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 

Ideas of Gender {Quote}

“In a literal way, men rule the world. And this made sense a thousand years ago. Because human beings lived then in a world in which physical strength was the most important attribute for survival. The physically stronger person was more likely to lead. And men in general are physically stronger; of course, there are many exceptions. But today we live in a vastly different world. The person more likely to lead is not the physically stronger person, it is the more creative person, the more intelligent person, the more innovative person, and there are no hormones for those attributes. A man is as likely as a woman to be intelligent, to be creative, to be innovative. We have evolved, but it seems to me that our ideas of gender have not evolved.

– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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. 

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.

“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. 

 

 

Listed on Speakerinnen!

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Proud to be listed on the Speakerinnen website – that, too, highlighting my favorite topics to speak about – Empowering Women, Communications, Educational Technology and Employability Training. Kudos to the founders of the project; this is a great way to show support for balanced representation of both genders on the stage and across all other platforms (digital/virtual).

Looking forward to attending more conferences in 2016!

Seminar on Empowering Women Coming Up!

Catalyst Woman is going to Faisalabad!  My team is super-excited to be invited to speak at National Textile University-Faisalabad by the Rector, Dr. Arshad Ali.

CW NTU Session FB