Archive | June, 2013

Taking Control of the Kitchen (Like a Good Young Lady)

27 Jun

by Omika Jikaria

Since June 8th, I’ve been in India, taking care of last minute preparations for an English language and cultural exchange program that I founded for international volunteers. The program doesn’t officially begin until June 19th so until then, I’m staying at my grandparents’ house, getting over my awful jetlag, listening to my aunt tell me about how she’s going to find an Indian boy for me to have an arranged marriage with (excuse me, what?), and sweltering in the unbearable summer heat. In less than a week, I have been taken aback several times by strictly defined gender roles. The last time I was in India, I was only 13 years old and quite unaware of feminist doctrine.  Now, after four years of high school and two years at Georgetown, India is a whole new world to me. Influenced by many people, trips abroad, and now a feminist identity I hadn’t yet tapped into at age 13, I am cognizant of the way women are treated in India and how differently feminism manifests itself here.

I’ve raised my eyebrows at multiple situations already but, perhaps, the most humorous/confusing/upsetting thing happened just yesterday. My grandfather told me that between now and when I leave at the beginning of August, I have to “take control of the kitchen like a good young lady.” Hold your laughter. Every time I’ve heard anything along the lines of “women belong in the kitchen” in the past few years, it’s been a joke and/or the person saying it knows that they are offending someone somewhere. Furthermore, anyone who says something of that nature to me knows I would not agree and that they will subsequently have to deal with a fiery Omika.

The truth is that I believe skills learned in the kitchen are important. It’s undoubtedly useful to know how to cook and clean. But the problem arises when the kitchen becomes a place marked by gender divisions.

This time, it was my grandfather who told me to go to the kitchen; I had to be respectful and control my sass. At first, I was completely taken aback but after a few moments, I know he didn’t mean it offensively. In fact, what he said is entirely commonplace in India. Learning to work in the kitchen is a rite of passage for young women, a mark of responsibility. Still, I cringe every time my male relatives directly ask their wives and daughters to take their dishes back to the kitchen, when the men could easily do so themselves. What I perceive to be rude is apparently ordinary: women belong in the kitchen and men belong everywhere other than the kitchen. What scares me is that these thoughts are not challenged. The kitchen is such an ingrained part of the life of an Indian woman that it is often unimaginable, unholy, and unnatural for men to help out. While not all Indians think the same way, I know that if someone back home were to say the same words my grandfather said to me, they are more likely to be aware of the implications.

I’m most saddened by the reason my grandfather told me to take control of the kitchen: to fit a certain gender expectation. This summer, I won’t be taking control of the kitchen because I should be a “good young lady.” Instead, I hope to learn to cook some new Indian dishes out of interest and learn new quick cleaning techniques so I can keep my apartment organized next year. I sincerely hope that as more Indian women enter the workforce, they will share responsibilities with their partners and the Indian kitchen will become a place where everyone can take ownership of their work.

Dove Real Beauty Campaign: How to End “Fat Talk” and Empower Women to Love Themselves

26 Jun

by Erin Riordan

This article was originally published on Policy Mic as a part of their Feminist Skillshare. 

A recent study from Psychology of Women Quarterlyshowed that 93% of college-age women engage in “fat talk” — conversation in which women criticize their weight and bodies with their friends. “Fat talk,” in the case of this study, generally took the form of one woman making self-deprecating comments about her body, only for her friend to reassure her and follow up with negative reflections on her own body. The scenes described in the study and in the New York Timescoverage eerily mirror a scene in Mean Girls. Regina, Karen, and Gretchen stand before a mirror pointing out all their own flaws, then turn to Cady, the new girl, expecting her to criticize herself. When Cady fails to measure up in her criticism of herself, the other girls are unimpressed and annoyed.

There is a general acknowledgement amongst people that there are unhealthy, unrealistic, and unsafe expectations put upon women’s bodies and appearances. However, there is a less acknowledged but just as real standard that women not be allowed to feel good about their bodies. While women may want better self-esteem and body image, and want these same things for the other women in their lives as well, a huge majority of women engage in punishing behavior that only reinforces a norm of low self-esteem and body hatred, not just for themselves but for their friends as well. Rather than encourage women to feel self-confident in and of themselves, there are specific behaviors and societal norms that encourage women to only find this confidence and approval from outside sources, rather than from within themselves.

When the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty released its now-infamous ad a few months ago, there was immediate praise and just as immediate backlash against the video, and rightly so. The video is problematic for a whole host of reasons, including the ways in which it reinforces social norms around women, bodies, self-confidence, and appearance. Here, again, there is an underlying message that women are at their most beautiful when they don’t realize it (as One Direction would also have you believe), and it is good when other people perceive their beauty at a greater level than women themselves do. While there is a growing amount of messaging that encourages women to feel good about themselves and their bodies, very little of this media and messaging suggests that this self-esteem comes from within.

