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A contribution from one of our readers – Civilized Riot Grrrrl

I’m one of those 20 year-olds who don’t read the newspapers. Why? I think I’m desensitized to the world and all of its darker aspects. I see stories about genocide, murder, rape, unfair treatment and inequality, the system falling apart slowly at the seams and I just don’t seem to react anymore.

It could be that I’m used to it now, or it could be a defence system that so many of us have set up so the terrible, darker nature of society doesn’t destroy us with all of the twisted occurrences that show up on a regular basis.

Today, however, something happened. My sister sent me a link to a news story about a small Nordic country. Iceland and its female prime minister (who, incidentally, is a lesbian) has criminalized lap-dancing clubs and strip bars.

Usually, something like this might warrant a cynical once-over from a lazy eye, expecting some man-bashing (people generalization of the entire male gender is actually sexism too y’know) and stereotyping.

However the article detailed a lot of things I didn’t know about the country and its sex industry, and I decided to throw away my veil of cynicism and disparagement and give the piece a fair look. And suddenly, something happened. I became annoyed. I became restless. And finally, I cared.

I read the whole article and took in what it said, and realized, we, as women, have lost so much respect for ourselves in so many ways that we don’t even notice it. I’m not saying every single woman has, but many of us have decided to go along with the over-the-top objectification of women and just fob-off filthy comments with a tired wave of the hand.

As a woman who usually avoids the “battle of the sexes” debate that rages on, despite society’s acceptance that that women have achieved equality, I finally found my inner Amazon after reading the article. I was extremely proud that the PM of Iceland was pushing the criminalization of these places forward, and was unrelenting in this pursuit. I was proud that the idea may inspire other governments to do so.

Then I realized I was angry. I was angry because in this day and age, we are so used to the idea of a strip bar, a lap-dancing club, a rude and sometimes very sexist remark being passed, women being expected to dress a certain way and act a certain way, that we never even realized this is some bullshit.

My generation of females is generally a hard one to figure out. I refuse to generalize as that would be unfair and rude, but many of the females in my age group that I have encountered, spoken with or just seen at random, are in the mind-frame of the objectified woman.

Music of varying genres beams out the image of the large-breasted, tight-everywhere made-up super-hot female, and many young men feed into this and impose the idea on females of the same age group. Shockingly, women in the music industry also impose the idea upon us all and one massive frightening cycle ensues. Let me put it this way: if Alicia Keys put on a pair of hotpants, a bikini and made her next song about how lovely her lollipop tasted then shot the video in random slow motion shots of her gyrating to an addictive beat, would she or would she not receive a hell of a lot more album sales and scale the career ladder even faster?

More often than not, if a woman is sexier, wears nice makeup  and a has a tighter, not-as-clothed body, she will receive more attention and possibly get further in the world. I’m not ranting about the women who do this, by no means, I’m pointing out that they get the higher vote as they appear more attractive.

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They may just be enjoying the attention as any woman should, or they may be utilizing their sexuality. Is it only me that finds it saddening to think that the only way a woman can get ahead in some industries is to sex herself up a bit? Is it not infuriating to know that if a woman wants a position in a career, she may have to get dolled up a bit to be considered? And is it fair then, to get mad at the women who do this all the time anyway without batting an eyelid? Should we be mad at them for allowing this to continue, or should we realize there may not be another option?

The idea of sexism can be split down into so many “Ifs” and “Buts” and so many different situations that there is no easy answer to most of it. We can’t tell the heads of the music industry to stop playing videos that uses women as an avatar for sex, lust and the like. We can’t tell the heads of businesses that they have to let women dress down a bit and not judge them off their appearance. We can’t walk into a bar and tell all the men there not to pick the prettiest, sexiest, least-clad or tightest woman there. We can’t walk into a strip club and order the performers to get down and leave and tell the customers to get out. We can’t just tell people to knock this shit off because it annoys us or upsets us, because everybody has the right to free speech and the right to their own opinion.

However. As Iceland have proven beautifully, if you are in a position of power or if you push with a large force behind you, you can get something done about exploitation and objectification. I understand that many women work in the sex industry to get money like the rest of us, but how many can honestly say they really enjoy it there? How many can say they’re fine with seeing an ocean of people watching them with a mix of lust and god-knows-what-else in their eyes and spattered all over their faces? I have heard of women saying it “empowers them”, that they’re the ones with all the cards in their hand as the “men are paying just to see us get naked”. That’s fine as it’s their opinion and I can’t very well say “no, that’s wrong, you’re a moron” etc. as that would just be close-minded and get us nowhere.

But here’s my opinion: If you’re being empowered and you’re in the seat of the power and you’re enjoying all this objectification, what about the rest of us? What about those of us who are uncomfortable with this kind of behaviour? What about those of us who have partners going in there and watching the acts? What about those of us who know that there will be no getting rid of sexism if strip clubs are still an accepted part of society. Maybe the women who think they’re calling all the shots by grinding against a pole and taking money from a drooling mess could be one of the first obstacles to achieving equality on a whole new level? We need to educate ourselves and out sisters and show that we’re worth more than that. That they can feel empowered in a much more healthy way.

Many may think I’m against poledancing and stripping and this is a personal vendetta, but it isn’t. I admire burlesque dancers but now I’m starting to wonder if they aren’t a huge problem in etching a role in society for women that doesn’t include suspenders and numerous feathers.

I’m starting to question so many things I accept as normal because maybe they aren’t normal, maybe they’re just accepted as such because we didn’t know we were being exploited all along.

