A feminist response to events in Europe

“Sexual assaults”. “Molestation”. “Two accounts of rape”. “Fingering”. “Events marred by sexual harrassment”. “Intimidations”. “Groping”.  The media have been reporting sexual assaults in Cologne, Hamburg, Finland and Sweden on New Years Eve in whole new proportions. Is that why it has grabbed the world’s attention? Why didn’t we hear the same indignation during a similar event i Ha Noi in Vietnam in july when thousands of young men assaulted women in a waterpark? Why the interest suddenly now? Maybe its because we have finally gotten women rights on the agenda in 2015? Or is it because violence against women is a dangerous epidemic in epic proportions around the world and needs to be addressed? Because don’t get me wrong, we should all be angry about sexual assaults, of any kind. But I have the uncomfortable feeling that the reason we hear so much about these assaults in Germany & Scandinavia is because the headline is followed by the words “asylum seekers”.

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It serves a specific line of thought: many Europeans are terrified of the strangers coming from the South in extraordinary numbers (and adherring to a religion that many see as a threat to modern society) and so once they are told “thousands” of them acted like animals, they will buy the story immediately. Without further thought. And be outraged. Which we all should be. But not only when these crimes are committed by a convenient enemy. Let me burst that bubble:

–  many Europeans are terrified of the strangers. This is not the first time we have seen extra-ordinary numbers of people fleeing their countries and seeking refuge. It happened in the 80’s and in the 90’s, and we handled it pretty well. See this link on how this refugee crisis is different and how we can actually better meet it:

“Past experience of refugee crises suggests that migrants can, eventually, become valued and valuable contributors to the economic and social health of countries.”

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adherring to a religion that many see as a threat. It is correct that many of the refugees are muslim, but not all. Being muslim is not identical to being an islamist, far from it. Just as being Christian is not the same as being a murderer of doctors performing abortions. The worst extremist movement we hear about at the moment is IS, an extremely violent group that is the reason behind many Syrians seeking refuge in Europe. IS is not a representation of Islam or Islam values. Islam is not against modern norms, and is, like any other religion, subject to interpretation. Religions should not dictate the way we run countries anyway, but they are the pillars for our values, and you would actually be surprised at how many of them preach the same thing,  kindness and tolerance. Somehow, that got lost in Translation throughout history.