That 93% of women engage in “fat talk” is not surprising. I don’t expect this number to significantly decrease in the coming years, especially if the current messaging around women’s bodies stays the same. Beyond the narrow definition of beauty American culture puts forth, there is little work being done in the public sphere to really address women and their worth. Instead women are told that while they themselves should always feel imperfect and that they don’t measure up, it is OK if others do perceive their beauty, and this outside praise is presented as the best tool to increase women’s self-esteem. This is perfectly reflected in the practice of “fat talk,” in which women incessantly criticize their own bodies while receiving praise from those around them.

While this might seem like a system that still alleviates negative body image, it does not actually force women to engage with themselves and their bodies on a deeper level, and find sources of confidence and self-worth from within. Ultimately “fat talk” not only means that women are still experiencing and expressing high levels of low self-esteem, it also means that women are still looking outward for reassurance and self-esteem, something that can really only be found within. If we want a world where women feel good about themselves, we not only need to challenge the media’s narrow image of beauty, we also need to challenge the idea that it is not OK for women to publicly and openly love themselves, and can best find self-esteem from someone outside themselves.

‘Brave’ Merida: Disney Redesign Of Character Ruins Film’s Message

19 Jun

by Erin Riordan

This article was originally published on Policy Mic as part of their Feminist Skillshare.

Recently Disney released a redesign of their most recent princess, Merida, from the filmBrave, which sexualized her image and placed her more in line with the Disney princesses who came before her.

Brenda Chapman, writer and co-director of the film, and a host of parents expressed their distaste with the re-design of Merida through aChange.org petition that garnered over 200,000 signatures. In response, Disney has removed the sexualized image from its website, and hopefully will pursue a more accurate representation of Brave’s heroine moving forward.

Disney princess have a history of representing thin, sexualized, and often white beauty (the first princess who was not white was Jasmine, introduced in 1992). The princesses both reflect and perpetuate standards of beauty in Western society, and have done so for decades. With expansions into more and more products, from dresses to dolls to lunchboxes and backpacks and plastic dishware, their influence only continues to grow and inform culture.

Growing up, Belle from Beauty and the Beast was my favorite Disney princess. I had two reasons for this: 1. She was the princess that looked the most like me, as we are both white and both have dark brown hair and dark brown eyes. 2. She loved books, and I too, loved books. As a child I desperately wished for her pretty yellow ball gown and her incredible library.

Disney’s princesses, through their films and aggressive merchandising campaigns following those films, become icons for many young children. The images of these princesses that Disney promotes impact and inform children’s understanding of themselves, their appearances, and their goals. Child psychologist Jennifer L. Hardstein theorizes that these films create a “princess syndrome”whereby young girls are taught that if they are pretty enough they will find happiness, love, and fulfillment.

Whether or not you agree with Hardstein, many of these films present harmful images that promote narrow ideals of beauty and happiness. Most of the images presented through these princesses are of women who are incredibly thin with large breasts, and for most princesses the storyline ends with marriage or other romantic fulfillment. While some princess have goals that extend beyond romance, Brave is the first of these films that does not show a happy ending replete with handsome prince and happily-ever-after. Merida similarly rejects girly dresses and other typical trappings of Disney princesses, and is depicted in a plainer, un-sexualized fashion.

This difference is, of course, intentional. Chapman writes of her character, “Merida was created to break that mould … To give young girls a better, stronger role model, a more attainable role model, something of substance, not just a pretty face that waits around for romance.”

Merida is meant to exemplify bravery, athleticism, and other less-typical princess traits that create a substantive role model for children. In redesigning her, Disney has undone this work, and reinforces the idea that what ultimately matters is to be pretty, not smart or funny or kind or brave.

If we want to teach children that what matters in life is who they are as people, how they treat others, and other values of care and community, we need to support products that exemplify these values. It is excellent that Disney seems to be abandoning its redesign process, and I hope that as they move forward with what is sure to be a full line of Merida-themed merchandise they use the original images of Merida from the film, and promote all the excellent qualities Merida exemplifies so well.

Le Patriarche Parisien

18 Jun

by Jess Rempe

Bonjour mes amis!

I have been putting off writing my first article from Paris because I kept waiting for something huge to spark my inner feminist hypergraphia, but alas, nothing huge has happened, thus I am going to share my observations of my first week in Paris.

Impression One : At the orientation, our professor gave us a few cultural and safety tips. He suggested we don’t stand around at night regarding a map and to have our keys ready when we enter our buildings. This was especially important for us females. We, girls, were also told it would be better if we did not wear skimpy clothing because it essentially would appear as though we were asking for attention. This was then followed by a small story about a girl who went to France a few years ago and was harassed by a man who grabbed her butt. When they went to report the man to the police, the police were less than helpful, pointing to the girl’s outfit as the reason she was harassed.  Here it is the female’s fault if a male cannot keep his body to himself, which is not all that different from the mentality of the United States.

