Lao Tzu

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu

Monday, October 29, 2012

Discussion of "Killing Us Softly" Talk by Jean Kilbourne

 (This is part of a general discussion at Hartmann's forum on the objectification of women.)

Zenzoe wrote:
I could have used the video in my conversation with D_NATURED.  She makes lots of points that are relevant to that conversation about "tight young ass," "pussy," and the entire subject of the sexual objectification of women and girls; and in particular the influence advertising and media have on shaping and creating female sexual objectification as if it's normal. Her point that sex is both more important and less important than the media suggests is something I'd like to discuss further, given more time. Also, how the objectification of women in advertising correlates with violence against women.  That's important too, obviously.
D_NATURED wrote:
The video is utterly irrelevant to our conversation, Z. First of all, I've never advocated violence against women.
Zenzoe wrote:
Of course you don’t, and never did, advocate violence against women. But that you, in particular, are not violent toward women, nor do you advocate it, nor do you even ignore it as an issue, does not mean that sexist advertising does not correlate with violence against women.
Still, because I mentioned you and the terms you have used in the same paragraph where, at the end, I mention how advertising correlates with VAW, perhaps you felt the sting of yourself being associated with such. I’m sorry if such clumsy juxtaposition of words and ideas set you against the video from the get-go. I think, if you could bring yourself to take a second look at it, you might come away with a different impression. To my mind, she manages to give us the forest despite the trees, if you will: She gives us an insight about our own culture, one that is only possible if you stand far back and think critically about the culture she's showing you.
Thus, I disagree that the video is “utterly irrelevant to our conversation.” And by “our conversation” I don’t mean you, D., personally. I’m talking about the objectification of women generally. It’s only coincidence that you happened to defend the use of A.’s term “tight young ass,” but I understand your defense, and your attitude, and I accept that you don’t see such objectification as toxic in any way.
We have simply used such verbiage to move on to a more general discussion about our culture and its objectification of women. Please don’t take it as a personal attack. What we see in advertising is who we are as a distinct culture, one with ideals and messages wholly specific to ourselves as a society. It’s important to look at that objectively, but I think you know that.
D_NATURED wrote:
Secondly, the desire to have sex with attractive women pre-existed advertising and rightfully so. Sex is a biological necessity, advertising is a capitalist one. The only question is whether or not any woman feels she needs to live up to the ideal. That's a struggle to which many women are immune. Advertising merely attempts to tell us WHAT is "attractive" (and I agree, by the way, that much of it is impossible to attain, for the average woman), and is often in contrast to what nature would require.
Zenzoe wrote:
Well, here I have to remind you that “the ideal” is our culture’s ideal, and not the multiple ideals of femininity as manifested in various cultures around the world historically. That’s the understanding one needs to adopt while viewing the video. Behind the discussion about advertising must be the recognition of, the knowledge of, other cultures, and even our own culture’s varied and evolving notions of the ideal feminine.

You may recall that in ancient China the ideal of femininity had women binding their feet to conform to that culture’s male preferences.  In other cultures, a long neck on a woman signifies the feminine ideal, and so the women wear neck rings to elongate their necks.  In European cultures, hairy armpits are feminine, but here they're not.  In Peter Paul Ruben’s day, the heftier female was the ideal, and in that culture and other cultures our skinny ideal would have provoked revulsion and concern.

Remember Marilyn Monroe? (how could we forget?) Simone Signoret, the author, said Marilyn, in her off-camera life, rarely dressed in what she described as her “Marilyn getup.” There’s an anecdote where once Marilyn and two friends were walking through the streets of New York and Marilyn turned to her friends and said, “Do you want me to be her?” and then she took on the M.M. personality, and suddenly strangers on the street started to recognize her.

So there you have what some people refer to as the “female impersonation” that women have had to adopt to conform to male preferences within our own patriarchal culture. And we are still a patriarchal culture, D., in case you haven’t noticed.

Recently, I watched a favorite movie of mine from the 60’s again, a French movie that received an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film: A Man and a Woman.  It was a bit of a shock, however, to notice in the observant eyes of my 2012 perspective what I hadn’t noticed back in the mid-60s when I didn’t have the distance required to see this clearly: Anouk Aimee’s (female lead) tamped-down, shy portrayal of a woman (not portrayal of a shy woman), that is, her female impersonation. In her own way, Anouk produced an act exactly comparable to the Marilyn act—a feminine ideal for her times, a lá French and not so funny, one designed not to threaten males with female self-assertion, or bold, overt intelligence or gumption.

