Friday, April 10, 2015

Cultural Stumbling Blocks Facing Contemporary Feminism

The black professor of an Ethics class once announced that ultimately sexism was of more cause for concern than racism, because of the simple fact that most people don’t even acknowledge that the former exists. It is so engrained in our culture to be accepting of hegemonic masculinity that to challenge the status quo is considered a major social faux pas by many. A gender hierarchy has always existed, so why rock the boat now?
We don’t live in an openly oppressive regime, but you don’t have to be stoned to death for having an affair to be a victim of misogyny, and it isn’t only the physically weak “beta” males who suffer the sexism of hyper masculinity.

There are certain culturally acceptable traits within our socially constructed gender roles, and when those traits are challenged by feminism—when anyone who believes in equality for all people, but understands that in order for that to happen the patriarchal norm must be reformed—all Hell can break lose. The following are some of the biggest cultural stumbling blocks facing contemporary feminism.

Willful Subjugation
At our most basic level, our core beliefs have been forged by our upbringing and the practices of our social environment. Many of us have been raised with the belief that women are less important than men, and our society can reinforce the belief that subjugation equates to easy living. I think a lot of women (albeit perhaps quite subconsciously) find it easiest to submit to the patriarchy in exchange for the self-esteem boost that comes with the acceptance they receive for putting men on a pedestal or ignoring their horrible and destructive habits.

It is true that some women like being subjugated, or they believe that it is what is expected of them, and rebelling against those expectations can sometimes lead to punishment; this punishment can take any form, from social alienation to physical spousal abuse, or—even worse—the belief that the soul will suffer eternal damnation.

While some women have religious reasons for their willful subjugation, others do it because of previously existing gender bias in the economy, allowing themselves to slip further into patriarchal submission—women of color, in particular, because for the most part at the poverty line there is no other choice.

Then there’s just blatant cold fear of personal independence. Some women like feeling small and weak and at the mercy of a man's lust. They confuse that attention with love and respect, or it makes them feel more feminine, because that’s what they were taught femininity is supposed to feel like. Or maybe it’s just the simple attention that makes them feel worthy and valuable. Any attention is better than no attention, right? Some are so insecure and know that as long as they support the status quo they'll be well liked, and that's much more important than freedom and equality. What they don't understand is that, by perpetuating the status quo, they are helping to create a living Hell for those of us who need change.

Some women are raised to believe that we have to “use what we got” to land a man and have a family instead of getting an education or learning various skills or trades so that we can independently support ourselves should the need arise—so that when we’re put in a situation… when the need doesn’t just arise, but it explodes out of the chaos of all the horrible choices we’ve made, because we just weren’t fucking taught better—(mostly poverty stricken) women are forced to do horrible things because they don’t have the choice. They are stuck turning to the streets to survive, which seems like an obvious and hideous oxymoron.

"I love the fact that there are women out there who don't have a choice 
and they must go to work and they still have to raise kids." 

Thinking Gives You Wrinkles
One night at the gym, while a Zumba class was in session, all the ladies were furiously dancing to one of the most misogynistic songs I have ever heard. Something about being a “player” and how “bitches” are only necessary for doing stuff with the “Jimmy” and how stupid love is…

To the lady in front of me, I say, "Those sure are some misogynistic lyrics."

"Oh, I don't pay attention to the lyrics," she replies.

I’m immediately annoyed, but I have nothing but love for this woman, even if she is someone I haven’t shared more than five words with since I’ve been working out there, so I smile. "It's just a little sad to see so many women dancing so happily to music made by artists who clearly hate them."  

A few minutes later I overheard some of the ladies talking about me "blasting" them. Then they proceeded to snub me, like I was the guy getting all Aristotle* on their asses.

Sorry, ladies, I'm just trying to raise awareness. Don't you realize that even if you don't "listen to the lyrics" you're still promoting and therefore perpetuating a system that wishes to keep you marginalized? And you think you don't subconsciously pick up the idea that it's okay to be used for sex? That ultimately your mission in life is to become the best receptacle for male enthusiasm you can be? You can snub me all you want; it doesn't make what I'm saying any less true.

"Millions of girls will grow up thinking that this is the right way to act… 
that they can never be more than vacuous ninnies whose only goal is to look pretty, 
land a rich husband, and spend all day on the phone with their equally vacuous friends 
talking about how damn terrific it is to look pretty and HAVE A RICH HUSBAND!!!"

We Listen to the Wrong People
I don’t need to tell you that change is hard. It is especially difficult when everything in your culture and society (which may be nothing more than your family and friends) lives by the same philosophy, and those who raise their voices against you and your way of thinking aren't only wrong, they're just angry and bitter and want everyone else to be angry and bitter, too. A lot of women are brainwashed to believe that feminism is bad, and when you don't have a long history of independent thinking and someone you know and love and trust insists that you avoid people who challenge your beliefs, it's not a big mystery when you do.

