Let Us Play Dumb

by Freddie Storm.

Freddie Storm is a Filmmaker currently based in the Vancouver Area. Born and raised in India, she has kept herself aware with the feminist issues in the South Asian part of the continent while understanding the challenges that women in the western society face.

I was out for a coffee with a female friend of mine. We were discussing regular topics such as latest Red Dragon Camera and how it shoots 6 K footage, converting a file into AAF, benefits of Seido Karate on physical and mental health, you know all that stuff women talk about. She went up to get the coffee when a very handsome man in his late 20’s walked into the coffee shop. He sat down close to us, my eyes met with his and we both exchanged a friendly smile.

Soon my friend was back with two Lattes, complaining how she had to pay 60 cents extra for Soy Milk which she thinks is discrimination towards Vegans in a blatant manner. I nodded. She sat down and of course had to notice this stupendously well-dressed man sitting so close to us, soon her demeanor changed, our conversations turned rather uninformative, she started asking me about the clothes I have bought recently and how she hated her curls although everybody who met with her loved it. Soon enough, I knew whatever my friend talked about was intended for this young man to overhear, in some weird way she was actually flirting with him. I later brought up the whole incident to her while we were walking down the Granville Street; I asked her why our conversation turned so shallow when she knew there was male scrutiny on us. She first denied it, and slowly admitted to acting dumb to gain the male attention. It was shocking to me, knowing how she was one of the very intelligent people I knew resorting to being dumb because that got her attention, it was almost an irony.

I being the feminist I am, would not let this pass, I asked her how she thinks men find dumb women attractive, she said to me more so confidentially, ‘I am sure men have told you how they love a smart woman, but honey that is a myth, they like it dumb, unintellectual,” and that is when I got assertive and asked her why she would even enjoy the company of men who do not see women for their minds but merely for their bodies. She chose not to reply.

I went back home, and got reminded of Mary Wollstonecraft’s ‘A Vindication to the Rights to the women’, somewhere she had said that men like their wives to be innocent, almost as innocent as a child, and later in life when their beauty and youth starts to diminish, they lose interest in them complaining they have nothing to talk about given the difference in the level of intellect.

The term “blonde” does not describe a person or a type, “blonde” is now an idea in itself. It is synonymous to a woman who is stupid. When you type in “blonde” on Google, after the first three description links, you will be surprised (or not) most of the other links are sexual jokes on women with blonde hair and how stupid they are.

Society has been fed in with this idea for generations now. One of the jokes I read a couple of months back was that:

Don’t mistake me, I do find this joke hilarious, but, think about this way, not talking to other countries would be way logical and smarter than war, and the joke actually lies in the irony of it.

Also, let us not forget about the representation of women in Media. I truly believe society and media are mirror reflections of each other, almost catch 22 it is, society represents media and vice versa.

Let us talk about Mean Girls, the 2001 movie directed by Mark Waters. The movie starts with a popular group of girls in an American High School, the most popular girl in class in school is Regina George, who is blonde (hair wise), not so bright, sexually extroverted and cunning. All these qualities in her give her the title of the most popular girl. And then there is a new girl in class whose name is Cady, she is smart, culturally aware and very good in Math. Aaron Samuels is the popular guy in school, and both the girls in one way and the other want to win him, the instantaneous solution that Cady comes up with is to fail in her Math test, pretend to be stupid so Aaron would shift his attention to her, and, viola, it works! She asks him to tutor her and he does.

To compete with Regina George, she had to come down to the same level of stupidity, some people may call Cady smart because she understood being stupid was the clever thing to do, but hello, really? 

This movie was made for 17 million dollars and grossed more than 200 million on the box office; this confirms that the idea of female stupidity sells.

 

 

I am going to explore more on the history of western literature in propagating this idea. Starting with Jeffery Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath’s Tale, critics have often debated whether it is feminist or plain misogynist. The story deals with a woman during Middle Ages. She is very clever and flamboyant, her name is Alisoun. She has been married 7 times, and has managed to win the wealth and fortune of all her previous husbands. This story is a success story; the only problem is that she has used treachery to be able to convince her husbands into letting her have her way. She has pretended being stupid or weak in order to be attractive to the men. Alisoun is well aware that this kind of behavior is requisite in her marriages, and although very clever, she trains herself to behave vulnerably in front of the men, who enjoy this attribute of her.

Women have always been represented by men in western literature. We have learnt about women’s experiences and behavior for over hundreds of years mostly by reading books written by men. Great poets who wrote about their love interests such as Edmund Spenser or John Donne either sexualized them or criticized them. Women in literature have been mute until recently. The image created by the male writers becomes a margin for what women should behave and act like. The female characters in the books were mostly handsome, chaste and naïve. When women started writing, they had to unlearn everything about women they had read in the books to be able to pen down the genuine nature and experiences of women.

