The women’s liberation movement contributes to the sexualization of women

Addie Michaelian

It has been a little over a week since the Superbowl, and while most people have stopped talking about the actual game, the halftime show continues to be a topic of conversation. A short scroll through social media reveals a diversity of thought. Some praise the skill of Shakira and Jennifer Lopez. Their athletic abilities are certainly impressive, especially considering Shakira is 43 and J. Lo is 50 years old. Others focus on how the performance celebrated Latin pride, and label the show a victory in the battle for greater cultural diversity. 

However, another prominent theme, or rather concern, also emerged. A mom on my Facebook feed summed it up succinctly, “… for shame on our society for the halftime show. Women are trying to break sexualization and then they celebrate and participate in continuing this message to our young girls and young boys. It’s never going to change if we keep it up.” Millions of families around the nation gather to watch the Superbowl every year and the overtly sexualized show played into the detrimental narrative pervading our media that sexualizes and objectifies women. 

Our culture continually critiques the objectification of women and harangues anyone who dares view a woman as merely a sex object. However in the same breadth, it extols performances and TV shows that do just this, and celebrates it as liberation. Why are we surprised by the continued sexulization of woman when our culture encourages woman to demonstrate their freedom by parading as sex objects? I believe that the halftime show presents a blatant example of how the women’s liberation movement has resulted in more sexualization of women.

In 1963, Betty Friedan’s scathing manifesto, “The Feminine Mystique,” flooded bookstores across the nation, sparking fresh movements against women’s domesticity, which Friedan interpreted as oppression. Flames engulfed mountains of girdles and other constrictive women’s wear thrown onto raging bonfires. This second wave feminism, termed the women’s liberation movement, concentrated on sexual expression and liberation. Women began to measure their freedom by the length of their hems. The shorter the miniskirt, the greater her sexual liberation. 

While the women’s liberation movement called attention to several integral issues such as equal pay and healthy working environments for women who chose to enter the workforce, it also placed undue emphasis on sexual expression and vilified homemaking. Our culture now pays the price for this emphasis on greater sexual liberation. The TV shows, movies, and advertisements we watch, the music we listen too, and even the halftime show for the most viewed football game of the year, constantly reflect this emphasis on unabashed sexual expression. Women have bought the lie that liberation means putting their sexuality on display, and unwittingly opened the floodgates to greater objectification. 

The sexualization of women permeates almost every aspect of our culture. Sexual liberation inevitably morphed into another kind of bondage. By placing the ultimate emphasis on sexuality, the women’s lib movement exalted this aspect of womanhood out of proportion. When sexuality is given premium importance, sexualization will spin out of control. Thus, we live in a culture that praises free and often careless sexual expression in the name of liberation, while simultaneously bemoaning the rising sexualization and objectification of women. If we refuse to see this connection, this tendency toward sexualization will only increase until overtly sexualized dances become a normal part of an event viewed by millions of families that further perpetuates the view that women are merely sex objects.

True liberation must value sexuality as precious and see women for so much more than their sexuality. True freedom is not measured by the length of a skirt. True liberation strives for more than a halftime show flaunting sexuality. Until we can address the way the women’s lib movement has almost idolized sexual freedom, the sexualization of women will continue unabated.

Cha Guerzo