By Erin Fleet
Sigmund Freud’s creation of the “Madonna-Whore” dichotomy has forever changed the way in which women are perceived in different forms of media and society as a whole. The three categories of the dichotomy are not necessarily wrong but are not categories at all; they are a journey that all women go through as they learn about their sexuality. While many want to criticize this journey and place women in just one stage forever, it is only a natural part of life and can be seen virtually everywhere. From the story of Adam and Eve, to original stories of the princesses like Cinderella, and even today in the lives of celebrities like Beyoncé, this paper discuss the way these women go through a journey of sexuality that seems to be viewed in a negative manner. It looks into the role that social media plays in allowing for this negativity to be given a platform in a time where there is an overwhelming amount of pressure on women and a very present rape culture.
Keywords: sexuality, princess, celebrity, rape culture, Beyoncé, Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian, Sigmund Freud, military, women, social media
Perhaps one the most degrading things that a person can do to another human being is to compartmentalize them and take away their potential. Sigmund Freud was a genius at not only this, but also underestimating the power that a woman possesses to do or be what she chooses. Due to his misogynistic way of thinking, he created “The Madonna-Whore Complex,” which is the epitome of placing someone into a category and not allowing for movement. In simple terms, this theory says that women can be virgins, whores, or mothers, but can never fit into all three categories, because men fear a powerful woman. They want to love and eventually marry someone who is a “good girl,” but then want someone who is “bad” to fulfill their sexual desires, ignoring the fact that women have the capacity to do and be both. This is where men have learned to judge and therefore place women in a box, because the idea that a woman can be intelligent, nurturing, and sexually independent is foreign. However, the issue is not necessarily that these categories are wrong; the problem is that they are not categories at all, but rather a series of stages representing a journey. Unfortunately, the concept of a journey is never adequately explained, and these categories are taught to children at a young age through fairy tales, like the ones about princesses. As a result, all that is perceived is that women are meant to stay in one stage their whole life and are weak without a man. Whether people want to admit it or not, women are capable of going through each stage; princesses are no exception, since it is a part of life. The Grimm Brothers’ tales of Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Cinderella best exemplify this theory, but they also prove that a woman can, in fact, possess the ability to be all three, even though society today deems that impossible.
The Madonna-Whore dichotomy is much more complex and deeply rooted in history than one would think. The virgin is not just a prude – she is a fresh and open-minded woman who is learning her place in society. The whore is not someone who looks for sex with a different man every night, but is a woman with a newfound confidence in herself to explore her desires. Finally, the mother is not simply a woman who bears children: she is a woman who is knowledgeable and respectable because she evolved from the previous two stages. It is possible and more believable that a woman must become all three of these characters at some point in their lives and the tales of princesses in the Grimm Brothers’ storybook prove just that. However, men have this idea ingrained in their brains that women can only be thought of as one or the other and never both, let alone all three. It started with Eve in the Bible and still continues to persist in modern society. The only way men, and people as a whole, will rid their brains of this way of thought is for them to change it. Women have accepted themselves, but the problem is that men fear intelligent, sexy, and responsible women. In today’s world, men continue to think in this negative manner and fear sexually independent women, which unfortunately allows sexism and rape culture to live on (Forsmo-Shadid). These kinds of powerful women exist and are especially prevalent in media today; technology and the use of social media have made it so that their lives are fully transparent for people to observe. However, many of them, like Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian, and Miley Cyrus, have chosen to embody all three stages of the dichotomy, fully aware of the uproar it could cause.
