Thursday, October 07, 2010

I like it in my own way, thank you very much

So, many of you know that Breast Cancer Research Foundation, or aka the pink ribbon group, has launched a campaign in facebook, which was secretly sent out to ladies, to write in their status where they put their purses.

The original message goes like
"About a year ago, we played the game about what color bra you were wearing at the moment. The purpose was to increase awareness of October Breast Cancer Awareness month. It was a tremendous success and we had men wondering for days what was with the colors and it made it to the news.
This year's game has to do with your handbag/purse, where we put our handbag the moment we get home for example "I like it on the couch", "kitchen counter", "the dresser" well u get the idea. Just put your answer as your status with nothing more than that and cut n paste this message and forward to all your FB female friends to their inbox. It doesn't have to be suggestive. I'm going for the vague "on the stairs". The bra game made it to the news. Let's see how powerful we women really are!!! REMEMBER - DO NOT PUT YOUR ANSWER AS A REPLY TO THIS MESSAGE- PUT IT IN YOUR STATUS!"

I didn't know about the last year's campaign and just found out about this years, and have participated. I know some people have had real fun with this, since it was a "inside joke" amongst women, and find it very funny how men reacted. My male friends knew what it was about, and didn't send any questionable remarks.

However, others found this sexist and objectifying women and have made this heard.

Ofcourse as it happens in facebook, this has drawn comments/discussions, and I thought I would share this with my non-facebook friends, since it draws an interesting example of feminist in conflict.

I will try to summarize this discussion, which will really not do anyone justice but again, what is justice anyhow.
Here are the points.
1) campaign was sexist due to its deliberate exclusion of men.
2) it presumes women have either purses and/or sex.
3) It is provoking and has sexual connotations
4) did not help in making the point, which is breast cancer

Let;s respond to this one by one. 1) yes, it is excluding men, but breast cancer is predominately something that women have to deal with, like pregnancy, and the whole point of the joke was to keep it as an insider's joke, which made some people happy. Also many gender equality movements exclude men.
2) I don't think it was sexist to think women can have sex or bags(I've understood this term broadly),
3) I believe women who read this note and put status signs up are able to make this judgement for themselve - they are not stupid
4)Yes, I agree on this issue. it could've been done much smarter, but if the whole point was to draw attention, it succeeded - but I agree it could've been much more linked to the actual cause and abit more stylish. And this point, I think is shared by most people (from the conservatives, to not so conservative, and the times)

Also, my beef with this was that the statement about this whole status update was stated as a "fact" where it is really a "opinion". And the nature of the statement was potentially be offensive to those who participated in the whole scheme. It also had a bullying nature, where it made those who participated feel like they were ignorant and were impediments to the feminist cause.

But more importantly, let's talk about the number 3, provocative and sexual innuendo part of the problem, which is probably the biggest problem the supporters for "the joke being sexist/objectifying" group.
I have always faced criticisms from women on this issue. The example here shows women noting where they put their purse, but give the reader the notion that this is where they would like to have (their bag) sex. This isn't funny at first site, but if you have several status updates doing the same thing, it could be funny.

But whichever the case, even if this were actually about sex, I don't find it objectifying. Definition of objectifying is to make something as if it were an object, rather than a person. Me talking about where I would like to have "it", whatever it may be, does not objectify me. Perhaps it shows that I am a sexual person who may like to share my preferences with others. However, making me into an object it does not. I am also aware that many women are objectified and are objectifying themselves as nothing but something to have sex with. This, if chosen out of ignorance or is forced, it is bad/horrible. But since one of the core human essences are being sexual beings, it is natural to show one's sexual side as well. Ofcourse the stupidity of this is that some women objectifying themselves, may encourage men to think that of other women. However, just because men have dominated the territory of sex for a while now, does not mean that we should shun it as being a wasteland, a place no real feminist goes, unless you want a full on battle to tear down the land - to talk about it seriously.(I am referring to comments such as "If you want to talk about sex openly, admit that you've had it at least once when you didn't really feel like it.Or how you REALLY like it. Or masturbation. Or something"... which indicates sex is supposedly something women should never make light of or joke about). I think women should take the reins of women's sexuality discussions into our own hands but we should also be able to see the lightness in it as well. Thus women in charge of showing women's sexuality, not men in their own fantasy way. The first seasons of sex and the city did improve this aspect... although the later seasons were as if I was watching the video version of Cosmopolitan.

But again, do not discourage women in talking about sex, period, due to the scares of objectifying themselves.The problem with this is that it is dangerously close to the religious/conservative views on how women should be chastised and prude, and women do not have sexuality or their sexualities should be a secret. Ofcourse there are women all over the spectrum of sexual freedom. But to shun the side where one believes women should have fun too and can freely talk and make jokes about sex, to shun those who are not afraid of the male penis, is also not feminism. The problem is that once you do this, once you mark that out of the feminist map, you will have women who will not be able to own their own sexualities, and again this is a battle lost against the conservative male view. Also, it is losing your (potential) freedom to own your own sexuality. Coming from very prudent/conservative countries (I also mean the US here), I know how this could go. Some women believe that equal rights is to make men(and women) fear talking about sex and sexuality, rather than enabling women to take power and lead in the discussion of sex. Where it is believe that sexuality/sexual things are evil, too private to be talked about. This is not a society I will like to live in, nor do I believe is a gender equal society.

