Tag Archives: gender: feminism/activism

Guys on Immodesty, Lust, and the Violence of Women’s Bodies

Crossposted at Jezebel.

Robin E. sent us to a downright fascinating set of survey results.   Administered by a Christian website, the survey questions were submitted by “Christian girls” who wanted to know what “Christian guys” think is modest.  1,600 guys then answered the survey, offering both quantitative and qualitative answers.   Why would girls care what guys, as opposed to God, think?  Because Christian guys, their future husbands, are judging them on their modesty.  Ninety-five percent of them say that modesty is an important quality in their future wife (see the question in the upper left corner):

So, how do these “guys” define immodesty?  The most common theme was dressing to draw attention to the body instead of the heart or spirit.

Something that is immodest is something that is designed to arouse lust within me (male, age 24).

Something that is immodest is something that is unnaturally revealing (male, age 20).

Something immodest draws attention to a girl’s body (male, age 28).

Many of the guys stressed that they really wanted to interact with girls as people.  Borrowing language from feminism, they expressed a desire to think of a girl as a whole person, not just a hot body.

Something attractive draws you toward them. It makes you respect the person. Something immodest is usually unattractive. It makes you think less of that person, thinking of them as an object… (male, age 16).

My responsibility is to not treat women as objects for my satisfaction, even if they dress and act like it. It devalues them, and makes me a user of people… (male, age 26).

In a move that is in contrast to (most) feminist values, however, girls are supposed to help men treat them like people by not dressing like an object.  That is, by not dressing immodestly.

So what rules for girls did guys identify?

Well, first, guys largely agreed that revealing clothes were immodest (again, see the question in the upper left corner):

Halter tops and mini skirts, I suppose, are obvious candidates for immodesty.  There were lots more subtle rules, too, though with less agreement.

Forty-four percent of guys think that designs on the back pockets of jeans are immodest (19% aren’t sure):

A minority, 19 percent, think that shirts with pockets are immodest (25% aren’t sure):

Forty-eight percent think that purses should not be worn across the body (19% aren’t sure):

Thirty-nine percent oppose tights with designs (25% aren’t sure):

Forty-seven think that t-shirts with messages across the front improperly draw attention to breasts:

But being modest wasn’t simply a matter of clothes.  Guys defined immodesty, also, as an “attitude” or a “carelessness.”  Attaining modesty was also about how you use your body and the way you act, “sexually or otherwise.”

An immodest lady is loud, proud, and dresses in a way that communicates such an attitude (male, age 24).

Something becomes immodest when the person wearing it has an attitude of carelessness (male, age 17).

As one guy said:

If you are dressing to get attention from a guy, then anything you wear can be immodest (male, age 13; my emphasis).

Some examples of behavior the guys mostly agreed was immodest:

Immodesty, then, is not simply about being vigilant about your clothing (don’t wear a purse that falls diagonally across your body, don’t show your arms or your thighs), it’s a constant vigilance about how you display your body (don’t stretch, bend, or bounce).  “Clothing plays a part in modesty, but it is only a part,” an 18 year old male explains, “Any item of clothing can be immodest” (his emphasis).

In addition, these rules are potentially changing all the time.  A “technically modest” outfit, such as a school uniform, can suddenly have immodest connotations (so watch MTV, girls, to stay on top of these shifting meanings):

This is a great deal of self-monitoring for girls.  Not just when they shop, but when they get dressed, and all day as they move, and with constant re-evaluation of their clothes and how they fit.  But, the rationale is, they must be vigilant and obey these rules in order to protect guys from the power of all bodies (both their own sexiness, and men’s biological response to it).  Guys are burdened with lust, they insist.

A lot of the guys in this survey talked about temptation.  In some cases, the men would use very powerful words, such as this guy defining immodest:

Immodest:  Screams that her body is different than mine. Attempts to manipulate me. Forcefully offers to trade what I want (in the flesh) for what she wants: attention (male, age 30).

This language — suggesting that women’s bodies “scream” at him, attempt to control him, and “forcefully” tempt him — is reminiscent of Tim Beneke’s interviews with men about sexual violence in Men on Rape.  Michael Kimmel (summarizing Beneke in Guyland) discusses how lots of the terms used to describe a beautiful, sexy woman are metaphors for danger and violence: “ravishing,” “stunning,” bombshell,” “knockout,” “dressed to kill,” and  “femme fatale.”  “Women’s beauty,” Kimmel surmises, “is perceived as violence to men” (p. 229).

