The Paris Paradox: how sexualization replaces opportunity with obligation

I’ve often quoted Courtney Martin’s now-famous line from her Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters:

We are the daughters of feminists who said, “You can be anything” and we heard “You have to be everything.”

I call it the Martha Complex, others call it the Supergirl syndrome; whatever name you give it, most of us who work with young people agree that it’s absolutely rampant among contemporary girls and young women (even those whose mothers weren’t feminists!) The complex has many sources, but one factor that particularly exacerbates the problem is sexualization.

Ariel Levy, in her powerful and controversial Female Chauvinist Pigs, quoted Paris Hilton’s remarkably perceptive remark about herself that she was “sexy, but not sexual.” Hilton isn’t alone. My students today, who are mostly in their late teens (though I have many older ones as well) were deeply influenced by Hilton, who was at the peak of her notoriety four or five years ago, when these now-college freshman were just entering high school. And sadly, not unlike many of their older sisters, they find themselves stuck in what we might call the “Paris Paradox”.

Young women with the Paris Paradox were raised in a culture that promised sexual freedom, but what they ended up with looked a lot more like obligation than opportunity. It’s not hard to understand why the pressure to be sexy so often trumps the freedom to discover one’s authentic sexuality. As Levy and Martin and others have been pointing out for the past decade, we’ve begun to sexualize girls at ever earlier ages, as anyone who noticed the Halloween costumes marketed to tween girls will be aware. The explicitness — the raunchiness, to use Levy’s word — of this sexualization is relatively new. But when that sexualization (or pornification, to use another popular term) meets the far-older pressure on young women to be people-pleasers, we have a recipe for misery.

For all its successes, feminism has not succeeded in eradicating the factors that lead so many young girls to be obsessed with praise and validation. We still thrust dolls into the hands of toddler girls, which isn’t a problem — and then we encourage these small children to take responsibility for the emotional well-being of these inanimate objects. (As child psychologists will confirm, people respond differently to a child smashing a doll/action figure. Boys tend to be told “Don’t break your toys”; girls are much more likely to hear “Don’t let your dolly hit her head on the ground. It hurts her.”) While both boys and girls may grow up hearing the old adage that it is “better to give than to receive”, girls are much more likely to be given regular instruction in how to give — and much more likely to be rebuked for “selfishness” if they show too much desire to receive. (Ask around. “Selfish” ranks right up there with “slut” and “fat” as an epithet with tremendous power to wound women. It only rarely does the same damage when applied to men.)

Girls grow up with an often grandiose sense of their own capacity to love and to heal (a sense encouraged by “princess” culture), something I wrote about in a post called “I Have So Much Love to Give: Young Women and Self-flattery.” That ain’t new. What’s new is the degree to which young girls, often barely into puberty, find themselves on the receiving end of the aggressive cultural sexualization that has become so commonplace in recent years. You combine the pressure to please with the requirement to be sexy, add in the wild overestimation of one’s own capacity to change and influence others for good, and top it off with the common and tragic overestimation of one’s capacity to suffer, and you’ve got a young woman keenly aware of how she appears to others and what others want from her — and far less capacity to articulate her own desires.

Not every young girl experiences herself as an object of desire. But virtually every young girl is aware that young women are “supposed” to be desired. Unprecedented opportunities to compete on an equal playing field educationally, socially and financially with men have done damn all to release young women from the pressure to be sexually alluring. And given how blunt and brazen so many of their male peers (and, sadly, so many much older men) are about what they want sexually, it’s little wonder that developing one’s own sexuality is often a much-later development than developing one’s sexiness.

One of the canniest strategies of social conservatives in recent years has been to paint the sexual revolution as a failure for women. As the religious right has sought to market itself to a broader audience, it’s made the case that the Sixties and its aftermath liberated men to be irresponsible while only liberating women to be exploited. To put it another way, the right argues that men have gained the freedom to have far more uncommitted sex than ever, while women have lost the freedom from the tremendous pressure to be sexually available. “Women were lied to”, the right declares, and at least some women wonder if perhaps the conservatives aren’t on to something. Many girls, overwhelmed by the pressure to be sexy — while still suffering the stigma of the “slut” if they choose to be sexual — may wonder the same thing.

But while the conservatives are partly right in their suggestion that the sexual revolution has not fully delivered on its promise, they are utterly wrong about the remedy. Their solution — a wholesale return to an earlier era characterized by the Holy Trinity of pre-marital chastity, early marriage, and post-marital fecundity — would be an unmitigated disaster for women. What we need instead is to push back against sexualization with far better and more inclusive sex education. Too often, the exploitation of young women has been dressed up in the language of empowerment, which leads both feminists and social conservatives alike to point out that a lot of this talk about young women’s agency is, as Joan Brumberg remarked, “oversold if not illusory.” But that’s because we’ve only offered the rhetoric of “empowerment” (think the Nike injunction to “Just Do It!”) without providing young people with practical and effective tools for taking in and living out that empowerment.

