One of our supporters has written a letter to the editor of the Irish Independent:
"To the Editor of the Irish Independent,
While using your website for my daily news update a sub-heading on the menu took my attention.
Clicking on it, it brought me to a page titled ‘independentwoman.ie
As a 19-year-old Irish female I feel the need to question this website and its placement on the Independent website. The website includes celebrity news, fashion, beauty, diet and ‘Love&Sex’. I am sure there are many women who would love these topics but they are not for me. In relation to women I’m interested in women’s rights, women in business and in sport. None of this is featured on the website in front of me. If I had wanted to read the topics provided I would have clicked on Lifestyle.
I decided to investigate further and went to the Irish Times website. They have no such ‘Woman’ sub-heading . Any topics similar to what are on the Independent’s Woman website are placed under ‘Lifestyle’ – where I expected to find them.
I do not intend to completely write this website off as a sexist creation with no place in our society. I am merely questioning its place on the website and its intentions. I do like some elements of the website such as the articles written on relationships and feminism in celebrity culture but it is missing a more open view on women. Are women not interested in business and sport? If a man wishes to read about fashion, beauty, diet or even sex he must go on to ‘Women’s’ website or surf through the badly laid out ‘Lifestyle’ section. Where is the ‘Man’ website with all the masculine things men are only meant to read about like cars and sports?
I hope this letter makes you think of how the website is laid out or you even begin to rethink about how women are portrayed in your newspaper. We are not all hooked on Fashion and Celebs. Women are more complex than the sub-topics on your website.
Leaving Cert Student."
Cross-posted from Ms Spats's Sartorial Dispatches, 24th April 2012
Ms Spats has been preoccupied with her weight since she was eleven years of age, and estimates that she thinks about food and the width of her hips at least ten times a day. If you allow for at least 60 seconds per thought that means that she has effectively wasted 73,000 minutes of her life which works out at about 50.69 days, or at least a month and a half .
These are some of the diets that Ms Spats has been on, and the effects of same: The cabbage diet (,unattractively fragrant) the cigarette and diet coke diet (surprisingly giddy), the wine and chocolate diet (very good fun, at least in the short term), the bread and water diet (she fantasised she was in the female version of The Count of Monte Cristo), the no carb diet (bad breath making), the calorie counting diet (excellent for increasing numeracy skills), the pining diet (headwrecking), the pizza diet (calories consumed at one sitting, at the end of the day - nauseating ), the caffeine pill diet (palpitations), the raw food diet (very expensive) , the fruit diet (gassy), the liquid diet (either fruit juice, slimfast or water sugar and lemon), the body confounding diet-(where you over consume one day, underconsume the next, in an attempt to trick the body into continuing to lose weight); The South Beach Diet ( Atkins less cholesterol with a garnish of fruit) and plain old starvation.
And throughout it all, she fantasised about eating, constantly.
Food Porn is part and parcel of dieting. At the height of her weight obsession, Ms Spats would fantasise about chicken burgers: the soft floury bun, the creamy lashings of mayonnaise, the crunchiness of the breadcrumbs and the tenderness of chicken. She would imagine her lips moist with oil, and the sesame seeds catching in her teeth. She pictured the food sliding down the gullet, masticated, in a thick glutinous glob of calorific goo. And Ms Spats, naturally, dislikes fatty foods. She never had junk food growing up. She is programmed to like vegetables. But still the allure of bad and the forbidden beckoned her. The purity of her abstention beatified her, and when she inevitably binged, it would cripple her : Sin, guilt and redemption. The basis of religion is encapsulated in a chicken burger. Who knew?
And where has this left her ? Hungry and unsure of what a normal approach to food is like. It has taken a good fifteen years for Ms Spats to recognise that her body needs food to survive, that food is not the enemy, a dangerous substance that conspires to keep her fat, but rather that which keeps her alive and feeling good.
Ms Spats has never been overweight, ever. She has no idea in fact, of what her natural body shape is. Throughout years of self imposed starvation and the inevitable bingeing stage that follows, she has fluctuated between a UK size 8 and 14. At 6 foot tall, the upper size is more to her body type, but should she ever get that 'heavy' again she would struggle to leave the house. Her perception of her body has the power to dictate her day. She wakes up feeling fat, and the day can be a write off - she wakes up thin and the world is wonderful place. And in other respects she is quite normal. To meet her on the street you would not think that she is any way deranged. But clearly she is. She has spent years disliking her body when there was no need to. She is delusional. Cracked. A basket case.
