As mentioned in the introduction to this series of blog posts, I will be posting excerpts of chapters from Boys, Sex & Media with PDF links to the complete chapters. Use the blog tag “Boys-Sex-Media” to find all of the posts in this series. The excerpt of Chapter Five, on aggression, is below. Click this PDF link to read the entire chapter.
“This is the essence of the commercial, male, heterosexual, pornographic imagination: thinking of women as being defined only through their sexuality and that sexuality to be at the service of men’s desires.” ~ Sut Jhally, Dreamworlds 3
Tits, ass, and “legs in high heels.” Women are often reduced to these particular body parts in the media adolescent boys see. Comic books and graphic novels, music videos, magazine covers, and commercials for cars, Internet services, beer, and fast food routinely feature barely-dressed women posed to appeal to the male, heterosexual, pornographic imagination described by Sut Jhally. Women are also getting in on the act. The term “self-objectification” is taking on more currency, being used increasingly to describe female celebrities who willingly expose their bodies and overtly sexualize themselves in music videos and Instagram selfies, on stage, and on the red carpet.
This brand of female sexual objectification goes beyond mere titillation. In each objectifying image, women are not only put on display, but also shown to enjoy this treatment, feel flattered by it, and respond to it by preening for more male attention. For these women, sexuality is not about their own wants and desires, but men’s: they dress, twerk, grind, pout, and touch themselves primarily to fulfill men’s fantasies. In this way, objectification is also tied to the male-as-dominant script I have described in previous chapters: objectified women are reduced to a sexual role and evaluated primarily in terms of how well they can, in Jhally’s words, service men’s desires.
You may be asking what any of this has to do with sexual aggression. Quite a lot, as we will see. Regular exposure to objectifying imagery can affect the attitudes and actions of boys and men. This is not to say that popular culture will turn boys into rapists, but that stereotyped depictions of male and female sexuality—combined with the lack of strong messages about consent— may instill in boys a distorted view of male and female sexual roles, ultimately influencing their perceptions of how they should act in a sexual relationship, what they should expect from the girls they know, and how hard they should push to get what they want. As communications scholar Stacy Hust said in 2014, “We learn a lot about how to act in a relationship by what we see and read in the media…Bad information can lead to bad decisions.”
It must also be said that girls are not the only victims in this environment. Although talked about far less, boys also suffer harassment, sexual assault, and the very serious consequences they bring, often because they do not subscribe to the tenets of the male, heterosexual, pornographic imagination.
Download this PDF to read the entire chapter.
Image from Dreamstime.