Archive for the ‘Objectification’ Category

Awesome article on the Greek system and how it infantilizes women and creates an unhealthy attitude towards women on campuses:

As vice president of Theta, I was tasked with figuring out how to get members more involved. We began fall recruitment, only to be told that the fall was only for the boys—we had to wait until the second semester. We planned a social event, only to learn that we had to get permission from our national headquarters to do so—and that we didn’t have access to the funds created by our annual dues, despite our brother fraternities having the ability to plan (and pay) for events at their discretion. Later, when we planned a homecoming party, complete with Bloody Marys, we were told that sororities were bound by a “no-alcohol policy”—something that, again, didn’t apply to the boys. “Why don’t you have a tea party?” our adviser offered, as if we were living in the 1950s.

The upshot was this: For trying to play by the boys’ rules, our sorority chapter was put on probation. Meanwhile, some of our male counterparts were on probation for serious, even criminal offenses like date rape, drug abuse, and hazing, yet they proceeded to party. When I asked our national office why we’d been punished, they spoke in euphemisms, but I understood the message: “Sorry, but you must abide by a different set of rules. This is how it’s always been.”

I sent a letter of complaint, and tried to organize a protest. But while many of my sisters shook their heads at the injustice, few were angry enough to leave the system and go rogue. All of which has led me here—to speak out about a system that gives millions of men and women in this country a backward education. While only 8.5 percent of undergraduates in the U.S. are involved in fraternity and sorority life, fraternities have produced 120 current Forbes 500 CEOs, 48 percent of all presidents, and similar numbers of senators, congressmen, and Supreme Court justices. I wonder what the Greek system has taught some of the most influential people in our country about the differences between men and women? But then I realize I know: Despite all the strides young women have made, we’re not so equal after all.

If a university-approved system present on hundreds of campuses nationwide continues to treat women as second-class citizens, then we should not be surprised when men call women “f–king sluts.” I am not advocating the end of fraternities—Greek life is fun and valuable if done correctly. But if we’re going to change the testosterone-dominated college culture, the Greek system must empower women to take part in campus life with full and equal rights.

via The Daily Beast

What really got to me was the line about a tea party–as if women are expected to behave like children, and obey rules that boys cannot possibly be expected to be held to. I’ve actually had a conversation with a friend of mine at Penn, the school the author went to, about the fact that at least at Penn, it’s considered the norm that fraternities have crazy parties with drinking, and during sorority rush, girls aren’t supposed to even mention alcohol at all. If that’s not an absurd double standard, I don’t know what is.


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I saw this Youtube video a few weeks ago, and was shocked that I’d never seen it before (because it’s funny and great):

The video is called “The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies” and was created by FeministFrequency. It describes a test for all movies with three simple qualifications:

  1. Is there more than one woman in the movie who has a name?
  2. Do the women talk to each other?
  3. Do they talk to each other about something other than a man?

It then goes on to show a long list of movies that do not pass the test—and I was amazed at just how many there were, and how none of these movies are known to be particularly misogynistic. Milk? The Princess Bride? WALL·E?

It’s a funny video—the star is sassy and sarcastic—but it’s also a very depressing video. When I think about movies I’ve seen recently like Inception or The Social Network, it becomes clear just how male-centric these movies really are—the women, even independent and dynamic female characters, end up serving as props in a male-dominated plot-line. The women are not the center focus, but rather (sometimes interesting, sometimes not) sidenotes.

I think that this lack of female-centered content stems from the fact that most big-name Hollywood directors today are men. Every director nominated for a Golden Globethis year is male, fewer than 10 percent of all movies are directed by women, rarely are woman consistently hired by big movie production houses, and a woman has never won an Oscar for best director (Ed: until last year, when Katheryn Bigelow won for The Hurt Locker); these facts do not justify the fact that so many movies are solely focused on either male/male or male/female interactions, but they do help to explain it.

The thing is, though, that women went to the movies more than men in 2009. Women clearly are a market for films, and yet are not exactly treated as one—but still seem to be returning to the movies over and over again. Why is this? In an interview, Manohla Dargis, a NYT film critic, said:

There’s a reason that women go to movies like Mamma Mia. It’s a terrible movie . . . but women are starved for representation of themselves. I go back to Spike Lee and She’s Gotta Have It. I remember going to see it at the Quad in New York, surrounded by a black audience. People are starved for representations of themselves.

