We are living in an era where people become celebrated, become celebrities, for allowing their lives to be depicted on television as ‘scripted reality’. Their experiences, loves, hates, likes, dislikes, their emotions, are scripted by producers whose main aim is to appeal to the masses who have been trained and raised on a diet of talent shows and television where it is considered perfectly acceptable to point and laugh at those who are in some way ‘different’ to the norm prescribed by society, and who jeer, boo, hiss and occasionally give approval to the faces paraded in front of them.
They have to be attractive faces though. Scripted reality creates a reality in which only the attractive can exist. Someone who is considered unattractive by modern western standards, such as Susan Boyle or Jonathan Antoine, are laughed at until they open their mouths to sing – society considers that talent could only come from the attractive. Even then, they will constantly have their appearance detrimentally referred to; their appearance is irrelevant to their talent but not irrelevant to the baying masses who have been trained to judge by superficial standards. This has had the strange effect that the attractive are considered to be in possession of talent, whether that is proven or not.
It’s not necessary to merely fit the ideal of ‘attractive’ either, oh no. They must be ‘sexually attractive’. Sexually attractive in traditional, gender-defined and heteronormative ways. The young actress now must appear in one of the ‘lads mags’ wearing little more than her smile, looking available and open to offers, in order to pursue her career. Take a look at ‘lads mags’ covers some time. They are indistinguishable from the covers of those magazines more traditionally located on the top shelf, yet are clearly available and easily seen by children; children who have no context, no understanding, no way to process and recognise what it is they are seeing.
The choice for the young female celebrity is the ‘lads mag’ or a gossip magazine in which every aspect of her life is up for sale. Talent is not enough. It may not always have been enough, but sexuality has never been more on the market nor has it ever been so explicit in its selling. Men, too, appear in these gossip magazines, but if their sexuality is sold it is an active, pursuing role. Still women, girls even, as many are still teenagers and still finding themselves in the world let alone able to control and understand all the implications of their actions, are the pursued and men are the pursuers.
Female celebrities become famous primarily for exploiting, and for being exploited in, their passive sexuality, and this feeds into and perpetuates raunch culture. There is no sense of agency, of control, of freely given and received informed consent in this raunchiness. These messages are fed to our children, and thus fed into the same culture which blames victims of sexual assaults, of rapes, of abuse, of violence. The very passivity and acquiescence which raunch culture celebrates becomes pervasive and contributory in perpetuating the oppressions of sexuality and gender we feminists spend our lives fighting against.
There is no context in which these images and ideas appear. There is no alternative, equally available, balancing picture or word to help build a more rounded and healthy sexual society. Sex sells, as the advertisers tell us, but it isn’t as simple as that. Sex as a genderised, heterosexual, restrictive, defined ideal, sells. Sex as epitomised by white able-bodied women, or fetishised into specific desires if represented by any non-white, non-physically idealised female form.
Raunch culture is not the obvious porn mags or films. It is everywhere; it is in adverts, in clothing, increasingly in items aimed at children such as the objectifying t-shirts several large supermarket chains were stocking featuring such slogans as “too pretty to do homework”, or “future porn star” for girls.
I have no objection to sex, sexuality, what turns people on or off. I identify as a sex positive feminist. I await with eager, occasionally almost angry, anticipation the development of a truly egalitarian, respectful, non-judgemental, open, honest, accepting sexual culture. A large part of women’s liberation in the late 1950s and 1960s in the western world was aimed at a sexual liberation, and the invention of the pill was and remains a hugely valuable contribution to enabling women to take control and be empowered in their own sexualities. But this liberating tool was available in the patriarchal, oppressive, normative culture of the 1960s and the attitudes towards sexuality and sexual expressions did not become liberated. The ability to have sex free from fear of pregnancy was a liberating tool for many women, but the supporting context, the sex education, the removal of privilege and oppression, the creation of a liberated environment and culture, did not happen.
Sexuality became freer, but only on patriarchal terms. Raunch culture is what has resulted from this quagmire; misogyny masquerading as liberation. The fight for freedom, for liberation of all sexualities, and of all genders, races, cultures, physicalities, anyone not in the privileged sexual identity, is not won. There is no context, no sexual education, no understanding, and no true agency.
Raunch culture is not liberation or liberating, it is merely a furthering of control and oppression. There is no context, and therefore there is no equality.