Why hating celebrities isn’t okay

It’s easy to do and easy to justify.

Celebrities, after all, put themselves in the public space. Therefore, they open themselves up to comment on everything related to them: their looks, their weight, their personal lives, their professional decisions. They must know when they sign up for that movie, that TV pilot, that modeling gig that they are also signing up for paparazzi stalking and endless speculation on FB, Twitter, and gossip rags. Right?

As Erin Tatum at Everyday Feminism asks, “does your status as a public figure obligate you to endure and even invite ridicule from not only one, but millions?” Tatum notes that she “behaved with the assumption that because she [here, Kristen Stewart] made herself available to public space, she became public property. And that’s just not how humanity should operate.”

We can stop objectifying celebrities. And in doing so, we are reminding ourselves that others’ bodies are not simply for our consumption. If we want others to respect our individuality and our right to be the sole owners of our own bodies and our own stories, we need to learn to respect others the same way.

So take a moment to read Tatum’s article, and then think twice the next time you’re tempted to bash a celebrity on the basis of what you think you know about him or her. Put down the tabloid in the Target aisle. Stop policing the bodies and activities of celebrities, especially other women (ladies, I’m looking at us). We all deserve better.

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Because #objectification, #white flight, #gentrification

Today’s reading roundup.

Up first, because objectification, because #yesallwomen, because I cannot say enough that catcalls are not compliments: here “An Open Letter to the Men Who Still Don’t Understand Street Harassment” by Drew Bowling (who happens to be a man).

Second, because the issues of community segregation and integration are important, because white flight and gentrification are complicating factors that require space in the conversation, a Washington Post piece by Chicagoan Daniel Hertz.

Hey, let’s slut shame this woman for walking around in a t-shirt and jeans!

By now, I’m assuming you’ve seen this viral video of Shoshanna B. Roberts walking silently around Manhattan while receiving over 100 catcalls and compliments in 10 hours. I was expecting people to be shocked. Instead, comments overwhelmingly fell into the following three groups:

1. People who were not even remotely surprised.

2. People who slut shamed her for wearing jeans and a shirt that were, in their opinion, too tight. (My favorite: “if she was walking around in an amish dress, none of this happens. I’m not blaming the girl [my note… um, really? Sounds like you are] but if you dress in tight jeans and a tight shirt, you are doing it to draw attention to other men” [sic])

3. People who denied that most of what people said to her was harassment at all. (Example: “stop blowing everything up like it’s a f’n controversy to keep women down. if she doesn’t want to hear people talking to her in one of the most populated pedestrian cities she should wear headphones”)

People who are both #2 and #3, including this character: “There are worse things in life than being attractive and getting “cat calls”. If she really hates all the attention, maybe she should gain 100 pounds? Ridiculous.”

In a quick, rough estimates of the comments, 2/3 of the people (and I say people deliberately; both men and women fell in every category) blame the silently walking women for (a) deserving the comments and (b) being bothered by them.

I would be very curious to see if a silently walking man in the same outfit drew the same attention. I’m going to go out on the proverbial limb here and say he wouldn’t receive any comments. I’m also willing to bet that over 90% (if not 100%) of the people who talked to Shoshanna that day were men, and that these men did not similarly address fellow men.  This video is, in my opinion, endemic of the larger cultural problem in which men think it is okay to beat and rape women. Women are bodies to be commented on and visually consumed. They are seen as objects of appreciation and desire. And if we want to tackle the problem of violence against women, we have to start small, start here, by teaching our young men that catcalls, even when housed as “compliments,” are not appropriate or respectful ways to address women, particularly those whom you don’t know.

What can you do? Read more about Hollaback’s international mission to end street harassment here.

