Israels politics of discrimination – Israel News

Israels politics of discrimination – Israel News | Haaretz Daily Newspaper.

Israel’s politics of discrimination

How an informal process of decision making keeps Ashkenazi men at the top, while women, Arabs and Mizrahim are denied their fair share of power and resources.

By Eva Illouz Apr.25, 2012 | 4:58 PM  10
Illouz - Alon Ron - April 27, 2012
Meeting of university heads, 2008: One woman, Prof. Rivka Carmi, third from right, no Arabs.Photo by Alon Ron
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Discrimination is the sophisticated, less blunt, distant cousin of racism. It has the same effects as racism − ranking people by birth − without, necessarily, the same intentions, which is why discrimination is mostly and most often an invisible mechanism. This is also the reason why some legal provisions suggest evaluating discrimination on the basis of facts. But facts alone do not scrutinize the mindset of people working in organizations. If, for example, women represent 50 percent of the population, Arabs and Mizrahim constitute 60 percent of the population and if all three groups have almost never been represented among the rectors, presidents and deans, or been recipients of scientific awards of Israeli universities, we need not enter the minds of the people who make these decisions to suspect discrimination. The proof is in the famous pudding.

What is interesting − sociologically − about discrimination is that it produces racist or sexist effects without being necessarily connected to racist beliefs, at least not explicit ones. Universities and many cultural institutions are particularly good places to examine this phenomenon because they are full of liberal, well-intentioned, broad-minded people who want to promote equality, yet fail at it. Therefore, the question of how places full of liberal and broad-minded people end up being full of Ashkenazi men is puzzling. Here, gender and ethnicity should be viewed in similar terms, because mechanisms of exclusion in both cases are often similar ‏(with the proviso that Ashkenazi women are doing much better in Ashkenazi cultural institutions than Mizrahim and Arab men or women). Even if women and Mizrahim constitute large groups, each of these groups – despite their increasing visibility and presence in Israeli society – are still “minorities,” because historically they have been deprived of rights, privileges and resources that men have enjoyed. ‏(For example, when you understand the importance of the army for networking in many Israeli institutions, you realize why women and Arabs have been kept outside many centers of power.‏) In fact, we may go further: the “majority” that now controls so many institutions is largely made up of Ashkenazis ‏(among them a majority of men‏), and close to 60 per cent ‏(Arabs and Mizrahim‏) are the minorities left outside many centers of power. The fact that this situation has improved over time should not prevent us from asking why it is not improving faster.

Cultural capital

Inbal Bitton ‏(a fictional name‏) was born and raised in Kiryat Shmona. She went to a very mediocre school, where she learned a lot about Jewish holidays, the Holocaust, Zionism and the Torah, but very little about Athenian democracy, the difference between idealism and materialism in philosophy, the comparative study of the rationality at work in the Guide for the Perplexed and Arab civilization’s contribution to modern sciences. Still, thanks to her hard work, she studied at university, earned a degree in social work and geography, and now works in the urban planning department in the municipality of a large Israeli city. She is hard-working, meticulous, intelligent, and after a few years has become very competent at her job.

One day, she arrives at a meeting with the director of an international philanthropic organization who wants to contribute to the construction of public projects in Israel. In addition to the director, two other men are present; one grew up in Rehavia, the other in Haifa. The meeting gets off to a good start: The three men tell each other army jokes and learn that they have mutual acquaintances among the officers. The meeting progresses and some important decisions are made. At the end of the meeting, the three men stay on to chat; Inbal feels a bit of an outsider, so she politely leaves. During that final informal chat, the director of the philanthropic organization learns that he shares musical tastes with one of the other men, and that they both have a subscription to the Israeli Opera. One week later, the director of that same large philanthropic organization is asked by the Minister of Infrastructure to recommend someone for a prestigious position at his ministry that requires a great deal of experience in urban planning. Who do you think he will remember from the meeting held a week ago?

This fictional, yet realistic, anecdote serves to illustrate many phenomena all at once: Men do not exclude this woman because she is a woman, but because they can bond naturally − they all shared the same military humor, learned in the barracks. They do not exclude her because she is Mizrahi, but rather because all three of them grew up in similar Ashkenazi neighborhoods and could recognize in each other a common and similar style. In no way did they hold the a priori racist opinion that Mizrahim or people who grew up in Kiryat Shmona are less worthy than people who grew up in large urban centers. They simply inferred from her clothes, accent perhaps, last name, and her discomfort that she is not “sophisticated,” “representative” or “well-groomed.” Finally, in evaluating her style, the men confused two things: how competent she is at her job, and her “cultural capital” – how much high culture she knows and displays. They viewed cultural knowledge or capital as a sign of professional competence, which it is not.

The one who got the phone call was the one who also had a subscription to the opera. He got the call not because he was more competent in urban planning, but because he had the same upbringing, the same army experiences, the same way of speaking, the same manners, the same physical appearance, and the same musical taste as the one who called him. ‏(It also turns out that this style is congruent in general with the style of many who make important decisions‏.) This is, in a nutshell, the story of discrimination.

This anecdote says something important: much discrimination does not feel like discrimination at all; in fact, most of the time it feels like something else. It feels like the trust and respect we have for some and not for others; it feels like the bonds of camaraderie we create with others through the army, the university, the kibbutz, the youth group or the tennis club. Mostly it feels like an honest, objective evaluation of someone else’s competence and personality.

The reason why discrimination is so hard to fight, even in ourselves, is that it is very hard to identify because it happens behind our backs, so to speak − it almost always comes in the form of something else, like trusting someone from our group, or evaluating “objectively” someone as more competent or sophisticated, or preventing a “difficult” person from being promoted. In fact, quite often discrimination comes subtly packaged with qualities that many people value − such as being loyal to old friends; recognizing in others what makes us feel comfortable and on familiar terrain; promoting only “nice people,” those who do not question the privileges and entitlements we have. In the example above, discrimination is not a nasty and brutal way to exclude. It feels, and in some ways it is, natural and friendly. Nothing could be more natural than to be friendly to those who are like us and gentle to us.

