Passive or Active: Exploring The Hypocritical Nature of Media and Feminine Sexuality

In Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s lecture Habitual New Media, she compares power outlets to human anatomy in that the penetration of the outlet by an appliance mimics the act of sex. Females are perceived to be on the receiving end of the intercourse, therefore, passive and only meant to be used when the male end deems necessary. The electric currents in the female power outlet do not stop flowing simply because the male end is not plugged in.

Brenda Weber in Makeover TV: Selfhood, Citizenship, and Celebrity discusses the dynamics employed in this nation’s makeover culture which is evidenced in television shows such as What Not To Wear and 10 Years Younger. In this article, Weber draws attention to the way in which physical femininity is judged through the eyes of the beholder. Referring to “plastic surgery shows”, “the mostly male surgeons scrutinize and touch the mostly female subjects’ shame-saturated bodies.” “The doctor’s gaze instructs the audience’s eye, training us to see flaws and give language to “disfigurement” and gender normativity. As Anne Balsamo has observed, plastic surgery creates a “disciplinary gaze”.

The next sentence includes the phrase, “accentuates the sense that inherent embodied flaws signify a femininity in crisis.”

Fox Network’s show The Swan addresses female subjects as projects that can attain a more fulfilling life after undergoing a series of plastic surgeries that often include facial reconstruction, breast augmentations, Brazilian butt lifts, and liposuction. The algorithm for female self-worth is a simple formula, obviously. Weber discusses this striking show, stating, “A dominant mode of regulating gender has long been used to stigmatize those actions and expressions that do not support dominant power regimes. Important feminist work has demonstrated how women historically have been regulated through multiple locations, particularly sexuality, marriage, and motherhood, thus constituting women’s bodies as sites of control.”

Credit: GIPHY

As outlined in the above references, women are expected to make an individual effort to adhere to a specific mold of femininity that aims to please the (assumed heterosexual) gaze of outsiders. In other words, women must be beautiful, young-looking, and sexually appealing in order to achieve the neoliberal mantras of upward social mobility, economic success, and a bright, promising future.

@selenagomez via Instagram

I provide this nude photograph pulled from Selena Gomez’s Instagram, which boasts merely 111 million followers. Known primarily for her appearance rather than her prolific acting-turned-music career (go figure), Selena Gomez has managed a successful career full of visual media coverage. Notice here the inviting nature of her face, and the subtly coy positioning of her limbs.

People have grown accustomed to this binary and therefore do not react well to the discussion of sexual activity on an intimate basis with people who are not intimate with them.

Women are exploited in the media realm as beings that must adhere to the male gaze and therefore must be visually pleasing in order to achieve greatness in life. While the vast evidence of this is undeniable, what I find ironic is the way that society rejects sexual discussion from the female position. Women are not received graciously when they choose not to suppress their modesty by overtly acknowledging their sex lives. To put this into simpler terms, I ask:

Why is active sexuality treated with hostility while women are expected to please the male gaze with passive sex appeal?

On a personal front, I find that I am often faced with animosity when I share details of my sex life. This is bothersome only because my passive sexuality within the realm of social media is welcomed with open arms. Boobs looking nice in my Instagram photo (as expected)? Nice! Mention the fact that I let a man touch my very average breasts? Social suicide. My sexual history does not lie behind closed doors that have been buttressed as a result of sexist media’s infiltration of my generation’s value set; the value set which makes the hairs on my companion’s bodies stand erect when they hear of my dirty, filthy, condom-wrapped truths.

On September 12, 2012, dating app Tinder was published by Hatch Labs as a “game” that would allow users to swipe through nearby individuals, allowing couples to “match” in order to gain communicative access. Like many people in my age group, I have fooled around with Tinder, which I have learned is commonly referred to nowadays as a “hookup app” which makes sexual interactions easily accessible and readily available within the radius of your choosing. Having come across this question which I am exploring regarding passive and active sexuality, I decided to employ Tinder in an experimental pursuit.

I created two profiles, one in which I am modestly clothed and inconspicuous-looking, and a second, where I put myself on display in an obviously blatant, sexually-inviting manner. Both profiles were altered so that their locations were on opposite ends of Central Park in Manhattan, and very clearly stated on my profile that I am not looking for hookups. I “swiped right” (agreed to match with) 100 heterosexual males on either account, then sat back and waited for data to flow in.

The first thing that became apparent was the great difference in number of matches. Out of the 100 profiles that I swiped through, a mere 22 wanted to speak with my clothed profile, minute compared to the 93/100 men that matched with my provocative self. Not particularly surprised, although many of the potential mates had a hard time accepting the reality of my existence.

It seems that finding a heterosexual female with any sort of overt sexual appetite is something that still lives in an alternate reality, I simply can not and should not, in theory, exist. I have found that I receive more criticism for my openness from my female peers than from heterosexual males, who are not caught off guard by my willingness to discuss sex. While women are more judgmental on this front, from my experience, there is no doubt that this is a result of the culture that women of my generation have become accustomed to.

It is wholly hypocritical for the media to portray women as being passively sexual beings and yet women are simultaneously discouraged from actively pursuing or acknowledging our sex lives. I hope for this passive-active sexual binary to diminish alongside the gender roles that serve to keep the patriarchy in place.

And by the way, Bill, my dad is proud of me, and he knows that I am sexually active.

Works Cited

“Instagram Post by Selena Gomez • Sep 8, 2015 at 8:00pm UTC.” Instagram. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2017.


Weber, Brenda R. “Makeover TV.” Duke University Press. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2017.

“Wendy Hui Kyong Chun: Habitual New Media.” Vimeo. Barnard Center for Research on Women, 17 Feb. 2017. Web. 24 Feb. 2017.