I haven’t written as much as I planned in the past two weeks. I had a (too-long) list of topics to cover: Princess Culture, Why/how women are not taught to say NO, “Sitting at the table”, teaching girls to be smart rather than pretty, and more.
But while my sort of intro-level feminist posts were boiling in my head, things were happening around me that I just couldn’t deal with, and which affected my ability to focus on my planned posts. I live in Tel Aviv, Israel. I’m not sure how much coverage there is internationally about what’s been going on here… The international press is famously inaccurate and biased (in all sorts of directions) in covering this region. So I’ll give a snapshot.
The (very) short version is that there are two related and very frightening trends happening here:
The first is a growing wave of nationalism, which includes increasing violence towards minorities, a surge of anti-democratic legislation designed to silence protest and opposition, curtail the activities of human rights groups, promote settlement in West Bank territories, giving enhanced rights to orthodox Jewish minorities at the expense of, well, everyone else…
The second is an increasing exclusionary and discriminatory attitude towards women. This has manifested in several ways, including government support for segregated buses and public transportation in Jerusalem, the removal of women from public images (such as billboards and posters) in response to orthodox pressure, separate sidewalks for men and women (as a matter of fact – even when the supreme court ordered this to be stopped, the municipality refused, and when the one woman on the city council protested this, she was fired)… Male soldiers walked out of a military ceremony because women were singing, behavior they were not punished for, and as a matter of fact they seem to be getting the support of the powers-that-be, meaning that women will be further silenced and segregated in the army. (One leading rabbi says soldiers should “choose death” rather than listen to women sing). Women are being excluded from judiciary committees, and several leading female news professionals are being fired from their jobs – based on age and appearance (keep in mind the female presence in Israeli news is minimal to begin with). Teachers’ faces are blotted out of educational campaigns. And more.
An ad in its original form (right), and cropped for publication in Jerusalem
(Well, there are also economic trends, with the government passing laws that put more money into the pockets of cartels/tycoons, and take more away from the rest of us. And more stuff. But how much can I possibly focus on? Or deal with, without just keeling over??)
I haven’t been covering any of this in my blog, keeping my activism to my local community and Facebook. Because I didn’t feel I could do the topic(s) justice in the amount of time I have to write. But the fact that I got as overwhelmed as I did made me realize that if I didn’t write something about it, I would never get back to my personal blog agenda – which also includes queer/LGBT topics, which are falling ever-further behind.
So for now, I’d like to share some of the actions that have come (primarily from women) in response to some of these anti-woman trends. (read more here)
1. Poster campaign:
Following the literal erasure of women from public advertising (including, by the way, from the entire campaign for organ donation), several women conceived a campaign consisting of a photo shoot of women, and printing posters that people could hang from their windows or balconies, creating a female presence in Jerusalem in spite of the religious pressure for erasure.
The campaign’s taglines were: Not Censored and Bringing Women Back to the Public Spaces
A public singing event was coordinated in four different cities (including Jerusalem) where women declared in the most direct manner possible: We will not be silenced!
The Jewish proscription against women singing is based on the idea of “Kol B’Isha Erva” or, “the voice of a woman is nakedness”, where the word for nakedness actually means literally “the pubic region”, and is used for “lewdness”. Therefore, immodest/impure/prohibited. The protest event was promoted as “This is not what “pubic” looks like”, and subtitled “Don’t Stop Singing!”.
(I looked but couldn’t find myself in any of the photos…)
“Mute Protest” today, in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem (FB event is in Hebrew. Here is the Occupy Israel protest post. ) (The idea being, of course, that women’s voices are being silenced. Neubach is one of a very few women in journalism who actually has a POV)
Petitions: There are several. Here’s one (in Hebrew).
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.
I’m reading a LOT of blogs lately, trying to read up on topics I want to write about, and then, just surfing through things that catch my interest. Sometimes I learn new things. Sometimes I come across stuff I know, but with a new twist, or presented in a way that makes me want to cheer and applaud the writer.
When you approach me in public, you are Schrödinger’s Rapist. You may or may not be a man who would commit rape. I won’t know for sure unless you start sexually assaulting me. I can’t see inside your head, and I don’t know your intentions. If you expect me to trust you—to accept you at face value as a nice sort of guy—you are not only failing to respect my reasonable caution, you are being cavalier about my personal safety.
