Thursday, September 23, 2010

To victim blame or not to victim blame: It's not really a question...

A friend recently sent me a link to a facebook group page for NSCS, a national honors society for college students. On this page they had posted a link to a Huffington Post Article about high rape statistics, particularly in college, and violence in relationships starting at a young age. Then it asked students in the society to provide their thoughts on the situation. After reading through these comments, I was upset for a number of reasons. (Here is a link to the page, and the rape article comments are about halfway down the page:

Fortunately there was only one very ignorant victim-blaming comment along the lines of "if girls weren't so boy crazy and interested in drinking and slutting around then this wouldn't happen... (insert typical avoid the actual problem of rape bullshit)." I feel disgusted that even one person would comment in this way and do feel the need to take a moment to point out as usual that RAPE VICTIMS ARE VICTIMS. They are not ever responsible for the rape. Were it not for rapists, women could drink and engage in consensual sex and not have to worry about being violated by having another person force them into sex. That combined with the fact that most rapes occur by someone the victim knows would make any sensible person realize that rapists are the only ones to blame. That being said, I was relieved that there was only one such comment.

I was, however, concerned by the fact that the vast majority of people who commented were focused solely on how women should go about preventing rape rather than responding about the atrocity that is rape. This brings up an issue that I always take in discussions about rape. I do not think that there is anything wrong with women encouraging each other to take self defense classes and go out in groups. Obviously, preventive measures should be taken, and that's sadly just the way it is. However, there is too much focus on it. We all know about the dangers of rape and we all know what we should do to keep it from happening. When we spend so much time focusing on preventing rape, it invalidates the horror of rape because it makes women think that they should have done something to stop it. In reality, it doesn't matter how much we do to prevent it, if there's a person that is willing to rape, not only is it out of our control, but it should be completely out of the realm of blame for the victim.

Instead of asking 'what could I do to keep this from happening to me' which is really only a veiled cover for the question 'what should that person have done to prevent it from happening to her?' we should be asking 'What the hell gives rapists the right to violate victims?' or 'How do we make sure that more rapists are being punished for their actions so that we can send a message that we will no longer accept rape as a necessary part of society?' or 'How do we make sure that the children we raise know how unacceptable, atrocious, and disgusting any person that would rape and how very wrong and evil the action is?' If we start asking those kinds of questions then maybe we might actually be able to prevent rape.

Furthermore, a great concern to my friend and me was the fact that three different people commented suggesting that women in college take online classes as a preventive measure to rape. I don't even know where to begin dissecting how sad that is. These people are honestly suggesting that women stop taking face to face courses, not because it's more convenient to their lifestyle, but because that is the only way we can think to avoid being raped. Next, people are going to be suggesting that women make sure they're home by sundown, or better yet, that women don't leave their homes at all. They can work from home, and hire people to go out and buy their groceries. You know what, better yet, why don't we stop having babies until we can make sure that women are not being born at all, then no women will be raped.

Okay, so maybe this is an extreme example, but the point is, it is just so sad that in our society we find it more acceptable to encourage women to inconvenience themselves to stay away from rape victims than to discourage potential rapists (meaning all society members) from inconveniencing themselves by not raping. If we really want to end rape, we need to fight it at its source. We need to start pressuring the government to hold rapists accountable and make damn sure they end up where they belong--rotting in a jail cell for the rest of their lives. We need to teach not only young women but also young men about rape, and focus more on educating them about how horrible it is than how to "make sure it doesn't happen to you." We need to stop making it okay, and we need to stop putting the responsibility of rape on the victims.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Privilege, Pregnancy, and the Palins

Anyone that has ever watched the MTV show Teen Mom has probably had the misfortune of watching the commercial for the Candie's Foundation featuring Bristol Palin. And anyone who hasn't had the misfortune can watch the commercial on youtube at this link:

The gist of the commercial: Bristol Palin holding her baby in her nice home, looking pretty and together. She looks into the camera and asks "What if I didn't come from a famous family? What if I didn't have all their support? What if I couldn't finish my education? What if I didn't have all these opportunities? Believe me, it wouldn't be pretty." As she asks each question, she gets more and more unkempt until finally, at the end of the commercial, she is wearing a baggy white t-shirt and jeans with a messy pony tail standing in a shabby looking home with her baby walking around on the floor. This scene creates a great impact for her final word of advice: "Pause before you play."

