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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Where's the Empowerment?

Something I have been thinking about lately is the female empowerment (or lack there of) in young Hollywood. Looking around at the young women singers and actresses, there aren't a lot of good examples of empowerment, even though they might like to think so.

As I have discussed earlier, Megan Fox is becoming increasingly known as a sex symbol. Fox herself finds being a sex symbol empowering. This Us Magazine article says,

Megan Fox doesn't mind that she's viewed as a sex symbol.
"I think it's wonderful. I didn't decide I'm gonna be an actress cause I wanna be respected for how I play chess," she tells Entertainment Tonight. "Part of Hollywood is being perceived as attractive."

While Fox may be ok with her sex symbol status, what kind of example is this setting for all of the teenage girls and young women that idolize her? According to Fox, the only way to be valued in Hollywood (and society) is to be attractive. You cannot be valued for your talent. Is this empowerment? Being valued just for your looks?

Another prominent example is the music icon Lady Gaga. She's all about sexual empowerment, as she calls it, but is this a beneficial form of empowerment? Lady Gaga's lyrics are all about sex and her taking control. While this may be great, Lady Gaga is not necessarily setting a good example. In an Entertainment Weekly article, Lady Gaga describes her lyrics as, "sexually empowering women.''
But Lady GaGa is not a feminist. ''I think it's great to be a sexy, beautiful woman who can f--- her man after she makes him dinner,'' she says. ''There's a stigma around feminism that's a little bit man-hating. And I don't promote hatred, ever. That's not to say that I don't appreciate women who feel that way. I've got a lot of gay women friends that are like, 'Put your clothes on.' People just have different views about it. I'm not wrong. I'm free. And if it's wrong to be free, then I don't want to be right. Things are changing. We've got a black president, people.''

What are these things that Lady Gaga says are changing? Women being valued for purely for their sexuality? I don't think that's anything new (see Jessica Valenti's book, The Purity Myth). And what is her deal with feminism? She seems to be greatly misinformed if she thinks feminism is all about man-hating. There are many things about this quote that bother me (like why is it important that her gay women friends tell her to put clothes on?), but it seems clear that Lady Gaga's form of empowerment is all about valuing women purely for their sexuality.

Just look at her lyrics. The song "Love Game" centers around her wanting to "take a ride on your disco stick." And "Poker Face" declares "and baby when it's love if it's not rough it isn't fun." And that's only a small selection of her lyrics.

The female empowerment that seems to be coming through in young Hollywood is the "empowerment" of sexuality, where these "role models" are valued purely for their looks and sexual knowledge (or perceived sexual knowledge).

What does this form of "empowerment" say to teenage girls and young women? The message that I get is that you have to be attractive to do anything in life and be valued in any way at all. What about the majority of teenage girls that have body image issues that don't see themselves as attractive? These teenage girls will think that they are not valued by society because they do not see themselves as attractive (even if they are).

I guess I should also address what I see as empowerment. To me, empowerment is about being a strong, successful (in a way that the woman herself is proud of what she's done), confident woman. Being able to take care of oneself and knowing what you want in your life.

Now, you may ask: if empowerment is partly about a woman knowing what she wants in life, can't being valued for your sexuality be empowering if that's what the woman wants? Empowerment can definitely be about sexuality. But when empowerment becomes solely about one's sexuality and valuing someone purely for their sexuality, then we have a problem. Seeing sexuality as the root of empowerment devalues women because women are so much more than their sexuality. Empowered women are strong, successful and confident, as well as sexually empowered.

As I was writing this, I was trying to think of a woman in young Hollywood that would be a good example of empowerment, but I could not think of one off the top of my head (what does that say about young Hollywood?). Does anyone have any examples of young singers, actresses, etc. that could be seen as an empowering example for girls and women?


Chevalier said...

I'd say Natalie Portman is definitely one that inspires. Yes, she's attractive, 'normal' and successful - but she's also known for her smarts and for having a good, level head on her shoulders.

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