Is My Body Truly Mine? Thoughts from CSW

At the moment I am part of The Girl Child Platform’s delegation at CSW, the United Nations’ yearly conference on the status of women, in New York. This week thousands of women and girl activists from all around the world are gathered to raise awareness about women’s and girls’ rights. We come from different cultures and backgrounds but what the majority of all the discussions has been about this week is the right to one’s own body.

This has made me wonder if my body has ever been mine at all. As a girl, no matter where in the world you live, you are being taught from day one that your body exists for someone else and that your body should be shaped, formed and used for others.

The first time my body was kidnapped I was 13. My body was changing, growing, and turning into – what my mother called – more feminine shapes. But for me my body was not turning more feminine because I did not look like the women on the magazines or in the movies. I did however understand that femininity was “good” and something that could offer me happiness according to society. So I began the strive for the magazine version of femininity. What it gave me was three years of depression and countless of hours at the hospital.

The second time my body was taken away from me I was 17. I had never had sex before and was not really interested in it either, but the boy I was seeing was. At the time I did not understand what had happened. I did not even reflect over the fact that someone had taken my body and done whatever he wanted with it, because society had never made me feel that I had the right over my own body in the first place. It took years of therapy to achieve the understanding that my body actually could be mine.

My story is not unique, it is a story that girls today are more likely to tell than not. The fact that most girls today are taught that their bodies are not for them, and that they have no say in how their bodies should look like or how they should be used, is a massive violation of basic human rights. The RIGHT to one’s own body. This prohibits girls to reach their full potential and to bring out the power that is inside every girl. Societal kidnapping of girls’ bodies leads to gender inequality, and so much effort and time is need to take back what should have always been ours, OUR BODIES.

I believe the only way this struggle will end is when states take their responsibility and invite girls to the decision making table. In most seminars and discussions here at CSW decision makers talk about girls, but not with us. Policies and resolutions will never be able to address and capture the true issues if the ones who carry the experiences are never invited to speak and to be listened to. The Girl Child Platform is here just because of this, to make sure that girls are included. We represent over 30 organizations and I believe that through this partnership our voice is strengthened, and by continued cooperation we will be able to smash patriarchy and put ourselves at the decision making table.

What do you say, how do we get decision makers to include girls?

Written by Emma Blomdahl, The Girl Child Platform and Föreningen Tillsammans (The Togetherness Association)

bloggheader1

‘The Bachelor’ Group Date that Nobody is Talking About

The Bachelor contestants get ready to ride tractors in the bikinis in downtown Los Angeles. Image c/o ABC.
The Bachelor contestants get ready to ride tractors in bikinis in downtown Los Angeles. Image c/o ABC.

Okay, I have to confession to make. I watch The Bachelor and I admittedly *guiltily* enjoy it. With my glass (bottle?) of wine beside me, I go into these episodes with an understanding that what I am about to witness will be completely sexist and will inevitably stereotype its female cast members as backstabbers, crazy, drunkards, airheads, damsels in distress, and/or the I’m-here-for-the-right-reasons-and-am-innocently-looking-for-my-one-true-love girl. (Why else would anyone ever want to be cast on a high ranking national television show? Certainly not for the five minutes of fame.)

However, a portion of last Monday’s episode was a little harder to stomach than usual.

Chris Soules, dubbed the handsome and perfect bachelor (a.k.a. Prince Farming…because he lives on a farm, get it?), invited a group of six girls on the season’s first group date with a date card that read, “Show me your country.” The date aimed to show Chris the girls’ so-called ‘country side.’ So how did The Bachelor’s producers tackle this difficult task? Why, by making the contestants strip down to their bikinis, walk around downtown Los Angeles, and ride tractors through the streets, of course! Because what could be more country than women walking around in bikinis?