What she says makes a lot of sense to me—and further explains why the movie industry is caught in a self-perpetuating cycle. Men make movies about men because that’s what they know, and succeed at doing well with the few movies they make about women because women see those movies en masse. Even if movies about women aren’t quality films, the succeed because women are willing to see them. Isn’t that depressing?

So, what can we do about this? Vote with your pocket, I suppose: see movies that have women in them, but not simply because they have women—demand quality movies about women, movies that portray women as complex characters in the same way that movies portray men. And hope that the industry recognizes women as the large and powerful movie-going audience that we are.

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This post is cross-posted at JWA

This weekend has been very exciting for me–the synagogue that my family belongs to is hosting Sara Hurwitz as a guest speaker. For those of you haven’t heard of her: after studying for seven years at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, she was given the title of “maharat” by Rabbi Avi Weiss (an Orthodox rabbi) in March 2009, and deemed a spiritual and halachic leader. Few people understood that maharat meant spiritual and halachic leader, and so Rabbi Weiss changed her title to rabba. However, the Rabbinic Council of America, a group of mainly modern Orthodox American rabbis, considered expelling Weiss from their group because of the similarities between the word “rabba” and “rabbi,” and so Weiss changed her title back to maharat. And that’s where we stand today—Hurwitz is now the head of Yeshivat Maharat, which trains women to become spiritual and halachic leaders in their communities. Hurwitz is also a full member of the rabbinic staff of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, where she teaches, officiates at life cycle events and advises congregants on halachic issues.

You can probably see why I was so excited to meet her.

Last night, after dinner, Rabba (she still refers to herself as a rabba, and I’m certainly not one to object) Hurwitz invited the congregation to join her in a Talmudic case study of Yalta. Who is Yalta, you might ask? Great question–most of the congregation had never even heard of her (we’d only heard of the treaty). Yalta is a woman mentioned in various parts of the Talmud, known as being the wife of Rabbi Nachman, a famous rabbi, as well as the daughter of the exilarch (who is essentially the secular leader of the Jewish community). Hurwitz taught and analyzed with us three stories that mention Yalta, and then led us in discussion of the implications of her role as a female in the Jewish community.

The first source discussed the fact that Yalta was known to be carried on alanki on Shabbat, something that is usually prohibited (as it is seen as work). The source suggested that perhaps she was allowed to do so because she was needed quickly by someone in the community (a known exception to the rule), implying that she played a significant role in the community and had some kind of authority. Not such a small accomplishment for a woman living in Talmudic times.

The second source described a guest, Rabbi Ulla, coming to dinner at Rabbi Nachman’s house and refusing to pass a cup that had been blessed to Yalta after Nachman requested he do so. Instead, he cited a verse saying that “the fruit of a woman’s body is blessed from the fruit of a man’s body”. Enraged, Yalta stormed away from the table and broke four hundred jars of wine in her cellar. Nachman turned to Ulla and asked him, once again, to give her the juice, which he refused, and then she retorted that “gossip comes from pedlars and vermin from rags.” No one was exactly sure what that last line meant. However, the story itself involves some interesting symbolism: the line that Ulla quotes treats women like a vessel that must be blessed (and fertilized) by a man. In breaking four hundred bottles of wine, Yalta (quite dramatically) shows Ulla the necessity of a vessel–without the vessel holding in the wine, nothing can be contained, just as without a woman, man cannot reproduce. Hurwitz acknowledged the excess in Yalta’s actions, but also emphasized the powerful message that she sent.

