opinions any individual—no matter what age—has? And in a case like this, with marketers insidiously targeting the most impressionable of the population, how can these “views” be considered anything other than societal influence?

My favorite part of the article: One mother refers to her 4-year-old fashion-obsessed daughter, to whose spoiled bourgeois materialistic demands she concedes, as “a pushy broad.”

I could go on and on, about what this amount of marketing at such a young age can do to a potentially full human life, the development of a unique personality and all, about how children are increasingly left to their own devices, what with their parent(s) never at home, working ridiculous hours to—depending on their class status—either put food on the table or as much crap in their kid’s bedroom as possible, about how being raised by a league of teenage nannies would be horrible for anyone, no matter how strong their constitution, about how these kids are looking for guidance is the most readily-available of places, like said teenage nannies, or TV, or magazines, or the mall, or their friends. Friends who are just as neglected and deprived of anything intelligent or critically-engaging or not saturated by the Olsen twins or anything that says that material goods might not be the end-all of every desire but perhaps just perhaps a poor substitute for the emptiness in our souls that is being exacerbated by the very material goods we aim to possess to fill it or even anything with a slightly different perspective as they are, but I won’t.

Then the little girls grow up and there’s shit like this:

Pleasure Politics Surround Sex-Skill Courses
by Malena Amusa
Women’s News, 8/17/06

“Sex-act training courses for women have gained ground in major North American cities over the past couple of years. The trend is either a sign of greater sexual freedom or a new emphasis on service, depending on whom you ask.”

“Blaire Allison, owner of Metro Event Planners [said]… ‘There is some fear with being unskilled in sex,’ Allison says. ‘This fear has always been there, but now women are like, “Let’s team up and help each other out.”‘”

The fear has always been there? And it just happens to be going public now? We’re now just learning the “proper” technique, the “best” ways to be good in bed? It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the mainstreaming of sex work, could it (see Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women And The Rise Of Raunch Culture)?

In high school, a (female) friend of mine told me that boys respect you so much when you give them oral sex. That was in the mid-90s and I can only imagine how much more acceptable ideas like this have become, having witnessed the emergence of “porn chic” into contemporary culture from a long-since-opted-out distance.

Thankfully as this article shows, there is a discrepancy between what is expected of (straight) women in bed and what is expected of (straight) men. Women are supposed to be (straight) sex experts, their passion and sole purpose in life to please (straight) men. (Straight) men, well, they’re not meant to please, only to be pleased. (Straight) women’s pleasure comes from (straight) men’s pleasure, right? Sound a little like any variety of those (straight) porn videos no one can seem to live a complete life without seeing?

Forget intimacy, forget mutual sexual gratification between two (or more) individuals. Forget the thrill of experimentation, of discovering what works for you, for your partner. Forget anything other than the really, really heteronormative—a category which threatens to become more strictly defined and narrow, what with the judgmental invasion of the public eye on anything we might have considered an aspect of at least an optionally-private life before.


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(This post is featured in the Carnival of Feminists 22 and GDM Worldwide.)

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7 responses to “Porn chic for women and girls

  1. Michael Muchioki

    Hello, I am a representative from GDM Worldwide. We are launching an online magazine on September 15th and your article would be the perfect addition to the Womens lifestyle section. If this is possible please contact me as soon as possible with your response so that we can include you in our initial issue. We will include your name and location adn the proper title according to your preference. Thank you so much for your time.

    Michael Muchioki

  2. Jill Summerville

    I am sitting in front of the computer, wondering how to begin a coherent post about the sexualisation of women, the eroticisation of the infantile, and the sexual subjegation of women. The trouble is that trying to write a coherent post about these issues is like trying to write a coherent post about love, or death, or anything else that is perpetually present (if not clearly definable) in the collective cultural memory. I would say that sanity has to be restored one girl (or woman) at a time…but how can my voice be heard over Jennifer Aniston saying, “I think that it’s wrong, the way we’re making young girls feel today. Don’t get me wrong, I watch what I eat.”?
    I had hoped that the rise of male anorexia would help to curb this obssession with the ideals of raunch culture. (Of course, I would not wish anorexia upon anyone, male or female. However, ‘female problems’ are never quite legitimate enough to deserve consideration. Male anorexia, I thought would be a matter serious enough to gain national attention.) Alas, when the boys joined us for puking sessions in the powder room, raunch culture became more fashionable than ever. Hurrah! Anorexia, unlike pregnancy and PMS, had managed to bridge the gender gap.
    Raunch culture can only be defeated if and when it becomes socially unacceptable. Unfortunately, I currently have no idea how to inspire such wide-ranging social change. For the present, I can only propose a compromise. Corporate America, breed bulimics if you must…but teach them to throw up after seeing or hearing Paris Hilton, and the countless others cast in her mold.

  3. I started reading the Female Chauvinist Pigs book and had to make myself put it down so that i could deal with school :(

    it’s hitting uncomfortably close to home — i thought that i had grown out of it, and instead i find that i’m still guilty of it. and in many ways since leaving antioch, i’m falling back into it as i’ve broken down and melded back into the mainstream….

    it’s actually making me really bummed out!

