How do I feel less uncomfortable with sexism in the media?
May 9, 2014 9:53 AM   Subscribe

How do I feel less uncomfortable with sexism in the media? Or am I the problem?

I'd first like to say that I enjoy sex. I think it's a beautiful, mutually satisfying experience and I have an incredibly loving and thoughtful partner who shares similar beliefs. I don't think that I'm a prude. I am a college-aged female (not sure if that is relevant). This is an embarrassing question for me, but it is something that I have grappled with on my own for a while and I hope that you can help me to understand it better.

I get a visceral, sick-to-my-stomach feeling when I see a movie, commercial, etc. that depicts women as sexual objects. In the case of a movie, it usually ruins the experience for me. I avoid most movies that exist solely to be raunchy or "appeal to the male gaze," simply because their content does not interest me. However, even when I see a movie that I think will be OK, usually because my partner wants to see it, I'll come across this. The movies that I choose, just because of their nature, are usually less likely to feature this, but I don't want to be a wet blanket when my partner wants to watch something different. This feeling just makes it difficult.

I don't know if it is insecurity... I think I'm confident and I like myself. Perhaps it is, though, because I feel more uncomfortable when I see these scenes with my partner present (or even, weirdly, when I'm with my dad, but it's worse with my partner). I think sex and nudity in films can be tasteful and appealing, particularly when two people are mutually engaging in it. I enjoy porn, typically of the "female-friendly" variety, as well.

Though I have been feeling this way for years, I haven't explicitly talked to my partner about it because I worry that I am being unreasonable and immature. Many women seem to be OK with it, so I wonder why it bothers me so much. I just hate the argument that "men are visual creatures" and as a woman, I'm just supposed to accept that as the answer to why the media is the way that it is; I believe that the media instead perpetuates this blameless "boys will be boys" attitude instead of being the product of it. I am a person with sexual desires, too... why am I supposed to "just deal with it"? It just really bothers me.

Aside from avoiding these forms of media, is there something I can do to "get over it" or at least make myself less upset? Is this something I'll outgrow? Really, any advice on how to deal would be appreciate. Thank you!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Congratulations, you're a feminist! Welcome to the club! You may never be able to unsee this, so I would start looking at better movies.
posted by corb at 9:57 AM on May 9, 2014 [76 favorites]

There are lots of women who AREN'T okay with it.

You are always justified in not liking something artistic for any reason. You are also justified in being uncomfortable with what looks like a large chunk of the world thinking you are only good for one thing, just by virtue of being a woman. You're not immature or a prude, you just like what you like.

Because, hell, mutual enthusiasm is hot, and maybe you can be the one to prove that to your partner.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:00 AM on May 9, 2014 [8 favorites]

I do not find these things acceptable, avoid things that I know are going to trade in sexism as entertainment, and will stop consuming media that goes there. Because my husband is a person I am compatible with and is also a feminist, he feels the same way.

It's okay to talk about these things, and it's okay to have limits. What if one of you got violently ill from shaky-cam media? Would you expect that one person just needs to sit there trying not to puke rather than speaking up or opting out?

In fact, my husband has a very low tolerance for specific types of torture and gore. Like, he'll faint. I watch Hannibal in another room. I get bored as hell by most comic book movies/tv, so he watches Agents of SHIELD while I do something else. That's called compromise, and standing up for yourself.

"Getting over it" would be, in my opinion, an intellectual step backwards.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:01 AM on May 9, 2014 [21 favorites]

I think your only "problem" is the fact that you're second-guessing yourself here. The objectification of women in pop culture is a serious problem and I think you're totally justified in feeling uncomfortable about it.

So why are you second-guessing yourself? Because another thing that sucks about our sexist society is that women are taught to doubt ourselves in this way.

You're in college? Have you taken any women's studies classes? If not, I think you will get a lot out of them - at the very least, you will get to meet and read the works of other women with a similar perspective.
posted by lunasol at 10:02 AM on May 9, 2014 [12 favorites]

Also, another thing: I was raised by feminists AND I was a women's studies major AND involved in campus feminist politics, and I STILL felt a bit uncomfortable at times with my emotional reactions to sexism when I was your age. I often felt like it was "my problem" I needed to deal with on my own, even when I intellectually knew better, knew that it was part of societal or institutional sexism.

