November 29, 2010 § Leave a comment
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?
October 24, 2010 § 7 Comments
“In my first book, Full Frontal Feminism, I opened by asking readers what the worst thing you could call a woman is (slut, bitch, whore, cunt), then what the worst thing you can call a man is (pussy, fag, sissy, girl). In both cases, the answers were some variation of ‘woman.’” — Jessica Valenti, The Purity Myth
The word “slut” first originated as a Middle English word meaning a physically dirty woman, and has now evolved to mean a metaphysically “dirty,” or sexually promiscuous, woman. But how exactly do we decide who should be considered a slut? If sexual promiscuity is the mark of a slut, it would make sense to measure a woman’s sluttiness by the number of men she has slept with. In my experience, however, this is not actually the deciding factor. For example, when I was in high school, two of my best friends were considered “slutty” to some extent, but one was considered more of a slut than the other. I’ll call them A and B.
A was a white, thin girl with blonde hair and blue eyes, pearls and polo shirts. She lost her virginity when she was fourteen and had thirteen sexual partners before she entered college. She had several one-night stands and “friends with benefits” type of relationships. She never considered herself a sexual being and had little to no sex drive. Most of the boys she slept with were in the same social circle which we dubbed the “AP Boys”: a group of boys who were good-looking, athletic, popular, usually rich, and smart enough to get good grades without trying very hard. She didn’t particularly like sex, but she continued to have it for a variety of reasons, including to gain social approval from the AP Boys in order to continue to be invited to their parties, and because they wanted to and she “didn’t care.”
B identified as Middle Eastern; she was curvaceous and exotic-looking, with long black hair and darker skin than anyone else in our milky white high school. She often wore low-cut, tight black shirts and short denim skirts. She was visibly comfortable in her sexuality; she was unashamed of her body and unafraid to flaunt it. She lost her virginity when she was sixteen, and had six sexual partners before she entered college. She generally slept with the “bad boys” in our school, both because she liked the excitement and because she didn’t want to hurt a “nice” boy’s feelings as a result of her lack of interest in a serious relationship. Although she didn’t have serious relationships with these boys, she never slept with someone she wasn’t dating and she never had a one night stand. She enjoyed sex immensely and regarded it as a simple physical act which brought her and her partner pleasure.
Throughout high school, B was considered much more of a slut than A. A remained well-liked and still retained most of the respect she had before she had sex, and it was generally accepted that the girls who called her sluts were simply jealous of the amount of male attention she monopolized. B, on the other hand, was more often than not written off as a trashy whore. Not because she had slept with more people (A actually slept with more than twice as many people as B), but because she was comfortable enough with her sexuality to integrate it into her self-image and her public image. Essentially, B wasn’t being punished for having sex, but rather for enjoying sex. Sluts are not “proper women” because a “proper woman” is not supposed to be a sexual being; she’s supposed to be prim, proper, and repressed, and have sex because it is her duty. In the Victorian era, when sex within marriage was considered a patriotic duty for a woman, women in loveless marriages and brides frightened of the wedding night hijinks were told, “close your eyes, open your legs, and think of England.” Things haven’t changed as much as we’d like to think they have. Women are, to some degree, still expected to passively accept the sexual advances of men (especially of the men that will improve their station in life, such as the AP Boys) and fulfill their duty as hollow-eyed sex objects.
B was an easy target because she was precluded from living up to society’s ideal for a woman as a result of her race and body type. The archetype of a proper woman — pure, white, dainty, delicate — conflicts with society’s schema for women of color. Women of color are expected to be louder, cruder, and more sexualized — in body and demeanor — than white women. Where A was subtly pressured to live up to the archetype of the proper woman, B was pressured to live up to the stereotype of the exotic, oversexualized woman of color. People used to tell her she looked like Kim Kardashian all the time. Let me tell you, she doesn’t at all. The only things she and Kim Kardashian have in common are their black hair, big boobs, and Middle Eastern descent. Their eyes, noses, mouths, smiles and face shapes are drastically different. When I reminded people of this, they would say, “Yeah, that’s true, but they just have the same… look…” Many would go so far as to admit that their shared “trashiness” was a point of comparison.
Essentially, the idea of a “slut” is a myth told to women to keep them in their place. Just as Santa will not actually bring you coal on Christmas if you break a few of the house rules, you will not actually turn into an intrinsically tainted, unpalatable creature if you break one of society’s rules and have sex with one too many men. The word “slut” isn’t a criticism for having too much sex necessarily, but for being a woman: a real, living, breathing woman with quirks, foibles, normal sexual feelings, and personality; and failing to live up to the societal ideal for a woman: the passive, pliable, perpetually innocent, and sexually available Barbie doll.