It boils down to this: the freedom to learn how to be sexual requires the freedom from sexualization. As I wrote long ago in a post about adults, desire and duty are enemies. This means, of course, that we do need to push back against the media forces that foist “raunch culture” on the very young. But we don’t push back through censorship. We push back by giving young people the tools to navigate their way through the bewildering blitzkrieg of messages which they receive about sexuality.

One of the most important tools we can give young people — boys and girls alike — is the reminder that their sexuality belongs to them. Pleasure is a deep and profound good, and for all of what we imagine to be their self-indulgence, young people today don’t have nearly as much healthy pleasure as they need. This is about more than teaching young people to masturbate without shame (though that’s never a bad idea.) It’s about giving them the time and space and privacy to reflect on their sexuality as something that belongs to them. With young women, it’s about teaching the difference between the desire to be desired and desire itself. (I’ll deal with young men in another post.) It only takes a girl a few seconds to realize what someone else may want from her sexually. It often takes her much longer to figure out what she really wants, to discern the pleasure she gets from bringing pleasure to another from the pleasure she wants for herself. And once she’s figured that out, it’s vital to work to create a culture where she can articulate that want without shame. That’s part and parcel of what it means to stand up for sexuality — and stand against sexualization.

71 thoughts on “The Paris Paradox: how sexualization replaces opportunity with obligation

  1. Wow, great post. :) Actually it’s interesting that you posted this today, I was just discussing this with the boyfriend last night, though not from a personal perspective. But certainly I, and all my girlfriends, had little trouble achieving “sexy” in high school and later, given all the aids and media devoted obsessively to it all around us and given the nonstop barrage from both boys our age and older men on the subject. However, (and this is one of the things I was discussing with the bf last night) it’s interesting, and something I took note of very early on in my twenties and have casually continued to monitor through today when I am hitting my late thirties–the proportion of my girlfriends who have a) ever achieved orgasm with a man at all and b) regularly (say, at least every other sexual encounter) achieve orgasm with men.

    When I was in my late teens, virtually none of my girlfriends had ever had an orgasm with a boy or man, regardless of how long they’d been having sex with boys and men at that point. (I don’t know about regularity of orgasm in the one or two that had ever actually had one at all.)

    By my early twenties, it was still the minority of my girlfriends who had orgasms…I would say probably about twenty or twenty-five percent…and of those, 90% of them didn’t have one during vaginal intercourse and overwhelmingly that (or giving a blowjob) was the only types of sex offered regularly to them. Perhaps one or two of them had regular orgasms with a partner.

    By my mid to late twenties, I would say 50% to 60% of my girlfriends had managed to orgasm with a man during sexual activity. The majority were still orgasming to manual, oral or toy stimulation only, but the amount that they were being offered these activities by their male partners was going up as well (happily for them!). Of my girlfriends that orgasmed at all, perhaps half of them were having them regularly with male partners.

    After age thirty, the numbers seem to be holding constant for us all–most of us manage to orgasm now during sex with a man, though still only less than half of us can do it during vaginal sex. The majority of us are offered manual stimulation of the clitoris on a regular basis, allowing us to regularly orgasm.

    But can you imagine what the sexual landscape would be like if *men* in general didn’t regularly orgasm during genital intercourse with female partners til they were over thirty..?

  2. Good post. But I don’t see what having to be everything and sexualization has to do with feminism. It wasn’t and isn’t feminists who tell daughters they can be anything – at least, not this feminist – and I haven’t heard that message from any feminist I know. It’s a singularly anti-feminist proposition. Feminism was and is about uncovering women’s inequality and oppression. You can’t acknowledge systemic sexism and at the same time believe or say that women or girls can “do anything”, never mind everything. I think you’re talking about some kind of mass media version of feminism. And I’m peeved. To talk about feminism and link it with the topic of female sexualization seems perverse to me.

  3. @Elizabeth, the quote from Courtney Martin comes from her fascinating book (and Courtney is a writer for Feministing and a feminist to her core). She makes the case that the problem isn’t feminism — it’s the way in which feminist messages are heard by so many young women. So the feminist message “You can be whatever you want” turns into “You have to be everything.” The message started out feminist and got distorted by the anti-feminist culture. Same thing with sexualization.

