Like a Princess

This summer after traveling the world and attending three different conferences, I visited my motherland, my birthplace, Romania. I truly love being there, it is such a beautiful country, full of wonder, yet frayed, still in the making, still in the process of rebuilding after being destroyed by a crazy dictator merely decades ago. And perhaps what is always so evident and frustrating for me: still so hung up on traditions built upon religion and patriarchy. Every time I go there some new goddamn church is being constructed: bigger than the one before. And I just shake my head in disappointment. Think of all that money, all that effort, being put to orphanages, schools and hospitals instead. But alas, no, people apparently need more space where they can pray to an invisible man in the sky. Oh well.

While there, I visited an old friend who now has two children, a two year old boy and a four year old girl. I had brought with me two stuffed animals for them, which they seemed to love, and they were playing joyfully with them in the living room, running around, throwing themselves on the soft rug placed in the middle. They had a nanny, an older woman, must have been 65+ I assume, who kept a watchful eye on them. While their mother went upstairs to get something, the children kept playing and I just looked at them, smiling. Then the girl started saying “poop!” and I laughed with her, cause come on, poop is a funny word. But the nanny was not impressed, she told the girl to not say such things, which of course, only made her say it more, cause she is a kid, and kids, as I have noticed, seem to like pushing boundaries and say things they “should not say”. I did not mind it at all of course, but after a while the nanny got a bit angry and grabbed the girl towards her on the sofa, she told the girl: “Now you sit here and behave, sit pretty like a princess”. The nanny placed the girl beside her, making her sit down with her legs together, hands on her knees. The girl struggled to break free but the nanny just grabbed her again and put her back on the sofa: “No, sit here nicely like a princess, show our guest that you can behave like a princess.” I was already feeling uncomfortable after the nanny first grabbed the girl, but now I was getting pissed off. And even though it might not have been my place, I still felt the need to say something, so I did, I said: “Maybe she does not want to be a princess.” The nanny looked at me, a bit confused, she let go of the girl and replied: “No, maybe not…” She turned to the girl and told her, with a bit of spite, that she was not a princess. The girl went back to playing on the rug with her brother.

Now this incident might seem small and inconsequential, however, think of all the young girls in this country, in this world, who are STILL being told to sit nicely, quietly, like a fucking princess, instead of running around, playing, being kids, taking space, just the same way their brothers and male counterparts are allowed to. What breaks my heart is that this girl is part of a new generation, but she is being taught what to do and how in the ways of an older generation who does not seem to have spent one single thought on gender equality, who thinks that things are the way they are and have always been, and will always be and everything is just peachy. To me, that is just so very sad and depressing. Because if we do not do better with our kids than our parents did before us, and their parents before them, then what exactly are we doing? Isn’t the point of procreating also progressing? Why wouldn’t we want new generations growing up with more possibilities than us, more freedom to be themselves? Sure, some might think I should not stick my nose in how other people raise their children, however, I live in this world too, and if I ever have kids, then the way others raise theirs, will also affect my own kids. Because kids do not only learn about structures from their parents, they also learn from other kids. We are all in this together, basically. So what kind of world do we all want to live in? One where girls act like nice and quiet little princesses who do everything they are told, while boys do whatever the heck they want, or one where all kids are taught to be whatever they are comfortable with being?

I vote for the latter.

princess

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Banning sexist ads

Things are starting to happen, more and more debates are stirring up regarding the sexist misrepresentations we have been force fed for decades by ads, institutional and systemic activities are blossoming in the form of bans. If things continue to progress in this order, we might, might, be able to overcome the daily litany of sexism we are exposed to each and every day. I do not think that we will ever be rid of sexism altogether, that would be too much to ask, right? But if we could at least not portray ourselves in demeaning ways, then that would surely affect the way we see and act towards each other as well.

There are and have been many different projects dealing with these issues for the last couple of years, to name a few: The Representation Project with social media campaigns like #NotBuyingIt and #MediaWeLike, the ad agency Badger & Winters’ campaing #WomenNotObjects, the underwear brand Aerie with their #AerieREAL campaign. Not to mention the many scholars and authors who have been discussing the way we portray women and men in ads, art and film since the 60’s and 70’s (for instance: Laura Mulvey, Jean Kilbourne, John Berger, Erving Goffman, Sut Jhally, Denice A. Yanni, Debra Merskin, and many, many more). Nonetheless, real change takes time, and effort, and endurance. Since advertising as we know it is a social institution, changing it is not just a matter of flicking a switch, as Warlaumont wrote:

Advertising images have a special importance to scholars of popular culture because of the “reality” they construct for the viewer, especially in terms of gender portrayals. Because they are ubiquitous, these portrayals often become our established visual grammars of gender. Since these images are driven, in part, by economic conditions – which often encourage the exploitation of women and others in order to sell products – change has been met with some resistance.

