Monthly Archives: September 2011

Candace Bushnell: A Word.

A few months ago, I was hitting stride on a treadmill when I heard those pumped up intro beats, knowing what came next was “Camera One…Stand by Billy, Camera Two…Stand by, Kit.” Access Hollywood, providing me with a constant stream of fodder, was starting. Kit would be interviewing Candace Bushnell, well known as, obviously, the writer of Sex and the City. I had forgotten about this interview, which took place in April, until I heard a phrase yesterday that mimicked something Bushnell said on the show. In this interview, while describing her beloved characters, she said that Miranda “was, you know, this feminist, and had decided that she hated men…”

Whoa, whoa, whoa: Ok. Hold the phone. This woman created a global business empire based on the story of four women who, despite ostensibly having careers that allowed them to maintain very comfortable lives in the most expensive city in the U.S., seemed to spend precious little time doing things other than obsessing over the men, or potential men, in their lives. Should we give her props for her business acumen? I’m not sure, because I’m less certain it has to do with her business savvy as much as it has to do with capitalizing on women’s socialized insecurities by creating characters who are constantly in the pursuit of the elusive perfect partner, and riddled with anxiety about whether or not they’ll find him.

But this post isn’t about Sex and the City – it’s about what feminism actually means. Perhaps Bushnell misspoke; regardless, the idea that feminism means hating the XYs is still out there.

So, I feel an obligation here to clear some things up. Feminism does not mean hating men. Feminism advocates the equal opportunity, accessibility, treatment of and rights of men and women. Equal access to quality education. Equal pay for the same jobs, equal access to mentors of both sexes. The same consideration for jobs without being discounted out of fear that they may be too ‘emotional’ or because they may one day have children. Health care and insurance that doesn’t consider being a woman in and of itself to be a pre-existing condition. The respect and assurance that women who decide they cannot carry a baby to term have legitimate reasons for making this decision and did not come to the conclusion lightly. It’s about being judged for your competency and skill set and not for the size of your breasts or the size of your waist or the symmetry of your face. It’s about understanding the importance of positively brilliant, incisive female leaders to inspire young girls the same way brilliant, incisive male leaders inspire young boys – and how each gender can inspire and educate children of opposite genders, and that it is important to do so.

Most importantly, feminism is about eliminating gender stereotypes for both men and women – ensuring that both sexes are not limited by archaic expectations to which their biology previously would have held them predisposed, and encouraging the individuality that flourished regardless of their reproductive organs. It was about not assigning specific behaviors to people based on these organs, and instead proclaiming that while differences in that regard allow us to procreate, they are not responsible for determining or limiting our capabilities. That’s what feminism has always been, first, second, or third wave; despite many attempts that have been made to brand it otherwise. Not all feminists are women – plenty of men are, too. Breaking down the gender stereotypes that have penned in both sexes for decades is important for everyone. The historical patriarchy created a supposed male ideal that was painfully constricting and costly for men as well, forcing them into binding roles of hyper-masculinity that emphasized sexual, financial, political, and social power positions – roles that shouldn’t be monopolized by a gender for moral and practical reasons. I can be a feminist and have what are deemed “feminine” characteristics. But as a feminist, I also think that a man can have “feminine” characteristics. I can also be a feminist and have “masculine” characteristics. What’s important is that characteristics don’t need to be coded as exclusively feminine or exclusively masculine, that they don’t need to dictate people to act accordingly, and that the characteristics or behaviors don’t exist for the purpose of ostensibly “improving” one’s natural self. It’s about not defining oneself in relation to another, but in relation to oneself. Not about figuring out how you should present yourself to a potential partner based on their ideals, but about teaching everyone the importance  of breaking down ideals that were constructed based on assumptions of what each sex should represent. The point of feminism was to point out that objectification negated the true personhood of women, reduced them to commodities of pleasure while not acknowledging and celebrating their self, identity, what made them an individual, what made them unique, what them capable and brilliant. And that equality didn’t mean reducing men to that objectification as well or instead, but rather meant raising the bar of expectation and respect for women. Not hating men. Feminism is for everyone!

