Friday, April 30, 2010

Love your body, but...

The topic for the May 2010 issue of Best Health Magazine is "Love Your Body"

I really liked the cover- it does feature nudity, but I believe the model looks very healthy and she is not posed in a way to conform to the male gaze.

The stories featured in the magazine, however, do not really contribute to loving your own body so much as making your body conform as much as possible to how women are "supposed" to look.

Examples of stories include:
6 weeks to summer abs
Clothes to flatter your figure
Fat be gone?
How Canada is fighting obesity
Shape up after baby
Talking to kids about body image
Flat-Belly foods

I refuse to purchase magazines, even for blogging purposes, so I can only comment on the stories shown in the preview here, but they do not seem to be telling women to love their bodies so much as it is trying to "help" women get bodies that they would love.

By "flatter your figure" what they really mean is make your figure look as close as possible to how women are "supposed" to look.

I like the health component of this article. It states that what makes these foods "flat-belly" foods is low calories and rich nutritional value. The problem is that it is not being presented to women as eating healthy foods for the sake of being healthy, it is being presented as a way of getting a smaller stomach.

This particular issue of the magazine probably does better than most at trying to get women to love their bodies, but it would be really great if they could try and get this message across without normative messages about what type of body women are supposed to have. I am also tempted to go to a local bookstore just to see how many of the images and advertisements throughout the magazine feature women different types of bodies... in these magazines you often find the "you are beautiful just the way you are" articles wedged between ads that exclusively feature super skinny models.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Canada not funding abortions in developing countries

Canadian Conservative government recently announced that they will not be funding abortions in developing nations. In 2009, they announced a plan to help with maternal and child health, but failed to mention that abortions are not included in maternal health and family planning.

This is contrary to the established goals of the G8 summit, and opposes Obama's policy to fund maternal health, including access to abortion.

Harper said
We want to make sure our funds are used to save the lives of women and children and are used on the many, many things that are available to us that frankly do not divide the Canadian population.
Abortions do save the lives of women and children, and we have to be careful not to put the possibility of the fetus' life ahead of the health of the pregnant woman/girl, or the quality of life implications that may go along with the pregnancy.

I'm not sure I understand what he means by the "many many things that are available to us" because abortions are available to us, and therfore should be one piece of those many many things (wow, that sentence does not make a lot of sense, but frankly, neither does his).

To my knowledge, abortions are not that controversial of a topic in Canada (although, I'm sure there are always people who support them and people who don't). I don't remember access to abortion ever being a hot politicial issue in as long as I have followed Canadian politics, other than a brief mention here and there of a referendum that was never met with much support. I really hope this isn't going to renew the abortion debate within Canada, as has been happening in the United States recently.

I do not see how a few elite white male politicians in Canada have the right to decide what counts as maternal health in countries that they have probably never so much as visited. Maybe it should be the women in these countries (or at very least, medical workers who have spent a lot of time in these countries and understand their needs) who decide which types of maternal health and family planning services they need.

Still trying to decide what I think about Lady Gaga...

I saw this great video with a male acapella group singing a Lady Gaga medley (mostly Bad Romance)

I thought I'd use it as an intro to some thoughts on Lady Gaga. I have to admit, I am not overly familiar with her as an artist; I have heard her songs that regularly play on the radio, I play Pokerface on the piano and Bad Romance on the guitar, and I find her music fun to dance to, but I do not have any of her albums, nor do I have her songs on my playlist. What I have been following more closely is some of the discussions around whether or not she is a feminist.

She claimed that she is not a feminist, saying "I'm not a feminist - I, I hail men, I love men. I celebrate American male culture, and beer, and bars and muscle cars..." Then, she apparently realized that loving men and being a feminist are not incompatible because she later said "I'm getting the sense that you're a little bit of a feminist, like I am, which is good" and goes on to discuss how the music business can be different for women than it is for men.

