Monday, 2 November 2015

10 Reasons Australia still needs feminism

By: Miya Yamanouchi

Why feminism is more important than ever in 2015 Australia

I am a feminist. I haven't called myself a feminist for very long, though. In fact, up until the very beginning of this year, I even considered myself an anti-feminist, because I was so misinformed about what feminism actually was.
I was foolish enough to buy into the misconstrued cliché that feminists were man-hating, pretty-girl-hating, ugly and boring women who didn't enjoy life, their bodies or sex — and didn't want anyone else to, either. And girl, was I wrong!

1. During my stint as a sex therapist (a.k.a sexual health counsellor), when I told men what I did for work, they would automatically interpret my job title as simply a euphemism for sex worker.

When I tell people I am counsellor, it is only ever men who respond with questions such as: "Did you have to do a day course for that or something?" or "Did you need to do any studying for that?"
For those men who didn't inadvertently challenge my intellectual capacity, the overwhelming majority of male reactions came in the form of: "Oh, a counsellor... "(seemingly disappointed at the lack of glamour associated with the reality compared to their envisaged one), "I thought you were an actress/model/worked in fashion."

2. Women slut-shame and victim-blame each other as a result of internalizing the misogynistic attitudes that are prevalent in our society.

I once walked home from my boyfriend's place in the Halloween costume I had worn the night before, and even though I knew I hadn't done anything wrong, it still felt like a "walk of shame." When I got off the bus to my apartment, I walked by two high school girls who looked at me and muttered the word "slut" under their breath as they passed me.
When I went to the police at age 18 about being drugged with Rohypnol — the date rape drug — the female police officer asked me to stand up and demonstrate to her with my hand exactly how high my skirt was above my knee.

3. Degrading phrases like "walk of shame" are commonplace in our social vocabulary, yet these are only applied to women.

Men in the same situation are praised by their peers and seen as nothing more than a guy who got lucky, which simply serves to illuminate the ever-prevailing double standard of acceptability of sexual agency in our culture among the genders. That morning-after Halloween commute back home I did in the Gothic Angel costume, I wasn't the only one trying to sheepishly tiptoe home in amidst the bustle of peak hour.
I passed other "walkers of shame" who stuck out a mile away in their loosened ties, crinkled work shirts rolled up to their elbows and chaotic bed hair. No one called them "slut" as they walked past. In fact, I remember watching intently to measure other's reactions to them, and aside from me, it seemed nobody had taken the slightest interest in them at all.

4. Mainstream society deems it acceptable for women to be used for sex for free and then discarded of, in the form of never making contact after a one night stand, or completely ignoring a woman post-coitus. However when a woman is financially reimbursed for sexual acts it is considered utterly shameful and immoral.

When I conducted a survey a few months back exploring the dating experiences of 127 women from 11 different countries worldwide, being used for just sex and then treated as invisible thereafter, there was sadly a very common grievance. Our patriarchal society makes it okay for women's bodies to be used for male sexual pleasure, regardless of if the guy never talks to her again. However, when a woman reaps the benefit of financial profit from being sexually objectified, society perceives this as dishonourable and "wrong."

5. When my skin is lighter in winter and I have blond hair, everyone from strangers on the street to colleagues and employers make openly racist comments about black people and ethnic minorities in front of me, because they mistake me for being white.

I worked at a medical centre where a doctor said he didn't want black people as patients, but I was okay, because I was "mocha." At another health clinic I worked in, the boss sat at his desk beside me and had a conversation in front of me to a colleague in which he described someone as a "typical black person," which apparently meant "always wanting something for nothing."
Once a man told me if I was ever to travel "out west," I had to "watch out for those Islanders." They were "really dangerous," he warned. Little did he know that I was one myself. Just last week, an old lady in the line at the bank announced to both myself and the bank teller that the solution to the problem in Syria was to "just get rid of them all."

6. When women dress up as men we call them creative, artistic and experimental, but when men dress up as women we call them "tranny", "f*ggot" and "cross-dresser."

