In the Sunday Star-Times, Ruth Laugeson reports on a cultural change that I've definitely noticed in New Zealand and abroad - 'a new climate of sexual explicitness in advertising' and beyond. Laugeson says that 'In a bizarre cultural U-turn, we seem to be back in the 1970s' to pre-feminist times when sexual objectification is rife. It's a very interesting article, but it doesn't really have any answers, which I think is feel enough. It's a complex issue, and one that I don't think there is simply a right or wrong. I tend to think the phenomenon is a mixture of both harmless and harmful post-feminist irony. Some elements of the sea change reflects a vulgar commodification of sex, and some of it seems quite liberating and fun. But I definitely agree that there is 'an intensification of sexual imagery sweeping the west', and that it reflects some sort of defeat for both conservative moralism and conservative feminism. [READ ON BELOW]
What is interesting, of course, is that it's a change that many women are championing and are a part of. As Laugeson correctly points out, 'Young women, far from sternly rising up to form feminist action groups to throw Burger King and the bikini girls off campus, appear to be themselves enthusiastic players in the slapperisation of New Zealand'. Laugeson's interviews with the Women's Rights Officers at Auckland University are particular revealing. In response to the scantily-clad models working on campus, one says 'I guess they're getting paid for that and if they're comfortable doing that...', while the other (more 'feminist' one) simply joins in the objectification and says that the women are 'spunky and nice' and 'They look cute'!!
This whole topic is dealt with in the best selling book Raunch Culture, by Ariel Levy. There's some good analysis of the book by the Weekly Worker in the UK, which says the book is 'superficial and often prudish' and that Levy blames young women for raunch culture, and also by Lynne Segal in the Guardian, who calls the book 'a misguided manifesto'.
Hopefully the whole raunch culture issue isn't going to end up with the state becoming more interventionist in people's sex lives. As a counterpoint to some of the prudishness surrounding the issue, it's interesting to read a recent opinion piece in the Herald by James McConvil who argues for less regulation and more education about pornography. He makes a very interesting argument that 'Our community is safer and more peaceful thanks to internet pornography' and gives some evidence that show this. Rather provocatively, he suggests that 'maybe politicians and parents should take the opposite approach and make internet pornography freely available not only in homes, but also in schools and public libraries'. But I don't think this is about to happen, even with the intensification of sexual imagery sweeping the west.