Another thing she did that I think is great is alternate representations of people with disabilities (found here), which, on the one hand, show interesting images of different types of bodies that do not entirely fit in to "normal" images within pop culture. On the other hand, some argue that she is sexualizing the disabled body (which may or may not be a problem).

I think my favorite thing about Lady Gaga is how she takes images typically found within pop culture, such as poses or fashion, and changes it just enough to make a different type of image. Yes, she does conform to dominant beauty standards in many ways, I'm not sure she would be all that successful if she didn't, but sometimes I find she changes what would otherwise be a very sexual image just enough to make it different. For example, even though her clothes can be revealing, the weirdness of them takes away what might otherwise be blatant sexuality to turn it into something interesting as opposed to simply fitting into the male gaze.

However, her new video Telephone (found here), seems to conform to a more dominant music narrative, including revealing clothing and tons of product placements... Maybe it could be read differently- it does feature one of the few "butch" lesbian images in modern pop culture, and there could be meaning behind the products and lack of clothing... maybe I just don't get it this time.

Anyway, I'm wondering other people's opinion of her, whether it be related to feminism or academia, or just personal likes/dislikes about her music...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Children, Gender, and Beauty Standards

I just had what I think is an interesting observation while I watched my children playing dress up.

My daughter always dresses up as a "pretty princess" or a "beautiful ballerina," whereas my son dresses up as spiderman, batman, a cowboy, or a knight.

It is not enough that a little girl be something (i.e. a ballerina), even as a young child, she must live up to certain beauty expectations while doing so. I am not trying to argue that men do not have pressure to meet certain standards with their appearance as well, but at least a little boy can dress up as a cowboy without having to be a "handsome" or "muscular" cowboy.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sex Education in Ontario: Beyond abstinence only curriculums

There is a new sex education curriculum in Ontario that is being strongly opposed by "family values" groups.

Some of the highlights are
Grade 1- taught to identify body parts by their proper names, including male and female genitalia
Grade 3- curriculum includes gender identity, sexual orientation, and same-sex marriage
Grade 5- identify reproductive organs and describe puberty changes
Grade 6- taught about masturbation, as well as definitions for terms like "vaginal lubrication"
Grade 7- STIs, AIDS, and unwanted pregnancy prevention, including information about oral and anal sex.
Grade 8- Taught about the importance of abstinence as a positive choice, but not as the only choice. They are also taught about pregnancy prevention and how to find support for issues relating to a healthy sexuality.

Dr. Charles McVety, president of Canada Christian College, claimed that
"Little eight-year-olds, they're going to be taught they look one way on the outside but they may be the opposite on the inside... This is so confusing to an eight-year-old ... these are children in the strongest sense of the word -- they're innocent, they're clean, they're beautiful -- and to corrupt them by imparting a question of gender identity is beyond the pale."
Would talk of gender identity confuse an 8 year-old? Probably not, I think most third graders are more open to these ideas than many adults... and it might help a lot of children accept how they feel about their own bodies.

I am troubled by the perception that children are pure and innocent. Children are in need of protection and nurture from adults in order to survive. Adults are supposed to provide them with the necessities, like food and shelter. In western society, adults must also protect children from "secret" adult knowledge, such as sexual relations, money, violence, illness, death, as well as specific social relations and language. This is not always the case historically or in many other cultures, where children sleep in the same room as parents and it is not uncommon for them to see their parents having sex.

Children are constructed as pure, innocent and in need of protection from adult knowledge, when I believe that they are merely ignorant because of this so-called protection. I have heard it argued that this ignorance can make them more at risk because the concept of innocence can be arousing to abusers, it can stigmatize children who have figured out these secrets, and it makes them more vulnerable to abuse when they don’t have the words to describe what is happening or the knowledge to understand what is acceptable and what is not.

