Being a Modern Day Woman in America

By Caitlin D'Aprano

I worked in luxury fashion for ten plus years and it was a huge part of my life because my Mum was very much into fashion. I moved from Melbourne to London to start a shoe business. I started going to the fashion, shoe and leather fairs in Italy and there were men everywhere I turned. I thought to myself, how could this be? Men are the ones who are determining what we, as women should wear.

I started to see fashion more clearly. The four years I had spent away from Melbourne was the precursor to these revelations. Discrimination against women still existed. I could see that women were objectified. Luxury fashion was like a poisonous pill to a woman’s soul, my soul. I once thought to myself, if only I can spend copious amounts of money on clothes, will I have half a chance of looking like the models in the show room.

Luxury fashion gave me status, the only problem, self-worth was not derived there. In fact, the mere idea that I wanted to obtain a lifestyle of luxury meant I didn’t feel I was enough. My spirit felt drowned in shoes, clothes and handbags. It may seem an odd phenomenon, but when it’s been so much of your identity your whole life and you have grown up with it, as though it’s like water, totally the norm, there comes a point where you can see that so much emphasis has been put on the material, that you’re unfulfilled and miserable and all you know how to do at that stage is purge. Start afresh. In that moment, I knew I would get rid of everything and choose to live a life of simplicity.

When I gave everything to Oxfam, I was displaced, my self-worth had been tied up in those clothes and shoes. I felt bare, wrung out, empty. I didn’t know who I was without my wardrobe to define me and make me worth knowing, but it gave me space to breathe. I started to invest more time and money in life experiences and spent my time reading about societal issues. I started to care and that was when everything changed for me.

The media is at the forefront of capitalism and consumerism. Women are made to look skinnier, taller, more beautiful, but it is not real, it has all been digitally enhanced. It aids well for corporations to have women striving for this unattainable ideal of what a woman should be because it drives revenue and protects the bottom line. The skinny images of women is affecting the subconscious minds of real women, we are not even aware of the impact, but 65% of girls and women suffer from eating disorders.

Women are being portrayed as one-dimensional in the media. This is having detrimental effects on the way our girls see themselves, the way they think about themselves, their self-esteem, their confidence in asserting themselves and asserting their rights. The media has altered their views on what it means to be an educated woman in a world that emphasizes the exterior, minimizes a woman’s intellect and undermines her confidence in areas such as politics and business by solely focusing on the way she looks. Women’s voices are missing from politics and that is having an adverse impact on legislature because essentially, half of the populations voice isn’t present. Women are also being vastly underrepresented in the professional realm.

Prostitution is the more explicit version of women selling themselves, but in reality women are selling themselves everywhere we look. Ad campaigns, billboards, movies, magazines and what’s worse, we are being brainwashed to think that we want to look like them. Women are told that the only asset they have is the way they look, yet when they take that and use it as a monetary asset because they haven’t focused on obtaining an education, they are chastised, imprisoned and penalized for it. In Australia prostitution is legal. In my mind, at least this means that women are being protected in some way, but there is still a long way to go.

This idea of male dominance is so prevalent in the media that culturally it is considered the norm. This is causing people to become desensitized to sexism and violence against women. There is a lack of women’s consent in many ad campaigns, but it is so subtle that it doesn’t catch your eye unless you are really paying attention. This is giving young girls and women a message; our voices do not matter, our voices will not be heard and what we want in relationship to men does not matter, we are there to serve them and their needs. Young boys start to think that this is what it means to be a man, to be the one in control and they start to judge women’s physicality more harshly.

We could say this is a women’s issue, but really it is also a men’s issue. Although different issues arise between the genders, they interrelate. A man is told to be strong, stoic, not to show emotion and that “boys don’t cry”. This is having dire consequences to our men because they do not know how to express or deal with their emotions, but the media teaches them to release this tension through aggression and violence. 1 in 18 men are imprisoned or are being monitored and men commit most of the crimes perpetrated against children, women and other men.

We as women must start telling our own stories because as it stands, men have been attempting to tell our stories. Women must stand together and stick up for one another, because if we don’t, who will? We must support each other’s aspirations and encourage each other to strive for our dreams, even if they seem impossible. We must encourage young girls and women to put education first and that their minds are the true asset. We must work towards censorship of the media to protect our children and our children’s children.

By Caitlin D’Aprano