A few years ago I attempted to give a response on the concept of Sexism in Art. I was 20 years old, had never read a book on Feminism or Aesthetics so in retrospect, I probably should not have written what I wrote. Nevertheless, I write this essay as a revision because with the knowledge I have now, I most definitely have grown as a writer and thinker. Therefore, as much as I abhor the language I utilized in my previous essay, I will keep it there because it will show how I am no different from other individuals who speak ignorantly of a subject and once we gain insight of said subject, we would like to take back what we said previously. It’s a natural phenomenon that a lot of people judge others for (including myself) and I think we should stop doing that. My views that I have on world issues or history, or things in general, I do not seek to condemn others if they don’t share my views, nor should I expect others to know what I know because if we didn’t get criticism for what we think we know, it will never inspire creativity; we will just be monotone zombies, blindly regurgitating the information we received from our peers. That being said, I hope my views in the previous essay do not offend anyone. And as of this day, this is my view. Thank you for reading.
A dollar bill, whether it is torn or wrinkled, never loses its value. On the other hand, a crisp, clean looking dollar bill (even if it’s value is $1) is more aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Similarly, a perfect looking man or woman is more valuable to others than one that is not well put-together. As harsh as that sounds, it is incontestable that determining one’s attractiveness, or in this case, sexiness, has become the norm. People are constantly fed images of “perfect” bodies in popular culture and lauded for their appearances. Simultaneously, we can take the view that cringes at the thought of someone judging us and/or finding a flaw in our bodies. Nonetheless, there are constantly individuals who attempt to or search for ways, to alter the appearance of their bodies at the risk of us being perceived as un-sexy to someone and therefore, invisible. Furthermore, this issue seems to remain trivial for those who remain ignorant to the pressures of what it means to be “sexy”. However, by citing inspiration from the following aestheticians: Sheila Lintott, Sherri Irvin, and C. Winter Han, I will examine that change is necessary (and hopefully probable in the distant future) for the concept of “sexiness” to no longer be a form of aesthetics, because in spite of the constant reminders of the lesson taught to us as children, we remain judging books by their cover.
Beginning with C. Winter Han’s essay entitled: From “Little Brown Brothers” to “Queer Asian Wives”: Constructing the Asian Male Body, the author touches on a number of excellent points. Specifically, Han points out the ongoing, albeit unchanged, racism towards Asian men. This discrimination extends towards the gay community, where the issue of femininity as a stereotype for Asian Men particularly slurred among Homosexual White Males. Although I do not identify within the LGBTQA Community, this was something I personally felt was surprising. Simply because I was unable to picture a group of oppressed individuals discriminating against another group of people. Somehow, I felt that the silenced gay community could empathize with the voiceless Asian community, yet the evidence Han provides, clearly state otherwise. Unsurprisingly to a number of friends I have in the gay community, shallowness in general, is normative. More specifically, shallowness based on appearance i.e., obesity or lack of muscles. As explained by Han, “unlike media outlets aimed at heterosexual male audiences, gay media plays a dual role in that male bodies on display promote an image not only of what one should be but also of what one should desire. Male bodies in gay media outlets are meant to be not only emulated but consumed.” (Han, 64) And in the case of Asian bodies, they are often portrayed as lanky, infantilized or comically unappealing. Thereby, “depicting [Asian bodies] as androgynous or exotifying them with feminized features, dress, or manners.” (Han, 65)
As bad as shallowness is, I would have to argue that discrimination based on racial inferiority is much worse; in other words, it is adding insult to injury to maintain that White bodies are more aesthetically superior to “Colored” bodies. To reiterate, the irony is uncanny to say the least, that a group of men who were teased for their femininity (even to this day) are capable of such grotesque behavior is almost hard to wrap one’s head around. Han utilizes the example of an “Us Weekly article titled ‘Sexy shirtless [Hollywood] stars!’…When readers click…the article, they are treated to a photo gallery of sixty-three shirtless male starts, sixty of whom are white. Predictably, none of the sexy, shirtless hunks are Asian.” (Han, 70) To say that White Males are perceived as more aesthetic is, in other words, to pretty much state that White Males are ethnically superior. And for it to be nonchalantly portrayed in the media makes it the norm.
I would be remiss however, were I not to voice a criticism for this piece, and that is, I felt Han should have specified more on South Asians as opposed to just a bit, as if their struggle is minimal compared to the East Asians. Perhaps I’m being biased in my judgment, as a South Asian male, however there’s actually a short film that touches on this issue called “Yellow Fever” about a young Asian man who is baffled when he sees more and more Asian girls ending up with “White Guys” and not the other way around. He then receives advice from his Indian friend who essentially mocks him and says, “how often do you see an Indian guy with a white girl? It’s like one in a million. Literally.” I will give the author credit for mentioning the examples in TV shows like The Big Bang Theory and Rules of Engagement (Han, 71 & 74) where although, South Asians are portrayed despite being are less popularized in Hollywood in comparison to East Asians. And when South Asians (Indians, mainly) are portrayed, it’s often perceived as a simple-minded person, with a very thick accent (that is often feigned or exaggerated). Moreover, the actor portraying them is usually not even South Asian (e.g., Apu from The Simpsons and Fisher Stevens in Short Circuit 2) an issue pointed out by Indian-American comedian Aziz Ansari in a New York Times article.