This is another thing that sexism (and racism, and all the other "isms") do, is try to make people feel like they are the problem, not society. This is convenient for those in power, because if you're busy trying to fix yourself, you'll be too busy or isolated or insecure to take on the power structures and actually change things.
posted by lunasol at 10:07 AM on May 9, 2014 [31 favorites]

There has literally just been a BBC doc on this called Blurred Lines after that shit pervy song (which by the way there is an excellent piss take out of it on Youtube) not sure if you can get this if you're in the states. There is also an actress who has a film about the strain pressure to get her kit off put on her soul (can't remember the name is on youtube.. maybe missrepresentation??)

This might help with at least knowing you're not alone. It's a weird one.. I can really relate and in all honesty porn culture actually puts me off even going out with someone (I have come across what I thought were thinking men with anti-fantastic porny views on women). I know porn isn't the issue for you per se...

One interesting thing.. I went out with a pretty alpha male who said one of the sexiest things I'd ever heard that he'd "rather be shot that ever go to a lapdance" I knew he meant it too. But you know what.. he was sexually DEAD.. seriously.. like the other extreme.

meet some folk with similar views
Work on trying to change things for the better
Somehow make thinking less rigid as this crap is everywhere and life's going to be hard if it hurts every day.
posted by tanktop at 10:09 AM on May 9, 2014

Accept these as conditions of living, for now, but stay mad. Stay mad and use that emotion to DO stuff. Make better stuff than what exists now. Support people who make good stuff. Talk to people around you about why this media is harmful. Keep the conversation going.

Don't back down, don't accept it as your "problem" but as a symptom of a lopsided society with room to grow.
posted by magdalemon at 10:13 AM on May 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have quit watching sexist movies, TV shows and reading sexist books. I used to watch Criminal Minds - it was my wakeup call. When I realized it glorified the torture and murder of women, I rethought the garbage I was putting in my brain.

These days, I am careful what I watch, and I read mostly biographies and non-fiction.

I'm in the market for a fairly expensive car, and I am paying very close attention to the TV ads. So far, there is only one car, the Caddie SRX, for which the ads are aimed equally at men and women (and by equally, I mean they don't have men fantasizing about cars and women, and they don't have women driving ugly cars full of kids and dogs).

I am putting my money into this - which is the only way to change things.
posted by clarkstonian at 10:15 AM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

First things first, divorce "whether sex is a good thing in general" from "seeing women portrayed as sex objects". That way lies madness, friend. Don't get wrapped up in the Cool Girl vs. PC Prude dichotomy.

Second thing second, stop watching movies made to appeal only to the male gaze. There is so much media out there, these days, and so many varied ways of getting access to it. There are entire genres and cable channels I just don't watch, because I hate juvenile raunch humor. Yeah, there are probably some things I'm missing out on. So what?

Also, this:

I don't want to be a wet blanket when my partner wants to watch something different.

This is kind of everything. Dudes create this false dilemma, where, like, if you don't like whatever they want to watch, you're a humorless chick who doesn't understand anything. Fuck it. You don't have to watch stuff you don't want to watch. If your boyfriend can't handle the occasional "no Adam Sandler movies" veto, especially with the explanation that it tears you up and makes you feel viscerally ill, he doesn't deserve the title of "boyfriend". Period.

I'm not saying to make him watch only the finest in super serious Issues Movie oscar fodder, or only romcoms, or something. But there should be some compromise you guys can make, and if your boyfriend can't stand to watch garbage on his own time, when it's not Movie With My Girlfriend night, he must not care about you very much.

Stop worrying about being a "wet blanket". Say what you think. If your guy is really that much of a dick that he'd be like "regular sex with someone who is nice to me vs. puerile objectification movies, hmmmmmmm, gonna have to go with the dumb movies", he doesn't deserve you.
posted by Sara C. at 10:16 AM on May 9, 2014 [28 favorites]

I agree with everyone else that this is a problem with our culture, and NOT a problem with you.

