Tag Archives: defining gender

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!

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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.

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Filed under Defining Gender, Feminism, Pop Culture