Why Can’t We Leave Women Alone?

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Morning telly; the land that time forgot.  I won’t go into the whys and wherefores of how I ended up watching it the other day, but let’s just say I was feeling a bit ‘delicate’.    Anyway, there I am, second bowl of cheerios in hand when a victim woman is herded out, wearing a brown towel on her head and something resembling a monk’s robe to save her modesty.  Stood between two well-dressed (and probably well-meaning) women – one, the presenter and the other a stylist, the grilling begins.  It turns out they are all discussing the state of her wardrobe since having kids.  They ask her when was the last time she ‘spoiled’ herself with a shopping trip?  How often she changes her hairstyle and if she’d like to wear more make up.  They show a still of her in her ‘normal gear’, which, to the woman’s shame, is a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers.  (No makeup – for shame!).

As I’m sitting there, wondering if my cheerios have been laced with some sort of time-travel agent and I’m now in the 50’s, they go on to chat about the woman’s job as a paramedic – which is good because she can wear a uniform to work.  I’m not sure they’d trust her to pick out her own work clothes.  The stylist kindly fibs that the woman’s wardrobe isn’t THAT bad, it’s just lacking in colour.  Why so many darks?  We can only wonder – but it’s clearly not a good thing.  The stylist goes on to tell the frumpy saddo  woman that she would ‘feel better in herself’ if she wore more yellows and reds.  ‘More people will gravitate towards you,’ she promised.  *Note to self: never wear red or yellow.

As the piece wore on, I found myself asking my empty living room, ‘Is everyone else seeing what I’m seeing?’  The silence was deafening, but my inner thoughts were loud – IMAGINE IF THIS WAS A MAN.  Imagine a man standing there, apologetic for his lack of sartorial genius and handing himself over to these ‘experts’ to make him beautiful again and more acceptable to the world at large.  Because, you know, Dads can really let themselves go when all their focus is on their kids and their busy lives.  Do men even have time to try out the latest make-up styles?  Although by now they should have mastered the feline flick, because that never goes out of fashion and always looks sexy.

Obviously, I’m poking a bit of fun.  There are men and women out there who do feel good in new clothes or getting a different hairdo – makeovers are harmless fun.  But why is it overwhelmingly women who are the targets  candidates?  It’s only when you imagine a man in her place that the whole thing becomes preposterous – so why are we still putting the focus on how a woman looks?  To be honest, when the segment started, my cheerio-addled mind didn’t bat an eyelid.  It’s normal for me to see a woman being talked through her shortcomings in the beauty stakes.  And that’s worrying.

For centuries, women have been the object of the ‘male gaze’.  This term, first coined by Laura Mulvey (feminist film theorist), encompasses the idea that, in art and the media, women are constantly being viewed and represented through a masculine, heterosexual lens, as sexual objects for the pleasure of the male viewer.  And considering the fact that a lot of our learned behaviour and beliefs come from what we read and see on our screens, it follows that women have been taught to identify their worth with their physical appearance.  Women are consistently scrutinised and shamed for their body shape, size and age.  And what this segment showed is that even the idea of self-care is being sabotaged by companies who want to sell you something and are using it as another stick to beat you with.  Have a spa day, a massage or a facial, you’ll feel better.  More pressure to be happy, compliant and pretty.

Why can’t we be treated the same as men?  Just allowed to exist without this constant pressure to be pleasing on the eye?  I saw a tweet recently about a daughter asking her mother why her pants didn’t have pockets like daddy’s and her mother replied, ‘Welcome to the patriarchy!’  It’s funny but it’s also true.  Why do men get to have comfortable, functional clothes and yet, as a woman, if you’re not suffering for your beauty, are you even a woman?  Who sets these standards and will we ever stop perpetuating the myth that an attractive woman is happier, more successful and just better.

Our idea of female beauty has been so restricted by the male gaze and the patriarchal constructs which have, down through the centuries, prevented women from being celebrated as anything other than purely ornamental.  Did you know that the great composer Felix Mendelssohn had a sister who also composed?  Nope, probably not, because Fanny Mendelssohn was not allowed to pursue her talent (a letter from her father warned her that music could merely be an ‘ornament’ for a woman).  There is an entire army of women – artists, scientists, politicians, who have been erased from the history books (check out author Joanne Harris’ #CelebratingWomen for starters), because the writers of history (men) made sure they were kept out of them.  So even as women ourselves, we have limited examples to gauge what being a woman is from a feminine perspective, because historically, our opinion of ourselves just wasn’t as important.  I really wished the TV show could have celebrated that woman’s intelligence – the training she must have undertaken to become a paramedic.  Her dedication, to her job and her family.  The beauty in her confidence, her playfulness when answering dumb-ass questions and frankly her bravery to go on a TV show and have people call out her dark clothes fetish, just so she could get a free makeover!

I hope that men and women can start seeing this for what it is and demanding better from the media.  There was an article recently in a woman’s magazine, written by women, asking if Meghan’s style was making Kate look like a frump and thankfully people were quick to call the publication out on pitching women against each other like that.  One wore a shirt and trousers, the other wore a dress.  END OF DISCUSSION!  Again, imagine an article questioning if Harry’s facial hair was making William feel inadequate?  It just wouldn’t happen, but we’ve become so used to seeing this kind of crap about women that sometimes we don’t even notice.

