Image, Reality and Sexuality

What dangers lurk for girls and young women, and how do we help them, help all women, avoid them?

Aren’t we (to use a modern term) empowering girls when we teach them “private parts are private”? What greater gift can we give young women than to teach them the world holds dangers, and how to protect themselves? We talk about being “sexually empowered” and young women dress provocatively to demonstrate their “power,” yet they often are endangering themselves. But you tell them this, and they take on an attitude of righteous indignation, and accuse you of being out of touch, prim or sexist.

“Owning your sexuality” is a popular concept with a vast variance in definition from one woman to another. Owning it doesn’t necessarily mean dressing in the most provocative manner possible. Yes, you can dress like a woman, a sexy woman, without showing your nipples.

Female performers for decades have pushed the limits with their wardrobes, but remember, they’re performers. I don’t know what Beyoncé dresses like when she goes grocery shopping (as if she does that herself, but you get my point). She’s selling something on stage, and her sexuality is part of the package.

If, when going out on Saturday night, your average young woman dresses in the same manner as Beyoncé, she needs to be aware she, too, is promoting her sexuality, and there are those who are going to want a part of it. If you get unwanted attention or worse, I’m not saying “you asked for it” as in you deserve it; nobody deserves degrading or violent treatment. But it will happen.

It will happen if you dress like a nun, frankly, but be aware of the image you’re presenting and the varying degrees of belief in what kind of response you’re expecting. If you dress in a highly suggestive manner, others will assume you’re looking for sex. Maybe you’re simply looking for a compliment, an admiring glance, but that isn’t what your image is saying.

There does need to be a paradigm shift in how we view and treat women, but the pendulum tends to swing wide before we hit the appropriate middle ground. There is a center area of acceptable, appropriate behavior that flaunts our femininity and sexuality.

Push the limits, sure. That’s what you do when you’re young. “Acceptable, appropriate” sounds prudish, I know, but there are plenty of ways to look sexy. Consider this: how revealing does another woman’s dress have to be before you know she has a good body? In fact, some women have to work hard to hide their sexuality; they want you looking at their eyes first, not their boobs.

If you resent the fact that dressing the way you want to makes you a target, you are not alone. It’s been a frustration for women for a very long time. It’s painful to think the message you believe you’re sending (“I’m a powerful woman in charge of my own sexuality”) is being received differently. That’s communication, however. Know your audience.

Empowerment is internal. You won’t obtain it by the way you dress, and if you try to do so, chances are you’ll miss the target. If you do genuinely feel empowered, what you’re wearing will reflect it.

Some of you will agree with me, others won’t. I don’t claim to have a handle on absolute truth, and there are plenty of women (and men) who will vehemently disagree with part or all of what I’ve said.

So be it. I know my own truth. God bless you in finding yours.


Image Credit: ©artflare – stock.adobe.com

By What Authority My Decisions Are Made

I’ve gotten used to making my own decisions, and managing their consequences. It’s what I expect out of my life, and I can’t imagine another way of living.

In recent years I’ve seen first hand what happens when a person is no longer in control of his or her life, when others control every aspect of it and let power overtake their better qualities. It’s frightening, insidious and happening every day, all around us.
Hands in jail
It happens in jails and prisons. Clearly, there’s a reason the deputies and guards must be in control, but when the jail tells you when to use the bathroom and controls whether or not you have toilet paper, a big part of your humanity is taken away. Yes, these people have committed a crime, and some would say, “they’re getting what they deserve.” But jail and prison are meant for confinement from society, not beating one’s spirit until it is destroyed.

WomanIt happens, sometimes, between husbands and wives. Men who beat their wives, whose behavior is so erratic and unpredictable the women live in constant fear their simple comments will trigger a violent attack, have taken away a vital part of their spouse’s heart and mind. It doesn’t get better, not in the marriage. The women have to leave to regain their soul, and it takes a long time.

globe-304806_1280 pixabay smAnd it happens in some countries whose leaders make a mockery of human rights and dignity. Where you are born with infinite worth yet no one will ever let you fully express your own essential self.

