Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Encouragement of Appropriate Female Sexuality in Pop Culture

Sellnow identifies the power of pop culture as empowering or dis-empowering certain groups through the identification of desirable and undesirable behaviors. A facet of pop culture that I find particularly interesting is the presentation of acceptable female sexuality in film. 

Pretty Woman

In a previous scene, Julia Roberts is stared at on the street and kicked out of a store because her outfit is overtly sexual. However, in this scene, her sexuality is exploited through two shots of her getting dressed (one of her waist and one of her leg) and while she is shopping for underwear. This juxtaposition can be interpreted with several connotations. One is that her sexuality wasn't appropriate until a wealthy white male was in the picture. The other, more supported idea, is that female sexuality is appropriate only under certain circumstances. This scene could represent that female sexuality should solely be present when a woman is alone, where no one can see her, or when lingerie, etc, is used to impress a man. The appropriateness of shopping for sexy underwear but not sexy outer clothing indicates that sex appeal shouldn't be apparent in women and should only be exposed to few. 


This show is an interesting twist on female sexuality. While most of the women in this show are presented as incredibly intelligent and successful, the costuming is ridiculous. In this scene, Sarah, a brilliant American spy, is caught in a rigged car, with a bomb ready to explode. In order for Chuck to diffuse the bomb, Sarah must stretch her leg (clad in a conveniently short and stretchy mini skirt and around 4-5" heels) up onto the dash so that Chuck can diffuse the bomb in between her legs. 

While a deeper analysis would be required to justify a generalization about the desired effect of the hyper-sexualized portrayal of women in this show, it seems that intelligence and success of a woman isn't enough to create a powerful female character. From diffusing bombs in between legs to revealing costume choices, femininity is decidedly sexual in this popular TV show. 

Image result for chuck, season 1 sarah 

Big Bang Theory

This episode represents female sexuality as a skill that rivals or even exceeds the value of intelligence. Here Penny, a mediocre waitress, flaunts her sexuality in order to win her boyfriend, Leonard, a tenured position at his university. 
This sexuality is seen as a greater advantage to Leonard than that of Sheldon's girlfriend, Amy. Amy is a neuroscientist, but due to her lack of sexual allure, Amy leaves the conversation feeling a lack of femininity and usefulness. It's interesting that Amy is the only person in the conversation that feels Penny's overt sexuality might be crossing some lines. The men, on the other hand, find the use of sexuality as a form of competition to be completely appropriate- perhaps only when the sexuality might be of some benefit to the men's career. 

Discussion Questions:
How has the representation of female sexuality in film changed in tone over the last 20 years?
Are there examples of oppositional interpretations of freedom in female sexuality in recent pop culture?


  1. I'm trying to think... In the later stories in the Harry Potter Series, is Hermoine Granger ever sexualized or is she just a superstar because of her mind, her compassion, and her courage? Those wizarding robes make revealing clothing a non-issue! :)

    1. I think you could argue that Hermione Granger isn't even seen as a 'girl' neccessarily until the fourth book, when Ron Weasley suddenly realizes she's a woman. In fact, when Hermione dresses up, the boys don't even recognize her because of her femininity. I'm not sure if that sexualizes her, but it would be an interesting take on feminine perspective.