The women writers who started talking about their experiences, these smart women were/are often endorsed with a pinch of madness. For example Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf or Emily Dickenson are always seen as these “crazy” distressed women who did not enjoy life. Who perpetuates these ideas about them? It is those who cannot come to terms with the fact that smart and beautiful women are not a myth.

A lot of young girls are being trained by society (media, literature, social ideologies, etc.) to accept the idea that being stupid is equivalent to being more attractive. It is not true, period. We do not have to either be stupid or pretend to be stupid in order to be popular, in fact it is men who need to be trained that to accept that intelligence is not something they can have monopoly over. Women need to have opinions, ideas and confidence against the popular demand. Women need to think for their own good, whether it is about the way we conduct or the way we are. Patriarchy is internalized not only by men but also by women, and it is a responsibility to fight any kind of suppression, although initially it is as hard as giving up cocaine or the thought of an ex-partner. I would like to conclude this article with a funny picture I found online with hopes that we will all fight the demons of internalized patriarchy in us.

 

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Women Are Hilarious

The first time I heard the phrase “women aren’t funny” I thought to myself, “that’s really funny. I bet a woman came up with that.” Then, when I realized it wasn’t a joke, I spent an entire evening determining just how many ways it’s possible to dislike Christopher Hitchens, and I did enough internet research to come to the horrified (yet, ugh, not surprised) conclusion that people actually believe that there is something about women that makes them less funny than men. In case you’ve been blissfully unaware of this longstanding belief in women’s comedic inadequacies, Bitch Media has put together this helpful timeline. In fact, while you’re at it, take a reading break and spend the next four minutes watching a group of hilarious women respond to claims that they aren’t funny. Because, dammit, women have been funny for at least as long as people have been telling us we’re not.

I thought about writing a long-winded rant detailing just how sexist the whole idea that women aren’t funny is (who gets to decide who does and doesn’t count as funny? For that matter, who gets to decide what standards of “funniness” we’re using in the first place?). However, when I asked my friend, “What do you think about this idea that women aren’t funny” and she responded, “Bullshit. I’m hilarious,” I threw the entire idea out the window. Instead of talking about why people think women aren’t funny, I realized it would be a lot more fun to spend this time proving the naysayers wrong. Newsflash: women make me laugh until I’m tear-soaked and split at the sides and I have a sneaking suspicion it isn’t just me. Additionally, (because I’m nothing if not ambitious) I don’t just want to show you that women are funny. What I’m really bursting to share is the fact that feminist women are funny. “Whaaat?” says you who’s been convinced all along that feminism is about as funny as the stomach flu – you just might want to hold on to your pants. Things are about to get exciting.

For the record, the comedians I’m about to reference come from a fairly mainstream and well-known group of women. While heaps of high quality feminist comedy exists throughout the world’s many local comedy scenes, I have only so many words to work with before this blog post becomes a novel and I have to hold myself back somewhere. Also, I think it’s important to point out that feminist comedians aren’t just working within a “niche market” of feminist comedy consumers. Nope, these ladies are infiltrating the many corners of popular culture faster than you can say “Whoopi Goldberg” and I think there’s something mighty revolutionary about that. 

Point #1: Margaret Cho: Margaret Cho starting writing standup comedy when she was 14. By the time she was 16, she was performing professionally. Today, we know Margaret Cho as the comedian and performer who has travelled around the world doing standup (and producing films along the way) and who’s starred in the television shows All-American Girl, The Cho Show, Drop Dead Diva, and Dancing With the Stars. She’s made a Grammy nominated album of musical comedy called Cho Dependent and she’s written two books, I’m the One That I Want and I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight. Why have I bothered to tell you all of this? The point I’m trying to make here is that Margaret Cho is pretty much the shit. Not convinced? Let me show you: 

