The Washington Post’s famous columnist, Richard Cohen, associates Miley Cyrus’s performance in VMA this year with the sexual assault at Steubenville High School, Ohio in 2012 – a girl incapacitated by alcohol raped by 2 football players. Setting aside both the cases, what more can we get from his message? Does media trigger the freedom of sexual expression? Does it have a bad influence on girls? Nowadays, the concern for overly exposed bodies is well-intentioned; the idea is that seeing too much of girls’ bodies worsens the boys’ performance at school. Some schools have rules to ban girls from tight pants, short skirts, and crop-tops. However, by setting rules on girls’ dress code, we are also reminding them that they are sexual threats that need to be tamed. We are objectifying them. And with the help of modern media, is the society normalizing sexual assault? Are the girls at risk because of that?
The Rapist Media is to discuss the message from media to our girls and the interventions with their body images.
What is rape culture?
In Melissa McEwan’s Shakesville “FAQ: Rape Culture 101”, Melissa McEwan does not only define but also describe what it means as rape culture. Among the detailed description is:
Rape culture is rape jokes. Rape culture is rape jokes on t-shirts, rape jokes in college newspapers, rape jokes in soldiers’ home videos, rape jokes on the radio, rape jokes on news broadcasts, rape jokes in magazines, rape jokes in viral videos, rape jokes in promotions for children’s movies, rape jokes on Page Six (and again!), rape jokes on the funny pages, rape jokes on TV shows, rape jokes on the campaign trail, rape jokes on Halloween, rape jokes in online content by famous people, rape jokes in online content by non-famous people, rape jokes in headlines, rape jokes onstage at clubs, rape jokes in politics, rape jokes in one-woman shows, rape jokes in print campaigns, rape jokes in movies, rape jokes in cartoons, rape jokes in nightclubs, rape jokes on MTV, rape jokeson late-night chat shows, rape jokes in tattoos, rape jokes in stand-up comedy, rape jokes on websites, rape jokes at awards shows, rape jokes in online contests, rape jokes in movie trailers, rape jokes on the sides of buses, rape jokes on cultural institutions.
“Rape jokes on MTV”! That’s obvious enough. Miley Cyrus is a rape joke on MTV. And that helps normalize rape. This is why in a rape culture, both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable as death or taxes. From tacit acceptance of misogyny in everything from casual conversations with peers to the media we consume, we accept the violence towards women and hyper-sexuality of men as the norm. And sexual violence is serious. “1 in 6 women being sexually assaulted in their lifetimes and not being talked about the reality that many women are sexually assaulted multiples times in their lives.” And sexual violence affects women’s daily movements. Girls should never let their guard down for a moment and if girls are sexually assaulted and they didn’t follow the rules to protect themselves, it’s their fault. This violence, however, is neither biologically nor divinely ordained. Much of what we accept as inevitable is, in fact, the expression of values and attitudes that can change.
Advertising and Women
Advertisings are becoming more and more sophisticated and influential than ever before. However, people assume that they are not affected by advertisings. I have heard more than often that, “I never pay attention to ads. I always tune them off. They have no effect on me.” One reason that makes us think we are not influenced by ads is that its influence is quick, cumulative, and above all, it’s subconscious. The editor-in-chief of Advertising Age – the major publication of the advertising industry – said, “Only 8% of the ad’s message is received by our conscious mind. The rest is reworked and reworked within the recesses of our brains.” We watch those ads once, twice or hundreds of times, and those ads stay with us and we process them mostly unconsciously. Advertisings create an environment in which we swim, like fish swim in water. And it is so difficult to be unhealthy while we eat toxic food; therefore, it is as well difficult to be healthy in a “toxic cultural environment” – an environment in which our health and well-being are constantly sacrificed for the sake of profit.
So what are advertisements telling us, women? Jean Kilbourne, a feminist film-maker, insists that advertisings tell us women that it is most important about how we look. The first thing advertisers do is to surround us with ideal female beauty. Women learn from the very early age that we should spend most of our time, energy and especially money achieving a perfect look and we should feel ashamed and guilty if we fail to do so. But the failure is inevitable. Even Cindy Crawford once said, “I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford.” And it is the truth that no one looks like that. The beauty that is long achieved by cosmetic and airbrushing is now achieved by computer retouching.
Female School Wear Restrictions
A study in 2000 in the United States even showed that only 23% of public, private, and secretarial schools had any sort of uniform policy (Wikipedia). It is the loosening of school rules about dress codes that have allowed students to express themselves more freely with a wider range of choices. One among the most controversial choices is to show too much of their legs, their hips, and their shoulders. Several schools in the States have passed bans or restrictions on attire for parties and even daily wear of students. A Nothern California middle school prohibited girls from wearing tight pants; a Cincinnati high school asked two girls to leave prom for being “inappropriately dressed”; a New Jersy school banned girls from wearing strapless dresses to a dance (Baker). The newly set dress codes on girls raise a question whether they are an implication of the school administrators’ control of girls’ well-being or fear for lower overall performance.
“The idea that society can tell you how much of your body to reveal or hide implies that your body does not belong to you.” Indeed, telling the students to or not to wear anything is like turning them into little schoolers without any perceptions of what to decide on. They have all grown out of the age in which they can obey any regulations. Dress codes hence fail because they fail to consider the girls themselves – their thoughts, their emotions, budding sexuality, and self-image – instead of the tightness of the pants and the skirt length.
Not letting the girls responsible for their own bodies, the school administrators also place the boys’ performance on the girls’ shoulders. They claim that the more skin boys see, the less concentrated they become. The reason why schools ban girls from wearing strapless, short skirts and tight pants is not to distract the boys and reduce the whole productivity. Thanks to the school’s warning, now girls are becoming more aware of “sexualizing” and “tempting” boy on purpose. It’s the dress codes that teach girls they are actually sexual threats. Again, the school administrators are forcing their biased thoughts on their students without taking into account what they might come to feel being told not to wear certain clothes. Aren’t they implied at as if they don’t want to be raped then avoid dressing like “sluts”?