Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Way I See It #5

Jesus ate with tax collectors. He said, let he without sin cast the first stone. He overturned the tables of corruption. He fed the hungry. He loved his neighbor. He preached forgiveness. If Jesus were alive today, he would be called a socialist and a liberal extremist. I am truly honored to be called the same.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Way I See It #4

Blaming the Victim

When reading the articles this week about violent and victimized bodies, I was surprised at the lack attention given to the phenomenon of blaming the victim. Two articles in particular stuck out to me as overlooking this important theme. Jocelyn Hollander discusses in her article, “Vulnerability and Dangerousness: The Construction of Gender through Conversations about Violence,” that everyday conversations reinforce views of women as vulnerable to violence and men as potentially dangerous. She points out that though men are most often targets of violence, women fear being a victim of violence much more than men. She claims that this is because widely shared conceptions of gender associate femininity with vulnerability and masculinity with dangerousness. In her discussion, however, Hollander fails to consider that this fear of victimization is exacerbated by the knowledge of the blame that will be attributed to a woman if she is victimized.

Hollander points out that women who are seen as being at the peak of sexual desirability are considered the most vulnerable. She does not, however, consider that this may be due to the fact that society is likely to blame women for being raped because by being sexually attractive or dressed too provocatively they were in some way “asking for it”. Angela, a participant in Hollander’s study highlights this in her statement, “I have a feeling for these young girls, when they’re running, and they wear this little provocative stuff. And I make [my daughter] cover up.” This shows that Angela is not only fearful of her daughter being victimized, but also that she knows that society places fault on women who decide not to “cover up.” Women in this study also frequently mention walking in groups, avoiding sketchy areas at night, asking men to walk them to their cars, and practicing other protective measures. While these examples support the author’s point that women feel more vulnerable to violence, they also speak to the idea that women are required to take these steps in order to avoid double victimization. In other words, women that do not take precautionary steps are often blamed for any violence directed towards them. Women should not walk alone at night, wear tight clothing, travel alone, and go running by themselves, along with a multitude of other constraints. Women know that should they violate anything on this expansive list of restrictions on their personal agency, they are not only more likely to be victimized, but also blamed for their victimization.

Brent Staples article, “Just Walk on By: A Black Man Ponders his Power to Alter Public Space,” also neglects this theme of blaming women for their victimization. In this reflection, Staples discusses his experiences as a black man walking the streets of Chicago. He explains the multitude of constraints placed on him to give other pedestrians, especially women, a great deal of space so that they do not feel threatened by his presence. We see through the eyes of a young man facing the stigma of discrimination, and fearing that one false move might set off an altercation. Throughout the article, however, I could not help but consider the perspective of these women walking the streets late at night, clutching their purses close to them and crossing the street. Just as discriminatory beliefs create a societal fear of the young, black man, these beliefs also tell women that they should not be walking alone at night, flashing around their money, and talking to strangers. Women are not only fearful that they may be victimized by some strange man on the street, but also that they will be blamed for their victimization. It seems, then, that it is not just discriminatory beliefs about young, black men, but also sexism and blaming of the victim that is causing women to cross the street.

The “Ideal” Body Type

In, “Women and Their Hair: Seeking Power through Resistance and Accommodation,” Rose Weitz explains that the body is a site for struggle over power, especially between men and women. Women use their bodies in ways to gain power either by accommodating conventional ideas about beauty or by resisting these norms. Weitz claims that hairstyles are a prime example of this power struggle. Some women seek to gain power by embodying cultural norms about hair, while others seek less feminine, professional styles so that they will be taken more seriously. Similarly, Evelyn Glenn argues in, “Yearning for Lightness: Transnational Circuits in the Marketing of Skin Lighteners,” that light skin operates as a form of symbolic capital, and that women use skin lighteners to climb the social hierarchy. She stresses that women use these skin lighteners in an attempt to achieve conventional ideas of whiter skin color to gain power. While both articles state that ideas of attractiveness vary by region, class, ethnicity, and country, they still operate under the assumption that there is some “ideal” conventional view of beauty. Weitz claims that the traditional view of attractive female hair is long, curly, blonde, and intentionally styled hair. Glenn claims that women seek to achieve white skin. By assuming, however, that there is an “ideal” beauty type, the authors are insinuating that some females could possibly possess these ideal traits and embody this powerful, self-confident woman who has no insecurities about her body. This seems highly unlikely. Instead, I argue there is no sole ideal body type for women, and that beauty is sought by altering one’s natural appearance.

Weitz claims that women with long, curly, blonde, styled hair best fit the conventional idea of beauty. If this were true, it would seem that women with curly hair would not have to do much to style their hair. This is not the case, however. Many women with naturally curly hair spend hours applying straitening lotion and flat ironing their hair until it is strait and smooth. Many females with straight hair, on the other hand, spend money on perms to give volume to their so called dull hair. It does not seem that there is some “ideal” hairstyle, but rather an idea that hair in its natural state is not beautiful. Glenn explains that darker women use skin lighteners in order to achieve this ideal image of whiteness. She briefly mentions tanning, but then quickly moves on saying that this was a craze in the 30’s and 40’s but has largely gone away since the 80’s when sun rays were found to be damaging. Glenn dismisses tanning too quickly without considering how many women still go to tanning beds, as well as products geared toward darkening the skin like spray tans and lotions. Again, it seems that there is no ideal skin tone, merely the idea that one’s natural skin tone is not beautiful enough.

It is obvious that certain norms about beauty do exist. Being overweight, being a minority, and having acne are obviously strikes against ideas of feminine beauty. It is also important not to overlook historical context in which whiter skin has been valued at the expense of those with darker skin. To suggest, however, that there is some ideal type of female beauty suggests that some women are safe from scrutiny. This, however, does not seem to be the case. It is more plausible that there is a looser framework of ideals of femininity, and while some may fit these ideals better than others, no female can be considered the ideal type. Instead, females are conditioned to believe that they are not beautiful naturally, and must substantially alter their bodies in order to achieve this elusive “ideal” type.