Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I, The Consumer - One woman's refusal to accept violence against women as entertainment.

For a long time now I have considered writing a post about the treatment of women in the media. I’ve put it off because I don’t want to be branded a zealot, a weirdo, a ‘pinko liberal commie bastard’, a ‘typical hysterical woman’, or anything outside the boundaries of what’s normal and socially acceptable female behavior.

But it occurs to me now that what’s normal and accepted is exactly what’s wrong. It’s exactly what I want to stand against. So here’s me, leaping the barricades of mainstream behavior and baring my chest (or my back, for the more cowardly) and speaking against the great Nameless Faceless They – the mainstream media (those elitist bastards!) (NB tongue in cheek nod of the head in the direction of Alaska and its most famous export).

Unless you’re blind or don’t own a tele, you’ve probably noticed the huge upswing recently in police/crime/detective shows. Crime, its detection and punishment as a form of entertainment, is on a seemingly exponential increase in mainstream media, and the vast majority orbits around crime against women. Call me old fashioned – heck, just call me old! – but these days, I’ve found myself sitting - unmoving - through things on the television I would never have seen thirty years ago and would have been outraged by if I had. I’m not entirely comfortable sitting through them now; I feel myself looking away, or feeling embarrassed if I’m watching them with somebody else. Somewhere, deep inside, I know – this is wrong. Women being raped, murdered, tortured, drugged, forced into prostitution, hit or abused in any way is not acceptable. But it’s EVERYWHERE – and I’ve learnt to suppress my own discomfort and accept it as a genuine part of common plot structure on tv.

And yet, this is not ok. In fact, this is a very, very, long way from ok. When I did some post graduate training in the area of dispute resolution, I remember having members from the police force come and speak to us about crisis negotiation. They told us, and research later supported this in my own experience, that the most effective way of decreasing stress in any situation is to role play it. Role playing stressful events multiple times was the most effective way – in fact the only reliable means – of decreasing the stress associated with that same event when it occurred in reality. Numerous reports have been produced over recent years finding that violent video games lead to a deadening of sensitivity – of conscience, if you will - in some players to those same crimes being committed in real life. "But it's not real!" is no longer an adequate defense against what must be seen as gateway behavior. My firm belief is that continually seeing women portrayed as victims leads to an acceptance in the real world of women as legitimate targets of abuse. In other words, it deadens the shock. We’re no longer appalled and, while we find it sad and unacceptable, nobody seems to be standing up against the continual portrayal of women as punching bags.

But the effect has been more widely spread. I spend a lot of time reading what’s on the internet. In fact, my friends often joke that – if it’s on the internet, I’ll either know it, have read it, or be able to point you towards it. And what I see in entertainment blogs is women being insulted in repulsive, verbally offensive terms if they deviate to any degree from what the blog commenter thinks is less than perfect. I’ve seen some of the most beautiful women in the world categorized as ‘dogs’ or worse; America Ferrera, Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Love Hewitt (anyone whose name is Jennifer, apparently!), Uma Thurman, Demi Moore, any woman more than 110 lbs, or less than 110 lbs, or too short, or too tall, or not enough to the liking of whichever man is writing the comment is fair game to be condemned as ugly and sexually unacceptable. We seem to have reached a stage where women are valued primarily for their sexual allure – a completely subjective and ephemeral thing – and pilloried if failing to make the grade. These women have their bodies discussed and ranked in intimate, descriptive detail, by men they’ve never met and who they’d never date in a thousand years. And yet, in that instant – in that snapshot of internet culture – women are pushed down into the role of valueless beings save for any sexual service they are able to render.

I am aware that many men treat women this way due to their own insecurities. But when women are insulted, patronized, passed over for promotion, bumping into the glass ceiling, harassed in the press, their places of business or leisure, when they’re hit, ridiculed, assaulted, looked down on by a culture which has been allowed to form simply because from the beginning of time one gender has a little greater muscle mass, there is SOMETHING WRONG. And when we, as people, ignore it or, worse still, allow it to become a form of entertainment – a part of the general cultural landscape – it’s time to pull our heads out of the sand, shake them HARD, and take a look at who we are.

But do we? On the whole – no. As women, we so often play the game. We buy into the culture and ‘try to compete from within’ – which is euphemistic for ‘being unwilling to exist outside’. As women, we often seem so desperate to be loved and accepted, we will sell our souls in an attempt not to be part of The Great Unloved – those unpartnered, or socially, relationally unchosen. I’ve seen the Facebook pages of young women where they’re made fun of and verbally debased by their own male friends – and they accept this because “that’s how everyone talks these days, Kareyn!” And then these same young women trot meekly behind these young men, hoping to be asked out, chosen, picked. They spread their legs, squash their own abilities and suppress their own views – all because they’re afraid of being alone or of having to fend for themselves. They embrace their own weakness and use it as a form of seduction, never seeming to notice that they’re writing checks for their own debasement.

Women, take a long, hard look at your life choices and actions, and see in what way you’ve accepted an oppressive culture. Speaking out against it won’t be popular, I’m sure. But find your voice, and say ‘no more’. We don’t need to make ourselves less so we can be deemed pretty or popular or acceptable or loved. We need to find who we are, in our strongest, most talented, individual selves, and be that. We are more than sources of sexual satisfaction or a means for some men to feel better about themselves by making us feel worse.

So tonight, let's look more closely at what we’re watching on television or at the theater. If that show or movie is not portraying women as strong, respect-worthy individuals, let's vote with our feet. We are the consumer. We control advertising, ratings, production. Let’s use the media to educate that we are strong and valuable and that violence is not ok. Let’s make hitting a woman no longer a form of entertainment. Let’s return it to the realm of 'horrific' and 'appalling' and totally, utterly unacceptable.

We are not weak. We are equal.

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