Destruction to Construction

The media can either be a tool of construction and education, or it can be a tool for destruction. The documentary Miss Representation outlines all of the different ways the media can destroy the way we see ourselves, other women, and the way men see women. The first thing we talk about when we see a woman in the media is what she looks like. We talk about beautiful celebrities, celebrities that look too old, or look like they have had plastic surgery. The documentary has several news clips of of women and men talking about other woman saying things such as “looking haggard and 92 years old” and asking “breast implants, did you have them or not? Because that’s all over the media”. Both of these comments were made by women, about two different women in politics. Instead of talking about politics, opinions, or ideas, they were talking about the way that they looked.

heidi This picture was in an article a while ago, but it shouldn’t be dismissed. The media is so distracted by what women look like and their bodies, that instead of talking about Klum saving her son and nanny, they draw attention to the fact that her nipple popped out.

Media obsessing with women’s bodies is capitalism. I’ve wrote about this before, about how we fall into the trap of advertising. The media only shows beautiful women as skinny, and with a lot of makeup on. Majority of the time these models in advertisements are photo shopped as well, setting even more unrealistic body expectations. “Sex sells”, but it sells at a cost. The cost is the dangerous influence it has on the minds of the youth. The reason advertisers get away with this is because as a society we let them. The more we educate about the dangers of the media then it can start changing. If everyone keeps quiet and just believes that it is what it is, it will never change and unhealthy body images, disordered eating, and identity issues will never go away. By purchasing these types of products that promote the exploitation of women we are enablers.

The media isn’t a safe place for men either. The media makes men feel like they need to be powerful, and in order for them to do that they need to fall to misogyny and treat women poorly. In order to be masculine they need to assert their dominance over women. This is what is shown in TV and movies all the time. The powerful man is the sexy man, like Christian Grey; a truly disgusting representation of a men asserting dominance to get what he wants.

In Miss Representation Marie Wilson, the founding president of The White House Project says, “you can’t be what you can’t see”. There aren’t enough women of power shown on TV. When young girls don’t see women in leadership on television they don’t realize that that’s something that they can do. Girls see movies that feature a strong female role either politically, athletically, or intellectually, and they have a new role model, someone that they can strive to be like. When children can’t see someone that looks like them do something, then they don’t know it can be done.

The media can be an instrument of change. Instead of letting it destroy the images of women and self-identity, lets use it to awaken society. Open minds to a changing world, and the future of women in leadership.

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Sex is Power

Have you ever heard someone say that sex is power? Well in a sense I believe it is. It’s the power of knowledge. As I have said in many of my previous posts, it is imperative to teach children about sex. It’s uncomfortable and every parent dreads it, but it’s necessary. The age at which a young woman has sex is far beyond parental or societal control. So it’s best that they just learn what they can about it. Sexuality is a woman’s birth right. To explore her sexuality is also her right, and it is how she will gain her knowledge and self-identity.

Rebecca Walker wrote an article about her first experience with sex when she was eleven years old. She admits that she’s a little embarrassed about the age, but it gave her knowledge and power. After gaining her first experience so young, she had called herself an expert by the time she was eighteen. She changed her persona with each man she would meet to be exactly who they would want her to be, so she could get them to sleep with her. She called this her chameleon-like identity. She said “you could never be sure of who was going to like you and why, so I tried my best to control the parts I could”

Walker realized though, that this wasn’t what made her happy. She wrote “I wasn’t happy faking orgasms (self-deceit for male ego) or worrying about getting pregnant (unprotected ignorance) or having urinary tract infections (victim of pleasure) or sneaking around (living in fear)”. All of this helped her to grow and learn and she said she didn’t regret, it gave her power. This helped her to cultivate her own desire, learn to listen to and develop the language of her own body, and learned to sustain healthy intimacy. She’s not a slut for having sex at a young age, or for doing it with multiple men, or for doing it a lot. Like Walker said, sex and sexuality are a woman’s rights, and by exploring her own sexuality and pleasure she gained knowledge and thus power.

We shouldn’t be punished for what we want and crave. Young women feel powerless and shamed for giving in to their desires and having sex. Walker speaking about women being shamed for sex says “we are punished like Eve reaching for more knowledge”. That’s what we’re looking for when having sex for the first time, or multiple times with multiple men, it’s just knowledge of our own body and desires.

Parents won’t let their young girls go on birth control because they don’t want them to know anything about sex or dive into any sexual endeavors. Keeping birth control away from girls is not keeping them away from sex, it is just keeping them away from safe sex. We crave knowledge, and the best a kid is going to get is from their peers or TV which debases sex and humiliates women. TV makes sex look like something for a man, something that they take from a woman. Women need to know sex is their power, they take power they do not give it.