As the founder of psychoanalysis, a theory intended to help understand and explain human behavior, Freud was a great believer in childhood experiences being influential on one’s life. He lived during the Victorian era, where women were not supposed to express any sexual desires, so he believed that women who did were ill or whores (McLeod). He did not see women as adding anything of importance to life and even believed that “women’s lives were dominated by their sexual reproductive functions” (Cherry). Based on this thought process, he created the five psychosexual stages of development, a progression of human behavior that shows how an “adult’s personality is determined by childhood experiences” (McLeod). Freud argued that the Madonna-Whore complex comes from these childhood experiences, which is why they grow into men who possess this way of thought. Mothers are the objects of desire when boys are infants in what Freud called “the oral stage”; this is where the separation of mothers and whores begins (Cherry). Men have a sexual attraction to “bad women,” who they simply see as sexual objects for their pleasure and nothing more. This is why they can never have a sexual desire for women with the same kind of innocence as their mothers, and they also want their wives to be pure (Stockhill). Freud summed up his theory by saying, “Where such men love they have no desire and where they desire, they cannot love” (Stockhill). This separation was caused by a man and his anxiety around his feelings toward women and has not stopped existing in some of the most popular forms of media, even ones aimed at children.
Fairy Tale Princesses
Most people have a general idea of who the most famous fairy tale princesses are – for example, Sleeping Beauty – and how their stories play out. However, not many people look beyond the “happily ever after,” because what they would find is much darker and controversial. In the original story, Sleeping Beauty’s fairy godmothers gift her with beauty, grace, and the ability to sing; she is also cursed to prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into unconsciousness, which she does (“Sleeping Beauty”). The young Sleeping Beauty introduced in the beginning of the story is just a baby, but because the fairies give her all these glorious gifts, she is immediately thought of to be perfect and pure – a virgin. She is as vulnerable and curious as a virgin, which leads to her falling into the trap that the fairies had warned her parents of at her christening (Tanzer). This idea that the authors hinted at, that the virgin is a curious being, regardless of any warnings, is not false, but it only makes sense that her curiosity will catch up to her one day. In this moment, Sleeping Beauty becomes a whore, and it is not because she has begun sleeping around (as thought by many in society today), but it is because of a phallic spindle, which sends her into a deathly sleep (McGoogan). She gave into her curious virgin urges of her own accord, trying to get what she wanted and become more independent. Now the only way to be awoken from the “whore phase,” which in this case can be described as an unconscious state, is to have a man come and save the day. It is ironic that what cures her is the physical version of a man, while the imagery of one is what sent her into the trance to begin with. Thus, the curiosity of a man is what creates the whore, as if it is the fault of the woman, who is simply exploring her sexual identity. Then, true love’s kiss (keyword: true) is used to save the princess so that she and the handsome prince can be married, allowing Sleeping Beauty to evolve into the final stage, a mother. Readers of this tale would not want to admit that she becomes a whore at one point, but the truth is that she does and so do many other princesses.
Like Sleeping Beauty, the tale of Snow White begins with the birth of a beautiful baby girl, now the new princess. Snow White is known for her unbelievably beauty with unique features of being “white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as ebony wood” (“Little Snow-White”). Snow White is pure at heart and unaware of her beauty, giving her the characteristics of a virgin, like Sleeping Beauty. When the evil queen discovers that she herself is no longer the fairest in the land, she employs a huntsman to go kill Snow and bring back “her lungs and liver” (a detail left out in the Disney movie for some reason) (“Little Snow-White”). However, the huntsman is unable to do this once he lays eyes on her, because she is so stunning; it is almost as if the authors were writing to the modern-day theory that pretty girls get everything handed to them. In this part of the story, Snow White begs for the huntsman to let her live, unknowingly using her looks to get free, which begins her evolution into a whore. If this were to have a modern twist, the huntsman would blame Snow White for distracting him from getting his job done, which would again make her a whore. She is forced into the forest, alone and nervous, due to the creatures lurking around every tree. This returns Snow White to the virgin phase, as she is vulnerable to what is around her until she stumbles upon a small house and the seven dwarves. Looking at this next part of the story through the eyes of modern society, Snow White would be considered the biggest whore of them all, as she begins living with seven men (Kingett). At first, the dwarves are confused by the mess in their house; then, they are excited to have someone so gorgeous in their house that they make a deal with her: if she “keep house for them, she shall have everything she wants” (“Little Snow-White”). Here, she is both whore and mother, because she is doing exactly what men want (cleaning and cooking) while still being a beautiful woman that men love and fawn over. What is different about this story is the fact that she is not saved from her unconsciousness by a kiss from the handsome prince (as the Disney portrayal would have it) and yet she is still “saved” by the prince who immediately sees her and falls in love (“Little Snow-White”). She is awoken from her mindless sleep, another way of naming the whore phase, and placed into the hands of the prince, who is what every woman should want, according to society (Monsters & Muses). They are married and she now has fully evolved into the mother or Madonna stage.