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“thousands” of them acted like animals. We were told thousands of men of foreign background attacked women in Cologne and Hamburg. Think about that number. THOUSANDS. I can imagine that if you experienced it, it sure felt like a thousand hands. But we should maybe not take that number at face value. Some witnesses reported seeing clearly a small group of men orchestrating the assaults in Germany. They seemed to instruct groups of 3-4 men to go into the crowd and do some of things we heard about. If the instructed groups were of  3-4 people- how long would it take to instruct a THOUSAND people? I am sure it was a large group of people that attacked women that night, and I am not in doubt that they were attacked for one second (why shouldn’t I believe them?). But I think we have to be careful about blowing up the number to a group of thousand molestors, which seems almost impossible to me- but then again, I wasn’t there so I can’t possibly know. Maybe it is the sheer size of this that has made me pause (and the confusing reports, where some said the suspects had been of many different nationalities including North-African, German, Syrian and American). Perhaps there is some truth to this article in le Figaro listing the reasons why feminists have been quiet (except that they havent -see We can let the bigots steal feminism). It says the events do not fit into the inclusion message of a feminist rhetoric. Probably not. I, like many, thought: Is this something we will have to get use to now? But the more I think about it, the more I think it has alot to do with inclusion rhetoric and an integration that has totally failed. If we had better integration technics, actually welcomed refugees and used our efforts and resources to better help them integrate like with Norway’s lesson in how to treat women, instead of trying to block them out, maybe we would see less incidents. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and we should also possibly talk about Sexual frustrations as is done in this Belgian piece. Aren’ some of the young men results of repressive regimes, years of segration and sexual relationships only being possible through marriage? What does that do to the mind? Some countries have been repressing their citizens and normal relationships between men and women are made quasi-impossible. It is no excuse but it helps us understand the frustrations and reasons why such a large group of men wreaks havoc when seeing women having fun. In some countries, the sexual relationship is only possible  through marriage, and you can only marry when the economic background of the man allows it, impossible for so many young men today, as they live in unstable countries with high un-employement and few future possibilities of development.  Whatever baggage some men of refugee background might be carrying, our approach is clearly not working, we are moving closer and closer to having parallel societies -that don’t understand each other and somehow, the Hunger Games do not seem so far away.
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not only when these crimes are committed by a convenient enemy. The fact that authorities and police tried to ignore this and kept information from the public (just like Sweden did by covering up sexual attacks by foreigners at the “WeAreSthlm” music festival in 2014) is not right. The Swedish police cited as a reason that they did not want to give material to right-wing extremist (who are currently having a field day in Germany). But why does that surprise us? It is actually the way sexual harassment cases and violence against women has always been treated by authorities, and our incompetent justice systems when it comes to women rights.  These issues have not been addressed as seriously as they should have been for decades! Why was it any different when foreigners were involved? (which apparently wasn’t in 2014 but seeing the political climate today can serve other purposes than just to seek justice for female victims). These right wing fanatics don’t care about women’s bodies and their right to not be assaulted. They are outraged on their own behalf, because the foreigners have crossed a line (maybe they were the only ones allowed to downgrade “their” women and abuse them? Who knows) This rhetoric I keep hearing on the news is driving me crazy. The “we” against “them” insinuating somehow that “we in the west do not treat women this way” is insulting because it’s not true. Violence against women is found everywhere, in all societies and on all levels. It can well be that we have come far in respecting women rights in Europe, when compared to some countries – but don’t pretend it’s all hunky dory, just because it’s not out in the open. How many rapes go unpunished for? Women face sexism and harassment on a daily basis and have to be constantly on alert so they are not at risk (don’t drink too much, don’t walk alone, don’t dress too slutty -how about Don’t rape?)  Noone owes you sex, ever. We need to teach boys and men to respect boundaries and that consent is a yes, always.
Who is the enemy? Refugees are not the enemy and they are not the reason we see a) higher unemployement b)failing economies c) rural discontement or some other d) societal problem in European economies. Yes, we are seeing more inequality and more people who have less. But that isn’t the refugees’ fault. It is all down to our priorities being wrong. Our work model is failing (we should focus on productivity and not time spent at an office), we need more sustainable solutions and to re-think the way we structure society and where we spend money (astronaumical amounts in warfare for example). There is space for a million refugees in our rich economies, if we just play our cards right, find out where competences are needed and how people can be placed, until a solution is found in those countries and people can go back, if that is their wish. I feel Im talking to a kindegarten here, but you need to start collaborating to find solutions people.

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“Watch out for the refugee, he will take you cake”- Politiken (Debat Anne Lise Jørgensen)

So, now what? A final quote here from Obwonga.com
“Why don’t we see this as a perfect moment for men, regardless of our ethnic backgrounds, to get genuinely angry about the treatment of women in public spaces: to reject with fury the suggestion that we are somehow conditioned by society forever to treat women as objects, condemned by our uncontrollable sexual desires to lunge at them as they walk past. Let’s do our best to challenge the rampant misogyny which has gone on worldwide for far too long, and reject whatever lessons of sexist repression we may have been taught. Because women are tired of telling us about this, and exhausted of fighting a battle that for too long has gone overlooked.”

And can we do that for the right reasons, please?

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Who watches teen porn?

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Your neighbour?
Your boss?
Your dad?

Apparently alot of people. A new documentary called “Hot Girls Wanted” dives into the rise of “pro-am” (short for professional amateur) porn. The ‘amateur’ part refers to the young, amateur girls that perform in the films but their partners might be anything but new to the business. The girls know they are sought after because they literally are the ‘girl next door’ (but not for long). The only legal requirement is to prove you’re over 18, and you’re in.

