The Fighting Fuck-Toy

Women have been largely excluded from the hero discourse. When they are portrayed, they’re usually one member of a group of heros, and they’re usually the only woman. Think of Wonder Woman and most recently, even though she possesses no super powers, Black Widow in the 2012 Avengers movie. (The comic book itself has more female characters, but the movie is much more widely known and recognized.) Aside from this token-like treatment of women super heros, when women are present in heroine roles they’re still objectified as sexual beings to be acted upon, rather than powerful agents who are in control.

A very overt example of what is called “The Fighting Fuck-Toy” in the movie Miss Representation is when Selina Kyle (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) turns into Catwoman in the Tim Burton rendition of Batman. Before Selina Kyle transforms she is weak, bullied, and harried. But when she transforms she turns into the only image of a powerful woman that is plausible for mass media: a temptress in skin tight clothing. The first sentence she says as a newly “empowered” woman is, “I don’t know about you Ms. Kitty, but I feel so much yummier.” Catwoman equates her power with sex appeal and the word “yummy” in particular. Alluding to herself as something to be desired and devoured actually places her in a position of inferiority to the men that are intended to do the devouring.

Catwoman prances around in her skin tight suit, red lipstick, and stiletto heels for awhile, causing mischief, but not really making much of a dent herself until she eventually needs the help of a man, Batman in particular when she almost falls off a roof. So while Selina Kyle is seen as a new woman of agency as Catwoman, she is in fact still under the influence of men. Her power derives from the assumption that men will find her sexually attractive, take away that assumption and she has no power. If for example, an unattractive, 6oish, overweight woman were to undergo the same transformation into Catwoman with the tight black suit and all, would she still be perceived as powerful knowing that men will not be aroused by her appearance? Even with this perceived, sexually derived power, Catwoman is not the main villain of concern neither is she the main hero. She’s rather a side character that’s either an annoyance, tease, or romantic interest to the hero, Batman.

Many women are taught that beauty is power. I saw a billboard for a cosmetic surgery practice that said those exact words. But if women are truly going to be taken seriously in academic and leadership pursuits, they’re going to have to learn that their sexual appeal is more of a distractor that marginalizes their words and actions, and makes it easier for them to be equated with sex rather than intelligence or agency. Real power is when people respect you and believe your ideas are of worth. There are plenty of hot bods and pretty faces around, but usually our thoughts are unique to ourselves.

Welcome to the Working Week

Work: something most Americans partake in, either by choice or necessity. And while there’s the illusion of the American Dream that anyone can go out and find that perfect job in the air, there’s often more obstacles in the way than initially realized. Discrimination is one of the main deterrents from finding a successful career. Either discrimination based on class, race, religion, ethnicity, or gender can impede an American’s career aspirations. I have it fairly easy as a white, educated middle class person, but add in my gender and things ain’t so rosy.

Being a woman has its perks, (like enjoying Jane Austen novels without being called a homo), but in the work force my tidbits are more of a hindrance. I’ve noticed this in two separate work situations, one at my part time job at a movie theater, and the other at an internship for two separate, but jointly owned magazines.

At the movie theater, many young women are hired, probably because management has seen that high school and college aged girls are a bit more reliable/responsible than boys at that age. This is a generalization, but I think that’s why our staff is predominantly female. The discrimination doesn’t come in the form of hiring or even pay, since we’re all paid minimum wage. The problem lies in our assignments. It’s been the expectation that women move from concessions, where everyone starts out, to box office. The men move most likely to the role of usher. These moves are seen as promotions, but without pay raise.

The reason why most people think that men are moved to usher is that they are stronger, more able to lift trash and carry the ladder used to change really high light bulbs and movie titles. Women are promoted to box office because it requires more thought processes, like managing the phone, a multitude of passes, large amounts of money, and being the face for the company if a customer complains. So the typical roles of males and females are reinforced in this situation. Women are daintier and more patient, so they handle the money and customers, while men are brawny and brusque, so they do all the manual labor and have the least amount of customer contact. While this isn’t necessarily unfair since we’re all paid the same wage, there’s still little consideration of where the employee would like to work. The roles are doled out and accepted.