Finally, we have Cinderella, perhaps the most famous princess of them all and the one that many young girls dress up for Halloween and dream of one day becoming. This princess may have the purest of heart of all, because she puts up with a horrible family who make her do terrible tasks. She was mocked and ridiculed by her stepsisters and made to do everything in the household. She was a virgin in the beginning, not because she was said to have had the most heavenly looks, but because she is naïve and submissive to the needs of her stepfamily (Monsters & Muses). She must do whatever is asked of her, because she craves the love of her evil stepmother and feels this is the only way to do so. Weakness is not a trait of virgins necessarily, but “it is important when understanding the virgin journey not to be afraid to admit the virgin lacks power, just as the hero initially refuses the call” (Hudson). What characterizes the other princesses as virgins is their innocence, but for Cinderella, it is her lack of strength; this means that she has to go through the rest of the stages, otherwise the rest of story would not play out the way it does. This also means her progression through the stages is little more symbolic and a bit less erotic. Her first step towards becoming a whore is when she realizes that she wants to go to the festival and be a normal girl (“Cinderella”). She continues to seek the approval of her stepmother, doing whatever is asked of her, but now she is doing what it takes to get what she wants; she is learning to become independent. Nothing stops Cinderella and she eventually meets the prince for all three days of the festival, of course looking absolutely incredible and making herself irresistible to the prince. She still has not fully evolved into the whore stage because instead of giving into her desires to be with the prince, she runs away (Hudson). Cinderella bounces back and forth between the first two stages like a lot of women do, because again, being a whore does not mean sleeping with every man on the street as men have been made to believe. Instead it is the confidence in acknowledging that women have needs that must be fulfilled, as all humans do, and accepting that it is okay to go after those needs. This idea can even be found with Eve and her desire to eat the apple in the Garden of Eden; after eating the apple, she became “the archetype of the Whore, the original slut” (Greer). Perhaps this is where it all began in terms of men judging women, believing they must be a virgin, a whore, or a mother, even though technically Eve was all three, later evolving into “the mother of mankind” (Greer). Like Eve, Cinderella reaches all three stages, with the final being motherhood, which comes after her marriage to the prince, a common theme throughout these three fairy tales. Once this pattern has been detected, it is hard not to see it everywhere: it can be found in famous movies, TV shows, and books, and it continues to make its way into the real world.
Celebrities in the Modern World
A great deal of pressure is placed on those in the music or movie industries because of the influence musicians and actors have over their fans, which only grows as their popularity increases. Most would agree that Beyoncé is one of the most famous female singers and that millions of people listen to her voice. She is beautiful, talented, and has a great body, which she has had no problem showing off since her beginning years ago in Destiny’s Child (a famous girl group). One could say that this was the start of her journey into three stages of the dichotomy: first, the virgin phase, when she belonged to the popular girl group, as she was young and vulnerable within the music industry. As she branched off from the band, she began to find immense fame as a solo artist, even gaining a reputation as “Queen B” due to the way she performed and how fierce of a woman she presented herself as. However, like many other female artists, she was criticized for expressing her sexuality through her music, earning the title of whore. Despite this, she became a powerful woman figure, in her dance moves, fashion, and lyrics. In her song “Flawless,” for example, she sings, “You should aim to be successful but not too successful otherwise you will threaten the man” and “We teach girls they cannot be sexual beings in the way boys are” (Knowles Flawless lines 22-28). She has no problem trying to erase the stereotypes that she felt were threatening the world around her, which she continued to do, song after song. One of her most famous songs, “Single Ladies,” even poked fun at men and the way they do not take sexy and strong women seriously, and as she says, “put a ring on it” (Knowles Single Ladies line 26). Her choice to embrace her sexuality for the world to see is how she began to evolve into the next stage, motherhood.