This idea (and probably many other cultural reasons) seems to manifest itself in the everyday dress of the Parisian women. I rarely see the women wearing dresses and skirts, and even colors. While it definitely is more practical and even chic to wear jeans, pants and fifty shades of neutral, I cannot help but wonder if the fashions are partial a shield against unwanted advances.

Impression Two : The French are much less freaked out by the human body sans clothes and even sex. There are many carefully placed items in ads and hints of sexual innuendo in the commercials. Even walking down the street, there will be magazines featuring a topless woman at the newsstands. Also the recent Cannes winner, Le Blue est une couleur chaude, features a ten minute sex scene (the discussion surrounding this scene is one for another blog), which will likely be edited before the movie ever reaches the United States. (I have always found it a bit bizarre that movies featuring gross amounts of violence can be PG or PG-13, but one hint of genitals and the movie is suddenly rated R. And sex? Heaven forbid we actually show people who love each other.)

Impression Three : I have yet to be in a situation where I feel unsafe here, even when I took the night bus and walked home, but I know a few of my other friends have had difficulties with men asking them questions and have felt unsafe. (The only thing I have gleaned from this observation is that I either have a great “don’t talk to me” face or an undeveloped sense of fear. Most likely a combination of the two.)

Overall, even though France seems more liberal about the body, maybe there is not really much of a difference. There may be more nudity, but it seems to be more for the straight men than anyone else.

A bientôt!

A Father’s Guide to Raising a Feminist

16 Jun

by Kat Kelley

Feminism has long been deemed the territory of women, and recent polls indicate that only 16% of American men self-identify as feminists. All genders play a role in combatting sexism, and the role of parents is paramount. Children learn behaviors, patterns of thinking and the lens through which they see the world from their parents. Parents demonstrate gender roles and can also teach their children to challenge these roles. My parents raised me as a feminist. While my mother taught me the rhetoric of feminists, my father showed me that I was equal and deserving, and certainly not confined by antiquated notions of femininity.

Treat your children as equals, regardless of gender

Coach John

Coach John

My siblings and I were treated as equals, regardless of gender. My brother scrubbed the shower, and I mopped the tile floor. My father would let me use his power tools to build dollhouses or shelves, and my parents allowed us to choose the toys with which we wanted to play, although I still loved my water babies and my brother his legos.

Everything in our culture is based on a socially constructed notion of gender as binary and rigid, and while children will learn quickly in school, from their peers, and on television, that boys don’t cry and that girls like to play dress up, parents can actively choose to not reinforce this, to treat their children equally and to provide them with equal opportunities and equal encouragement. This can have exponential long term consequences. For example, 29% of females and 40% of males indicate being encouraged to enter politics by one or both of their parents, and of 18-25 year olds who were encouraged to run by their parents, 50% said they would definitely do so, as opposed to 3% of those not encouraged by their parents.  Parents should treat children as equals, and their choices, regardless of whether they conform to gender norms, should be supported.

Demonstrate Healthy Relationships

The parents participate in the "Girls + Education" campaign (my mother tried to write "choices" from right to left, to match the arabic script)

The parents participate in the “Girls + Education” campaign (my mother tried to write “choices” from right to left, to match the arabic script)

Fathers have a crucial role to play in demonstrating healthy relationships to their children. Children learn and enact the social “scripts” they see in the household and in the media. A father’s behavior is not only a script for his sons, but rather an expression of what is expected in a relationship, how one should treat their partners, and the treatment one “desrves.”  Fathers should treat their partners with respect, sharing responsibilities and making decisions mutually.

In my home, my parents reign side by side, they are a team. They don’t always agree, but they present a unified front and respect and support each other’s decisions. My mother ensured we ate all our veggies and my father insisted that we clean our plates and place our silverware in the dishwasher the right way. My mother led my girl scout troop and my father helped build the sets for the school theatre production.

My father’s love and support for my mother taught me to appreciate, and aspire to be, a strong women. He taught me that I should never downplay my strengths- whether it be in classroom or on the field, to conform to notions of what women should be or how they should look. He’d often laugh, insisting that the boys in my class were intimidated by me, saying that some men can’t handle strong women, and once said he wasn’t sure whether his daughters would be heartbreakers or head-breakers.

Talk about sex and gender

You don't mess with the McDonough-Kelley women

You don’t mess with the McDonough-Kelley women

Sex shouldn’t be “the talk” but rather an evolving conversation between children and their parents. In discussing sex, in particular sexual autonomy, and sexual assault and consent, parents can remove the shame from sex, and help their children develop a sex-positive attitude. Teaching your daughters to protect themselves from sexual assault is fundamentally different from teaching your children that they have autonomy over their own bodies, that they must respect the sexual autonomy of others and seek consent in all sexual interactions. Teaching your children that sex is an intimate act to be reserved for when consenting individuals are ready is fundamentally different from teaching your children that sex is an act of procreation to be reserved for marriage.

