Lysistrata's Daughter

equality. that's all.

Just Another Pretty Face

Today for me is a day of conflicting feelings regarding the perception of beauty. On the one hand, I saw this Dove campaign which sat a bunch of women in a room with a forensic sketch artist who drew two pictures of them, the first based on their own description of their facial features, and the second drawn from a description of another woman’s impression of her. Then they placed the two drawings next to each other to juxtapose the way a woman sees herself with the way she is seen by others.

It was a lovely, sweet video that encourages women to change their self-perception, and realize that other people do not judge them on their appearance as harshly as they judge themselves.

This is something I support. I believe we as human beings have a skewed perspective when it comes to ourselves, and everyone, regardless of their power, success, appearance, etc. has some form of self-doubt.

What I’m a little concerned about is:

1.       The only men featured in the video were the sketch artist, and two others who were shown describing other women. No men were shown participating in the study, which I find odd, as I’m pretty certain that there are men who have issues with self-perception. I don’t think the message that you should embrace your appearance should be limited to women.

2.       While the video does a lot of good as far as changing perspective goes, at the end, the phrase “you are more beautiful than you think” shines across the screen. I’m all for an increased sense of confidence and love for one’s body. I’m less supportive of the idea that these women feel like they have more self-worth now that they see others believe they are beautiful. Let me say again, for clarity’s sake, because I think Dove touched on something very important here: my issue is not with the video. My issue is the idea that a woman’s worth is in her beauty. A woman’s appearance should not measure her worth.

I’m going to say that again. A woman’s appearance should not measure her worth.

Which leads me to part two, my conflicting feelings regarding beauty:

I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but I love clothes. I feel like fashion is one of the ways I can express myself, and my style is one that makes me feel polished, confident, and comfortable to meet the day. But, and this is a huge but, I dress for myself, and not for anyone else.

So, no, I don’t mind when somebody compliments me on my clothes, or my style. I don’t even mind it when people compliment my overall appearance now and again (street calls/harassment/etc are a completely different story that I’m sure I will rant about soon). But what starts to make me feel funny is when I feel like my physical appearance trumps my mental prowess, or, at least, takes precedence.

Sometimes I feel like the thing others (well, honestly, mostly men) value the most about me is my appearance. I’ve had many a conversation with a past boyfriend who said that the reason they’d approached me back when we were strangers was because they’d seen how cute I was. If I hadn’t been cute?, I asked. They answered that they probably wouldn’t have come over to introduce themselves. When it comes down to it, I’m grateful for their honesty. And I know that it’s unfair to judge them for a slight superficiality, because I’ve had great relationships with some them afterwards that were based more on our compatibility than our looks.

Sure. Physical attractiveness is a very real part of sexual desire and attraction. I totally get that. I’m not arguing that it should play a role. I just wish it didn’t play so much of one.

I wish that a man who I once dated, and who I find to be intelligent and respectful didn’t say things like, “Wow, your ass looks great today,” when I’m in the middle of getting work done. If my intention was to draw attention to my behind, then perhaps I’d be flattered. Instead, I’m being interrupted while going about business in an everyday situation, where I made no indication that it was my intention to draw attention to the aforementioned area. In this situation, I gave the man in question a bemused look, and he replied with “What, isn’t that what girls want to hear? I know that’s what I’d love to hear.” He said it half jokingly, but that’s the problem. He doesn’t take my concerns seriously.

Another man once said to me “I think you’re really great. You’re so attractive.” I replied to him that I hoped he liked me for more reasons than just my appearance. He said “Well, yeah, but your appearance is still a really big part of who you are.”

Maybe I’m uncomfortable being judged by my appearance because I had a really awkward adolescent phase that I didn’t grow out of until late in life. The first time a boy told me I was beautiful was my senior year of high school. As I left high school and college, I feel I’ve come into my own and can appreciate my appearance, but I don’t spend every day obsessing over every minute detail, because I just don’t have the patience or the energy. So maybe it’s that? That I’m just uncomfortable?

But maybe it’s that I am afraid. Because sometimes I worry that even though I’m a talented writer, a good singer, a great baker, possess a sharp and strong sense of humor, have a work ethic that never quits, and am generally an intelligent human being who enjoys debating and analyzing religion, politics, sociology and psychology, some days, I feel like other people wouldn’t value those characteristics within me if they weren’t accompanied by my “pretty face.” 

Our Breasts Are Deadlier Than Your Stones

Apparently.

