Tag Archives: mental health

Fox News: No.

I had no idea that Fox News had decided to not only tackle the issue of feminism, but that in doing so, they would categorize it as a “Health” topic. (This is the same site that recently posted an article by a psychiatrist saying our biggest concern were Newt Gingrich to become President would be another country “falling in love with him” and begging him to come lead them instead of the United States. So, you know, keep that in mind.) I personally think the adoption of a feminist mindset can improve one’s mental health, but unsurprisingly, this was not Fox News’ intent in presenting the article I’m about to address (again, brought to my attention by Stephanie). The article was posted two years ago and they seem to have cross-posted this from AskMen.com, a site whose history of misogyny and degradation has been documented by a fellow About-Face contributor.

5 Feminist Demands She Wants You to Ignore hits the viewer with a most beguiling shot of a woman with obviously…supplemented breasts, ostensibly begging you to ignore any “demands” she makes for equality and respect. The first “demand” to ignore, while not articulated, given the intense cosmetic restructuring of her chest, may be “confirm the beauty of my natural self and do not reward silicone implantation.” (I will soon in the future write a post about how the claim “they’re for me” in regards to a woman getting breast implants is not a sustainable argument since one does not gaze for hours in distaste at their own breasts and determine they fall short of beauty unless they have been conditioned to think that their breasts, for whatever reason, do not fall within the confines of socially determined acceptability and attractiveness.)

Moving on. When you’re a man out on the prowl, you’re going to encounter some “independent ladies,” the article warns. (Independent ladies is put in quotes to make sure you understand, as the male reader, that independence is tenuous at best, for show, a joke, an adjective easily swept aside by a proper man.) Sexy feminists aren’t “entirely false” (thank you, Fox, and AskMen, for validating our sexuality), but you still must tread carefully – because as women, we never “ask for what we really want.” An entire gender rooted in the goal of misguided and cloaked communication. What to do?

Number one demand feminist want you to ignore: “I can carry my own bag.” Little to be said here because I have never heard a woman actually say this, but also because being polite and helping someone if they’re carrying quite a burden is not actually an issue that needs to gendered. Feminists never did gender this, the claim of “I can carry my own bag” was picked up as a mocking of women who wanted recognition of the fact that they weren’t helpless.

Number two: “Don’t objectify me!” This goes hand in hand with my opener. Of course, this has been misappropriated over and over again by anti-feminists, or those who want to warp the message. Paying someone a compliment is not objectification, which is how this ‘article’ is defining it – objectification is equating the person’s worth with what you see. If the compliment of her looking great in her dress means that looking great in a dress is all she does/is, then that’s a problem. Also, straight up calling women liars if they aren’t impressed by compliments about their appearance is a great way to puff up one’s ego, but trust me – there are plenty of women who really don’t care what your thoughts are about their looks.

Number three: “I’ll pay my share.” Misses the point entirely – first, a woman’s vested interest in keeping a relationship financially balanced is different than treating your girlfriend to an expensive dinner sometimes. Especially because they insist that if she doesn’t return the favor by treating you sometimes (ahem…sort of like splitting the cost? In essence…paying her share?), then you should withhold such a generous gift (and I guess have her pay her share?). Playa’.

Number four: “I can think for myself.” This one is great. Even “high-powered women want men to take the reins sometimes,” which to the authors means…thinking ahead about dinner plans? I love that taking the reins means making sure you know what you want to have for dinner. Not even making dinner. Just…knowing what you want to eat. If this is what it means to wrest control from women who are thinking for themselves, I encourage women everywhere to resist.

Number five: “I won’t be shackled into a marriage.” The authors admit that there are apparently “exceptions” to the steadfast rule that women want to be married and instead of acknowledging that both men and women may have changing and evolving priorities, they encourage readers to merely brush off a woman’s thoughts on this matter if they initially refute the general equation of ring/house/baby that will ultimately overcome these ladies.

