Tag Archives: sexism

Fashionable Objectification? #NotBuyingIt!

A few nights ago I realized I was in desperate need of a pair of shorts to help me deal with the oncoming humidity of Northeastern summers. So, I rushed to my local H&M right before they closed. I had about ten minutes to search for cute shorts, find them in my size, and try them on before the store closed (which is quite a feat if you’re familiar with H&M’s mysterious sizing sorcery). Though I was literally running for the register while clutching my cute new floral patterned high-waisted shorts, I managed to snap these pictures of some ridiculous graphic tees I found in the “Men’s” section.

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There were more of these “graphic tees” featuring close-ups and odd angles that cut off women’s heads and focus solely on sexualized parts of their bodies. As I expected, a quick look around confirmed that there were no analogous women’s (or men’s) tees featuring men in spandex or close-ups of their sinewy muscles. Driving home, these shirts occupied my thoughts. I was trying to figure out what bothered me about them. There was the obvious implicit male gaze of the photographs, the objectification of a woman’s body, and the slicing up of that body into only its desirable parts. But there was something else that was bugging me about the photographs. It was their voyeuristic quality–the idea that they were literally taken without the knowledge of their subject from a vantage point of behind or below her. It reminded me of the “Creepshot” community on the popular website, Reddit, which featured “upskirt” photos and pictures of women taken without their consent. I wondered whether the model whose body was on display knew she would be reduced to her butt covered in a patriotic bikini on a tee-shirt for men? With the retail clothing industry’s history of stealing images without the knowledge of their rightful owner, this didn’t seem like a far reach. I also wondered who this tee-shirt was being marketed to–who was the man that would see this disembodied female body on a tee-shirt and think it would look really cool in their summer wardrobe?

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H&M was recently celebrated in some zones of feminist media for their advertisement for “normal” clothing featuring a “plus-size” model. Though I was far from cheering at that excuse for progress, it reinforced for me the vigilance we must have as feminist consumers. Companies are not in the business of making a feminist revolution (obviously,) they are in the business of making profits (capitalism, people).  So, get on Twitter and tell H&M you are #NotBuyingIt!

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The Only Thing You Need To Know About Dove’s “Real Beauty” Campaign

I have tackled Dove’s “Real Beauty” Campaigns before, challenging their appropriation of body positivity and the assumption that their brand is somehow better at tackling body image issues than other brands, like Victoria’s Secret. This week, Dove came out with a new video as a part of their “Real Beauty” Campaign. It shows an FBI sketch artist drawing women as they describe themselves and then again as a “new friend” describes them. The video’s purpose is to demonstrate what most people already know: women have low self-esteem and think they are uglier than they actually are.  Alexandra Brodsky over at Feministing has covered some really important points about Dove’s new marketing campaign–mainly the fact that it reinforces standard Western beauty standards and prescribes to the “One Direction” formula for beauty: “You don’t know you’re beautiful…that’s what makes you beautiful.”

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Dove is one brand that is owned by the massive multinational corporation, Unilever, whose dozens of brands make everything from soap to ice-cream to cleaning products to teabags. Unilever owns brands like TRESemme, Vaseline, Suave, Noxzema and most noxiously, Axe. Each brand owned by Unilever markets itself individually– of course, this is why we see such faux body-positivity when Dove is advertising soap and such blatant teenage-boy level sexism when Axe is marketing its shower gel.

Dove launched their “Real Beauty” Campaign in 2004 and consumers are still buying it, despite numerous criticisms of the brand’s methods and messages. They are buying it because it is good marketing. It is targeting the people it aims to target–everyday, “average,” (mostly white) women who feel like they do not live up to society’s beauty standards. While we’re on the subject, let’s return back to Alexandra Brodsky’s point that Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign reinforces Western beauty ideals like thinness, whiteness, and small features (to name a few). Dove’s campaign also targets mostly white, middle-class women. “Real beauty” only applies to a specific kind of beauty–and we can bolster that argument with the fact that Unilever also owns the brand Fair and Lovely, which makes skin-lightening creams that are popular in India because of the globalization of Western beauty ideals.

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The solution to the problems and contradictions of Dove’s ad campaign is not to stop buying soap, to protest all Unilever products, or even to reform marketing, as I’ve previously suggested. I’m pretty sure I am drinking tea made by Unilever as I write this. The problems with Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign are created by monolithic issues like capitalist ideologies, market monopolies, racism, sexism, and the like. But as consumers, we must challenge Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign by pointing out the contradictions in Unilever’s marketing strategies and telling them that we are #NotBuyingIt!

