Tag Archives: empowerment

Sexy Cancer and Ugly Self-Acceptance

I’d originally planned on writing this post when images like this:

started circulating around facebook and other social media outlets, but then the Susan Komen Foundation/Planned Parenthood event happened and I had to retool my thoughts and approach the topic a bit differently because omitting the politicization of breast cancer in a post about the sexualization of breast cancer felt incomplete in the current blog climate.

 

Before we get to sexy breast cancer I’d like to address the “real woman” images floating around and what they really mean and address how damaging they actually are to women as a whole.  And they are damaging – Kiera Knightley is not inferior to me because of my breast size and Heidi Montag isn’t a disgrace because she paid for her body (though it says a lot about society that a gorgeous woman felt compelled to have ten invasive surgeries in one day because she didn’t feel she was beautiful enough).  We need to get away from this idea that there is a “correct” woman, only one kind of “sexy” woman, and accept that the most beautiful thing any woman can be is healthy.

 

For some women that’s a size zero and for others it’s a size 14.  And that’s okay.

 

Fellow WordPress blogger Whirlygigagogo made this image, and I think it makes this point well:

The fact of the matter is, when women point to one image and say, “this type of body is inferior to this type (which I more closely resemble),” in order to make themselves feel better it is at the cost of other women and that own woman’s value as an individual.  These images are not about whether D cups are “better” than A cups, or whether narrow hipped lithe women are “sexier” than wide hipped voluptuous women, they’re about bringing down one group to elevate another and it’s unnecessary.  More than unnecessary, it takes away what our focus should be on: health.  Should we starve ourselves to be thin?  No.  Should we overeat fatty and unhealthy foods to get curvier?  No.  We should strive to be as healthy as we can be with the shape our bodies are already inclined to be.  It’s really ugly to label an entire group of women as unattractive just because you’re not in that group.

 

This is where I believe the fat acceptance movement has in some places really overstepped it’s bounds.  Nobody should be made to feel ashamed for their very existence, nobody deserves to wake up and hate his/herself because of their body, I absolutely and totally agree with that, but to suggest or even outright say that obese women are superior to thin women or that obese women should ignore the health implications of their condition and accept their bodies as they are is irresponsible.  I’m not saying very overweight women are not/cannot be beautiful, I’m saying that on this path to self-acceptance we have sacrificed health.  TLC’s show Big Sexy was lauded for finally bringing sexy large women to television and I think it’s great that fashionable women who aren’t very, very thin can be shown as sexy on TV but I question whether it’s really a good idea to say things like, “Big Sexy follows a group of big sexy ladies who are living large with one mission: to show the world that bigger is better, ” (from the show’s lineup description) when several of the women on the show are clearly above a healthy weight.  Again, I’m not saying these women are unattractive, I’m saying they’re seriously unhealthy and saying that they’re superior to thinner women because of their size is pretty reprehensible.  Fat women are not better.  Thin women are not better.  Healthy women, healthy women who are proud of their bodies and take good care of themselves are what we should strive to be.

 

But, no matter how healthy you live your life, cancer can happen.  And, if the overwhelming wave of pink goods is to be believed, it’s probably going to be breast cancer.

 

Well, no, it’s not.  While being diagnosed with breast cancer is most common, lung cancer is the most common fatal cancer in women and colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer death across all ethnic groups.  For that matter, all cancer deaths total don’t topple the number one killer (of both men and women), heart disease.  So what’s with all the pink if what we really need to be wearing is red?

 

Heart disease and lung cancer isn’t sexy.  There, I said it.

 

Let me explain: when was the last time you saw a “save the lungs!” bumper sticker?  An “I ❤ clean arteries!” awareness bracelet?  How about a bar fundraising event called “save the colons and rectums,” featuring $2 shots with all proceeds going towards a charity specifically focusing on colorectal cancer treatment and awareness?  You haven’t seen or heard of any of these things because they don’t exist, but I’m willing to bet you see “save the boobies” or “I ❤ titties” pink stuff on a nearly daily basis.

 

Ultimately, what all this marketing and awareness boils down to is the breasts.  Not the woman they’re attached to, the breasts.  It’s not about ending breast cancer to save women, it’s about ending breast cancer to save breasts.  You want to see a powerful breast cancer awareness image?  Show a husband lovingly embracing his bald, scarred, breastless wife post double mastectomy.  Tell her she’s a proud and brave warrior and after she heals up she can get implants or just wear bra falsies, because having breasts and saving breasts is more important than the rest of her.  The wall of pink we’ve put up to pat ourselves on the back and say, “hooray titties!” has blinded us to the horror of what cancer is, the pain and trauma that women and their families endure.  Buying pink stuff and shoveling money towards groups that ultimately do nothing does not help these people.  Wearing a “save the boobies,” bracelet is insulting and childish in the face of real pain.  Save the woman.  Her life is more than her breasts.

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month was started by the American Cancer Society and Astra Zenica (you know, the pharmaceutical company) to promote mammograms.  Great, no problem, regular mammograms can help with early detection and treatment of cancer, but where did all the pink come from and where the hell is all this money going?  Pink handguns (firearms are the second leading cause of violent death in women), pink alcohol (that causes cancer), pink makeup (that causes cancer), everywhere pink pink pink, most with some or all of the proceeds going to to Komen.  And what does Komen then do with that money?