The message that I get from this commercial is that teen pregnancy is only okay if you come from a famous family that can support you with their wealth. Otherwise, you're going to be a terrible parent.

Now I'm not saying that teen pregnancy would not often be easier if you were wealthier and simply didn't have to worry about money, but I am saying that it's not always the case. I know several teen moms that are not wealthy, but are wonderful parents (contrary to the subtle message from this commercial that rich people hold their babies and poor people let them crawl around on the floor). Some of them had their family's support, and some of them didn't. Wealth and fame do not create parenting skills. A rich teen mom is just as likely to be a terrible mom as a poor one.

This just shows how clueless the Palin family is. This commercial reeks of privilege. Bristol Palin is so privileged that she probably never even considered how this commercial could be offensive. She has probably never even thought about the fact that wealth doesn't correspond with success, with happiness, or with being a good family. To Bristol Palin, love and support apparently involve shelling out a bunch of money so she can still go to school. But love and support come in different forms, and some people have to work to be able to provide their education.

Had I gotten pregnant at seventeen, things would have been tough. I was working as a hostess and living with my mom who was working two jobs. It would have been difficult for me to finish school. But I believe that things would have been okay. My parents, though unable to throw a bunch of money in my direction, would still have been there and supported me as best they could. I would have found a way to keep working and putting myself through college. And I am fully confident that had I gotten pregnant at seventeen I would have been every bit as good of a mom as Bristol Palin is. Maybe even better because I wouldn't be using my baby to tell other people that they would suck at parenting.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Killing Chivalry

When my current boyfriend and I first started dating, I remember very distinctly the first time he tried to pull out a chair for me. I just assumed he was pulling that chair out for himself, and so I walked to the other side of the table and sat down. He looked at me, a little surprised and said, "Oh, I was pulling this out for you..." I looked at him, a little surprised myself and said, "Oh, sorry, I didn't even realize that you might do that. Thanks, but I don't need you to pull out a chair for me." It was a fairly awkward moment, and one that I probably brought on myself by breaking my cardinal rule with him (always mention the f-word, feminism, on your first date) but it's a moment that I will never forget. Even though a year has passed, and I am still dating that boy, I am not sure he really understands why I don't want him to pull out chairs for me. He was raised to be a "gentleman." The only problem with that is then I would have to be a "lady."

Now I'm not one to scowl and grumble at a man when he opens a door for me, but honestly, I would only view that gesture as polite were it not based on my gender. Chivalry is not something I desire, because it promotes sexism. As a woman who desires equality, I have to acknowledge that means kissing chivalry goodbye. And I for one am happy to do it.

We cannot expect to be viewed as equals economically, politically, and socially, only to expect doors opened for us and chairs pulled out for us. We're setting up our own double standard that keeps us unequal. It comes down to this: we need to choose between being viewed as princesses and being viewed as people. I know it can feel nice to be treated like a princess because it makes you feel special, it makes you feel important. But honestly, is that as fulfilling as being viewed as a person? Maybe you get a brief satisfaction from being placed on a pedestal. The problem with being put on a pedestal is you can't come down. You can't expect special treatment but then want a man to view you as his equal.

There is a difference between admiration and respect. I would much rather my boyfriend respect me than admire me. I would much rather have my views acknowledged as equal opinion than to have every date paid for. When you are placing expectations on a man because he is a man, you are acknowledging that the two of you have different roles in a relationship. That's not to say that we need to force equality, counting out every dime that a man spends and making sure we match it. Honestly, it's about give and take. I just think it's a better plan to either switch off or just have whoever has more money pay than to expect a man to always pick up the check.

When I hear a woman complain that a man didn't open the door, or that a man didn't offer to pay for the date, I have to wonder how these women expect equality in all spheres of life if they don't even want equality in dating. We have to kill chivalry if we want equality to stay alive.