Parents can also teach their children to think critically about gender, and to challenge gender norms. After watching The Sandlot for the umpteenth time, he asked me why I thought “you play ball like a girl” was considered so insulting, and reminded me of my mother’s prowess on the soccer field. He always mocked the male aversion to femininity, recounting the story of an old friend of his, a female construction worker, who spray painted her equipment pink; while every other member of their crew regularly experienced theft, no one so much as touched her equipment, and yet no one else had the chutzpah to paint theirs as well. 

Be involved and supportive of your children

The Women's Rugby team on Parent's Weekend

The Women’s Rugby team on Parent’s Weekend

A parent’s support and involvement is not only invaluable in developing a child’s confidence and self-assurance, but it also challenges the persisting men-as-breadwinners and women-as-caretakers paradigm. My father has supported me unconditionally, leaving work early to attend my volleyball games or baking me extravagant cakes for each birthday. He didn’t even roll his eyes as I wore my tap dancing shoes and polka dot dress, running the bases in T-Ball, and boasted of my acting skills when the parents seated next to him at a middle school drama production didn’t realize that I, the male villain, was actually a girl. He started watching rugby after I joined my school’s club team, and  when I underwent training to become a sexual assault crisis counselor, he’d listen, asking questions and nodding, as I talked his ears off about all my new feminist revelations.

My father continues to support and validate my choices. From sports and the power tools to sewing and dolls, and at-the-top-of-my-lungs-feminism, he has taught me that I can be anything. And for that matter, everything.

Pills on Pills

14 Jun

by Kayla Corcoran

Forty-five minutes after first dialing the number on the back of my insurance card, I’m still on hold with Blue Cross Blue Shield Anthem as I write this blog post. My cell phone burps out obnoxious elevator music on speaker beside me on the desk as I type. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning: Africa.

Not in Africa, exactly, but in a manner of speaking. In the middle of June, I’ll be leaving Boston to spend the next two months in Rwanda, where I’ll be participating in a social entrepreneurship project in rural Rwanda.

Still on hold. Now the count’s at fifty minutes.

Traveling to Rwanda means, among many other (and better) things, vaccinations and medications. I’ve already gone to the travel clinic for five shots: Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Influenza, Polia, and Tuberculosis. Unfortunately, Malaria continues to be a threat in Rwanda. I’ve opted for Doxycycline because some of the other pills have psychotropic side effects and I don’t really dig crazy dreams. The RN at the travel clinic wrote me a prescription for 87 pills and sent it to the pharmacy. Enough pills for each day in Rwanda plus time before and after.

I’ve been disconnected once already from the insurance company; this is the second call I’ve placed. Both times, I was greeted by the automatic voice generator that kept stating, “I don’t understand what you said,” when I tried to recite my insurance policy number out loud for “more personalized care.” “For more personalized care, I’d actually like to speak to a human being,” I mutter. “I don’t understand what you said,” comes the automated response.

Seventy-one minutes later, the BCBS representative with whom I’ve been speaking for the past hour (let’s call him Paul) checks in again to thank me for my patience. He’s already tried calling three different internal numbers (one of which he was disconnected from and another of which rang unanswered). He’s also phoned my pharmacy to talk to them. “Can I call you back on Monday?” he asks. “No, but thank you,” I respond. “I’ll continue holding, as I’ve done for the past hour. I’d like to get this situation resolved by the end of the day.” I’m practically an expert now at holding (let me know if you need any tips!). He tells me that my case will be transferred to a senior representative, but they’ll need to do a bit more research before above-mentioned unknown person can get back to me. “Do you mind if she calls you back in an hour?” he asks me. I sigh. Of course I mind, but what can I do? “No, that’s fine,” I whisper into the phone, feeling my case slipping out of my hands as it drifts into the murky blue abyss of BCBS.

I still haven’t told you what the problem is and why I picked up the phone in the first place, so while I’m holding, I’ll fill you in. In addition to needing a two-month supply of Doxycycline to avoid getting Malaria, I also need a three-month supply of birth control. Ah, yes. Therein lies the problem! Needing a three-month supply of birth control is obviously suspicious. I must be up to some really crazy things.

This morning, before this ridiculous phone call, I opened the crinkly white paper bag from the pharmacy only to find a very small orange bottle filled with thirty capsules of Doxycycline. “Um,” I said to my mother, “where’s the rest of it?” “Here,” she said, handing me one package of Mononessa. “I mean, where are the other pills and the other two packages of the Mononessa?” I asked. She shrugged. “They wouldn’t give it to me.”

The insurance company won’t authorize more than a thirty-day supply of any medication.

I’m not sure if the insurance company understands how antimalarial or birth control pills work, but in case they’re unaware, I’ll gladly share! Doxycycline is a daily antimalarial pill, which means it actually needs to be taken every day in order for the medicine to work effectively. Birth control works the same way. One pill every day. As tempting as it is to play Rwandan roulette and ration out my thirty Doxy pills over eight weeks, I think I’ll get my kicks another way.

Hence, the phone call to my insurance company.