Sex is a knowledge that everyone needs to experience at their own time at their own pace. Someone might be ready to do it at eleven and someone else might not be ready until they are thirty. But who is to say what is right and wrong? According to society both of those are probably wrong. We can try to give as much knowledge as we can about sex but women will really gain knowledge about their own self identity and their likes/dislikes when they actually experience it.

Fat: an adjective

One of the most demonized adjectives used in day to day society is “fat”. Such a small word, with such an enormous, and harmful impact. The only thing I have to ask though is why? It’s just an adjective. It’s a word used to describe something or someone. If someone is fat, that’s okay, it’s just a term. Something that society needs to learn is that it’s okay to be fat. Obviously I’m not supporting obesity in America, but I am supporting a mentally and physically healthy lifestyle by all people. Some people are just a little bit bigger, and it doesn’t matter what they eat, they are just big. However, because they are called fat and this term is so harshly interpreted, they will starve themselves to be thin. They may be living a perfectly healthy lifestyle while fat; starving themselves to look thinner will not make them healthier.

Nomy Lamm wrote an article, possibly one of the most interesting articles I have read yet, about her weight, society, and her own sense of self. I thought it was written perfectly, and I have so many personal connections to her story. When Lamm touched on her cycle of dieting she wrote “I am not dieting anymore because I know this is how my body is supposed to be. Being fat does not make me less healthy or less active. Being fat does not make me less attractive”. People get stuck in vicious cycles of a crazy diet of eating 600 calories a week and they drop 10 pounds but get light headed walking up the stairs. Then the diet is over and they gain all the weight back and go back on their diet. How is this in any way healthy? It’s not. Being fat, active, and happy is healthy. When a woman fells like they are fat it destroys their emotional health and sense of self. Lamm said it perfectly when said her unhappiness isn’t a result of her fat, it’s a result of a society that tells her it’s bad.

We are so stuck on fat being a bad thing that if we do not look like a supermodel in a magazine we think we need to go on a diet. But when is that ever going to be enough? What weight is low enough? What size is small enough? How flat of a stomach is flat enough? A friend of mine said it best “if you hate yourself, you’ll hate yourself at any weight”. The hate is stemming from a rigid society that is telling you what is attractive and unattractive. Lamm told her story starting from when she was five years old, she started her first diet. At seven years old she had been declared overweight, at ten years old she had learned how to starve herself, and at fifteen years old the boys made fun of her for how fat and unattractive she was. We are so obsessed with fat being such a horrific thing that we would force a five year old to go on a diet. I completely understand this from a health side, but as I said earlier, a lot of times this doesn’t have anything to do with their eating habits or physical activity, it can be bone structure and genes.

This article differs from the one I wrote last time about the beauty myth. That article was about thin women looking in the mirror and thinking they are fat, but really they are not. This article to acknowledge, and embrace the women who are fat and are shamed for it. We even try to make them feel better by saying “you’re not fat you’re curvy!”. We need to stop demonizing the word fat. It’s okay to be fat. It’s time to challenge our thoughts, and challenge society, and get rid of fat-hate.

A Society Surrounding Rape Culture

Education is taken seriously in society. Sex education needs to be taken more seriously. Majority of kids aren’t learning in depth sex ed until they are late into high school. This is much too late, they have already learned too much by outside sources. Kids are curious, by the time they are hitting puberty they have already been taught something about sex either by siblings, peers, TV,  or internet.

We may think it is awkward to begin these conversations with children at such a young age, but it is necessary. It’s not like we need to go in depth and tell them what sex is or how it works, but it’s the little things that matter like teaching a child when they are young not to touch people without their permission. Just teaching a child that no means no, it all circumstances will help them be able to apply this in all future circumstances.

Brad Perry had written a very interesting article about sexual education and sex-positive rape prevention. In this article he speaks about himself as a young boy. He begins by talking about where and how he grew up by stating that he was raised in suburban Virginia where he received plenty of messages from his social environment that sex with girls (and only girls) was a one-sided affair where the boy makes the moves and calls the shots. Not only is it disgusting that boys are brought up being taught that sex is for a man’s benefit and that they call the shots, but they are taught that this is always done with a woman. This is also how children will benefit from early on sexual education, they need to learn more about gender and sexual identity. If a young boy can learn about kissing girls and doing sexual actions with girls, he should also learn that it is okay to do that with a boy. It’s like I talked about in my article Necessary Fictions, children need to be taught about sexual identities.

