Recently, a singer named Rihanna showed up at an awards show wearing next-to-nothing. As you no doubt know, she was wearing a see-through dress that exposed her upper torso.
Before you knew it, the battle lines were drawn. On one side feminists insisted that Rihanna was making a statement about female empowerment and sexual self-confidence. On the other side scolds declared that Rihanna was pulling a Miley Cyrus and selling her sex.
Feminists cheered; others jeered.
In the past feminists insisted that women be recognized for their minds, not their bodies. Feminists who denounced the beauty myth charged it with exploiting female sexuality.
Now, feminists seem to want girls and women to be confident about their sexuality, and, to their minds, that means exposing it in public… as much as they like, when they like, as they like.
If Rihanna’s bare breasts were a feminist statement, wouldn’t complete nudity be a more powerful feminist statement? Why stop with the top?
In any case, Jezebelle Erin Gloria Ryan looks at half-naked Rihanna and sees a:
…beautiful woman confidently parading nearly naked in public.
On the contrary, I would suggest that a woman who parades around nearly naked lacks confidence in her sexuality. A woman who has confidence in her sexiness does not need to show it to everyone.
Very few women want to be sexy for the general public. They want to be sexy for one man.
Every man knows that a woman who exhibits herself to all men is not especially interested in any one man in particular.
In Rihanna’s exhibitionism, Ryan also sees a woman who is:
… publicly enjoying being sexy…
Surely, there is nothing wrong with a woman enjoying being sexy and there is nothing wrong with a woman dressing up to enhance her sex appeal.
But, when did it become good to enjoy one’s sexuality in public? Perhaps there’s a reason why women always talk about “intimacy.” Could it be that they believe that sex is best enjoyed in private?
Obviously, celebrities can get away with blatant exhibitionism. They are in the business of provoking attention. Unfortunately or not, even for them, the exercise will probably impact their future relationships.
In a world where people are judged by the content of their character, exhibitionism has consequences. Anyone who is willing to accept the consequences is free to do as she pleases.
And yet, she is not free to denounce anyone who would judge her ill for her antics. After all, other people have the right to their own judgments.
Then again, feminists like Ryan are not dealing with people as they are or the world as it is. They are projecting a utopia—or dystopia—where the opinions of men do not count and where women do not become wives or girlfriends. In a world where women are perfectly autonomous and independent, they can do as they please, when they please, how they please, with whom they please.
If they can make some money doing so, that is their prerogative. Perhaps it will soothe the pain they will inevitably feel when they understand that they have announced that they are willing to be treated as sexual objects.
More naked means more available, but it does not necessarily mean sexier. For women, true sexiness exists in an interplay between concealment and exposure.
According to Ryan, anyone who speaks ill of Rihanna’s exposed breasts is engaged in the equivalent of slut-shaming… and we know how bad that is.
Being a celebrity, Rihanna is not really a role model. At best, she is a living Venus de Milo, a goddess for our decadent times.
In many ways, the worship of Rihanna, like the worship of pagan deities like Venus or Aphrodite is a form of idolatry.
If feminism began by insisting that women be judged by their minds… to the point where many young feminists in the 1970s went out of their way to appear less attractive… it has morphed into a pagan cult to Aphrodite.
It feels like a desperate attempt to regain something that was lost. Is it the price women are paying for denouncing the feminine mystique?
Those who worship at the altar of the goddess of sensuality are probably not very confident in their own sexuality. And yet, doing so through idolatry will also make sensuality the meaning and purpose of their life.
Celebrities exist in an alternate universe where different rules pertain. Some young girls take cues from celebrity dress and behavior, but most do not want to grow up to be Miley Cyrus. Surely, their mothers do not want them to do so.
And it seems to be true, as Ryan reports that young women are behaving more, not less responsibly when it comes to sex. She concludes that Rihanna and Miley Cyrus have not corrupted the youth of America.
And yet, for all I know, girls behave more responsibly because everyone is increasingly aware of the dangers in a hookup culture that uses women as what used to be called sexual objects.
With this awareness have surely come more than a few heart-to-heart mother/daughter talks about the perils of hooking up.
Perhaps it all means that the influence of feminism is waning.