May 10, 2009
Today’s Meet the Press featured David Gregory’s interview with President Karzai of Afghanistan. The last question posed to Karzai was regarding the legality of marital rape under Afghani law.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
It is important to watch the clip rather than read the transcript, because Gregory’s tone was nothing less than ethnocentric. Gregory clearly is questioning the democratic-ness of Afghanistan because of this law’s passing. He might as well have called Afghanistan a “so-called” democracy for having passed an anti-human rights law. Clearly, making marital rape legal is an egregious human rights violation. However, as so many Americans have been shocked! outraged! at this Afghani law as was Gregory, perhaps a history lesson is in order:
Marital rape was legal in the United States in all 50 states until 1976. Marital rape has only been illegal in all 50 states since 1993. And only 17 states make no legal distinction between marital and non-marital rape in terms of legal charges, sentencing and defensibility. And Raquel Kennedy Bergen writes in her paper, “Marital Rape: New Research and Directions”:
However, in 30 states, there are still some exemptions given to husbands from rape prosecution. In most of these 30 states, a husband is exempt when he does not have to use force because his wife is most vulnerable (e.g., she is mentally or physically impaired, unconscious, asleep, etc.) and is legally unable to consent (Bergen, 1996; Russell, 1990; NCMDR, 2005). Because of the marital contract, a wife’s consent is assumed.
This begs the question: Who are we to “primitivize” Afghanistan for legalizing a heinous act that in our own country was not fully illegal until 15 years ago? And if having no legal civil or human rights violations is the measure of whether or not one is a democracy, then for the majority of its history, the United States has not been a democracy, and perhaps still is not one.
(Cross-posted to The Reaction)
March 12, 2009
Wa-Po blogger Cillizza implies Obama’s Council on Women and Girls is not for addressing gender issues
In an odd phrasing, Washington Post political blogger Chris Cillizza seems to imply that Obama’s call for a Council on Women and Girls, is not primarily a result of his recognition that we need policies and solutions to social problems that adequately address how they impact women and families (for whom women are still overwhelmingly responsible for the care of). In other words, Obama is forming this council out of the recognition that appropriate solutions to social problems must take both men’s and women’s experiences into consideration.
Obama has both personal — his wife and two daughters — and political reasons to make this sort of high profile move to ensure that women’s needs are being addressed by his administration.
In 2008, 53 percent of the electorate was female and Obama carried that group 56 percent to 44 percent over Arizona Sen. John McCain.
So Obama’s “personal” reasons for putting the council into place are that he has a wife and daughters. Yawn. How insulting to think that men are only concerned about women’s issues and the male-centric models of citizenship and public policy because they have daughters. I would hope that there might too be fathers of boys who are concerned about gender issues so their sons could have the socially-supported ability to be at-home dads if they choose, without their masculinity being denigrated and without threat to family finances because their female partner’s career is being stymied by gender discrimination (by pay or “mommy tracking”) or sexual harassment in the workplace.
And the “political” reasons Obama is putting this into place is…to keep the allegiance of his female voters (?). So Obama is doing this to keep women happy, not because it’s good policy?
Reading between the lines, much?
Oh and let us not forget, this council is in no way (expected to be) substantial: “Expect then more symbolic moves like the establishment of the Council to demonstrate Obama’s commitment to women and women’s issues.” Because all women voters expect are empty gestures without results. Because women usually applaud style over substance. Because women don’t want to be taken seriously, just acknowledged. Because women are above all, fans of [political] superficiality.
(I think you have us confused with lad-mag apologists.)
And I think you underestimate women as political actors who demand accountability, as well as our new President, who has demonstrated at least an understanding that there are structural barriers to success that equal rights legislation did not address.
November 10, 2008
So I’m still on a little of an election, kick. I promise I’ll get back to more gender-y stuff soon ;-)
I am thoroughly confused about the media arguing that the election of Obama does not mean Americans want liberal policies or that Obama should pursue them. Say what?
via Media Matters:
Then there’s CNN’s John King Wednesday night. Just try to follow his logic:
KING: Without a doubt, the electorate voted for Barack Obama, but still perceives him to be a liberal. And one thing you don’t want to do when you win an election like this, a sweeping election like this, is alienate the people here in a place like Cincinnati. Why? George W. Bush carried that county four years ago. You don’t want to drive them away.