Another subtle, but noticeable work occurrence I’ve noticed is the assignment of jobs to the interns at the joint magazines I intern for. One magazine is focused on women and the home, and the other is focused on business and has a more masculine/neutral vibe. Most of the assignments I have been given are for the feminine magazine, usually taking pictures of people at events that want their name and face in the magazine just to show people they’re out on the town. The male photo intern on the other hand takes the more important feature shots for both magazines despite the fact that I’ve been there longer than him. I wouldn’t say this discrimination is blatant, I doubt that my editors are consciously choosing our assignments based on our gender, but I would say that their decisions are stemmed from an unconscious categorization. They probably think that the male intern would feel uncomfortable taking the same girly photos I do, and so give him more of the traditionally masculine tasks.

In order to change this inherent discrimination in the work place, people need to be taught early and often that men and women have equal aspirations and equal skill levels. Because of the stereotypes that perpetuate our society, women and men alike come to expect standards for themselves and the opposite gender, and act according to those norms which perpetuate them further. A true meritocracy should be put in place and women should be encouraged just as much as men are to advance their careers, rather than assuming that women will leave work or not want as much responsibility simply because they’re potential child-bearers.

Make Me a Sammich!

Women, sound familiar? If so, you either work at a Subway or have a certain male figure that either jokingly or seriously demands your food preparation skills. This kind of treatment of women usually stems from the assumption that women are better at housework such as cooking, cleaning, and childrearing than men. In Veronica Jaris Tichenor’s article Thinking About Gender and Power in Marriage, she explains that this kind of thinking is a part of the general organization of “domesticity”. Men are the ideal workers, and therefore should be the breadwinners, while the women do the home work, which is of less value because it’s unpaid, because they are less than ideal workers.

This kind of contract between married couples casts the man as the rightfully powerful one and the woman as the subordinate who completes menial tasks. With the man’s work seen as more important, it’s hard for a woman to imagine rising to his level. These stereotypes of gender roles within the home are internalized, and women in power or on equal footing as their husbands feel the tug of gender norms and fear emasculating their hubbies. It’s an often portrayed circumstance that when women gain more power, they make their men feel small in comparison. It’s intrinsically implied that our society does not like when a woman outshines a man, at least a man that she’s in a relationship with and therefore constantly pictured next to. It disorders the accepted marriage standard. By doing so, the woman could be seen as socially deviant. When women feel this tug, they don’t want to be seen as too masculine or bitchy. They then overcompensate for their increased man-like status by taking on all of the womanly roles around the home, just to reassure their emasculated husbands that they do in fact wear the pants.

Growing up in the home that I did has helped me realize this model is ludicrous. While my father is the main breadwinner in our family (making twice as much as my mother), my mumsy is still very much independent. Both of my parents are products of their generation in that my father likes masculine activities such as hunting and fishing and mumsy enjoys cooking and sewing, but that’s where the gender line gets smudged. Something one should know about my father is that he is a towering, intimidating specimen, of the confident and “no BS” variety, who literally would rather threaten you than let you take advantage of him. He terrified me on more than one occasion as a child with his chilling and unwavering crystal blue stare. His physical presence alone is enough to intimidate even the burliest of men, standing at six-foot-three and 230 plus pounds of lean muscle. Did I mention he enjoys shooting guns as a hobby? Yup, that’s daddy dearest.

Despite all of my father’s physical and verbal intimidation, my petite mother (5″2, 110 lbs.) defies him daily. She doesn’t even blink when my dad puts on his most vehemently angered face. I’ve seen men larger than him recoil at half of what he throws at my mom when he’s in a mood, but she continues on as if he’s putting on the most pleasant and accomadating of airs. Not to say that my father was ever cruel, but he gets into rants where his face practically turns purple, and she dares to interrupt him to tell him he’s being foolish and offer her opinion. This baffled me as a child. I’d never seen anyone give him even the slightest hesitation when he ordered something, much less someone literally half his size; but mumsy not only hesitated, she confronted him on each of his attacks, demanding he be reasonable and questioning his facts.