This essay could not be complete without mentioning two specific philosophers who do a wonderful job in illuminating the struggles women have in attaining a specific body type that is both “sexy” and gives them reason to be relevant. Their relevancy however, is limited to them only being regarded as objects despite overcoming numerous efforts in the workplace as well as educational gain to be able to “sit at the grown up table”. These philosophers, Sheila Lintott and Sherri Irvin, in their essay, Sex Objects and Sexy Subjects: A Feminist Reclamation of Sexiness, of do a wonderful job by shining a light an issue that perhaps some people notice, but no one sidea of women having to be “sexy” to be relevant. But their relevance is limited to them being regarded only as objects; and this simply won’t do.
Primarily, the authors attempt to break down the idea of the word “sexy” and relate it to how women were seen as objects of reproduction. In subsequent years, feminists will rise up and reject this notion of sexiness as “women are more than reproductive machines, even when considered as sexual beings.” (Lintott & Irvin, 303) The latter definition of sexiness “has to do with sexual pleasure and satisfaction” (Lintott & Irvin, 304) To clarify, the authors contend that “the prurient conception of sexiness classifies pregnant, disabled, and elderly women as asexual, as unable or unfit to engage in sexual intercourse and give or receive sexual satisfaction.”
Another point the authors touch on is how we can challenge these notions of sexiness with ethics: “to find someone sexy, in the respectful sense, is to recognize the sexualized subject animated in a body and to respect the subject in part for how they choose or choose not to infuse their own version of sexuality into their own body.” (Lintott & Irvin, 306) In other words, we mustn’t place our own interpretations of sexiness as universal terms but rather, look for the particular characteristics of the individual that makes them sexy; i.e., in their own way.
With that said, Lintott and Irvin seek to determine whether or not notions of sexiness can be considered aesthetic. According to them, it is possible, however “attributions of sexiness…should be responsive to the person as they actually are, not merely as they seem to us.” (Lintott & Irvin, 315) It seems like because individuals are unable to make fair judgements on what is sexy and what is not, make the idea of sexiness as aesthetic very problematic. Particularly, because for Lintott and Irvin, we cannot simply “say ‘He is sexy, and by that I mean I would experience sexual desire for him if I were attracted to fat men’; ‘She is sexy, and by that i mean that a person who finds it possible to experience desire for elderly women would desire her.’” (Lintott & Irvin, 310)
Though Lintott and Irvin’s empirical vigor through their examination of Feminism cannot be overstated, I do begrudge that heavy emphasis on sexual objectification on women (which is understandable, considering this is supposed to be a feminist piece). Though not often as women, it should be noted that men are capable of sexual harassment. Furthermore, being a feminist is seen as a “man-hating”, radical movement. Historically, this may have been the case in the 1960’s but that is besides the point. Also, this article of course, is an obvious exception; plus, usually the ones making that critique are men. But it does not change the fact that some men are objectified and deemed unsexy if they do not have certain appeals (i.e., the six pack, “tall, dark and handsome”). I say this, not to drive attention away from the overall message in the essay, because it is an issue that needs to be resolved but for some reason, has not; my intention is only to bring up something which the author(s) may have missed.
These two articles share in common the desire to challenge the status quo of discriminatory views and stereotypes. And in this essay, I have attempted to demonstrate that judgments of bodies considered “sexy” should not be considered aesthetic due to the nature of constant pressure with societal norms plaguing individuals in attaining a particular appearance, at the risk of not being accepted. Moreover, further examination of the works by Aestheticians: Lintott and Irvin, Han attest the arguments I have made here. The concept of “sexiness” and “masculinity” is irrefutably perplexing and incontestably, subjective. Therefore, members of society must grasp that we do not all have what it takes to be the epitome of either characteristics in this world.
Furthermore, it is incomprehensible as to why individuals should particularly care or judge anyone based on their appearance. According to both articles, perceptions of “beautiful” and “sexy” are ingrained in our minds and what we define as a “sexy person” is this artificially shaped subject of a specific race or color; and perhaps our reason behind why we do this, is because we are continuously exposed to images or advertisements in the media that is, especially in today’s popular culture, the standard. And simultaneously, albeit unfortunately, we ignore the fact that people are not meant to be categorized as objects of our appraisal.
-Ahmed H. Sharma (Mr. Writer)
Originally Written on the 10th of May, 2017
Han, C. Winter. “From “Little Brown Brothers” to “Queer Asian Wives”: Constructing the Asian Male Body.” Body Aesthetics. Ed. Sherri Irvin. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. 60-78. Print.
Irvin, Sherri, and Sheila Lintott. “Sex Objects and Sexy Subjects: A Feminist Reclamation of Sexiness.” Body Aesthetics. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. 299-317. Print.