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.

Some Social Conundra

October 14, 2009 § 6 Comments

Hi all!

I just took my sociology mid term which consisted of 3 essays. I obviously ended up writing all three on feminist issues despite the fact that probably 75% of our readings are about men. I thought one was particularly interesting, so I think I’ll try to recreate it for you all, though probably in a way more casual manner seeing as how this is a blog post and I’m tired of being overly articulate. Here ’tis:

The U.S. is full of very rigid behavioral norms, ideological beliefs and standards that dictate everything from sidewalk etiquette to how we perceive beauty. We, as a country, tend to hardcore judge people for failing to reach these standards, even though in so many cases people do not have the appropriate means to do so. The really fun thing is, however, that we also hardcore judge people when they attempt to meet our high standards by means of which we do not approve. I smell a conundrum.
It is far too common for young women (and old women, and men, but the article I read focused mainly on young women so I will too) to resort to deviant behavior in order to meet our traditional standards of beauty. I’m talking about eating disorders. We all know that in the U.S. we are all about being thin, fair, leggy, busty, etc. We also all know that these things are impossible for everyone to be, and not even particularly desirable. Uniqueness is super hot. So are curves in places that aren’t your boobs. So is every skin color. However, at times, we forget this, and that’s ok because we are human! What is not ok is that society puts SO MUCH pressure on us to change how we naturally are, in order to become the ideal woman.This is what causes eating disorders like Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. While many of us view the victims of eating disorders with pity or empathy, there are a great deal of us who for some reason look down on women with eating disorders. We want them to be skinny and beautiful, but only when they buy products to become that way. These beliefs are obviously linked to the influence of the media and our strong devotion to consumer culture, but we cannot let those things take full responsibility. We are of the mindset that to eat unhealthily small amounts and call it dieting is ok. To refuse to eat at all (or to develop eating habits that can be perceived as elements of an eating disorder), is not cool, and we marginalize the HELL out of those who do. (Hey run on, wassup?)

If I haven’t made it clear enough, our social conundrum is this:
We commend women for being thin and beautiful, but look down on those who strive to achieve this end. I am, of course, not endorsing Anorexia or Bulimia. But many women hardly have a choice given all the social pressures. these are, after all, diagnosed disorders! Psychological ones. We, as a society, must be more sympathetic to victims of eating disorders, considering that society set up such a hard position for any woman (exception: Malibu Barbie).

My second example is the social stigmatization of exotic dancers, or strippers. Most people are generally not fans of the idea of women exploiting their bodies for money. There are many terrible things about this industry, for sure. Working conditions are typically not great, many women do not enjoy dancing for the pleasure of random men, and I am sure a lot of violence can happen on the job. However, when society views these women as immoral sluts, I get pretty pissed off.

I get pissed off because, on their off days, most of these women do not want to be defined as exotic dancers. many are mothers. If they are not, they are trying to make a life for themselves. We, as a country, judge them especially harshly if they do not make enough money to provide for their children or themselves. A failed mother is probably considered a million times worse than a full time stripper. We ask, “how hard is it to find a decent job, one that does not use sex as a commodity? Why can’t these women be good role models for their children?” Guess what! It’s really fucking hard for quite a few people to find stable jobs. Furthermore, I’d rather feed my children than teach them ridiculously rigid standards for women. Yeah.

Basically, in our society we set up impossible standards to meet. We provide very few ways of meeting those standards that ARE socially acceptable. We show huge disdain for those who feel compelled to meet these standards through acts of social deviance. This is so problematic (I’ve been told this is a favorite vocab word for gender and women studies majors, probably because it can be applied to absolutely everything) I can’t even stand it.

I hope you enjoyed my feminist sociological rant. I wish I could properly cite the readings this was all based on… will try to do so in the future.

Lovely Hula Hands

September 14, 2009 § Leave a comment

This is another one of my Sociology readings (they are proving to be great Women’s Glib resources!) that I find incredibly interesting. I’m a little too tired to comment on it, but these issues of exploitation and American obsession with exoticism are things I’d like to soon delve into. Anyway, here is the link to the article, Lovely Hula Hands.

Sociological Mindfulness and Why We Should ALL Be Feminists

September 5, 2009 § 2 Comments

I came across this passage in my sociology reading, and think that it sums up PERFECTLY why no one should be afraid to call themselves feminists. It also provides a great justification (not that I need one) for contributing to this blog.

I am a feminist through and through, but sometimes I feel like I don’t do enough to show it. As a new college student (I swear to god I will stop telling you all this in like, a month) I am definitely going to get more involved in some social action groups, but if that fails for some reason, I will always have this quote:

Sociological mindfulness also reminds us that we can change a small part of the social word single-handedly. If we treat others with more respect and compassion, if we refuse to participate in re-creating inequalities even in little ways, if we raise questions about official representations of reality, if we refuse to work in destructive industries, then we are making change. We do not have to join a group or organize a protest to make these kinds of changes. We can make them on our own, by deciding to live differently.

