9 things I choose to challenge this International Women's Day
International Women's Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. Each year takes on a new theme, and this year is #ChooseToChallenge .
Here is my list of 9 things I'm choosing to challenge. They are bold (possibly unpopular) opinions I've been thinking recently I choose to say out loud💥. (Trigger warning: mention of gender-based violence)
1) 📣 I choose to challenge the 'Lolita' image in media. Have you noticed something a lot of filters have in common recently? They make your eyes look a lot bigger and a lot of the implicit guidance to look sexier is to look as young as possible… This comes back to The Lolita Effect. Lolita is a novel written by Vladimir Nabokov where a middle-aged professor becomes sexually obsessed with a 12-year-old girl. It was groundbreaking and shocking at the time. Although the sexualisation of young girls has always been around, this book and the mass consumption of it is something that's echoed in the marketing of women and girls today. Specifically, 'The Lolita effect' refers to media sexualization of pre-adolescent and adolescent girls. - It looks like teens being made to look sexually appealing to adults (schoolgirl Britney Spears or Ariana Grande images and Japanese Lolita Hello Kitty fashion). - It looks like adults trying to look like teens (filters and selfie poses taken from above conveying a childlike, innocent, lost and meek look). -It looks like little girls trying to appear older (padded bras or heels in children's retail). So all of these attempts point towards an image that looks like one specific age-range. No matter how old you are. 'The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It' is a 2008 book by Meenakshi Gigi Durham that highlights the following points: • Girls don’t choose boys, boys choose girls—but only the sexy ones • There’s only one kind of beauty—slender, curvy, white beauty • Girls should work to be that type • The younger a girl is, the sexier she is • Sexual violence can be hot I choose to challenge The Lolita Effect because it's not cute or sexy to have young women and girls come into harm because of it. One in three teenage girls hasve experienced some form of sexual violence from a partner. (University of Bristol for NSPCC, 2009), and 31% of young women aged 18-24 report having experienced sexual abuse in childhood; 90% are abused by someone they know and 66% are abused by other children or young people under 18. (NSPCC, 2011) The Lolita image is also racialised. Black girls experience “adultification”—or are seen as older and less innocent than their white counterparts. The clash comes when black bodies are sexualised though so black girl adolescence becomes harder to navigate because of this. Studies have shown that black girls say they are often given less support than their peers and that authority figures often react to them more harshly. 2) 📣 I choose to challenge victim shaming "The way she dressed/acted was kind of asking for it" "If she was being harassed or abused why didn't she just run away from it?" "Why should he have to publicly apologise? It could ruin his career" Equality always feels oppressive to those that are used to privilege. Having to explain how sexual harassment and abuse works and why justice is even needed *is* part of the problem. Women don't simply run away' from systematic abuse or domestic violence when they are in fear. The chemical and psychological state of fear is: fight, flight or freeze. Taking the 'wrong' action could literally result in them being harmed more. That's why the advice to leave harmful situations with an exit strategy. If women have had their lives publicly shattered with life-long effect, at the very least they deserve a public apology for it. For themselves, and as a sign of hope for others that may also be experiencing it. 3) 📣 I choose to challenge the sexual norms placed on women. We may not always pay attention to it, but there are sexual double standards and gendered sexual behaviours that impact women. Consent is and will always be an important conversation to have. We know this, and I'm glad there is more exposure in mass media about it. The Netflix sitcom drama series 'Sex Education' showed this is well, and Micaela Coel's 'I May Destroy You' will forever be one of the masterpieces I'll cherish for its wit, intelligence and artistry. Both must be watched and are still available on Netflix, HBO and BBC iPlayer. The other area is the stats on what's called the 'orgasm gap' (women on average having fewer orgasms than men in heterosexual relationships). It's a gendered phenomenon l because of perceptions about who should say what and when when it comes to sex. A final note is that celibacy and abstinence for whatever reason a woman chooses can be empowering and is not always oppressive. 'Sexual liberation' looks different on different people. 