Needless to say, the images we are given have become established, we have breathed them in throughout our lives, they are a part of our norms and value system, therefore, not all see or understand that this is in fact an issue, that this is not the way it has to be, that such images are socially constructed, and thus, they can be re-structured. Thankfully, there are those who do and who have brought this up time and time again, who fight for all of us, even the ones who do not want to see or admit that this affects them as well.

Lately, other larger organizations and institutions have also started to understand the problem, and taken a stand towards it. Some weeks ago the city of Trondheim in Norway declared that ads conveying negative body image will be banned and no longer displayed in public spaces.

“No advertising that conveys a false image of the model/models’ appearance and contributes to a negative body image will be permitted.”

And in a similar manner, London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan has recently banned body-shaming ads on the transit system.

“As the father of two teenage girls, I am extremely concerned about this kind of advertising which can demean people, particularly women, and make them ashamed of their bodies.”

Finally. Action is taken, for real, in a way that can actually bring about some change. Now, I must also express that I am not that particularly happy about the fact that such ads have to be banned, it would be so much better if companies and ad agencies just stopped producing them by their own free will. But since this has not occurred to many (or most..) of them, well, then I guess it’s better that they get stopped by any means necessary, such as bans. It is not enough to just have some advertising standards that companies should follow, without there also being repercussions when they refuse to follow them. In Sweden for instance, we have the Reklamombudsmannen, a foundation where consumers can for instance report ads that they do not find ethically acceptable. There are different types of reports that can be made and one of them concerns gender discriminatory ads, but even if you report an ad, and even if that ad gets condemned for sexism for instance, there are no repercussions what so ever for the company behind the ad. They can, if they want, take it down, or they can totally ignore it and keep spewing their sexist agenda. Such a system is a nice thought, really, it is nice to think that people would behave and if someone tells them they have done something bad, they apologize and try never doing it again. But, unfortunately for us all, people are not like that, not all the time, not everyone. So if they will not listen to reason or just have a general understanding of equality and not want to demean and exploit both women and men, well, fuck it, let’s ban them. In a Swedish newspaper today there was a debate article about just this: the leader of the feminist party in Sweden argued for a ban on sexist ads. On the flip side the chairman for the youth liberal party claimed that such a ban would invade on the freedom of speech, and sure, that may be true, but hey, what about the freedom of not feeling offended when walking out your door, what about the freedom of not having misogyny thrown in your face, what about the freedom of being seen as an equal, what about the freedom of not being brainwashed with in-human, perfectly flawless body and beauty standards that no living person can ever live up to? Of course, sexist ads are not the root of the problem, but they are a part of it. And if all sorts of different brands have not yet understood that they should perhaps try not creating sexist ads in order to sell their products, well then perhaps it is time to do something about it.

If ever there would be a vote or petition in Sweden for banning sexist ads, I’d be the first to sign it. Bring it on, I have my pen ready.

broadcity

10 commandments for men

In a Swedish newspaper there was a debate article yesterday that made me happy and hopeful. It was written by a man who in his frustration regarding the recent writings in media about sexual assault towards women in different parts throughout the world, lead him to compose 10 commandments that he thought every man should read and follow.

Translated from Swedish, the commandments are as follows:

  1. Never let your sex drive compass over your respect for other people’s integrity.
  2. Learn to read other people’s signals, especially those that imply that what you are doing is not desirable behaviour.
  3. If someone sends out signals described in point 2, stop immediately whatever it was that you were doing.
  4. If it becomes more difficult to follow points 1-3 under the influence of alcohol, learn where to draw the line, or abstain completely from drinking.
  5. If other heterosexual men in your surroundings have problems following points 1-4, make it a habit to always reprehend them verbally.
  6. Make sure that you in depth understand the meaning of concepts like feminism, gender-power order and privileges.
  7. Help other heterosexual men to in depth understand the concepts in point 6.
  8. Understand that you in the reigning gender-power order are one of the most privileged people in society.
  9. Use your privileged position to lift someone who is less privileged.
  10. A gentleman is strong, brave, unselfish and puts others’ well-being before his own. Be a gentleman!