 

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Victoria’s Secret vs. Dove: Or, how companies appropriate body-positivity to sell you more stuff

The above image has been going around Facebook to the same devastating results as the “When did this…become hotter than this…?” meme. Both images were taken from advertising and marketing campaigns by two large companies, Dove and Victoria’s Secret, who have been appropriating body positivity to continue to profit off of people’s insecurities. While the sale of false body positivity is all I see in these images, Facebook responded positively to Dove’s ad campaign and negatively to Victoria’s Secret’s.

These reactions of “ew, gross, way too skinny” about the VS models are not at all body-positive, and the celebration of Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign gives them far too much credit.

Dove’s Real Beauty campaign showcases women whose bodies fall on the societally acceptable side of normal. While people love to tell a size 0 VS model to “eat a damn sandwich,” the same people appreciate Dove’s campaign, which only celebrates the size 6, size 8, size 10, maybe size 12 curves of a conventionally attractive woman. Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign is just a marketing front for selling a line of “firming creams” to women with insecurities about “flab” and cellulite. Does Dove’s campaign ad show a few more women of color, a few more “curvy” women, and a little bit less retouching than Victoria’s Secret’s ads do? Yes. But is Dove really the savior of women everywhere whose self-esteem is continuously torn down by our culture and media? Not a chance.

Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign has been around for a few years now and the criticisms of it are widely documented. Now, Victoria’s Secret–the cultural gatekeeper of sexual perfection and unattainable bodies–has weakly used body-positive language to sell bras to women who may worry that their partners prefer watching the VS fashion show to looking at their imperfect bodies. Even though “I Love My Body” is very weakly tied to actual bodies– the bras they are selling as called “Body” bras, so really it’s just “I Love My Bra”– the use of a body-positive statement to sell products is offensive.

Dove, Victoria’s Secret, and those who celebrate these campaigns need to understand that loving your body, appreciating real beauty, and being body-positive is incompatible with buying products to make you do so. These pathetic marketing campaigns continue to profit off our insecurities when the truth is that self-esteem cannot be bought. The same fake endorsements of body-positivity can be seen in Julia Bluhm and Spark Summit’s recent “success” in getting Seventeen Magazine to stop airbrushing models. While Seventeen talks the talk with its diplomacy with Bluhm and its “Body Peace Treaty,” the magazine cannot celebrate real bodies because it makes its business by advertising to girls that they need certain products to be prettier, cooler, sexier, and more desirable.

What is the solution to this? We all need to buy soap or lotion or those special halter-back bras from Victoria’s Secret; companies make a business selling us things. So buy the things you need–but don’t let them convince you that you “need” something to make you sexier, prettier, more confident, or more desirable. Be critical of advertising and don’t fall for the celebration of “body-positive advertising” that is just another front for manipulative marketing. Criticize the sexism, the airbrushing, and the message that you are not good enough. And don’t tell the VS model to eat a sandwich.

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Should we listen to rapists?

In its focus on rape culture, contemporary feminism has encouraged victims of rape or sexual assault to share their stories. These stories aim to reveal that rape does not always have to be violent or predatory, that perpetrators are often people we are familiar with, and that rape occurs more often than we’d like to think. This week, a Reddit user reoriented the discussion of rape culture by posting a thread asking rapists to share their stories. The thread was titled: “Reddit’s had a few threads about sexual assault victims, but are there any redditors from the other side of the story? What were your motivations? Do you regret it?”.

This thread began a slew of comments and commentary that questioned the effects of allowing rapists to anonymously share their stories of committing rape and sexual assault. The thread itself is very disturbing, including comments from people who begin their stories with, “I don’t think this was rape but…”. Many posters expressed feelings of remorse or confusion about what they did wrong. Others explained clear stories of rape or assault surrounded by justifications of why it was okay. There were stories from intentional, serial rapists, and stories from those just now realizing that they may have sexually assaulted someone.

Internet users have had mixed reactions to the thread and its usefulness as a resource for change. Many feel that the anonymity afforded by Reddit is too much of a kindness to self-admitting rapists, and that it is disrespectful to their victims to share the story of their assault for the whole world to see. Others feel that the only use for the thread would be to track down the identities of these users and make sure they are prosecuted for their actions.

