Sunday, October 23, 2011

Not the kind of equality I am fighting for

Late night television is still making fat jokes.  It seems that the only thing that is consistently funny, and the one thing the comedians fall back on is how someone looks.  There is a small twist this time though.  This time they are doing it to Christopher Christie, the New Jersey Governor, as well as to Jessica Simpson.

This is not the kind of equality I am fighting for.

If the only way to create something as funny is to remark on a politician/celebrity’s appearance, then I think we live in a heartless world who does not understand the meaning of character or when someone is in distress.  Once again we are fighting a lipstick war and not one of compassion.  Attacks on Charlie Sheen and his recent very public breakdown are nothing short of heartless, and display the type of competition that is usually reserved for how women talk to each other.  And it worries me.

This is not the kind of equality I am fighting for either.

What I mean why are celebrities reduced to the kind of treatment we normally reserve just for women.  We comment on their appearance, their intelligence (usually the lack of), their latest scandal, their fashion, their hair, their love life etc.  We feel that we have a right to it, turning to each other and saying things like “Well, if they didn’t want the public to comment, they shouldn’t have become a public figure.”  As if this justifies our own judgmental behavior.  We also seem to think that there is something that the person can do about it.  It is their fault, after all.

An additional argument here is that many of the self esteem and self image issues that celebrities walk around with we also impose on our young girls.  Man have a tendency to manifest these issue through the use of alcohol, sex and drugs, while women focus internally and use food as their tools of choice.  Make no mistake; I am not arguing either form of coping as gender specific, just as a tendency.

Young women are subject to the same kind of scrutiny that celebrities are.  They are attacked at a stage of development in which they are sure there is an imaginary audience watching them all the time, and so become concerned with the smallest of details.  The trouble is we have created a society in which they are partially right, there are people out there who comment on their appearance, and it is usually other women. Very often it is their peer group.  I found myself commenting about a woman wearing pajamas into the local Chipoltle. (They were bright yellow and had SpongeBob faces on them.  And it was 4 pm on a Wednesday).

Part of the problem is that we as a society do in fact attribute characteristics based on how someone looks. It is called the Halo effect.  We give jobs, dates, and better deals to those who we think are attractive.  We want those things for ourselves too, so we primp and curl, and when we don’t, jokes are made.

Awareness is the first way to fight this, but I spent some time thinking about the source of this meanness, and can only come up with . . .nothing.  Sure some jealousy is there, but jealousy of what? I think we should fight this, because I don’t think it is okay to victimize or dehumanize someone based on their weight or their gender.  I also find myself becoming derisive about SpongeBob pajamas in public.

So I am throwing open the doors for discussion.  How do you think we should fight this kind of judgment to help prevent young women from “image-ing” themselves into an eating disorder?

Monday, October 10, 2011


I live in Los Altos/ Palo Alto.  This means that i am near many of the movers and shakers who make our world what it is.  Last Thursday night I was lucky enough to get an invitation to preview the new documentary Miss Representation by Jennifer Siebel Newsom.  I dragged my 17 year old filmmaker friend along, and was delighted to catch up to another feminist friend from a womens organization I belong to.

For the next hour and a half or so I watched images and commentary about  women in America and how we are consistently and constantly subjagated, objectified, put down, dismissed, invalidated, infantalized, and ridiculed for our power.

I didn't disagree with any of it.

I have seen such documentaries before.  Killing Us Softly by Jean Kilbourne and Tough Guise by Jackson Katz, but both of these stopped at the gender role representations and body images within media only.  Jen's went to politics, economics, and even to a personal place.   She spoke of her struggle with an eating disorder.  Her situation is her own in regards to this, but the struggle is one that we all know, whether or not the eating disorder became full blown.  We all struggle with self comfort vs the fear of rejection.

In the audience, I hesitated to ask my question, and let a couple of other people go first.  I finally just asked.  Where?  I want to know, does the fear come from?  And have we named it?  Because it seems to me that until we can name this fear of women in power, we cannot address it completely.

It has been nibbled at, chewed on, provided fodder for conversation and yet, and yet, it is not yet named.

How do we name this thing?

I sent Jen an email beginning the conversation around this question. If you want to join in, then please watch Miss Representation on the OWN Network on October 19th with this question in mind, and chime into the conversation.  Jen and I are interested.

And if, like my 17 year old friend, you think you somehow don't have the chops or experience to chime in, I have one question for you: do you have a vagina?  If THAT answer is yes, then you have something to say simply by virtue of living the life you have lived.  If that answer is no, chime in anyway.