The importance of teaching youth about the dangers of sex is widely debated, but it is much less controversial than the concept of teaching them about the pleasures of sex- which is something that this curriculum does not quite get into, but is bordering on. In order to be successful in most aspects of life, children are taught to practice. They spend countless hours doing homework to practice for a test, training for a sport, or learning a musical instrument. What they are not taught is that sexual pleasure also takes practice; in fact, they are shamed into not practicing. The safest way to practice would be to masturbate, but instead of being encouraged to do so, they are made to feel guilt over autoeroticism and sexuality itself. The importance of having a healthy sex life in adulthood is rarely discussed in school curriculums.

Children, and especially teenagers, know that sex exists and trying to end premarital sex is an effort in futility. Rather than continuing to fight this losing battle, children should be 'protected' by being given complete and accurate information about sex. I hope that teachers get the training necessary to deliver this information to students in a way that does not shame them into avoiding questions and not getting the information that they need.

In a lecture on the problems with abstinence only education, a women's studies professor argued that everyone (even children) deserve to practice with as much information at their disposal as possible.

edited to add: Upon re-reading this, I thought I might end up with comments telling me that it is wrong to push sexuality onto children... Just to make it clear, I am not suggesting that we actively encourage young children to masturbate, or give them step by step instructions on how to do so... I am merely saying that we need to make sure they have all the information they need available to them so that when they do decide to experiment with their body in various ways, they are able to do so without being embarrassed or ashamed of themselves.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Constructive Criticism

I've been trying to finish up my fourth year thesis this week. I received a copy from my advisor and one from my reader, both full of comments, mostly positive, but I was still exhausted by the time I made it to the end of the second copy of my 50 page assignment. 100 pages of constructive criticism is more than any one person should read in a single day. I found a fitting picture describing why here.

I'm going to try and keep this is mind and get back to work...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Interesting Billboard: What is your role?

I just saw this billboard while driving and was pleasantly surprised and impressed to see something like this displayed on a busy highway in my hometown.

It says (in both English and French):
End Violence Against Women
What is YOUR role? (featuring a generic male figure)

I also found this ad, which is posted on buses around the city

According to their website,
The committee actively works towards eliminating the social, political and economic conditions that perpetuate violence against women... while respecting special needs of children and men survivors. The Coalition is committed to ensuring that services are accessible by supporting existing resources, identifying gaps and promoting prevention through education and awareness.

I wish I wasn't so surprised to see something like this happening so close to home. I am currently not sure what exactly this group has accomplished, or help they can offer survivors, but I really like the attempt to identify gaps in the system, as well as the public awareness campaign.

I especially like that it isn't showing violence as an act that is committed by a few pathological/criminal male figures to helpless female victims, but is showing a complex interplay of relationships between people, especially in the bus ad. It is acknowledging that everyone has a role in systemic violence against women (as well as violence against children and men). And it specifically mentions social, political, and economic conditions as factors!

Definitely a step in the right direction. Every one of us should take a few minutes to think about our role within various hierarchies of privilege and oppression on a regular basis.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Facebook status and notions of motherhood

yet another facebook status that I have seen from moms at least 3 times this week...

♥ Before you were conceived, I wanted you. Before you were born, I loved you. Before you were an hour old, I would have died for you. This is the miracle of life. Put this on your status, if you have children you love more than life itself.♥

Maybe it is just me, but mine would probably say something more like

"Before you were conceived, I never wanted to have children. Before you were born, I was terrified of you. Before you were an hour old, I was worried about how I was going to pay for food and diapers. Slowly, thereafter, I began to love you"

Sounds horrible, once I read it back keeping in mind the expectations that are imposed on mothers, but the reality is that the first statement is often not true. Many babies are not planned, and therefore not "wanted" at the time, but it doesn't mean they aren't cherished afterwards.

A lot of parents do not feel an instant connection to their children, and statements like the one from facebook above make many mothers feel like there is something wrong with them. To those of you who are not yet parents, you may not feel that bond when the child is first born, and that is ok too, it comes over time. Don't let it make you feel like you are not a good parent.

