Archives for Sexism
If you’ve been reading Real World Research for a while, you may remember the “fat old bitch” incident. (If not, read about it here, and here.) The current fracas over Rush Limbaugh’s unbelievably inappropriate sexist rant against Sandra Fluke brings this back to my mind I’m going to use this opportunity to recommend a new documentary I’ve seen twice now and could easily sit through again. It’s called Miss Representation, and it’s all about how the media’s representation of women shapes our attitudes and contributes to women's lack of power in this country. Lack of power? The “feminazis”? Don't be silly. We're modern, liberated, in-charge women. I wish. Consider this: Women are 51 percent of the population but only 17 percent of Congress. America ranks 90th in the world in women in legislature. Even China is more progressive than we are in that respect. Women hold a whopping three percent of power positions in the media—and that includes TV, radio, publishing, online media—all of it. So this means that pretty much everything we (and, more importantly, our children) see in the media is filtered through the sensibilities of men—and that is not to our benefit.
My last post, about the effects of wearing cosmetics on people’s perceptions of women's competence, raises some compelling issues, discussed in the comments, in which one woman takes me to task for an article she says is “disheartening to say the least.” She continues, “Why must a woman conform to society’s fascist beauty standards to be deemed acceptable? Articles like these contribute to all the artificial beauty and body images projected towards girls and women in every day media.” I don’t entirely disagree with this view. I’ve written many times in the past about the messages women get, about body image in particular. (Check out Am I Fat? Who the Hell Knows, for one.) Do I feel the same way about cosmetics? Certainly I object to any suggestion that cosmetics should help us hew to some sort of standard definition of beauty, and I don't believe cosmetics should be a condition of employment. But cosmetics don't change us, they just jazz us up a little. And I admit, I’ve always thought women were kind of lucky to have the option of wearing cosmetics, particularly on those mornings after a night of too much fun. I’m definitely not the kind of woman who can’t leave the house without “putting on my face,” but I also admit to preferring my appearance with a light glazing of makeup. I’ve been thinking about this research and what it means for women. Yes, in some ways it it is a little disheartening. But in another way, having this knowledge provides women with what could be a useful piece of information.
I love me some What Not To Wear —or any makeover show, for that matter. I get a kick out of watching Stacy and Clinton take frumpy dumpies and zazz them up into snazzy sassies. I don’t always agree with the styling (what is this obsession with flat irons?), but usually, the afters are lots better than the befores. Women on these show who start out resistant to the makeover process often argue that what’s important is what’s inside, that appearances are superficial, and that people should respect them no matter how limp their hair or saggy-baggy their clothes. I agree, in theory, but that’s not the world we live in. It’s not even the world animals live in—appearance counts for them, too. The peacock’s tail isn’t exactly practical, but the ladies love it. Lots of research has shown that natural beauty is an advantage in life, and natural beauty would be considered a biological phenotype. You’re born that way (or not). But recent research looks at whether the “extended phenotype” has any benefits. In the nonhuman kingdom, extended phenotype would be “the spider’s web, the hermit crab’s shell, the bowerbird’s bower and the beaver’s dam,” the researchers write. In the human world—at least in America—the extended phenotype includes cosmetics. Maybe you can’t judge a book by its cover, but apparently we try because it seems women wearing makeup are perceived as more competent.
You know how some women are afraid that if they toot their own horns, people won’t like them? Silly, right? Actually, no, it’s not. Research finds that this is, in fact, the case. I recently wrote an article about self-promotion for GradPSYCH, an American Psychological Association publication, and what I learned was one big ol’ bummer. Women face a double-bind. If they don’t promote themselves, they risk not getting ahead. But if women do promote themselves, they turn people off because self-promotion violates a stereotype. They are perceived as immodest.
The punchline to the question posed in the title of this post is “Who cares?” Yes, it’s a joke, a guy joke that actually makes me laugh because it’s really about how loutish some men are about jokes and sex. Also, it's funny because it's true. The Psych Central news hounds pointed me towards an article titled “Women, Men, and the Bedroom: Methodological and Conceptual Insights That Narrow, Reframe, and Eliminate Gender Differences in Sexuality.” I wanted to learn more, so I dug up the original paper, which pulled together a number of studies debunking or reframing some of the things we know to be true (or do we?) about men, women, and sex. Two in particular amused me, in a loutish female way.