It goes without saying that this is a heteronormative perspective, not only strictly defining what is ‘female’ and what is ‘male,’ but also emphasizing that women are feminine and men are masculine, and, you know, case closed. Interestingly, they claim at the end that “gender roles evolve everyday.” Which would make one think that the entire preceding article was, indeed, unnecessary at best. Of course, they then close with: “women are a complete contradiction in terms and that’s one thing they’re likely to never evolve out of – like men and leaving the toilet seat up. We all have our crosses to bear.” There you have it! Women can’t make up their mind and never know what they mean, and men are just disgusting. Why resist nature? Thanks for clearing this all up, Fox News. I can always count on you.

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Filed under Defining Gender, Feminism, Gender Stereotyping, Homophobia, Media, Mental Health, Sexism

Not That I Necessarily Expect BravoTV to be Educational…

But nonetheless, the way the domestic abuse issues in Taylor’s marriage were drawn out and discussed on last Monday’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills merits a bit of a chat.

I don’t want to do any scolding because I tend to think there’s a lot of misinformation about domestic abuse and intimate partner violence, and the women of this cast seem to be trapped in the bubble of the misinformed. The entire episode was pretty hard to watch (nothing new there – look at what I put myself through just so I can analyze media!), not least of all the immensely uncomfortable tea party scene. It started with Adrienne and Paul (I’m sorry I can’t stop to explain every character, if you aren’t as fascinated by this as I, see bios on the BravoTV site), having a celebratory dinner and Adrienne broaching the subject of Taylor’s fragile state. The sincerity of this concern is hard to gauge, as is the sincerity of anything on these shows, but she seems to wonder why Taylor seems to be on the verge of a breakdown 24/7, and tentatively brings up that Taylor had told some of the other ladies that her husband, Russell, was physically abusing her. The revelations are, of course, greatly illuminated by Russell’s suicide this past summer, after which his history of abuse became more prominently displayed above the fold of tabloids. Paul’s response to this was “Nah…I know Russell. I just don’t believe it, he’s a great guy, he wouldn’t do that.”

The speculation continues at the tea party, which was so unsettling in no small part because it truly appeared to be the pinnacle of Taylor’s undoing. She seemed exhausted and overwhelmed, very much on the edge. She was breaking down, and it was painful to watch.

The women kept saying they didn’t know what to believe because they had never seen the abuse, they had never seen Russell hit Taylor. But moments later, Camille exclaims that they all knew of her injuries – at whose hands did they assume her jaw had been broken or her face smashed in, as they referenced? Not the man with two restraining orders against him from former wives and girlfriends, and with a record of beating his first wife when she was pregnant?

People generally don’t witness domestic violence. People generally don’t witness rape. We know they occur. Abusers frequently seem like charming, engaging, or friendly folks to the outside world. So do many criminals. This is a kind of control tactic, in which the victim’s testimonies can be negated by the public reputation of the abuser. Ted Bundy’s neighbors testified that he was a generous family man, but whoops, in his spare time he brutally kidnapped, raped, and murdered over 30 women. Appearances can be deceiving. We all know this, and we must get past the assumption that someone who presents themselves publicly in one way can’t have an entirely different private persona. Russell seems to have quite a violent history, and abuse allegations are rarely isolated. Personally, the footage of Russell I’ve seen has made me uncomfortable, as it always seemed controlled rage was simmering just under the surface. He didn’t like to leave Taylor with her friends, and I recall last season that when they were on a trip to Vegas he had her leave with him when he wanted to remove himself from the party instead of allowing her to socialize. Seemingly small actions like this can often be part of a larger orchestration of control that the abuser holds over the abused – particularly in regards to isolating them from their networks.

The tea party mock intervention continues, as Adrienne then claims she can’t get her head around someone who just doesn’t leave a man who is abusing her and putting her daughter at risk. She says this in a frustrated tone, as though Taylor is weak, weaker than them, because she didn’t stand up and walk out. She says, in fact, that she doesn’t understand where Taylor’s “willpower is.” This shows grave misunderstanding of the dynamics of partner violence; Adrienne is certainly not alone in thinking this.

