Selling “Girl Power” Short

Originally published by MissRepresentation.org on July 20, 2012. 

The phrase “Girl Power” appears in my mind bedazzled and engraved on a background of pink glittery flowers. I don’t know why, and I don’t know when it started, but a simple Google image search proves that this isn’t my own exclusive creation.


Yet, “Girl Power” isn’t a phrase I think of often. As a feminist, one would imagine the phrase would resonate with me, but some of the previously mentioned connotations had scared me off the term completely. It wasn’t until recently that I was reminded of its existence, from a most unlikely source: aCrystal Light Energy commercial.

If you haven’t seen it, the ad (above) features two women talking when one of them pulls out a drink which she describes as “new Crystal Light Energyfor women.”

My negative response to that statement matched her friends critical “Yeah right, ‘cuz we can’t have a guy’s energy drink.” I appreciated the (likely intentional) poke at Dr. Pepper’s attempt to advertise theirDr. Pepper “10″ drink as “not for women.” However, two wrongs don’t make a right, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that this ad fell securely in the “wrong” category.

My intuition was accurate, as her doubtful friend is soon proved wrong in her criticism of the “girly” drink when her purse is stolen and her friend saves the day. The Crystal Light drinker chases the two thieves on their motorcycle through the city and into a desert, where she grabs back the purse and a narrator proudly explains that the drink is “Girl power to go.”

At this statement, the two men run away terrified, and I realized my problem with the ad. Girl power is shown as the worst fear of these idiotic men, placing feminism in a dichotomy against male integrity. But feminism – and true girl power – isn’t about putting men down, it’s about pulling women up until we’re all on the same level.

Beyond the polarizing gender divisions the commercial promotes, lies another problem: the commercial, under all its pretense of girl power, is for a diet drink. Part of the estimated $61 billion dollar industry designed to make both genders (though more often women) feel inferior – not empowered.

In the past few weeks, MissRepresentation.org has focused on the magazine industry’s creation of unhealthy body ideals for women in our #KeepItReal campaign. What we didn’t explore as closely, however, is that this Photoshop “industry standard” exists because of close ties between magazines and the advertisement industry.

One example of this link (that Naomi Wolf discusses in The Beauty Myth) is a prominent women magazine that lost one of their biggest advertisers, Clairol hair color company, after they featured gray-haired models in a fashion spread. The magazine never again positively portrayed gray-haired women. The same scenario plays out on an even larger scale with the diet industry.

So it struck me as a bit suspicious when I realized that the only other place I had heard the phrase “Girl Power” recently was in – you guessed it – magazines. Magazines filled with instructions on how to do our hair or “tighten our abs” or “get a guy”, because sexual power seems to be the only kind of girl power that matters. Or at least that’s the message I’ve been getting.

For instance, look at the portrayal of female Olympic athletes in major magazines. As Jezebeldiscussed, the Vogue spread “Wonder Women: Team USA’s Female Olympic Athletes” rarely portrayed the women athletically. Instead, the athletes were sexualized, mostly dressed in suggestive clothing unrelated to their sport. Soccer player Sydney Leroux (below) didn’t even have her face shown in her shot.

Despite their obvious physical power, the only “Girl Power” these women are portrayed as possessing is sexual. In contrast, the male athletes were shown doing their sports, often with female models as props.

The lack of consideration for other types of female empowerment reminded me of the recent Jennifer Hudson Weight Watchers commercials, in which she declared that “Before Weight Watchers, my world was can’t.” Despite all of her achievements – American Idol, winning an Academy Award – without the sexual power of the “perfect” body, she had achieved nothing. (At least, that’s the disturbing undertone that critics protested, causing a new release of the ad that changed the line to “When it came to losing weight before Weight Watchers, my world was can’t.”)

This distorted view of girl power starts young. A line of power girl action figures from Mattel features provocatively dressed women with large breasts. The female superhero’s physical strength is implied, but they still can’t fight fully dressed.


From the toys kids play with to the bodies women strive for, “Girl Power” has become a packaged good, sexualized and sold to us from birth under the guise of feminism. The phrase has been so diluted (and bedazzled) that the only “power” it leaves girls with is the “power” to diet, or the “power” to conform to the degrading images society sells us. The problem is, girl power – or empowerment of any sort – isn’t something that can be bought. Empowerment is something that must be lived, and we can all start living by #NotBuyingIt and calling out these advertiser’s lies.

