Category Archives: feminism

Why are we shaming women for being human?

Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. That’s the take-home message of the latest photo leak after fansite The Beyoncé World published photos purportedly from Beyonce’s 2013 L’Oréal campaign. The internet subsequently exploded, and a flurry of social media activity focussed on the fashion and beauty industry’s use of Photoshop, and its role in disseminating unrealistic beauty standards. These discussions are important, and we should continue to question the false ideals propounded by such images. However, the comments did not stop there. A barrage of negative and downright nasty comments about the singer’s appearance ensued in what can only be described as an exploitation of the image for nefarious purposes.

The Beyoncé World removed the photograph as a result of the denigration, and released a statement condemning the attack: “Some of the things we have seen posted were just horrible, and we don’t want any part of it. We were just posting the photos to share the fact that our queen is naturally beautiful, at the same time she is just a regular woman.” The photo raised important questions about the endemic Photoshop culture at the heart of the fashion and beauty industry, yet this positive conversation evolved into an excuse to vilify a woman for committing the crime of being a regular human being. This behaviour, rather than lifting the veil on the major culprits in this culture, perpetuates the cycle of unattainable beauty standards, and defeats the very object of any discussion thereof. These scathing and abusive comments when publicly expressed via social media are a pervasive and destructive tool in the reinforcement of disgust for women in their natural state. Instead of condemning the industry’s use of Photoshop, we underpin the necessity for its existence and render women increasingly reluctant to show their real selves.

This is not the first time, however, that a case of Photoshop shaming has crossed the line into unhealthy territories and transformed into an excuse to attack women for being human. Last year, Jezebel offered a $10,000 bounty for un-retouched imaged of Lena Dunham’s Vogue cover. Juno writer Diablo Cody tweeted: “This is total mean-girl sh-t masquerading as feminism. I’m disgusted.” The decision to offer such a handsome reward was a flagrant attempt to dethrone Lena Dunham as an ambassador for women’s rights. I, too, am disgusted that the act of calling out the industries responsible for disseminating unrealistic beauty standards has mutated into the abhorrent and indefensible act of shaming an individual whose image has been retouched. However, in this digital age of social media, selfies and smartphones, how realistic is it to expect to see a true and un-retouched representation of natural female beauty?

Yes, we should embrace the need for realistic reflections of natural female beauty that do not set unattainable beauty standards and place further pressure on women to achieve perfection. But where do we draw the line? If I filter the sh-t out of my selfies on Instagram, am I misrepresenting female beauty? Why stop there? Should we ban makeup, spanx, push-up bras and false eyelashes too, while we’re at it? There comes a point where we should question whether the harm caused by Photoshop shaming doesn’t equate to the same damage caused by the industries setting these beauty standards.

The recent leak of an un-retouched photo of Cindy Crawford elicited a mixed response on social media. Broadcaster Charlene White tweeted the image to “encourage a bit of a Friday feeling amongst [her] female followers”. The photo provoked a Twitter storm, and many praised the supermodel for her bravery, despite the fact that the image was published without her consent. In an article for the Guardian, Charlene White described the response to the photo:

Some commenters who have tweeted me have talked of Cindy being proud of her “flaws”. Flaws? Seriously? How did not having a six-pack suddenly become a flaw? And why are we okay with that?

In the same week, the Daily Mail defended their front-page story on the Duchess of Cambridge’s grey hair, stating: “There can’t be a single woman who, after seeing the pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge’s grey hairs yesterday, felt anything but sympathy for her.” Well, as a woman, I can categorically say that I feel no sympathy whatsoever for her; she is a beautiful and intelligent woman. Surely everyone’s hair goes grey at some point; or is grey hair also a big no-no for women?

The message we can glean from the cumulative reactions to these photos is that a woman’s natural human body is disgusting, whether it’s the middle-aged body of a former supermodel after she’s had a couple of kids, the un-dyed roots of a pregnant woman, or a few blemishes on the face of a pop star.

Our obsession with the before/after diptych only serves to show the un-retouched ‘before’ in an unflattering light, highlighting the so-called flaws that the ‘after’ shot has removed. At no point should our distaste for airbrushed and retouched images translate into disrespect for a human being, and disgust for human features. When we cross the line into “mean-girl territory” we lose sight of the original objective to defend womankind from additional pressures. What’s the incentive to stop Photoshopping women, when it’s made patently clear that our un-retouched bodies are not good enough?

