What the hell is the difference btw Sexual – empowerment v.s. objectification? Does it even matter?

*This post is written using the female gender as the main point of focus. However, do note the terms “sexual empowerment/objectification” are equally as applicable to men too.” If you feel my explanations or perceptions towards the terms are highly inaccurate, feel free to share your feedback too*

Sexuality is a term that encompass many areas, and we hope to explore this interesting topic in our segment: SEX-uality.

Definition of Sexuality (Sexuality Resource Centre for Parents)

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Some questions that come into your mind would be – what do these 2 terms exactly mean? And is it even possible to draw a clear distinction between both?

According to the article – How Can You Tell if You’re Being Sexually Empowered or Objectified? Ask Yourself This Simple Question,

The difference – would be power.

Who is controlling a person’s presence in the sexual situation? If the person being “looked at,” or sexualized, has the power in the situation, then they are sexually empowered. If that person has no or little power, they are being sexually objectified (basically, made like an object instead of a person).

This power (*we are talking about) is often the power of consent, which evaluates the extent in which the person is entering into the sexual situation willingly, and if they no longer want to be in the situation, the extent they can leave with no consequences. However, there are a lot of factors to – consent and power.

I personally find it is impossible to draw a clear line between sexual empowerment and sexual objectification because of the many external and complex elements that can cause it to sway either ways. Thus, instead of saying women are sexually empowered or sexually objectified, we can choose to say that they are either learning towards being sexually empowered, or leaning towards being sexually objectified.

Q: How do we then evaluate whether the woman is leaning towards the side of sexual empowerment, or leaning towards the side of sexual objectification during the sexual situation?

I guess one way to look at it would be…

Evaluating the amount of consent, power, and control the woman has over the sexual situation.

It would lean more to the side of sexual empowerment when the woman has:

  • A high level of autonomy to – act, or dress in whatever way she wants to base on her own accord
  • Grants consent to being observed in a sexual manner by the other person
  • Makes the decision to enter the sexual situation freely, and can willingly leave when she wants, without any consequences whatsoever

It would lean more to the side of sexual objectification when the woman:

  • Has low level of autonomy, and faces pressure to act or dress according to a certain way
  • Do not grant consent to being observed in a sexual manner by the other person
  • Does not make the decision to enter the sexual situation freely, and cannot choose when she wants to leave it, also facing consequences when she does so

Possible scenarios of women leaning towards being sexually objectified during a sexual situation 

  • A woman who does not given consent to the person who is looking at her in a sexual manner. (*In reality, if a person has sexual thoughts about the woman’s body in his/her head, he/she would naturally engage in such thoughts without having to ask for the latter’s consent)
  • A young girl who is not capable of giving consent when it comes to sexual acts with the other person of an adult age
  • A person who forces himself /herself on a lady who is drunk, when she lacks the ability to give mutual consent to engaging in sex with him/her
  • Viewers watching a leaked sex tape, with the woman appearing in it not having granted consent to being filmed during the sexual act
  • Viewers looking at nude models in an adult magazine, or watching a porn video where the adult models / porn stars were pressured into doing the nude poses / video, regardless if the viewers themselves knew of this fact
  • A woman that engages in paid sex with the other person out of pressures from certain circumstances e.g. loanshark orders her to engage in commercial sex to pay off her family debts

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Possible examples of women leaning towards being sexually empowered during a sexual situation

  • Women who made the decision to pursue a career in e.g. porn / sex work and enjoy it, and are not pressured to do so in any way, or by any circumstance
  • A model who willingly poses nude for an adult magazine publication
  • A wife who wants to have sex with her husband, and is trying to seduce him to have sex with her by doing a strip dance
  • Performers who made the autonomous choice to dress in a revealing manner, or/and portray sexual behaviours during their performances/concerts
  • A woman at a club who is trying to seduce a male stranger she is attracted to with her sexy dancing
  • Walking around on the street naked because the woman finds liberation, and hopes to promote the nudist cause to the public

Grey area 

However having said all these, it is not possible to draw a clear distinction between sexual empowerment and sexual objectification, since women are not in control of external factors and elements.