So, Barack Obama is making inroads in communities that not too long ago voted Republican. The last thing you want to do if you want to keep them four years from now is to alienate them with a liberal agenda.
Right…people voted for Obama, but don’t really believe in his platform. They perceive him to be a liberal, but don’t actually want liberalism? Communities who previously have believed in conservative politics voting for a liberal politician could possibly have changed their minds about what direction we need to take, could they? Especially since the last 8 years have been sooo successful! And you wouldn’t want to alienate them by enacting the changes you said you would make. Is this even any sort of logic?
Don’t forget, after Bush’s 2.5% victory spread in 2004, he claimed (indeed, he insisted) he had earned political capital and that he was going to spend it. After Obama’s 6 point win, it’s rather audacious it to suggest that Americans do not support liberal politics, as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has been suggesting:Vodpod videos no longer available.
Saying over and over that we are a “center-right” nation will not make it so.
And if Obama’s administration is successful, perhaps “liberal” and “progressive” can change from being dirty words and as labels that politicians don’t want to embrace.
(Cross-posted to The Reaction)
September 4, 2008
Everything I want to say about the hypocrisy around the rhetoric about Palin, and especially the Republicans’ vomit-inducing use of gender rhetoric can be summed up by this brilliant analysis by the “fake news” reporter, Jon Stewart, on the September 3, 2008 The Daily Show:
Vodpod videos no longer available.
In Canada, watch it on clip 2 here.
And in more The Daily Show-induced commentary….typically, I take the position that families and spouses/ partners are “off-limits” with regards to politics. But Stewart, in his interview with Newt Gingrich, makes an excellent point, which I think can help us forge a distinction between personal attacks on Palin’s daughter (i.e. “what an irresponsible slut!”) and dissonances between individual actions and beliefs and political positions. “The personal is political.”
Vodpod videos no longer available.
(Here in Canada)
Isn’t it sad when politicians and pundits seem to get called on their bullshit more often by “fake news” shows than the “real” ones?
July 24, 2008
I recently found this blog through another blog, I can’t event remember which, but it’s really great!
Hathor isn’t a review site. Nor is it a fan site. It was started in 2005 by Betacandy to demonstrate that there are people who don’t like how women and gender roles are presented in movies and TV because she was sick of hearing from film execs that the audience only wants white men in lead roles.
The question this brings to mind is: why would they discriminate against a group when there’s more profit to be made by doing the right thing? That’s a good question, and one that deserves an answer.
To pass it your movie must have the following:
1) there are at least two named female characters, who
2) talk to each other about
3) something other than a man.
So simple, and yet as you go through all your favorite movies (and most of your favorite TV shows, though there’s a little more variety in TV), you find very few movies pass this test.
July 6, 2008
While on the can, my partner read in a housemate’s men’s magazine the following: Only 8% of American women have an “hourglass shape,” defined by having a waist 9 inches smaller than the bust (which, indeed is a wrong definition, as it-at least-neglects that the hips and bust must have the same measurement too, and also I thought it was about ratio, not exact measure, but whatev), but most women’s clothing is designed for an hourglass body.
I snarkily replied: That doesn’t surprise me at all. They should have added the following: “And in this magazine, 98% of the women either have, or are Photoshopped to have, an hourglass figure, even though only 8% of American women have one.”
I mean, it’s great that they shared this info with their readers in a small box of text, but seriously, they’re just as guilty. Or even more so: if they can’t find models to “fit’ the ideal, they fit them to it digitally and photographically (oh yes, there’s lots of tricks to alter your appearance that don’t require Photoshop. Ask any photographer-and btw, I do have a photo degree.)
Maybe my comment would make a good “letter to the editor”?
June 3, 2008
I hate ‘Hot Lists.’ I hate the idea of them. Someday I will rant on them. Not today.
AfterEllen.com, a website about lesbian and bisexual women in entertainment, publishes an annual Hot List. When I first started reading their site, I had noticed they had one. I checked it out, hoping that it would not just be a replication of the uni-dimensional hot-at-the-moment-until-they’re-prego-or-passe’ of most Hot Lists. It was not. I was pleased.