Earlier this year, I dressed up as a boy for the first time for a feminist photo shoot. I posted the pics proudly for all to see my rather-impressive transformation. The comments were all positive. Many friends marvelled at my imaginativeness and commended me for my ingenious ability to create a heavily convincing five o'clock shadow with an eyebrow pencil. It occurred to me that the freedom with which I was able to play gender dress-ups and share it publicly, was not awarded to men who wished to do just what I had done. Indeed, for simply wanting to dress up as women, men are not only ridiculed and shamed, but are often shunned by family and friends — and even attacked.

7. My desire to avoid street harassment determines what I wear when I go out alone, even in the daytime.

After looking back at a photo shoot I did with my boyfriend, I noticed the clothes I wear when I do my photography are not the same as what I wear when I go out anywhere, especially on my own. In order to avoid the nonsensical catcalling and street harassment so rampant in our society, I actually base my outfits on what will be safe enough to wear if I'm going out on my own. By "safe enough," I mean attire that will minimize the honking and yelling from cars, whistling and commenting from men walking past and unsolicited conversations and attempted pick ups.
As women, we can certainly wear whatever we want, but it comes at a cost of being prepared to get harassed wherever we go. Or we can choose to dress conservatively in order to attempt to prevent unwanted attention, at the expense of our personal preference of dress style and fashion freedom. For the record, dressing in traditional Mormon attire doesn't deter street harassment anyway.

8. When we reject a guy, even in the most considerate of ways, he becomes nasty and lashes out for friend-zoning him.

I love beautiful pictures of anything and everything, whether it be people, animals or landscapes, and often liked and commented on photos posted by a male Facebook friend. He apparently mistook my expressions of admiration for sexual interest and began contacting me privately asking for me to go out with him on a date. He told me he wanted to kiss me and wanted me to stay at his house.
When I explained he had misinterpreted my communication and that I had no interest in him other than potential friendship, the man initially responded with, "I'll be the best friend you ever had." He promised, "You wait. I don't want anything from you. I'd be proud to sit next to you and talk regardless of whether you never ever get romantic." Do you see the subtle undertone of hope and expectation that I may one day in fact get romantic?
Hours later, he sent a barrage of irate messages including, "I take it all back, I don't like you anymore. I don't even know you." I didn't know him either, which is why I found it odd he would tell me he wanted to kiss me and invite me back to his house!

9. There is a conjecture amongst a large majority of men that women should consider ourselves grateful that we are pretty enough to be sexually harassed by men.

God forbid, if we were ugly, then we would receive no sexual objectification from men and then what value would we have as women in society? My friend shared a post on Facebook recently about how she was sick and tired of having to fight off men in the bar where she works and also performs as a singer. She explained she had a rather dangerous encounter with a male harasser while at work, which could have ended very badly. One guy commented, "Look at it this way, you could be as ugly as homemade sin and never have any guy try to push up on ya."
I disagreed with dismissing the severity of the problem by making light of an issue as serious as violence against women, the man then went on to try and justify his actions. He said he was merely trying to "cheer her up," and blamed it on his American humor that was merely "misunderstood in Australia." Later, he complained I "went all feminist" on him.

10. Referring to mature-aged women as "damaged goods" is accepted in a social conversation without anyone raising so much as an eyebrow.

I have heard this term nonchalantly thrown around more times than I care to count. Until I learned about feminism, I didn't recognize the extent of the wrongness of such a derogatory expression. Sexist language is so normalized, we have been conditioned to think nothing of it when we hear it.

The most recent time the hideous words emerged from the mouth of someone, that mouth was that of someone in a position of power. I was furious with him for making such a repulsive statement, but also with myself for not being in a place where I was able to voice my absolute disgust.

Feminism is as relevant in 2015 as it was a century ago, and I have a feeling it will be relevant forever.