But I will add that my best coping strategy is having a large circle of other women feminists with whom I can regularly and vehemently dump my frustrations and feelings of hopelessness and anger on regularly. Men can listen and can be wonderful supporters and partners and allies, but other feminist women GET IT in a way that even the best and most supportive of my male friends can't. And they can share their stories and their anger with me, too. So maybe try intentionally cultivating some friends who feel as you do, so that you will have regular and reaffirming outlets for your feelings?

And also it helps to remember that the sexist culture perpetuates itself through defense mechanisms that are designed (intentionally or otherwise) to make you feel crazy. You are justified in being angry and upset about this, you are not the crazy one, and it's not a personal weakness if you need to check in and receive some reassurance every once in a while that you are entirely within your rights to be pissed off. You're up against a system that has an interest in weaseling its way into your heart and mind and convincing you that you're insane-- because that's how it keeps going. Hang in there.
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:26 AM on May 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

The movies that I choose, just because of their nature, are usually less likely to feature this, but I don't want to be a wet blanket when my partner wants to watch something different.

There are several options here:
1. Let him watch the movie by himself.
2. Or be in the same, but you're on the computer, reading or something else, where you're not paying much attention to the movie, but you're physically present.
3. Watch the movie and just ignore or don't parts you find sexist.
4. Let the problematic aspects go and concentrate on the parts of the of the movie you like. For example, I love the series Deadwood, but the liberal use of the word 'nigger' in latter seasons bothers the hell out of me, similar to your feeling of sexism. But the series overall is excellent and its use of the word feels right for that time and place. So, I just let it go in this particular instance.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:37 AM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I kind of suspect that visual media use the male thing of visual sex appeal out of laziness. It is convenient. It fits in nicely with the fact that it's, you know, a visual media to begin with.

I am nearly 49 and female. I used to write my own "porn" as part of therapy. Really, a very big thing for me as a girl is strong emotion and emotional attachment. I struggle with how on earth to convey that and portray that. It took me a long time to even learn what worked for me. Being molested as a kid, the thing about that is that my feelings were the main thing that were ignored.

Something I almost never talk about is that, honestly, the biggest problem was not that some guy did things to me I did not want. I could have relatively easily washed that off (in fact, I kind of did -- until I got a boyfriend and how relatives reacted to THAT was what seriously fucked up my head). The much, much bigger problem was that even after he stopped molesting me, it was not okay for me to get my needs met. He was possessive and did not want other men having access to me. AND the really super big head fuck is that other people colluded with that to a very deep level. And still do.

The problem with being molested from age 11 to age 13.5 and raped at age 12 is not the physical harm done me. It is the deep degree to which my feelings were ignored and negated as irrelevant to anything. And still are, so much of the time, by so many people.

In recent years, I have come to appreciate some visual things. They have come to have meaning for me. But it has been a long, strange journey. For me, music is generally a better medium for relating to this stuff than visual media are. And I have like no musical talent. I can't sing and I can't read music and that sort of thing. So I can't use that as an outlet for my feelings and needs and desires. I can draw a little and I do some of that and I still wrestle with questions of how to express that very emotional and social feminine orientation and preference in a visual media. I feel like I am finding a path forward in that regard but I feel like I kind of have to build it from the ground up. Or something.

I have had some men kind of help me with this, in some sense. I have had some men share some imagery with me and the meaning behind it for them and that sort of thing and that has helped. But, even there, men who had a strong appeal for me tended to value music a great deal. And I kind of wonder if that is part of why they were drawn to me. I have a long history of getting compliments on my voice and the photos my ex took of me and comments he made suggest that, unlike most of the rest of the world, he did not find me very visually appealing. But like some of the other men I have been attached to, music was very important to him. So perhaps the fact that I seem to have a nice voice, in spite of having no ability to sing, is part of why he put up with my shit while apparently finding me fat and ugly for much of our marriage.

