Rihanna, Empowering her audience, with Mickey Mouse ears and a large pink cannon - Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Turn on just about any music video and you’ll see one of two things. Sexy women being portrayed as powerful, or simpering women begging for better treatment. If sexiness is as powerful as the former would have young women believe then surely the latter is redundant. Alas, no.
It’s time to debunk the sexy as powerful myth.
Powerful women belong in boardrooms, in houses of parliament, they are CEOs, and bankers, they are not scantily clad, writhing on stages while men beg for mercy, unable to control themselves in the face of their wily charms.
Will they still be begging for mercy when her hair is white and her face is lined by the years? Probably not. By the time she is holding a baby to her breast there will be crass jokes about how her vagina has been forever altered by birth, and how no one wants to see a baby near a breast. By the time her hair is white she’ll be cast aside, obsolete.
The reality is that being sexy holds no power anywhere. Being sexy is a commodity, sexy women are a commodity, a marketable item, they are powerful because of what men want to do to them or because of what men would like them to do for them, but not powerful in their own right.
A Swedish Policewoman - Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The contradictions of sexy as powerful are quite mind blowing when you think about it. Girls are told not to dress “like that” or they are targets for rape ….. and at the same time they’re told that dressing in sexy clothing and “twerking your junk” is powerful because it will cause men to lose their minds in your presence. It must be very confusing to be a young woman in this culture.
”Dress like this, it will make you powerful beyond compare! Grown men will see you coming and fall to their knees, they will be so overwhelmed by your powers of sexiness they will lose control of their faculties ….. but your sexy power may cause rape and you will never be powerful enough to fend off a rapist.”
Of course it’s well documented that there’s no link between clothing and rape, but never let the truth get in the way of a good rape defense! After all, the poor rapists will be so ensorcelled, so bewitched by the sexy powers they shouldn’t be held accountable for criminal acts!
Dressing in sexy clothing can neither make a woman vulnerable or powerful, what it does however, is put her in the line of fire. It makes her vulnerable to unpleasant public comment, because for some reason what we wear is believed to completely negate the behaviour of others.
Nicki Minaj: Sexy and Powerful, or Laughing Stock? - Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The same is not true for men. No one has ever said:
**”Well those swim-shorts WERE very provocative, you looked SO powerful that the ladies couldn’t keep their hands to themselves?”
Because we know that men derive power from genuinely powerful things. The President of the US is powerful, the head of the World Bank is powerful, One Direction are performers. Sure, they are rich, and being rich does afford a level of power not afforded to the average man, but it has nothing to do with whether or not they are sexy. In fact if you were to raise their names in a discussion about powerful people you’d probably be laughed at …. and rightly so.
Although millions of girls and young women think One Direction are sexy, no one equates that sexiness with power.
Modern pop culture is misleading millions of young women when it equates power with sexiness. There is nothing remotely powerful about being sexy. Sexy is a purely subjective, power is objective. We see girls longing to be desirable, determining their intrinsic value based on desirability rather than on their mere humanity.
Does this mean that young people shouldn’t enjoy music? No. it means that adults need to discuss true power, desire, and the value of each human being, thoroughly and regularly. By creating imaginary power in sexiness we do two things. Firstly we tell young women that they should seek to please other people with the way they dress and behave, rather than simply enjoying clothes because of colours, patterns, and fabrics. And secondly we tell them that power has an expiry date. You are powerful when you are available to men, but with motherhood and age that subsides.
Women are not empowered by sexiness, they are oppressed by subjective, appearance based judgements. True power is found only by casting aside those judgements. Society has a lot invested in convincing women that sexy is powerful, whilst we seek to find our power in sexiness we are submissive to the rule of patriarchy.