Would You Buy a Used Skull from this Woman?

Laurie and Debbie say:

What do Hollywood prop shops that use sex to sell skeletons:

Woman posed provocatively on prehistoric skull

sexualized anatomical illustrations from the 15th century and after

Flirty anatomical illustrations of people stripping their skin

and pin-up x-rays from a promotional medical supplies calendar

x-ray of prone woman on her elbows, with her tush and legs in the air

have in common?

Obviously, they are all using sexualized archetypes to draw our attention to something, some very different things.

We’re more interested in how they are different than in how they are the same.

The top one is apparently representative of a trend in selling Pleistocene-era bones (some more information at the link at the top of the article). It would seem to be the super-simple equation of “men, not women, buy ancient bones, therefore, having sexy women in the pictures of ancient bones for sale is a good thing.” By using women in these poses, they draw upon decades (if not centuries) of “buy this” imagery in the minds of their customers. Unimaginative, and definitely weird, but probably at least somewhat lucrative.

The second one looks like it was drawn for serious medical students 600 years ago. It’s easy to imagine the artist, or the person commissioning the artist, saying “We don’t want students to just flip past this; we want them to really look at it. What will make them really look at it?” More than half a millennium ago, the answer was “make it sexy.”

The third, which Debbie blogged about in 2010, is also using sexual poses to draw commercial attention; however, unlike the animal skulls, the x-ray company pictures do in fact demonstrate something about what they are selling, even if the sexualization is not at all related to the machine function.

Sex is essentially an attention-grabber; it’s best done with your full attention, and it can easily draw your attention. The way everything else–relevant, semi-relevant, and irrelevant–has been sexualized is about masculine attention and commodification, about sexism and the objectification of women, about how hidden persuaders work. And it’s also about the ways we are wired to pay attention to sex.