Comments from hell: the very worst of the internet

The comments section: a bastion of democracy or merely a cesspit of hate speech? If you’re ever in any doubt about the need for feminism in the 21st century, you need not look any further than the comments section of any digital news outlet. A wasteland of pejorative remarks and intolerant invective, the comments section was designed to be the voice of the people, yet its current use is far removed from its original purpose. The sheer bigotry expressed through this digital soapbox paints a bleak portrait of humanity, but is oft highly entertaining.

Our latest project – Comments from Hell – curates the most comical comments from the every corner internet, from Kim Kardashian’s Instagram, to political websites and national news outlets.

Here’s our first roundup to eradicate your faith in humanity:

1. feminism-cut

2. f-cut

3. f-cut-2

4.  “EWW. BYE.” photo (5)

 

 

 

5. number1

 

Follow Comments from Hell on Instagram @CommentsFromHell 

Emma Watson at #HeForShe Launch: “Women need to be equal participants”

2014 was a ground-breaking year for feminism, and Emma Watson played a huge part in making that happen. In September 2014, Watson catapulted feminism into the forefront of the world’s collective consciousness when she announced her UN Women campaign #HeForShe.

It was the first time a celebrity spoke out on a global platform to tell the world that women need the support of men in order to achieve gender equality. It was the first time the world sat up and started listening to real discussions about gender equality. The #HeForShe conference was watched over 11 million times, sparking 1.2 billion social media conversations.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos this morning, Watson officially launched a new year-long “IMPACT 10X10X10” plan  to “engage governments, corporations and universities as instruments of change positioned within some of the communities that most need to address deficiencies in women’s empowerment and gender equality.”

The Harry Potter star uttered the burning question  on everyone’s lips. The “what now?” How do we harness the incredible support garnered by #HeForShe and turn it into tangible change? “The truth is, the “what now” is down to you. What your #HeForShe commitment will be is personal and there is no best way. Everything is valid,” she said.

I spoke about some of my story in September, what are your stories? Girls: who have been your mentors. Parents: did you make sure you treated your children equally? If so, how have you done it? Husbands: have you been supporting your female partners privately so that she can fulfil her dreams too? Young men: have you spoken up in a conversation where a woman was degraded or dismissed? How did this affect you? How did this affect the woman you stepped up for?

So what is “IMPACT 10X10X10”? Well, quite simply, it’s about “concrete commitments to change” that are both measurable and visible.

Watson is clear in asserting the necessity for a united effort of individual actions, whether great or small, from lending support or advice to young women, to mentoring future world leaders. There is no act too small or too big in the fight for gender equality.

Watson ended her speech on an empowering note. “It is my belief that there is a greater understanding than ever that women need to be equal participants in our homes, in our societies, in our governments, and in our work places,” she said.

“They know that the world is being held back in every way, because they are not. Women share this planet 50/50 and they are under-represented, their potential astonishingly untapped.”

Women: it’s time to stop judging one another

January is a time of new beginnings, self-improvement and the recalibration of goals, but it is also a time of contemplation of the year that’s passed and the events, actions and achievements that defined it. With the habitual rush to set New Year’s resolutions for our bodies and minds, we assess the areas most in need of improvement. One of the things I’ve been considering during this annual debrief is my propensity to apologise incessantly – even when I’m not to blame – and my inability to say no. At what point did I become so hell-bent on people pleasing? I’d love to say that my only resolution was a minor adjustment to my vocabulary, but these flaws are but a few of the ever-burgeoning list that I mentally keep all year round. You may well be thinking I have a bad case of low self esteem, or perhaps a spot of anxiety. The diagnosis is far simpler, however: I am a woman.

I feel a suffocating pressure to perform at 110% in every aspect of my life, and a debilitating guilt if I do not succeed. I am not alone in this. As women, this constant need to succeed and to please is indelibly engraved onto our collective consciousness. On any given day, my thoughts flit from admonishing myself for falling short in maintaining my weight and wellbeing, to telling myself to work harder, to balance my life, to be on trend, to be BETTER. But, is that really realistic? And, when will we ever be satisfied with our own achievements?

