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Rosalind Gill, “From Sexual Objectification to Sexual Subjectification: The Resexualisation of Women’s Bodies in the Media”

Ever wonder if “Girl Power” and the “new” open sexuality popularized in clothing and other outwardly visible paraphernalia is a result of the feminist movement or an insidious manipulation by media (not to mention the “p” word)? Read this illuminating article.

Rosalind Gill, “From Sexual Objectification to Sexual Subjectification: The Resexualisation of Women’s Bodies in the Media”

On the one hand, then, we are confronted by a popular culture increasingly saturated by representations of women’s bodies as objects, and on the other, a mantra-like repetition and celebration of ‘women’s success’ and ‘Girl Power’. One way of reading the re-sexualisation of women’s bodies in this strange, contradictory context is as part of a backlash against feminism. It may serve as both an attack on women — putting women back in their place — and, simultaneously as a reassurance for men threatened by girls’ increasingly good performance in public examinations and women’s success in the workplace. In an excellent, insightful analysis, Imelda Whelehan suggests that we have entered an era of ‘retrosexism’, premised on real fears about the collapse of male hegemony. She explores the nostalgic quality of much contemporary television, which harks back to a time and place peopled by real women and humorous ‘cheeky chappies’ (p. 11). She argues that representations of women, ‘from the banal to the downright offensive’ are being ‘defensively reinvented against cultural changes in women’s lives’ (p. 11).

I want to suggest that what we are seeing is not just a harking back to a safe, bygone or mythical age when ‘men were men and women were women’, but rather the construction of a new femininity (or, better, new femininities) organized around sexual confidence and autonomy.  Indeed, what is novel and striking about contemporary sexualised representations of women in popular culture is that they do not (as in the past) depict women as passive objects but as knowing, active and desiring sexual subjects.  We are witnessing, I want to argue, a shift from sexual objectification to sexual subjectification in constructions of femininity in the media and popular culture.Nowhere is this clearer than in advertising which has responded to feminist critiques by constructing a new figure to sell to young women: the sexually autonomous heterosexual young woman who plays with her sexual power and is for ever ‘up for it’.  The exhortations to young women to ‘be yourself’ and ‘please yourself’ are emblematic of this shift in which women are presented as knowing and active sexual subjects.

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