Here are some brief ways to kill chivalry:

1. Open a door for a man. I often do this and I get odd looks, but most of them will at least mutter a thank you and walk through the door. This establishes that as a woman I am fully capable of being as polite as a man is, and that I do not need special treatment.
2. Offer to pay for dates, or split the cost. I think splitting can get sort of tricky and it's easier to just switch off. Honestly, my boyfriend pays for most dates, but I pay for some and we don't go out very often, because we're both poor college students. When I have money I always try to offer, and I always pay if I was the one who suggested the date. I don't want him thinking he needs to provide for me.
3. Pull out a chair for a man. I did this once, it didn't go over very well. But I got a nice laugh out of it and I will fondly remember the look on that boy's face for the rest of my life.

So go out and break up some gender roles. Punch stereotypes in the face. We are not damsels in distress and we don't need special treatment. If our actions command equal treatment, then chivalry will slowly give way to something so much better and more fulfilling: true respect.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Ruined Woman

Have you ever heard the story of the "ruined man?" You know, the man who had sex before marriage and then had nothing to offer his wife on their wedding night? Yeah...I haven't heard that story either. Because it isn't being told. Why then is the story of the "ruined woman" being shoved down young women's throats? Why are they being told that if they have sex they will have nothing left? Especially when that is simply not true at all. It is a myth being told by society in order to maintain the sexual double standard in our society. I recently read The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti, which covers this topic in great detail. Valenti suggests that the purity myth in our society is a major problem that is harmful to women.

The idea of virginity in our society is both illogical and dangerous for three major reasons in my mind. First, it perpetuates a very degrading double standard of sexuality among men and women. Second, it is perpetuated by abstinence only education groups that promote misinforming our youth. Third, virginity in it of itself is an idea which has no true meaning.

There is a horrible double standard on virginity among the genders. Men who are not virgins are not perceived as anything negative. Women, however, are either virgins or whores. The "purity myth" (Valenti's term, coined to describe the theory that women must maintain virginity or cannot be pure) harms women by making them believe that there is no place for responsible sexual expression in women, and that it is their job to keep sexual activity out of a relationship. I for one am fed up with the old girls-keep-your-legs-crossed-but-boys-will-be-boys idea. Women are every bit as sexual as men, and both are responsible for the choice to have sex or to abstain. And should women choose to engage in responsible, reasonable sexual expression, they should not have to suffer unfair and outdated stereotypes about their lifestyle. A woman is not "ruined" if she has sex. What about rape victims? The purity myth damages victims of forced sex. After all, do they have nothing to offer, even though they never had the choice about giving it away? And the "ruined woman" bit is cruel to women in general. That idea leads to the thought that a woman's only purpose on this earth is to give her virginity to her husband. Who cares if she has a wonderful, sparkling personality? If she is the most loyal woman on earth? If she would make the most perfect partner and mother? If she has had sex, all of that is invalid, because she clearly has nothing left to offer, according to the purity myth. It doesn't matter if she's had sex with one person or one hundred people, if she is not a virgin, she is somehow considered impure.

Abstinence-only education thrives off of this purity myth. Valenti tracked down several examples of the way they demonstrate the idea of sex making a girl impure. Among these were "Miss Tape," a piece of tape stuck on the arm of a boy, then ripped off (the break-up), leaving Miss Tape dirty and unable to stick to anything. So not only does sex make you dirty, but it also leave you unable to form another bond with a person. If you're a woman, of course; Mr. Tape doesn't exist. I was the unfortunate victim of an abstinence-only education group myself. The way they demonstrated it was showing a gift box with chocolate in it. They unwrapped the box and had all the boys stick their finger in and mash the chocolate. By the time it was around the room, that chocolate wasn't very appealing. Nobody would ever want that chocolate. So girls, better to not let the boys stick their fingers in your chocolate. You want your husband to be able to enjoy an untainted gift. It's sad that young women are being compared to tape and chocolate, and that they are being told that they are worthless if they choose to have sex. But that's not all that abstinence-only education groups do. They not only lie about something you can't prove--purity--but they also lie about facts. Though they are technically required to tell the truth, there is no system of checking on this, and Valenti found countless instances of such groups flat out lying about contraception. Some even told girls that birth control pills will kill them. I, personally, remember distinctly being told that condoms were only seventy percent effective against pregnancy (in actuality, they are 97 percent) and were more or less ineffective against STD's, particularly HIV (completely untrue). My school didn't even mention birth control pills or alternatives.

