Turn on just about any music video and you’ll see one of two things. Sexy women being portrayed as powerful, or simpering women begging for better treatment, with the assumption that they are modest so they deserve it. If sexiness is as powerful as the former would have young women believe then surely the latter is redundant. Alas, no.
It’s time to debunk the sexy as powerful myth.
Powerful women belong in boardrooms, in houses of parliament, they are CEOs, and bankers, they are not scantily clad, writhing on stages while men beg for mercy, unable to control themselves in the face of their wily charms.
Will they still be begging for mercy when her hair is white and her face is lined by the years? Probably not. By the time she is holding a baby to her breast there will be crass jokes about how her vagina has been forever altered by birth, and how no one wants to see a baby near a breast. By the time her hair is white she’ll be cast aside, obsolete.
The reality is that being sexy holds no power anywhere. Being sexy is a commodity, sexy women are a commodity, a marketable item. They are powerful because of what men want to do to them or because of what men would like them to do for them, but not powerful in their own right.
The contradictions of sexy as powerful are quite mind blowing when you think about it. Girls are told not to dress “like that” or they are targets for rape ….. and at the same time they’re told that dressing in sexy clothing and “twerking your junk” is powerful because it will cause men to lose their minds in your presence. It must be very confusing to be a young woman in this culture.
”Dress like this, it will make you powerful beyond compare! Grown men will see you coming and fall to their knees, they will be so overwhelmed by your powers of sexiness they will lose control of their faculties ….. your sexy power may cause rape so keep an eye out for that.”
Of course it’s well documented that there’s no link between clothing and rape, but never let the truth get in the way of a good rape defence! After all, the poor rapists will be so ensorcelled, so bewitched by the sexy powers they shouldn’t be held accountable for criminal acts!
Dressing in sexy clothing can neither make a woman vulnerable or powerful, what it does however, is put her in the line of fire. It makes her vulnerable to unpleasant public comment, because for some reason what we wear is believed to completely negate the behaviour of others.
The same is not true for men. No one has ever said:
”Mr Trump, that blue tie is very provocative. You look SO powerful! The ladies can barely keep their hands to themselves.”
Because we know that men derive power from genuinely powerful things. The President of the US is powerful, the head of the World Bank is powerful, Justin Bieber is a performer. Sure, he’s rich, and being rich does afford a level of power not afforded to the average man, but it has nothing to do with whether or not he is sexy. In fact if you were to raise his name in a discussion about powerful people you’d probably be laughed at …. and rightly so.
Although millions of girls and young women think Justin Bieber is sexy, no one equates that sexiness with power.
Modern pop culture is misleading millions of young women by equating power with sexiness. There is nothing remotely powerful about being sexy. Sexy is a purely subjective, power is objective. Teenaged girls are longing to be desirable, and unfortunately, they are determining their intrinsic value based on desirability rather than on their mere humanity. This is because their entire culture, every billboard, television show, magazine, and music video portrays sexy women as powerful. Of course we want our daughters to feel good about themselves, but we also want to ensure that their self esteem does not come from their appearance.
Not everyone is a supermodel, and the current popularist push to expand the definition of sexy, is vacuous and dead in the water. Magazines which claim to encourage the “Every body is sexy!” mantra never put their money where their mouths are. You’ll never see a plus sized – genuinely plus sized – woman of colour on the cover of Vogue. Sexy women are white, and thin, and they have to be young too. Teenagers, and their vulnerable self esteems see right through it. They may attempt to embrace it, but they’re not stupid. They know there’s only one body type our culture glorifies.
We need to discuss true power, desire, and the value of each human being, thoroughly and regularly with our children. By creating imaginary power in sexiness we do two things. Firstly we tell young women that they should seek to please other people with the way they dress and behave, rather than simply enjoying clothes because of colours, patterns, and fabrics. And secondly we tell them that power has an expiry date. You are powerful when you are available to men, but with motherhood and age that subsides. Get some granny wear on and stay out of the way.
Women and girls are not empowered by sexiness, they are oppressed by subjective, appearance based, judgements. True power is found only by casting aside those judgements. Society has a lot invested in convincing women that sexy is powerful. Whilst we seek to find our power in sexiness we are submissive to the rule of men.
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