I read a great quote from Caitlin Moran that puts this whole thing into context.

“I have a rule of thumb that allows me to judge,  whether or not some sexist bullshit is afoot. Obviously, it’s not 100% infallible but by and large it definitely points you in the right direction and it’s asking this question; are the men doing it? Are the men worrying about this as well? Is this taking up the men’s time? Are the men told not to do this, as it’s letting the side down?

Almost always the answer is no. The boys are not being told they have to be a certain way, they are just getting on with stuff.”

― Caitlin MoranHow to Be a Woman

We have the opportunity now to write a new story with a new narrative.  Let’s use it!  Let’s celebrate women for their passion, their talent, their creativity.  Women who, despite pressure from society, don’t look for approval; clever women, funny women, women who stand up for injustice, like the woman who stood up on a plane recently in order to save a man’s life.  Women who campaigned for reproductive rights in Ireland, who fight climate change, women who challenge the status quo, women who (as our former president Mary Robinson once remarked) instead of rocking the cradle, rocked the system.  Even women who stay at home and eat cheerios and write blogs.  We are all worth celebrating, regardless of how we look.

Oh What A World

The media has always been known for crass headlines, biased reporting and political spin, but it was this headline on CNBC’s website that really made my stomach churn this week.

Sterling rebounds -vs- euro after death of pro-EU British lawmaker

Is this how the media and moreover, the markets, view these kinds of human tragedies?  As some kind of trading opportunity?  Is everything valued in pounds, dollars and yen?  Apparently so.  I’m not an economist, I don’t know the first thing about trading (except for the fact that you obviously need to be devoid of any kind of moral compass), but if this is capitalism, I want out.

“It’s possible that investors are anticipating something of a sympathy bump for the ‘Remain’ camp in the context of this,” said Shaun Osborne, chief currency strategist at ScotiaBank in Toronto.

A sympathy bump?  How can people even use such language?  To reduce something so awful to votes and numbers on a trading floor, shows such a lack of basic human compassion.  I was heartened to see that a reader left the following comment:

So the Murder of this woman caused Billions of Dollars to move in Markets in the EU and US?  RIDICULOUS!!!

You can read the full article here.

But what interest would American investors have in seeing Britain remain in the EU?  Is it because they care so deeply about the welfare of the British public and see their future as being more stable and secure within the EU?  Or could it have more to do with trade and investment (i.e. profit) such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)?  If you haven’t heard about this, it’s probably because these talks are highly secretive, but basically it is a trade agreement between the EU and US aimed at creating the world’s biggest free trade zone spanning the north Atlantic.  Here’s what the Guardian had to say about it:

The main beneficiaries would be big businesses, as the aim of TTIP is to reduce regulatory barriers to trade, in areas ranging from food safety law to environmental rules and banking regulations.  Concerns are mounting that TTIP could lead to more privatisation, with the prospect of US corporations providing vital public services such as transport, education, water and health.  There would also be provisions allowing private investors to sue governments for the loss of future profits due to decisions made by national parliaments.

It seems everything can be used to sway public opinion or gain votes or influence markets.  The recent massacre in Orlando, Florida has become a campaign issue in the upcoming presidential elections.  Is that really how their families want their loved ones’ deaths to be remembered?  Maybe it’s naive of me to get upset over corporate greed or the way human suffering is used as a political football, but should I just shrug my shoulders and accept that this is the way the world works?

One group of people who aren’t willing to compromise their beliefs are Medecins Sans Frontieres who this week have rejected EU funding in protest at the way Europe has responded to the refugee crisis.

“For months MSF has spoken out about a shameful European response focused on deterrence rather than providing people with the assistance and protection they need,” Jérôme Oberreit, MSF’s international secretary general, said. “The EU-Turkey deal goes one step further and has placed the very concept of ‘refugee’ and the protection it offers in danger.”

Again, the plight of helpless victims has become a leveraging tool.  Paying Turkey to take back refugees seems to fly in the face of the UN refugee convention that was created after the Holocaust.  Yet this is the ‘solution’ to the current crisis, which Turkey have agreed to go along with in the hope that this will further their application to become a member state.

He added: “Deterrence policies sold to the public as humanitarian solutions have only exacerbated the suffering of people in need. There is nothing remotely humanitarian about these policies. It cannot become the norm and must be challenged.

You can read the full article here.

I often hear people say ‘I’m not political’ and I know what they mean.  It’s like saying ‘I’m not a feminist’ because you’re not out on the streets protesting for gender equality.  But half of the world’s population are women; we all have a mother; we have sisters, wives and daughters.  So we should call ourselves feminists because we believe that women should have equal rights and equal protection.  Similarly, we are all citizens governed by democratically elected officials who make laws and provisions on our behalf.  So we should call ourselves political, because these laws have a bearing on our day-to-day lives and we should have a say in them.  It’s high time we asked ourselves what our values are.  Do we believe that our economy should serve our society or the other way round?  Do we believe that the government should act in the interests of citizens or big business?  It’s time to start lobbying our representatives at home and in Europe on all of these issues, because I for one just can’t bear to see another headline putting profit before people.