The Winter of Our Discontent

katie

This wonderfully titled post, from the excellent blog of friend of a friend, Kim DeBarge, really hit home for me. As someone who feels that the unwanted and uninvited objectifying messages and behavior that seem to permeate every aspect of the world around me, whether I’m walking on the street, in a job interview, watching a movie, or reading the New York Times, has had a profound impact on the way I perceive myself and the way I interact with the world, and with men in particular, it’s so refreshing to read an intelligent exposition of and reaction to these experiences by another strong, intelligent woman.

“What does it take for me to be taken seriously, both as a woman in general and as myself in particular? Yes, my self is a woman; however, every little bit of nastiness and disrespect towards women that I read has been getting under my skin as of late, and said irritation is both on my own behalf and on behalf of women as a group. I think all that disrespect has an aggregate effect on how I’m presented and interpreted, and it’s not a pretty result.”

This passage, particularly, is such an excellent encapsulation of the kind of thoughts  that pass through my mind pretty much every day and the sense of some combination of frustration, alienation, humiliation, degradation, disappointment, disgust, sadness, and fear that these kinds of experiences evoke in me.

“It is no longer acceptable to hide misogyny behind a character or comic voice; these images circulate in the collective minds of everyone who reads them and have a cumulative effect on our perception of women.”

This is exactly why I find it so important to draw attention to the unacceptable nature of sexism and misogyny when it occurs in the media, even, sometimes, if it seems trivial or is couched in the pretext of humor or irony. For example, the kinds of offensive advertising I’ve highlighted several times on this blog, particularly fashion advertisements frequently hide behind claims that they are simply trying to be provocative, and that the abuse, humiliation, or degradation of women in their advertising imagery does not represent the views of the company, but is merely stylized artistic expression. Somehow, too, things said with a smile or followed with a laugh are also supposed to be excused. Too often, I’ve gone to the movies to see a comedy and found moments of sometimes staggering sexism and gender essentialism slipped in among other, sometimes legitimately funny content, found myself expected to laugh along to the degradation or belittling or stereotyping of a woman on the screen. And if I do not laugh, as Kim discusses, I become a “humorless” feminist. I just can’t take a joke, I’m told. I should loosen up, calm down. As Kim says, I’m painted as “angry” simply for wanting to talk about sexism when I see it. I’m not angry–sometimes I’m frustrated, but I don’t want to highlight sexism, whether in movies or op-eds, in advertising or in my real life because I’m looking for something to be angry about, to complain about. As Ani DiFranco so sagely put it:

“I am not an angry girl, but it seems like I’ve got everyone fooled. Every time I say something they find hard to handle, they chalk it up to my anger and never to their own  fear.”

Instead, I bring it up because I think acknowledging the sexism and misogyny that still permeates our culture and discussing it is an important first step to rectifying these inequities and, ultimately, achieving a more equal and a more aware society, which benefits all of us, not just women.

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About Katie Heimer

I'm a graduate student of media studies at the New School. My main academic interests in the field center around issues of women in the media (both in terms of representations of and access to) and the overlapping issues of media reform and education. This website will serve as a chronicle of my progress and growth, both intellectually and personally, as I navigate my master's of media studies.
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5 Responses to The Winter of Our Discontent

  1. Beka says:

    I might sound like a broken record here, but I never get tired of reading your blog, and sometimes even find myself cheering out loud, haha.

    I can’t even count all the times that I’ve been labeled as “angry” and “too serious” just for standing up for a cause. I’m at the point now where I can’t really voice my opinions any more, because I’m tired of all the bickering in response…. Facebook included, heh.

  2. Katie Heimer says:

    Thanks! It’s so nice to hear that I’m not just talking to myself here!

  3. Michelle F says:

    You’re definitely not talking to yourself – I love this post (and many others) for its concise articulation of what I imagine to be an extremely common feeling – feeling pressured not to react to sexism for fear of appearing boorish or obsessive, or stereotypical, of being accused of over-personalizing, of just not being a “real girl”, or other nonsense. I actually had an argument the other night with a friend who was insisting that women don’t have positive sexual desires, because “he’s never seen it” and I couldn’t provide any other example other than my own experiences – as if my personal experience was somehow invalid for being subjective rather than objective – a rationalism that basically invalidates the voice of the oppressed utterly (and in situations of far more severity).

    Anyway, I love your blog and read it avidly.

  4. Jenn says:

    What is a positive sexual desire?

  5. Michelle F says:

    Basically sexual desire that’s actually existing in its own right, rather than just as a means to something else, something to be endured in order to achieve some other means (love, babies, etc). He was disputing that women have actual sexual desire.

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