Let me repeat. The show’s producers (two out of three of whom are men, along with the show’s writer) equated ‘being country’ to women parading around downtown Los Angeles in only their bikinis while straddling tractor seats (no sexual innuendo there or anything). Not only this, but ‘being country’ also meant being subjected to street harassment as cars honked at them and men whistled at the nearly naked women – moments that have been conveniently edited out of the clip on YouTube.* Additionally, seeing as how Chris wore a zip-up sweatshirt on the date, one can assume that the weather was not conducive to swimsuit attire. Television at its finest. (Stay classy, ABC.)

With all the recent steps forward in building awareness to end street harassment, from Twitter’s #YesAllWomen trending hashtag to The Daily Show’s Jessica Williams’ plan to end catcalling to the viral video of a woman being catcalled for ten hours while walking in New York City, last Monday’s episode was a major step in the wrong direction. Even Emily Maynard-Johnson, a former contestant, agreed that the show had taken a step too far.

I’m sure some of you reading this will say, “If the group date was so bad, why didn’t the women stay home or put on some clothes?” That is easier said than done. For starters, the contestants do not know what the date entails until the moment arrives. As a result, the women are put on the spot and expected to agree with whatever the producers have arranged. With millions tuning in and their chances of getting a rose (i.e. advancing to the next round) at risk, there is incredible pressure to just go with the flow. Nobody wants to be characterized as the lame girl who wouldn’t participate in a ‘fun’ little game (except me, but I guess that’s why I’m not on the show) and nobody wants to go home early. (Free luxury vacations, amirite?)

Even the group date’s description on ABC’s website is incredibly cringeworthy:

Description of group date c/o ABC
Description of group date c/o ABC – Click to enlarge

The producers, by not only merely creating this group date, but by also airing this group date on national television, seem to condone the idea that gawking at women in the street is A-Okay.

https://twitter.com/ProseccoAndPups/status/555086190874202112

https://twitter.com/ash_and_witty/status/555088949652512771

If you think street harassment is harmless, think again. There have been countless reports of women being killed or seriously injured after rejecting their harasser’s advances. In Michigan, a mother of three was shot and killed. In New York City, a 26-year-old woman‘s throat was cut. In Florida and Washington respectively, a 14-year-old girl and a 33-year-old woman were run over multiple times by men in cars. Shoshana B. Roberts, the woman featured in the aforementioned viral street harassment video, received countless rape and death threats. There is an entire Tumblr dedicated to stories of violence inflicted on women who reject sexual advances.

Sexism on television and in film is nothing new. We’ve witnessed it time and time again, as women are more often than not portrayed as sex symbols, objectified, and treated as if they are subordinate to men. In fact, sexism, for so long, has been so closely intertwined with media in pop culture, that many viewers may not even realize it exists.** (And in case you missed it, advocating against sexism and gender inequality in the media was a major theme at this year’s Golden Globe awards.)

“These girls are looking smokin’ hot on these tractors, it’s incredible. I’m the luckiest dude with two thumbs [shows thumbs up sign], right here.” – Chris Soules

For those of you who will argue that ABC’s The Bachelorette objectifies men the same as The Bachelor objectifies women, I say to you that until the day comes where a man feels the constant threat of a woman potentially threatening, raping, or killing him as he walks down the street at night (or day!), these two topics cannot be compared.

We all know that media plays a powerful role in influencing pop culture, and misogynistic shows that continue to live in the dark ages must not be tolerated. As for me, you won’t find me watching The Bachelor next Monday night – at least not without a big bottle of wine.

PS – If you currently watch the show but do not follow along on Twitter using #TheBachelor, you are doing it wrong.

*You can watch the sexist group date in its entirety here beginning Monday, January 19th.

**The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media exists solely to promote gender equality in the media.

Why you should care about GamerGate

And what it means for global violence against girls and women.

Shortly after publishing, someone under the name "Gaimerg8," posted what they claimed was her home address, also known as “doxxing”.
Shortly after publishing, someone under the name “Gaimerg8,” posted what they claimed was her home address, also known as “doxxing”.