Seeing this kind of woman role model growing up showed me that despite physical size or gender, you can put your foot down when you don’t agree with something. This kind of disregard for the traditional role of wife as a subordinate, quiet, and compliant house pet introduced me to how marriages should work-with give and take and no obvious sovereign. If my pint-sized mother could stand up to the immense power of Tom Bell and come away with a happy marriage, then I sure as hell could stand up to anyone.

The answer to equality in marriage isn’t similar paychecks, it’s mutual respect and disbelief in gender norms. Despite the large gap between my parents’ salaries, they have an equal hand in the decisions made for the household. And while my mother is an excellent cook, my father would never assume it was her duty as a woman or say something as puerile as, “Make me a sandwich woman!” Just like mumsy would never assume he liked hunting just because he was XY. These types of interests are groomed into us as children into adulthood. My parents especially got this kind of education growing up in the 1950s and 1960s where these gender roles were far more prominent. As a society we’ve begun moving away from these assumptions, but there’s still ground to be covered if widespread marriage equality is to come to fruition.

“Hold My Earrings”

It’s very fitting that I’m writing this post on national Mean Girls Day. Why? Because it’s about some catty wenches. At least that’s what popular media makes friendships amongst women out to be. The title of Mean Girls couldn’t be more accurate. Each one of the girls in the movie takes no consideration for their friends’ feelings, but instead thinks of ways to outshine the others or achieve the most male attention. While these girls may band together to take down other women, they also show passive aggressive tendencies to each other and when threatened turn against them. While this movie may be a comedy (an excellent one at that), it reveals a strong theme in American culture: the constant competitiveness amongst female friends. This competition is centered around achieving male attention according to Heldman and Wade.  It’s a commonly promoted image that women are only as valuable as men deem them, so in this hierarchy, the most powerful women are the ones that successfully capture men’s attention on a consistent basis. The woman doesn’t even have to be having a relationship with a man, she just has to inspire sexual attraction in several men.

How this competition has played out in the internet age lies within social networks, primarily Facebook. For all intensive purposes, Facebook is a stage where people present an idealized version of themselves. Just think of how many people untag themselves from unflattering photos or meticulously edit their “about me” section. It’s a place where peacocks go to display their feathers, and let people know what they’re all about, or at least what they want people to think they’re all about. I admit there are many people who do not necessarily use Facebook for this purpose, but I think it’s a large enough trend, especially amongst the younger demographic, to focus on and discuss.

It’s on this stage that women put forth pictures of themselves “all dolled up” as my mumsy would say, but “all slutted up” is a bit more current. Tiny mini skirts, heels, a pound of make up, and a perfect pose: this is the image they put forth. Or if they’re unsatisfied with their bodies, a close up shot of their “come hither” look. These photos are usually intended to attract male attention, but more importantly they’re intended to make female friends on the interwebs jealous. These images are supposed to say, “I’m the hottest bitch out there, and all of the men that will be after me will confirm my status as a beautiful, valuable woman.” It’s usually not that blatant, but it colors many of the photos uploaded onto Facebook.

Outdoing another woman is often seen as the best way to make yourself feel better. “Don’t be sad! You’re so much prettier than her,” is often used as a comforting statement when a boy a girl is interested in likes someone else. What’s interesting is that the boy who is responsible for the girl’s heartbreak is not mentioned.   The girl that he prefers is instead highlighted even though she’s an unknowing third party. This defaming of the other girl further stresses the female friendship. The competition for the man’s hand polarizes the two girls who believe that only his interest is their validation. When holding one person’s opinion with such a high regard, it usually makes others substantially less significant. The other girl pales in comparison to the one who holds your value in their hands. Women’s superfluous adoration of the male opinion cheapens the image of all females. The other girl is already of less interest because of this.

Add in that she’s your direct competition for that so-called value and a nemesis is created. Without the emphasis on male superiority in determining worth, movies like Mean Girls wouldn’t be scarily true. I’m not knocking Mean Girls, it’s an excellent laugh, but it points out a not so laughable reality that women in the U.S. are catty and turn their backs on their sistas because they believe they have no worth until a man wants a piece.

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