"Oppression tries to defend itself by its utility."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Final Project: Two Viewpoints of Female Teen Prostitutes

This final project analyzes two perceptions of female teen prostitutes in the media. The first viewpoint is female teenage prostitutes are victims of abuse, trafficking, and other forms of sexual slavery. The second viewpoint is of female teenage girls willingly and knowingly prostituting themselves for material gain. Both viewpoints are the most common representations in today’s media whether it’s film, news, television, or advertisements.

Throughout the media, many teen female prostitutes are viewed as victims. Within this role, we often see lower class girls being from homes where they have ran away from abuse, neglect, or other problems. In order to support themselves, they use their bodies as a way to gain finances. Unfortunately, this leaves females vulnerable to being hustled by pimps, being abused by Johns, and being vulnerable to the darker elements of American Society whether it is trafficking, drugs, alcohol, or disappearances-these girls are particularly vulnerable.

The media viewpoint of girls as victims comes with a double-edged sword. Media often highlights the girls vulnerability to violence yet rarely introduces the fact that many prostitutes report being raped repeatedly day in and out. Further, for girls under the age of consent, every sexual act between this girl and an adult is an illegal act of statutory rape. Yet the girls who are referred to as victims are also penalized for being “used”. This idea is reminiscent of an article by Tolman and Higgins, How Being a Good Girl Can be Bad. The authors state, “the story of male aggression and female responsibility suffuses the culture and operates to regulate human sexuality…by discouraging women’s sexual agency and men’s sexual responsibility, these culture norms encourage coercion and violence.” Media portrayal in this light still holds the female teenaged prostitute responsible for the actions of Johns and pimps.

The alternative viewpoints of female teenaged prostitutes are middle class females who sell their bodies in exchange for high-end goods or money. These prostitutes choose other venues to sell their bodies. For example, some use Craigslist or backpage.com as a place to sell themselves to upper class clientele. They also advertise by word of mouth and choose particular events in order to have access to higher pay in exchange for sex. This sort of media representation affirms SCWAAMP’s hold even in “alternative forms of employment”. These prostitutes are often white, from middle class to upper class households whose parents swear by their family’s high moral standing, affluence, and straightness. These girls are using their abled bodies to gain property and power through capitalistic ideas of female power. This may not be exclusively an American idea however, in very few other places in the world are females able to choose this as a means of status.

Further, these girls are an example of the very problems we see during the post-feminist era. Susan Douglas acknowledges these consumer issues in her piece Enlighted Sexism. Douglas notes that there are ways to earn power and money however, “television, the movies, and in advertising also insist that purchasing power and sexual power are much more gratifying than political or economic power. Buying stuff-the right stuff, a lot of stuff-emerged as the dominant way to empower.” Teenaged female prostitution is a byproduct of the idea of sexual and commoditized empowerment. Since teen girls are the targets of marketers and advertisers, it only makes sense that females would feel empowered to sell their bodies in order to be able to keep up with the media enforced ideas of power for girls.

Both of these media viewpoints of female teenaged prostitutes may be different but are still not fully analyzed by root of the problem within society. Media sends messages to girls and men about sexuality constantly. In the piece, Master Your Johnson, the authors examination of the media describe the essential argument from male and female magazines: “a man who has a difficulty finding sexual partners should feel free to manipulate or target vulnerable women, or seek sexual entertainment through strip clubs, pornography, and prostitution. Sating one’s sexual appetite is the only important consideration.”

The American society has a fixation on sexual acts and sexuality but it is regulated through patriarchy. Female teenaged prostitution is one symptom of the greater illness that patriarchy instills. Female bodies are the victims of this patriarchy and media is the chief weapon in the oppression of female teenaged prostitutes. Due to the lack of power these females have, men who are almost always the recipient are not held accountable for their participation. They are not held accountable for the exploitation of girls' bodies whether it's as a pimp or as a marketing executive.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Talking Points #8: Enlightened Sexism Connection

I particularly liked Keisha's conclusions in the piece, "Enlightened Sexism". Throughout her piece, Keisha reaffirmed the messages that Susan Douglas set forth in the piece, specifically that women do not have power, only the appearance of power through distorted messages in the media. TV shows, magazines, newspapers, and ads encourage the idea of a power structure that does not exist in the reality that we live in. Further, Susan Douglas slams the capitalistic hegemonic practices of girl power that has also contributed significantly to the undermining of true liberation.

In Keisha's blog, she noted, " Douglas argues that young women are not as powerful as they seem in the media, because there are men setting the boundaries of how far they can go." I agree but I would further the argument by saying only men from a particular race and class have the ability to set these boundaries. They maintain the power structure and also have significant control of our economic decisions and our foreign policy-as a collective and as individuals. This class of men have an extremely conservative view point of what a human is, what it is capable of, and how the human being performs. The performance is key in understanding the true problem of enlightened sexism. 

The performance of gender becomes particularly tricky for females. Douglas says, "indeed enlightened sexism is meant to make patriarchy pleasurable for women." Because feminism has been revamped as inherently bad for society, females are encouraged to take part in the power structure through buying and selling. Females are constantly marketed to about what it means to be a woman, how to be a woman, and what it should look like. Power is available to those women who mold, shape, and prepare their bodies in such a way that it presents itself as a masterpiece to the audience. Keisha made the point of, " it brings up the fact that women and girls are portrayed as being equal to men, but in the real world once women or girls move forward they are degraded by the male world." And this is entirely the problem of being pre-packaged power but never having the ability to tap into it.

And finally, Keisha makes a very good argument when she quotes Douglas: “instead, the wheedling, seductive message to young women is that being decorative is the highest form of power- when, of course, if it were, Dick Cheney would have gone to work every day in a sequined tutu”(5). In Tolman’s article we learned of how women were just in magazine a decoration, while men were active.  Douglas writes that women are only powerful when dressed right or wear the right thing. Douglas ends by stating that women are still in need of work. The quotes I choose relate to the reading because it shows women and girls have been placed in a box out a world run by men."

Again, I would further conclude that as human beings we are suffocated by patriarchy. It shapes our ideas on what we are to be as women, how we are to look or to morph into, it confines us in our aspirations and our desires. We have no safe space to truly express ourselves and to find "who we are" individually and collectively unless we make some pretty bold moves. Audre Lorde said, "I am deliberate and afraid of nothing." I believe that Susan Douglas would agree that is what must end in order to stop the destruction of patriarchy.