 

For a brief stint in January-February 2012, they stopped their funding of Planned Parenthood, who uses about 16% of their budget to provide breast, cervical, and other cancer screenings to women at little or no cost.  Why?  Originally the statement was that Komen would not provide funding to any group facing investigation but the reality that everyone knew was that Karen Handel, a Vice President level executive in the company, was taking her anti-abortion message louder and prouder than her breast cancer awareness message.  While Handel denies this (regardless of evidence to the contrary), the plain fact of the matter is this rule regarding funding groups being investigated was created solely to give an excuse for defunding planned parenthood.  Why?  If the focus, the one sole focus, of your group is to end breast cancer, why would defunding a group that provides free screenings as a major part of its service program even be an option?

 

Because the Komen foundation hasn’t been focused on doing the most good for the most women for some time.  This breakdown of their expense report (available here) provides some interesting insight:

12 percent for administration

8 percent for fundraising

7 percent for treatment

15 percent for screening

24 percent research

34 percent for education

Combined research, treatment, and screening make up less than half (46%) of the budget.  The three things that actually end breast cancer, the three things that most actively impact the women who have cancer, comprise less than half the budget.  As Lowder points out, why is 34% of the money going towards education/”awareness” when you’d be hard pressed to find a woman anywhere in the US who wasn’t aware of breast cancer and her potential risks?  Komen is a business, it’s a company, and with “education” comes brand recognition.  More money, more power.  More power, more weight to say things like, “we won’t fund an organization that performs abortions is under investigation,” and expect to get away with it.

 

Except they didn’t.  Women (and men) took a stand against Komen and with Planned Parenthood, vowing to cease donations, promising to stop buying all the pink crap.  And it worked, Komen recanted, Planned Parenthood proudly announced their continued partnership with the foundation, and Karen Handel resigned (having played her cards a bit too boldly or a bit too soon perhaps).  The reality is Komen hasn’t changed though, and just like the “I ❤ boobies,” “save the tatas,” bracelets and bumper stickers, they’re just using sexualized breast cancer and a pink ribbon to sell a product instead of focusing on the lives of the women they claim to want to save.

 

I relate these two topics because they have the same root issue: somewhere along the line health became second to something else.  The change in attitude has to come from within, we have to stop putting down other women, we have to stop buying meaningless pink stuff we don’t need and focus on getting back to being healthy.


“Feminists just can’t take a joke”

Early this fall I was speaking to a friend of mine who coaches women’s soccer at a co-ed college.  She expressed to me some difficulty she faced in the workplace with sexist comments and how she confronted the men making the remarks and she told me (quoted as best I can from memory), “they seemed to get it but they just made more jokes.  It’s like they can’t take feminism seriously because it makes them uncomfortable so they make jokes about it.”

This got me thinking – feminists have a long standing reputation for being “unable to take a joke,” particularly when said joke is overwhelmingly sexist or the question of workplace sexual harassment comes up.  I’ve never met a feminist that didn’t love to laugh; when George Carlin passed in 2008 I lamented the loss of a counterculture icon and favorite comedian of mine and certainly he had no shortage of bits that were less than feminist friendly.  So why are some jokes not at all funny?  Who gets to decide what is appropriate and what isn’t?  I’m not in favor of censorship, but I do believe hate speech and oppressive words should be called out as such (a right to say something does not make saying it morally or ethically just).  Some important questions I think are good to mull over before telling a sexist joke:

  • By telling this joke, what is the underlying message which I am trying to convey (women are less intelligent, women are deserving of rape, women’s sports deserve less respect than men’s, conversely a male’s value as a person is closely related to his penis size, et cetera)?
  • Why do I feel this sentiment is necessary to convey?
  • Do I genuinely believe this sentiment, and if not, why would I want someone to believe that I do?
  • If this sentiment were expressed about me personally, would I be offended?  Why do I expect a woman to not be offended by the implications I am making?

In a recent article titled Lighten Up, Ladies!  Sexual harassment, sexual shmarassment, right? columnist Tabatha Southey says, “It’s distracting. It hurts our productivity. Some of us will now sit in a meeting with a man, listening to him talk about, say, life-threatening safety violations in our own workplace, and be wondering if he thinks he’s doing a Seth Rogen impression and when in his speech we’re meant to start laughing. Sometimes we do start laughing. It’s a defensive move. We look insane! But insane is okay. Just never let it be said that we don’t have a sense of humour.”  Why has it now become a condition of employment that women need to take being offended in stride?  I’m no fan of those “he has a sports car/giant truck/hummer, he must be compensating for an undersized penis,” jokes, but would these same people say something like that to their boss that just purchased a new red Z3?  Why is it more acceptable to make jokes challenging a woman’s worth and abilities than it is a man’s?

