General Question

tedibear's avatar

How would you explain the difference between a character (in a movie or television show) being sexy versus being sexualized?

Asked by tedibear (17678points) November 30th, 2012

To me, if a character has been sexualized, it means that there have been inappropriate sexual characteristics or actions added to their persona. For example, a 14 year old wearing a push-up bra and excessive make up when it has nothing to do with the character or what they do within the plot. Or creating a great female character for an anime but “dressing” her very provocatively. If any of you have seen “Ghost in the Shell”, think of the charcter of the Major. She’s very intelligent, strong, complex and interesting. She is drawn in clothes that make her look like a hooker.

Any ideas on how to explain this in a better fashion?

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33 Answers

marinelife's avatar

You explained it very well.

emeraldisles's avatar

Yes, especially when the female is just used as a prop.

tedibear's avatar

The part I’m having trouble with is describing how someone can be shown or characterized as sexy without using terms that come across as those that are the same as sexualized. Maybe it’s just a vocabulary lesson that I need? :-)

By the way, I’m aware of why this happens and the effect it can have. I’m merely looking for a good way to differentiate between the two.

flo's avatar

I think “Sexualized” is when it is exploitative, when it is gratuitous, when there is no reason for the character to be dressed and act like that, and when it is not part of the plot. The reality show Toddlers and Tiarra for example. 5 year olds. If they just wanted to compare who is more beautiful they would never need to put make up, on them, neer mind what else they do to them.

Unbroken's avatar

Too me sexy can be synonymous with classy, tasteful, intelligent, confident, powerful, gracious.

Think of the movie Memoirs of a Geisha. The two women often at odds with each other. Pumpkin was sexualized the main character while flawed was sexy.

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Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I suppose there are two elements. One is almost always impossible to get and that’s intent of the person who created the character and why they made any particular scene that way. The other involves the viewer. Three separate viewers may look at a scene and based on many factors (how they were raised, what they studied, what drives them crazy) they might see a range of sexualization. Some might not see any and some may see a lot. Generally, I see a lot of sexualization – it’s something I study in my work – and others don’t see that much, because…well….we’re all raised in a society that constantly sexualizes, women especially and many people (of all genders) grow up thinking that’s the way to go.

tedibear's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir – Oh, I was hoping you would show up on this question! I knew this was something you know a great deal about and was looking forward to seeing you answer. If you have more to say, I would love to read it. I see a lot of things in media – especially in advertisements – that are so sexualized I don’t know how anyone could miss it.

flo's avatar

It is not just in ads it is everywhere. The women doing the news even. This is a human rights issue.

wundayatta's avatar

I suppose it’s like judging who is liberal and who is conservative. It really depends on where you stand. The trend this year on campus is for the women to wear tights with nothing else. You can see the shape of their legs and asses as if they were wearing nothing. It’s a very attractive look to me, and now that I’m old enough to be a dirty old man, I pretty much look when I feel like it, although I do keep my dirty thoughts and hands to myself.

Doe these tights sexualize these women? Do they sexualize themselves? Or are they just sexy—maximizing attention on their sexual assets, no pun intended (but not minded, either). It is the job of young women—at least one of them—to seek status in order to make their way in the world. One way of gaining status is being attractive or sexy and of attracting the attention of lots of other people, including, but certainly not limited to men.

Frankly, I think we all sexualize ourselves to one degree or another. Some of us may not feel capable of being sexy, so we say it isn’t important. Brains and intelligence and humor and hard work are important. But sexiness is something to look down on. It’s cheating. It’s not hard work. Oh, we have a lot of attitudes about it. But mostly, I think it comes down to sour grapes. We are more likely to put it down if we can’t do it. And if we can pull it off, we are more likely to do it.

For most of my life, I thought I was about as sexy as a blade of grass. Maybe it was a lack of communication or bad information, but in my middle age, I’ve received some important information about my own particular asset that I wish I’d had when I was a teen. But now it’s my avatar (although not my ass), and who knew that faking it until you made it could work in this particular way?

Anyway, compliments are nice, and now I’m actually thinking of paying attention to the jeans I wear. I might even look in the mirror before I buy my next pair. Although that’s probably an exercise in futility. I don’t know what to look for. It’s just dumb luck that is making it possible for me to consider my body in a sexualized way at this point in life. Now, all I need is to lose forty pounds and I’ll be breaking hearts wherever I go. LOL.

Mariah's avatar

I hate it when woman characters in movies exist seemingly for no reason except to support the man, or to be the man’s love interest. When they’re not fully fleshed out, stand-alone characters. It seems like they’re just there to be eye candy or to be a “prize” for the male hero. Guess that’s part of the reason I can never stand action movies. To me that’s the ultimate in sexualization – you don’t care about this female character as a person; she’s not even fleshed out enough to give you anything to care about her. She just there for you to look at. Sit back, enjoy. Please.

