Blogging for HONS 201: Feminism, New Media, and Health at Hunter College.
Feminist poet Adrienne Rich explored the cultural and societal notion that men and women are inherently attracted to each other, and that women are, by nature, dependent on men. She concluded that society operated in a systematic way that sought to make women dependent on men and alienate them from other women; she dubbed this system “compulsory heterosexuality.” The system of compulsory sexuality perpetuates the patriarchy and seeks to oppress women. She lists the ways in which male power seeks oppress women: denying women their sexuality, forcing male sexuality upon them, and confining them physically – and violence against women is what is used to carry out the male power.
In her piece, “The Sexual Politics of Murder,” Jane Caputi also investigates the American culture’s obsession with the sexualization of images of brutalized and murdered women, and the role it plays in the prevalence of violence against women. And she’s right – glamorized images of dead women, especially in the fashion world, are not uncommon. In 2007, America’s Next Top Model conducted a photo shoot in which the models were “beautiful” crime scene victims. As they posed in sexy lingerie, bruised limbs splayed as though they were broken and prosthetic guts spilling out, host Tyra Banks and her panel of judges ooh-ed and aah-ed the beauty that they seemed to find in the disturbing photos; one panelist went so far as to say, “Death becomes you, young lady!” The photos (which are disturbing and triggering, and can be viewed here at your own risk) are meant to eroticize and sexualize these women, even in bloody and bruised death – equating glamor and sex appeal to violence against women.
More recently, the music video for the song “Monster” (video NSFW) by controversy-stirrer Kanye West (featuring Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, and Bon Iver) drew criticism from the feminist community for its violent and extreme depictions of women. The women represented in the video can be broken down into to main groups: the glamorous white corpses and the animalistic, almost savage-like brown women. The video also highlights the complicated role that race plays in images of brutalized women; the women who are shown as locked up or dead are predominantly white, playing into the trope of the frail, subservient white woman. Even in death, the women are dressed in designer shoes and displayed in highly sexualizing positions – further fulfilling the trope that associates desirability with brutalized women. The brown women, unlike the white women in the video, are all portrayed as very much alive – with the little catch that they themselves are “monsters,” ferocious and animalistic (one is even shown to transform into a werewolf). Nicki Minaj’s verse brings up issues of the glamorous and sexualized battered woman; in the video, she is shown as conducting a self-introspection: one self is dressed in white (the “good,” the “angelic”) and the other in black dominatrix gear (the “bad”). The “angelic” self is bound to a chair as the dominatrix self grinds on her and dances sexily around her; the apparent lust projected onto the “angelic” self perpetuates the trope that captive women and women who are in danger are still objects of desire and lust.