We (Still) Need Feminism

An overall cultural + societal evaluation of gender.

Feast on the corpses of the men who do this to our daughters.

I posted this image on my Instagram account a few days ago, thinking it had a pretty faithful and powerful message. I immediately started receiving positive feedback from the females who followed me. However, what I wasn’t expecting was the ruthless backlash from males I had grown up with and gone to school with. These comments were along the lines of “Right, because it’s always the guys fault”; “If a girl doesn’t want to be treated like a sex toy, she doesn’t have to be”; “If you act like a whore, then you have to expect to be treated like a whore”; “If more girls had self-respect this wouldn’t be an issue”; “Why can’t girls have the willpower to go against what society thinks and have self-respect?; “This picture is somewhat false — men don’t cause women to do anything. It is more media than men that put that image out for all women”; and finally, “Sorry, but I have never met any guy that has told their significant other to lose weight because they were too fat or had an ugly body. This statement needs to be re-evaluated before pointing fingers on an entire gender.

To say the least, I wasn’t expecting this kind of reaction in the slightest. I have always had a strong (slightly aggressive) and semi-domineering personality, but I never expected it to be something that could potentially threaten the nature of an entire gender. That’s when I began to realize that that was exactly what it is — I was addressing an honest situation that threatened the (supposed) ‘superior’ gender, and I was not going to get away with that without a fight; without men trying to quiet me, shush me, and put me back in my place. However, I was still confused. I figured it was a known fact that many men held women to impossibly high standards, and proceeded to judge them based on their physical attributes. Women are time and time again treated as sexual objects, disposable simply by the terms of a man. Let’s break this down.

We seem to want to blame the media for the fact that these issues exist. Well, lets look at media like one big advertisement (fairly accurate, right?). Advertising and media are meant to portray and reflect what is currently socially acceptable and current.

Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s the billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is okay. You are okay. — Donald Draper, Mad Men

Donald Draper explains to us what advertising really is. It’s a stroking of the ego. Sexism and patriarchy are rampant within society (advertising also touches on things like race, body size, and social class), and thus advertising capitalizes on that, makes money on it, and perpetuates it. We’re surrounded by this kind of advertising — we can’t escape it. We are essentially trapped. Advertising and media are absolutely significant contributers to the continued social injustices in our society, but they still exist because we respond to them.

Let’s switch fields and talk a little bit about Miley Cyrus. Miley was raised by Disney, in an industry that tried to put her into a box. She grew up being, and constantly portraying, her innocent and sweet character of Hannah Montana. However, Hannah Montana was just that — a character. She now has been able to grow up, shape her own image, and follow her passions (as opposed to some script handed to her to keep audiences happy and money flowing). In response to her blossoming into individualism, listeners and viewers have completely labeled Cyrus as some promiscuous, insane, and overly sexualized being. Why are we so frightened by the new boldness that is Miley Cyrus? The answer is because it is her choice. She is in control of her sexuality. She is in control of her body. She is radiating confidence, as opposed to being a submissive female who lets herself be dominated by men. Her music video for ‘Wrecking Ball’ features Cyrus nude. This raised some serious issues with stunned viewers thinking, “what happened to my daughter’s role model?” Nobody seems to raise issue with the fact that many big-name male stars have featured female nudity in their videos. The difference? The men are in control. Society is terrified by a woman in charge.

It is very odd to me how Americans live in a puritanical country that has set everything up to be “moral”, but then turns around and sells everything with sex. Then, when somebody expresses that, everybody once again becomes moral, and absurdly judgmental. So, tell me, what do you really want America? Do you want sexy? Do you want a nun? Pick one, because you can’t have it both ways. We are a confused country who has never accepted human sexuality in a natural and accepting way. We are constantly trying to “clean things up”, when in reality, the only dirt that exists is in our minds.