Let me thus make a blunt sociological statement: What makes us feel good as members of a group usually plays out very badly in the overall politics of equality. Group cohesion does not go along with a capacity to integrate people who differ. A truly meritocratic society cannot be based on groups, because groups demand first and foremost loyalty, and loyalty is not an egalitarian or meritocratic virtue.
Nor does discrimination mean that we dislike members of minority groups ‏(this is where it differs from racism‏). In fact, women are liked so much that they are regularly discriminated against through courtship and sexual harassment in the workplace. Discrimination is a set of invisible strategies, the effect of which is to exclude minorities from available resources. Discrimination is about sharing power, not about our capacity to have women or Mizrahim or Arabs as friends, as lovers, or as our domestic workers. We can love Mizrahi women and discriminate against them in the workplace. The question of discrimination arises only when a man and a woman, a Mizrahi and an Ashkenazi, an Arab and a Jew, a native and a foreigner, are competing for the same resources, such as power, money, prestige, leadership.

How egalitarian are we?

To what extent a society allows its minorities to truly compete for resources with its majority is the true measure of how egalitarian it is. In modern democracies, education is the main channel for minorities to achieve social mobility. Therefore, education is a very important resource. For this reason, let us examine the position of women, Arabs and Mizrahim ‏(WAM‏) inside the institutions of the university. If you ask yourself why such cultural institutions as the university matter ‏(beyond the fact that this is the one I am most familiar with‏), it is for four reasons: 1‏) This institution is supposed to be entirely based on merit and merit alone; 2‏) as a public institution, it should be exemplary of values the entire society holds dear; 3‏) in a society based on educational mobility ‏(mobility through education‏), cultural leadership indicates a deeper form of social integration than that achieved through money and market mechanisms; and 4‏) because the university is by and large a well-managed organization, its failures are instructive of larger and more general processes.

Let me thus ask a simple question: Who sits on the faculty of Israeli universities? Prof. Nina Toren, who did pioneering research on this topic at the Hebrew University, found that in 2008, the academic staff of Israeli universities could be divided into three groups: 90 percent Ashkenazim; 9 percent Mizrahim ‏(with less than 2 percent Mizrahi women‏); 1 percent Arabs. Women constituted 27 percent of the entire academic body. This composition indicates that a structural discrimination exists, demonstrating that society is incapable of bringing representatives of 60 percent of its population ‏(Mizrahim and Arabs combined‏) into its universities as lecturers. Instead, most of the power is concentrated in the hands of Ashkenazi men.

These findings also suggest that ethnic discrimination is deeper and vaster than gender discrimination. Please note: Structural discrimination is not an intention to discriminate. It is de facto discrimination. But if this were the only explanation, one would expect that once women, Arabs and Mizrahim entered the gates of the university, they would be proportionately represented in the university leadership. Yet this is far from being the case. Proof that their exclusion is not “only” the result of structural flaws in the education system, but also stems from attitudes and biases actively present in the university, can be found in the following fact: If we make a very rough estimate of all the WAM across all Israeli universities who are already inside the university, all three groups would constitute 36 percent of the total number of lecturers. And yet, all together, they probably do not represent even 5 percent of the heads of academic institutions, people in significant positions of power and prestige in universities or research institutes, presidents of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Israel Science Foundation, or national scientific committees. And this has been the case for many decades.
In the faculties of humanities and social sciences of many Israeli universities, even a middle-rank management position, like that of dean, has never been filled by a Mizrahi or an Arab, and almost never by a woman. The middle-rank position of director of the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University has never been filled by a woman, a Mizrahi or an Arab. And on, and on, and on. It is difficult to imagine that in 60 years, all these institutions did not find one single woman, one single Mizrahi, one single Arab among those who were already inside the university, who was worthy of filling these relatively middle-rank positions, let alone the high-ranking ones. This clearly indicates that an informal process of decision making keeps WAM outside power and away from resources.

Think about this: WAM represent approximately 80 percent of the population, yet they do not represent even 5 percent of our academic elites. WAM are excluded not by any formal or concerted decision, but by a series of informal evaluations that concern either their professional competence or their personality. Universities and many cultural institutions make a particularly fertile terrain for this precisely because being a leader in these institutions is based on informal evaluations by others. ‏(This is why Mizrahim enter the business sector in droves, because success there is established by tangible performance, rather than informal evaluation by a group of Ashkenazi peers.) As Dr. Yofi Tirosh, a leading scholar of discrimination at the Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law, put it in a conversation for this article, the politics of discrimination is most visible in the politics of “representativeness” – that is, those chosen and perceived as “representative of the institution.” It is in the process of choosing someone who will represent the entire body that biases are widely used. The question is thus: How do such politics of representativeness operate on the ground?

Minorities’ dilemma

If you build a country by viewing Arabs and Mizrahim as culturally inferior, it is not difficult to understand how conditions are created for the formation of stereotypes of Arabs and Mizrahim as “not cultured, sophisticated or educated enough.” Stereotypes are not just routine associations of certain groups with specific attributes; they are powerful tools of social control. Stereotypes create expectations that some groups are fit or “unfit” for certain positions or activities.

Here is an example: In my opinion, one of the most brilliant minds in the Israeli public sphere today is an Arab man, Sayed Kashua. But Sayed Kashua has been able to succeed because he does not threaten anyone’s position in that field. He is an Arab man who writes about the relationships between Arabs and Jews. This is acceptable to a society based on Jewish control. If, however, Sayed Kashua had wanted to do research on modern Jewish history ‏(in the same way as Jews study the history of Islam or Christianity‏), it is a safe bet that things would have been more difficult for him. Why? Not because he would have had more power as a researcher of Jewish history, but because he would have been stepping out of a stereotype − that an Arab man can be a specialist only on Arab issues.

The point about stereotypes is that they create expectations about the kind and amount of territory a member of a minority is allowed to possess. As tools of social control, stereotypes also create expectations about who has the right to speak authoritatively to others. Stereotypes make the power of some seem natural and self-evident, while associating minorities with leadership and power seems much less natural. ‏(See, for example, all the interest generated by Prof. Rivka Carmi, president of Ben-Gurion University, precisely because it is very unusual for a woman to be president of an academic institution.‏) How comfortable do you think faculty members of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University or the Weizmann Institute would be in choosing as their rector or president a Mizrahi man or an Arab woman?

An Ashkenazi man has the greatest sense of entitlement to lead and represent others, which is why it goes unnoticed when he does so. ‏(After Ashkenazi men, next in line in the hierarchy of entitlement are Ashkenazi women, then Mizrahim, and Arabs at the bottom − with a woman always having an inferior status to a man in any group.) More specifically, members of minorities are faced with the following dilemma, which has been documented in numerous experiments conducted by social psychologists: conforming to the image others have of them and being perceived as weak, or being perceived as competent and not being liked. This is undoubtedly the most common dilemma faced by minorities in the workplace.