Last week, actress and gamer Felicia Day posted an entry on her blog – “Crossing the Street” –to share her concerns that an online gaming campaign has made her fearful to engage with a culture she truly enjoys. Knowing full well that her words could (and now have) result in an outpour of angry, abusive, and downright vicious attacks, Day’s post has caught attention from the media struggling to understand the ugly phenomenon known as GamerGate – an online movement of gamers openly harassing female bloggers, developers, and critics with violent threats of rape and death. Yes, as women speak out against the violence, victimization, and inequality in video games, the response has been actual violence, harassment, and real threats to their safety.

Grand Theft Auto 5: @GTAForums
Grand Theft Auto 5, Credit: GTAForums

The objectification of women in entertainment is nothing new. One needn’t look very far to see over-sexualized, scantily clad women being dominated by men. Flip through the closest magazine or look at the nearest billboard. Within the gaming culture, women have expressed increasing concern from the way female gamers are treated, to the actual representation of women in games and the amount of gratuitous violence and commodification of female characters. In the popular action-adventure game series, Grand Theft Auto, male characters are free to not only engage in sexual encounters with prostitutes, but also kill them and take their money back. In September, Japanese developers announced a new head-mounted display game that includes a pair of realistic fake breasts that players can grip as they look at a virtual image of a girl whom they can sexually assault. Yet, those who feel uncomfortable with the alarming direction games are headed are not only being shut out of the conversation, they are now being physically threatened. Ironic, isn’t it?

As we grapple with the reality that violence against women, sexual assault, and the objectification of women’s bodies continues to be deemed as an appropriate and acceptable form of “entertainment” in Western countries, the latest conversation around GamerGate highlights a global reality: physical, sexual, and emotional violence threatens every single girl and woman, every single day of her life. According the latest report from UNICEF, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence every 10 minutes somewhere in the world. Yet, these deaths represent only the most extreme assaults in a long continuum of violence faced by girls on a daily basis, usually at the hands of those closest to them.

Credit: Dolce&Gabana
Credit: Dolce&Gabana

Is this the world we want our girls to grow up in? A world where 1 in 4 women is physically or sexually abused during her pregnancy? A world where more than 39,000 girls under the age of 18 experience early or forced marriage? A world where 98 percent of the 4.5 million forced into sexual exploitation are girls and women? A world where two young girls in search of a toilet can result in brutal gang rape and death? A world where violence is the second leading cause of death among adolescent girls globally?

Our girls deserve a world where they can transition into womanhood without sexuality and gender roles dominating and defining the trajectory of their lives.

For many girls, their first experience of sexual intercourse is unwanted or coerced. Those married as young brides face especially high risks of physical, emotional, and sexual violence along with limited to no personal freedom or decision-making power. The continued lowered status of girls in our global society, coupled with the tendency of men and boys to exert power, are key factors in the high rates of violence experienced by adolescent girls. And when these realities carry into adulthood, those patterns of violence and limitations become a burden for every generation.

Next month the world will commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – a reminder that violence against women is a human rights violation that impedes global progress in many areas, including poverty combating HIV/AIDS, and peace and security, as well as a call for action. So what can we do? Here are some ideas:

  • Raise awareness: Participate in Orange Day – November 25th – by wearing something orange to highlight the calls for the eradication of violence against women. You can submit a photo online with the message, “I wear orange because…”
  • Continue the movement: Join ongoing campaigns like VDAY and ManUp working to engage youth, advance gender equality, and transform communities, nations, and the world.
  • Raise your voice: Look for public rallies and events, such as “Take Back the Night”, raise money for community-based rape crisis centers or women’s shelters, or organize a fundraiser to benefit those working to end all forms of gender violence.
  • Educate yourself: Attend programs, take classes, watch films, and read articles and books about multicultural masculinities, gender inequality, and the root causes of gender violence. Educate yourself and others!
  • Engage more than just girls and women: Check out organizations like MenEngage who work with men and boys to promote gender equality.