Nice Guys™: The “™” marks the difference between men who are genuinely nice people and men with entitlement issues who wail “but I’m a nice guy!”. There are two types, which often overlap in one individual:
a guy who believes that the simple act of being decent means that the universe owes him a girlfriend [more from Jeff FeckeatShakesville]
men who are looking to date a woman with the appearance of a supermodel, and yet they continually whine about how “women don’t like nice guys – they only want good-looking assholes
And there’s an entire rant (and response) repository on HeartlessBitches.com. It’s great, read it when you have time to get sucked in… Here’s how they introduce the topic:
All too often we hear self-professed “Nice Guys” complaining about why they can’t get a date, and whining that women just want to date jerks, etc. etc. The truth of the matter is that there are genuinely caring, compassionate, decent, fun guys out there who have NO TROUBLE meeting people, getting dates, and having relationships.
Unfortunately, many of the guys who DO have trouble, insist that women don’t want them because they are “too Nice”. These people who call themselves “Nice Guys” can’t see that THEIR OWN behavior is the problem. …. acting in a manipulative, patronizing or obsequious fashion, these guys sabotage themselves and often blame “all women” for their misfortunes.
To me, the key is the “manipulative, patronizing, or obsequious” part.
What does this really mean?
It means that there are a LOT of guys out there who are “nice” to women, but aren’t really treating women as persons. Rather, they treat women as sexual objects, something to be conquered, the PRIZE for being A NICE GUY. This is simply not genuine. And not really NICE.
These are the guys that comment on your Facebook post, start a conversation with you that actually seems to be intellectual, but within a short time, will shift to trying to pick you up. NOT because there was mutual interest percolating – of course that can happen (but let’s be honest, it doesn’t happen every other day!) – but because they would make that type of offer to any woman they have a dialogue with. With the hope that eventually one will say yes. There may be a modicum of real interest in the original topic, but eventually objectification rears its ugly head.
These are the guys who befriend you, maybe even after asking you out and being rejected, who eventually try for “comfort” sex after you break up with the guy you are dating, or go for pity sex, or FWB status (notice how many times that happens when you’re feeling vulnerable). These guys may spend a really long time being your friend – even years! – but in the end, if they feel anything like “I listened to her, I was nice to her, I did this and that for her, tried to give her what she wanted… but it didn’t WORK!” Whoa – didn’t work? This means at some fundamental level, even if at times they really acted as friend, at the base of it was a desire/expectation that they would GET YOU. Which again, reduces you to a thing. To be gotten.
These are the guys who ask you out nicely, but when you say “no”, they try to convince you (Why not? Do you have a boyfriend? What do you have to lose? ) which in its most benign form is disrespectful of your stated desire, and in its more malignant forms turns into actual manipulations, trying to make you feel guilty, or even worse – preying on your insecurities. If they are good at being NICE GUYS™, they will do all of that very “nicely”. But then there are the ones who then respond with anger – all women are really bitches, women *say* they want a nice guy but they really only like assholes, etc. Think about the ENTITLEMENT reeking from this – if I’m a nice guy, I deserve to HAVE YOU. The corollary to this is, you really don’t have the basic right to refuse them.
There are the guys who think they are being NICE to you because they are complimenting you on your looks. Nope, no objectification THERE.
As an aside (well not really an aside, more like an extreme result of the above that deserves its own post), when manipulation of the types described above does “work” and leads to sex, the woman involved often feels extremely violated. There is a lot of discussion of whether this qualifies as rape, and it’s a worthy topic, just not the one I’m discussing today. So I will avoid definition of this behavior as rape in any criminal-code sense of the word, but will say this: if a woman FEELS raped (used, abused, violated… pick your negative term) after being with you, how NICE does that really make you? Hmmm, not so nice.
If you read any of the threads I’ve cited, you will see many, MANY examples of nice guys™ responding. It’s amazing how easy they are to spot once you know what you’re looking for. For example, they are patronizing, and they lack the ability to take responsibility. They come into the discussion oozing sympathy, (look what a nice guy I am!!), but inevitably turn it (whatever the issue is) on the women. Like a guy who responded to a thread on women saying NO (yes, another future topic), who started out being sympathetic to women feeling harassed, but eventually made statements like women who say no angrily probably do that because of prior trauma (like that’s the only reason they might get mad at YOU) or having in the past “failed to set adequate boundaries” (yup, it’s THEIR fault they got harassed!).
Or the one who complained that nice guys like him spend years listening/being the shoulder to cry on/helping move house… And the girls “never respond in kind, physically”. Eww.
Et cetera, et cetera.
So there we have it. Another example of that pesky word that gives me such a creepy feeling