Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A Typical Day at The Salon?

I am a 26 year old woman, and yesterday, I went to the hair salon for the first time in my life.   As a kid, I was always more interested in playing soccer and getting dirty than in fashion or playing dress up, so having my mother cut my hair for the past 20 years seemed appropriate.  However recently I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and do something different; I’ve officially entered the world of ombres. Although I love how my hair turned out, the experience was one I won’t soon forget and brought up many thoughts for me on the topics of feminism and sexuality.  

My appointment began how, I would assume, most trips to the salon do: I was greeted with a smile by my hairstylist and invited to read a magazine while I waited. It was clear to me that this salon had taken several steps to make its consumers feel welcome:  I noted a warmly decorated waiting area with magazines (although all appeared to represent a narrow population in terms of gender, race, and class) and complimentary refreshments. 

When I was invited to my stylist’s chair she began to engage me in what I assumed was her typical conversational topics with a new client. She asked me about my career, my age, and how I had learned of the salon.  As the conversation continued the topic moved to my relationship status.  When she learned I was single, my stylist’s jaw dropped, “No, no, no, this just won’t do!” She immediately began to list several names of young and available men she knows describing their looks and how much money they each make. I considered all the other women whom have sat in this very chair, having this exact same conversation.  I was filled with sadness (and a little anger) when I thought about how narrow and biased her assumptions had been.  I became flooded with questions:

Will the day ever come when I am not assumed to be straight?
·     Living in a heterocentric society causes us all to make assumptions that may invalidate those around us.  As members of the psychological community we are taught to identify, challenge, and change these thoughts before they cause us to act in ways that may harm others.  I suspected my stylist had no idea just how hurtful she was being.  I suspected that if I explained her mistake, she would undoubtedly apologize and change her behavior. But would she? And should I have to?
      Will I ever not be expected to rely on a man?
·   Marsha Linehan would likely agree that I am never more compelled to act on my “emotional mind” than when a person assumes a woman needs a man to make her happy or for support. I feel a fire in my soul that urges me to immediately correct anyone whom makes such an error.  Although, “I am quite happy with my current situation,” said in a harsh tone stopped the conversation from progressing, I constantly struggle with when, where, and what to say in reaction to these situations.  I struggle to find the balance between standing up for social justice in a way that is professional and willingly perceived by others. (In other words, I have to fight the urge to embarrass or cause physical harm when I feel discriminated against).

The worst part of the experience occurred when my stylist insisted I allow their make-up artist to touch up my makeup so that they may post a “before and after” photo.  As I sat down and began the experience of having to explain my life story, now to a woman named Vida, I made a conscious (but failed) effort to provide only vague responses.  The only words she needed were “psychology student” to unleash the uneducated wave of discrimination and prejudice that was to follow:
Oh I went to school for psychology too! I currently work at the women’s prison as a recovery coach.  I am so proud of the work we do there, 3 women have come to us and we have helped them realize God does not want them to be gay.  So now we are helping them come back to God!
After immediately asking her to stop touching me, and collecting as much identifying information as possible, I informed our uneducated friend that her “work” was not only unethical and immoral, IT’S ILLEGAL! I proceeded to explain that my work with LGBTQ individuals would be the opposite of what she does, and would likely focus on undoing much of the guilt and shame created in programs such as this. 
Later in discussing the situation with my mother, I questioned my reaction.  She discouraged me from speaking up, insisting that my words would have little to no impact on this woman’s life and asking if I respected her right to have her own opinion. After processing this, I stand behind my actions.  While I respect a person’s right to opinion, I lose that respect when the beliefs cause harm by discriminating against an entire population.  As a clinical psychologist in training I feel it is my duty to protect social justice.  As a woman, I feel it is my responsibility to speak out against discrimination.  And as a human being, I feel it is my obligation to identify and challenge harmful acts fueled by prejudice beliefs. For these reasons, I will always speak up!

 - Written by Samantha Brustad





Sunday, March 1, 2015

"Plus-Size" Models: Empowering or Not?