This is very much like the rationale for the burqa.  Women’s bodies incite men’s sexual desires, sometimes to violence; they must be kept hidden.

These Christian guys, however, did claim responsibility for their own thoughts, feelings, and actions.  When asked about their role in avoiding lust, many were adamant that it was their own responsibility.  Many felt that innocent, shameless, platonic interaction between men and women was a team effort:

Sisters in Christ, you really have no concept of the struggles that guys face on a daily basis. Please, please, please take a higher standard in the ways you dress. True, we men are responsible for our thoughts and actions before the Lord, but it is such a blessing when we know that we can spend time with our sisters in Christ, enjoying their fellowship without having to constantly be on guard against ungodly thoughts brought about by the inappropriate ways they sometimes dress. In 1 Corinthians 12 the apostle Paul presents believers as the members of one body – we have to work together. Every Christian has a special role to play in the body of Christ. That goal is to bring glory to the Savior through an obedient, unified body of believers – please don’t hurt that unity by dressing in ways that may tempt your brothers in Christ to stumble (male, age 24).

The asymmetry of this project, however, is striking.  The lust is men’s; the bodies are women’s.  It’s an asymmetry built right into the survey design. Modesty is something pertains to only girls and immodesty is something that guys get to define.  This may be even more pernicious than women’s constant self-monitoring.  It erases women’s own desires and the sex appeal of men’s bodies, leading women to spend all of their time thinking about what men want.  By the time they do have sex, and most of them will, they may be so alienated from their own sexual feelings that they won’t even be able to recognize them.

Beneke, Tim. 1982.  Men on Rape. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Kimmel, Michael. 2008. Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men.  New York: Harper Collins.
Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Metaphorical Merri-Go-Round: Likening Animals to Women

Anna M., Naomi B., Amanda C., Ben Z., and SpeZek sent in a new PETA ad campaign, the latest in a twisted story of objectification metaphor.

Feminists in the ’70s protested the objectification of women by metaphorically linking meat and female bodies (e.g., “we should not be treating women like pieces of meat”).  Meat is meat, so the argument went, but women are human beings and should be treated as such.

In mocking response, in 1978 Larry Flynt put a woman being chewed up by a meat grinder on the cover of Hustler magazine. We will treat women like meat if we want, was the message.  And we did, and we do, seemingly endlessly.

Forty years later, Pamela Anderson submits to being symbolically carved up for butchering by PETA in order to metaphorically link meat and female bodies again.  But this time, in an ironic reversal, it’s designed to condemn the way we treat animals, not the way we treat women.

And, forty years later, feminists are still saying “Please, can we not do the women/meat thing?”

So Canada denies PETA a permit for the launching of this new ad campaign.  An official explains: “…it goes against all principles public organizations are fighting for in the everlasting battle of equality between men and women” (source).  What a nice thing to say, feminists think.

But Anderson fights feminism with feminism:

How sad that a woman would be banned from using her own body in a political protest over the suffering of cows and chickens… In some parts of the world, women are forced to cover their whole bodies with burqas—is that next?

Yes, Pamela, I’m sure that’s next.

But I digress.

So PETA and Anderson must think that Canadians super-super-respect women like totally and never-never-objectify them to the degree that saying that animals are like women will suddenly inspire horror at the prospect of using animals for food?  Or is it that they think men will see the image and be like “oooh I’d really like to rub up against that rump” and then suddenly find cows too sexy to eat?  Or they don’t give a shit about women and are willing to use whatever attention-getting tactic they can to save animals from going under the knife (including using the body of a woman that has, um, gone under the knife)?

I submit this for discussion because I just don’t know.

More from PETA: women packaged like meat, and in cages, women who love animals get naked (men wear clothes), the banned superbowl ad, and a collection of various PETA advertising using (mostly women’s) nudity. See also my post on leftist balkanization, or the way that leftist social movements tend to undermine each other.

If you’re interested further, you may want to read Carol Adams’ The Sexual Politics of Meat and The Pornography of Meat.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Viral Content and Collective Action

Stacey Burns wrote in to tell us about her successful effort to fight an ad campaign that objectified women and trivialized sex work.  She explains:

USI Wireless, an Internet provider that has a ten-year contract to provide wireless to the city of Minneapolis, recently launched a new ad campaign promoting its service. The ad features the image of a young woman who we are clearly meant to read as a sex worker, accompanied by the text “FAST, CHEAP, and SATISFACTION GUARANTEED.”

