Review: Undecided

August 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

Undecided: How to Ditch the Endless Quest for Perfect and Find the Career — and Life — That’s Right for You by Barbara Kelley & Shannon Kelley

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Mom-and-daughter pair Barbara and Shannon Kelley have a gem here — an important read for basically any shrewd woman of my generation. It’s a relentlessly chatty book but it dives right to the core of women’s “analysis paralysis,” wisely eschewing self-help rhetoric in favor of a more rigorous cultural investigation of the professional challenges that plague today’s young women. The Kelleys thoroughly map the complex web of expectations, both social and internal, that push women to agonize over each and every life decision, and to grieve excessively for the loss of the option given up.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that I feel right at home in discussions of the laundry list of institutional forces that manipulate women’s professional choices. But what shook me up about this book was its insightful analysis of the ways in which we paralyze and punish ourselves. By ascribing so much meaning to our decisions large and small, meaningful and inconsequential, we lock ourselves into a cycle of yearning and remorse. And in our haste to take advantage of our newly afforded privileges in academia and in the professional world, it’s all too easy to sacrifice authentic decision-making in favor of other people’s estimations of what we are — or aren’t — capable of. (Me becoming an engineer just to disprove sexist stereotypes doesn’t mean shit in the big picture if I’m not truly invested. It’s just another way of conforming, of basing my decisions on patriarchal frameworks.)

It’s steadily depressing fare, but the Kelleys rescue the reader by concluding with advice to pursue “work worth doing” — work at the intersection of pleasure and meaning — and a spirited vision of what a feminized professional landscape might look like: one in which women and men are given social permission to implement leadership styles that emphasize collaboration, relationships, emotional connection. It’s a meaningful read.

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.

 

Dear Producers and Casting Directors of major projects:

May 3, 2011 § 2 Comments

by ELENA

Get. Your. Act. Together.

First Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss in The Hunger Games?

Then Bradley Cooper in a remake of The Crow?

And now speculation that Kate Hudson has signed on to another Linda Lovelace torture porn, i mean biopic featuring torture porn?

Oh, and let’s not forget Rosie Huntington-Whitley in the next Transformers celebration of boobies and explosions  shitshow.

And I still remember the fact that one of you cast a neurotypical woman in Temple Grandin and an able-bodied man on Glee. 

I graduate in November. Care to clean up your act and make the industry a little less fucked up when it comes to gender, race, and (dis)ability?

Otherwise, I’m going to be very, very pissed off. And it’s not a good idea to piss of a ginger feminist badass with too much student loan debt and no tolerance for this bullshit.

Disgruntled Adolescent Complaint Department

January 8, 2011 § 6 Comments

by KATIE E.

Something has been irking me for the past couple of days.

I thought maybe I was over-reacting. Maybe that I should have just kept my mouth shut. But, I can’t stop thinking about it. So here it goes:

I do not want to be a part of a feminist movement that conflates youth with a lack of intelligence.

I am, in particular, referring to this. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of misogyny in the piece from the Catholic League, and it deserves to be written about, but not only is it problematic to only pick on the writer’s grammar, it is absolutely infuriating to blame it on supposed youth, even as a “joke.”

You do not get to take your anger about misogyny out on young people. Period. There are many young people (including myself and my co-bloggers) who do not feel that way. Recognition of that is past due.

This is not the first time I’ve seen something like this and been mad, though. This one just wins the honor of putting me over the edge. I can’t deal with so-called feminists who don’t show an iota of respect to young people anymore. I can’t deal with feeling like I’m a sub-par feminist writer just because I’m under 18 anymore. My opinions, ideas, and writings are no less legitimate than any adult blogger, so please stop making me feel that way, thanks.

One thing I hear entirely too much about in feminist circles is the so-called “generational divide” between second and third wave feminists. I hear a lot of complaints particularly (though not exclusively) from 20-something feminists who were too young for the height of either about how they’re not taken seriously, oppressed, ignored, whatever you want to call it.

I’m not going to be a jerk and say that isn’t true. It has only been very recently that younger (emphasis on the fact that they are youngER, not the youngEST) feminists have gotten the respect they deserve. And there are still occasional comments from some older, legendary feminist about how 20-somethings/college students/young people in general/whatever either aren’t feminists or aren’t doing it right. And I feel the sting of those comments, too, and I think the complaints are completely legitimate and should be heard.

But, seriously? It is not the same being a younger feminist and one of the youngest feminists. Not. At. All. There is little to no discussion given to feminists under 18 in these “generational divide” discussions, and feminists who are claiming they are not taken seriously for being born in the 70s or 80s are helping to perpetuate that. The ageism that victimizes you may be real, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t keeping the cycle going in another way. The voices of feminists who aren’t yet adults are silenced even more than yours are, yet you ignore us.

I am betting now that multiple people are going to claim that starting a whole discussion about the generational divide and ageism against youth stemming from one teeny Feministe post is overreacting, but it is not. Language is how this cycle keeps going, and language is where I feel it the most.

So, please, if you have any respect or support for myself, my younger co-bloggers, and other feminists who are teenagers or younger: stop equating a lack of intelligence, misogyny, or anything else that you hate with us. We are not like that, and you effectively erase us by doing it.

Search Engine Terms

January 6, 2011 § 1 Comment

by MIRANDA

lolsob.

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?

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