Girls star, Zosia Mamet hit the nail right on the head in her column for GLAMOUR in May 2014:

As women we have internalized the idea that every morning we wake up, we have to go for the f–king gold. You can’t just jog; you have to run a triathlon. Having a cup of coffee, reading the paper, and heading to work isn’t enough–that’s settling, that’s giving in, that’s letting them win. You have to wake up, have a cup of coffee, conquer France, bake a perfect cake, take a boxing class, and figure out how you are going to get that corner office or become district supervisor, while also looking damn sexy–but not too sexy, because cleavage is degrading–all before lunchtime.

We live by a universal standard of success; we are fed rigid ideas that dictate the “norm” – whatever that means. We live not by standards we set for ourselves, but instead trammel a path carved by others. The existence of powerful female role models – a positive and empowering by-product of feminism – fuels the notion of a one-track road to female success. We see only one way to be a woman, blind to the kaleidoscope of shades of womanhood and myriad nuances of success. We judge ourselves unfavourably against these role models, and we compare ourselves to other women.

Feminism was meant to empower us as women, to build us up for fighting on male-dominated battlefields. It did that, but it did some other things as well. It gave us female role models like Hillary and Oprah and Beyoncé and in the process implied that mogul-hood should be every woman’s goal. We kept the old male ideas of success: power and money. We need new ones!

It doesn’t end there, unfortunately. Women are not just unkind to themselves in this quest for perfection; they can also be extremely unkind to other women. This unkindness comes in many guises; in passive aggression; in bitching; in judgement; and in straight-up nastiness. The only consequence of these actions – aside from the ephemeral illusion of superiority – is the addition of even more pressure on women, and on ourselves. Amy Poehler, in her book Yes Please, aptly named this type of behaviour “woman-on-woman violence”. It begins in adolescence with bodies and beauty, and continues well into pregnancy, then motherhood, and beyond. If it’s not women telling pregnant women that they’re doing it all wrong, then it’s the subject of working mothers versus stay-at-home mothers. Breast-feeding, birth plans, parenting methods, nannies; the list of “supposed tos” for mothers is never-ending. Poehler speaks of her experience of being guilt-tripped as a working mother:

The “I don’t know how you do it” statement used to get my blood boiling. When I heard those words I didn’t hear “I don’t know HOW you do it.” I just heard “I don’t know how you COULD do it.” I would be feeling overworked and guilty and overwhelmed and suddenly I would be struck on the head by what felt like someone else’s bulls–t. It was an emotional drive-by. A random act of woman-on-woman violence.

As an advocate of the rights of women, I am saddened by the knowledge that the nastiest comments I’ve ever received have been from other women. Whether it’s our sartorial choices, our appearance, our sex life, our weight, our choice of partner (or lack thereof), or even whether we identify as a feminist; every aspect of a woman’s life is fair game is this intra-gender battle. Here’s the thing, though: other women aren’t the enemy. Whether you are a teenage girl, a mother, or just a woman trying to live her best life, these unsolicited judgements and comments do untold damage to a woman’s sense of self.

Women’s comments often focus on the physical traits that are most likely to attract men. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in her seminal Ted talk, talks about the misdirected competition that exists between women: “We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men.” By indulging in this behaviour, we buy into an outdated model of objectification where a woman’s ultimate goal is to attract a mate. We need to realise that the moment we make a pejorative comment about a woman’s life decisions, or her appearance, we invite that same level of judgement on ourselves.

Imagine a world where women unite instead of divide, where barbed comments are replaced with words of support, where we listen without judging and talk without prescribing. Surely if we were all in this together, we would all feel less alone. Reflect on the goals you want to achieve and refuse to let anyone else define your ambitions. Celebrate the victories of our fellow females, and admire the strength of the women in our lives.

It’s time to end woman-on-woman violence. In short, be kind to yourself, and to others.

Gamergate Campaign: The Fight For Change In Video Games

The gaming community has long had a reputation as a violent arena fueled by a reluctance to adapt to the rapidly-evolving gaming industry.  The ever-growing population of women working in the gaming industry is a positive leap in the direction of gender equality – particularly in such a male-dominated industry — but many gamers do not welcome the new female presence in the gaming world.

Anita Sarkeesian, Feminist cultural critic and creator of the Gamergate campaign, was forced to cancel her speech at Utah State University after receiving an email warning that a shooting massacre would take place at the event. Yet, this was by no means the first time; the Gamergate campaign has long been a target, and receives a constant stream of threats.

So, what exactly is Gamergate?