Because while the threat of stoning is just that-a threat-breasts are on display throughout the world today in support of Amina Tyler, the nineteen year old Tunisian woman who posted pictures last month of her bare chest and the words “My body belongs to me, and is not the source of anyone’s honor” in Arabic. A second photo, declaring “Fuck your morals” in English, was also posted.

Almi Adel,  who heads the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, now known (ironically) as the Moderate Association for Awareness and Reform is quoted as saying: “The young lady should be punished according to sharia, with 80 to 100  lashes, but (because of) the severity of the act she has committed, she deserves to be stoned to death,” he said. “Her act could bring about an epidemic. It could be contagious and give ideas to other women. It is therefore necessary to isolate (the incident). I wish her to be healed.”

In case that didn’t hit you hard enough, let me give it to you again: “It could be contagious and give ideas to other women.”

Well we wouldn’t want that, now would we?

Amina Tyler is reportedly safe, although certain sources say she was briefly institutionalized for her actions. If loving her body makes a woman criminally insane, lock me up too.

Femen, a Ukrainian feminist protest group with many offshoot branches in other countries declared today, April 4, 2013, as Topless Jihad Day. Women all over are painting their naked chests and peacefully protested in support of Amina. Already, arrests have been made in Kiev. Posts to the group’s Facebook page have seen an influx of imitation pictures in support of Amina’s actions.

While the news coverage I’ve seen of this event has been minimal, in many of the sources, the photos of Amina and her supporters have been altered, either by blurring out the women’s nipples, or adding the boxy black line across their naked chests. And so I ask, why even bother reporting a story about the censorship of women and their bodies if you’re going to do the same?

Now maybe it’s because I have them, but I’m not entirely sure what is so scary about breasts. The difference between a man’s chest and a woman’s chest is minimal. Correct me if I’m wrong, but men have nipples too, don’t they? Oh yes, that’s right, they do. Which is why blurring out the nipples in a photo of breasts to make them “less offensive” seems absurd.

Another thing I find interesting: an overweight man has roughly the same size “breasts” as I do, but the difference is, he’s allowed to take his shirt off in public and I’m not. The difference between our breasts? It certainly isn’t size. But I’m a woman, so mine are required to be out of sight. Why? They certainly aren’t hurting anyone. And mine are able to produce milk that can feed a child. Which, I think is pretty cool, but that’s beside the point. Except it isn’t. Because a woman’s body is able to provide life. And I think that’s pretty special. And maybe we should be appreciating women for their bodies instead of punishing them for their breasts, and hips, and vaginas.

But I guess in the end, confidence can lead to setting an example. Especially an unwanted one in Islamic countries, like women claiming their own sexuality, their own bodies, and their own worth. And understanding their worth might lead to a crazy idea like a hunger for education and knowledge. And since knowledge is power, we’d better stop and stamp out all this momentum as soon as possible.

Look, I’m a 125 lb., 5’11″ girl. I’m not going to do any damage to a man in a fist fight.

My body isn’t anything to be afraid of. My mind, however, is.

Sheryl Sandberg says “Lean In,” so why are so many leaning out?

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, wrote a book called Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. A surprising number of people are up in arms, to the point that the book and Sheryl herself are the center of quite a bit of controversey. After doing a bit of research, I’m still not entirely certain as to why.

Except maybe because she’s a woman. Who is empowering other women to challenge the expectations of the workplace in order to succeed. Or because she’s successful. And people are afraid of a powerful woman. And fear turns to anger very quickly, especially in the media.

In her book, Sandberg cites an experiment led by Columbia Business School and New York University professors that measures likeability versus success in both men and women. It found that when men became more successful, they were better liked, but when women became successful, they were less liked. This shows stigma on both sides of the gender spectrum; men face more of an obstacle when taking on roles like the stay-at-home dad, or less financially inclined partner, while women face more difficulty in obtaining positions of power in the workplace.

Sandberg also discusses the term “bossy,” a negatively connotated word applied almost exclusively to younger girls. In my mind this corolates with the term “bitchy” used to describe a woman (especially a successful one) who goes out and gets what she wants in her professional life-the same characteristics that will get a man described as a “self-starter” or “passionate” about his career.

Another criticism I’ve heard about Sandberg and her book is that as a supremely successful woman in Palo Alto, with a Harvard education and a job at Google under her belt, she has no right to be telling women how to run their professional lives, because she is so far removed from the average woman.

