Category Archives: Gender

Sell-by Date: Fertility and F**kability

Contains strong language

A woman’s perceived value is tied up in her fertility and her physical appearance. The biological clock has supposedly ruled women’s lives for generations. In many industries, a woman’s sex appeal can equate to her recognition and success. So how does the notion of a “sell-by date” affect real women’s lives?

For generations, women have had their lives directed towards bearing and bringing up children. The average woman has lived her entire life with the overpowering idea that one day, her eggs will suddenly run out and she’ll be immediately infertile. A higher power will flick the off switch; there will be no prior warning.

Thankfully, the dominating premise of the biological clock is a myth. Fertility doesn’t switch off overnight. Of course it does decline, but does so at a different age, and a different rate for different women. Surprise surprise: not all women’s bodies are the same!

Still, a woman’s fertility is often conflated with her value: a woman’s usefulness to a company, a group, and society at large will often be calculated by her age, her marital status, and whether she has or plans to have children. While different organisations make different decisions, and cultural norms differ with cultural identity, some things are universal: a young, newly married woman who hopes to have kids soon is highly unlikely to get the job.

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Barbara Corcoran, 2014 | image: parade

Sexism is hugely hypocritical. We have a long history of punishing women for their youth and fertility, yet simultaneously praising young, fertile women for their sex appeal.

Many women use their sex appeal to their advantage in the workplace because it’s the best or only path available to them. In some industries, sex appeal can equate to recognition, promotion, and success. Barbara Corcoran, real estate guru and investor on ABC’s SharkTank said she used to “yank up her skirt” to get ahead in the business world.

When I was building my business, [when] I would walk into a room of 600 men in dark suits and I dress like a guy in a nice pant suit, no one would say ‘hi’ to me, no one would entertain me. The minute I started wearing bright suits and I would have a nice length skirt on, I would just roll up the middle and walk into that room, everyone paid attention to me.

Corcoran’s behaviour constitutes ‘internalised sexism’, because she’s enacting sexist actions and attitudes toward herself by asking to be judged on her appearance before her ability (hooks, 10). To both herself and those around her, she’s reaffirming the sexist notion:

A woman’s sex appeal decides her value.

This evaluation comes from anyone who decides to pass judgment – colleagues, friends, family, strangers, fans – thus many women have become experts at tolerating and deflecting sexist sentiments. It would be nice to imagine that certain arenas are free of this sentiment, but women in all arenas face a high probability that someone will judge her value entirely on her physical appearance.

Women in the most powerful positions are still subjected to comments on their desirability. In 2011, Sylvio Berlusconi, the former Italian Prime Minister called Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, “unfuckable.” As if that changed her value in the world of European politics.

Imagining we had a shortage of misogynistic fascists in contemporary politics before November 2016, now President ‘Cheeto Jesus’ vomited sexist comments all over the US election campaign season and hasn’t let up. He famously criticized Alicia Machado, the 1996 winner of Miss Universe beauty pageant, for gaining weight after winning, calling her “Miss Eating Machine” among other things. He terrorized her for years because he deemed her eating habits antithetical to her sexual appeal. ‘The Donald’ couldn’t abide that, because her physical appearance was the only part of her he valued.

This is a particularly prevalent issue in the celebrity sphere, an arena that sets a strong example for the rest of the world. Women are criticized for any change to their appearance that the media warrant ‘undesirable’, women are judged on their desirability throughout their careers and especially at their most vulnerable.

When Human Rights Lawyer, Amal Clooney delivered a call to action urging the UN to investigate allegations of genocide in Iraq by the Islamic State, some people failed to hear what she had to say. The fact that she was several months pregnant when she spoke at the United Nations HQ in New York City on March 9th did not affect her ability to do her job. Yet myriad media outlets reported on how her baby bump looked, “in a dark gray pencil skirt and matching cropped blazer”, rather than on what she said (People, tweeted by TIME). Some even substituted her job title for “the wife of actor George Clooney” as if her marriage is her best and only qualification. I doubt her Hollywood actor husband has to deal with this s**t.

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TIME’s sexist tweet caused widespread outrage | image: Mashable

Hollywood actresses, however, do have to. Women in Hollywood are subjected to an astronomical level of criticism about their appearance, the media postulating about their weight, relationship status, fertility, sexuality, age, and sex appeal, drumming up rumours in public reports. Perhaps the most sexist problem actresses face is the decline or dramatic change in their career when they reach a certain age. This is not something that male actors face.

