The rise of female sexuality and empowerment in modern media

CW: This article discusses themes of abuse which may be distressing to some readers.


During the early 20th Century following technical advancements, digital media became a vital part of our day-to-day lives, however at this time women were not often portrayed in a positive light and often shown in domestic roles.


Over the years as a result of campaigns and a shift in societal attitudes, women have a more positive portrayal in digital media especially through the portrayal of female sexuality. But just how did this change come about and what more needs to be done?


Female sexuality in the early 20th Century


Gender roles in the early 20th Century (before and after the war) often meant that women were only seen as wives and mothers taking on domestic roles such as cooking and cleaning. Men on the other hand had the dominant position and were the breadwinners of the household. During the war women worked in factories taking over these masculine roles however following this these patriarchal ideas still remained.


Though these gender roles remained, the early 20th Century saw the rise in 'the New Woman' which is a term given to women who challenged gender norms. This was during a time of the suffragettes movement, which saw a rise in female empowerment and the beginning of a change in attitudes towards women.


The portrayal of female sexuality began to evolve during the 1920's with actresses, such as Clara Bow being more open with female sexuality, more specifically in her role in the movie It. In this film she is portrayed as a female figure of sex appeal, this presentation of women continued through media and can be seen in modern media. Marilyn Monroe was later seen as a symbol of female sexuality (during the 1940s-1960s) and was often hyper-sexualised by the male audience.


Though the early 20th saw a shift in female roles and the introduction of female sexuality in mass media, the roles women played were often overly-sexualised and targeted a heterosexual male audience.


The Great Shift


During the later 20th Century, society began to see a shift in the portrayal of female sexuality specifically through film and advertising. With the introduction of female contraception in the 50's, more focus was placed on female sexuality from the perspective of women as supposed to men.



After the launch of Playboy in the 50's which portrayed female sexuality from a male perspective, 90's TV shows such as 'Sex and the City' began to portray female sexuality from a different perspective. Women in the show being confident in their sexuality without facing external judgement which began to show a change in societal behaviour.


Though female sexuality was still presented through the eyes of heterosexual men, the late 20th Century started to see a change in societal behaviour and attitudes towards this once taboo topic.


Portrayal in music and film


In current media, female sexuality is more of an open topic and is more spoken about and widely accepted in media. Female celebrities, such as Miley Cyrus, Cardi B, Halsey and even Beyoncé, are prime examples of women who are open about their sexuality through various art forms (typically music). Though current genres are popular for derogatory lyrics towards a female audience, these artists offer a different interpretation female sexuality from their own perspective.


Amber Rose is also well-known for talking about female with her annual event ('SlutWalk') which focuses on empowerment, gender equality, ending rape culture and body shaming. Events like these show a change in attitudes and show potential for more gender equality in the future.


Though many key figures are becoming more open with their sexuality, the media still presents women in hypersexual roles, though it does show female sexuality, it is still through the eyes of patriarchal society. In TV and film female nudity is 3x more likely than male nudity which is the extreme from what was seen on TV in the early 20th Century.


It is still uncertain if and when these stereotypical roles will change for women, but I am hopeful that the current shift may create a more open environment for women to fully explore their sexuality without the constraints of society. In order for real change to occur, society needs to be conscious of it's portrayal of women in the media as this can be damaging to current and future generations. Women need to be given the same platform as men to explore their sexuality without facing criticism. When this is done, real change in attitudes towards women can be seen.