1. Firstly, she is hilarious and witty about race. I mean, really hilarious and witty

2. Secondly, she has some funny stuff to say about contraceptives, feminism, and being and expert on North Korea.

3. Thirdly, she makes us laugh about monogamy, childbirth, and why she is not a mother.

One of the things that makes Margaret Cho so incredible is the person that she is behind the comedy. Growing up as the target of bullying, even Cho’s success as a comedian didn’t silence the people who have tried to change who she is. In her bio on her website, she speaks about the experience of having ABS “water down” her show, All-American Girl, to the point that it became “completely lacking in the essence of what I am and what I do.” Cho faced scrutiny so severe that she ended up hospitalized for kidney failure as the result of an eating disorder (an experience she talks about in the documentary Miss Representation). Despite these struggles, Cho has continued to focus on staying true to who she is and has worked to remain in charge of the production and distribution of her work so she can keep telling the jokes that need to be told. An active and ardent feminist, Margaret Cho has worked with a variety of anti-racist, anti-bullying, and gay-rights campaigns and has won award after award not just for her work as an entertainer but also for her dedication to social justice. At this point you’re probably more than convinced you’re in love with Margaret Cho, but, just to be extra helpful, here’s a link to her blog. My current favourites? “Why is it great to be a queer icon?“ and “You are not ugly. Don’t make videos“.  

Point #2: Amy Poehler: Amy Poehler has been knocking some improv socks off for pretty much forever, starting with her work in college as well as her time with Second City, Upright Citizens Brigade, and a variety of other improv groups. Of course, there was also that whole thing where she became a huge star on Saturday Night Live and we all had insta-crushes. Then, (THEN) as if we weren’t already convinced of Poehler’s greatness, this little thing called Parks and Recreation happened and now my partner and I have stopped going on dates because sitting on the couch laughing our asses off to Poehler and the rest of the Parks gang is always infinitely more enticing. In an article called “Sitcoms are the Golden Land of Feminist TV Characters,” Bitch Media writer Gabrielle Moss talks about the pattern of sitcom feminists who are either “flakes” or “ball busters”. That is until Poehler’s Leslie Knope came along and proved that feminism doesn’t have to be portrayed as a laughable and out-of-touch quirk in our so-called “post-feminist” world, but that it can instead be a part of a character that makes them endearing and, more importantly, relatable.

 One of the things I love most about Amy Poehler is just how open about feminism she is. In a time when women entertainers everywhere are avoiding the word “feminism” like the plague, Amy Poehler is off making a show for girls that focuses on highlighting just how badass they really are. Yep, just because they rock, Amy Poehler got together with her friends Meredith Walker and Amy Miles to create a show called Smart Girls at the Party which teaches girls all about their awesomeness. Part of her motivation for the show, as Poehler explained when she was asked about the over-sexualization of acts like the Pussycat Dolls, is because

“Once it comes into the adult realm it’s like, ‘Great, go for it, do your own thing … Sit on cakes. Do whatever the fuck you want.’ It’s just that I get worried for young girls sometimes; I want them to feel that they can be sassy and full and weird and geeky and smart and independent, and not so withered and shrivelled … More than it being the Pussycat Dolls thing? It’s just distracting from what is real power.”

Granted, I haven’t spent enough time perusing the website to be convinced that Smart Girls at the Party‘s approach to feminism is necessarily intersectional nor am I entirely sure how the show frames the issue of gender expression more generally, but when I watch videos like this one, I can’t help but feel at least a little excited about the whole idea. 

But enough of me blabbing. Here’s a video of Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope using every sexist stereotype she can think of to her advantage as she tries to distract and confuse a park ranger (this, for the record, is one of those rare occasions where ironic sexism is actually funny).

Point #3: Wanda Sykes: If you’re a friend, relative, or colleague of mine, there’s a very good chance you’re aware of my firm belief that Wanda Sykes is god’s gift to the world (which is saying a lot, coming from the girl whose relationship with god is rocky at best). Like Margaret Cho, Wanda Sykes has been rocking the standup scene in all the right ways for ages. Also, she’s written and performed for The Chris Rock Show in addition to starring and making appearances in the television shows Wanda at Large, Inside the NFL, Premium Blend, Crank Yankers, Wanda Does It, and The New Adventures of Old Christine. She’s also written a book called Yeah, I Said It which I haven’t read but am currently adding to my list of “absolutely must reads”. Just when you’re feeling like Wanda Sykes has already been awesome enough for one lifetime, there was also that time she was the featured entertainer at the 2009 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner(She made some comments about Rush Limbaugh that some people got a bit upset about but, really, I dare you not to laugh at them.) Super fun fact? In spite the sexism, racism, and heterosexism that creates immense barriers to queer women of colour’s participation in popular culture, Sykes was the first African American woman and the first openly queer person to be the featured entertainer at the White House Correspondents’ dinner. Like I said, she’s pretty incredible.

Wanda Sykes is so hilarious and well loved that, as I was researching to write this post, I got lost in a sea of blogs calling her “detachable vagina” joke the perfect example of a joke about rape that is actually funny and helpful. Instead of shaming victims, Sykes makes us think about how pervasive the fear of sexual violence can be in people’s lives and even makes us laugh while she’s doing it. Also on the list of Wanda Sykes jokes that we can’t get enough of? That time she talked about “dignified black peoplewhen she pointed out just how ridiculous “reverse racism” really isand when she imagined the experience of “coming out black”.

