A few things have come up in the past several days that touch on topics of previous posts. Won’t rehash it all, therefore, but figured it’s worth making a few points.
Re: Sexualizing geek spaces. I realized that one simple way we can help mitigate this is by instituting (and enforcing) dress and behavior codes for daytime events, and relaxing those codes for evening events. People who want to wear revealing costumes and pose for sexy pics can do so–they just have to do so after hours, so kids and other folks who aren’t interested in the heavily sexualized stuff can avoid them if they wish. Everybody wins, except for the people who think they have a right to turn every public space into a strip club, and, well, I don’t actually care what they want.
Re: the Victoria’s Secret/Dove pic going around FB: Yes, it’s unfortunate that the standard of beauty advocated by VS is limited to women who are extremely tall and thin and willing to stand around passively for the male gaze. However, Dove isn’t exactly run by saints. For one, as a cosmetic company, they, too reinforce unrealistic beauty standards. Just because they have a wider range of models doesn’t mean they’re actually combating sexism in any real way. Also, they’re owned by Unilever, whose other products have incredibly sexist marketing campaigns. Basically, Unilever has appropriated the language and ideals of feminism to sell sexism. Or, pretty much what the Backlash has already been doing for the past three decades.
Additionally, there’s the issue of implying that thin women aren’t “real” women. While it’s true that naturally thin women have a great deal of privilege due to their meeting the current Western cultural standard for attractiveness, there’s no point in getting on a given woman’s case for being blessed by the gene fairy. Now, of course those women can be criticized for choices they make that abuse the privilege they have. But attacking them for their genes is wrong. The problem isn’t thin women: it’s the standard that says that thin women are objectively better people than non-thin women.
For what it’s worth, the point that the Dove campaign is supposedly trying to make is a valid one: beauty shouldn’t be dependent on culturally idealized genes, cosmetic surgery and a metric ton of expensive products. (Or, barring everything else, Photoshop.) Unfortunately, it’s been misconstrued into applying to all women who are naturally thin, instead of just the ones who hurt themselves and others by patronizing sexist companies. Truthfully, the very concept of human beauty in itself is damaging, because it’s so culturally loaded with gender and race expectations. But unraveling that is a Herculean task, and one that isn’t going to be completed overnight. In an ideal world, people would use cosmetics only for fun costuming purposes, not because they’re terrified they won’t get a job or a boyfriend if they don’t wear lipstick, but the reality is that the latter does still happen, and will keep happening for a very long time. I don’t expect this to change instantly just because people are making different choices.
However, we out here in consumerland do have the power to at least start chipping away at the beast, and one of the easiest ways we can do that is by refusing to give our money to companies that use sexist advertising. There are plenty of other options out there for the products made by these companies, and if you do have a choice about what to buy, why not go with the company that’s at least not making things worse?
Which leads me to my final topic of the day …
Global or even national problems often seem overwhelming for individuals. Something as big as climate change, which, if left unchecked, will destroy a significant portion of human-habitable space on the planet, and us humans along with it, can seem enormous to a single person. But that doesn’t mean we’re powerless to help. One of the simplest things we can do to make the world a better place is to vote, and yet millions of us don’t do even that. We’ve been convinced (by people who stand to benefit from our apathy) that all the parties, candidates, issues, etc. are all the same, and that elections are all bought by lobbyists anyway, so what’s the point? The point is that we’re never going to improve our political culture if we don’t participate in it. No one knows or cares about why you don’t vote, because those reasons don’t show up in the final tally. All that shows up there is the people who did so. If you don’t want those people speaking for you, then don’t let them be the only voices that get heard. Even if you’re only voting for the lesser of two evils, you’re still voting in a way that will eventually help lessen the “evils” of the candidates we get offered in the future. If you want to be making headway on the right path, you have to at least move in that direction. Standing around doing nothing because you’re waiting for a perfect mode of transport doesn’t help.
It’s true that our choices–politics, consumer, etc.–are often very limited, and there are few that we can really feel good about. It’s also true that modern life can make it incredibly difficult to do the research necessary to make better choices. Hell, until I saw it go across Facebook, I had no idea that the owner of the Jimmy John’s sandwich chain was such a reprehensible person. But now that I do know that? I’m never eating there again. Likewise, until I found out that the CEO of Whole Foods was against public-funded healthcare (believing that people wouldn’t get sick if they just ate the expensive organic food his store sells) I used to shop there. Now? No more. Buying organic is a good thing, if one can afford it, of course, but there are other companies I can get that from that aren’t going to use my money to further a political agenda that believes poor people should die if they get sick. Undoubtedly, there are hundreds–maybe thousands–of other choices I make as a consumer and citizen that are actually making things worse, but I just don’t know it, yet. I try to be informed, but even I don’t know everything, and I’m not even a busy parent. I definitely cut people slack for ignorant choices they make. Where I don’t cut people slack is when they know what a better choice is, and have the ability to make it, but simply don’t, for petty reasons. If I kept buying Jimmy John’s sandwiches just because I liked their bread better than Subway’s, I’d be an incredibly selfish idiot, and people would be well within their rights to kick my ass for it.
And that’s why I do what I do in terms of trying to get information out there. I want people to know what the better choices are, and how to make them, so they’re able to do so. I realize that sometimes changing the way we do things can be hard–habits and all that–but I also know that we all have a responsibility to make choices in a way that helps ensure that people without our privileges don’t suffer. We can all do better, without making huge sacrifices, and if we don’t at least try, then we’re shirking our responsibility as clever, self-aware primates not to destroy our tribes and the resources we all need to survive.
So: unless there’s some hugely compelling reason for you to be buying fashion and cosmetic items from sexist companies, please choose otherwise. “Just because I want to” isn’t a good enough reason when the choices you make help contribute to so much misery for others.