hera

One starts to realize
the lies
they were told their whole lives.
One starts to wonder
why they aren’t
automatically
given a choice
or allowed a voice.
We’re born as equals,
yet nurtured to hinder
our own growth
for the sake of others;
cast as “mere women”,
we are secretly envied
for our ability
to conceive
and nurture
life
in a way
man
never
can.

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Celebrate What Matters: An examination of the sexualization of women in the media

I wonder how it is that as a society we’ve shifted from doing all we can to make women invisible, from denying their sexuality to now seeing an over-representation of sexualized (though not actualized) women everywhere we turn.  Billboards, posters, magazines, online ads, half-time shows, television commercials, television shows, book covers, CD and DVD covers, video games, movies, comic books, music videos… women are everywhere.  We are obsessed with the female form.  But only so much as it takes on one form.  We are infatuated with their soft, delicate features but only when they resemble a prototype.  And this is where the argument that women in the media are merely being celebrated can be refuted.   Because it isn’t women we’re celebrating, but rather narcissism and self-loathing (the two often ironically going hand in hand).

After all, if you can teach someone that appearance is all that matters by glorifying the concepts of ‘youth’, ‘beauty’, and ‘sex appeal’, then train them to hate themselves for not meeting the ideal set before them, you can convince them to spend (read: waste) an unjustifiable amount of money on: “beauty” products (as if beauty can be bought), make-up, apparel, diet regimes, gym memberships (which do come with legit health benefits), plastic surgery… whatever it takes to make a person look as they “should”.  And you can tame them so as not to bat an eye when the images they see are clearly degrading to women.  You can subdue their urge to question the implications of the messages promoted through the media or to reflect on how they are being told to feel about themselves.  You can persuade them to idolize women who seem to have it all.

Women are encouraged to want the body, the skin, the hair, the face, the boobs, the clothes, the everything they are not, equating what people see on the outside with who they are on the inside.  Men are not immune to this either (minus the boobs), but mainstream media doesn’t target them as directly or ruthlessly; their inherent value isn’t tied quite so tight to what they look like and their social role is communicated very differently.  It’s only gotten worse in recent times once companies figured  out they could exploit men too, thereby turning a bigger profit.

Corporations don’t care who they’re hurting or who is privy to their propaganda.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the blatant messages being perpetuated by the media which we regard as a herald of truth apropos of what our lives should be about.  Our children are receiving this message, too.  And this is what concerns me most.  Because children are the future and certainly I want my children to own their bodies with respect given to what their bodies can do for them as they move about this world, making a difference, being creative, finding their voice, and following their passions.

Life is not about hating ourselves for not looking as though we starved ourselves for weeks and spent every waking moment at the gym.  It’s not about loathing what we see in the mirror and spending hours doing all we can to look younger, more radiant, less tired and frazzled because, just, life.  It’s about finding the true beauty in those every day moments with total strangers, friends, loved ones.  It’s about turning to your children or those dearest to you and being awe struck by the love you feel for them, as well as all of the love they continuously show you.  Life is about sharing yourself with someone else and feeling seen... heard.  It’s about allowing ourselves to be that vulnerable.

Instead, what the media does is prompt us all to wear a mask to hide behind while planting a seed of self-doubt which quickly grows into a weed of self-hate.  We look at ourselves and ask, “Am I worthy?”  Worthy of what?  …Worthy of existing …Worthy of being loved …Worthy of being the most desired by someone else–“This Year’s and Every Year’s Sexiest Person Alive”…Of feeling cherished for who we are most supremely.  I think these are things we all long to be assured of.  But unfortunately, for the answer to our question, too many of us refer to the images we see constantly all around us.  And the answer we’re given when looking outside of ourselves will always undoubtedly and unflinchingly be… NO.

What I believe women secretly want is to wake up one day to a non-airbrushed, non-photoshopped picture of themselves without make-up or spandex panties, no push-up bra or any of the other tricks we keep up our sleeves–just their face and body as it is without the lies we wear–next to a headline that reads: “SHE IS WORTHY”.  But let me tell you something: even though that day will likely never come, YOU… ARE… SO WORTHY.  And that is worth celebrating.

 

Rx

We put insecurity in a box and call it beauty.
We put harassment in a box and say it is a compliment.
We put humiliation, degradation, and objectification in a box and label it opportunity.

