Tag Archives: women’s rights

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?

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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.

US reproductive rights: employers can now deny you birth control benefit

In early July of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that employers can deny birth control to their employees. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby set off a new level to this issue that’s been debated on since the recession of 2008. The Scholars Strategy Network highlight the struggles regarding women and birth control where the Guttmacher Institute tallied about “36 million women in need of contraceptive care in 2008” and that number has increased as more and more women discontinue contraceptive use simply because they cannot afford this. However, according to Planned Parenthood, these two companies were granted a religious exemption to The Affordable Care Act [ACA] that covers birth control without co-pay after a 5-4 ruling. For those of you who are not aware, The Affordable Care Act is a federal healthcare reform bill passed by Congress and President Obama in 2010, where private health insurance plans will offer birth control [among other preventative services] without co-pays or deductibles. Now, it seems as if many others are following suit and at least “82 for–profit employers are challenging the ACA’s birth control mandate so that they, too, can deny the benefit to their employees.”

Birth control in the U.S. has become a controversial issue that somehow has given employers the opportunity to take a standpoint on whether it’s morally right or wrong to provide such coverage. This ruling is rather laughable to me as I’ve witnessed and read of women being laid off or not getting hired due to pregnancy or maternity leave. I wonder if these employers are considering the alternative side to this issue. I currently work for a non-profit organization but it’s only a matter of time before this matter hits home. Americans are treating birth control as if it’s a revolutionary idea when in fact it’s part of basic health care, and these mind numbing debates only set off more ignorance amongst the population.

Pulling the morality card on this issue only makes me think of the women in my culture who become pregnant and choose to keep the baby more often than women from other backgrounds. “Spanish girls get pregnant just by one looking at them,” said one male colleague of mine in the midst of a heated debate regarding women and birth control. His chuckle was followed by another slurp of Lo Mein and a satisfied sigh to his arrogant rhetoric. While scarfing down my General Tso chicken, I filtered out the many things I could’ve said when the idea dawned on me. Gulping my frustration down with water, I cleared my throat and said, “It’s not that Spanish women become pregnant more easily than others. Spanish women are less likely to have an abortion given our religious background, i.e. the Catholic Church.” His eyes almost sparkled to this perspective. “That makes total sense! I never thought of it that way!” Nodding his head in agreement he pulled at his Smartphone. Perhaps he was eager to share his newfound knowledge.

I often get into these topics with the opposite sex and I cannot always recall why exactly. I suppose it’s because I can ultimately acknowledge how men and women don’t (and probably won’t ever) see eye to eye in areas that are primarily grey in the midst of countless divergent views. Yet it seems as if the lack of coverage and education about birth control in America leads people, like my co-worker, to make and believe such insensitive and foolish statements. Though, reflecting on his whole rendition of women and birth control, however short sighted, he brought up a good point. Statistically speaking, minorities in the US are most likely to bear children before the age of 20.

I’ve considered the many single mothers in my family and countless young women I’ve come across who have struggled through abortions, broken condoms, failing contraceptives and the most popular, withdrawal method (that almost never works.) These inconsistencies in birth control mainly happened throughout my college years and, unlike my many female counterparts, thankfully I didn’t deal with any consequences. I suppose being an innocent bystander was lesson enough for me to become extremely careful. But coming from a Dominican-American family, I’ve learned that a large number of Hispanic women, more often than not, do become pregnant and keep the baby before graduating college. I’ve gathered that this is perhaps due to religion, moral beliefs and overall cultural background.

It seems like most employers are dealing with the same moral issue and I feel for them. Granting coverage for a basic need that affects us all is unimaginable to some and shame on the women who dare to ask for it. How could they sleep at night?

I am being deliberately facetious but you get the gist.

Limiting the resources for vital reproductive health care is what’s inconceivable and this sort of negligence only feeds into further ignorance. Learning that the United Kingdom grants free birth control for all astonished me and even with the ACA [thank God for small favors] we must wait “until [our] coverage has been verified, co-pays will continue to be collected, so [we] will not have to be billed later.” However, this is only if your employer will grant you such coverage and if they don’t, the number of working to middle class women putting off visits with health care providers for birth control will only increase and the misinformation about this will continue to float.

Ladies, let’s break the statistics and remind them that this reform benefits us all as Americans and ensure “birth control be available at no cost to every woman, no matter where she works.”

[Plannedparenthood]

No, a convicted rapist should not be allowed to resume his former job

On Friday, Ched Evans – a convicted rapist — will be released from prison after serving half his prison sentence. In 2011, he raped a 19-year-old woman at a hotel in Rhyl, Denbighshire. The victim did not consent to sexual intercourse, and Evans’ friends are said to have watched him rape her. If Evans were a lawyer, doctor or teacher, the prospect of resuming his former job would be out of the question. Yet, Ched Evans is a famous footballer, and his former club, Sheffield United, are rumoured to be considering reinstating Evans in his former position. The chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, Gordon Taylor, has stated that Evans should be allowed to play professional football again, and told the BBC: “I didn’t know there was a law that said once you come out of prison you still can’t do anything.” However, over 140,000 people disagree with Taylor, and have added their signature to a petition urging the Chairman of Sheffield United, Kevin McCabe, to refuse to reinstate Ched Evans as a player.