So let me qualify my first sentence:
I hate (most) Hot Lists, especially the one’s put out by lad-mags and their ilk. I hate the idea of them, which not only sees ‘hot’ in the narrowest of senses, but also they’re ‘hot’ because these women are overwhelmingly (with token exceptions) the flavor of the moment, and it also seems to favor women who participate in the culture of ‘posing.’
(Not for nothing, but the exposure-no pun intended-that women with little professional accomplishment are able to garner in the media by simply being young and pretty and thin is incredible! They are paraded around for having a nice face and/or body-and being willing to display it-but having little talent. This happens in a way completely unlike men who are in the same position-those small time accomplishments or poor acting ability but are incredibly good looking. Men definitely have it harder in this way. But women pay for our quick and easy value as eye candy with appallingly few strong female roles, and with the near-impossible task of being a successful actress or performer without participating in posing culture. I couldn’t even make a men’s parallel list to Maxim‘s 100 even if I tried!)
A few non-surprises? The woman who made Maxim’s 100th spot, Tila Tequila, wasn’t even close to making our list, and their number-one choice, swimsuit model Marisa Miller, barely received any votes from AfterEllen.com readers. In fact, just like last year, only two of Maxim’s top 10 showed up anywhere on our list.
Other stats about this year’s list? There are 18 women of color — a definite improvement over last year — and 21 openly gay/bi women on the list (seven of whom are AfterEllen.com vloggers), which is more than double the number on last year’s list.
Our list includes women from all over the world — from countries as diverse as Canada, England, France, India, Mexico, Norway, and Spain — and women who vary in age from 18 to 57 years old. Although the vast majority of women on the list are actors or TV personalities, there are some musicians this year, as well as a few writers, a chef, and an athlete.
Diversity is valued, age isn’t a barrier, and when you look at the kind of women that queer women find hot, you’ll quickly understand why there are few cross-overs with the lad-mags. Queer women clearly value flat, physical beauty (although their idea of beauty is not the narrow version purported by most lad-mags). But they also value talent, wit, humor, intelligence, success, not as separate from but as part of what makes women hot. It’s a little different from another counter-hot list: the excellent non-celebrity The Real Hot 100, where smart=hot and physical beauty has nothing to do with it. AfterEllen’s list seems to embrace physical beauty, alongside and equal to other aspects of women’s personhood. Beauty is part of being human, but unlike other Hot Lists, AfterEllen readers seem less apt to value women who are only beautiful but as people seem less-than-interesting. And I find this really fascinating.
I also love the photos they use to illustrate their list-no lingerie here!
And I love this part:
The following pages provide photos for all 100 women in ascending order according to your votes, with some further details provided about the first 25. We’ve also linked each woman’s name to other articles about her on AfterEllen.com, in case you want to do some more reading about them, and we’ve listed each woman’s rank on the 2007 list below her name.
Imagine that?! ‘Hot’ women aren’t just for looking at-their ‘hotness’ isn’t simply based on their measurements, so they’re actually people you would want to read up on!
The thing is, I think beauty is wonderful. But a hell of a lot of women are beautiful, celebrities and peers alike. Honestly, I don’t think beauty alone is all that ‘special.’ Put most of the women I know on the cover of a magazine with the kind of lights, makeup, and photoshopping that goes into a celeb or model photo shoot (and especially add in personal training and wealth needed for complicated beauty regiments), and they’re just as ‘hot’ as the women on there each month. Hot lists that are only about physical hotness are pointless and are more about selling magazines by reiterating the importance of the people (well, really women)-of-the moment.
AfterEllen’s list? There’s more going on here and I’m liking their idea of ‘hot’ and the context they view it in.
May 23, 2008
…check out the comments on this post @ Jezebel. They did all the work for me! Feel free to add your own in the comments here.
May 16, 2008
Unconventional Beauty has an excellent and telling analysis of the past few years of Entertainment Weekly covers, and the difference in how women and men are permitted to be represented. I particularly like how her analysis is reasonably “apples-to-apples”. Read it!
May 12, 2008
This is unbelievable.