The final source we discussed was one that I found to be particularly relevant to Hurwitz’s own struggle as a Jewish woman authority. The source discussed an instance where Yalta brought a sample of her menstrual fluids to Rabbi Bar Hana to judge if it was “clean,” meaning that her period was over, or “unclean.” He said that it was unclean, and so she turned to Rabbi Isaac (they were apparently in the Beit Midrash, or house of study), who initially agreed with Rabbi Bar Hana. However, she told Rabbi Isaac that on every other occasion, Rabbi Bar Hana had ruled such blood clean, and that only on that day did he rule in unclean because he had something in his eye, and so Rabbi Isaac finally ruled it clean. The source then goes into a discussion of when you can believe a woman on her menstrual fluids, which is a weird and interesting discussion for another time. What Hurwitz emphasized was that Yalta clearly knew that her blood was clean, but she chose to go to the rabbis anyway to ask if it was clean–and only then did she argue her point. She tried to challenge authority without trying to ignore it–she wanted to bring about change from within the system.

And that, I think, is Hurwitz’s thinly veiled metaphor for herself. In listening and talking to Hurwitz this weekend (she was nice enough to answer a few of my questions after speaking), it became clear to me that while she is very much trying to challenge traditional authority and pave the way for women to take on new and important roles in Orthodox Judaism, she also has a deep and unwavering respect for Orthodox Judaism and its traditional system. I asked her last night if she had ever considered going to a place like the Jewish Theological Seminary, where she would not have to deal with the complaints of the RCA, etc, and she responded that she never had–that she feels at home in the Orthodox world, and that it is important to her to bring about change while working within the framework of the system that is in place. Even though I find myself more comfortable outside the Orthodox realm and within a less traditional sphere, I have a lot of respect for her commitment to being both an Orthodox Jew and a female authority and leader. Learning with her this weekend was great, not just because I discovered Yalta, who was quite the rebel, but also because I had the opportunity to see a room full of Modern Orthodox Jews engaged by an intelligent, educated woman on Halachic issues–a site that I don’t see too often, but that could hopefully become commonplace in the next decade or two.

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I just wanted to share this video, Advice for Young Girls from a Cartoon Princess: The Little Mermaid. It’s incredibly funny and sarcastic, and touches on all the absurd things that Disney princesses are essentially preaching at small children. Now, I personally find Disney movies to be fun and enjoyable–who doesn’t enjoy it when people break out in song? However, I do think it’s interesting/important to think about the messages that Disney movies are actually sending. Even thought about Aladdin’s orientalist undertones? Or the fact that it’s completely forgivable for the male characters to be ugly (the Beast), but never the female ones? Yeah.

Some gems:

“Don’t ever talk to a man until he kisses you on the lips first. Then, as a woman, you’re allowed.”

“If you have a father that loves you, run away from him!”

“Never be comfortable in the body that you’re given. If you don’t like how you look–snip, snip, nothing wrong with that! I’m an ordinary human instead of being a beautiful princess mermaid, and I love that.

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I’ve been reading my copy of the newest edition of Ms. Magazine all morning, and on the last page, as a part of its “No Comment” section, which features blatantly offensive advertisements for which people are encouraged to write to the offending advertisers and request that they be taken down, it features this:.
Now, in case you can’t see the print, the first step in how to ask for a raise is as follows: “It should start with your usual routine and all the things you do to feel your best, including showering with Summer’s Eve Feminine wash or throwing a packet f summer’s Eve Feminine Cleansing Cloths into your bag for a quick freshness pick-me-up during the day.” Steps 2-8 include eating a healthy breakfast, leaving early, and focusing on things you have done that show your worth. But, of course, Summer’s Eve comes first.

Now, I think we should all think about the fact that many doctors specifically recommend against douching, since a woman’s body naturally cleans itself. Douching simply covers up a smell–women should call their doctors if they feel that they have a serious problem. So, clearly, using Summer’s Eve is not going to help your vagina or body feel better and set you up for a good day.

Besides that, the problem with this ad is in the two problematic messages that it sends women. First, the obvious fact that it tells women to cover up their natural scent, as if there is something wrong with their bodies and their natural functions. Second, this ad makes it seem as if the most important thing for a woman to focus on in a workplace is, in fact, her womanhood—the fact that Summer’s Eve is first, and work advice only starts at #4 sends a message that it is more important for a woman to have a pleasant-smelling vagina than to present herself effectively to a boss. Now, at a time when women make less than men but are less likely to ask for a pay raise, I see this as a significant problem. According to the linked article from The Guardian, studies show that women tend to undervalue themselves and are afraid of being seen as pushy—women aren’t not asking for raises because they’re afraid of having their vaginas smell bad. As a society, we should be working to help women be more assertive in the workplace, and helping women learn to value themselves in the same way that their male counterparts do. We should not be teaching women to criticize their bodies and add to the already-existent worry inherent in asking for a raise.