Today, as Americans celebrate their independence, I am thankful for my rights to make my own decisions, whether wise or foolish, to explore my options in my choice of career and even hobby, to freely write what I choose on this blog.

I know many of you who read what I post here live in other countries, and it’s important to me you know I respect and admire many of the nations on this earth and the people who are loyal to them. Patriotism doesn’t mean you reject all others, for me, it’s an appreciation of what I have and a commitment to protect those rights.

God bless us, everyone.

 

 


Autonomy


Image Credits: (hands in jail) © zurijeta — Bigstock; (drawing of woman) © retroclipart — Bigstock; (globe) Pixabay; (fireworks) © Carlos Santa Maria — Fotolia

Step It Up

A fellow blogger, Amy Punt, someone I follow for her thoughtful, outspoken, edgy viewpoint, spoke to the ongoing problem women have being heard when they speak out against powerful, popular men.

They’re readily dismissed as attention-seekers or worse, and it can take a lot of substantial evidence before we’re willing to give up our idyllic beliefs about our favorite celebrities. A lot of evidence about some really perverse things.

She also wrote about her hope the millennials will step up and take a stand against this behavior. It got me to thinking about my first job, age 18, at one of the top banks in the nation. (I won’t say the name because things have changed way too much since then, and what I’m about to describe certainly doesn’t reflect their standards today. They’d be sued to high heaven.)

AdobeStock_106268046 Young Woman Retro Sm
Fortunately not all women in the 60s and 70s just put up with their boss’s behavior.

My boss, the operations manager, would ask me over to his desk for trivial reasons, just so he could watch me walk away. He liked the way I walked, and made no secret of it. When I objected, the asst. operations manager, a woman, called me aside and had a long talk with me, telling me to “stop being so uptight” and “get over it.” I never did, but I did shut up.

This was 1978, the height of the women’s movement. A lot had changed, but obviously we had a long way to go. Eight years later the Supreme Court found sexual harassment to be illegal, and included “unwelcome conduct” or anything that “created an abusive working environment” as sexual harassment.

More importantly, most people today would consider my boss’s behavior unacceptable. There’s no undercurrent of thinking that the law or company policies (many which are more exacting than the law) are too strict. Yes, the men may like the way the women walk, but they’re smart enough to keep quiet about it, or tell only select others. We can’t stop the thoughts, but the actions can be controlled.

That’s not to say it’s perfect out there, I know. I hear plenty of stories about sexual harassment, some subtle, some blatant, in work places all around me. But it’s better, much, much better.

AdobeStock_52714204 Young Woman Sm
Think of the fight she fought — and where we might be if women didn’t have the vote today.

The 1960s and into the 70s was an era of activism, heavy-duty, life-altering, extreme activism. We haven’t really seen that sort of push for change in the decades since, although some change has come. With this new generation stepping up, maybe we’ll move forward in our thinking once again at the kind of radical level we saw once before.

No amount of persuasive talk is going to change some people’s minds about some things. However, sometimes all it takes is intelligent people speaking up and letting loose all the other smart people who think the same thing but believe they’re alone in their convictions. Keep it up, Amy, you’re smart and you have something to say. We’re listening.


Image Credits: (Retro Girl) © stadobaranova — Fotolia; (Vintage Girl) © Tshirt-Factory.com — Fotolia

High Power, Low Heels

Recently a friend of mine, a male friend in his 70s, asked me why women wear high heels.

The answer is simple. You look sexier wearing them. You’re taller and slimmer, you stand straighter, you may even walk more confidently.

But they are so, so bad for you, and your feet just may hurt like hell in very short order. A 25-year-old woman should not have bunions, and yet I’ve known several who have, all because of their shoes.

Looking sexier isn’t always the way to go.

A news story from Great Britain brought this issue front and center again this last week.  A 27-year-old temp worker, Nicola Thorp, was sent home from her receptionist job because she wore flats instead of the required 2″ -4″ heels. She’s started a petition to change the law in her country, and her efforts are going quite well, with more than 110,000 signatures collected so far.