Even better, let’s delve into Cyrus’ 2013 VMA performance. While paired with Robin Thicke on stage, Cyrus was somehow the only one criticized for her so-called vulgarity. ‘Blurred Lines’ was an instant hit, that played on an endless loop for weeks and weeks. Thicke performed this song at the VMAS with absolutely no question about it — but, have you listened to these lyrics? This song clearly addresses what Thicke assumes to be a grey area between consent and assault. This song is being broadcasted to an incredibly vulnerable age group — and this is the message? That consent is a blurred line? It most certainly is not.

An article recently published compares Thicke’s lyrics to phrases that many women who have been sexually victimized have heard before:

I know you want it.
You’re a good girl.
You’re a dirty little angel.
We both know you don’t really mean it when you say no.
It would be over faster if you stopped struggling.
You said no, but your body told me yes.
It’s supposed to hurt.
I can’t enjoy it if you keep crying.
It wasn’t rape — you were being such a tease.
You can’t have a drink with someone and expect this not to happen.
Stop pretending that you are a human being.
Thank you for making me feel like a man.

Calling an adult a “good girl” in this context resonates with the the classically used ‘virgin/whore’ dichotomy. The implication in Blurred Lines is that because the woman is not responding to a man’s sexual advances, which of course are irresistible, she’s hiding her true sexual desire under a facade of disinterest. Thicke is singing about forcing a woman to perform both the good girl and bad girl roles in order to satisfy the man’s desires.

Another huge implication seen throughout the song is victim-blaming. Of course, if a woman dances with a man, it means she wants to sleep with him. And obviously, if she wears a short skirt or tight dress, she’s asking for it. Wrong. A dance, a smile, a drink, an outfit — does not indicate consent.

Ultimately, Thicke’s “rape anthem” is about male desire and male dominance over a woman. The rigid definition of masculinity makes the man unable to accept the idea that sometimes his advances are not welcome. Thus, instead of treating a woman like a human being and respecting her subjectivity, she is degraded to the role of a living sex doll whose existence is nothing, if not for the pleasure of a man.

Onto one of my favorite subjects: the virgin/whore dichotemy. Let’s get a couple of things straight. Virginity is not a gift. It is a social construct which gives men power and control. Why is it that women are always the ones who give? Were men simply born to take everything we have to offer? Of course, I am not trying to discriminate at all — I am simply trying to start a revolution of realization. Being a virgin doesn’t make you any more special than not being a virgin makes you dirty. I’m not saying to have sex with strangers. I’m not saying to wait for someone. I’m not saying to lose it now. I’m not saying men should marry ‘sluts’. I’m not saying you can have sex with whoever, whenever, wherever. I’m not saying sex is sacred. I’m not saying it’s not. I’m not saying you should take your body for granted. This is what I am saying: do not define a woman’s worth by the tightness of her vagina.

“The concept of virginity is a social construct. If you’re wondering if my commercial value, self-respect, and/or quality of my immortal soul has been affected by things that have gone in or out of my vagina the answer is no.”

Let’s talk about the fact that one of the most popular Google searches in the world is “how to keep him interested”. These articles talk about bringing men beer and sandwiches, and how to make them feel smart and superior. How men are just so terrified of smart women. The amount of times I have heard, “He was probably just intimidated by how smart you are. Guys don’t like when a girl is more intelligent. Throws them off.

We are repeatedly told that we are objects. Think about it — if I am at a bar and I want to divulge unwanted sexual attention, one of the few (possibly only) things that will resonate with a man is that I belong to someone else. You are a series of somebodies: somebody’s wife, somebody’s mother, somebody’s daughter, somebody’s sister. Has it occurred to you that I am also somebody?

We are all somebody — and are not just meant for the roles that society has put us in. How many times are male politician or CEO’s body or style of dress put into question? How many times are female’s? Or has everyone forgotten how we flip out when the president’s wife gets a new hair cut? Or how Hillary Clinton had to have a make-over before the news agencies took her seriously? What’s more, I’ve never heard any female friends or mothers say, “Why can’t my 50 year old husband get a six pack like that?” What I hear is, “I wish my husband would get a nice hair cut” or “I wish he’d wear some nicer clothes that actually fit him.” Now let’s look at men: “No fat chicks!” or “I wish my wife had bigger boobs.” Men are told through our culture’s stories and media that a woman will still love them unconditionally and throw themselves at them if they’re fat, old, balding, or an asshole, while women are told that if they’re pushy, fat, old or wearing out of style clothes that they aren’t even worth mentioning.

