Empowerment and choice are the watchwords of feminism. But has society turned its back on these words? While the opportunities available to women may have expanded, the ambitions of many young girls are in reality limited by a culture that sees women's sexual allure as their only passport to success. Sexism seems to be rife in society. Playboy is now a mainstream brand which decorates pencil cases and erasers of young girls who know there is something naughty in the brand but are encouraged to buy into it's cheeky marketable sexuality. The Girls of Playboy Mansion is accepted as family viewing, in which we aspire to be Holly, Bridget or Kendra. Student Unions, once the bastion of feminism and equality are now part of the glamour industry. At Loughborough University in 2007, the student union held a Playboy night, advertised by posters with drawings of women in Playboy costumes, no faces with legs apart. The night promised pole-dancing, live shows and according to the pictures posted on Myspace pages, quite a few young ladies were keen enough to attend wearing bunny ears and pink tails and not much else. The TV reality programme Big Brother seems be associated with women who want to take their clothes off. Of the eleven women who entered the house in 2006. Four posed for lad's magazines and Celebrity Big Brother is about glamour models such as Lucy Pinder or Jodie Marsh. Natasha Walters writes in Living Dolls that empowerment and choice seems to "many young women a belief in sexual confidence is the only confidence they have and only be gained if a young women is ready to conform to the soft porn image of the tanned, waxed, young girl with large breasts ready to strip and pole dance".
Men want beautiful women and women want to be beautiful. It's as basic as that. Sociologists tell us that humans, as animals, are programmed to appreciate a youthful, healthy appearance because this signals fitness for reproduction. But consumers are vain and cultural definitions of beauty also encapsulate a youthful appearance. It is no surprise, therefore, that health concerns encompass physical appearance as Levi writes in 2008. It goes without saying that, since time immemorial, women's appearance has been influenced by the ideal of feminine beauty prevalent at the time – from the voluptuous curvaceousness of the early Greeks to the waif-like frailty of the 1990s supermodels, which has led to the contemporary emphasis on looking thin. Generally speaking, women's attitudes towards their looks have been conditioned by the prevailing stereotypes, which are reinforced by the media and by society as a whole. The pressure to look good has intensified for both sexes over the years, leading to an age of the image, where the pressure to look good has intensified for both sexes over the years, leading to an age of the image, where visual appearance is prized above all else. In the drive for body perfection, the Miss Plastic Surgery 'beauty pageant' has become the showcase of this trend, in which women will go to the extremes in order to make themselves body beautiful. It is a fact that beauty fascinates and there is a strong desire for the body beautiful in contemporary society. This is partly fuelled by consumers' aspiration to look like the supermodels they see in the media. These portrayals of the 'ideal' body have a profound impact on women's self–perception, their self–esteem and how they rate their own attractiveness.
Anyone who has played a video game will know it is gender stereotypical, mainly white, male and bluff. Female characters are few and highly sexualised. In the music industry, 84% of women are portrayed dancing very sexily according to a recent study. 71% of women in the videos are seen to be wearing provocative clothes or not many clothes at all compared 35% of men. In hip–hop culture musicians are surrounded by endless images of women in thongs. Teenager idols such as Girls Aloud, the Pussycat Dolls or Britney Spears trade heavily on sexiness, their raunchy costumes and suggestive routines. The words of these idol's are wrapped in sex and glamour, which has nothing to do with innocence, for example...
So blow me bitch I don't rock for cancer / I rock for the cash and the topless dancers (Kid Roc, 2009)
Don'tcha wish your girlfriend was hot like me? (Pussycat Dolls, 2005)
That's the way you like to f*** . . . rough sex make it hurt (Ludacris, 2000)
I tell the hos all the time, Bitch get in my car (50 Cent, 2005)
Ho shake your ass (Ying Yang Twins, 2003)
In advertising it is Pop Idol host Cheryl Cole in stockings or Beyonce in a leather cat suit for a Pepsi advert. Today, young girls who are fans learn quickly to be visible and associate with that imaginary. Natasha Walters notes in Living Dolls that "many brands of clothing sold to young girls allow them to buy into this kind of sexiness, so, for instance, you can purchase a ra–ra miniskirt for an 11-year-old with 'Golddigga' written across her bottom, advertised by a teenage girl in high heels, one hand on her hip, pouting at the camera". But in some ways, sex is beginning to act like a seriously mature market. It has its provincial High Street presence like Ann Summers in the UK or Supermarche Erotique in France. The British west end play, 'No Sex We're British' which ran for 16 years has come to an end, so there seems to be an acceptance and comfortablism about it (or not). On one hand we don't like to talk about sex, but it is everywhere. Sex is now – down in a high-street mall near you – busy enough selling itself. In affairs of the groin, it is the retailer who is now the cultural path-breaker, a buster of taboo, moral revolutionary. All over world sexual habits and tastes are finding ever more sophisticated responses in the shops. T hough not everyone will necessarily view the trend with, well, pleasure, sex is becoming banal–ised, de–neuroticised, illuminated, coloured, getting better dressed, being supplied in ever tastier flavours, becoming an accepted member of the entertainment industry, developing in the same way as gourmet restauranting, with luxury versions of everything and barely an inhibition left in sight.