People don’t leave because they’re terrified. Because they are not financially and economically independent. Because they’re worried the abuser will find them and the abuse will be even more intense, more vicious, possibly result in their death. Because they’re embarrassed and humiliated or are worried about more people discovering the truth. Because they have survived by protecting themselves with rationalizations and forms of denial, and leaving means confronting an overwhelmingly scary reality that often induces post-traumatic stress and requires a steady, uncompromising support system. Because they are used to a cycle of violence, followed by intense proclamations of love and dedication from the abuser, followed by manipulation, followed by violence again. Because they feel trapped. Because they have often been isolated by the abusive partner from their friends and family.

Taylor likely felt all of these things. She herself expressed that she had been a child in a home rife with domestic violence, and we know that children who witness abuse are more likely to have it replicated in their own marriages. She was married to an extremely powerful man in Los Angeles, and was likely worried that his status would aid in making her independent search for a job, home, and new social circle, exceedingly difficult. She appears to have no significant familial relationships to which she could reach out and seek refuge, her group of friends don’t have the reputation of being particularly warm and welcoming. She probably worried about what would become of her daughter – what if her daughter was targeted by Russell when they left? She may have been embarrassed, that’s not uncommon. She may have wanted to avoid being called exactly what some people seem to already assume – weak. She may have worried that people would wonder about her character and why she had chosen this person if he was abusive. She may have worried that, very sadly, she deserved it. Especially if it was a behavior she was used to witnessing as a child. She may have thought, concerningly, that no one would believe her. People aren’t believing her now, which likely confirms her earlier concerns; she may have thought she would be worse off if she were traversing a world by herself, 5 year-old daughter in tow, with everyone thinking she’s a liar. She probably was lured back into the relationship by the very cycle of domestic violence so many victims and survivors are familiar with.

Perhaps some individuals think if they were in Taylor’s shoes that they would be “strong” enough to leave. The reality is, domestic violence is a deeply complex issue, and it is very difficult to assume how one might handle the situation given how complicated it is.

An egregiously irresponsible “article” snidely remarked that Taylor didn’t want to lose Russell’s money, and that’s why she didn’t come forward. I’m the first to point out the materialism of this series franchise, but in the case of an abuse victim, it has less to do with fear of losing one’s jewels and furs than it does with fears of losing one’s life. And concerns about caring for a child on their own, concerns about the community siding with the abuser and icing her out, concerns about getting a protection or restraining order, concerns about being stalked. Her coming out and being more explicit with the abuse details after his death is indicative of how terrified she likely felt. If she had previously come out as publicly as she recently has, I’m sure she felt that the consequences at the hands of Russell could have been far greater.

In short (or not so short), this episode could have come with a Bravo TV PSA after its airing. But then I wouldn’t have been able to write this.

Thoughts? Follow me on Twitter.

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Filed under Education, Health Education, Mental Health, Violence, Violence Against Women

How Images and Ads Impact Self-Image and Human Development

I got a lot of traffic and messages about my recent post regarding Duke Nukem. People in the gaming community condemned it for its lack of originality, how it strayed from the original premise of apparently ostensibly mocking the ’80s action-hero genre, and how it overall disappointed those who are used to more complex and engaging videos. Some replies also included people needing to “get over it” when discussing images of coerced sexual activity or the game’s encouragement of merging violent and sexually explicit content together (I don’t post comments that are condescending or don’t encourage dialogue), something I found…disturbing. My initial argument, however, did not change – that is, that the imagery and the actions the gamer supposes in this video are tragically abusive and in fact detrimental to both men and women.

Many gamers also respond that they know when they are playing a game, and that their non-virtual socializing is not impacted by the game’s content. This, along with the recent news that the American Medical Association finally condemned the use of photoshopping in advertising campaigns and photo shoots, got me thinking about what repeated exposure to images and actions actually does to our brain and with who and what we identify.

A well-known study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that repeated exposure to images and advertisements ultimately were processed in people the same way actual experiences were processed. That is, if you see or watch something enough times - in a video game, in a fashion magazine in which models are photoshopped to near obscurity, in a parent abusing your sibling – you begin to process it as though it was you yourself experiencing the act and identify with the “player” (model, game character) you are watching. You see enough pictures of a model like this:

Courtesy fashion-o-lic.com

And you begin to think you are supposed to align yourself with her, that this image is what is normal (the image on the right was criticized heavily in 2009 for being so drastically photoshopped). After so many exposures, you begin to mold yourself after her, to think that since this is how we project women for adoration in our culture, that you should begin appropriating yourself to match her image. Just like a gamer, after so many exposures, can begin to mold themselves after the image of the character they are impersonating in a game. And while they may not go out on a shooting spree, they are desensitized to the effects of that reality, just as they are desensitized to the effects of coerced sex in a game, which can lead to difficulty distinguishing that from a healthy sexual relationship.