So I will suggest that part of the problem here is just that visual media fits nicely with the fact that a lot of men place a high value on looks. It's just challenging as hell to find a feminine perspective that fits well with that. Women tend to not be as interested in male physique (or whatever) as men are in female physique. Women tend to be drawn to men primarily for other reasons and those other reasons are hard to capture on film, even in metaphorical terms.

But, I have come to have some appreciation for the metaphorical stuff presented in some films. Kind of like, how, at the end of Chicken Little, the pudgy, nerdy, ordinary kids watch the handsome, heroic, etc actors re-enact their drama and they say "That was EXACTLY how it happened", I have come to appreciate that a beautiful woman in a film has some metaphorical meaning a la the phrase "all brides are beautiful." In other words, that being in love makes one see the object of desire differently and that makes it seem more "beautiful" and movies and the like are, in some sense, referencing that when they make all women have ultra hot bodies.

So that's just where I am currently and it has been a very long journey. But, still, music works better for me. Music is a more immediately emotional medium (and, in fact, is used in film to set emotional tone). Yet, I can't express myself that way so I work at trying to bridge that gap and figure out how I, as a woman, can express what is in me when I am not musical but do have some small artistic talent. And it's just challenging as hell, which helps make me a bit more forgiving of filmmakers and the like when they can't seem to get it right and seem to just do a lot of shitty things which just reinforce women's body image issues and so forth. But, in some sense, I think it is an inherent problem of the media itself.
posted by Michele in California at 10:41 AM on May 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am a bisexual women. In many contexts, I enjoy looking at pretty ladies. But when they're objectified, I don't enjoy looking at them, and I feel bad for them. You're not alone!

You may find that once you open up about this you will be able to deal with it better. Being able to say "Did they just do an ass shot of Wonder Woman in a children's cartoon?" to my husband at such egregious moments makes them a lot easier to put up with.
posted by chaiminda at 10:59 AM on May 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would say: don't be afraid to broach the subject with your partner. Apart from anything else, it's a bit of a litmus test: a good partner will be the sort of guy you can talk to about these things, a guy who'll listen and give you a considered reply without getting defensive.

I do not think you are being unreasonable. However, plenty of people, most of them men, will tell you you are. They will say:

- "But it has to have sex appeal in order to sell!"

- "She's pretty! What's wrong with looking pretty?"

- "Okay, she's wearing a bikini, but she's still a Strong Female Character!"

- "[blather blather market it's aimed at blather blather"]

- [secret assumption that you are just envious of the female character's hot body]

Basically this boils down to: "All mainstream art has to contain visual porn for the hetero-male-18-35 demographic. What people outside that demographic want from art is less important than that."

But, you know, things can change. If Doing Something About It would make you feel better, the US-based Women's Media Center has a report form where you can report instances of sexism in the media; this gives them ammo to put pressure on TV networks, ad agencies and film studios. This Guardian article also gives heartening news from the UK side. Basically, it all boils down to "Make your voice heard." Blog, tweet, link like crazy. (Be prepared for men to be assholes to you online; make sure you use a platform where you can block people.)
posted by Pallas Athena at 11:03 AM on May 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

Nthing that those scenes are often awful to watch (and yeah, watching them with a male friend, partner, or family member can intensify that because you are forced to recognize the fact that this person you like/love/respect may in fact be enjoying them in a way that seems demeaning to women in general), and you are definitely not the problem.

Have you read Laura Mulvey's essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema"? Modern critical conversations have moved on a bit from her formulation of the male gaze, but the essay was groundbreaking in its day and still provides a really useful framework for thinking about why depictions of women as sexual objects are both so pervasive and so upsetting (and are distinct from depictions of women as sexual subjects). It is a little dense, but it's also an important enough essay that you could almost definitely find a professor in cinema studies or women's and gender studies who would be willing to discuss it with you during their office hours. Or if you can't, fie on your school, and feel free to MeMail me.
posted by dizziest at 11:04 AM on May 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

why am I supposed to "just deal with it"?

Sometimes that's The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck.