According to Recode, Gamergate is a “sizeable online community of videogame fans who are upset about growing criticisms of their favorite hobby, especially claims that today’s games often depict women in demeaning ways.”

This backlash against female gamers isn’t anything out of ordinary. Working as editor for Girl Gamer Vogue (GGVogue) — a website that aims to build a new gaming community free from gender bias — I have experienced first-hand what these women go through. Journalist and founder of GGVogue, Jennifer “Narz” Vargas is passionate about targeting this issue that plagues today’s gaming industry.

Centered on this policy to promote equality amongst all gamers, it was mind-boggling to learn that Jennifer would be against covering Gamergate. This was her chance to display a crisis affecting all female gamers and a tangible manifestation of what she fights against each day. It was difficult to understand her reservations with it all. She wasn’t receiving any threats yet and I strongly believe that the moment you piss people off, is the time for you to act and make way for change. Vargas was reluctant to agree, and felt apprehensive of getting the wrong kind of attention adding that,

Anita [Sarkeesian], is strong for moving forward with this but I only want to create a holistic community where we all support each other no matter our gender, background or affiliations. The self-proclaimed politics of the gaming community don’t interest me. I will continue to create, promote, and sponsor workshops for both men and women in gaming for those that need it. I don’t need to justify my point of view of the matter because my actions do. – Vargas

This is what it comes down to. How hard are we willing to push for change?

I understood her reservations completely and people (myself included) don’t realize how difficult it is to take a stand for change in any particular matter. Is Vargas a coward for wanting to steer clear of this whole mess? Sarkeesian decided to cancel her workshop at Utah State University because of fears that the aforementioned threats were all too real:

This will be the deadliest school shooting in American history, and I’m giving you a chance to stop it. – NYTimes.

Some believe she made the right decision, while extremists have expressed concerns that she knuckled under the demands of the ‘gamer interrupted.’ This sequence of events, however, has had a ripple effect leading avid girl gamers, like Vargas, to pull back and focus on why they became involved in the video game world in the first place.  The fact that a movement that’s making waves across the country is placing people’s lives in danger is, quite frankly, eye-opening and deeply troubling.

This wouldn’t be the first time the gaming community has gone all Call of Duty on us, however. Veteran and game developer, Ralph Koster received a number of hate messages after making changes to a specific online game. He discusses his experiences faced with the level of hate stating that there’s almost an expectation for gamers, adding that “gamers have had that for quite a while”. This happened in the early 1990s, rendering his creation part of the first wave of multiplayer web-based games, and was consequently a significant development in the gaming world at the time. This begs the question if this culture of hate is only an issue with women in games.

Are gamers being dangerously sexist or are they just pulling anything from their sockets to oppose to any changes within the gaming industry and community?

Koster endured his threats with grace even after his house was set on fire and someone wrote a note on his personal website saying he “wished the game designer had died in the blaze.” So, naturally gamers are prone to going ballistic about matters that make them… uncomfortable? Or something like that.

In any case, we cannot deny the impact the Gamergate Campaign has on gaming, and Sarkeesian is doing something right if so many are speaking (and that’s putting it lightly) against this. While I do believe that she, her campaigners and the gamers in support of this movement should continue the fight in spite of these threats, I can’t help but concede on Jennifer Vargas’ point. Working on the grander scheme of things to encourage gamers to play video games in harmony rather than fighting violently is the goal here. However, focusing on the latter can only go so far and where does one draw the line? I suppose gamers can define that for themselves much like Vargas did when this all broke out. Gamers however, may never be satisfied and like life, games and the industry will continue to change.

Review: Yes Please by Amy Poehler

It might be unorthodox to begin a book with the words “writing is hard,” but then again Amy Poehler is not your average writer, and Yes Please is far from your average book. The star of Parks and Recreation makes no secret of the fact she wrote her memoir in a sleep-deprived state, penning snippets on subways and planes. She freely admits that Yes Please is a “spontaneous overflow in the middle of chaos,” which ordinarily might lower readers’ expectations, but Poehler isn’t fooling anyone. The former Saturday Night Live cast member infuses her writing with an unabashed candour that is not only refreshing to read, but wholly absorbing. Poehler lifts the veil on the I-don’t-know-how-she-does-it mysticism surrounding working mothers, and writes truthfully of fitting 12-hour shoots around mothering two children under 7.