The above concerns are valid. Victims should be morally, socially, and legally considered above their attackers. It makes me rather uncomfortable that many of these posters continue to live their lives, walk the streets, and work in our communities after knowing they have committed such a crime. However, Jezebel thinks that there are reasons to listen to rapists, and I agree. Here are the most important things that I learned from Reddit’s stories from rapists:

1. Sexual Education needs to stress consent, consent, consent.

The number of Reddit posters who had created their own definitions of rape, assault, and consent was astounding. The number of commenters who told posters: “That isn’t really rape,” was offensive. All of this vague language regarding sex and consent could easily be solved by early, comprehensive, and sex-positive sexual education. People need to understand that just because someone has not said “no,” does not mean they have given consent. Consent is active, enthusiastic, and positive. Not neutral, not passive, not “not fighting back”.

2. Alcohol and drugs make consent more complicated.

This is not to say, “Don’t ever mix drugs/alcohol with sex,” because that is both unrealistic and pretty much impossible. It is only to say that getting consent while drunk/high is a whole different level– for consent experts only. Many of Reddit’s rapists’ stories included hazy cases of consent where the victim and/or rapist were intoxicated  . For more information about alcohol/drugs and sex, see the below video by YouTuber Laci Green.

3. Speaking up about rape and sexual assault is important– from both sides. 

Rape only happens because somebody decides to rape somebody else. Whether or not that decision is made by someone who is informed about what rape means is up to us. As I stated above, consent must be stressed above all else in our sexual education. Rapists must be held accountable legally, morally, and socially. I will leave you with this comment from Redditor mrrrrrow:

I would just like to post a plea to the people here who have expressed remorse – even if you don’t feel like you can apologise to your victim, you can still do a lot of good. Please speak to the next generation. There are young people and teenagers growing up right now who will make the same mistakes. We have the most appalling attitude towards sex education in general, but boys and girls need to know that ‘stranger rape’ is not the most common form of rape. They need to know that these situations do happen.

Tell the young men1 in your life your story (sanitised as much as seems necessary). Tell them how your situation arose, why you kept going without consent, what it meant to you afterwards, how you’ve come to your position of remorse. Ask them how they would feel if that was their sister, friend, mother, and to remember that every girl2 is someone’s sister, friend, daughter.

If you can, go into schools and colleges and tell your story. Contact self-defence and sexual assault prevention groups for help on outreach.

Although some of the posts in this thread are beyond what I can bring myself to read, I do think that the conversation needs to happen. The only way to truly prevent rape is to teach people not to rape.

1 I acknowledge that not all rapists are men, but they overwhelmingly are. And obviously not all men are rapists.

2 Ditto not all victims are women

 

 

 

 

Author’s Note: I apologize for the lack of updates; I have taken the past week to get acclimated to my new position as a Social Media/Publicity Intern for an awesome website called A Mighty Girl. If you follow A Mighty Girl’s Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest, you’ll be seeing lots of my behind-the-scenes work!

 

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Filed under feminism, privilege, rape culture, sexism, sexuality, social justice, Uncategorized

Don’t be Feminist Phil

 

 

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On Microaggression

 

One of the more common dismissals of feminism that I hear (apart from “women already have rights” and “what about the men?!”) is: “You’re just looking for something to be angry about“. The idea that those who engage in cultural criticism, feminist or otherwise, are nit-picky, obsessive, and need to “calm down” is just another way to silence opinions that society deems too radical.

Those who believe we live in a post-feminist world typically don’t have a good grasp on the meaning of the many facets of feminism (although we can’t blame them for that, as feminism is barely included in public school curriculums beyond the first wave to begin with.) Liberal feminism, most closely associated with the movement’s first wave, worked to level the playing field in terms of legal rights, education, and general access to opportunity. Liberal feminism assumes that once women have equal access and opportunity to all aspects of society that men do, liberation will naturally occur.

So, what happened? Women got the right to vote, the right to hold jobs without discrimination based on sex, and the ability to attend any school or university. That didn’t solve everything. Women still underperformed in STEM fields, were underrepresented in the political sphere, and underrepresented in the publishing world. Despite women’s successes, magazines still told them how to be sexy enough for the office, how to snag a husband, and how to lose weight fast (because their bodies were never good enough). Women and young girls were hypersexualized in the media, suffered from poor self-esteem and body image, and began to locate their worth in their appearances.