So abstinence only education is basically trying to frighten teenagers into not having sex with lies. But it doesn't work. Studies have shown that teenagers are no less likely to have sex (Though they state otherwise. And of course we should believe them, seeing how responsible they are with statistics about birth control). But of course, they are less likely to use protection. Why would you bother if you were taught that it doesn't work? I don't see why abstinence-only education is even realistically accepted at all. When the options are teach something about a topic or teach everything about a topic, why would you not want your children to learn more? Especially when it could protect them from STDs or unwanted pregnancy. But unfortunately, abstinence only education is thriving. And if it is going to thrive, fine, but we should at least implement a system to insure that our youth are not being lied to.

Lastly, the definition of virginity. What is it? There isn't one. Valenti struggled hard to find a medical professional who could provide her a real definition. She read articles, asked people....nothing. Because it means something different to everyone. The first time I went to the gynecologist, she asked me if I was sexually active. "No." I said. "You're a virgin?" She asked. "Um...yes..." I said. "Oh, like a full virgin?," She asked. "...what?" I answered. "Like a complete virgin?" Needless to say, that conversation went on for about ten minutes, because she wouldn't even tell me what she was asking. When does a person cease to be a virgin? Hymen? Well, obviously, the hymen is unrealistic as a basis, since it often gets stretched or even broken by itself over time and sometimes has to be surgically broken. Penetration? Penetration leaves out homosexuals, not to mention people who have engaged in oral sex. Any sexual activity? What does that even mean? Nobody can really pinpoint it. It's funny that we put so much emphasis on something which cannot even be defined.

In conclusion, the purity myth is extremely harmful to women for a number of reasons. And at the end of the day, purity doesn't really exist. Virginity doesn't really exist. And they are certainly not the only thing a woman is good for. Women and men are both sexual and should be allowed to make realistic, sexual choices. And everyone should read The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Female Chauvinist Pigs

In Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy attempts to dissect the reasoning behind the "raunch culture" that has swept our nation. Why do women take pole dancing classes, go to strip clubs, get bikini waxes, and walk around in skimpy clothing? Though I personally do not think those actions are harmful to women, I do agree that the reasoning behind such actions comes from insecurity more often than empowerment. According to Levy, that insecurity stems from a desire to be perceived as "like a man" instead of "like a woman." Modern women want to be free sexually, which is wonderful. However, many end up landing themselves in some pretty degrading acts, such as Girls Gone Wild, along the way, all under a guise of sexual empowerment. These women want to be able to do whatever they want just "like a man."

This is a problem for two major reasons. First, they are not behaving like men. Men are not flashing their naked bodies on camera, or drastically altering their bodies by getting implants, or taking classes on how to be a male stripper. They do not have to do those things to be perceived as sexy. Yet women somehow feel the need to do so. It is a double standard that women are imposing on themselves: they want to be sexy for men and they want to be like men. Where does that leave them? With their bare breasts all over television and still feeling unfulfilled because they haven't acheived the sense of freedom they desired.

The second reason why this is a problem is a point that I had not considered before reading Female Chauvanist Pigs. In striving to be "like a man," women are admitting that there is something wrong with being "like a woman." And it is there that she coins the phrase "female chauvanist pig." It describes women who lead Playboy and Girls Gone Wild, who admit that though they may contribute to degradation of women, they are living in a man's world and therefore must behave like a man to win. It describes women who flock to strip clubs with their male friends in order to be viewed as one of the guys. It describes women who identify themselves as "not like other women" to give themselves a greater feeling of empowerment. These women feel that if they play by men's rules and they act like men, they will come out on top. But what they don't realize is that by setting masculinity as the goal, they are contributing to women being viewed as inferior by nature. As Levy states, "it can be fun to feel exceptional, to be the loophole woman, to have a whole power thing, to be an honorary man. But if you are the exception that proves the rule, and the rule is that women are inferior, you haven't made any progress."