First published at She Knows Australia on 29 October 2015. Republished with permission from the author.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Debunking the Myth of the "SuperMum"

Noun. Informal
“An exemplary or exceptional mother, especially one who successfully manages a home and brings up children while also having a full-time job”.
The reality of parenthood is overwhelming, stressful and draining. As the sleepless nights all roll into one, many parents just aim to get by. Gone are the expectations they may have had prior to parenthood, where basic tasks such as getting a load of washing into the machine or preparing a home cooked meal are considered a victory. Keeping up with the Jones has never been harder, with many parents sharing their parenting triumphs for the world to see on Facebook; “Johnny used the potty!”“Sarah said Dad!”“James took his first steps!” This however has magnified the struggles for parents who have difficult children or have struggled in taking to parenthood.
Mothers are expected to not only bring home the bacon, but cook it as well (and look sexy while doing so….and preferably in lingerie, make-up and heels…and then hit the gym to keep that body toned).
Modern day parents have high expectations placed on them, expected to (among other things) make, bake and spectate as well as maintain a loving and supportive relationship with their partner.
Many mothers in particular experience conflicting social expectations, often being told to stay at home, further their career and be involved in their children’s lives and after school activities. Mothers are expected to not only bring home the bacon, but cook it as well (and look sexy while doing so….and preferably in lingerie, make-up and heels…and then hit the gym to keep that body toned).  -This causes many parents to spread themselves thinly, believing that this will help them to be able to achieve what they think all parents unrealistically  achieve.
With these expectations, many mothers feel an immense sense of guilt. Research suggests that the pressures placed upon parents actually have the ability to cause mental and social disorders such as depression, leading to long term damage. Virtual and online peer pressure can leave parents questioning whether they are making the right decisions when raising their child, and any move considered unorthodox by others can leave the parent with not only a bruised ego but questioning their abilities. A 2012 Ohio State University study demonstrated that “parental perfectionism” often led to lower self confidence in women and greater stress in men.  My friends Jessica and Anja (mothers of one), and Laura (a mother of four) recommended trusting ones intuition when it comes to parenting.  Jessica said “Trust your instincts because everyone and their sister will give advice and opinions on what you’re doing wrong and what they did right”.  -(Everyone is an expert on your life; it’s important to know when to draw the line and trust your gut.)

If you are looking at ways to counteract the overwhelming feelings of parenthood;

  • Connect with like-minded parents. This will help to develop a new normal, one that is in fact accurate to the trials and tribulations of being a parent.
  • Be honest with yourself/ your family, and if you have one, your partner. Are the expectations you have on your child’s upbringing realistic? Are they based around exaggerated ideals seen on social media? Are there other ways you can still provide what you need to your child in a less overwhelming manner?
  • Speak to a counsellor. Get support when you begin to feel overwhelmed as a parent. Realise that feelings of shame and guilt are unfair on yourself when you are doing everything you possibly can to provide for your child. Seeking help does not make you a bad parent.
  • Switch off from social media. Being surrounded by unrealistic expectations can leave you feeling depressed or doubting your abilities.
  • Take your ‘Super Parent’ cape off and put it on a hanger in your wardrobe. Or even better, toss it away! Accept that you cannot physically do everything expected of you and enjoy focusing on the most important things to you and you children. Sometimes you might have to forgo freshly baked goodies at the school picnic and four after school extra-curricular activities and instead read to your child or sit them in front of the television while you take five and refresh.
By: Cassie Blackeby. Reprinted with permission from My Counselling Service Australia.

Monday, 31 August 2015

The Tyranny of ‘When’

“You’ll understand when you have children.”
“What will the class call you when you change your name?”  

I’m twenty-six, in a long-term relationship, engaged to get married next year, childless, in a profession centred on children and in constant contact with mothers. Needless to say, I hear the above very frequently. And every time I hear it, I get the same unpleasant feeling. For years I’ve not quite known why. They’re innocent enough queries, simple enough statements, made without snark or nastiness. Following a familiar conversation last week that I walked away from feeling familiarly annoyed and twisted, I finally put my finger on the exact word that causes this reaction in me every time: when.

In German, when and if are the same word (wenn) and are easily mixed up without context, but in meaning we can all agree that they are worlds apart. We use when for something that is going to happen. We use if for something that is undecided.

Being a woman does not mean that I am destined to have children and change my name. I’m pretty sure, last I checked, both of those possibilities were my choice. Making them ifs.