Rachel Grate is an intern at MissRepresentation.org and a student at Scripps College, where she is studying English and Gender & Women’s Studies. Connect with her via LinkedIn.

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That Time Of The Month: An Excuse For Sexism All The Time

Originally posted on July 13, 2012 on MissRepresentation.org.

by Rachel Grate

“What’s the difference between a Woman with PMS and a Pit Bull?
Lipstick.” – Jokes4Us.com

This is for every woman who, whether assertively stating an opinion or adamantly disagreeing with someone or showing the least bit of emotion or…well, really doing anything at all, has been dismissed with a simple, “Looks like someone’s on her period!”

PMS. I’ve been warned of its dangers since childhood, about how each month women turn into dangerous beings whose only capacities are whining, yelling and eating chocolate. (And to be clear, I’m discussing PMS strictly in terms of supposed emotional effects on women, not in terms of the very real physical symptoms of menstruation.)


Now, don’t get me wrong, I love an excuse to eat chocolate – but that excuse isn’t worth the lack of respect my emotions and opinions are given if one even suggests that I’m on my period. (Besides, I like to think that I can eat chocolate at any time of the month, regardless of whether or not I have an “excuse” to enjoy it.)

In reality, claiming women are essentially incapable of rational thought for essentially a quarter of their reproductive lives (assuming one’s period is monthly and lasts a week) is just another underhanded way to rationalize keeping them out of positions of power.
Don’t believe me? Think back to the 2008 elections. (You may remember this quote from Miss Representation the documentary.)When Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly asked guest Marc Rudov what the downside to a woman (Hillary Clinton) in the Oval Office would be, Rudov replied“You mean besides the PMS and the mood swings?”


Rudov later said he was joking (and that “the main problem I have is if a woman has a female agenda”, whatever that means). But PMS jokes aren’t funny when they discount a woman’s potential and intelligence. And I’ve never heard a PMS joke that doesn’t do just that. And boy, are there a lot of PMS jokes: check out the joke page I linked to above and if that doesn’t satisfy you, there are about 4,270,000 more Google results pages you can take a look at.

There’s a term for when one’s perspective is dismissed: Gaslighting. To quote Wikipedia, gaslighting “is a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory and perception.” So when a woman points out someone’s wrongdoing and they play the PMS card, they’re trying to make the woman doubt that she is able to properly assess whether or not it was wrongdoing. They are making her doubt the validity of her own perception.

There’s another part of that definition of gaslighting that needs to be addressed: “false information.” Whether or not the medical existence of emotional PMS as distinct from physical discomfort or PMDD is in question, but I personally neither have the medical expertise to make that call nor the desire to dismiss anyone’s personally experience by doing so. Nonetheless, I think we can all agree that even if women do suffer from some emotional symptoms during her period, we don’t completely transform into a lipstick-wearing pit bull.

A menstruating woman doesn’t lose her rationality, just as a man with an annoying paper cut is still capable of making decisions.# So saying one is slightly grumpy because of PMS? That may be valid, though presumably no one besides the woman herself would know her cycle well enough to make that judgment. But dismissing one’s opinions because they’re ‘unstable’? That’s gaslighting, and startlingly reminiscent of the catchall “hysteria” diagnosis of the 19th century.


Disturbingly, it’s not just overtly sexist jokes or oblivious individuals misusing PMS. The June 2012 issue of Cosmopolitan claims that “PMS triggers all those annoying symptoms: bloating, bitchiness, serious junk-food cravings” and a “Brain Haze” that inhibits your ability to make decisions. Their solution? Sex or shopping. Aren’t women capable of more than that – at all times of the month?

This insistence that PMS restricts women’s intelligence is preventing women from being taken seriously. So next time someone dismisses your or another woman’s opinion with the excuse of PMS, call them out on it. Calmly request that in the future, they try to take other’s input seriously without writing it off in a “joke.” (Not to mention, nothing makes me angrier and more intent on proving my point than someone using a PMS line on me, so it’s really an ineffective method to make me shut up.)