He wrote these because he felt and saw a need for drawing lines, since apparently, many do not know when they are crossing them. Because it is time for men to take their responsibilities and stop blaming women for their own assaults. Because these assaults are not “freak events”; they happen daily, regularly, to women all over the world.

I would like to make my own contribution in the spirit of his. But my attention is towards women instead. Here are 10 suggestions for women (I deliberately did not want to call them commandments, since women have in my opinion, been commanded to do this and that, be this and that, since the beginning of time, and who am I to command anyone to do anything?):

  1. Do not be afraid to speak up; speak your mind. After all: you are woman, let’s hear you roar.
  2. Do not be afraid to say No; nobody should try to force or convince you to do anything that you do not wish to do. No still means no.
  3. Do not feel ashamed if you have ever experienced any form of sexual assault; try talking about it and of course report the incident if possible. Remember that these things happen to most women in some degree, and it is not something that you should feel ashamed of, it is a shame on the society in which you live and it’s the assailant who should feel shame. Not you.
  4. Dress however you feel like dressing, use make-up, or don’t, shave your legs/armpits/whatnot, or don’t. Just remember that the choice is supposed to be yours. Do not let anyone or anything (for instance advertising..) try to convince you that you are less of a woman or a person if you do not follow their standards. There is no such thing as “normal”, it’s just something people have made up.
  5. Remember Spice girls? Well, one thing they did very right was express the importance of “Girl Power”. Remember this concept, cherish it, live by it.
  6. Do not be afraid to call yourself a feminist: even though there are people with wild misconceptions about this term, the basis of feminism is equality. It is not about man-hating hairy women without bra’s wanting to abolish men and all their misogynist ways. No, it’s about fighting for each and every individual’s right in society = Women and Men.
  7. Stop being so judgemental towards other women. There are countless studies that have shown how men in organizations for instance, help other men reach the top (eg. see Kanter), while women on the other hand are fighting both other women and other men. But who helps women? We must help ourselves, let’s change that and help each other as well. We are sisters, not enemies.
  8. Remember that being a woman is a social construction: It is not something biological, it is not something stable, it is not something universal. Thus, be whatever woman you want to be, just be yourself.
  9. Learn more about concepts such as feminism, gender, power structures, institutionalization, norms, patriarchy and so on. They will help you understand what it means to be a “woman” in today’s world, and thus, help you to fight against old-fashioned notions that should just be put out of their misery already. For more information, read: The second sex, by Simone de Beauvoir. She explains it all so well.
  10. Encourage other women around you to follow suggestions 1-9.

 

The Second Sex

Finished writing my second term paper in the classics course, where we were supposed to present and discuss some classical texts, any way we wanted. Now of course I chose classics that I found interesting and fruitful for my own research field; from social construction, to gender, to ads to the male gaze and so on. Connecting these all together, finding the red thread, the causes and effects, has been thrilling but also very depressing..

One of my favourite classics that I had the pleasure of diving into again is hands down Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. Even though it was written almost 70 years ago, her examination of women and their (our) development and placement in society still holds. Dissecting and explaining the relationship between subject and object, providing both accurate and interesting examples covering both factual occurrences and myths, she put forward an incredible piece of work that should never be forgotten.

“Any myth implies a Subject who projects its hopes and fears of a transcendent heaven. Not positing themselves as Subject, women have not created the virile myth that would reflect their projects; they have neither religion nor poetry that belongs to them alone: they still dream through men’s dreams. They worship the gods made by males.”

How incredibly depressing this is to read, yet how important it is to understand the enormous impact of it. Just letting it sink in, and getting the picture of the vast amounts of ramifications this has had over the way women have been and are still struggling to get a shared 1st place position alongside men. You start to wonder, will we ever get there?

I very much believe in the social construction of reality and things, however when discussing constructions, more often than not you hear that “people” have constructed this and that, but let’s be honest for a moment; not all people have always had the same amount of power to construct all the pieces of the puzzle we call society.

“The representation of the world as the world itself is the work of men; they describe it from a point of view that is their own and that they confound with the absolute truth.”

Now, I am not saying that women have just stood idly by while men did whatever they pleased. At least, I hope it was not like that, but who knows really? There is no one that can for sure say how the first society was built; sure we can speculate, but we cannot know since we were not there. Either way, somewhere along the line, it was decided that men were the norm, they were the people, and women, well, we came in second place for some reason. Perhaps it had to do with just biological factors? Or perhaps it had to do with religion? Ah..religion. Let’s talk some more about that, shall we?