As a writer and a teacher, I’m extremely conscious of language, and how our word choices influence others and others’ perspectives. Language is a powerful, powerful tool, used for thousands of years to manipulate, disenfranchise, undermine, control and misrepresent individuals and whole groups of people. In my classroom, when instead of if is fixed easily with red pen. Out in society, it’s not this simple. Like the children I teach, most people aren’t even aware of the slip-up or the social attitude their wording represents. They don’t realise they’re insinuating that parenting is an inevitable plot element in the story of my life, one I cannot avoid no matter what I might rather choose, and that when rather than if it happens is only a matter of time. They don’t realise they’re assuming that their view on marriage is universally shared and that a change of name is inherent in that view, and that they’re unconsciously pushing that view onto me. They don’t realise that by making these assumptions they have already made decisions for me in their mind, decisions I have to challenge in my answer.

The assumption that I will be having children and changing my name is not borne of any cruel or hateful attitude – I know that. The people asking are usually women and they are asking out of interest. Many are my friends, family members and colleagues. But I don’t think they’re hearing themselves. I don’t think they’re seeing the posse of seven-year-old girls listening at my feet and I don’t think they’re considering the viewpoints on femininity and independence that these little girls are forming as they eavesdrop on adult interaction. No one seems to realise how limiting their question is, or how strongly they’re projecting their own expectations of the female role onto me when they ask.

No one expects a sideways answer to a linear question, and so I find myself explaining. Constantly. Unfairly. Which begs a new question: when it affects no one but me and my kin, why does independent thought and personal choice demand explanation in the 21st century?

I think kids are great. When my best friend has her baby later this year I will be cot-side to cuddle him and shower him in cute nerdy outfits and mobiles for his nursery. The kids I teach are inspiring and amazing young people and I care for them immensely. Kids are awesome. You know what else is awesome? My life – exactly as it is. If, rather than when, my partner and I decide we want kids, it’s going to be on our terms. I resent the idea of parenthood as this insidious trap hidden somewhere in the dark gloom of the future, lurking in wait, ready to sneak up on us when we least expect it and forcing itself upon us. I work in a fantastic school and I am lucky to have a great class of children from wonderful families, but you can’t be a teacher and not know firsthand that there are plenty of children out there who aren’t wanted, and kids born at unfortunate times in their parents’ lives when there just isn’t the time or the money or the energy to devote to a fulfilling childhood, no matter how deep the love. “You’ll understand when you have children.” When?! Like I don’t have a choice in this? Like it’s already been decided for me? When scares me. I don’t want a when baby, a baby a well-meaning but oppressive society told me I needed to have because that’s what a young woman does once she’s married and has had her fun getting degrees and pretending to  have a career. If I have one I want it to be an if baby – a baby I wanted – with all the miraculous possibility implied in the word if.

Likewise with my name. I really, really like my name. My first name, my last name, even my middle name. I like my names separate and I like it all put together. I like the way it sounds and I like the way it looks on paper. It and I have been through a lot together. We met on the day I came into this world, and we instantly clicked and got along. We went through school together and graduated high school together. It’s the name I put on the cover page of every assignment I slaved over for university and it’s the name the presenter called out at my graduation ceremony. It’s the name on the certificate they gave me that now hangs on my wall. It’s the name I neatly wrote on the back of the envelope when I sent my first manuscript submission to a publisher and it’s the name they addressed my first rejection letter to. My name is the label on my school books, the tagline on my emails, the nameplate in the front of every book on my bookshelf, the sign on my classroom door, the sound that’s called out to me when someone wants my attention. My name is an integral part of my identity and I am deeply attached to it. Everything I have worked for, everything I have achieved, I have done so with this name. No. I am not changing my name.

I feel strongly about it and obviously I can justify my choice, but the thing is, I shouldn’t have to. Lots of women keep their maiden names in these times. It’s not uncommon. But again, people assume the when rather than the if, and there are the automatic questions. “Why not?” And yes, I have an answer, but it’s actually borderline hurtful that it needs to be explained. “Because I’m an intelligent adult in a free-thinking society with the political freedom to make my own choices on this kind of thing,” isn’t good enough for you? What about, “Because in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a unique individual with many strong opinions and if you knew me at all I wouldn’t think this would surprise you”? My reasons are never assumed, and that’s kind of depressing. No one just guesses that I feel pride in my achievements under this name and that I would like to stay close to those. Instead there’s a surprised demand to explain myself, to make clear why I will not conform to the asker’s preconceived expectation of what it means to marry the person you love.