So, write to Women’s Day and ask them to remove this offensive ad:
C.B. Fleet Company Inc.,
4615 Murray Place, Lynchburg, VA 24502

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Women, do you have to ask your father/boyfriend/brother/husband/uncle/distant-male-cousin to travel/study/work/go to court? If so, there are others who have to do the same. There are others who want to work with you to allow for independent decision-making. There are others who want you to have these rights. If this is not the case and you are not required BY LAW and by social codes to seek male validation in all walks of life, then please join the fight to have the rights of fellow women recognized as well.

In all the fundamental ways, there is very little that separates us from women across the world. The devastating inequality is due to the little differences – the differences in culture/religion, but even those differences become similarities when we think of how the international community is able to interact in the 21st century. Through social media especially, similarities override differences in a fight to end oppression. In Saudi Arabia, all women (of every age) are required to have permission from male guardians to complete rudimentary tasks that are essential in living a full life. Unfortunately, there are many people who support this patriarchal system of oppression and utter male dominance.

There is a new Facebook page, Women Don’t Need Guardians, that seeks to create a virtual community of people with one thing in common: the desire for independence and universal human rights. Become a fan of this page by clicking the “Like” button in the corner and become an ally because there really is not that much that separates us (Jewish, Muslim, Middle Eastern, American, etc.); there is far more that draws us together.

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I was directed to this interview with Kate Nash via feministing and thought it would be a great opportunity to write about a woman artist I have loved for years now. I love her songs, especially for those times when you’re driving in the car and just want something to belt out. But more than that, I’ve always admired the way that she presents herself as a strong, but human, woman in her songs. Take “Foundations” for instance:

The song/video chronicles the downfall of a relationship—complete with insults, bad dates, and (metaphorically?) fighting socks. She is blunt and strong in the way that she addresses her boyfriend, with lines like, “Don’t want to look at your face because it’s making me sick,” showing how she is an independent woman who isn’t willing to put up with a boyfriend who throws up on her shoes; if you ask me, that’s pretty feminist. But the chorus is also based around the line, “I know that I should let go, but I can’t”—she shows that even though she’s a strong woman, she still has trouble ending her relationship because she’s a person with emotions and memories to hold onto. I think she manages to portray the experience of a lot of self-respecting women who have found themselves in a bad relationship, and in doing that, brings some nuance to what it means to know what you should be doing as a feminist but to find doing that difficult. Plus, it’s a really cool, fun, unique music video.

Aside from the way she expresses herself in her music, what I love about Kate Nash is the way that she’s also willing to be very frank about her feminist beliefs in words. In the BBC video linked to above, the interviewer asks her if she is a feminist, and she responds, frankly but with a twinge of sarcasm: “Yes, I’m a feminist, and I think everybody should be—because feminism is just about equality of the sexes, which is something we all believe in, don’t we?” Both she and the interviewer laugh, I believe because the issue of feminism is clearly more complex than that, but her point comes across loud and clear—she, unlike many female artists today, has no problem labeling herself as a feminist. And that is something not to be belittled, because many celebrities have trouble and negative associations with calling themselves feminists—take Lady Gaga, for example.

And she’s not just all talk, either. While I don’t follow her compulsively because I don’t really follow celebrity gossip at all, and therefore am certainly not an expert, the way she presents herself is feminist in the way that she exudes a strong sense of self-worth. In the the interview she goes on to describe (briefly, of course—she only has five minutes total) how she doesn’t believe that it is her “call of duty” to use nudity to advance her career like many other women, even though that may surprise many people in the media. She doesn’t criticize women who do, but simply stands by her choice not to feel the need to do scandalous photo shoots just because she is a woman. And that, to me, is what feminism is all about: standing by your own personal decisions, but not spending your time bashing on other women and the way that they choose to live their lives.

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