I can’t think of any better way to end any piece of writing ever written than with a quote by Gloria Steinem:

“If women are supposed to be less rational and more emotional at the beginning of our menstrual cycle when the female hormone is at its lowest level, then why isn’t it logical to say that, in those few days, women behave the most like the way men behave all month long?”

Rachel Grate is an intern at MissRepresentation.org and a student at Scripps College, where she is studying English and Gender & Women’s Studies. Connect with her via LinkedIn.

Keep It Real: Instagram Vs. Photoshop

Originally published on June 28, 2012 on MissRepresentation.org.

For Day Two of the Keep It Real Challenge, Rachel Grate explores whether there’s a difference between people using the filters on Instagram and magazines photoshopping people

 

By Rachel Grate

 

It’s no secret that the rampant use of Photoshop is having adverse effects on the self-confidence of consumers of all ages and genders. Well, it’s no secret unless you work in the magazine and advertising industry – in which case, shh!

It’s up to us to break the silence surrounding the damaging effects of extreme Photoshop, which SELF magazine editor Lucy Danziger defended as an “industry standard.” There is nothing “standard” about the images we’re being bombarded with, and the effects are real.

Even without Photoshop, the average fashion model weights 23% less than the average woman – and 48% of teenage girls wish they were as skinny as models. So it’s no wonder that 3 out of 4 teenage girls feel depressed, guilty and shameful after spending just 3 minutes leafing through a fashion magazine, when faced directly with this unachievable beauty standard.

The reason the Keep It Real campaign is so important to me is because I’ve recently started to see a shift. Photoshop is no longer something we consume only in the process of reading magazines and seeing advertisements. With the increasing use of Facebook and other social networks (such as Instagram, which will be utilized during the final day of this campaign), individuals are sharing their own photos with more people than ever. And, disturbingly, they are starting to Photoshop (whether with the actual program, or simple tools like “Retouch” included on iPhoto) their own photos more than ever as well.

 

“Fotoshop by Adobé” uses humor to comment on the widespread use of Photoshop to enhance “beauty” 

My sophomore year of high school, a friend made me give her photos I’d taken of us so that she could retouch them before I posted them online. (She, like the rest of our friends and I, struggled constantly with self-esteem during high school.) After acquiescing, I tried to explain how unnecessary the process was, and she only replied not to worry because she had retouched me as well. She had edited out any blemishes I had – which I admittedly appreciated – but also many of my freckles. And that’s when I got angry.

The thing is, I like my freckles. When I was little and bored I played connect-the-dots across my skin. I tried to count once, and I have over 50 on each arm, and over 100 on each leg, and a healthy smattering on my face. They are a part of me and something I’d never thought to be ashamed of, until someone else assumed I should be.

Just viewing Photoshopped images of others causes us to see nonexistent flaws in ourselves, so what happens when our own bodies are edited? When others delete flaws we didn’t even think we had, or that we may previously have been proud of? In this modern era, even I’ve taken to editing out blemishes before posting pictures on Facebook, so why was I so disturbed by the deletion of a freckle?

I was struggling to find a way to feel less hypocritical about my views on Photoshop when I readBossypants by Tina Fey. I didn’t fully agree with Fey’s perspective on Photoshop (namely her assumption that “people have learned how to spot it” so it’s no longer dangerous (more on this here) but I agree with her conclusion that when used well, Photoshop should “make a photo look as if you were caught on your best day in the best light.”

Essentially, what Fey is getting at is that she likes Photoshop when it helps her express herself – her inner beauty, in an ideal set of circumstances – with her assumption that people know there’s obviously fake elements of the photo. Similarly, when we use Instagram tomorrow to express our beauty ideals, some may use a variety of obviously fake filters to transform the photo into a more authentic expression of their individual vision of beauty.

The problem is, that’s not how mainstream magazines use Photoshop. Not only do I not believe their edits are obvious, but they often repress the model’s personal expression, rather than enhance it. “You can barely recognize yourself with the amount of digital correction,” Fey writes. “You looked forward to them taking out your chicken pox scars and broken blood vessels, but how do you feel when they erase part of you that is perfectly good?”