Levy's book made me realize that in a way, I have been a female chauvinist pig in my past. Before I openly admitted to myself and others that I was a feminist, I always wanted to be one of the guys. I have been told that I am a textbook case of penis envy. And it's true. Though I don't actually want to be a man, I have always been very jealous of men. If I was like a man, I would never be told that I should submit to another person's will. I would never be told that when I got married my husband would be my provider. I would never be viewed as timid, or gentle, and therefore not taken seriously. In my mind, men have the upper hand, so why would I not want to be like a man? But what I should have been focusing on then, what I do focus on now, is not trying to prove that I am more masculine than other women, but instead trying to prove that gender does not determine one's behavior. Instead of wanting to be like a man, I should be wanting to eliminate the view that being like a man is superior.

Some women think that they will only achieve equality by behaving like a man. But instead we should be moving towards everyone behaving like people. That is when we will achieve true equality.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Empowerment and Objectification

I recently finished Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs. I found it interesting, but I also came to the conclusion that I am torn on several issues she discussed. Among Levy’s targeted “Raunch Culture,” that she highlights are pornography, Girls Gone Wild, bikini waxes, skimpy clothing, and thongs. She criticizes society for taking good feminist ideals of the past and running off into an oversexualized culture that lives under the guise of “empowered women” who are sexually liberated.

First I will address the topic I agree with…that the Girls Gone Wild craze is much less empowerment of women and much more objectification of them. Sexual freedom is wonderful, and I do not believe that women should be ashamed of their bodies or their sexuality. However, the line is crossed somewhere when women fail to respect themselves and instead drunkenly flash cameras in order to achieve some false sense of being sexy. Those girls are not empowering themselves to be equal to men. Men are not flashing cameras in a drunken college spring break trip. Instead they are sitting back and ordering videos of silly barely-legal-girls doing so. And I certainly can see how it would be a slap in the face to women who marched for equality in the 60’s to see that what they fought for ended up being for girls to lose control of their inhibitions and show off their bodies purely for the pleasure of men.

Pornography, however, is a little more complicated of an issue in my mind. I don’t think the idea of pornography is anything wrong. Porn is not women displaying their bodies for a man to get off on, it’s an art form designed to assist or provide arousal, for men and women. That in it of itself is not a bad thing. Of course, the industry has taken a very dirty turn, and the women who are offering their bodies are underpaid and subjected to rape and other forms of violence. And a great deal of porn which promotes violence towards women in the bedroom as well as a strict pattern of male dominance/female submission does exist. But to me, the pornography industry is salvageable. It is an issue which needs to be addressed. But I think women would get a lot farther in that issue if they focus on promoting women-friendly porn rather than insinuating that the entire industry is guilty of objectifying women.

Now on to the other topics, which are even less black and white. Levy writes with a negative connotation about bikini waxes, breast implants, thongs, pole dancing, and many other issues regarding sexuality. Her point is valid in ways but I think a bit extremist as well. Women do these things to seem sexier. Is there anything wrong with wanting to be sexy? Yes and no. No, in that wanting to arouse your partner is normal and very justified. But yes, in that we must acknowledge that the association between these events and the idea of “sexy” is a direct result of patriarchy. Why would women want breast implants? Certainly not just because it seems fun. Instead, it is because we have somehow come to view big breasts as desirable and sexual, and anything else as lacking in those areas. And, as Levy also points out, there is a danger in somehow insinuating that these topics are a necessary part of being sexy. We have begun to somehow link “sexy” and “slutty.”