You have to understand, though, I’ve had the exhilarating experience of being exposed to portrayals of a more liberated femininity by some of our current American actresses. For example, Mary McCormack’s portrayal of U.S. Federal Marshal, Mary Shannon, in the TV series In Plain Sight. There, you may see blond and gorgeous, but you’re also going to have to contend with a smart-mouth, feminist, dry-wit, mocking and utterly not inclined toward the use of feminine wiles as leverage, unless for conscious sarcastic or ironical effect. I cannot tell you how refreshing it is to witness such a violation of the stereotype. 

D_NATURED wrote:
The vast majority of those ads appeared to be the kind found in women's magazines, though, which implies that women are equal consumers of and participants in their own objectification. Could that be because women need to know what IS attractive, so they can fulfill their own natural desire to be pursued by men for the same ultimate purpose as those pursuing? Is the assumption of mine that women want to be pursued a media suggestion? Can you blame men for what sells to everyone? If enough women object to what the ads are saying, will the market not respond?

During her speech, the camera panned out to an audience full of women in dresses and make up and jewelry. I suggest they weren't dressed by their husbands and boy friends that morning but, ultimately, by their mothers at childhood. Do you see where I'm going with this?

Zenzoe wrote:
Of course women are “equal consumers of and participants in their own objectification!” That’s the power of advertising. If it didn’t work on women, it wouldn’t be used by the men and women —advertisers— who consciously or unconsciously wish to demean women to sell products within this patriarchal, misogynistic culture.

And what IS attractive, again, is wholly determined by this culture at a very specific time and location within the history of human culture. What IS attractive, D., is determined by a vicious cycle of indoctrination and response, of wish, fantasy, and conformity.
The Barbie Doll didn’t evolve out of an empty context, after all. Barbie does not bear witness to a gender-neutral, liberated and equal society; just the opposite. It evolved not because of who and what we women really are, but who and what the chauvinist mind of capitalism and consumerism has projected as an ideal from its own perverted ideology. 

D_NATURED wrote:
I have no problem with recognizing the way we are manipulated by the media so that we can examine our own motivations and biases. Let us not ignore that some of our biases can not be intellectualized away or blamed on male oppression alone. I find it hard to believe that, even in Sweden, when a girl with an exceptional ass walks by, the men there do not care to look.
Zenzoe wrote:
I don’t know why you assume that (1) I think men are not biologically sexual and not sexually attracted to attractive women, and, (2), I blame all of this on male oppression, and, (3) that Sweden is not part of modern Western civilization, and (4) that I conflate men’s looking with men objectifying women. Sheesh, D., can you give me a break here? There’s a big difference between the two, and I wish you could see that. To look and enjoy is not necessarily to objectify. ;-)

D_NATURED wrote:
Besides, with all of these women on this planet that are not poreless size zeroes with perfect bone structure and giant tits, there is still an imperfect man who loves them. The fact that my wife, for instance, does not fit that ideal does not diminish my passion for her. She is still in possession of all of the things that make a woman sexually attractive as well as other intangibles. No ad can convince me that she does not deserve my love.

Zenzoe wrote:
Again, “poreless size zeroes with perfect bone structure and giant tits,” (and add to that unnaturally and dangerously thin), if it is an “ideal,” it is an ideal constructed within the context of a patriarchal, consumerist, sexist society; it is not an absolute, consistent-across-all-cultures ideal (thus, men and women are not wired biologically to love it). And furthermore, to address the issue of violence against women, it is an ideal that has dire consequences for girls and women. I first would suggest that even girls who starve themselves to the point of anorexia to live up to the ideal have had their self-esteem violated; the society that promotes the “ideal” of thinness also commits violence against women.

But let’s not pretend that consistent images in the media —and I absolutely disagree with the suggestion that the majority misogynistic advertising occurs in women’s magazines— of all the varied ways in which women can be degraded and even presented as prey, will not contribute to male violence against women. Consider Wrangler’s “We are Animals” ad campaign (Wrangler ads are found everywhere). 
So, there you see the notion of “we are animals,” not as a celebration of our mutual, erotic enjoyment within a context of sensuality and pleasure, but as a promotion of men as killers and women as prey; or men as killing animals and women as their dead prey. (and to think that ad campaign won all sorts of awards!) How much of this stuff, D., do you think springs naturally from the male psyche, rather than from the psyche of our deeply sick society?