Take Kelly Clarkson’s September 2009 SELF cover, for instance. While the magazine claims to be about her “Total Body Confidence” and Clarkson talks about being comfortable with her weight in the article, Clarkson’s weight was dramatically decreased on the cover. Danziger, the aforementioned editor, said that the photo made Clarkson “look her personal best” as “the picture of confidence.” But how could Clarkson be “the picture of confidence” when her real personal best wasn’t good enough for the magazine? I can’t help but wonder if this repeated rejection of Clarkson’s body was what triggered her recent 30-pound weight loss, which magazines have praised.

Like my concern with the deletion of my freckles, celebrities often don’t appreciate the alterations magazines make. Kate Winslet spoke out against GQ’s Photoshop of her on their January 2003 cover,stating bluntly, “I don’t want to look like that!” Ugly Betty, a series I recently re-discovered on Netflix, tackled the negative effects of Photoshop on celebrities in their second episode; nonetheless, star America Ferrera was given the full treatment when she appeared on Glamour’s September 2007 issue. Sources have even claimed that her head was cut and pasted onto another woman’s body for the shoot.

My point is, even though I have a twisted appreciation for its zit-erasing prowess, Photoshop isn’t good for anyone – perhaps most of all for the people it is used on. Celebrities and the average person alike are just left feeling that their natural body isn’t good enough, with a heightened awareness of their specific “flaws” that would be better deleted. Because, come on – everyone has zits. Unfortunately, I just seem to care about mine more when I can zoom in on it 200x with iPhoto.

Zits are admittedly a mild example of the lack of body-esteem we’ve all experienced. But how can you feel satisfied with any part of your inherently, beautifully flawed self when magazines prop up perfection as if it’s a reachable goal?

Keep It Real isn’t asking for much – one unphotoshopped image per issue, and one blog from each of us who realize how important this is. Because, insignificant as one image sounds to us, it’s a start. Maybe magazines will realize how ridiculous their other images look when contrasted with a real, unretouched photo. And maybe girls will stop feeling the need to Photoshop their own images and “edit” their own bodies in real life with unhealthy behavior.

Rachel Grate is an intern at MissRepresentation.org and a student at Scripps College, where she is studying English and Gender & Women’s Studies. Connect with her via LinkedIn.

 

What Makes You Beautiful? Disturbing Messages In Pop Music

Originally published June 6, 2012 on MissRespresentation.org

Intern Rachel Grate looks at the scary messages for girls embedded in seemingly innocent pop songs

By Rachel Grate

In the length of my hour commute to work it’s not unusual to hear One Direction’s hit “What Makes You Beautiful” upwards of three times on the radio. The pop music phenomenon is just the most recent of a series of artists that have topped iTunes charts and captured the hearts of young girls everywhere. But have you ever listened beyond their catchy beats to focus on the lyrics?

“What Makes You Beautiful” begins with the observation that the girl is “insecure” and the band “don’t know what for.” However, despite the entire song essentially being a list of compliments, the band members never encourage the girl to stop being insecure. In fact, the chorus croons, “You don’t know you’re beautiful, Oh oh, That’s what makes you beautiful.”

The band is telling their target audience of teenage girls not to be confident in their appearance (even if they are as beautiful as the girl from the song), but to remain insecure because low self-esteem is literally “what makes you beautiful.” Is that really a healthy message for young girls to be absorbing?

Disturbed by this song that seemed permanently stuck in my head, I delved deeper into seemingly innocent pop music. Turns out Justin Bieber, the icon of the teen pop music scene, isn’t actually that innocent either. His songs seem to subtly imply that women can be bought, are a source of property, and that being showered with cash is all they need to be happy.

In his first hit, “One Time,” Bieber promises to give his girl “everything down to my last dime.” In “Baby,” Bieber tries to stop his girlfriend from breaking up with him by promising to “buy you anything, I’ll buy you any ring.” In his newest hit, “Boyfriend,” he flaunts that “I got money in my hands that I’d really like to blow/Swag swag swag on you.” Over and over again, his songs support the idea that women are just after men’s money and – judging by how many pre-teens wish he was their actual boyfriend – the message is sticking.

