Thanks to Kay Jiersen’s great post on the the complicated problem of female sexualization in games and virtual worlds I’ve been pondering how my views on nudity or overly sexualised females in games, magazines, and movies has changed over the last few years.
It used to be very clear to me that hyper-sexualization was a negative thing, full stop. In the last few years I’ve been leaning more towards the “embrace your erotic creature” argument which strongly supports more overt female sexuality in our culture. It’s looking like a paradigm shift that could be a much more powerful and joyous addition to the world than I had considered before.
Proponents of this concept include the inventor of the S Factor, Sheila Kelley, whose sold-out seminars teach women around the world how to fully embody their own sexual power. Kelley explains that “Women’s sexuality is something that is a very touchy subject for a lot of women … I had to free my body from all of the binding, all the shutting down, and all of the censorship I had already put on it. When I did that, everything in my life changed. My relationship with my husband changed. My relationship to the world changed. My relationship to my body changed. My relationship to my female friends changed in huge ways.”
This TED Talk by Kelley fascinated me when she described the “primal, wild untamed sexual altar ego that lives deep within every woman.” She suggests we could make a personal reclamation of the female body, not by hiding our body or our sexuality, but by celebrating all of the female nature in public, including our sexuality. “I say take it out of the dark, seedy clubs. Don’t let it be owned by men anymore. Own it yourself. When you own it yourself, then you feel complete.”
I find myself, as Kay’s post mentions, dressing not for men, but for myself. Another factor for me when getting dressed is to ensure the end result is not something that might offend other women by being too overtly sexual. This is not a conscious exercise. And I don’t think I really have articulated that before, however I imagine that some form of this internal censor is somewhere in the mind of many women when getting dressed. The funny thing to me, is that this is true for me in both SL and RL.
In SL when I dress in a more sexy style, I really appreciate the digital ability to wear much less than I would in RL. I find the ability to celebrate the female body very freeing. And when I say “I wear sexy styles in SL,” I am aware that I’m playing it very safe compared to many. I still, even in SL, feel the pressure that Kelley says, “society puts on us to keep ourselves under wraps so that we can be taken more seriously in a world that values masculinity.” My societally installed trashy-radar is still set to high.
In RL, I just noticed a pattern this past weekend. I was getting ready to go to a cocktail party on Friday. I often will put on a sexy dress at home, feel wonderful in it, but ultimately decide to change into something less overtly sexy before leaving for fear that I’ll be judged as “not serious” or “trashy” or something of that sort. It feels socially unsafe to show myself fully in public. It could be just me, but since I’ve had the “is this too short/tight/revealing” conversation with many a girlfriend prior to going out, I’m thinking it’s not likely an isolated issue of mine.
Why are we hiding our beauty? Our gorgeousness? Our femininity?
Whenever I resist this pressure to de-sexualise myself and actually do go out in a body conscious dress that celebrates my femaleness, I feel wonderful. I’m wondering if the bleed from the sexuality seen in Second Life and also video games could one day encourage more sanctioned overt sexuality from women, if we contextualised it in this positive, new way? I’m not saying this isn’t a sea change, and I’m not suggesting that women walk around naked all the time. I am suggesting that we wear what we want, when we want to, perhaps starting with SL and then consciously spilling some of that positive freedom and powerful energy back into RL. Could that be a possibility, for when we want to express ourselves this way?
Through some of the work of Alison Armstrong, a thought leader on helping men and women create unions based on real partnership, I’ve come to appreciate that men truly value and feed off of women, and part of this is shown via appreciating the female form. Women sometimes criticise men for this activity, calling it objectification, however if we viewed things from a different perspective, could we not see this as appreciation that we were not open to receiving? Are these sexualised gaming avatars, as created mostly by appreciative men, not actually compliments for women to enjoy and take pride in?
I see a lot of avatars flashing their bare flesh in SL. Is it stemming from empowerment, or is it a guilty pleasure that will never be owned up to in RL? Could we change our approach and encourage women to harness the power of female sexuality and celebrate the female form when it’s willingly shared in public? Or is too much flesh in public “tarty” and open season for judgement?
I truly don’t know the answer, but I’m asking myself this question these days. What do you think?