There was no reason the temp agency could come up with, according to Ms. Thorp, requiring the heels. It’s clearly a matter of image, make that, sexism. Put the pretty girl at the front desk.

A friend of mine was recently advised to seek a job for which she didn’t have the skills, and the individual doing this job coaching told her, “it doesn’t matter. You’re pretty so the old codgers won’t care how good you are.” He pushed the issue, telling her she had an asset she wasn’t using. It was futile explaining to him how sexist and demeaning this is, even though every example he gave of women who held their jobs with similar “qualifications” only reinforced what was obvious to us.

Here’s what was particularly frustrating about that conversation: this isn’t a man you would, in general, call sexist. Yet in this area, he’s blind to his thinking.

AdobeStock_98604038 [Converted]As is much of my country, and many others as well. We still expect women to look pretty to succeed. There are multiple problems surrounding this, not the least of which is, some women are pretty. Most, with a little mirror time, clean up good, and want to put their best face forward, literally. No one is going to get away with telling them not to do that in the name of defending women’s rights.

But relying on your looks in your job is giving up your power. There is no strength in going before your boss, even going through the office doors, knowing your chief asset is your appearance.

So where does the line get drawn, how is the issue resolved? One small step can be made by not using your appearance to gain favor as a worker. Other than meeting a standard of proper grooming, your shoes shouldn’t be winning over the executive suite. In fact, they shouldn’t be noticed.

If you’re dressed properly, they notice the woman.

And if they notice you, that’s power.

Looking for Clothes

 


Image Credits: (Shoes) © Klemen Petrič – Fotolia; (Girl at Mirror) © sapunkele — Fotolia; (Looking for the Right Outfit) © NinaMalyna – Fotolia

If Only By Example

One of the legacies that has carried from my great-grandparents to me was a respect for all people. All people.

My mom’s cousin, my great-aunt’s son, was as white as I am, a heritage that traces back, some of it, to New York in the 1790s, and from there we aren’t sure which European country our ancestors emigrated from in their search for a new life.

Anyway, he was raised without prejudice, meaning, it didn’t exist in his world.

Chestnut-headed Bee-eaterThen he married a Hawaiian woman. By this point, Hawaii was a state in our nation, and had been for more than a decade. She was as American as he was. But they weren’t allowed in some restaurants because she was Hawaiian. That was how they worded it, even. Now I don’t know anything more specific about her ethnic background; I’m guessing it may have been Filipino. I was a little young, so to me, she was Lena, she crocheted beautiful purple vests for me and my sister, and she served us 7-Up when we visited.

It was a shock to my mom’s cousin to see his wife treated in such a humiliating manner. He was an intelligent, educated man, not generally naive, but this was foreign to him. I’m proud to be related to someone for whom prejudice was that unknown, and I hope the heart of that nature can be found in me.

I know the people who follow my blog by and large are people who respect others, who empathize with anyone in pain, and who ache for the hurt of those who are persecuted, even in our country, by those who should know better. So I’m preaching to the choir and saying thank you at the same time.

I don’t know what it’s like to be black, Mexican or Muslim, or any of the other minorities treated so poorly by so many these days. I stumble and fumble in my efforts to understand the humiliation and anger, and every once in awhile something gets through.

A few years ago I was listening to a woman speak at a conference for those who worked with people with disabilities, as I did at the time. She has disabilities herself, is black, and was a prominent figure in Washington D.C. some time back. I apologize I don’t remember her name. At the end of her speech, I was surprised to hear her say when she’s asked how she wants to be identified, as an African-American, a woman, or a person with disabilities,  it’s African-American first.

It put something into perspective for me. When you’re white, you don’t identify yourself by race. It isn’t an issue. When you’re black, it’s an issue every single day. Of course race is first. I’m embarrassed now it surprised me then.

young swallows sitting on a branchA friend of mine, who’s black, bought a very nice camera, and was struggling to get the settings right so he could take decent pictures of his family. Why? The default settings are for caucasian skin. It says that right in the manual.