One of my exes liked to watch juvenile movies and wanted me beside him watching them. I agreed, only if I could make commentary. "Can you imagine a man fighting in that outfit?" and "How many male characters do we have so far, and now we're just meeting the first female character? Bechdel? I'm waiting..." Yeah, he stopped wanting me to watch those movies with him.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 11:09 AM on May 9, 2014 [10 favorites]

You're right on and you're right to be mad, and you don't have to second guess yourself.

When I want to enjoy some mainstream cultural crap with some sexist garbage thrown in, I both enjoy it and make fun of it and deconstruct it with my husband and talk about what it will be like for our daughter when she has to contend with movies where there is a woman just thrown in for plot purposes because there's a checkbox next to 'get someone with a vagina walking around in there' and the woman has no characteristics of her own AT ALL. I hate that more than male gaze -- when the female characters are simply not actual people with no histories or opinions.

I like talking about the hidden messages, and someday my daughter and I will talk about those messages together, because she's going to have to live in this world.

When it's really, really bad, like when it's just 'how many times can this camera feature this woman's boobs' -- there's a real connection between that shit and truly bad story telling. That's cheap and shallow and can be discredited for being cheap and shallow and boring and just - bad entertainment. You don't have to put up with bad entertainment.

So I guess for me the answer is a defensive posture of intellectual distance, being with someone who will understand what I am talking about, and enjoying the crap parts anyway, like a bag of Doritos where you know that orange stuff isn't actual food but you're eating it anyway. Just don't eat a ton of it and don't pretend it's not crap.

I'm 44, for what it's worth.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:12 AM on May 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Unfortunately, this is one of those areas where you can't be plugged back into the Matrix, so to speak - once you notice it, you can't ignore it.

You may find this list of movies that pass/fail the Bechdel Test helpful.
posted by melissasaurus at 11:13 AM on May 9, 2014 [8 favorites]

I hate Walking Dead for this reason. So misogynistic. Can't watch it.

If it bothers you in a panicky way, then it could be triggering an insecurity. And yes it is disheartening when the beloved men in your life accept the inequality like there's nothing wrong with it. But that's because they don't know! Not because they're evil patriarchs. Sexism is insidious because so many people don't question it.

It is perfectly ok to leave or not want to watch. Don't call yourself a 'wet blanket' over it, that's worrying more about men's comfort than your own. (Like Katy "I'm not a feminist" Perry.) Don't diminish your pov in order to make him feel comfortable & unthreatened!

Personally I don't like violent films & often cover my eyes. My prerogative.

But also consider the converse - rom coms, women's romance books, twilight, etc., that similarly objectify men and reduce them to bit players. It is reasonable that your boyfriend would be grossed out & want to walk out on these films as well.

FWIW: when I'm watching a movie like this with my partner, I'll just say "ugh how horrible" and proceed to describe how the objectification/sexism is taking place. Then we have a good laugh at the writing (or debate the issue). You don't need to make this a heavy honey we need to talk about sexism discussion. Just change your behavior about it.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:15 AM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

You're fine.

Never change.
posted by glasseyes at 11:21 AM on May 9, 2014 [15 favorites]

Lots of folks have said really important things already, and what I have to add is only: I'm a decade or so older than you and in my mid/late twenties I found that suddenly I was able to cope with and think through these things more easily. Some reasons: I became more mature and confident. I'd made more friends I could think about these things with. I finally had a great partner who was very aware of the ways entrenched systemic misogyny worked and it was wonderful finally being able to talk through it and truly understand my boyfriend was on my side--and analyzing sexism in everyday life could be part of ordinary casual conversation without feeling threatening to a man. Also, and it's somewhat horrible to say this, I just got used to running into it whether I liked it or not, every day. I think what I mean, though, is that every single instance of misogyny in the media no longer felt like an assault on my individual independence and autonomy. Existing as a woman [or a person of color, or gender nonconforming, or with a disability, or an immigrant, or whatever] means we're constantly, consciously and subconsciously, navigating layers of systemic oppression so entrenched in society that sometimes we only have enough emotional energy to notice the most egregious things--but the lucky thing about this, in some way, is that even though we all have varied experiences and frameworks for dealing with it and language for articulating how it affects us, we're not alone. A whole lot of people on this thread and around you in your life really truly empathize with you because having to deal with this shit all life long really sucks, but at least we have each each other. Plus quite a few men who are genuine allies.