In 2003, 21 year-old Ramona Moore – a student at Hunter College in New York – told her mother she was going to Burger King down the street and would be right back. She never came home.
Moore was held in a basement a few blocks away where she was raped and tortured for four days before her captors beat her to death. The police, who Moore’s mother begged for help, did nothing to find her.
Also, be sure to check out Black and Missing, but Not Forgotten, a blog that tracks cases of missing black victims.
May 11, 2008
First, from Feministing:
The Chicago Tribune online story with this headline:
“WNBA offers advice to rookies: Trying to expand fan base by marketing its players, the WNBA for the first time offers rookies lessons in fashion and makeup”
Yes, you read that right. According to the story, one-third of the WNBA rookie orientation offered makeup and fashion tips. Other seminars included “financial advice, media training and fitness and nutrition”.
“I think it’s very important,” said Candace Parker, the Naperville product who was the league’s No. 1 draft pick out of Tennessee. “I’m the type who likes to put on basketball shorts and a white T, but I love to dress up and wear makeup. But as time goes on, I think [looks] will be less and less important.”
NBA rookies go through a similar orientation, although their off-court conduct is stressed far more than their wardrobe or physical appearance.
What’s unfortunate is it’s true. Female athletes are not only judged as athletes but are also judged for their adherence to conventional “femininity” (as I’ve written about elsewhere). Some of this happens in the way women’s sports is reported and discussed, and some of it is brought on by the ad campaigns female athletes participate in. While part of their participation in objectifying ads is likely for the income opportunity, I think part of it too is as a way for female athletes to “prove” (via social validation) that despite their physical strength and athletic bodies, they are still “sexy” and “feminine”. Since, of course, being sexually desirable according to socially prescribed standards is the ultimate standard of a woman’s worth.
From the Tribune:
Susan Ziegler, a Cleveland State professor of sports psychology, said disparity in wages and media coverage between male and female athletes, along with a battle against perceived negative stereotypes, are factors in marketing female sports figures for their physicality rather than their athletic assets.
Need examples? Read the rest of this entry »
May 6, 2008
OK, so I’ve been writing a bit about sexual representations recently. It’s not on purpose, just what I’ve read about recently. I’ll try to get to a new topic soon :-). Yesterday I stumbled on 2 articles that speak to the post I’ve written recently about the disparities in publicly eroticizing men’s and women’s bodies.
The first one speaks to the idea that concepts of ‘sexy’ by default refers to women’s (not men’s) bodies. Forbes.com has an article titled “Hollywood’s Sexiest Celebrities.” Guess what? They’re all women.
My first thoughts were: Is it because when we’re making top lists of sexy people, sexy “people” implicitly and really means “women”? Or is it because Forbes.com doesn’t think any men are sexier than these 15 women? But no, these were taken from an E-poll, not a single person’s choice–and the top male, Matthew McConaughey weighed in at only 41st. What does this say about what or who we consider ‘sexy’? Is it that women are “really” sexier than men? Or is it that “sexy” has been defined in terms of women? I at least think part of it must be that we are provided with sexualized images of women quite frequently, where actual images of celebrity men all sexy, posed, and scantily clad is significantly rarer. So why would we even think of men when asked about who’s “sexy” when their bodies are less than accessible (in magazines or films) and hardly on the radar? Read the rest of this entry »
May 2, 2008
I stumbled on this New York Magazine article via Ms. Naughty’s blog (NSFW), and I am truly intrigued. Not because I think that one (or even 100) pictorials of nude men will change the way male and female bodies are/not produced as ‘sexual.’ As with many many gender and sexuality issues, the problem is not (only) with correcting misrepresentations by merely adding to the ones we have, just like more women as corporate CEO’s is not all that is needed to change the way business and economics are centered around the worker as male. It’s a start, but it’s not the whole story, not even close.
I’m more interested in what Ford said.
[…] the male nude is one of our last taboos. There’s a double standard at play here: magazines that are happy to fund ads featuring an artfully lit female nude will balk at an image of her male counterpart.