In Amy Schumer’s sketch, ‘Last F**kable Day’, the comedian stumbles across Patricia Arquette (48), Tina Fey (46), and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (56) having a bucolic picnic in the woods. The three talented actresses are celebrating the eldest among them, Louis-Dreyfus’ Last Fuckable Day, because: “in every actress’s life the media decides when you finally reach the point when you’re not believably fuckable anymore” and she has apparently reached that point.

Instead of bitterness, though, Louis-Dreyfus expresses gratitude that she was able to maintain ‘fuckable’ status throughout her forties and well into her fifties, and relief that she is no longer required to ‘maintain’ her figure. She chugs a pint of melted ice cream in celebration.

It seems that one can always rely on comedy to cut through the crap and provide a new perspective on the kinds of issues we just can’t seem to resolve. Watch the sketch here:

Contains strong language

To the public consciousness, a man’s fertility is far less age dependent. Therefore his sex appeal is not tied to his fertility and thus has nothing to do with his age. As Patricia Arquette points out among rounds of laughter, “Men don’t have that day.” 


Read on

hooks, bell. Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. (2000). Print.

The Foul Reign of the Biological Clock, Guardian

Should women use their sex appeal to get ahead at work?, hello giggles

Jeremy Paxman stuns Silvio Berlusconi with Angela Merkel insult allegation, Guardian

From ‘Cheeto Jesus’ to ‘F–kface Von Clownstick,’ the best and most creative nicknames for Donald Trump, NY Daily News

Shamed and Angry: Alicia Machado, a Miss Universe Mocked by Donald Trump, NYTimesA lawyer named Amal Clooney gave a powerful speech at the U.N. Some only saw her baby bump., Washington PostFemale Film Directors Share Stories of Hollywood Sexism in Anonymous Blog, Yahoo

S**t People Say to Women Directors, Tumblr

‘Pitch Perfect 2’ Makes 2015 a Historic Year for Women in Hollywood, Yahoo

Words and Women: Shelley Winters

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Shelley Winters | image from meredy


I have bursts of being a ‘lady’, but it doesn’t last long.



Shelley Winters (b.1920 – d.2006) was an American film, television and stage actress. Her career spanned over 50 years, and her first movie was What a Woman! in 1943. Winters won Academy Awards for The Diary of Anne Frank and A Patch of Blue, and received nominations for A Place in the Sun (Best Actress) and The Poseidon Adventure (Best Supporting Actress). In the late 1940s, she shared an apartment with another pin-up actress, Marilyn Monroe.

Winters originally broke into Hollywood films as a Blonde Bombshell type, but quickly tired of the role’s limitations. She claimed to have washed off her makeup to audition for the role of Alice Tripp, the factory girl, in A Place in the Sun. As the Associated Press reported, “although she was in demand as a character actress, Winters continued to study her craft. She attended Charles Laughton’s Shakespeare classes and worked at the Actors Studio, both as student and teacher.”

After she died, a New York Times obituary noted, “Shelley Winters turned herself into a widely respected actress who won two Oscars.”



Words and Women is a regular feature that spotlights short quotations from influential women activists, artists, and authors.

Words and Women: bell hooks



If feminism is a movement to end sexist oppression, and depriving females of reproductive rights is a form of sexist oppression, then one cannot be anti-choice and be feminist. A woman can insist she would never choose to have an abortion while affirming her support of the right of women to choose and still be an advocate of feminist politics. She cannot be anti-abortion and an advocate of feminism.



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bell hooks, 1988 | image from autostraddle

bell hooks (b. 1952) is an American feminist activist, writer and educator. Born Gloria Jean Watkins, she’s best known by her pen name which she borrowed from her maternal great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks. hooks’ writing primarily focuses on the intersections of race, class, and gender, in history, art, education, social activism and much more.

This quotation is taken from chapter 1 of her concise, straightforward feminist handbook Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics (2000), which she says she wrote because she “kept waiting for it to appear, and it did not.” Other influential works (there are 30 in total!) include:

Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism (1981), Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (1984), All About Love: New Visions (2000), and We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity (2004).

 


Words and Women is a regular feature that spotlights short quotations from influential women activists, artists, and authors.

