Sexuality and Self-Image Term Paper

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Sexuality and Self-Image: Women in Eastern Asia and the United States

While sexuality has been a widely accepted topic of research, published material, and the media in America for many decades, in parts of Asia open discussions of sexuality have only recently gained concession among the general public (Micollier, 2003). This was partly due to Communist restrictions in countries such as China and Korea; it is also changing as a result of the worldwide, vast communication network provided by the Internet (Yuxin, Sik-Ying Ho, & Man Lun, 2007). As a result of this new explosion of communication and research, major changes are taking place among women in Eastern Asia, as compared to the United States, with regard to self-image and sexuality. As it is impossible to discuss the issues of sexuality and self-image among women in all East Asian countries within the scope of this paper, this essay will examine the state of these issues in the countries of China and Japan. These attitudes, some very resistant to change in Asia, will then be compared to present day ideas about self-image and sexuality within the American culture. Finally, these matters will be explored in relation to East Asian immigrants and their female progeny, who've grown up under the influence of American sexual culture.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Term Paper on Sexuality and Self-Image Assignment

In China, sexual stereotyping is deeply ingrained and resistant to change (Micollier, 2003). Some of the common beliefs about women and sexuality in China that are accepted by men and women alike include: women are either passive sexual partners or "normal" wives, women are "cold" or slow in sexual arousal and have a hard time achieving satisfaction, women do not "need" sexual satisfaction, women should be reserved and shy in sexual matters, married women should be sexually submissive with their husbands, and it's normal for a woman to experience "negative" feelings after a sexual encounter. In addition, compared to men, women in China are generally seen as weaker, more innocent, and yet more controlled in sexual matters. This implies an excuse for men to be unfaithful and uninhibited in the realm of sex. Of course, when stereotypes such as these are deeply ingrained in females from childhood on, they are arguably difficult to change once a woman has matured beyond adolescence and had her first sexual experiences. So how do Chinese women feel about themselves -- what is their self-image -- with regard to their sexuality and these inhibitive beliefs? If the recent burst of interest in the studies of sexuality and feminism in China are any indication (Yuxin, Sik-Ying Ho, & Man Lun, 2007), Chinese women are no longer willing to be such "passive" participants in their own sexual satisfaction. They are beginning to rebel, planting the seeds of a sexual revolution akin to that of feminists and hippies during the 1960s in the United States. New female icons of popular culture include beautiful, successful female writers such as Wei Hui and Mian, as well as androgynous, powerful "super girls" (Yuxin, Sik-Ying Ho, & Man Lun, 2007). Still, even in the 90s, "women were constantly cast in the "victimized" role in studies of their sexual experiences, and they continued to be marginalized as researchers tended to focus on the negative social, economical, physical, and psychological impact of sex on them (Yuxin, Sik-Ying Ho, & Man Lun, 2007)." Even today, many a middle-aged housewife in Hong Kong, although very high on the "sexual hierarchy" (compared to prostitutes) is labeled a "si-nai," or a housewife who is ignorant, overweight, and obsessed with penny-pinching, pleasing her husband and children, and keeping up with petty gossip (Sik Ying Ho, 2008).

Another idea very resistant to change in China is the belief that differences in sexuality between men and women are biologically, genetically based. This lets everyone off the hook in terms of responsibility for exploring other etiologies behind Chinese women's self-image as passive "victims" in the realm of sex, such as cultural and socio-political factors.

Despite this resistance to change, however, there is reason to expect continued positive change in China for women and their sexual self-images. A summation of recent studies concludes that a refashioning of self-image among Chinese women is taking place, albeit slowly. Some of the changes in self-image taking place include women seeing themselves as: modern women having the freedom to discuss their sexuality openly and with one another (and to learn from those discussions), women who are modern in their femininity, women who can use their sexuality to gain power, and women who are proud of their Chinese sexuality. Perhaps most significant is the beginning of a blurring between "good" and "bad" girls when it comes to sexuality in Chinese society; this kind of "blurring" was a significant milestone in women's sexual liberation in the United States. (Yuxin, Sik-Ying Ho, & Man Lun, 2007)

So how does Japan compare to China in terms of female self-image and sexuality? In Japan, unlike China, there has always been a place of prestige set aside for particularly beautiful and talented women -- the geisha. The history and culture of the geisha has recently been a popular subject of fascination in the United States as a result of books and movies such as "Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden, Vintage Books, 2005)." While this widespread knowledge about the geisha and her prestige has arguably had a positive influence on perceptions of Japanese women and their sexuality, including Japanese women's self-perceptions, the fact is that the geisha was a rare flower. Historically, the majority of Japanase women, like Chinese women, were divided between "brothels" and roles as subservient wives and sexual "recipients." (Hua, 2009) Today, however, there is a modernization of women and their sexuality taking place in urban Japan, even if only for economic reasons. Women in urban Japan are part of a fast-paced world obsessed with fashion, technology, and pop culture; part of this pop culture involves consumerism and the "selling" of a female ideal in the form of beauty products, workout centers, and cosmetic surgery (Clammer, 2004). Without the widespread existence of a somewhat modernized Japanese woman, who has an interest in her own sexual self-image, these products and services would not be successful profit-makers. (Hua, 2009) Despite this societal pressure, Japanese women don't tend to view themselves as "liberated," and are still forced into loveless marriages (Hua, 2009).

In addition, Japanese culture has included a "modern girl fantasy" since the years immediately preceding World War II. This modern girl -- in fantasy form -- was dangerous, powerful, independent, and high-spirited; she transgressed social boundaries, questioned her traditional roles as "good wife" and "wise mother," worked and made her own money (Adams, 2009). And while the modern girl of Japan did not become a widespread reality, this image did open doors for some women to break through traditional boundaries by getting jobs, gaining independence, cutting their hair, wearing high heels and dresses to show off their legs, shaving and penciling their eyebrows, and embracing a new kind of sexual and social decadence (Adams, 2009).

Despite being rooted in some stoic Victorian principles, female sexuality in the United States has certainly reached a highly liberated state across many socioeconomic groups, particularly compared with China and Japan. What American women complain about is not a lack of freedom, but a deeply ingrained need to live up to unrealistic expectations of beauty imposed by the media. According to recent studies, this preponderance of images of skinny, beautiful women has devastated American women's self-image as an attractive sexual being (Goodman & Walsh-Childers, 2004). Instead of looking in the mirror and seeing a beautiful, sexually-liberated woman with an exciting life ahead of her, too many American girls and women can only see themselves as "ugly" or "fat" compared to the models, actresses, and sex symbols their significant others fawn over and idolize. This warped self-image, known clinically as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), is thought to affect as many as 2% of women in its severe form; however, almost any female in the United States will admit to obsessions with certain bodily imperfections and a resulting sense of not being "sexually attractive enough." In one documented case arguably representative of many more, a young woman in therapy for BDD explains that she considers herself hideous and ugly as a result of having a "less than ideal" nose and mouth. This belief has destroyed her self-image and self-esteem, particularly when it comes to sex. Despite being 26 years old, she admits to rarely dating and not being sexually active at all. Most shocking, she states that "my self-worth is defined by how I or others evaluate the desirability of my external bodily features…my external appearance defines me as a human being….because I consider my nose and mouth to be ugly, then I am an ugly person and have no right to search for my personal happiness." (da Costa, Nelson, Rudes, & Guterman, 2007) Certainly this case is an extreme example, but women in the United States are clearly suffering needlessly as a result of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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