Feminism. What is feminism? One definition says feminism is: the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men; but is there more to it than that simple definition? How does a person who was born with all the privileges inherent with being an allegedly white, heterosexual, male fit into the paradigm of feminism when that person decides to change genders?
These are the questions that have been on my mind since last night. Well, they’ve been there since I decided to come out as transgender but these questions have really bubbled up to the surface of my consciousness in response to a documentary my wife and I watched last night called “Miss Representation.” I would highly suggest that anyone who has Netflix looks this documentary up and watches it, but I really suggest it to any American transwoman who might read my words. I will warn you that this documentary will likely drive you to jokingly (or realistically) decide to return your woman card in exchange for your old worn out man card. About halfway into the documentary I literally took of my tiara-esque head band and tried to hand it to my wife, saying, “Actually, never mind. I don’t want my woman card anymore, I think I’ll go back to being a man.” To which she, of course, laughed and said that it was too late for that (oh, I do love her).
Sexism in America is nothing new, and the effects are certainly nothing new to me as someone who spent the majority of their college career studying sociological and anthropological phenomena, but things have gotten so much worse since I graduated 6 years ago and put down the books. The biggest reason things have gotten so much worse is the expansions in media that have occurred over the last few years and the increasing acceptance of women as nothing more than sexual objects. I wish I could say I was exaggerating but seriously spend an hour of your next week truly analyzing every advertisement you see and try to keep a tally of how many of them display women as sexual objects rather than just everyday women. It’s truly staggering when you start to pay attention, but that’s not even the worst part. The worst part is that these images are inundating our young girls with the stereotypes of highly sexualized women, which is, in turn, creating an epidemic of mal-adapted teenage girls who are more prone to depression, eating disorders, and early age pregnancies; not to mention dramatically increasing their chances of being sexually harassed or assaulted (raped) by their peers or older men.
These young girls are literally being shown through the media that the only way a woman can gain any sort of social power is by becoming a sexual object, one that’s so photo-shopped and airbrushed that it’s literally impossible to achieve. As a transwoman who is in a form of adolescence with my own recently accepted identity as a female, I can at least partially understand the pressure these girls face to try to look like these impossible examples of “beautiful” or “powerful” women, and I’m not alone. There are so many transwomen who undergo truly painful and terribly expensive medical procedures in order to look more like that media stereotype of a “sexy” female. True, part of the reason they do it is because our culture is generally transphobic and there is a strong emphasis on being “passable”, but I suspect a great deal of it is a result of the same pressure that drives teenage girls to develop eating disorders. I even suspect that these transwomen (prior to transition) have been so exposed to the same media images about what a woman’s supposed to look or act like, that many of them don’t fully understand the true depth of character a female is really capable of. I know I struggle with it as well, and I’ve even had several strong, independent, and thoughtful women to serve as role models for me (whether they were aware I was looking up to them or not, since most little boys and teenage boys don’t normally admire women as role models).
It is actually for these very reasons that the main characters in both of the novels I wrote were females; ones who put no emphasis whatsoever on their appearance or the pursuit of romance. It’s probably for that reason that I’m still an amateur author because that kind of story doesn’t really sell. I have even had women who’ve read both of my books suggest that I add some romance to the mix, which just made me shake my head and conclude that she’d missed the entire point I was trying to make. The whole series was about the concept of a female protagonist who doesn’t fall into any of the stereotypical roles that 98% of today’s female characters fall into and who was strong enough, smart enough, capable enough, and courageous enough to be a heroine without equal. The only part of love that drives this character is the love she has for her younger sister, who she practically raised as her own daughter, and the love of her people. Why does adding some cheesy romance make that higher quality? We can watch a male protagonist do play that role all day long, but switch out the penis for a vagina and the whole thing breaks down?
Sorry, I know I’m probably rambling a bit, but the point I’m trying to make is that I am, perhaps for the very first time, truly realizing the minefield of gender I’m willingly walking into by officially revoking my man-card. By choosing to live the rest of my life as a woman instead of a man, I am essentially cutting myself off at the knees in a great many regards, and the current situation in today’s media isn’t helping me either. The more my body changes to the appearance of a female, the more the standards by which I am judged will tilt against me rather than be automatically stacked in my favor. I will be systematically judged by my appearance almost 10 times as often as I have been up to now. My opinions will have a greater chance of being distilled into whether or not I’m being “bitch” or “bossy” than they would be as I am now. My opinions and thoughts will also be ignored with greater frequency than they already are, and the ones that aren’t ignored will be more likely to have someone else take credit for them. If I ever change my career, my starting salary will likely be lower than if I applied as a male. If I ever was presented the opportunity for advancement to a leadership role or management, I will be less likely to get the job, regardless of the my qualifications. The chances that I could ever become a millionaire, a billionaire, or the CEO of a large company will be dramatically reduced. My chances of getting elected to public office will be considerably reduced, and let’s not even talk about my chances of becoming president.
On and on this list can go too, that’s the saddest part. Pretty much take anything that isn’t pregnancy/motherhood, secretarial work/nursing, and/or housework (cooking/cleaning/etc.) and reduce the opportunities and rewards by a minimum of 25% and you pretty much can consider yourself a female in the United States. Don’t believe me, then spend 90 minutes one evening or weekend and watch “Miss Representation” on Netflix and see that I’m not exaggerating in the least.
So, what to do? It’s not enough just to talk about the problem (not without just making it worse), we have to put our focus on doing something. Well, we can begin by being more conscientious about the products we buy or the media we consume. If you can look in a magazine and see the product you want using a woman as a sexual object to sell their product, then don’t buy it. Or, better yet, google their advertising department and write them a letter about how their sexual objectification of women to sell their products actually stopped you from buying. If you are watching TV or a movie, and the female characters are one dimensional sex objects who are only concerned with the events of men, then stop consuming it! If you are reading an online news article that’s about a popular or powerful woman and that article diminishes them by referring only to what they were wearing or how they are looking, then write another letter about how you don’t appreciate that approach and would rather read a story about that woman’s life/thoughts/actions rather how she is looking. Start to question the images you are pumping into your mind on a daily basis and really analyze if you agree with what you are seeing.
Women are more than just sexual objects. They are more than just romantically interested in men. They are complex people with many levels of personality and identity that have nothing to do with sex or romance. If you hear friends of your talking shit about another woman’s clothes, hair, makeup (or lack thereof), or appearance in general, approach them and tell them that they are just feeding into the stereotypes that prevent women from gaining equal footing in every part of our society. Sure, they will probably hate you and start talking shit about you instead, but at least they will be given the opportunity to reevaluate the way they perceive other women. They have almost assuredly never been called out on that shit before, because they do not understand what they are really doing. They’ve likely been brainwashed by male-run advertising and media (seriously like 75%+ of media execs/management are all men, not even kidding. It’s actually probably more like 87%) to think this is how women are supposed to act. They probably hate themselves as much as anyone does for the way they treat their fellow women and are just waiting for someone to wake them up. Be that person! Don’t just accept reality because TMZ says it’s okay to stalk a celebrity woman and make allegations that she might be pregnant because she ate a fucking bagel. Bagels are awesome! And there not just for men, either, dammit! I say bagels for everyone!!
Okay, rant over. It probably didn’t make much sense but what can I say, that’s how I roll. Hopefully my words at least inspired you to watch that documentary… seriously… watch it… watch it…. still not sure? then check out their website and then go watch it: http://therepresentationproject.org/films/miss-representation/ Hell, you could even take the pledge on the top right corner.