Redefining Powerful Women

This is just bizarre:

The Oxford English Dictionary Online has been updated and amongst the new entries is Girl Power. Defined as “power exercised by girls; spec. a self-reliant attitude among girls and young women manifested in ambition, assertiveness, and individualism“, the term is one of several hundred that have just been added to the OED Online, the most up-to-date version of the world famous authority on the English language. The Spice Girls are credited with using the term in the late 1990s; however, riot girls (also a new entrant to the dictionary) adopted Girl Power in the early 90s, in the United States. A riot girl, also known as a grrrl, (another new entry) a young woman perceived as strong or aggressive, esp. in her attitude to men or in her expression of feminine independence and sexuality, is defined in general terms as a member of a movement expressing feminist resistance to male domination in society and esp. to the abuse and harassment of women.

Its bizarre and, moreover, it bothers me. It seems honestly a bit sexist, a bit ridiculous that we need to add new words to the dictionary in order to describe strong or powerful women. Why won’t woman do? Or female? Or girl? Or feminine? Decisions like this more clearly reveal the antiquated notions we have as a society: in this case the idea that women, by default, are not already strong or powerful. The need for a separate term entirely for a powerful woman implies that woman in general are not always powerful – an independent, powerful woman is a riot girl, has girl power… she is an exception. Or, at least, that’s what the Oxford Dictionary would have us think.

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Girl Power! (Or, you know, just women in power - these are some female heads of state, the link leads you to information on more current and former female leaders, in case anyone has an interest!)

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Sorry, Your Blood is too Gay to Save a Life.

Every few weeks or so we get a call at my house from the local blood bank requesting we look into our hearts and make the time to come down and donate some blood. Although I have still never qualified (low GiveBloodGiveLife-764676iron count both times I tried) both of my parents have donated several times, my father even giving platelets (much more involved procedure) at times.

I remember clearly the survey they have you take before donating – but I hadn’t given it much thought, to be honest, until someone at the Night of Noise (event following the Day of Silence) mentioned in passing that gay men still can’t give blood in the United States.

Yup, you heard me right: if you are a gay or bisexual male living in US, UK, Germany, Hong Kong, or Canada you cannot give blood ever, not even if you haven’t been sexually active for years. Its not much better in other countries either: in South Africa and New Zealand gay and bisexual men cannot give blood until five years have passed since they engaged in sexual activity (protected or not) with another man, in Argentina, Australia, Japan, and Hungary its one year. There is reasoning behind this practice that claims not to discriminate maliciously but rather due to practicality:

“All donated blood is obviously tested carefully – but it can take a few months for the HIV virus to show up. So if you only recently contracted HIV and you then give blood, you can unwittingly inject the virus into the blood bank. Gay men are seven times more likely to contract HIV than straight men. So it has been judged that the risk is simply too great.”

Now, while this may seem reasonable for a few seconds, maybe, once this “defense” is examined it hardly stands up. Plain and simple these policies are needless discrimination against gay individuals and should not be tolerated.

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To Shave or Not to Shave, That is the Question

I apologize for the overly personal nature of this post – it just came out this way.  I was also going to apologize for the overly superficial nature of this piece, until I really thought about it. The way I look, and the way I feel about that appearance is  vital to my self concept and my self esteem… and I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way. It is absolutely not superficial to want to feel beautiful and to want everyone to be able to experience those feelings thus, no apologies here!

I simply hope my reflections are relevant to someone other than myself, even though they are more personal than political in nature. (The personal is political after all – I have always liked that concept!)

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As far as feminist stereotypes go I (naturally, I’d like to believe*) tend to fall outside of their narrow confines. For instance, I wear dresses and skirts quite often – a fact that has confused many a misinformed frat boy, trying to wrap their minds around the idea that a ‘chick in a skirt’ can still have something important and well informed to say about a myriad of topics – beauty norms being, of course, just one of them.

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See? Here I am – arguing with one of the aforementioned Frat boys at a positive body image event.