One famous experiment conducted by Prof. Laurie Rudman from Rutgers University runs like this: You give two different groups of people ‏(composed of both men and women‏) the exact same story, with only one difference. One group reads a story with a male protagonist, while the other reads the same story with a female one. The story describes a highly successful professional. You then ask the people who read the story to evaluate the successful man or woman on a scale of competence ‏(how good at his/her job is s/he?‏) and likability ‏(how nice/caring do you think this person is?‏). The results are striking: Twenty years ago, the woman would have been rated as far less competent than the man; but today she is rated as equally competent ‏(feminism managed to change stereotypes about competence‏).

However, though she was found to be as competent as the man, she was also found to be significantly less likable, both by men and women. That is, the groups evaluating the protagonist − a highly successful professional − have exactly the same information about the man and the woman, yet the successful woman is deemed much less likable than the man.

Laurie Rudman ‏(and many other researchers‏) have conducted many experiments centering on this theme and found overwhelming evidence that women pay a heavy price for being perceived as powerful and competent, self-confident, assertive and self-reliant. When they rank high on competence, they are far more likely to rank low on what we expect them to be – namely, caring and group-oriented. Even though the experiment was done with women, we may hypothesize that it is true for other minorities as well. Minorities working in many organizations are confronted with the same dilemma of being either liked or viewed as competent. If they are liked, their likability comes from the fact that they correspond to the stereotype that associates them with weakness; when they deviate from the stereotype, they are perceived as boastful, lacking in a communal orientation to others, uncaring. In both cases − ranking low in competence or low in likability − they are not perceived as “representative” of the institution.

Let me now give you examples I have witnessed personally in many Israeli universities, in which the competence or likability of a member of a minority is evaluated in such a way that they end up being seen as unworthy to represent the institution ‏(examples come from all Israeli universities, which will make it impossible to identify the university or the characters involved‏).

Evaluating competence

1‏) “Moroccan accent”: A highly respected academic working in an Israeli university, an Ashkenazi male, tells me in a conversation that even though he knows he is being racist, he cannot take seriously a colleague of his, another professor, because of his “thick Moroccan accent.” Arabs’ speech is also heavily accented, and this accent is often felt to be unrepresentative of the group. People and the institution they work in cannot feel represented adequately by someone speaking with an accent. Ashkenazis, it should be said, have no less an accent than Mizrahim, but theirs is “unmarked” − it is not heard, precisely because Ashkenazis have established the norm of speech, which in turn becomes neutral.

2‏) “He’s so cute”: In an entirely different setting with entirely different characters, an Ashkenazi female listens to a colleague of hers who is delivering a scientific paper in a heavy Moroccan accent. She looks at him, shakes her head, and says ‏(they are both well past their 40s‏), “He is so cute, he is so cute, ‏(hamoud‏).” She did not mean she found him sexy; she meant he was so unthreatening that she found in him the attributes of a child. It is difficult to imagine her using this word for a male who projects authority and power. When the word hamoud, “cute,” is said to and of women in the workplace, it is often viewed as an insult, because cuteness is an attribute of children, which defuses the capacity to display power.

3‏) “Her field is too narrow”: Social hierarchy is reflected in the hierarchy of scientific fields. Mathematics, perhaps the scientific field with the highest prestige, has almost no women, Arabs or Mizrahim in it. Arabs and Mizrahim are absent from classics and medieval history, both fields which are far more valued than the more “political” fields that attract WAM. WAM tend to enter fields that are ranked lower in intellectual prestige, such as education, social work, sociology, political science or international relations. It is not surprising to find that there are far fewer recipients of scientific awards and large grants in the latter fields than the former.

The hierarchy of scientific fields reflects social hierarchy and is an indirect way of keeping resources in the same place. This social hierarchy also exists within fields. For example, a woman who studies “the experience of Mizrahi women in synagogues” is likely to be perceived as dealing with a narrower topic than a man studying “Kantian Rationality in the writings of Rabbi Soloveitchik” The first topic is perceived as “lower” and more narrow in the hierarchy of topics, because of its clearer association with a minority group.

4‏) “He is so cultured”: A large number of sociologists have claimed that cultural competence − the knowledge of “high,” European culture one is able to display − is often associated with greater status or prestige in cultural organizations. It therefore contributes to the informal ranking of people inside these organizations – not according to expertise in their topic, but according to their capacity to display the right membership in a specific social/ethnic class. Cultural competence is not only knowledge of high culture, but also of a specific way of speaking and expertise in a variety of informal domains, such as wine-tasting, patronizing operas and concert halls, developing a gourmet taste and cooking culture, traveling far and wide.

Sociologists have shown that high culture is often used not as a way to extend wisdom and cultivate aesthetics, but rather to display prestige, which is then used informally to increase one’s status inside an organization. Conversely, those who do not know how to display these informal attributes of status, often implicitly receive a lower ranking.

16 Female Role Models: Transforming Personal Pain into Positive Action « The Pixel Project

16 Female Role Models: Transforming Personal Pain into Positive Action « The Pixel Project.

Here are 16 of some of the most awesome women in the movement to end violence against women. We hope that they will inspire you as much they do The Pixel Project team:

Female Role Model 1: Anuradha Koirala – Nepal

Anuradha Koirala, CNN Hero 2011 and human trafficking activist, founded Maiti Nepal, a nonprofit which saved more than 12,000 women and girls from sex trafficking and prostitution, when she escaped an abusive relationship that left her with three miscarriages. After the relationship ended, Koirala used a portion of her $100 monthly salary to start a small retail shop to employ and support displaced victims of sex trafficking and domestic violence. Maiti Nepal was her brainchild for giving voice, legal defense and rehabilitation to victims of sex trafficking. The group also takes in rape and domestic violence survivors, as well as abandoned children. “The hardest part for me is to see a girl dying or coming back with different diseases at an [age] when she should be out frolicking,” Koirala said. “That’s what fuels me to work harder.”