Beyoncé made the transition into motherhood when she married rap star Jay-Z and gave birth to three children, but unfortunately the media did not seem to think she had left the whore phase quite yet. After her 2014 Grammy performance, a British newspaper called UK Metro ran the headline “‘Whore’ Beyoncé angers parents with raunchy act” in their column the next day (Harmsworth). Parents were asked to weigh in on the matter and many were quoted in the paper as “being disappointed with her classless performance” and were outraged, saying, “a mother should never act this way” (Harmsworth). Of course, this has not prevented Knowles from becoming the feminist music goddess she is today. Later on that year, Forbes named her the “World’s Most Powerful Celebrity” (Knight). When she became a mother, her reputation as a sexually independent woman was only strengthened, as many believed her to be “reshaping the traditional constraints on women in their roles as mothers and wives” (Knight). At the 2017 Grammys, she took the stage in a stunning gold dress with matching crown, looking almost like the Virgin Mary, as she preached about her pride in being both a mother and a singer (Carothers). In this speech she explained that, “Your mother is a woman and women like her cannot be contained,” which ultimately shatters the view that Freud held about a women’s ability to only fit into one of the stages of the dichotomy (Carothers). She continually reinforces the idea that a woman can be sexy and successful while also being a mother and a wife, a concept that Kim Kardashian is also very familiar with.
The Kardashian name, whether associated with good press or bad, is one that most of the world has heard of. Many people question why this family is so famous in media, since their father Robert Kardashian was famous in the world of law, as he defended OJ Simpson in his murder trial. However, due to the media coverage of the trial, the Kardashian family also found themselves in the spotlight as the girls (Kim, Khloe, and Kourtney) grew up. Robert and his wife Kris eventually divorced in 1991, but she and the girls remained in the public eye when Kris married Olympian Bruce Jenner. In 2003, Robert Kardashian died of cancer, which made it difficult for the family to want to be surrounded by the media; they just wanted to grieve. It was Kim, however, who kept the family relevant when she began to hang around the “it girl” herself, Paris Hilton (Preston). This allowed for other socialites to quickly learn Kim’s name and eventually led to a relationship with rapper Ray-J, resulting in the famous sex tape that is the reason that Kim is the pop culture icon she is today. Soon after, the Kardashians started filming their new reality show Keeping Up With the Kardashians, which included the whole family, Kris and Bruce Jenner, Kim, Khloe, Kourtney, and the two sisters from the Jenner marriage, Kylie and Kendall (Preston). This show won countless awards, created multiple spinoffs like Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami, and has been so successful as to have been aired for seventeen seasons and counting. The show follows their daily lives and the lives of their best friends and significant others, as they travel, fight, deal with business, party, and live the life that everyone dreams of. However, this means that every little bit of their existence is in the spotlight; what follows is not always praise, but instead criticism and judgment, especially for someone like Kim and the way in which her fame began.
Whether in a magazine, through social media, or on television, Kim Kardashian seems to be everywhere these days. Many people love the Kardashians and see someone like Kim as hardworking and influential for young women and mothers. However, there are many who cannot seem to get over her past, no matter what good she may do. Kim began her journey through Freud’s dichotomy as a young girl living in the spotlight that surrounded her father. As her fame grew and she began to hang out with people like Brittany Spears and Paris Hilton, she remained in the virgin phase, since she was vulnerable to the world of media. Her transition into the whore phase came with the sex tape. Rather than let it negatively impact the rest of her life, she used that sex tape to create an empire (Akawi). However, it seems to Kim and many others that she cannot escape the whore phase, even though she has become such a positive influence through her career and social media and as a mother. Kim, just like Beyoncé, is all about a positive body image and promoting self-love to all, but when she does so in regard to her own body, it is not promotion, but exploitation, and she receives a tremendous amount of hate (Akawi). In fact, after she posted a photo on Instagram with nothing but censor bars to hide her breasts, the hate comments seemed to roll in by the thousands. However, Kim took it as an opportunity to speak out about her confusion over how being proud of her body makes her a bad role model (Cassidy). She stated in the message, “It always seems to come back around to my sex tape that was made 13 YEARS AGO. 13 years and people still want to talk about it?! Let’s move on already, I have” (Cassidy). She goes on to talk about being empowered by her sexuality and her body, by showing her flaws, and that all she tries to do is empower other women all over the world in the same way. She ends the post with a message that practically mirrors that of Beyoncé’s message, saying, “I am a mother. I am a wife, sister, daughter, entrepreneur, and I am allowed to be sexy” (Cassidy). And after having four children, she definitely has that right.