Only once has my pronouncement that I will keep my name been met with “Good on you”, and I still hear the echo of that wonderful woman’s voice in my head as I write this. In three words I also hear a thousand, the acknowledgement of all I am and all I value, and the acknowledgement of my right to make a choice that’s right for me. I think more women need to back each other up in this way. We don’t need to agree with each other’s choices. We don’t need to decide to all shrug social norms just because a few want to. We just need to respect and acknowledge each other’s right to make these choices without judgement, and to measure our words when we discuss these choices to ensure we aren’t passing unconscious judgement or expectations under our breath.

Yes, this post has been kind of a rant (and I thank anyone who’s read this far without rolling their eyes at me and clicking ‘back’ on their browser) and I want to make a couple of things clear at this point. One, I’m really excited to be marrying my partner. I love him to pieces and my choice to keep my name is not in any way a reflection on him. He understands my reasons because he’s awesome, and that’s one of the many reasons I love him. I’m not marrying him to get his name, and I’m not marrying him to have his kids. While these are frequent by-products of marriage, I really disagree that this is what marriage is about. But that’s another blog post. Secondly, I have no negative opinion whatsoever on women who want to change their names. I’m nostalgic, too – I understand the lure of tradition, the want to share a name, the desire to unveil one’s new self under a new title, and I think that’s beautiful. If it’s what you want, and what will make you happy, then do so. Likewise, I have no negative opinion towards women who have children. Good on you. (Keeps me in work.)  Plus, no doubt, your kids are probably awesome. I’m delighted, in fact, that they bring you so much happiness and fulfillment.

Just don’t get to thinking that what you want or what makes you happy is what I need in my life, because I’ve known myself an awfully long time, and I think I’m rather better qualified than most to say what makes me happy. And while this may sound aggressive, I’m saying it as strongly as I am because I’m saying it on behalf of all women who don’t have children, all women who want to keep their names and all women who want to do things their own way, perhaps contrary to tradition or social expectations. I’m saying it on behalf of all the girls in my class, future kick-ass women brimming with creativity and talent and what ifs, growing up in a world that’s tough enough without society misinforming them on what it means to be female. I’m saying it strongly because it deserves to be heard. Ladies, don’t limit and stifle each other with narrow views. 

We are each other’s greatest allies in the journey of empowerment – no one can build girls up or tear them down as powerfully as other girls. Words are your weapons as much as they are your toolkit, so please, build each other up. Emanate the respect, compassion, understanding and acceptance that we want to see in other women, and set each other free of expectations that concentrate on the irrelevant and hold us back from worrying about the important things, like being incredible. Women don’t need to be mothers to be incredible. Women don’t need to uphold traditions to be incredible. Women only need the freedom to be incredible, and for the women around them to value and acknowledge their right to be uniquely incredible in whatever form that takes for that individual. Let’s celebrate incredible women, and all the ifs and wonderful surprising possibilities each woman’s future journey may hold, rather than getting bogged down in when she’s going to have babies or change her name and do all the other things you might expect from her. Let’s just wait and see what incredible things she’s yet to do and always wonder if, not when.

Shayla Morgansen is a primary school teacher and a self-published fantasy author in Brisbane. The Elm Stone Saga, her first book series, follows the personal growth of a central female character in a traditional, male-dominated magical society set against contemporary times. 

Monday, 24 August 2015

Forcing Gender On Your Child Could Be Doing Serious Damage

Pregnancy is an exciting time; your body changes and you get to experience a tiny human begin to grow and develop inside of you. Arguably one of the most important times during pregnancy is the opportunity to find out the gender of your bub. Boy or girl? Pink or blue?  It turns out these pre-conceived ideas about gender are doing serious long-term damage to your child, and you might not even realise you are doing it.

Gender appropriation starts early and does more damage than most parents realise.