A case for paternity leave

A recent article in The Economist on paternity leave in Sweden helped to solidify what, to me, is one of the foremost  things we can do to simultaneously help women get ahead in the workplace and address gender stereotypes in our society (yes, the latter intimately affects the former, but I thought in this situation they deserved to be two separate things, rather than a causal relationship):

Encourage fathers to take paternity leave. Make it worth their while financially, and help them to see how it’s in their interest in other ways as well (if necessary). Notes the article, “One of the most powerful arguments in favour of splitting parental leave more equally is that it has positive ripple effects for women. Since Swedish men started to take more responsibility for child rearing, women have seen both their incomes and levels of self-reported happiness increase. Paying dads to change nappies and hang out at playgrounds, in other words, seems to benefit the whole family.”

According to the 2013 World Happiness Report, Sweden is the #5 happiest country in the world (the United States is #17). I’m not saying there is necessarily a direct correlation between paternity leave and overall happiness, but of the top five countries:

1. “The Danish Parental leave system is among the most generous and flexible in the EU with a total of 52 weeks (one year) of leave containing maternity, paternity and parental.”

2. “In Norway, a key element of success has been the combination of 12 months’ paid parental leave with universal access to childcare at highly subsidised rates.”

3/4. Okay, Switzerland and the Netherlands aren’t quite as good as the Scandinavian countries, but they’re still better than the U.S. 

What would parental leave mean for U.S. parents? For a start, it would signal a shift in the childrearing burden, from mother to mother/father (or parent/parent, though LGBT couples often express a greater balance in home “work,” so for the purposes of this argument let’s focus on dual parent, dual sex households). Creating a culture in which the home burden was more equally shared would hopefully usher in a shift towards balance in the career world: if men and women both see themselves as equally responsible for both home AND career, and are supported in this by government and business policies, we can take a major step towards balancing the gender equation in the workforce. And, maybe, making everyone happier.

 

Depth Measurements

when they describe

Black

they write

Black,

 

Black woman

 

color apparently deeper than gender,

heavier with the weight of the word

oppression like

Black

water pressing down

to the prehistoric

striation of the ocean floor

 

gender apparently

depthless,

weightless like the prismatic

light

glancing, mutable

off the skimming waves

 

a lighter burden on the

 

Black woman

Survey Opportunity! Positive negotiation tactics for female professionals

Following a lively debate on LinkedIn about “Negotiating While Female,” a few of the Women Employed Advocacy Council members noticed that the advice for women was all about what NOT to do, and the lack of positivity and proactivity bothered us. Therefore, we decided to explore “Negotiating as Women: Bright Spots for Female Professionals” with a simple 10-question survey. The goal? Get real-world tips and examples from working women (like you?) to help empower and inspire change in our workforces.

After the responses are in by July 31, 2014, the Advocacy Council members above will summarize the results into a blog post and share practical highlights/tips to help women make their mark at work.

This is where you come in! We want to hear your negotiating stories, both at the interview stage and during your tenure at your company/organization (e.g. annual reviews, re-negotiation two years in, etc).

Please take the survey (https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/MTTRKD5) and share your experience with us today: *Note: All answers will be anonymous and results will be published in aggregate; no personal information or contact details will be shared at any time.

Please share the survey among friends, sisters, mothers, grandmothers, etc. Thank you, as always, for everything you do and for lending a hand as we find new ways to help working women thrive.

“Don’t tell us what to wear; teach the boys not to stare.”

For the past few days, watching the high teenagers stroll from the El to the Spring Awakening Music Festival at Soldier Field, I have been thinking of today’s teen culture and what a sheltered, goodie-good child I was. But I’ve also been thinking about slut-shaming, and rape blaming.  The fundamental question I’ve been grappling with is: Should tween- and teen-aged girls be “allowed” and encouraged to wear things like midriff shirts and booty shorts (literally, I could see butt cheeks)? Or should they be counseled against these provocative and objectifying outfit choices?

On one hand, girls should be able to wear what they want without fear of sexual assault. On the other hand, this dress promotes objectification by both men and the dresser herself, because for what other reason besides promoting the culturally-defined version of one’s “hot” body is this clothing for? (Note – this was not at the beach. It was warm, but not hot enough to need to wear a sequined bra top and mini skirt to the festival in order to stave off heat exhaustion.)