1 Comment

Filed under Defining Gender, Feminism, Gender Stereotyping, Media, Pop Culture, Sexism

Kathie Lee…I Agree.

I myself am surprised that such a title would find a place on my blog, but this morning I found myself agreeing with something that Kathie Lee Gifford said. (I also feel the need to point out that I’m ‘watching’ KLG and HK on the Today Show while working on my dissertation, and sometimes the background noise it provides hits a chord.) The segment was covering the relationship many women have with those who perform the beauty maintenance activities some women regularly partake in. We’re talking about waxers, hair stylists, manicurists, etc. I will tackle the particular class element of having regular beauty maintenance staff in another posts, but here I’m going to talk about Kathie Lee’s reaction to the waxer. Not to the monetary or business relationship some women have with waxers, but the idea of waxing itself.

In short, she asked when the total elimination of the hair in the nether regions, which works as a bit of a protector to keep things healthy, became the thing to do. When did Brazilians become normal for women who for years, probably well into their teens and early twenties were getting used to the very normal presence of pubic hair? Kathie Lee then makes the point I’d been waiting for – women have had body hair for hundreds of years, men have found them attractive, they have had scores of babies. At what point was it deemed unattractive for women to have pubic hair? As in many other  types of “beauty” behaviors, the natural state of the body became something that not only had to be modified, but modified and altered in such a way – removed – that implied a kind of cleaning was necessary.

Not all people find this hair unattractive, of course, lots of men like the natural state of a woman’s pubic region – but the images of women that are presented as the ideal in our culture are notably hairless across the board.

Waxing – and Brazilian waxes in particular – add a troubling pedophilic element to the notion of a woman’s natural state not being attractive enough on its own. The only females that naturally have no pubic hair are those that haven’t grown it yet – pre-pubescent girls. Sexualizing the pelvic appearance of an underage girl, and classifying the pelvic appearance of a grown woman as unattractive paints a troubling picture. The hairless pubic area is indicative of an individual not yet ready for sex, but it has become an ultimate turn-on.

The hair removal of other body parts has also been normalized to the standard of beauty, as with the bikini waxing – however, the sexualization of the hairless legs and underarms has not been heightened to the level of the pubic hair removal. The waxing is done for the pleasure of the viewer, for the holder of the gaze; in these instances the sexual partners of the women getting waxed. There’s nothing wrong with doing things to please your partner. But if what is being done is due to conditioning and a socialization of the idea of what is sexy and beautiful, then the pleasing of the partner is reinforcing constricting definitions of attractive grooming habits.

Leave a comment

Filed under Defining Gender, Feminism, Pop Culture

Your Underwear = Free Drink. Fair Trade?

This story hasn’t seemed to catch on in the States yet, but a bar in Dublin is offering girls free drinks in return for their underwear.

I’ll let that new currency sit with you for a minute, and add to this that the bar in question is the very same site in which a 15 year-old reported being sexually assaulted earlier this summer.

I’m going to tackle this in two ways – both in regards to the sexual assault and in regards to the pitch that women lose their undergarments in a bar. That they aren’t asking for a jacket, or a shoe, or a sock, or a headband, or, frankly, not asking women to give up anything at all for drinks other than their cash money, is not lost on me.