But that’s exactly why this book is so important. As a young woman entering the workforce, I want to hear about how the few women in power got to where they are. I know how to get and maintain an entry level job, information regarding that does not interest me in the slightest. But even though I don’t have a Harvard education or the kind of connections that Sandberg had while entering the workforce, her book reminds me that I can demand more of myself, and that I can persevere through being called bossy or a bitch, and going after what I want amidst a sea of men who are (either advertently or inadvertently) holding me back from higher paid, higher power positions.

Sheryl Sandberg is not advocating that all women should be CEOs; she herself is a mother of two and recognizes that many women want to stay at home to raise their kids. Nor does she claim that she succeeded all on her own, or that she somehow revolutionized the process. Instead she uses her good fortune to get women, at the very least, thinking and talking about their place in America’s workforce.

Which we should. Because without pushing our boundaries and expanding our expectations, we can’t expect to make any progress.

Just Sit There & Look Pretty

Wheel of Fortune was on last night, as it unfortunately is every night, and Pat Sajak was doing his standard interviewing of the contenstants. He asked a woman a question about her children, & she happily explained that she had three kids: her athletic son (which she displayed with unmitigated pride), her musically inclined son (I noted that she said this with slight hesitation), and her beautiful daughter.

This made me angry. Angrier, indeed, than I usually am while watching Wheel of Fortune-and let me tell you, I really hate Wheel of Fortune. Once, a woman guessed that the answer to the category Johnny Cash song was “I Have the Wine,” instead of “I Walk the Line.”

What really struck a nerve was how, completely subconsciously, she assigned her boys identities based on their personalities and tastes, and assigned her daughter an identity based on her looks.

But I shouldn’t be surprised, because this is not news.

Nobody teases a man for not being married before thirty. Nobody sells men wrinkle cream or anti-aging supplements. Women are sold haircolor to get rid of those “pesky grey hairs,” while men are sold “Touch of Grey” which will literally give them a touch of grey in their hair to conjure up an image of sophistication and wisdom.

What the hell is that?

Why do women have an expiration date? Why does everything come back to the way we look? Why are we told to take it as a compliment if someone wolf-whistles or cat calls while we are walking down the street? (side note:  I am taking a moment to appreciate that at least these actions are associated with animals, because having been on the receiving end one too many times, I do feel like it is an animalistic behavior)

I know these are arguments that have been stated time and again, but that doesn’t make my concerns less valid. Even at the Oscar’s on Sunday, the men were introduced as “the very funny” or “the very talented,” while the women were introduced as “the beautiful” or “the lovely.”

I am curious where this “sit there and look pretty” mentality came from. Why is appearance such an essential part of a woman’s idendtity, at least here in America? And why are men not held to similar standards?

Look, I’m not saying I don’t love to dress up, and wear makeup, and feel pretty. That’s not the case. I take great pride in my appearance. I enjoy receiving compliments. I love fashion. But I don’t love it when that is the only part about me that people (read: men) seem to care about. I am so much more than what I appear to be on the outside.

If you really want to compliment me, don’t compliment my looks; compliment my brain.

The Coathanger Conundrum

*This post is inspired by NARAL’s Blog for Choice Day 2013

Today is the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court Case that established a woman’s right to choose. As far as I’m concerned, we as a country should have spent those forty years making great strides in the field of women’s reproductive rights, but lately, it feels like we’re moving backwards.

Vanity Fair published an article chronicling the life of Norma McCorvey, better known as Jane Roe, the title character in the case. She evolved from a pro-choice activist to an Evangelical pro-life advocate, a surprising journey for a woman who was so heavily involved in the defining fight for women’s reproductive rights. But a line in the article that stood out to me, stated that Norma McCorvey ultimately looked after herself first and foremost, and made her activism decisions based on what would benefit her most.

Isn’t that the way the lawmakers in this country have treated reproductive rights?

At the very least, isn’t that the way many powerful men treat a female’s reproductive rights?

Abortion doesn’t fit into their religious agenda, or, more importantly, the religious agendas of their constituents. Notice the go-to for sexual education in this country is still abstinence. Never mind the fact that access to condoms and birth control would drastically decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies, as well as STDs.

Why are we as a country so afraid of teaching our children, of giving them vital information that allows them to make conscious and informed decisions?