These issues may seem “smaller” than the right to vote, but they continue to be cultural roadblocks in our fight against sexism.  These issues of identity, misogyny, and body-negativity pervade every aspect of society until we can no longer see them. One of the jobs that I assign myself as a feminist is to be the eyes that see our microaggressions.

Here is a definition of racial microaggressions that can explain the definition of microaggression in a broader context, such as gender.¹ 

“Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults towards people of color. Those who inflict racial microaggressions are often unaware that they have done anything to harm another person.”

Microaggressions are most often discussed in terms of race, but they can involve any aspect of identity, from sexuality to gender to ethnicity. Microaggressions against feminists, against feminism, and against women in general seep through modern society, in television shows, in clothing, and in insults like “cunt,” “bitch,” “slut,” and “whore”. Rape jokes, “get back to the kitchen” jokes, and advertisements that seems to be stuck in the 1950s don’t help either.

Microaggressions work to silence discussion and prevent change in the way we talk about identity. This article from Shakesville explains how microaggressions are often used against feminism:

“… the idea that addressing “the little things,” like being told to smile or misogynistic t-shirts, somehow demeans feminism or distracts from “real” or “serious” sexism is utterly, completely, devilishly wrong.”

Now that you know what a microaggression is, call out the perpetrators. Politely let people know that while they may think something they said was harmless, humorous, or good-natured, you or someone else may find it offensive and harmful.

I also urge you to check out The Microaggresions Project, where people submit stories about the microaggressions they experience in their daily lives.

 

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Fat-Shaming Sunday

In a deviation from Slut-Shaming Sunday, today I will highlight a few terrible things that people think are okay to say about “fat” people, especially “fat” women.

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Sexist Ad Saturday: Bikini Bodies?

“Women’s magazines” have a way of inspiring body hate year-round, from featuring tips on how to avoid gaining weight over the winter holidays to their fixation on “bikini bodies” from the first moment Punxsutawney Phil pokes his head out of a long winter.

In my teenage years I dreaded bathing suit situations, especially when I’d be around other girls who were constantly comparing bodies. Since I ditched the women’s magazines at the beginning of 2009, my skepticism of the alleged “perfect bikini body” has grown. What exactly does a “bikini body” look like? Why do women need to change their bodies just to wear a functional (if revealing) piece of clothing? Why must our bodies be first and foremost something to be seen?

Why are “bikini body” diet and workout tips often linked to “confidence”? This phrasing implies that we should only be confident about our appearances if we are perfectly thin, toned, and hairless. Can’t we be confident about our bodies without changing them or fitting into some arbitrary body norm?

When we put all our energy and concern into how we look for the pleasure of others, we lose that energy that wants to do, help, create, and change the world around us. Don’t fall for the futile search for the perfect body. Cast off harmful media like women’s magazines and body-negative health and fitness blogs and learn to love your body for what it does rather than what it looks like.

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Islamophobia and Sexism

In light of the controversy over  Laci Green‘s comment that Islam is “the most sexist religion,” I wanted to share a paper I wrote a few years ago about Islam and the custom of veiling. Researching and writing this paper exposed me to important ideas about women and Islam that I had never considered before. The paper is on a very specific topic about a specific geographic area, but I think it gives some important historical information about the roots of some Islamic practices that many people believe to be sexist. I would like to add that this post is not meant to claim that Islam is or is not sexist; I am simply trying to challenge some of the ways we talk about and think about certain people and religions.

If you are looking for further resources on understanding Islamophobia, I highly recommend the film Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Villifies a People, which can be watched on YouTube below. Some other interesting ideas about sexism in Islam can be found here. I also highly encourage reading the works of Lila Abu-Lughod, especially her paper titled “Seductions of the Honor Crime,” if you have access to academic databases.

“Bad Hijab”: The Importance of the Veil in Modern Iranian Culture

     For women in modern Iran, the veil has become a sign of the recent rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the increased cultural and political oppression of women. Though Iran is known as one of the most modernized and educated Middle-Eastern countries, the hijab and its related social constructs remain a heavy influence on the social status of women in the country. The veil continues to be manipulated as a symbol of power and oppression on women in Islamic countries and in marketing and media in the Western world. In this paper, I will discuss the historical importance of veiling in Iran and the influence of Sharia law on determining the veiling customs of Iranian women. I will also focus on the veil’s role in the modern cultural life of Iranian women, specifically in the central city of Tehran.

