Don’t Call Us Girls

The best way to discuss a phenomenon is to start with a little memory recall.

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  • What Cyndi Lauper song refers to people having fun?
  • The mid-’80’s hit ‘ Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ .
  • What is the name of the highly popular yet highly controversial T.V. show by Lena Dunham?
  • Girls on HBO.

See a pattern there?

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Cyndi Lauper twirling in the music video

Dig Deeper:  When Lauper sings ‘Oh girls, they wanna have fun’ she is referring to a community that she belongs to and is thumbing her nose in the face of the stodgy patriarchy. She is referring to her friends and herself as ‘girls’ but it is evident she is talking about young women who want to ‘walk in the sun’ and refuse to be shut down/shut away or diminished in any other way by conventions and societal mores.

Time for those who are NOT women to stop calling women ‘girls’. This type of language is problematic and should be avoided at all costs. Using ‘girls’ instead of women reinforces traditional sex roles and erases their adulthood as a consequence. 

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By calling grown adults ‘girls’, you are essentially robbing them of their personhood. Their agency and their impact, their careers, their decisions, their feelings  as adults are all trivialised by the consistent labelling and use of such language.

Treating someone like a child is infantalization, and  it can be applied in several different ways, and often for different reasons. A solid example would have to be the way Lucy, the main character in the I Love Lucky t.v. show, is often talked down to and even spanked by her husband, Ricky, for laughs.

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Ponytails in Popular Culture: Depicting Women as Girls

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Popular culture does not miss an opportunity to depict women as inexperienced and naive. This peculiar social pressure on women to appear youthful extends to even makeup trends, where eyeliner is applied to mimic the larger eyeballs of young children.

Women are told, repeatedly, that they must act submissive, and uncertain to appear desirable. Men maintain their status and power in this flawed projection of gendered traits; being womanly, however, is equated to childhood and complete vulnerability. 

Overwhelmingly, the attempt is to show women without power or maturity.  Observe photo shoots in leading fashion magazines and the postures and expressions render the models pictured as powerless yet sexually available .

Women in ads are made to pose in ways that resemble children – with blank stares, knees bent, and hands place in or around the mouth. Men, however, are shown standing up straight and tall, completely in control – much like an adult.

The Bratz Phenomenon

Rampant Sexualization of Young Girls

We have, not one, but two disturbing phenomenon at work here. The  infantilisation of women is accompanied by the trend of sexualizing young girls for commercial purposes. Advertisers increasingly market clothes, makeup, t.v. shows and even toys that promote the sexualization of girls (meaning actual children). Let’s not forget the extremely disturbing beauty pageants industry catering exclusively to little girls.

In the article titled “Behind the Cultural Imperative for Women to be Sexy and Cute,” Wade explains that:

“The sexualization of girls and the infantilization of adult women are two sides of the same coin. They both tell us that we should find youth, inexperience, and naivete sexy in women, but not in men. This reinforces a power and status difference between men and women, where vulnerability, weakness, and dependency and their opposites are gendered traits: desirable in one sex but not the other.”

There you have it! Portraying women as childlike and pushing sexualized fashion and music on girlhood- are part of the same disturbing societal problem. 

Is there a solution? In fact, there is more than one way to correct these prevailing trends. We will explore those in the next few blogs.

For starters, let’s stop calling women ‘girls’.

-Mariam Shoaib 

Re-designing the #Beatme Campaign by UN Women Pakistan

Do watch the #Beatme Anti-Violence Campaign by UN Women Pakistan. What do you think?  I think the campaign deserves a complete re-design.

First off, what an unfortunate choice of words for the hashtag #beatme.  Moving past the words, why is it in English? Who are you talking to? This campaign should at minimum been in Urdu plus all the regional languages like Pashto, Sindhi, Punjabi , Balochi as well as the local dialects. For a clarity in the public service message the campaign designers should have stuck with the national language plus regional languages and dialects. A simple caption in English for non-native speakers would suffice.

This seems to be a well-intentioned campaign made in a hurry, with little thought or strategy applied to communication and social impact.  Pakistani women and men deserve more than a sugar-coating of celebrities and Calvin-Klein-esque black/white filming effects.

Emotional and Physical Abuse is a serious matter. Generational abusive patterns are corroding efforts being made for Gender Equity and Gender Equality in Pakistan. Simplistic PSAs such as this one undermine the cause as well as the intended audience for such social messaging.  I would recommend all groups working for the empowerment of the disenfranchised, women AND men, to seek out Gender Strategy consultants before approving PSAs in the future. 