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‘Hot Girls Wanted’ follows five different young women that start in the porn business by answering an ad on craigslist. Shortly thereafter they find themselves in the house of 23 year old Riley that acts as their booker, landlord  & driver to gigs. The film is directed by two journalists Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus & produced by actress Rashida Jones and has gotten good publicity. Jones says she wanted to make the film because she was ” concerned for the well-being of young women who think having sex on camera for money might be their quick ticket to fame and success — to a glamorous life”. The documentary shows how they start out as 18 year olds all fresh & perky, so happy to make their own money and get away from home. Some from homes that appear anything but dysfunctional.

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I found these girls really pretty – they are shown off and on camera but its their Twitter avatars and cool nicknames (like Ava Taylor & Stella May) that draw you in and  for a minute you think they might have found their dreamjob and who are you to criticise that? But as things start to get a little bit less ‘glamorous’,  the girls start to see that it’s not always about them or that the business isn’t as empowering as they imagined. After all, not many girls grow up dreaming of becoming porn actresses, servicing the needs of men:

“As long as you have boobs, and a vagina, and ass, that’s all the matters,” one of the girls called Rachel observes. “They don’t care about who you actually are.”

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And fame is measured in followers on Twitter.

Afterall, showing yourself naked on a webcam wasn’t at first that much different from the sexy profile pics on instagram & twitter that got the girls started. But this changes quickly. As the weeks pass by, the girls are gradually asked to perform in less “cute” films, and now they have to accept racial slurs, degrading actions, forced blowjobs where they throw up, or penetrate themselves with monstrous props because they have already been “too long in the business”.  After they have been booked 2-3 times, it’s time for “niche films” like bondage,  S&M or violent scenes that start making the girls uncomfortable.

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IMG_0126The girls tell themselves that if they are acting out these fantasies, in film – and it is all acting (like they’re not into it, where it in some cases resembles rape, and with violent, forceful & degrading sexual acts) it means the viewers won’t act on these fantasies in real life. How do we know violent porn doesn’t have an effect on real sexual violence and the rape-culture of today? It certainly doesn’t increase respect for women.

Towards the end we find out that Rachel quit porn after 6 months and apparently her dream is to become a photographer or director. I can’t help wonder that if being a director would have been a more accessible dream for a small-town girl, would she had gotten into porn at all?

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Young boys and men use porn daily. They look it up, they watch it and they get off on it. More than once. And so much so that it is causing intimacy problems:

“Pornography shows us a world where relationships mean nothing and immediate sexual gratification means everything. Therefore, the adolescent viewer’s brain is being wired to expect that sex and relationships are separate from one another, and that men and women’s bodies should be sexually exaggerated as they are in porn–which can lead to shame about one’s own body as well as failure to be aroused by the bodies of others.” Effects of porn on adolescent boys 

feministcurrent.com writes about the teen trend and titles like ‘Daddy’s girl gets filled’ and’ ExploitedTeens’ :

“The reality is that the sex industry is one of the most racist industries around. Men who pay for sex, whether through porn or prostitution, do not love and respect the women they use. Rather, they hate them. Themes in these porn videos are incestuous and non-consensual — teaching men and boys alike that rape and coercion is hot” and we are made to believe that this is what consumers really want “exploited, non-consenting, underage girls who are not enjoying the acts inflicted on them”.

It should make us think. And it actually makes me shiver because this is much more than just niche. The word “teen” is the most searched word in porn. Teen porn sites are viewed more than any other sites on the internet (be it Twitter, Cnn, Disney or even sports sites!). Porn sites in general get more traffic each month that Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined according to the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction. Recent research shows that nearly 40 percent of online pornography depicts violence against women. This is a high number. Considering that in the US 1 in 3 viewers are women. What does this do to their self-image?