A footnote: I also used to be really superficially judgey about how other women dealt with this. Women who adhered to traditional gender norms while I was busy being butcher-than-thou, or who painted their nails red or gave fake numbers to guys at the bar, etc. I've gotten a lot happer and more self-accepting now that I acknowledge we're all in the same leaky boat and some of us have different strategies for sealing the leak or bailing the swampy boat bottom.
posted by tapir-whorf at 11:53 AM on May 9, 2014 [11 favorites]

I agree with everyone who says you aren't in the wrong in finding gratuitous male "fanservice" to be repulsive, and regarding watching films with your partner, talk to him about your feelings in advance so he can more fully understand your feelings on this, and anticipate your concerns about watching a film before suggesting it.

You aren't a "wet blanket" by doing this, you are informing your partner about what you do and don't like, and why. It's similar in ways to someone who doesn't like sappy romantic films, or violent and gorey films. My wife knows I don't like certain kinds of violence, so she'll watch those movies when I'm not around, or when I'm doing something else.

To expand the analogies, a considerate partner will work with your preferences in media like they would in your preferences for foods. Your partner isn't allergic to bananas but just doesn't like their taste, so even though you love bananas, you wouldn't suggest a banana to you for a snack, even though you'll buy them for himself. Your partner's tastes aren't limiting to you, but you considers them, because you and your partner are aware that there is give and take in your relationship. You don't do everything together, and you don't like all of the same things, but that's normal and natural.

Of course, there are some preferences that are deal-breakers in relationships, so be aware of that and be confident in who you are and what you like and don't like, and don't feel that you need to suffer through discomfort to appease a partner. There are people who will accommodate and be considerate of your feelings and preferences, even if your current partner isn't.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:02 PM on May 9, 2014

I stopped being so uncomfortable with this sort of thing when I stopped trying to be the "cool girl" who was relaxed with all of it. I'm open with being a feminist nowadays and call sexism as I see it. And because of that, sexism in general tends to bother me less, because I see it as sexism instead of myself being too sensitive or jealous or manhating or whatever. I still enjoy a lot of "problematic" media but have no problem saying what's on my mind when I'm watching it with other people.
posted by noxperpetua at 12:15 PM on May 9, 2014 [6 favorites]

Turning this around: why should you, or anyone else for that matter, be comfortable with sexism in the media?

I'm a feminist, my undergrad is in women's studies, and there definitely was a point of my life when I was in college around when I first became conscious of how misogynist and objectifying a lot of media can be and had a difficult time watching movies or television without getting mad. My suggestion is to embrace it, read as much about it as you can, seek out books and movies and television shows that portray women as human beings and not objects. It's probably pretty isolating for you if you feel like the rest of the world is okay with something you are not--but there's lots of people out there who feel exactly like you do.
posted by inertia at 12:21 PM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

1. If --- and that's one heck of a big 'if'! --- there is a problem here at all, it is NOT YOU!
2. Enjoying sex (or not, it's your option) and hating sexism are two entirely different things: one is basically enjoying physical contact with another human being; and the other is objecting to being treated as nothing more than a piece of meat or a sex-doll instead of as a fully functioning, thinking equal.
3. Welcome to feminism! As someone who has seen a few more decades than you (I'm 58), here's a scary thought: as bad as it is, this really is a vast improvement to how things used to be. But heck YES there's still a long way to go!
posted by easily confused at 12:29 PM on May 9, 2014

I feel exactly the same. After watching Blue is the Warmest Colour I felt sick to my stomach for several hours. One solution is to find better things to watch; movies and tv and other media that feature women characters who have agency (sexual agency and otherwise) and even better, some that actual deal with sexism head on. i'll give a few random example based on what I can think of at the moment

-Thelma and Louise
- The Kids are Alright
- A League of Their Own
- Most of Miyazaki's films especially The Secret World of Arietty
- Girls
- Sex and the City - even if their lifestyle is completely unrealistic, these women are all portrayed as having sexual agency, I found it very empowering to watch how they are all assertive about sex and have no shame. Maybe your boyfriend should watch it!
posted by winterportage at 12:56 PM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

"There are lots of women who AREN'T okay with it."

