Writing for this blog has opened me up to new thoughts and ideas. I am challenged to think critically about the issues surrounding women and humanity as a whole. I am a believer that in order to find solutions to problems, definitions are needed. What is woman? I told myself, “I know what it is to be a woman, at least I know that I am one.” Besides exploring my gender with science, I wanted to know what it means to be a woman from a philosophical point of view.
I recently went to a lecture about the nature of woman and was introduced to the works of Dr. Edith Stein. She was an early 20th century philosopher whose research focused on women, empathy, and “feminine” traits. As I researched her life and read her lectures, I found the explanation to what I hadn’t been able to put into words before.
The Jew, the Atheist, and the Believer
Stein was born in in 1891 in Breslua, Germany, which is now in modern-day Poland. She was the youngest of eleven children and her parents were devout Jews. She was very close to her mother and was considered her favourite. Life circumstances, including the death of her father, led her to become an atheist by her teens. “I consciously decided, of my own volition, to give up praying.”
Stein was academically brilliant, studying German and history at University of Breslua, and later philosophy at Gottingen University. She was particularly interested in women’s issues and was a self-described radical suffragette. The subject of women in a professional setting and religious living became her focus later on in life. In 1915, she served as a nurse in WWI, where she was deeply disturbed by the sickness and death she witnessed. After a year, Stein returned to school and earned her doctorate summa cum laude with her thesis “The Problem of Empathy.”
When looking into the sex industry, abuses can be found. There is mention of sexual assault and rape in this post but nothing explicit. Several of the links do contain graphic content used to illustrate the realities of the industry. Proceed with caution.
Every day, we are bombarded by sex. In advertisements for fast food or perfume, in TV show plots and music, sex follows us everywhere. At a time where it seems we are talking about sex more than ever, there is still a taboo that many are reluctant to bring up. Porn. Often confined to locker room talk with the guys, no one really talks about it in a critical sense. When was the last time you had nice dinner conversation about the good old topic of porn? How many would admit to family members or employers the amount of time watching people engage in sexual activity on screen? I think there needs to be a critical talk about pornography. I don’t mean from a religious moral standpoint nor do I want to talk about censorship. I want to talk about the science of the brain and the psychological and societal impact on men and women.
“I shall not today attempt further to define [obscenity]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it”
–former U.S. Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart
It’s important to define the problem before coming up with solutions. The definition of pornography or obscenity in general has been debated in courts for decades. For this post, I am using the definition Matt Fradd uses in his book The Porn Myth: “visual material containing explicit displays of sexual organs or sexual activities, whether real or simulated, in order to arouse erotic rather than aesthetic sensations.”
The Addicted Brain
There have been many studies on pornography and Internet addiction with lengthy talk about how the brain reacts to certain stimuli and the chemicals released. Fradd provides a concise explanation on how pornography triggers addiction:
“When researchers compared brain scans of porn users with scans of nonusers, they found that the more porn the person had used, the less his reward center activated when porn images were flashed on screen. ‘This is in line with the hypothesis that intense exposure of pornographic stimuli results in a down regulation of the natural neural response to sexual stimuli.’
With a dulled reward center, a person can’t feel the effects of dopamine as well as they used to. As a result, the porn a person is using can stop producing the same excitement it did before. This leads many users to go in search of more hardcore material to get a bigger dopamine burst.” Continue reading “Porn: Addiction and the War on Women”→
Who knew four words could be so subversive, so controversial? With those four words, Ariana Grande changed her career, probably forever. These words show us that when it comes to power, especially the extreme power of a deity, gender matters. Gender really matters. You can’t just ignore gender when it comes to gods, artists, or U.S. presidents. Those roles are reserved for men, and when you dare to say otherwise, there will be backlash.
Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam”
Ariana Grande’s version
If you have yet to see the music video for “God is a Woman” by Ariana Grande, I would recommend taking a moment to view it at this link before you continue to read. This video is filled with imagery empowering to women. In my personal favorite part of the music video, Grande literally breaks the glass ceiling with a giant metal hammer. The video also alludes to many classic artworks, recreating them with Grande at the helm instead of a man. For example, the last shot of the video shows a new version of Michaelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. There is also a depiction of The Thinker by Rodin, in which Grande sits in the same posture as the thinking man while men throw gendered slurs at her, trying to tear her down. It is through these gender-reversed images that the viewer begins the realize how infrequently women are shown in positions of power historically. It is almost difficult to recognize how little representation there is until you are confronted with images that you have, amazingly, never seen before.
She is perched at the top of a steep, concrete step, the curve of her calf accentuated by the strain of her pose. There are her legs, tan and endless; a flip of a sleek ponytail; the seductive pucker of her lips as she peeks over her shoulder and leers at the camera; the strip of her flat belly, framed by her tight black crop top and the Daisy Dukes clinging to her waist; then, finally, her perfect butt, like two crescent suns emerging from the clouds of denim.
I am almost salivating, wanting to shout, “Damn, look at her butt!” but I keep my thoughts to myself.