Ironically, the time that Ms Spats has spent being consumed about her body is the amount of time that it takes - according to women's magazines - to transform the body. Six weeks is when an exercise programme is due to show results, when the muscles become toned and the body leaner. Perhaps more pertinently, behavioural psychologists tell us that this is the amount of time it takes us to form a new habit. And on a more esoteric, spiritual basis, it is also the length of time for religious period of Lent and the concept of metanoia,
or the transformation of the self. The time in fact, it takes to wrestle with our demons.
If Ms Spats had taken that time to revolutionise her thinking process rather than castigating herself, who knows where she would be today. Out of the house more, possibly. But she is formed and informed by today's culture. From a very young age females are taught that they have to conform to a certain type. Little girls grow up in the paradigm of pink. They are showered with stories about Princesses and Fairies-- the Feminine Archetype of the Good. They are encouraged to play with dolls, to nurture, to please and be pleasing. And when they grow up this must translate to being sexually attractive. While no woman ever wants her own daughter to carry this nonsensical idea through, society is raining it down on us from every possible angle. The phenomenon of Jordan is a case in point. She represents this crazy view, disconcertingly, in both the infant and mature form. She is a lad mag favourite (woman as sexual) and also the author of a story book franchise involving ponies and all things pink (woman as infant). Young girls cite her as a role model, which means that they are identifying (unconsciously) with the sexual element as good. And this means the body, and the fetishization of same.
And so pinkness translates to thinness. A recent survey by the Australian teen magazineGirlfriend
showed that 96% of those surveyed wanted to change their bodies in some way (the majority their stomachs), 76% believed that losing weight would help their self esteem, 45% have been on a diet, 56% have skipped meals, and almost 20% have thrown up after meals. And these are adolescents who have been brought up in an enlightened age. We know more now about the human body and the benefits of nutrition than at any time before, yet our relationship with food is getting ever worse. Reported incidences of eating disorders are on the rise. With the rise of the size zero, it is getting increasingly difficult to identify a woman suffering from an eating disorder. Is she starving or merely awe-inspiringly disciplined? The pressure is everywhere -Brides are resorting to feeding tubes in an attempt to look their best for the big day, the dieting industry is thriving on the premise that the majority of dieters will fail while women attempt to get back their pre-baby body in six weeks, or increasingly, to the pre-baby body they never had. Extremely thin women are celebrated as being incredibly successful, and celebrated women are extremely thin - you only have to look to women's magazine and the pro-Ana websites to verify this : Victoria Beckham, Teri Hatcher (actually 75% of the cast of Desperate Housewives) or Keira Knightley, to name a few. Even women who are celebrated for their 'curvaceous' bodies are subjected to unending pressure: A furore broke recently over leaked photos which showed that Jessica Alba's slim body had been digitally altered for an advertising campaign to look even thinner. The ideal has to be idealised further.
But what solutions are there? The oft touted backlash has yet to materialise, at least not in any popular form. It could be that what is required is a radical form of re-education. While Ms Spats would respect the freedom of the media, she would suggest that with this freedom comes responsibility. Ostensibly the media is about transmitting public opinion, but more and more it comes to shape it. It would be nice if this was used to the good. But, fundamentally, it comes down to women themselves, making the conscious decision to reject the pressures placed by advertising and the media. After all, as consumer, we can and should dictate how these operate. Although it will take a lot longer than six weeks to effect a metanoia in this instance. But at least we can begin.
Originally posted at: http://msspatsdispatches.blogspot.com/2012/04/i-could-have-been-rocket-scientist.html
We owe it to both young women and men to change media messages which repeatedly reinforce harmful norms of masculinity and femininity. By Clara Fischer
With the drama of the Oscars over for another year, it might be time for reflection on the messages the film industry, and particularly Hollywood, is conveying on a near-global scale. Messages in film? But surely the entertainment industry is simply about that: entertainment? Not so: research shows that what might seem like light-hearted comedy or action-packed drama
, is in fact increasingly gendered
– that is, it portrays women and men in pointedly stereotypical ways. Worryingly, this phenomenon is having extremely negative effects on women and girls. A recent report by the American Psychological Association
cited impaired cognitive ability, depression, low self-esteem and eating disorders as consequences of the sexualisation of women and ever-younger girls through the media.