4) 📣 I choose the challenge cherry-picking in intersectional feminism that ignores faith, belief and religion. On the previous point about how sexual liberation looks different on different people, let's truly make feminism intersectional by including conversation on faith and religion. Why are we cherry-picking what 'inclusive feminism' looks like when it suits us? A women's right to be pro-life or pro-choice doesn't somehow make one decision 'more feminist' than the other because guess what...they're both choices at the end of the day. As much as a woman may feel liberated to select their number and frequency of sexual partners, a woman can feel liberated by making the choice to abstain from sex- for belief systems based on her faith or not at all. As much as a woman may feel liberated by contraception, another may feel liberated by not choosing to use it. There has been a shift towards Natural Contraceptive methods (ie. the Natural Cycle app as reviewed by WIRED) based on Natural Family Planning to track and increase knowledge of a woman's cycle. Liberation might be found in coming off of contraceptives and choosing not to medicalise fertility (if talking about heterosexual relationships and cis folk). I choose to challenge how religion is relegated from conversations about women's equality because I believe in solidarity even when it doesn't directly impact you. This past weekend we have heard about Switzerland following France, Belgium and Austria in a referendum to ban women from wearing the burqa or niqab in public spaces. Whilst enforced policing of women's bodies in faith systems in religion is not supportive of equality, neither is anchoring dress codes in public spheres that don't speak for all women. It risks surges in Islamophobia that ultimately continue to put women at risk. Although the venom of anti-Muslim sentiment is directed against both men and women, it is a particularly gendered crisis. Women bear the brunt of Islamophobic prejudice because women who wear hijab and niqab are visible representations of religion. According to one researcher, 69 per cent of Muslim women who wore hijab reported at least one incident of discrimination (Rana Elmir, Washington Post) . I choose to challenge leaving religion out of the equation because I've been in conversations with friends who love to fly the flag for equal rights for women and support religion so long as it pertains it looks cool at the time to support- i.e. support for what I've just mentioned, gendered Islamophobia because it looks like double whammy support of black and brown women. Extra points for being 'progressive'. Yet, in the same breath, make slurs about other religions as something that supports 'liberal' thinking. The truth is that when we start to pocket faith, belief and religion with perceptions of ethnicity or racial grouping we arrive at that same starting point of stereotyping and needing to challenge monolith ideas. To be intersectional in feminism means that we acknowledge how race, class, gender, religion and lots of different determinants shape identity. To support religions that are oppressed in Western cultures is important, but not when it means you yourself condemn or relegate other religions from conversations because you don't like them. Christian women, Jewish women, Sikh women and Hindu women can all be feminist. Catholic women are not all blonde hair blue-eyed, conservative, pro-life marching, middle-classed women that blog about modesty and only go to Latin masses... Excuse the crass stereotyping, but I say this to make a point as a black working-class Catholic woman myself that believes in equality and supporting fellow women irrespective of whether they have faith or not. Faith and belief are wide, and even within belief systems, there is variation. My personal beliefs look different from others in the same church as me, and even different perhaps to my own family. I want intersectional feminism to include interfaith dialogue too. How can women who are atheist, agnostic and of faith support each other with genuine allyship? That's the question I choose to challenge this International Women's Day. (Oops I mentioned pretty much everything you're not supposed to talk about at dinner parties: religion, race, gender and politics #sorrynotsorry) 5) 📣 I choose to challenge harmful notions of 'femininity' Conversations on 'femininity' can be harmful and positive all at the same time. Whilst terms like 'feminine genius' and 'feminine energy' can (possibly?) shine a light on all that is good about womanhood when done sensitively, some conversations onhow to be feminine' are harmful. Gender is performative. So skewed notions of femininity can trickle down into women not wanting to appear too smart, too funny, too opinionated in front of men out of fear it could damage 'masculinity'. It can mean that when women colour 'outside the lines' of what the dominant view of femininity is, people insinuate it makes her more male or question sexual orientation in a way that is meant to insult. The irony is, any inkling of meaning for it to insult only highlights internalised heteronormativity and the rigid views of gender that are problematic in the first place. 