High profile footballers are influential people; their actions receive a great deal of media attention; they are revered by fans; and they are role models. It goes without saying that they have the power to influence impressionable young people. If a convicted rapist is allowed to walk back into his former job after serving half his prison sentence, what kind of precedent are we setting? Furthermore, Evans’ case will convey a clear and unambiguous message: rape is not a serious crime.

During my secondary education, I recall being counselled, along with my fellow students, by teachers and careers advisers that we must avoid at all cost getting a criminal record should we wish to go to university, and get a good job. If Evans walks back into his former job scot-free, the credence of teachers’ advice will be called into question.

Judy Finnigan’s comments earlier this week that “the rape was not violent, he didn’t cause any bodily harm to the person” was, to say the very least, ill advised. Freedom of speech is a basic human right, and Finnigan has every right to express her opinion as part of a healthy, balanced discussion. However, in discussions about rape there is a danger of worsening the existing problem of victim blaming, and Finnigan’s statement “she [the victim] had far too much to drink” certainly bolstered this victim blaming thread, regardless of her intentions. If someone is drunk when they are murdered, does it mean it’s their fault? Rape is still rape regardless of how “drunk” the victim is. Furthermore, this victim blaming culture confuses and undermines the important moral lessons instilled by parents and teachers regarding consent and rape. And how will parents taking their children to Sheffield United matches explain the chants from the opposing crowd?

The backlash that ensued, and the deplorable trolling of Finnigan’s daughter obscured the important issue here: we must not talk about rape in degrees. Rape is an absolute: one is not slightly raped, or very raped. Rape is an act of violence, and its primary driving force is violence. The dictionary defines rape as “forcing another person to have sexual intercourse with the offender against their will”. The very act of forcing someone is a violation; a violent confiscation of someone’s free will.

Asked if Evans should be allowed to return to professional football, Finnigan said: “Well I think everything depends basically on, of course, whether the club wants him back but more importantly perhaps whether the fans want him back.” Finnigan’s assertion that Evans has “served his time” was echoed by broadcaster Jonathan Maitland on Sky’s Press Preview on Tuesday night. But, in reality, he has not “served his time”; he’s served half of it. If Evans had stopped playing at half time, would he have still played a full match?

It has also been argued that Evans has been amply punished for his crime, and it is unfair to prevent him from returning to his former life. To those of you in favour of Evans’ reinstatement, I ask you this: if a teacher were released after serving half their sentence for statutory rape, would we simply shrug and allow them to resume their position? When a doctor is convicted and struck off after years of study and training, does the nation scream “injustice” when his life is ruined? I see no outpourings of support, no outcries of sympathy when it comes to anyone else. So, why protest the fairness of this isolated case? This is a question of parity. Is it right that we make an exception for a famous footballer?

If Evans were guilty of murder, I sincerely doubt that his fans would be welcoming him back with open arms. Rape is a serious crime and it ruins lives. The take-home message should Evans be reinstated is that rape is not taken seriously as a crime. Approximately 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales every year, with less than one rape victim in 30 seeing their attacker brought to justice. What hope does this case give to rape victims seeking justice?

It has also been argued that once a criminal has “served their time”, they should not be further punished. But, what about the victim? Once Evans is released, will his victim forget and move on? The rape will most likely affect her for the rest of her life. Do not underestimate the damage caused to victims’ lives.

No one feels good about ruining a young man’s career, but unfortunately, he did it to himself.

Are we all bad feminists?

The release of Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist got me thinking. Aside from my concerns that yet another great book title has been taken, I think it’s really interesting to see the ‘bad feminist’ epithet being turned on its head. The label has gone from being a pejorative term bandied around by holier-than-thou feminist purists to something positive, something to be embraced. This speaks volumes about where we’re at in 2014 in terms of feminism — are we beginning to cut women some slack?

The recent Women Against Feminism Tumblr movement raised an important issue: that people don’t understand what feminism is. The movement suggested that individuals believe that feminism is a bunch of rigid rules that must be strictly adhered too, and that aren’t open to interpretation. With such a false misconception of feminism, is it any wonder they don’t want to be a part of it? I was horrified at yet another anti-feminist social media campaign, but I couldn’t help but think that — hidden deep inside this well of misunderstanding — there was a clear message about feminism: pressure. What do I mean by this? That we women have put so much pressure on themselves to be ‘good feminists’ that we’ve lost sight of what feminism really means. Have we tried so hard to be good feminists that we’ve become bad?

Zosia Mamet’s essay for Glamour magazine really resonates here:

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. Who in her right mind would want to do that? And who would even be able to?

When I read this, I am reminded of myself a few years ago. I had become so caught up in the idea of being a good feminist, I had forgotten to have fun. At parties I would roll my eyes when boys would chat me up, and I placed so much pressure on myself to succeed that became a recluse. Looking back, I find this totally crazy. Perhaps it’s a strange thing to say, but I’ve become more relaxed about feminism. I take it just as seriously as before, but I now know that being a ‘good feminist’ 100% of the time is just not sustainable. I also acknowledge that I had mistakenly interpreted feminism as being a rigid life model; one to be adhered to at all times.

I think it’s wonderful that women can now publicly admit to being bad feminists. This is certainly a progressive step, and symptomatic of fourth wave feminism, which places choice and the freedom to choose at its heart. Assuaging the pressure on women is now another wonderful addition to the feminist agenda.