Bodies themselves may be, for the most part, natural raw material. But the value societies gives to bodies, what we see those bodies as useful for, what uses are appropriate for which bodies, how bodily qualities (i.e. beauty, strength) are defined, are all socio-cultural and ideological, thus also political. Read the rest of this entry »
April 30, 2008
I tend to agree* with this analysis of the photos of Miley Cyrus in Vanity Fair that we’ve seen so far from Vanity Fair, that they’re not “that bad.”
*sidenote: Except that the bare skin and sultry looks are for your prom friends, not the American Celebritocrical Gaze. And typically you go to the prom at 17-18, not the age of 15. Mir Kamin makes the distinction quite well between these images and simply wearing a backless dress:
For me, my problem lies with the fact that she’s underage and I find the picture intentionally sexual. It’s not her naked back — it’s her tousled hair, her come-hither look, and the bed-sheet-esque cover; all of those things together combine to portray a post-coital vixen.
(end of side-note)
But the whole thing still troubles me for a few reasons I know, and probably some I can’t articulate yet. And I think the question of whether the images themselves are “that bad” isn’t the real issue here. Read the rest of this entry »
April 25, 2008
So this video and news issue is a wee bit old, but the idea it raises isn’t at all.
Apparently an in-store Abercrombie ad campaign (see video below) received complaints for being too sexual/obscene. Abercrombie has been doing this for years, for example, depicting cartoons of topless girls (yeah, they looked awful young) in pools and having threesomes in their catalog back when I worked in the mall 10 years ago. And in this day and age of hypersexualization of women’s bodies and the general pornification of everyday life, you would think these ads must be awfully revealing to be so scandalous.
The thing is, the ads aren’t that revealing. Not by far, and especially not compared to most ads we see everywhere. we. look.
Except that most sexualized ads we see are of women’s bodies (I said most-I am well aware of the sexual and homoerotic tones of several cologne ads). However, the Abercrombie campaign includes some sexy images…of guys. And the marketing target is upper-middle class, heterosexual teens, both female and male.
This is the part that struck me most:
“there’s half naked guys running around–it’s obscenity–is Playboy able to hang naked pictures in their store?”
Um, sorry dude, but the half naked men shown in Abercrombie ads is not the same as fully naked Playboy pictures. Like, at all. It’s more like Victoria’s Secret ads (and even then not quite the same there either)…and oh yeah, they are able to show those, and not only in their stores, but on billboards, the sides of buses, every f*cking magazine you pick up, not to mention, the goddamn TV!! Read the rest of this entry »
April 21, 2008
(This post is kind of a smattering of several sites I’ve seen recently about photoshopping the life-literally-out of women in mags and some of my semi-random thoughts on the topic.)
Shakesville has a great analysis of Vanessa Williams’ photos in Ebony vs. what she looks like in real life (to the extent that any image can reflect “real life”). And this photo comparison in a terrific commentary on the beauty of ‘real life’ and the tyranny of photoshop from AfterEllen is quite pointed:
(actually, check out that whole AfterEllen Article with pics–it freakin’ pisses me off that 60 year old women can’t just be beautiful 60 year old women–I absolutely adore that photo there of Helen Mirren!)
It also reminded me of Jezebel’s analysis of Faith Hill (who is 39 and great looking) on the cover of Redbook over the summer, which was equally disturbing.
This professional photo retouching site has some examples of celebrity retouching. Click “portfolio” then choose a thumbnail. Move your cursor on and off the photo to see the photo vs. the retouch. It’s amazing! The untouched photos look like beautiful women still, but they’re beautiful like the “regular” women in our lives are–our friends, lovers-sisters. They’re beautiful, but they have wrinkles, freckles, bags around their eyes, complexions that look–real. Seriously…look at the “before” and “after” of several of those images and after just a few the retouches start to look really creepy and alien. And just think…those are what we’re accustomed to seeing in the mags and internet. Those are what “beautiful people” look like! Freakin’ aliens!
But regarding wrinkles especially, my question is simple: why do insist on an “ideal” female appearance that makes it look like you’ve lived a boring life? Is “correcting” the flaws that come from actually doing things in life via actual cosmetic surgery or the virtual Photoshop “quick fix” in fact more a testament to wealth than to so-called “neutral” and “natural” aesthetics? As in, a reflection that one has the money to surgically or chemically erase the wear and tear of real life off their physical body, or that one has the money to not put the strain of physical labor on one’s body in the first place (which would minimize some but not nearly all of the wear on the physical body–the rest could be “fixed” cosmetically). Not to mention, of course, the economic and time resources required to have the personal trainers, dieticians, fashion consultants, hair and makeup designers, nannies, gardeners…that permit the physical fashioning that goes into being a (predominately female) celebrity.
