Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Cult of Female Sexual Power: A Boon to Women?

Today I came across a very interesting article: "Aging," by former supermodel Paulina Porizkova.

It seems to me that one of the things radical feminism has done, at least in years past, is to buy into the idea that women gain back power over their sexuality by deliberately flaunting it. It's something the whole fashion industry culture seems to take for granted. An overt, over-the-top focus on the sexual values of a woman's body is presumed to be a boon for women overall in the culture at large. Just look at the clothes in department stores for teen girls for evidence (I don't spend time doing this myself, but many others have commented on this phenomenon).

And closely connected to this is our culture's excessive and unbalanced worship of all things youthful. If it has to do with being young, a thing is presumed to be good. If something has to do with being old (especially looking old), it is presumed to be negative. The modeling and fashion industries, and advertising in general, promote these ideas. And there seems to be at least a kind of loose association in the culture between this and the progress women have made in society compared to years past.

It is true that things have become better in many ways for women over the last century. And this is, of course, a good thing. But consider the following excerpts from Paulina's article. I think she makes very prescient observations.
My first recognition of age setting in was exactly on my 36th birthday. I have no idea why, on this day of all days, I looked in the mirror and realized my face no longer looked young. I didn't look bad: only, the freshness had somehow disappeared. I immediately became hyper-conscious of my looks and went out and bought the most expensive cream on the market. (For your information, it did nothing.) And I began the battle of acceptance, something I have to do now almost every time I face a mirror. 
 And later,
But would I ever have dreamed that I would miss the time I couldn't walk past a construction site unmolested? These days when someone whistles at me, it's mostly a bike messenger about to mow me down.
To me, to let yourself age means that you're comfortable with who you are. Yes, sorry, I do believe that all the little shots here and there, and the pulling of skin here and there and the removal of fat here and there, means you still have something to prove; you're still not comfortable in your skin. The beauty of age was supposed to be about the wisdom acquired and with it, an acceptance and celebration of who you are. Now all we want for people to see is that we have not yet attained that wisdom. Aging has become something to fight, not something to accept.
Contemporary fashion and marketing have made these negative experience worse for women. Does this indicate true progress for women?

According to the messages present in our popular culture (fostered at least in a background way by a radical feminist acceptance of the notion that control of sexuality is gained by flaunting it), the most important thing about a woman is her sexual power (and this is closely linked to her youthful appearance and exterior beauty). But in such a cultural climate what happens to society's valuation of women, and of women's own sense of worth to themselves, as they age?

I would suggest that the contemporary cult of female sexual power--the unbalanced hyper-emphasis of sexual values above all other human and personal values--has not been a boon to women. In the long run, it has turned into a curse, making them more vulnerable to abuse and to being seen as less than whole persons. The tendency to quickly demote and even disregard women as soon as they become less physically attractive with age plainly shows this. Women like Paulina know this. Do the rest of us?

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