I wish I could say I didn’t watch the now infamous performance, but morbid curiosity got the better of me. (Actually, it was an article about cultural appropriation, which makes me feel a smidge less voyeuristic.) So yeah, I saw it. However, I will not add to the wave of media ridiculousness by writing about it.
What I will write about is how we raise our daughters.
Girls receive SO MANY messages from society about who they are, what they are, what they should be, what they should look like, where they should shop, what they are good at, and what they aren’t. And so many of these messages are conflicting.
Popular culture tells them women can be strong and independent, but then sells strength and independence in sexually exploitive packaging.
They receive lip-service that looks don’t matter, yet almost every woman they see – both in real life and on TV – wears make-up, dyes her hair, gets her nails done, or otherwise makes herself as attractive as possible. Those dichotomies are even confusing for me as a grown woman.
But there are a couple of areas where some girls and women are confused, and they really shouldn’t be. While many aspects of being a female today may require some serious contemplation, I want to make sure my girls are very, very clear on two things:
1) Celebrities are not role models.
There are a handful of celebrities who have used their influence and notoriety to do very good things in the world. But the vast majority are being swept away by a current of materialism that is very difficult to fight. Despite its plethora of perfectly toned bodies, Hollywood is not a healthy place, and celebrities have no inherent wisdom just because they have a microphone. Yet we treat famous people as if they know something we don’t.
They really don’t.
So do not give the words or actions of celebrities any more weight or any less scrutiny than anyone else. If your next door neighbor gave the speech Ashton Kutcher recently gave, would you listen? If you saw the teen girl down the street rubbing her butt up against a guy’s groin in public, would you think that was okay? The fact that something is done on TV doesn’t make it any more or less valuable or acceptable. But it can easily feel that way. So keep your sense of discernment honed when it comes to the rich and famous, always.
2) Sex is not empowerment.
In the past, women had very little choice when it came to what men did with their bodies. The rise of feminism in my mother’s generation was a turning of the tide, when women took charge of their bodies and said, “I have a choice over what you can or can’t do with me. I am my own physical being, and I have the power to make my own choices in how I use my body.”
Somehow, certain women have taken that liberation and decided that female empowerment means parading as sex kittens in the name of feminism. They sell the idea that they feel confident in their bodies and their sexuality, and therefore it’s empowering to “flaunt what they’ve got.”
Here’s why that doesn’t work:
Selling sex is too easy.
Flaunting sexuality feels powerful because it garners attention and makes people gawk. They gawk because it’s arousing. That’s biology, not empowerment. And people like it when others gawk at their sexuality because it makes them feel wanted and desired. That’s desperation, not empowerment. Any woman can use sexuality to control men or to create a feeling of being wanted. There’s nothing special or empowering about that.
You tell people who you are.
I know this is a controversial assertion, but when you flaunt sexuality at people, especially people you don’t know in any other capacity, you are sending them the message that you are, first and foremost, a sex object. I’m not saying you are one, but that’s the message you’re sending.
Let’s be realistic. I’m pretty sure men don’t look at a woman gyrating onstage in a leather bikini and think, “Wow, that is one highly intelligent, empowered woman.” The first thing they think is “sex.” That’s not their fault; that’s biological, too. And that’s the impulse and impression women have worked hard to change. So when a man looks at a woman and the first thing he thinks is “sex,” that just sends us backwards, not forwards. Why would you deliberately create that scenario?
I know some people are going to complain that I’m blaming women for men seeing them as sex objects. In some cases, yes I am. Our actions, words, and way we present ourselves shape how we are viewed. Women need to stop acting as if we have no power over how men see us, and stop acting as if we have the right to act like sex objects and not be seen as such. That kind of thinking disempowers both us and men.
There’s no legitimate point to it.
In my opinion, women who truly feel confident in their bodies and sexuality don’t feel the need to advertise that fact. Sex itself is not a public act, nor does any person in their right mind think it should be. So what’s the point of putting on a sexy show for all the world? To see how many people find you sexy? To prove that you can do it? How does that show confidence? How is that empowerment?
True empowerment means you don’t have to prove anything to anyone. True empowerment means you don’t fall into the trap of societal norms that fly in the face of healthy gender equality. True empowerment means not having to use your sex appeal as a fall-back in case your true talents don’t cut it, a crutch to keep you at a certain level of success, or an incentive to keep people interested in you.
I don’t imagine my daughters ever going to the extreme of the raunchy display I said I wasn’t going to write about. But a lot of women fall for the sexuality-as-empowerment mirage. And that’s exactly what it is – a false sense of empowerment without any real substance, the pursuit of which is a dangerous waste of time and energy. To me, it’s also one of the biggest roadblocks to achieving true gender equality.
So, dear daughters, don’t fall for these falsehoods. Find your empowerment through developing your minds, nurturing your spirits, taking care of your physical health, and standing strong and steadfast against the stream of what society sells you. Many will be swept away by it and try to tell you that they’re strong swimmers just because they’re moving fast. Don’t buy it, girls.
Stand strong, strive to keep that current at bay, and use the strength you gain from that struggle to show the world what true empowerment looks like.
“A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” – G.K. Chesterton