Wednesday, June 27, 2012


No one told me I was smart when I was a child; they only said I was pretty.  At 10, I never read books with strong female leads like Junie B. Jones or Stargirl; I was too busy learning the best ab work-outs and how to apply mascara from the articles in Seventeen. I’m turning 23 in one week and to this day, I wake up every morning to see how my belly juts out against my pants. I still feel like a failure every time my cravings concede to a piece of chocolate. But I know the beast that made me. I dedicated my academic career to studying gender behavior and media theory to help destroy it. And I will continue to do everything in my power not to let this mental condition get the best of another girl.  Because we are more than our waist line, our bust size, our skin tone, or our curves. Our aspirations are greater than wanting to be thin, wanting a boyfriend, or coveting to have all the attention in the school. Deep within every girl is gumption and drive, yet at such formative ages those amazing qualities are too easily snuffed out of existence by glitzy media saying “Who you think you are isn’t who you should be.”

Recently I worked as a site leader for a youth group coming in to help fix up a home for someone in need. The ice-breaker question I posed was “What did you want to be when you were a child?” There were 9 people in the group, 6 of them girls. One girl named Jeannie said, “Astronaut.” One girl named Katie said, “cake decorator.” And another girl, Lauren, said, “Concert pianist.”  Later in the day, I asked some of the girls what their life aspirations were. Katie said, “To get a boyfriend.” Jeannie said, “To be a supermodel.” When I prodded them some more, it was revealed that Katie wants to travel to Italy and that secretly she still wanted to open her own cake-decorating business.

It compels me to tears thinking about how much energy and attention I devoted to complying to the rules laid out for me in those early issues of Cosmo Girl and Seventeen. And to see girls openly changing their goals to match the roles they see their idols filling in magazines and TV shows shallows my breath. If ad agencies and magazine editors and TV scriptwriters do not start realizing the immense impact they have on young minds, and how damaging it is to them and in return, our nation, our society, our world will never change. It’s time to keep it real, people. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What a Man, What a Man, What a Mighty Confused Man.

The pattern couldn't have been more obvious if it were featured on Good Morning America as a breaking trend.  A few days ago BBC listed two reports back-to-back on their US & Canada headline stream (coincidentally?) that featured a common theme among adult males in combat and on the football field:


The manliest men on the Masculine Persona spectrum (not a real spectrum, don't look it up.) are choosing more and more to take their lives. Or are we just finally paying attention to it now? And if so, what happened to make our consciousness more aware of the trend?
The first of these headlines needed no further description to understand the severity of the issue: "US military suicide rates hits one per day". BBC cited an increase of 20% in the number of deaths reported were reported this time last year.  The Pentagon referred to the issue as "one of the most urgent problems" they faced.  PTSD is ubiquitous among veterans returning home from combat, but these cases of suicide are cropping up among members currently deployed or are about to be deployed.  And rather than receiving unanimous support, stories of men taking their lives receive chastising remarks from their higher-ups.
The subsequent article begged the viewer to read on beyond the headline. Titled, "NFL players join forces to sue league over concussion," the article detailed components in the lawsuit as saying the NFL has "glorified violence" via media marketing ploys.  At the end of the article, Mary Ann Easterling , the wife of late Atlanta Falcolns' safety, Ray Easterling, cites the tragedy of her husband's suicide as a result of his deep-seeded behavioral problems due to persistent head trauma.

So what exactly are we seeing here? Well, think of all the stereotypes you might use to describe a typical GI Joe or first-draft linebacker: muscular, dumb jock, heroic, hard-headed, proud, master of their jurisdiction, capable of fixing anything.  Any association that implies a correlation to physical aptitude and worth to society, basically.  Notice how any adjective describing vulnerability is completely absent.  Just as stereotypes assume women to be weak, defensive cry-babies, the "masculine" man is expected to be exactly the opposite.

But the times, they have been a-changing - we are shattering these definitions left and right, on both sides of the gender divide.  We are seeing a spike in the number of women who volunteer for combat, raising consciousness over the unhealthy practice of Photoshopping, and sloooowly but surely voting more women into public office. And studies repeatedly show how boys are being left in the lurch next girls' progress in the American education system. This is a huge testament to immeasurable work women throughout the century completed to achieve gender equality in schools. However... while one side is working full-time to level the playing field, the other is left eating their dust.  

It took years and a fantastic professor to open my eyes on the problem that young men in America are facing today.  Men are not getting the appropriate attention needed to facilitate a seamless transition away from rigid, archaic stereotypes, let alone enough support to back them up in the roles they are responsible for upholding now.  The need for a transition from "macho" to "human" is one that is absolutely vital in achieving gender equity in every facet of society. Yet at every turn, organizations and major establishments such as the NFL and Hollywood (I could write a whole separate seething film review of the movie, What to Expect When Expecting, don't get me started.) take the most lucrative road and buy into furthering these disastrous stereotypes while trying to promote the gender they're glorifying.  The more pressure men receive to sustain the one-dimensional role of being physically-impressive, the more there will be pressure building up against their repressed emotions of living in a world that is paying more attention to women. 

This is not to say that there is still not an immense burden placed on the Western Woman to adhere to strict physical and emotional confines. Nor is my specific aim to blur the roles between men and women.  For the vast majority of people in this country, guidelines, on some level, are necessary in sustaining sanity.  However, in order for women to break free from dangerous structures surrounding how they act professionally, sexually, emotionally, etc, men need to be shown guidance as they navigate their reassessed roles (i.e. one who is not an abuser, emotionally vacant, or solely focused on physical prowess) in a redirected society.

BUT. There is hope. It has just been announced that the Veterans Affairs council has taken note of the demographic with the lowest rates of suicide to aid them in their attempt to quell the number of suicide attempts in the military:  "[They] hope to re-create elements of black female culture that may help stop military veterans from killing themselves."

The jury is still in discussing the sociological implications of this idea.