Personally, I find my last reference the most frighteningly disturbing. In early 2013, Angelina Jolie underwent a double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer, which ran unusually high in her family. This is the title of an actual article written:

Angelina Jolie Undergoes Mastectomy To Avoid Breast Cancer; Public Mourns Her Boobs, Send Brad Pitt Condolences!

Jolie shared her personal story in hopes of raising awareness on a number of issues, from the surgery itself to the affordability of the gene test — but wait! Here come the sexists and misogynists — women’s health is so obviously not about the woman! These following quotations are actual tweets from around the world, commenting on Jolie after her procedure:

RIP Angelina Jolie’s breasts — we should all light a candle for poor Brad tonight. Sucks for Brad Pitt. Poor Brad Pitt — now he’s married to a man with a vagina. Poor Brad Pitt said his final goodbyes to his two best assets today. 20 kids and no boobs to play with anymore. A moment of silence tonight for poor Brad Pitt. That woman is so strange. I think Angelina’s mastectomy is karma for being a homewrecking whore. Should have stayed with Jennifer Aniston! Angelina Jolie is an attention whore. Does everyone remember when she was a heroin addict? Now this? Angelina Jolie, you could have just gotten implants without broadcasting a big ass story about your moms breast cancer. Publicity much? Angelina Jolie cut her tits off for publicity. Okay. Poor Brad Pitt — she didn’t even take the risk of developing cancer, she just took away his joy. You gotta feel bad for Brad Pitt. Marries Angelina Jolie and now she gets rid of her rack — kind of makes her pointless.

Hear that, ladies? Without breasts we are pointless. Enough said.

So, just in case there is even the slightest doubt in your mind as to why we still need feminism, this one’s for you:

  1. FGM: In its ‘purest’ form, FGM is something you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Put simply, it involves removing bits of the genitals and stitching them back together in a way that makes just peeing a nightmare and sex impossible. It’s the equivalent of someone taking a machete to your groin and about just as helpful. Women who undergo the procedure are put at massive risk of infection and infertility, not to mention the extreme pain that comes from having any surgery without anesthetic. So why do people do it? Nope, not religion. Neither the Torah nor the Koran mentions it, despite FGM being mainly associated with Ethiopian minority Judaism and Sunni Muslims. The answer often lies in ancient attitudes to female sexuality. In some parts of the world, a high value is placed on a bride’s virginity. FGM destroys the victim’s ability to derive pleasure from sex while also making it highly-painful, ensuring that virginity remains intact. And did I mention this happens to girls as young as five months old?
  2. Rape: The statistics on rape are so depressing just reading about them will destroy a bit of your soul. Only one percent of rapes results in conviction. Step outside the West and things are even worse: places like Afghanistan, Ecuador, Egypt and Guatemala have no laws against marital rape—meaning a husband can assault his wife whenever the hell he feels like it. But the country with the worst record of all has to be D.R Congo, where a semi-unofficial war has been raging for fifteen years. For over a decade, mass rape has been one of the war’s most widely-used weapons, sometimes deployed against whole villages. Even more disgusting has been the recent rise in systematic child abuse, with 745 children being assaulted last year. However you look at it, that’s 745 too many.
  3. Child Brides: Although it affects more girls worldwide, child marriage is bad news for both genders. In Rajasthan in India, children as young as six get married in lavish ceremonies, eventually moving in together at 14. As anyone who’s ever been a teenager knows, fourteen is not an age at which you can typically expect emotional maturity. Unsurprisingly, occurances of domestic abuse is much more prevalent in these early marriages. But even India has nothing on places like South Sudan or Yemen. While Indian child brides are usually around the same age as their husband, their foreign counterparts often wind up getting married to someone decades older. Girls who refuse to marry are frequently beaten, imprisoned or even murdered.
  4. Criminalized Pregnancy: Of all the things we associate with motherhood, ‘imprisonment’ usually comes quite far down the list. But, thanks to a bunch of judges with warped priorities, that’s all changing. Take Angela Carder. In 1987 she was recovering from a brush with cancer. Given the ‘all-clear’ by her doctor, she married her boyfriend and became pregnant. Then, 26 weeks in, the cancer came back with a vengeance. When her hospital found out, they went to a judge and got a court order to force the terminally ill Carder to have a C-Section, even though they knew it would probably kill her. Understand Carder wasn’t being reckless: she wanted the baby badly, just not at the cost of her life. Thanks to our legal system, both she and her child died from the operation. Depressingly, her story isn’t a one-off. In Oklahoma, a dying woman was thrown in jail for possession of two pain pills, where both she and her unborn baby died in agony. In Tennessee, a pregnant immigrant was caught driving without a license and forced to give birth chained to a bed. Put simply, women’s constitutional rights are being utterly ignored simply because they’ve got a kid growing in them, which should be the very definition of ‘illegality’.
  5. Infanticide: Let’s be blunt: some cultures just place a lower value on women. See, because women are undervalued, their earning potential is therefore much lower. For a poor family struggling to get by, having a son can mean acquiring a worker to help support you. Having a girl can mean nothing more than having an extra mouth to feed. Because there’s usually not much in the way of a welfare state in these places, desperate parents deal with the problem the only way they know how—by abandoning or murdering their child. The problem has gotten so prevalent in India there are now some 35 million fewer women than men—while China is in the middle of what’s been termed a ‘gender crisis’, all because some people just really want a boy.
  6. Honor Killings: If you’ve even been in the same room as a newspaper this past decade, you probably know what an honor killing is. Thanks to strict cultural traditions, girls who are thought to have ‘dishonored’ their family are murdered by relatives—usually over something so depressingly trivial. Due to hysterical journalists, the problem is often painted as a solely Muslim one, but it affects Hindu, Sikh and even Christian women. Basically, honor killings surface wherever ‘women’s rights’ is just the punchline to an unfunny joke—in India, for example, many local councils actively encourage the practice despite it being super-illegal. Some countries, such as Jordan and Haiti even have specific laws pardoning honor killings linked to adultery, while authorities in other countries mostly turn a blind eye. These honor-related murders carried out each year is estimated to be over five thousand.
  7. Employment Law: Compared to, say, mutilation or honor killings, employment law doesn’t seem like such a big deal. What’s a couple of extra thousand a year compared to violent death? But then you remember this is the developed world in the twenty first century and it’s about goddamn time we sorted this out. In the USA, a woman with exactly the same level of education as her male counterpart can expect to earn around 18 percent less than him, even when factors like type of degree and actual hours worked are taken into account. Still, at least companies aren’t illegally firing women for taking maternity leave—except, oh wait, they absolutely are. According to recent findings, as many as one in seven women find themselves made redundant after taking maternity leave, with up to half getting demoted or having their hours cut.
  8. Restricted Freedom: In a list of ‘most heinous crimes’, you’d rightfully expect ‘wearing pants’ to be conspicuously absent. Not in Sudan: in 2009 several women were sentenced to 40 lashes for wearing manufactured material on their legs. Other countries such as Saudi Arabia also forbid women from driving cars and automatically send their husbands texts whenever they leave the country. Then you have places like Iran, which deploy ‘morality squads’—groups of self-satisfied fundamentalists who patrol the streets, detaining and harassing anyone with ‘immoral’ clothes. That’s right; men in some countries actually hate the sight of cleavage so much they’ll pay people to chase it away.
  9. Forced Prostitution: Prostitution is as old as the human race and will probably be with us until the sun explodes. While not all prostitutes are working against their choice, a fairly large percentage of them are—and nowhere is that more evident than in India’s ‘devadasi’. Basically, they’re girls born to a certain caste who are forced into religious prostitution in the name of God. Since the sixth century, young girls have been dedicated to temples to serve the elders. Unsurprisingly, at some point the word ‘serve’ changed its meaning, first becoming code for ‘abuse’, before evolving in the last century or so into full-blown human trafficking. Because it’s an ancient Hindu tradition, stamping religious prostitution out is borderline impossible—maybe because the girls’ families often don’t want them back, having benefitted financially from the exchange.
  10. Disfigurement: Say someone like Eli Roth released a film where a 12 year old is sold into slavery, viciously beaten every day for six years and then escapes, only to have her psycho ‘owner’ hunt her down and cut off her nose and ears—you’d probably think he was going too over the top to be believable. Well, that’s exactly what happened to Bibi Aisha, a teenage girl who had the bad luck to be born in a Taliban-controlled area of Afghanistan. If her story was a one time occurance, it’d be bad enough, but it’s not—similar events happens across the world on a shockingly regular basis. In Pakistan, Fakhra Yunus was doused with acid for trying to escape her husband, leaving her so disfigured she eventually committed suicide. Perhaps even worse, if that’s possible, is the recent report that the Taliban are now routinely disfiguring women for crimes as pathetic as going to college. Then there’s this story about a Bangladeshi woman forced to remarry the man who disfigured her. Or one about a woman who was tied to her bed and set alight by a former lover, in an attack so vicious Houston detectives called it the worst they’d ever seen. Yes, it happens in America too.
Woman disfigured by acid.

If it isn’t apparent by now, here it is. We need feminism:

(Credit below to a column by Caitlin O’Donnell on feminism)

Because to men, a key is a device to open something. For women, it’s a weapon we hold between our fingers when we’re walking alone at night.

Because the biggest insult for a guy is to be called a girl.

Because a professor asked his class if women should have equal representation in the Supreme Court, and only three out of 42 people raised their hands.

Because we still joke about rape (ie. I raped that exam).

Because as a valid student group, Campus Fellowship does not allow women to lead anything involving men (I think we can agree having a vagina does not directly impact your ability to lead a college organization).

Because only 29 percent of American women identify as feminist, and in the words of author Caitlin Moran,

What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? Did all that good shit get on your nerves? Or were you just drunk at the time of the survey?

Because when people hear the term feminist, they honestly think of women burning bras. Have you ever bought a bra? No one would burn them because they’re freaking expensive (am I right, ladies?).

Because we now have a record number of women in the Senate, which is a whopping 20 out of 100. Congrats America, we’ve gone up to 78th place for women’s political representation, still below China, Rwanda and Iraq.

Because more people complain about false statistics regarding sexual assault than complain about the existence of sexual assault.

Because 138 House Republicans voted against the Violence Against Women Act. All 138 felt it shouldn’t provide support for Native women, LGBT people or immigrant women. I’m kind of confused by this, because I thought LGBT people and women of color were also human beings. Weird, right?

Because when a girl is roofied and raped, people say that she should have been more careful. Being drugged is her fault, not the fault of the person who put drugs in her drink?

Because out of 7 billion people on the planet, more than 1 billion women will be raped or beaten in their lifetimes. Women and girls have their clitorises cut out, acid thrown on them and broken bottles shoved up them as an act of war. Every second of every day. Every corner of the Earth.

Because a brief survey of reality will tell you that we do not live in a world that values all people equally. Because you know we live in a sexist world when a wonderful word like “feminism” has a negative connotation. If I have kids someday, my son will be able to play dress up, and my daughter will care more about what’s in her head than what’s on it.

Because I don’t want her to carry keys between her fingers at night to
protect herself.

Because feminism is for everybody.

Here is your official invitation.

e-mail: stefanie_kaufman@brown.edu

twitter: @stefkaufman

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