As I have also discussed in previous posts, a foundational theory in behavioral science and education is the Social-Cognitive Theory, which has informed educators and psychologists for years in explaining that people learn by watching, and that even one observation of a behavior can influence perspective. It also importantly points out that while full on adoption of behaviors witnessed may not occur, the more we see, the more our attitudes and beliefs about them change. This can be good and bad. It can make us more accepting of others’ opinions and outlooks, and it can also desensitize and normalize the opinions and behaviors that are harmful.

We’re humans. We learn by watching, by then mimicking and imitating what we observe. It doesn’t happen all at once, which is why fashion moguls or game designers claim they have no real impact. Are girls entering periods of self-mandated starving as soon as they open this month’s Vogue? Are adolescent boys heading to the hills for a sawed off shotgun fight after the first round of Duke or stealing cars after playing the new Grand Theft Auto? No, of course not. But can it impact their sense of compassion, affect their interpersonal relationships? Can it make violence seem less threatening, less damaging, and less impacting than it is? Yes. Can that change the way people behave, from nuance to imitation? Sure. Even researchers who admit that it won’t necessarily turn children violent admit that’s likely true (and, interestingly, still disallow their children to play). Human development takes time – language acquisition, understanding of and the processing of visual messages, being able to comprehend meaning from a block of text – these are all cognitive functions that take years to develop and perfect, and their influence lies in the words and actions of children’s families, friends, teachers. Unfortunately, messages of gender have been largely commandeered by the media. And the repeated exposure, over years, to these specifics of models’ physical appearance has resulted in the erosion of self-confidence that many girls and women – and boys and men – experience as young children becoming adolescents. And the repeated exposure, over years, to the specifics of war, sexual violence, and the presentation of hyper-masculinity, can also result in the erosion of what kind of impact violence truly has, as they become desensitized, and what a healthy understanding of and relationship with the opposite sex is (as opposed to its portrayal in my Duke Nukem piece). As the study articulated, it’s about changing people over time, it’s about how perceptions and perspectives change when a new definition of the norm that is not contested or dissected – a Ralph Lauren model, a Duke Nukem – enters the picture. Women who suffer from eating disorders and body dysmorphia, while not blaming the fashion industry, have emphatically articulated that it certainly has had an impact as it normalized this destructive self-image and behavior.

I think it’s also relevant here to bring up the Supreme Court’s decision about a week ago to shoot down California’s attempt to ban the sale of violent video games to children. Timothy Egan, a Times columnist, had a great commentary on this, noting how ridiculous it seems for there to be a perpetual ban on nudity and sexually explicit images, but not on virtually dismembering a human or sexually assaulting a woman. It does seem…well, more than troubling, that a game in which a player can simulate murder and rape is protected by free speech but a bare breast is the height of vulgarity. (I found a great post from a female gamer about this kind of sexual violence in video games, and I agree with her assertion that sexual expression can in fact exist without it also involving violence and degradation.) I don’t think any of the representations of sexuality that I have seen in video games are appropriate for children because they overwhelmingly associate it with abuse and/or coercion (I’ve done a lot of viewing in the past couple days after my Duke Nukem post). To say that sexuality would have a more harmful impact than violence seems questionable, when representations of both are equally unhealthy.

It should also be said that I am far from someone who believes nudity and sexuality itself is vulgar. I celebrate and support healthy (and protected!) sexual expression in any way the individual consents and desires. I firmly believe that discussions of sex and sexuality should be brought up early on, so children can ask questions, be informed, protect themselves when they do engage in sex, and have an understanding of what a respectful, consensual sexual relationship is. I also believe that when these discussions in families don’t take place, and when sex is a taboo topic, that it is a disservice to these children, and that any confusion they have about sex or uncertainty about what a healthy sex life actually is will be magnified by the messages the media sends them.  I’m an advocate of early onset, comprehensive sexual health and reproductive health education. Sex shouldn’t be confusing, and it shouldn’t be stigmatized. Sexual violence, however, and a misappropriation of the presentation of sexual relationships that are abusive, coercive, and violent, should be condemned.