For example, a woman can still be sexually objectified even during a scenario where she  covers up her whole body, or wear loose clothing, and does not want to be looked at in a sexual manner by any human. This is plainly so, because others would not have to ask for her consent even if they were to have lewd thoughts of her body in their head, regardless of how she dresses.

E.g. a woman who feels sexually empowered by her career as an adult model might not want nude photos of her to be seen 10 years later for some reasons, but she herself would not able to stop the online circulation. As such, she would be sexually objectified as such.

E.g. The woman dancing at the club to attract the guy she likes might end up – attracting unwanted attention from other guys around which she might not be comfortable with.

How we dress and act sexually is inevitably influenced or pressured by external elements and factors, which ultimately means – our beliefs, thoughts, views towards how we dress,  or behave sexually are not fully made by us. All of us ultimately either evolve, or have been shaped by our legal, media, social influences, and personal circumstances.

A case study to bring across the above point of mine:

Miley Cyrus sexual behaviours in her videos v.s Performers sexual behaviours in RnB / Hip Hop / EDM videos

Miley Cyrus shared that in the past, she felt pressured to conform to her role as Hannah Montana which gave her body image issues. “I’m probably never going to be the face of a traditional beauty company unless they want a weed-smoking, liberal-ass freak.” Thus from here, you can see that her current way of dressing and behaviour is a choice she undertakes and feels aligned to, and that her image is not co-erced. It is a contrary to her past – where she felt oppressed by her clean cut image which she had to abide to as a Disney star.

In plenty of EDM, hip hop or RnB videos – women are dressed in very revealing clothes, and dance and behave in a seductive manner. However, the difference between their portrayal in such videos and Miley Cyrus’s videos is that for the former, the cameras are frequently angled/sequenced in a close-up manner to a specific part of the body, as though they are filmed as objects for men watching the video from their screens to ogle at their bodies from bottom-to-top and vice versa, or, they are constantly touched by the male singer in the video.

Case examples:

For Miley Cyrus’s videos, the angle of the shot is usually wider (includes both her body and face) most of the time, though there are of course exceptions. She also displays her sexual behaviors as the dominant person. She is the one doing the touching, grinding, and sexual behaviours, and is rarely filmed being observed at, or touched by guys inside the video. She also seems to be seducing viewers more with the power of her eyes, mouth and hand actions; as much as her body. Thus, she has high control of the sexual situation.

She’s a woman that wants to express her sexuality to the camera, not a woman being sexually objectified by the camera itself.

Case examples:

Miley Cyrus’s intention / message through her videos

Just to go off topic for awhile, Miley Cyrus seems to be suggesting / portraying sexual behaviors that is taboo, or R21 for pop culture through none other than the avenue of – pop music media itself. It’s like watching porn, but the elements are replaced with non-human liquids and daily materials. Her experience with her disney persona might have significantly shaped her current outlook? Or, could it be to break and remove social conventions, or gender norms/sexuality when it comes to the avenue of pop media and society? Or maybe, it’s how she hopes women’s sexuality can defy gender stigma, and be more openly explored, or further embraced by none other than women themselves?

The GIFs can explain it all.

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Masturbation

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Penis

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Grinding to something…

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Discharge / semen

Observations: It seems like quite a few disney stars clean-cut image were found to be a a surface persona, or something they eventually shed.

Back to the topic,

When it comes to performers appearing in these RnB/ Hip Hop / EDM videos, one can argue that these performers willingly agreed to appear in the video, and feel at ease in dressing / being depicted or filmed in that manner (made an independent choice). However, one can also argue that they might not actually feel comfortable doing so, or are doing it only to fulfil the requirements of their job role. And if they had an option to not do it, they would have possibly chosen an alternative (were pressured to portray themselves in that sexual manner).

For the case of Miley Cyrus, one can also argue that she is putting on this controversial persona more for fame and money (sexual persona influenced by materialistic desires), and less for individualistic expression (not independent choice). But we are not her, and we do not know what she is thinking. Only she herself will know which side she is leaning more towards.

As such, when is a woman leaning towards being sexually empowered, or sexually objectified? The individuals themselves would know best, not us as viewers making our blind assumptions and judgements.

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Main Photo credit: wwtd.com

 

 

 

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