This brazen frankness is not limited to her personal life; Poehler narrates her passage to fame — or rather, her decade-long struggle funded by amateur comedy gigs – with a fondness that makes you wish you’d seen Poehler and her anarchic troupe — Upright Citizens Brigade — in action. Here, Poehler debunks another myth: that of the accidental celebrity. “I like hard work and I don’t like pretending things are perfect,” writes Poehler. And the sum of this hard work, grit and tenacity that is so redolent in Poehler’s account of her pre-SNL years is exactly why Poehler graces our screens as the bonkers-yet-brilliant Leslie Knope of Parks and Recreation. Scenes from her childhood are woven into hilarious behind-the-scenes glimpses of the SNL writers’ room and poignant vignettes of her friendship with Tina Fey.

This is not a rose-hued fable of celebrity life. This is the reality of life as a sitcom star in the male-dominated world of comedy. This is not an argument for having it all, but instead a formula for how to try to have it all; and the tale of someone who knows first-hand that you can’t.

What They Expect When You’re Expecting

So when I first found out I was pregnant, or rather when I first decided to stay pregnant, I went through what I would call the normal stages. The ‘Jesus Christ!’ stage, the ‘WHAT DO WE DO?!?!’ stage, and the ‘Okay, really, what do we do?’ stage. Foolishly, I was under the impression that the ‘we’ here in question, was my boyfriend and I. As it turned out, there was a third parent that I was leaving out and being pregnant means you’re required to listen to the opinion of every other woman who has ever had a baby, seen a baby, or heard of babies.

To clarify, in this little rant, I am mostly talking about other women, a group that I’m not used to criticising much. There seems to be an embarrassing element to ‘baby stuff’ for men, and they are far less likely to comment on it, lest they trap themselves in some sort of lady bits conversation or accidentally unleash the wrath of a hormonal preggo, enraged by his audacity to presume to know more about the beauty of baby-forming. Far too many women, however, don’t have the same social graces, and have no qualms about telling you exactly what kind of mother you need to be, how you’re doing pregnancy wrong, how your ideas on parenting are wrong and how you’re generally a fat failure who should be lynched for drinking a cup of coffee. It doesn’t matter how rude they sound: I’m young and this is my first baby, so they’re right and I’m an idiot

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I could never be described as the maternal type. I’m also clumsy, untidy and generally not very good at anything. I’ve come to regard these characteristics as fun little quirks that only mildly bother those around me. I can’t change these traits in the slightest, and to do so would be to change myself entirely. The thing is, you’re not allowed to be clumsy or scatter-brained when you’re going to be a mother, and you’re certainly supposed to enjoy the company of children. My plea that I could just love my child and continue silently hating everyone else’s doesn’t seem to fly.

To a lot of women I’m going to be a bad mother because I can’t keep up with all of these suppose to-s. These supposed to-s put a tremendous amount of pressure on women, for example on issues such as breast-feeding (which is often out of the mother’s control) and attachment parenting. Am I the only one who thinks that there’s something deeply wrong with women telling other women how they’re supposed to be? Would we let men away with it?

I suppose when you break it down, it’s about identity. There is a certain loss of identity that comes along with pregnancy. It’s a stressful time. My body doesn’t look like my body, my hormones mean I have no control over my own emotions and strangers suddenly think its okay to touch my stomach in the street. This experience, one that has always been regarded as the ultimate female experience, has almost taken away my womanhood altogether and left me as a temporary incubator. ‘I am vessel, hear me roar!’ hardly has the same ring to it and honestly, I could really live without other women telling me that I’m not living up to their expectations and trying to change me even further. If I can’t be Carol Brady, can I at least gestate in peace without feeling like there’s some sort of mould that I should be trying to squeeze myself into like an ill-fitting maternity bra? Can’t I do what women have been doing since the dawn of time and figure out this whole matriarch thing without taking on everyone else’s conflicting views and losing all command on the situation? Or is it a ‘no birth control, no control at all‘ sort of situation?

I guess what I’m saying, ladies, is that as long as we’re the ones that have to fire humans out of our genitals, can we accept that there are different types of mothers? I mean, there has to be because there are different types of women. Not every woman who hasn’t won an award for their organic baby food recipes is endangering their baby. I would like to propose a little wiggle room, so that all women have the right to experience motherhood whether they are the ‘type’ or not. Just give us a little room to breathe: we’ll call it a social episiotomy.

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