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12 Comments

  • Well there is of course the argument that this is all very middle class
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/mar/24/middle-class-feminism-politics
    Also – now that you are angry have you thought of channelling that anger – there are some activist type feminist groups around
     

    Ian said:
  • Believe me Ian I’m far from middle class, and am saddened that you missed the point of my piece

    Civilized Riot Grrrl said:
  • Hm. I’ve only managed to scan that article from the Guardian (in Ian’s comment there). I agree with the writer that focusing on single-issue campaigns by organisations is a flawed approach.  (Then again, if an organisation is to operate effectively, it may need to address a range of issues one-by-one in order to create awareness with the public.)

    I don’t agree, though, that this is a feminist (< --oops!) middle-class issue, and that sex work is somehow not violence against women. I think that view (if that's the one I picked up from the article) is deeply misguided.

    I think Riot Grrl’s article is excellent – you’re not the first one to realise the subtleties of violence against women, and the varying degrees of how it manifests along that spectrum of violence. It’s just that it’s shocking when that realisation dawns.

    Ian makes a good point, though – there are some good organisations working in Ireland at the moment. From more recent groupings like Seomra Spraoi, to the National Women’s Council of Ireland, and so many more. I suppose it depends on your particular view of their aims in deciding on who to support.

    Are you involved in any groups yourself, RG? (I confess, I myself am not!)

     

    click here said:
  • Thanks for the feedback Click,
    No groups at the moment to be honest, like I said I usually shy away from that stuff (until now) as it can turn into an argument if you aren’t careful. I might have a look at some though, see what they’re like and what kind of views they hold.
    As for the article in the Guardian, I felt it didn’t actually have that much to do with my piece as I wasn’t merely targeting sex workers/strippers/poledancers etc. as the only examples of sexism. I used them as the example because I found the article compelling, and I didn’t want to drown my point amidst a number of examples. My point is that sexism is still rife in this world, not just with strip clubs etc but in music, in martial arts, in our own lives also.
    I was walking and speaking to a girl I know once, and a group of lads started to follow her and decided to start barking at her and whooping and shouting “hey sexy” at high volume. That’s quite an obvious example of objectification, and she felt that it was sexist toward her and rude, and in some cases one would consider that harassment. Since when was it okay to shout at a woman about her appearance and follow her down a street making noises?

    As far as my idea about sexism etc goes, I think step one would be closing down all strip clubs/lap-dancing clubs as being planned in Iceland, but not just the ones that men go to, as I know there are “special clubs” women can go to and whoop and shout at men to take their clothes off. Sexism works both ways, and I am not a fan of it whichever way it is expressed.
    Once again, I appreciate the feedback.
    CRG
     
     

    Civilized Riot Grrrl said:
  • I have this discussion with one of the women I work with all the time.  She used to be a lap dancer and sees it as an expression of female empowerment but I just can’t agree.
    As long as nothing is forced underground then I think Iceland have set a good standard to follow

    Gooner said:
  • Jesus, Gooner. I have to wonder what has happened in.. the world.. and in history.. where a woman thinks that lap-dancing is her empowerment. Bloody hell.

    What Uncle Tommery is this?

    click here said:
  • I know what you mean click here but she has a very strong view on this and we have gone around and around many times.
    She feels that official places are safer for the women (which I agree with to a point) but also that the dancers are the ones in charge and that they take advantage of the men (this we “discuss” over and over)

    Gooner said:
  • God, I feel sorry for you, Gooner. That logic is so warped!

    My question is (and I’m sure you’ve been through this again and again) is how she could possibly be in charge of being demeaned and degraded? That she feels official venues are safer, is simply preferring the lesser of two evils, as far as I can see.

    She needs to ask herself (and maybe she already has) what kind of thinking comes to the conclusion that a woman is “in charge” and “taking advantage” when she is basically presenting herself as a dehumanised thing, there to be fucked by any- and everyone.

     

    click here said:
  • RG
    Firstly – forgive me I was not suggesting that you are a middle class women who just wants to ban poledancing etc, I was just providing that link as sort of a different viewpoint on the issue, your anlaysis is very interesting and I’m reminded of a woman that I know who shamelessly used flirtation and a low cut top to get somewhere.  Personally I think Johanna Sigurðardóttir is an amazing woman and was very impressed by her determination to do something like that
    There is a lot of deep issues ingrained in Irish Society regarding the place of women – Our Constitution, Our Political Culture, the rejection by a lot of younger women of feminism
    If this is something that you would like to learn more about there are some groups that it might be worthwhile joining
     
     

    Ian said:
  • I understand Ian, I apologise if I came off too defensive in my reply to you. I gave the article a look and I followed up on a suggested link within the article you supplied, it showed some interesting viewpoints from different people on the whole thing.
    As for the woman you know that uses the flirtation and physical sexual hints, it’s a sad fact but many of us are led to believe that a bat of the eyelashes and a flicker of cleavage will get us further than if we just be ourselves. But I suppose that whole “Should a woman use her sexuality to get what she wants” is a whole other argument and is more of a subjective thing than anything.
    I appreciate everyone’s feedback on this and I’d love to hear some of your ideas on the topic as it seems to be a bit of head-turner of late.
    I’ll also give some of those groups a nosy, might be quite the eye-opener.
     
    Regards,
     
    CRG

    CRG said:
  • I’m really enjoying this discussion and thanks CRG for starting it here; also to everyone else for talking about this multi-dimensional, emotive and yet basic issue. As Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir said ““It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold.”
    Some groups y’all might want to consider are RAG, LashBack and the Feminist Open Forum.
    Please keep the awareness, thought and direct-action-provoking articles coming!

    Emma said:
  • [...] “I read the whole article and took in what it said, and realized, we, as women, have lost so much respect for ourselves in so many ways that we don’t even notice it. I’m not saying every single woman has, but many of us have decided to go along with the over-the-top objectification of women and just fob-off filthy comments with a tired wave of the hand.” (Gaelick.com) [...]

    Iceland- the most Feminist Country in the World « said:
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