In this article, a young and angry feminist talks about some of the goals feminism has yet to achieve. She explains some of the mechanisms and tools that governments and industries use to reinforce and stabilize gender inequality. Also, while illustrating the interrelation of patriarchy, Gender Wage Gap, sexist advertisement and rape culture, she argues for the legitimacy of illegal counteraction.
I am a woman, therefore I am a part of the world’s majority. Nevertheless, in my everyday life especially when being out in the streets, I feel like a minority: a minority without diversity, a part of a group with no power and authority, without the means for self-representation, and especially and maybe most hurtful, a part of a group without voices. We live in a male dominated, patriarchal, i. e. unequal world, with most of the high-ranking positions being occupied by cisgender, white, able-bodied, heterosexual men. Take a look at the parliaments and politicians, newspaper agencies and journalists, boards of directors of any company, the advertisement industry, principals and presidents of schools and universities, etc. Look at the armed forces for internal and external defense. Look around and ask yourself: who creates this world? Who makes the rules? Who is in charge? Who is responsible? Who is held responsible? And most of all: who pays for and who profits from the current state of affairs?
One of the most simple proof of the introductory statement (besides rape myths and their related data) can be seen in one of the many results of it, one of the most urgent fights that must be won: the one for equal pay. In every Western country, women still earn between roughly 23% to over 30% less than men, depending on the work field (in addition, women while doing two-thirds of the world’s work, receive only 10% of the world’s income and own only 1% of the means of production). The reason for unequal pay? Official ‘explanations’ rather justifications in Western context usually evolve around the theme of a woman being likely to eventually become pregnant, then being on parental leave and thus costing an employer more than men do and in turn do not ‘deserve’ to earn the same wage or salary. Besides this being a financial punishment for all women (whether planning on being a mother or not), this practice is profoundly absurd given that any form of society, rather its very survival, depends on this type of labor: the giving life, the nurturing, the upbringing, the education of children aka “the future” as politicians especially during election times like to remind us.
However, what does it mean if everything related to this ‘future’ is either considered ‘expensive’ and ‘costly’ (like women employees), or ‘damaging’ (for the company or employer)? What does it mean if ‘future’ is equated with ‘of low value’ (consider the wage of teachers, especially those of nursery teachers)? Well, to stick to the metaphor of the future, this can well be read as the future’s value to the present (=none), which would also explain the destructive habit of consumerism. In addition, it reflects the social status of women, which is always put lower than the male. Since within a capitalist society value is attributed via money, the less money a person receives for her/his labor, the less value attributed to the labor performed. Money is a symbolic power (cf. Bourdieu: Three Forms of Capital.), and via attributing less value to women’s labor via paying them less, women are rendered entities of less value.
This vicious circle represents as it includes yet another example of a double-bind: since women are supposed to want to become mothers in order to proof and perform their womanhood and thus legitimate their existence, the mere possibility of them doing so puts them simultaneously in a socially lower status (inevitably so within capitalism). Thus the socially constructed lower status of women is yet again sold as natural, while those women who do not want to give life and/or take care of children, are read and thus made somewhat of lesser ‘real’ women. No matter the choice, she will lose. She will lose since the rules of this game were not made by but for her in order to make and keep her dependent on him, and in order to make and keep him dominating and ruling this capitalist world.
It must be pointed out that this logic perpetuates a distinct aspect of the traditional gender roles according to which men simply have to ejaculate inside of a women, have one of their sperm fertilize an egg, and never bother again for the consequences while still being entitled to label themselves ‘father’. Even worse, this narrative and construction does not even hold men responsible in any way, to the contrary: it leaves all responsibility to the woman.
For thousands of years the female gender has suffered from violence and subjugation, and several women’s movements or Feminist Waves have more or less successfully fought against patriarchal structures and practices. But with each bit of grounds gained, the patriarchal system also responded via and made space for what Susan Faludi termed “Backlash”. What Faludi already detected in the 1980s has been a continuing process, has worsened ever since to what is called today the pornification of women’s bodies. One effect of this being that women’s constant train of thoughts is supposed to revolve around nothing but their bodies, around being ‘pretty’ and a sexual object; of being perceived as pretty according to heterosexual-cis-male normative ideals of feminine beauty. Further more, it demands women being available to heterosexual desire, thus reinforcing the cult of Victorian True Womanhood according to which a woman’s life, her value and existence, her rights and duties, her success and her failure are defined by men. It again reinforces an ideology according to which women are supposed to find, keep and please a man in order to have a reason to exist.
What scholars like Judith Butler already called gender performance in combination with capitalism results into demanding my gender to shop and diet, to keep our legs spread and our mouths shut and quiet. Again, it seems as if women are told that they “were made to be seen, not to be heard”. I say “Fuck that!”, and even louder, NO! I say let us stop defining ourselves by your shapes, sizes, colors and holes. Let us stop defining ourselves based on standards and ideals created and constructed for us, standards that terrorize us, standards that have taught us to terrorize each other. Let us get rid of standards that keep us, our self-esteem and our well-being dependent on the approval of others. I say let us get rid of our internalized objectification, I say let us reclaim our bodies, and our full existence as full agents!
With current forms of representations of women’s bodies which reinforce a highly unhealthy, even life-threatening body image, the woman’s body is subject to a reduction to an almost invisible size. We are not our bodies as the outside world perceives them, we are full human beings with all sorts of talents, skills, desires, hopes, fears, needs, wishes. We are full human beings equipped with beautiful minds. I say let us show to the world the diverse myriads of possibilities that women can be and are made of. Let us end the objectification of women’s bodies. I am sick and tired of an environment that attacks human bodies and minds each and every single day.
It seems urgent to remind this environment of an important fact: women are humans. Women are people, women are not objects. I am sick and tired of having boobs, arses, open and wet mouths and (usually white) anorexic body parts thrown into my face, I am sick and tired of the atmosphere this creates. If the idea/logic and practice of “sex sells” sells or promotes anything, than it is this one thing: sexism. What is sold too, is the delusion that women want nothing but to be sexualized, sexualized objects, and that a woman’s ‘nature’ is to be craving for nothing but acknowledgment of her outer appearance from a man, and that this is what ‘real men’ want. Let me add that the level of sexism within advertisements has reached a level of absurdity, since now it is often impossible to tell what product is actually advertised if it was not for the brand’s name written on the advertisement, too. Even worse, by now it is difficult to tell the difference between the sequence of a porn movie and an ad from brands like Dolce & Gabbana.
What is, without a doubt, successfully marketed is the alleged legitimate objectification and hypersexualization of women’s bodies. To stop or at least interrupt this dynamic, I argue that reshaping, rephrasing, and reconstructing certain advertisements and graphic representations of women’s bodies can be considered legitimate. Whether it is via adding words or phrases, using stickers, spray cans, other forms of graphic art or even taking down advertisements to make the alleged covert overt, all is fine. Reconquer public space, and re-create it. Be creative: intervene, interrupt, break the cycle. Some might say that this is illegal, and that illegal actions are not the smartest way to counteract. But let me ask then who gets to define what illegal is, let me ask where self-defense begins?
Let me ask why I would have to find legal forms of protest when being oppressed, especially when this oppression is sold as ‘natural’ and thus legal, and its oppressive character, dynamics and structures are even disguised as ‘free choice of the woman’? The somewhat successful ‘normalization’ of the objectification and pornification of women via the objectification of their bodies allow those ads being spread every day, reinforcing the alleged legitimacy of this, again going full circle with the woman’s body as a selling argument in itself. These ads train all genders to gaze at women’s bodies in a certain, meaning degrading manner, to perceive women not as humans but as objects consisting of nothing but mere body parts. No wonder we live in a culture of which rape and sexual violence against women is an integral part. To me, all of the above is part of an extreme assault and attack, and thus legitimizes several forms of long overdue self-defense and counteraction: Are You With Me?