While films constitute only one particular aspect of the onslaught of objectifying and sexualised images within the larger 24 hour media cycle, they give us a particular insight into the cartoonish nature women are assumed to hold, but also to accept as audience members. Women usually star as the love interest, the princess to be rescued, or as the general supporter of the male protagonist, lurking somewhere in the background as a Side-Show Berta. Alternatively, as we know from such movies as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, women are hyper-sexualised and dangerously assertive. This latter variation on the theme should not be confused with a kind of liberated and independent agency, but rather constitutes another example of the reductive and objectifying view described in the literature as the ‘male gaze.’ Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, as they say, but who is the beholder?Certainly the filmmakers, producers, and studio bosses are overwhelmingly male, and overwhelmingly white and upper/middle class. Is it any wonder, then, that their experiences and stories are told, while women’s fall to the wayside? Even when
women’s stories are told, though, they usually come in chick-flick form, which means they revolve around getting, keeping, or regaining a man – hardly a faithful depiction of the very complex lives we lead, yes, as partners, as mothers, as lovers, but also as workers, as leaders, as teachers, as writers, as politicians, and the myriad of other roles we may adopt in our daily lives.
A simple way of highlighting the lack of meaningful portrayal of women in movies is the Bechdel test
, developed by Alison Bechdel in her comic strip, The Rule.
According to the test, a film has to fulfil three criteria to pass: 1) the film has to have at least two women in it 2) these two women have to talk to each other 3) they have to talk to each other about something other than a man. This minimum of women’s relatively substantive inclusion in film is rarely achieved. Indeed, the majority of our most cherished movies fail to fulfil the principles of the Bechdel test. That is not to say that these movies can’t be good or inspiring pieces of cinema, but rather that the clear absence of women in film is a systemic problem. It is the sheer scale of women’s omission from movies, which makes the test so powerful and damning.
As noted, on those rare occasions where women do star in more sustained roles, perhaps even as the protagonist, those roles are increasingly stereotyped. Not only is this trend particularly damaging for younger female viewers, who adopt self-objectifying attitudes and behaviours, but it feeds into a larger raunch culture which ultimately disempowers women by promoting women’s sexual availability or physical appearance as the sole measure of our worth. The financial return for such a culture is of course handsome: the peddlers of beauty and slimming products, of unnecessary surgical procedures, and of dietary programmes and fads are indeed rewarded by the heightened anxiety women feel about their bodies, and ultimately, themselves.
And yet, there appears to be a weakness in this profit-driven model of women’s objectification: women might actually opt out. In a recent interview, Meryl Streep made this point by noting that the clichéd depictions of women in film might actually drive women away, thus leaving the profiteers minus a fairly large demographic. Films such as MissRepresentation
, which highlight the complex and often negative role the media plays with regard to women’s portrayal, have also met with a level of enthusiasm which clearly indicates a groundswell against the stereotyped images women are bombarded with on a continuous basis. It seems that the mainstream movie industry has confused the beholders of beauty, their female viewers, with the reductive cartoon characters they assume them to be, instead of recognising them as the critical, thinking human beings they really are.
While opting out and critically engaging with the media is a viable option for media-literate adult audiences, it is less so for those who are still developing a sense of themselves. We owe it to these young women and men – for gender-stereotyping similarly skews boys’ attitudes and identities – to change the media messages, which repeatedly reinforce harmful norms of masculinity and femininity. One way of doing this is by simply taking our purchasing power elsewhere, by withdrawing economic support from the culture of objectification. If we believe Simone de Beauvoir’s famous dictum that “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”, we seriously have to question what kind of women, and men, our society is fostering.Dr. Clara Fischer IFN Co-ordinatorCross-posted from Politico.ie, THURSDAY, 05 APRIL 2012 14:01 CLARA FISCHER