Female Role Model 2: Betty Makoni – Zimbabwe

Betty Makoni is the founder of Girl Child Network Worldwide and a CNN Hero. As a survivor of child abuse and rape, Betty founded GCNW to educate and empower Zimbabwean girls. Her work has forced her to flee Zimbabwe for the United Kingdom where she continues to run Girl Child Network Worldwide, bringing her model of empowering girls from the ground up to numerous countries across the world. Betty’s incredible story has been captured in a poignant documentary, Tapestries of Hope, by Michealene Risley. Betty said: “We focus on girls to transform them from being like a passive victim to the “masculine” qualities that we want because… it’s all about standing tall. This is what we teach boys: a man is strong. We can say to the girls the same: a girl is strong”

Female Role Model 3: ‘Bibi’ Ayesha – Afghanistan

18-year-old ‘Bibi’ Ayesha had her ears and nose chopped off by her abusive husband and was brought to the United States to undergo facial reconstruction surgery. While in the United States, she bravely shared her pre-surgery face with the world by going on the cover of Time magazine. Aisha’s portrait is a powerful and visual Teachable Moment that inspires and galvanises all of us to work towards eliminating violence against women wherever we are in the world and with whatever skills and tools we have at hand.

Female Role Model 4: Brenda Isabel – Kenya

Brenda Isabel, a young Kenyan survivor of sexual violence, turns her personal tragedy into communal good by starting a centre to help other young Kenyan women house their dreams and is working to make it self-funding by starting a business to make eco-friendly sanitary pads. Brenda wants to help change things by empowering other young women like her with education and life skills. She recently launched her own programme called The Human Relations Trust. What an inspiration and a great example of being able to move beyond the pain and to turn pain into a force for good! To learn more about Brenda and her amazing initiative, you can watch a video about her work here.

Female Role Model 5: Esther Chavez Cano – Mexico

The late Esther Chavez Cano began her distinguished work against violence against women in Mexico after she retired as an accountant. Profoundly shocked by the lack of police attention to the brutal killings of the women of Cuidad Juarez, she founded the March 8 Organisation to bring together campaigners protesting at the violence perpetrated against women in the area. She collected articles on the murders from local papers for several years, and distilled the reports into facts and figures that could be used to hound the police services and embarrass politicians. As her list of victims grew, so did her tenacity. In 1999 she opened the Casa Amiga shelter and rape crisis centre, which now helps thousands of women each year, free of charge.

Female Role Model 6: Holly Kearl – United States of America

For ten years Holly Kearl has addressed gender-based violence and women’s equity issues, starting with volunteer work at a local domestic violence shelter during her senior year of high school. Tired of strange men whistling and honking at her, calling out to her, following her, and grabbing her when she was alone in public, Holly wrote her master’s thesis on gender-based street harassment and how women were using online websites to combat it. In 2008 she founded an anti-street harassment website and blog and began working on an anti-street harassment book. In Aug. 2010, her book came out and it is available online: Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women

Female Role Model 7: Iana Matei – Romania

Iana Matei is Romania’s leading advocate and activist for the end of the sex-trafficking of girls and women. Until a few years ago, Ms. Matei’s shelter here was the only one in Romania for victims of traffickers, though the country has been a center for the trade in young girls for decades. In 1990, as Romania was emerging from Communism, she participated in daily street protests and eventually fled to and resettled in Australia where she earned a degree in psychology and worked with street children. In 1998, she moved back to Romania where she began working with street children and eventually rescuing underaged girls from prostitution and sex trafficking under dangerous conditions.

Female Role Model 8: Julia Lalla-Maharajh – United Kingdom

Julia Lalla-Maharajh, founder of the Orchid Project, was volunteering in Ethiopia when she came across the scale and extent of female genital cutting there. She was determined to do something about this. When she returned to London she volunteered with FORWARD to discover more about organisations working in this field.  She was able to appear on the Plinth in Trafalgar Square spending her hour raising awareness about FGC, putting on and taking off 40 t-shirts to represent countries where FGC is practised and cutting the petals of 40 red roses.  Following this, she entered the YouTube/World Economic Forum competition, the Davos Debates. In a global vote, she won and went to Davos, to hold a dedicated debate with the head of UNICEF, Amnesty International and the UN Foundation.

Female Role Model 9: Kathleen Schmidt – United States of America

Kathleen Schmidt survived a childhood and brutal first marriage full of abuse to go on to a happy second marriage and a full life dedicated to helping others. Kathleen tells her story in the book, Escaping The Glass Cage as a way of sharing her strength and experience with others to show them that there is hope. She is also the founder of Project Empowermenta weekly Blogtalkradio show where she interviews experts, survivors and leaders in the movement to end violence against women and domestic violence about their work and solutions to this seemingly intractable problem.

Female Role Model 10: Layli Miller-Muro – United States of America

Layli Miller-Muro is the Executive Director of the Tahirih Justice Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting women from human rights abuses through the provision of legal aid and public policy advocacy. Miller-Muro founded the organization in 1997 following her involvement in Matter of Kasinga, a high-profile case that set national precedent and revolutionized asylum law in the United States. Fauziya Kassindja, a 17-year-old girl who had fled Togo in fear of a forced polygamous marriage and a tribal practice known as female genital mutilation, was granted asylum in 1996 by the US Board of Immigration Appeals. This decision opened the door to gender-based persecution as grounds for asylum.

Female Role Model 11: Lisa Shannon – United States of America

Lisa Shannon founded the first national grassroots effort to raise awareness and funds for women in the DR Congo through her project Run for Congo Women. They have sponsored more than a thousand war-affected Congolese women through Women for Women International. These women are raising more than 5000 children. She traveled solo into Eastern Congo’s South Kivu province for five and half weeks in January- February 2007, and again in May 2008. Prior to Lisa’s travels through Congo, was named a “2006 Hero of Running” by Runner’s World Magazine and O, The Oprah Magazine wrote, “Lisa Shannon read our report—and started a movement.” Lisa presently serves as an ambassador for Women for Women International.

Female Role Model 12: Olivia Klaus – United States of America

Filmmaker Olivia Klaus spent nine years creating “Sin by Silence,”a documentary on women in the United States sentenced to prison for killing their abusive partners. Klaus volunteered to work with the group Convicted Women Against Abuse (CWAA)—the subject of the film—after a friend in an abusive relationship turned to her for help. She named her film after something Abraham Lincoln once said, “To sin by silence when we should protest makes cowards of men.” She said: “This is my way of protesting and breaking the silence.” Klaus believes that anyone can get involved with stopping violence against women – from being there for a friend to volunteering for a shelter to protesting for legislation.

Female Role Model 13: Rana Husseini – Jordan

As a Jordanian woman journalist writing for The Jordan TimesRana Husseini focused on social issues with a special emphasis on violence against women, as well as the brutal crimes that are committed against Jordanian women in the name of family honour. Her coverage of and dedication to ending this unjustified practice against women helped raise national awareness on a topic that is traditionally considered taboo. Until The Jordan Times began reporting on so-called crimes of honour, the local press shied away from addressing the issue. The government responded by introducing legal changes that suggest tougher punishments for perpetrators of such crimes.

