There's Dakota Fanning...'going bad' so Marc Jacobs can sell some perfume. It smells great, by the way. Why did she do that? I mean, she was SUCH A NICE GIRL.
The other day I was buying a pair of stacked heel, thick soled, black lace up, never mind, you know, feminist shoes, in what I now think of as Urban Pornography Outfitters. I should say, right away, that I love Urban Outfitters and am thinking through debates about porn, erotica and oppression. But, not when I'm buying shoes.
As I was paying the polite and chatty 20-something young man at the register I realized that his t-shirt featured a striking, stylized black and white photograph of a luscious T-shirt clad Marilyn Monroe look alike, crouched down, hand in her panties, masturbating. The fact that her image was screened under a translucent American flag was excellent! Team America, FY.
So, I said, "Hey, got any t-shirts of a hot guy spanking the monkey?"
And, he said, "Huh."
So, I said, "You know, early Marlon Brandon-like dude banging the Bishop?"
And he said, "Oh, you mean my t-shirt? It's great, isn't it? "
So I said, "It's just that public display of a woman masturbating is jarring, feels demeaning. You know, feminist blah blah. It's such a downer and I don't feel so much like buying these shoes now. "
And he said, "I know, Kant's conception of objectification strongly implies that you'd respond that way, but, Martha Nussbaum among others has challenged the idea that objectification is automatically a negative phenomenon. Besides, the shirt is only $24.99."
Just joking about the last bit there. Feminist Ryan Gosling has been whispering sweet nothings in my ear. I snapped out of my stare just long enough to pay for the shoes.
Which brings me, finally, to the point of the illustration above. That image on the t-shirt is common, public, constant. Maybe not quite so in-your-face about her activity, but women posing in emulation of the porn-born contorted ways generated for the sexual pleasure of men are the standard in advertising. Like Lindsey Lohan FINALLY posing for Playboy. Or, the "sexually provocative" Dakota Fanning ad that's been banned in the UK.
Calling that ad sexually provocative and somehow blaming her or saying it's her choice is laughable. She's 17. She doesn't have a choice if she wants to grow up and be an actress. And, that is not true for boy celebrities morphing into men. It's why the two "girls" from Glee posed for GQ as school girls giving blow jobs while Corey Monteith, fully dressed "juggled them" and played the drums. She could NOT be an actress or performer. That's her real choice. But, she's been good at it, she likes it and she's well paid to do it.
As Frank Bruni detailed in a NYT article making this "good girls gone bad" transition is practically a female celebrity rite of passage. I would add specifically, self-debasement, is an essential component. For girls to get their tickets stamped and become famous women they have to very publically enact one or more of the following: rape, stripping, pole dancing, prostitution, sexual abuse. Want a list? Here's a very short one of recent actresses or performers who made their transitions in that way.
Abigail Breslin (who may have to go through a Round II)
Even Anne Hathaway, who's made a valiant go of it, played a phone sex worker in Valentine's Day (which meant she was available anywhere, anytime by the men who wanted her). And, this is nothing new, Jodie Foster, Natalie Portman, Brooke Sheilds. The list is endless. Every single one of them: rape, stripping, pole dancing, prostitution. Success! As GQ says "Well, T&A helps. (That's talent and ambition, you pervs.) But so does a generous helping of... girl-on-girl subtext, and choreographed dry-humping." Don't you love Girl Power!
Coed Magazine"magazine, which must be for all the women doing so well in college these days, has a "lucky for us" list available and asks gleefully, Which Has Fallen Farthest? Poor boys. How many ways can we find to set them up to fail?
I'm just keeping my fingers and toes crossed for Emma Watson.
So, having to "prove" you are no longer a girl means proving you are no longer "good" whatever THAT means. Turns out it means NOT telling the world that being sexually available to men where and when they want you to be. Turns out that maybe being "good" means being available when YOU want to. How boring. Not very "lucky" for the guys reading Coed Magazine who clearly delight, like the the vast majority of the products of our media and entertainment sectors, that becoming a famous woman means you absolutely have to "fall" in every way imaginable. How screwed up is that?
And, if you're a regular girl, who goes to school, likes sports, loves to draw and fancies say, unicorns - the universal girl symbol of innocence - and you're not planning on being famous, you can buy a t-shirt when the time is right for you! That way you can show just how you're sexually liberated and Equal you are.
So the question isn't WHY DID SHE DO THAT? It's WHY DO GIRLS HAVE TO BE SEXUALLY DEBASED TO BECOME WOMEN IN OUR MOVIES, ON THE RADIO, IN GAMES, ON SCREENS BIG AND SMALL, ON THE SIDES OF BUSES, IN MAGAZINES, NEWSPAPERS. I'm out of room here.
The damage done by these images and the unbalanced portrayals of female sexuality (which almost always pivots, btw, around vulnerability to male violence (such a great image of boys' and men's sexuality) is like the damage done by second hand smoke. Girls and women subjected to these images (that would be... everyone) all experience, to varying degrees, self-objectification. The American Psychological Association report on it's effects on girls is detailed and clear.
My 12 year old daughters took a really hard look at the t-shirt. Because they're mine I told them exactly what I thought about it, in terms that Feminist Hulk might use: "Masturbation Good. T-Shirt Bad." And yes, my children do know at 12 what masturbation is. American Girl Books told them.
In the end, I did ask for a t-shirt and needless to say, there was none featuring a half-undressed, sultry guy having at it under an American Flag blanket. And, this despite the fact that the best and most definitive guide to slang words for masturbation features just 500 words for female masturbation and more than 2100 for male. The truth is, I have zero desire to look at picture of anyone, male or female, masturbating, especially when I'm shopping, but it would seem that Urban Outfitters is missing a HUGE opportunity here...especially if you consider gay male spending power.
This ever-present visual distillation of one dimension (sexuality) of human females undermines girls, sends the wrong messages to boys about how to be men and hurts us all in the end.
Follow Soraya Chemaly on Twitter: www.twitter.com/schemaly