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The Problem with Provocative

By Rachel Grushan in Opinion & Politics

We have been raised in a culture that sexualizes and itemizes women and their bodies, wrapping them in little packages that are tagged with words like “beauty” and “sex.” We, women, are used to sell products, wearing less than what is comfortable in order to seduce the audience. One word to explain this culture? Provocative. Provocative can mean two things: the Merriam Webster Dictionary defines it as either “causing discussion, thought, argument” or “causing sexual feelings or excitement.” The Royal Banner spoke to Fairview students to see what comes to mind immediately after they heard the word “provocative.” Their responses sounded something like this: the Roaring Twenties… slut… slut… attacking… irritating… slutty… women being sexual… dancing… slut… and the list goes on. Provocative is not a bad thing; sexuality is not a bad thing. Neither of these things are detrimental until they become exclusive to a single gender. In the context of today’s media, “provocative” makes women’s bodies into objects that represent sex. In the context of today’s culture, it turns women into the initiator. It is a sexist myth that women somehow initiate sexual harassment, the idea being that, because she was wearing ‘provocative’ clothing, she was asking for it. Oh, she was acting ‘provocatively’ and was “leading him on.” Media has created one of the biggest double standards imaginable. One minute, an advertisement is depicting ‘provocative’ women to sell their product, and the next a news story is reporting how a woman’s rapist was not held responsible because she had been wearing something provocative and, therefore, initiated the sexual attention. Advertisements use women in provocative ways, yet if a woman attempted to make herself provocative by using this product, it would be looked down upon by society because of the deeply-ingrained negative connotations. This says a lot about the double standard that exists commercially and socially for women. Run the keywords ‘provocative men’ through a search engine and you will find no use of the word ‘provocative’ that carries a strictly negative connotation. Cologne companies will use the term in a positive sense, their marketing campaign revolving around the idea that a provocative man wearing their perfume will attract women. Media and the culture created by it tells men that this is good, that they should strive to attract a mate, and their provocative cologne accomplishes this for them. The problem with provocative isn’t that it causes sexism; it is instead a side effect of society’s unfair treatment of women. It isn’t that the word provocative is dirty; it is that women are treated dirty by an unclean culture. The problem with provocative is that it has become bound to the female sex, on an almost subconscious level among men and women alike. It has become an ignorant and easy explanation for the existence of sexual harassment and rape. The best way to bring an end to this problem would be to acknowledge that the problem exists. We have submitted to society’s double standards without a fight. By being conscious of this provocative problem, we can call out the lies and judgement from our culture, media, and ourselves.

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