We have the ability to end violence against girls and women, not overnight, but in a generation. To do it, we need a global shift in the attitudes towards women, and that means teaching boys and men to challenge and change attitudes around violence and sexism. We must continue to educate and work with young boys and girls to promote respectful relationships and gender equality. And we must not wait for an annual observance to begin. The time to end violence against girls and women is NOW.

Feminism Rocked the 2014 Golden Globes

Feminism was in the air at last night’s Golden Globes.

Although men clearly outnumbered women among nominees (zero women were nominated for Best Director, Best Screenplay, or Best Original Score), women stole the show in more ways than one.

8403541010_db41568138_o
Photo Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

First of all, let’s talk about Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Last year at the 2013 Golden Globe Awards, Tina and Amy made Hollywood history as the first women to host the show without a male counterpart. Ever. Even better, last year marked the first time that the awards show featured two female hosts! But Tina and Amy did not merely host the show, they were hilarious and were immediately booked to host in 2014. Rejoice!

Last night, Tina and Amy came through once more, entertaining men and women alike and incorporating many jokes with a feminist flair.

For his role in Dallas [Buyers Club], he lost 45 pounds — or what actresses call being in a movie.” – Tina Fey on Matthew McConaughey and sexism in Hollywood

“Meryl Streep is so brilliant in Osage: August County, proving that there are still great parts in Hollywood for Meryl Streep over 60.” – Tina Fey on ageism in Hollywood

Additionally, the two comedians poked fun at the traditional ‘Miss Golden Globe,’ a title given to a woman whose duties have always included merely standing in the background and holding the winners’ things as they give their speeches, by introducing the world to Mr. Golden Globe – a.k.a. Amy Poehler dressed in drag as Tina’s illegitimate adult son Randy.

In the name of gender equality this year, please welcome Mr. Golden Globe, my adult son from a previous marriage, Randy.” – Tina Fey

However, Tina and Amy’s performance was not the only win for women last night.

Even before the show began, acts of feminism went viral. Elisabeth Moss, winner of Best Actress in a mini-series or TV movie for Top of the Lake, flicked off the ridiculously stupid red carpet ‘mani-cam,’ a camera with the sole purpose of judging women’s manicures. Afterwards, instead of apologizing, Elisabeth said, “I can’t believe I’m the first person to do that.”

Frozen, a Disney movie about love between sisters and one of two female protagonists’ self-acceptance, won for Best Animated Film. A Disney film that doesn’t involve a ‘damsel in distress’ looking to be saved by a big, strong man? I like the sound of that.

Bing aired a commercial celebrating the heroic women of 2013 in all their glory, including everyone from Malala Yousafzai to Deb Cohan, the now famous woman who inspired the world as she danced her heart out before going under the knife for a double mastectomy.

Emma Thompson very bluntly dismissed the idea that girls must wear high heels in order to look sexy when she threw her undoubtedly extremely expensive Louboutins behind her and said, “I just want you to know, this red, it’s my blood.” I don’t know about you but I’m also not a big fan of the oh-so-painful 5″ heels. Ouch! Let a girl wear flats!

As the music began signaling Amy Adams, winner of Best Actress in a Comedy for American Hustle, to wrap up her acceptance speech, Amy sternly looked into the camera and said, “You cannot play me out of talking about my daughter!” Three cheers for moms everywhere!

Finally, Cate Blanchett touched on the gender inequities that exist in Hollywood during her acceptance speech for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama when she said, “It’s been an extraordinary year not only for cinema, but for roles for women in particular.”

However, even with for all the positives of last night’s award show, let us not forget that women still have a long way to go until full gender equality exists in Hollywood. For example, Woody Allen received the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award amid much controversy due to his alleged sexual molestation of a 7 year old girl and marriage to his much younger adopted daughter.

I don’t know about you but at next year’s awards show, I want a woman to win the lifetime achievement award and the award for Best Director, Best Screenplay, and/or Best Original Score.

For more information on sexism in Hollywood, check out the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.