A few weeks ago I dressed in drag to attend my school’s PRIDE Prom – the night was amazingly fun, of course (how could I not have fun dancing with my friends, eating awesome fried food, and watching music videos featuring Ru Paul all night?) but it was also very enlightening in an unexpected way. To begin, although I had a fabulous manmetime, there was also a nagging discomfort that I felt for most of the night – my boyfriend may have been enjoying his cross-dressing adventure but I was not. It  was not ruining my night by any means, but in the midst of all the excitement I was pining for  long hair so much that halfway through the night I ruined the illusion and let my hair free – much better. Its not that I was uncomfortable being seen as manly (not that my disguise was good enough to fool anyone – unlike Trav’s fantastically gender-bending ensemble) its just that I simply did not feel comfortable, happy, sexy, me in this outfit. It was fine to fit the theme for the night but I much preferred my day-to-day personal presentation.

I didn’t have a big revelation concerning the choices other people make in gender presentation – I have always and will always be a proponent of the idea that people need to present themselves in whatever way makes them comfortable – even if that presentation is incongruous with society’s (outdated) gender norms – people should be free to look the way they want to without judgment or ridicule. Period. End of story.** I did, however, have a revelation about my own, personal, choices concerning presentation, particularly the question of body hair.

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Marketing to Women 101

Allergies, illness, or something has taken over and made me really lethargic, headachey, and scrambled lately which is why this post is both slightly old news, and slightly all over the place… but I hope you enjoy all the same!

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For a month or two of my life ( in between wanting to be a teacher, psychologist, or writer) I decided I should go into marketing. I’m creative, I reasoned, I could be good at coming up with slogans and advertisement ideas. I never changed my major but news like this makes me think I should have… the decision-makers of the advertising world apparently need smart women (and men!) to explain to them that not all women (or people for that matter) are alike and marketing to the gender binary is not going to turn out well for them, at least not now as we enter further into the 21st century. (They should join us!)

flingRecently, two advertising campaigns (from Dell and Mars) have caught my eye due to their sheer stupidity. The common thread? Both campaigns were aimed at women… but I’m struggling to see how even a single woman could have been involved with the creation of these campaigns. Surely, if they had asked a woman what she thought she would have been able to explain to them that women are not all variations on the same stereotype and, for instance, probably won’t respond as well as they are expecting to a sparkly, pink-packaged, low-fat chocolate bar or a miniaturized computer that comes in enough colors to go with every outfit and has an appropriate girl-y name (Della).

According to the marketing world there are only a few ways one can market a product to women:

1) Make it pink & sparkly! I mean, it worked for Stephanie Meyer and her sparkly vampires. As Cara of Feministe put it, “Fling is a new chocolate bar that’s aimed at women. You can tell, because the packaging is pink.” The Della laptops may not all be pink, I’ll give them that, but the pink one does come with the added bonus of a donation to a Breast Cancer Charity (none of the other laptops have a charity attached) and they’re still marketed as “adorable” and “cute” because that’s what women care about, adorable and cute computers, not, you know, functional and  durable ones.

2) Make it low fat because all women care about losing weight, unlike men who don’t need to diet constantly and, therefore, can enjoy “man candy” like Snickers and M&Ms. (Not that women don’t eat these candies too… something has to put on the weight that needs to be dieted off!) Even Della’s new laptops manage to buy into the “low fat” trend – a quick look into the website’s “tech tips” shows us that our laptops can be used to help us remember to exercise and even look up low-fat recipes! (As this article outlines, since I started writing this article the website has already changed – the recipe tip is gone and the exercise tip has become “get moving” but still…)

3) Make it teeny – Its not a chocolate bar its a chocolate finger because women, with their diets and whatnot, cannot handle a chocolate bar. Similarly, the Della computers are miniaturized – I suppose to fit into our purses better or something? Smaller laptops have their place, I won’t deny that, but to focus the marketing of these computers specifically onto women is where the gender stereotyping and fail comes in.

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Yes, No, or Undecided

Crossposted from Amplify

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Earlier this week a post in the Feministing Community tipped me off to the fact that Senator Paul Sarlo, a senator from my own state of NJ, had a poll up on his website asking the very important question, “Do you support same-sex marriage?”

Now, while I commend Senator Sarlo for wanting to look into his constituency to understand how the people he represented felt about this issue before voting I still have to criticize this approach for a few reasons.

