Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

We like to think our society in 2015 has made great strides in treating everyone fairly. Too often, however, we’re reminded that just isn’t the case, whether it’s in race or gender issues. And even saying you’re pro-whatever might brand you as something you’re not. For example, I guess I’m a feminist. I’m pro-life (anti-abortion), fairly conservative when it comes to politics or “values,” but I am a feminist. Pretty simple: I believe women should be treated with the same respect as men. Women should vote, hold office, run companies, raise families, … whatever they would like to do. Their opinions should be given the same weight as men’s. They shouldn’t be abused by men, they shouldn’t be raped. These are very basic principles. Goes the other direction, too, of course: women need to treat men with respect and kindness.

Same goes for color. I was raised just believing we’re all alike. Sure, we’re all different where it counts, in our personalities, our talents, our interests, etc., but how we look certainly has no bearing on those real matters of identity. Heck, I married an Asian, we have three half-Asian, half-white kids, and we adopted a black girl. I respect whatever cultures we bring to the table, but they’re not the defining things about who we all are.

I could go on and on. But I hope you get the idea: we’re all people. And all people deserve kindness, respect, civility, hope, opportunities, the chance to pursue happiness, and so on.

I’m always disappointed, however, when I see that other people apparently don’t see others of the human race that way. The latest story in the news is just that an 8th-grade girl’s T-shirt got Photoshopped out of a class picture because it stated that she’s a “feminist.” I’m still not quite sure what about that is offensive: like I said, if you believe women and men should all be treated with respect and have equal opportunities, it’s pretty simple.

It struck home because right now I’m angry (yes, I got angry about this!) because my daughters’ high school allowed sexist (insulting, demeaning) messages on posters at a pep rally a few weeks ago. The student government/leadership group (ASB) led the charge on a “Battle of the Sexes” theme that’s been going on for some years (at least all four years my oldest, who graduated last year, attended). Done right, could be fun. But done wrong: ka-blooey. Here’s what some posters said, according to some students: “Stay in the kitchen,” “Female president? Nah” and “You woke up ugly”. Here’s a photo of one.pep rally

Anyone think these are respectful, fun, kind? This school and all the others in this system are always stressing how they are trying to instill character in the students, such as respect. The principal’s official online message even says this: “To help provide a safe and secure learning environment for everyone, staff members require students to treat every person at (our school) with respect, both in and out of the classroom.”

Hm. Curious. So in this situation, where the student “leadership” group’s members actively wrote and posted for the whole school to see messages that were disrespectful (and ridiculously antiquated: what decade IS this?), staff members who are required to be in place as overseers and advisers OK’d these messages.

I complained to the principal about this situation as soon as I could. We had a good conversation. I told him these messages were anything but respectful, and I said it would be a good opportunity for him and other staffers to use this as a learning situation for the students involved. Teach them what kind of messages we do want to send to others, whether it’s of the opposite sex or other races (can you imagine if the posters had been talking about race?!). Then have them take some responsibility for their poor choices and apologize themselves to the student body at the next rally.

Well, the next rally came and went last Friday, and the principal did none of these things. He stood up for three minutes and talked about how great the ASB is, how more students should be involved in it, and that some posters at the previous rally had bothered “some people” and he took “full responsibility.” The ASB teens were, after all, just 15- and 16-year-olds and didn’t really know what they were doing entirely. He pseudo-apologized and that was it.

This isn’t news because it’s unusual, just like the Ohio girl’s “feminist” message being censored from a class photo. It’s news because it reminds us just how much we still accept or gloss over disrespect to others, even when we know in some part of our brains that it’s “wrong” and we even get regular, “packaged” messages about respect. In practice, though, we treat people of other races differently and “less.” We accept all kinds of ridiculous messages in the media about how women should behave and look; we’re all about image, and the vast majority of us who don’t fit a certain image feel less than. Weight shaming is still tolerated. Commenters still somehow feel they’re perfectly entitled to comment online about how fat a certain celebrity is getting (see Pink or Kelly Clarkson, just in the past few weeks). In what universe does this all really seem OK? Ours, apparently.

When is this stuff going to stop? When are we going to put our collective foot down and say, “This is NOT OK!”? It’s not OK to body shame, it’s not OK to call names because of gender or race? It’s not OK to insult. Kindergarteners know this. Why do teens and adults seem to have forgotten?

When will we all just be people: people with all kinds of fascinating diversity of backgrounds and interests and talents and personalities, people who happen to look different because of color, because of disabilities, even?

I was hoping that day would come much sooner. In the meantime, I am putting my foot down, and I am saying loudly that respect to all matters. People matter.

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So I’ve noted a few occasions recently in which I’ve just felt I had to explain why I feel strongly about the topic of body image (particularly as it pertains to women). Those occasions have been offhand comments or posts or cartoons or what-have-you that indicate that the desire to change how our society perceives women (as objects or bodies) is trivial or silly or not as important as other issues that could garner support or activism, etc. (such as some of the ignorant comments I saw about the Representation Project’s “NotBuyingIt” campaign and hashtags that call out sexism and demeaning portrayals of women in the media, most recently during the Super Bowl, and don’t get me started on Sports Illustrated teaming with Barbie this year!).