Gender socialisation refers to the ways in which we are taught what is thought to be gender appropriate norms. Gender policing refers to ways in which gender deviants are brought back into line through the devaluation of actions and attitudes which do not adhere or conform to what we consider to be “gender appropriate”.
It may seem harmless at first. You dress your newborn daughter in pink booties and jumpsuit and then you graduate to a pink tutu at her first ballet lesson. Then, she comes home from school and when asked what her favourite colour is, she remarks “Pink of course!! That’s a girl’s colour”. While innocent, the encouragement of gender appropriate colours (as well as activities) does not allow children to make their own decisions in regards to their likes and dislikes. Instead, their decisions are sculpted by social expectations regarding gender.

“All men are ‘real men’, whether they wear KingGees or a pink tutu.” -Miya Yamanouchi

Now, you might be thinking, “Why is this a big deal? It’s just a colour”. But it’s not just about colour, it’s an attitude. How many young boys are told that “real men don’t cry/like pink/play with dolls” or that “real men love pretty girls?”  This can cause damage to boys who think they are “not a real man” because of their likes and inclinations go against these stereotypes. Sociologists agree that children learn gender from being subjected to society’s expectations. These expectations continue through adolescence and into adulthood and even marriage.  Sex Roles, an interdisciplinary behavioural science journal which offers a feminist perspective, suggests that kids whose parents over-correct “gender atypical behaviours” (GAB) are at greater risk of developing adverse adult psychiatric symptoms. Feminist writer Habladora claims that “it isn’t being different that puts kids at risk, it’s being punished for being different”.

Even the stars are not immune to public scrutiny, with rapper Kanye West and wife Kim Kardashian regularly dressing their daughter North in clothes and colours considered not to be gender specific. While a topic of discussion for many social commentators (and keyboard warriors), North appears to be a happily developing child with interests in both male and female dominated activities.

The most important thing to do with your child is let them be themselves. It’s hard not to always dress your young daughter in pink or your young son in blue, but encouraging gender neutral colours such as greens, reds and yellows can be an effective way to achieve this.

You must also be aware that any deviations from the traditional norm can tend to make people uncomfortable. However gender roles are socially constructed (as opposed to naturally innate), and making someone uncomfortable can be worth it for the chance for a child to be who they truly are.

By: Cassie Blackeby. Reprinted with permission from My Counselling Service Australia.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

If You Got Compassion, Let’s Get It Back In Fashion

What Is Self-Objectification?

We live in a society where girls and women’s bodies are under constant scrutiny and evaluation by others; a society wherein from a very early age, girls consistently receive societal  messages that their appearance and their body plays a fundamental role in determining their worth and value as a person. A direct consequence of this objectification culture is that girls and women internalize these messages, and consequently start to experience their own bodies as objects and view their physical appearance from a third-person perspective. This process is called self-objectification, and it manifests most commonly in body surveillance, which is habitual body checking and monitoring from the perspective of an observer. Self-objectification has been studied extensively with a focus on its maladaptive effects upon female mental health. According to  PhD researcher Caroline Heldman, the average woman engages in body monitoring every thirty seconds. In her 2013 TED Talk she explores the various detrimental effects of female objectification, including: concerns about body image, body shaming and eating disorders; depression and depressed cognitive functioning; sexual dysfunction; lowered self-esteem and confidence; lowered political efficacy and academic achievements; and decreased ability to connect and build rapport with other women.

Why – Or Rather When – Do We Objectify Ourselves?

Recently several research reports from around the world have explored the impact of the virtual and non-virtual worlds on self-objectification in young women.
As part of a 2015 study conducted at the University of Nebraska, researchers recruited 501 female undergraduates and examined the impact of stranger harassment (such as cat calling, staring, whistling and sexual pressure) through the lens of objectification theory. They found significantly high associations between verbal stranger harassment, sexual pressure, body checking and objectifying other women. Body checking was found to be a mediator such that a woman’s experiences of being harassed by strangers was likely to result in self-objectification, which then was likely to result in objectifying others.
An Australian study  involving 150 emerging adult female participants who were either students or staff at Sydney University, revealed that media use can also lead to self-objectification through female comparisons of appearance. The researchers found that reading magazines tended to be associated with appearance comparisons and self-objectification. This study also showed that young women who actively use Facebook  make comparisons between themselves and their female peers and consequently perceive and present (via posts of selfies) themselves as objects. The researchers noted in their discussion that women’s self -comparisons on Facebook may result in higher levels of self-objectification because women are viewing the images of themselves as a literal observer. Moreover, by observing previous images of themselves, women might focus more on particular parts of their body which further contributes to objectification of the self.
At this point you may be thinking to yourself: How can a gal catch a break if the experiences that cause her to dehumanize and judge herself are as common as comments or leers from strangers, looking at a magazine, or checking her Fb feed?