But since your everyday woman has a job, responsibilities, a limited budget and expendable time, and you know, a life, I s’pose we gotta pay somebody to offer us “the ideal” in the form of oddly bland and, ultimately, boring physical features.
QUICK UPDATE: Feministing had a great post about the need to photoshop curves into magazine images of skinny women. This quote hits it right on the head:
the message is that you should be super, super skinny, borderline skeletal, but without any of the things that come with the territory, like jutting hipbones or small boobs. So even the skinniest celebrities STILL require Photoshopping to meet this standard. You can be less than a size zero and still lose this game.
And this great comment on that thread:
Just because I was bored I copied and pasted these images in photoshop and overlayed them to see what the differences are. Much to my horror (not suprise) she was actually made narrower thru the ribcage and waist in the ‘photoshop’ picture. READ- she was made skinnier! Her muscles were removed, and her arms were made thinner. So in reality- she wasn’t made plumper, she was made curvier and overall narrower. Her hips were also narrowed and made less curvy. Amazing. We all think she looks plumper in the second image, when in reality she is actually narrower, lighter, and slimmer thru the hips.
“Normal” and “heavy” women are photoshopped to remove “excessive” bulk or to at least smooth out their curves–no chunky tummies or rolls allowed (example: this Dove ad). “Thin” women are photoshopped to look not-so emaciated–no bones or thin breasts allowed. To be honest, I’m a pretty thin gal, but I have both a visible breastbone and some bulk around the tummy. That’s just the way bodies are. In the end, we are never seeing what actual “thick” or “thin” women look like, only a oddly perfected version of each.
April 18, 2008
Via WIMN’s Voices: This is not to endorse Esquire at all, but they are wanting to hear from real, actual women the answer to one question: What is something that men don’t know about women?
Since I am one who loathes men’s magazines and does not cease in perpetually critiquing their phallocentric approach to het relationships with women, this seems like something women ought to participate in. Since, ya know, they’re actually asking. Not that I have a ton of faith in accurate reporting, but hey, it’s worth a try, yes?
Read the info at the WIMN’s Voices link above. Think about it, and make your response articulate and meaningful.
April 17, 2008
AfterEllen comments on Entertainment Weekly‘s “50 Actors We’d Watch in Anything” list. The downside? Only 18 out of 50 are women. The upside? The women chosen are actually good, respectable actresses, their presence on the list seems to actually be about their acting! As opposed to the lists that, ya know, end up being more about popularity and sex appeal, and rarely correspond to actress’ talent. Bravo!
Some of the women named include Rosario Dawson (! a woman of color!), Allison Janney (I’m a huge West Wing fan), Kate Winslett, Catherine Keener, Julia Stiles, to name a few. And no, there’s no hottie-of-the-moment-that-gets-ignored-once she-gets-prego-and/or-older-than-24. For once.
April 1, 2008
Since I last week gave a mini-rant about the sport and gender–how female athletes are represented in that their are either sexualized, passive, and looking “feminine” while playing sports (i.e. the beauty and grace-not strength-in tennis, the media and advertising images of female athletes), OR how they are distinguished from “proper” female bodies and their activities (i.e. the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue), and how this is consistent with the way that women’s accomplishments and skills are persistently assessed–I thought this was worth a nod. Via Feministe, the New York Times in reporting about female athletes used photographs of female athletes in action and on its front page. And not in grace and poise, but in raw strength and power of athletic activity.
This anomaly doesn’t mean that sexism and heteronormative gender-production in sport doesn’t exist. This isn’t “proof” of any sort. Gender and sport (and I’m talking more about representation of women than participation of women in sport) is a big concern on mine, and I expect it is something I will continue to address.
But props where props are due.
And as Jill @ Feministe said,
I just keep repeating to myself: Baby steps.
