Somehow our culture cares more about the toxicity of portraying fictional women as sexy or provocative than it does about how real, breathing women can be affected.
There’s no shortage of “feminists,” celebrities, and progressive people encouraging young girls and women to be confident in their bodies, especially if that means baring it all for the world to see. On the other hand, many people have been raising a stink over fictional characters being drawn and animated in a way that’s meant to supposedly appeal to the male gaze.
Hypersexualization Is Supposedly Empowering for Women
Former Disney Channel star Demi Lovato posted to her Instagram a now-deleted pro-promiscuity message late last year, telling her followers outright to “Be a slut” and “Get naked.”
Image Source: Screenshot from Demi Lovato’s Instagram
Lovato first starred in Disney Channel films Camp Rock and Princess Protection Program circa 2008/2009. Let’s say she had 4 and 5-year-old fans when the movies came out (hardly an impossible assumption). If they grew up to be teenagers who follow her on Instagram, they could have seen this sort of messaging. We’re not even accounting for younger children who grew up watching her movies, since, let’s face it, movies like Camp Rock are to Gen Z what Lizzie McGuire and Princess Diaries movies are to Millennials.
She’s hardly the only person advocating for rampant sexuality in girls and women. Several ex-Disney Channel stars like Bella Thorne and Miley Cyrus are known for adopting hyper-sexual images in adulthood. Thorne gained notoriety for her OnlyFans debut and for changing the website in a way that hurt existing lewd content creators, as well as for arguably popularizing the platform and making it more mainstream and acceptable for celebrities (and young women) to use. Cyrus demolished the innocent, girl-next-door image that was cultivated by her time on Hannah Montana with her “Wrecking Ball” music video, and for years now, has routinely posted suggestive content on her Instagram. She very recently posted a butt-selfie in a thong on her stories.
Despite these women having influenced generations of little girls and potentially maintaining some influence today, there’s no concern for the consequences of their actions and words on easily accessible platforms that 40% of children under 13 are using.
Such trends and behaviors, at least in part, aid in the normalization of girls turning to sex work shortly after they turn 18 years old. Bhad Bhabie (whose real name is Danielle Bregoli) broke records when she joined OnlyFans five days after she turned 18, earning over $1 million mere hours after she joined. Even if girls aren’t sold on the idea that OnlyFans/sex work is empowering, it’s easy for them to be groomed into it with the promise of supposed financial success – especially in this economy.
Despite all of this, there has been little to no action taken towards trying to reverse the way our culture has gone. We’re complacent with seeing the sex and sexualization of young girls, and it has gotten to the point where tv shows that portray underage teenagers – like the massively popular series Euphoria – are graphically sexual and people just call it normal.
Many supporters justify it by saying that sexual abuse towards teen girls happens, and it’s not like refraining from sharing these stories will make that go away. They fail to acknowledge, though, that sharing them isn't going to make a positive impact either.
Proponents of sexual liberation assert that allowing women to be sexual and promiscuous on their own terms takes power away from lecherous men, but doesn’t that effectively yield the same end result for men? In fact, feminists and other proponents of this merely make it easier for the entire world to see everything, making it more accessible than ever.
Whatever twists of logic they make, it somehow doesn’t apply to fictional women.
Pearl-Clutching for Sexy Fictional Female Characters
On the other hand, we have people complaining about fictional characters either exhibiting any kind of nudity or even about them just having certain kinds of body types.
Take, for instance, Uzaki-Chan, a college-aged character from the manga/anime Uzaki-Chan Wants To Hang Out! For context, it’s about a zany, at times annoying character named Hana Uzaki who sets out to befriend her former high school classmate who has become a “scary-looking” loner in university.
Uzaki has a very curvy figure, to say the least, but the anime isn’t pornographic, and she isn’t drawn in a sexually provocative manner – we’re not seeing her in outfits that Miley Cyrus would wear for example. The outrage around her came about during a blood drive in Japan, where an image of her in a buttoned-up shirt, slightly leaning over, was used to encourage people to donate.
The caption reads, “Senpai! Have you still never donated blood? Perhaps…you’re scared of needles?”
The outrage came from the fact that this campaign is supposedly hyper-sexual (one person said putting the image in a public space was sexual harassment), perpetuates sexual harassment and violence against women, and is trying to normalize unrealistic body types. As if short, large-breasted women were as rare as literal unicorns.
Women in comics have suffered from this new wave of Puritanism too. Many feminists say that these characters are hyper-sexualized and it doesn’t make sense – as if women blessed with powers from the gods or ex-KGB fighting machines are as typical as brunettes. They claim that they’re designed with men in mind, as if Superman, Batman, or Aquaman don’t have rippling muscles and absolutely don’t appeal to women or resemble their ideal men. There’s this assumption that there’s no room in women’s imaginations or fantasies to be powerful and beautiful or sexy while being so.
One recent example of this was in a recent Conan the Barbarian comic by Marvel. In that particular comic, Conan, marooned on an island filled with the undead, encounters one Princess Matoaka. It’s safe to assume that she is presumably as powerful as he is, considering she hasn’t succumbed to the undead yet. And yet, people focused more on the parallels between her character and Pocahontas – known in real life as Amonute, and privately as Matoaka. They’re outraged that Conan’s Matoaka is potentially loosely based on a real-life person who was a child when she was forcibly married and taken away from her home, even though the character in the comic is not a child.
In their outrage and temper-tantrums, they managed to get Matoaka’s design changed.
People will seriously, unironically mandate that a powerful adult woman can’t be sexy or wear revealing outfits (because no male heroes or protagonists are ever sexualized), and at the same time exert none of that same energy when it comes to real-life women hyper-sexualizing themselves and encouraging women and young girls to do so too.
Closing Thoughts: The Harm Done To Girls and Women
It seems as though the understanding of the gravity of hyper-sexualization of real-life versus fictitious women is reversed. Real-life nudity is empowering, and yet if a female superhero dares wear (or be drawn with?) a skin-tight outfit, that’s damaging and undoes years of social progress.
The self-sexualization of women and girls has made it so that general sexualization is okay – we see it with the popularization of sexualizing young children, like in the French film Cuties which, in case you’ve forgotten, featured pre-pubescent girls twerking and writhing on the ground suggestively. Euphoria also continues to push the envelope with sexual content and sexual violence, especially since it presents these in a way that’s supposed to make it artful, or in other words, more palatable, and in turn, more accepted.
As much as we can say adults should be able to do whatever they want, so long as they’re not hurting people, propping up people who self-sexualize as icons goes into the territory of harming children. Where is that supposed to end?
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