Two notable campaign successes: Planned Parenthood vs. Komen, and “gay cure” clinics in Ecaudor are OUT; Do women really suck at math?; Funky art stuff; And more… It’s another round-up!
(Yes, I know it’s not Thursday. I missed a Thursday. Meh.)
After campaigns launched by All Out, Change.org and CredoAction went global — and local human rights defenders kept the pressure on in closed door negotiations with the Ecuadorian Health Ministry — the government just announced they’ll be investigating — and shutting down — hundreds of abusive and illegal “gay cure” clinics.
Tired of hearing that tired old argument that women are inherently less capable of excelling at math, physics, or other sciences? This delightful article explains the whys and wherefores of why that’s total CRAP. (And I’m sure you’ll have no trouble whatsoever with all the charts :) )
In his “Fresh Love” series, Japanese Photographer Hal photographed couples in vacuum-packed nylon, representing the “ultimate union”. The couples actually stayed without oxygen long enough for Hal to snap three photos.
An all Breast Cancer Survivor project for awareness, fundraising, inspiration and healing worldwide… So far 25 brave and incredible women have selflessly stepped forward and been painted for the project.
Last week was all about the furor caused by Komen’s announcement that they would no longer provide funding to planned parenthood for breast cancer exams and screening, as a result of right-wing pressure opposed to PP’s abortion services. It was heartwarming to see the support that quickly arose for PP — from petitions, to blogs, to news coverage, and of course to donations that came pouring in and the increased awareness of both the need for breast cancer services and Planned Parenthood’s activities in general. The Komen Foundation’s top director resigned, and their site was even hacked. Now, Komen has announced that it has reversed its decision, and PP will remain eligible for funding. This campaign was the second great victory of the past week… Don’t let women die in the name of being “pro-life”… Keep the good news coming!
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.
It’s another round-up! Today: gender & bullying, gender & socialization, little girl rant, penis mom, tropes, and did I mention a new favorite blog? If you don’t think this one is crazy brilliant, you can get your money back.
And an interesting note: When I was putting this post together I went to Google to look for images. I started with “gender bullying”. I got images of girls bullying boys, and some of girls bullying girls. Some of the boys looked genderqueer to me, and I thought that might be a good angle – so I went looking for genderqueer images. But losing focus on the erasure of sexism bothered me. So this time, I looked up “boy bullying girl”. Again, I got lots of images of girls bullying boys, and a few of girls bullying girls.
In the end, I could not find one single image that was real, or even real-looking, of a boy (or boys) bullying a girl. Not one. (Just some cutesy braid-pulling stock images).
Truly, it seems that boys never harass girls. Must’ve been a figment of my imagination. And that girls are the only bullies out there [puke icon].
Gender & Socialization
Socialization of little girls:
One little girl’s rant about girl stuff and boy stuff:
(Riley for prez…!)
Though meant to be gender neutral, it’s usually a guy trying to get away from a girl. When two women are together, somehow that doesn’t deter men – they just ask for a threesome.
I saw just this scenario on Rizzoli & Isles (please don’t ask why I was watching that…). Three notes: Indeed, used by a woman. But — they were extremely uncomfortable about it, squirmy, and inexplicit. So they “hugged”. Meh. Then — predictably — the guy (soul mate?) asked for a threesome.
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.
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.
I wanted to post this before the 16 days were over… Oh well. It’s worth noting anyway.
Nobel Women’s Round-Up: If 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!!
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.
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:
“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.
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:
He: You know what X did to Y on their business trip? He took him to a gay bar!
I: “Did to” him?
He: You know what I mean!
She: I LOVE going to gay bars!
He: Of course you do, guys don’t hit on you there. It’s different for me. Of course I wouldn’t be caught dead at a gay bar…
I: Why not?
He: Because guys might hit on me.
I: So? You just say no.
I: Seriously, I really don’t see the difference if a guy hits on you or on me.
He: It’s natural for guys to hit on you.
I: um… Where to start. So the problem with gays is that they are unnatural? I’m sure X appreciates that.
He: I didn’t say that!
I: And when guys hit on me… It’s because they KNOW I’m interested? Or it doesn’t matter if I am, because it’s natural for THEM?
He: It’s natural, it’s the way things work.
I: Just so I get this right — my level of interest is irrelevant. Yours is paramount. Why the double standard?
He: Just shut up already! I don’t have double standards. It isn’t the same!
I: So just by going out, I’m available for hitting on?
He: You know what? You’re right. No man should ever hit on YOU (guffaw).
He: If you don’t want to get hit on, stay home!
I: Allow me to summarize: Being gay is unnatural, and if a gay guy makes a pass at you, it’s an outrageous and traumatic thing to have happen to you…
I: I, on the other hand, am supposed to be flattered if a guy makes a pass at me?
I: Even if I’m not interested in him? Or in guys? Or am in a relationship?
He: Well, just say no.
I: And if, say, 10 guys make passes at me, that just means I’m popular, right?
I: And what if it’s a hundred guys? When does it become legitimate for me to object to this “natural” behavior?
