Sex objects no more

Launie Gardner teaches government at Truckee Meadows Community College High School.

On a recent episode of Politically Incorrect, Bill Maher claimed the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is soft porn. Porn-lite. Porn for the husband who isn’t man enough to stand up to his wife and buy Playboy.

By this logic, Hustler is for the real man, and child pornography must be for the truly rare man who is unafraid to exhibit his masculinity, making the guy who molested the children at a local day care center a hero.

Sound ridiculous? Oh, that’s right. In our culture, exploitation is only taboo when children are involved. Don’t get me wrong. I am not condoning these horrible acts committed against children. I am questioning why using children as sexual objects is an atrocity, but using women in the same way is a billion-dollar industry. Just look at the number of female bodies for sale in this newspaper.

This normalized way of thinking perpetuates the violence performed upon women and children. Women consent to oppression by using their bodies as exchange items. Men, knowing the transaction is complete, feel free to use the female body as they please.

Physical aggression results because the romanticizing of sex involves the mindset of muscle and allure: women being seduced by men’s force (sadistic heterosexuality) and anonymous women using their bodies to heighten male desire.

Because legs aren’t spread and breasts aren’t hanging out, Genevieve Wood, a guest on the same episode of Politically Incorrect, argued that these models are not participating in pornography. Shakara Ledard, who is in the magazine, emphatically enjoined that SI uses “the best girls in the industry … a different caliber of girls.”

Yet, whether women are partially clothed or naked and in chains, they are still part of the continuum that turns women’s bodies into commodities for consumption.

The feminist movements of the 20th century did little to counter the notion of women as sex objects. The idea is so engrained in our psyches that anyone who speaks out against women being used this way must be a) premenstrual, b) not getting “enough,” c) not “getting it” right, d) jealous of beautiful bodies and insecure about her own inferior body, or e) all of the above. Notice that all of these answers frame a woman who chooses to question this form of prostitution by saying she is a) bitchy, b) sexless c) unable to attract a virile partner, d) unwilling to accept the reality of appearance as crucial to women’s acceptance, and/or e) totally bound by a society that pays lip service to equality. And women just keep reading those lips.

Ironically, the only people capable of stopping the violence against women and children are women. It won’t stop just because Claire Danes, belly button grinning above hip huggers, is extolled on the cover of Marie Claire for joining the crusade against violence toward women. Collectively, women will need to, and have the ability to, refuse the trafficking of their bodies. But first they will have to see themselves as more than bodies which exist to serve and stimulate sexual desire.