It’s almost October and you know what that means: Here come the goblins, ghosts, witches, and sluts! The sleaziness of women’s (and little girls’) Halloween costumes has become an annual gripe for mommies and feminists. But my friend Jeannine Gailey, PhD, a sociologist at Texas Christian University, clued me in on what might be the most appalling costume ever created: Anna Rexia, the sexy side of a life-threatening eating disorder. Yikes. The model dressed as someone starving herself to death is slender, yes. Even skinny. But her breasts strain to escape the bodice that barely contains them. Her skin glows, her hair is shiny, her eyes have a come-hither sparkle. She doesn’t look the least bit like a woman with anorexia. She looks like a woman ready to take control with her womanly wiles. Gailey also sent me a 2009 article she published in Critical Criminology, titled ‘‘Starving Is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have’’: The Pro-Ana Subculture as Edgework."
The Wall Street Journal recently ran a great story about celebrities trying to win the New Yorker magazine’s cartoon-caption contest. And the operative word is “trying.” Zach Galifianakis got so frustrated, he finally gave up. Roger Ebert tried 107 times. Maureen Dowd wrote at least one caption I think was funnier than the winning caption. Remember that as you read the rest of this post. I entered the contest once and never again. The more I tried, the less likely I was to come up with not just a funny caption, but anything at all. My mind would go blank. According to University of New Mexico anthropologist Gil Greengross, that means I’m not a funny person. Greengross and psychologist Geoffrey Miller conducted research designed to explore humor ability as it relates to mating success, and they used the cartoon-caption contest as a way to judge participants’ humor ability.
I’ve noticed that one way to get a lot of hits on a blog post is to write about weight loss. It’s not a bad way to sell books either. The week of August 8, three of the top ten books on the Publisher’s Weekly hardcover bestsellers list address weight loss. Magazine racks are a flesh market: Fitness, Shape, Men’s Health, Health, Men’s Fitness, Women’s Health, all screaming A BIKINI BODY NOW!...FLATTER BELLY, THINNER THIGHS…and MELT 1,200 CALORIES TODAY. We can’t get enough of the stuff. A lot of what we read is the same information rearranged over and over. Eat less, exercise more. Fruits and vegetables good, saturated fats bad. And yet we keep reading and watching and fretting, as if one day we will open one of these magazines and find the magical formula that will keep us trim, taut, and healthy with minimal effort. Not only that, but my morning paper today included two items about female celebrities and their weight: Jennifer Hudson said she’s prouder or her weight loss than her Oscar, and that, “I didn’t even know I was considered plus-sized until I came to Hollywood.” And Anne Hathaway said that to maintain a newly toned and taut bod, “I’m living on kale and dust.” What is with us? Why is that interesting? Why are we so coo-coo about weight? And we turn to the same people that convinced us we’re all fat, to tell us how to not be fat. Coo-coo. And now research suggests that women might be likely to believe the media over loved ones when assessing their own bodies.
[/caption] Guys know better. When the woman in their life asks, “Do I look fat?” guys respond, “Gosh, I love you more every day, honey,” or “Now would be a great time for me to start painting the kitchen, don’t you think?” or “Hey, is that a UFO up there?” Anything to avoid fat talk. For women, however, fat talk is social currency. A few years ago, I interviewed Dr. Mimi Nichter, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona and author of Fat Talk: What Girls and Their Parents Say About Dieting. Nichter coined the phrase "fat talk." You know what she means—that familiar conversation among girls and women that starts with one saying, “I’m so fat,” to which the other is expected to respond, “Oh no, you look great but my thighs are HUGE,” to which the proper response is, “YOUR thighs are huge? Look at MINE!” and so on. “It’s very common everyday discourse among girls,” Nichter says (although she found less body dissatisfaction among African American girls than among Caucasian and Hispanic girls). “And it’s culturally appropriate. It’s actually a way of creating solidarity among girls. You’re opening yourself up. It’s a way of sharing and disclosure.”
What an interesting few days I’ve had. I write about various topics in my work, including music. Last week, I wrote a blog post for a local newsweekly’s website in which I was critical of a local band. It had snarky moments—Dallas/Fort Worth, where I live, is a snarky media market. But it had a point, and I didn’t accuse anyone of kicking puppies or eating babies or anything. I expected a rough-and-tumble response. I thought I knew what I was getting into. Being called bitchy, perhaps. An F-bomb or two, since I threw one myself. But one of the members of the band is a delicate blossom who also happens to be on a hugely popular afternoon drive-time radio show. And although his show’s stock-in-trade is snarky, Delicate Blossom was devastated by my criticism. He was so upset that he ranted first on his Facebook page, and then on the air. I have avoided direct contact with both of his rants because I’m busy and a little neurotic and I don’t have time be thrown off my game any more than necessary. But I do know the gist of what he said, and the words “fat old bitch” are involved. Also “ugly.” Obviously, I have nothing but disdain for anyone with so little imagination that the only way he can argue is Neanderthal slurs. And I’m puzzled that anyone so thin-skinned is in show business. I tried to shrug this off as just the little crybaby hissyfit it is. Except it’s not.