Perry had told a story about the time him and his friends tried to seduce a couple girls. Perry and his friend had learned from his friend’s older brother that you just need to give a girl some beer or pot to get them “into it”. Thirteen year old boys were learning this from a fifteen year old. This first lesson about sex taught to these pubescent boys surrounds rape culture. They think if they “loosen them up” they can get the girls to do whatever they want. Then Perry says that when the girl he was with had chugged four beers he went to touch her, and she flinched but sat up straight, this made him then she was saying “go for it”. As a young boy, Perry thought that he could keep going, because of rape culture. So he tried to touch her again and she told him to stop, so he did. Luckily, he understood no means no, but everything else about this situation surrounds rape culture. Clothes, body language, or any other word but yes means yes.

Boy’s need to be taught about sex earlier on so that they do not learn from other sources that it is something that a boy gets from a girl by convincing her to give it to him. No means no, yes and only yes means yes. It’s something that both parties must agree on, and both verbally express consent. Sex-positive education will help alleviate the rape culture paradigm and benefit everyone.

Rape culture is so ingrained in our society that women fall to it without realizing that is the case. In the article Seduced By Violence No More, the author describes what women say they look for in a man. They desire men not to be sexist, even as they say they want him to be masculine, and as they are pushed to define masculine, they fall back on a sexist representation. Women look for men to take charge and be abrasive.

I remember my guy friends all throughout high school never getting the girls, because they were too sweet, and it were the asshole tough guys that would get the girl, dump her after getting her into bed, then move on to the next one. That’s when we learned about the “friend zone”. When a guy was nice a girl would just see him as a friend, and not someone she wanted to have sex with, because we were taught that masculine tough guys were attractive. We were taught to friend zone people because of rape culture.

Rape culture is such a problem in our society that even women in relationships feel compelled to have sex with their partner even when they do not want to. It doesn’t matter if it is a one night stand, a boyfriend, or a spouse, there always needs to be consent between both partners. The same author I had mentioned before writes about the first time she had a partner that agreed that they would not have sex unless both of them felt like it. When she bragged about this to her friends, because this was something new to her, they responded with “be careful, dude might be gay”, and she said she began to feel like he wasn’t actually attracted to her if he did not want her physically all the time. Assuming a man is gay or not physically attracted to you, because he does not want to have sex all the time is a feeling that is stemming from rape culture. Women think they are desirable when a man is pushing himself onto her, when in reality it’s sexual aggression.

Perry says in his article about sex-positive rape prevention that rapists are created, not born. When we boys are taught young that they must push themselves onto women, get them drunk, and that sex is for their benefit, they are immediately in danger of becoming an offender. Teaching women to own their sexuality and not surrender themselves is not good enough, as crazy as it sounds, we need to teach kids not to rape.

Toxic Masculinity

Society and media does not only target women, it targets men as well. Not in a good way either, but in a harmful way. Masculinity, among other things, is but another social construct. Masculinity is another way to market products to men. In an article written by Susan M. Alexander she says “Masculinity itself is constructed as a product available for consumption if one merely chooses the appropriate brand names”. As a marketing major, I pay close attention to the way products are marketed. It’s not secret that brands are literally selling masculinity with their products. For example, fragrances are constantly advertising sex and masculinity. The commercial for designer label cologne will feature a sexy looking man, most likely half naked, possibly doing performing some kind of rugged activity, and there will absolutely be a beautiful woman in the advertisement that hangs all over him. Now if men purchase these fragrances they will be masculine.

 

These two fragrances above are prime examples. The Express advertisement is selling a cologne for men that is insinuating that it will make you an irresistible man that will have women falling all over him, and the ad for All American cologne features a rugged all american man sitting on a dirt bike. Both brands are selling the idea of masculinity. The idea of masculinity shapes the way that men see themselves, and they think purchasing products advertised like this will help their self image.

This isn’t just with advertising either. Most of us have heard about how irrational the body proportions of a barbie doll are for women, well the G.I. Joe action figure is just as ridiculous. Just as a barbie doll sets unrealistic body expectations for a young girl, a G.I. Joe action does the same for young boys. The figure blown up to human size, it’s proportion for chest and bicep size would be humanly unrealistic. Boys grow up playing with these action figures, thinking that this is what they need to look like to be perceived as masculine, harming there self-image when they can’t meet these unrealistic body expectations.

Masculinity is also defined by physically being a mans man, and emotionally presenting themselves as invulnerable and repressing affection towards other men. This is also where aggression and homophobia come in. Men have higher testosterone levels than women, naturally causing them to be a bit more aggressive. This is when men begin to behave violently because they ward off any image of femininity. Homophobia also stems from the fear of being seen as feminine, or anything less than a man. Alexander quoted Kimmel in her article “homophobia is a central organizing principle of our cultural definition of manhood”. Heterosexuality is a part of being masculine. Gay men are seen as feminine or sissy, so straight men need to be aggressive or violent towards gay men to reassure society, or themselves, that they are masculine.