This is why I love the Bechdel test for movies – particularly the third statement which implies that female characters have to exist for reasons other than to emphasize a man.

flo's avatar

“I think it comes down to sour grapes. We are more likely to put it down if we can’t do it. And if we can pull it off, we are more likely to do it.”
That is a perfect example of conditioning oneself @wundayatta.
I better condition myself into believing this. If I want to do something wrong all I have to do is convince myself that everyone else would do it too if they could.

flo's avatar

“It is the job of young women —at least one of them—to seek status in order to make their way in the world. One way of gaining status is being attractive or sexy and of attracting the attention of lots of other people, including, but certainly not limited to men.”
Thank you for posting an answer that shows this is a human rights issue @wundayatta.

wundayatta's avatar

@flo I can’t tell from your answer whether you know this, but I don’t condone sexualization. I do think it’s a part of the human condition because it is a strategy for achieving various goals. I wish people didn’t have to be objectified as sex object, but it happens to both women and men, and I seriously doubt it will ever go away because people both benefit from it and are hurt by it. Those who benefit will encourage it, and those who don’t benefit, will fight against it.

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Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@tedibear Watch all the killing us softly documentaries, they’re free!

tedibear's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir – I have. And I was stunned when I watched them because there were things she talked about that had never crossed my mind.

Unbroken's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir I only saw the fourth one. It was indeed thought altering.

tedibear's avatar

@wundayatta – No sour grapes on my part in this case. You’re sexy? Great, have at it. My issue is with the media images that are pushed that so many people have bought into. Prostitot clothes for little girls, Photoshopping of people who looked good in the first place, etc. There’s a difference, and that’s the description I’m trying to figure out how to describe.

flo's avatar

@wundayatta I can’t tell from your answer whether you know this,“_ How hilarious are you?
“I don’t condone sexualization.” Hilarious.
“it happens to both women and men,” Hilarious
” I wish people didn’t have to be objectified as sex object, ” Hilarious

“Those who benefit will encourage it, and those who don’t benefit, will fight against it.”

So? That is called rationalization. That is what all the unrepentant criminals of all kinds tell themselves. They don’t tell themselves that they are acting like the scum of the earth and that they should stop do they?

wundayatta's avatar

@flo hmmm. So women who take advantage of their sex appeal are criminals? Somehow, I think you are very confused. I don’t understand your sense of humor, either.

tedibear's avatar

@flo – It does happen to men. Cases of anorexia in men are rising. And not just anorexia, but eating disorders in general. As well, IMHO, the “beefcake” posters are sexualization of these men. I’m not a fan and find most of them to be tasteless or ridiculous. I’m part of a closed group on Facebook. A couple of the women in it are big on these kinds of pictures and often post them. In that case, I roll my eyes and scroll down because I don’t want to start a controversy within the group. (And that is a whole different topic for another question.)

Anyway, I’m still looking for a way to describe the difference between a movie/TV/anime character being sexy and having been sexualized. How is the difference represented in those fictional worlds? I can point out many, many versions of characters who have been sexualized and describe that. What I can’t seem to figure out is how to describe when a character is sexy. Below is the post from another website where I was trying to describe the difference. Did I get it or not? I feel like it’s missing some depth.

“As I write this, please know that I understand a large percentage of anime is made to pander to certain adolescent Japanese boys who wouldn’t know what a real girl was like if they ran into one. Also, know that this is my opinion.

I think I’ve figured out what is bothering me. It’s the difference between a character (female or male) being sexy and being sexualized. As an example, The Major in “Ghost in the Shell” (can’t remember her real name) is strong, intelligent, good looking and speaks her mind. That is sexy. Then they turn around and dress her provocatively, draw her in a way that almost no woman on earth can look and basically make her a fantasy doll. Why? What in the world do her legs or her chest have to do with story? Nothing! But there they are, cheapening her character. I don’t think she needs to be in a burqa, but she doesn’t need to be dressed like a stripper either. In this second season she seems to wear more clothes, but the damage is done.

Then take a character like Balsa in “Moribito.” Many of the same characteristics, along with kindness and compassion. She wore regular clothes and was drawn in a way that didn’t distract from her character nor detract from the story. I’m pretty sure Tanda thought she was the hottest thing since sliced bread. Kurau in “Phantom Memory: Kurau” wasn’t, at least to me, a sexy character, nor was she sexualized. But they started to edge in on sexualization a little bit with her younger sister, Christmas. Super short skirts, off the shoulder tops; not stuff for a 12 year old. (Which is about the age her character seemed to be.)

There’s “XXXHolic” with Yuuko Ichihara. Drawn and dressed in an over the top way. But that was part of her character. She was supposed to be a drunken tease, so that fit. Was part of her character also intended to pander to the male audience? Of course it was. But how she was dressed and drawn made sense for the character. A cyborg secret operative (the Major from G.I.T.S.) dressed in an overtly sexualized way doesn’t make sense and isn’t necessary.

