Op-ed:  Media’s Sexual Bondage

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Jena Habeil
McCarthy Fellow in Sacramento ’16

McCarthy Fellows in Sacramento spend 12 weeks in full time internships at Sacramento legislative office and state agencies  that contribute to the California policy-making process. Jena is interning at the California Assembly Arts and Entertainment Committee. The following op-ed is authored by Jena as part of her coursework associated with the fellowship.

It happens so often that I expect it.

I feel probing eyes caressing my body as soon as I’m a step ahead.

Has it always been like this? I guess so.
Before I go out at night I remember to hold my keys in a defensive position. “If you hold it like this between your knuckles you can puncture the skin,” they always told me. Who told me? Everyone.

An endless array of rules and regulations swirl through my head every day as I’m getting ready in the morning. Not too much lipstick, I think, that means you’re trying to be sexy. No, not this top, I’d say, it looks like a tent, so people will think I’m a prude who isn’t confident in her own body. No matter what I do, I subconsciously always try to balance my way through society’s expectations of me as a woman.

Media today forces a perception on women; we must all be contradictions. The good girl gets the guy, one film will say, while another tells us that we have to be men’s ultimate fantasy to get him to pay attention to us in the first place. “You have to be two people. The saint and the sinner. The librarian and the stripper,” (The Ugly Truth, 2009).

Films, music videos, song lyrics, and even commercials reinforce this contradiction. To sell a cheeseburger a commercial will show one of two images; a bodacious babe chomping down on it while making love to the camera with her eyes, or a mother joyously feeding her children the meal that will somehow make her family happy and content.

It isn’t just men’s perception of women that is difficult to navigate; it is also women’s perception of women. Women in provocative clothing are always bashed by other women because they are presumably seeking-attention, while women who are too conservative are always seen as too up-tight.

While this contradiction is confusing to women, it also leaves our men equally confused. How can we expect a man to be a gentleman when he is told he can have the fantasy-woman of his dreams on a screen and a homemaker in his bed? A man who is a virgin is told that he is weak, so he is taught that in order to show his manhood he must be willing to take a girl- any girl- to bed as a feat to conquer. Girls are turned into both a challenge and a prize.

Now, women are told now that they can embrace their sexuality to exude confidence and defiance against a sexual standard, but does this really change anything? If a woman is told that in order to reclaim respect she has to bare-all, is that really bodily freedom? Or is it another form of warped control, because girls now have to be sexual warriors to maybe gain respect?

All of these media contradictions create one thing; violence. There is violence to self-esteem, violence against women who are viewed as sexual objects, and violence against all men who don’t know how to navigate these contradictions so they are immediately viewed as the ones to blame.

We as a nation need to rally together to recognize that the media is the largest perpetuator of our war against women. The consequences of these predicated roles are dangerous. I have always been taught that any man I’m with should respect me, but I think that there is a problem in that I don’t feel like all men should respect me. The sad reality is that I walk out of my door in San Francisco with the expectation that I could be assaulted. If we are already at the point where all girls are told that their bodies are dangerous, we need to recognize that we are teaching our boys and girls the wrong lesson. Teaching our boys to respect women and teaching our girls to be who they want to be isn’t enough. We need a media revival, where films and commercials and songs don’t place stereotypes on women and where men are actually glorified for respecting their female counterparts.

I hope that one day I can turn on my TV and now worry about what my children will see. I hope that my future daughter will feel comfortable in her own skin and have the confidence to be who she wants to be without worrying about how she will be perceived. I hope my future son will never have to hear his media idols calling women “bitches” and “whores”. I think we all want this for our society, but we have been looking at the wrong source to stop it. Men aren’t all misogynists and women aren’t all anti-men. Most of us are just normal people who have been conditioned to contradict ourselves because of mixed signals we get from mass-media. We need to take a hard look at what our media is telling us and make the effort to change it.

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