A sexualized environment is one where sexual activity or sexy clothing or sexual behaviour are prominent. This often occurs in geek environments and, by prominently displaying women as sexy, available for sex, as sexy decoration, or "other" than the predominantly male geek attendees, may and often does make women uncomfortable.
Why sexualized environments are criticised
Geek feminists agree that consensual sex is fun for many people. However, geek feminists criticise sexualized environments for many reasons:
- In geek contexts, they are usually a way for heterosexual men to bond over their common attraction to women. This is othering for anyone who is not a heterosexual man, including, obviously, women, and contributes to their invisibility in the field. This sensation of exclusion is very visceral when in a small minority, as women can be in geek settings. (See also Grunch.)
- There is a long tradition of sexual images, suggestions and approaches being used to shame, scare, harrass or brutalise women. This is common enough that most women will have had personal experience of it. Therefore many women are unable to sensibly assume good faith on the part of unknown men seeking to make a situation sexual and feel mentally uncomfortable at best and physically intimidated often.
- While in many areas this restriction is loosening, women are stigmatised as well as celebrated for being too sexual. This traps women into a double bind when responding to sexualized environments, because even by getting the joke they may reveal themselves as too sexual.
- The feminist idea of sexual freedom is where all parties freely consent to sexual situations. While legally consent is probably not required for talking about sex or displaying images of it, ethically, the principle of consent may be seen to apply equally to all sexual situations.
- A substantial amount of sexy imagery plays into mainstream attraction stereotypes, and thus into Body image concerns for women.
There are some other criticisms, not specifically geek feminist, including:
- Cultural concerns about welcoming members of cultures with different standards of expressing sexuality in public to geekdom; for instance, a sexualised environment may be offputting to people of certain religious backgrounds or from parts of the world with different standards of modesty in dress.
- Concerns about including people who are asexual and who therefore may be made to feel like outsiders by the assumption that everybody enjoys sexual imagery.
- Concerns about having children present in environments where participants are expected to bond over sexual ideas. Many geek events attempt to be family-friendly, but sexualised environments detract from this.
- In the modern business world, sexualised environments or sexualised behaviour in the workplace are commonly considered unprofessional. Sexualised environments may damage the reputation of geek events which are seeking to be partly or entirely professional, such as technical conferences.
- In professional contexts, sexualization can be seen as contributing to a "poisoned environment" under anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws, and potentially be cause for legal liability under those laws.
See also Sex is beautiful, used as an excuse for sexist incidents.
Examples of sexualized environments
- Many Technical conferences are inappropriately sexualized through the presence of booth babes, sexualized presentations, objectifying imagery, etc.
- Gaming is a highly sexualized environment -- advertisements, avatars, and communications between gamers are often highly sexual.
- Many companies have shirts with company slogans that double as innuendo, such as "(media company) I like to watch" and "(IT software company) do IT with me."
- In academic settings, students sometimes display sexualized wallpaper on their computers (either institution-owned or privately owned.) Employees in the workplace occasionally do the same thing.
- Geek technical and task-oriented communities often have overlapping work and play spaces (eg a project IRC channel will often contain both technical talk and social chat). The social element often includes members occasionally or regularly discussing their sexual interests, their desire or lack thereof to have sex with each other etc in the same space as where the on-task discussions take place.
- Mouse pads with wrist rests in the form of breasts.
A number of excuses are commonly used for sexualised environments. Many of them have specific pages on this wiki, eg:
- Market appeal
- "It gets us/the product attention"
- Sex is beautiful
- Men are just like that
- Cultural relativism
- Women weren't the intended audience
- You don't have to read it
- You should be flattered
For arguments against each of these excuses, see the relevant pages.