Monday, September 30, 2013

Unworthy, and unbeautiful: How I navigate feminism and femininity

 By Anči

As a feminist well versed in the oppressive lies of ‘the beauty myth,’ it’s a challenge to reconcile my hostility toward this particularly damaging social construct, with my enthusiastic participation in its many rituals. Yes it’s true:  I’m a feminist  who performs beauty.

And that’s what beauty is: a performance.  More than that, though it’s an investment… which in my case, means shelling out big bucks on skin products, laser hair removal treatments, (my nickname in 8th grade was “unibrow,”) and of course makeup!

For the most part, I enjoy the process—  It feels gratifying and even luxurious to spend time painting and  adorning myself . I like the way mascara makes my eyes pop; and for special events, I might also bring out the eyeliner,  or some  blush. (Because how else would everyone know how seriously I take their Office Christmas Party? )

Putting myself together always brings on that familiar, satisfied relief that accompanies any patriarchy-approved transformation.  Every woman is familiar with the affirmation that ensues the moment we snap our makeup mirrors shut.  It says ‘Now I am presentable. Now I am deserving of respect.’

This is obviously a deeply problematic assessment to make—one that equates worth and humanity with looks. It’s also an attitude we’ve been taught since childhood. I recall being told many times as girl, that putting effort into my appearance is what  tells the world that I respect myself.  (Up until then, I hadn’t realized that my sacred self-respect boiled down to whether or not I had plucked my eyebrows that day.)

Of course, attempting to gauge the opinion a person has of herself, based on how polished she looks, is ridiculous. (And petty. And judgemental. ) After all, I am at my most confident when  I’m  writing , and believe me when I tell you I am neither plucked, nor matching right now.

So how can I keep  participating  in the global deception that is “beauty,” when I am so painfully aware of its effects on women?

The answer is complicated.

 For  many women, complying with beauty standards is a question of social survival.  In a world where being ‘unattractive ‘ translates into being invisible, beauty performance  can serve as a weapon against the isolation, dismissal and contempt reserved for the unbeautiful. If you don’t believe me, consider this: In July, when I got a flat tire, and emerged from my car in heels and a dress, I was instantly surrounded by concerned, helpful men, eager to change my tire, and give me rides. Then consider the number of times you’ve walked past a homeless person, in even graver need of assistance.  The difference is simple: In the first case, my appearance conveyed enough status to warrant care, and  attention, while in  the homeless man’s case, his appearance undermined him, rendering him invisible, and undeserving of empathy.

Beauty  performance is more often an act of survival,  than it is an indicator of selfishness. Often times, it is simply a gesture of appeasement--  a way to placate the male gaze, and reassure a male dominated society of peaceful compliance.  ‘See? We’re playing along. Your precious power structure is still intact.’

Of course, nobody applies makeup with the conscious intent of exhibiting status, or placating patriarchy.  Most of the time makeup feels like girly fun— for me it’s a tool for self expression,  a way to be creative!  I’m certainly not  trying to imply that women who perform beauty are weak, pitiful creatures.  We are complex, human beings, reacting to, and evolving with our environment.

I want to make it clear that the intent of this post was never to shame feminine women , but rather to deconstruct the significance of their actions.  If feminism has taught us anything, it’s that the personal is political, and that whether or not we mean to be sending a message, every single one of our actions reflects and establishes our norms and values.

What does beauty mean to you?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

"Mexican State's Anti-Corruption Plan: Hire Female Traffic Cops"--Shared by Leili

The Mexican government, struggling against rampant corruption, have fired their traffic cops and hired only women to replace them. According to the article, the police believe that "women are more trustworthy and take their oath of office more seriously. They don't ask for or take bribes." And yet, apparently at least one female traffic officer has already been reported as "threatening to impound [a driver's] car unless she paid a bribe." Hmm, I guess not every woman is exactly the same . . .

Trustworthiness might not be the primary concern for the officers in charge of hiring, either. " Ecatepec Police Chief Carlos Ortega Carpinteyro says the biggest challenge has been finding women who "portray the right kind of image." "We get too many short and fat ones," he explains. Yikes . . . The state also has yet to authorize these women to issue tickets--at the moment they can only blow whistles or give warnings.

