Sunday, December 18, 2011

Feminism is hard, guys. I mean. . .girls.

                I’m a lady, and I’m in my twenties (just barely). During the last year, I have come into my own in regards to feminism. I have become, at times, hyperconscious of the way that women are portrayed in the media, the way that women are treated in society, and things that are so ingrained into our brains by a male-dominated society that it’s hard to even notice that they’re there sometimes. All of this, paired with my daily perusal of blogs written by incredible, intelligent, and powerful feminists, has led me to one conclusion: being a feminist is hard.
                Now, okay, back it up for a second. Let me make one thing clear: it’s not hard to be a feminist. Really all that’s required of you is the belief that women deserve to be treated the same way that men are, and should not be degraded in society or the media. Pretty basic stuff, right? I get the feeling that a lot more people would consider themselves feminists if they knew that was all you had to do. The thing is, being a feminist will make your life harder. At least, it makes mine that way. So many things that I have lived with every day for the last twenty years suddenly upset me and make me conscious of the fact that men have an effect on almost every aspect of my daily life.
                I currently work in a children’s clothing store, and something that I do a million times a day is greet customers. As soon as someone walks into the store, I acknowledge them and ask if I can help them. Think about this: what did you say the last time you walked up to a group of your friends at a party? In all likelihood, you said, “Hey guys, what’s up?” I suddenly became aware that the greeting I had been using since I have been working in retail (six years!) is sexist! “Hi, how are you guys doing?” Using a word that describes men to greet a group of people, regardless of their gender, is a product of growing up in a male dominant society that most people do every day without even thinking about. Think about the looks you would get if you greeted a group of men with “Hi, how are you ladies doing?” It would be weird, right? But we feel totally comfortable regarding a group of women as “guys” as a part of our greeting.  This was one of the hardest things for me to change. At first, I felt awkward saying things like, “Hi folks,” or, “How are you two doing today?” After a few days, it got easier, and now I only occasionally catch myself using “guys.”
                Do you see how small things like that, things that we don’t even think about, are affected by a male-dominated society? Becoming an active feminist changed the way that I greet people. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but acknowledging that that sort of thing is a problem is something that I am proud of myself for doing, and it’s small things like that that can help you become a more conscious feminist.
                Some things I have learned flat out didn’t make sense to me before, but after reading and thinking more about them, they seem painfully obvious.
                From the time I was old enough to know that pornography existed, I have been under the impression that it’s inherently anti-women. That point can definitely be argued, because I think there is a lot of pornography that portrays violence against women that more than likely has been a contributor to what a lot of people call the “rape culture” that we live in. However, I don’t believe that all pornography is like that.
                I recently watched an interview that Tyra Banks did with a porn star named Sasha Grey. Besides the other issues that I have with Tyra Banks, after forming a new opinion on pornography, I took issue with the way that she treated Sasha. Sasha wanted to become a porn star. Sasha says in the interview that she feels that what she does is empowering and that she enjoys doing it. To Sasha, I say, you go girl. I have made very different choices in regards to my sex life than Sasha has, but you know what is great about feminism? It’s all about a community of people respecting the choices that women make, be it in regards to their jobs or their sexual partners, because men are given freedom to make any decisions they want about their sex life.
                The reason I took issue with the way that Tyra chose to conduct this interview was that she seemed to be under the impression that there must be something wrong with Sasha, or something traumatic that happened to her that made her want to be a porn star. Basically, she implied, not very subtly, that there must be something wrong with Sasha that would make her want to be this free and expressive with her sexuality, and that bothered me.
                Sasha, in everything that I had read about her, seems to be very open about the fact that she enjoys doing pornography, but this is unbelievable for Tyra. A woman like Tyra Banks could have so much positive influence on this matter. I know that she has had an influence on the way that the media views big women, because she is one herself. She should be sending the message that women should be comfortable with their sexuality, and should feel comfortable expressing it. What she’s actually saying to the people watching her show is that women shouldn’t want to openly display or express their sexuality, and that there must be something wrong with Sasha because she is in a career in pornography that she enjoys.
                I could rant for a long time about why I don’t like Tyra banks, but I digress. The point is, if I had watched this interview last year I would have thought to myself, “What a sad life, this young girl has been forced into doing porn and even says she likes it! She must have been molested by her dad.” But when I watched it tonight, I thought to myself, “Good for her. Also, why doesn’t Tyra Banks try being supportive of a girl who was willing to come on tv and talk about her career in porn, even though she knew she was probably going to be treated like this, instead of trying to make her feel bad for liking sex?”
