The Privilege of Sexual Empowerment

I am a very confused feminist. I believe that pornography degrades women, positioning them into an object of a male’s desires. I also believe that a woman should be able to feel empowered in her sexuality by engaging in pornography. I think that women can embrace their body and its power and that, in and of itself, is empowerment. I also think that a showcase of a woman’s body, despite the woman’s choice in its display, can be very degrading. My beliefs conflict: a woman’s body can provide both empowerment and degradation.

Sheila Jeffrey’s article, Keeping Women Down and Out, helps navigate this conflict. I believe that finding empowerment in your own body and its display/use is only possible if you are in a privileged position within society: one where you have a choice to display or cover the body. This choice can only come from a socioeconomic privilege that, unfortunately, most women engaged in sex work do not have. Jeffrey says, “Women had to engage in activities they found repugnant if they were to make a living from their work in the clubs, because their income was ‘entirely dependent on compliance with customer demands in order to earn tips’ (Holsopple 1998, 3)” (163). These women do not have a choice in using their body; they must in order to survive. It’s not empowerment; it’s objectification.

That’s the inherent problem with the sex industry: bodies are commodified, but the only bodies willing to be commodified are the ones that have no other options. My idea of sexual empowerment through one’s body is only valid in social spheres of privilege, where bodies don’t have to be displayed in order to survive.

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2 Responses to The Privilege of Sexual Empowerment

  1. daniellec94 says:

    I completely understand your point of view about women’s bodies regarding both empowerment and degradation. A woman should be able to show off her body not as an object of a man’s desires but a subject of the world. I believe that women, however, can change the attitude surrounding their body. They might not be able to change the male gaze but they can change the way they hold and respect their body.

    Sexual empowerment is a powerful thing. A woman should be proud of her body and stand by her body without being degraded. Do you remember the lecture we had with Ms. Tristan Taormino? At first I did not understand how she could be a feminist pornographer. She was fighting to change the porn industry while still partaking in porn herself. This was contradictory for me as women are viewed as objects useful in fulfilling a man’s desires and what better way to show this than pornography which is filled with men degrading women in numerous ways. The lewdness associated with women are due to several influences in our culture. Society, today, markets women, weather it is through porn, erotic dancing, revealing or suggesting clothing and so forth. However, a woman can empower herself with what she does with her body. This is an important issue Tristan discussed in her lecture. It is not what activities women choose to partake in but rather how they choose to participate in such acts. Tristan spoke about women filming porn which did not include men degrading women or making them seem inferior. She also wanted to break the tradition that women are submissive objects but valuable individuals.

    From Tristan’s lecture, I have realized that the line between empowerment and degradation is thin. Women should feel proud of their beautiful bodies but not at the price of their freedom to be recognized as people. People who are equal to men. In my opinion, it is how women do what they do with their bodies that can make the difference between empowerment and degradation. Think about a woman walking down the street confidently in classy clothing versus that same woman holding the same confident attitude but with revealing clothing instead. The classification of the woman changes from being a woman (a subject) to being an object desiring a male’s attention. This leads to a change in the social hierarchy of the woman in society’s eyes, leading to sexism and abuse. This difference in the outsider gazes regarding the woman is due to how she holds and respects herself. After all, an individual cannot expect to receive respect if they do not respect themselves. Change starts from within, just as a woman’s sexual empowerment starts with how she sexually empowers herself.

  2. rachelrabbit16 says:

    Hey Laura!

    I thought your post was really interesting, and I also share your feelings of ambivalence about pornography. I really like your point about the privilege inherent in how we are able to use or not use our bodies, and I think that this issue also extends into the health care issues we’ve been discussing this semester; for example, the privilege of being able to determine one’s reproductive future.

    One thing I have issue with is that you state that “a woman’s body can provide both empowerment and degradation,” but I think one of the themes we’ve been discussing all semester is that bodies are inherently ‘just bodies’ and that the degradation or empowerment is something constructed both culturally/socially and through the individual choices we or others make. The reason that women’s bodies are subjected to degradation or empowerment is because of the way our culture currently approaches women’s bodies, as objects and entities that have a significance of their own beyond the individual. So while I think it is important to recognize that it is culture that is either degrading or empowering bodies, I do not think that this makes your point about using one’s body to empower oneself irrelevant. I also think it’s necessary to mention the female sex workers who do have the privilege of choosing to be sex workers. Are they choosing to commodify themselves, and can that be empowering?

    Reading your post also made me wonder, do we look at male or male-appearing bodies in the same way? Can men be degraded or empowered through their use of their bodies? My initial answer would be no, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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