He: Stop putting words in my mouth! You’re making me out to be a homophobe!
I: I’m pretty sure you’re doing a good job of making yourself out to be a homophobe.
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
They believe women are beautiful. Women of all shapes and sizes. Of all ages. Of all races.
They do a good job of drilling down into what is upsetting women about their bodies, about the image they project, and tackling that.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Here’s What T&S Get Wrong
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.
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.
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.
A recurring theme in posts about sexual harassment of women in the public space is how women often feel silenced at the moment of confrontation.
When I recently commented about this in a Facebook thread, a couple of things came up. One, the original poster said that some responses might be difficult for her to muster, and also that she only found the strength to speak out as she does after reading numerous, repeated commentaries decrying this behavior by men. Repeated. So the first thing that came to me was, of course, that we do, indeed, need another post on the topic. Good thing I started a blog.
The second thing was my response – how women are socialized to be NICE. How we’re worried about what even this guy invading our space or body will think of us. How we are trained to avoid confrontation. This is something I think about a lot. I’m not reinventing the wheel, but I do want to cover some of my impressions about NICE.
I don’t think I was particularly taught to be nice. Then again, I wasn’t really “taught” very much, having grown up with a violent, unstable, neglectful home life. The main way I survived my nightmare childhood relatively intact was by never giving in. Though my parents could cow me through violence and manipulation, I never gave in mentally, in the sense that I never conceded that they were right. Only that they had power over me. So I ended up a fairly confrontational person. I’m not likely to fear any confrontations I might face as an adult (say from some creep touching me in line) given my long and thorough training. And confrontational — is not NICE. But it does give me the ability to not conform.
And I don’t.
As a result, I have been called all kinds of things by all kinds of people: An “unnatural woman” because I choose not to have children; My ex-husband wanted me to be “more wifely”; People at my (very normative) workplace whisper about me because of my queer and feminist activism. The list goes on.
Which doesn’t mean that I was unaffected by the role models, imagery and standards of my time: From Nancy Drew to Barbie to Samantha Stevens, to Disney princesses… Gender-based role assignments, such as that women could be teachers, secretaries, nurses, ballerinas, or flight attendants (‘scuze me, stewardesses), and must aspire to wifedom and motherhood and a showcase home… While men could/should aspire to be doctors, lawyers, accountants, president, architects, pilots, astronauts, or anything they damn well pleased (except for teacher, secretary, nurse or ballerina). That there was a right way to be a woman and a wrong way: And the right way was to be pure, to be ladylike, to be pleasing… To be NICE.
Of course, being nice was a completely feminine domain. When I was younger, I agreed with my then best-friend that we didn’t want a “nice guy”. Ick. That would be boring. We wanted someone who knew how to strut, who knew what he was worth, who could take control, who would provide excitement. Who was MANLY. We, on the other hand, would bat our lashes, and smile a lot. Unlike the boys who had their pride and honor, we would easily apologize, accommodate, adapt.
And the boys, not only were they not taught to be NICE, they were taught to go out and crush the opposition. They were taught to WIN. They knew that “nice guys finish last” and of course, that nice guys don’t get the girl. They knew who did — the soldier, the pilot, the leader, the tough guy, the bad boy, the Casanova. Their mothers beamed with pride as they practiced trampling the weak and taking what they wanted.
When I experienced sexual harassment and even when I was raped, it never occurred to me to tell anyone, to complain; that there might be something I could do about it (in truth, there probably wasn’t). It was something to put in a drawer and move on from. And I still had to be NICE to the men who treated me that way.
The bottom line is that I if you look at the dictionary definition of NICE it is not a bad thing – it’s a quality more people could use an increased dose of. But the way it’s used – to tell girls how to be proper females, and as an example of what men should NOT be – I have a huge aversion to the word.
And I do not really consider myself a NICE person.
However, not being “nice” has not make me: unkind, ungenerous, uncaring, inconsiderate, unsupportive, a bad listener, or lacking any of a range of other positive qualities. (Not saying I don’t have my faults :) Nor that I am never “nice”. )
And another note: My best friend in law school told me in response to the not wanting a nice guy thing, “But of course I want a nice guy. Who doesn’t want their partner to be nice to them?” Duh. Yep, that was a wake up call.
And yet, the word NICE still makes me cringe, a bit. I think it’s good (desirable! essential!!) to teach your children to be courteous, to be considerate, to be contributing members of their communities, and so on. But every time I hear a girl being told to “be nice”, my stomach turns over. It incorporates into that one little word a whole universe of harmful behaviors socialized into girls/women, that I really REALLY want rid of. I want us to teach girls to say no. To know what they want, and believe they deserve it. To expect others to respect those wants. Not to cave in to bullying or manipulation. To recognize when they are being manipulated. To know how to effectively protect themselves. To stop apologizing. To stop making excuses for bad behavior by males. The list goes on.
More on silence in the face of actual or threatened violence, and practical tips on overcoming the “Nice Girl Syndrome”.