The “Lose the Lads’ Mags” campaign: Overdue or overzealous?

UK Feminista and Object have come together to promote the Lose the Lads’ Mags campaign, which asks stores to remove pornographic magazines from their shelves. Such images, they claim, violate the Equality Act 2010 by involuntarily exposing store staff and customers to offensive images.

According to an article by The Guardian, the groups want to take legal action against stores that continue to stock such magazines, on the grounds that this exposure “violates the dignity of individual employees or customers, or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.”

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Others, however, disagree, arguing that banning such magazines is not only a form of censorship, but also a way to put sex workers out of work.

Here’s what I think:

1. To my knowledge, these groups are not actually trying to eradicate these magazines, they’re just trying to get them off the shelves of mainstream stores, where all sorts of non-pornography seeking people have to see and/or sell them. Sell these types of publications in more, ah, appropriate places. Specialized shops and the like.

2. I think it’s interesting that all sorts of people suddenly come of the woodwork to protect the rights of sex workers when there’s talk of materials getting banned. Are job opportunities in the sex work economy really these dissenters’ number one priority?

3. It’s important to note that we’re not just talking about pornography. We’re talking about public images of men and women in objectifying poses, and in a patriarchal society, we’re especially addressing such images of women. These pictures are humiliating and offensive to some people in the same way that images with racist or homophobic themes are. Why? Because these images play to a culture that enjoys the marginalization and oppression of specific groups of people.

An example of "redface"

An example of “redface”

The bottom line is, if you have no problem whatsoever with public pornographic images, at least try to understand why others would.

Then do some research on the working conditions that most sex workers face.

New opportunities for women in the Anglican church

The Church of England has released a new plan for reform measures that allow women to serve as bishops, beginning as early as 2015. This comes after similar legislation, which actually has the majority of the church’s support, just barely failed to garner enough votes last November. And when I say just barely, I mean by only four.

The Archbishop Of Canterbury

The Archbishop Of Canterbury

Although the reform will have to go through a complicated and lengthy approval process over the next two years, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

And of course, there are some adamant dissenters. According to Reuters:

The issue pits reformers, keen to project a more modern and egalitarian image of the church as it struggles with falling congregations in many increasingly secular countries, against a minority of conservatives who see the change as contradicting the Bible.

Traditionalist church leaders in developing countries especially oppose the reform, and similarly criticized the Church’s decision to allow celibate gay bishops last January.

The Church of England General Synod Meeting

Most real change is slow, especially when it comes to religious reform. The point, though, is that there is indeed change. The Church of England has the chance to transform, if only slowly, into a faith-based institution that promotes equality. Perhaps it will encourage Catholic and Orthodox churches to someday follow suit.

Waiting to be heard, in her own words

On Tuesday, ABC aired Diane’s Sawyer interview with Amanda Knox, the American exchange student who was accused of murdering her British roommate Meredith Kercher in Italy. Although she was initially convicted of the crime–and served 4 years in prison for it–a second appeals trial revealed a striking lack of evidence in the case. In 2011, she was acquitted and released to return home.

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Amanda Knox

Almost six years later, Knox’s nightmare is still not over. Prosecutors appealed the latest verdict, meaning Knox will be on trial for murder again, likely sometime next year (in Italy, double jeopardy doesn’t apply). In the interview, Knox talks about the new book she wrote detailing her perspective on the entire ordeal, a memoir titled Waiting to Be Heard. In particular, she addresses the Italian media’s unfair (I say ridiculous) fabrications about her life during the trial, and how these lies affected the first conviction.

Simply put, the media tried Knox before the courts ever did. The then twenty-year-old was portrayed as a manipulative seductress who, along with her Italian boyfriend at the time,  killed Kercher in a violent “sex game gone wrong.” Some stories even described the murder as some sort of Satanic ritual. Her behavior after the murder also picked apart. Every move she made was construed to portray her as cold, uncaring deviant. The papers dubbed her as “Foxy Knoxy”–a childhood name that she earned for her stealth on her soccer team–and wrote stories about her fictionalized sex life. They obsessed about how she didn’t seem “remorseful.”

So why all this fascination with Knox? Why this fixation with her personal life, her reactions, her looks? Because the prosecution had a story and a scapegoat that they knew they could sell. Who cared if she was innocent? To them, she was another easy victim. The prosecutors would look like heroes for putting this hated slut away. And indeed, the public fell for it–it seems we still can’t resist the sick hysteria of a witch trial.

