August 3, 2012

Misogyny goes both ways

I saw the above image on FB this morning. As expected there was, of course, the requisite heated discussion about what it means from a feminists point of view, and sadly, most of the women seemed to focus on how insulting this image was towards larger women.  From a purely physical perspective mind you. There was a lot of talk about how both women were beautiful…so there!  Also there was some talk about what being fat meant from an anthropological stance.  A couple of people went so far as to discuss the concept that reaching for her feet meant the big girl was trying to exercise and thereby reach the pinnacle of physical beauty.  There was a lot of back and forth and admittedly, there were a few well thought out articulate comments about how feminism and equality are out of sync (and more on that later).  But forget the sexualisation of the women.  That didn’t even come into consideration - not once did anyone address the idea that from a truly feminist point of view, both of these images are unacceptable. 

Let’s look at why …

On the left we have a moderately attractive (by popular media standards) girl in cute lingerie, with some bangin’ curves.  She is provocatively (but not glaringly so) arranged upon a comfy looking bed. This image is bright and vibrant and looks quite nice.

On the right we have a rather dangerously overweight (from a health perspective) woman who is naked.  She is posing in a way that covers up parts of her anatomy on a bare, (possibly cold), hard wooden floor. The image is dull and colourless and somewhat grainy.

Now let’s think about the words that come to mind when we look at these images. 

The image of the ‘curvy’ girl looks vibrant.  Think how soft the bed looks, how smooth her skin looks and see how her body language is open.  She is sexy and could be considered by some to be the ultimate in femininity because of that.  From a designers viewpoint this image is meant to appeal to the viewer on the most sensual of levels.

The image of the larger girl is washed out.  The lack of colour makes the image seem somewhat depressing and dull.  Her body language is closed – she is covering up, almost as if she is trying to hide her body - like she should be ashamed somehow because she doesn’t meet the current accepted perception of physical beauty.  This image is designed to be unappealing to the eye.  It is meant to make you reject it.

Now I’m no advertising exec but it seemed instantly clear to me that this image is designed to do two things:

One: it is designed to tweak that part of  female brains that screams to us all that we must conform.  We must bust our asses to meet the standards of beauty that are set for us by the mass media.  If we do not, we must feel bad about it, and ourselves.  By not conforming to the dictate that we must be thin to be beautiful, and therefore loveable by men we are denying our right to have healthy self esteem.  WTF? 

Two: this image is designed to spark controversy.  In that regard, it achieved its goal.  It was designed to make modern feminists (by which I mean the non-thinking, blindly-following types) jump up and down and in doing so ignore the underlying message that women are nothing more than sex objects put on this planet for the sexual gratification of men. 

Now I don’t know about you, but I was under the impression that this very issue was the underlying reason for the feminist movement in the first place.  Did I miss something?

So it achieved its goal.  There were a number of knee-jerk responses to the image.  Here, please feel free to read some of the comments that I found particularly interesting (please note F=Female poster, M=Male poster.  S=Me. All quotes are verbatim).

F – “Only a misogynist would think that a feminist is "dumb". We're trying hard to lift men out of their traditional roles also.”
– denial, not just a river in Egypt anymore. Apparently
F – “It's misogynistic, indeed. And ignorant.”
 – well thanks for that in depth analysis.
F – “There are dumb feminists? Don't think so. “
 – here’s looking at you sweetheart. O.o
M – “Boys want girls, men want women. Girls are skinny, women have a lot more variety."
 – Wow. Thanks for that. Cos you know, what boys/men want is right up there on my list of priorities.
Missing the point entirely much?

Like I mentioned a little earlier, there were also a goodly number of well thought out intelligent responses, which really did give me hope for the future of our kind.  Some of my favourites…

M – “This is just evidence of privileged men thinking that women should define their self-worth by whether men find them attractive.”
M – “Anthropologically: In times of scarcity (human society before institutional agriculture), larger people are viewed (rightly) as more successful and therefore more desirable.

In times of abundance, those who overindulge to the point that their health is compromised (to any extent) are viewed (rightly) as less successful.  From either angle, the desirable trait is always Healthy.
That's why we find beauty in visual symmetry, fitness, and ability. Any trait which compromises any or all of those will reduce the individual's attractiveness to the instinctive brain.”
M – “Feminists want all women to be respected and treated like any other person. I respect women, yet have, like any other man, my own idea of beauty. A feminist would say that all women are beautiful in their own way. A dumb feminist would say that all women have to be celebrated as beautiful. A dumb feminist would say that for a man to find the larger woman ugly is misogynistic, when it is simply a matter of choice. A smart feminist would say for a man to find the larger woman ugly is his problem and he's missing out.”
And my absolute favourite…

M - “This doesn't characterize feminists. It distinguishes dumb ones from smart ones by examining how the feminist movement loses credibility when extremists propose standards which are unrealistic.
If you look at the Dove real beauty campaign, it fosters acceptance by presenting a view of beauty that diverges from mainstream media definitions in a specific, but not =strident= manner.
People (even just persons) do not change by teleporting their views. It's not like a financial negotiation where one starts high, the other low, and they meet in the middle. Public opinion has to be cultured, nurtured, and guided, not forced, shamed, and dictated to
This is a legitimate complaint that speaks to a double standard whereby anything women use to characterize men is okay - all is fair. But turnabout is not only no longer fair play - it is outright forbidden. Ask yourself about the last time you saw a man kick a woman in the genitals in a movie to comedic effect. When that happens - you'll have equality. As long as special treatment is demanded, the rift will remain
It is because of extremists in the movement that a huge segment of society has dug in its heels. You'd think the Equal Rights Amendment would be a no brainer, but here we are 40 years later, when an interracial gay marriage is kinda cool rather than a sign of the apocalypse - but still no ERA.
When it's no longer cool for anyone to humiliate anyone, and for everyone to be permitted to poke fun at everyone to the same extent - then we'll have the society that encodes the ERA into its hardware.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Demanding immediate teleportation of opinion is ridiculous - and this image ridicules that demand.
Whether it is done in a tasteful manner or not is not the point - the point is minds are changed by choice, not by demand
Which was followed up by this glaringly uninspired (and in my opinion – palm facingly unintelligent) response…

