Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Day I Killed Bat Girl and Cat Woman

Tonight I went to this event on the sexualisation of society. It was organised by Women's Support Project, an organisation here in Glasgow that works with issues around violence against women. Four areas were discussed in this event: prostitution, sexualisation, "adult entertainment" and pornography. The discussion included women, and one man (thanks, dear friend for coming along!) who discussed each of the topic in small groups.

There were several disturbing issues that were raised, and I think, for me, especially the imagery around children. The amount of little girls who are dressed up in sexually provocative clothes is just appalling and the amount of women in the room who told real-life stories of unsuccessfully trying to find their daughters clothes that did not somehow play on sexuality was enraging. Corporations are feeding the sexualisation of society in order to make money on children. It's absolutely abhorring.

I have bought into this, I have to admit; I both have and I still am to an extent. I think it is very hard as a human being to interact in society and not buy into it to some extent whether it be through make up, through shaving of body parts or through trying to make oneself physically attractive to the other sex in some other way (plastic surgery, exercising, padding - both equally applicable to men and women). This is why I have decided to take a somewhat radical action tonight.

Here we have two of my t-shirts. Two of my t-shirts that I have always really liked. Looking at them now it might be hard to understand why they have been so attractive to me. These are clearly a sexist portrayal of women, drawn with stupidly big breasts and bodies unattainable in a natural way; not something a feminist should want to wear.

I think what is easily forgettable with these characters is that, while they are extremely sexist, they are also symbols of female power. Females who took what they had and made what they could out of it, while unnecessarily dressing up in ridiculously tight leather and making themselves sexual objects. Nevertheless, they are still very attractive symbols to me, as a feminist, just because they are women who, despite the odds, made it into a male dominated world and made a name for themselves, not only because they are sexual symbols, but also because they are pretty kick-ass. They are empowered partly because they take control over their sexuality. This is why I have always liked these t-shirts. After tonight, however, it is a different story.

A couple of weeks ago I started wondering about the irony of me, a self-proclaimed feminist, walking around with these blatantly sexualised, unnatural women on the chest. (When you think about it, it's not really a wonder they are painted straight across the chest, especially not since a significant number of males I have spoken to describe these women with sexual language.) I started wondering if I had gone about this the right way. I have always been aware that they are sexual symbols, but this has just given these characters more power over men, and over themselves in a way. They did what they could with what was given to them. I have always figured, when it comes to these t-shirts, that perhaps this was part of the trade-off for Bat girl and Cat Woman, that they would gain some and they would lose some. But I never expected it for me. Not in my wildest imaginations of a sexist dystopia did I ever imagine myself trading any kind of sex, or sexuality, for empowerment, but each to her own, as they say.

Now, tonight, I have come to a realisation. There is, under no circumstances, any good reason why someone should trade sex or become a sexual object in order to reach empowerment. The reason for this is that there is a deeply disturbing irony in these kind of trade-offs and it has very much to do with what I have written on before - the incompletion of the female sexual liberation. There is still an inherent double standard in our society that associates females and sex with something shameful. Essentially what you are doing when you are sexualising yourself in this way is just trading one kind of oppression - the one seeing you as at least partly incapable - to another one - the one where you are seen as used goods, or even filthy. By empowering yourself in one way through using your sexuality, you are also allowing yourself to become an object for trade, or sale - a commodity. You are engaging in the violent reproduction of gender, as Laura Shepherd (Gender, Violence and Security : Discourse as Practice, 2008) terms it.

It is not sex or sexuality in itself that is the issue here. Sex and sexuality are not inherently bad or negative - it is the consequences of these that are the issue. Sexualisation and objectification have serious negative impact on society in the form of marketing sexuality to children not older than 4 (!!), the increase of gendered violence and the incapacity to celebrate Halloween without seeing a sexy [insert whatever is suitable here]. It is this type of commercialisation of sexuality that makes society judge people on how many partners they have, or in the case of males, have not, had, because essentially that is what the commercialisation of sexuality is making sex: cheap. Sexuality is being disconnected from the act - regardless of what you make it to be: love, biology, reproduction - and made into a social pressure, a norm, that decides how and when you have sex and what, or rather what you shall not wear, in order to make profit on it. We are no longer the masters of our own sexuality, corporations are.

This is why I am stopping wearing blatantly sexualised images of women. I refuse to believe that in order to become an empowered woman I have to let someone else own my sexuality. In fact, I believe these to are complete contradictions. That is why I am killing Bat girl and Cat Woman tonight.

Please, do not try this at home. It is dangerous. Throwing things out will suffice.


  1. hmm,I'm pretty sure super-heroines (in exactly the same way as super-heroes) are super fit because they are... super. Superman's six pack or Wolverine's titanium bones are unatainable in the same way as the looks of the heroines on your (ex) t-shirts. You could also read their sexual appearance as a further weapon they use to dominate the more primitive, testosterone-driven villains that they're facing. Point is- why waste a couple of perfectly good t-shirts!!! (you could have donated them if you don't like them anymore instead!)

  2. Well see, that's the interesting bit though, isn't it? Bat girl has ridiculously huge boobs for being really thin, something that is very rarely naturally achievable. Arguing that this would be the case here would be deliberately missing the point.

    Cat Woman has a tiny waist and the curves in all the right places. These are not women who work out a lot to be strong - female body builders do not look like this. These are sexualised images.

    I chose to burn the t-shirts because I didn't want to contribute to the reproduction of these stereotypes. Donating them would still have meant that someone would walk around with these images on their chests. The only option was really to destroy them, either myself or let the garbage stations take care of it.

  3. Interesting points, though I'm writing a bit late on this issue. I think the issue of sexualisation of society is a bit of a chicken-and-hen debat or as Bill Hicks put it: "What came first ? The hard-on or the Madonna video."

    That said it is starting to get ridiculous when they use an attractive woman (in an attractive outfit)to adverise bingo !;)

    You say: "There is, under no circumstances, any good reason why someone should trade sex or become a sexual object in order to reach empowerment."

    It is an interesting point and I agree with you that ideally one should need not to flaunt one's assets to feel in control of one's life. But that said, all social relationships are cases of exchange of one kind or another: I'm friendly to you and if you're not friendly to me you're not my friend. These exchanges can come in all forms but fortunately (or unfortunately)for women their sexuality is a domain of great demand from men, so it seems harsh to condemn women harnessing such an asset to gain benefits (drinks, money, relationships, etc). Indeed, competition for mates is a regrettable fact of sexual selection, which is made evident by the "shortening" of the skirts (at least here in Britain).

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that the increased sexualisation of society is a result of sexual liberalism that "lifted" the taboo over sex but as a result it unleashed an era of free expression of sexuality that is viewed by some people (an rightly so)as "cheapening" to the whole thing.

    And I have to applaud you for fighting such forces !

  4. Thanks for your comment!

    I'm sorry if it came off as me condemning women who make use of this system. Although I think that, if given the choice, one should resist to buy into the system. This is not always a possibility due to ignorance of the fact that there is such a system or its implications, or the need to simply make money. I suppose it was an unfortunate formulation lamenting the way society has lead us to believe that in order to gain, one has to give some as well (usually something sexual). Because this leads to the exact opposite to empowerment, there is simply no need to buy into this if empowerment is what one is striving for.