Even before she became a mother to her four children with rap star Kanye West, Kim was already making the transition into the final stage of the dichotomy. She had grown from her past and was using her sexuality to instill confidence in other women through her social media, while also being a successful businesswoman. Kim donates to almost thirty different charities, openly speaks her mind about worldly issues, and believes in equal rights and opportunities for men and women. As she comments on the fact that she has “lived through the embarrassment and fear of the sex tape and should not have proven she is more than something that happened more than a decade ago,” the vulnerability she once had as a virgin and whore has diminished (Cassidy). She now has found ways to manipulate social media to, in a sense, invite criticism that she then uses to grow her popularity and image. This was exemplified back in 2014 when she appeared on the cover of Paper Magazine, with her back to the camera, completely naked. She wore pearls and held a black dress to give the illusion of attending a fancy event; however, what catches the attention is Kim’s butt, fully oiled up and exposed (Gilbert). From this photo, Kim Kardashian “broke the internet,” showing off her body confidence on a whole new level. As a mother, she shared her struggles with her fertility and birth process, which prompted her to use surrogates for her last two children (Jones). Women may feel incomplete when they are not able to bear children, and likely, Freud would have called them a failure of their gender, since he believed women were only necessary for certain things like childbirth. However, the way that Kim remained so open about her own issues, mixed with her level of fame, allows women to feel comfortable in looking for alternative ways to conceive while still feeling strong in their bodies. Her journey mirrors the one of another famous celebrity who, despite not actually being a mother, has still made it through all three phases, albeit in a different manner.
Hannah Montana is a name that many children grew up hearing. Many grew up listening to her music and even dressed up as her for Halloween, much like a fairy tale princess. But she is not real. In fact, she is where Miley Cyrus began her journey with the dichotomy. Miley Cyrus was a Disney Channel star who made a TV show about living a double life as a pop star named “Hannah Montana.” Miley Cyrus, much like Kim Kardashian, grew up in the spotlight, since her father Billy Ray Cyrus was a famous country singer. She scored the role in this show with Billy Ray right alongside her; it aired for about five years. This was the beginning of Miley’s journey as the virgin; she was young, fresh, and vulnerable to the music and movie industries. The show was quite successful until Miley decided that being known as this perfect pop singer was not what she wanted for her music career. In an interview with Elle Magazine, she revealed that she knew she was done being Hannah Montana “when she had sex for the first time” (Rearick). She felt the transition from being young and a child to becoming a woman – transitioning into the whore phase. This is not because she had sex, but because she knew that she was growing and starting to figure out who she was, discovering her sexuality. Unfortunately, the media was unkind in their criticism of Miley’s self-discovery.