According to One Direction, what makes a girl beautiful is insecurity 

Admittedly, it can be a little difficult to take anything seriously in a song that includes the word “swaggie.” It may seem a bit nit-picky to be analyzing the misogyny in these light-hearted songs when so many other artists (from rap to rock) seem incapable of referring to women as anything other than “bitch”. (Even when Akon, with David Guetta, tries to “find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful,” the best he can do is “sexy bitch.”) So why bother focusing on these pop songs?

Because so many pre-teen girls listen to Justin Bieber that you can actually buy a bed cover with his face on it, or an entire Justin Bieber dental care set. Because these artists’ target audience are at an age where they are most vulnerable and most likely to take these messages as valid life advice. Because the fact that these messages are so subtle compared to those in some rap songs means that it’s actually more difficult to identify and avoid them.

It’s not just male pop singers sending these messages. In Orianthi’s hit “According to You,” she lists all the (disturbingly abusive) insults her boyfriend has hurled at her: stupid, useless, difficult, hard to please, a mess, boring, moody, inattentive and more. But instead of supporting girls to leave an emotionally abusive relationship because of their own self worth, her only defense against this boyfriend is that another boy thinks she’s “beautiful.” The whole song is defining her value according to other people – never once is her target audience given an example of generating healthy self-esteem based on their own thoughts.

I’d love to think that pop songs will change their tune and start encouraging girls’ self-confidence, but given their commercial success, it doesn’t seem likely. Even less likely is that “Beliebers” will suddenly cease to exist. What is possible, crucially so, is to make sure young girls are aware of these hidden messages. The secret is that you don’t have to stop enjoying catchy music to resist the messages it’s
implying.

Raising awareness is as simple as one car ride with my dad. “My Life Would Suck Without You” by Kelly Clarkson came on the radio, and I was singing along to the chorus (which is the title of the song).

“You should never be so emotionally dependent on someone to believe your life would suck without them,” my dad commented. “That’s unhealthy.”

I thought about it, I nodded in agreement, and I went back to belting out the song. Though my action stayed the same, my mindset, if only just a little bit, had changed for the better. And with enough little changes like that, girls will become conscious of these negative messages instead of absorbing them subconsciously.

Rachel Grate is an intern at MissRepresentation.org and a student at Scripps College, where she is studying English and Gender & Women’s Studies. Connect with her via LinkedIn.

Sometimes Life Works Out!… It Just Takes a Little Work First

Originally published on May 16, 2012 on Beyond the Elms: Scripps College Career Planning & Resources Blog. 

So, I have some good news and some bad news. I’ve always preferred to get bad news out of the way first (that way you have something to look forward too!), so here goes: I didn’t get an on campus position I applied for to do next year.

But, before I let myself throw a pity-party; I can’t exactly complain about the reason: I’ve been asked to be a Writing Mentor for a new experimental writing program for a semester next year. I’ll still be receiving the Peer Tutor training, but Professor Simshaw wanted to give as many Scrippsies as possible the chance to get involved in the Writing Center. Part of that process unfortunately includes not giving me two jobs with it.

See, aren’t you glad we’ve gotten the not-so-bad news out of the way? And if you thought the Writing Mentor position was the good news, just wait to hear my next item of information:

I got a summer internship!

I will officially be working as the PR/Marketing & Communications Intern for Miss Representation in San Francisco. I’ll be writing for their blog, helping with press releases, forming press relationships, forming a virtual book of press mentions, and more. It’s a great opportunity for me to explore a different application of my English major skills (other than journalism), and it fits in perfectly with my interests in Gender & Women’s Studies! In fact, I’ll actually be receiving credit in the GWS department for the internship.

But wait, the good news isn’t over: If you’ve read my previous posts, you may remember my dilemma deciding whether to choose a summer internship or a family vacation to Greece in August. Well, now I don’t have to choose! Conveniently, my boss will be leaving on maternity leave at the beginning of August, so my work there will be completed in time for a little well-deserved relaxation.

So now you’ve heard the good and the bad… now it’s time for the uncertain. I’m still waiting to hear back from another on-campus position that I applied for.