A photo of the billboard was placed on Facebook, which she saw on a friend’s page, and then re-posted with a critique.  She contacted the company, whose representatives were “polite but dismissive, telling [her] that they test-marketed the ad and it did well in focus groups.”  The photo of the billboard went viral and she took it to the City Council, who “responded to public outcry and succeeded in getting the ad pulled from the 12 locations it was posted” (story here).

Burns’ story is a nice example of how collective action, facilitated by the internet, can make a difference.

For more examples of this kind of resistance, read about fights against the Obama sock monkey, a Target ad, Mr. Wasabi, Frito Bandito, Motrin’s idea of motherhood, and the rebellyon.


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Buns for Puns: CodePink Protests BP

ABC News reports that activists from CodePink, a women’s organization promoting peace, protested the politics surrounding the BP oil spill in the following way:

The women posed nearly naked, dripping with ‘oil’ and dragging nets of fish.

The PETA strategy is like a virus, spreading grossly from one social movement to another. Angry Green Girl, for example, Animals Awake, and the Alliance for Animal Rights have essentially copied PETA’s tactics.

It’s striking that this particular one is overtly feminist.  It’s also striking that both Suburban Guerrilla and Feministe failed to remark about the ludicrousness of using (nearly) naked women to protest something entirely unrelated to nudity.  The only reason it makes sense to use women’s naked bodies in a protest is because women’s naked bodies (in Western culture) are things to be used.

Oh sure, they used nakeness as a pun, they noted the “naked greed” of BP, claimed that they were putting their “bodies on the line” in protest, and argued in favor of “stripping BP of its corporate charter.”  But the puns don’t make the nudity make sense, they’re incidental to the tactic of using female nudity as an attention-getting tactic. Nudity comes first, the puns come second, the cause comes… now I’ve said “comes” to much and I’m falling into the gutter myself.  Save me.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Women, Liberation, and Sex and the City

This being the opening weekend for Sex and the City 2, it seems like a perfect time for this video of sociologist Tracy Scott, from Emory University, discussing the cultural impact and contradictions of the SATC franchise. Enjoy!

Thanks to Nicole J. for sending it in!

Disparate Trends in Permissiveness: Homosexuality and Prostitution

Will Wilkinson posted the following two figures, both featuring data from the World Values Survey, and asked his readers to join him in speculating as to the difference.

This first figure shows that, across several industrialized countries, tolerance for homosexuality has been going up (or, more reflectively of the image, intolerance is going down) over time:


This suggests that countries are becoming more liberal and permissive.  However, this second figure shows that tolerance for prostitution has progressed much less.  The overall trend is towards more tolerance, but with significant backlashes and a much gentler slope downwards.


What gives?

Wilkinson offers five possible explanations:

(1) Being versus doing. People just are homosexual, and it’s not up to us if we are. Prostitution on the other hand is an activity we can more easily choose to avoid.

(2) The cash nexus. Some things just shouldn’t be sold, and sex is one of them. The problem is the money not the sex, and the law reflects that.  Homosexuality, like sexuality generally, is mostly expressed outside the cash nexus.

(3) Related: Exploitative versus non-exploitative. Prostitution is a low-status line of work that people avoid if they have better alternatives. Taking advantage of the fact that people don’t have better alternatives is exploitative and demeaning.

(4) Sexist paternalism. Homosexuality is (wrongly) primarily conceived popularly as a man-on-man sort of thing. Prostitution is (rightly) primarily conceived popularly as a man-on-woman sort of thing.  Men (and their virtue) don’t need protection from men, but women (and their virtue) need protection from men.

(5) Marketing. There has been an ongoing, effectively carried-out campaign to de-stigmatize/normalize homosexuality. There has been no similar effort to destigmatize/normalize sex work, so the reputation of prostitution continues to languish.

What do you think?

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

How Suffragist Postcards Got Out the Vote

Considering what obvious justice suffrage for women was, it’s surprising that it took 62 years from the birth of the U.S. suffrage movement to come up with an equally simple way of making the case. But in 1910, the National American Woman Suffrage Association distilled their best arguments into one-paragraph gems printed on postcards. Their “Think It Over” series proved to be not only an excellent consciousness-raiser but fundraiser as well, since NAWSA received a commission on each card sold. Here’s a particularly insightful one:

Some other sample sayings on these postcards:

The Declaration of Independence was the direct result of taxation without representation. Either exempt WOMAN from taxation or grant her the right of Equal Suffrage. What is sauce for the GANDER is sauce for the Goose.