Sykes continues to make all of our lives better, not just by cracking us up, but also by speaking out about marriage equality, working with organizations like PETA, and by participating in anti-homophobia campaigns like the 2008 “Think Before You Speak Campaign. Sykes is such a gifted comedian that she even manages to make jokes about Sarah Palin without being sexist or offensive. While I couldn’t (for the life of me) find a clip of her interview with Jay Leno where she speaks about Palin, incredible feminist blogger Melissa McEwan did manage to create a transcript of it so we can still get our laugh on. Highlight? The moment where Sykes calls herself a feminist on television. WHAAAT?! (Sometimes… it really is the small things.) Haven’t had enough Wanda Sykes yet? Don’t worry, I’ve got your back. Check out her website for more feminist hilarity.

Now, I think if we take a moment to collectively consider the logical premise outlined by points 1, 2, and 3, we can come to the conclusion that I’ve just presented a rather compelling argument. Margaret Cho, Wanda Sykes, and Amy Poehler are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to women being hilarious and feminist in incredible ways. While the general purpose of this post has been to discuss this in good fun, I think it’s worthwhile to take a moment to consider the reality that humour is powerful and compelling and that it has an undeniable ability to bring people together. Comedy is one of the best parts about being alive. So, when I’m arguing against claims that women (and feminism) aren’t funny, I’m not just doing it for the hell of it. I do it because feminist comedy has given me the space to laugh like I’ve never laughed before. I wrote this because it’s women like Cho, Sykes, and Poehler who are the reason I haven’t given up on popular culture. When you tell me that women aren’t funny, I’m not just offended by your ignorant sexism, I’m hurt by your denial of the kind of humour that makes me feel like a healthy and happy human being. So, please, crawl out from that sad, lonely hole dug by the cold hands of patriarchy and watch Mindy Kaling be funny and awesome at everything she does or check out Aubrey Plaza in The To Do List and… don’t forget to laugh. 

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A Feminist Conversation on Chivalry

by Nicole Deagan, Ariana Barer, Ellie Gordon-Moershel, Carly Rhianna Smith, Helen Polychronakos, Carissa Ropponen, Katie Scholfield, and Caity Goerke. 

In March, The F Word Media Collective received the following email from The Morning News with Philip Till at CKNW:

“…I’m writing because I’m hoping that someone from The F Word would be available for an interview. Earlier this week I saw an article on chivalry in the Huffington Post and I thought it would open the doors for an interesting discussion. [http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/andrew-lawton/chivalry_b_2936648.html]. Basically in the article, the author talks about an incident at a coffee shop where he held open the door and a woman refused to walk through the door saying, “I don’t need a man to hold doors open for me.” The author says he was just doing what he was raised to do, be polite!

We are going to be speaking with the author of the article to have him share his story and start the discussion on chivalry, and we’ll also speak with a gender studies professor to talk about gender roles/stereotypes, etc. I’d like to have someone from The F Word on our show to talk about chivalry from a feminist point of view.”

In response, one of our collective members, Nicole, agreed to go on-air and seize the opportunity to share her thoughts about chivalry and to speak to how we might consider chivalry from a feminist perspective. Additionally, Nicole’s invitation for an interview sparked a conversation amongst the members of The F Word regarding our own thoughts on chivalry:

Ellie: I have an opinion on this. It’s definitely not top on my list of battles to fight but it does annoy me when men open doors for me but even more so is when men try and give up their seat to me on public transit.

Carly: I don’t see it as a big problem or something I need to speak up against because, quite frankly, there are bigger and more problematic issues when it comes to gender inequality. It’s a symptom of larger attitudes, no doubt, but having someone be extra polite to you is not really the worst thing that could happen. I’d take having someone awkwardly hold the door open or try to give me their seat on transit over being sexually propositioned or harassed on the street any day. It’s not malicious or ill-intentioned, and while it does carry the implication that I am a weaker female, I can live with it.

Katie: Basically, I think that whatever gender you are, it is polite to hold the door open for someone if it makes sense. i.e. If someone has a lot of stuff in their hands/are struggling with something, or if I’m simply a few steps ahead, and the flow of our walking makes opening the door for them more convenient than walking through myself and holding it open. For me its all about what is the most practical. Basically practicality and minimal disruption of movement is what I focus on. So, I get annoyed when my flow is disrupted because a guy is mislead into thinking it’s his job to open the door for me. Pet peeve!

