I’ve been watching a lot of Korean dramas lately. In a nutshell, these are like American soap operas, a little intrigue and a lot of romance, but they’re much better. So when the opportunity came up to go to the Southwest Texas Popular Culture/American Culture Association convention in Albuquerque New Mexico, I transformed my guilty pleasure into a paper: Gender Politics in Korean Television Drama. I went to the conference with D___, L____, and S____. The whole thing was a blast! Look at all of the cool topics scholars presented! I talked about how the gender relations in the Korean dramas were not only diametrically opposed to the real lives of Korean women, but they are also the opposite of what one would find in an American drama, like Sex in the City, which makes you wonder exactly how free we are. Sure, our laws are liberating, but in our minds, we are still as chained as people in more patriarchal cultures. No matter how liberated we become, we are still looking for Prince Charming.
That’s what made one of the outings we took on this trip so interesting. G___, who was over the gender panels, organized a pizza party for everyone who spoke on her panels and whoever else wanted to tag along. I think there were more tagalongs than speakers, but hey…that’s where the fun is. Once we were all gorged with pizza and alcohol of our choice (mine was Chianti, mmmm!) S___ suggested that we all go out to a topless bar. Now, this is her thing, and I don’t begrudge anyone, but this definitely put me in the tagalong category. I have a problem with topless bars and the sex industry in general. My problem is not that I think sexual entertainment is bad. To the contrary, I think it can be great. My problem is that the sex industry is not an equal opportunity business, and because of that, it perpetuates stereotypes of women that make life harder for everyone. Its not that any one pole or table dance is bad for society. It’s not even really that a decently run titty-bar is such a terrible concept. It’s the fact that if I want a lap dance from a guy, not only will I have to go through the average city with a fine toothed comb to find the one and only (if any) place where I can go to get one, but I will be judged differently from my male counterparts who seek sexual entertainment, just as women who provide sexual entertainment are judged more harshly than are men who do the same.
We have rules in our culture that say that men are the sexual beings and women are there to provide sexual stimulation for them. As a corollary, women are supposed to have less sexual desire than men and are not supposed to have the desire for visual stimulation that men are supposed to have. I even heard about a study that was done recently, that showed that men had more activation in the visual centers of the brain than women when shown certain kinds of images. However, one should not take from this study that men inherently have more visual sensitivity than women. Our culture conditions women not to respond to certain things, especially in social situations, particularly so in an environment filled with authority figures or those who are making judgments. It’s unladylike to react strongly to just about anything. This conditioning starts early in a little girl’s life and will likely affect the way the brain reacts to stimulus, since the brain is forming connections and habits throughout childhood. Can we really rule out the environmental factors and variables that must impact the results? Also, what kinds of images were used? Might other images create a different response?
For that matter, even if women are less visually stimulated, that is not to say that they are not visually stimulated at all. Why not cater to the visual stimulation that is there? I have never met a woman who did not react strongly to an image of a good looking person to whom she was sexually attracted. If women are less visually stimulated than men, why not entertain them sexually in a way in which they are stimulated? Has anyone thought about what that might be? Bottom line: if they can get theirs, why can’t I get mine?
The reason for the disparity in sexual entertainment is not the popularly espoused “women don’t like that kind of thing”, but instead it is the same kind of discrimination that women have been plagued by for years. We don’t complain about it because we seem to cling to those ideas even though they cause us harm ultimately. There is something alluring in the idea that women are more pure and less tainted by the evils of sex than are men. It lets us think that we are better than they are even as they use the same myths to limit, contain, and control our sexuality.
P.S. If you are reading this and you think I’ve surely left out some important aspects of this question, you are right. However, I think I’ve written enough on this topic for the moment. Feel free to comment or stay tuned for a revisitation of this subject in which I’ll address more issues.