Peggy Orenstein’s article the other day in the New York Times, “The Battle Over Dress Codes,” addresses this issue and calls attention to the difficult line this is. Notes Orenstein, “while women are not responsible for male misbehavior, and while no amount of dress (or undress) will avert catcalls, cultural change can be glacial, and I have a child trying to wend her way safely through our city streets right now. I don’t want to her to feel shame in her soon-to-be-emerging woman’s body, but I also don’t want her to be a target. Has maternal concern made me prudent or simply a prude?”

I understand her conundrum. I feel caught between that prudent/prude dichotomy myself when thinking of those girls and their bare bellies. How do we encourage developing girls to feel pride in their bodies while also encouraging them to cover it up? Can girls embrace their newfound sexuality without feeling the need to show it off and give it away (or being told they shouldn’t do those things)? Is wearing provocative clothing a rallying cry for feminism, or the opposite? I think the opposite, but go read Orenstein’s article and tell me what you think.

On catcalls and compliments

I’ve been reading a lot of posts on the #YesAllWomen campaign, and this one really struck me, because it’s closest to my experience. Many men do not see the misogyny of others, because the men who perpetrate this misogyny are often very careful to not act on it in front of other men. So I’ll just say – before discounting the experiences of women, take a moment to consider this article.

Then, take a moment just to ask yourself – have I ever said or done something to a woman that I considered a compliment, to which she reacted with anger or annoyance? I think this little thing is the most pervasive form of sexism I see; the “drunk man at the party” in Hess’s article is all too familiar to me (is there any party that doesn’t have one of those?). Consider also the catcall. I get it, sometimes, though more often in my old neighborhood in VA, in which I had to jog on sidewalks running alongside very busy streets. I’ve had men justify it as, “It’s a compliment! You should be happy to get a catcall! It means you’re attractive and sexy!”

Um… no thanks.

When you catcall, you’re not complimenting me. You’re appreciating a body in your line of sight that happens to fit your model of “sexy” or “attractive.” You’re appreciating an object, and I’m not an object. You don’t know me. Tell you what, you can catcall me. IF you catcall every single other person out for a jog on the sidewalk, too. If you’re just trying to give a compliment and make people happy and “help” them feel sexy, then there are others who need it more than I do.

Though I’m pretty sure they’ll give you the same withering stare (or middle finger) that I do. I am more than my body. When you catcall me, I assume that you find me sexy. And perhaps are thinking of having sex. And that makes me sick. Keep your thoughts and whistles to yourself. It’s a much greater compliment to know that you think of me than more than a body.

#YesAllCategories

If you are a white, Christian, middle-class man, you have privilege. It’s not your fault (most likely, unless you are actively perpetuating discrimination. But most likely, you are not.). We live in a society that affords certain privileges to White, Christian, cisgender, middle-class men that others do not get. Each one of those adjectives affords its own privilege; for example, I am a white, Christian, lesbian, middle-class woman. I am 60% privileged. Yes, I know I’m being simplistic for the purposes of illustration. There are many other categories that afford privilege in certain circumstances, geographies and demographics, and some may argue that occasionally, being a minority in one or more of these categories is a bonus. But in general, in America today, these – White, Christian, cisgendered, middle-class, male – are the ones that afford the most privilege. You are hired more often, promoted more often, less likely to be arrested and convicted, more likely to go to (and graduate from) college, etc. etc. Again: it’s not your fault. You didn’t ask to be prioritized, entitled. Your privilege is 100% sheer dumb luck. It is luck to be born a White, male, attractive, middle-class, Christian in the developed world. And those lucky factors allow you easier access to things like jobs. Yes, you can change your religion. Yes, your social standing and class may fluctuate during your lifetime. But the fact remains that some people start out lucky and some don’t, and that doesn’t make you Better Than another. It just makes you lucky.

