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The Lady Business Monologue

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There is nothing quite like old movies, advertising or television shows when it comes to social anthropology. Nobody would confuse plot points, costuming or set design with real life. But dialogue is very representative of the way in which people spoke at the time of filming. We can look at films from the 1940s and 1950s and sense racial views of the times. We can watch television of the 1960s and 1970s and see the overt anti-gay sensibilities. Today most film and television depicts bigotry only to make a point. There is one area of bigotry that never seems to have really changed however, and that’s misogyny.

Whether it’s in the casting or the storytelling, women are still objectified and marginalized. Male actors of every age, size, attractiveness and skin condition are regularly cast in prominent roles. Women of one size, one look, one age group and one hairstyle populate film & television roles. If you are an actress who is not a willowy, bouncy haired, 20-35 year old with a symmetrical face you’re lucky to get character roles. Yes, there are exceptions. But for the most part paunchy women over 70 are not getting the guy. The roles themselves often marginalize women. Accomplished doctors, detectives or spies still need to be fashionable and coiffed. When women are depicted as more than a collection of strategically placed highlights they are made to be a masculine cartoon. Even in the most “realistic” television dramas we never see women discussing or experiencing anything about being a woman. Has there ever been a cop show that explains how a female cop on a stakeout deals with her period? Sex, or servicing men is discussed and depicted continuously. Characters are always getting pregnant (and of course having the baby or losing the pregnancy naturally) so someone must be menstruating!

It’s not all that surprising that in the 21st century we still don’t discuss menstruation except as an insult. That’s right, in 2013 it is still perfectly acceptable to refer to someone as “having their period” when the accuser dislikes the behavior of the accused. It is still acceptable to refer to men as “ladies” or “girls” as an insult. In all manner of workplace you can hear these accusations. Imagine just for a moment that instead of hurling a female term as an insult, it was an ethnic or racial term. We wouldn’t and shouldn’t tolerate it. But insulting someone by calling them a woman; that’s cool. And why not; women tolerate it and even perpetuate it. Women will use the word “girl” to deride (ex., you are such a girl.) Women screenwriters, directors and casting agents perpetuate the one-dimensionality of female characters in film and television. And almost all women everywhere persist in using the incorrect terminology for their own genitalia.

Even those now famous monologues about that part of the body, use the wrong terminology. The vagina is one very specific part of the genitalia. The vagina is the internal, or birth canal, part of the female genitalia. Vulva is everything else (and from a sexual response perspective; what matters most.) Using inaccurate terminology is always troubling. Often, if not always, there is an underlying message in such choices. It is quite possible that the term “vagina” first became popular in the medical field (that same medical field that labeled women as hysterics and viewed sexually responsive women as flawed and/or dangerous.) The (male) medical field singled out the part of the female genitalia that most affected them. The vulva has no role in male satisfaction or in birthing. This is a reasonable explanation/theory. But why have women perpetuated this inaccuracy? We teach our children the word vagina, while we teach them all of the proper terms for male genitalia. We don’t refer to testicles as penises. We don’t refer to foreskin as penises. We use the correct terminology for all parts of male genitalia.

Does all this sound cranky, distasteful and maybe even a bit irrational? Are you thinking; “well someone’s got her period!” As a matter of fact, I don’t. But if I did, I wouldn’t whisper it or discreetly palm a tampon on my way to the bathroom. I don’t routinely discuss anyone’s genitalia in public, and wish I didn’t feel compelled to now. But it is one (important) piece of a troubling puzzle. We should teach our children body pride not body shame. We should correct them when they accuse someone of “throwing like a girl” or “crying like a girl.” We should stop ourselves and correct others when insulting someone with female allusions. It’s not a matter of political correctness; it is a matter of correctness. There is something wrong with considering “acting like a man” to be a compliment and “acting like a woman” to be an insult.

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing

 

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The Right To Choose

The New York Times has ‘uncovered’ some misleading rhetoric regarding Plan B (aka ‘the morning after pill’.)  Many of those interested in banning the contraceptive have hitched their wagon to the notion that this pill sloths away attached cells from the uterine wall.  This is in fact not the case, and never has been.  Plan B prevents the attachment (by means that are very natural/biological but may be too ‘eeeeew’ inducing to discuss here.)

Without getting too technical or “no, she did Not just say that” let’s review what we’re discussing here.  What the banners were using as their justification for preventing access to contraceptives was that Plan B was in fact an abortifacient.  Their position is that as soon as two cells meet (an egg and a sperm) a human exists.  Sentimental rhetoric aside, there is a name for the meeting of these two cells; it’s called a zygote.  A zygote is not a fetus or embryo.  Zygotes slough off and disappear on a regular basis.  It’s nature.  Many regular monthly cycles include these invisible cells.  A zygote probably has as much of a chance as organically becoming a human as any unmet egg and sperm.  That covers the biologically, now for the chemistry.

