Sexuality is the site of power. Period. Being sexualized can be powerful or detrimental depending on context, agency and intent. To assume that every image or phrase has the same impact or influence is to misunderstand the myriad of interpretations and social negotiations of daily life. As a feminist, I would like to see a shift in societal acceptance and understanding of female agency, sexual rights and pleasure. I would like to see a further development of more pro-desire rhetoric and less talk about the oppressive media and body objectifications. Not that I believe that these things are not harmful to our collective consciousness about women’s place in society but because there seem to limited conversations on sexuality and feminism that are positive
In general, objectification and sexualization seem to be two widely misunderstood concepts. Objectification is when someone is turned into a purely sexual object and deprived of all humanity. The object is stripped of any agency and denied any power. Sexualization is often conflated with the influence of negative media imagery, rarely taking into to account sexual empowerment and agency. The point here is to take a deeper look at how we are seeing the world around us. If everything is seen through the lens of objectification and negative sexualization, are we buying the commodification of sexuality? Can we no longer make our own rules because the only rules are the ones that exist within a patriarchal context?
Now, let’s take it back a notch. The tagline, “intelligence is sexy” does not objectify. By using the word “sexy,” we are not sexually objectifying the female body or equating a woman’s worth with her body’s appearance and/or sexual functions. We are simply saying we find it damn attractive when any human being is really really smart (I believe that is what the word intelligence means, no?). By using the word sexy to describe intelligence we are empowering all women to accept and explore their sexuality and also feel comfortable with their intelligence. In many parts of the world (including the USA) a woman can be either intelligent or attractive…rarely ever both.
The intention is to create desire for competence-based attributes while at the same time embracing our femininity and sexuality. Attaching a popular adjective to describe something we want to amplify makes what we are doing lighter, easier to digest and understandable. In essence we are challenging the narrow depictions that create the standards in the first place. Feminists are often made out to be unattractive, unsexy, obese and uninteresting. Saying something is sexy immediately kills the stereotype.
It’s not a secret that objectification is a huge problem. Desire or attractiveness is not objectification. Just the same, sexualization may or may not be a bad thing. We must look at intent and context and then make a true informed judgment before we challenge something that may be benign and /or potentially positive. By taking a hard look at how we are using our words and what we mean when we use them, we can create a positive space for women not to be shamed for trying to empower one another. Taking back the word bitch seemed to be ok (and in my opinion we never got it back, men and women still use the term to degrade and defile). The word sexy has no such negative connotation. So, go ahead, use sexy to describe yourself…you sexy beast.
Originally published on April 23, 2014