I don’t like what those images represent, how they can effect women and men (whether they are consciously aware of it or not), and the damage that can be done. Too many accepted media images – not just anime – are simply normalized pornography.”

flo's avatar

In your 1st post, you are saying that you want the degradation (althought you don’t actually state it like that) to remain because you enjoy it. On the second you backtracking. “I don’t condone sexualization.” It is not something to be condoned, so that is saying nothing By the way, in fact you’re promoting it. “It is the job of young women —at least one of them—to seek status in order to make their way in the world.” How blatantly against women do you have to get?

@tedibear you skipped over the stuff of @wundayatta “It is the job of young women to find find my:
“it happens to both women and men,” Hilarious“_ something to correct.
The context is, the statement “it happens to both women and men,” is misleading unless we’re need to get really technical. There is no comparison to what degree it happens to men and to what degree it happens to women.

wundayatta's avatar

@flo Like many, you mistake a description of facts for an advocacy of the situation. The facts are that people, including women, seek status. One way for women to gain status is by flaunting their sexuality. That’s a fact.

I told you I don’t condone it, because that is true. But it doesn’t change the fact that women can be successful by using sexualization to achieve status.

Now you’re telling my that by describing a fact, I am promoting a position of support for that fact. I’m sorry, but that is ass backwards thinking. If you think that way, then you can no longer see reality. You won’t even talk about it because you don’t like it. That’s the ostrich putting it’s head in the sand.

It is the job of young women to seek status, as it is the job of young men and, in fact, all of us. Young people, however, are at a big disadvantage because they haven’t been around long, and don’t have experience. So they make a lot of mistakes. On the other hand, they are young, and that is an advantage, especially with looks. Young people are more beautiful than anyone else, if we are to judge by who is in the fashion magazines and movies and anywhere looks are important. So that is some young people’s road to gaining status.

I’m not against women. I am for women. Very much so. But I believe that in order to make change, we have to understand what we are up against. If you are in denial of the facts, then nothing you do will make a difference. Surely, you have run into this over and over again in your life. Do you ever wonder why change is so difficult?

flo's avatar

Mental gymnastics @wundayatta.
Post something equivalent to the Killing Us Softly @wundayatta since you claim to be for women.
You can answer the OP too if you want.
As well “Too many accepted media images – not just anime – are simply normalized pornography.” from @tedibear that is a fact. I want you to post something to bring about change.

Unbroken's avatar

@flo actually there is an equivalent to killing us softly. I just don’t remember the name.

flo's avatar

@rosehips okay.

Is it obvious that in my last post I was addressing @wundayatta only?

Unbroken's avatar

@flo it was clear but I had additional information though vague and didn’t realize you would be offended or put off by contributing it. This is a public forum not a pm.

flo's avatar

@rosehips I wasn’t offended. I think you thought “Is it obvious that in my last post I was addressing @wundayatta only?”_ I was addressing your post. I already responded to your post. I was just addressing everybody, esp. @tedibear.

But could you elaborate a bit about the equivalent to “Killing Us Softly”?

Unbroken's avatar

^Oh, just call me confused.

Well I wish I could elaborate more, it was shown in a lecture I went to. I don’t recall the name.

It covered a lot of things, phallic toys, to Calvin Klien underwear models, to men being judged by crying or any emotion other then anger. That women generally prefer taller men.

The Marlboro man image and such.

How when we raise boys we tell them to stop crying when they are hurt, to be a man.

How dancing and cooking classes are frowned upon for boys while encouraged to participate in sports.

How men and also photoshopped to be bigger and buffer. How gi joes and other toys have changed in the years to very unrealistic proportions.

I know I left a lot out. I did try to find it on YouTube it was very through and interesting.

Basically the idea is there are two sides of the street. And until we evaluate and recognize both perspectives we will continue down the path we are on.

flo's avatar

But that doesn’t negate anything. Both genders shoud be against all demeaning ads and the rest of it. I’m just against people who want things to remain the same way.

Unbroken's avatar

@flo Oh I couldn’t agree more. But tons of people don’t even believe the ads effect them. They are immune. I was trying to remember how many ads we see a day. Was it 30000? That is the number stuck in my head for some reason. That’s like ignoring kudzu taking over house.
Even if you are capable of ignoring the jingles, images, promotional events, movies and music with negative messages and flat out ads someone in your life influencing you isn’t. You aren’t an island and cultural ideals are pressed into you whether you want them too or not.
But most people wouldn’t even consider admitting such. That they go against grain and are comfortable doing so or somewhat alter themselves to fit the cookiecutter mold. I can understand why, it’s just frustrating.

flo's avatar

@rosehips “But tons of people don’t even believe the ads effect them”
“But most people wouldn’t even consider admitting such” Therein lies the problem.

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