In 2011, when the show ended, it was as if Miley’s alter ego emerged and her image quickly switched to a “bad girl” with her album titled Can’t Be Tamed (Marcus). From here, Miley quickly reinvented herself in the eyes of the media, shocking everyone. She ended her engagement, dyed and chopped her hair off into a blonde pixie cut, and went wild in terms of her actions and music (Nilles). The public will never forget Miley, half-naked, swinging on a wrecking ball in one of her music videos, explicitly dancing on singer Robin Thicke at the MTV Music Awards, and sticking her tongue out every chance she got (Marcus). She freely expressed her sexuality and showed off her frequent use of marijuana, because she had stopped caring what other people thought. This was her way of figuring out her life and career after being viewed as the “innocent pop star” that she started her career as. In another interview with Elle Magazine, she commented on her actions, saying, “People have made me seem like a character so now I am just enjoying playing a character of myself” (Nilles). She was harshly criticized for this period of her life; many people wondered if she had gone insane or was purposely trying to be the biggest slut. But in reality, she was immersing herself in the whore phase of development by experimenting with her music, sexuality, and image – in front of the entire world. She even mentioned to E News that, “it is no wonder why people lose who they really are when they grow up the way I did because there are always people telling me who I am meant to be” (Nilles). However, her journey through this stage was not just for experimentation, because she continued to be an important influence on her fans.
Amid the craziness of her life, Miley still found a way to be a positive influence, which may not seem like something a so-called whore would be able to do. She started the Happy Hippie Foundation, which was dedicated to help fight the “injustice facing homeless youth, the LGBTQ youth, and other vulnerable populations” (Dzurillay). Miley was extremely open about her sexual identity and came out as pansexual, realizing that she never “really felt gay and never felt straight” (Dzurillay). Even though she was criticized for all of her sexually charged music and videos, she never cared, because she felt it was more important to be able to relate to her fans and be someone that they could look up to. This is where she began her transition into the final stage of motherhood, despite not actually being a mother. She finally began figuring out who she wanted to be, what kind of music she wanted to create, and how she wanted to continue being there for her fans. She began to clean up her social media and participated in what she called “social media blackouts,” where she would go inactive for a while to focus and draw some attention away from herself (Nilles). Miley decided to get sober because she wanted to be “super clean and sharp, because I know exactly where I want to be now” (Baker). She even began changing her music back to a more homegrown type of sound, one that reflects what she has been through and brings about a sense of happiness for where she is now. One of the final acts of figuring out her life was reuniting with her ex-fiancé Liam Hemsworth, who many believe is the reason for her life changes, like the ones previously stated. However, this proves exactly the opposite of Miley’s transition into the final stage because it suggests, much like the fairy tale princesses, that the man saves the day every time (Baker). It seems that the media still does not want to give Miley the credit she deserves for figuring out what she wants because she acted in such a “horrifying” manner before reaching that realization. Many believe that Hemsworth “settled Miley down” and while that may be partly accurate, Miley does not attribute her success to having a man help her settle down. She recently told radio host Elvis Duran in an interview:
Yes, you can tell my new music has a leading man that helped bring my feet down to the ground, but those were the changes that I really made. And as a woman I always want to take back that power and say ‘Hey! I did that!’ I made the decision to say that is what I want (Baker).
This “damsel in distress” scenario is not fair to a woman who is simply trying to find her place in this society, because it suggests that being a woman is not enough. Miley has successfully journeyed through each stage, making mistakes and learning about herself, before reaching her final destination into motherhood, which as of now, means maturity.
The journey of self-discovery is not uncommon – in fact, it is a part of life – but many judge people’s manner of self-discovery based on their own ignorance. To some, men’s way of thinking is simply discriminatory and degrading to women, but many people do not think about how dangerous it actually is. Men who place women into a specific gender role with limited activities can become angered when they see women who do not follow their “obligations.” According to researcher H.S. Field, “individuals who thought women should be restricted to ‘traditional’ social roles also tended to believe that rape was often a woman’s fault and that it is motivated by a strong need for sexual release” (Field). When men are taught at a young age how they are supposed to act according to society (strong, powerful, and dominant) they tend to believe that women are supposed to act the opposite (submissive, weak, and obedient), just like Freud did. And this is where the danger lies: men begin to tolerate rape as being acceptable, and in turn, female rape victims think the assault was their fault (David and Schneider). Men claim that sexually independent women are “asking for it” when they do things outside the norms of their sex; this could be dressing proactively, entering the military, or being alone in the bar. In fact, one in three women who join the military “will be raped by one of their fellow soldiers” (Flowers). In the United States as a whole, one in six women is a victim of “attempted or completed rape,” compared to one in thirty-three men (rainn.org). These statistics are not caused by clothing or lifestyle choices, but by the ignorance of those who have grown up thinking that men and women cannot be equal in their sexuality. Unfortunately, society is no help when it comes to this negative view of the self, largely due to the technology available and the powerful existence of social media that allows for unnecessary pressure.