    @Lisa, indeed. The amount of bad, disappointing, frustrating, or pleasant-but-not-quite-there sex that so many women endure is staggering. I meet lots of women in their thirties and forties who are strong, confident, proud of their sexuality and their success. They take no prisoners, as it were. Most endured a decade or two (or three) of sheer hell to get where they are. Our goal is to cut that misery period down to the bare minimum. There is no reason why 19 year-olds can’t love sex as much as 39 year-olds, and have the knowledge, the courage, and the vocabulary to talk about what they want — and what they don’t. No reason, that is, save for a toxic culture that can and will be transformed.

  4. Excellent post Hugo! Gives me incites into my early disdain for pornography (before I even saw it)…I still have no taste for watching other people get it on, but honestly the hottest thing in the world to me is watching a guy masturbate. When I first asked one of my boyfriends to do it so I could watch, he just flat out refused…saying it doesn’t feel as good as (place desired sexual act here)..which to me communicated I was being used… Now, when my husband masturbates in front of me, I can’t help myself and have to “help him”…I’ve even been known to orgasm giving a blowjob after having watched him do his thing…and that is without manual stimulation for me.

  5. It is said that the founder of Cosmo once remarked that the vagina should be like a hospitable home; always occupied and giving pleasure.
    I believe she’s revisited that particular sentiment.
    Goes to show you shouldn’t always believe what you read.
    I once talked to a communications graduate who said that the responsibility for successful communication is always on the communicator, not the recipient (communicatee?). There are reasons for this, one being that the sender is the one with the desire that something be communicated. If it’s miscommunicated, the sender does not realize his or her goal.
    If young women broadly and generally misunderstood this, there were endless opportunities for the misunterstanding to be noted and corrected.
    Now, I understand a bunch of guys thinking this is a terrific situation. But the communication was not directed at them. Or, for the most part, from them.
    But there are any number of instances of the oldsters encouraging the Kids to walk point in the culture wars.

  6. @Elizabeth: I get what you’re saying about how you can’t acknowledge systemic sexism and at the same time believe or say that women or girls can “do anything.” One could also argue that NOT telling girls/women that they can “do anything,” is oppression in itself. To me, messages from our culture, be they from family, friends, the media, wherever, that discourage girls from fulfilling their potential are what sexism is all about. We’re fortunate in this country that physical ramifications of sexism, such as genital mutilation or foot binding, are rare, but we’re not immune from subtle and not-so-subtle insidious messages telling us that girls lack the capacity, be it mental, physical or emotional, to be “anything” they want to be because they’re female.

  7. First, great post. I know that a writer can never hear “good job” enough, so I want to say that first.

    In your copious spare time, you might want to check out, “To Serve God and Wal-Mart” by Bethany Moreton. She has some very interesting things to say about how *liberal men* inadvertently contributed to the making of an Evangelical, Wal-Mart country. It is related to your “Martha Complex” in ways I can’t quite articulate yet.

  8. I think Lisa is on to something, but as someone who has never been very good at having orgasms in general, I find a lot of talk about women not getting off with a man tends to fall into black-and-white no orgasm in a particular session = bad, orgasm = good. I’m not necessarily going to have an orgasm when I have sex, but that doesn’t make sex unsatisfactory for me. I’ve often had the experience that on days where I’ve previously gotten off I still would like to have sex later on, but without the pressure to perform an orgasm for my partner. Luckily, he’s pretty understanding about it, and understands that assistive technology is almost alway necessary, even when I am alone. This state of affairs has left me feeling pretty sexually inadequate from time to time, like I must be bad in bed if I can’t figure out a graceful way to get off.

  9. Can we just clarify something here? Orgasm “with a man” means the man is going down on a woman or fingering her or using a vibrator or helping the woman masturbate, right? If women are honestly expecting an orgasm from strictly vaginal penetration (or penile engulfing, if you prefer that term), it’s probably not going to happen. The vast majority of women need direct clitoral stimulation for an orgasm.

  10. A.Y.: By orgasm “with a man” I mean having an orgasm while you are having a sexual encounter with a man. As far as how the orgasm is had, I thought it was worth differentiating by which techniques the various women I’ve known have achieved said orgasms with the participation or said men, but I deliberately stayed far, far away from making sweeping statements on *why* the numbers skew towards one technique or the other. I so don’t want to open that can of worms. I have seen too many good conversations about female sexuality derailed by the clitoral vs. vaginal orgasm argument to want to do it to this one. I’m also hoping to skid past the “blowjobs: chore or ecstasy?” argument–so far so good…

