It’s a very loaded word ‘sexy’. And I’ve been thinking about it since reading a post on Yes Means Yes, about striptease aerobics (admittedly a topic I know nothing about). Jacinda, who wrote the post, enjoys the classes, they make her feel sexy, and she’s trying to unpack that.
To be seen as sexy by someone else is something that can happen regardless of gender. And any one can feel sexy as in horny. But it is women’s role that means that being desired (or desireable) is something that you feel. Women’s sexuality or our own desiring, is deliberately muddled with being desired.
Which isn’t to say that I think it’s anti-feminist to go to a pole dancing class. Because my politics are not about individual’s actions, and if people enjoy pole dancing classes they enjoy pole dancing classes. But I think feminists should be extremely critical of institutions that reinforce this dynamic of women as desired rather than desiring. It underpins so much of our ideas about sex and rape.
But that’s not what motivated me to post (for the second time in a week). What I wanted to respond to was her conclusion:
What I do struggle with, though, is the idea of sexiness. When we say these classes make women feel sexy how exactly are we defining that word? Does sexy simply mean men want me or does sexy mean I love my body because it’s healthy and strong and because I can have fun with it doing things like these over-the-top dances.
I find the first option much much less problematic than the second. Because in attempt to re-frame ‘sexy’ she’s actually reinforcing really narrow views of acceptable (let alone sexy) bodies. Because not everyone’s body is healthy and strong, and not everyone can do any particular dance move.
That’s not a better way of understanding the meaning of ‘sexy’, it’s a worse one. Firstly because it’s dishonest, as it hides the actual dynamic of the way women are framed as sex. And secondly because society has already slammed the door on many sorts of bodies being sexy, and this idea sits with the back to the door and tries to keep it shut.
There is no shame in feeling good because you feel desired, and there’s no shame in loving your body for what it can do. But the second is no more a liberatory political position than the first.