Using Empowerment to Objectify - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Using Empowerment to Objectify

Using Empowerment to Objectify

Published October 2, 2005

I remember first hearing about sexual empowerment in correlation with Madonna (when I was way too young to understand what it was about). Her message was that women could derive power from being sexual, as opposed to viewing sex as something “proper” women didn’t flaunt. As a result, Madonna reveled in it. She slithered across the stage in sensual live performances, wearing corsets and fishnets.

She released songs such as Erotic and Justify My Love, accompanied by videos MTV refused to play. To top it all, Madonna released the controversial book Sex, which became one of the great buzzes of its time. Whether or not we agree with her message, she pulled it off and became an international megastar and multi millionaire. Madonna set a trend, and since her Like a Virgin performance in the early eighties, countless artists and performers have tried to employ her method of overt sexuality to get recognition. People started to believe that being sexually liberated and baring it all was a successful way to state their empowerment.

However, something went terribly wrong along the way. Today’s popular culture has skewed the notion of sexual empowerment, with saddening results. The music channels and programs are packed with young artists, men and women alike, writhing spread-legged across the floor and humping their backup singers like it’s going out of style. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be going out of style at all.

Madonna didn’t behave like a Girl Scout either, but she was arguably a pioneer with a vision. Today’s performers don’t seem to have any sort of message, and as a result pop culture has become uncomfortably reminiscent of a mindless, glossy porn flick. With backup singers.
The main misunderstanding lies in the notion that sexual empowerment is synonymous with behaving like a sex worker. There’s nothing powerful about being a sex worker. Therefore, the sexual empowerment in pop has turned into its very opposite, and instead of empowering the performers, it ends up making them look like a bunch of hookers and pimps. Not to say that people can’t be sexy, or flaunt their sexuality. Sex is a vital part of life, and can be used to please, inspire and procreate, as well as degrade, harm and humiliate. It’s all a matter of how it’s used.

So what is sexual empowerment really about, then? According to quick, Internet research, it’s about knowing your own body, as well as having a sense of control and autonomy. Sexual liberation doesn’t mean tearing your clothes off or fingering yourself on camera. It’s about finding an authentic voice that includes your sexuality. It’s about feeling good about yourself as a sexual being, whether you’re sexually active or completely abstinent. It’s about making choices you’re happy with. And who knows, maybe artists like Christina Milian feel excellent about groping their half-naked-half-latex-clad body while covered in black paint. Maybe 50 Cent’s dancers feel extremely empowered by being sprayed with champagne while stripping and having his posse grab their naked butts. Or maybe it’s purely an attempt to make money, in which case it’s not empowerment. It’s objectification.


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