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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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.

Sexual Violation – When Good Men (and Women) Do Nothing

As I was reading a lengthy article from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, it became immediately clear that while virtually every crime ‘genre’ outlined in the survey is in decline in our current Australian society, sexual assault is on the increase. This is despite the media-generated smokescreen that women today are in a more empowered position than at any other period in history.

I’m well aware that I enter murky waters here, and there will be many who, with the strength of their objections, would drag me under and have me drowned into silence. So while I don’t exactly fear the subject, I’ll first be tackling it from a feminine, intuitive perspective, a perspective which is not just devalued but wholly rejected in today’s far-from-enlightened world. (But rejecting its validity is no evidence that intuitive information is not, in fact, valid!) I will then go on to examine the data from the relevant research and back up my position with facts that can be denied only by those determined to keep their heads in the proverbial sand. Deductive arguments can and do exist, regardless of the difficulties in assigning causality.

And, despite the aspersions cast on Asian and Middle Eastern nations, particularly in the wake of the recent defilement, rape and death of 23 year old Jyoti Singh Pandey, I am set to argue that the situation is little better here in the west. I also contend that the proliferation of rape and other forms of sexual assault, as well as domestic violence perpetrated upon women, are allowed to flourish because the world population has been ‘shaped’, via simple conditioning, to normalise harmful practices that lead to further and further humiliation and degradation of the female of the species. And when a group is humiliated and degraded, they are dis-empowered; they expect less from life, from themselves and from their partners. They settle for poor treatment because this treatment has been presented to them from the day of their birth as ‘normal’. A lowered self esteem also leads to a group of people who settle for lower paid positions, less pay for the same work, acceptance of the unjustness of being passed over for promotions they know are well deserved, and an under-reporting of sexual harassment and other forms of sexual and physical violation. A people lacking in self worth are essentially voiceless.

It’s a tactic that has been used to demoralise minority groups for millennia, to keep them from rising up and taking their place among the more privileged, dominant society. But women are no minority group. We make up half the population of the world. The other half of the population of the world – men – may seem to be the winners, but the sexual insecurity that lurks within the heart of a majority of women, plays havoc within heterosexual relationships, leaving both parties devoid of the deep spiritual, emotional and physical connections that should form the foundations of a fulfilling and abiding love affair for life.

This short post simply sets the scene for a series of posts that will ensue during the coming weeks. If you find the concept thought-provoking, whether you agree with my initial words or even if they make your hackles rise, I invite you back here to follow me into this dark and winding labyrinth. It is a complex issue and I fully expect a complex set of responses and perspectives.

Love and light.