Or Why I’m Afraid I Won’t Find Any Mentors
Female empowerment is a difficult subject. It is difficult because so many are in utter disbelief of gender disparity, because they never have (and never will) experience sexism. Reading transgender narratives is fascinating in this respect. Sexism becomes clearly elucidated in the comparison of interactions before and after their transitions. Every woman has had isolated experiences of sexism — everything from street harassment to being treated as “the help” rather than an employee. I have several hours worth of personal narratives on the subject. More dangerous is the institutional mechanism that perpetuates this on a larger scale.
The media toes a fine line in supporting and parodying the fight for gender equality. The internet has given the marginalized a nearly globally accessible means of responding to daily injustices. This is the phenomenon known as “mass culture”. Publications like Jezebel act as highly visible mouthpieces for “feminist issues”, but Jezebel is also ridiculed by nonsupportive readers. Articles are labeled as microaggressions. This echoes the tendency for women to be gaslighted — for the plights of women to be considered overemotional or nonexistence.
Some publications choose to have a “women’s” section which is at once noble and counterproductive. The people who most need to read such articles would never willingly navigate to the women’s corner of a publication. Why are these “women’s issues” and not issues for our community at large? (Also, why is everything in purple or pink?) According to the 2014 census, 50.8% of our population is women.
Is it that PMS and abortion are women’s issues, or that women only care about PMS and abortion?
It’s to the point where some of the best ungendered articles I’ve read about gender inequality are satire pieces — articles that are hysterical because they are so depressingly true. Among the best are the Onion’s “Planned Parenthood: Myth or Fact” and McSweeney’s “Woman Facts”.
The Onion is brilliant, yet again
I will be graduating soon. My intention is to find a job in the tech industry. I worry about my ability to enter and climb within the field, given the lack of female role models, and the evidence pointing towards the importance of such figures. Medium has allowed me to at least see that female role models exist. Unsurprisingly, they are tired. Like me, they’ve begun to wonder what resources exist for them in the professional realm. Like me, they’ve turned to social media as a way to share their collective frustrations.
Sarah Adler, “sailor mercury”, and Ash Huang write about the difficulty of being taken seriously. Dayna reveals the gender disparity in Gawker and Isis Anchalee went viral because of the backlash to her “face on BART”. People likeMargaret Stewart make me hopeful that I’ll one day encounter a good role model. People like Jared Weiss remind me that the industry is changing — hopefully for the better. There are countless other articles that have gained attention for the injustices they highlight.
These are steps in the right direction. There are others. Buzzfeed has a video series representing women of “all shapes and sizes” talking about issues that women face in their everyday life. These videos are highly successful and have several million hits each. Aerie has started a campaign of being “Aerie real” where none of their models are airbrushed (though all of them are slender and beautiful as ever — the industry knows what they need to do in order to sell their product). Positive reception of these campaigns validate the hypothesis that people care about “women’s issues”. But these modes of empowerment still presuppose that the modern day woman cares only about her body or the way people look at her. The majority of these works don’t address the feeling of being pushed aside and discounted repeatedly by the workplace.
I’m impressed by Aerie’s dedication, but these women already don’t need to be airbrushed
This is complicated by the sexuality of our mainstream media. Is porn objectifying? Is the Victoria’s Secret show a step backwards? What is the price of spectacle, especially when it is of the female body. This is further complicated by the ease of live streaming, by the constant news coming out — James Deen raping Stoya (“allegedly”), younger and younger girls adopting eating disorders in order to look “attractive”. Kim Kardashian is famous for no reason beyond her own famousness, her sex life, and her astounding boob-ass-waist ratio.
Is this Victoria’s Secret image supposed to prove something? I don’t see the difference. They’re just as unattainable looking in real life.
Is Tinder really empowering me, or is it only reinforcing the steadydevaluation of personal connections and making me feel bad for having feelings? What of the biological realities of sexual satisfaction and the vulnerability of potentially producing offspring? We must be detached and sexual to be powerful, but the reality is that most of us lie somewhere on the spectrum. Hailee Steinfeld’s recent radio hit “Love Myself” is almost certainly a song about masturbation. The fact that such a song exists is both wonderful and troubling. It’s another version of the “single lady” anthem, but in it still lies in the implication of the “you”. The feeling of incompleteness.
Even the political mechanism is sexualized. America has always been preoccupied with governing the female body, but our current political race features one of the most openly sexist candidates in recent American history. Among our hot button issues are access to adequate birth control and related healthcare. This trickles down to the lives of everyday people. Some people not only value the life of unborn children more than that of live women but also feel so strongly that they take to shooting workers at Planned Parenthood. I am confused as to how this is okay. I am scared.
I suppose the media tries to help by publicly shaming sexist and bigoted people. Trump is on the receiving end of much of it. Sexist comments like those made by Hunt about women “crying” and “falling in love” with him receive flack. Michael Moritz is receiving pushback for replying that Sequoia wasn’t “prepared to lower their standards” when asked about hiring women. As Jessica Nordell points out, in his response was the implicit assumption thathiring women →lowering standards. But this isn’t enough. The support of these sexist role models is equally loud and entirely unsettling. The dance around Trump’s ability to be a viable candidate is a dicey one. Sexism is deeply engrained into the fabric of our society — so much that girls are bred into it. We put ourselves down as much as men do. It makes me extremely uncomfortable.
The problem lies in the media’s obsession with sensationalization and the tendency to lump opinions together. Where men are valued for their potential, women are assumed to be incompetent, and labeled hypocritical for having a variety of feelings. The movement is considered wishy washy because we cannot “assume a singular stance”. When each of us writes about our experiences as females, we suddenly become generalized as mouthpieces of our sex. When an individual woman voices her desire for romantic encounters devoid of the pressure of sex, someone will inevitably respond with empowerment articles written by women in the adult entertainment industry who prefer sex with no strings attached.
We are tokenized. A single one of us serves to ameliorate a situation. When one of us is hired, a company is suddenly “inclusive to women and diversity”. We are individual symbols of a collective body. Men are allowed to have varied beliefs in accordance to their circumstances, to stand as individuals amidst an entire population. We are not given these allowances. I say this not to demonize men or to isolate a specific person as the source of a problem. I say this knowing how easy it is to brush off problems when you aren’t personally committing them. I do not ask anyone to assume to blame. I only ask for everyone to listen — all genders are benefited by considering the opinion of the individual.
If we consume media, then we should be concerned with unearthing the truth.
Amidst all of this it’s easy to start forgetting where my body ends and where the “female body” as a spectacle — an object — begins. I grapple with the inundation of media and the many opinions that exist on the matter. The hardest pill for me to swallow is that I am one of the millions who have to live with it. I consider the degree to which I agree with the female role models who have been so outspoken about our struggle for gender equality. I fear for my ability to climb in my profession if it is so unwelcoming for women, but I feel as though I must do it. If I don’t, how can I expect it of others?