This is also why a diversity of exposures is important. It’s important to not be inundated with the same message over and over again. Advertisers know that repeated exposure is key to getting people to buy what they want to sell. If you see an image of a Coke bottle once, it won’t register with much impact. If you see it every time your favorite TV show breaks for commercial, when you’re leafing through the pages of a magazine, when you’re driving down a freeway and it’s up on a billboard, when you’re listening to the radio and it breaks for the Coke jingle – it adds up, as do afternoons in front of a game console, as do hours reading “women’s” magazines and fashion spreads, as do episodes of spousal or child abuse, (which we know increases the likelihood of the child being in an abusive relationship him/herself and hampers healthy development - the others are logical extensions, to a lesser degree). We have to have enough positive images, positive games, positive and healthy discourse about relationships to not just equal the stream of negative imagery and messaging, but to overtake it. Positive, healthy messages, not abusive, harmful, violent messages, have to be in the majority. The norm. It’s nice that the docs finally said so.

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Filed under Advertising, Child Development and Child Health, Defining Gender, Feminism, Gender Stereotyping, Media, Mental Health, Pop Culture, Public Health, Sexism, Violence

Abortion Isn’t That Simple, Mr. Douthat

Ross Douthat, one of the NY Times conservative columnists whose pieces I occasionally force myself to read, wrote an article yesterday about sex-selective abortion. In short, he claimed that the reason 160 million women were “missing” (that is, the reason they were so outnumbered in many countries like India and China, as well as other nations in the Balkans and Central Asia) was because they were “killed” via sex-selective abortion. In his words, the women weren’t “missing,” they were “dead.” (He also claims that the author of the book he cites, Mara Hvistendahl of the book “Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men,” appropriates the issue to one of patriarchy, of greater social issues and inequities – which I agree with. He then says that “the sense of outrage that pervades her story seems to have been inspired by the missing girls themselves, not the consequences of their absence,” saying that she is more upset by the idea of abortion itself than she is about the issues surrounding abortion. Don’t you think that’s for her to decide? And doesn’t it seem she’s already decided what she thinks based on her book?)

Douthat, however, manages to contradict the crux of his argument near the start of his column.

He begins by saying “female empowerment often seems to have led to more sex selection, not less.” He then quotes Hvistendahl as saying “women use their increased autonomy to select for sons,” because male offspring bring higher social status. In countries like India, sex selection began in “the urban, well-educated stratum of society,” before spreading down the income ladder.

If this were the case – if in fact women had become truly empowered in their respective lands – culturally, politically, economically – then why would they be aborting based on the opposite – that men in their communities are still holding the cards? Are they imagining that men still hold positions of power and wealth in their countries, or are they living the ramifications of that painful reality everyday? Women do have some increased autonomy in many of these regions. But guess what? This autonomy has likely served to highlight the still very real inequities and disparities that exist in their communities, which contributes to the rates of sex-selective abortion. If women see which sex has the higher status, and one of the few autonomous decisions they can make is to choose the sex of their baby – they are likely going to choose the one with more status. This upsetting power dynamic shows just how far away true empowerment is for many of these women and their communities. If they felt their children would have the same opportunities if they were female than if they were male, the sex selection abortion Douthat decries would actually decrease. It is not the responsibility of the female fetus to ensure she is treated with the same respect and equality as the male fetus. Douthat seems to really care about female fetuses – but seems less interested in addressing the massive social, political, and economic issues that create so many difficulties for them once born. (His colleagues Paul Krugman and Nick Kristof seem to have handles on that. Too bad they were off yesterday.)

