By Mihaela-Diana Crăciun
Gender equality has never seemed more attainable. It appears to be so close, it’s almost refreshing: we no longer have to fight for it or question it. We are free. Period. Because we’re worth it.
The current mainstream discourse informs us that we enjoy unimaginable sexual freedom, which is allegedly the equivalent of women’s emancipation and of the triumph of gender equality. However, according to Natasha Walters, this discourse originates in the hypersexualization of feminine identity as a basis of consumer society and of the reproduction of patriarchal domination. The woman-as-object sells. And not only does it sell other objects, but also aspirations, needs, values, identities and behaviors. The media and visual arts will be the first to represent and praise this newly-discovered identity. “The liberation which causes the most enjoyment is the sexual kind. Women tend to be the first to adopt the change, the adjective liberated being assimilated with the modern woman.”
Modernity is therefore conditioned by the adoption of this discourse. But to what extent can we claim that empowering women means sexualizing them? Is this discourse of hypersexualization a genuine form of empowering and liberating women or just a means of reinforcing the patriarchy through the illusion of freedom it provides?
From beauty products to artistic currents, gender identity constructions and types of social interaction, all socio-cultural manifestations rely on marketing strategies. Advertising has become a way of life, a part of our individual identity, as well as our social one, and the ultimate and most profitable means of selling is female sexuality as a consumption item. The woman thus becomes a central element of consumer society, though not as an active agent, but as a trophy, as a supreme object of male pleasure. The domination of hypersexualization and the hegemony of the cult of female sexuality thus become a discourse of consumerism, which promises the emancipation of women and the satisfaction of man’s desires. But the promised emancipation is to be found, for women, only in the realm of seduction, of sexuality as a means of success, as an ideal which is worth any sacrifice. The obsession with a fulfilling feminine sexuality as an essential condition for a woman’s emancipation only limits her in becoming a complex human being and an active agent.
Women’s agency exists, therefore, only within this hegemonic identity and seldom outside it. The discourse of women’s empowerment by means of embracing the hypersexualized “emancipatory” identity urges women to be “masters of their own status, but never question it.” The politics of seduction is therefore “one of the means by which society perpetuates male sexual domination and makes women passive,” creating two poles of identity: the woman-object of desire versus the male-subject, an active agent.
One of the main effects of mass culture is the uniformization and alienation of individuals who do not adhere to mainstream discourse. The objectification of the woman, her constant depiction as mere sex object – a pleasure provider and trophy for men – prevents her development in other areas. Sexuality becomes the main source of female “personality” and the safest form of acknowledgement, the axis in the constitution of feminine social identity. Beauty is a mass feature included in the principle of equal opportunity – to be beautiful is something accessible to everyone, thanks to consumerism, and is the ideal way to represent the emancipated woman. To be beautiful nowadays has the connotation of a moral virtue. It is the first and most important step towards “reconnecting with yourself.” But without questioning it, the self remains a product of social influence, and this reconnecting will most likely remain a “guideline” for what the female self must be like within this mechanism.
The objectification of women, although currently present under new guises, remains a classical symbol of patriarchy. From the “deification” of feminine beauty between symbol of divine purity (the Virgin) and source of temptation (the seductress, Eve), the metamorphic evolution of patriarchy reinvents beauty under the guise of gender equality, leaving unchanged the basic elements which reinforce and reproduce specific relations of domination. The woman remains caught between two conflicting identities: 1) the woman who, in relation to the man, is reduced to “erotic object, stimulus and satisfaction of desire, the warranty of male stability, the prize which acknowledges his efforts, the expression of his virility” and 2) the woman fulfilling a family role, therefore chaste, sacred, embodying the purity and beauty of creation. In other words, the trophy-hypersexuality and the passive availability of woman versus beauty as a symbol of purity and maternity. Beauty is therefore created as a typically feminine attribute: “The woman is (beautiful), while the man is in a process of becoming so. This is why the man has to earn his beauty through actions and ideas, while the woman rests in her own beauty, caught up in her own complacency.” The woman’s attractiveness represents the supreme blessing which exempts her from the “burden” of an active, creative status: “She is not capable of creating beauty, but she embodies it.” […]
 Isabel de la Torre, M. Ortega, J.Sebastian, El trazo y la palabra. Humorismo grafico y estereotipos sociales de mujeres, ” Las mujeres en la opinion publica”, Inst. Univ. De Estudios de la Mujer, 1995, p. 35.
 Aurelia Capmany, El comportamiento amoroso de la mujer, Barcelona, 1977, p. 8-12.
 G. Duby, M. Perrot, Historia de las mujeres, Luisa Passerini, Sociedad de consumo y cultura de masas, ed. Taurus Minor, vol. Siglo XX, p. 422.
 Trudy Hayes, The Politics of Seduction, en V.V.A.A, A Dozen Lips, Dublin, Attic Press, 1994, p. 117-139.
 G. Duby, M. Perrot, Historia…, p. 546.
 Aurelia Capmany, El comportamiento…, p. 66.
 G. Duby, M. Perrot, Historia…, p. 108.
 Ibid., p. 326.