Credit: Todd Lappin on Flickr, under Creative Commons
(WOMENSENEWS)-- Do the media promote the notion that men deserve sex, and women ought to give it to them? And does that sharpen the rejection that some men experience when sex is not so easy to arrange in the real world? And can that have seriously dangerous consequences for women in a society that is stocked to the gills with guns and letting too many mental health problems slide through the cracks?
Answer: Yes, yes and yes.
When 22-year-old Eliott Rodger went on a killing rampage in the UC Santa Barbara area last month, killing six and wounding 13, he had posted a video online in which he attacked women for not granting him sexual favors.
"I don't know why you girls aren't attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it," he said, using words that quickly sparked a widespread Twitter conversation about sexualized violence under the #YesAllWomen hashtag. "You will finally see that I am in truth the superior one. The true alpha male. Yes. After I've annihilated every single girl in the sorority house, I will take to the streets of Isla Vista and slay every single person I see there. All those popular kids who live such lives of hedonistic pleasures while I've had to rot in loneliness for all these years. They've all looked down upon me every time I tried to go out and join them, they've all treated me like a mouse. Well now I will be a god compared to you."
Recalling Hugh Hefner
That may be an outright declaration of his inalienable right to women's sexual attentions. But to my ear the comments reek with that subtext and echo a message that recalls the great granddaddy of the "men-deserve-sex message," Playboy owner Hugh Hefner.
The inventor of the 1960s "Playmate" presented himself as a freethinker who believed that everybody should get to enjoy sex, including women, absolutely, but of course. But while he struck an equal-opportunity anti-prudery pose, he didn't present men as sex objects. The Playmate was a female product designed for male pleasure. She was always drop-dead gorgeous, always ready to shed her inhibitions--and her clothes--at a moment's notice and ready to disappear after orgasm. No messy demands for emotional connection here.
Hefner wrote an endless treatise on his Playboy philosophy in which he insisted that American men of his era were simply slaves to women and children. They had to toil away at work all their lives supporting their families, and couldn't get laid whenever they wanted to. So he created a fantasy world that he acted out in his mansion, in which beautiful young women serviced men but made no demands.
Since then the media has supersized the portions of hyper-sex fantasies it serves to men. The images come from both porn and high fashion. Models are photoshopped to the point where they look like famine victims, except for their breasts, which take a C cup or larger. Even the most gorgeous actresses who have any feature that is not absolute perfection are digitally altered. The American Psychological Association's report on the toxic effects of all this on young girls includes eating disorders, body image problems and low self-esteem.
The same report flags the dangers of all this for boys who grow up to be men attempting real-world interactions with women. Early exposure to sexualized images of perfect women might make it hard for boys to relate in an intimate way to real women as they grew older, studies suggest, the report finds.
Images of Submission, Powerlessness
Young female entertainers heighten the problem by projecting images of submission and powerlessness. Rihanna (who was severely beaten by her onetime boyfriend musician Chris Brown) posed for Italian Vogue, wearing S & M gear, bound and gagged. Miley Cyrus appeared in a photograph, also in S & M togs, lying supine on a table, a rape scenario if ever there was one. Christina Aguilera was photographed in a classic porn shot, gagged and chained.
The implications and provocations of such images may spread to women in other parts of the media sphere involved in quite different activities. Women who comment on the Internet, for instance, especially journalists, testify to a barrage of verbal attacks laced with threats of sexual violence that can scare some into silence.
In an article on this subject that has recently gone viral, journalist Amanda Hess offered graphic detail about the messages she and other women who express opinions on the web have received. Hess received this tweet, for example: "I killed a woman . . . Happy to say we live in the same state. I'm looking you up, and when I find you, I'm going to rape you and remove your head."
The Santa Barbara killer reportedly had subscribed to "men's rights" sites that routinely spew hatred and hostility towards women and often suggest rape should be their fate. Such sites exist in a nation that has lately seen an epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses, so worrisome that the White House has created an initiative to find solutions to the problem.
Rodger was a troubled young man whose parents reportedly sought different types of therapy for him. His murderous rampage may never be understood. But the conversation about misogyny, about the hypersexualization of women and girls and about the notion that men deserve sex and women are obligated to give it to them, must continue. The media must take a good, hard look at the images and ideas they project that wind up promoting all of the above.
Caryl Rivers is the author, with Rosalind C. Barnett, of "The New Soft War on Women: How the Myth of Female Ascendance is Hurting Women, Men - and Our Economy" (Tarcher/Penguin).
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