As we are constantly being told, SEX SELLS. This is used as an excuse to sexualize everything from children’s clothing to cars. I believe that marketing executives who believe this are selling the general population short. In particular, I notice a proliferation of images of sexy young women in skimpy Steampunk gear, but see no corresponding proliferation in handsome young men in skimpy Steampunk gear; nor do I see an increase in silver foxes or platinum vixens dressed in saucy Steampunk apparel. One can’t help but wonder if these photographs are taken by true enthusiasts of Steampunk Aesthetic, or by gentlemen who just like to see young women in corsets and stockings.
As a feminist, I think a woman or a man should be allowed what they damn well like. By the same token, I do NOT want to see a woman or a man objectified and exploited. A person is a person, and worthy of having their identity respected. In my Facebook newsfeed on my site, Steampunk Sunday, images of underdressed young women completely outnumber all the other images of men and older women, and children. I did a five minute run through my feed, picking a random time, and only counting Steampunk images, and the results were:
- 13 images of slender young women in tight or skimpy clothing
- 4 images of young women in full Steampunk regalia
- 2 images of a young men, both fully clothed (dammit)
- 3 vintage images – all of men
- 1 image of an older woman – fully dressed
- 3 images of older men in Steampunk attire, showing off gadgets
- 2 images of mixed groups in full Steampunk regalia
- 1 image of a middle aged couple in full Steampunk regalia
As you can see from these numbers, I received as nearly as many images of ‘sexy’ and slender young women dressed in Steampunk attire as I did of everyone else put together. To be fair, at least half those images were ‘advertising’ for Steampunk clothing lines. (I also have an issue with the lack of Steampunk fashion options for bigger women, but let’s not diverge from the topic.)
For just about every Steampunk group of which I have personal knowledge, this pattern in my feed does not in any way match up with the demographics of the groups. In fact, the middle-aged people out-number every other age group by quite a proportion, and most groups seem to have a fairly equal number of men and women. At the Steampunk Charity Ball, this was most evident. I saw a huge range of ages, but the majority of people were between the ages of 25 and 60, with a sprinkling of people younger and older. And there was a range of gender orientations, and a range of body shapes. The only time anyone was in skimpy attire was when the burlesque dancers were performing (and they did a very fine and tasteful job of it). Yes, it was a ball … but ball gowns can be pretty skimpy, particularly around the shoulders, back and décolletage. Most people opted for something attractive without being revealing.
So, what am I (or you) to make of this inequality in photographic imagery? I try to even things up on Steampunk Sunday, by sharing a more balanced selection of images. In my writing, I try to keep an even balance in the demographics of my characters, even in my YA narratives. I try not to objectify or sexualize my characters. I try to make this balance part of my plot, when and where I can. Young people mix with young people, but they also mix with everyone else.
It might seem like I am fighting a losing battle. But even baby steps will eventually allow you to cross a desert.