In the '60s and '70s, women in the liberation movement were fighting to change how females were viewed in the world. At the time, abortion was still illegal, men could rape their wives without penalty and the Pill was seen as central to women's sexual liberation. This was a key era in history for both women and men as sex became an issue of empowerment-- especially given that women now had more tools to prevent pregnancy. Despite its good intentions, women's sexual liberation has caused a disconnect between being healthy sexual beings in charge of our decisions and bodies and the definition of empowerment.
As a precursor to the 21st century, women's rights movements worked to fight the many issues women experienced in their lives. After the Second World War, when women finally showed on a large scale that they could do men's jobs, more were allowed to work in traditionally male fields. In addition, maternity leave, pay equity and other important issues were being raised and have paved the way for equality.
Now, in a post-liberation era, the young, empowered woman is a status symbol in our society. This new woman is strong, independent, has sex, studies, works and waits longer to have children. The women's lib movement was the pinnacle moment ensuring women of this day and age had more opportunities than ever to be successful and achieve goals their predecessors could not. However, the rise of raunch culture-- a term penned by feminist writer Ariel Levy in her book Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture-- is a byproduct of this freedom and empowerment.
Levy described raunch culture as the over-sexualisation of women in media. When you think of raunch culture, you see the Playboy Foundation and Girls Gone Wild, plastic surgery, sex videos, cleavage, pre-teen girl's T-shirts with bunnies and stripper aerobics classes. Yet, the empowered woman of this day and age is an illusion. In reality, she is facing constant pressure to perform and conform to societal standards. The empowered woman we see in the media-- with her great legs, big breasts, thin waist and over-sexualized status-- is not the woman we see every day.
Empowerment is difficult to define. It is not necessarily about whether or not a woman feels sexy and how she decides to portray this sexiness, nor is it solely about sex. Unfortunately, this empowered woman is falsely portrayed and self-esteem is a sliding scale based on the notion that the more comfortable a woman is with herself, the more cleavage she shows.
One of the reasons why the over-sexualisation of women is wrong rests on the societal pressure it places on children who are growing up with this phenomenon. It seems ludicrous that in the United States, where abstinence-only education is a staple and conservative groups campaign against teaching evolution in schools, youth are being bombarded with images of scantily-clad women in almost every aspect of media and life. This causes great confusion for youth, as boys are taught they cannot control themselves around girls and girls are taught that they are the gatekeepers of virginity, the ones who should say no.
Now, anal and oral sex are seen as ways to bypass this obstacle and, of course, in a world where they get little to no information about Sexually Transmitted Infections and how they spread, many teenagers may not even know they are participating in activities which may adversely affect their reproductive and general health.
Rape is also confused as people start to believe that "empowered women" who are comfortable with embracing their sexual prowess cannot be raped-- instead, women who dress and act highly sexualised are at a disadvantage. The belief that these women are asking for sex and attention, and coupled with the type of sex education children and teens are receiving, creates a dangerous situation for everyone.
That being said, preventing women from being comfortable with their sexuality is wrong. The difference between this and the skewed view of empowerment is simple: when women respect themselves and are able to identify insecurities, they will be clear-minded about the risks involved with sexual relations.
People of all genders have the right to be sexual beings-- the problem is that our society does not identify sex as a natural and healthy aspect of human life. Luckily, the pendulum swings and individuals of every gender and sexuality are now questioning how conventional sex education strategies adversely affect everyone, thereby making it now possible to critically assess whether or not the raunch phenomenon is legitimate empowerment.