It seems that Douthat wants to push for the feelings of regret and remorse about abortion itself, separate from the issues surrounding it. Does sex-selection abortion sadden me? Yes. Does aborting a fetus that indicates it will have Down Syndrome sadden me? Yes. You know what else makes me sad? That a woman cannot afford a baby because she is single and has no familial or community support; because she has an abusive partner (homicide is the number one cause of death for pregnant women); because she has a low-wage hourly job that offers no maternity leave which could help her stay well while carrying the baby if needed; because she has no health insurance meaning she can’t access quality pre-natal care to make sure her baby would be healthy since we are systematically closing down those facilities that offer services for women who are uninsured (and also help provide birth control to prevent pregnancy!); because she has no way to pay for day care and she may have to quit her low-wage job to care for her baby; because she would then have no money for all the supplies, food, and developmental tools her baby would need to thrive which can lead to malnutrition, behavioral problems, child depression; because she could then become part of the 29.9% of families in poverty that are headed by single women, and her child could become part of the 35% of those in poverty who are under 18 years of age - the poverty rate for households headed by single women is significantly higher than the overall poverty rate.

We’ve cut child welfare services that aid women by the tens of millions in the past few years. Georgia alone cut over $10 million in Child Welfare Services. We’ve also cut subsidies that support adoption agencies – the organizations that help women find families that may be able to care for her baby were she to carry it to term – and who make sure these families are actually fit to do so! TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) provides women and families with aid so that children can be raised in their own homes or with relatives, instead of being placed in foster care and becoming wards of the state. How much have we cut from TANF? 17 of the poorest states, with some of the highest poverty rates in the nation, have already stopped receiving funds.

Birth control, one might say? Sure – birth control is expensive, so if she doesn’t have health insurance, she isn’t likely to be able to afford birth control (hey, Planned Parenthood can help with that, too! Seeing a pattern?) And if her partner refuses to wear a condom? If she is in an abusive relationship, if she fears leaving her partner, if she relies on her partner for added economic security – she’s much less likely to argue with him about the condom use. Or even feel that she has the agency to begin a negotiation discussion at all.

These facts make me sad. And all of these facts might lead a woman to decide she can’t have a baby. And many things not listed here may lead a woman to decide that she will not have a baby. And that she will have an abortion. Is it my decision? No. It’s not. It’s not yours or Ross Douthat’s, either. Again, Douthat represents the contingent of pro-lifers who want to make it seem like pro-choicers are cheering the performing of abortions right and left. What we are cheering is the right for women and respect of women to make their own decision based on their very specific personal circumstances. And given the fact that the medical establishment has not agreed with the pro-life camp in claiming that fetuses before a month into the third trimester can feel pain (reacting to stimuli does not equal pain, to reiterate, and pain without a cerebral cortex is seen by physicians as not possible), which has most recently become the pro-life camp’s wildly off-base rationale for preventing a woman’s right to choose, and given the fetus’ place of residence in the woman’s uterus as a part of her body, not as a human, these issues that Douthat sees as “sideline” are actually very much at the center of the argument. Bottom line – it’s the woman’s body. It’s the woman’s choice. She will be the one carrying it, she will be the one birthing it. No one else. So why should anyone else decide?

Additionally, it is not a crime for a woman to not want children. Since she is able to give birth, it is her decision as to when and how that will happen. Everything about her life and future will change once she has a baby. So she needs to be sure she is ready for that. How can one disagree with that? Douthat may not like it, but “the sense of outrage that pervades his story” (see what I did there? ;) ) seems to me more rooted in his anger and frustration with his opinion not being considered by women in these decisions and not being able to control what a woman decides to do about what is going on in her body.

All of the things I listed - the job issues, the healthcare issues, the family and community issues, the issues that arise when a child doesn’t have access to food, clothing, and developmentally appropriate stimulation - are the causes. So why don’t we start figuring out how we can mitigate those facts and issues instead of attacking the effect – the abortion – which is a decision women come to after weighing all of those facts and issues just discussed. Douthat’s fear tactics of talking about female fetuses strewn across Indian hospitals is scary imagery. So is this:

Photo thanks to ehow.com

And this:

Photo via Captain Hope's Kids Blog

And this:

Photo property of streetkidnews.blogsome.com

Want less abortions? How about providing health insurance, that covers both birth control and pre-post natal care? How about equal pay for equal work, so women are more financially and economically secure, providing them with the resources to stay out of poverty and keep their children out of it, too? How about child care in work environments, helping women who cannot afford day care can stay in their jobs and remain a part of the economy? While we’re at it, how about great public schools and clean community centers, so women know their children are being intellectually fed and socially stimulated in safe environments that help keep them out of more dangerous and potentially life-threatening social circles? How about comprehensive sex education so men and women know how to protect themselves not only from pregnancies but from diseases that can endanger a fetus and create complications during birth and cause health issues for them and their children – creating more expense, particularly if one has no health insurance.

