I’ve been reading through a variety of articles today, and thought I would share my thoughts on some of them.
I will begin with “The question no man ever gets asked” by Anne Summers <www.dailylife.com.au/news-and-views/dl-opinion/the-question-no-man-ever-gets-asked-20130216-2ejul.html> to view the full post.
In this post, the writer positions the reader to question why women are asked how they ‘do it all’ having a career and raising a family while men are not. Highlighting that many still seem to believe, deep down, that women should be in the home, and shouldn’t be able to cope with the demands of both family and work. Now, this I believe is a fair point. If we are a society that really believes in equality then we should believe that women can be just as capable of men to work and have families. However, I was disappointed when Anne wrote these two paragraphs:
“In Australia we are censorious towards women who don’t conform to our (impossible) ideals. We prefer women with children to stay home (they can worry later about losing their skills and their confidence and their super), or if they insist on combining motherhood with having a job, we expect them to be totally stressed out all the time. That’ll teach you, we seem to be saying.
Then there’s the women who have had the temerity to have successful careers and neglected to have children. Our two leading female politicians, Julia Gillard and Julie Bishop, are both alternately castigated and pitied for being in this category. Not for not “having it all” but for choosing a different path. And seeming pretty damned satisfied with their choices, too.”
And in this moment she has denied modern women the right to want to stay home and raise their children. I believe that both men and women have the right to choose how they live their lives without judgement. And I don’t believe that being a woman who wants to be a stay-at-home-mum is any sort of betrayal to equality movements. Whether men or women want to raise their children themselves at home, work without children, or have a career and children, should not be anyone’s business but theirs. I do worry about the future where children are raised by the state (through childcare and the education system) rather than their own parents. But it’s time that we acknowledged that we are all different. Some people want to work, some people want families, others want both; and this shouldn’t be something decided lightly. But everyone, man or woman, has the right to decide for themselves.
The next three articles I’d like to place together, because they tackle similar ideas. The first “Why do we bother with make-up free campaigns?” by Clementine Ford <http://www.dailylife.com.au/life-and-love/real-life/why-do-we-bother-with-makeup-free-campaigns-20130823-2sgi7.html> discusses the deeper problems with women and their body-confidence. The second “Hands up if you’re feeling any less revolting …” by Germaine Greer <http://www.dailylife.com.au/health-and-fitness/dl-wellbeing/hands-up-if-youre-feeling-any-less-revolting–20121214-2bdrm.html> speaks about self-esteem and advertising. And “I like a little something to hold on to*” by Annie Stevens <www.dailylife.com.au/life-and-love/i-like-a-little-something-to-hold-on-to-20120621-20q5q.html> which talks about women’s self image in relation to men.
These articles made me consider the way that women are both portrayed and self-judged based on how they look, and how they feel they look. Clementine Ford talks about how even though many movements over time, which claim to be liberating women’s bodies and working to celebrate the ‘natural woman’ such as the recent “make-up free” look, still have women wanting to look good while they embrace it:
I want to appear to stand before the world having overtly rejected all its expectations – the hair removal, the corsets, even the make up – and revel in the knowledge that in its barest state, my body won’t betray me with its untidy flaws but glow like one blessed from birth. Oh, you’re so beautiful without make up! So perky, so fresh! Your hair is so fine that you don’t even need to shave! Stripped of sanctioned artifice, I could stand there, unshaven but still smooth. Unmade up but still pretty. Unshackled but still winsome, my pert breasts bouncing beneath a figure hugging tee shirt declaring THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE.
Which seems to me, the irony of women’s liberation ideas. Women want to look good, so do men. It’s human nature to want to be attractive. Attractiveness is a natural aphrodisiac and often a social lubricant as well. A strategy like make-up free, is just another paradigm for women to try to be attractive within. And there’s a huge market for skin products and anti-aging devices cashing in on this need, which Germaine Greer speaks about in her article. But it was this paragraph, that I think that brought up a much more interesting issue:
At an event in Amsterdam recently, I was ordered by a woman on the stage to take the hand of the woman next to me, who happened to be 76-year-old Hedy d’Ancona, and tell her she was beautiful. This would be more conducive to her self-esteem, apparently, than reminding her that, having served as a minister under two Dutch governments, as a member of the European Parliament, and as chairman of Dutch Oxfam, she was immensely distinguished and I was honoured to be sitting next to her.