  4. participating in raunch culture is not inherently a bad thing. that’s how i read it, and how i think of it—if you’re choosing to participate, well, choice is good, isn’t it?

    the issues are the pressure involved, the normalization, the expectation that this is *the only way* to express “empowerment.” engaging in the culture while remaining aware of these things must be difficult (i can’t imagine being able to participate even if i wanted to), feel contradictory, but i don’t think it has to be.

    that’s why theory’s great—it teaches you to live in contradiction, or rather, “contradiction,” because all we can do is live in contradiction, we can never be completely one thing or another (the self is never self-identical), and therefore, the idea of “contradiction” is kind of a farce anyway, as it invokes the feeling of anomaly as opposed to a common and indeed inevitable occurence.

    basically what i mean is, we can never opt out of culture—we always exist in relation to it. by participating in raunch you are reacting to culture. by not participating in raunch i am reacting to culture. the most i think we can do is remain critical.

    there’s another idea that hesitation is invention. knowing that most of our actions are actually reactions, this theory says that instead of reacting immediately (the outcome of which is already mapped out, because we usually react similarly, reaction-patterns if you will), hesitate, and in that moment you are inventing, because your (re)action after hesitation has the potential to change your reaction-pattern, and therefore all that usually comes after your reaction.

    listen to me, i am ridiculous.

    does that make sense? i’ve never explained that before… only heard isabella talk about it twice. i can try again if it piques your interest. :)

  5. Pingback: Redemption Blues » Carnival of the Feminists 22

  6. i get what your saying about we live in relation to culture…..
    and you have successfully explained “hesitation as invention” — good thing gmail was invented, so you can refer to this if you ever have to explain it again… ;)

    I think when i said i was guilty of “it”, i meant (at that moment) that i was guity of what Levy calls “being the exception” woman, not participating in the “raunchy” part, but as i sit and think as i type, i do participate in more subtle ways. Anyways, Some of the characteristics of ‘being the exception” [in case you don’t remember] favoring male company, favoring male characteristics, disfavoring [word?] “girly” characteristics, being, like, a tough-girl-tom-boy yet without giving up the flirty, seductive something…. i guess the “girly” part…etc…

    at the time i thought i was being revolutionary and rebellious. but everything i did between the ages of 13 and, well, now, is….isn’t it?
    i guess i think of it negatively because i feel like my actions in trying to not participate in raunch are the actually the actions that define raunch. and in either case it makes me think of women negatively as i project my own self disdain.

    i think this is because when i think of the raunch, i think of the extreme– Girls gone wild – and i definitely don’t want to be involved with that. but that’s like saying when i think of racism, i thnk of the extreme — KKK – and i definitely don’t want to involved with that. it’s so much more mundane and easy to take for granted than the extreme.

    i have a really hard time thinking about sex with the same rosy tint now that i have read the words “All intercourse is rape.”

  7. oh ok, i gotcha now. sometimes i fall into that too—the whole preferring-male stuff. i was a tomboy as a kid, hate girly things, and though i’m not as bad, the tendency is still there.

    i noticed recently my lean towards a certain type of man. i realized it because a male antioch student, one of the new-age kind-of-wimpy ones, said he didn’t like going into the bike shop, because the guys kind of bothered him. i said, “really? i love them!” he shuddered. i knew what he meant—they’re totally macho guys. i thought about some of my other male friendships, they’re often with macho guys, guys whose relationship with me is a kind of older-brother thing—we pick on each other, things like that.

    in any case, i made the connection between these current relationships and that i grew up around these kind of guys. there was a while recently where i *didn’t* like these kind of guys, because they just sexualized me… but now that i look more gay, they assume i am, and it’s more like how it was when i was a kid—i’m just a kid, or “one of the guys.”

    that’s a great feeling, and totally fits into raunch culture and the female chauvinist pig. what woman, whose self-identity doesn’t revolve solely around her sexuality, doesn’t want a relationship with a man that isn’t based on his objectification/sexualization of her? it’s so rewarding. it is, in a way, less complicated than other relationships that are more socially defined… for example, a male-female relationship is socially defined by its sexual under/overtones. a female-female relationship is socially defined by its competitive nature (does levy talk about that?).

    levy talks about those types of relationships as revolving around the female’s participation in objectifying *other* women, along with the men, as if that’s the only way to “be one of the guys.” but there are other ways to bond with men (oddly enough ;)).

    in your case, i can understand your uneasiness and conflict more than my own. i know that i can have friendships with men that don’t sexualize me—i know i am not seen as a sexual person, i was never considered attractive as a child, which made me insecure, which made me not present myself as a sexual person, blah blah blah. in your case, you are clearly very undeniably attractive, which may hinder nonsexual relationships with men… they may always like you more than just a friend.

    but that’s obviously just my speculation—what do you think?

    > and in either case it makes me think of women negatively as i project my own
    > self disdain.

    how do you think of women negatively?

    > i think this is because when i think of the raunch, i think of the extreme–
    > Girls gone wild – and i definitely don’t want to be involved with that. but
    > that’s like saying when i think of racism, i thnk of the extreme — KKK –
    > and i definitely don’t want to involved with that. it’s so much more
    > mundane and easy to take for granted than the extreme.

    whoa. that is intense. i think you’re right, we want everything to be easy, black-and-white, a dichotomy, a friggin oppositional binary, those fucking evil things, because that’s how we’ve been socialized to think of things, it’s our default at this point, it’s so painful to get out of that way of thinking, and once you do, so few people can understand you, anyway. people understand binaries, not post-structuralism (one example of a binary right there, yuck). but it’s so hard to communicate without at least *beginning* with a binary or something, to start off on the same page.

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