He for she – redressing gender inequality

Many of you will be aware of the #heforshe# campaign instigated by none other than Hermione Granger of Harry Potter fame – aka Emma Watson. Clearly as clever outside her famous role, this formidable young lady makes a number of pertinent points about the gender inequality that is still rife in the world, ways to address it, and the need to enlist ‘a few good men’.

In fact, she might well have channeled my own thoughts, so closely does her wording follow the argument I’ve been having inside my head, and with a few brave friends, for the past 15 years. I’ll leave it in her capable hands. Click on the link below to listen to her impressive speech to the UN.

Emma Watson on gender inequality

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The Collective Disempowerment of Women

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Sketch of a woman crying

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
/luigidiamanti

As a woman who grew up in the seventies, when ‘feminism’ wasn’t the dirty word it’s become today, I look upon our current society and it’s treatment of women and simply shake my head. Ladies and gentlemen, have we really come such a long way?

I observe the younger generations of women in their various modes of dress – or more accurately ‘undress’ – and listen to their often inane chatter with a sense of disappointment and, it has to be said, a good measure of despair. Three or four decades ago, some of us fought long and hard to promote a world in which a woman could stand tall (even if you’re short, like me), feel self-assured, trust her own decisions, operate from her own reality and mostly, feel empowered to operate on an equal basis with our male counterparts. We pursued for ourselves and our sisters, a strong sense of self-worth, trust in our own capabilities, and the ability to develop a life based on our own values, needs, aspirations and passions. We shunned the 1950’s domestic goddess and also the false value placed upon the female gender based on ‘looks’, advanced by the movie industry and its backers (advertising) for its own ends. We rejected this hierarchy of beauty foisted upon us by outside influences and began to value ourselves for who we really are, with all our attributes and foibles.

Paradoxically, the backlash was both swift and insidious. In the seventies, we wore ankle-length caftans, flares, A-line skirts that reached between mid-calf and the floor, boleros and Laura Ashley. Hot-pants made a brief appearance but were rarely seen on the streets. We enjoyed the clothes. And of course the platform shoes. The eighties brought us lycra and the new era of ‘skin-tight’ from top to toe. Skirt lengths were rising but mini-skirts were reserved mostly for evenings in discos and clubs. Street-length was still just above or just below the knee. By the nineties though, the micro-mini went mainstream, along with midriff tops and ultra-plunging necklines. It’s been all downhill from there.

So why this harping on about skirt-lengths and the baring of female flesh? It’s because I’ve witnessed firsthand the corresponding plummet in the self-esteem of the young women in question, who have increasingly put themselves on display. To those who quip that it’s because these girls are so confident that they step out clad as they are, I say rubbish. A confident woman steps out in sweat pants and no make-up and doesn’t give a toss what anyone thinks. She arrives at the office in a combination that means she’s not relying on her physical attributes to be noticed; she knows she’ll be noticed for her competence, cleverness and achievement. Think long pants, neat blouses and coats.

Over the years I’ve encouraged a number of young women, including my own daughters, to think long and hard about where real self-esteem comes from. (Hint:  it comes from a sense of ones own self-efficacy). I’ve also pointed out what seems rather obvious to me – that any woman can get the attention of a man by putting herself physically on display; but do you really want that kind of man? If you want to be loved and valued for who you are, take away the distractions and give him the opportunity to know the unique and precious being you really are.

The current preoccupation with all things trivial and superficial has accompanied this backlash. I spoke recently with a young Indian taxi driver who lamented his inability to find himself a suitable girlfriend. In his view, the majority of girls today just want to go out to pubs and clubs, get drunk, and shop for frivolous bits and pieces. He was looking for more depth and quality of interaction, and I truly felt for him. It’s a trend I’d already noted in the current generation, particularly after my experience with step-daughters who were brought up with a whole different set of values and guidelines to my own. I, too, struggled with having to listen to endless inanities about this pretty dress, that pretty ring, and requests for endless parties, always involving stunning amounts of alcohol; not to mention long-winded soliloquys about the latest episode of this or that, while being driven to distraction by the ever-present ‘can I haves’. My efforts to educate them, to strengthen them against the endless assaults on their self-esteem by the media and to instill a secure sense of self within their vulnerable psyches, were to no avail.