Lots of guys too, though proportionally fewer.

"Aside from avoiding these forms of media, is there something I can do to "get over it" or at least make myself less upset? Is this something I'll outgrow? Really, any advice on how to deal would be appreciate. Thank you!"

So, first off, a lot of what you're feeling is totally legit. Because of that, "getting over it" is not necessarily something that you have to do. It's OK to be pissed off and repulsed by it. There's a lot of it that bugs the shit out of me too, and I'm a pretty red-blooded American male who thinks that it's good and even desirable for you to set your own boundaries for how you interact with media.

But from there, since stuff like this is all over, I think it's worthwhile to talk about coping mechanisms.

1) There will always be stuff that just squicks you out. I can't deal with needles. Not noway, not nohow. That moment where they pierce the skin just freaks me out in a heeby-jeeby way. I avoid looking at depictions of them as much as possible.

2) I grew up in a house with a lot of art, and was raised by feminists. The thing with a fair amount of art is that you have to engage with things that are viscerally repulsive. To do that with, say, Joel Peter Witkin or Robert Mapplethorpe's "Bloody Cock" (which apparently doesn't exist online), it can be necessary to develop a critical distance from the work itself and to consider it in form, technique, intention, what-have-you. By thinking about media as media and affecting that distance, it can help insulate you from otherwise repulsive work.

3) Make fun of it. That was the other boon of my feminist parents — A lot of this shit is absolutely ridiculous, and ridiculing it helps take away its power over you while reinforcing exactly why you find a lot of it fucked up.
posted by klangklangston at 1:01 PM on May 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

This is another thing that sexism (and racism, and all the other "isms") do, is try to make people feel like they are the problem, not society. This is convenient for those in power, because if you're busy trying to fix yourself, you'll be too busy or isolated or insecure to take on the power structures and actually change things. Quoted for truth.

Can I just say I'm really impressed that you're thinking this through and expressing it so well? When I was your age, I thought and felt much the same way, but kept quiet in an effort to be agreeable AND because whenever I did express myself, I'd get flustered and end up feeing foolish for trying. I'm now 40, and have only in the past few years starting speaking up about sexism and misogyny in the media/workplace/everyday world. I tend to:

- Avoid it (try to read/watch things that aren't sexist bullshit)
- Critique it (talk it over with friends, post it to my FB wall, think about it while reading/commenting on Metafilter threads)
- Mock it (with lots of eye rolling and MST3K-like talkbacks)
- Rewrite it (try to use my own creative writing efforts to counter what's out there)

I also take breaks sometimes.
posted by LynnDee at 1:45 PM on May 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think you're putting pressure on yourself because you are young. It sounds like you are in college too. You feel guilty for rejecting popular stuff, because a big part of early adulthood -- especially those just-out-of-high-school years -- is experiencing new things. And it's true - it is good for you to try new things and broaden your horizons. That's why you feel this internal pressure to not be closed minded. And it's good! It's smart to realize that there is a lot out there for you to experience and learn and enjoy; and that just because something offends you or is uncomfortable, doesn't necessarily mean you shouldn't give it a chance.

HOWEVER. Part of what you're going to be doing as an adult, as you see what's out there for you to choose from, is setting your own standards for your behavior; for what you fill your head with; for who you associate with; for what you spend your money and your time on. And it's to your credit that you've identified that there is a lot of disgusting sexism in popular culture. So no, you do not need to "get over it." You can set whatever limits feel right to you on what media you consume. If something makes you feel sick to your stomach, don't watch it. You don't need to feel guilty and you don't need to readjust your standards. Your standards sound fine.

