April 2, 2008

Random Acts of Feminism for April: Stop the Snarking

Posted in Random Acts of Feminism at 11:19 pm by LB

Well, it’s April 2nd, so it’s time for my monthly Random Act of Feminism. Each month I offer a suggestion for a “random act” that anyone can do in daily life and typical conversation as a way to raise feminist issues without being, preachy. And like the “Random Acts of Kindness” I stole this from, you don’t have to be a full-time activist in charge of an international organization to effect change in the people around you; you can inspire them to consider some of the gendered, racial, and heteronormative assumptions that are implicit in our culture and to be self-reflexive about their own actual behavior. Feminism happens every day.

So for April…stop the snarking.

The celebrity gossip feminist blog Jezebel (“Celebrity, Sex, Fashion. Without the Airbrushing”) in January came out with a New Year’s Resolution to call a cease-fire on mean-spirited snarking–the wholly irrelevant, completely inappropriate comments ripping on celebrity (women) for their weight, their appearance, their unflattering photographs, etc.

I have long brought to people’s attention the unnecessariness of judging everyone–regular people and celebrities, and 98% of the time it’s women being commented on–on their appearance. In my opinion, the only people’s appearance we ought to be passing judgment on are models–they get paid for how they look, therefore their looks are open to critique. For everyone else, who are people, who are overwhelmingly women, who have ideas and opinions, who labor to support themselves and others, who work in the community or who are totally self-absorbed and lazy…why must women’s success, or value, or importance be inescapable from their appearance? I know many people will say “oh no, it’s not,” but if it isn’t, why do we judge so harshly the way we do?

(I’m about to be very hetero-biased now, because I’m addressing the hetero culture)

I do think in many ways women do it to feel better about themselves, especially if we can critique celebrities who in most other cases will have the perfect tan, hairdo, makeup, outfit, and will be perfectly toned from their daily workouts with a personal trainer. But if we’re ever going to be successful in fighting the ridiculous importance appearance has in our culture, it has to start with us.

And men need to do this as well. I think often times men feel like they have a right to judge every woman’s physical appearance they see–and thereby judge every woman in terms of their sexual appeal. But if we’re ever going to kick the objectification habit, and I know many men, don’t want to objectify women (or don’t think they do), we need to start thinking of women as people first, and not in terms of how they do or do not conform to your sexual desire. I am not suggesting that we can’t notice attractive people. But we, especially men, need to get it in our heads that we should approach people as humans, who have a right to live and breathe without being judged physically when they never asked your opinion.

The Jezebel reader said it quite well:

You know what would be great? A ‘no negative comments on a woman’s appearance’ rule, or maybe even ‘no negative comments regarding anyone’s appearance”. I am so sick of reading the comments and seeing “Oh she’s put on weight’ ‘She’s looking old’, seeing a woman’s appearance absolutely torn to pieces on /any /story accompanied by a photo, no matter what it is. It really puts me off wanting to read any comments at all, which is a great pity because there are also some great opinions by intelligent women amid these insults.

Apparently nothing a woman does can ever be more important than the way she looks, and even we woman have been brainwashed into thinking that to be valued and beautiful we must be young, thin, and covered in cosmetics. We get these messages all day every day, think how fantastic it would be if Jezebel was the one media outlet that said ‘No, that’s not right.’

OK, so what am I suggesting? Catch yourself when you’re about to say “can you believe that photo of some-25 year-old-actress with cellulite?”; “wow, that girl was not cute”; “wow, that Ms. Politican sure is a dog!”…

And when someone else says something, call them on it. “Who cares that she’s not that attractive, she’s a great actress! I’d rather see her in a film than that blond-20-something-actress-of-the-moment. Plus, she’s super smart-have you ever heard her speak about her experience as a ____?” All it takes is a comment to make someone think…because seriously, why does it matter?

People are worth more than their bodies.

And besides, they didn’t ask you.

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