Societal Views of Femininity in America

By Dr. Christina Sisti

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

“To live in a culture in which women are routinely naked where men aren't is to learn inequality in little ways all day long. So even if we agree that sexual imagery is in fact a language, it is clearly one that is already heavily edited to protect men's sexual--and hence social--confidence while undermining that of women.” Naomi WolfThe Beauty Myth
Perhaps the most telling aspect of a society is how it treats women. American women are valued for their looks. Within this interpretive context, skin color, body type, hair texture, and facial features become important dimensions of femininity.1 
The position of women in America is that of Other, the object of desire, never its subject. Women cannot begin to claim, to explore, to develop their own desires and sexual selves because there is no way in language as it is structured and managed to speak about feminine desire.1 
An opinion article in the New York Times describes the experiences of Paulina Porizkova, a former supermodel, and feminist.  She writes, 
“In America, a woman’s body seemed to belong to everybody but herself. Her sexuality belonged to her husband, her opinion of herself belonged to her social circles, and her uterus belonged to the government. She was supposed to be a mother and a lover and a career woman (at a fraction of the pay) while remaining perpetually youthful and slim. In America, important men were desirable. Important women had to be desirable.” 
Women are hobbled from birth by societal expectations for their place in the community. We cannot speak our desires regarding sex yet are viewed as sexual creatures to be taken but not to take. Our silence is expected.
To be female and disabled causes further discrimination and oppression. American society idealizes the female body. The idealization of the female body marginalizes those who are physically or intellectually disabled because disabled women do not fit in. 
Disabled women suffer more than disabled men from the demand people have “ideal” bodies because in patriarchal culture people judge women more by their bodies than they do men. Disabled women, often do not feel seen (because they are often not seen) by others as whole people, especially not as sexual people.3 
Women with disabilities face a double-edged sword. In the article Disabled Women in Relationships states: It would seem that a disabled woman may operate under a double silence, excluded or marginalised from the position women take up as passive and receptive and silenced in regard to their sexual beings, even within the constrained place women are pressed to occupy, how submerged and silenced is their sexuality?      


1 Collins, Patricia Hill (2004).  Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and The New Racism. (1st ed.) New York, NY: Routledge.

2 Porizkova, Paulina (2017, June 10). America Made Me a Feminist. The New York Times, Sunday Review.

3 Ty, Eleanor Rose (2010). Globality and Asian North American Narratives (1st ed.). Minneapolis, Mn: University of Minnesota Press.

4 Fine, Michelle, Adrienne Asch (Eds). (1998).  Women With Disabilities: Essays in Psychology, Culture, and Politics. Philadelphia, Pa: Temple University Press.

This article is extracted from the Research paper titled 'America's Public Policy on Sexuality: The Repression of Girls in Vulnerable Populations'  in Chapter 4 of the Safety Report by SAFIGI Outreach Foundation 'Safety First for Girls'.

The Safety Report by SAFIGI is a two-fold Open research on 'Core Issues Affecting Safety of Girls in the Developing World.' The first part of the Safety Report is a Research Paper. The second part is a detailed Data Analysis. 

The Safety Report Research paper is titled: 'Core Issues Affecting Safety of Girls in the Developing World.' The paper starts with an abstract before focusing on subjects in the key regions of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. A total of 7 Research papers make up the safety Report (sans the introduction and conclusion), including:

  1. The psychological effect of mass sexual harassment on girls in Egypt (P.24) by Heba Elasiouty.
  2. Safety concerns in relation to social media: Growing up female in an increasingly digital world (P.45) by Karin Temperley.
  3. Psychosocial challenges faced by parents raising children with physical disabilities in Oshana region (P.68) by Misumbi Shikaputo.
  4. Gender-based violence and subsequent safety challenges experienced by Rohingya women (P.119) by Shucheesmita Simonti.
  5. LGBT policies and overall safety in Brazil (P.141) by Alinne Lopes Gomes.
  6. Silent voices‘: Violence against the female body as consequence of machismo culture (P.177)  by Steffica Warwick.
  7. America‘s Public Policy on Sexuality: The Repression of Girls in Vulnerable Populations (P.208) by Dr. Christina Sisti.

SAFIGI Outreach Foundation Ltd, a volunteer-based and youth led NGO registered in Zambia, implemented the Safety Report in order to understand the multifaceted concept of safety and how it applies to the female gender in diverse settings. And therefore, further prove safety is intrinsic, and that vices in society stem from an intimate level of the human being before its manifestation. This way, when we create safety solutions, whether it be in a developing nation, conflict zone, refugee camp, or patriarchal society, the problem is resolved from a deeply rooted cause. Such that, we treat the disease itself and not mere symptoms.

This study is as a result of collaborative effort pursued in the spirit of volunteerism via UN Online Volunteers.


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