Cover photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

Thicke's Blurred Lines

When I heard the tune of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” featuring T.I. and Pharrell, I thought it was incredibly catchy. That baseline, that beat.

It was when I listened to the lyrics, saw the sexism and gender imbalance in the video and read the outcry online, that I reacted. This is not just a summer tune. This song, and especially the music video, reinforces the picture of women as sex objects and the status of men as superior beings, which so often is repeated over and over again in the media.

The original video, featuring three models parading around with nothing on but nude colored panties (while Thicke and Pharrell are fully clothed), has been banned by YouTube (but can still be viewed in its full nudity on Vimeo). In the video, Thicke whispers in the ears of the naked women:

I hate these blurred lines,

I know you want it

Blogger Lisa Huynh of the blog Feminist in LA writes, “Call me a cynic, but that phrase does not exactly encompass the notion of consent in sexual activity.” The lyrics pretty much say that a man knows better than a woman if she wants to have sex with him, which could, in fact, encourage rape.

What’s most disturbing is the imbalance in the video, where the men are portrayed as having full control, and the women as vulnerable, whimsical and naked.

T.I. raps a few phrases I feel uncomfortable even quoting in this post, and continues:

Nothin’ like your last guy, he too square for you

He don’t smack that ass and pull your hair for you…

I’m a nice guy, but don’t get confused, you git’n it!

The lyrics during the rap do not only present women as inferior and sexual objects (as in the video), but also encourages violence against women. It is not news that hiphop lyrics may be degrading to women – this has become a part of the culture, which may be a reason as to why these kinds of lyrics continue to blast through people’s speakers. But this song is spinning on every radio station and in every club this summer, being praised as the song of the summer.

Songs like this are a problem.

They are a problem because violence against women is a problem. The WHO recently released new global statistics stating that 35 % of women in the world will experience gender-based violence in their lifetime. The report also encourages all sectors to ensure that tolerance of violence against women is eliminated.

Just because it’s wrapped in nice beats and sung by popular pop figures doesn’t make it OK. This song is disturbing, and it is disturbing because it is not just innocent fun, it is not just ironic. Violence against women is something that happens every single day, to millions of women and girls around the world. Violence against women is not a joke (as the title of Girls’ Globe blogger Emma’s post).

The power relations in this video portrays women as objects. When a person is objectified, whether by race, by gender, by sexual orientation, by ethnicity, or by any other trait, violence against that person becomes justifiable.

Thicke continues:

Ok, now he was close, tried to domesticate you

But you’re an animal, baby, it’s in your nature

Just let me liberate you

So, whose lines are blurred? To me, the line between this being a fun song for the dance floor has been completely blurred out by the fact that the song sounds like an encouragement to rape.

#THICKE I won’t be dancing to your tune this summer.

 

LULU: RATING HIM A 6 WON’T MAKE YOU A 10

Image

It didn’t take time for it to make news in the men’s locker rooms after a group of sweaty, tired football players pulled out their i-phones and yelped—“what the f**k!”

It traveled faster than just some who’s-that-hot-chick thing that forms the usual mode of conversation at post-practice sessions among hefty male athletes who “just need to relieve themselves of some dangerous testosterone.”

“Hey Higgins that’s you,” cried Ralph, pushing aside a towel and making his way to a big, muscly guy who was recruited to the university a year ago for his innate ability to throw a ball. “You’re an impressive 8.6.”

Who cares if Rihanna’s ass just got bigger on screen and Amanda Bynes just passed a racist remark?

A dude who considers himself an alpha-male, a “chick-magnet” and “the big guy” just got rated on an application by a bunch of giggly, gossipy college girls who were once arm-candy and bed-warmers for our big football star.

Slowly, and poisonously, like a hydrogen gas leakage, it seeped out of the men’s locker rooms into the rest of campus. Within minutes, curious 19-year old boys were begging their female counterparts to lend them their i-phones so they could log onto this application and traverse what seems to be the expanding universe of the Lulu app—‘Luluverse’ let’s call it for now.