I’m not saying there aren’t SERIOUS, very troubling things happening all around the world (wars, disease, repression, abuse, sex trafficking, crimes specifically against women and particular ethnic or religious groups) and that we in the United States and other less-troubled places can’t mobilize to do something to help. But even as we may realize that our problems in the West are “first-world” troubles, it doesn’t mean they are trivial or not worthy of attention and activism.

I’ve never considered myself “a feminist” (a word that over the years has certainly accrued a lot of not-necessarily-positive connotations and associations), nor am I a “liberal.” I tend to be mostly conservative politically. I care deeply about social justice and helping to improve people’s lives but I have more conservative views as to how those things should be accomplished (because my experience has shown certain methods to be more useful and successful than others). I am a stay-at-home mom who does some freelance work from home and haven’t worked outside the home full-time since the early years of my now 20-year-plus-long marriage. Those facts, along with my religious beliefs, might indicate to outsiders that I am not big into “women’s issues.” Those outsiders, though, if coming to that conclusion, would be wrong.

Beauty Redefined is a great resource for learning more and fighting back.

Beauty Redefined is a great resource for learning more and fighting back.

I care very much about my fellow women and how we get to function as real people in society. (I care about men being allowed to be fully functioning members of society as well, but historically in our culture, they’ve been given these rights for centuries, so they’re mostly “all set.”) The fact of the matter is that our Western, 21st-century culture diminishes the wholeness of women every single day, everywhere we turn. Media from every angle throw back very limited, definitely-not-varied, two-dimensional views of the ideal female, reducing 50% of the population to mere objects. These images and opinions are so deeply embedded in our psyches that we essentially have all tacitly agreed that they are truths. These beliefs lead men to treat women they know on some level and in some degree as less-thans, expecting their wives/girlfriends/daughters/sisters to be shaped and sized a certain way at the very least, and they lead women to act as if they are 75% (or more) what they look like and 25% a collection of their personality traits and actions.

These false beliefs have been and are continuing to be so thoroughly perpetuated that though we may pay lip service to the notion that they are false, we act as if they are true. Extreme examples are the continuing massive growth in cosmetic surgeries, particularly among “normal,” “average,” everyday women (not celebrities, not the rich, not people you might consider to be particularly vain). In the interviews I conducted with women in Utah who are moms and generally have a strong foundation of faith and have always been taught they are daughters of God worthy of love and respect for who they innately are, I was amazed how many felt bad enough about their “outsides” to undergo surgery, which is always risky, costs a pretty penny, and is just unnecessary. While I understood the feelings that led them to make the decisions they did (for getting breast augmentations or full “mommy makeovers,” for instance), I felt sad that our culture creates, fosters and intensifies those feelings of insecurity — all over their breast size or perkiness or the size of their waist or hips.

Yes, this may seem a minor issue: what does it matter if we care a lot about how we look? Here’s a short breakdown: it causes us as women to spend precious time and energy and brainpower on something that simply doesn’t matter very much. It takes those resources away from the things that really matter: our spouses, our children, our friends, our families, our work, our joys, our passions, our life purposes. And how many of us have time and energy to spare?

Focusing on our appearance reduces us to objects. Statues and photographs and machines are objects. They’re nice to look at and they might even get things done, but they aren’t human beings, with glorious origins and endless potential and utter uniqueness. Humans are imperfect, frustrating, very different from each other. But we’re so interesting and fascinating and have so much to offer! Is that true, can it be true, about mere objects? No way.

When we consider each other (or ourselves) objects, we treat each other (or ourselves) differently. We don’t expect the best, we don’t reach towards our limitless potential, we don’t care for each other as precious souls who deserve respect and love and fair and equal treatment. Men in our society, who are swimming in this media ocean of images and objects, are prone to some level of treating women as less-than themselves, because men aren’t reduced to objects nearly as often or as prevalently as women. Pornography is one more extreme example of how women are reduced to being objects, even parodies of womanhood, and it skews men’s attitudes and actions toward the women in their lives even further.

I can’t possibly explore all the angles here. There are tons of scientific studies, books, etc. that speak with authority on this subject. Suffice it to say, this is not a silly or trivial topic. It’s one that must be shared and discussed and changed. How women view themselves and how they are treated (as whole, real, full and complex individuals with unique gifts and talents and attributes) is at stake. I wouldn’t call that minor. It’s a huge battle to fight because the messages that pick women apart and reduce us to body parts, that make us less valuable than men, are constant, ubiquitous, and insidious. They’re so prevalent as for us not to even notice them anymore. If you pass the same billboard featuring a bikini-clad woman biting into a huge, juicy hamburger every single day, you’ll begin to tune it out and not even realize the damage it’s doing. But that message is still burrowing its way deep into your every cell.

I would love to make things better in so many ways, in so many places, for so many people. Right now, what I can do is write and speak up. I can say, “Hey, look at that billboard. Isn’t that insulting? Maybe we can even get it taken down. Maybe we can get the advertiser to stop objectifying women.” I can’t change the world. But maybe I can change your mind and remind you that you are far more than just what you look like.

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