Perhaps our modest efforts will reverberate with others and inspire them to live differently. Or perhaps no one will notice, or they will notice but think we are strange. And so you might think, “If no one is going to notice that I am a superior moral being, then what is the point? Why bother to be different and risk ridicule?” That is one way to look at it. Being sociologically mindful, however, suggests a different thought: “I cannot be sure that anything I do will change things for the bettter, yet I can be sure that if I do not at least try, then I will fail to do what I think is right and will be contributing to keeping things the same. Therefore I will opt to do what is right, whether much or little comes of it.”

In the end, sociological mindfulness must be about more than studying how the social world works. It must also do more than inspire curiosity, care, and hope — although these we cannot do without. If it is to be worth practicing, sociological mindfulness must help us change ourselves and our ways of doing things together so that we can live more peacefully and productively with others, without exploitation, disrespect, and inequality. Sociological mindfulness is a way to see where we are and what needs to be done. It is a path to heartful membership in a conversation that ought to have no end.

– Michael Schwalbe, Finding Out How the Social World Works

Um… does anyone else think that is SO beautiful? I obviously do, enough to take the time to type the whole damn thing!

I Want to Get Demarried

August 5, 2009 § 4 Comments

This is a guest post by Barry, Ruth’s dad, originally published at his blog Baslow’s Electric OmniumGatherum.

Don’t get me wrong; I love my wife and want to spend the rest of my life with her, exclusively. I am not interested in pursuing other conjugal relationships. I don’t regret the strictures of marriage but I very much oppose the connotations, the religious connotations, with which the word seems inextricably encumbered.

I want to be mate-paired with my wife. I want to be attached socially, legally and emotionally. If, however, being married carries with it the association of heterosexuality, the aura of sacredness, and the necessary implication of procreation then it is a tainted concept. I want an alternative.

The term “demarriage” seems already to be in use by sociologists of the family, especially in Europe. As far as I can see (and I could have gotten this very wrong) I am using the term in a different way then they. They seem to apply the term to society as a whole to mean an increasing disaffection with the institution of marriage, an attitudinal shift in progress since World War II. When they apply the term to married couples it seems to mean a period of mutual alienation, of drifting away. When I say I want to get” demarried” I mean only that I want to adopt a new contract with my spouse, something we can call by a different name. I want my government and my society to offer me that choice.

Interestingly, something of that sort seems to exist in France. It is called PACS, pacte civil de solidarité. According to Wikipedia:

[it] is a form of civil union between two adults (same-sex or opposite-sex) for organising their joint life. It brings rights and responsibilities, but less so than marriage. From a legal standpoint, a PACS is a “contract” drawn up between the two individuals, which is stamped and registered by the clerk of the court. In some areas, couples signing a PACS have the option of undergoing a formal ceremony at the City Hall identical to that of civil marriage. Individuals who have registered a PACS are still considered “single” with regard to family status for some purposes, while they are increasingly considered in the same way as married couples are for other purposes.

PACS were signed into law in France in 1999 and, in certain respects, seem already to be a success:

According to the 2004 Demographic Report by the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, the number of marriages in France had fallen each year since 2000.

266,000 civil marriages took place in 2004, a decline of 5.9% from 2003. However, the report found that the number of couples getting PACS had increased every year except 2001. There was a 29% increase in PACS between 2001 and 2002 and a 25% increase between 2002 and 2003. For the first 9 months of 2004, 27,000 PACS were signed compared to 22,000 in 2003. The report found that one PACS in 10 had been dissolved (less than divorces for couples married for the same period, for which one marriage in three will be dissolved by divorce or separation after the first 3 years…

France’s adoption of the PACS law has not been a panacea. The situation in France is far from perfect. Same-sex PACS couples still do not have the right to adopt, for example. It is, nevertheless, a step in the right direction.

It would be a good thing for us here in the States if we began discussing the adoption of such laws ourselves.

Women’s Work In The New Economy

March 31, 2009 § 5 Comments

Another guest post by Joel, cross-posted at Citizen Obie.

I’ve been thinking about the issue of women work trends since I saw an earlier post here a while back about how feminists were reacting to the stimulus package, and what they thought it offered to support industries with greater representation of women (social work, education, health.) My concern was not so much with the sectors the stimulus emphasized, I believe that fomenting green manufacturing, construction, transportation, and agriculture is going to be fundamental to getting ourselves out of this economic mess we’re in and moving us towards an era of sustainable prosperity and equity. But where do women fit in this agenda? Green-collar jobs, the premier jobs of the new economy, are in construction and manufacturing (and I pray also urban agriculture,) sectors with little female representation. I’m going to assume that construction and manufacturing will remain important and vibrant for years to come, in which case my concern is how do we promote gender equity in those fields? How do we make sure that women share in the vision of the new economy, how do we de-stratify the sectors with the greatest potential for growth?

