There’s a high price tag on being a woman in our society. And I don’t mean financially, although cis and trans women both can easily spend thousands of dollars trying to meet the minimum social requirements of femininity—tampons, makeup, clothes for passing as female, gynecologist appointments, hormone treatments, as well as pepper spray and self defense classes, add up to a pretty penny. I mean the fact that women’s bodies are considered public property. In both fictional media and real life, women must be beautiful before they can be anything else, and we are at fault for not upholding those standards of beauty to an impossibly precise degree.
An oft-cited real world example is the difference between the media receptions of Lance Armstrong losing a testicle to cancer and Angelina Jolie’s mastectomy—while the former was treated as a sad but necessary loss for Armstrong in his struggle with cancer, the latter was met with significant outrage. Didn’t Jolie know she was a sex symbol? By having her breasts removed for the important and personal reason of cancer prevention, didn’t she know that she was selfishly depriving horny guys around the world the ability to jerk off to them?
We’ve complained before and definitely will complain again about the treatment of women on Game of Thrones. I’m not sure if there’s been a single episode without a brothel scene in Season 4 so far, and the ubiquity of full-frontal naked ladies—especially compared to the near-absence of naked men who show more than their butts—is staggering. It’s so bad that if we went through and applied Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Sexy Lamp Test (which argues that if you can replace a female character with a sexy lamp without affecting your story’s plot, you need some help) to each episode, I think every episode would receive a failing grade While the show does have a lot of main female characters, all the other female characters are literally sexy lamps. They will actually sit completely naked in a scene while the men around them talk and undergo character development. This sends a clear message—these women are here for your sexual entertainment first and to be characters second.
One of the worst scenes in Supernatural’s admittedly huge catalog of misogyny is in the Season 6 episode “Caged Heat”. By the sixth season, torture scenes were pretty de rigueur—we as viewers had seen them before and weren’t particularly surprised to be seeing them again. However, in any cases where we’ve seen a male character being tortured, whether in Hell or on Earth, they’re bloody but fully clothed. “Caged Heat” featured a scene where Meg was being tortured, and since she was female, of course, she was tied down to the table naked except for some leather straps obscuring her naughty bits. As a woman, even as she’s being tortured, it’s her responsibility to also provide some sort of sexual titillation for viewers.
Doctor Who‘s Amy Pond is no stranger to male entitlement either. In the mini-episode “Space/Time”, Rory is helping to fix a coupling in the TARDIS and drops it. When the Doctor realizes that Rory dropped it because he looked up and realized he could see up Amy’s skirt through the glass floor, the Doctor doesn’t scold Rory for allowing himself to be distracted by a woman’s body. Rather, he tells Amy she needs to “put some trousers on”. According to the Doctor, it’s her responsibility to dress in a way that doesn’t distract men rather than men’s responsibility to not ogle her.
I’ve experienced this entitlement myself on many occasions, but one particular example sticks out to me when I look back. A few years ago, I was attending Otakon dressed as Erza from Fairy Tail, with a group of other people who were also cosplaying FT. At one point during the day, I was approached by a man who asked me if he could film me saying an intro for his public access TV show. I have a history of being approached by people with TV cameras at cons—for totally scrupulous reasons like interviews by geek websites—so I readily agreed. However, once the cameras were rolling, instead of just letting me say the line he’d given me, he let his camera slowly pan up my body before cueing me to speak. Compared to other cosplayers’ stories of harassment, this is a molehill next to a mountain, but it’s hard to look back on the experience without my skin crawling. I remember the disgust I felt upon realizing that I had been conned into being a sex object for him, and hating myself for being naïve enough to think he just wanted to feature me because he liked the show or my costume.
He saw me as a pair of tits, and I wonder to this day if he actually had a public access TV show or if that was just a cover for “I need cosplayers in my spank bank”.
This sense of entitlement toward women’s bodies is at best unsettling and at worst can have a real-world body count. The events of the last week have proven this anecdotally even if you discount the wealth of statistics on the subject. Existing while female should not have a price; it can cost you your life, and I for one am not okay with that.