Stop Telling Women To Smile: Visual Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

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I Am Not Here For You © Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

 

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My Masculinity Is Not A Threat To Yours © Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

 

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Tatyana Fazlalizadeh | image from New York Times

Visual artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh spoke recently with Jessica Valenti about public art, the pressure to produce political pieces and how artists will survive. Listen to their interview on the latest episode of Guardian podcast, What Would A Feminist Do?

You can see more of Fazlalizadeh’s work on her website and more about Stop Telling Women To Smile on the project website.

Words and Women: Barbra Streisand

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Barbra Streisand in 1966 | image from elle


Why is it that men are permitted to be obsessed about their work, but women are only permitted to be obsessed about men?



Barbra Streisand (b. 1942) is American singer, songwriter, actor, and filmmaker. In a career spanning six decades, Streisand is among the ten best-selling female artists of all time in the US music industry. She starred in nineteen films between 1968 and 2012, and was nominated for BAFTAs and Golden Globes galore.

In 1983, Streisand became the first woman to write, produce, direct, and star in a major studio film. The film, Yentl won an Oscar and a Golden Globe, while Streisand received the Golden Globe for Best Director, the first and only woman to win that award to date.

 


Words and Women is a regular feature that spotlights short quotations from influential women activists, artists, and authors.

Pyone Thet Thet Kyaw on the State of Women’s rights in Myanmar (Interview: part 3)

Pyone Thet Thet Kyaw can be found at the British Embassy, working for the Department for International Development (DFID) in Yangon from 9-5, and leading her own dressmaking start-up, Virya Couture, on 39th Street every evening, juggling two completely different careers but pursuing one dream.

Pyone spans sectors while securing rights for her fellow women and financial stability for her family. As the founder and head designer at Virya Couture, Pyone acts as a leader to women in both private and public sectors. Through her dressmaking shop she teaches vocational skills and employs underprivileged women, helping them overcome poverty in a country rife with change.



If I am a girl and I get the same score as a boy in my class, and we both apply to the same medical university, then the entrance requirement for women is higher than for men. There are so many more women at higher education institutions than men, and they want to balance it.



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Downtown Yangon, Burma (Myanmar), January 2017 © Cas Sutherland

 

What is your favourite thing about being a woman in Myanmar today?

Favourite thing? It is that you can actually wear those very vibrant colours, you know. I think for men, there are much more limited options out there. For women it is very vibrant. You can be very fashionable, very colourful.

Also, throughout my network if you don’t mind your age, you can influence your male friends by being professional, and by being like a mother figure (even though I don’t think I am motherly).

What are the best and worst things about the state of women’s rights in Myanmar today?

Well, the privileges that women have are different depending on social status, age, and educational background. For example, I feel that our leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, can be who she is because of her family background. Because her father was the national hero, people tend to accept her more even though she married a foreigner. People are still okay with that fact.* You can talk about constitution, but that’s another matter. In terms of general social acceptance, it is okay that she married a foreigner. It doesn’t matter much for the majority of the people, they still love her, because of the family inheritance. Whereas if a normal, ordinary person, married a foreigner, then that becomes a social problem. That would be one issue. So it depends on where you come from, and your family background and social status, and so on.

There are hidden things, too. In religion, a woman can’t actually be equal to monks as a nun. Women can’t actually go up to the highest part of the pagoda. I mean, I don’t want to say that’s the worst part, but people tend to actually forget that it’s a problem. Even religion is gendered.

Education wise, I am not sure we’re in a bad position, because a lot of the young women are very hard working and they tend to do better than a lot of the young boys. But that’s the justification for previous policy-makers creating gender-biases in education too. For example, if I am a girl and I get the same score as a boy in my class, and we both apply to the same medical institution (university), then the entrance requirement for women is much higher than for men. This is because there are so many more women at higher education institutions than men, and they want to balance it.

The entry requirements for women are higher than men, because the institutions have a gender quota to adhere to?

Yes. The woman’s test scores need to be higher if she wants to qualify for entry to the same university. Still, there are a lot more women in higher education.

There are still so many areas in which women and men are unequal. For example, in the military, there are still some positions women cannot take. That’s a societal, gendered projection of where women and men can take roles.

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These machines whirr away day and night as Pyone’s team at Virya Couture churn out unique, handmade clothing in downtown Yangon, January 2017 © Cas Sutherland

What’s the best thing to have happened nationally in recent years?