The idea behind this kind of promotional event is simple. By encouraging women to drop trou under the auspices of saving them some dough and by presenting it as something of a game – if you do this, you win this – they’re trying to mask the creepiness factor with a jolly sentimentality and, it seems, a savvy sense of the economical. This not only is an attempt to cover up their hopeful possibility of granting some men a free show, but the effort to make it lighthearted is done to silence critics as prudish wet blankets. However, selling this as a game – the exchange of alcohol for valuable organ protecting clothing – sets the precedent that one’s sexuality and access to it is in fact up for sale, and also strengthens the harmful thinking that by buying a woman a drink she automatically becomes sexually accessible. The existence of this promotion, regardless of whether or not women participate in it, actually reinforces this thinking. And given the jokey presentation, those who do not participate in it are liable to be seen as ruining everyone else’s fun. Any woman who has been pressured to take a drink from a man in a bar can assure one of that. Bars have been mating and meeting grounds for years – why not just continue to let men and women buy their drinks, meet, have a chat, see where it goes – without the unnecessary orchestration of a woman removing her underwear before even being introduced?

It seems pretty callous for this bar to promote this kind of “deal” after a young girl rounded up the courage to report that she’d been raped in this club’s bathroom. Even if we were to assume that their misguided vision – one of supposed sexual prowess – was what led them to create this promotion, did no one suggest that given the recent bathroom forced sex encounter perhaps they shouldn’t encourage women to drop their underpants in an alcohol-fueled environment that is essentially paying them to strip? The bar asked for underwear because removing underwear promotes the assumption that the sex region is open for business, and willingly so. They asked for underwear because they think it’s titillating, because sex sells, because they figured a lot of men would likely show up that evening under the impression that some half-naked drunk women would be hanging out by the taps. And what comes next in this line of logic I’m sure you know. They think they might get lucky. Alcohol has long been a factor in discussions around consent and what it means. If a girl is too drunk to coherently consent to sex – something one could see happening when they are given free alcohol for an entire evening – then the sexual encounter is non-consenual. By objectifying the sexuality of these women as something that can be bargained for, I worry that certain people may consider their consent negotiable as well. Is a drunk woman up sexually up for grabs? Absolutely not. Is it a drunk woman’s fault if she is sexually assaulted? Double-no. Is presenting the exchange of goods for the stripping of clothing minimizing a woman’s sexual agency and glorifying the idea that women can be bought? Yes. Can a woman participate in this promotion and still make a decision to engage or not in consensual sex? Sure. But this is about the fact that a bar took on the role of mediator in sexuality, and the reason I can’t think of any women or girls I know taking on this bar’s “challenge” isn’t because they are prudish, and it isn’t because they don’t like to drink – many do. It’s because the foundation of this promotion reinforces the dominant gaze of men who watch while women barter their bodies for money or substances.

Leave a comment

Filed under Feminism, Gender Stereotyping, Rape and Sexual Assault, Sexism

Looking for More Attention? Drop Some lbs.

At least that’s what Skinny Water is promising in their latest advertisement, which I spotted yesterday. The ad shows a woman facing a throng of cameramen snapping her picture, elegant earrings dropping to the top of the headline which says: “Skinny Always Gets the Attention.” Take a look:

Thinspiration, thanks to Skinny Water

A close-up, to see all the text:

Close-up, for good measure.

Below the headline and photo of the various flavors, it also says “Zero calories, Zeor sugar, Zero Carbs, Zero Guilt.” With all that’s not in this water, you might wonder what it does offer. The website tells me that depending on the flavor of water, they’ve added vitamins B3, B5, B6, B12, C, A, and E. They’ve also thrown in magnesium, folic acid, calcium and/or potassium.

Despite trying to market itself as healthy, Skinny Water is instead perpetrating the cultural message that the best – nay, only – way to ensure that you get attention is by being skinny. This of course positions them well to try to push their product on those women who have been pulled into this lie. This ad tells us that the best way to skinny is not through healthy food choices and exercise and an understanding of what “skinny” means for our particular body type and shape, but essentially through fasting – which is what zero calorie drinks are the equivalent of.

In fact, Skinny Water is doing precisely the opposite of what a health-conscious company and product should be doing. Promoting the idea that those who are skinny deserve attention more than those who are not creates communities that support harmful diet-related behaviors and disordered eating for the goal of a wispy appearance . Not to mention reinforcing the ever-present undercurrent of disapproval of those who are overweight – or even normal weight! – and do not bow to the hierarchy of beauty that says those who are thin are the best. It’s just one more item in the laundry list of products that tell women their size and appearance are what is most important and will attract loyal friends and fans.