This also means that many of the men I interact with on a regular basis watch porn online, and many, maybe even my closest friends, or people I work with or even my family members might be aroused by seeing young girls being coerced into sex. What does that mean? And why is that ok? I get worried for my sons generation and for them as young men as they will grow up in the post-internet era where things like porn availability isn’t questioned anymore. What if they start watching porn without me knowing? Which they most certainly will. How do you prepare them for that? Porn is somehow seen as every man’s right to have access to stimuli but what is it doing to our boys & men and & young women? “Hot Girls Wanted” answers it in part for the women and  Naomi Wolf says it more eloquently than I ever could about men:

“Greater supply of the stimulant equals diminished capacity. The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as “porn-worthy.” Far from having to fend off porn-crazed young men, young women are worrying that as mere flesh and blood, they can scarcely get, let alone hold, their attention.”

Esquire has also a good article about men giving up pornography and a community on Reddit called  “NoFap” that has more than 100,000 users. One 25 year old user says: “What porn is showing us 80–90 per cent of the time is sex with no hands involved. No touching, no caressing, no kissing. Porn cameras have no interest in sensual activities. They are only into penetration. This is not how we authentically desire.”. He found himself having problems with his ‘real’ sex life, bombarded with images of women being violated and so had to take matters into his own hands (pun intended).

A report in 2012 revealed one in three boys of 10-13 age had viewed explicit material online, with four out of five becoming regular uses by the time they were 16. Any one of them can see more naked women on their phone in 10 minutes than most grown men in history saw in their entire lifetimes. I guess that makes many men of my generation jealous. But it also makes me worried for our future generations. We don’t know what happens to young men when they can watch an unlimited amount of pornography – because it has no precedent in history. But we are starting to know the consequences.

See a TED talk about ‘The Great Porn Experiement’ below and after that I recommend you see “Hot Girls wanted”. Paraphrasing Stella May’s boyfriend: dating a porn star made him realise that girls he saw in porn were actual people – and that made him uncomfortable. Maybe there is hope.

More “Hot Girls Wanted” reviews below

Fusion

Variety

Telegraph

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Porn for women: Shondaland

If we are going to stereotype we’ll say all men like porn and all women like Shonda Rhimes TV shows (Grey’s anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal). 

Of course it’s not true but  for the sake of argument we will say it is. It is interesting to compare the appeal Shondaland has to women, to, lets say,  the appeal teen porn has to men. (I am going to start with Shonda so you will have to read my next post to learn all about teen porn and “Hot Girls Wanted”).

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I have been binging on Scandal’s new season (which has been described as the best political show ever since The West Wing) and I wonder what it is on that show that makes me tick (the obvious answer would be Scott Foley’s green eyes). But more seriously, why are women like me and alot of younger girls hooked on shows like Grey’s anatomy & Scandal?

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Shonda Rhimes changed the landscape of TV shows when she introduced Grey’s Anatomy. She has been part of creating & writing TV shows that have complex and not always loveable female characters. But you do not hate them either. Even though the storylines can be incredulous at times, the people often feel like real people:

“I wanted to create a world in which you felt as if you were watching very real women. Most of the women I saw on TV didn’t seem like people I actually knew. They felt like ideas of what women are. They never got to be nasty or competitive or hungry or angry. They were often just the loving wife or the nice friend. But who gets to be the bitch? Who gets to be the three-dimensional woman?”Rhimes on Cristina-Meredith friendship in Grey’s Anatomy.

