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Porn & Romance: An Odd Couple?

Wed, Dec 18, 2013

Books, Pop Culture

The following is a sub-chapter about “the age of hypersexualization” from the new book “THE NEW SOFT WAR ON WOMEN: How the Myth of Female Ascendance Is Hurting Women, Men — and Our Economy” by Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett, Ph.D. It’s the perfect holiday gift for anyone who says we live in a post-feminist world or that “the end of men” is upon us!

Porn & Romance:

An Odd Couple?

Some future media historian may refer to the present era as the “age of hypersexuality.” Never before have there been so many images of women in sexual poses that are demeaning, violent and subservient.

A continuing extreme sexualization of women and girls dominates the media and the culture. As cultural critic Gail Dines notes, “Something has shifted so profoundly in our society that the idealized pop culture image of women in today’s pornified world is no longer a Stepford Wife but rather a plasticized, scripted, hyper-sexualized, surgically enhanced young woman. The media world we live in today has replaced the stereotyped Stepford Wife with the equally limiting and controlling stereotype of a Stepford Slut.”34 

In October 2010, fraternity pledges at Yale chanted as they marched across campus. This is what they shouted:

My name is Jack,
I’m a necrophiliac.
I fuck dead women,
and fill them with my semen.
No means yes,
Yes means anal.
[Repeated]
Fuck al-Qaeda
Fuck al-Qaeda
[Repeated]
Fucking sluts
Fucking sluts
[Repeated]
USA
USA35

The oversexualization of young women is taking a major toll, leading to severe mental and physical health problems. Some of these include risky sexual behavior and high rates of eating disorders, depression and low self-esteem. In a 2007 major report on girls, the American Psychological Association found the media emphasizing young women’s sexuality “to a stunning degree.”36 A University of Buffalo study found that females are eleven times more likely to be sexualized in the popular media than males are.37

At the same time, the romance genre is booming; Prince Charming is alive and well, even when he arrives in peculiar forms – such as the hunky vampire and werewolf in the monumentally successful Twilight books and film. Romance fiction is a huge business, whose revenue actually increased from $1.355 billion in 2010 to $1.368 billion in 2011, and it remains the largest share of the consumer market, at 14.3 percent. Readership continues to grow.

While romance novels may seem to be harmless entertainment, they have a darker side. One study found that women who buy into romantic fantasies tend to choose occupations with reduced economic rewards that require less education after high school.

Such women also show little interest in high-status occupations. Living too fully in an unreal world of fantasy and romance can undermine your economic prospects in the real world.38 

Both hypersexuality and the romance genre of books and movies are part of the New Soft War, because both have negative effects on one very important part of a woman’s anatomy according to the American Psychological Association: her brain.

  • The APA found that girls’ preoccupation with appearance ties up cognitive resources, “meaning girls will have less time and mental energy for other pursuits… Girls may be learning to prioritize certain rewards (male attention) over other rewards (academic accomplishment), thus limiting their future educational and occupational opportunities.”
  • This obsession may even interfere with their interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The APA notes, “If they perceive occupations relating to [STEM] as less consistent with a sexy self-image, they may be induced to want to be a model, fashion designer, or pop star in order to embody the sexualized look that they know is valued for women rather than choose to be a chemist, computer programmer, or engineer. If girls perceive what research shows – that women who choose male-identified professions are least preferred (in college samples) as romantic partners – then they will perceive some social costs to choosing careers that are not consistent with a ‘sexy’ image.”
  • Research finds that women in situations in which they are aware that they are being seen as sexualized actually show a drop in cognitive ability. (The same does not happen with me.)
  • Men who often view explicit sexual content tend to think less of women’s intelligence and are more prone to harass.

A new, popular literary form dubbed “fratire” debases women – under the guise of satire. It has been spearheaded by Tucker Max, the wildly successful Duke Law School graduate who rates women on a scale from “common-stock pig” to “super hottie.” He boasts to a wide and adoring audience about his sexual conquests, which include humiliating and insulting women. Max is making a fortune from a genre that Melissa Lafsky of the New York Times has called “misogyny for sale.” She says that fratire authors are profiting by fueling young male anger concerning societal demands for equality. Max’s book, I Hope They Sell Beer in Hell, has sold more than a million copies and has been on the New York Times bestseller list for more than a hundred weeks.

Max not only has a huge following among college students but also has attracted the attention of TV producers who want to make a show based on his exploits. He claims that his writings are simply “nothing more than men writing about being men in an honest and authentic way” and “a literary reaction to the feminization of masculinity.”40 If he actually reflects what many men his age are thinking about women, then the path to mutual respect and regard between the sexes will be much harder than many have thought.

Another star in this new genre, who uses the name Maddox, told National Public Radio that the woman bashing associated with fratire was now acceptable because “women are stronger than they’ve ever been in society, and that singling out women as the only group not OK to lampoon is a sexist act in itself.”41 (Someone should give him a copy of the APA report on the effects of hypersexualization on girls.)

For women, paying too much attention to whether they are desirable enough or getting mired down in romantic fantasies, can be toxic when it comes to achievement. When the narrative of “Men don’t like smart women” meets the obsession of the modern media with women’s appearance, it can create a perfect storm of discouragement for female empowerment. If women indeed do pull back on their ambitions, they will have lost an important battle in the New Soft War.

Check out The New Soft War on Women on Amazon.com.

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