  11. SA: I was also hoping to avoid the “orgasm: the point of women having sex or not?” argument, because I don’t want to make sweeping statements about anybody else’s sex life in terms of what he or she values most about said sex life or not and why. I was just talking typical female orgasm histories. There is no doubt that for some women, orgasms are easier than for others (I suspect the same is true for men, though I don’t think they have the same size gulf between easy vs. hard difficulty level). However, I was more leaning towards one of the big, huge reasons that women in general, whether that specific woman is an easy-orgasmer or not (is that a word?) either don’t *ever* or don’t *regularly* in such high numbers, especially when they’re young, is the mutual ignorance of both boys/girls and men/women about a woman’s sexual organs that are not her vagina. For instance, I didn’t know what a clitoris was until I was in my early twenties, and I certainly didn’t know its vital orgasmic properties–but I think I still figured that out way before a lot of men my age. The porn that boys and young men are exposed to is pretty useless as a teaching tool–the sexual techniques it most prominently by far displays aren’t the ones most likely to help most women achieve orgasm. Unfortunately, there are no other widespread sexual teaching tools about girls’ and women’s orgasm techniques.

  12. One recalls that the title of Germaine Greer’s ‘The Female Eunuch’ was supposed to express how women were deprived of their authentic sexuality. Sexy in the eyes of others, but not really sexual on their own account. Published 1970. I wonder if she’d say much has changed since then.

  13. I had to laugh at,

    Hugo Schwyzer: For all its successes, feminism has not succeeded in eradicating the factors that lead so many young girls to be obsessed with praise and validation.

    followed by,

    ChristineW: First, great post. I know that a writer can never hear “good job” enough, so I want to say that first.

  14. How did this turn into an orgasm discussion? AY and Lisa, I never had an orgasm with anyone other than myself until about a year ago. It is so much work to get relaxed enough to let another person “get you there”. It still doesn’t happen all the time, though I can come easily by myself. Clitoral stimulation is only part of the issue. The other part is emotional vulnerability.

    Hugo, thanks for a new perspective on your old theme of “freedom to” versus “freedom from.”

  15. Hey, my old friend. An excellent post, especially poignant given the fact that I have a teenage daughter myself and worry about such things on almost a daily basis. But I have to take historical exception with the sexualization of women–especially young women–as being a relatively new phenomenon. The fetishisation of the female body goes back at least the Renaissance. The willingness of the naked female body–especially the prepubescent or barely pubescent–to be depicted not as a marker of age, but of sexualization (or more titillatingly, potential sexualization) is not new–underage male bodies were similarly sexualised in Classical Greek art. What HAS changed is the ability to make its immanence felt in a broader audience: the technology of now has given license for a whole host of unfortunate possibilities. Paris Hilton would not have been possible 100 years ago not for the want of desire (the Greek word for sexual desire was “porneia”), but in ability to promulgate such a fetishization so widely. The fault, dear Hugo, lies not just in ourselves but in the stars we have ourselves made.

  16. As I reread this, what stands out for me, what is truly concerning, is that we do not dispute the Right’s version of the role that they have played in sexualizing women. In our discussion of women’s duty to be desirable, none of us has pointed out that despite the Right’s claims to the contrary, this duty owes as much to them as to popular culture.

    Marabel Morgan, for example, gave rather memorable examples of the right’s idea that women have the duty to be sexy and to give sex. Even though her specific tips for being desirable attracted were novel, such as the infamous suggestion that a woman costume herself using Saran Wrap, her ideas about sex are fairly representative of the Protestant right. Women maintained desirability as a way to keep their husbands, and they performed sexually as a way of keeping their marriages strong. In all of Morgan’s instructions about sex, she never encouraged women to act out of desire and she never addressed women’s pleasure. The word clitoris could not be found in her book.

    But it is not only the Right’s version of history, but also its version of current events which is outright deceptive. While claiming to defend women against sexualization, they continue to use sexual desirability in women as a measure of their competence, or at least when deciding whether to let them into various boy’s clubs. We have to acknowledge that Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell did not make it onto the ticket because of their staggering intellects. And men on the right are unabashed in admitting that they like these women precisely because they are seen as eminently do-able. But as O’Donnell demonstrates, these women who work hard at being desirable, also work hard at suppressing their own desire.

    What the right also fails to acknowledge is that that many of these oversexed female starlets came out of the right, not the left. The Kardashians are Evangelicals. Jessica Simpson’s father is an Evangelical pastor. Miley Cyrus’s family is as right wing as they come. The Hiltons are right-wing. The most sexualized and plasticized of the Housewives of Orange County, Alexis, is devoutly Evangelical. She spends three hours a day on “beauty treatments” and dresses in some of the most outrageously sexual outfits of any of the housewives. In one episode, she has her Evangelical pastor and his wife to her house for brunch to discuss criticism of her overtly sexual way of dressing and comporting herself. He explains that most Evangelicals see a woman’s maintaining her sexual attractiveness as a mechanism of evangelism, as way of having a good testimony and drawing others to Jesus.

