Benefits of Sexy-Strong Female Role Models
Sexiness and competence are not mutually exclusive traits for either gender.
Yet for famous women, a disparate level of scrutiny is still commonly applied to accomplishments, competence, and motivations if a woman is perceived to be too purposefully sexy.
This obviously shouldn't be the case for women any more than it is for men.
But, in addition to the anecdotal evidence modern men and women routinely witness, studies abound that demonstrate the continued inequities in social and professional standards, freedoms, and benefits for men versus women.
Public Judgement & Gender Equality
We've all seen examples of societal judgements and condemnations of sexy female public figures, if we possess as much as a peripheral awareness of current events.
This is an area of gender equality that lags sadly behind the many gains of recent decades. It is an area of disparity for girls with the potential to impact self image and the ability to find balance in one's identity. For both genders, it has the ability to impact balance in relationships.
If girls are taught to strive for unattainable beauty, then simultaneously shown that sexy women are less competent, they will be wired to think that they must choose between sensuality and being taken seriously. And with society conditioned the same way, they will be mostly correct.
The tendency to downplay smart or downplay sexy to be accepted is not new. But media and social media trends have tremendous potential to influence the social landscape in ways that can increase or decrease the necessity of this choice.
Media, Society, and Judgement
Responses to overt sexiness will always vary based on personal background, experience, morality, and personality. But when a woman chooses to show a sexy side, even when it’s done tastefully, this is often used to negate her accomplishments or worth.
When a public figure (with the possible exceptions of models, actresses, or singers, who we’ve been conditioned to be at least somewhat more accepting of (though not always)) expresses a sexy side, her worth seems too often to be up for public discussion and debate.
This can send the wrong message to girls and young women about what sides of themselves are OK to be honest about, or expressive of. It can limit their ability to find balance as adults and professionals.
Why Role Models Make a Difference
The value and necessity of positive female role models has been well discussed and is well accepted.
Strong, professional women in visible roles are important for girls to see at impressionable ages in order to shape their view of self-worth and possibilities and to keep from limiting themselves based on images they do or do not see around them.
The number of women, while still under-represented, in professional and technical leadership roles has increased, so that the images are less difficult to come by.
Still, the messages get convoluted when these strong women also happen to be or choose to be sexy.
Convoluted Media Messages
Research psychologist Peggy Drexler, Ph.D., expresses faith in the ability of girls to discern what behaviors not to emulate.
But she also describes the cumulative influences of celebrities and the changes that advances in media and technology have brought to the issue. She makes very good points about how much louder sleazy-celebrity trends have become, with current media trends lessening "the appearance of separation between image and real life."
By extension, it stands to reason that strong, competent women who embrace sexiness would be easily lumped in with flashier celebrities whose fame is not associated with competence, strength and ability.
Not only can this make it more difficult for girls to see and understand that sensuality can be part of a balanced identity, but it could easily make it harder for girls to embrace and support this balance in themselves and in other girls and women.
Discouraging Public Ownership of Public Figures Is Good for Girls
When we accept a balanced famous woman as sexy and competent , we take positive steps toward balanced role models for girls to draw from.
How and who they emulate is beyond the reach of society and parents to a large degree. But restoring some sanity to the image they have to draw from would be a positive step. We won't see a reduction in reality shows or celebrities who are famous for being famous.
But we could see a better separation between these influences and the availability of strong, sexy role models by reducing the level of condemnation we allow the media to ascribe to women just for being sexy. Or by supporting competent women who express their sensuality, without expecting explanations and apologies.
Three Reasons Sexy is Acceptable
When we support and value women in the spotlight, we foster:
This doesn't mean that public figures are beyond reproach, and the issues in all directions from here are complex.
But boundaries are important for the media, too, if they are important for celebrities, so that artificial, arrogant, and unfounded standards aren't arbitrarily imposed on celebrities that reduce the visibility of sensuality as an acceptable trait in a competent woman.
Beyonce, like many singers, has received scrutiny for lyrics, attire, and image.
The mom in this video sums it up wonderfully in her commentary. In general, that:
1. Kids are raised by their parents, not Beyonce
2. America is very over-sexualized, and this was the case long before Beyonce
It is largely her sex appeal and sensuality expression choices that have led to debate and criticism, leading to important issues to ponder, such as whether moms should all be non-sexy, "buttoned up" examples.
2. Michelle Jenneke
When her warm-up dance video went viral, Michelle became an instant sex symbol and celebrity. But she wasn't dancing to be sexy...she did this dance before all of her races. She is a successful athlete who is also adorable, and famously sexy.
She is also articulate and graceful and fun to watch in interviews. And an increasingly successful athlete probably headed for the Olympics.
There is not inherent shame in being sexy, and girls can look to her success and grace, and hopefully can combine that with the sexy image that came about and see that one does not detract from the other.
3. Jennifer Lawrence
She's an example here because she's achieved success through her acting and is all over the media currently. She had a dress malfunction that drew scrutiny, so she's a bit of 'typical' example at the moment.
She strikes me in this interview as a real person. Imperfect, and as she puts it, still figuring things out. We don't know where she'll go from here. She may or may not be someone we want girls to emulate, but for now, she's not apologizing for being sexy, or even for having tripped out of her skirt.
And that's a good thing. She doesn't have to be un-sexy or less bully to be a good actress, and shouldn't have to pretend to be in order to be taken seriuosly.
Michell Jenneke's Warm-up Dance
Do you question her running ability when you watch this video?
Girls need strong, competent female role models who show their sexy side so they don't mistakenly think they have to choose between competence and sexiness.
These issues are nearly impossible to tease apart, because it does matter what images girls are exposed to and at what age. The 'safeness' of role models being overtly sexy does depend on age and family morality and many other factors.
The argument here is somewhat oversimplified by assuming all other things are equal (that the girls are supervised in their exposures when they are too young to assimilate complex concepts involving sex and sexuality). It also assumes an ability to distinguish between image and reality, art and behavioral norms.
But the answers needed to tie down all the assumptions are fairly unanswerable, and don't negate the need to allow women to express sensuality without being deemed less worthy, competent, or talented.