There is a lot of drama (and sometime a bit too much for my taste) but what makes viewers come back for 5 or 10 seasons is that you get to know the characters and care about them.  And here is the crucial point. As you get to know the male characters on the show – and the love interest of our heroines – all those manipulated love scenes (in Scandal the same song plays everytime Liv & Fitz are drawn to each other & something’s going to happen) – they are the reason why you keep watching. Sure, you like the political drama, the medical cures, the emergencies and the storyline of the other characters, but you want more complicated love. Typically the story revolves about a woman who is in love with 1 or 2 men and can’t make up her mind. And you get that because you know real life isn’t always black or white, there aren’t just good and bad people but plenty inbetweens and while you connect, you get to know these guys as well. And you start to care. You might root for one or the other but the appeal of the man on the show feels real because you feel you know them. (and you get to know them, or their sixpacks, pretty intimately as well)

Meredith initially feels she has to chose between her career and Dr. Shephard (who gets reduced in fanland to ‘Dr. McDreamy’ and his other hot friend to ‘Dr. McSteamy’, which says alot about how male characters are viewed on these shows), Addison on Private Practice is torn between several men (being a spinoff from Grey’s Anatomy and in a wonderful Shondaspin she is McDreamy’s wife, but cheated with McSteamy, and in her own show she goes through Pete, Mark, Sam, Jake and Sam again before ending up with Jake in the season’s finale). Scandal has Olivia Pope wanting two men (she wants Vermont with President Fitz but she also wants the sun with spy Jake). Recap ends here.

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These are all complicated relationships with indecisive women at the center, not unlike real life. Except that we do not often see these types in movies, because it would be impossible in a 2 hours film to sum up complicated characters or relationships. It’s the “take-me / Let me go” drama that keeps those shows running even though you love to hate that. The love scenes are with regular intervals so you know they are coming, but they might not be in every episode. So you see the next one, and the next.  And you tell yourself its for the political scheming, or the laywer cases (like in The Good Wife, not a Shonda show) but you’re just lying to yourself. Because this is your porn.

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The reason I am comparing Scandal to porn is that the show is very explicit in its love scenes. Maybe the other shows had plenty of them, but I do not remember a scene where it was so explicit and where you see the heroine – and pardon my wording -getting fingered – and where focus is on her wellbeing (although we rarely make it to the orgasms themselves, you will have to imagine that yourself). It always stops, just as it begins, and it’s never shown in detail but a scene like the one with Liv and Jake on the beach in the opening episode of Scandal’s season 4 is the closest thing to porn I have see on mainstream television. And there are plenty of hot scenes to go around. But I am by no means representative of all women. And the shondaland shows sometimes drive me crazy. But I, for one am happy to see complicated women on TV, may it be Olivia Pope, Addison Montgomery, Alicia Florrick (The Good Wife), Selina Mayer (Veep) and the men in their orbits. There might be sex but it’s not messy or vulgar and involves intense feelings, maybe that is why I like it – I don’t need the details, but I need to know the characters and have followed a storyline to appreciate its intensity. So it might be porn, but in my head it’s classy porn.

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Je suis vraiment choquée !

The blog is in French but you will get the idea looking at the images. Books for young children – one for boys, one for girls – look at the difference when showing a map of the world! How can a map of the world look so different in the boy book (Details, realistic colours) and the girl book (Big cute animals, PINK)?? This makes no sense and is so offensive, I have no words!

Thank you for pointing this out, merci ActivitésMaison

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Alors, je vous explique. Je fais des courses avec toute ma bande et Baptiste m’interpelle.  “Regarde maman, ça va te plaire …”DSC00408

Bon, il me connait bien mon garçon, il sait que ça a le don de m’agacer ces livres/cahiers réservés aux filles et aux garçons. Comme s’ils ne pouvaient pas faire les mêmes activités ! Vous avez déjà eu droit à deux articles coup de gueule sur le sujet : marre du rose et boy’s book.