6) 📣 I choose to challenge psychological intimidation against women. Specifically, gaslighting. You're not crazy. He's gaslighting you. I said what I said. Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where a person or group makes someone question their sanity, perception of reality, or memories. People experiencing gaslighting often feel confused, anxious, and unable to trust themselves and it is a term often used to describe male emotional abuse towards women in relationships. The term gaslighting derives from the 1938 play and 1944 film Gaslight, in which a husband manipulates his wife into thinking she has a mental illness by dimming their gas-fueled lights and telling her she is hallucinating. In case we need a reminder, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, techniques a person may use to gaslight someone includes: • Countering: This describes a person questioning someone’s memories. They may say things such as, “you never remember things accurately,” or “are you sure? You have a bad memory.” • Withholding: When someone withholds, they refuse to engage in a conversation. A person using this technique may pretend not to understand someone so that they do not have to respond to them. For example, they might say, “I do not know what you are talking about,” or “you are just trying to confuse me.” • Trivializing: This occurs when a person belittles or disregards the other person’s feelings. They may accuse them of being too sensitive or of overreacting when they have valid concerns and feelings. • Denial: Denial involves a person pretending to forget events or how they occurred. They may deny having said or done something or accuse someone of making things up. • Diverting: With this technique, a person changes the focus of a discussion and questions the other person’s credibility instead. For example, they might say, “that is just another crazy idea you got from your friends.” • Stereotyping: An article in the American Sociological Review states that a person using gaslighting techniques may intentionally use negative stereotypes of a person’s gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, nationality, or age to manipulate them. For example, they may tell a female that people will think she is irrational or crazy if she seeks help for abuse. (Source: medicalnewstoday) 7)📣I choose to challenge shrinking my opinions, intellect or gut instinct to appease others. I remember coming across an article a few years back that spoke about how much women use the word "just" in workplace emails. It was written by Ellen Petry Leanse, a former Apple and Google employee. The gist of it was that people should stop saying the word "just" so often because it hurts their credibility in the workplace and has undertones of female imposter syndrome and unnecessary permission seeking. I choose to challenge the areas of my only life. I do just that. The "just" effect in emails or silencing and swallowing the points I have to make in discussions where I resort to "we'll have to agree to disagree" or "that's not my cup of tea" to appear nice or more palatable. The entrenched fear of not wanting to come across as the 'angry black girl' stereotype is an exhausting cross to carry that was placed on me before I was even born. Shrinking back to appease others as a woman is not a muscle I want to train and I choose to challenge it this International Women's Day. 8) 📣 I choose to challenge the image of perfection placed on women A relationship status, perfectly coiffed hair skin and nails and immaculate style does not a woman make. Contrary to what is constantly fed to us on virtually every social media platform. 9) 📣 I choose to challenge the notion that female creatives only have trauma experiences to talk about. “You read enough books in which people like you are disposable, or are dirt, or are silent, absent, or worthless, and it makes an impact on you. Because art makes the world, because it matters, because it makes us. Or breaks us" “I believe that telling our stories, first to ourselves and then to one another and the world, is a revolutionary act. It is an act that can be met with hostility, exclusion, and violence. It can also lead to love, understanding, transcendence, and community." — Janet Mock
This list isn't exhaustive, but just some things I've been thinking of recently. I love that the theme this year for International Women's Day is about choosing to challenge. How are you celebrating it this year? Please feel free to share this article or subscribe below for more Equality is a verb. Love is a verb. Love the women in your life. Be safe 🙏🏾 Be well ✨ Thanks for visiting the Riah Writes creative writing blog. Riah is a creative writing blogger/poetry blogger interested in wellness, society, social justice rights issues and the Arts. Follow the blog, Twitter and Instagram to stay updated on new content.