March 31, 2008
Well, it’s been a few weeks since the whole Spitzer-prostitute thing, and it would be an understatement to say the whole event created an online “buzz.” Some has been very good–as I wrote about previously, there has been much discussion about the criminality of prostitution, the differences between decriminalization and legalization, about the theoretical and “ethical” (?) distinctions between buying sex and selling it, and about how the prostitutes themselves (rather than their “pimps” or the “johns”) suffer the worst penalties and take the greatest risks. Some has been not so good, with the slut-shaming, and the objectification and dehumanizing critique of her body (“that’s worth $4,000?!), and the looking for any sexualized images of her that people might have, despite her lack of consent to the publishing context (yeah I’m taking about you, Girls Gone Wild and The New York Post).
While this story brought into relief the connection between male privilege and cheating via prostitution, indeed reminded us that paying for sexual services is often (not always) bound up in male privilege, I found myself frustrated, however, that this particular example of prostitution was the centerpiece of the discussion. For while Dupree’s “life story” (at 22 years old) is quite typical of sex workers generally–moved away from home at a young age, was homeless, drugs, no college education, possible abuse–her working conditions were not at all typical. It is easy to see why prostitution is “no big deal” and is just like any other physically exploitative labor-intensive work when you can hand-pick your clients and have to work very little to get a handsome paycheck.
This isn’t the truth of most prostitution work. And I think it’s important that we don’t forget that in all the glitz and glamor and sex-money-politics juiciness of this particular story that sound more like a made-for-TV movie. And not all of prostitution’s problems can be solved by legalizing and regulating it. Some of the violence and abuse on the job comes from how masculinity and sexual dominance and ownership is linked in out society. And sexual abuse and violence is a strong common denominator among those who get into sex work of all kinds, prostitution, stripping, porn, etc. When these things are so connected, it’s imporantant to not only talk about the legal issues but the social ones as well.
When becoming a sex worker is a way for women to cope, but not deal with, past sexual abuse, is it really beneficial to simply legalize it, call it their choice, and wash our hands of the damaging social factors that perpetuate both the “supply” and “demand”?: the social inequality of men and women, sexual violence against women, the objectification of women, the way men feel emasculates in a society where women have become more independent and in control but we have yet to produce a positive egalitarian idea of masculinity. Many of these women need emotional and physical counseling and support, they need help coming into a healthy relationship with their bodies; they don’t need to be alienating their bodies as a response to previous abuse. And we need a serious revolution in the ways we value women’s work. What does the instant fame, glamor, and big dollar sex contracts thrown at Ms. Dupree say to our young women working hard in school? When Lindsay Lohan is a train wreck and is throwing her life away, but stop the presses, because we may have found a video of her giving a blow job? When being called the Unsexiest Woman Alive can shake Sarah Jessica Parker, who on TV represented a self-reliant, successful, self-defined woman for so many woman my age? Whose post-TV work has been about women’s fashion and mothering, and not about bodily alterations or posing for men?** Just saying.
I am not saying some women who hasn’t been abused or is not in such economic dire straits that no other options are viable should not be able to choose prostitution or other sex work as an informed choice. But I think that sex work is a social and legal and cultural issue and needs to be addressed on both levels. We need to talk about how male privilege to (own) women’s bodies is part of the cultural breath we breathe. We need to talk about women’s connections to their bodies and sexualities and how social objectification, self-objectification, and sexual violence all disrupt that connection. And women’s bodies and desirability need to stop being the measure of a woman’s worth. Period. There need to be better economic options for women who are in desperate situations or who are single mothers (or both) so that prostitution and other sex work is not “choice” via coercion. Addressing these issues will help sex work being a truly informed choice. And further, we need to be aware of the realities of prostitution and other sex work when we are discussing and debating solutions, and not just what is glamorized by the media and films.
Here’s a visible look at some of the daily realities, lest we get too comfy with the pretty-young-choosy-expensive-glamorous prostitute image we have been inundated with lately. (image via Mentrual Poetry):
**(and as an actress, her target audience was for women’s entertainment and inspiration, not at all for men. And she’s the “unsexiest woman”? She also hasn’t caved in to “fix” her “Jewish” nose. Either one coincidence? Prolly not).