Meredith Kercher aged 19 pictured at her Surrey home-796144

Meredith Kercher

Knox’s original sentence was 26 years in prison, despite having no DNA evidence to connect her to the crime scene. Another man’s DNA, however–a drifter and convicted criminal named Rudy Guede–was all over the victim’s body, including inside her. He also left bloody hand and footprints on the walls and floor of the apartment–clear signs that he was the actual murderer.

Guede’s lawyers worked a plea deal that got him a mere 16 years in prison–a sentence less than Knox’s. He’ll be eligible for work release next year.

Even though he’s the convicted killer, I had to search to find his name.

Surprisingly, after everything, Knox still says that she encourages young people to study abroad. Her advice?

“Be careful,” especially if you’re a young woman. Kercher lost her life, but in a way, Knox almost did, too.

Could the modeling industry get any worse?

In the world of high fashion, models with skeletal frames are, well, the norm. In fact, the acceptable body weight of runway models is so low that models in the size 4-8 range are often considered plus-size. Healthy bodies are viewed as heavy. It should go without saying that this is really, really wrong.

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But apparently a lot still needs to be said. Last week, Swedish news source The Local reported that modeling scouts have a history of approaching patients at eating disorder clinics.  According to a doctor at the Stockholm Center for Eating Disorders, “People have stood outside our clinic and tried to pick up our girls because they know they are very thin.”

One of the patients approached was so ill that she was bound to a wheelchair. Another was only 14.

When the scouts were confronted about what they were doing, they explained that they look for “healthy, normally slim young people and that they never urge anyone to lose weight.”

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Right. They look for healthy models at a medical clinic for severely ill and emaciated young women (not to mention psychologically fragile). And how convenient that they wouldn’t need to encourage them to lose weight, since they’re already weighing in at near-death numbers.

This is not really about weight though, or about sizes. Most women know what a healthy size is for their particular body type, and it’s usually a range. On a spectrum of sizes, “healthy,” of course, can be found at both ends.

That said, no argument or opinion about what is and isn’t beautiful, natural, or even admittedly preferred makes this remotely okay. These young women are trying to recover from something devastating. But to the modeling industry, they’re up for grabs.

If nothing else, their actions should makes us question our own roles in this sick game. What magazines do we read, what designers and brands do we wear? And perhaps most importantly, what do we think about ourselves when we step on the scale? It’s time to stop feeding into an industry that is willing to pay women to keep killing themselves.

“American Novelists” means male novelists, of course.

In a New York Times op-ed last week, Amanda Filipacchi wrote about something strange going on over at Wikipedia. Apparently, editors are moving the names of women novelists from the category “American Novelists,” and putting them in a new category: “American Women Novelists.” Men’s names, of course, remain only in “American Novelists.”

According to Filipacchi,

 “It appears that many female novelists, like Harper Lee, Anne Rice, Amy Tan, Donna Tartt and some 300 others, have been relegated to the ranks of “American Women Novelists” only, and no longer appear in the category “American Novelists.” If you look back in the “history” of these women’s pages, you can see that they used to appear in the category “American Novelists,” but that they were recently bumped down. Male novelists on Wikipedia, however—no matter how small or obscure they are—all get to be in the category “American Novelists.”

Since Filipacchi’s piece, other writers have reported on it as well, and if you visit the Wikipedia pages it seems that they’ve halted this nonsense–for now. It would be one thing if Wikipedia created separate categories for both men and women. This might make sense in regards to simpler searching for a particular author.  But to create a “women’s” list and remove those names from the master list of novelists suggests that women writers are a derivative from the “normal” (read: male) category of writers.

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Joyce Carol Oates

So why is this happening in the first place? According to Deanna Zandt in an article for Forbes Woman (which is another interesting derivation–is this happening everywhere?),

“Anyone can edit Wikipedia, but over 80% of Wikipedia’s editors are young, white, child-free men, which means that their perspective is what largely dominates how information is organized, framed and written. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a young, white, child-free man’s perspective, of course– it’s just that there are tons of other perspectives in the world that should influence how a story gets told.”

If Wikipedia truly wants to provide users with neutral, unbiased information, it’s going to need more women editors. Duh. If “male” is the norm–the original category from which all others deviate–then sexism is also the norm. It’s subtle, and for that reason, it’s pervasive. It’s the status quo. And it’s not just up to Wikipedia to fix it. It’s up to us, too.

In the words of Zandt:

“[I]t’s not enough that we create an open system and say that everyone has the opportunity to work on it– we need to make intentional interventions into the status quo that involve raising the voices of those who are not heard as often.”