    You have rightly challenged the right on ideological grounds. And one would think that would be enough. But failing to challenge them on their own history, on their own moral failings, grants them the moral high ground in the Great Debate. In the narrative of the Right, they have been the lone protectors of women in a world which degrades them. I believe that we can no longer afford to allow that narrative, which is patently false, to go unchallenged.

  17. ChristineW, AT first I couldn’t make out what meant by going on a biout the right, but as you continued I realized FROM your examples that the hard core of the beauty pageant industry and of Evangelicalism is the South and the Sunbelt, and it starts early in life for a girl there. The Jon Benet Ramsey tragedy comes to mind.

    This aspect of Evangelicalism is something new in that particular eddy of Christinaity. Demographically Evangelicals grew out of Fundamentalist and Pentacostal layers of Southern society, and those strands of Chritianity were absolutely hostile to all this painted lady stuff. I think this change coincides with their preachers getting blow dried haircuts, all that 70’s male vanity, and coincides with the huge expansion of that kind of Christianity in America. It feels like it mostly has a to do with projecting an image of energy and optimism and success.

  18. ” In the narrative of the Right, they have been the lone protectors of women in a world which degrades them. ”

    This is exactly the narrative justifying hijab.

  19. Indeed, Christine, I think you’re absolutely right here. And as I’ve pointed out many a time, and I know you’ll agree, so much of the right’s mixed message about female sexuality (threat and asset) is rooted in the myth of male weakness — the belief that men are created to be incapable of sexual restraint. Women’s sexuality, therefore, can be used “correctly” to guide men — or “incorrectly” to cause them to fall. It burdens women and liberates men while straitjacketing both.

  20. I object to a gross generalization. Not that gross generalizttions are bad, or anything.
    Many men think Palin is hot.
    But, see Reclusive Leftist on the subject, the issue really is her political stance(s).
    Condi Rice was hot, so to speak, on conservative threads, for POTUS, or VPOTUS for seasoning and name recognition first, for some time. Then she went mushy at State and lost the conservative interest.
    Her looks didn’t change.
    Hate to be a grump, or anything, but let’s not be selling men, even conservative men, short.

  21. He explains that most Evangelicals see a woman’s maintaining her sexual attractiveness as a mechanism of evangelism, as way of having a good testimony and drawing others to Jesus.

    Flirty fishing?

  22. @Richard, I agree, the Right does, from time to time, select women based on merit. Condi Rice was not what they would consider hot, and even when she was Secretary of State, she was completely ignored by men like Dick Cheney. My overall point, however, is that the narrative of “we are the protectors of our society from oversexualization” must be debunked. It is like a fox offering chickens protection from the coyotes.

    @mythago, I hadn’t thought of flirty fishing in this context. Interesting tie-in.

    @Hugo: I understand how “The Total Woman” is linked to the idea of male weakness. I am not clear on how Palin and Alexia play into that. In the case of Palin, it seems a way to avoid giving real power to women. Instead of putting Condi Rice or Elizabeth Dole on the ticket, McCain went out and got himself a trophy running mate. I have difficulty finding the connection to male weakness.

  23. Christine
    Dole had some troubles with conservatives. Not quite right enough.
    Rice was, as I said, losing ground in conservative circles by the time of the campaign.
    Palin was an unknown–sort of like Obama but with more experience–on to which, presumably, people could project their interests and concerns of the conservative type.
    My guess is McCain and his staff didn’t know the half of it.

  24. “It burdens women and liberates men while straitjacketing both.”

    If you really think that straightjackets liberate men, that explains just about all your refusal to see any gendered harms or oppressions for men at all.

    “Flirty fishing?”

    Mythago, I must confess – I never expected to see that slang reference used on a feminist board.

    It still is pretty insightful. The history of the spread of Chrisitianity is full of queens who converted first, or who were Christian when they married, and then converted their kings. Actually these conversions had a lot less to do with spiritual leanings than with a desire to assimilate Roman social and political models.

    Mythago – back to that discussion about eastern Mediterranean Goddess religions – the Medusa and other Gorgons may be survivals of memories of that religion into Classical times. fairly negative representations.

  25. @Jim: Flirty fishing is not a slang reference. It the term coined by a group to talk about its own practice of encouraging women to use their sexuality to lure men into their religion. It is a well-documented practice, talked about in legitimate academic research. mythago used the term appropriately. Perhaps she could have used the other term, “evangelical prostitution” but it is oddly more offensive to some.

