On Rima Fakih, Sexism, and the Pageant Industry

June 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

by ELENA

There’s not a whole lot going on in Michigan. The weather is pretty terrible, the politicians seem hell-bent on turning the state into one big corporation, and the economy was pretty much decimated by the Recession. The only things that I’m truly proud of in the state are the numerous awesome microbreweries, the menu at Marie Catrib’s, Calder’s Le Grand Vitesse, and Rima Fakih.

Rima Fakih was the first Muslim woman to be crowned Miss USA, and her reign has not been smooth sailing. Some questioned Fakih’s religion and ethnicity, many were “scandalized” by photos taken at a pole-dancing class in 2007 (three years before she was crowned Miss USA), and pagaent officials urged her to meet with former Miss USA Tara Conner after Fakih was caught doing the ever-so-scandalous activity of going to parties, and quelle horreur, returning to her residence at 4 AM.

Fakih has been very professional about her stint as Miss USA, and some of the issues she has encountered. Her experience only reflects the sexism and double-standards society adn the media place on women–especially women in the public eye.

Part of Fakih’s duties include appearing at public events and parties, and modeling for a variety of companies and publications (every Miss USA winner wins a contract with Trump Model Management). The Miss USA Pageant includes a required swimsuit competition, and contestants are expected to conform to a specific “look”: toned yet possessing conventionally acceptable curves, long hair, straight white teeth, and a pretty face with plenty of makeup. The Miss USA organization clearly wants their contestants to be “sexy”, but wants to impose their view of what is “sexy” on contestants and winners, rather than allow these women to define sexy on their own terms.

Hence, taking a pole-dancing class, while wearing normal workout clothes is unacceptable. The Miss USA organization is perpetuating misogynistic views on sexuality and work: Being paid to pose in Playboy (as several Miss USA winners have done during their reign), or appear in swimsuit ads is acceptable. Dong any physical activity that even remotely resembles sex work, such as poledancing, in considered trashy, inappropriate, and unacceptable. Which is a shame, because pole dancing should not be automatically associated with sex (it is a great workout, and provides great strength and flexibility training).Fakih also appeared on a reality television show about competitive wrestling, a gig which Fakih discussed the amount of physical training that goes into being a wrestler. Fakih was also criticized for taking a job that promoted herself and improved her physical fitness, because as we all know, all wrestlers are stupid/trashy/slutty/etc. Fakih has been punished because she has dared to own her career, her social life, and her sexuality, rather than simply be a puppet for the Miss USA Pageant. And because she has done that, people have chosen to insult her by doing some good old fashioned slut-shaming.

Then again, in our culture, anything a woman does is immediately associated with sex. If a woman eats an ice cream cone, she clearly wants sex. If a woman wears a skirt while bicycling, she clearly wants sex, and is a dangerous distraction to motorists. If a woman accepts an offer to appear on a show about wrestling, she wants sex. If a woman goes to a party, and stays out all night, she totally just wants to get wasted and have sex, and is a bad role model because all she ever wants is sex.

Then again, how much can you expect from a pageant organization run by a man who has called Gail Collins a “dog face”, and his been criticized for his misogynistic behavior by other Miss USA contestants. When even Carrie Prejean calls you out on your sexism, perhaps it’s time to take a long, hard look in the mirror.

 

Is This Real Life?

March 14, 2011 § 6 Comments

by ELENA

It says something (not particularly good) about our culture when a cosmetic company uses its lack of Photoshop as a way to market its foundation:

This campaign is successful: I now want to try their foundation — especially as an actor who spends quite a bit of her time in front of high-definition cameras.

Wearing makeup on a daily basis is pretty much a fact of life for me. And I’m the most appreciative of companies who can sell me a quality product without massive amounts of retouching. I also like how this model isn’t doing SexyFace, she’s taking a photo of herself. She’s doing something that I do whenever I’m dressed up for a special event or party.

So, as a message to other cosmetic companies: More of this, and less crazy retouching. Please.

(Via Beauty High.)

Profiles In Terrible Sex Education, Part 2: Well, Aren’t You Just a Pretty, Pretty Princess

December 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

by ELENA

This is Part 2 in a series of posts about the fail-tastic content on the website of a Grand Rapids MI based abstinence only program called Willing to Wait. You can find Part 1 here.