First of all, no offence to all of you who might believe in some “god” or other, but as far as I see it, religion (perhaps not all but major ones, plus sects and so on, organized religion with crazy fanatics) has been the cause of several problems we are dealing with today. Sure, religions might have started out innocently, people just wanting something bigger to believe in than just themselves, however, as so many other things that people get their hands on, religion has evolved and throughout history been used time and time again to kill, slaughter, rape, enslave and just fuck up everything for people who do not share the same fantasies and worship the same “god/s” (ah, the old sky-cake conundrum, Patton Oswalt does it best). Now, I am not going to bash religions that I am not that familiar with because that would be rather ignorant of me, but the one that I “had” when I was born and know most about is Christianity (I have since long left it all behind me). I would argue that the bible and the fantastical stories (yes, stories, not facts) they talk about in there have really made things more difficult for women than they had to be. Starting with the “creation”: Adam, a man, of course, being created after “god’s” own image, i.e. “God” is a man. Of course. And then, since he, Adam, was feeling lonely and miserable, Eve, a woman, of course, was created to provide him some company. However, being a woman and all, she could not also be created from “god”, but had to come from one of Adam’s ribs. Well.. that’s just lovely isn’t it?! What I don’t understand is that if Eve was created from Adam, then why the hell did she get the uterus and the ability to actually give birth to others? Wouldn’t it have been more logical to give Adam that “gift”? And let’s not forget Virgin Mary, who did not even get to have sex in order to have a baby, well that’s just great, cheers. she probably really appreciated it. Cause lord knows women are not supposed to have sex willy-nilly, unless they want to be whores, cause those are the choices men have provided for them: Virgin or Whore. Take your pick ladies!

Ugh.

Christianity has in my opinion, had a huge impact in setting the norms, dividing women and men and making sure everyone knew, they were not equals under the laws of “god”. That is one of my main reasons for detesting religion, because it was created by certain types of people, in this case men (God, Adam, Jesus, the apostles etc etc all men), who of course wrote and set the standards and norms that they preferred. If it had instead been clear from the beginning that women and men were equal, then we might not have been where we are today, who knows..

Perhaps I am rambling a bit but I will make my final point now. The point being, that this society, the one in which I am writing this, started off on the wrong damn foot. And once you start something wrong, it can be very difficult to undo it. The thing is, that since we started off having men as the norm, they have thus always been the norm, no questions asked. It wasn’t even an “issue” some hundred years ago, I mean come on, in the early nineteenth century, the word ovary didn’t even exist, because they never thought about naming it since women were just seen as men who were “defected”, men turned outside in. Think about that for a minute.

Now think about this: What if we had started off in the opposite end? What if women had been the norm from the very beginning? What if men were seen as merely women, turned inside out?

The world would look very different indeed.

Two ways a woman can get hurt

Today we had our last lecture in one of the first phd courses, and I held my last presentation, this time about my field of research: sexist advertising. I presented a chapter: Two ways a woman can get hurt: Advertising and Violence,  from Kilbourne’s book Deadly persuasion: Why women and girls must fight the addictive power of advertising (1999). Here, Kilbourne speaks about sex in advertising and how this is similar to pornography since it is more about dehumanizing, objectifying and disconnecting than it is about reality. Violence is encouraged in many ads, men are shown to be in power, dominant, to take control, heck, take whatever they want, while women are portrayed as never saying no, or at least, not meaning no when they say it. Women are encouraged by ads to be attracted to the hostile and indifferent men, often the ones that in real life would be absolutely dangerous. Violence is also trivialized, and rape is glorified. Kilbourne argues about the objectification being different for women and men: when women are objectified they are so in a cultural context where this objectification is constant, and where there are serious consequences, from economic discrimination to violence. For men, the consequences are not the same since their bodies are generally not routinely judged and invaded, they are not as likely to get harassed, raped or beaten by women, as women are by men. This is eloquently described and summed up:

“When power is unequal, when one group is oppressed and discriminated against as a group, when there is a context of systemic and historical oppression, stereotypes and prejudice have different weight and meaning.”

Now, that is not to say that the objectification of men is any better, all objectification is bad of course. It is always bad to objectify a person. However, it is important to understand that the objectification looks very different when it comes to women and men. After all, we are not equal in the eyes of the ads.