First off the methodology is seriously flawed, since the poll only asks for an e-mail address (and accepts votes even without one, apparently) there is no guarantee that the voters come from his own legislative region, and no guarantee that the same people are not voting repeatedly, giving him a very skewed view of what the people really want. I’m not the only own who noticed this either – there are reports that The National Organization for Marriage(NOM) has been telling all their members to vote NO in this poll. Even if these reports are not true, the flaw is there and the chances that no individual has taken advantage of this and voted multiple times or voted out of district are slim.

Secondly, and more importantly, reducing peoples civil rights – their rights to be united with a partner that they love and given all of the same legal rights and respect as an “opposite marriage”  – to an internet poll just seems wrong to me. Perhaps its simply a sign of the times but, personally, I feel that basing a decision that will affect the lives of so many people on a stupid internet poll is just callous and makes a mockery of the rights that same-sex couples and their allies have been fighting so long to receive.

A very apt commenter from Amplify points out another important flaw in this poll:

“My other problem though with the way it’s set up is that the options of yes, no, and undecided are limited. Many people are a definite yes or no on this issue, but I think that people should be able to explain their undecided opinion. Maybe they support civil unions, but not marriage.”

I suggest we send Senator Sarlo an e-mail or letter, from the heart, explaining why this method is just a little off. Below I have included part of the message I intend to send him, just to get you started:

Senator Sarlo,

I commend you on your desire to connect with the people of your district on important pieces of legislation, such as decisions concerning same-sex unions. However, I would like to suggest you find a better way to connect with the people you represent- go out and talk to them, put out a request for letters concerning the issue – something that gives the issue a little more respect than simply ticking off yes, no, or undecided on a web-page that anyone around the world can access and vote on. Please, give this decision the respect it deserves.

The senator’s address is listed on his website, at the bottom. Also, he provides this online form as an easy way to get in contact with him!

Catching Up

Finals and Amplify Blogging have taken over my brain so its been awhile since I’ve posted here. That will change soon, I promise! In the meantime, however, here’s some of the articles I’ve been writing for Amplify:

Two posts in which I take on ridiculous proposals about educating and policing underage sex:

Silly Teenagers, Sex is for Adults!

Silly Teenagers, Sex is for Adults Part Two!

Another, looking at the possibility of a male birth control shot and the sexism interwoven within its reporting and availability:

Male Birth Control and Sexism

A post about “Kiss Virgins” and how pure never seems to be pure enough:

Kissing: The New Virginity?

I’ll be back soon with more regular blogging, promise, but in the meantime keep busy with those posts (and the rest of Amplify!)

Losing Faith(21)

“If you’re squishing yourself into clothes that are a couple sizes too small or you’re wearing men’s clothes, how are you going to go out on a date? How are you going to go to parties with your friends and feel like you fit in? That all has to do with self-esteem and body image. Could you imagine taking away all of the clothes for thinner women and saying, ‘Sorry, you’re too thin. You can’t have that.’ It doesn’t make sense.”

- Plus-Sized Supermodel Emme

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I’ve admitted to guilty pleasures before, and believe me I have many. One of them (that I am reluctant to admit because it gives away what a total feminine-stereotype I am!) happens to be shopping.

Shopping, for me, is something that goes beyond frivolous girly style… it hits to the core of my self esteem. See, for most of my middle and high school years I hated getting dressed, to the point where I actually decided to switch to a school that had uniforms for my freshman year* so as to avoid hours of self-consciousness and agonizing over a closet full of clothing that I hated… because I hated my body.

Somewhere in there, along with a few pounds, I gained a sense of self-confidence (and some new friends) that allowed me to go out and truly enjoy getting dressed for once, because I had reached a place where I could truly embrace my body and the way I looked!

I believe that the way a person dresses themselves can really have a major impact on their own inner confidence – partially because of my own experiences. This is why I was so excited to hear that Forever 21 was integrating a plus-sized line into their current offerings.

Although I, personally, tend to fit into straight-sized clothing I recognize the difficulties that larger women have to go through in order to find clothes that fit and flatter them due to the closed-minded nature of many retailers – thus, I was excited that the fashion tides seemed to be turning towards inclusivity.

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(Image from the Forever21 Website – First Week of May 2009)

Unfortunately I, along with many other women who were excited for Forever 21’s new line, were left disappointed with its unveiling earlier this week, both with the line itself, and the media’s reaction to Faith21.

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