Tour the toy section of any store, and you’ll be smacked in the face by the good ‘ol gender binary. “Boy” toys include trucks, weapons, and action figures from films such as Star Wars, G.I. Joe, and Transformers. “Boy” toys, and the “Boy” section of Toys are decorated with the color blue, and many toys are blue, red, silver, and black. “Girl” toys are almost universally pink, primarily consist of dolls, doll accessories, and while some barbies adn bratz dolls are rock stars, many dolls personify one of the most aggravating tropes of all time: the Princess. Even toys such as toy tool kits, or those little electronic cars that my parents never let me have are somehow obligated to be as pink and princess-tastic as possible.

When I was 3 years old, and asked my parents for my first toy, a Tonka dump truck. They bought me one. My grandmother was evidently freaked out by my enthusiasm for digging up chunks of the driveway and dumping them on the lawn, not because I was causing landscapig related havoc, but because me playing with a truck would make me a “poorly adjusted” adult. She insisted on buying me a doll. I think I took the doll for rides on the Tonka Truck. I turned out just fine, thank you.

This weird obsession with turning girls into princesses speaks to how our society frequently undervalues girls. Politically speaking, a princess has very little political power. The most dangerous period in Elizabeth I’s life was when she was Princess Elizabeth: She was treated with a great deal of suspicion by the court, and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Diana Spencer was considered a good match for Prince Charles strictly on the fact that a. she was a virgin, and b. she came from an aristocratic family. Whether or not Diana and Charles were a good match was not part of the equation. Kate Middleton, Prince William’s fiancee has a degree in Art History, has had jobs as an accessories designer and retail buyer, aspires to be a professional photographer, but the main thing that British and American news media focus on is OMG SHES MARRYING PRINCE WILLIAM! WHAT’S HER WORKOUT LIKE?

Okay, so real-life princesses face a lot of challenges, what’s the point?

One of the posts on the Willing To Wait website is “Ladies: Release your ‘Inner Princess’“. The author vaguely compares being abstinent until marriage to being a princess, who is “rescued’ by her prince. The photo accompanying this piece says more about the gender binary (girls are princess, who wear a lot of pink. They must be rescued by boys, who are princes) than I could possibly type:

The text isn’t all that better:

I wonder if most little girls pretend they are princesses at some point in their childhood. Something inside us longs to be special and beautiful. We long for an honorable champion to fight for us.

Actually, I didn’t pretend that I was a princess much. Besides dumping various sundry items with my Tonka Truck, I pretended that I was a Queen (and would bonk classmates on the head with my “scepter”, much to the consternation of the recess lady), that I was a leader of a roving band of orphans who had to scrounge from the city (aka refrigerator) to survive, that I was an explorer who discovered a magical new world, that I was Margaret Bourke-White, and would go around taking pictures of everything. I also didn’t really need some sort of prince figure to “save” me, though fellow queens/orphans/explorers/photographers were always welcome. I don’t know if I was born with some sort of “princess immunity”, or if my parent’s unwillingness to buy me lots of pink crap that I didn’t really want in the first place had an effect on my creative playacting as a child.

Is this just child’s play or does this resonate in our hearts as being more than that? Maybe we played like that because in our deepest emotions we want someone to see that we are worth fighting for.This deep-seated emotion does not go away as we grow up. We still want to know that we are of great value and are cherished. This is not to say that wanting to be treated like a princess is to be needy or helpless or a victim. No! Princesses are strong, and courageous too. We fight dragons, too, after all. I just think it means, for many of us, that we just don’t want to have these adventures of life alone…we would rather have a prince for a soul mate.

My child’s play was focused on having fun, and exploring my habitat. Not wondering why no prince was going to rescue me. Because, I could find very creative ways of rescuing my self. And while I do have my moments where I can get self-critical, I don’t need someone else to tell me that I am “of great value/cherished”. This piece isn’t just about abstinence, it was about reinforcing the gender binary, and reinforcing the belief that women need men to feel complete/protect their princess-like loveliness. This piece is implying that if we “kiss frogs” (ie, have sex with men), we will no longer be pretty, pretty princesses, and no “prince” will want to take care of us.

Please pardon me while I vomit in a pretty pink Dixie Cup.