Ellie: Exactly, politeness is holding the door for the person coming into a building behind you. Everyone should do that for everyone all the time regardless of gender. It just keeps the flow going (as Katie said). Politeness is also going out of your way to open a door for someone who is carrying a lot of shit. Again, regardless of gender.

Katie: I do not mind if a guy holds the door open for me, I don’t look at it as gendered. However, if a guy won’t walk through a door I hold open for him, then that’s a problem, and is the point at which chivalry or “politeness” becomes sexism.  What I mean when I use the term sexism, is not misogyny/hatred of women, but a perception that some action or exchange is to take place with the male or female in set roles; in this instance, a man opening the door for a woman.  If I open a door for a guy, oftentimes he will open the OTHER door himself and go through it.  How does that make any sense? It could easily be interpreted as rude, and likely would be so if I were to refuse to walk through a door a guy opened for me, and opened my own door.

Similarly, it makes no sense if I’m nowhere near a door and a guy holds it open, and waits 10 seconds or more for me to walk through, when I am clearly  able-bodied and not weighed down with objects.  Don’t do that.  That is inconvenient and doesn’t make sense if it’s simply to make you feel like you’re doing your job as the man, because in fact you are simply annoying capable women. :P

Ellie: Unfortunately, this argument always get conflated to “oh here goes another crazy feminist blaming a ‘nice’ guy for oppression.”

Caity: I was walking into a bank and an older guy was walking in a little ahead of me. The bank had a vestibule so we had to go through two sets of doors get inside. Because he arrived at the door first, he held it open for me. Considering that that meant I got to the second door before him, I tried to hold it open for him to return the favour. However, he stopped right away and (he was a lot taller than me) he reached over me to hold the door instead and insisted that I walk in ahead of him. What was the worst part about the situation was how flustered he got and how bad I felt for making the things feel awkward. The whole thing immediately made me feel like I should have just let him hold the second door in the first place because it would have been easier. Thinking about it later, that felt shitty because I know that the “easier” it seems to maintain the status quo, the harder it is to uncover where paternalism and sexism exist in ideas like chivalry.

Helen: I do have a little internal feminist spasm when a man opens a door for me, thinking: I should say something! I should educate this dude… But frankly most of the time I don’t have the time, and, as Ellie said, it’s not at the top of my list of important feminist battles. And the line between genuine courtesy and patronizing courtesy is sometimes hard to define. Men giving up their seats for able-bodied women is another matter, however. It is really annoying. I definitely decline.

Ellie: The transit seat thing kills me. A guy tried to give up his seat to me on the main street bus once and I politely declined. At the next stop a bunch of people got off and so I sat down and he said to me “see you did want a seat.” I responded, “how does it make any sense for me to have a seat over you. I’m obviously young and able bodied” so then we got into a public argument about ‘treating women well’ blah blah but I kept saying to him all of this ‘chivalry’ or ‘politeness’ is based on the notion that women are weaker than men and need their protection. No matter how nice the intention.

Carly: I guess this is something that’s crossed my mind in the past, although I haven’t thought about it too deeply. I suppose my take on it is that it’s not really something I see as a problem. Like Katie said, I hold doors open for people all the time (when it makes sense) out of politeness, and regardless of gender. I would hope common courtesy dictates that the person walking in front of me doesn’t let it slam in my face, especially if my arms are full or something. That being said, it does make me a little uncomfortable when somebody quite obviously goes out of their way to do something like that for me. However, that’s simply because I’m aware of the underlying implications that I’m “weaker” or “need help” as a female.

Carissa: Feminism has not killed chivalry. The two are not mutually exclusive.  Men can still continue to open doors for women while working toward substantive social change. One problem I see is that some men think that opening a car door, offering a seat on transit, or paying the dinner bill is doing enough to show they value women. It would be much more useful if men would focus on opening doors of opportunity for women rather than car doors because let’s face it, we are still living in an old boys club where most of the power is consolidated with wealthy white men. If these old boys would use their privilege and power to hold the doors of opportunity open to women rather than to hold them shut we would be further along our way to equality.