That said, your standards on media are different from your boyfriend's, so you need to do something else with your together time. This adjustment is something all long term couples do and there's no need to fight about it. (The overlap in films and TV my husband and I enjoy is about 30%... we don't watch the other 70% together, that's all. They become private time activities, which you will also need in a long term partnership.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:48 PM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

It seems the done thing these days is to rant about it on Tumblr. I don't say that dismissively -- Tumblr is a great source of media critique. So, perhaps when you see one of those scenes that upset you, you could take it as an opportunity to sort of step back and analyze it critically. Perhaps if you're mentally composing the Tumblr post you're going to write when you get home, you'll be too engaged in that to become as emotionally upset over it? Or, even if you still get upset, having an outlet to write about it later might help you process your emotions more quickly?

Your hypersensitivity to sexism is a gift, not a burden. Thanks to the internet (and thanks especially to Tumblr's social-justice-minded community, tags, and easy "reblog" feature) you now have the opportunity to share your insights with thousands of people who may not have otherwise noticed. Awareness that there is a problem is the first step towards fixing it, so use your gift to raise that awareness in others.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:43 PM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I totally hear you - as I've grown older I becomes less and less tolerant of sexism in books and media, and boy is it everywhere! Dissecting the films or books after with girlfriends who get it really helps - or if you're with friends when watching, then sassy backtalk to the screen is the best! My best friend and I had SO much fun making fun of the first Twilight movie, we had a great time watching it partly because it was so sexist and ridiculous (tho its popularity is depressing). If your friends don't share your views, try to meet some people who do - that is the most helpful for me, to have people I can groan to about something and who understand why its problematic without having it explained.

You're right to find all of this appalling, and it does have a negative impact on us to see these things, so I think you are entirely justified in avoiding this stuff as much as possible. Calling it by its name, even just to yourself, can be one way to get a little distance as well if you're watching something that you otherwise like but that contains sexist pieces.
posted by sumiami at 8:47 PM on May 9, 2014

Excellent answers here, I just want to address this part:

Many women seem to be OK with it, so I wonder why it bothers me so much.

Just because there are people who are OK with it doesn't mean that you should be. One reason why people are okay with it is that sexism is so common that it's unremarkable. It's invisible. It's like the air we breathe. I think it's more common for men to blind to it, but women can be too.

You shouldn't be worried that something is wrong with you because you see it. We need more people like you. People like you change the culture for the better.

Another reason is that people have different tolerances for things that they find disturbing in their media. This is very personal - there is nothing wrong with being less tolerant of disturbing things than other people. Most people have hard lines that they draw. It might be violence, it might be certain themes, and so on. One of my hard lines is the kind of overt racism that appears in a lot of older media. I'm watching Monty Python right now and if there was someone here with me while I was fast-forwarding through the Indian caricatures or blackface, I would feel much the same way that you describe yourself feeling. I don't think there's anything wrong with that!

The person who is immature, and who needs to change, is the person who doesn't see the bigotry or who says you're taking it too seriously. The person who is the problem is the person who thinks there's nothing wrong with these movies.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:01 PM on May 9, 2014

Avoiding it is a perfectly good response. It's poison.

Lots of totally non-prudish women and men do this.
posted by ead at 1:33 AM on May 10, 2014

It's OK to be angry about things like this. Many women are angry about how they're portrayed in films, TV, video games. (My SO is a gamer and there are a lot of men who feel that there is no need to have, say, your assassin gun down a troupe of sexy nuns - because it feels icky and patronising, as though men can't enjoy something without being given some T+A to look at.)

When I came across porn at your age, I really didn't like it - it was in print, and the text around the images was breathtakingly misogynistic. I understood why people wanted to see the pictures, but I couldn't understand why they would want to be told that women are slags and sluts and just there to be 'filled'. At the time, I thought it was a fault with me - that I wasn't sex-positive enough, or was prudish, or failed to see that it was fantasy material that didn't always reflect what the user thought in day to day life. As I got older, I was bothered less by porn - which one can by and large exercise a choice not to consume - and more by the way women were seen in the media. A lot of women, and men, feel exactly as you do. Be confident in how you feel, and pick out the movies as often as possible.
posted by mippy at 8:42 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

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