To dream the impossible dream

So tell me something I don’t know.

A report of the American Psychological Association (APA) released today found evidence that the proliferation of sexualized images of girls and young women in advertising, merchandising, and media is harmful to girls’ self-image and healthy development…Sexualization was defined by the task force as occurring when a person’s value comes only from her/his sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics, and when a person is sexually objectified, e.g., made into a thing for another’s sexual use.

How could it not be harmful, for chrissake? What would it be, beneficial? How could it possibly be beneficial? Unless of course your dearest ambition from infancy on is to be a prostitute, and you never once deviate from that burning ambition. But barring that, how could it be beneficial?

In a way this is just a variant of that horrible (albeit evasive, cautious) pronouncement of Tariq Ramadan’s: ‘But the body must not be forgotten…In Islamic tradition, women are seen in terms of being mothers, wives or daughters.’ That’s an evasive, cautious way of putting it because what he means is ‘and nothing else,’ but he presumably didn’t want to say that to Ian Buruma or in the New York Times. At any rate, the outcome is the same: a person’s value comes only from her sexual appeal or behavior, or from her maternal or sexual function; she is, in short, a thing for the use of other people – primarily, of men, since if she produces daughers, they’re in the same situation, while sons are not. Women and girls are for others, men are for themselves and others and a range of other possibilities. This is the problem with the sexualization of girls.

I see that as a problem even in the absence of any reports from the APA. It’s a problem because of the implicit message, which is that females are supposed to be hotties, that that is by a very wide margin their chief obligation, that that’s what they’re for, that’s what they’re about, that’s what they do. I think this is a kind of death in life. The death of alternatives, of other possibilities, of hope, of breadth, of wide horizons, of a range of choices. It’s a horrible nasty pouty flicky twisty curvy silky little box. It’s the obverse of the niqab, but it’s pretty damn confining itself. It’s as if there is one and only one job open to women: that of lap dancer. There was one and only one job open to Jane Fairfax and Jane Eyre; I’m not sure the horizontal move to lap dancer is much of an advance.

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