Saturday, 10 December 2011

Sexploitation - A Male Perspective

I recently came across this story on the BBC News website about the picture on the right of Pakistani media star, Veena Malik, which has been shown on the cover of FHM magazine in India. The picture shows her naked, but with her arms and legs strategically positioned to cover as much as possible. As may be expected, the picture is generating some controversy in India and Pakistan which are still much more conservative than here in the west. It does seem to be part of a trend though, in which social norms are being continually challenged, just as they have been over here for the past few decades.

Malik herself is very unhappy about the photo and is claiming that she wasn't naked when it was taken and that FHM have subsequently doctored it, although she does admit to having posed topless.

For Malik - as for many other people - the primary issue seems to be one of control. In the BBC interview linked above, she says that, "If ever in my life I decide to go nude, I will stand up and say that yes, I have done it, but I will not allow anyone out there to take advantage of my body".

For many people today, the most important question about the commercialisation of sex - particularly with regard to women - is not whether women should be selling their bodies, or images thereof, for male sexual gratification, but whether or not they are being co-erced into doing so. The primary issue then, is one of exploitation. There are a lot of women now involved in this industry though, particularly in the west, who are happy to talk about their willing participation, and seem to feel liberated or empowered by this experience.

For myself, I have to agree that no woman should be co-erced into doing anything - particularly of a sexual nature - that she doesn't want to. I have to question though, whether our understanding of exploitation has become a little one-sided in this context. The primary concern always seems to be about male exploitation of female sexuality, but no-one seems to be asking whether this might actually be working in both directions.

I like naked women! - there you are, I've said it! As a young(ish) heterosexual bloke, it would of course be rather surprising if I didn't. Most people in this category - a rather hefty percentage of the population - feel the same way, and most would probably never stop to consider whether in some way, they might actually be among those who are being exploited... 

The other day, on my iGoogle home page (it doesn't matter whether you know what that is!), I was presented with a link to a story about secret key-logging software that has been discovered on millions of android phones. I have an android phone, was keen to learn more, clicked on the link, and read the article. At the end of the article were links to what appeared to be a number of video clips, including:

  • "Web cam hacker uses hot steam ploy to get nude pics"
  • "British firm advertises for naked female web coders"

I admit, my initial instinct was to click on the links, but I didn't. However - as the reader has probably surmised - these particular examples do not appear to involve willing female participation (although the second one might at some point) and are in fact another example of male exploitation of women. My point though, is that I am bombarded by this sort of stuff all the time - on the internet, on magazine racks and news stands, in papers and magazines, on the TV as I am flicking through channels. If my moral stance is that women shouldn't be treated as sex objects, and yet I click that link, or sit and watch that channel for a few minutes, or even - if I am feeling particularly lonely and vulnerable - buy and take home that magazine, am I a willing participant in the male exploitation of women, or am I perhaps - to some small extent at least - the one who is being exploited?

The further I go down that path, the more it will affect my attitude towards women, particularly with regard to sex. I will perhaps start to judge women primarily on how they look - as if their main purpose in life is to provide me with "eye candy". I will begin to think that sexual stimulation is my right, that it should be available on demand, and that women are there to satisfy my needs and desires. I will start to see women primarily as agents of sexual gratification. In other words, to some extent they will become in my eyes, a little less human. The commercialisation of sex spreads and promotes this message. Surely therefore, any woman who participates in this - willingly and without pressure - becomes an equal if not primary accomplice in crime?

I remember many years ago talking to a friend at work who had recently started dating a stripper. At the time, this was a difficult thing for me to get my head round (actually it still is), and I asked him how he felt - and how his girlfriend felt - about her providing sexual entertainment to strangers. He answered that it didn't bother her, because as far as she was concerned - and based on how they responded to her - the men she danced for were no more than animals, she didn't even really see them as human. This also seemed to be enough to satisfy him and to allay any jealousy he might otherwise have felt. On one level of course, she was right - those men were behaving like animals - but the question that ought to have been asked was, who was encouraging them to behave that way?

We are creatures of base desires and these desires can be exploited. They can arouse powerful feelings of attachment, resulting in deep intimacy with the women we love, or they can provide cheap thrills that distort our characters and our relationships with the opposite sex. Many men feel happy to be exploited in this way, not realising the damage that is being done, but those women who encourage it are doing a huge disservice to us all and it is all of us - men and women - who suffer.

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