F – “Could we not have men on this thread telling is what they think is acceptable, please? Anthropologically or otherwise, shut the hell up. I'm a cranky fat feminist too. Both images are beautiful..”
Because mens opinions about feminism and what it means in society are unimportant somehow?  I was prompted by this to say my own piece… 
S – “I'm a fat equalist...but not cranky. I like that there are men here discussing their views. That men are even aware of some of the implications of images like this is a sign of progress towards equality to me. As I see it, all are entitled to an opinion. Discouraging 'discussion' is a form of 'gate keeping' which is responsible for a vast majority of men still being disassociated from their feelings - an issue many women complain about but which mostly women are responsible for. Do we really want our men to go back to beating their chests and dragging women around by the hair? Open discussion is the only way to move forward.
It stands to be said; this is just my opinion...I mean no offense. Peace out lovelies.”

S – “PS: in all honesty, I think this image has achieved its purpose. I think it was designed to spark controversy. The marked differences in the portrayal of the two women...the 'more attractive' in colour (vibrant, happy, appealing) but the 'less attractive' in black and white (sad, dull, unappealing)? C'mon peoples...use your noggins. It's supposed to make you all jump up and down and it’s done exactly that. ♥”

Now, although I’ve talked a bit about feminism in this post, I’d really like it to be known that I’m not an out and out feminist.  Yes I’m all for the womens rights movement but in all honesty I consider myself an ‘equalist’.  I want equal rights. For both genders, from both genders.  As was stated in my favourite response to the offending photo…

M – “…This is a legitimate complaint that speaks to a double standard whereby anything women use to characterize men is okay - all is fair. But turnabout is not only no longer fair play - it is outright forbidden. Ask yourself about the last time you saw a man kick a woman in the genitals in a movie to comedic effect. When that happens - you'll have equality. As long as special treatment is demanded, the rift will remain.
When it's no longer cool for anyone to humiliate anyone, and for everyone to be permitted to poke fun at everyone to the same extent - then we'll have the society that encodes the ERA into its hardware...”
This really resonated with me and I agree wholeheartedly.  Why do women today expect equality from men but refuse to give it back in kind?  It’s as if the feminist movement has swung too far into over-compensation.  There IS a double standard used by women to characterise men that we as women would never stand for. 

I too would like to see a movie where a woman was kicked in the crotch for comedic effect.  If it’s OK for men, why not for women?  It does a lot more damage to a guy so why is it portrayed as an acceptable thing for anyone to do?  How often have you seen this done in a movie by another man?  I’m sure they’re out there but I cannot recall a single occasion when while watching a film I saw this act perpetrated by anyone other than a woman.  Yes, admittedly in supposed self-defense.  But still.  It makes you wonder how women can rightfully demand equal treatment but neglect this glaring inequality.

I’m aware that there will be plenty who maintain that it’s a womans only true defense against an aggressive man.  I only agree to a point, there are other alternatives.  That said, it should be acceptable for either both genders, or neither.

So how do we deal with the inequities?  Many women for years have been crying foul; claiming (mostly correctly) that women have been repressed by men for hundreds of years.  But how many of those women have ever recognised their own participation in the active oppression of men?

Think about it.  How many times have you heard a woman, be her mother, aunt, grandmother, sister or even just babysitter tell a male child that ‘only girls cry’?  Why do only girls cry?  For generation upon generation women have been raising their male children to repress their own emotions from a young age.  And then we wonder why men are shut off from their emotions?  Really?  When we have actively been teaching them that the only emotion it is acceptable for them to express is anger? 

Oh sure, there are guys out there who are learning to cry.  But be honest…can you really say you’re comfortable with that?  That at some level it doesn’t make you think that a man is weak if he cries?  Why do we still, in 2012, believe that crying is a sign of weakness in men but a sign of strength in women? Doesn't that strike you as a bit of a double standard?  

Men should be encouraged to emote. They have been living a sort of half life for centuries, cut off from feeling for so long that they don't know how to navigate the mine fields of feeling and relationships.  And then on top of that, we women, who have taught him that its not OK for him to feel anything but anger, bitch about our emotionally crippled partners and moan about how he doesn't do any of the socio-emotional work in our relationship.  Why? Because its too difficult to make the decision to teach our male children how to embrace their emotions and deal with the fall out the way we try to teach our female children?  That my friends is the crux of the issue.  We raise our children to blindly follow example.  To behave automatically without questioning.  And then we cry about inequality.

Sorry ladies but you can’t have it both ways.  If we want equality, true equality, it has to start in raising our children to think differently - to question everything.  To not just accept behaviour because it’s how it has always been done.  Critical thinking (really? google it) is not a new concept but it is definitely one that must be learned. Until we do this, until we teach our children to re-examine all that has gone before us, we have no hope of ever ending the war between the sexes and even less hope of realising true equality.

And again, this all comes down to opinion.  This is my opinion and I'm more than happy to have dialogue about it.  The usual warnings come with nice or go home is what it boils down to.  Adult discussion welcome, childish stamping of feet and name calling is not.

Peace out lovelies  :oD