Ariana: I’m just thinking about some language I learned at an abelism / disability justice workshop the other day. The facilitator was talking about how useful the language of “enabled” folks and “disabled” folks can be. How does our society and our infrastructure enable some people (accommodate their needs) and disable others? Stairs, narrow hallways, inaccessible bathrooms, ridiculously long exams, tiny print, small seats, etc. Reading all of your thoughtful comments, I kept thinking about how chivalry can be used as an excuse to participate more directly in rape culture… otherwise we wouldn’t need a poster like this. Chivalry can act as one part of our cultural disabling of feminized bodies (as lacking, deficient, and needing extra or special accommodation) and enabling of masculinized bodies (as “normal” and fully capable). Women are supposed to need special safety tips to avoid rape (instead of an end to rape culture) and First Nations folks are supposed to need special funding and reserved land (instead of an end to colonization and racism), etc. Anyway, just thinking about some parallels/solidarity between disability justice, feminism, and Indigenous movements in relation to supposedly courteous acts by individuals, systems, and governments…

What do you think about the lines between “politeness” and “chivalry”? What does it mean when acts of “politeness” become gendered and how can we connect these ideas to discussions of feminism, ableism, etc.?

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Fembots Have More Fun

By Sandi Sonnenfeld  

Originally published, in slightly different form, on the Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review on October 31, 2012.

It all started 18 months ago when I saw a new ad from a national anti-abortion group being promoted on the subway.  The ad featured a sad-looking woman hugging herself for comfort and a single sentence, “Abortion changes you forever.”

It was so simplistic a slogan, an affront to every woman who has ever agonized over her choices.  It meanly implied that women who unexpectedly find themselves pregnant blithely rush out to get an abortion without giving any thought to the consequences, which directly contradicts my own personal experience and the other women I know who faced such a decision.  What made the ad particularly galling, however, was that it was sponsored by the same group that was egging on former Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann and others in Congress to defund Planned Parenthood, one of the few affordable places left for women to obtain reliable birth control that would help prevent the need for an abortion in the first place.

The hypocrisy, then, led me to do it.  I dug into my purse, pulled out a black pen and wrote over the sign in big thick lettering, “Not nearly as much as having a child—wanted or not—does.”

My heart raced as I publicly defaced private property in full view of one hundred and fifty or so other New Yorkers.  I never before had knowingly committed a crime. As is usual among my fellow urbanites, the subway passengers pretended not to see what I was doing.

I wish I could say that when I had finished my rage subsided, that I took satisfaction in my defiant act.  If anything, to my surprise and without a little shame, I felt only more infuriated.  So I sat on the subway fuming, replaying in my head all the statistics I’ve read over the past few years. Statistics like:

  • American girls now enter the first stages of puberty at an all-time low of 10.4 years (nine years for African-Americans and nine and a half-years for Hispanic Americans), likely as a result of over-processed food which speeds up the activation of the hormone leptin.
  • One hundred thousand children, the majority of them girls between 12 and 17, are involved in sex trafficking in the US each year; 70 percent of them are runaways from foster care.

Recalling such statistics kept me enraged until I arrived at my office, where it quickly dissipated as my workday got underway, sidetracked by my day job as a Director of Public Relations at one of the country’s largest law firms.  Indeed, when I left my office that night and headed home, I chastised myself for so foolishly tilting at windmills. As I exited from the Kings Highway subway station near where I live in Brooklyn, a huge delivery truck sat idling at a red traffic light.  The truck was emblazoned on both sides with a billboard ad for a premium vodka featuring three naked women sipping liquor out of martini glasses.

The women had no stomachs, necks, wrists, ankles, or genitals other than a metallic shield-like loin cloth where their vaginas should be. They did of course have breasts: large rounded breasts, bald heads, pink-lipped mouths and two slits for eyes that were framed with oversized pink and black eyelashes.  The slogan read, “Fembots have more fun.”

The gale hit me with full force, tossing me around emotionally that even now all these months later, I still feel cast adrift.

In fifty years, we’ve gone from blondes having more fun to fembots do.  Why bother with a flesh and blood woman anymore, who possesses hair that requires grooming, a stomach that craves filling, a mind that hunger for ideas?  Just give us some breasts to stare at, put a glass of vodka in our hand and away we go.  Once men lusted after the Hollywood pinup, then the airbrushed women of Playboy; when that grew tiresome, they switched to watching pornography on the web, jacking off to electronic images of women generated by lines of code made entirely out of Xs and 0s.  Perhaps, however, even those images reminded them too much of the smart-mouthed woman they shared an office with or their ex-girlfriend who dared to fall in love with another guy, so let’s move on to fembots instead.  Fembots who can’t talk, and don’t demand anything more than a shiny martini glass from which to drink.

It would be easy, but inaccurate, to lay all the blame on men.  But the sad thing about the ads, which are produced for Swedish vodka company Svedka by Constellation Brands here in New York, is that they are aimed at women.

