“Objectified” vs “Empowered Sexuality”

January 13, 2009 at 9:22 PM (Feminist Theory, Objectification, Uncategorized)

What is the difference between images that objectify an individual in the media, and images that portray empowered sexuality? Let me define in my own words each concept before examining this weeks five images.

  • Objectified: The process of disregarding and depersonalizing a being, or a group of beings by making the subject nothing more than an object.
  • Empowered sexuality: Not to just fulfill a male fantasy (or other sexual partner, regardless of sexual identification) but to fulfill ones own sexual desires, images, and confidence. Could charge the sexuality of an individual, or group (often the oppressed group).     

Let us examine the next five images before analyzing them.




Tyra Banks for empowered sexuality

Tyra Banks for empowered sexuality


Barbi for empowered sexuality

Barbie for empowered sexuality


Marilyn Monroe for empowered sexuality

Marilyn Monroe for empowered sexuality

There are two objectified women portrayed above, and three sexually empowered women. Let’s look at the empowered images first.


             Model and television show host, Tyra Banks faced scrutiny for gaining weight after retiring from the modeling industry. She proclaims on the front of the People Magazine that she “still feels hot.” She is in a traditionally male stance, with legs apart showing her strength, and wears a one piece red swimsuit. Red signifies a lot of things, but here it stands for power and strength. She wears minimal make up, hair down, and no jewelry. The image of her stands in front of a white background, white signifying purity. Tyra’s image tells us that she values strength and confidence as beauty and empowered sexuality


            Barbie may not be a real woman, but many little girls aspire to be like her and have since the 1959. She is an unrealistic model of a woman’s body, in fact when replicated into a life size form, she falls over from having too big of breasts for too tiny of a body. But with the different waves of feminism Barbie has been updated to correlate with the lives of real girls and young women. During the third wave of feminism in the 1990’s Barbie started to own her own cars, mansions, make friends, own shops, etc. The Barbie in the image is part of the “I can be a….” collection. This Barbie is the “I can be a swim instructor” in the image. But Barbie can also be a “pet doctor” a gymnastics coach, a SeaWorld animal trainer, and the African-American Barbie has a culinary television show. All of these careers suggest either practicing, or perfecting a sport, learning leadership skills, and going to college. Little girls have more to look forward to in life than just being a hot roller skating babe now.


            Marilyn Monroe being chosen to represent empowered sexuality may come as a shock to some. Her entire career she was objectified as a sex symbol by the men that owned her contract. However in this picture she is photographed reading James Joyce’s novel “Ulysses.” This is both a lengthy and difficult read, especially for the nations bubbly dumb blonde. However Marilyn had an intelligent side, but the media decided that was not part of her marketing package. This photo was taken as a candid by a photographer walking through a park. Although Monroe still has lips open to a sexual pout, and does not look too comfortable, the fact that she let someone publish this photo shows her empowered sexual side. Monroe’s intelligence was more empowered than any nude shot she ever took.


            Beyonce was featured in a Direct T.V. advertisement in 2008. The video uses the age old “sex sells” theory by having her flaunt what her mother gave her. When we think of upgrading our cable we do not associate it with the images in this video. Beyonce is dancing in a tight gold dress, laying in sexually suggestive poses with the camera from the male’s perspective (on top of her, looking down) on top of piles of gold, and has a necklace in between her glossy lips that says “Upgrade.” During one dance scene Beyonce air “tickles” a man’s genitals, suggesting pleasure. Does upgrading our cable include this golden fantasy, and even sexual pleasure? I think not.


            Kate Walsh was used for the same reason as Beyonce, just for selling a car. The Cadillac, which is traditionally driven by the ultra successful Mary Kay sales women or those about to die, has a new mission: Sex the car up! The shifter is the cliché phallic symbol horny production nerds like to throw in, but Walsh’s language says it all. Her voice has a deep, soft, sensual tone as she dismisses important things like the navigator, and asks “when you turn your car on, does it return the favor?” She then pushes on the gas peddle with her stilettos, and revs the engine during the “climax” of her acceleration.



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