DESIGN

SEXUALITY AND POWER – part 7

Chapter 1

The Character of London Sex Shops

Despite the fact that the majority of sex shops across London welcome all sexes and genders their visual language suggests a male orientation and seems to follow a certain convention about what is desired. Regardless of the sexual orientation of the sex shop, the majority of the stores are based on a ‘master and servant’ bipolarity, where the receiver is considered to be the more feminine one. These stores are mainly designed in a way that suggests that satisfying a woman is a masculine gender role; therefore entering a sex shop in London gives an ambivalent experience.

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On one hand it relieves the taboo around sexuality by offering a wide range of satisfying options. On the other hand, these options somewhat refer to social conventions: the design of the tools, the character of films, and the spatial arrangement are all metaphors of the sanctity of masculinity. Consequently, this suggests the existence of polar opposites of roles in terms of the sexes and a reflection of a certain grid set within the society that should be followed in order to fit in. Furthermore, the anatomical character of the body, such as being a female or a male, seems to imply to the gender of the body, the social interpretation of it.

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The Concept of Sh!

Judith Butler states that gender is a constant performance, a doing rather than a static condition (Butler, 1990). That does not mean that the subject is free to choose her/his gender, as the variety of options exist within the regulatory frame of society (Butler, 1990). If someone is born as a female it does not mean that she is a woman, that she has feminine features. The general public opinion about being a woman involves motherhood and several other features that characterise a woman such as body language. This set of classifications then raises numerous questions related to the identity of womanliness and supports Weeks’s previously mentioned conclusion that the interpretation of sexual categories and their roles is culturally specific.

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If someone is not able to give birth, they are usually still considered to be a woman; however it must be admitted that certain social criticism is present that pushes the individual to question her own identity. The same appears when a single woman at a certain age has still not ‘settled down’ (got married and had children) but rather built a career expressing herself in other ways than society considers right. Additionally, if a male transsexual interprets himself as a ‘she’ wearing female dresses and having the above mentioned body language, he we still not be a woman according to the public opinion.

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As an example in practise to what Butler means above Sh! can be adduced. Established in 1992 according to its website ‘as an antidote to sleazy sex shops’ (Sh!, n.d.) shaped by the cultural environment, its main uniqueness is the semi-restricted entry by male customers in order to maintain the female-focus. This fact itself would not support Butler’s theory of gender relations, but rather confirms the idea of social discrimination – where surprisingly in this case the subordinated is the male.

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However, after deeper investigation of the concept of the store it became more than clear that by this policy what its management means is the following: everyone who considers her/himself a woman is allowed to enter the shop regardless of her/his biological appearance. The limitation of male access, however, is not against masculinity – it is important in order to give more attention and space to femininity. It is essential to state that further on ‘woman’ within this dissertation will refer to the female sexed body in order to prevent any misunderstanding related to gender relations.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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