“The Svedka image is playful, even naughty, featuring the sexy fembot symbolizing the brand’s fanciful futuristic achievement,” said Marina Hahn, senior vice president for marketing at Constellation Brands in a story by New York Times advertising columnist Stuart Elliott.  “Our vision of the future is very different from others. It’s ‘a lot like today, but better, more fun’ and Svedka [is] the vodka that lets you ‘be your fun, flirtatious self…at a price point you can afford.’”

The Times went on to report that the new campaign featuring the Svedka fembot includes print and online ads, signs in stores, billboards, events in bars and nightclubs, photos and videos on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

“Maybe one day, ‘Svedka Girl, the Movie,’ ” Hahn said, laughing, at the close of the article.

I want to laugh too.  Yet how can we ever make true strides as women, not just politically or in the board room, but, even more importantly, in reducing those all too real statistics about the trafficking of teenage girls, childhoods cut way too short by early puberty, and the millions of people, men and women alike, who prefer to masturbate to porn than take the risk of actually interacting with a no doubt flawed, but nonetheless potentially attractive  human being, when women still feel the need to starve themselves to fit into a size four dress, buy self-esteem through breast implants, or simply fail to reach their full potential for fear that boys at school won’t like them if they are “too” smart?

We all have grown so used to seeing fantastical images of women in advertising, film, television and on the web that even those of us with a profound awareness of the implausibility of such gorgeous, overly sexualized creatures existing in real life still regard such images as the standard far too many of us, myself included, aspire to.

Maybe that’s the true source of my rage—I’m mad at myself for not being able to dismiss the ad or others like it.  I’m mad at my fellow countrywomen for not only putting up with such messages that fundamentally tell us that, nearly 100 years after our great grandmothers chose to go on hunger strike rather than be denied the right to vote, and 50 years after Simone de Beauvoir, Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan helped usher in the second wave of feminism, we still think of ourselves as sexualized beings rather than fully fledged, sensual individuals for whom our sex is just one defining factor of who we are.

I’m mad at Sarah Palin, who as former mayor of Wasilla, Alaska ordered that victims of sexual assault pay for their own rape kits to keep costs down, for her audacity in declaring that she and the “mama grizzlies” represent the new face of feminism.  Palin said it during a meeting of the Susan B. Anthony List, a PAC which supports Congressional bids of anti-abortion candidates, including that other mama grizzly, Michele Bachmann.

That Palin and Bachmann are among those now shaping the discussion of what it means to be a feminist today is clearly a failure of our own making.  Too many of us have turned away from discourse, or perhaps have simply turned out, all too aware that we possess more choices than any other generation of American women.

We take it for granted that women walk on the moon, climb Everest, travel alone to exotic countries to negotiate peace treaties.  We’re no longer wowed that women launch twice as many US businesses as men, or that women have invented everything from central heating to Kevlar, the material from which bullet proof vests are made.  Indeed, we rarely think about the battles won before us, and most of us have never been schooled in the hard-fought efforts of generations of women to be taken seriously as citizens of the world. We accept without question that we can purchase property, adopt children without a partner, and increasingly, in many states, even marry each other if we want.  That we have made so much progress has also made too many of us complacent.

Or perhaps we are just too distracted.  No one is more squeezed for time than those of us in the sandwich generation.  Women in our thirties and forties perpetually torn by the demands of our careers and our personal lives, many of us are also caring for a child and an aging parent at the same time.  We squeeze our bellies and thighs into Spanx after squeezing out from the plastic bottle that last bit of ketchup for the French fries we ate at lunch. Our thoughts are squeezed into the 144 characters of a Tweet or compressed into a download on YouTube.  We squeeze into the crowded, noisy subways of New York and Boston or into traffic on the Interstate in Los Angeles or Seattle on our way to work.  We squeeze in yoga classes, painting courses and Thai-fusion cooking between the food shopping, picking up the kids from school, making a dental appointment for our husband, trying to stretch that salary for which we collectively still earn eighty-five percent of what a man with comparable experience and education does.  Thus many of us have also been squeezed into compromises that we once swore we would never make.

That we all pay a price for such compromises goes without saying, but I’ve started to wonder if the cost is just too much to bear.  Lately, I find myself in a state of near perpetual rage at what is happening in America. Perhaps it’s the angry rants of the Glenn Becks, Rush Limbaughs and Ann Coulters of this world that has brought out this fury in me, a mad desire to answer fire, as it were, with fire.  Or my sorrow and disappointment as I watch President Obama make concession after concession to the fringe right in the spirit of bipartisanship, wondering how he still cannot understand that the Tea Party-obsessed, Koch brothers-funded opposition not only has little interest in bipartisanship, it has no interest in governing at all.  Or perhaps I’m just simply out of patience, no longer able to hide behind the cloak of deference and respectability.