"Women's Issues" at a bookstore

One of the worst things about living in a small city is the lack of a good used bookstore. Everytime I go anywhere near Toronto I make a point of taking a detour to a good bookstore.

Today, I went to a used bookstore and hoped to find some good academic books. What I found was a section labelled "Women's Issues" filled with books about parenting, marriage, childbirth, childhood stages, and one book that looked rather interesting about how gender was a social construct.

Apparently books on how to discipline problem children, how to help them get good grades, advice on how to care for infants, and how to keep a marriage strong are women's issues.

The sad part is that as absurd as it seems to me that parenting books are gendered in this way, it is relatively true... how many men read books about how to save their marriage or how to discipline their children? Probably comparatively few.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Eyelashes and moral regulation

Nicole gave me the box for this "Bad Gal" mascara, which came with a sample pack of make up that you get for shopping at a specific store.

What I want to know is whether "bad girls" have different eyelashes than "good girls." What makes one a "bad girl?" Long eyelashes is supposed to be alluring, so does being alluring and seductive make a woman bad? It plays into the Madonna/whore complex, in which there are only two types of women- good women and bad women.

Madonna (a biblical reference, not to be confused with the popstar) represents "good" "pure" and "well-behaved" women. These women do not have sexuality, and therefore, do not need alluring eyelashes. The "whore" is supposed to represent sexual women. What is most problematic is that within this dichotomy is that all women that do not follow the "good girl" rules end up being seen as bad, as is evidenced in the double standards imposed on women's behavior.

Like this product, a general theme throughout pop culture involves playing into this stereotype rather than trying to change expectations regulating women's behavior. As a result, women (and, increasingly, young girls) want to conform to standards of beauty and behavior that are imposed on them by this norm- for more on this, see the book "Female Chauvinist Pigs". As women's sexuality becomes less taboo, it is less stigmatizing to be a "bad girl" but it I don't like that the category still exists. A lot of TV shows and movies portray female characters as either "good," meaning asexual, motherly, or if they are sexually active, it is only within the bounds of a long-term monogamous relationship or "bad" women, meaning sexually active, deceptive, generally seducing poor men who can't help but fall for them.

Despite the name of this product, I think that long and thick eyelashes have become a beauty standard that women are expected to have regardless of their behavior within this dichotomy. Eyelashes that are "inadequate" by dominant standards are now considered a medical problem requiring prescription medication! At very least, needing medication to "fix" this "problem" seems to break away from the previously mentioned dichotomy, but it does so because there is money to be made by drug companies who want as large of a consumer base as possible (as do companies selling mascara). This medication also has side effects, such as the permanent darkening of the iris, which sounds a bit dangerous to me.. if you had blue or green eyes, they could turn brown, and if you had brown eyes, they could get darker. It entirely blurs the distinction between beauty aids and health care.

I wonder how many men have felt as though they needed a medication to thicken their eyelashes... or have purchased products which labelled them as "bad" because of a desire to conform to dominant standards of beauty.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Every child (with wealthy parents)

I have been passing this same bench every day for the past year or so, and it has been getting on my nerves every day since I first saw it.

It is somewhat blurry, but it says "Every child, every chance, every day" and is an ad for Montessori schools.

Now I love the premise of Montessori schools, I really like how kids can essentially teach themselves without all the same structures of a typical classroom setting. However, I don't like the $7000 per year tuition price tag, but apparently that is quite cheap. In Toronto, tuition ranges from $10,300 for kindergarten to $19,895 for grades 11 and 12. That is more expensive than my undergraduate university tuition in this province (Ontario), but it is for children in elementary school.

So, how can they claim this option is for every child? Maybe it should say "Every child whose parents can afford the tuition, every chance offered to children of the elite, every day in capitalist societies."

I don't know how they can even use the words "every child" in their ads when they do not allow just any child in their school. This is a blatant example of how privileged is reproduced.