  26. @Richard: even if we explain Palin away, we are still left with O’Donnell and a larger issue. We are left with a group that claims to protect women’s sexuality while insisting that their sexual attractiveness is linked to their personal worthiness.

    The group has not protected women from the demand to be attractive. In fact, the trappings of female sexuality are required to prove that a woman is not a lesbian, or worse, a feminists. The group has equated femininity with a test of loyalty and with the type of grooming and dress employed by those trying to be sexually desirable. It has placed women in an even tighter double bind. Women have to be attractive enough to demonstrate their worthiness and loyalty to male domination, but not so attractive as to make men behave badly towards her.

  27. Sounds like Drop Dead Gorgeous starring Kirsten Dunst. I watched way too many subversive GenX comedies like this one during my formative years, so I had the opposite problem to the one so many of my girlfriends had. In my early 20’s my nickname was The Mantis. I think people were a little afraid of me. Double edged sword, isn’t it?

  28. Christine.
    I tried to follow the O’ campaign. Didn’t see many references to her looks. Maybe I missed them. However, the question is whether she was picked–in the sense of making her way up the ladder, such as it was–due to her looks. And then whether her looks were the swing vote in the primary against a proven (but not pleasing to conservatives) republican figure. The North Dakota winner (Noemi?) is certainly attractive. She came out of nowhere and got the republican nomination. There are two issues. Would she have succeeded coming out of nowhere if she’d been less attractive although just as accomplished in non-political situations? Would she then have gotten enough votes to have beaten the dem?
    I know this is crazy talk, but, since I’m a guy, maybe I can speak of guys with some authority. Not much, of course, me being a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal conservative and all, but a bit.
    O’ not running in my state meant I never heard any guy I ever talked to mention her, one way or another.
    That left the ‘net. And the talk on the web was sort of like, “and she’s easy on the eyes, too”. Point being that it was, “too”. In addition to the desired conservative positions.
    In the sum of my seeing the pro O’ talk, it was always “too”. Conservatism came first.
    There has been some talk and even research on the effects of good looks for men and women in life in general, in business, in politics (long time since we had a short, bald POTUS) and I don’t discount that. But to lay it primarily to evangelical views seems to be overthinking the idea, althought it’s handy having yet another Bad Thing of which to accuse the hated Blue Noses.
    To look at it from the other side, it wasn’t a conservative who suggested that Palin had the “slutty flight attendant” look down pat. IMO, much of the anti-Palin reference to her looks as a factor was a matter of not having much useful to say otherwise. Except for lies–see Reclusive Leftist, as I said before, for a handy condensed version.

  29. Jim, Christine W is correct – “flirty fishing” is what the 60s-era Children of God referred to as the practice of having its female members use sex to try and win converts. That’s really not the same thing you’re referring to, where one member of a marriage converts and then for political and social advantage, persuades their spouse to join.

  30. There is actually considerable research on women entering male-dominated fields. The upshot is that the research indicates that men are willing to allow women into their clubhouse if the women look sexy. It is a way of discounting a woman’s real performance record, of saying that she slept her way to the top. The more conservative a man’s beliefs about women’s roles, the more likely he is to sexualize or sexually harass women who step out of traditional roles. One book which gives a relatively comprehensive overview of women’s entry into workplaces is Nancy MacLean’s “Freedom Is Not Enough: the opening of the American workplace.” Another good option is Alice Kessler-Harris’s book, “In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in Twentieth Century America”

    I am going to assume that you did not see the GOP’s video which compared the relative attractiveness of its candidates to that of Democrat’s. Suffice it to say that I am stating my own opinion, but rather the stated positions and observations of those within the right.

    Again, however, that is not the point. The point is that the Paris complex is not unique to the left. Liberals cannot and should not take the blame for the sexualization of American women. Conservatives are every bit if not more guilty on this one.

  31. Christine.
    I’m conservative. I don’t harass women. Never have. Don’t presume they’ve slept their way to the top.
    Don’t rape them. Don’t beat them.
    Should I turn in my conservative card?
    If the GOP put out an official report on relative hotness, I’d like to see it. Seen plenty of bloggers gloating on the subject, but nothing official and your comment implied it was official.
    Let me repeat, the hotness gloated about is “too”, which is to say, these women are considered great conservatives because of their conservative views. Hotness is an addition. Also, there is a kind of concern about where the men are with the real conservative views of Noemi (sp?), Palin, Bachmann and Brewer.
    Back in the day, say the Sixties, there was a great, incoherent thought amongst the youngsters called “the movement”, or referred to as the counterculture. It encompassed real civil rights workers and those who thought chording “We Shall Overcome” on a cheap four-string was the moral equivalent. Ditto practically everything else, anti-war, anti-capitalist, pro-marijuana, or other causes of the day.
    One manifestation of it was that it was superficial, unserious, and immature for women to pay attention to how they looked. A bourgeois affectation. Might as well be one of the hated sorority girls. And a fair number of women took that to heart, including going out of their way to look bad. There are, for example, sandals. Then there are constructions the size of small snowshoes made of half-cured waterbuffalo hide with flying strap ends.
    Women who went out of their way in that way were the outliers. But the further out the outliers are, the further out the inliers can be without being outliers.
    Problem fof these women was that the Movement guys still lusted after and joked about the good looking women who took care to look good. Kind of a massive practical joke played on young women of the time. Unfortunate.
    See Robin of Berkley on liberal men when she was a liberal.
    Anyway, enough of history.

