Monday, February 4, 2013

A follow up to my post about the Vandy photo booth scandal

On December 11, my former roommate and fellow Vandy alumnus brought the now-infamous photo booth scandal to my attention. After minutes, really, of looking for information about the scandal and stumbling upon incidence after incidence of hateful and blatant misogyny, I started writing

That single post garnered me more blog traffic than everything I’ve written in the past year and a half combined. I'm actually the top Google search result for several different phrases related to the scandal, which is crazy and exciting and terrifying all at once. 

I wonder if some (most?) of that traffic is people still trolling for the pictures (if that’s why you’re here now, sorry to disappoint), but I have actually gotten several positive responses to it. And that has thrilled me beyond belief.

On one level, it’s exciting to know that my personal agency isn’t totally wasted – this writing, this piece of myself that I throw out to the unknown masses is being seen and even acknowledged. But on another, possibly more selfish level, it gives me hope that I’m reaching people. That my message – even if somewhat crudely written in sarcastic haste – might just make someone stop and think.

I’m fortunate through my job to have a platform to advocate for access to mental health care, and maybe hopefully now through my writing to advocate for women’s issues and rights.  

Even in the wake of the presidential election, where an (albeit narrow) majority of Americans confirmed that we are not ready to regress, it’s crucial to keep talking about women’s issues, about rape culture, about slut-shaming and gender norms and abortion rights and everything else that still threatens to chip away at our safety and our equality and our status as first class citizens. It's maybe not something we're consciously aware of every day, but it's always present. 

Our gender identities are cemented from a very young age; through the toys we receive, the lessons we are taught and the role models we watch. Girls are given tea sets and miniature kitchens and easy-bake ovens and dolls – toys that prepare us for the inevitable future of domesticity. Boys are given toy swords and guns and construction sets and action figures (not male dolls – these are “heroes,” ready for action) – all things that develop their “natural” aggressive, strong, leader-of-the-pack mentality.

We learn that girls must be “ladylike,” but “boys will be boys.” We see the roles that our parents, grandparents, and the adults around us play. We become aware of the fact that most of our teachers and babysitters and nannies are female, while police officers and soldiers and politicians are men.

When we dress too provocatively, we are whores. When we demand control of our reproductive lives, we are sluts. When we speak too loudly or too passionately, we are hysterical. When we seek out careers in male-dominated fields, we are butch, or trouble-makers. We are always subject to the judgment of men, particularly religious men (and women) who benefit from finding us wanting.

So we maintain the status quo, but each generation of women grows a little more restless. We see some women break the mold. We gain the education that would never have been available to our grandmothers. We start to recognize that our worth is not tied to our anatomy and that we have something to contribute to the world beyond a womb fertile for breeding.

And that scares those people whose worth is tied to our suppression. If we are no longer the sinners, are they still the saints?

Religious men cling to their beliefs and their religious texts (this is not just a Christian or Catholic phenomenon – it transpires in various religions) as a means of securing their “God-given” superiority. They trumpet their bible verses and the entrenched beliefs of their forefathers as proof that we are not as good, or as worthy, or as human as they are. The truly insidious ones claim it is for our own good – that they have our best interests at heart.

We have to break this pattern. We have to speak out against every instance of misogyny we face, because every catcall, every pointed look, every missed promotion, every photo booth scandal allows fear-based hatred to continue.

Every time a man is allowed to get away with treating us as if our opinions, our bodies, our lives are subject to their approval, we are only cementing their belief in their right to dictate to us on issues of our safety and health. By sitting quietly in the face of ignorance and deep-rooted misogyny, we are complicit in our continued servitude and the rapid devaluation of our very lives. 

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