Female Role Model 14: Roya Shams – Afghanistan

Roya Shams is a 16-year-old Afghan girl who walks to school every day to get her education, regardless of threats of violence from her neighbours and community. Roya is not only determined to learn and to finish high school, but she intends to go on to university and get a degree. She then plans to stick her neck out even further: in a country where a woman is easily cut down for having the nerve to speak up, the burning ambition of Roya’s young life is to become a politician. “We have to study,” she insists. “We have to show them the way.”

Female Role Model 15: Sunitha Krishnan – India

Dr. Sunitha Krishnan, born in 1969, is an Indian social activist, a gang rape survivor and Chief Functionary and co-founder of Prajwala, an institution that assists trafficked women and girls in finding shelter. The organization also helps pay for the education of five thousand children infected with HIV/AIDS in Hyderabad. Prajwala’s “second-generation” prevention program operates in 17 transition centers and has served thousands of children of prostituted mothers. Prajwala’s strategy is to remove women from brothels by giving their children educational and career opportunities. Krishnan and her staff train survivors in carpentry, welding, printing, masonry and housekeeping.

Female Role Model 16: Waris Dirie – Somalia

Waris Dirie is a Somali model, author, actress and human rights activist working to end female genital mutilation (FGM). Waris underwent FGM as a child and at the age of thirteen, she fled her family to escape an arranged marriage to a much older man. In 1997, Waris left her modeling career to focus on her work against FGM and was appointed UN Special Ambassador for the Elimination of FGM. In 2002, she founded the Waris Dirie Foundation in Vienna, Austria, an organization aimed at raising awareness regarding the dangers surrounding FGM. In January 2009, the PPR Foundation for Women’s Dignity and Rights’, was jointly founded by Waris and French tycoon François-Henri Pinault (CEO of PPR) and his wife, actress Salma Hayek. Waris has also started the Desert Dawn Foundation, which raises money for schools and clinics in her native Somalia.

Femina Invicta:

Just came across this a few months later… Just as relevant as ever. If you do nothing else, see Asmaa’s video clip.

Originally posted on Cellar Door:

We are, each of us, functions of how we imagine ourselves and of how others imagine us, and, looking back, there are these discrete tracks of memory: the times when our lives are most sharply defined in relation to others’ ideas of us, and the more private times when we are freer to imagine ourselves. [...] it occurred to me that if others have so often made your life their business — made your life into a question, really, and made that question their business — then perhaps you will want to guard the memory of those times when you were freer to imagine yourself as the only times that are truly and inviolably your own.
— We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch

The passage above from Philip Gourevitch’s gorgeously written book about the 1994 Rwandan…

View original 751 more words

Thursday Round-Up

Gender Charts, Why “Strong Women Characters” Are a Canard, Heart-Rending Poetry, Uncle Bush, and Should Toys Be Gender-Free?

Discovery of the Week

Double discovery, actually: The blog itself – Rooted in Being

“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open”

And the poem in this post that has been open on my desktop for a couple of weeks now:

The One That Got Away
or
The Woman Who Made It

by Robin Morgan

From the Queer Blogosphere

I love charts and maps!

Gender map:

Click to view full size

And a chart: 

Media & Culture

More takes on “strong women characters”:

Gender & Socialization

Body Image: Victoria’s Secret does not love my body

Girls’ Socialization: Peggy Orenstein wonders if stripping gender from toys really makes sense.

Characterizations of women & minorities: Ads that would never be allowed today
My personal take is that we haven’t actually come that far… What do you think?

Random

The Uncle Bush story

This has absolutely nothing to do with anything. Just a little sliver of history.

I recently saw a movie called Get Low about a hermit in the 1930s who has his funeral party before his death and everyone comes… It was a pretty good movie. I like true-story stuff like that when it really is unusual. And while not exactly true to life, there was a real Uncle Bush at its root, who got people from at least 14 states to come to his live funeral party… Here’s his page. And another good site.

    

Thursday Round-Up

Personal and work pressures make it difficult to be as focused as I’d like on my pet topics. But these great blogs and articles keep coming my way, so I thought I’d share some. If it works out I’ll do it regularly.

Gender Violence

Dear Abby, Thank You for Saving My Life

December 6 was Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, held each year on the anniversary of the 1989 École Polytechnique Massacre, where 14 young women were killed for being women.

In this moving post, Marvelist shares her own story and her thoughts on Canada’s decreasing support for gender equality.

16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an annual international campaign that runs from November 25, International Day Against Violence Against Women, to December 10, International Human Rights Day. Over 2000 organizations in 154 countries have participated in the campaign.

I wanted to post this before the 16 days were over… Oh well. It’s worth noting anyway.

  • Nobel Women’s Round-UpIf you click on nothing else, DO check out the Nobel Women’s Initiative 16 Days of Activism blog: Each day features another amazing woman activist from a different part of the world: Palestine and Israel and the Congo and Iran and South America… Well, there are a lot of amazing women out there!!

  • And here is a great initiative that runs during the 16 days, aimed at encouraging girls and women to take control of technology and end violence.
    Take Back The Tech
From The Queer Activist Blogosphere

The Social Justice League’s blog post Fauxgress Watch: “Born This Way” examines why it is actually detrimental to queer folk to use the argument “we were born this way” or “being queer is not a choice!” as a justification for seeking rights/equality.

Nobel Peace Prize Winners

Of course, I had several tearful moments watching three women accept the Nobel Peace Prize. Women from areas fraught with violence, who were brave enough to find their personal power, raise their voices, become leaders, and make a change.

Heifer International – an organization committed to ending hunger and poverty – opine that these three women can start a movement.

Culture & Media

Deconstructing the Bechdel test

Ana Mardoll discusses what the Bechdel test is actually for.

Rethinking the Strong Female Character

Feminist literary blog Canonball’s thought-provoking post on why we might want to rethink what Hollywood considers to be strong female characters.

The weekly Trope

I will love and/or curse my lovely friend L. forever for getting me hooked on TV Tropes. Today’s trope: Abuse Is Okay When It Is Female On Male

And of course, the “shocking” discovery that rapists and men’s magazines sound suspiciously alike

An investment manager’s email asking for a second date 

This email had me laughing out loud in my office. There are a LOT of responses, but so many of them are just so hysterical it’s worth scrolling around a while.