Unlikely Ingredients

“The success of the Pilgrim was exceptional, but not her greatest achievement. Ruth Douglass had arranged her life so that she answered to no one, certainly to no man. That was a feat few women could claim. If indeed there is a recipe for everything, Ruth had created independence out of unlikely ingredients. And if it had cost her more than she had intended to pay, she did not say so.” 

An excerpt from a book I’m reading over Eid break titled American Cookery.

Smash the Patriarchy

Sometimes, in the middle of a debt-inducing buying frenzy over cute-yet-empowering notepads, pins, cellphone covers and jewelry, I can’t help but wonder if us women are being supported or patronised?

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‘Smash the Patriarchy – handcrafted feminist crepe paper flower wreath’

Do we require these messages to be emblazoned across our chests on t-shirts or dotting the back our iPads while we read on the train to work?

Can products created purely for profit become an authentic proponent of what is the latest avatar of the Women’s Rights movement?   

I think, YES!   Granted there is a fine line between supporting a movement versus using it as a meal ticket. If a few hard-working folks out there are earning from this awakening,there is no harm in that.   Plus, the consumers of these messages are authentic – the demand is authentic – more than a passing fad. These messages demanding a fairer society globally reflects a reality that is here to stay.

Now, where’s my hammer?

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I adore this necklace from the Get Bullish shop.

 

 

Time to ‘Woman Up’!

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Two quotes from the interwebz – one message – it’s time to ‘Woman Up!’

“Profound change will be possible only if we build a grand female tradition that men are forced to measure themselves against. – Only when a man publicly recognises his debt to a woman’s work without the condescending kindliness typical of those who feel themselves superior will things really start to change.”

In a Manner of Speaking – Interview of Elena Ferrante 

Do you agree? Send a tweet at  @catalystwoman or drop me an email on talktocatalystwoman at gmail dot com.

ICYMI : Uber in Pakistan + Women Right’s Bill

**ICYMI – The most tweet-worthy stories in #Gender in #Pakistan this week:

Source: Propakistani.pk Website & Dawn Website

Uber in Pakistan features in both the #gender and the #tech category this week, as Dawn/Reuters covers Uber Pakistan’s efforts to allay fears about conduct of it’s workforce with upfront sexual harassment training.  This follows the company being banned in Delhi after a driver was convicted of raping a passenger back in 2014.

What I found infinitely more interesting than the news story itself were the comments below.  The screen shots below captures exactly how divided us Pakistanis are when it comes to the rights of women in the public space.  One commentator sincerely recommends women be accompanied by ‘kids or other relatives’ while using the app-based taxi service.

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Another takes it upon themselves to reduce it down for all us simple folk. Stop getting into cars alone, Wimmin! Where’s your common sense?! 

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Focusing in on the faulty editing, notice the title of the article :  Uber teaches Pakistani Drivers how not to sexually harass women?  So, are there preferred practices for such vile behaviour?  A less loaded title could have been ‘ Uber launches mandatory sexual harassment prevention training  for Drivers’.  I was glad to see that another reader had already caught the lazy editing and proceeded to comment on it (captured below).

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Perhaps one of the MOST exciting tickers I have read – Punjab passes the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Bill – amidst massive uproar and opposition across the country. This news has reignited the debate on what constitutes mistreatment of women  and whether these actions should be punishable by law.

“…Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Bill redefines “violence” to include “any offence committed against a woman including abetment of an offence, domestic violence, emotional, psychological and verbal abuse, economic abuse, stalking or a cyber crime”.

(excerpt from Dawn’s Pakistan’s historic women’s rights bill praised by activists)

Debates on t.v. reached a fever pitch as some male guests on news shows tried to defend the minority view that this bill is ‘un-Islamic’ or  flawed in some grand way that harms society as it stands. Thankfully, those opinions were quickly shot down by most anchors and co-guests!  Even though the lame ‘what if something happened to your daughter/sister/mother/wife’ line was invoked once or twice during the discussions, overall the sentiment was that this bill is just a stepping block towards securing swift justice for women in abusive situations.

Some rightly note that there are many invisible, cultural hurdles before women in Punjab can actively break free from cyclical abuse. However, this law’s passing is being celebrated for it’s timeliness in addressing the increase in cyber-harassment and cybercrime targeted at women on the web.

“…The law not only caters to addressing psychological and emotional harm to women, but also includes stalking and cybercrime as punishable offences. The reason why this is important is because there is a tremendous momentum to silence women online — not just their sexuality but their very presence on social media as well as in terms of their freedom to have an email. For women, the Internet is not just about access, it is about escape. It is the gateway through which they learn skills and rights — all of which lead to empowerment and a shift away from all pervasive abuse.” 