And why do we always blame the woman? It takes two to tango. A woman does not just “get pregnant.” It takes sperm to fertilize an egg. Whether or not the male wants to take responsibility for his actions, it needs to be universally accepted that it is a joint responsibility, regardless of the outcome of the pregnancy, whether the woman keeps the baby, or decides to get an abortion.

The choice to abort a baby is—at least in my experience with friends and family—a daunting and difficult decision. It is not an “automatic default decision” or the “easy way out.” The procedure takes a toll on a woman, her body, her relationships, and her mind.

But the activism surrounding the pro-life movement continues to grow. Picketers outside of clinics, Susan G. Komen foundation’s break with Planned Parenthood, Richard Murdoch’s comment during election season about babies conceived through rape being “intended by God.” Todd Akin. Etc.

I’m not sure that the pro-life movement has realized that women seeking abortions are trying to be responsible. Many of them are in difficult situations, be it an abusive relationship, a desperate monetary situation, drug addiction, or other extenuating circumstances.

Before Roe v. Wade, abortions still occurred. However, without the option of a safe and legal procedure, undergoing a backdoor abortion very often ended in mutilation or even death. But to some women, abortion was/ is the only option. And even if the federal government rules in favor of the pro-life camp, the process will not end.

Which would be ironic, because for a group who declares themselves “pro-life”, they don’t seem to give the life of the mother the same value and consideration they place on an unborn fetus.

I haven’t had an abortion. But the fact that I have the right to choose—that the world believes I have enough sense and understanding of my own personal situation, and my own body to make a thoughtful and educated decision—is what makes me feel like I am taken seriously as a woman. All the legislation that conservatives want to introduce to restrict abortions: ultrasounds, counseling, etc., makes it look as if women run blindly to abortion clinics without understanding the actual procedure. And perhaps there are women who do. But the vast majority understands the consequences and the reality of abortion. These proposed laws are not opening our eyes; they are making us feel as if those people in power do not trust our decision-making skills.

That’s what I find offensive.

The Stigma of Feminism

My 11th grade AP Language and Composition teacher once had my class read an article about how the feminist movement affected the development of boys in more recent generations. I wish I could remember the source, but essentially, it said that because the feminist movement was working so hard to redefine gender roles, they were taking a man’s intrinsic alpha nature and (figuratively) beating it out of young boys. Boys were becoming more sensitive and more prone to be emotional. They were more open with their feelings and thoughts, and the idea of men, like they had been classified (and stereotyped!) before—strong protective, able to provide for a family as the decision maker and head of the household—would cease to exist.

Except he said this like it was a bad thing. This man was the best teacher I had throughout all of high school; he did wonders for my writing and my ability to think critically. I credit him with many of my academic successes, but that day in class, he was the first person to (inadvertently) make me feel like being a feminist was a bad thing.

He was not the last.

The first time I truly realized the stigma of the word “feminist” was a few years ago. I was having a conversation about women’s rights with my mother, and I started to qualify my position by saying “I’m not a feminist, but…” My mother stopped me immediately and said,“Do you believe in equality?” I said “Yes, but I don’t believe in the crazy conventions that everyone talks about.” She shook her head. “Those conventions to not define a movement. If you believe in gender equality, you are a feminist.” I was horrified with myself. Years of listening to scoffs at the word, at the women who led the movement, at the ultimate goal of feminism had led me to believe that admitting I was a feminist was something to be ashamed of.

When I first discussed this blog with my father, the first thing he said after I said feminist was “Femi-Nazi.” My father is an educated and free-thinking man, and if Rush Limbaugh’s phrase was the first thing that came to his mind, I imagine the words and ideas other people have associated with the word “feminism” are even worse.

The man I am currently seeing, upon hearing about my idea for the blog, said ,“Yeah, but you’re not really a feminist though. They’re crazy. That’s not who you are.”

So let me state right here, right now: Although I may shave my legs, although I have never burned a bra, I am a feminist. Because to me, the declaration means nothing more than I want equal respect, equal pay, and equal recognition for the endeavors of women. I want nothing that I accomplish in life to be additionally extraordinary just because I achieved it as a woman.

It is supremely frustrating to not be taken seriously because I am a woman. It is also supremely frustrating to feel like most of the men I’ve made acquaintance with do not take the issue of feminism seriously.

I have no agenda to establish women as the superior sex, to declare that men are pigs, or to deprecate anyone. All I want is equality, to not have to work extra hard to succeed because a series of random chances caused me to be born as a woman instead of a man. Gender should not be seen as a sense of entitlement.