In Israel

Israeli former president, Moshe Katsav, finally begins his prison sentence for rape!

This New Yorker blog post gives a quick history of the case.

How our fearless leaders REALLY see women (without their uniforms!!)

But sexism is still rife at the top of Israel’s government and military, as evidenced by the “joke” – caught on tape – in which Defense Minister Ehud Barak and army Chief of Staff Benny Ganz objectify female soldiers and one of the minister’s own media team. These two senior men then threaten the press if they release the tape.

Murder of Mustafa Tamimi

I began this as an item in my roundup, and it grew, and grew… So this horrible episode got its own post.

Equal Rights for Renting Women’s Bodies?

Another hot topic causing me distress these days: The fight for equality for gay men under Israel’s surrogacy laws. Grrrrr, talk about a can of worms. I’ve already butted heads with people I usually like and agree with on this. Here’s why.

Most people I know – of liberal leanings – have this kneejerk reaction: Yes! Equality for gays! Enhanced rights and opportunity for parenthood for gay couples! Yay!

Have you figured out what’s missing in this scenario? Yes, indeed – the same person who is being stashed out of site on an increasingly frequent basis: The woman.

Who is providing these surrogacy services? Who is looking out for her interests? Is there even any discussion about it? Any medical, legal, ethical, financial, or psychological standards being adhered to? Or being crafted, if there aren’t any in place?

Surrogate Mothers, India

How many people know what is involved from a health perspective (physical and mental) for the woman providing her body as a service? Versus how many people are jumping in with both feet with accusations of “Homophobia!!” at even the hint that such a discussion should take place?

(And let’s be very clear: no one in the discussion I’m referring to is advocating that heterosexuals should be allowed to this, while homosexuals should not.)

Why is it so easy to ignore the woman?

Here’s some background:

Israel was the first country in the world to legalize surrogacy, in 1996. While some (liberal?) feminists celebrated this as a victory for a woman’s legal freedoms (for example, to enter contracts, and autonomy to determine what to do with her body), other (radical?) feminists immediately classified the practice in the context of a patriarchal society’s attempt to use women’s bodies to further patriarchal ends.

But maybe some more background about Israel and the issue of procreation is needed here.

Israel is unique in its pro-natal attitudes, especially compared to other Western countries, in the sense that having children (Jewish children) is considered an imperative. Not only a cultural imperative, not simply a religious imperative, it is also a political imperative. This is for several reasons:

In the aftermath of the holocaust, many believed that Jews must reproduce to replace the 6 million lost. Others, including the political leadership of the time, viewed child-bearing as a military imperative – women must produce soldiers for the army (first Israeli prime minister Ben-Gurion famously wrote that “Any Jewish woman who, as far as it depends on her, does not bring into the world at least four healthy children is shirking her duty to the nation, like a soldier who evades military service.”). Part of it is traditional – Judaism is family-centric. Part is purely religious – the ultra-orthodox in Israel have a birth rate that is twice that of Muslims, and four times that of secular Jews.

Over the past few decades, one of the most common themes has been the “demographic threat” – if Israel wants to maintain both its identity as a Jewish state and remain a democracy, it simply must maintain a Jewish majority in relation to the Arab population. (Or, for more right-wing sectors, simply “winning out” vs. the Palestinians is the point, without regard to the democratic nature of the country.)

Whatever the reasons, the imperative is deeply ingrained in the culture, which places pressure and socializes people to place child-bearing at the top of their life priorities. It also created a legal and medical system in which parenthood is encouraged and state-supported through:

  • Reproductive technologies. Israel is the leading country in the world in in-vitro fertilization, leads in development of reproductive technologies, and also provides financial support for the procedures.
    (I can (and maybe will) write entirely separate posts about the negative effects this has on women, and how many of the procedures are untested, how low a concern safety is, on the cultural impact on women of being state-sponsored wombs… But alas this post is on another topic which I shall promptly get back to.)
  • Support of single-parenthood, through various methods including sperm banks (artificial insemination, IVF), adoption (international) and of course –
  • Surrogacy.

Okay. So now you might be getting an inkling of what parenthood means to Israelis.

And of course, the fight for equality and recognition of LGBT people’s rights to become parents, and creating legal and societal mechanisms for parenthood to be a realistic possibility, is an important one.

So, what’s actually going on?

As I said, Israel legalized surrogacy in 1996, and was the first country to do so. There have been various judicial decisions along the way determining who can do it, where, how… The bottom line is that under the current rules, only heterosexual couples can hire a surrogate to carry a child for them. This can occur either in Israel or abroad. Homosexual couples or single people cannot (as far as I understand it) contract a surrogate in Israel.

Gay couples can hire a surrogate in the US or India, but a court decision last year regarding DNA tests for both fathers has created some hindrance even to this practice.

So recently, a campaign began to change the law – though a Facebook page (in Hebrew) and an Internet petition. This has brought the discussion back to the forefront in both LGBT and feminist circles, as well as to the broader media and legal communities.

Another Facebook page – Gays Against Surrogacy (in Hebrew) – soon followed. As I mentioned before, claims of homophobia quickly surfaced.

And hence my personal frustration:

First of all, the LGBT association – or Aguda – Israel’s main LGBT advocacy group, is strongly supporting this initiative, to the extent of overshadowing just about any other issue. So once again, the interests of a minority of men, who are primarily white, homonormative, and from a socioeconomically advantaged background are taking precedence over, say – teen prostitution in the LGBT community (which is on the rise), teen suicide, transgender rights, AIDS awareness, or a myriad of other LGBT issues. I’m pretty sick of this lack of wider representation. If it’s the white gay men’s association, they should just say so.

And once again, women are being submitted – physically, mentally, financially, and legally – to the needs of men (or at least to the patriarchal priorities of this society).

I want to support parenthood rights for gays. I *do* support all brands of equality. I cannot, by any stretch, get behind yet another initiative that subordinates women to anyone else’s agenda.

~*~

Here are some resources on the topic for anyone who wants to read more:

From Isha L’Isha Feminist Center:


Old Patterns, New Ideas 
By Hedva Eyal
Council for Responsible Genetics

“There is plenty of scientific knowledge and understanding of health risks as a result of hormone treatments associated with in vitro fertilization (IVF). This raises questions about the widespread use of this procedure, especially when women are exposed to these health risks not for themselves but to conform to other people’s desires. Establishing surrogacy as a prevalent, accepted way of bringing children into the world entails significant risks to the surrogate mother herself, to the child, and to society”

Google Baby – a documentary on surrogate mothers in India:
Focused on a clinic in rural Anand where peasant women give birth to babies ordered over the Internet through an Israeli “pregnancy producer.” Western hetero and gay prospective parents click on the sperm and eggs of their choice, enter credit card details, and later travel to Anand to receive the newborn they couldn’t or wouldn’t conceive themselves.