This is where Levy and I differ, however. She seems to think that we need to acknowledge that sluttiness is not providing us with true sexuality, and that it makes women feel as though they have to measure up to certain ideals of “raunch culture” in order to maintain sexuality. I, on the other hand, think that “slutty” is an unfair idea and needs to be done away with, along with “raunch” and everything associated with it. We don’t slap that label on men, so why should we slap it on women? Furthermore, Levy writes that our culture is often more about perceived sluttiness than actual sexual experience. That makes it more necessary to eliminate this stigma about sexualized women. If we do away with this idea of the slut then perhaps women won’t feel the need to measure up to it in order to be sexy. This would require men to make up their minds, however. They want to view strippers and promiscuous girls as sexy and physically attractive, but their sexual experiences make them undesirable. I have heard many men indicate that women who seem “easy” in a bar would be sexually unsatisfying. They want women who are somewhere in between prude and slut…women who can hold their own sexually but have not had so many sexual partners that they are considered “whores.” And since there is no line for where that idea becomes defined, it seems illogical to me to further the degrading images of “slut” and “whore.” I truly believe that if we could eliminate these stereotypes we would be in a much better place to bring sexy back to a place of choice. And that’s what it should be about….the choice of how to display your desires and how to arouse your partner. Not conforming to a cultural ideal of “sexy” that involves flashing your breasts on television and wearing practically nothing.

If it were up to me, women would all respect their bodies. Girls Gone Wild would not exist. Females in the pornography industry would ban together and, with the help of women everywhere, demand respect and proper treatment. Women would want to convey sexuality to those they directly wanted to arouse rather than to an audience of people they have no sexual connection with. Women would wax what they want to wax and wear what they want to wear, with no cultural pressure placed on their sexuality. But it isn’t up to me. Do I think girls flashing their breasts on Girls Gone Wild are empowered? Absolutely not. Do I think women with Brazilian waxes or who take pole dancing classes are sexually liberated? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on their reasoning behind why they are choosing to do so. But it isn’t my place to tell them that they are acting “slutty.” It isn’t anyone’s place. I do wish everyone would acknowledge their own reasoning and take control of their own sexuality. And I certainly agree with Levy that women need to understand that striving to please men and being sexually liberated are two very, very different things.

Next week I will delve deeper into Female Chauvinist Pigs by looking at a topic that I myself am partially guilty of….becoming a Female Chauvinist Pig.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sugar and Spice

From the time we are very little, we are gender stereotyped. Little girls are made of “sugar and spice and everything nice,” and little boys are made of “snakes, snails, and puppy dog tails.” And the lines of masculinity and femininity never fade away. Instead, they become more and more strict, and more and more dangerous. By the time we become teenagers, the lines are very particular. Men are strong, confident, sexual, and competitive. Women are nurturing, easygoing, innocent and submissive.

This double standard is harmful to both men and women everywhere, especially our youth. The idea that men and women are so intrinsically different is ridiculous enough in it of itself. Behavior exists on an individual basis, regardless of whether a person is a man or a woman. And the masculinity/femininity theory does no good to anyone, and instead only functions as making anyone that does not fall on the correct side of that line feel abnormal and insecure. Rather than trying to designate behaviors as “masculine” and “feminine,” we should be trying harder to identify behaviors as “human.”

Furthermore, it sets up a dangerous precedent, particularly in the area of sexuality. The behavior patterns attributed to manliness and womanliness create an idea that men are created to pursue women sexually. With women, however, the role is more unclear. They are created to be submissive, and yet they are created to be innocent. This establishes that they are supposed to resist men’s sexual overtures, though they are eventually meant to submit to a man. That is a bit of a paradox, especially for women who happen to have their own sexual urges. However, the masculinity/femininity line doesn’t take women’s sexual urges into account. That would disrupt the idea of girls as gatekeepers of sexual innocence. These theories are harmful and illogical. If we admitted that men and women do not have a particular set of behaviors destined based on their gender, then we could overcome harmful sexual stereotypes.

The worst part of the masculinity/femininity line, however, is that the ideas of masculinity and femininity are less about men behaving like men and women behaving like women and more about men not behaving like women. It is common for women to cross the line. In fact, women are often encouraged to behave like “one of the guys.” Men, however, are greatly discouraged from crossing the line. The worst insults for a man are often derivatives of terms associated with the opposite sex (i.e. pussy) and men often fear being labeled as such. Not only does this provide potential harm for men who might not identify with “masculine” qualities, but it shows that our society undervalues women and views them as weak and inferior.

All people should be able to live as they choose, without being pressured into exhibiting particular behavior patterns because of their gender. And neither sex should be seen as superior or inferior. We need to eliminate the strict ideas of “masculinity” and “femininity.” They have no place in progressed society, and serve only to harm individuals.