Why don’t more people do their own research? Why do some people only turn to those who think the same way they do when confused about a subject? What’s with all this confirmation bias? What good do some people get out of only learning about that which supports their already basic views? What is so scary about getting some perspective?

Smile and Everybody Will Like You
I’m sure many of you have seen Dove’s new “Choose Beautiful” advertising campaign, “which aims to change the instinct to SETTLE FOR AVERAGE.” Seriously?!

Way to send a mixed message, Dove. You may as well have just said, “give us your money.”

“You’re beautiful! But if you don’t buy Dove, you’re just SETTLING FOR AVERAGE.”           

In the video, the headquarters has placed “Beautiful” over one set of doors for entry, and “Average” over the other. The article says, "Unfortunately, and maybe unsurprisingly, many women chose to slink by unnoticed under the 'Average' sign rather than display to the world that they acknowledged their beauty."  Uh, maybe because that is kind of narcissistic? But that's what they want; if you aren't consumed with what you look like then the terrorists win!

Why not put up signs that say, "I'm a good person," and "I could do better?" Oh, that's right, teaching people to not be shitty doesn't make money. Even if THAT'S what actually makes you beautiful.

If you read between the lines (or really, just read the article and listen to what the video is literally saying—don't just pay attention to how it makes you feel), it is quite clear that this is just another case of the media and the beauty industry (that makes billions of dollars off our self-esteem issues) pushing the stale and archaic message that WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE MATTERS.

I choose not to be brainwashed to believe that any corporation cares whether or not I feel beautiful, and instead choose to NOT worry about what I look like and focus on what matters, like expanding my mind and being healthy. Besides, Dove is an inferior product and, despite what Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, claims, they test on animals.

Women, we're smarter than that. Don't be fooled by the capitalist trolls. One way or another, they just want to keep you consumed with your outward appearance so that they can keep getting rich.

As my husband said, (time for the rad fems who don’t believe in equality to roll their eyes…) “if everybody is supposed to feel beautiful, then wouldn't beautiful be the average? The two signs would then mean the same thing.”

And because they are lying to you and telling you that it doesn't matter if anyone thinks you're beautiful or not (all while the media is telling you that it DOES matter), they are brainwashing you into trusting them, and that makes you more likely to buy their shitty animal torturing products.

When it comes right down to it, our culture doesn’t leave room for who we are "inside." It doesn't matter if we want to grow spiritually or emotionally or intellectually. What matters is that we spit shine our physical temples until they're gleaming so gloriously that we blind the whole universe with our squeaky clean perfection--or at least until we believe that we are, so that we're a bunch of mindless happy drones shelling out our money for shit that doesn't fucking matter, which ultimately means we aren’t stirring things up. We aren’t being dissident. We aren’t rebelling.

They know that even if you aren’t conventionally beautiful, at least you will go broke and die trying to be. What a good little capitalist you are!

I challenge any woman reading this to check her budget. How much do you spend in a year on beauty products? In a month? How about in a week? Make a list of all the other things you could do with that money if, instead of paying someone else to do your nails, or blow-dry your hair for you… you use that money for something else? What would you do with all your time? What amazing things could you do in your life, if you put being “beautiful” on the back burner?

Why are some women so willing to spend so much money and time trying to feel beautiful? What do you get out of it? Does your feeling pretty change the world in any way? Does it make you a nicer person? All it does is put more money into a system that doesn't give a shit about you.

The male beauty industry is “booming” (Business Insider, 2013). I wonder if men will eventually be brainwashed into believing they deserve to be beautiful, too.

As a society we are so self-absorbed, petty and obsessed with our looks, we waste so much of our time, our money and our energy worrying about how we appear to others—how we present ourselves, physically and socially—that we are losing touch with our humanity; we are losing our character and our empathy. We are losing touch with what it means to be real. To be ourselves.

 I must own this shirt.

Sometimes, It’s Personal
Some people are set in their ways, and sometimes those people are those closest to you. They are happy being the way they are. They see no reason to change, and they may even sincerely see feminism as unnecessary rabble rousing. Those people have to find their own way. All you can do is live by example, hope that they’re listening, and wait to see if life steers them in a way that clarifies a broader perspective for them. We have to pick our battles.

We need to reach out to those who are clearly unsettled, but either don’t now why or don’t know what to do. We need to band together with those who are like-minded; but do not alienate, snub or tear down those who think differently (I know a few people who might call me a hypocrite but my feelings about Trump supporters have nothing to do with this). They who hate and troll and want to tear down are the ones who give us a bad name. Let us not be like them. As feminists, we have to stick together, even if that means sticking to someone who wants to see you burn, because in the end, we’re responsible for each other. Just because there are those who wish to see us fall, or at the very least want us to shut up, it doesn’t mean that we have to let it make us shitty people. Two wrongs do not make a right.

*Aristotle believed that women were mere receptacles for a man's semen and that we were incomplete humans, more like animals than people. 

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