All I want for Christmas is an end to porn culture sold as empowerment

Love magazine’s advent calendar teaches women that being “strong” means being objectified.

Emily Ratajkowski, “carb-loading”

In case you were so lucky to have missed it, Love magazine has been unveiling its annual advent calendar throughout the month. And, surprise! We’ve been gifted with a full month of objectification.

Love magazine is a British style magazine, so you might think this would be par for the course. Fashion, after all, doesn’t shy away from objectifying women. But what is particularly noxious about this advent calendar, is that it’s theme appears to be “strong women.” And apparently the thing that best exemplifies female strength is women pretending to wrestle, box, and play tennis in their underwear.

Day two of the advent calendar begins with model Ashley Graham chalking her hands and grabbing her butt cheeks, before pulling a sled down the street in lingerie. As all strong women do, of course.

As if this didn’t set a bad enough precedent, day three brings us feminist icon, Emily Ratajkowski, a model best known for “celebrating women’s bodies” in Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines video. Ratajkowski demonstrates her strength by “carb loading,” which doesn’t so much involve eating pasta as it does writhing around in and licking it. The video concludes with an inspiring quote from Ratajkowski: “I love pasta and being greased up in olive oil more than life itself!”

What’s even worse than the porny video, though, is the model’s “amazing polemic” Love magazine quotes alongside it:

“To me, female sexuality and sexiness, no matter how conditioned it may be by a patriarchal ideal, can be incredibly empowering for a woman if she feels it is empowering to her. The way I dress, act, flirt, dance, have sex – those are my decisions and they shouldn’t be impacted by men. Being sexy is fun and I like it. I should never have to apologize for that. My life is on my terms and if I feel like putting on sexy underwear, it’s for me. Personal choice is the core ideal in my concept of feminism”

YAS KWEEN. Being sexy is my fun choice and I choose fun sexy choices that just happen to look exactly like pornography. Strong! Empowered! Feminism! Words!

Oddly, she goes on to reference the #MeToo campaign in her defence, saying:

“In the wake of the Harvey fallout and women coming forward with incredible amounts of sexual harassment cases, I have been so disappointed to hear women talk about ‘modesty’ and ‘our responsibility’ as if we need to, yet again, adjust to make it ‘easier’ for the rest of the world. I’m tired of having to consider how I might be perceived by men if I wear the short skirt or post a sexy Instagram. I want to do what I want to do. Feminism isn’t about adjusting, it’s about freedom and choice.”

I wonder, though, who Ratajkowski believes she is rubbing spaghetti all over her breasts for? Herself? Who is she “adjusting” for and “making it easier” for? Who and what does this imagery serve? It’s revealing that Ratajkowski attempts to place blame on women for trying to dictate her choices, avoiding naming men and patriarchy, especially in the context of of Weinstein. She can’t acknowledge that Weinstein’s treatment of women is very much about seeing women as objects for his use, pleasure, titillation, and abuse — an idea demonstrated very clearly in Love magazine’s campaign. She can’t call out misogyny or porn culture because she would alienate her male audience.

Ratajkowski goes on:

“I’ve had men comment on sexy images of me online and say ‘this is empowering to you? Ha! I just masturbated to it so hope you feel good about yourself!’ I guess that’s the way people can react, which ironically, ultimately serves my point. I don’t care about your reaction or what you do with my expression of self. In fact, it has nothing to do with you at all and that’s the point-which is why it feels good.”

Over and over again, women who defend their choice to participate in porn culture or present pornified imagery of themselves claim that are “doing it for themselves” or that they “don’t care what anyone thinks,” which of course begs the question: Why, then, are you offering up this imagery for public consumption? If you truly only enjoyed writhing around in spaghetti “for yourself,” you would simply do it in the privacy of your own home.

Beyond that, it is certainly convenient that “you doing you,” as Ratajkowski says in defense of “girl[s] grinding in lingerie” in front of the camera, exactly replicates the imagery men create and sell to other men in pornography.

As directed by Katie Grand, Editor in Chief of Love, Ratajkowski concludes her “polemic” and video with the words “Stay Strong.”

It is sickening to me that women are being told (by other women, at that) that to “stay strong” means to self-objectify. The entire campaign seems to have a theme of athleticism, which may well have conveyed a message of empowerment, were the women actually engaging in sports or other activities genuinely representing strength in females.

On the 19th day of the advent calendar, Kate Upton is featured “playing tennis” in a bodysuit and stilettos. The camera focuses on her breasts and buttocks. She doesn’t appear to actually hit the tennis ball once. What exactly is so “strong” about pretending to play “sports” solely so that you can be objectified and masturbated to by men? It certainly isn’t for the pleasure of the woman in question (Upton, in this case), because if she actually enjoyed playing tennis, she would be playing tennis. In comfortable and practical clothes and shoes that allowed her to actually play tennis. 

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This thing where women are taught that they are permitted to be “strong” only if they are also sexualized and feminized is disturbing. The last thing women should be thinking about when playing sports or exercising “for themselves” is whether or not men find them sexy. Many of us do, of course, think about this… Mostly because of imagery like that depicted in Love magazine’s advent calendar. This is how we learn to see ourselves through the male gaze and to understand ourselves as only valuable if we are viewed as fuckable. This message not only harms women’s sense of worth and self-esteem, but it teaches men that women exist for their pleasure, first and foremost, which contributes to sexual harassment and assault.

This Christmas, I want an end to this harmful, contradictory messaging. And frankly, I hope Grand and Love magazine are ashamed of themselves for contributing to a culture that breeds attitudes like those of Harvey Weinstein.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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