Donc déjà, je commence à pester contre cette manie qu’ont maintenant les éditeurs de faire des cahiers filles et garçons… Comme par hasard, les filles ont droit aux princesses, danseuses et autres fées et licornes. Pour les garçons, c’est chevaliers, pirates et dinosaures. Bon, ça, malheureusement, ça n’a rien d’extraordinaire, ils ne sont pas allés chercher bien loin …

Et puis si vous regardez bien sur ces deux cahiers qui s’adressent l’un comme…

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Changing the view on women in films

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Geena Davis is my favourite person on Facebook. Or rather the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the media. By following them I get news about films coming out with female characters, what women in film & TV are saying and doing in the media and it was also where I first heard about The Bentonville Film Festival that celebrates women and diversity. And here is why we need initiatives like the BFF:

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We need more women in the media- in filmmaking and in films in general. For those writing films, one advice from Geena is to write more female characters

“We can change what the future looks like. In other words, we don’t have to wait for society to turn things around, we can create the future now, through what people see. Yes, there are woefully few women CEOs in the world, but lots of them can be women on screen. How long will it take to fix the problem of corporate boards being so unequal? Well, they can be half women tomorrow, in films and on TV”

We can show what parity looks like on screen and see a world that we would like to see in the future by making women visible in all arenas, even though we are not there yet. In every scene, write that half of the extras are women. Because if you don’t, it’s unlikely they will be when the film gets made.  Because as the SeeJane initiative advocates, if we can see it, we can be it:

Geena Davis on life imitating art: “The former president of Iceland—she was president for 16 years—told me she would often get letters from little boys that said: ‘Do you think it would ever be possible for a boy to be president?’ If you see it, it can be real. We’ve study all the occupations of women characters in film and on TV—and one of the jobs in which women characters are most represented is in forensic science. And over the past few years, the demand in the real world for women in forensic science has skyrocketed. If we regularly see women in important positions, women in leadership positions, you’ll see that life will imitate art.”

I think this message is resonating in other domains as well. With pop-art blogs like “Congrats, you have an all male panel” and
“shit people say to women directors” people are coming out to discuss sexism:

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Imagine hearing those kind of statements on a daily basis.. who want’s to stay in that kind of environment when your skills and competencies are doubted at every turn?

Thankfully, something is being done. The ACLU is looking into the bias against women in Hollywood. That is a start.
But it’s not just in Hollywood women are treated like this. Generalisations about what women can or cannot do are everywhere.  When you haven’t seen a movie for a while with a female central character- ask yourself why that is. As Geena Davis says in an op-ed for UN Women – it’s not just that we see less women, it’s the type of women we see:

“What do we learn about women and girls when we turn on the television or go to the movies?  Around the world, female characters in films and television take far less space than male characters. They do less interesting things. They are judged by their appearance. We all know that women and girls are slightly more than half the human population. But you would not know this from watching films and television, where there are roughly three male characters for every one female.”

TV and film do not have to reflect society exactly as it is, but we have a right to demand more diverse storytelling, that appeals to a wider range of people. Because our world is made of all kinds of people, it is made of both women and men – and we need to remember that.

p.s. In totally related news, Nancy Meyers is coming out with a new film that focuses on a friendship between a fashion entrepreneur (Anne Hathaway) and her new, unusual intern (Robert Deniro), The Intern.

Nancy Meyer has a way of doing films that feel good but also tell different kind of stories:

 “Telling women’s stories is something that’s really important to me because there are so many people telling those other kinds of stories,” Meyers said. “I really feel my niche is to talk about the kinds of issues I talk about in my movies.”” Buzzfeed

Thank god for the Meyers and Davis’ of the world!

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Amy Schumer says “Screw them”

here is a little friday treat for you.

Is Amy Schumer becoming the ultimate feminist queen of television? (who is she replacing? Was it Tina, or the other Amy? Lena? What about Shonda?) This sketch is so wonderfully powerful in that it addresses how ridiculous our standards are – and who better to prove the point than sexy Tina Fey, Patricia Arquette and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Who even thinks about their age? They are so brilliant actresses and extremely funny that even guys watch their shows! (I can’t believe I said that but it is kindof of a criteria). Anyway, now its out in the open – after the last f**kable day as a woman, you can do anything you want.