The truth of the matter? As long as we allow “the norm” to speak for us and to structure how we think about the world, we can always expect to be described in adjectives that reference our “otherness.” And right now, we’re allowing ourselves to be defined in terms of that difference.

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The “worthiness” of women’s writings

Michelle Dean wrote an article for New York Magazine this week titled “How to Win at the Women’s Memoir Game.” It examines the critical reception of women’s memoirs, work often reviewed as “oversharing.” For some reason, women’s memoirs are commonly dismissed as attempts to tell silly, sensationalized, or simply much too personal stories.

In regards to personal or “confessional” writing, Dean writes:

“The ‘confessional’ impulse has actually never been strictly a Woman Thing — just look at F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Crack-Up or Robert Lowell’s poetry, for starters. But the accusation that a writer has taken it to extremes, beyond art into sensationalism, usually is leveled at us alone.”

She cites Lena Dunham and Cat Marnell as two women who have recently scored book deals for their memoirs–works anticipated to be highly personal tell-alls.  The confessional nature of their books, however, makes them targets for criticism, especially in conversations about “serious literature.”

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Lena Dunham

More seasoned memoirists such as Joan Didion, Cheryl Strayed and Elizabeth Gilbert, however, have managed to escape some of this criticism. Why? Perhaps, Deen muses, because in their books “the sex is less prominent and the focus tends to be on personal tragedies that are more sympathetic to a wider audience.” In other words, in the eyes of critics, they’re not telling stories defined by their gender, or so clearly written for a female audience.

She concludes the discussion of their success with the observation that “there are, actually, degrees of craft involved in writing yourself, as Nora Ephron put it, as the heroine of your own life.”

Deen’s conversation about the type of critical response that women’s “confessional” or “oversharing” memoirs receive reminds me of the impostor syndrome, a psychological phenomenon in which people do not feel like they deserve their success.  It’s a common experience among women, and it causes us to question the worthiness of our work and achievements.

The experience of feeling unworthy or untalented doesn’t come out nowhere, though. Women writers are especially scrutinized, and their work often taken less seriously than men’s. For this to change, women’s writing must be evaluated as writing first. And on that note, perhaps we should stop classifying anything created by a woman as “women’s” altogether.

joandidion

Stigmas and standards: Pregnancy past 40

Halle Berry isn’t just pregnant with her second child, she’s pregnant with the second child she’s had past 40.  Big news, everyone, or at least you’d think so by all the way-too-excited headlines reporting it. Here’s the rundown: She had her first daughter at 41 with model Gabriel Aubry, and now at 46 she’s expecting a boy with fiancé Olivier Martinez (of Unfaithful fame). Truth be told, I would not know Berry’s exact age if it weren’t for this pregnancy. For some reason, the number is not to be missed.

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Okay, it’s not just for some reason. Her age is getting so much attention because, let’s be honest, there’s a stigma associated with women who get pregnant past the age of 40 (and really, even past 35). In 2013. No matter who you are (in this case, a famous actress), how much money you make (lots), or what the state of your physical health is (uh, she looks pretty damn fit/perfect to me), if you’re a woman who dares to have a baby “later” in life, prepare to be picked apart.

I’ve already read too many lines about her diabetes, the risks of geriatric pregnancies, and how she will raise children during her “twilight” years. And in the comments sections, readers are scrambling over how she got pregnant in the first place. Everyone calm down. She’s 46, not 86. Besides, why, really, do we care? Of all the pregnant women in the world, I don’t think Berry needs our concern. And on that note, does any pregnant woman deserve the quick judgement of strangers?

Halle Berry attends 'The Call' Premiere in Buenos Aires

This might be personal for me. I’m more than 20 years younger than Berry, but I’ve already listened to friends talk about when they think they“should” try to have a baby, followed, very clearly, by when they shouldn’t. My objections to these engrained rules are answered with phrases not unlike the ones that come up in articles about Berry’s pregnancy: something about risks and the fear (distaste?) of being an older mom.

Here’s what Berry has to say about it:

“I’m a much better mother at 46–or 41, when I had her–than if I were like 21 or 25. I mean I was just a little baby trying to figure it out–trying to figure out who I was, let alone having the responsibility of trying to help another little soul develop and grow. I’m so glad I waited.”

By the way, I had to search around a little for Martinez’s age. It isn’t automatically listed in every article (and headline!) like Berry’s. He’s 47.