We put little girls on stage in bikinis, high heels, big hair and make up, sexualizing them; normalizing competition among females; claiming it’s all just harmless fun.
Who doesn’t want to feel pretty?

We groom them, undress them, terrorize and invade them; we take away all but their sense of opportunity to feel beautiful, which they’ve equated with an opportunity to feel loved. Instead what we leave them with is the deepest sense of shame.

We dismember them; put them on a pedestal and berate them when they fall. 
We use them for our advantage, by force if we so desire because 

they are just a necessary means after all.

We are the reason they will do anything to numb the pain;
the reason they will turn tricks because it’s all they’ve ever known.
We are the reason their tragic reality exists.

We are the reason young girls will have sex in front of a camera with strange men referred to simply as “Dick”. Because their names don’t matter; she’s learned to use them just as others have used her. Sex becomes a drug.

And we hand her the prescription.

Pitter Pattern

Patterns are everywhere. We can see them in nature with the four seasons. Patterns provide us with a sense of dependability. We can safely guess that in July it’s going to be too hot for our winter coats. And in January you’re probably not going to want to step out in your tankini. Patterns are merely repetitions. And repetition is how we learn. So it is that we can begin to understand our world and the role we are to play in it.

Undoubtedly, we are assigned our roles. The more generalized roles, the social roles we play aren’t so much communicated to us directly. But we look to the media, we look to members of our community and members of our family. And we begin to acquire by mimicking that which we have learned will enhance our chances of survival, whether our survival is physical, social, or emotional. To learn how to play out our specific, individual role unique to us and us alone, we must rely on the people around us who take care of us. What other choice do we have? As a child our minds are still developing as we learn to adapt to this strange environment that makes no sense to us. Who am I? Where do I belong? Why am I here? To answer these questions we look for clues from our family, the people we have come to love and depend on, the people we spend most of our time with, day in and day out. We learn how to feel about ourselves. We learn how to treat other people.

This is how we get stuck in a cycle of seeing ourselves and relating with others a certain way–the two are so closely interconnected. I think it’s quite true that we often “repeat the past as a way of remaining psychologically connected to the past.” (*I totally paraphrased that.) For those of us who grew up in a household that crippled us in some way (which, let’s face it, is all of us), why in the world would we do that?! Why would I want to attempt to create situations that I know are just going to cause old wounds to resurface? Why am I hellbent on being unhappy, unloved and a reject? Because, I now see more clearly,

we tend to stage the same charged scenarios over and over, as we search for a different ending–for a resolution. But until the issues of the past are truly resolved, the curtain cannot be rung down upon them, so the repetitious efforts to master and resolve them continue.” (*That is a direct quote!)

Some of us just need our lives to fall apart before we can finally figure out how the pieces fit together. Sometimes we have to make the same mistakes over and over before we’re able to learn the lessons we need to learn to finally be happy, to finally love and feel loved.

When it comes to my previous relationships, of course I have chosen partners who would prefer to defer their sense of responsibility because that’s what my own father did.  And I, having naturally identified with my mother, took on her role as the “responsible” one; the person in charge of matters pertaining to…pretty much everything.  In fact, my dad didn’t do a damn thing to help his family except bring home a paycheck.  Oh, and occasionally he’d take me to school if I missed the bus (which I so often did).  But he’d be sure to remind me how worthless I was for it.  Heaven forbid he be woken from his slumber after staying up late watching TV (porn) in the living room.  (My dad slept on the couch, so catching him watching porn was inevitable–not to mention, traumatizing.)  Things like cooking, cleaning, child rearing…these are areas that my mother has dominated and now so do I.  Because I need to.  At least, I do in order to carry out my mother’s role so that I may rectify some aspect of the past.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  I don’t want it to be that way.  I want a true partnership, something my parents never had.

I spent my childhood screaming at my dad in a whisper, alone, behind my bedroom door, telling him he was a damn idiot; softly yelling that I hated him for being so imperious, so hypocritical, so vicious and cruel as he tried in the highest pitch of his voice to convince my mom and my brother that they were “stupid idiots”. He was determined to persuade us into believing that we were a burden to him in some way when my mother did nothing but bend over backwards to please a man who couldn’t be pleased and couldn’t be proved wrong. Behind that door I begged my mom to leave him, to take us away from him.  But she never did.  And my resentment of them both simply grew into a quiet rage.

