by Sam Holmes
In June 2013, the Supreme Court officially recognized what we already knew: DOMA was a bad piece of legislation. On a personal level, I was thrilled that my friends are the gaining rights that we all deserve, so of course, I was excited to talk about it with other people who were also celebrating the wonderful news. When I was walking through the mall the afternoon of the ruling, the news was everywhere. I listened to everyone’s reactions as I wove in and out of stores, hearing lots of “awesome! Everyone deserves equality” and “it’s about time!”–but also responses of a different kind. In the food court, I overheard a group of teenage boys exclaim, “Lesbians are so hot! Now we’re gonna see even more of them.”
This is not exactly what I would call being an ally of the LGBTQ community–it’s more of a pseudo-support, one that stems from the sexualization of women. Although it’s obviously better to support LGBTQ rights than to oppose them, there is a huge problem with viewing gay rights as something for your personal entertainment. The removal of DOMA and Prop 8 means that people who are in dedicated relationships can officially be married in the eyes of the law. Lives will be saved because people will be able to use their spouse’s health insurance. Hospital visitation, inheritance rights, the ability to file taxes together, legal parenting rights, immigration improvements–the list of marriage benefits goes on and on. It is so much more than two girls in a relationship being hot to a boy wearing a backwards baseball cap.
This type of “support” is not limited to LGBTQ rights; I’ve started to notice it everywhere. During conversations about the DREAM Act and other legislation that would make it easier for undocumented immigrants to become citizens, I’ve encountered a number of peers who have suddenly changed their stance to “support” immigration reform because they have a perverted obsession with Latina women. Whenever immigration comes up, these guys immediately mention their infatuation with Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayek, Shakira, or Selena Gomez. Words like “exotic” and “spicy” get thrown around, like they’re describing a dish at a restaurant rather than an actual person. They manage to demean and fetishize an entire group of people while putting their racism and entitlement on full display. Latina women do not exist to fulfill the fantasies teenage boys, or anyone else for that matter, and it’s time for people to start recognizing that.
And this isn’t just about individual teen boys being jerks: breast cancer “awareness” campaigns are flooded with sexualized imagery and language. Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer for women in America and the second highest amount of cancer-related deaths in American women. I have personally witnessed relatives and family friends go through the ordeal of breast cancer treatment. When breast cancer patients are enduring the emotional and physical strain of this disease, they are more concerned about their survival than their physical appearances. But for some reason, many advocacy campaigns elect to advertise the fact that breast cancer patients run the risk of losing their breasts—and not because they’re concerned about what it means for a woman to go through a mastectomy. Instead, people sell and wear bracelets that say things like “I love boobies!” and “save second base” as though breast cancer is nothing more than a hindrance to men’s entertainment.
Breast cancer research does more than save a woman’s breasts; it can prolong her life. This notion that breasts supersede the importance of a woman’s life is evident in media as well. When actress Angelina Jolie decided to have a mastectomy to prevent breast cancer, she received lots of backlash on social media. Hordes of angry misogynists took to twitter to mourn the ‘loss’ of Angelina’s breasts. These same people called her selfish and said that her actions had compromised her womanhood.
Enough is enough. People need to become educated about the causes that they support, and businesses and media need to realize that they are facilitating a culture that turns women into sex objects instead of actual human beings. People like to hop on bandwagons when it comes to activism, which isn’t all bad–it’s good to support good things–but there’s a false sense of altruism that comes with this self-centered kind of advocacy. One time, a male classmate lectured me about how he was a better person because he owned 5 “I love boobies” bracelets while I owned none. He was wrong on so many levels, but I wouldn’t be able to reason with him as long as he believed that his actions made him the next Mother Theresa.
I’ll give him some credit: the money he paid for the ridiculous wristwear might somehow help cancer research. And the jerks that support marriage equality and immigration contribute to those causes in a way, too. But that doesn’t change the fact that their actions are feeding into a larger and more harmful culture of sexualization, misogyny, and racism. They are stripping people of humanity by viewing these groups as objects for their own amusement, and that doesn’t help anyone in the end.