For those of you naïve enough not to have rated your ex-husband, ex-boyfriend or hook-up, let me introduce to you the Lulu application: It’s available on the i-phone for free and allows you access through your Facebook account only if your gender is listed as “female” on your Facebook profile. You may download the app, log on and review ratings on your male friends by the women in their lives. You could add a rating (1 to 10) for your male Facebook friends, “like restaurants” as the Huffington post put it, along with the pluses and minuses of every guy you’re rating.

Image

And it’s not only the athletes. The nerdy science geek who always perfects his lab reports has a Lulu profile too! The cashier at 7/11 who smiled at you yesterday—yepp—he’s got 1100 reviews on his Lulu profile.

It’s hilarious how my male friends reacted to this new development. Facebook gender changes were conducted and many felt the need to convert to “female” in order to avoid any public humiliation. (Transgendered folks, Luluverse didn’t take into account that gender might actually be a spectrum) Many used their galpals phones to enter ‘Luluverse’ (and maybe give themselves a 10 through her account). My gay friends felt the need to use my phone to “make emergency calls” and my neighbour checked her boyfriend’s profile every two minutes to “keep a tab on his life.”

Lulu, which is described as the “first-ever app for reading and writing reviews for guys, sharing tips, and having fun with your girlfriends” was started by Alexandra Chong earlier this year in an attempt to provide a platform for women to wind down, have some fun and objectify the men who’ve always had the upper hand on them.

Image

The next time you’re hunting for your next prey, looking for a relationship with someone you know, or just inquisitive about the sexual life of the man who sits beside you in office, all you have to do is log onto Lulu and see what your anonymous, virtual girlfriends have to say about him.

Scrambling through Lulu involves zero emotional, material or time investment. It even allows hashtags to get you through the torture of having to write about that one night you spent with that douchebag. Anything from #SexualPanther to #TrustFundBaby can be used to berate the guy (#NotADick and #SmellsAmazeballs if you actually like him) to a woman who might be a potential partner.

Image

That’s all it boils down to. An application page with his picture and a number on it. That and you’ve given him a taste of his own medication.

All those times that the men put a number against your name and looked at you like a piece of meat…you’re objectifying them and it feels great, doesn’t it?

“It’s liberating and so empowering” said one of my friends when I caught her hooked on to Lulu one morning. “I can’t help checking my phone!”

It is. For her and for a million of us who’ve been cheated, betrayed and objectified by the male race in their attempts to “find that chick” right for them.

Technology has it all. We finally have our chance to give it back to them, to leave them shaking in their boots and feeling insecure about their reputations.

The question is—are we really willing to risk our integrity for a minute or two of thrill?

All those moments when you rested your head against your grandma’s shoulder and cried about the boy-who-wronged were results of objectification of the human body, or even worse, your body that you couldn’t bear to witness. You were above it all, weren’t you? You felt cheated and certain that a number couldn’t define who you were.

Men will continue to rate you. You’re going to have to face what you’ve always battled: sexism and objectification.

The important part is how you deal with it.

If Lulu offers you any respite from your war against the sexist male race, by all means, keep your battlements sailing.

If you’re having a good laugh with your girlfriends watching his image torn apart, keep laughing.

However, if you really do want to shoot the very demon that created ratings—this is not the solution.

Image

Rating him is only going to enliven the drama that he used to rate you.  You’re going to be known as bitchy and gossipy, characteristics women have always been associated with.  A “cheap comeback” to when they objectified you.

I personally believe the application does make men insecure about themselves, and hits them hard with revenge. Has our revenge arrived at a solution?

In an act of revenge, do we really want to forget all we’ve fought for? Weren’t we the wiser of the two sexes; weren’t we supposed to be above-that-filth that characterizes humans based on superficiality?

Is Lulu really empowering women?

Learn more about Lulu on:

http://www.policymic.com/articles/26943/lulu-app-not-at-all-empowering-to-women

http://www.businessinsider.com/lulu-a-women-only-app-that-rates-men-2013-4