Fertility policy in Israel: the politics of religion, gender, and nation, by Jacqueline Portugese

Surrogate Motherhood and the Politics of Reproduction, by Susan Markens

Explores how discourses about gender, family, race, genetics, rights, and choice have shaped US policies aimed at this issue.

Article: Homosexual Couples Fight for Right to Surrogate Pregnancy
(Note the complete lack of any reference to the legitimacy or risks of the practice)

Will Israeli Court Decision on Surrogacy Bring Changes for Gay Couples? Blog post, The Sisterhood
“In principle, I agree completely with the Court’s decision in favor of the petitioner who wants a fourth child. But there is also the reality of scarce resources to consider. I would have no issue with the Court’s decision if surrogacy were not a highly limited and regulated commodity in Israel.”
A commodity, indeed.

Israeli Feminists Slate Surrogacy, BioEdge, bioethics news

University of Technology, Sydney Law Review: Surrogacy in Israel: A Model of Comprehensive Regulation of New Technologies – [2005]

The Lolita Effect (Lessons for Girls series)

What do you think of thongs for 10-year-olds with slogans like “eye candy”? Underwear for teens with “Who needs credit cards…?” written across the crotch? Tini-Bikinis for toddlers? High heels for 5-year-olds?

~**~

Last week I wrote about what Disney princesses teach little girls, and it’s pretty scary. Except that this is only one of a multitude of ways in which little girls are socialized to be partners in their own objectification. Examples include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • Teaching girls that it is more important to be pretty than to be smart (or successful/independent/fill-in-your-positive-value-here).
  • Sexualizing girls from a young age
  • Silencing. Girls are taught to avoid confrontation (so they have trouble saying and meaning NO). They are taught to please. They are taught that their role is to nurture others (often at their own expense). They are taught to apologize for having opinions. They are taught to be comfortable in support positions/the back row.

Each of these can be broken down into sub-categories, and I could probably happily spend my life writing a dissertation on each of them if I had the time and resources. Alas, all I have is this blog, but hey, that’s what I started it for. I have a feeling that I can’t begin to do justice to any of the topics in a mere paragraph, so I’ll do a separate post for each.

Part 1: The Lolita Effect, and sexualization of girls in the mainstream media.

In her book, The Lolita Effect, M. Gigi Durham, Ph.D., discusses what pop culture, and especially advertising, teaches young girls and boys about sex and sexuality. She defines five myths that are ingrained in this culture, which make up the Lolita Effect:

  • Girls don’t choose boys, boys choose girls–but only sexy girls
  • There’s only one kind of sexy–slender, curvy, white beauty
  • Girls should work to be that type of sexy
  • The younger a girl is, the sexier she is
  • Sexual violence can be hot

She talks about how the mass media undermines girls’ self-confidence, condones female objectification, and tacitly fosters sex crimes. (Here is an in-depth interview.)

I’m sure we’ve all seen examples of this – but how closely are we watching? Little girls are increasingly portrayed in mainstream media and advertising in a sexualized way, and treated as consumers of a sexualized self-image.

Remember in the late 70s early 80s all the controversy around Brooke Shields? At the age of TEN she was photographed by Gary Gross (via Playboy Press) in a series meant to “reveal the femininity of prepubescent girls by comparing them to adult women”.

Later, at the age of twelve, she triggered another media frenzy when she portrayed a child prostitute in the movie Pretty Baby. The movie included four Shields nude scenes (note: the original version of the movie with these scenes is no longer available; today’s version on DVD has edited out the nudity).

And later yet, at the age of fifteen, Shields let us know on national television, in no uncertain terms that “nothing comes between me and my Calvins”. Hard to interpret that in a non-sexualized way.

    

The thing is that back then, this still stirred controversy. Brooke Shields was not in any way mainstream. Let’s take a look at some of what’s being presented to little girls *these* days:

In 2006, UK supermarket chain Tesco marketed this in their online TOYS AND GAMES section with the words:Peekaboo Pole Dance Set

“Unleash the sex kitten inside…simply extend the Peekaboo pole inside the tube, slip on the sexy tunes and away you go!”

“Soon you’ll be flaunting it to the world and earning a fortune in Peekaboo Dance Dollars”.

The store subsequently removed it from the toy section and repackaged it as a “fitness accessory”, but continued to deny that it was sexually oriented. However, Tesco continued to face public outrage due to padded bras and other sexy items it marketed to young girls.

Other UK chains that targeted sexy clothes and underwear to pre-teens include M&S, ASDA, and Argos, while US retailers Walmart, and Abercrombie & Fitch also marketed push-up bras, padded bras, and thongs to girls as young as six years old. French Jours Apres Lunes markets lingerie for pre-teens. And have I mentioned Tini-Bikinis for toddlers?

Major UK retailers have since signed on to a government guideline banning such items for children under twelve (12-year-olds can still be sexualized freely). A&F, on the other hand, were pretty happy with the publicity they received (they eventually removed the word “push-up” but left “padded”).

Whether or not public pressure is applied on a case-by-case basis, there is still a very clear truth being outlined here: That there is a MARKET for this. This article suggests that 30% of clothing sold to girls is sexualized. And much has been written on how girls’ Halloween costumes are increasingly sexualized.

The fashion world hasn’t missed out on the party. This ten-year-old model featured in French Vogue in lipstick, high heels, and provocative poses has become the darling of fashion if not of parents:

Finally, lest anyone think that all this is objectionable from “merely” an ideological perspective, or that parents are being “moralistic” when they oppose this, the American Psychological Association concluded in their 2010 task force report that sexualization negatively affects girls and young women across a variety of health domains:

  • Cognitive and Emotional Consequences: Sexualization and objectification undermine a person’s confidence in and comfort with her own body, leading to emotional and self-image problems, such as shame and anxiety.
  • Mental and Physical Health: Sexualization is linked with three of the most common mental health problems diagnosed in girls and women – eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression.
  • Sexual Development: Sexualization of girls has negative consequences on girls’ ability to develop a healthy sexual self-image.

Read the full report here.