The first reference to the veiling of women in the Islamic world was in Continue reading

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Internet Threats Against Sarkeesian and Green Shut Down Debates

Misogyny against women on the internet has received increased attention in the past few months in response to Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter project “Tropes vs Women in Video Games“. Sarkeesian runs Feminist Frequency and makes videos about feminism and sexism in popular culture. She made a proposal for a video series about sexism in video games and used Kickstarter to raise the $6,000 to fund her project. Sarkeesian met her goal in no time, but she also met widespread threats of death and rape from members of the online gaming community. Sarkeesian writes about the image-based harrassment and visual misogyny that was created against her, from wikipedia vandalism to the creation of an online game whose objective is to beat up her likeness.

A controversy on Tumblr today is another example of threats against a woman on YouTube. Vlogger Laci Green, who runs the Sex+ channel, received threats of violence and death in response to certain opinions she expressed on her YouTube and Tumblr.

The controversy seems to have been started over the questions below, in which Green apologizes for an uninformed mistake she had made in the past.

Another aspect of the controversy was sparked by Green’s evangelical atheism and an opinion she expressed about Islam in a video about why she is no longer a Mormon. Green said that Mormonism is “probably one of the most sexist [religions] that I’ve come across, beside Islam.”

This is the question, and Laci’s answer, in regard to her comment on Islam.

“Q: Sorry if you already answered this, but I came across your other channel and just watched the video where you say Mormonism is “probably one of the most sexist [religions] that I’ve come across, beside Islam.” Since you are white and have never been Muslim, could you issue an apology, or update the video with an apology in the description? I am an atheist too, but there is horrible sexism in many religions, and in secular culture as well. It’s not right to single out Islam. It’s Islamophobic.

A: You’re right, it’s not right to single out Islam. Many religions and cultures are extremely sexist and I despise them all equally. This wasn’t the intent of my statement and I apologize if it came off that way.

The video (which is kinda old and came before I learned how to be fully “PC”) is about my experience, and in my life, Islam has perpetuated more gendered violence and sexism toward the women in my life and family than mormonism ever did. Both these religions have wounded me and my loved ones deeply, much of which was on the basis of sex and gender. Just writing about this makes my heart sink. No amount of screaming “Islamophobia” will change that, and it’s actually a wonderful example of how childish and ignorant religion makes people out to be. People get so wound up in defending anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-human, piece of trash organizations that they can’t hear criticism for what it is: a human experience that is real, that is valid, that is unjust.

Yes I am white and no I am not Muslim nor have I ever been. There are certain experiences I can never speak about, such as actually being Muslim or being a person of color. I can, however, speak about my own, and to argue that I must have dark skin or have been a practicing Muslim in order for me to do so is more of the same oppressive bullshit.

I grew up in a multicultural family. My dad’s side of the family immigrated from Iran 20 years ago. My dad himself immigrated to America when he was 16. My family is Muslim on my dad’s side and Mormon on my mother’s (although my dad eventually converted to mormonism). I grew up in a climate where these two religions dominated my life in a really painful way. 

I don’t owe ANYONE explanations of why I feel the way I do. I don’t need to rehash things that have hurt me and that I’ve moved on from. My feelings and experiences are perfectly valid on their own. If you want to call it “Islamophobia”, I’ll call you ignorant.This isn’t about quantifying pain, this is about my own experience with that pain. Calling that “Islamophobia” undermines what Islamophobia really is and how it operates. I fucking hate organized religion, including Islam, and all the pouting in the world won’t change that.”

Much of this controversy has been playing out on Tumblr and involving the community of social justice bloggers. I agree that Laci’s comments, especially those regarding Islam, were unnecessarily negative and probably emotionally-charged. I think the right thing for Laci to do would be to conduct her research on what her critics have been saying and make an informed apology for her comments. However, everything that Laci’s critics (and Anita Sarkeesian’s critics as well) are calling attention to can no longer be the main concern of these controversies. Nobody is going to listen to or engage in informed debate about the problematic aspects of Sarkeesians’s project or Laci Green’s comments once a threat has been made against their lives. This anger, while it may be well-meaning or deserved, is counter productive to informed discussion about identity, race, religion, gender, and sexuality. These are sensitive topics, but reacting with anger, stalking, and threats completely shuts down the important conversation that needs to be happening about such sensitive topics.

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