The Pressure from Social Media
When young teenage girls look at magazines with clothing or makeup advertisements, they often see a beautiful model with an extremely thin figure and flawless face. This form of media has long been criticized for creating unrealistic standards for beauty because these models are not real: they are Photoshopped and retouched, because even the most gorgeous models are not good enough. However, the world now has a new form of media, where it is much more difficult to judge whether someone’s appearance and life are portrayed truthfully on their online platforms. What makes it even worse is that it is not simply models or celebrities who seem to be living a perfect life, as seen on their Instagram or Facebook: it is friends, classmates, and coworkers (Jacobson). Social media makes it easy for average people to craft an image that makes others feel as though they “have it all” and that their life is a dream. But those lives are not as perfect as they appear, and in the same manner as a Photoshopped model, they present unfeasible standards for their onlookers. Researchers at Stanford University investigated how this affects college students, inventing the term “duck syndrome” as a way to explain this problem (Jacobson). The phrase “refers to the way a duck appears to glide effortlessly across a pond while below the surface its feet work frantically to stay afloat” (Jacobson). This makes it harder for friends or family members of those “perfect” individuals to see that they need help.
Those who create a life that they hope others will envy (influencers) only cause more problems for themselves, often resulting in eating disorders and mental health issues. Unfortunately, those who envy influencers (followers) end up with the same problems because they feel that their lives are inadequate compared to the influencers’ lives; this in turn creates immense pressure for followers to change their lives. Even those who recognize that many of the influencers’ lives are not as they appear still continue to like and follow their accounts, as if to say, “I approve” (Jacobson). This is how so many celebrities are able to grow their popularity at such a rapid pace; social media is essential to their success (Kavutha). Celebrities like Miley Cyrus or Kim Kardashian, whether they like it or not, are trendsetters. Social media has made it so that they must post what they are doing, who they are with, and what they are wearing (Kavuntha). People want to know these things because they want to feel validated in their daily life choices; if they see Miley drinking Starbucks, they have to do it too, because why question a celebrity? What many people do not realize is the fact that celebrities are often forced to post, regardless of their desire not to (Kavuntha). They also feel immense pressure to present their glamorous life in the correct way to satisfy their fans; not doing so risks heavy criticism. These are dangerous forms of validation, but it is how a society creates norms for people to live by, since sites like Facebook and Instagram are used to define what is acceptable and what is not (“Sexual Assault and the Media”). When this is the case, and society is so badly addicted to social media regardless of the harm is creates, the severity of important issues like rape or gender discrimination will only increase.
Social Media and Gender Discrimination in the Workplace
The fast-changing world of technology has had a much greater influence on different sectors of society than one might initially think. Besides being able to reinvent one’s life, technology has made it much easier for different forms of social media to influence the way that a society thinks and acts. More gender-based discriminatory acts are committed because of the use of social media platforms. This is true even at the workplace (Haughton). More hiring managers use sites like Facebook or Twitter to take a closer look into their applicants, which is not a bad practice unless they use it in a negative manner. The University of the West of Scotland conducted a study on the role that social media plays for hiring managers and found that “managers who snoop on applicants’ profiles are more likely to enforce a certain bias against female candidates, particularly their physical appearance” (Haughton). There is a reason why most job applications do not require a photo, as it often allows for some form of discrimination (particularly age or gender), but with the access that social media provides, recruiters are able to get away with it. Women now have to realize that a degree might not be enough, because, according to the “61% of managers who admit to using social media to make hiring decisions,” one’s looks may be the difference between getting the job or not (Haughton). For this reason, women must be more aware of the photos they post online, while men can simply focus on liking or commenting on photos (Ramasubbu). As if real life did not create enough pressure, social media allows for seemingly random people to comment on or criticize another person’s life, to which they have no connection. It is not difficult to see where this goes very wrong, especially for women and especially in the context of rape culture.