So far, my work has led to things working out quite well in my job search, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that that trend will continue. I guess the best part of this entire process has been reaffirming that no matter how futile your work can seem, it does matter. My internship may be unpaid, but my work will still pay off for years to come!

Keep Calm and Watch Sherlock

Originally published on May 1, 2012 on Beyond the Elms: Scripps College Career Planning & Resources Blog. 

I never have a good feeling about a week when my planner’s lines are too thick to squeeze in all my obligations, even when I use 0.5 mm lead in my mechanical pencil instead of 0.7.

This week was one of those weeks. Actually, now that I mention it, last week was one of those weeks. And I’m pretty darn certain that every week until blissful summer arrives is going to be one of those weeks.

While professors are demanding essays now, suggesting you think about your next essay due in a week, oh yeah, and don’t forget to start studying for the final – it can be hard on your nerves. My time management wasn’t helped by the fact that my friend introduced me to Sherlock just as my extra time was dissipating.

I found the motivation within me to postpone Sherlock until my commitments have been met, but it seems like every time I turn around a new commitment sneaks up behind me.

“Boo!” the commitment cackles. “I know you were planning on spending Friday afternoon with your boyfriend, but come in for a job interview instead!”

And, as my nerves knot up just a little bit tighter, I smile and reply, “Sure!”

Why? Because I genuinely want to be doing all that I’m doing. I’m not in a class I don’t like, and I want every job I’m applying for. But my refusal to say no to opportunities can sometimes lead to my planner getting so jumbled up that I can’t keep up with them all.

Case in point: I am in the middle of a six-day period in which I have three job interviews. Wednesday morning, I have a phone interview for a summer internship. (I’d hoped I would have summer plans nailed down by now!) Last Friday, I interviewed for a tutoring job on campus for next school year. And this Thursday, I’m interviewing for another on-campus position.

Even at this moment my nerves are screaming at me to spend more time preparing for my interviews instead of writing this. “You’ve never had a phone interview before!” they’re warning me. “You won’t have any visuals to distract from the number of times you say ‘uh’ in a sentence!”

But, because my nerves have screamed some variation of this at me before every job interview I’ve ever had, I know I’ll be okay. And I know that sometimes all my nerves need is a little distraction.

So, mimicking the professional and collected tone I’ll use on the phone tomorrow, I confidently reply to my nerves, “Keep calm and watch a Sherlock.”

And that is exactly what I plan to do.

Student Employee Appreciation Week

Originally published on April 10, 2012 on Beyond the Elms: Scripps College Career Planning & Resources Blog. 

In honor of Student Employee Appreciation week at Scripps, I’m going to take a moment to reflect on the work I’ve done as a student over the past year. Neither of my jobs are the traditional type found on campus. I don’t have set hours; I work on my own time. It follows that I’m not paid hourly, I’m paid by article, or simply paid in the gratification of getting published and hoping my words will reach someone else. I’m making a mark on campus, even if my work doesn’t always make a significant mark in my bank account.

This past year I’ve worked as a Staff Writer for The Student Life newspaper, mainly for Life & Style but I’ve also been working for Special Features this semester. As is implied by the name of the paper, my bosses are my peers: my editor is also my partner on Scripps A-Team.

I’ve had previous experience working on publications, in situations with real bosses, in similar peer-led newspapers, and in taking the role of leadership myself. Yet my experience at The Student Life has been community based in an authentic way, with no advisor looming over our shoulder. Late nights (the few I’ve gone to as a writer) are filled with jokes and innuendo and snacks, with a break to watch the Wednesday night Pomona snack A Capella concert.

At The Student Life, no one puts on airs of superiority. My opinion is valued and my suggestions are listened to. I have learned to express myself better, not just in my writing, but also with my coworkers. I’ve learned that even by bosses are still my co-workers, because we are all working towards the same goal. I’ve become more confident and this confidence has already helped me in interviews for jobs for next summer and next year.

Blogging for CP&R has also improved my self-motivation. As a volunteer position with little interaction with my superiors, my writing is something that I make myself do each week. And, excepting one particularly essay-filled week, I’ve succeeded.

I’m not a traditional Student Employee, but I still appreciate the opportunities I’ve had through my work here on campus, and I can’t wait to see what opportunities next year brings!