Even though women are in the workforce, and have achieved great things in their own right, we are still being told that women are only to be valued for their appearance. I read a blog post, quite a while ago now, which spoke about the importance of complimenting little girls on more than their appearance. On refraining from immediately telling them how beautiful they are in favor of finding out about their interests or complimenting their intelligence or achievements. I think this is an amazingly important thing, because women are much more than their looks, and we should begin acknowledging that as early as possible. Though I don’t necessarily agree that never complimenting girls or women on their looks is the best answer. Genuine compliments aren’t necessarily a bad thing, a young girl that’s never told they look nice is probably just as at risk of developing anxiety, as a girl who only hears comments about her looks. It would be nice to hear that people can find a balance, and frankly, give compliments when you genuinely mean them. If someone can’t sing, don’t tell them they have an amazing voice. If they do, tell them. But help people find the value of themselves, within themselves, rather than through external sources.
And speaking of external sources, Annie Stevens article talks about the effect of male gaze on women’s self-perceptions. Women strive to meet the ‘beauty’ ideals of their own culture, this has been well documented throughout history. Foot-binding in Asian cultures, corsets in Western history, breast surgery in modern times, and of course, the illusive ‘ideal weight’ are all examples of societal pressures and often regulations molding women’s bodies to be ‘attractive’. This, Annie argues, is not exclusively the fault of men, but is exacerbated by the ‘norm’ that the male gaze is important in determining attractiveness.
Now, I don’t think this is entirely fair. Again, just as wanting to be attractive is natural, so too, wanting to attract the opposite sex is natural. I think the problem is actually more the homogenization of what is considered ‘attractive’ that is causing so much stress and anxiety among men and women. Women expect men to want the images of women that society and the media are pushing onto us as ‘desirable’ and men feel that those are the types of bodies that they should want.
I must admit though, on a personal level, I can’t relate to the women that ask their partner’s whether they look fat. Partly because we all know the expected response, and most men aren’t suicidal enough to vary from it. But also because, I’ve never asked my partner this question, I see no point, it’s a fact that I am. I’m more concerned with such questions as, ‘do you think I look pretty’ which admittedly, make me feel better and again he’s not likely to say no. But I’m not asking whether I look pretty in general, compared to other women or expected norms. I want to know if he thinks I’m pretty. Because I want to be attractive to him, because he’s my mate.
Ideally, everyone should feel comfortable with who they are, and how they look. Realistically, as humans we will always look to others as part of our measure of attractiveness. The main thing should be an acceptance that everybody is different. And that what one person finds attractive is often going to be different to another. Most people probably wouldn’t find me attractive, but that doesn’t matter. I found someone that likes the way I look, but more importantly, loves who I am, and would love me if I was always this weight, or if I lost weight and because more “acceptable” in social terms. Surely these are the things that really matter.
Now, some of the more serious reading.
An article on rape culture “Your vagina is not a car” also by Clementine Ford <www.dailylife.com.au/news-and-views/dl-opinion/your-vagina-is-not-a-car-20121022-28102.html> is essentially a resistance to the victim blaming we continue to see in regards to rape. The propensity of well-meaning people to suggest that women should be more careful in their dress and behavior because their vagina is just some ‘thing’ that is open to violation is insulting. It should be reasonable for people to go about their day’s and their business without coming to harm, and especially not harm of such a horrific nature as rape. And the recent examples of people blaming victims for ‘asking for it’ or ‘well, look at how she was dressed’ is disgusting. People, men or women, who rape. And yes, women can rape, maybe not as often, and certainly not according to the law, but they can. So, people who rape choose to do so, and they should be punished accordingly. There is no excuse. However, I find a deeper question here, is why. Why are we hearing more about rapes occurring, and why does it seem to be okay to excuse rapists for their actions?
Are women becoming more objectified than ever before? Do rapists feel more able to rape, or more entitled to rape? Is the legal system too lenient on offenders that are caught? Are women valuing their own safety less? Or is it that they are not being empowered to protect themselves? I feel like there is something underlying this problem that is much more systematic than “well young girls are dressing like sluts”. Women could walk around naked without fear of rape if society made rape the unforgivable crime that it is.
After reading about all these thoughts and issues, I find that as usual I just wish people could simply accept others for who they are. To appreciate that some people are tall, some are fat, some are more naturally attractive; we have different races, genders, backgrounds, religions; and that’s ok. Seriously. It’s ok. We are allowed to be different. And just because someone fits into a particular ‘group’ doesn’t make that who they are. I know it’s not natural, but I think it’s time that humanity matured enough to judge people based on their individual traits and actions, rather than broad strokes of stereotypical nonsense. And to accept that everyone has something to give.