Woman, if granted the right of Equal Suffrage, would not endeavor to pass new laws for the benefit of WOMAN only. She would work and vote with MAN on all legislation. …

WOMAN should not condemn MAN because she has not the right of franchise–rather condemn parents for having trained their sons since the beginning of time, in the belief that MAN only is competent to vote.

Of course, suffragists didn’t rely entirely on gentle logic. At the bottom of each card was the phrase, “An ounce of persuasion precedes a pound of coercion.” Symbolism was employed as well. In the upper left corner was a shield of stars and stripes shown as having a dark spot in the center, labeled “The ballot is denied to woman” with “The blot on the escutcheon” inscribed underneath.

Though people today generally associate black and white images and grim determination with the suffragists, here’s proof from 1916 that they could be colorful and whimsical:

The disarming image of a child was common and popular, as above and below. The following image from 1913 was created by  Bernhardt C. Wall (1872-1956), an exception to the rule that most postcard artists labored anonymously:

No doubt the suffragists were well ahead of their time, but the card that follows from about 1916 is unusually far-sighted. (Of course, Victoria Woodhull had already run for president in 1872 on the Equal Rights Party ticket.)

Lots of adults were expressing similar sentiments in 1914, when the card below was in circulation. On May 2, 1914, there were more than 1,000 coordinated demonstrations, parades and rallies nationwide, and that same year the all-male Senate took its first vote on a suffrage amendment since 1887. (It gained a majority, 35-34, but was still well short of the 2/3 required). Of course, the term most suffrage workers in the U.S. preferred for themselves was “suffragist,” because “suffragette” was originally used by opponents in Britain and then the U.S. as a derisive term implying “little voter,” or to give the false impression that all supporters of woman suffrage were female. But in this case it seems uniquely appropriate, since it’s a cute little girl with a ballot in her hand.  The postcard was sent as a Valentine on February 12, 1914 from “Marjorie” to “George”.

Finally, this still-appropriate postcard, issued in Great Britain in 1909 by the Women Writers’ Suffrage League, shows a woman being pulled away from “Justice” by “Prejudice.” The WWSL was founded in June, 1908, by playwright Cicely Hamilton and novelist Bessie Hatton “to obtain the vote for women on the same terms as it is or may be granted to men. Its methods are those proper to writers–the use of the pen.”

Today we might say “the use of the blog,” but the message still rings true !

All postcards are from David Dismore’s personal collection.


David Dismore is a television news archivist and feminist history researcher for the Feminist Majority Foundation.  As a teenager he was inspired by a photo and a few paragraphs about the suffragists in his high school history textbook in Greenville, Ohio.  The post below, originally published at Ms. magazine, looks at some of the propaganda that helped earn U.S. women the vote. You can read more from David at Feminism 101.

If you would like to write a post for Sociological Images, please see our Guidelines for Guest Bloggers.

The Submissive Asian Stereotype: Classy Asian Ladies Dating Site

In “The Yellow Fever Pages” (full citation below), Karen Eng discusses a recurring problem she, as a Chinese-American woman, faces when dating: that many men, particularly White men, who express interest in her are not interested in her as an individual, but rather in a generalized Asian woman and the fantasies that are associated with them. Eng sums up the fantasies many men hold about Asian (particularly Japanese) women:

The fantasy Asian is intelligent yet pliable, mysterious yet ornamental…perpetually pre-pubescent–ageless and petite…high-pitched, girly–while simultaneously being exotic and wise…She comes from a culture where women traditionally serve men… (p. 68).

Thus, when men ask her out, Eng has to figure out whether they are asking her out because they think she specifically is interesting, or whether they’re asking her out because what they see is an Asian woman to whom they attach all kinds of expectations about exoticism, subservience, and so on. As she puts it, regardless of how she presents herself, the interests she expresses, the type of music and clothing she’s interested in, “…they still see a little Oriental flower.”

I could not help but think of Eng’s article when one of my students, Casandra L., let me know about the dating website ClassyAsianLadies:

The website specifically markets Asian American women to men in the U.S., drawing on all of the stereotypes Eng describes. Here are some images from the site; I highlighted some of the most blatant examples of the “Asian women as hot but also passive” stereotypes in red:

So they aren’t trying to use you to get to the U.S. (though, after stating these are women living in the U.S., they are always described as Asian, not Asian American). And the men who want to date them just love and respect “the Asian culture” (and, you know, there’s just one culture in all of Asia). And how do you show your appreciation for a culture? By marrying someone who personifies the elements of that culture you have romanticized.