Just think how different the world would be if you could do that BEFORE  that fateful day…

Rewind – who says you can’t? Screw those standards!

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Be proud of your body!

Body Confidence the Key to Success

Raising low self-esteem and increasing body confidence could be the key for gender equality and modern societies to succeed.  This is what a recent study conducted by Bristol University in the UK asserts. The British government has launched a self-awareness campaign called “Be real“, along with several sponsors like DOVE and Facebook that is meant to increase body confidence amongst the public.

The Bristol study looked at 25 worldwide studies examining the link between body confidence and success, especially in women and adolescent girls. The results show that women spend an incredibly large amount of time on their appearances, presumably taking energy and time from other activities. It goes so far as to say that women would probably fill more leadership roles and be more visible in society’s higher positions if they were equipped with better body confidence.

Concerns about appearance, size, weight, shape, or being attractive enough, overwhelms many women, all the way down to five year old girls to women that are over the age of seventy. Poor self-esteem and body shame (often left unsaid but very real in women’s – but also increasingly girls’ – and boys’ minds) are more prominent today than they were thirty years ago, despite increased media coverage about the need to battle the same issue.

Studies show that poor body confidence and the fear of being overweight (even though it is not the case in real life) affects academic achievement of adolescent girls. It does not lead to a total collapse but affects self-esteem enough so girls have reduced learning capabilities. Girls who are unhappy with their bodies are for example less involved in school:

“In the last 10 years several studies have revealed girls’ diminishing participation in secondary education because of concern about the way they look. 31% of adolescents in the UK do not engage in classroom debate for fear of drawing attention to their appearance, and 20% say they stay away from class on days where they lack confidence about their appearance” (Lovegrove & Rumsey, 2004).

There has been focus on increasing women’s access in many areas of society and the number of women seeking education has never been higher. Girls see education as the key to their future, but they have possibly already missed out on opportunities, even before they start on their academic journey. Women have been targeted by the beauty industry from day one, that fills their heads with impossible beauty standards, wrapped in the illusion of entertainment:

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The message is clear: Beauty will ensure you a bright future. These priorities have created insecure individuals, who spend enormous time on appearance-related thoughts that cause distress in the long run and can potentially be self-destructive. It also reduces cognitive performance and could explain why many women doubt their own abilities. We can therefore wonder what economic gain is lost when women’s potential is not fully realised and what could be accomplished if all that time wouldn’t go into self-criticism and body shaming.

Unrealistic Beauty Standards

A whole industry is devoted to protecting fictitious, fleeting stereotypes, where the models are photoshopped and images are edited before they reach the consumer. Orbach’s study from the sixties shows that women believed their appearance played a major role in their wellbeing and potential success in life. “Being beautiful” was the tickets to fit in and to have a worthy life. And it didn’t matter whether you were talking about teachers, doctors, engineers or housewives, they all spent a lot of time on their appearance and criticising it. This hasn’t changed today. If anything, the feeling has grown stronger. What has also changed is that now, beauty stereotypes also apply to men and boys.

The Orbach study was well before the time of social media like Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, and the number of magazines and music videos that we see today. Research in Denmark shows that Danish teenagers have increased concerns about their appearance and not belonging to the group. More children and adolescents suffer from anxiety and depression today than before, and twice as many girls than boys.

Their worries stem from different sources but what experts agree on is that “Perfection” has become the new norm. Everything needs to be extra-ordinary and it puts a lot of pressure on teenagers, not least on how they look. During adolescence, it matters to fit in and questions about the body and sex are perfectly normal. However, what do unrealistic and unattainable stereotypes do for the self-esteem and body confidence of our children and teenagers in the long term? Women have experienced it on their own skin for decades, and the results are nothing we should be proud of. In the UK, every fourth person is on a diet at any given time, girls begin their first diet on average when they are eight years old and every fifth male has tried supplements to increase body mass before the age of twenty. In the US, similar figures show that when it comes to teenage girls, there is a clear relationship between low self-esteem and risk behavior:

how girls see themselves

 

Female leaders must look good

Requirements for looking good seem less important for middle-aged successful men than they do for women of the same caliber. The focus on appearance and perfection continues for women throughout their lives. And the higher they reach, whether in public affairs or as CEOs of major corporations, the greater the focus.