I didn’t ask for it, either, but I benefit from it, and I know it.

I can recognize when I’m being given the benefit of the doubt because I look safe. Just today, I went into a store to make a large purchase. I brought only my credit card, slipped into my back pocket, because we have to go through metal detectors in my building and it’s annoying to stand and wait while my purse is scanned. So when the cashier asked to see my ID, I had to smile sheepishly and admit that I didn’t have it on me. She smiled and rang me up anyway. I know that that has pretty much everything to do with the fact that I don’t “look” like someone who would make a purchase on a stolen credit card. I am young, white, female, attractive enough, and professionally dressed. I am under no illusions that a Black male wearing a hoodie would get the same benefit of the doubt.

It’s hard to combat privilege. Privileged people LIKE being privileged. I take comfort in knowing that I could make my purchase even without ID. It’s hard to convince people that they should care that they are sometimes afforded benefits that people who inhabit other categories are not. Societies – including, especially, America – are built on the notion of the Haves and Have Nots. If everyone is treated equally, then we will not be special. We will not be Better Than. Yet we need those privileged folk in order to make the system fairer for all. For example, the Abolitionist movement benefitted greatly from the assistance of anti-slavery white people. A class of people in a status of disadvantage will progress closer and faster to equality with the assistance of the advantaged class. People with privilege need to help because it’s the right thing to do, and because – and this is key – they are NOT Better Than; they were just lucky to be born with better circumstances.

Okay. So privilege isn’t your fault, and it’s not mine. But that doesn’t absolve us of all responsibility. I know that the world is a better place when a diversity of voices is given equal room at the table. It’s my job (literally) to demonstrate that inclusion is the tool to making everyone better.

#YesAllWomen was a good start in helping ensure that the voices of women are heard. You may not believe that women are silenced more often than men, but they are. #YesAllWhiteWomen is also a good start, in that it recognizes that women of color are still disadvantaged compared to White women. You could just as equally create #YesAllStraightWomen or #YesAllPrettyWomen or #YesAllThinWomen or #YesAllChristianWomen or #YesAllMarriedWomen or #YesAllWorkingWomen (I could go on. You get the point.). Sometimes recognizing that these hierarchies of privilege exist is mind-opening, and it’s the first step to addressing microinequities when you see them. Address the fact that yes, there is a problem. Yes, we treat people differently based on these categories. Society does it. I do it. You do it. So how do we stop it from happening?

First, we have to help people accept, perhaps reluctantly, that riding on their own privilege through life isn’t the best way to go. Which is hard, because privilege can be a pretty sweet ride, and who wants to give that up? Reframe: it’s not about giving up the privileges you already enjoy. You can’t really do that, unless you choose to, say switch to a non-traditional religion. It’s about ensuring others get the same privileges you do. Don’t you want to know that you got the job because you were the best candidate and not because you’re White (or, in some careers, Asian)? Inviting and allowing others the same privileges you’re afforded does not diminish you, but rather raises you both up.

We can also help people see that passively allowing discrimination based on ANY category isn’t okay, because it silences voices that are worth listening to if we want to create a society that has a rich tapestry of opinions, beliefs, and thoughts. Some might argue that our country was founded on discrimination (Native Americans, anyone?) while other argue that it was founded on freedom (Puritans, natch). Regardless, we live in a melting pot of constantly shifting demographics, and privilege may soon be in flux, too. That’s not meant to sound like a threat, just a wake-up call: you and I are in positions of privilege now. We might not always be. Cultivate empathy and responsibility now, and it may be shown to you in return.

I want to say something other than “be on the right side of history.” “Love your neighbors as yourself.” “A rising tide lifts all boats.” “Treat others as you would like to be treated.” If that’s not the society you’re looking for, then maybe you shouldn’t be living in the Melting Pot.

This is all well and good, you might now say. I recognize that I have privilege. I want to ensure that others are treated equally. What can I do, today, to help make this happen in my own, small part of the world? Well, this, to start. And stay tuned for more.