Let’s talk then. And how about you follow me on Twitter?

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Filed under Child Development and Child Health, Education, Feminism, Health Education, Mental Health, Politics, Women's Health

Yoplait and Miss USA

There has been much (rightful) celebration of the news that Yoplait has pulled their eating-disorder promoting and normalizing commercial that showed a woman agonizing over whether or not she should consume a piece of cheesecake and how many ways she would punish herself for doing so. You can watch the commercial below, but these reasons include: having just a bite, having a slice and a day of eating nothing else but celery, jogging after eating the cake, jogging while eating the cheesecake (cramps!?), eating half the cake and half the celery - had the commercial continued I wouldn’t have been surprised if the next thought was “or I could just vomit after eating it.” (Watch the video here.)

Interestingly, another ad had caught my eye this past week. This would be the teaser for the Miss USA pageant which aired last night, using footage from last year’s event. In the short, we are treated to shots of women in bikinis, sauntering around the stage in evening gowns, and taking to the microphone to tell us how they’d like to change the world. While this is happening, we have a narrator who guides us through the 10 – 15 second sequence with questions along the lines of “Who is she?” “What will she do next?” “Where will she go?” and so forth. But he punctuates this with what I’m assuming Mr. Trump (Master of Misogyny as I have noted before in this blog) thought was hilaaaaaarious: “When will she ever eat?” as we see the winner get crowned. As she accepts her bouquet, sash, and tiara, the host says: “How do you feel!?”

She replies giddily: “Ask me after I’ve had a pizza!”  Then everyone has a good chuckle.

That’s so funny! I had no idea it could be so amusing to poke fun at a woman who never eats, even though we are rewarding her lack of eating with a cash prize, a diamond tiara, a TV special, and a national title. Is it possible that the man who thought he was going to run for President has such a weak grasp of irony?

(While I didn’t originally want to link to the Miss USA pageant website, I just noticed that Richard Simmons is in one of the rotating pictures on the main page, and I think that is hilarious and amazing – if anyone can find out why, or a shot of him actually at the pageant, I’d love it.)

Not only can these ads act as triggers for people who have suffered from eating disorders, but as the NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association) noted specifically in regards to the Yoplait ad (but which also applies to the Miss USA ad), it normalizes very harmful and problematic behaviors, making the line between eating disorder and what one thinks are totally normal eating habits pretty blurry. The foundation of behaviorial science and developmental psychology is the Social-Cognitive Theory, which posits that people learn to act by watching the behaviors of others who are not only in their social network, but also behaviors that are promoted in their culture and society. Other theories also note that repetition of messages further normalizes them, making individuals, particularly those at more vulnerable developmental stages, feel included in what is considered “normal” if they participate in these behaviors. On the other hand, dangerously and sadly, it makes them feel ostracized if they do not participate in these behaviors. Unfortunately, for those watching this commercial, that means it teaches young women that obsessing over their body size and weight is a normal rite of passage, and that if they don’t do this they’re the abnormal ones. In terms of the Miss USA prompt, not only is media the medium for promoting the behavior, but the women doing the actual promoting are marketed as the ultimate ideal; the supposed be-all, end-all of female beauty. (I watched snippets of the pageant last night, and my favorite moment was when one of the women said her most noteworthy characteristic was “offering people hope” and she did this by “complimenting a woman on her earrings.” Spreading hope to all by commenting on one’s accessories! I had no idea it was so simple.)

