Don’t Call Us Girls

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

memory-main

  • 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

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.

 

 

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

“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. 

 

 

Selections from Aya de Leon’s”On Pandering, White Women as Scapegoats, and the Literary Industry as a Hand-me-down”

“I don’t disagree with James about the phenomena he observes: a literary industry with white women in gatekeeping roles and with white women set up as the archetypal consumer to be pandered to.

I do, however, disagree with the implied notion that white women are the powerful and designing force behind the institution.

In reality, the literary industry has been forged by a patriarchal system that decides what would be in its own interest for women to want, tells women that they want it and then sells it to us.”

“For many years, people have been asking, “are books dead?” The answer is no, they have just been passed to women like a hand-me-down. The infrastructure and implicit values in the literary establishment guarantee the reproduction of patriarchal values, as Vaye Watkins so clearly identifies. The women in the industry have all grown up in this society, have all been schooled in what makes a “big” and “important” book. Women’s concerns are consistently belittled.

We have a canon of “great literature” that dates back for several hundred years and is etched in stone. So the addition of a Toni Morrison and a Junot Diaz and a Maxine Hong Kingston and a Sherman Alexie can be grafted on as branches of the tree, or perhaps more like leaves. Branches? Leaves? Whatever. The industry’s roots are grounded firmly in Europe and White America and men’s voices. Vaye Watkins said, “I have built a working miniature replica of the patriarchy in my mind.” The literary industry is the same: fully imprinted with the values and preoccupations of the patriarchy. Once that’s firmly entrenched, it’s safe to leave the girls in charge.”

Read the entire blog post by the effortlessly brilliant  Aya de Leon on her blog:  On Pandering, White Women as Scapegoats, and the Literary Industry as a Hand-Me-Down  .