Lets take Hillary Clinton as an example. Her appearance is discussed regularly, from her hair and to her pantsuits, to how she looks when she cries or when she’s angry. In her book “Living History” she mentioned herself the ridiculous attention her hair has been getting all her life.

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Don’t start me on her pantsuits! Before she even hit the campaign trail, it was getting attention, for, and I quote “being too colourful”.

dlGtWst

 

Clinton logo goes rainbow for same-sex marriage arguments

Good thing it fits her logo!

 

Hillary Clinton is a politician and can be criticised on her political views. Her appearance should not be the center of attention. Or are male politicians given as much heat over their looks? Think Progress recently pointed out the sexism in reports headlining the “exotic and beautiful Tulsi Gabbard” a Democrat from Hawaii and expert in US foreign policy. According to a study from 2013, abnormal coverage of how female politicians look, negatively affect their chances for election, and it does not matter if the coverage is negative or positive.

Images of high heels are regularly used to illustrate stories about women in management. Many successful women in the private sector have their looks regularly commented on. They look either too sexy or not enough, they show too much cleavage, or not enough, they must not be too fat and must be feminine. The CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer was recently criticised for posing for a spread in Vogue:

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Model or CEO? Can you be both?

 

Female leaders have to be attractive but are criticised if they go too far. A woman’s appearance is supposed to give an indication of where she stands. You have to look powerful. You have to look successful, it’s not enough to have the qualification your job requires or to just be a good leader when you are a woman. You have to look the part. Do we ask the same of male CEOs?

Is it possible that many women do not want to seek higher positions because of the focus it means on their appearance? Is it possible that if our beauty standards were more in tune with realistic and varied stereotypes and represented the society we live in, that more women would focus on what matters, instead of how they look? (But can you blame them, it plays a part in what job you get and how you fare so it is a return on investment as things are right now).  Or is it the unattainable race for perfection that holds back women in all those fields where we lack female leadership today?  In the US, fewer women run big companies than men named John, and in Australia there are more men named Peter high in the ranks than all the women combined.

Confidence and Success go hand in hand

The UK launched the  “Be Real” campaign to try to counter body hatred. The aim is to increase the confidence of women and men with healthy stereotypes and get people to feel confident in their own body. The initiative is three-fold:

Real Education helps children and adolescents to get self-esteem from the start, calling on parents to be good role models and helping young people to support each other to be body confident.

Real Health focuses on health and wellbeing instead of appearance and weight, calling on the fitness industry and health sector to promote long-term solutions for good health instead of quick fixes and thin waists.

Real Diversity encourages the media, advertisers and companies to show how we really look like, show diversity in size, shape, race, age and ability, so we see the world we live in instead of promoting unhealthy and undesirable appearance-obsessed stereotypes.

Soap manufacturer Dove is a member of the Be Real campaign and has begun its own campaigning with  “Choose Beautiful“.
The campaign encourages people, and women especially, to see the beauty in all of us, also ourselves. Participants are asked to choose between two doors into a shopping center. Over the doors are signs, one says “beautiful” and the other says “average”. We see women hesitating and when asked why they chose “average”, many women said they were afraid to walk through the door with the beautiful tag, not considering themselves being beautiful enough. Dove wants to point out that one can choose to be beautiful everyday, by expanding our perception of what is beautiful.

But first, we need to start by freeing ourselves from the shackles of our unattainable stereotypes. As the following video shows, we are often our worst critic:

– I wrote this article for Kjarninn but it is in icelandic. I thought it would be perfect for the blog so here is the english version –

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Filed under Gender stereotypes, Raising awareness, women in the media