Well, definitely the elections. The 2015 elections was the best thing that has ever happened. And the period following the successful election of the NLD. Because even when there was as successful election and a landslide victory in 1989-90 elections, even when the opposition party won the elections, the people in power refused to hand it over to the winning party. That created a very nerve-wracking time after the elections: “NLD won, but so what? Will they actually hand over the power?”

Well, it actually happened, and in March-April 2016, we had a new parliament, new government. Yes, there are still a lot of challenges. But still, that was the best thing ever, and there was a lot of adrenaline, a lot of energy. You could see the people really felt emotional about it. Its more than forty years of struggle since the military coup of 1962, and in that time we never had a majority civilian government. It’s not yet 100% civilian government or civilian legislature, but still it is really good.

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Renovations across downtown Yangon coincide with a newfound energy post-elections, January 2017 © Cas Sutherland

There’s a new energy everywhere. On Monday this week , Yangon regional government transformed the public transport system. If that had been done under the previous government, there would be restrictions, it would be really resented, and people would not go out on the street for fear of being arrested. It would be a completely different situation. But now, local people are really invested in this change, they really want this transition to work. So what they do is go out there and help people, make sure people get the transport they need. There are a lot of volunteers out on the street helping people use public transport. You can really feel the commitment and energy out there.

What are your major hopes for Burma (Myanmar) for the next 5 years?

I want our country to have a working government, with the ability to deliver quality services for our people, especially for our poor people in the poorer regions. That would be one thing, because I feel that our country lacks services. Not even quality, lack of services themselves in some areas. It really is bad for some people, I feel. I hope the coming round of elections go well.

Economic development, of course. I think some parts of the country will continue with the conflict if they cannot compromise with each other and with the central institutions, but still, I think that the rest of the country will go ahead with economic activities. We’re actually going through multiple transitions now: economic transitions, social transitions, political transitions, you know. We’ve got all of those things going on. So economic development must go ahead so that people get jobs and can afford to become decent individuals with confidence, jobs and ability to earn money.

 

 

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Hands-on with Pyone at Virya Couture, Yangon, January 2017 © Cas Sutherland

There will be by-elections held in April. Are the candidates going to be existing parliamentarians defending their seats? 

Yes, by-elections are coming up in about twenty townships. Some of the areas are places that the previous election did not take place because of the conflict. So with the ceasefire discussions going on, elections will happen in some parts. Other parts are holding by-elections because existing parliamentarians are now deceased, or because of ministerial appointments.

These by-elections are happening just a year and a half after the national elections. Do you think this is a positive thing?

Yes! I see this election as an opportunity for the current government in power to see and build on. For example, the Union Election Commission, can actually try and test their abilities ahead of the 2020 elections. That’s a technical point of view. But also for the NLD, to actually keep the momentum going. If, during the by-elections, they lose all the seats then that will be an alarm call for 2020. So they would at least jump and think, “ok, we’ve got to do something about this.”

November 2020 is the next national democratic elections. Here the election is always on a Sunday. There are a lot of my friends who contested for the 2015 elections, and I think a lot more will become in 2020. So, there’s a different feeling now. More competition and energy in the political system, which is great.

A lot of the foreign ministers who visit, they come and they are actually very shocked by the positivity that people have here about politics. Because we’re still very new here.


* Aung San Suu Kyi married British citizen Michael Aris in 1972, and they had two children, Kim and Alexander. This fact prevented her taking office as President of Myanmar, due to constitutional clause created by the military government in the early 1990s, stating that anyone with foreign children cannot be President.

 

Read on

Pyone Thet Thet Kyaw on Leading the Ethical Fashion Trend in Burma (Interview: Part 1), ZhendeGender

Pyone Thet Thet Kyaw on Developing her own Fashion Brand in Burma (Interview: part 2), ZhendeGender

 

 

Words and Women: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Women belong in all places where decisions are being made… It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg | image from Elle

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (b. 1933) is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Ginsburg was appointed by President Clinton, took the oath of office on 10th August 1993, and is still serving today.

Ginsburg was the second woman ever to be made a Supreme Court justice in the US, after Sandra Day O’Connor, who served from 1981 until her retirement in 2006. Only four female justices have been appointed to the US Supreme Court. The third and fourth are Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, who are also still serving.


Words and Women is a regular feature that spotlights short quotations from influential women activists, artists, and authors.