I live in an apartment complex with a large Hispanic population, and many of my neighbors speak little English. For my part, I speak little Spanish, but I do know these two words: los gatos. The cats. One of my neighbor ladies was delighted at my response when I caught her once speaking, in Spanish, to my two cats as they sat in the windowsill. Embarrassed, she stopped, but I said, “It’s okay. Los gatos hablamos espanol.” I have no idea if that’s grammatically correct Spanish, but she understood me.

She’s probably my age, maybe a little older, and who knows when she moved to this country. Likely it was as an adult, and likely she’ll never know a lot of English. I had ancestors like that who came over from Poland, and they faced their share of prejudice. Even my dad experienced the mockery and disdainful attitudes a notable amount, and I grew up hearing Poles and Italians were invariably less intelligent. You’ve all heard that sort of thing before, and you get my point.

To my black friends, Hispanic friends, Indian, Middle Eastern, Asian, and any ethnic group I’m forgetting friends, I see your race, religion, ethnicity, and anything else that clearly identifies you as you. I don’t always know what it means. I don’t live it. But I respect it as part of you, and I will do what I can to teach others to do so as well. If only by example.

three titmouse birds in winter

 

Photo Credits:  bee-eaters © : panuruangjan — Fotolia; young swallows sitting on a branch © nataba — Fotolia; three titmouse birds in winter © Vera Kuttelvaserova — Fotolia

 

hold your child’s hand, talk a little longer

Last week, our hearts were broken.

In response, my friend Wanda organized this silent vigil in our community for the victims of the Emanual AME Church shooting.

Silent Vigil at Crystal Bridges Museum
Silent Vigil for Victims of Mother Emanuel AME church shooting, June 24, 2015. Photo by Ali Wingood

Wanda has two daughters, ages 12 and 14. They’re learning what it means to be black in America. They’re black, so there’s that, and then there’s the bigger picture Wanda is helping them understand.

More to teach everyday, no doubt. It’s hard to be a parent.

In November of 1960,

Ruby Bridges made history. Many of you know the story. Six-year-old Ruby was one of the first black children to cross the lines at an all-white school in New Orleans to claim her right to an equal education in the public school system.

U.S. Marshalls with Ruby Bridges, November 14, 1960
U.S. Marshalls with Ruby Bridges, November 14, 1960

U.S. Marshalls escorted her & her mother to the classroom that first day amidst rioting protesters, including one woman who put a black baby doll in a makeshift casket and shoved it at Ruby as she walked by.

Ruby was brave, no doubt about it. But when I saw this picture all I could think was how much courage her parents had, how deep their conviction and love must have been.

Her mama probably didn’t sleep much the night before. She likely ironed and starched that dress until it could stand up by itself. There may have been a petticoat, given the same care.

The little white anklets, perhaps with flowers embroidered on them. The patent leather shoes, polished until light bounced off them at every step. The bow pinned firmly in the hair.

When I picture Lucille Bridges, I see a woman who believed in what she and her baby girl were about to do. Ruby was going to shine, inside and out, as she changed history.

And she did change it. Today, countless doors have been opened for children everywhere, and each of us has benefited at one point or the other from the education they’ve earned.

All in my lifetime

Ruby’s story never would have happened if it hadn’t been for Abon & Lucille Bridges, her parents. I wouldn’t care so deeply if not for my parents, who raised three children in the turbulent ’60s and taught us about equality and justice as best they could.

We stumble through, work together and listen to each other.

That’s all anybody can expect, to teach the best way — and words — we know. Perhaps down the road we learn our lessons were somehow off the mark. Yet we stumble through, work together and listen to each other.

I’ve kept my heart, mind and eyes open for increasing understanding because of the foundation my parents laid. Whatever mistakes they may have made, at its heart, their message was right. They believed in equal opportunity. They saw people as individuals with value. They recognized the problems and knew the solutions were bigger, but would take time.

It’s hard to be a parent, but you make a difference. May it change your child’s world, and that of those around you, for the better.

Thanks to the Ruby Bridges Foundation, rubybridges.com, for facts on her story.