…So How Can We Protect Ourselves…From Ourselves?

The good news is brought to you by researchers at the University of Washington. As part of their study, these researchers recruited 306 women of college age and retained 210 with the highest and lowest levels of self-compassion for analyses, with the aim to measure the association between self-compassion and the maladaptive mental health consequences of self-objectification (e.g., depression, negative eating attitudes, body surveillance and body shame). The authors first noted that depression, negative eating attitudes, body surveillance and body shame were all lower among women who had high self-compassion. With further statistical analyses they established that the connections between self-objectification and negative eating and body attitudes were weaker among women who were high in self-compassion. In other words, women with a high level of self-compassion have less body shame and body surveillance and lower levels of depression and negative attitudes toward eating.
While researchers at the University of New South Wales recommended uploading less selfies and disassociating with friends who are avid selfie posters, the University of Washington offered a more Zen-like approach to their research findings, recommending that clinical treatment for self-objectification processes among women should be focused on cultivating self-compassion (self-acceptance and treating oneself with empathy and non-judgement) in order to act as an inoculation, protecting women against the alarming effects of internalized objectification processes.
According to the authors of the 2015 study from Washington University, it is not difficult to implement effective self-compassion interventions. They noted that previous research demonstrates that even without formal therapy, individuals can learn to build up their levels of self-compassion through practices that teach and facilitate compassion, kindness and affection toward the self, such as meditation inductions and simple instruction to be kind to oneself.
For example, in a 2014 study researchers randomly assigned women into a meditation group or a control group and revealed that participants who were given self-compassion focused meditation podcasts had less body shame and dissatisfaction than the control group. An older study from 2007 revealed that when provided with self-compassion training, highly restrictive eaters experienced lower levels of guilt after being told to eat foods that were unhealthy.

The Takeaway

In a culture wherein women are surrounded by images of other women being objectified, and 96% of us have experienced street harassment in some shape or form (and usually before we reach our 18th birthday), these findings offer significant and encouraging clinical implications for use of self-compassion as a treatment to block the maladaptive process of self-objectification before negative effects such as body surveillance, depression and unhealthy eating attitudes arise.
About the Author: Miya Yamanouchi is an empowerment counselor with specialization in sexual health training who has extensive experience assisting men and women across Australia to discover and embrace their authentic selves.  She has served as a sexual health counselor for Impotence Australia, a sex and relationships counselor for The Australasian Institute of Sexual Health Medicine, a reference for The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, and as an expert for New-York based international sex and relationships online magazine YourTango. She is also founder of MY Counselling Service Australiaand  Instagram Content Creator for The Sydney Feminists. 

This article was originally published at The Kinsey Confidential. Republished with permission from the author.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey: Gen-Y's New Relationship Model

When Fifty Shades of Grey began flying off bookshelves across the world, it was popularly championed as a leap forward in popular culture for erotic content marketed to women. Thousands of articles critiqued its merits and its problems. Now the franchise has come back in the form of a film marketed as a guilty pleasure for women to indulge in and has made millions and millions at the box office. With that being said, let us look at some of the frightening implications that such a narrative has on our society.

On the surface, Christian Grey is portrayed to be in possession of the largest amount of social capital possible. He is self made, rich, successful, handsome, charismatic, independent and strong. Which is why it is such a shock that he would choose a woman as plain as Ana.
In the shadow of this wealth however, it is of course  made fairly clear that Christian Grey is emotionally detached and has a desire to punish women who look like his mother due to unresolved issues with his childhood and the person that his mother was.