It seems that in a relatively short time-span we have regressed as a society. As technology advances and the external world becomes more civilized, the collective internal experience of the world’s women is being besieged by increasing levels of barbarism. How can we be free to be who we really are if are valued only for outward appearances? We are spiritual beings in a physical body, and yet the world is reducing us to that body alone, leaving so many feeling empty, confused, insecure and mostly, dis-empowered. How can we attain our highest potential and fulfill our life’s unique purpose if we are dis-empowered? The answer is that we cannot.

And that…of course…is the whole game plan.

 

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On Truth and Beauty

True beauty is ageless, timeless, intangible. It is evident at every age and stage of life and inherent in every human being, male or female, young or old. Deep within ourselves we hold this knowledge and yet we forget. We struggle with exquisitely painful feelings of inadequacy, failure and abandonment because we do not live up to the ideal of a mere physical beauty imposed upon us from the external world.

 

Women in particular, who are valued almost solely for their looks, suffer immeasurably, becoming consumed by the attainment of this one thing, beauty. Yet, the hierarchy that has been created in our material world is an illusion. In reality, there is no objective measure of beauty, no better or best, no gradation of beauty from plain to pretty to perfect. We are beautiful according to our uniqueness, because there is no other human exactly like we are, no soul whose journey and purpose is quite like ours. No one is more valuable or worthy of love and respect because of the nuances of bone structure, skin tone or physical measurements of any kind.

 

These illusions are built on shifting sands; our culture raises the bar, changing the criteria of desirability so that ultimately, no one can win. The trick is to understand that there is no competition.

 

I have spoken with many women who, like me, are trying to integrate their inner and outer experiences. We need to somehow survive, emotionally and spiritually intact, in a world that relentlessly throws poison darts at our self esteem. We need to shed a little light on this dark aspect of femininity. We need to do what women have done throughout history – worked alongside one another to stitch together a rich tapestry of truth and experience to reveal something far more beautiful and powerful than any individual icon of our time.

 

I’m an idealist and in my own quiet way, a warrior. If I could find a way to open the eyes of the world to the illusion, to reveal the truth that is truly beautiful, I would do it. I would remove the pain from our sisters, daughters and mothers  – if I was able to change the world.

 

Instead, I drop my pebbles into the pond, hoping the ripples will span out and make a difference.

 

Recently, I heard a radio talk-back program in which the Buddha was discussed. Scratchy reception meant that I missed most of what was said but I did manage to catch a pearl of wisdom that is particularly significant for me. After living as an ascetic in the wilderness for many, many years, the Buddha reached a point of true enlightenment. The story goes that at this point, he had a conversation with the devil, who said something like, ‘Well, you made it. You’ve reached the point of true enlightenment. And now no-one will understand what you’re talking about.’ The Buddha responded that ‘someone will understand.’ His point was that all his effort and pain were worth it if only one human being understood the message he came to bring to the world.

 

I am no Buddha and my path to enlightenment is yet in its early stages. Yet if only one other person understands and benefits from the insights I bring to this blog, and to my life in general, then my job is done.

 

This thing called ‘beauty’ is a burden, a two-edged sword that must be handled carefully until the illusion is lifted and truth becomes our reality. I don’t expect this to happen in my lifetime, or in my daughters’ lifetime, or even in my daughters’ daughters’ – but I do intend to be instrumental in the process. When enough people understand, change will take place.

Sexual Violation – The Accountability of Western Society

Sad man sitting on bed with clearly dissatisfied woman behind him

Perpetuating the great divide
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of the questions I’ve researched over the years, both via the available data and through discussion with the women I interact with, is how sexualized imagery in the media affects us. In my experience, even the women who claim to be unruffled by these images of impossible physical perfection, many of which border on pornographic, are not so composed once you scratch the surface. Yet few people, male or female, have learned to think outside the box. And we are in a box; a tightly defined square – except the boundaries don’t really exist. We just think they do, and I believe we’re meant to think they do. What would happen, I wonder, if we bothered to question the prevailing attitudes?

