Thursday, July 26, 2012

Miss Represented

How many women have ever sneered after seeing an advertisement misrepresenting women by depicting them in an inappropriate manner? In fact It seems as though it’s everywhere. Rarely you see women portrayed in a good light. The recently released film Miss Representation is dedicated to exposing how poorly mainstream media outlets portray women. Although I’ve known for years that the media isn’t fair in representing women, it brought something new to the table. They show interweaving clips of all the major news outlets showing some of the most successful women saying very insulting comments about them. Embarrassingly enough, I probably wouldn’t have noticed this before but it really bothered me that these women, many of whom that have been groundbreaking in their fields, being treated so disgracefully. I’m halfway finished my masters degree and perhaps it's naive to believe that if you reach a certain level, especially as a woman, that you will be respected by the media rather than ridiculed. That is my expectation at least. Regardless of political stance some of these women have reached positions never thought attainable in the past and to degrade them by how they look is utterly disgusting. Part of this, as the film points out, is cultural. We have issues when it comes to how women look and this starts with women solely. No one wants to admit this giant pink elephant in the center of the room. We are hard on ourselves. Either too fat, too skinny, too light, too dark, too much makeup, not enough, not sexy enough, too sexy, too old and I could go on and on. We are so hard on ourselves. I always listen to women when around them and I hear these comments incessantly. It’s so upsetting, especially from older women. I am misrepresented. By the media, by pop culture, and more importantly, by other women.
Trailer to Miss Representation
Another aspect of popular culture that is really hard on women is if you are single. I’d never heard of Jezebel or any site like it but I did read the “Ten Ten Very Good Reasons You Aren’t Married Yet.” While the article is written by a woman, I think that it is this sort of debate about marriage and women not marrying seems like it spans centuries. Not getting married doesn’t make you an independent woman just like marriage doesn't make you a dependent one. The article repeats the stereotype that independent women don’t need Mr. Right or that we are making a statement not putting a ring on it. I do agree with this statement however it is important not to judge all women by these standards. Relationships are personal and should not be driven society standards. Needless to say they usually don’t conform under this microscope. Thanks Jezebel but no thanks. I don’t need your advice on marriage and why I’m not or on anything for that matter. I’m my own woman and that's something I hope all your readers understand.

The final issue that the media and pop culture treats with disrespect is motherhood. See Recently I posted this status on my fb profile: “I'm ever conscious that young women and girls are critically observing older women. With so many poor examples in the media and even in the grocery store, I strive to be a positive role model. I hope one day all women will realize that they too are are being observed. Young women and girls 'learn' behavior from their peers.” I wrote this after seeing a mother with a 2-year-old toddler in the grocery store wearing a string bikini and a cover up that showed off more than it covered. Her husband seemed so proud of this. Not too far away was an 11-year-old girl and her mom. The girl was staring at the mother in the bikini and it got me thinking. What have women been doing to themselves? Where are our standards? How will we want our children to behave? Our young girls? I am an independent women but independence doesn’t mean wearing a string bikini in the grocery store. It means being strong and having dignity for myself. Being valued for what is inside and not on the outside. Believe me that will fade in time. This is what my grandmother taught me. We are taught through the media that every woman must have a baby before she's too old, loose weight fast, and be a sexy milf or cougar. No I won't explain that last line. Popular culture has done a number on us. The website Women's Media Center is a very good advocate for changing perceptions about in the media about women. This article of childbirth and hollywood focusing on what a recent film left out, women of color and pregnancy complications, is missing something. I encourage all women to see the film The Business of Being Born. It is a film made my Ricki Lake and embraces natural childbirth. Aside from that she exposes the viewer to how hollywood treats childbearing which we all know isn’t pretty. Being a mother, biologically or adopted, is an experience that asks women to answer many important questions particularly about herself, her body, her image, and her legacy. This also relates to women who decide to not have children.
One of the reasons why I decided to write this post was to prove that there are alternative voices and images of what it means to be a woman today. I refuse to let industries identify what being a woman is for me. This started when my grandmother told me the most important lesson to womanhood, love and value yourself. This is a lesson everyone needs.



Monday, July 9, 2012

An American Brigade Invasion

I've been wanting to write a post on Africa for sometime now. After living in Africa for two years as as a Peace Corps volunteer, I learned quite a bit about the continent. Everything I thought and had seen/read about Africa was quite different than what I expected. Probably the most striking aspect I noticed was the amount of foreigners living and/or working in Africa. For the most part I encountered Europeans who started small businesses or saw large Chinese factories at port cities. I always wondered what motivated these individuals/companies (besides money/resources) to come to Africa. I also wonder what they feel their impact is on the continent. Colonialism has had a very negative impact on Africa, and the legacy still impacts social structures in all African countries. I have yet to meet someone that disagrees with this statement.

The scramble for Africa became a way for colonial powers to strategize various locations for their gain. Many like to blame the current problems on various dictators and corruption but I argue that all of the current problems are lingering effects of colonialism. Colonial states had no interest in promoting a viable Africa. Peoples selected by colonial powers were often favored. This favoritism endures until today. Familiar relation to the ruling elite determines much of the social inequality seen in Africa. Below is a unique photo retrieved from a very cool blog:

Given this legacy of colonialism and the amount of aid centered on Africa, it is interesting that many countries are not assessing how their interventions are affecting this continent. I recently read this Al Jazeera about the U.S. sending an army brigade to Africa. See article:

This brigade will be sent around the continent. Now military intervention is another cup of tea. Given the reputation of U.S. in some areas, say the Chagos Islands, I'm a little concerned when a country sends its military to another continent, brigade or no brigade. It is claimed that these troops will be trained and sent to "participate in military exercises." These troops will be 'assisting' the forces of various countries. I also found it interesting that these troops will be sent to areas that are "perceived as threats" to the U.S. This should concern the everyone. Intervening has never gone well for the U.S. and I don't believe this is the way. All the training in the world can't help these brigades to understand ongoing conflicts in this part of the world. And furthermore, what will this lead to? As bases in other areas are closing we may very well see more popping up in the name of U.S. security. Just as colonialism has left a legacy, I wonder what impact this will have? Perhaps all the billions given to 'develop' Africa hasn't ended up in the U.S.'s favor and now they are employing a new approach. 

Africa must be strengthened from within. A this is true for all continents with legacies of colonialism. No country in the global north has the answer to the problems in the global south and nothing can make up for the years of exploitation, dehumanization and countless human rights violations.  If anything, these troops will learn this lesson.