October 21, 2010 § 1 Comment
Remember all that hoopla about Male Studies? The “debate” — you know, the debate between progressive gender equity and anxious protection of sacred manly manhood — is still a topic of attention. Still a topic, in fact, at my school. So check out my friend Molly’s article in The Stanford Daily, exploring what she calls “John Wayne’s Masculine Identity Crisis?: A dance-off between feminist studies and the newly emerging male studies.” (Bonus: there may or may not be a quote from someone you might know, in the online sense of the word? Maybe it’s me? Perhaps? Because goodness knows I love to talk about the ladies and the studying.)
October 9, 2010 § 2 Comments
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.
October 6, 2010 § 7 Comments
Hey readers, we have a dope new contributor. Please welcome Janey! (Read about her here.)
The Twilight series was recommended to me by well-meaning friends who felt that, as a sentimentalist, I couldn’t possibly dislike these very sappy and romantic books. And I have to admit, I expected to like these books. As a shameless Buffyhead, I am a huge fan of the Buffy-Angel relationship, and therefore fully expected to fall in love with the very similar Bella-Edward relationship. But after reading the series, I was left completely cold. These books are unabashedly anti-feminist, and set the women’s movement back about twenty years.
The series follows the romantic relationship between Bella Swan, an “average” teenage girl, and Edward Cullen, a member of a family of reformed vampires who do not feed on humans. The first glaring flaw in the novels is the rampant sexism in the dynamics of the central relationship itself. Even though Stephenie Meyer attempts to indoctrinate the reader in the notion that Bella and Edward are soulmates with all the subtlety of a whac-a-mole hammer, I couldn’t get attached to their saga. The milestones in the beginning of their relationship consist solely of him saving her. She’s almost hit by a car, she faints at the sight of blood, she’s almost raped (and so on and so forth), and her knight in shining armor rides in with impeccable timing and an annoyingly smug attitude. Throughout the entire series, he has the audacity to believe that he has the right to make decisions for her as long as he’s trying to protect her, going so far as to pay his sister to kidnap her for several days while he’s away because he doesn’t think that she can survive a weekend without him looking over her shoulder. And of course he’s a better driver than she is, because where would a piece of sexist propaganda be without that stereotype?
Although there is no excuse for Edward claiming to love Bella while he clearly doesn’t respect her, Bella is not the easiest character to respect. She essentially has zero personality; she doesn’t think about anything besides Edward and, later, Jacob. She has no hobbies, no interests, no mannerisms besides being clumsy, and no goals besides being with Edward for the rest of her life. She claims to be an independent person, and yet she would sacrifice her identity and humanity in a heartbeat for a man who emotionally abuses her. And although they occasionally bicker, Bella’s never truly angry with Edward when he takes it upon himself to control her life. She even allows him to manipulate her into marrying him, against which she was originally vehemently opposed.
October 1, 2010 § 4 Comments
by KATIE E.
Via The Guardian:
“Wilders has won pledges to introduce legislation banning Islamic headgear, joining France, Belgium and Switzerland in a growing campaign across Europe to ban a veil that relatively few Muslim women wear.”
I’m not sure of the accuracy of the statement that “relatively few Muslim wear” the burqa, but, does it matter? Shouldn’t the law protect everyone?
I’m sick of the racist, sexist, Westernized idea that Muslim women don’t have agency and would never choose to wear a religious symbol without being forced by a man. As the article states, this is coming from a conservative government, but how long do you think it will be before this type of Islamophobia is again accepted by many as an aspect of feminism? The last time I checked, feminism was supposed to be about giving all women agency, not just when it’s convenient or when we can’t twist it to make ourselves look superior to another culture.
It can’t be ignored that this is coming from a new conservative, anti-immigration government, though. While many will interpret it this way, I highly doubt they’re doing it in the name of “feminism.” Growing numbers of Muslims do not threaten anyone except for white, usually Christian people who would like to remain a privileged group. If I were leader of The Netherlands, and I tried to ban all cross necklaces or nun’s habits, can you imagine the outcry in the country and all over the world? I would be told I was taking away religious freedom and agency from the same kind of people who support this legislation.
Putting the rampant racism, Islamophobia, and misogyny seen here for a moment, can I just ask what happened to personal freedom? What gives a country a right to dictate what its citizens should wear, and couldn’t this possibly lead them further down a bad road?
If you live in The Netherlands, please contact the leaders of the nation and voice how oppressive the legislation is. We cannot let this happen in another country.