The last thing I would ever do is provide ammunition to anyone looking to limit the human rights of others, but you know what?  You know what does slough off cells?  The I.U.D. and birth control pills do.  Both of these devices include hormones that change the lining of the uterine wall.  The presence of anything in the uterus (like an I.U.D.) prevents any attachment to the wall.  A zygote’s got nowhere to go.

It’s astounding to consider that people (and mostly they seem, to me anyway, to be men) are so concerned about sperm when it’s inside of someone else.  How could it be, if they are truly concerned about what happens to their contribution, that we still have absolutely nothing resembling reliable male birth control?  The only means we have is not traditionally embraced by men and is probably as old as the I.U.D.  Listen up men, you’ve had the corner on the medical field for centuries, whatya been doing?  Where’s your walkathon or ribbons to raise awareness for male birth control.  Where is the wait-list for reversible vasectomies?  Where is the partaking in relations only for fertilization?

I won’t hold my breath.  It’s always much more interesting to point to others as the problem.  It might even serve social purposes to belittle an entire gender, assuming they a) don’t know how their bodies work and b) can’t make informed decisions about their own reproductive life.  For whatever reason, these attacks on a woman’s body and rights have been going on forever.  And let us be perfectly clear, any limitations to contraception are an attack on women not an attempt to “save the zygote.”  There are facilities all across this globe that are creating and/or processing these microscopic conjoined cells through very expensive and sophisticated means.  They do not all become implanted, and those that do, do not all adhere and grow.  Yes, this brave new world of medically induced fertility is worth more than a cursory review from an ethics perspective.  We should be looking long and hard at the benefits and costs to our society and to the individual of these developments.  But what isn’t complicated is that every person should have control over what is done to his/her own body.  Forcing anyone to carry a pregnancy is barbaric.  Pound whatever religious text as you try to do it, hold up whatever placards you find most repugnant, but in the end, anyone daring to tell a woman to carry a pregnancy is nothing less than a barbarian.

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2012 in Cultural Critique

 

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School Scandal’s Sexist Subtext

It is a national pastime to second guess the handling of situations we couldn’t possibly imagine.  In that vain, I find myself asking, if the child (allegedly) being violated (in a university locker room shower) had been a girl, would this story have a different ending?

Would an adult, regardless of professional status or age, hesitate even for a moment before dragging a girl child to safety?  Would anyone, anywhere, doubt for a moment that the child was in serious jeopardy and needed rescue?  But substitute a boy child and our impulses become a bit more restrained.  Our sexist view of sex knows no age limits.  Our reaction to an adult male authority figure having sex with an adolescent girl is that of revulsion.  We wouldn’t dream of nudging and winking as we do when hearing about a teenage boy having sex with his female teacher.  Somewhere down deep we feel that boys, once physically able, are always delighted to have the opportunity to have sex.  Girls, however need to be protected.

I do wonder (indulging hindsight) what would have happened if a young female staffer had come across the boy (allegedly) being violated.  Would a woman had seen two males being sexual, or would she have seen a child being attacked?  Would a woman have gathered up the boy while screaming rabidly at the perpetrator?  This is of course is a gross generalization of gender proclivities, but it does feel accurate.

I’m going out on a limb and suggesting that despite political strides (equal marriage) and representation in popular culture, as a country we are woefully uncomfortable with homosexuality.  (The fact that men incorporate (simulated) lesbian intimacies into their heterosexual fantasies is not proof of enlightenment but of viewing women sexuality existing only to please men.)  Despite the fact that adults having sexual contact with children, has nothing to do with being attracted to members of the same gender and everything to do with a sexual attraction to children, it is conceivable that the shower violation was interpreted as homosexual.  I find it repugnant to consider that anyone would view a child being accosted as a sexual act, period, but I can’t help come to this conclusion after playing the hindsight game.  I fervently hope I am wrong.

Perhaps if any good can come of this scandal, it is a reexamining of childhood and our (adult) role in children’s lives.  All adults have a moral obligation to protect children.  In the extreme, we concur.  Most of us would drag a child out of the path of oncoming traffic.  Danger really is not always that black and white however.  If we are confused about what we are witnessing, ask questions.  Asking a child if they are okay will almost always tell you what you need to know.  Even if you are not certain about anyone’s age of consent, a simple “Whoa, what are you guys doing?” will yield information.  Silence really is complicity.

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2011 in Childhood, Cultural Critique

 

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