Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sex and Fashion (Part Two)

Objectification of women is nothing new. In fact, it is a huge part of what has caused the entire feminist movement. Throughout history women have consistently had to take a back seat to men - at least in many cultures this is true. Asia had its own forms of objectifying women, as did many European societies (and we will lump a lot of the Americas into that group since many of the countries in America were so heavily influenced by the beliefs of the European conquistadors and settlers).

Objctification, the word, comes from the verb objectify. Which, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means

to degrade to the status of a mere object.
This describes much of what women went through. They had no legal rights, and were in many ways the possessions of first their fathers, and then their husbands. They owned no property of their own, and while their position was nowhere near as low as that of slaves, they were still, in many ways, simply pretty ornaments. They worked hard to keep their houses running smoothly, and creating a wonderful environment that kept their husbands happy and content. In China, footbinding was all the rage and there wasnt an end to this horrible practice until 1912.

After the womens' rights movement(s) things began to change for women- more specifically women in the USA. They could vote! Around the world women started making small bits of progress. Yet still, women did not commonly work outside of the house until WWII. Images of Rosie the Riveter should come to mind. Yet, these women were expected to give up these jobs as soon as the boys came home.

The objectification of women has changed since we started gaining legal rights and making huge advances within the corporate world. Actually, the objectification began with many of the feminists and liberals themselves. In the 1920s, a new woman began to emerge. She left behind the straight-laced dressings of her mothers and aunts, and with it, most of her clothing. The Flapper, as she was called, wore her hair short, smoked cigarettes openly and revealed a lot more than any women would have worn even 5 years before. She was all the rage in the 1920s. She was also much less inhibited when it came to her own sexuality.

Things began to change around this time. As women began to be more open about their own sexuality, fashion also began to change for women. We gained our legal rights and lost our second class citizen status (although in many ways we couldn't really even be second class citizens since we had no rights beyond those given to us by our husbands and fathers), but we in turn began to objectified in a different way. We became sex symbols. Objects of lust. Yes, we always had been. Even Walt Disney pointed out that women have always been objects of desire for men in his Carousel of Progress at the New York's (?) World Fair. A young boy in victorian times is caught staring through a mini picture viewer a woman doing the "hootchie cootchie." His father laughs then gets serious and tells him to "put that away before your mother finds it."

The different between the turn of the century display and our current display? The average woman was not always viewed in a sexual way. Did men think about them that way? Yes, there's no way to guarantee a man will never think about a woman in that manner. But, was it always the first way in which he thought about her in earlier times? Perhaps not so much. Sexuality is a great thing. God gave us sex and it's a wonderful and beautiful thing. But is causing every man to lust after us women a good thing? Especially when it's not longer just the "strippers" of the time but rather the everyday girl walking down the street?

When fashion changed, it's possible, at least I see it, to see a change in the behabvior of men towards women. Compare books from different time periods and it's easy to see the different treatment of women. Bram Stoker's Dracula with a young Mina Harper shows a very different view of women than, say, Dan Brown's Angels and Demons. In the more modern tale, when our hero meets the female character, he notices her body. Like most men, he sees her as having things like a lithe body and long tanned legs, notices the curve of her breasts,etc. etc.

Which puts women in a hard place. We got our legal rights, but we are now viewed as objects of lust (i love that phrase).

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