  32. Oh, yeah.
    Conservatives also think highly of Katrina Hodge, Leigh Ann Hester, Teresa Broadwell, Misty Frazier, and Rachel Hugo. Only the former is known for her looks…and the world is full of good-looking women. It’s the other factors that get conservatives’ appreciation.

  33. @Richard: I will not debate with you the relative hotness of various Republican women, nor will I be dissuaded from a well-considered and well-documented position.

    @Hugo: I finally figured out the link between your Paris Paradox and one of theories proposed by Bethany Moreton in “To Serve God and Wal-Mart.” I think I have taken the long route to get back to one of your favorite theories:

  34. Christine

    I’m not debating the relative hotness of Republican women. I have no idea what the politics are of the women I mentioned in the second comment except that I am pretty sure Katrina Hodge is not Republican.
    Where on earth did you get the idea I was debating relative hotness?

    As to the rest, I guess it’s the well-documented position or my lying eyes.

  35. @Richard: Do you recognize that you sort of undermine your position (as the Conservative Who Loves Women) when you start off a conversation with “Christine. blahblahblahblah.” Talking down to women with a mansplaining tone isn’t harassment, but it’s still sexist asshatery.

  36. Jeff.
    Not sure I have a postion as a conservative who loves women, or something else.
    At most, I’m a shining example that not all conservatives are as some would wish they were. That’s about it.
    Is there a difference between mansplaining and explaining?
    Can one explain without talking down?

  37. 1) Before McCain nominated Palin, he floated a trial balloon that he might possibly nominate a pro-choice VP candidate, and got negative feedback from his base. I conclude that one reason some more experienced and competent Republican women got bypassed in favor of Palin was, yes, their views, and specifically their views on abortion. Condi Rice, for instance, describes herself as mildly pro-choice. Olympia Snowe (probably not conservative enough to have been in the running, but still a plenty prominent Republican woman) is pro-choice. Even Elizabeth Dole, who describes herself as pro-life, doesn’t have the level of pro-life appeal of Sarah Palin.

    2) I wanted, before making this comment, to double check my memory of which prominent Republican women were pro-life and which were pro-choice, so I started to type “Republican women pro-choice” into Google, and the very first entry suggested, when I’d gotten as far as typing “Republican wom” was “Republican women hotter than Democrats.” I’ll give Republican men enough credit to assume that they’re not favoring Palin solely on sex appeal; after all, I personally find Obama sexy and voted for him for other reasons (as in, picked him as my favored candidate based on what I read before I watched him and had any opportunity to evaluate his sex appeal). But there does seem to be a lot of gloating, there. I wonder whether some guys may find the combination of “sexy” and “opposed to abortion” especially appealing for one reason or another. At least in terms of enjoying it as fodder for gloating.

  38. Lynn.
    Opposed to abortion usually goes along with a complex of other conservative traits. Hard to get that conservative without getting an opposition to abortion.
    My guess is that the combination you describe either didn’t occur to very many guys, or it did and it creeped them out.
    Does me.

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  42. It’s pretty sad how an article about the sexualisation of women (or increaingly younger girls) has devolved into an argument about political parties and which of them is possibly at fault. The only thing to be taken away from this is how easily people are distracted from anything of relevance; divide (by race, gender, religious or persuasion, etc) and conquer. Earlier commenters here seem well on the way to being conquered.

  43. PS: that is as a non-US observer who sees this “my party is better than your party” as some kind of mass delusion.

  44. subpixel,

    I noticed the same thing too–that the initial comments focused on orgasms and then suffering bad sex and then devolved into an argument about political parties and which of them is possibly at fault. I basically skimmed most of those because I had a hard time getting past the following comment by Richard Aubrey:

    “It is said that the founder of Cosmo once remarked that the vagina should be like a hospitable home; always occupied and giving pleasure. I believe she’s revisited that particular sentiment.”