And what makes you think images of that sort don’t register on the minds of less-ethical men than yourself, granting permission to them to violate women in the most horrific ways?

It’s wonderful that you’re able to rise above this crap. It’s great that you manage a fulfilling relationship with a real woman, that you’re not a superficial man who treats his wife as an object designed for his purposes alone. But your particular, individual case does not deny the truth the video presents, nor does it allow us to pretend that women and their objectification is not damaging to us all.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Fetus: A Person or Something Else Entirely?

 We're discussing abortion over at again. Here's a sampling:

D_NATURED: If you want to know what the fetus "is", ask the woman who owns it. I view it, by default, indifferently because I have already decided that I absolutely cannot be indifferent to the suffering of women. If I ever grew a pre-person inside me, I would expect the same pro-human "bias" from any other human, male of female.

Zenzoë: I'm with you on all of that, especially, "If you want to know what the fetus 'is', ask the woman who owns it."

For the woman who wants to bring a child into the world, being pregnant is worth the discomfort, the risk, the added pressures and responsibilities, the financial burden, the weight gain, the nausea, the exhaustion, the stretch marks, the hemorrhoids, the backache, and every other misery, including being kicked in the ribs every other minute.  For the woman who wants to be pregnant, her fetus is her baby, her growing and developing child whom she treasures and welcomes with her whole being.

For the woman who does not want to bring a child into the world —perhaps another child to add to an already burdened household— being pregnant conjures up any number of terrifying metaphors. I'm sure being pregnant against one's will might be tantamount to having a cancer growing within, an alien growth with the potential to bring disaster to every area of life.  This is especially true, I imagine, if her pregnancy resulted from rape, and she has been denied access to abortion. In that case, the fetus, though innocent of the crime, might reasonably be perceived and felt as Intruder, the devil's spawn, taking up residence inside one's most sacred and intimate space, and turning one's life bleak and unbearably anguished. For the woman who has not planned her pregnancy, the fetus is not a Who but a What, and that What has no potential whatsoever, other than doom.

If you think I exaggerate, remember this: We know the dreaded prospect of bringing such an unwanted pregnancy to term and suffering the fate of motherhood on those terms drives women to DIY abortion with coat hangers, or to back-alley abortionists, resulting in death, worldwide, to the tune of 68,000 annually. That some women CHOOSE to accept their unwanted pregnancy and mother the child regardless does not change the reality that tens of thousands of women each year will risk their lives to be free of an unwanted pregnancy. Pregnancy is serious business, and no man dare shame women for wanting safe, legal and easily accessed abortion.

D_NATURED:  Right, and the anti-human, pro-fetus people don't care about any of that. They only count dead fetuses. If women suffer or die from botched DIY abortions or if other actual, living babies die from lack of resources, who cares? The fetophiles are on a mindless mission to protect "the most powerless among us". No shit, they actually say things like that. There was even a pro-life commercial during the debate where such rhetoric was used.

The most powerless among us are not fetuses. Hell, fetuses aren't even among us. They are only "among" one person at all times and that is their host. We are unable to "protect" them without protecting women first. But you know that already. It is only those who believe they are the hands of god who give themselves the authority to ignore so many truths in their quest for fetal viability. In my humble (or not so humble) opinion, they should concern themselves with human viability, and population control and human rights are key to that very thing.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Notes While Clearing Out the Garage

“The strangeness of Time. Not in its passing, which can seem infinite, like a tunnel whose end you can't see, whose beginning you've forgotten, but in the sudden realization that something finite has passed, and is irretrievable.”  —Joyce Carol Oates

I’ve been clearing out the garage this week. It’s taking longer than it should, because I keep coming across old writings and art work, and all kinds of letters from family, and notes and cards from people I haven’t thought about for years, stuff I never had the gumption to throw out before now. Every now and then I find something especially moving, a letter for example, that originally meant little to me but now sends a pang of nostalgia and longing for that person. But then I’ll find a card from some idiot I’d dated, realize who the real idiot was —me— and, with gratitude for the better angels who rescued me from that one, throw the thing in recycling. What’s the cliché? “A trip down memory lane?” That’s exactly it.

