The aim of my dissertation is to explore the portrayal of feminine sexuality on social media, in particular that of the actress and supermodel Emily Ratajkowski. Ratajkowski, a self-proclaimed feminist, claims to feel empowered by expressing her sexuality online. Ratajkowski profits from choosing to sexualise her body, through sponsored online posts, photoshoots, modelling, and through her swimwear line ‘Inamorata’.
Philosophical questions surrounding self-objectification as exemplified by Ratajkowski includes female empowerment, body politics and oppression. I have explored these issues through various primary texts - balancing classical thought with contemporary - including Kant’s Lectures of Ethics, Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, Bartky’s Femininity and Domination and Nussbaum’s Sex & Social Justice, among others.
Central to the above issues is the problem of objectification. For Kant, sexual desire conduces to the objectification of persons through a thing-like treatment of persons as means for personal satisfaction rather than as ends in themselves. In viewing persons as an object for their use, Kant considers this objectification to be a debasement of humanity. However, Nussbaum considers Kant’s view itself to be dehumanising, since to reduce sexuality, which she considers to be a major part of humanity, is to subhumanise both our corporeality and our individuality.
For Nussbaum, context is of vital importance when considering objectification, because when exercised autonomously, sexual objectification can reveal self-expression and empowerment. This view is shared by Audre Lorde. However, Lorde also considers that superficial commodification of the body counteracts empowerment since it represents suppression of sensation and feeling.
Beauvoir posits that woman is always subject to the male gaze, and as such both becomes and object and grasps herself as object. Since woman grasps herself as object, she strives to attract the gaze of others, and in doing so fuses man’s desire and the love of her own self together.
Beauvoir acknowledges that some women use their bodies as exploitable capital, and in doing so, gain a certain economic autonomy. However, for Beauvoir, one who, in order to profit, exploits their femininity, in attempting to make themselves subject, only falls further into the grasp of the male gaze and bodily demands expected of her. In this way, for Beauvoir, self-objectification leads only to further oppression rather than empowerment.
Bartky considers objectification to be institutionalised and systematic within society. So, women internalise the intimations of inferiority society projects on them. Bordo agrees with this conception of the female body, stating it is a direct and practical locus of social control.
For Bartky, to preen ones’ appearance in the stereotype of femininity is a form of obedience to the patriarchy, since it is a reflection that woman is conscious of the male gaze, and regardless of whatever else she may become, she is a body designed to please men. Alcoff further states that this mediation of the female body conforms to patriarchal constructions of woman and is thus dominated by misogyny.
These various texts have considerably shaped my understanding of objectification and sexual oppression, and also illuminated further questions which surround Ratajkowski. Through consideration of various viewpoints expressed in the secondary literature dealt with in this review, and those listed in the bibliography which I have not been able to fully deal with, as yet, I will be able to shape critical responses and arguments to the questions which arise in my dissertation.
Alcoff, Linda Martín, ‘The Identity Crisis in Feminist Theory’, Visible Identities: Race, Gender, and the Self, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 133-151.
Bartky, Sandra Lee, Femininity and Domination: Studies in the Phenomenology of Oppression, (New York: Routledge, 1990)
Beauvoir, Simone de, The Second Sex, tr. By Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier, (New York: Vintage Books: A Division of Random House, Inc., 2011)
Bordo, Susan, Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993)
Butler, Judith, ‘Sex and Gender in Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex’, Yale French Studies, No. 72 (1986), pp. 35-49.
Heinämaa, Sara, ‘Simone de Beauvoir’s Phenomenology of Sexual Difference’, Hypatia, Vol. 14, No. 4 (1999), pp. 114-132.
Kant, Immanuel, Lectures of Ethics, ed. and tr. by Peter Heath, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997)
Lord, Audre, ‘Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power’, in Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches, (New York: Ten Speed Press, 2007), pp. 53-59,
Nussbaum, Martha C., Sex & Social Justice, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999)
Sawicki, Jana, Disciplining Foucault: Feminism, Power, and the Body, (New York: Routledge, 1991)
 Immanuel Kant, Lectures of Ethics, ed. and tr. by Peter Heath, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 27:384.
 Ibid., 27:385.
 Martha C. Nussbaum, Sex & Social Justice, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 231.
 Ibid., p. 227.
 Ibid., p. 231.
 Audre Lord, ‘Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power’, in Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches, (New York: Ten Speed Press, 2007), pp. 53-59, p. 54.
 Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, tr. by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier, (New York: Vintage Books: A Division of Random House, Inc., 2011), p. 404.
 Ibid., p. 405.
 Ibid., p. 694.
 Ibid., p. 696.
 Sandra Lee Bartky, Femininity and Domination: Studies in the Phenomenology of Oppression, (New York: Routledge, 1990), p. 23.
 Ibid., p. 22.
 Susan Bordo, Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), p. 165.
 Bartky, p. 80.
 Linda Martín Alcoff, ‘The Identity Crisis in Feminist Theory’, Visible Identities: Race, Gender, and the Self, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 133-151, p. 134.
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