Gender Part 2: Introduction: The Women & The Girls
I have some reading that I want to brush up on before I really delve into the gender issues surrounding women, because I have been away from these books for some time. What I hope to accomplish with this post in particular is to give you some thoughts to chew on before we get into the heart of the discussion, and to introduce you to some really amazing texts that I think should be mandatory reading for EVERYONE, male and female, young and old.
First, I would like to quote to you from Jean Kilbourne's book Can't Buy My Love, a treatise of (mostly) depictions of women in the media. The images alone will shock you. Social psychology has shown time and time again that we are ALL affected by advertising and the media, even when we firmly believe that we aren't. When you take some of these images, slogans, commercials, etc. out of their context in a magazine or tv channel, we begin to SEE the messages that are conveyed. Normally they slip past our conscious awareness, but when you really look at what's there, you will likely be stunned. Google Jean Kilbourne to see some of these images. Her speaking engagements can be found on YouTube. Here is a sample summarizing the major themes of her lectures:
But here is a (long) quote from her book that really, deeply struck me when I read it:
"When men objectify women, they do so in a cultural context in which women are constantly objectified and in which there are consequences - from economic discrimination to violence - to that objectification.For men, though, there are no such consequences. Men's bodies are not routinely judged and invaded. Men are not likely to be raped, harassed, or beaten (that is to say, men presumed to be heterosexual are not, and very few men are abused in these ways by women). How many men are frightened to be alone with a woman in an elevator? How many men cross the street when a group of women approach? Jackson Katz, who writes and lectures on male violence, often begins his workshops by asking men to describe the things they do every day to protect themselves from sexual assault. The men are surprised, puzzled, sometimes amused by the question. The women understand the question easily and have no trouble at all coming up with a list of responses. We don't list our full names in the phone directory or on our mailboxes, we try not to be alone after dark, we carry our keys in our hands when we approach our cars, we always look in the back seat before we get in, we are wary of elevators and doorways and bushes, we carry pepper sprays, whistles, Mace."(p. 279-280)
When I read this paragraph, it was like a light bulb went off in my head. Men (in general) truly do not and cannot understand what it's like to have that constant fear. My husband doesn't check the backseat of his car before he gets in it. He's not afraid of being in a parking garage at night. He doesn't understand why I feel the need to firmly latch and lock every window and door in the house before going to sleep at night when I am alone. It's not that he doesn't sympathize, it's just something he doesn't GET.
Now the flip side of this, of course, is that it's unfair for women to immediately be wary of all strange men. The men's movement hates the idea that they are all labeled as potential attackers until proven otherwise, but they also understand that this MUST be the case. At least for now.
This will come up again in the subsequent posts regarding transgender and intersex individuals, but Sandy Shoes and DuWayne mentioned the concept of the unisex bathroom in the comments on a previous post.
For a woman, transgender, or intersex individual, a multi-stall, public, unisex bathroom is a scary place. It is out of public view, it has locks on the stall doors and often on the outside door as well. Unless we know every single person well who uses said bathroom, it is simply not a safe place to be. If a woman in an office goes into a supply closet that locks from the inside, and a male co-worker who she doesn't know very well enters this closet, she is going to feel uncomfortable. A unisex public bathroom is no different from the closet, except our pants are usually already down while we're in there.
Should it be that way? Absolutely not.
But women are raised with a heightened awareness of possibly threatening situations and places. We are taught from a very young age to avoid them whenever possible.
The mentality of fear that women possess is often silent, extremely subtle, and most of us are not even aware of it until it is pointed out, such as in Kilbourne's book. But it is very real. No amount of feminist rhetoric can make it go away.
"Nonetheless, the rate of sexual assault in the United States is the highest of any industrialized nation in the world. According to a 1998 study by the federal government, one in five of us has been the victim of rape or attempted rape, most often before our seventeenth birthday. And more than half of us have been physically assaulted, most often by the men we live with. In fact, three of four women in the study who responded that they had been raped or assaulted as adults said the perpetrator was a current or former husband, a cohabiting partner, or a date."(p. 280)Quite often, what we are taught to fear in the outside world is what we ought to fear in our own homes, schools, and social events.
But what we see in the media is much more often violence at the hands of a stranger. What follows is the most disturbing portrayal of violence against women that I have ever seen in my life. I cried when I watched it, because it shook me to the absolute core. (The first minute or so is just the beginning of the scene. Bear with it.)
****Advisory: This is very explicit, very violent, and very disturbing. Please do not watch when children are present****
(I couldn't find it on YouTube, YouTube failed to convert it when I tried to upload it, so please go to the following direct link to watch):
Now, assuming I haven't upset you too much (I personally can't watch it again), here are the books I highly recommend that deal with the material I will be covering in subsequent posts about women: