Sexiness is Power .. or is it Oppression?

My sister and I often have talks about whether or not it’s self-destructive for women to use their looks and sex appeal to get what they want from men. This can pertain to using cleavage to get into a restaurant or flirting with a boss to move up in the business world. Are these examples of women turning an unfair disadvantage (i.e. a society eager to dehumanize/over sexualize women) into an opportunity to strategically get ahead – thereby sticking it to those who are willing to value women on such a superficial basis – or are these examples of women enabling themselves to be socially confined as sex objects, therefore, further promulgating the female “other,” or “lesser,” status of which de Beauvoir spoke?

For example, if a woman is table dancing at a bar and, as a result, getting free drinks the whole night, is she actually in a position of power/control? She has gotten what she wants from the men (free drinks), but she got them only because she represented herself in a sexualized manner. So, was she pandering to the men or manipulating them to get her own way? Another example: if a woman gets a position for which she is totally qualified, but gets it in part because she flirts with her male bosses, does that discredit the qualities that actually make her worthy of the position and undermine the accomplishment altogether? In Machiavellian terms, do the ends justify the gender-deprecating means? When it comes to women and the strategic implementation of sex appeal, I feel like there’s a blurred line between empowerment and letting oneself be belittled or demeaned. But that in and of itself is somewhat disturbing – how is it that two opposites (1. being in a position where you are in control/empowered and 2. being in a position where you’re actually subjecting yourself to oppression and disparagement) can be so socially distorted that they are mistaken for each other? Why isn’t the line between empowerment and oppression clearer? Given what we’ve read, is the use of sex appeal just affirming the female status of “other”/ “subordinate” to males and sending the message that a woman’s ability to sexually entice men is more important, or at the very least, more effective in getting ahead, than who she is or what she’s capable of? And, if it is the case that using sex appeal to get ahead is oppressive, how has society managed to camouflage it so well that using sex appeal to get what you want is sometimes mistaken for empowerment?

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2 Responses to Sexiness is Power .. or is it Oppression?

  1. javellys says:

    This is very interesting and it reminds me of a story a teacher once told me. He said his grandmother (when she was young) used to waitress at a bar where a man would ask for her to sit on his lap. She would for a few minutes and then he would give her something like fifty dollars every time. When she told my teacher this story he was outraged and said “Why would you let him use you like that?!”, to which she responded, “I got fifty bucks and all I had to do was sit. Who really used who?”. At first I thought well maybe its relative to how you look at the situation. But then I thought, if the roles were reversed and a woman at bar asked a similar favor of a man, it would not be deemed socially acceptable. Thus, there is clearly a divide and oppression on behalf of men because they can do these things and have it be completely normal. Furthermore, aren’t most of waiters at a bar woman in revealing outfits? Just a thought.

  2. Anna says:

    You’ve brought up some really interesting points. It also bothers me that we live in a society where it often seems necessary to question motive and relative power when confronted with female sexuality. Male displays of sexuality aren’t met with questioning because they do so from an automatic position of power. Female displays are assumed to be oriented towards men and male power because it’s assumed that those are things a woman is supposed to desire. But shouldn’t when and how sexuality is used or displayed be up to the person in question? Yes, sometimes, perhaps often, women manipulate male perceptions of their sexuality and their bodies in order to alter the balance, but sometimes it’s just for fun, or not directed at men at all. The common assumption that it can only serve one purpose hinders the sexual expression of women and assumes the worst of men. Also, perhaps the constant fear and false concern many members of our society show when confronted with empowered female sexuality is precisely what makes it so difficult to separate it from genuine victimization.

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