In these difficult times we are seeing a transformation of routines we were born into. Inherited to-do lists, commuter traffic and constant encouragement to do more more MORE shaped our reality. Relentless narratives on billboards, magazines and television convinced us of invented issues. My hair will never be that shiny. My stomach will never be that flat. My eyes have never opened that wide. My body didn’t belong to me anymore.
The message was clear– If I couldn’t look like those women then I couldn’t be that woman. I wouldn’t be smiling in front of a fireplace, suffocated by family cuddles. I would never be proud in my bikini. I couldn’t see any path that lead to self-acceptance because all the proud women looked perfect. Of course they loved themselves. Logically then, of course, I shouldn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t.
The conversation about the female body has always been held under the watchful eye of men, eager to step in should any woman get too emboldened. American culture has long since been defined by images of women from girls in daisy dukes to moms cooking dinner. What started as marketing campaigns to sell things to women (who traditionally did the shopping of the house) began snowballing until a woman’s identity itself had to be bought back, bit and parcel. “How to tell if he’s into you!” “How to shed pounds with this one superfood!” “(insert celebrity name) spills how to REALLY please your man…” Advertisements like these target women and coerce them into buying product that are sold as the one thing they’ve been lacking. These marketing campaigns promote the idea that there is something inherently missing from women but thankfully, men are here to help. It perpetuates the idea that women are too emotional to think logically and identify their own desires. We are taught to align ourselves with male desires so that hopefully a man will like us and finally reveal to us what it is that we want.
To earn respect, a woman must be liked. A man who knows what he wants is decisive and strong. A woman who knows the same is bossy and emotional. The issue lies in the fact that the entire language is derived from masculine ideals of physical strength and dominance. Intellect, introspection and patience are all seen as softer (feminine), less valuable, traits. Women are viewed to be weaker than men because of this devaluation of their areas of strength. The commodification of the female body supports this view– making the body a spectacle. It’s fine if guys want to joke about it but any real talk from women about the vagina is considered widely inappropriate. Female sexuality is sold back to us but owning oneself as a sexual being is discouraged. It’s okay for guys to talk (openly & proudly) about f**king us but we can’t talk about wanting it without being shamed. Women are still largely expected to remain quiet, take up as little space as possible, keep those thoughts to yourself. We are expected to see ourselves as men see us, as dazed and confused, waiting to be told what to do. It’s unexpected that a woman would be able to communicate her own needs.
The World Economics Forum’s 2020 Gender Gap Report ranks the United States 53rd, a two position drop since 2018. This scoring is made up of 4 considerations: Economic Participation & Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health & Survival and Political Empowerment. The top ten features Iceland, Sweden, Nicaragua, Spain and Rwanda. Many countries rank higher than the US, contradicting the claims of American superiority. Bangladesh ranked 50th, Serbia 39th, Mexico 25th and Colombia 22nd.
When just looking at Political Involvement, the US ranks 86th. The other countries I mentioned largely hover in the top 20s, the lowest being Serbia at 41. According to the report, this is the United States’ weakest area. Europe has closed 41% of this gap, Latin America 27%, South Asia 39% and the US has only managed 18%. Because of America’s slow growth, it is predicted to take 151 years to close this gap– opposed to Europe’s expectation of 54 years. We are marketed as “the land of the free” and yet, our women have some of the lowest political representation amongst other countries that the US perceives as being jealous of our apparent success. Media shapes the identity of countries and the United Sates has long-held a strong advertisement campaign. Despite these projections, the real data of this report shows painful realities about how far we have truly come and how far we still have to go.
The most disheartening rating for me was seeing the United States rank 70th in the Health & Survival category. 39 countries tied for first including the Czech Republic, the Dominican Republic, Kenya, Korea, Panama, South Africa, the Russian Federation, Sri Lanka, Syria, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Out of 153 countries, 70th certainly isn’t starting from square one but shouldn’t we be better by now? We Americans love our mothers, our models, our students, our soldiers. So why can’t we keep them safe? We all clamor to shock and outrage upon seeing the treatment of women in other countries and yet, our own women are suffering right under our noses– under our claims of being the “best”.
Now the world is at a standstill for the first time in recent memory. We suddenly find ourselves with an abundance of time and for once, not much to do with it. We have a powerful opportunity within this stillness to challenge the accepted structure. A responsibility to develop new cycles now that we have uncovered the true fragility of things we accepted as truth. I encourage you to expand in the silence.
Consider your idea of yourself as a woman. Consider how you think about women, what you expect from them, how you speak to them and about them. Consider the standards that you accepted before you were even aware. Consider the times you felt undeserving.
Think of a time you felt guilty for opening your mouth. Think of a time you wished the woman would stop talking. Be honest in confronting a past of betrayal– against the self, loved ones, peers. Be compassionate in knowing you do not bear the full weight of the blame. You were trained to do that, to think that way, to build that version of yourself, to repeat bad habits. It’s hard to break this training but being aware of ideas you absorb is the first step. Understand and unfold your identity by making conscious choices to build up your favorite parts of you and to dismiss negative thoughts. You are not your thoughts. They are just a construct and can be proven wrong. Just like the idea that there is a right way to be a woman. Just like the idea that the United States is the inarguably the “best”.