To me, it's an odd take on corruption. It seems silly to hire people based primarily on their gender, and I wonder where they get their belief that a group of women will be any more trustworthy than a group of men--individuals are individuals, and should be hired as such. But there is something to say for trying a fresh start. It could also prove a thought-provoking experiment, especially considering Mexico's track record when it comes to women's safety. I've read several reports over the years about large numbers of women being kidnapped and killed in various parts of the country, but I was shocked to discover that, according to the UN, Mexico is first in the world in the number of violence attacks against women. It will be interesting to see what impact having an all-female corps of cops will have on Mexico city.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Ana--On Feminism

Hey guys, first post here! My writing name is Anči, and I’ve been a card-carrying feminist for at least ten years now. I am excited to contribute to this project because I believe in creating spaces for women and allies to be heard (especially on the internet, where it’s most needed—and if you don’t believe me, scroll through the comment section of any article written by a woman). On a more personal note, as a multi-ethnic, multi-national Hispanic  woman, who is also a stutterer, it is crucial for me to have a feminist forum in which to express myself,  having spent the majority of life forcefully silenced--not only for being a woman, but also quite literally, by my speech impediment (something I will most likely address in another blog post--ableism is a feminist issue, guys!). 

For me, feminism is a tool and political principle, which seeks to dismantle patriarchal power structures. This might sound intimidating, but to feminist activists like me, “dismantling patriarchal power structures” is a daily process that can range from questioning sexist assumptions (like “slutty” women have low self esteem, or feminists are jealous of pretty women — myths I’ll also address on this blog at some point) to challenging misogyny in action (confronting cat-callers, publicly shaming rapists) to demanding access to health care and birth control. All these things are examples of feminism—and they all require bravery, empathy, and solidarity.

As a writer, a feminist, and an activist, I look forward to being a regular contributor this blog, and am looking forward to reading what everyone else has to say on the issue of women and worth.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"I Hate Strong Female Characters" --shared by Amy

This is one of the best media analyses I've read recently. Preach! 

I'm so tired of one-dimensional stock female characters.

"Sherlock Holmes gets to be brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong."

Sunday, September 22, 2013

"The Imposter Syndrome" -- shared by Amy

"Even though impostor feelings can be present in basically anyone they were found to be associated with giftedness and are very common among gifted women."

This is by no means a syndrome solely associated with women, but the fact that it is "very common among gifted women" reminds me of my original question--why are more women than men faced with feelings of inadequacy? And what leads us to those feelings? 

"Why Women Can't Have It All" -- shared by Amy

"Feminism was meant to remove a fixed set of expectations; instead, we now interpret it as a route to personal perfection. Because we can do anything, we feel as if we have to do everything."     

Barnard College's president, Debora L. Spar, argues that young women should stop trying to live up to the many, many pressures women face today--those pressures that continue to make so many hard-working women feel inadequate, or work until they're exhausted, or take on too many commitments.

Why do we expect the modern women to "have it all"? Why do we hold ourselves and others to these standards? Do you believe we just have to "lean in" and work harder, or does something have to give?

Also, in this fantastic post, blogger Jessica Valenti has compiled photos of "sad white babies with mean feminist mommies" used to illustrate articles on the same topic--women "having it all."

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Mel--On Feminism


Recently a friend of mine asked me what I thought about Feminism. 

It’s a shame that my immediate reaction was one of slight dismay; I am afraid that if I even write about Feminism I might immediately be classed as a bit ‘hippie’, a bit ‘radical’ or exhibiting misandry. Hell, I might just go burn a bra.

Obviously this image has (hopefully) evolved from the 1960s movement. But it irks me that 60 years down the line, I still fear being labeled just for wanting to talk about Feminism.

I am also very aware that the Feminist movement in the West is very different to what women in other corners of the world might be fighting for; that there is a fight in Feminism for rights, equality, the chance to wear what we want, the right to earn as much as men, the right to have the same legal rights as men, the right to vote, the right to do as we wish with our bodies, the right to marry who we want, the right to cease the overt sexualization of women, the right be sexual,  the right to get drunk and act a bit laddish…

The fight seems too diluted.

I believe there are too many versions of what Feminism can mean for us to be truly united in its cause. Whilst some women want the right to wear skimpy clothing and not get harassed, others are trying hard to distance the image of women from the sexual predator.  How are these examples at odds with each other? Simply that each woman sees herself differently; one woman’s refuge could be another woman’s prison. I have had strange conversations, often till the late hours of the morning, with fellow travelers about a woman’s role in society, and it surprised me when some of them expressed a certain anger at how aggressive some women can be against the image of the housewife.  Some claimed that women’s choice has torn families apart, or even that the emancipation of women has increased the average woman’s workload, expected to still run a household whilst now “enjoying” the new opportunities of a career.