Notice the guys using the site appear to expect quite a lot in a woman: she has to remain “a lady,” be “sweet, gentle, beautiful, loving, fun,” but also be “intelligent and independent.”

I don’t know to what degree the website specifically targets White men. There were three photos of Asian women with men on the site; two showed Asian women with White men, one showed an Asian woman with an Asian man.

In case you aren’t convinced yet, here’s some more information on why you should marry an Asian woman:

Unlike “the average woman” (which presumably means White women in the U.S., since we’re the majority of women and all), Asian women haven’t become too competitive (just intelligent and independent! But that’s different!) and certainly aren’t “masculine.” Again we see the romanticizing of a certain stereotype of “Asian culture,” with Asian women having a “well-known cultural attitude of gentle and caring support” and “Eastern values,” which apparently involves being sweet and supportive. Though they’ve also “learned Western values,” which here is associated with being “outgoing…independent and fun…”. Thus, the West = independent, fun women, while the East = supportive, submissive ones.

Notice the last line in that image:  “…that perfect Asian girlfriend or wife.” This is what Eng was getting at: this isn’t about finding the perfect girlfriend or wife; this is about a fantasy of the perfect Asian girlfriend/wife. “Yellow fever” refers to the fetishization of Asian women by men who have a specific idea of what Asian women are like and view them as particularly desirable mates based not on their unique personalities but because of the “Eastern values” they supposedly adhere to. The women thus become somewhat interchangeable. Eng’s frustration grew largely out of the difficulty of getting men to notice her, as opposed to her status as an Asian American woman.

Some other gems:

Asian women are exotic but also make a lot of money (no gold-diggers here!). Men find them “intoxicating.” They’re loyal, and “dedicated to their men.” An Asian woman “always thinks of her man first!” They’ll help with financial planning without being “intrusive”–that is, they’ll make suggestions, but it’s ultimately up to him to decide and she’ll accept whatever he decides on.

They’re “easy to be with…rarely complain…and constructive with their criticism.”  One of my students said the whole “Wonderfully easy to be with” section made her think of the way people describe breeds of dogs: “Get a Labrador! They’re smart, fun, and easy-going! They’ll make a nice addition to any family!”

The translation to all of this: Asian women will offer their wisdom and support, but will then step back and let their men decide. They aren’t bitches who will nag at you or criticize you in a nasty way, or complain that you aren’t doing half the housework, or expect to have an equal role in financial decisions. And she won’t let herself go and become a fatty, so be assured–what you see now is what you can expect she’ll stay like forever.

Aside from the objectification of Asian women (and “the Asian culture”) as having a predetermined set of characteristics you can count on, this says a lot about concerns surrounding changes in gender roles in the U.S. These women are being marketed as the antithesis of the “average” woman in the U.S., who is demanding, hard to get along with, too competitive, and doesn’t stay sufficiently attractive. Female assertiveness or insistence on gender equality is de-feminizing and unattractive; it turns us into masculinized women who won’t submit to men’s authority to take our ideas into consideration but make final decisions based on what they think is best.

For a certain group of men, then, dating an Asian woman is a way to reclaim a romanticized gender hierarchy in which women mix cultural elements associated with the “East” and the “West.” They’re independent and make money (the fun part of female empowerment, unless the independence goes to far and they get uppity), but they retain “Eastern” gender roles in which their independence is, ultimately, limited by their passivity and submissiveness to men, as well as appropriate displays of femininity (being thin, beautiful, and exotic). And, thus, this type of relationship allows men who believe they have been victimized and emasculated by the women’s movement to reclaim some of the overt patriarchal power the believe they’ve been robbed of.

NEW! (Mar. ’10): Rachel K. sent a link to this t-shirt, which ThinkGeek says translates as “now accepting applications for Japanese girlfriends.” It’s a great example of the fetishization of Japanese women:


(“The Yellow Fever Pages.” 2000. Bitch issue 12, p. 68-73.)

Also check out Lisa’s post on marketing Asian women to specifically anti-feminist men.

NEW! (May ’10): Sophie L. sent in this spam message she got on Skype, offering “a sweet lady that will be caring and understanding” in case ” European and American women are too arrogant for you.” In this case the source of of these nice, lovely women is Russia…which, yes, is part of Europe, but don’t get caught up on geographical details. You can find yourself a woman with “royal blood and royal look”!