Who gets to be sexy?

Last week, New York Times reporter and Motherlode blogger Lisa Belkin posted about Duke University’s sexist frat party invites which asked women to show up dressed slutty. Just as troubling as the actual invite, Belkin writes, was that women did, in fact, show up dressed slutty. Belkin writes that a generation ago, women were leading Take Back the Night Marches at college campuses. She wants to know: What’s changed?

Amanda Marcotte, blogger for Slate’s XX Factor, responds to Belkin that dressing slutty can be fun. Marcotte is annoyed that Belkin, like so many before her, conflates clothing choices with real social inequalities. Marcotte says a woman can be smart and dress in a skimpy skirt.

Belkin responds that she doesn’t see the men dressing skimpy.

Marcotte replies that her goal here is to dismantle gender norms; if men didn’t fear being emasculated by others, they probably, too, would enjoy wearing skimpy outfits and being lusted after by their peers.

But who gets to be sexy? And why?

The messed up gender disparity here is that men, for the most part, get to be sexy for what they do. While women, for the most part, only for how they appear. One major thing that sucks about this difference is that the “training ground” to support it starts so early- back when we’re little kids. My blog, Reel Girl, is all about the gender difference imposed so young on boys and girls through kids’ TV, movies, books, and toys. In kidworld, the boys get to do stuff. The girls expose their belly buttons and bat their eyelashes and wear different outfits.

In high school, the established pecking order is further enforced- the athletes or the funny guys are the hot ones. A funny girl or athletic girl might be considered hot, but she’s not sexy because of her skills or talents, but in spite of them. And then, of course, next on the social agenda are college frat parties, and then comes the “real world.”

Women, by the way, are not considered sexy based on how they appear because men are visual. Or any other idiotic social Darwinist theory/ explanation about how gender inequity is just “natural.” The reason for the gender difference about who gets to be sexy is this: Men are the guys in charge. For women to have sexual power and political, social, or economic power is threatening to men as a group.

I believe the major reason women are held back is because dangling the carrot- if you achieve, you will be sexy- is a huge motivator, because being sexy is fun. Men have a direct route while women are met with various with dead ends.

The solution to this enforced gender duality is not, alas, to be smart and wear a short skirt all at the same time. It’s to change these stats on American women, who make up 52% of our citizens and 46.5% of our labor force.

Women hold only 15.2% of seats on the boards of Fortune 500 companies.

Women are just 19% of partners in law firms.

Women represent 17% of the United States Congress.

Throughout our history only four women have held the office of Supreme Court Justice.

There are currently only six female governors.

Women make up 14% of all guest appearances on the influential Sunday television talk shows; among repeat guests, only 7% are women.

Only 15% of the authors on the The New York Times best seller list for nonfiction are women.

Only about 20% of op-eds in America’s newspapers are by women.

Women make up 8% of all writers of major motion pictures.

Women are 17% of all executive producers.

Women are 2% of all cinematographers.

See my first post on Belkin’s NYT story where I wrote that not so much has changed in the past twenty or thirty years for women on college campuses or elsewhere.

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