As a woman in a progressive first world country, I count my lucky stars that I have the freedom of speech, access to technology and information, and education to have these thoughts and feelings, and to publish them in a way that others can access them. I know that I am incredibly lucky. But I do not take these things for granted. I didn’t do anything to deserve being born in the country I did, had no control over my gender. But because I have these things, I want to use them for good. For change. For hope, at least, that someday feminism will receive the respect it deserves.

With every movement there are factions that split off and generate a more radical approach to the issue. But feminism should not be defined by stereotypes and generalizations. That’s what got us here in the first place.

Asking for It: an Addendum

In addendum to my previous post, I offer this British advertisement, one of my favorite pieces of anti-rape propaganda.

Clothes Make the Man, but Where Does That Leave Women?

Last year, around Valentine’s Day 2012, a female at BYU received a note from a male student while studying in the library. At first, she thought it was a note from a potential admirer. Instead, the page contained a brief reprimand, the gist being that she was dressed too provocatively, and that she should think about the “negative effects” her outfit could have on men. The girl in question later posted a picture to twitter and revealed that she was wearing a knee length dress with black tights and a cardigan. Hardly any skin was exposed other than her hands, neck, and face.

My cousin, in his early thirties and married, brought the story to Facebook, and to my attention. Of course, I immediately assumed he was speaking out in surprise over how ridiculous the actions of the anonymous male student were. Why should does an individual have a responsibility to take into consideration the possible effects the clothes he/she wears might have on another human being?

But alas, we all know what happens when you assume. I found that while my cousin thought the particular situation a bit silly, he ultimately believed that women do need to realize that the clothing they wear can have a negative effect on men, and therefore, should take care when getting dressed every day, lest they look like the are “asking for it.”

Here, an excerpt from his thoughts on the subject:

“My point was that even though people have the choice to dress however they want, they should choose—for their own sake, to dress in a way that doesn’t draw negative attention, etc. to themselves. How one dresses reflects, fairy or unfairly, on their character as a person. Having said that, people shouldn’t be judged by how they dress. But the broader issue is there are many, many men who lust after females dressed “provocatively”—that’s their (the men’s) responsibility. But there’s also responsibility on the part of girls to not invite that. (And parents to explain to their kids the various choices they have and the consequences of those choices.) Yes, I feel that way. Dressing like that is an invitation. Is that an uneducated or sexist viewpoint? No. Obviously that invitation should never be taken. At the same time, I think most women don’t even remotely begin to understand how the male brain works when it comes to sex. I’m not making any excuses—For people who are concerned about these issues, it takes effort on both sides…”

I suppose that maybe, having had a year to cool off, I am less prone to ripping my hair out whenever I revisit this conversation. And yet, there are still pieces of it I find unacceptable. “Dressing like that is an invitation. Is that an uneducated or sexist viewpoint? No.” YES. Yes it is. If I see a man wearing crocs and kakhi pants, is that an invitation for me to seize the nearest boulder and throw it at his face to punish him for his poor fashion sense? Is sexual harassment a suitable RSVP to the “invitation” of the skirt I wear on New Year’s Eve, or the pair of heels I wear to my company Holiday party?

Obviously, my cousin doesn’t do his research. Otherwise he’d know that most rape victims were dressed in baggy jeans and oversized sweatshirts when they were attacked, such clothing that could hardly be described as “flashy” or “asking for it.” Rape is a despicable action, and it is often a senseless act carried out as a power play. As I woman I find it extraordinarily difficult to believe that any woman would ever ask for her body, mind, and safety to be violated like that. Instead, I guess the asking is implied by being a part of the “inferior sex.”

Just because I choose to wear dresses and like to look nice does not mean I am accepting responsibility for the way someone else chooses to behave because they are not mature enough to realize I am also a human being and deserve the same kind of respect as every other person on the planet.

Bad fashion choices, short skirts, a babushka, it doesn’t matter to me. The point is freedom of expression. Don’t take mine away, I’ll let you leave with crocs untarnished.

Oh, and my cousin? I replied, a bit heavier handed, hopped up on anger and self-righteousness (I was wearing a skirt above the knee that day), but still persuasive and professionally. The thread stayed up on Facebook just long enough for him to read my response, and then suddenly, the entire conversation was gone. My aunt later sent me a message congratulating me on putting him in his place. Funny how that works.

And when we all got together for Thanksgiving later that year, he didn’t say a thing about my skirt.