When Michele Obama became First Lady, her popularity soared.  Some admired her for trying to raise her girls in as “normal” way as possible despite that they no longer lived a normal live.  Others admired her stance towards community service.  But mostly, we admired how chiseled her arms were, that her biceps were “cut,” how stunning she looked in her white beaded Jason Wu inaugural ball gown.

Just as many of us women vilified Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate for her ugly haircut, love of pant suits, or simply staying married to a man who had convinced himself receiving a blow job by a young intern was not sex, and therefore not a betrayal of his wife.

We still worry far too much about being “playful,” “likable,” “fun,” about not turning men off with our talk of inequity at the workplace or unfair division of home labor, or worse, driving them into the arms of another woman.  And we care far too much about being perceived as chic, glamorous, or just plain sexy.

“How do I look?” we ask our husbands, our friends, our lovers. “Is my ass too big?  My tits too small?  Do I look fat?”

Perhaps that explains why, according to The Village Voice, the fourth most popular Halloween costume of 2011 for women was the Svedka Fembot.

So as autumn again draws near, and in the hope of creating in the words of Marina Hahn, “a future a lot like today, but better,” here’s a list of Halloween costumes to consider based on other female images that occasionally can be seen flickering across our digital screens:

  • Gabby Douglas – At age fourteen, she had the courage and determination to leave her family and home in Virginia Beach to train with top coach Liang Chow in West Des Moines, Iowa, a largely all white Mid-Western suburb. Less than two years later, Douglas became the first black American to win a gold medal in gymnastics and the only American to ever win gold in both the All-Around and the team competition during the same Olympics.
  • Jessica Jackley – a Stanford MBA graduate and co-founder of Kiva, which has facilitated hundreds of millions in loans among individuals across 209 countries by enabling internet users to lend as little as $25 to individual entrepreneurs.  A member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a 2011 World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leader, Jackley serves on several boards of organizations championing women, microfinance, technology and the arts, and has worked in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda with Village Enterprise Fund and Project Baobab.  Oh, yeah, she’s also a trained yoga instructor, avid surfer, wife and mother of twin boys.
  • Sylvia A. Earle – Known as “Her Deepness” or “The Sturgeon General,” Earle led the first team of women oceanographers in the Tektite Project in which they lived in an underwater chamber for fourteen days to study undersea habitats.  Author of more than 125 books and articles related to oceanography and protecting ocean ecosystems, she served as Chief Scientist of NOAA and led the Sustainable Seas Expeditions, a five-year program to study the United States National Marine Sanctuary from 1998-2002. At 76, she currently is National Geographic’s Explorer-in-Residence.
  • Tawakel Karman – Called the “Iron Woman” and “Mother of the Revolution” by her fellow Yemenis, Karman is a journalist and politician known as one of the public faces of the Arab Spring. Co-founder of Women Journalists Without Chains, she is co-recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, making her the first Arab woman and the second Muslim woman awarded that honor and the youngest Nobel Peace Laureate to date.

As for me, come October 31, I will pay homage to that great, forgotten star of the silver screen, Hedy Lamarr, once described as the most beautiful actress in Hollywood.  During a dinner party shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Lamarr embarked on a passionate conversation with an avant-garde composer named George Antheil about protecting US radio-guided torpedoes from enemy interference.  She scrawled her phone number in lipstick on the windshield of his car so they could explore their ideas further.  In 1942, the duo developed and secured a patent for a torpedo guidance system based on what Lamarr described as ‘frequency hopping,” which they then donated to the US government to assist in defeating Germany and Japan. Though the US military didn’t take the invention seriously until more than a decade later, today frequency hopping is the basis for the technology we use in cell phones, pagers, wireless Internet, defense satellites, and a plethora of other spread-spectrum devices.  Pretty darn good for a five-time divorced, foreign-born actress who never attended college.

But mostly, I’m picking Hedy Lamarr because she is the ultimate anti-fembot, who once told the press, “Any girl can be glamorous. All she has to do is stand still and look stupid.”

A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, Sandi Sonnenfeld holds an MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of Washington, where she studied under National Book Award winner Charles Johnson.  She is the author of the memoir This is How I Speak (2002: Impassio Press), for which she was named a Celebration Author by the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association. Her short stories and personal essays have appeared in more than 30 literary magazines and anthologies, including Hayden’s Ferry Review, Sojourner, ACM: Another Chicago Magazine, THIS, Raven Chronicles, Perigee, The Storyteller and Mr. Bellers’ Neighborhood.  For more, visit www.sandisonnenfeld.com.

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