After the robot lady got done talking about how awesome BCBS is and about how she didn’t understand what I was saying, I pressed zero for the operator. I spoke with someone about my problem. She put me on hold for ten minutes. “I’m sorry,” she said when the elevator music shut off. “I don’t have access to do anything. Let me transfer you.” Sure, no problem. The waiting game began.

Ten minutes later, I was on the phone with Paul, and I explained my problem again: “The travel clinic prescribed me a two-month supply of Doxy and the gynecologist prescribed me a three-month supply of birth control. The pharmacy will only give me one month of each. I’m travelling to Rwanda in two weeks and I’m not going to have access to a pharmacy. Can you please authorize a vacation override for these prescriptions so I can travel with the medication that I need?”

This is when Paul put me on hold and started making all of those other calls that I already mentioned above. In between the second and the third call, he picked up the line. “Kayla, are you still there?”

“Yes, Paul.”

“I’m getting the run-around from everyone around here, and I can’t seem to find any answers. I’m going to try a third number. From what I understand of the policy, though, you’re allowed to have two vacation overrides within a period of one hundred eighty days, but they must be thirty days apart.”

“Sorry?” I asked. From what I understand of the policy, you can’t go on an extended vacation and have two medications at the same time. From what I understand about the policy, I’m being asked to choose: antimalarial pills or birth control.

“I know,” Paul said. “I’m just as frustrated about this now as you are.” I want to believe Paul. I want to believe when he says that he empathizes with my problem that he really does understand the panic I feel about being away from home for two months without access to the medication I need. But I doubt that Paul has ever had to choose between antimalarial pills and birth control. “What’s the number for your pharmacy?” he asked, and I gave it to him. He put me on hold again.

“Okay,” he says when his voice crackled back to life on my phone. “The pharmacy can’t do anything about it today. Their system won’t allow it since there has already been action today on those prescriptions. And they can’t actually find the scrip for the Mononessa.” Now we’re all caught up to minute seventy-one when Paul offers to do some research and call me back on Monday. I politely decline and ask to speak to a supervisor. I’ve already invested an hour and a half on this problem today, and if today is any indication of how long this process is going to be dragged out, I don’t have time to wait until Monday to figure out if the pharmacy can actually fill my prescriptions.

I get bounced around to three more people before I get a supervisor, who informs me that she’s spoken to the pharmacy and the prescription company and that I’ll be able to pick up both prescriptions tomorrow. Huzzah! She tells me that in the future I’ll need to order my three-month prescriptions online because there are no restrictions or need for vacation overrides online. “What’s the difference between buying at the pharmacy and buying online?” I ask, wondering why I had to go through the disaster this afternoon just to pick up my prescriptions at the pharmacy.

“It’s cheaper for the insurance company,” she responds, “because they don’t have to send the medicine to the pharmacy. In truth, I’m not sure why you even called this number or how you ended up speaking with us.”

“I called the member number on the back of my insurance card,” I stutter.

“Yes, well, we only deal with the medical side of things. Most people don’t realize that we’re a different company than the drug providers, even though you pay the one premium. You should have called them directly. Instead, we did that for you,” she hisses.

“Why didn’t the very first woman I talked to tell me to hang up and call the drug company directly?”

“Well, I don’t know. But you shouldn’t have called us.”

Thus ends my phone call with the friendly folks at BCBS, but as I have yet to pick up my prescriptions because I’m not allowed to today, who knows what fun adventures await me tomorrow?

My point, after all of this, is actually two sub-points: first, it is clear that the insurance system in this country is deeply flawed. While it is true that I know very little about economics, I do know that it might be a good idea for health insurance companies to prioritize the needs of their clients over their own interests (they’re going to make money no matter what). The RN didn’t prescribe me 87 Doxycycline pills because she thought, “Hey, 87 is a fun number! Let’s go with that!” She prescribed 87 pills because that’s what I needed, and the insurance company gave me 30 pills because that’s what the insurance company wanted.

I’m not afraid to stay on hold for three hours and to demand to speak to someone who actually has the ability to solve my problem. But there are people who are afraid or who can’t fight with these people, and this is my second point. What about people who have more complex medical problems who only get bounced around? What about the people who file claim upon claim only to discover that they’ve all “never been received”? What about fifteen-year-old girls who are looking to be put on birth control but have no idea how to navigate this web of insurance benefits? What about the people who hang up after only one person tells them “no”?

This is a feminist issue because it is an everyperson issue. Why are we making it difficult for people to gain access preventative medications? Why are we saying to young women, “Hey, that’s cool if you want to travel and try to make a difference, but you’ll have to jump through ten hoops to get enough birth control to take with you on your trip, if we even decide to give it to you at all”? The process is ludicrous.

My suggestion to BCBS and the rest of the insurance companies out there is this: for “more personalized care,” try caring about the person on the other end of the line.

