The Natatorium

An emporium of oddities from around the world, complete with somewhat informative plaques that almost never match the item they are meant to be describing.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Everyone's Problem

I'm sure many of you are aware of the fact that I took a Women's Studies class last semester and that my experience with it, both socially and academically, has caused me to think critically about Feminism and other women's issues. In particular, I have become more aware of That Which Is F***ed Up (TWIFU) in daily life, especially in commercials, television shows, the media, advertisements, and the merchandise at the stores in which I shop. Images of women are everywhere, and while some would say that the faces and bodies with which we are constantly confronted can and should be easily written off and disregarded by the Real Women of our world, I argue that the constant bombardment of images sends a direct message to all women of what is expected of them. The never-ending stream of "ideal" bodies plastered everywhere mixed with aisles and aisles of "remedy" products that promise to make you thinner and more beautiful can get to even the most self-confident, liberated, and socially aware woman (i.e. me). Here are some recent examples.

1. A recent trip to local Huge Warehouse Store. In the toy aisle, I found some charming products that really provide young girls with an intelligent, kind, socially-conscious role model. A few of the gems:

Although I did see a few respectable dolls on my recent trip to the toy aisle ("Pet Doctor" Barbie was one of them, though it's kind of sad and insulting to think that our kids are too dumb to learn the word "vetrinarian"), I was more than disgusted to see this one on the shelves. She's blingin' alright, with a miniskirt the size of a headband, a barely-there sparkly halter, and a pierced naval. Why don't they just call it "Sex Worker Barbie" and get over it? The best part of all this crap is that society tells girls to look like prostitutes if they want to be socially validated and/or noticed, but condemns the idea of prostitution. The message, therefore, is to look like your only purpose is sex, but by the way, if you don't save yourself for marriage, you're a dirty whore condemned to hell and no man will ever love you. What a clusterf**k. Oh, and if you look near the doll's right hand, you'll see a giant fake jewel--meant for the proud new owner of the doll. A little sign reads "Ka-Ching! A little BLING for you!" Because remember-- real women are all in it for the sparkly trinkets. That's *why* bling bling barbie uses her body as a sex object--to cheat men out of useless, expenseive ornaments. Not only should you make yourself a sex object, but you should be materialistic too. Otherwise, what's the point?

Clad in cute boy-style panties and made up like Miss America (or the back-alley version), this toddler really knows how to lure in the men. Don't let the pigtails fool you--this sex kitten is ready to pounce.

Seriously--how could *ANYONE* buy this for their child, let alone design or manufaction such a monstrosity. "Bitch" magazine already wrote up a criticism of this product in their "love it/shove it" section a few issues back, but I was still shocked to actually see it on the shelves. It amazes me that people just don't think anything of this kind of thing. Apparently, not only do we not need to wait until the girls are 18 before we start objectifying them-- oh no, the truly modern female is hip to their feminine wiles before they turn five--let along hit puberty.

Here's the illustration on the box. As if the doll itself weren't sexualized enough, the illustration has her tweaking her panties to flaunt the maximum ammount of leg and using her other hand to draw a finger coyly near her mouth. Somehow, the illustration manages to heighten the message of the already inappropriate "come hither and take me" eyes.

2. I am not fat. So why won't the *large* at mall clothing store I recently visited fit me? I am not an X-tra large! I am NOT! And if I am, I shouldn't be. I'm a normally proportioned woman, so why do these pants insist that I am outside average parameters? If my behind is above-average sized, then something is wrong with the way we calculate our average. I felt fat for about ten minutes and then bought some nice-smelling lotion. It didn't take me long to figure out that the mall itself was a microcosm of our image-and-material-driven society. You look at the pictures and want to be like the girls in them, so you try on the clothes. The clothes either a) fit you and you buy them, or b) don't fit you and make you feel fat. In the case of (b), you quickly find another product with which to ease the pain of being ugly. Either way, you've just paid hard-earned money to feel better about yourself to the place that made you feel bad about yourself in the first place. Again, clusterf**k.

Before I go off on how these types of images and messages are detrimental to women in both their social and private lives, I want to make it clear that this is not "special interest" problem. These days the word "feminism" can clear a room, so I want you to understand that this is not the deluded ranting of some radical Feminist who hates everyone, and that these issues don't apply to you because you're not a) crazy b) liberal or c) even female. This is everyone's problem. The way women are portrayed and addressed in our society should not be considered a "minority" or "margianalized" issue. For one thing, women are half of society. Half is not a minority, so why are "women's issues" still somehow cordoned off as a "special interest?"Furthermore, the way a society affects half a population, which is completely integrated with the rest of the population, does not just affect that group--it affects the whole. These images and attitudes and not just problems to a few fringe radicals who may or may not appear briefly on a news program, who may or may not have a small column or comment tucked into a mainstream newspaper or magazine. These images and attitudes are everyone's problem, because the things that subtly hurt and oppress women subtly hurt and oppress us all.

The problem with women's rights these days is a lack of understanding about what liberation is and what liberation isn't. According to society now, "liberation" is having the "freedom" to show as much skin as possible, have sex with whomever you like, and use your body and sexuality for material gain. If this were actually liberation, then all the nay-sayers out there would be right--women are perfectly liberated, they are not at all oppressed, and the crazy radicals should have nothing to complain about. Unfortunately, the reality is that oversexualization of onesself is not liberating to the individual or other women. The more women are portrayed as sex objects, the more they become sex objects. This means that women who flaunt themselves and play the image "game" that society has set up may reap temporary rewards, but they only reinforce the idea that women only worth how good they look and how ready they are to please men. Society has twisted the notion of female sexuality in many women's minds to the point that they may genuinely associate objectifying acts such as stripping with personal arousal--though the stripper's job is to simulate arousal for the purpose of arousing men out of their five-dollar bills. Actual female sexual liberation varies by the woman and cannot be cleanly condensed into an image of a busty blond with too much eyeliner. Women need to learn to detach their personal sexuality from what society tells them makes them sexually attractive to men (by the way, men should be allowed to decide individually what they're attracted to, instead being expected and directed to be attracted to one kind of woman). Playing society's game has its advantages--that's why women do it. Women don't enjoy wearing uncomfortable shoes and clothing because of the act itself--they enjoy dressing that way because they know how they'll be socially rewarded (i.e. the way they will be viewed and treated). But playing the game just makes the game more solidified in people's minds. Playing validates the game, feeds the game, affirms the game. When women continue to affirm personally and socially that Yes, This Is The Way A Woman Should Look And Act, they affirm where a woman's value lies and who its lying for.

The ads suck. The shows, movies, pop music, magazines, sexualized dolls, and everything else that pounds that sexual images into people's heads sucks, but it isn't just the media and the ether. It's a system, and we all participate in it. It's a cycle that's been going for some time now, and it won't be broken until at least one part of it refuses to participate, refuses to contribute, and sets up a new form of social personal identity; one focused on character, will, intellect, and conviction, not the latest bling.


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