Many in the western world believe we’re not affected by the not-so-subtle messages that surround us. We think we’re free and whole and feeling good about ourselves. But are we really? The effect of media images on our day-to-day attitudes and emotions has been analyzed, in depth, by Naomi Wolf in her controversial book, ‘The Beauty Myth’. She goes to some lengths to outline how these acquired beliefs infiltrate our legal systems and bureaucratic structures, and the devastating outcomes experienced by the women who appeal to these very institutions for justice and, as we Australians say, a fair go. The author was, of course, slammed for her perspectives. (The poisonous criticism that followed in the wake of ‘The Beauty Myth’ didn’t stop Ms Wolf from writing ‘The Porn Myth’, which delves more deeply into how this deluge of imagery affects not just women, but also men, in a negative way.)

Part of the great lie is that men actually benefit from this sexualized imagery, which is found in virtually every form of media; magazines, newspapers, billboards, television shows, movies and of course, advertising. Sadly, I even see it creeping softly, softly into animated childrens’ movies. What is happening to us is that we’re being conditioned, in ever more lurid increments, to accept sexualized imagery as normal, or worse, for the greater good of humankind. By the time our kids have hit their teens, they’re not even aware that the disrespect naturally associated with the objectification of women, has become entwined with their own cognitive processes and therefore, their emotional responses. And what you disrespect, you do not treat well. You neglect and perhaps, even abuse. No great deductive powers are needed to discern that it’s a very small step from thoughts and feelings, to action. And by action, I mean aggressive action – sexual harassment, domestic violence and sexual assault, including full-blown rape. I also mean the subtler forms of aggression that are a frequent experience for women of all ages; the put-downs, the snide comments, the unwanted leers that demean us.

It should be clear where this is leading. I promised in a previous post to make a case for the culpability of western culture with regard to setting the scene for the random and widespread violation of women. Whether it’s a lack of equality in day to day interactions or any of the forms of aggression already outlined, it is all a violation. In the absence of overt violent action, women and girls intuitively feel this violation in an unwelcome gaze, in the defection of a lover’s attention at the mere passing of a ‘pretty’ young thing, in the smutty jokes that dog their steps, in the lack of ‘interest’ shown to them when they reach ‘a certain age’. The list goes on. We feel it because it is real.

The fact that there’s always something just around the corner – literally – to provide sexual titillation, albeit manufactured, is toted as an advantage for males. But this smokescreen, one that a majority of people fail to notice, is something that I don’t buy. It begs the question: Does anyone, other than big business, really benefit from this daily assault on our senses, or does it simply perpetuate the illusory great divide between the sexes, a division that needs to be named for what it is – created by popular culture, fed by ignorance and kept in place by fear. Perhaps all men don’t buy the lie, but it has to be said that the imagery is there for a reason. There’s a reward in it for someone, somewhere. And the reward is surely not for the average woman on the street. She feels the pain. She bears the degradation.

I’ve been asked on occasion why the women who make these images participate in something that’s clearly detrimental to their own sex? I don’t believe we need to look too deeply into the collective psyche to formulate a plausible theory. It seems to me that it’s back to basics – the survival of the fittest in a ‘civilized’ jungle. Society, or certain powerful groups within society, determines which ‘look’ currently deserves the highest esteem, and those who possess it scrabble to the top of the heap and fight to stay there. They gain money and status. If we recognize the ugly foundations of the land of ‘look at me’, what might have been considered pretty becomes much less appealing. It is no more than bitter competition in a world of dog eat dog; one sister trampling another, crushing fragile self-worth in a bid to boost egos and bank accounts.

Are we able to challenge the status quo or must we accept it and learn to cope with it? To the more aware amongst us, it will be obvious that this ‘coping’ comes with a heavy weight of lifelong side-effects, many of which land people, particularly women, in long-term therapy. Self-esteem is deliberately eroded by an agenda that is largely economic. Relationships based on unequal power breed fear, insecurity and frustration for both sexes, and can therefore never reach their full potential. Such fear-based politics have been used before to devastating effect. Adolf Hitler convinced an entire nation that not only were his ideologies, based on the supremacy of an Aryan ideal, correct, but that by participating in the destruction of inferior bloodlines, the German people were contributing to the greater good. It seems we have failed to learn the lessons of history; that we are not sheep; we are not powerless; we are able to think and to act. We are able to effect change. First awareness, then action.

The lie needs to be recognized for what it is, an economic manoeuvre designed to keep the masses dissatisfied. A blinded and dissatisfied public craves to be ‘filled’, and big business is ever ready to fill the gap with new and improved commodities offered with promises of pleasure, status and contentment that never come to fruition. The wheel keeps turning.