It’s Not Your Job

13 Jun

by Julia Hubbell 

when your little girl
asks you if she’s pretty
your heart will drop like a wineglass
on the hardwood floor
part of you will want to say
of course you are, don’t ever question it
and the other part
the part that is clawing at

you

will want to grab her by her shoulders

look straight into the wells of
her eyes until they echo back to you
and say
you do not have to be if you don’t want to
it is not your job
both with feel right
one will feel better
she will only understand the first
when she wants to cut her hair off
or wear her brother’s clothes
you will feel the words in your
mouth like marbles
you do not have to be pretty if you don’t want to
it is not your job

“it’s not your job”

Caitlyn Siehl

This poem slapped me in the face like I hadn’t been in a while.

You don’t have to be pretty if you don’t want to. It’s not your job.

Damn.

So many of our efforts—or my efforts, at least—are geared toward bringing marginalized groups into the mainstream. It feels like inclusive and important work. “Let’s expand the definition of “pretty” so that it includes all skin colors, all expressions of gender, all hair styles and piercings,” we say. “Let’s embrace everyone in our notion of pretty, and that will make everything better.”

It’s a nice try, but it’s wrong. It’s still saying that there is a “right” way to be, and it is to be pretty. It’s progress from the 18th century, when there was also a right way to be pretty, but in the fundamentals we’re not saying anything different.

You don’t have to be pretty if you don’t want to. It’s not your job.

The poem is right—I want to tell my daughter she is beautiful. I want her to know that with every fiber of my being I believe she is the most beautiful creature on the planet. How can you not want that, when every day she is barraged with advertisements telling her she’s not good enough? Who could resist the impulse to counteract the pressure that she fights through every time she opens a magazine or checks Buzzfeed?

But I also want more that. I want her to know she doesn’t have to be pretty, because it’s not her job. I can tell her she is as beautiful as the models in the magazine. That’s one way to handle it. Or I can tell her that the models in the magazine don’t matter. It’s the difference between saying, “Don’t worry about the models—you’re already like them!” and “Don’t worry about the models. You don’t have to be them.”

This poem also evokes for me the fat liberation movement (which, forgive me, I only discovered recently. I’m still learning). It can do this right or wrong. It can champion the idea that fat is pretty. It can force society to confront our still-narrow definition of beauty and widen it that bit more. It’s not a bad fight. But the broader fight, the one that will have a lasting impact, is if we reject the idea that anyone has to be pretty to be accepted. The movement has the opportunity to stop clamoring for acceptance into what’s already there, and help create a new space where people are truly liberated.

We don’t need to tell people they are pretty—it suggests that being pretty has value.

I’m going to try and stop complimenting people on their “prettiness.” People can be wonderful, amazing, incredible, breathtaking, passionate, wild, crazy hot messes. Who gives a damn if they look “pretty” to you? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

I can’t wait until the day my daughter finally understands what I’ve been trying to say her whole life in broken words and muddled sentences.

You do not have to be pretty if you don’t want to. It is not your job.

Kim Kardashian Pregnant: So What If She’s Fat?

12 Jun

by Erin Riordan

This article was originally published on Policy Mic as part of their feminist skillshare. 

Comparing Kim Kardashian to a couch, as most of the internet did following her appearance several weeks ago at the Met Ball in a floral dress, is not OK. Judging women’s bodies, pregnant or otherwise, is never justified and perpetuates dangerous standards of beauty and physical perfection. While Kim Kardashian has made the choice to place herself in the public eye, the consequences of the media constantly fat-shaming her reverberate throughout our culture, and reinforce the message that being fat is just about the worst thing you can be.

Since Kardashian first announced her pregnancy, tabloid and celebrity blog coverage of her weight gain has been incessant and astoundingly cruel. Many magazines made claims that she now weighs 200 pounds and that Kanye West finds her body so repulsive he is considering leaving her. People have defended these attacks by arguing that she made the choice to live in the public eye, and now she is facing the consequences of that choice. Never mind that she is pregnant, and is growing another human life inside her body, one that is relying on her as a source of nutrition, food, and growth. This is seen as no excuse for her to gain weight and change the shape of her famous body; a body the public feels it has ownership of.

When media sources criticize Kardashian’s weight gain they send the message to all women that it is not OK to be fat or out of shape, even during pregnancy. This anti-fat messaging, perpetuated throughout our culture, reinforces the cultural value of thinness and normalizes fat-shaming.

Our cultural value of thinness is unhealthy and causes immense harm to women, and undermines concerns of health for concerns of beauty. Fat shaming and weight bias impact overweight and obese people by increasing their risk of depression and anxiety as well as encouraging low-self esteem and body image. Negative attitudes around weight also contribute to the prevalence of unhealthy eating behaviors and discourage overweight children and adults from engaging in physical activity.

Overweight individuals are less likely to be hired for a job due to their weight, and are more likely to face discrimination based on weight from their doctors. Recent research has also shown thatmale jurors are biased against obese women in court. Stereotypes of the laziness and unhealthiness of overweight people persist, and create a reality in which weight-based discrimination is a part of everyday life for overweight Americans.