When I spent a summer volunteering at a weeklong musical theatre camp hosted by a Baptist church, I had to endure some truly nauseating “morning devotionals” about different women in the bible. The main theme was that the young girls hearing the devotional should be “Princesses For Christ” The most ironic lesson was the one about Ruth, and how she married Boaz because she was such a good clean vessel for God.

Here’s the thing:

In Ruth 3:4, Naomi tells Ruth to  uncover Boaz’s feet. “Feet” was a slang term for a man’s genitalia. So Ruth’s uncovering of Boaz’s feet, and her telling Boaz to “spread your cloak over me” is not nearly as innocuous as may interpret it. Ruth marries Boaz, and has a son, Obed. The main idea behind Ruth is that God loves and values strangers, and that Ruth’s devotion to her family is rewarded with a happy marriage and son*

I don’t want to be a princess. I want to be able to slay dragons on my own, because the last thing I want is wind up becoming dragon food because my prince didn’t save me in time. While relationships are enjoyable, having a boyfirend/finacee/husband isn’t something that will miraculously make me feel loved, valued, or compelte in life. And I have the sneaking suspicion that I’m not the only young woman with little interest in the Princess Myth.

And finally, why doesn’t Willing to Wait have a post titled “Gentlemen: Release Your Inner Prince”. Evidently the organization does not believe in being an equal-opportunity oppressor.

*I’m not pulling this out of my ass, and the connotation behind “feet” comes form the book Don’t Know Much About The Bible, which is an excellent and informative read.

ATTENTION LADIES: Your merit doesn’t matter

November 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

by MIRANDA

Just, you know, FYI.

Deborah L. Rhode’s research shows that conventionally attractive people receive special treatment and privileges throughout all spheres of life:

Less attractive children receive less attention from parents and teachers. In higher education, attractive students are perceived by their teachers to be more intelligent, and good-looking faculty get better student reviews. At work, unattractive people make lower salaries. In politics, good-looking candidates get more votes. Résumés and essays get more favorable evaluations when reviewers believe attractive people wrote them.

If attractive people receive benefits, then unattractive people are necessarily punished. And — surprise! — women are disproportionately affected by this bias. The systematic practice of “holding only women to sexualized standards diverts attention from competence and perpetuates [regresssive] gender roles.”

But, pretty ladies, don’t fear: You, too, can be judged and punished according to your appearance!

In fact, women also can pay a penalty for being too attractive. “Although less common, it tends to happen in formerly male professions, high-status jobs in which too sexy or too attractive an appearance is a negative characteristic,” Rhode says. “It’s just assumed that those women aren’t too bright.”

Where beauty hurts women, size hurts too. George Washington University researchers found that “obese women lose out on $4,879 per year because of their size, almost twice what it costs men” — and this is caused almost entirely by discrimination. Rhodes addresses this too, citing Hillary Clinton and Elena Kagan as cases where a woman’s size was picked on in lieu of substantial conversations about her professional qualifications. (And let’s be honest, the idea that someone’s merit is in any way related to her physical appearance is really troubling.) “I think that’s a form of punishing pushy women…It’s an easy way to take down someone who is delivering a message you find unwelcome or threatening.”

Another researcher, Deborah Gruenfeld, demonstrates that no matter a woman’s body type, her body language has an immense effect on the way she is perceived in the workplace. She says, “When it comes to leadership, there are very few differences in what men and women actually do and how they behave. But there are major differences in perception.”

And as with beauty, the question of body language puts women in a tricky double bind:

When women behave in dominant ways, they are seen as unlikeable because they violate norms of female niceness. Alternatively, women displaying feminine traits are judged as less competent and capable.

Women aren’t allowed to exhibit femininity, but we also can’t act “like men.” So just how, really, are we supposed to be?

A Feminist Haircut

October 9, 2010 § 2 Comments

by SARAH

For a pretty good portion of my life, I had strawberry-blond,  can’t-get-it-in-a-bottle hair that went almost all the way down to my hips. It was thick and long, and I would get constantly complimented on its length and color. As a chubby, socially awkward, relatively insecure preteen, it was one part of myself that I was the most proud of.

Two years ago I cut it off up to my jaw. A week ago I dyed it dark brown. After both drastic changes, I felt different. Different in a really, really good way. Somehow renewed, as if I had taken a step in reclaiming and reshaping my identity.