In defiance of that, let’s use our brains to remind ourselves why Skinny Water is wrong. While the website details the added vitamins and dietary minerals of each drink, it’s far better to get your needed supplements through a healthy diet rich in cruciferous  and dark and leafy vegetables, fruits, whole grain and lean proteins. Washed down, in fact, by regular old water that keeps you hydrated and helps your body process and absorb nutrients. Skinny Water is telling its buyers that by adding these vitamins and minerals to their product, one can cut out food entirely and survive on a calorie-free but vitamin-rich manipulated water diet. Don’t be fooled! (I know you aren’t. Hopefully, you’re equally horrified.) For example, the“Power,” “Sport” and “Fit” drinks are all fortified with calcium, magnesium, and potassium – to help activate metabolic enzymes, keep your blood regulated, and support strong bones and teeth. Do you know what else can do that?  Bananas, yogurt, kale, almonds and cashews, and quinoa. Frankly, there seems to be little difference between the “Power,” “Sport” and “Fit” drinks despite the claim that they each support different “goals” of the drinker – which lends support to the conclusion that these are madly marketed products that don’t substitute a healthy, well-rounded diet and instead are capitalizing on the now-entrenched notion that women care more about being skinny than anything else.

1 Comment

Filed under Education, Feminism, Health Education, Media, Public Health, Sexism, Women's Health

JC Penney Doesn’t Think You’ll be Very Smart. But you ARE Pretty!

I’m sure some of you have come across a picture of the t-shirt that JC Penney recently pulled from their website and for which they received a healthy dose of criticism and bewilderment. In case you missed it, take a gander below:

A picture of the unraveling of years of work, courtesy of JC Penney

On sale for girls between the ages of 7 and 16, we have a (100% cotton!) long-sleeve that says “I’m too pretty to do homework, so my brother has to do it for me.”

While I generally believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt, I find the trail of despair leading up to this travesty of childhood romping wear to be filled with too many witnesses to feel that this was done in error. Which, in turn, means that a lot of people at JC Penney thought this was funny.

This offense hits a lot of home runs – making ‘pretty’ and ‘intelligent’ mutually exclusive descriptions; saying that apparently being pretty is so exhausting and life-encompassing that homework just can’t be attended to (this particularly just doesn’t seem like a smart pic for a 6 year-old – if pretty is this exhausting, she’ll be burned out by 10); not-so-subtly prioritizing those batted eyes over brain activity; and, for the grand finale, adding that since being pretty is a lady’s job, the man has to pick up the slack in the smarts department. That’s a lot of manipulation for one t-shirt. You can be pretty but not also smart, being pretty takes a lot of work (doesn’t come naturally), pretty is prioritized and therefore takes precedence over being smart anyway, the boys can be the brains.

Taking a cursory glance over JC Penney’s other shirts, while the one above remains in a league of its own there are others that transgress the principles of healthy development. T-shirts that say “I’m a nerd” or “I love nerds” are the only ones in which the models are wearing  square-framed glasses; shirts that insert unnecessary interjections that should probably not be emphasized in written form, that say “Love is, like, forever”; and a shirt that shows a heart with a jagged line through it saying “if you break it, you buy it.” I didn’t know that a 10 year-old’s affection was for sale, much less that there was an insistence of ownership by the 10 year-old herself after she’d been emotionally trampled on.

Major retailers’ primary goal is profit – which means that while I’m not surprised that they aren’t particularly concerned with the social impact of their clothing, I do find it interesting that JCP thought these kind of dated gender messages would bring in the cash.

2 Comments

Filed under Child Development and Child Health, Defining Gender, Education, Feminism, Pop Culture, Sexism