​voice of tomorrow: silent sexualization

Last month we launched a global call-to-arms by inviting our readers to submit one thousand words that fought for their chosen cause. After we published the winning entry from Toronto-based journalism student Kelsey Adams yesterday, we now share...

by i-D Team
24 March 2015, 4:45pm

A woman's trip to the gym rarely passes without leers, judgements, and smart remarks. It is difficult to find solace in exercising and maintaining one's health without the fear that the guy behind you is exercising with something else on his mind. A similar response can be found whilst walking down the street, enjoying a drink with friends, or even breastfeeding. Campaigns such as 'Free the Nipple' and 'He for She' have aimed to tackle the sexualization of the female body, and reclaim it for what it is; a body.

Critics of this movement offer the following arguments: women are not being physically harmed, it is just the way the male brain operates, you cannot change human nature. The word 'testosterone' is flung about from one side of the debate to the other. Excuses such as these not only embed themselves within society, but help to reinforce future behavior. 'Lad culture' continues to sweep through the country, breeding within universities.

All of the above begs the following question; who owns the female body?

First of all, breasts. Nigel Farage's comments on the issue made the news late last year. He said he doesn't discriminate against breastfeeding, but mothers should 'perhaps sit in the corner'. And if this doesn't count as discriminating in his mind, his meaning of the word needs to be severely scrutinized. There is nothing biologically sexual about breasts. Emotionally, culturally and psychologically sexy, maybe, but not biologically. And yet, a mother who breastfeeds in public is considered disgusting by some, and a woman who shows a little too much cleavage is 'asking for it'. Being topless at the beach is reserved for the Europeans among us. Instagram photos and Facebook posts that show even a trace of female nipple are blurred, reported and removed to protect the innocence of the young. The alternative? Male nipples. Male nipples roam our beaches, streets, and social media. Somebody explain this logically, please?

Even if females oblige and cover up, this does not rid them of labeling and judgement. A typical student night-out will involve women feeling like a piece of meat up for market. Fail to 'get with someone' and you're probably a 'frigid cow' who doesn't know how to have fun. 'Get with someone' and you're branded a slut. Many seek refuge by lying about their relationship status, or even sexual orientation, to divert male attention. Apparently 'being taken' or biologically indifferent is the only way a female can fail to be interested.

Then there's genitalia. The public's reluctance to discuss female sexual anatomy is exemplified in one disgusting act of barbarity. The World Health Organization defines female genital mutilation as 'procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.' Such procedures may involve the removal of the clitoris, in order to stop women from experiencing sexual pleasure, or even sewing up the vagina. The operation often occurs without anesthetic or consent from the young woman or even child.

There appear to be two ways in which the public distances itself from this issue. The first is through the false belief that this only happens in other countries. Something so un-modern and monstrous would surely never occur in civilized Britain. Undeniably, female genital mutilation is most prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as several regions of Asia and the Middle East. Nonetheless, it would be blindly ignorant to assume these are the only places it occurs. The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) recently announced that 466 female genital mutilation cases were reported last November, as well as 455 in October. It works out at an average of 15 cases a day in the UK.

This is not a huge secret. It is public knowledge available to all on the internet and through the media. However, the second way the public distances itself is through a failure to discuss the issues. It appears to be impolite to discuss female genital mutilation. Commonly, the procedure is abbreviated to FGM, essentially making it more socially acceptable to say, less harrowing. Nobody wants to go around spouting off about genitals. Now imagine the procedure was different by taking the sexual element out of the equation. Imagine that approximately 460 individuals, both male and female, were having their noses either removed or sewn up each and every month by force. Snot was considered unacceptable by select communities, and the operation was a means to conquer this. Anesthetic was not used, they did not offer consent, and their family assisted in the procedure. The individual must then spend their life in immense pain whenever they suffer from the common cold, in addition to ritual humiliation. If the issue was noses, and not genitals, was visible and not sexual, the public would undoubtedly stand up in unison and tackle the taboo. Celebrities would come forward and launch campaigns, politicians would argue the topic and base manifestos around it. This is how all other British problems are tackled, but evidently not those which contain the word 'genital'.

The sexualization of the female gender is not just to be joked about over platforms such as The Lad Bible. Failure to appreciate the female form for what it is - a human body (shock) - will continue to fuel ignorance. Breasts do not have to be sex objects, and genital is not a swear word. The consequences of these ignorances are clear, and they will not go away until they are deemed appropriate for public discussion. So get talking.

How are Generation Z going to change the world? Find out here.


Text Jessica Johnson
Photography via Jonathan McIntosh

the activist issue
generation z
Gen Z
jessica johnson
silent sexualisation
voice of tomorrow