I’ve been doing a lot of reading today: last night I had a housewarming party and today I’ve been pretty hungover and in no real state to leave my apartment (and it’s HOT outside: super typhoon Usagi is on its way and I don’t really want to leave my air-conditioning.)
The result of this reading has been general anger. There’s an article today from the Guardian website about a member of the UKIP political party, Godfrey Bloom being shamed for calling a group of women ‘sluts’. Elsewhere I read an article about the outrage after a promotional poster for a club night at Cardiff University showed a t-shirt with a slogan actively encouraging rape. I stumbled across the website everydaysexism.com, which gives a platform for women across the globe to share their experiences with sexism and sexual harassment anonymously.
The recent success of ‘Blurred Lines’ featured in many of the articles I read today: you’d had to have been living on Mars not to have heard the ‘smash hit of the summer’. Robin Thicke’s song and the accompanying controversial video have polarized opinions: some have slammed it and banned it outright (like the university campuses of Edinburgh and Leeds) for Thicke and co.’s degrading treatment of women and lyrics that allegedly construe sexual violence. Some maintain, among them Thicke himself, that the song is actually feminist, as it promotes the notion that women enjoy and actively seek out casual sex just as much as their male counterparts. Yet more commentators disagree, and have inferred that the resulting controversy is overblown, ‘Feminazi’ nonsense.
Thicke’s song and video have thrown up a lot of uncomfortable questions about sexuality, gender relations and feminism. Shouldn’t I be denouncing the video, the song and its message? Can I still call myself a feminist if I whoop every time it comes on in a club? What kind of woman are you if you maintain that slut-shaming, degradation and everyday sexism is undeniably, unforgivably wrong … but enjoy casual sex, watching pornography and receiving attention from men? It’s an uncomfortable grey area to inhabit, and one that makes me feel, increasingly, like a hypocrite.
I consider myself a feminist. Recently I and my female flatmates have been renovating our new apartment by wallpapering, sanding and repainting the walls. A male friend came over on an unrelated errand when we were in the midst of this DIY, and his amused, unbelieving expression at our project made me absolutely furious. Assertions, even unsaid ones, about what I can and can’t do are unacceptable. My capability is not yours to judge. Slut-shaming, lad culture and degrading terms for women are inexcusable. Our acceptance of rape culture is abhorrent.
Those are big issues I’m immovable on. But questions of feminism become a little trickier when you’re talking clothes, bodies and personal experience. Take clothes for example. It’s my right to dress as provocatively as I wish. I like clothes that make me feel sexy or pretty or beautiful, and that is in no way a bad thing. Like many women, I draw attention to the good bits and away from the less satisfactory bits of my body when I dress each day. Here’s the controversial bit though: I, as well as a lot of other women, enjoy receiving compliments on how I dress. Why do we have differing standards for when it’s a man as opposed to a woman giving out compliments? Why do we react differently if a man tells us “you look really good in that”, as opposed to a woman saying the same thing?
Maybe it’s an issue of control, and of objectification. A man telling us we look good is overstepping his boundaries, commenting on an aspect of ourselves that we don’t feel is available for male speculation. But a woman, one of our own sisterhood, telling us the same thing? Why is that deemed more acceptable? The lines become even more blurred when sexuality is taken into account. If a woman who is sexually attracted to other women tells another that they look attractive – doesn’t that put her in the same category as a male commentator? I often tell my female friends that they look good in the clothes they choose to wear. Does that make me as guilty of objectifying women as the men I condemn for doing the same?
It’s a hotbed of controversy with no right or wrong answers. Ditto the issue of female sexuality. Should a woman be made to feel guilty if she enjoys casual sex? The answer is a resounding ‘no’: that’s her prerogative. However, should a women feel guilty if she enjoys watching pornography that is, like the overwhelming majority of pornography, degrading to women? Where is the line, and have we overstepped it?
These are questions with no easy answers – lines that are blurred. What are your opinions?