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The politics of sex and image in ASUC elections

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OCTOBER 09, 2018

“Hello, my name is Rizza Estacio, and I am running to be your next academic affairs vice president.”

Recitation is key, I reminded myself, as I applied a thick coat of red lipstick. I wriggled slightly, exhaling into an outfit that in the past couple of months had become my second skin — a black pencil skirt that sits tight on the hips and a crisp white blazer that dips down my abdomen. I caught my reflection as I continued to practice my stump speech, and the first word that came to mind was “sexy.” Not necessarily powerful, brilliant or assertive, but sexy.

As elections continued, people often complimented my campaign picture by telling me I was beautiful — more beautiful than my opponent, as if that were flattering rather than reductive. People also insulted my campaign picture — “uglier” than my opponent was the token slanderous claim rather than “less qualified.” They compared our photos on social media. Metrics such as makeup, beauty and outfit choice were used to measure how competent we were as candidates. I had to remind myself that I was running for an elected position in my campus’s student government and not as a competitor in a beauty pageant.

This unrelenting stressor of proving my abilities and keeping up impossibly high standards of appearance enabled bizarre habits — amid the haze of balancing work, school and campaigning, as well as generally surviving on four hours of sleep a night, my makeup routine never faltered. I never failed to attend the token co-op party of the week, dressed to the 10s. I showed face frequently, attempting to parade around my body and appearance for Facebook page likes and votes.

I quickly learned that, as a woman of color attempting to garner a position of power, I would need to appear digestible, beautiful — even sexy — to be “liked” by the campus community. Being myself just wouldn’t cut it — I had to fit an image of success and power. If I couldn’t look like a white man, I’d have to look like someone a white man wanted to fuck.

White students make up the largest demographic portion of the undergraduate population, and since white men are the largest demographic of the male student population, their seal of approval is key for a successful campaign. There is a common mantra when it comes to ASUC elections: “It’s a numbers game.” And where do these Godforsaken numbers come from if you are neither a white man nor adjacent to whiteness? A bulletproof image. A finely crafted set of optics, smoke and mirrors of likeability. Do you look like a leader? Do you look like someone trustworthy? Do you look like someone I want to be friends with? Do you look like someone I want to fuck?

Let’s unpack that last one. When you are a woman (or any femme/nonbinary-identifying individual, for that matter), forthcoming about your strength, unyielding in your control, domineering, headstrong and powerful, it’s very unlikely you will get a “yes” response on the first three questions, unless you are asking another strong, powerful woman. Rumor has it that if someone wants to fuck you, they will probably vote for you in the upcoming ASUC elections. As a young woman of color, I faced the hideous truth of sexual objectification. This was, and is, my reality. And though I attempted to capitalize on my own exploitation, I never found satisfaction. Not only did I feel objectified and disgusted by the way I greedily attempted to reap benefit from a system that marginalized my body, I also never found the return I was looking for. I could never be like a man — the ultimate benefactor of this game of sexual manipulation.

Men who run for positions of power easily get all four of the aforementioned questions answered with a resounding “yes.” It’s no surprise that, for several years now, our ASUC senators and executive leadership have been fraternity men, shiny with white (and white-passing) privilege, whose presence draws men who want to be them or women who want to fuck them. There are also the classic, hypermasculine men of color who have the woke clout of their peers and can even make white women wet. Women use sex appeal for survival, while men just collect it as collateral. Sex appeal means you are a candidate worth investing in. Candidates who fit traditional connotations of “sexy” get chosen to run for executive seats, get extra face time on parties’ ads and even get more heavily financed campaigns. Sex and elections, shockingly (yet not quite so), go hand in hand.

Some would say it doesn’t matter that sex and politics are inextricable, but when you think about it, who are we taught to consider sexually desirable? White people. Men. Cisgender people. People with privilege. Our inability to distinguish between sexy and powerful feeds the political circle jerk, the white male monopoly on political power. And this monopoly extends far beyond student body elections on college campuses. Yeah, maybe you don’t want to fuck Mitch McConnell or Rand Paul now. But before they were sitting U.S. senators, voting against welfare and reproductive rights or voting an assailant into the Supreme Court, they were fraternity members and student council presidents.

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Rizza writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact her at [email protected] .

OCTOBER 12, 2018