As implied earlier, I came to the field of raunch culture with a pretty dim view of it. It seemed to me (and others) that the proliferation of hypersexualised imagery, strip clubs, pole dancing classes, ‘sexy’ underwear for children and ‘Fifty shades of… god no!’ went hand in hand with the simply nauseating growth of ‘lad culture’ and its predilection for sexual harassment and white male privilege in general. It also seemed obvious to me that, hypersexualisation must have a causal relationship to poor body image in girls and women, the rise of eating disorders, the frightening phenomenon of ‘rape culture’, the rise of street harassment, poor sex education (and thus teen pregnancy) and pretty much all that was wrong in the (Western) world!
It is probably also evident that I do not consider myself a liberal anything, let alone a liberal feminist. What I perceived as the recent movement away from structuralism, sisterhood and collectivism towards a post-modern, individualistic, even hedonistic feminism was at best utterly confusing to me, and at worst completely morally bankrupt!
I do sometimes long for those days when my political-self encountered less grey areas and more moral absolutes, but alas it was not to be. The more I read, and the more incredible, brilliant and fierce women I spoke to, the more I have had to challenge some of my fundamental assumptions about raunch culture. How could I claim to believe that women’s experiences were the most precious stores of knowledge and not accept that the people who new how best to approach the sex industry were the women who worked in it? Could I really claim to be an intersectional feminist if I could respect, but not accept the individual choices of women?
Such questions have blunted the ends of my moral absolutes and helped me to develop a much more rounded understanding of my subject matter that aims to be critical of raunch culture but not of sex work. I believe that such a stance is valid when we look more closely at raunch culture and why it might be problematic.
I am not, and have never been anti-sex, and have always believed that the problem with raunch culture is not that it proliferates images of sex, but that what it offers is such a narrow definition of sex, and sexiness which not only denies people of all genders access to the many varied and wonderful expressions and experiences of sex, but also contributes to a more problematic and dangerous understanding of human sexuality.
It is because of all of the above that I hold the view that sexualisation is not in itself problematic when it is understood as the process by which a person comes to develop their own sense of sexual identity. When this occurs within a context of freely available information about sexuality in all of its glorious forms for the sole purpose of deepening the human experience (as opposed to selling stuff, or restricting the identities of women), sexualisation can even be a progressive, democratising and emancipatory phenomena.
For me then, Hypersexualisation is understood as a narrow and politically motivated bastardisation of the sexualisation which occurs within the troubling context of Raunch Culture.
Put simply then, the strip clubs and pole dancing classes are not problematic in themselves when they are allowed to exist alongside many other forms of sexual fantasy and expression. Raunch culture, through a process of hypersexualisation prevents this from being the case, but the postmodern feminists who once flummoxed me are at the forefront of the mission to reclaim these, and other activities from the patriarchal hands of raunch culture.
In a way, in comes down to a matter of definitions and meanings. I realised as an undergraduate studying the ‘porn wars’ that for me, pornography could never be anything but a damaging and reductive entity. Feminist friendly erotic images and movies were of course possible, but should be called something else, because the term ‘pornography’ has come to mean porn as we see it today which objectifies and humiliates women for the purpose of male sexual gratification.
My views on raunch culture, are thus similar, in that hypersexualisation can only ever mean the problematic phenomenon which is the subject of this thesis, whilst sexualisation (like erotica) is a neutral term to describe a particular entity.