Reiterating Truth

Recently I got into an unexpected discussion with two coworkers.  Both are older men, and I get along with them quite well, even though one of them once asked me if I was married, then called me a clotheshorse.  That was a little odd.

Anyway, we wound up having a very successful conversation about the politics of black women’s natural hair.  One of them had just seen Chris Rock’s documentary, “Good Hair,” and was blown away by the cost of the weaves that some black women get.  I haven’t seen the movie, but I’ve read enough on blogs and about public figures like Gabby Douglas and Viola Davis to have a basic understanding of the conflict.

Documentary Watcher was flabbergasted to learn that the black women he saw so often on TV were not wearing their natural hair.  Other Coworker was mostly alarmed by the price, and couldn’t understand why or how anyone could afford to go through something like that.  They were both shocked that these women would pay exorbitant amounts for hair treatments that then meant no one could touch their hair, they couldn’t go swimming, etc. (according to the documentary).

I jumped in and explained, as well as I could for a white girl, that there is a stigma attached to natural black hair, and women who don’t opt for weaves or straightening treatments are perceived as unprofessional.

“But my daughter told me some of the white newscasters wear wigs, too,” OC said.

“The current trend is for long, soft waves,” I told him.  “Even if their hair doesn’t grow like that, that’s how it’s expected to look.”

The conversation, at that point, ran the risk of mutating into a full debate on women in the media, racism, the Western obsession with female youth, and who knew what else, and we had to get back to work with much that I wanted to say left unsaid.  I felt good about what we’d talked about, but also a little overwhelmed by how much more could have been explained.  And I realized at that point, once again, that many of the truths I take for granted, and that I try to express in this blog, still need to be reiterated.

So here they are:

Women are held to an unreasonable physical standard.  Tina Fey sums it up well: “Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits.”

Women are expected to be visually pleasing to the male gaze.  Women obsess over their weight, how they look in clothes, how their makeup looks, and how their hair falls in order to fit into this particular standard.

We don’t need to.

We are more than our weight on the scale.  We’re more than our hair.  We’re more than what we wear.  We’re more than how we look, period.

People make judgments and assumptions based on appearances, though, and how we dress and adorn ourselves conveys a message whether we want it to or not.

If we want to get to a place where Viola Davis or Esperanza Spaulding or Michelle Obama can wear her hair however she wants without everyone making a fuss –

If we want reporters to ask talented women like Jennifer Lawrence about her work instead of her dress, and if we want misogynist crap like Seth MacFarlane’s “We Saw Your Boobs” song to never happen again –

If we want to see female news anchors age and soften just like their male counterparts , instead of being swapped out for the younger, thinner model –

If we want to see models of all shapes and sizes, representative of more, real, women, in the media we consume –

If we want our beloved friends and sisters to finally feel worthy and not condemned by a media machine that doesn’t acknowledge them, we need to demand it.

We need to speak out when we hear insults.  We need to educate when we hear questions.  We need to speak up against racism and sexism, no matter how unpopular it is.  We who come from a place of privilege have a responsibility to speak for those who don’t, and those who might be underprivileged need to speak for themselves as well.  As women, as people, let’s help each other remember these truths, and spread them to those who haven’t heard.

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5 thoughts on “Reiterating Truth

  1. Yes, yes, yes! Thank you!

    I have recently been “confronted” by several friends/family members about my feminism, all of whom can’t understand why thing like this irritate the heck out of me and why it even matters (I belong to a very conservative religious group, and feminist is seen as a very scandelous thing to be), and because I am remarkably un-eloquent, am frequently caught spluttering “Well, because! It just does! Because!” in a ridiculous state of indignation. Because of this, I have been accumulating a list of links to articles and blog posts that express my feelings better than I can in the heat of the moment to email the questioner later on, along with a rational summation of my thoughts. If you don’t mind, I’ll be adding this post to the list.

    • I would be honored! I’d also be curious to see what you’ve accumulated so far, to add to my own arsenal. 😉 Some people just needs lots of explaining to. (lots and lots and lots)

  2. I’ve been thinking about what you wrote here for a while, rolling it around in my mind. I DO think speaking up is good, and I agree with you to a point–but I don’t necessarily think we have a responsibility to speak up all the time, every time, especially if we need to prioritize our own safety and comfort in a situation that might devolve. (Not that I think you’re saying this, just trying to sort out my thoughts.)

    I also feel a little torn about it because I feel like the stance of “we must speak up and educate!” de-emphasizes a need for independent learning on the part of the person we’re speaking up to. I see a lot of privileged folks using the “if you don’t teach me, how will I learn?!” defense for their ignorance to less-privileged folks. They don’t seek out resources on their own to educate themselves; instead, they demand one-on-one babying by the person they’ve been phobic towards, and that’s troubling. I think it’s great to try and be active about it and to provide resources and try to teach, but I don’t blame many people for getting tired of these demands and saying, “it’s not my job, okay?”

    On the other hand, I do think opening up a dialogue can be very useful, especially if the person in question is receptive to learning and is simply ignorant instead of actively against one’s stance–I have a friend who was being fatphobic the other day and I wasn’t able to articulate my feelings in the moment (and asked him if we could drop it so I didn’t get really mad at him), but I do plan on emailing him some articles in the hopes that he engages with them instead of just writing me off.

    But–all in all, it’s true that speaking up can change things where keeping quiet won’t, and I try to drop truth bombs where I can.

    • Yup. I agree that there are situations in which speaking out isn’t appropriate, especially in terms of safety. And there are definitely people who try to brush off their perceived role in oppression (ugh that sounds so pretentious, I’m sorry) by forcing the responsibility for education back on the minority group. I know that was an instinct for me when I really studied race for the first time – I wanted a token minority to explain things to me because I didn’t think what I read online would be accurate. As if one person’s experience was accurate for an entire segment of the population…

      Anyway, what this particular conversation made me realize is that sometimes you do have to take one one more demand and start at step 1, which is pointing out that there’s a problem. Some (probably lots of) folks don’t even realize there is a problem, or that they’re privileged, or what-have-you. So in this case, I tried to approach it as just opening a door to further awareness, not necessarily trying to explain every social issue ever. I hope that by planting a seed, they might go one to do some more studying on their own.

      Or they might forget I ever said anything and go about their lives. That’s probably more likely. But I like to think that I tried. I’m naive like that.

  3. LOVE THIS!!

    That Tina Fey quote is one of my faves. I also love the rest of it, where she points out that Kim Kardashian is the only woman alive who actually has all those features, and was probably created by the Russians as a weapon. LOL.

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