THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF SEXUALITY AND THE. SOCIAL CONTROL OF WOMEN
The social construction of reality shapes everyday forms of social exchange, the arrangement of work, family, and play, and the definitions of appropriate and acceptable behavior. It forms the basis for ideals and hopes, establishing what is normal and therefore understandable. Social, psychological, and political factors combine to form a social framework that constructs meaning. The social framework provides a way of understanding the world, each other, and ourselves. Because the social framework is ubiquitous and transparent, the exact mechanisms by which meaning gets constructed are often hidden and difficult to expose. We have used some of the standard tools for deconstructing any phenomenon to look at the connection between beauty and sexuality. We have looked for inconsistencies, apparent anomalies, and arbitrary features of everyday life; these are the equivalent of societal slips of the tongue that may reveal hidden structures or unacknowledged dynamics. What may seem at one point in time as something quite unremarkable or ordinary may be revealed as arbitrary and capricious when a more historical perspective is taken; thus we have included a retrospective on standards of beauty over several decades. We have examined variations and diversities in behavior and social arrangements as another way of clarifying the unspoken rules about what is considered normative. We also have explored the costs and ultimate consequences of the beauty sexuality connection as a way to question whose interests are served and to identify the political elements inherent in the social framework of women’s beauty, sexuality, and identity.
Despite traditional notions that sexuality is based in anatomy and biology, we contend that sexuality is a socially constructed phenomenon; sexuality is negotiated between people and groups and emerges as a result of normative standards about what is both typical and desirable. The social framework of sexuality provides rules about who can be sexual and under what circumstances sexual behavior is appropriate. The social framework of sexuality even defines what counts as sex. Ultimately, individual experiences of being sexual and sexually aroused are determined, at least in part, by these socially constructed realities.
Although sexuality may be experienced as a personal and highly private aspect of the self, social and political frameworks fundamentally shape the ways in which we think about and experience sexuality. These frameworks encompass norms, expectations, labels, habits, customs, judgments, values, and social scripts of sexuality and sexual behavior. Socially constructed definitions assign meanings and determine whether behaviors are seen as flirtatious, titillating, provocative, salacious, or criminal. The experience of desire and the formulation of what even constitutes sexuality have developed within a social and political context.
Most important, the social framework determines who has the power to exercise choice and authority. Socially constructed definitions of sexuality do not occur randomly but derive from the interests of privileged groups. Those who are in power (political, economic, and social) have the most influence in establishing the social framework and are in positions to exert more influence over its design, usually for their own comfort. The sociopolitical context in most societies has consistently advantaged men at the expense of women. In particular, North American ideals of sexuality have functioned largely as a way of keeping women in their (subservient) place. Controlling women’s sexuality, like controlling women’s bodies in general, is a medium through which the oppression of women occurs.