In a society in which tourism has being the beneficiary of increased wealth, where tourists are taking more holidays whether it is a culture break or a family ski trip. The trend of urban tribes, in which groups of friends travel together manifests itself in the hedonistic activities of the male traveller frequenting lap dancing establishments in urban centres. From a handful of clubs in the 1990s to over 300 in the UK in 2008, the growth has been a quirk in the licensing laws as these clubs are not in the same category as sex shops but classified as bars and restaurants. Lap dancing clubs today are part of an urban tourism experience driven by a singleton society, a liberal culture, the so called experience economy, cheap booze, cheap flights, the affordability of a weekend break and cities chasing the tourist dollar.
The pursuit of sexuality and tourism lies in the paradigm of hedonism and pleasure. This is nothing new, as Brunt and Davies note, hedonistic tourism as being "motivated by a desire for sensual pleasure" summarized by the four "S's" – sea, sand, sun and sex. It is not a modern phenomenon and can actually be traced back to Roman times. In Victorian Britain the term "dirty weekend" was established as a result of Londoners visiting the resort of Brighton on the Southcoast of Britain with their partners, or somebody else's partner "where they could behave in ways that were not acceptable in London". In the last decade, "clubbing and party tourism" in the Mediterranean has seen phenomenal growth, one of the contributing factors is the changing role of women in society emerging through the ladette effect of drinking and casual sex.
As Diken and Laustsen observe "going abroad purely for pleasure, bypassing other places in–between, and abandoning him/herself to the sun, the tourist enters an enclosed, exceptional, and 'duty-free' zone 'taken outside' home, everyday routine and familiar social/moral contexts. In the words of Club Med: 'No constraint, no obligation. Barefoot, dressed in shorts, a sarong, bathing trunks if you like, you completely forget so–called civilised life '".
Yeoman writes that Las Vegas is the Disneyland fantasy destination for adults, where anything can happen, where anything goes, and wives will never find out. It's naughty, raunchy marketing slogan, 'What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas', represents the sinful side of tourism. Tourists can hire an escort, watch topless showgirls at a Crazy Horse revue, be body–surfed at Spearmint Rhino's, and admire the Pussy Cat Dolls at Caesar's Palace. Ever since Las Vegas became a gambling oasis in the Nevada desert, sex has played an important role in its entertainment scene. When Bugsy Siegel, in 1957 first opened his Tropicana Casino in this sleepy desert town, he featured beautiful female hostesses and lavish shows with scantily clad women. That formula is still prevalent in Las Vegas casinos today. In nearly every casino, beautiful cocktail waitresses dressed in ultra–short skirts and low–cut tops float around the gaming tables, dispensing smiles and free drinks. The entertainment venues present topless reviews and risqué entertainment. But at the same time, according to Terri Miller of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department "the problem has been made worse by Las Vegas' aggressive advertising promotions that encourage tourists to come here and sin all they like. We're basically giving a green light for people to come here and exploit women and children".
What are we saying? Tourism and sex are inseparable as human's desire pleasure. Tourism is about an escape from political correctness and everyday discourse in which tourist plays out there fantasy. Tourists spaces like Bali, Ibiza, Las Vegas and Faliraki's are spaces which create an illusion of that the rest of the world doesn't do i.e., sex.
If the future of the world through empowerment and choice is more an open sexual discourse, what does this mean for destination marketing organisations? Will today's generation not listen to the marketing messages of VisitScotland, Tourism New Zealand or China National Tourist Office as they are politically incorrect and not the same everyday discourse of the empowered consumer. One thing that is certain, this new sexism won't be accepted by some, it has unacceptable aspects and talking about sex will always be contested. Sex and sexism seem to be an attribute of today's society. My only recommendation is, that you read Natasha Walters book to be better informed.
Recommended reading: Walters, N. (2010) Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism. Virago Press, London
Dr Ian Yeoman
Victoria University of Wellington
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