One of the papers I came across was a printout I’d made off of some website (now “not found” and author unknown), a paper on stress. I had highlighted a number of paragraphs within it, including this one:

“According to Dr. William Fry, a five-year-old laughs more than 400 times a day and an adult laughs less than 14 times per day. A child also has 18-20 different facial expressions and adults only have four (LaRoche, 1998). Children are told to ‘get serious’ and ‘stop acting foolishly,’ so by the time that they are adults, they have gradually stopped laughing.”

That’s for starters.

Next, that first evening of dealing with garage treasures and trash I read a lovely essay in this month's The Sun magazine by Karen Vogel called, The First Year.  It was about her life on a farm in Canada with her husband and new baby boy. I hope it’s okay if I quote from it:

“A few weeks after the cows returned to the fields, it became clear that Aleksy, who was waking up to kick his mattress and practice rolling and who no longer cuddled sweetly, needed to move to his own room. The times when he could sleep next to me like a velvety hot-water bottle were gone. I frowned as my husband took apart the crib and reassembled it in the adjacent room. Aside from looking around excitedly at the new contours of the walls and becoming absorbed in an entirely new ceiling, Aleksy seemed utterly unaffected by the change. I reminded myself of how nice it would be not to have to sneak around my own room at night, to have at least one thing back the way it had been before.
    But instead of feeling like a comforting return to normal, the room without Alexsy’s crib seemed eerie and desolate. The furniture was still displaced where the crib had been, and the drapes had been taken down to use for Aleksy’s windows, so the moon poured in, bathing the walls and the carpet in its steely glow. Fred [dog], who had taken to sleeping in the den-like confines underneath the crib, wandered about before choosing a random patch of floor to lie down on. I felt as a child does for a balloon suddenly sucked away in the wind: a raw, sinking sadness. Aleksy would always change, would always move, would always be farther away.”

Then, the morning after reading the article, I woke from a complex dream, most of which I’ve lost to the fog that surrounds my dreams once I wake fully.  I can still remember parts of it, though, enough to make it relevant here.

In the dream, I am in a strange city, alone, touring, though it feels more purposeful than that as I try to remember. Somewhere along the path of this dream-adventure, I see a child of about three years outside on a sidewalk, playing by herself in front of a shop; the child appears to be lost, or unattended. I wait to see if the parents return, but they don’t, and so I decide to take her with me inside one of the buildings, a sort of mall, in hopes of finding someone who knows the child and can help.

The interior of the building is strange, naturally, with tiny rooms and complex corridors, crowded with all sorts of bizarre goings on, business and arty types going from here to there, seemingly unaware of my presence. At a certain point, after moving from room to room, I look up. I am in a long, narrow hall that has an infinitely high ceiling, and I notice that a circus of amazing, colorful objects is playing above me, objects suspended on strings or wires, objects which change, grow and expand, then contract, twirl and and dance as though imbued with living cells. It could be an underwater scene; but it’s not. It's alive, but like nothing I've known or have ever seen.

As I watch this performance playing above me, a grieving sadness moves over me and tears well up and stream down my cheeks.

I'm thinking, Why? Why do these "creatures" feel like loss?

That’s when I realize I am no longer holding the hand of the child. She is gone. I have lost her. I search in panic everywhere, moving from room to room, calling out, encountering people and situations here and there, but never finding her again.

As I woke from my dream that morning, I remembered someone in the dream coming up to me with concern for my tears. She seemed to know right away what it was all about. She said, “It’s the movement—all the changes, changes that mean loss, growth and moving forward simultaneously; it’s a message of change, a forever living change that is at once tragic, natural and right.”

It was then that I realized the grief was about my own babies too, grown now, changed, having moved on into adulthood and lives of their own, families of their own. I know they can do without me very well, thank you very much. I know it’s right and proper, but damn, it’s tough. Gradually over the years, one step at a time, I let them go. No, I can’t go back, and I’m glad to be relieved of the pressures of raising babies and small children; and yet I miss the intense, interdependent connection, the “you belong to me.” They’ve declared their independence —thank goodness— but, regardless, here I remain, Mother, even though the irretrievable remains too, in remembrance.

That’s why any day they need me is a wonderful day.

And the child in the dream was myself, my own changes, my having lost the child’s inclination to laugh 400 times a day, and being relegated to my four facial expressions— disapproving, skeptical, worried, and, well, defying all scientific expectations to the contrary, ridiculously, helplessly amused.