According to the CDC, the average American woman is a size 14. And yet, the media was buzzing when Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition (*eye roll*) featured it first plus-size model at a size 16, Ashley Graham (see photo below).  


Now, certainly this is a positive step forward in the representation of women in the media. However, there is a problem with using the term plus-size. What does it the term plus-size even mean? In fashion industry, plus-size is a term for models who are size 6 and up.  They are plus-size but based on an arbitrary figure. For instance, one model, Madeline Hill, at a mere size 6 was transitioned into plus-size modeling. (Here's Madeline Hill’s story of making the transition to plus-sizemodeling at a size 6

But most people never consider a size 6 as a plus-size.  Especially when the average American woman is a size 14. Furthermore, the ad featured in Sports Illustrated seems to suggest that plus-size is attractive as long as women emphasize their “curves”—hips and boobs—and for the purpose of gaining a man’s sexual attention.


Now, another plus-size model, Tess Holliday (see photo above), at a size 22, received some attention (not nearly as much as Ashley Graham) after being signed to London-based MiLK Model Management. She actually got more press for effyourbeautystandards, an Instagram account for women to celebrate their bodies and unique looks.

Do you think that it is good that media is choosing to use plus-size models? Are plus-size models empowering women or just setting another impossible body ideal for women?





- Written by Angela Barney 



#FastTailedGirls

I have always been fascinated by the ways in which we go about teaching young Black girls about sex, sexuality, their bodies, and the relationship among these three things.  Since 2013, the hashtag #FastTailedGirls has been used by adult Black women to talk back to their experiences of being labeled as “fast” or “fast-tailed” as children and adolescents. (See: https://twitter.com/search?q=fasttailedgirls&src=typd). Please note, this Twitter thread may be difficult to read as women have documented their individual experiences of emotional toll, strained relationships, and victim blaming they have endured as a result of this label. Being branded as “fast” or “fast-tailed” is not to be received as a compliment, rather it sends a warning to a young girl that she is doing something that is “womanish” or could invite sexual advances. Specifically, this label would be said to a young girl who is presumed to have taken on the sexual characteristics or appearance of an adult woman. For example, a girl experiencing puberty may be told that because her “hips are too wide,” “breasts are too big,” or “hips swayed too hard,” she is sending a sexual message to others.

Ultimately, the labeling of young Black girls as fast or fast-tailed communicates that even as a child or adolescent, the mere physical presence of your body signals an invitation to comment, critique, and initiate sexual advances. One of the many issues with this labeling of children and teenagers is that it informs their learning and processing of themselves in terms of body autonomy. This constant policing of their bodies suggests that the development of their physical bodies is connected to the sexual attraction of others, with a particular emphasis on heterosexual men. In other words, no longer are their bodies and its development a girl’s personal experience, rather it is swiftly connected to the sexual gratification of men. The focus on sexual value and physical appearance may reduce perceived personal agency and control of one’s sexuality and body. As I think about the frequent use of the “FastTailedGirls” hashtag and the pervasiveness of this experience, my heart aches and yearns for the day when young Black girls can openly and freely experience their full personhood without the added stress of being labeled  #FastTailedGirls.

- Written by Elom A. Amuzu, M.A.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Navigating Mainstream Media as a Bad Feminist

Almost exactly a year ago today, The Onion posted my favorite parody news article of theirs. Its headline was, “Woman Takes Short Half-Hour Break From Being a Feminist To Enjoy TV Show.”

TO ENJOY A TV SHOW.

I laughed until my eyes watered and sent it to some of my best friends.  I feel like this headline and article perfectly express the day-to-day fleeting moments of internal conflict I experience as a modern day feminist who grew up strongly socialized within a patriarchal society.  That is, I don’t know how to embrace and honor my feminism while still consuming (virtually) any mainstream media.

What I mean by that are things like...

