Recently I went into a drugstore to buy some milk, and as I stood in line for the check-out counter I saw Sports Illustrated in the magazine rack. It wasn’t hidden or anything, and it was near the bottom rung where children could easily see it. It features a nearly naked woman with only a tiny bit of fabric over her genitals.
Back in the day, this was considered soft-core pornography, and it would have been placed at the top shelf of the magazine rack so that it would not be reachable by children, and it would likely be partially hidden. The first pornography magazines, Playboy and Penthouse, used to sell images like this as pornography.
I briefly thought about complaining to the store manager about this, and then I decided not to. That’s because pornography is so normalized that I may not even be able to convince someone that this is pornography. Sexualized images of nearly-naked women are just business as usual, and the only way something can be considered pornography is if there is an actual close-up of the genitals or explicit sexual activity being depicted. That used to be hard-core porn, but now it’s just porn, and soft-core porn is the wallpaper covering everything we look at. I couldn’t bring myself to try to explain to a store manager that this is pornography and children shouldn’t see it. I couldn’t bring myself to risk being labelled a prude for opposing a bikini photo on a magazine. I suppose I failed at feminist activism for not complaining.
This whole situation makes me feel very drained and tired, because it’s not just about one magazine rack in one store. It’s about the entire system, the fact that women’s bodies are for sale, that we are sexual objects for men’s use, the fact that after decades of feminist activism, we are still having insane conversations about women’s “choice” and “agency” to be sexualized objects for consumption, as if this use of women by men was coming from women’s natural sexuality. No, it’s not. Women are not born believing we are sex dolls.
When little girls see this magazine, and see that it’s perfectly normal for women to be nearly naked to titillate the male gaze, they assume this is what women are like, and they know that to attract a man they have to look and behave this way.
When little boys see this magazine, they learn that women exist for their pleasure, and that they can expect women to look this way for them.
It’s not just this magazine, it’s thousands of other pieces of pop culture, all showing the same message about women. Like Miley Cyrus naked and giving a blow job to a hammer in her video for Wrecking Ball, which also isn’t considered pornography, just a music video.
Theoretically, since I’m attracted to women, I suppose I’m expected to find this sort of thing arousing, but it just makes me angry. Sure, I like looking at women, but I am attracted to normal-looking women, especially when they’re demonstrating personal strength and talent. I like women’s body parts, but I only interact with women’s body parts when we’ve agreed to be in a sexual relationship. That’s because women are people that I interact with, not things for me to purchase and use. When I see women stripped naked and presented for consumption I just want to burn down the patriarchy.