    Oh yuck! I’m speechless that someone could possibly even make that kind of comment. She must have had a very low opinion of women,including herself. I hope what you meant by revisiting that particular sentiment is that she retracted it or something along those lines.

  45. Karen.
    That was, supposedly, Helen Gurley Brown.
    There’s one’s own life and one’s projected life, and, in the case of a writer or publisher, the life projection that promises to make money.
    Point is, whatever you think of the wording of that statement, at least one manifestation of the sexual revolution involved keeping woemn exhausted. Probably not what the original feminists had in mind, but no message is so clear it can’t be misunderstood, and some folks will take triple the recommended dosage.
    What may be missing from this discussion is how vulnerable (good word in these venues, right?) earnest, ignorant young people are to the social messages about what’s right, wrong, effective, ineffective, expected, etc. Whatever the social message is, a lot of folks are going to get it, for better or worse, and some are going to get it wrong.

  46. This is not about political parties, or it is about political parties in as much as one has become the willing pawn of a specific religion. That religion presumes to inflict upon our society what it deems appropriate gender roles for men and women, and to tell us how to conduct our private sexual lives. To the degree that our public discourse and is framed by this religion and by the political party it has appropriated, our discussion of gender issues must include them.

  47. Sorry, editing error there. The first line should have read: “This is not about political parties, per se. Or it is, but only in as much as one political party has become the willing pawn of a specific religion.”

  48. Richard,

    “That was, supposedly, Helen Gurley Brown.
    There’s one’s own life and one’s projected life, and, in the case of a writer or publisher, the life projection that promises to make money.”

    I get it and sex sells. Everyone knows that in publishing.

    “Point is, whatever you think of the wording of that statement, at least one manifestation of the sexual revolution involved keeping woemn exhausted. Probably not what the original feminists had in mind, but no message is so clear it can’t be misunderstood, and some folks will take triple the recommended dosage.”

    No, it probably wasn’t the intent of the original feminists.

    “What may be missing from this discussion is how vulnerable (good word in these venues, right?) earnest, ignorant young people are to the social messages about what’s right, wrong, effective, ineffective, expected, etc.”

    I agree that a discussion about vulnerability is missing. I also agree that no message is so clear that it can’t be misunderstood or taken out of context to exploit an agenda.


    “The point is that the Paris complex is not unique to the left. Liberals cannot and should not take the blame for the sexualization of American women. Conservatives are every bit if not more guilty on this one.”

    I don’t know if I necessarily agree that Conservatives are more guilty, although I do agree with the assertion that blame doesn’t lie with one political party over the other. As far as I’m concerned it’s an example of equal opportunity at work. I don’t think discussions about who is more to blame for this sad state of affairs is particularly productive.

  49. I @Karen: I would agree, if it were not for one thing: the Right has been and is continuing to lay the blame for women’s objectification at the feet of liberals. In fact, as Hugo points out, the women’s movement in general and the sexual revolution in particular has received all of the blame in their book.

    The problem with allowing that to go unchallenged is that when we fail to argue back, their version of the story becomes enshrined as truth. Therefore, it is helpful, appropriate and absolutely necessary to argue back.

    It would seem reasonable that resisting the “blame game” would give us the moral high-ground, or at least we would not be wasting time on these arguments. But I think we have all seen the painful and nearly catastrophic results of failing to argue against those who would paint us as the source of society’s ills. The official narrative has become that the sexual revolution has harmed, rather than helped women. The official narrative is that women have equality, and any failure to realize that equality in business or government is our own fault. The official narrative is that feminism is actually the enemy of women and families. It is time to argue back -stridently.

  50. I want to personally thank you for writing this article. It means a lot to me to connect with the points you make and to feel them being expressed by someone else.

    I was sexualized at a young age, first by porn and also, by the natural sexuality of my parents and older siblings.

    I feel strongly that there are shifts happening for children to allow them to discover a safe and self actualized sense of their own sexuality, which is what is needed. A child is its own best protector and best one to make choices for him or herself and they require adult guidance from adults who are whole and healthy to support that in them over time.

    The healthy sense of self and self esteem of parents is such a direct reflection in their children and I support parents to find that in themselves and honor it for this reason.

    I feel strongly that women can choose to be whole in their sexuality as can men… and in choosing that, will be given all the support they need to fulfill on that choice.

    In Love and Beauty,

  51. I share with you that optimism, Gayla, and also that sense of urgency about creating the spaces for young people to find a sexuality that is truly, authentically, theirs. Thanks so much.

  52. Hey Hugo, not for nothing but you need more stringent mod-policies…that Richard guy’s a jerk-head.[/self-censorship]

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