Friday, September 11, 2009

My thoughts this week: Does [insert relevant female singer's name] set the women's movement back?

I have given some thought to some of the topics we covered this week and last week.

One of the topics that struck me was whether our actions or those of public figures "set the women's movement back." I've often wondered whether women of privilege because they are in the public eye have additional responsibility to move the women's movements forward or if they too can act as individuals and distance themselves from the movement when she want to do something that she feels is in her interest. For example, I tend to have high expectations of certain entertainers as women of privilege who must put their privilege to good use. I hope and expect that they could use their time towards advancing and improving situations for women, indigent people and people of color. But when these women state that they have used their bodies in ways to advance their personal interests and thereby feel empowered by their ability sort of "flip the script" on this theme of women as physical objects and turn it into a means to achieve money, fame and their personal dreams, where do we draw the line between doing something as an individual that makes one happy and sacrificing the greater good for women?

Before I go on, one of the topics from last week, "Judgment," inevitably creeps up in my mind as I ponder the topics of privilege and setting the women's movement back. Am I any more entitled to judge because someone is famous and their actions are open for the world to see? I am not sure of the answer to that, but I know that as someone who is still on her way to making a place in which she can make change, being able to see women on television, analyze lyrics to songs and compare their actions towards their personal goals with their efforts to relieve suffering on the part of others certainly strengthens my opinions on the issues. Perhaps if someone spends their day gyrating in scantily clad clothing to promote their new album, but spends the night visiting hospitals and orphanages and donates some of their earnings to important causes, that's a start to making it seem like their actions are less of a blow to the rest of the female world. Not that it makes other actions OK, but it does lend credence to the means to an end theory rather than a simple lifestyle choice.

But again, even if dancing that way or dressing that way is a lifestyle choice, who am I to cast judgment and push for them to counter in some way. I've been told that I tend to be hard on people and have high expectations of people in real life. To explain that, I feel that I take certain truths or principles for granted and hope and possibly expect that people see things my way. Perhaps I impute these same expectations onto those who are famous who understand that the use of their bodies in a certain way is a means to an end. They may be fine with using that means as long as it gets them to that end. But perhaps I hope for them to know better and know that that sort of attention fades and shrivels. When I go through this analysis in my mind, the only response I can conjure up when I ask why is, "To each his own," especially because I'm not sure I would see things differently than they do had I now experienced the things that I have and if had those goals and their lives.

To put things in context, I've given some thought to particular celebrities and their actions.
The everyday pop singer "selling out" in terms of their bodies and physical features is sort of a given at this point in my opinion. I am not shocked when it's a norm that female singers either choose to use their flaunt (and sometimes even articifically enhance) their bodies in order to attract attention to their talent or they choose to go another route and possibly nobody in the mainstream ever hears of them and they potentially sacrifice the goal of one day becoming a household name. But when I see more potential and more meaning behind the art of singing or acting or potential for understanding different life experiences is when I sort of pile on the heavy expectations to do more with their power.

For example, I've given some thought to the fact that women in Hollywood such as Demi Moore in the movie Striptease earned a sum around $12 million dollars for her role. This was reportedly the highest sum a woman had earned in that time. I have not seen the movie, but I know that she was heavily criticized for the use of her body in it. I feel conflicted when I hear facts like this. Some would argue that she created a new and higher standard for female actresses while others would argue that the means was not worth it. And of course, the easy answer (and sort of a cop-out in my mind, but I cannot find anything better at this time to quell my questions) is that had she not used her body like so, with the way society and Hollywood function today, she would simply not have earned that money. She was paid for the use of her body. Subtract that (and thereby alter the plot and central message of the movie) and she would not have set that record. Perhaps I could comment better when I actually see the movie because like I say to many of my friends, I hate the "Holier than thou" attitude especially when I have not done my research.

One movie I have recently seen featuring Demi Moore is G.I. Jane. In that movie, the theme of sameness versus difference pops up continuously. Whether it be through her actions in retroactively repudiating her supervisor's gesture of pulling a chair out for her when she arrives at the Navy SEALs Training Camp or whether she does not act phased when another supervisor visits her during her post-training shower and she has not yet put her clothes back on, I constantly reaffirmed in my mind that there are some instances when the sameness standard applied properly is and can be appropriate. When lives depend on physical tests, I think it's fine to say that a female Navy SEAL or a female firefighter measure up to those standards typically set for her male counterpart. I feel that in those instances pushing for the difference standard would set us up for a battle that is neither logical nor worth it. Not only would it possibly waste precious efforts on situations in which the difference standard are more appropriate (which do nt come to mind right now), but it quells the naysayers into thinking that no woman genetically or physically CAN measure up. The conclusion I've reached until I can come up with something more satisfactory to calm my sense of conflict with the issue as as follows. One can even venture to say that pushing for the application of the difference standard in life-and-death issues may sometimes "set the women's movement back" farther than the possible sad yet predictable set-backs by the likes of female stars.

1 comment:

Erin S. said...

A question that comes to my mind is: why are individual women called on to represent women as a whole? Why does one woman's "bad" behavior reflect upon all of us? I don't think it should--I certainly don't want certain celebrities representing me any more than I would want my own behavior to represent and reflect upon all women. My body belongs to me and what I do with it, how I dress it, how I use it should reflect only on me. I think it's unfair to expect women to uphold a higher standard of behavior simply because we are women, for whatever purpose.