Fast forward.  I’m a grown ass woman.  I’d like to believe I’m fairly intelligent, intuitive and observant.  And yet here I am, constantly pushing the men of my life out of my life because, I finally realize, I am doing what my mom never could–I’m retaliating against the tyranny of my father.

It all seems so obvious, yet we are operating on an unconscious level much of the time in our relationships.  So of course I would unconsciously choose partners whose temperament is reminiscent of my dad’s.  Because then, rather than address my own anger and admit to having feelings that for so long I was put off by, I have secretly needed my partners to take over those disavowed aspects of myself which I could use against them, becoming angry that they’re angry, making way for pushback.  Even though I’m fucking angry in my own right! It’s just that I’ve never seen anger expressed in a healthy, functional way that is followed by a reassurance of one’s unconditional love.  In fact, my dad never expressed his love.  He expressed hate/hostility/resentment.  Never love.  Not with an “I love you”, not with a hug or a kiss or even a pat on the back.  For all I know my dad thought I had cooties.

And there you are.  Feeling angry and unloved…rejected.  You think there’s nobody to share it with; no one who would get it; no one who would care.  So you grow more angry and isolated.  Even when you meet someone who does seem to care, you push their love away.  Because all you’ve ever tried to give is love, but all you ever seem to get is renunciation. So you push as a requital. But nothing can erase what’s been done, what’s (not) been said.  I can’t change my past.  I couldn’t control everything that has happened in my life or the family I was born into.  It’s not my fault my dad is an asshole and that his dad was an abusive, drunk asshole.  But I can begin taking control of my actions, the way I treat people, the way I perceive things, and the commitments I make. I can learn to express and direct anger appropriately.

My parents went through life pretending nothing was wrong.  Smile and nod, smile and nod, and everything will at least seem okay.  But things were never okay. My parents did not have a healthy marriage.  My dad was some kind of sex crazed maniac who cheated on my mom habitually and made no real attempts to hide it except that he’s never admitted to it–not to his wife and not to his kids.  Now it’s just as if there’s an extra member of our family as we try to ignore the pink elephant in the room.

My dad slept on the couch under the assumption that it was because he was a terrible snorer. But I don’t think that was the whole of it. The whole of it is that my mom couldn’t bear to share a bed with him, even though she felt forced to at times. Occasionally my dad would slip into my mom’s room at night (it was never “their” room) and close the door. Now, knowing what I know, I’m sure he was using those moments to have his sexual needs gratified, as if his lady conquests weren’t enough to fill the void within him.  It forges a pit in my stomach as I reflect on those times and recall something my mother said to me when I told her I was separating from my ex-husband.

I had just confessed to her in tears my unhappiness with my marriage.  I explained the way I felt after once again giving in to having sex with someone who quite frankly repulsed me.  The mere thought of having sex with this man made me want to crawl out of my skin.  The final straw was laying there vacant with him on top of me, feeling dead inside.  He paused, saw me staring off into space as I prayed to be anywhere but underneath him, yet he kept thrusting his penis inside of me as though I was just a body, there for his sexual gratification and nothing more.  In that moment I was not a person with thoughts and feelings, he didn’t care about those. I was merely a depository.

After that I decided I couldn’t pretend anymore. I would no longer sacrifice myself or my body for someone capable of treating me that way.  I told him I wanted to separate.  And the next day I informed my mother. Her response is one I’ll never forget and will never forgive: “That’s just what you do as a woman…you lie there and take it.  What woman enjoys sex?” Gee. Thanks, mom. In that moment I promised myself that I would never surrender myself the way my she has or the way she expected me to.  What a sad, miserable life she’s led.  And for what?  Did she really think she was doing us kids a favor?  Undoubtedly, there was more to it than that.

So then I suppose my withdrawal from my marriage was, yet again, my attempt to do what my mother never could–stand up for myself.  No one should be forced to have sex against their will.  No doubt about it, my mother has been raped by her husband over the course of 45 years.  Dear Dad: You won’t tell the mother of your children–your wife–you love her but you can tell her what an idiot she is and stick your dick inside of her whenever you feel like it???  Well how ’bout this… GO FUCK YOURSELF.

And THIS is me directing my anger appropriately.

*Quotes from this post and other helpful information can be found in Intimate Partners: Patterns in Love and Marriage” by Maggie Scarf, 1984.  Good luck finding it. 🙂