(excerpt from  This law may be late, but it’s great by  Aisha Sarwari on Express Tribune Blog)

** In Case You Missed It

I would love to hear your thoughts about the new ‘ICYMI’ blogpost concept.  Drop me an email talktocatalystwoman @ gmail dot com , tweet @ Catalystwoman or write a note on the Contact Page

IMHO:Every Day is Women’s Day

According to social media today is International Women’s Day 2016.

Every day is Women’s Day. **

Every day will remain Women’s Day until being a woman and being a professional is no longer exceptional, rather it’s the rule.

Every day will remain Women’s Day until being a mother and working full-time will be a choice made out of free will rather than financial constraints.

Every day will remain Women’s Day until we run out of ‘First’s to attach to a female executive, legislator, politician, academic, prize-winner, artist, and so on.

Everyday will remain Women’s Day until writing ‘homemaker’ in the box marked occupation is a recognized as a form of skilled labor, with pay and all the other privileges of traditional 9-5 jobs.

Every day will remain Women’s Day until the invisible burden of Emotional Labour is evenly distributed amongst all relationships, women AND men.

**Send in your ideas – complete the phrase ‘ Every day will remain Women’s Day until…’  and tweet @catalystwoman or email talktocatalystwoman at gmail dot com.

 

“Phir ban gaya na, equal -equal” – Fair and Lovely takes a Jab at Fairness in Adulting expectations

You *must* have eye-rolled at this fairness cream ad by now. It depicts a father-daughter duo jogging in a park when the father pitches a potential suitor who has EVERYTHING a young girl could desire ‘a good job, his own house, well-settled’.  Since this is a fairness cream commercial, based in India but also shown in Pakistan, the young woman gains confidence to ward off the potential suitor with her OWN plan to get a ‘good job, her own car, etc’ in three years.

Surprisingly, my issue this time around with the fairness creme advertisement is not that the systematic bleaching of one’s skin makes a woman not only more beautiful, but also endows her with wit and savvy.  (That is a long-standing objection with the prejudicial and superficial approach that such beauty cream adverts take when marketing to multi-complexion communities such as Pakistan. No complexion takes precedence over another.)

She is effectively bargaining with her parents/guardians  for a paltry three years to put into play all that she has learned at university (even Life) before entering into an arranged marriage situation.hqdefault

Can Fair & Lovely ad execs back up the claim that Snow White makes that she can accomplish all the markings of financial and vocational success fresh out of university in 3 years? a car, home, “good job” in THIS  global economy? It is impossible to afford a home independently on just a Bachelor’s degree in Pakistan or India, especially within three years of graduation.

Going with the general dynamics when desi folks go ‘rishta’-ing, it is likely that that the potential groom is at least 5 to 7 years older than our  formerly- dark and distressed damsel. Why does this invisible casanova of her father’s dreams get a minimum 5 year advantage on the whole ‘success’ aspect?

This ad reinforces that the double-standard that is glaringly relevant in Pakistani and Indian communities the world over; if a young woman is to experience her adulthood as singleton, she MUST be achieving the very pinnacle of vocational, educational and social success.  That, too, on a considerably shorter deadline (leash?) than her male counterparts; to be exact, before her  ‘looks’  or ‘charm’ fade into oblivion. 

F&L, if you are listening, this may be the one time I will applaud you for illustrating just how drastically societal expectations for  young men and women vary, especially when it comes to leading one’s life as an Adult.

What do you think? Drop me a tweet @catalystwoman. 

 

 

Women in Positions of Authority (Quote)

Feminists have been telling us for a very long time that women in positions of authority find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. Too assertive or confident and they’ll call you a “bitch.” Too passive or self-deprecating and they’ll think you’re a doormat and unfit to be taken seriously.”

We lack the cultural narratives to make sense of women in positions of social power or authority. The ones we do have haven’t changed much since the days of Freud and de Beauvoir. This failure of cultural imagination affects women’s political, economic and social prospects.”

Read the entire article by Carol Hay titled Girlfriend, Mother, Professor? (it’s excellent) here.

Stop Outsourcing Your Decision

“What advice do you have to offer someone who is just starting out? The biggest piece of advice I would give to aspiring writers is: if you’re writing, then you’re a writer. You don’t need anybody’s permission to start living your dream; the only person’s permission you need is your own. It’s your decision to make, so stop outsourcing it to other people.”

Excerpt from Interview of Ashley C. Ford