Social Media and Rape Culture
It is easy for people to provide their opinions and share information through social media platforms, not just to friends and family, but also to people all over the world. Access like this invite abuse, and for women, it seems especially harsh because of the constant pressure to post “sexy”, but not “slutty,” photos and to be “proud of their accomplishments,” but not “cocky.” It has been proven that women use social media more than men, but the amount and severity of the harassment they receive is also much higher (Ramasubbu). Based solely on gender and appearance, women find themselves victims to a form of online bullying referred to as “slut-shaming” (Ramasubbu). The word slut, a dirty, nasty, and offensive word used to label women who are “loud and unclean, when they should be submissive and pure,” is used in a contradictory manner (Nelson). Women who find themselves wearing this label are not dirty or unclean; they are simply open about their sexuality. To society, and especially those on social media, this means they are “easy” or “a whore.” Confidence is taken to mean that the woman lacks self-respect, making the first move is mistaken for desperation, and having more than one partner is seen as pathetic (Nelson). People on social media who engage in slut shaming seem to forget that the “slut” in the photo is a real person who may now feel rejected in this society. Instagram and Twitter allow for this to be done in an extremely vicious manner, and slut shaming is a reflection of rape culture, where the woman is the one to blame. Women who act or dress in a provocative manner are told that “they deserve less respect than girls who aren’t and they did something that lead to them being raped” (Nelson). What makes this whole situation worse is the fact that social media invites negative commentary on the stories of rape that get reported. Men are able to publicly sympathize with the rapist, claiming that the woman “asked for it,” which in turn prevents any other women who have been sexually abused from coming forward and getting the help they need. All of this hurt exists because strong women – women who are confident in their skin or their lifestyle choices – are considered not to be acting in accordance with their gender role. Women are bullied online and in person for engaging in the journey that comes naturally for both genders.
It is possible that Freud, while flawed in his thinking, may have been right about one thing. There are roles for women (virgin, whore, and mother), but he was wrong to say that women must occupy just one role their whole lives and he was wrong to suggest that any of these roles are negative. In fact, these are not roles, but rather stages that women must go through, just as fairy tales princesses and modern celebrities do, in order to figure out who they want to be. Women are not meant to occupy a specific role just because history says so, and they certainly should not be made to feel less than for the decisions they make along the way. Words like whore and slut are used in demeaning ways, when in reality, being a whore is a natural and positive thing. A woman should not have to question her appearance for fear of being judged for showing too much skin; instead, all that says about her is that she is confident in her body. A woman should not be dissuaded from certain male-dominated occupations like the military, and men should not feel so threatened that they need to assert their power over women through sexually violent acts. Women should be able to use social media without being tormented by men who think their opinion holds any sway over someone else’s life. Society is slowly learning to adapt to the idea that women can break away from the “rules” associated with their gender, thanks to celebrities like Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian. Actor and model Amber Rose, who has been slut-shamed for many years, has taken that word and given it a whole new meaning. Every year, she holds an event called a “Slutwalk” to help empower women who are victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and victim blaming. Those who have influence, like celebrities, are able create a world where women do not have to be ashamed of their sexuality. On TV, Disney is also reshaping their storylines; the old Disney movies are classic, but flawed. They teach young girls the wrong message – women need a man to be whole – but girls are capable of being whole on their own, through their own journey of self-discovery. The new Disney movies, like Brave or Frozen, embrace new ideas, including the importance of loving oneself, following one’s own desires first, and the fact that being independent is okay, even for a woman. In order to change the previous way of life, one where women are forced into one role and punished for not following the rules, society must be aware of and listen to the changes around them. Movements like #MeToo and the Slutwalk continue to raise awareness of gender issues, and the media will continue to portray women the way they should be portrayed: with respect, with a voice, and as equals.
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