Women and Sex

In the comic strip "Cathy" by Cathy Guisewite, readers follow the antics of a "normal" American
woman of the 90's. Cathy is single, works as a secretary, and is portrayed as unhappy. Her dating
experience can be characterized by endless searching for the ideal man, settling for someone because she
believes him to be the best she can do, and going through a breakup process that is initiated by the male.
This is followed Cathy rationalizing the situation, and more likely than not, an eating binge. This is just
one of the various media that send a negative message to women. Women are told by the media to be
submissive, passive, beautiful, happy, and weak. Television, magazines, and movies either portray women
as the beautiful damsel in distress who needs rescuing or the gorgeous sexual object of whom males take
advantage. The message is clear and it is going out to women of all ages, "If you do not fit into the
stereotype; you simply do not fit in."
This goal of "goddess" is unreachable by the majority of women. When constantly told they are
not good enough, sexy enough, or perfect enough; women's levels of self esteem decline rapidly. This lack
of self esteem usually includes low confidence levels, dissatisfaction with physical and emotional self, and
transitively, the idea that they could not possibly be desirable sexually. The media, through advertising,
movies, news coverage, music television, and magazines, perpetuates the stereotypes and define how men
and women view the sexuality of women.
In order to understand the effects of the media on women's sexuality, it must be established that
self esteem and identity development are implicit factors. According to a study by Judith C. Daniluk
(1987), identity development has a critical component in sexuality (p. 53). Daniluk (1987) states that
society has a very influential effect on sexuality, in that there are acceptable standards of feelings and
expression for women (p.57). She hypothesizes that societal norms substantiate stereotypes. In her
experiment, she used a group interview format with ten women. Her questions inquired about knowledge
and feelings these women had about sex and their own personal sexuality as well as how they acquired
these ideals (Daniluk, 1987, p.58). She called the media "a subtle but pervasive source of influence on the
women's experience of their sexuality" (Daniluk, 1987, p.60). The images portrayed by all kinds of media
set unrealistic standards of beauty and behavior, from how on!
e should look and dress to telling women they should hide their normal bodily functions, such as
menstruation. Women see these images as a reflection of what society expects. When they can not meet
these standards, they suffer emotionally with feelings of shame and insufficiency. These responses should
be expected when society is constantly spouting unattainable goals as the ideal. There are some difficulties
with this study. The women were recruited by word of mouth, meaning that everyone in the group knew at
least one other person. Additionally, the tapes of the experiment were transcribed by two female
researchers, one of which was a participant in the discussion. The fact that both of the transcribers were
female could have resulted in gender bias, and because one of the transcribers was invovled with the
original discussion, personal participation could have influenced the results. Regardless of the possible
problems with interpretations, the feelings on the media!
's effects expressed by these women remain valid. The media tells women how society wants them to look,
act, and feel. If they cannot reach these high standards, feelings of inadequacy and low self worth are
One example of a medium that has great influence is advertisements. It is well established in our
society that sex sells. Women, in the majority of cases, are utilized as a device to market merchandise. It is
not this method of sales that is the problem, but rather how these women are portrayed. Print ads,
commercials, and billboards use unrealistic and stereotypical representations to sell their products.
Advertisers exploit the "female" stereotypes to make their products seem more appealing.
Research done by William J. Rudman and Akiko F. Hagiwara (1992) explored the portrayal of
women in health and fitness advertisements (p.77). Rudman and Hagiwara (1992) analyzed fitness
magazines targeted at both males and females