I thought about it even more when the news got out that the White House vegetable garden is Michelle Obama’s initiative. I love Michelle Obama, I love organic vegetable gardens, and I love children’s health and nutrition, but I was intrigued by the historic association between first ladies and health (specifically children’s health) advocacy. I wouldn’t call it anything as strong as a major concern, but what does it mean for powerful, fiercely intelligent women (in Michelle Obama’s case, a lawyer) to be relegated to work with overtones of domesticity? On the other hand, maybe I ought to rethink my own gendered assumptions about what it means to work with children and health. Maybe it is my own male bias and set of assumptions that I imply above that children and health issues might be ‘beneath’ a fiercely intelligent woman. In this case, how will we encourage (assuming we want to) the disassociation of particular fields with the different genders? And if such associations remain tenacious, what opportunities are available to women in the revolutionary restructuring of the educational and health care systems, as called for in Barack Obama’s agenda? Energy, education, and health are the major focuses of Obama’s agenda. Is it okay for energy to be a primarily masculine field, with education and (to a lesser degree) health to be primarily feminine?

Finally, here are a few articles on the immediate effects of the recession on women’s economic lives. The first is on the likely increase of domestic disputes as a result of male unemployment. It suggests that recessions, with major job loss for male-bodied individuals, breeds resentment as males fail to fulfill their ‘breadwinner’ roles, compounding the other stresses of over-worked women struggling to fulfill their roles as double-time workers and mothers. The second is on women losing their jobs and moving into the sex entertainment industry. And here’s one on the unfortunate likelihood that pregnant women and new mothers may be more likely to face unemployment, despite the illegality of discriminating against mothers. Overall, it looks as though the recession and the vast restructuring of the economy (I hope) will have major effects on perceptions of domesticity and women’s work roles. I hope some of you are as interested in these broad trends as I am. I think they definitely point to a very particular landscape in the contemporary feminist movement.

Why is the masculine androgynous?

March 18, 2009 § 2 Comments

Warning: This post is a bit of a wordy stream-of-consciousness rant. Read at your own risk.

Pants are androgynous; they are worn by both women and men. Women, however, have the options of wearing pants, skirts, or dresses. According to a gendered society, men may wear only pants. Thus, pants are both masculine and androgynous. While a woman is socially permitted to wear pants in a setting that is inclusive of both genders, when she wears pants in a setting in which she is the only woman, she is ostracized, called “butch,” “revolutionary,” or even — goodness forbid — a feminist.

Hillary Clinton is famous for her pantsuits. A few years back, I saw the First Ladies exhibit at the New York Historical Society. There was a clear definitive statement made by juxtaposing Dolly Madison’s petticoats next to Hillary Clinton’s infamous pantsuit (the only one black fashion item featured in the exhibit, I might add). 

My mom works for a community center and she wears a pantsuit to work almost every day. I have not heard anyone comment on her clothing choice, let alone name her a member of “the sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits.”

I realize that my mom works in a coeducational facility, when Hillary Clinton, a US senator and former presidential nominee works in an old boy’s club. The pantsuits, a symbol of both masculinity and androgyny (i.e. social and political power). Pantsuits are androgynous; they can be worn by both men and women on a regular basis yet there is an exception when women enter “men’s clubs.” These include patriarchal institutions such as government, the military (America’s eyes have not gotten used to seeing women in uniform), and Wall Street. In these “men’s clubs,” the androgynous becomes masculine because there cannot be androgyny when only one gender is represented in these institutions.

Then, when a woman finally discovers the password to one of these men’s clubs, the masculinity that can be construed as androgyny is so deeply rooted that anyone (like Hillary Clinton) who invades that men’s club as an non-accepted member becomes a source of shock. This shock factor does not stem from the fact that she dresses like men; it happens when she dresses in a way that men happen to dress in as well.

Men do not have an exclusive claim on pants. They have no claim over this piece of clothing just as they have no claim over the institutionally sexist occupations they may inhabit. 

The patriarchy sets up a society so that what men do/wear/customize is the standard. For women, this standard is fooled into being androgynous, though it is in fact a patriarchal setup to make women feel included. However, whenever women include themselves in this standard, they are considered impostors, the only ones in costumes at a sexist Halloween party.

Michael Kimmel, in “Masculinity As Homophobia,” writes “We think of manhood as innate, residing in the particular biological composition of the human male, the result of androgens or the possession of the penis.” 

Androgens are the hormones that control the development of masculine characteristics. The common root of this hormone and the term “androgynous” is not a coincidence. Androgens literally contain everything that, without society’s interference, biologically differentiates male from female. Androgynous, the embodiment of both male and female characteristics, is in its social reality the comparison of female characteristics to the standard of male ones. 

Is this comparison fair? Must masculine be the standard for women to live up to and then be ostracized by? Can’t all people be accepted for who they are and with the choice to be who they want to be?

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