A recent thread on the r/feminism subreddit made a good point about the cliche "sex sells": People often use it to dismiss complaints about the objectification of women, but that doesn't really make sense, because since when was supply and demand a barometer of morality? "Sex sells" is just one of many cliches used to discredit feminism — and, like so many of the others, it doesn't actually work. Here's why.
Redditor Satiricali writes of the popular apology for degrading imagery in ads and products:
I mean, the people making it act like feminist critics have NEVER FUCKING HEARD of market forces before!! I mean, do these people seriously think we're going to turn around and say, "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize people were making money off of my dehumanization! Well fiddle-dee-dee! Here I was being upset that men were being taught to act entitled to my body and my time, but now that I know other people are making money off exploiting my gender I'M SO TOTALLY FUCKING FINE WITH IT."?!?!
Yeah, dudes, WE KNOW sexism sells right now. The point is we're trying to make it less socially acceptable so people will be suitably repulsed and NOT BUY objectionable content (you know, the way many feminists choose not to buy objectionable content, but apparently our ladybucks aren't worth anything...).
As someone who likes to point out when the beliefs we're sold are in fact problematic, I've definitely heard the "sex sells" excuse before — which brings me back to all those other cliches I mentioned earlier aimed at discrediting feminism that really don't even have anything to do with it. Here are a few supposedly wise platitudes directed toward feminists that actually don't discredit our arguments at all and shouldn't lead us to back down.
1. "I'm Entitled To My Opinion."
Yes, technically, you have free speech. Nobody is going to arrest you for expressing your opinion. We don't disagree on that point. But then what? How are you going to use your freedom of speech? Are you going to use it to advocate sexism just because you can? The fact that you're entitled to your opinion doesn't mean your opinion is not oppressive, especially if you try to force it upon someone else who doesn't share it.
2. "It's Her Choice."
This one comes up a lot in discussions of degrading pornography, ads, and other forms of media (which, by the way, I happen to believe can be degrading to women, but are not inherently so). We live in a society where women are routinely presented as sexual objects, displayed in passive poses, and portrayed as prizes for male characters in movies and video games. But the models and actresses depicted this way weren't forced to do it, so there's nothing to criticize, right? Not exactly. There's no reason to criticize the women themselves, but we can still criticize the culture they exist within. Misogynistic pop culture tropes may not be exploiting specific women directly, and women may understandably participate in them for money or career advancement, but this doesn't change the fact that the media is perpetuating stereotypes and objectification. Women make all sorts of choices every day, but the fact that a choice was made by a woman does not mean it empowers women. In addition, "choice" is a complicated concept. Even when nobody is explicitly "forced" to do something, there are a million cultural factors that may (understandably) lead to their choices — including that sex and misogyny do, in fact, sell.
3. "Offense Is Taken, Not Given."
There are a hundred variations on this one. "Sticks and stones can break your bones, but names can never hurt you." "Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent" (a saying of unknown origin but usually attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, popularized by a limo driver in the movie The Princess Diaries , and grossly taken out of context by misogynists everywhere since). And so on and so forth — and exactly zero of them make anyone's behavior less offensive. If somebody is offended, it's likely for a good reason; furthermore, the fact that maybe not everybody would be offended by a statement doesn't make those who do take offense wrong. It just means that not everyone has the perspective or insight to see why something is oppressive. And sure, whether or not someone is offended may be influenced by how sensitive they are, but how much a sexist statement affects someone emotionally is unrelated to whether that statement was sexist in the first place. Also, if you're offended by someone being offended, stop throwing stones in glass houses.
4. "It's Important To Consider Different Perspectives."
Accepting misogyny, racism, and other forms of discrimination is diversity, some people will tell you. If you're only hanging out with people on the left side of the political spectrum, they say, you're "closed-minded." Actually, no. It's not closed-minded to only want to be friends with feminists, which is an open-minded philosophy. It's closed-minded to only want to be around misogynists, because misogyny is by nature closed-minded. The worst thing about this type of reasoning is that it appropriates language created in the name of inclusion to try to advocate for exclusion. Nope, sorry, your belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman does not make you part of a marginalized group.
5. "It Would Be Boring If Everyone Were The Same."
When people use this argument against feminism, they're usually insinuating that the biological differences between men and women (or between whatever separation they're trying to draw) make life interesting. But you know what else makes life interesting? That there are more than men and women. That women are all different from one another. That everybody varies based on everything from their socioeconomic background to their favorite jelly bean flavor. Feminism acknowledges these differences, not gender essentialism. People will also say that the complementary personalities of the two sexes are romantic. But you know what's even more romantic? The fact that people are not always interested in the "opposite" gender and that two people in a relationship don't need to be two halves of a whole. That's a lot more exciting to me than the black-and-white world gender essentialists paint.