I am confused by the notion of Feminism.

I want women to have a choice, as to what they want to be and how they want to live their life. But I worry about the stereotypes that come with that choice and the judgment and criticisms that are attached to each decision…

Leili--"Fresher's Week Sexism"

Laura Bates, the founder of Everyday Sexism, posted this article in The Guardian today. The piece focused on British and Canadian University experiences, but it hit far too close to home.

In "Fresher's Week Sexism, and the Damage It Does", Bates discusses the unsettling experiences of many women's first week at university. She details verbal harassment, groping and assault--often by older students hired by the universities to make new-comers feel welcome. She describes young men shouting slogans that do more than hint at rape, and girls rated in public on their "fuckability". She points out that these crucial few days form many women's first experiences as independent adults, and shape the way they view their role in the world, in a damaging way.

I found myself nodding along as I read through the article, cringing at the familiarity of those other women's experiences. And yet, I actually owe my "freshers week" a lot.

It's been awhile (longer than I like to dwell on) since my freshman year of college, and admittedly my memory is pretty fuzzy. What still sticks in my mind, however, are the freshman line-ups.

Most nights during the week leading up to classes young, barely-freshman girls would line up along the sidewalk, dressed to party. Then SUVs full of frat boys would cruise down the line, choosing the "hot" girls and leaving the rest. The chosen girls would end up at frat houses with the inevitable red cups and confusion, and the left-overs would find something else to do with their unwanted selves. That first week, before classes even started, a girl in my dorm quad left school after being raped at one of those parties.

I saw this scenario repeat itself in so many different variations. Women "rushing" sororities lined up in heels and tiny dresses in January, trying to impress the sorority sisters. I overheard countless conversations in which women were judged as "sluts", "hos" "prudes", "teases", "fatties", "but-her-face(s)", etc., based on how many guys she had slept with--or hadn't--what kind of clothes she wore, or how much she conformed to a specific idea of beauty. During my entire freshman year I heard very few conversations about women's actual personalities, but plenty of passionate descriptions about how a women was a "bitch", or a "frigid bitch", if she didn't sleep with a guy who wanted her.

I'm already envisioning comments about how these line-ups and sorority rushes and conversations aren't a big deal. And yes, compared to other struggles men and women face world-wide, this is tame. But it's indicative of how society judges women--that a woman's value lies in how much a man wants her, and that if he wants her she has no say in what happens to her.

I can also see commenters arguing that those girls brought it on themselves--they chose to line up to be judged, chose to get in the car, and chose to drink and party, so they must accept whatever consequences come with those actions. And yes, they do hold some responsibility. But first, they were young college kids wanting to have fun, and hoping to fit in to a big new social pool. And secondly, those girls were playing a role they learned from society--they were acting out an idea of womanhood that they picked up from other sources.

It was a disorienting time for me. Being sheltered, shy, and naive, I hadn't experienced these things before. (I know, right? How unbelievably out of touch I was. Clearly my high school years were a bit tame.) It was also an important experience for me, because it finally forced me to reject the myth I'd so desperately clung to in my budding adolescence--the myth that, here in America, we live in a post-gendered, post-sexist society where women are valued as multi-faceted human beings.

For our first posts I've asked my fellow contributors to reflect on what feminism means to them, or what issues women face today, or why they want to contribute to this blog. For most of us even the terms "feminism" and "women's issues" are complicated, multi-layered concepts with which we continue to grapple. But I can say that, while I grew up in a feminist household and gave lip-service to the grand idea of women's social equality, I didn't even begin to realize the many struggles women face right here in the US until my first year of university--and it wasn't because of my coursework.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Welcome to Unworthy

Unworthy started with a conversation between two friends, which led to a thought: why do so many cultures around the world view and treat women as "unworthy" or second-class? And why do so many brilliant women we know view themselves as unworthy as well?

The enormity of that simple question inspired me to reach out to some friends, and to ask them to explore that idea, and the many other questions related to women's issues and feminism, together. I've encouraged them to submit their thoughts in any genre, from analytical essays to links to interesting articles to their own original artwork.

I want this to become a diverse and inclusive dialogue. I want it to be funny and gut-wrenching and uncomfortable and thought-provoking and constructive. I want it to change minds and I want to learn along the way.

We'll see how it goes.

Welcome to Unworthy.