Is this the New Empowerment?

When Michelle Obama posed for her official White House portrait in 2009, conservative America was outraged over her bare arms but was silent when Melania Trump’s nude and soft-core magazine spreads were revealed in 2016. My question is this…

Have attitudes towards female empowerment changed this much or is it politically correct hypocrisy?

2014, a film was made by a young woman, walking for 10 hours on the ordinary streets of NYC and the verbal catcalls and harassment she suffered. This film created a lot of debate on social media about the rights of women to walk down a street unaccosted. Her looks were criticised, as were the clothing she wore; jeans and a t-shirt. Was she being provocative? Was she inviting comment? Three years later another film was made by a Burlesque performer famous for her octopus tattoo. She also walked through the streets of NYC but in only a bra, tank top and a thong. She twerked on monuments and in taxis and pole danced on trains and building sites.

Conservative women slut shamed a woman for bare arms but embraced another’s career choices for posing for softcore porn (lads mags are soft core, not fashion IMO). Oddly, this brings back the Playboy argument – is nudity empowerment? Feminists and the latest Hugh Hefner bio-doc  have been pushing the issue of porn as empowerment for decades. In the last year Playboy gave up publishing nude models in an attempt to attract mainstream advertisers but only last month reinstated them. Their first re-nuded issue stated boldly on its cover: “Naked is normal.” Not as or is again but IS NORMAL.

As an adult woman, I am really confused. What is the feminist message here? Obviously, we are fighting for respect and the right to wear whatever we want where ever we want, but I can’t help but see a double standard here (or triple, or quadruple!). Is modesty a bad word? Ass before class? I can see how people can and are being confounded. Especially what message are giving to girls?

Seriously! What are we handing to girls as the playbook for empowerment?

One of my all time favourite movies is Working Girl with Melanie Griffith. It’s the story of a Brooklyn working-class woman who put herself through night school fighting to be recognised amongst the Ivy League silver spooners and her male colleges. At one point in the film she realises that in order to be taken seriously, she has to look the part. So she cuts her hair and “borrows” a wardrobe. Ultimately, she wins through on her own brains and hard work. It’s most famous line, “I have a head for business and a body for sin. Does that bother you?”

Is nudity, of this softcore, expressly titillating variety asking that the world gives women respect? Is respect only earned by following social norms? And have those social norms shifted in the opposite direction? France has put into law that women can no longer wear burkas. Are we being forced to discard modesty? Sure, I would love to be able to wear any damn thing I want but is my relationship with the societal mores I grew up with warping my sense of correctness? And I am focusing on respect here (not harassment or violence). Am I subconsciously thinking that there is a line where someone is asking to be disrespected? Is this, freedom to be sexually explicit, actually a form of self-respect? Was Melania proud of the work she did and is she still pleased of the statements she was making? Are the women who rained stink down on a set of well toned bare arms and then said nothing about the present FLOTUS’s nudes happy with the shift in empowerment they have aided?

I know this article is raising a lot of questions and not answering them. I really want to hear what you think about this!

Is twerking ass naked on the Wall Street Bull empowering or is it damaging to the general level of respect shown to women?


Just to follow the point we have used a NSFW image as the featured image to see what happens.


Abigail Tyrrell

With degrees in Psychology, Silversmithing, and an accredited Holistic Therapist (FHT), Ms Tyrrell is an enigma wrapped in chocolate. After 18 years as a professional web developer (LAMP and .NET) and designer, she left to focus on making pants for a living. At some point during the last 12 months, she also thought creating this was a good idea...

3 thoughts on “Is this the New Empowerment?

  • Avatar
    21st April 2017 at 2:15 pm

    It’s not empowering. If you are being pedantic (read factual) then something that is empowering should give power or authority to whoever is doing it.

    Posing naked, twerking, or whatever other “sexy” action is not empowering.

    It might give someone more confidence, making them feel better inside, it might even make them feel more powerful – though this has to be noted, it doesn’t actually give any real power, just the feeling of it.

    I like this quote from The Reclusive Leftist, ““Look, if posing naked were empowering, then the rich men who run the world would be lining up for it. We would be awash in naked dick shots of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates and Barack Obama; magazines would be filled with male politicians and financiers and moguls with their bits hanging out. Softly lit, perhaps; head coyly tilted, bunny tail on the ass. Power.”

    I am torn on whether it is damaging, as there are two layers to it.

    On a larger social scale it’s a tiny droplet in a massive tsunami of objectification and elevation of the male gaze above women’s rights to exist as a full human being. However these droplets all add up.

    This isn’t to say that women who engage in these actions are wrong, or anti-feminist, or setting women back. Because we all have to exist within a patriarchal system to the best of our abilities. And one of the easiest ways to do this is to conform to our role in society, play our part as a subservient class here for the pleasure and convenience of the dominant class. We’re taught it from birth. We’re conditioned to not only follow our role but to believe that it benefits us in some way. Breaking that conditioning is hard and has heavy consequences (eg. corrective rape, physical abuse, body policing)

    It would be wonderful if all women refused to comply, and refused to take part in their own objectification. Just went on strike. But it’d need to be a majority of us, and it’s a scary path to take. The backlash is real, and violent.

    However we can talk about it, and be honest about it. It’s not empowering, and pretending it is? That’s just turning the key on our sisters cages and saving the patriarchy a job.

    • Avatar
      21st April 2017 at 2:55 pm

      The number of women and organisations that came out saying Melania Trump’s photos as next FLOTUS were empowering… I am not comfortable with this. And at the same time, we are saying that women who choose to be objectified are… empowered to do so? Suicide Girls definitely see themselves as feminist and empowered AND objectified? There are so many questions here…

      • Avatar
        21st April 2017 at 5:35 pm

        I do feel that we’ve become a bit looser with what words mean, which is fine, language evolves. However if we’re going to talk seriously about women’s role in society – which we’ll need to do in order to find a way to change it – then we need to be more exact with words. And there’s just no way to spin objectification to suggest that it gives us any actual power.


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