One pervasive gender stereotype that’s used to differentiate girls from boys is hair length. Long hair is feminine, short hair is masculine. The butch lesbian stereotype includes a short, choppy haircut, while in this day and age, long, shiny, straight hair is equated with traditional feminine beauty.  Talking about hair as a way of self identification and external expression may seem slightly superficial, but considering the strongly gendered implications it has, hair can matter if one chooses to make it matter.

I like to think that my short hair distances me slightly from traditional femininity, while helping me create my own femininity. For me personally, the choices I’ve made with my hair – to cut it short, to get rid of its oft-complimented color, to shape it so it suits me more – have all been a part of constructing my own queer, femme identity. Being 18, I’m naturally in a different place than I was two years ago when I chopped off my locks, but I think the desire to make that drastic change was fueled by the same motives that caused me to dye it. Although two years ago I may not have been able to tell you what a “queer femme identity” was (I probably just barely could now), I think I had some recognition of gender’s fluidity, about both the power it can give you and the power it can take away from you. As someone who is femme, yet strives not to let the boundaries and limits of traditional gender roles define me, I found myself naturally drifting towards a physical expression that includes many traditionally feminine aspects, with a few kinks.  I wear makeup, my closet consists of mostly dresses, what my hair looks like matters to me. But I wear bright red lipstick and green eye shadow, much to the chagrin of any Cosmopolitan reader. I couldn’t care less what the current fashion trends are, and instead I get my clothes, most of which are pretty retro or vintage, at dusty thrift stores. And I care what my hair looks like because I want it to be different and to express my own personality, not because I want Giuliana Rancic to give me her gold seal of approval.

When I was proud of my long, red-blond hair, it wasn’t because it represented me. It was because I was young and a little awkward, and the attention people paid to it was a substitute for the lack of attention I paid myself – for my lack of identity. As I grew up, transitioning from a pre-teen, to a teenager, to where I am now at 18 years old, I became more self-assured. How I choose to express myself physically is no longer for anyone else’s benefit, but to truthfully express myself. My short hair actually makes me feel more feminine, simply because I feel it’s a physical manifestation of my personality – a personality which includes femininity. But it’s my own, reclaimed, personal version of femininity. A version that includes my feminism, my pansexuality, all my individual quirks, and short, dark hair.



Epic FAIL, Halloween Edition

September 28, 2010 § 9 Comments

by ELENA

I’ve heard people refer to the trend of woman wearing revealing Halloween costumes as “Slutoween.” I don’t particularly like this term, because I don’t like slut-shaming of any kind. However, both Victoria’s Secret, and Frederick’s of Hollywood seem to be  promoting Racially-Insensitive O’Ween, which just plain fucked up.

On The VS website, you can purchase  a variety of  costumes under the “Sexy Little Fantasies” brand. These include Sexy Bride, Sexy Nurse, Sexy Flight Attendant, and Sexy Senorita:

Because being a stereotypical Latin American is an occupation, too. And it’s perfectly acceptable to co-opt and fetishize a growing population demographics clothing and culture.

One of VS’s rivals, Frederick’s of Hollywood, is guilty of this practice as well.

This “Three-Piece Shanghai Girl” getup is what would happen if someone took the 2 Live Crew song “Me So Horny,” and made it into a costume.

Frederick’s didn’t have an Asian model this outfit, and VS didn’t have a Latina model theirs. Frankly, this wouldn’t make these costumes any less racist, since they rely on fetishism and inaccurate stereotypes about Latin American and Asian women.

I’m also confused as to why VS and Frederick’s think that insulting and alienating their customer base is a good idea. Both companies rely on young woman for their business, and judging by the traffic these businesses get during any given weekend, their customer base is far from being exclusively white.

While I continue to work on my Sexy Pissed-Off Readhead costume, you can contact Fredricks and Victoria’s Secret and let them know what you think about these ridiculous and racist costumes.

Shameless Blog Promotion is Shameless.

September 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

by ELENA

I’ve created a new blog project: Chronicles of A Cosmo Nut. I’m basically doing a version of Jamie Keile’s Seventeen Magazine Project, but with Cosmo. As a twenty-year old, Seventeen isn’t all that relevant to me, but Cosmo does seem to be the comparable magazine for young women who have graduated high school, and are living on their own (whether that be college, an apartent and a full-time job, etc)

I’ll be posting as regularly as my hectic school schedule permits, and I hope you, the valued reader, enjoy it!

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