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How the Continued Sexualisation of Women Undermines the Feminist Movement

A paradigm shift is necessary for gender equality to become a reality

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Social media presents a snapshot of society within a digital reality. In doing so, it sheds light on the gender norms that prevail in society. While the feminist movement has achieved so much in the fight for gender equality, what it shows is the idea that women are sexual objects to be gawked at is still alive and well.

And it is beautiful women who have become social media stars who are taking full advantage of their beauty. They are the ones who have created mass followings by taking photos of their bodies and sexualising themselves. No one else is objectifying them; they do it to themselves because they know if they do so, they can become ‘Insta famous’.

And so frustratingly, these women undermine the feminist movement by reinforcing the idea that women are sexual objects. Anything outside of their external appearance isn’t important.

Women are not objects to be looked at. Women are intelligent and capable — there are millions of brilliant women who do brilliant things. For the sake of balance, there are lots of social media accounts that highlight these great women, but if we’re honest, the ones that get the limelight are those accounts that focus on their bodies, not their achievements.

The essence of femininity remains focused on the external appearance. And it’s little wonder because, in our culture, the external is venerated as a key success factor. Beautiful people are successful people. The pressure for women to conform to these ideals of beauty is intense, particularly for young women in their formative years.

Not everyone conforms, of course. Some brilliantly talented women in the world have got to where they are through their brilliance, not their beauty. But, socially, our values are still arranged around glamorising the beauty of women rather than the brilliance of women.

The problem persists

The stark reality is that sex is a moneymaker, and beautiful women make money out of it. Beautiful men do the same thing, don’t get me wrong. But for women, beauty is still considered the archetype of success. For men, it’s always been different.

And these Instagram ‘influencers’ only work to compound the issue that persists within society. If anything, social media makes pressures to conform to the idea of beauty more intense because there are so many women on Instagram who use the platform to objectify themselves.

We still live in a world dominated by patriarchy. And so, for many women, the only way they can become successful is by objectifying themselves.

It’s the sad reality we live in. You can see why so many beautiful women are tempted into doing it. They can make good money and live a great lifestyle by sexualising themselves. A lifestyle they could never live were it not for these platforms.

Yet, they merely work to undermine the brilliant work feminists have done in the fight for gender equality by choosing to do so. Because to have true equality, the idea of women being objects to be looked at must be destroyed.

Embedded in our reality

The underlying problem in the battle for gender equality is that gender norms are deeply embedded within our culture. Gender norms formed in a radically different world, and they have persisted through generations because they get passed down in our socialisation.

We inherit values, norms, and attitudes from our parents. Our parents inherit them from their parents and so on. That’s not to say they can’t change, but change can often happen painfully slowly.

Today, there are obvious social tensions simmering under the surface. These are a product of the fact that while the post-industrial society we live in is radically different from the world where gender norms formed, the norms persist.

Civilisation appears to be at a crossroads. The feminist movement can only go so far within the social construct it is working within.

A paradigm shift is necessary

Many people argue a paradigm shift is necessary to deal with the ecological crisis. But the design of society isn’t only undermining the environment we depend on for life.

There are all kinds of elements within our culture that need radical transformation. Attitudes towards women and the role of women in society are a major element of the shift that is required.

Throughout history, true paradigm shifts have been triggered through social and political revolutions.

While movements for change can create momentum towards a desired vision, the norms, values, and attitudes that persist are so embedded that they create resistance to fundamental change.

Many people resist change because the social structure benefits them — in this case, elite men who form the patriarchy.

They do not want change because any change would place their position of authority under threat. Like so many other movements, including the fight for racial equality, or the climate crisis, those elements resisting change create social pressure points.

The longer they resist change, the more those pressure points grow. As they do, it creates a build-up of tension between what the majority in society want versus what we have.

As pressure builds, it becomes ever more likely that the resistance works to undermine society because there is only so much tension that can build up before it explodes into life.

Pressure points become key points of vulnerability. And if each pressure point pops simultaneously, it could create an ‘alignment of the stars’ where various social and environmental movements work across scales in society to undermine the rigidity of the social construct as it is.

If that happens, it could lead to social breakdown, which would provide an opportunity to redesign society in a new image. One where women are no longer objectified as sexual objects but venerated for their achievements and accomplishments, as equals in an egalitarian society. So long as the social construct remains as it is, the toxic objectification of women will persist. For it to end, the social system that provides it legitimacy must also end.