I find it interesting that (at least in my experience), most of the people saying “anything can be funny, nothing is off-limits,” are white middle and upper class straight males.  Can someone in the position of ultimate privilege (white privilege, class privilege, male privilege, straight privilege) really be a fair and objective judge of what’s “funny” when the chance of that individual facing any real oppression or harassment in their life is nil?  Again, I’m not arguing for censorship, I’m just proposing that maybe the people making “jokes” in the workplace that disparage people based on their gender/race/sexual orientation should take responsibility for their words and realize that when they make the statement, “this joke is being told at the cost of your dignity, it’s funny, and if you don’t agree then you are the problem not me,” it is going to breed hostility in the workplace and it does in fact make them a bad person.  Nobody goes to work to feel humiliated.

What’s the appropriate response to rape jokes in the workplace?  Why is it acceptable to tell a woman who’s offended by a rape joke to “lighten up, it’s nothing serious,” and to drag her though the mud when she files a sexual harassment claim?  Is rape really something we as a society want to convey is funny?  I don’t understand at what point prison rape jokes and “she had it coming” humor became acceptable; I do understand that we use humor to diffuse uncomfortable situations but the line between softening the blow and making a mockery of victims of horrible personal violations has clearly been crossed (does anyone really believe that violent anal rape in prison is justified for minor drug crimes?).

Women love to laugh just as much as men do.  We just want you to laugh with us, not at us.


“What’s Your Number?” and Slut Shaming

I’d like to preface my criticism of the film What’s Your Number with a note that I have not seen the movie itself, I am basing my feelings about the content of the film on previews and actual film reviews.  My commentary has nothing to do with the acting, production, or any artistic aspect of the film.  I happen to think Anna Faris is a very funny woman, however, the theme of her present flick is not.

For those not in the US Rom-Com loop, there is a major theatrical release wherein the protagonist (Anna Faris) goes on a quest to not sleep with anyone else because she will never find a husband because of the number of men she has slept with and is inferior to her friends for having a larger number than them.

Spoiler, she has sex with one more man (Chris Evans), presumably because she intends to marry him (because premarital sex is fine but only if you’re planning on getting married!).

Now let’s be honest – romantic comedies, while often geared towards women, are hardly ever progressive about the messages they convey about healthy relationships and gender roles.  Boy meets girl (or girl meets boy), boy loses girl, boy gets girl back.  The man usually has to come around to loving the woman in spite of or because of her flaws and then do something romantic (profess his undying love, purchase a price-inflated blood diamond for her, stand up to her father) to seal the relationship forever.   Often this means the woman giving something up (such as a career).  For example, in You’ve Got Mail, following the collapse of her business due to the corporate crowd-out by Tom Hanks’ character, Meg Ryan’s character closes her small independent bookstore to work in Hanks’ large male-owned and dominated store because despite everything she loves him.  She has lost her livelihood, she has lost her independence, but it’s okay because she has the love of a providing man.  And these are the movies we want compare our real-world relationships to?

What’s Your Number? is indicative of a larger problem within our society: Slut Shaming.  The idea that women should be embarrassed by or ashamed of sexuality, that sexually empowered women are somehow deserving of or responsible for being victims of sexual assault and rape, and that women shouldn’t enjoy sex (especially casual sex) are all frames of thought behind slut shaming.  Think about the number of times you’ve seen or heard the following (on facebook, in person, wherever):

  • “Think of it like this: if a key opens a lot of locks, it’s a master key, but if a lock is opened by many keys, it’s a shitty lock.”
  • “She’s such a slut, look at what she’s wearing.”
  • “Well when you dress like that, things happen to you.”
  • “She’s had sex with x number of guys, she’s such a whore.”
  • “She’s loose.”
  • “Women just need asprin for birth control: put an asprin between your knees and keep it there!”
  • “She only says she’s bisexual to get attention from men because she’s a slut.”
  • “She’s the town bicycle, everyone’s had a ride.”

Now, think of how many of those have ever been applied to men.  With exception to the second to last (which will be discussed further in a future post about bisexual erasure), none of them.

Keep in mind that absolutely none of these statements, no matter how “jokingly” they’re made, do anything but value a woman based on what her worth is to a man and base that value on an arbitrary number of penises that woman has come into contact with.  Some of them even suggest that if a woman enjoys sex, owns her sexuality, and feels comfortable about her body, someone taking sex from her would be partially her fault.

Slut shaming isn’t limited to men turning women’s sexuality against them; some of the most vicious slut shaming comes from our own peers, woman to woman, in a misguided effort to obtain some nature of pack hierarchy.  Girls turning against girls, women against women to enforce a rigid patriarchal structure that harms everyone as if somehow to say, “I may only be valued by my vagina, but I want my vagina to be valued more highly than hers.”

In the 2004 film Mean Girls (based on the book Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman) Tina Fey’s character tells the girls of her school to, “stop calling each other sluts and whores,” because, “it just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.”  What we have is a culture so engrained in this idea what women shouldn’t have sex and if they do they shouldn’t enjoy it too much that the biggest insult to a woman’s character it to suggest that she does these things.  A culture so entrenched with the idea that the number of people a woman has slept with determines everything about her socially including whether or not she is worth marrying is so acceptable that a romantic comedy film can be made about it…and women will pay to go see it.


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