After my presentation we had a very long discussion that was both interesting, fruitful and extremely frustrating and upsetting. At one point, I was boiling, it came after one of my male colleagues said that it is in the nature of women to want to be looked at by men, and it is in the men’s nature to want to look at women. Nature. Nature? Needless to say, this really heated up the debate with him on one side and practically the rest of us on the other with arguments about the social construction of reality. About the fact that women are not born with an innate desire to be ogled by men, that it is not something in our blood, but rather in the way we are brought up, taught by society to want to look pretty, to want to be wanted. It is something that we daily must think about, decide about. It is about the constant male gaze that is surrounding us all. Quietly, subtly.

It is not in our nature. It is in our heads.

Choices

Ok, say what you want about Lady Gaga and her music, however, couple of nights ago while perusing the web I came upon this video, which raises a very important and unjustifiable issue. I was moved by it, and before I knew it I had stumbled upon a rather frustrating debate on Facebook with some co-feminists and this one rather ignorant man. He started the debate by stating some statistics (who knows where the hell he even got them from) about there only being 6 cases of reported rapes in 1000 colleges, so what is all the fuss about? Well first of all, the fuss is not about this being an issue that happens so rarely and is so easy to get over we should all just get back to our own business and ignore it. The fuss is about this being a violent crime that should not happen at all. I don’t give a shit really if it happens to 1 in 100.000 women (or men for that matter), that is still 1 too damn many! The fuss is about us living in a world where this actually does happen, and trust me, I bet my own life on it, it happens in more than 6 occasions out of 1000, because the reported ones are not all that actually occur. We have no idea of knowing how many cases go unreported in our colleges, in our homes, in our cities, in our countries in the whole god damned world. But needless to say, it’s too damn many for it not being something to fuss about.

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We did not (surprise surprise) convince the man with our “female logic” and all of a sudden the debate was about gender, and him saying that basically us women are privileged and it’s our own faults cause we choose to have smaller salaries because we choose to have babies, and we choose to have low-paying jobs, because we choose not to work as hard as men. At this point, I was literally boiling. Apparently this guy has been living in a cave somewhere for the last thousands of years when the rest of society was built upon certain values, institutionalizing certain norms and certain social structures that we have, and are still stuck with, today. Cause how else on earth can you say that all of these things are choices? I did not choose to have the ability to have kids, but if I choose to have kids, that should still not be a reason for me earning less than the equivalent man (who also can choose, or not, to have kids, but at least is not more or less expected to have them by the society he lives in). I also did not choose, and have never chosen, to earn less than any man who performs the same tasks as I. For those who know me, know that I am a damned hard worker, and have always been, I do not like things handed to me on a platter, I want to earn everything for myself. But when I work as hard, or even harder, and still get paid less, well. Sorry but then I will start making a fuss.

When it comes to biology VS. society, I believe that the former is what gives us our basic foundation, while the latter is the force that actually shape who we become. We do not choose as much as we think we do, we only fool ourselves when we think all our choices are actually our own. Every choice we make is basically the product of our biology, culture and society, we are taught to like this and that, we are taught to choose this and that, we are taught to believe this and that. We are not ourselves but everything that surrounds us, and if you think for a minute that women chose to be the “second sex”, well think again. That is not, and has never been, a choice of ours. It has been stated, normalized and reinforced, over and over again. This must probably be one of the most used quotes when it comes to gender and feminism, but dammit, it can apparently never be said enough:

“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.
– Simone de Beauvoir

Before leaving the never-ending debate I wanted to address the man one last time, (even though I know it would not make any difference to him), so I wrote:

Brandon, I do not know where you got the idea that white females are the most privileged ones, since throughout our history, and throughout the world, the only really privileged person in almost all categories is a white middle-aged man. And do you know why “he” is privileged? Because “he” is the norm = the focal point whether it’s about power, money, medicine, literature, art, advertising and media, heck even language (think of how language is built, what words we use, very simple example, take sports, it’s called football and basketball etc, but when girls/women play, it becomes “women’s football” and “women’s basketball”. Just “normal” football is played by men, for they are the norm). The world we live in is based on the white male norm, whether we like it or not. And what feminism wants to do is raise women to the same level as we have raised men for ages. Now I am sorry that you feel “oppressed” by feminists cause they seem to mostly raise and discuss “female” issues, but the issues they (we) raise actually involve you too, they are not female issues at all, they are human issues. And also, when trying to lift up one “minority” or oppressed group of any sort, is it really that unbelievably weird that the focus is on that group? It rather seems like you feel less valued as a man, and that stings since you, as a man, have always been the most highly valued. But take it easy, you are still the norm, cause we still have a looooong way to go before actually reaching something worth calling equality.
Good night.