Gotta Know What’s Important In Life (Tiaras!)

I’m not sure when was the first time I heard of this trend of princess classes: Little girls in a sort of etiquette class teaching them how to wear tiaras, curtsy, and sip tea. I do remember being pretty horrified by the idea, but not surprised. It isn’t a far cry from the type of dolling-up done to little girls on the pageant circuit.

I remember mothers and daughters giggling at the camera, wondering what could possibly be wrong with this, doesn’t every little girl dream of being a princess? Of catching a prince?

(And this year’s British royal wedding certainly did nothing to quell the wave: even Israel, with no history of aristocracy or royalty, nor even a concept of rudimentary etiquette, offered a Young & Beautiful Princess Summer Camp following that romance of the century.)

This is what I think princess-iness teaches girls. This picture has quickly become a Facebook meme, and I love it:

     What I learned from the Disney princesses

~~*~~

I found a great blog post by Jill Lupescu on The Feminist Breeder website about the lessons of Disney princesses: Why Disney Princesses Should Come with Warning Labels:

WARNING: May cause distorted body images, poor self esteem, delusional thoughts and unrealistic expectations.

You can also check out her dedicated blog: Disney Princess Recovery.

~~*~~

Last but not least — don’t miss this Second City Network video series Advice For Young Girls:

Little Mermaid

Confessions: Trinny & Susannah

Trinny & Susannah

I have a confession to make: I LOVE watching What Not to Wear. The Trinny & Susannah shows, of course. I hear there’s a US version. I hear there’s a new UK version. Not those. I love Trinny and Susannah.

When I watch the program, I sometimes question myself — how does this fit with my feminist beliefs? With my core values regarding women, how women are perceived in our culture? The pressures on women? Women’s body image? Sense of self worth?

The answer is that sometimes I feel great about it, and sometimes I feel wrong. And of course when I feel wrong about stuff it tends to piss me off. I kind of like to shout at the TV screen as if Trinny will hear me, and say, “Oh yeah, you have a point”.

I watched a chapter of Trinny & Susannah Take On Israel last night. I did a bit of shouting. I also got a bit teary-eyed.  And what’s the point of having a blog if I can’t write about it?

Here’s What T&S Get Right

  1. They believe women are beautiful. Women of all shapes and sizes. Of all ages. Of all races.
  2. They do a good job of drilling down into what is upsetting women about their bodies, about the image they project, and tackling that.
  3. They are very body-positive. They are not shy about discussing and showing their own bodies (and avoiding it being in an overly sexualized, prurient way). And they encourage (force?) the women they work with to really look at their own bodies. Generally women who are avoiding doing just that, which is a symptom of self-loathing, or at least a lack of self-acceptance.
  4. They don’t promote SKINNY. More about playing the beauty game further down, but they aren’t part of the mythological-beauty-promoting industry. IMO. They celebrate the female form. They love curves — breasts, bums, legs… And they also love women with fewer curves. I love that.
  5. They are honest about the female form including its “flaws”. Honest is good — women change when they age, when they have children, when they go through menopause… now it just depends what you do with that honesty.
  6. They are outspoken women with a point of view. They believe in something, and they make it happen. They are not in anyone’s shadow. Go T&S!

Trinny & SusannahHere’s What T&S Get Wrong

  1. Notwithstanding what I wrote above, T&S *do* engage in playing the beauty game. I disagree with criticisms that have been made of them that they make women feel bad unless they fit the beauty concept prevalent in western culture. But I do think they promote that concept of beauty — with their own celebratory contributions I described above — without ever really questioning it.
  2. Leading to the fact that I often think T&S are overly rigid in their viewpoints, probably to the detriment of some of the women they are trying to help, and certainly upsetting me from a feminist perspective. To wit:
    • Not allowing for different gender identities and perspectives.Two examples just from the recent Israeli series:
      • The first was when they made-over a lesbian couple. The femme member of that pair — no problem. But her butch partner… Major problem. Even though they said some of the right things about her maintaining her identity, they pretty much forced her into makeup she will never wear again, and into sparkly fabrics she didn’t want, albeit a sparkly vest. I didn’t feel this was a shining moment for them.
      • The second was the makeover of a self-professed feminist. She did express a desire for her clothes to express more of her femininity, but she was very adamant that she didn’t want it to spill over into anything objectifying or sexualized. The dress+leggings they picked were probably okay (though overly dressy, see next item down). But Trinny would NOT let up until the woman agreed to wear very high heels. Not respectful of a desire to align beauty with comfort — from a principled perspective as well as a practical lifestyle perspective.
    • Not allowing for cultural differences.T&S come brimming with well-defined ideas of how women should dress. The fact that they have a POV is laudable. But if they dress an Arab woman in Jerusalem as if she were an Anglo in London, well — I’m not sure how respectful, or effective, that is. I get wanting to bring on the changes they are promoting. But when they dressed a religious girl who didn’t want to wear trousers or a short skirt, the pressure came on again. They are a force to be reckoned with, and I’m not sure they are doing anyone a service by forcing the issue in these cases.

One major comment T&S came away from Israel with is that Israeli women should dress up more, and wear more color. I hear them. I feel them. I really do. But failing to understand that a shiny dress would probably only be worn at a wedding in this country, and even then — not at EVERY type of wedding — is not serving the woman they are dressing. If they really want to make an impact, they should find clothing that is still within the gamut a woman would be comfortable with given the social environment, and that also meets their exacting standards. It CAN be done.

  1. Are they overly touchy-feely? Mixed feelings about this one. I find Susannah’s admiration of the female form to be sincere, and her enthusiasm infectious. I’m just not sure every one of those women really wants her breasts grabbed. I’m wondering if participants sign a breast-grabbing release form before the show is filmed, to avoid sexual assault claims.
That’s the gist of it. I don’t find myself offended by the mere focus on beauty and clothing, given that I am a self-defined femme myself, and I don’t find it un-feminist to wear heels or lipstick. What I do object to is having a cultural dictate that says I am worth less if I don’t. I’m not certain that T&S are friends to this value of mine. But I guess I forgive them because of the many women they DO help find confidence and self love. (Like the girl on the show who developed early, and was caught up in the skinny model image of beauty, so she wouldn’t wear anything but a baggy hoodie, to hide her curvy self. Enabling her to celebrate her form, come out of her shell, so to speak… I think that’s a wonderful thing to do.)

And then, I have learned a lot from them about WHAT NOT TO WEAR. I am always extremely appreciative of those I can learn from.

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