Today’s Barbie doll is often seen as an “anti-feminist” doll. It’s argued that she body shames women into thinking that her figure is the “ideal” of how a woman is supposed to look.
On the contrary, Barbie actually started out as a symbol for feminism. She was the first doll to exist that wasn’t a baby doll. It was society’s first doll that didn’t teach young girls how to nurture and become caregivers.
Barbie also allowed girls to imagine having a variety of occupations. Throughout history, it taught young girls that they could become anything, including but not limited to: an astronaut, a lawyer, a teacher, or an athlete.
With the onslaught of feminist critique, the makers of Barbie are currently concerned with the low sales of the dolls. This is due to the body image the dolls are portraying.
Over time, Barbie has evolved into a series of “ideals” that mothers no longer want to showcase to their young daughters.
Her “un-relatable” hourglass figure. Her long blonde hair. Her bright blue eyes, and her perky breasts appear as what society calls the “perfect woman.”
“Moms are probably the most important influence on a daughter’s body image. Even if a mom says to the daughter, ‘You look so beautiful, but I’m so fat,’ it can be detrimental.”
Parents sometimes don’t realize how much children observe and learn while they are still growing.
I grew up with a mom and grandma who would diet fairly often. While I was always a petite girl, I still have that nagging voice in my head saying I need to “eat better and exercise more.” It was just the type of environment I was raised in.
We are so quick to blame television, the radio, famous icons, and anyone else other than ourselves. Granted, those mediums of information do play a role in how society views things. However, they are not the sole instigator.
If the traditional Barbie was a real woman, she would be 5’9”, have a 39-inch bust, an 18-inch waist, 33-inch hips, wear a size 3 in shoes, and weigh about 120 pounds. This “perfect” body image would likely result in A LOT of health issues. For instance, the woman described would likely not be able to menstruate at all.
This was NEVER the common body image, but it was the “ideal” body image. Therefore, it gives an unrealistic expectation to young girls. One in 100 thousand women are born with this body type. But, should we be body shaming the girls that are thinner or bigger than Barbie?
In 2016, the average American girl between the ages of 3 and 11 owned approximately 11 Barbie dolls. All were the same size, so that they could share Barbie clothes.
Barbie’s body image influenced Cindy Jackson so much that she underwent over 20 different cosmetic surgeries so that she would fit the Barbie body image. In 2006, she was named, “Britain’s most surgically altered woman.”
“Why should we live in a face that’s foisted on us from birth? We choose our clothes, our hair-colouring. Why not our face?”- Cindy Jackson
Cosmetic surgery is a heated topic among feminists, in regard to whether it’s right or wrong. Some feminists think that we should be able to do whatever we want with our bodies. Including altering them into the way we want them to look. Others argue that cosmetic surgeons, “ruthlessly prey on women’s body insecurities.”
No matter where you stand on the issue, it’s safe to say that idolizing a plastic toy so much, that they spend millions of dollars to look like it, is a little overboard.
Kim Culmone, VP designer at Mattel, said, “Barbie’s body was never designed to be realistic. She was designed for girls to easily dress and undress.”
Barbie was supposed to be a fantasy for little girls. The dolls were meant to be a tool for young girls to imagine more for their lives–other than the expectations to get married, have children, take care of the house, etc.
The company that created Barbie, Mattel, is now redesigning Barbie to be all different sizes: short and tall, a variety of waist sizes, and a variety of ethnicities. They are completely rethinking the image of Barbie.
Mattel struggled with deciding to redesign such a traditional figure, because in past test marketing groups, the children did not like the new variety of dolls. They wanted them to look like the traditional Barbie.
In this documentary, Mattel tells the history of Barbie and how she has evolved.
“Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie, examines the world’s most popular doll, from her humble origins to her controversial persona today. In her 59 years, Barbie has become a fashion icon, a lightning rod, and a target for feminists. This documentary reveals unprecedented access to the inner workings of a toy giant during Barbie’s biggest reinvention.” –IMDb
After watching the insightful documentary, my view of Barbie has changed. I think she was just misunderstood and a little delayed in evolving with society.
When I think about defining “White Privilege,” I think about how it has affected me in my life. So many moments that I can’t seem to name a specific one. When searching for “white privilege” definitions, it was hard to find some examples. Here is what I found:
“White Privilege: the fact of people with white skin having advantages in society that other people do not have. The concept of white privilege explains why white people have greater access to society’s legal and political institutions.”
Whether you think they’re trashy or artwork, they’ve been a part of society practically since the beginning. Historically, women aren’t shown as having tattoos, but they have become less taboo since the late 19th century. In 1882, the first American tattooed women, Nora Hildebrandt started an exhibit displaying her neck to toe tattoos with a reported 365 different tattoo designs. Thankfully, today’s tattooing practices aren’t quite as painful as a single needle (not attached to a machine) being driven under the skin a single pin prick at a time.
Today, tattoos aren’t exclusively for sailors or gutsy women.