The NEDA also said they were sure Yoplait meant no harm in making and promoting this ad, and I agree. I don’t think Yoplait was being malicious, or that they produced this thinking they would reignite eating disorders in recovering women or encourage young girls to calculate and barter with themselves over what they can and cannot eat. But what that shows is that the internal debate of this woman is already so normalized that it seemed like a way to reflect back onto women behavior that they would recognize as their own and identify with, making them want to buy the yogurt – the decision the woman ultimately makes at the end of the commercial. (I also worried about the “reward” aspect of the commercial, when the woman says “I’ve been good today, so I can have cake.” What kind of behavior is “good” behavior that warrants cake – eating a minimal number of calories? I don’t think she meant “good” in the sense of “I was a good samaritan today, so I can have a treat.”)

Last word – I get tired of people commenting on others’ weight. Even if they think they’re complimenting someone on losing it. At the end of the Yoplait commercial the agonized woman turns to her co-worker and says “and you’ve lost weight,” somewhat disappointingly as she then looks down at her own (normal) waist. All in all, the less attention we pay to other peoples’ fluctuating weights and how they make us feel, the less likely we are to be unhappy with ourselves and think there’s need for some kind of improvement. Perhaps at the end of the commercial she could have said “what a healthy choice – yogurt! Maybe I’ll have some of that, and also a little cake which looks delicious and not at all like it’s going to ruin my life and destroy any potential for future happiness.”

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Filed under Defining Gender, Health Education, Media, Mental Health, Public Health, Sexism, Women's Health

Women Against Women

A new poll out of London, and reported by Daily Mail, says that women take about 20 seconds to size up other women. For the majority of them, the first thing they notice is the other’s weight. Women judging other women is nothing new, but the issues it brings up bear repeating.

54% of the women polled said they were trying to ascertain waist size above all else, and 45% said they zoomed in on the face to see if the other was wearing too much make-up. The list of judgments continues, with dress sense, hair, skin spots, roots, skin tone/tan, breast size, how tall they are, jewelry, and – given the rest of this list, it’s not surprising – the man they’re with.

Wow. We’re harsh. This poll underscores the serious insecurities other women feel for no other reason than assuming other women are their competition instead of their friends and comrades. Certain things on this list – weight, skin tone and color, height, breast size – are physical characteristics that are either unchangeable or difficult and expensive to alter, which would make the viewer feel either innately superior or innately inferior to the woman at whom they are gazing. These are of course false senses of superiority and inferiority, based solely on the expectations that women feel their innate characteristics are supposed to meet, and the root of so much body dysmorphia and self-loathing – fueling of course the rampant eating disorders among women that are real public health and mental health issues. These feelings can present on both ends of the spectrum – it can serve to promote assessments of low self-worth and the idea that one is inherently not as valuable as someone who has a smaller waist size, is taller, has bigger breasts, etc. But it can also serve to reinforce in the women who do have smaller waists, are taller, have bigger breasts, etc., that they are in fact more worthy than the women who don’t match up with their physical characteristics. This fuels divisions between women and within women. “If I lose the weight, I will be more valuable” contrasted with “If I gain weight, I lose my value and status above women who are bigger than me.”

The other things on the list – roots, jewelry, dress – are indications of class judgment as well. And the danger here is of course that women equate worth with wealth.

The noticing of the man the woman is with is no coincidence, and is I think the real drive behind these judgments. By sizing up the woman, one can assess her inherent worth based on physical presentation, and by sizing up the man she is with, one can assess what kind of man is attracted to and snagged by a woman of that physical presentation. It’s all about snagging the best dude, and you are in direct competition with other women for the best dude! By comparing themselves to the woman, and rating one’s own self against the image of that woman, one is able to determine where they fall on the scale of attractiveness for men, and for that particular man. Are you more attractive and wealthier than this man’s girlfriend. You win! Are you less attractive? You lose. :( Better get back to work.

So if you see a rich and thin woman with a pretty hot dude, you feel both envy and self-loathing. If you’re richer and thinner and have a hotter dude with you, your judgment serves your assumption that you are better and also serves to remind you that your position as ‘better’ is precarious and relies on your ability to maintain the thinness, wealth, and hotness factor of your dude. Doesn’t everyone seem unhappy in these scenarios?

Let’s try to take it easy on one another.

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Filed under Feminism, Public Health