·      The traditionally “girly” part of me wants to watch The Bachelor and laugh about its ridiculousness with my friends.  The feminist part of me is mortified and ashamed that I am consuming it and thus supporting and enabling its degradation of women.  Those of us who claim we are hate-watching it or watching it ironically are lying to ourselves.  Not in the “you have a drinking problem” kind of way, just in the “you only pretended to try to hold the elevator” kind of way (see: http://jezebel.com/5982222/hate-watching-is-mostly-just-being-embarrassed-by-your-own-tastes and http://www.xojane.com/entertainment/i-watch-the-bachelor-okay for further consideration of these ideas).

·      Ariana Grande presents a thin-ideal sex object that I think glorifies so many things that are harmful to women.  But I love her voice and her songs, and part of me is jealous of her appearance I think, so some combination of that leads me to watch her music videos.  Like, multiple times each.

·      A moment I present as either embarrassing or awesome depending on the audience: attending a Britney Spears concert.  As an adult.  After my feminist awakening (but... but... nostalgia!)

·      Say Yes to the Dress only validates and perpetuates the message that a girl’s whole life is building to her wedding day, which will be the most important day of her life and on which she needs to look perfect.  This pressure seems to have multiplied exponentially with social media – Pinterest wedding boards, a much larger audience for wedding photos, etc.  But few things are a greater guilty pleasure for me than watching Say Yes to the Dress with girlfriends, and I already anticipate that I, too, will not feel able to help striving to look perfect (read: thin, beautiful) on my own wedding day.

·      The Kardashians/Jenners pain me.  But.... sometimes I click on links to articles like “Kylie Jenner Goes Without Makeup, Flashes Torso in a Crop Top: See Her Street Style Look.”  Oh, yeah, and that means that sometimes I visit websites like People Magazine or Us Weekly.  

Is this hypocrisy?  Kind of like how I feel strongly about animal cruelty but still purchase leather items and sometimes eat conventionally-produced meat?  

Or is this just what it can be like to grow up strongly influenced by female gender norms and then later discover feminism?  Is this a small, privileged version of what many feminist scholars have referred to as living in the liminal space (space in between two identities)?  Is this just an embodiment of sometimes feeling tired of fighting it constantly and wanting to take a break?

Or maybe my choices aren’t problematic at all. Many believe, for example, that some female pop stars’ unapologetic sexuality is indeed empowering to women (e.g., http://bitchmagazine.org/post/nicki-minajs-unapologetic-sexuality-anaconda-video-feminism).  But I have felt so confused by sometimes-only-subtle differences between media presentations of female sexuality that are empowering vs. those that are repressive that my choices to consume this type of pop culture don’t sit well with me.

A heroine of mine, Roxane Gay, embraces all these contradictions as being a Bad Feminist. She says it is a totally human and still valuable version of feminism (http://feministing.com/2014/08/05/feministing-readz-bad-feminism-gives-us-permission-to-be-complicated-with-our-feminism/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter).

Writers like Roxane Gay help me accept my complicated, normal person feminism.  And, at the same time, I still want to strive to be a less-complicated feminist.  I want to do this because I want my actions to match my values (cognitive dissonance?).  If I really cared about promoting a healthier popular culture for girls and women, I wouldn’t support The Bachelor’s success by watching it.  I also want this because I strongly believe women have to lead by example.  I want to show my future daughter, not just tell her, that women should not feel ashamed of how they look without makeup.  In short, I believe in the words of Marie C. Wilson, feminist author, political organizer, and entrepreneur (and creator of Take Our Daughters to Work Day): you can’t be what you can’t see.

I have found a few small things that help me to make the choices I feel better about in the long-term.  I follow accounts on Twitter like The Representation Project (@TheRepProject) and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls (@smrtgrls) to help feminist media keep reaching my eyes and ears.  Before consuming something, I try to stop and ask myself, “Is this helpful to me?” “How will watching this make me feel in the long-term?” “Would I feel comfortable publically acknowledging that I am consuming this?”

And sometimes I just let myself be a Bad Feminist and indulge in the latest Rose Ceremony drama J (it was Most Dramatic Rose Ceremony Ever, so I mean, I had to).

How do you navigate today’s media environment as a feminist?  What have you found helpful?  How would you reconcile choices like these?



- Written by Kimberly Burdette, M.A.