While it may seem that Kim Kardashian is just a silly celebrity who should buck up and get over the weight gain backlash, this commentary has real impact on our culture and our images of overweight people. By consistently presenting fat as a negative quality and shaming the bodies of people we feel take up too much space, we create biases and double standards that cause real harm in our society. Anti-fat bias undermines access to healthcare, and inhibits the promotion of healthy relationships with food and nutrition. Rather than promoting health and well-being, fat-shaming and anti-fat bias perpetuate patterns of harm and contribute to, rather than alleviate, our country’s weight problems.

Chick Lit

11 Jun

by Kayla Corcoran 

Here’s a story for you: there’s this twenty-something girl—let’s call her Jane Everygirl. Jane lives in a major metropolitan city, which more than makes up for her slightly-less-than-glamorous job. She is funny and clumsy, and by clumsy, I mean that Jane occasionally trips over her own feet in way that’s still cute enough to attract James Toogoodtobetrue, her hot neighbor over in Apartment 6B. James is smart and just a little too successful (and did I mention that’s he’s uber hot?). “I can’t believe my luck!” Jane says wistfully to her friends Suzie Hasitall and Kate Rollswiththepunches over drinks, “He’s just so perfectly amazing!” Cue Jane’s daydream about their classic wedding and blond-haired future children.

Here’s where the story takes a twist (hint: it’s not really a twist at all). James Toogoodtobetrue does something dumb that proves exactly why he just can’t be trusted. In to sweep up the pieces is Charlie Obliviouslycute; he’s the shy guy who’s been lingering in the margins the entire time, gorgeous and secretly harboring the gosh darn sweetest crush on Jane Everygirl. He’ll stand there, looking at his feet, and say something like, “Jane, I love the way you always eat your pancakes with a spoon/pronounce your “j”s like “g”s/cry when you see pink balloons!” Fill in the blank with whatever annoying quirk it is that is supposed to make Jane endearing (preferably something that no one actually cares about). Suddenly, Jane Everygirl is now Jane Charliesgirl, and they’re dreaming together about their blond-haired children.

In a recent article for The Atlantic “Chick Lit is Dead, Long Live Farm Lit,” Emily Matchar argues that these types of books, with their “hot pink covers featuring martini glasses and Manolos,” are a dying—if not, dead—breed. Replacing them, Matchar writes, is a new genre of farm lit books, where Jane Everygirl and her fellow archetypes abandon Manhattan “in favor of slower, more rural existences, scrappily learning to raise goats on idyllic Vermont farms…instead of pining after Mr. Big, they’re falling for the hunky farmer next door.”

Maybe chick lit as it was originally conceived in the early nineties is no longer the chick-lit-du-jour, but it’s certainly not dead. Replacing Jane Everygirl with Jane Farmgirl and relocating her to upstate New York or a sleepy beach town on the coast doesn’t change the basic structure of these plots or hide the fact that the genre as a whole does a lot of generalizing about women’s experiences.

According to the most reliable of sources, Wikipedia, the term “chick lit” originated as slang for “female literary tradition,” eventually coming to stand for a kind of second-wave Feminist understanding of the female experience. It’s a genre that’s home to many famous and well-loved books: Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series, Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada, and Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, among others.

Let’s talk about the term “chick lit.” The implications of this categorization are problematic for so many reasons, but here are my top three: 1) By branding itself as “chick lit,” the genre lumps all women together, never accounting for diversity of experience; 2) For a genre called “chick lit,” the books that belong to it certainly revolve a lot around men and; 3) By naming one particular type of genre as “chick lit,” there’s a subtle (or maybe not-so-subtle) snub that other literature is not for women.

Chick lit is the women’s genre, right? Wrong. I doubt that all women like reading these types of books. These books are filled with cookie-cutter women: oftentimes young, white, average-sized women who have large enough salaries for it to not be a prominent factor in the book’s plot. Occasionally Jane Everygirl will gripe about her rent or having to use mismatched dishes, but when’s the last time a chick lit novel featured a heroine who was poor or living below the poverty line? Rarely do these books feature women of color or women who identify as LGBTQ. We almost never read about heroines who are in the Peace Corp, women who are running the magazine for which Jane Everygirl works, or women who are struggling with balancing work and home life. Chick lit very rarely features women who are marginalized or who are in high positions of power. Somehow these experiences don’t scream, “Beach read!” and are therefore discounted as light-hearted and fun. Ironically, making the chick lit heroines as “average” as possible in order to appeal to a wider reach of readers only limits the genre. If chick lit were really a genre for women, then it would at least pretend to appeal to a range of women’s experiences.

