Despite the fact that the fight for gender and sexual equality has been politically fought for over a century now (at least in the United Kingdom), there is still a perpetual scepticism towards feminism and what constitutes equality and freedom.
For some, there seems to be a debate between the principles of feminism and the concept of women being sexually liberated, arguments usually suggesting that the two things are in direct conflict, i.e. if women want to be treated equally then they shouldn’t put themselves in positions to be objectified by men. While this argument does sometimes carry plausibility, there is most definitely a lack of understanding when it comes to the idea that perhaps both of these ideas are in more agreement than it may be believed initially.
In an interview in August 2016, Kim Kardashian publically stated that she did not self-identify as a feminist because she didn’t believe in ‘’labels’’ and was not a ‘’free-the-nipple type of girl’’. This statement is one of many that suggests that, somehow, the two ideas are in opposition to each other. However, immediately after, Kardashian noted that she enjoyed posting nude images of herself on her social media platforms because she ‘’feels good about [herself]’’ and completely champions the choices of women.
Despite the clear contradiction in the statements that were made, there is still something interesting about the fact that many people still have differing definitions of feminism, perhaps the reason why so few people want to include themselves with the movement. The Telegraph reported that a study by The Fawcett Society showed in 2016 that only “seven percent of Britons consider themselves feminists.” In the statements that were made, one closely following the other, Kardashian somehow seemed to suggest that there was a distinction between the ‘free-the-nipple’ movement and the justifications for people like her and many other women celebrating their bodies.
Surely, those who champion the liberal expression of the female form through the ‘free-the-nipple’ campaign are more aligned with Kardashian’s actions than she seems to believe.
When the summer anthem ‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke featuring Pharrell Williams and T.I. was released in 2013, a seemingly endless stream of controversies followed, the most disturbing issue regarding the sexually implicit nature of the lyrics. With lines such as “I know you want it” being repeated multiple times through the course of the track, many were disturbed by the fact that the song in many ways promotes ‘lad culture’ and ‘date rape’.
Additionally, when it came to the music video, there was also continuous discussion about the depiction of women and their power dynamic with men. Emily Ratajkowski, Jessi M’Bengue, and Elle Evans were the three counterparts to the male musicians. In the censored video, they are barely clothed and dance around the leading men, while in the second uncensored video, they repeat similar actions with the added feature of the women being nude, only covered in skin-toned underwear.
In this case, the concepts of sexual liberation and objectification come into play once again. Despite the fact that at least one of the three female stars of the video, Ratajkowski, is a self-proclaimed feminist, there seems to be a contradiction in the way in which the women are displayed as ornamental background characters while the men take the lead. The idea of the three men fully dressed with almost-nude women dancing around them did not and does not sit well with many people, in fact prompting many institutions to ban the song, the video, and subsequently its message.
So what does this mean in the greater debate of the depiction of women in the media? Does feminism mean that women should have the complete freedom to express their bodies without inhibitions, or is the inevitable objectification itself the challenge that feminism is trying to overcome?
Words: Keisha Schneider
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