Over the course of the trilogy, Christian starts to heal in order to have a healthy relationship with Ana. Despite seeing a very expensive psychiatrist, apparently all he needs is the love and devotion of a woman in order to cure him of his illness. This feeds into a terrible pattern of thought drummed into women that it is their role to fix men; that up until a man finds his soul mate, he wanders the earth broken and destructive to both himself and those around him. Then a delightful female with unwavering compassion comes along and flicks a switch that begins a path of healing.

Not only does it place unreasonable expectations on women and negatively portray men’s own capacity to function in society, it also promotes the idea that women should respond to men’s violence, abuse and mistreatment with love. After all, they are men and they are only treating you this way because of their broken childhood. Or they could only feel this level of anger and aggression due to their uncontrollable and unanticipated passion.

Fifty Shades of Grey follows the same kind of structure used in most romance novels written for women: the ones with Fabio on the front with a ripped white shirt standing on a cliff over looking the ocean and the sunset as his lover sprawls herself at his feet looking up at him dutifully whilst grasping at his thick, moist shin.

Women have been consuming this kind of content for decades about cliched passionate affairs. Typically the female protagonist will start from a position of weakness placed over her by patriarchal society and her arch will be defined by a process of healing through the act of nurturing the wild and untamed alfa-male. Its success comes from the ability of the female protagonist to affect change on patriarchal society through feminine associated behaviours of caring and nurturing, and in turn, the reassurance that is provided to the women who read them.

The problem is that in this case, Ana is affecting change in patriarchal society that does not follow a logical or practical pattern. It teaches women that we can solve domestic violence problems and the mental illness of our partners on our own from the position of victim or loving partner.

Christian Grey stalks her, breaks into her house, takes possession of her car without permission and ‘punishes’ her for any kind of act of defiance. In the real world, these would be major red flags that often lead to a relationship of domestic abuse. In the movie, they are framed as acts of thoughtful romance.

The whole movie is about eroticising men’s violence against women. This is a recurring theme in popular culture where acts of violence and aggression are explained away as acts of extreme passion. I often get the impression that women feel flattered by abusive acts of the men they are in a relationship with as they see their partners as broken and unable to express their true feelings of ‘love’ appropriately.

Similarly in Fifty Shades and for that matter, Twilight, women are drawn to characters like Ana and Bella, because the attractive male protagonists respond (remarkably) positively to their poor self esteem and plainness. I’m not saying that women who consume such content have poor self esteem and look plain, but women often have to battle against an omnipresent media that makes them feel inferior even if only on a subconscious level. Compared to celebrities and airbrushed images in advertising material, women can feel quite unattractive unless they have undertaken some serious self love training type exercise or they have somehow miraculously ignored the values placed on female beauty (of those women, I am extremely jealous). Because it can take a lot of retraining to rewrite mental pathways and associations with how you perceive yourself in relation to others and the importance you place on beauty.

Its extreme popularity with women can also be misinterpreted by men, particularly by young men who are still learning what a healthy relationship looks like. Men can come to learn that women by association with their fandom of Fifty Shades of Grey, will in turn want to be treated like Ana was.

Women want to feel as though they have a unique influence and power over ‘broken’ violent men through their inherent nurturing abilities (seemingly the only feminine attribute that society is willing to place value on beyond a woman’s flesh). They see through the physical behaviours and only see the inherent childhood associated problems. This defuses blame and agency away from the man, and the nurturing that the man has lacked in this form places responsibility on the woman.

This narrative has been fed to women their entire lives. Beauty and the Beast follows the same structure. Belle is a bookworm, misunderstood and under appreciated by her society. Then she is held hostage by monster who violates her human rights and in turn, she nurtures him until the curse of his dark past is removed and he is transformed into a handsome prince. This kind of narrative grooms women from childhood to hold responsibility for the emotional wellbeing and the actions of men they form relationships with. It teaches them that the only thing that will free men from the shackles of their monstrous alter-ego is the strength of the victim’s love.

Domestic violence and abusive relationships should not be portrayed in popular culture as romantic tales of fiction. The sad fact is that the narrative presented in Fifty Shades of Grey has been repeated throughout recent history and is ingrained in expectations of both men and women in terms of what constitutes a healthy relationship.

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