                When we tell women that they are wrong for being sexual in the way they choose to be, whether it be abstinence or working in pornography, we are supporting a society in which women are oppressed. As women, we need to support the decisions that others make. Granted, there are times when a woman’s sexual activities can be indicative of emotional or mental problems that she is having, but this is only as common, I believe, as women using drugs or alcohol in excess, and should be treated in the same way that either of those are treated; I also think it’s just as common in men. It seems to me that a lot of women who are promiscuous are seen as either victims or sluts; people think there is something wrong with them that would make them want to have sex. I think that people can use sex as a coping mechanism at times, and that people who are molested are probably prone to having an unhealthy attitude towards sex later in life, or feeling that sex is the best way to make themselves feel better or to make people love them. It happens, but the point is, men do it too, and this isn’t an exclusively female phenomenon.
Men with sexual appetites are regarded by society as normal, and women with sexual appetites shouldn’t be seen any differently. They shouldn’t be pitied, or asked if they were molested when they were younger. In all honesty they shouldn’t be asked about it at all, because frankly, it’s none of your business. The best way that we can help women who have been sexually assaulted isn’t to assume that they’re sexually active because of it, and deem every woman who likes having sex as mentally ill; the best way to help women who have been sexually assaulted is to let them know that it wasn’t their fault that it happened to them, and that there are plenty of resources available to them.
Do you see that? Two pages about an interview Tyra Banks did with a porn star. I never would have been able to do that a year ago! Being an active and involved feminist has given me an almost constant inner monologue about my feelings about any given thing happening around me.
I think for a lot of people, it’s easy to see why some movies, television shows, commercials, or advertising campaigns shed a bad light on women, but I think there are a lot of things in the media that are a lot more subtle that slip past us because it’s not explicit, like having a gratuitous rape scene in a movie or a character with obvious issues towards women, and because it can actually be sort of entertaining, so long as it doesn’t bother you that it’s saying something bad about women.
One of the best shows I can think of to illustrate this point is the tv show Whitney. It illustrates my point so well because Whitney is a really funny show sometimes. A lot of the jokes on it are really funny, and the main character, Whitney, is an outspoken and funny lady, which I love. The problem with the show is that if you are paying attention, almost every episode, the plot is driven forward by problems created by Whitney. And not just Whitney getting herself into awkward situations, or dealing with problems created by people she has surrounded herself with, but problems that Whitney creates by being the “annoying girlfriend” archetype.
Episode after episode, Whitney irritates her boyfriend into doing something she wants him to, like taking her out on a date, or taking her to play racquetball, for some ridiculous reason, like she doesn’t feel like their relationship is enough like everyone else’s, or she is upset that he never told her he played racquetball before they started dating. I even get annoyed with her when I watch the show, and I am a fan of hers and a staunch supporter of women who have lead roles!
The thing that I think bothers me is that while the premise of any tv show is the characters handing of problems that come their way, and all of the problems that seem to come Whitney and Alex’s (her boyfriend) way are caused by her. This bothers me because while I realize that this is a completely fictional dramatization of most relationships, there are men, and even women, out there watching Whitney, thinking to themselves, “God, women do really do this whenever they are in relationships.” The show is perpetuating the idea that women are bad at relationships, and that their personalities are something that men have to “deal” with in relationships with them.
Things like Whitney are something that I haven’t totally figure out yet, much like rap music and revealing clothing; while there are ideas and opinions out there about these thing held by incredibly intelligent women, who are much more experienced and savvy in the ways of feminism than I, that I can understand and even appreciate, I can’t bring myself to totally be against these things. They’re just a few of the things that I’m still trying to apply my new feminist mind set to. I’m working on it, every day, and I would encourage you to do the same. The belief that women should be treated the same as men is something that can enrich many aspects of your life.  Even if you still watch that movie you know your favorite feminist blogger would cringe at, or still bump hip hop in your car because you like dancing to it, my belief is that as long as you are conscious of the implications of the way that women are treated and presented in the media and in society, you are on the road to becoming a more conscious and active person in the feminist community, and I think that’s a pretty good thing.
It can be intimidating to become part of a movement so populated by incredible women as feminism, and it can be hard, picking apart every part of your daily life and realizing that even though you’ve always been proud of your lady-hood, you’ve also been blind to a lot of the discrimination that has been going on around you. Being a feminist is hard, but in my opinion, it is more than worth is.