And then there’s this issue: for a genre proclaiming to be all about women’s experiences, there is sure a lot of talk about men in these books. The women that populate the pages of chick lit books are usually smart and fairly successful (if a little boring). But they are not independent. As much as it takes independence to live alone in Manhattan or on a farm (if you’re reading Matchar’s version of chick lit) milking goats, these women are always pining after men, convinced that their lives will be complete when they find “the one.” Frustratingly, these women will often be mildly attracted to every man that comes across her way in the book. Why do the women in chick lit books fall apart at the first sight of any guy with dark hair and rolled-up shirtsleeves? Besides making the assumption that all women are attracted to the same two archetypal men (James Toogoodtobetrue and Charlie Obliviouslycute), chick lit books perpetuate the false idea that women lose control when confronted by these men (or all heterosexual men). The larger problem is that snagging Mr. Hotstuff is often the climax of the book (no pun intended). Newsflash, Jane: finally hooking up with him doesn’t mean that all of your other problems are solved or that they magically disappear. These books make it hard to believe that women care about things other than men.

Let’s not forget that chick lit is marketed as literature for women, by women. What does that mean for all of the other books floating around out there? Are women not meant to relate to the themes that crop up in Emerson’s poetry, Stoppard’s plays, Zadie Smith’s novels, and Tom Clancy’s books? Come on now. I learned more about myself from Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried than from Emily Giffin’s Something Borrowed, and that book is about War! This is not to deny that some books will resonate differently with certain kinds of audiences, but The Great Gatsby is just as much for women as is The Devil Wears Prada. Chick lit presents a limited scope of what kind of material women are capable of reading: light, fluffy books filled with less-than-complex issues that can be read on the beach and then forgotten about. For a genre with roots in second-wave Feminism, it doesn’t have a lot of faith in women’s abilities to do much, be it the reader or main character.

And yet I keep reading these books, and so do thousands of other women, and it’s evidenced in the fact that writers keep churning out these nondescript books every other month. I understand that by buying these books, I’m only perpetuating the existence of a genre that I think is mediocre, but I don’t necessarily want to advocate for the disappearance of these books altogether. What I don’t understand is the necessary existence of the term “chick lit”—why can’t we just stick the books under the “Fiction” section and call it a day? Sure, it doesn’t alleviate the fact that these books don’t do a lot to advance the modern feminist plight, but it’s certainly a start.

Generation Gap: Proudly a Feminist

6 Jun

by Claire McDaniel

I’m not sure when I first described myself as a feminist.

In high school, my wonderful French teacher mentioned in passing that I was the class’ resident feminist thinker and I felt so very proud of myself. I read Chopin’s The Awakening, and I put it down on the table afterwards, nodded that Edna Pontellier had the right view of the world, and went off to get a calming glass of red wine. For my second theology course, I signed up for a feminist theology course in a heartbeat, even if it was egregiously early in the morning.

Sometime in there, I decided that I was a feminist. I liked being a woman, I especially reveled in being free to make whatever decisions I wanted, and I wanted all women to have the same freedom. It was that simple for me. Unfortunately, the simplicity of that definition doesn’t quite fit into the aging societal paradigm of what constitutes feminism.

I’m not sure what there is about the word ‘feminist’, but it is so utterly polarizing. People throw around the word “feminist” like it’s an insult. It’s on par with calling President Obama a “socialist”. It’s something to be sneered at, ridiculed, made into a farce. I’m positive I’ve heard Fox News use them both together. But, it’s no double-whammy. Our generation simply doesn’t care about an out-dated conception.

I have never lived a day of my life during the Cold War, and an epithet like socialist means nothing negative to me, it’s merely a system of government that I think is impractical. For my parents’ generation, who became adults in the Reagan years, the word means something a little more malevolent. For Joseph McCarthy, it meant the devil incarnate. But what held true for the baby boomers half a century ago isn’t the case today, and those who cling to old definitions are about to be left in the past.

We are no longer in an omnipresent global struggle against the communist Russians, and we are no longer in an era of scorn for feminists. It is time to realize that there is a generation of teens and college students who read Caitlin Moran and learned quite a few new curse words with a touch of feminism on the side. There is a new generation of American women who have never known a world where there wasn’t the choice of birth control, Plan B, condoms, or access to legal abortions if they so desire. There have been generations of women who are doctors, lawyers, groundbreaking researchers, and some of the most powerful people in the world. These are things that are now ingrained into the very fabric of our lives, and they’re here to stay.

At twenty years old, I see the world ahead of me and know that I can do anything I set my heart on. I know that as I enter the professional world, I deserve to work in an atmosphere free from strangling sexism. I know that as a woman, I deserve to live in a world where there exists true and constant condemnation for sexual assault from all quarters, across geographic borders and generational gaps. I know that as a young woman in college, I deserve to have access to contraceptives, abortions, and whatever reproductive medical care I might ever need. I know what I deserve, and it’s about damn time that what I—and all women—deserve is not denigrated as feminist folly but is respected as a permanent truth.

Feminism is a permanent fixture in the minds of a generation of young women. It imbues us with hope, and steels our nerves against obstacles thrown in our path. At once a unique perception and a supportive togetherness, being a feminist is no longer an epithet. It is something in which our generation should be proud.

I can’t be sure the exact time I knew I was a feminist, but I sure as hell am one now. And I’m proud of it.