All of this is what we would call Toxic Masculinity. This is when the idea of masculinity becomes destructive and/or abusive to oneself and/or others. Ideals of masculinity affect a boys self-identity and behavior. Another social construct that harms oneself and others, and for the sake of companies making more money.

Necessary Fictions

Everyone hates labels, but they are a necessary fiction in today’s society. Without labels, we wouldn’t be able to categorize ourselves, and learn about sexual identity. If we can’t label ourselves then we won’t know that there are others like us, we wouldn’t know who we can date, and those outside of our community would understand us even less. Labels are a way for us to understand ourselves, and feel a part of a community, and for others to make an understanding of something that they otherwise wouldn’t.

So I’ve said why labels are necessary, but here is why they are fictions. Many people question their sexual or gender identity, and even after categorizing themselves still aren’t even sure if that is where they belong. In this society, we have come up with a term for just about everything, so we can put a name to the things that we are feeling, rather than  just living, as people, with love or lust for whomever we please. Even people that may label themselves as gay, may have some slight attraction to the opposite sex, but not enough where they feel they would act on it, or it could be the other way around as well. Sexuality, among other things, is a spectrum. It’s on a spectrum called the Kinsey Scale, and everyone falls somewhere on this scale, but where we may fall does not always correlate with what we label ourselves as.kinseyscale

But if we do not learn about all the different labels that we could potentially call ourselves, we wouldn’t be able to learn more about ourselves. Laurel Gilbert had written an article about her experience as a young pregnant teenager. But there was something distinct about her story that stood out to me. Gilbert says she was ignorant growing up, because she was unaware of her “abnormality”, and unable to put a name to her feelings. She said she wasn’t afraid of being called queer or a dyke because those words just didn’t exist in her life. She had never heard of them, she didn’t even know there was a name for a woman loving a woman, therefore she didn’t even know it was possible. Speaking about her friend Kris from her childhood, she says “Had I been able to love Kris – and had that kind of difference been my reality – I might never have become a teenage mother in the first place”. Gilbert had no idea that it were even possible to be different, and the reason she had gotten pregnant was because her and Kris had shared a boyfriend. He was the link between them, since they could not sleep with each other, they slept with the same man, because that’s all they knew they could do.

This sounds like a strange concept, but for someone that literally never learned the terms gay, lesbian, queer, and so on, they did not know that that was a feeling to have, even while having it. If we do not have a name for something, then we don’t know that it exists. This is why labels are necessary fictions. No one likes them, I hate when people ask gender or sexual identity, because truthfully they are things that social constructs. But without them we would be ignorant of everyone’s differences, and people in similar situations to Gilbert’s may never truly fall in love. Without labels we wouldn’t be able to educate ourselves, and even more importantly, educate others.

Who has the Power

We’ve all heard the saying “if you can’t beat em’ join em'”. Although, I don’t think this is valid in every situation. Specifically talking about women, acting like men in the sense of objectifying women. We know this is to be true because even on my own college campus there are plenty of women that will still say that they don’t label themselves as a feminist, or will say that feminists are just sensitive. Ariel Levy discusses this perfectly in her article Me Tarzan You Jane. Levy says “what is cool is for women to take a guy’s-eye view of pop culture in general and naked ladies in particular”. It’s easy to just go with the crowd, when everyone around you has what Levy calls a frat boy mentality. It’s much easier to say “don’t worry everyone’s doing it” rather than being the minority and actually standing up.

When it comes to women exploiting their sexuality, in Levy’s article she specifically talks about strippers, some may say this an expression of power. She says that perhaps spinning greasily around a pole wearing a vapid, sexy facial expression not found in nature is more a parody of female sexual power than an expression of it. Women may think that being open about their body, and owning their sexuality gives them power. But on the other hand, we can tell women that they do not need to take their clothes off to get what they want, and they have the power and the intelligence to succeed. When it comes to this it’s about finding the balance and power without sacrificing intelligence or sexuality.

Levy had a quote from another woman in an article. She said that her boyfriend got mad at her for going out to a strip club, then continued to say that she is like the guy in the relationship, because she makes more money than her boyfriend and lives in the better apartment. The thing that disgusts me about this, is that she says that she’s a guy because she makes more money and has the better apartment. She associates men with power and wealth. It’s unfortunate but it seems like it’s a common practice for women to associate men with power. Women who have wanted to be perceived as powerful have found it more effective to join  forces with men than to try to elevate the entire female sex.

This reinforces the idea of people thinking “If you can’t beat em join em”. I have even caught myself being silenced by the majority. In certain situations when in a group I sometimes think it would be easier to just not argue. But then I remember no one has ever made change by being silent, and change requires a change agent. It’s not easy, but we shouldn’t silence ourselves for others comfort. It’s time to forget this idea that if women can act like men, that is what gives us power.