Last point I want to make is the ease of calling thing sexist. Being Asian, I also have the god given right to call things racist (no, I don't really but you get my point). Now with both things, its like calling wolf. Once you start calling everything sexist/racist, the gravity of your voice becomes weaker and weaker, since you are thought to be someone who will always be calling "wolf!". Also, the people who can join you in the cause becomes smaller and smaller, since you are excluding diverse views. I believe that this is one of the reasons some women themselves do not want to be categorized as feminist, due to that many "feminists" have marked the line way too strict, restrictive and aggressively and then marked it as being a "general feminist rule". Making feminism something like a totalitarian regime is not something we should aspire to. Taking a strong stand is one thing, being facist is another.

someone posted a blog post on this discussion (from the opposing view) - although I disagree with parts of the point 1 & 3 - first of all sex is the way to catch EVERYONE's attention, and I don't think others were excluded, you could've easily did something such as putting a ribbon on your photo, or a link (again its your choice). which is something I also did. but I understand what he's getting at, and is much clearer than what was being mentioned in the previous discussion, so thanks chris!


Khrys said...

Hi Hee!

I really should blog more because it's much more about articulating and listening than just getting short-term attention (as on twitter, facebook).

I agree with all you are saying and I would even go further in terms of female sexuality. I believe it's not only time/necessary for women to become more sexually confident and articulate but to take the next step and assume the predatory role.

Just like you, I cannot live in a sexist society because sexism mostly equals homophobia (i.e. aggressive behaviour towards me and my partner). In a sexist society men are the ones who make sexual choices and have the right to judge and evaluate women as they wish. Being confronted with men who tear down this paradigm (i.e. judge their looks and lust over them) makes sexist men uncomfortable and aggressive. That's why women have to join in as well. It's a common fight against sexism and homophobia. So go for it!

Having said this I don’t think this campaign does women any favours in this fight (and breast cancer awareness). First of all “I like it on the stairs” is not a confident sexual statement, especially when the escape clause is “I only meant my handbag”. If you want to talk about sex, talk about sex.

Second, I still think the campaign is sexist because its success depends on the sexual confirmation from (heterosexual) men. It may create a feeling of belonging and sorority, which is great, but all of this is just based on a common act of weak and self-conscious (escape clause) titillation of heterosexual men. Not the fact that participants talk about their sexuality is objectifying but that they use their sexuality in a cheap way ‘to get attention from the boys’.

Is this campaign about creating solidarity among women? This is a worthy cause although I would try not to be exclusive. But if it is, is sexual innuendo the way to go? Do women have to create sexual thoughts from heterosexual men to get attention as a group? All at once? As many as possible? Does that send the right signals? To me, this sounds a bit like a “girls gone wild” fantasy created on Facebook – for heterosexual men. There must be a better way.

And one last thought about what you said about the terms sexism, racism and feminism. I agree that people have to be careful when they want to get a point across not to put people off by using strong words. But I also believe that there is so much *ism around and I don’t want to save the word for the one serious cause when I can finally use it. The everyday racism and sexism are the ones people suffer from all the time and it’s important to speak up to make a change. It may get annoying and people may become tired (e.g. by my saying ‘heterosexual men’ all the time) but at least I have created some awareness and people will understand that there are some things which you cannot just say or do. And that’s all I want. Not change them but make everyday life a bit less *ist.

I want to hear more about your fight against racism and sexism.

insatiable hee said...

Hey Khrys/Chris? thanks for the comment/reply?. I really like your arguments and am happy that there is also another addition for our fight against sexism+homophobia+racism!! :-D
Btw, I am also very much for the queer movement.
But one thing, I am not sure if this whole thing was for "hetrosexual males" as you point out. I see it much more like a joke for some women->spreading to wider sphere (where they realised what the previous status updates were). And yes men were the ones who didn’t know as well. But the problem of men being aroused by such comments and thinking women are just sex objects…. Is this a problem of women, women who wrote these status updates? OR is it the problem of men with such ideas? Why is it okay for men to think that way, and women should be punished for writing anything which could have sexual innuendo, or that could potentially arouse someone (not just men but also women!!). Would we say the same thing if men were to have done such things? Or would we have said, “oh… boys… haha”. Also by punishing women for such things has the danger of pushing society back to its prude/conservative “female eunuch” state. Also, what I really dislike most about the “you are objectifying yourself” comment or “Girls gone wild fantasy” point, is that in both scenarios, women are projected somewhat as weak ignorant beings who could not have thought of this or are victims, who need protection – this patriarchical idea is what gets me more mad than anything else (in general I mean). I think women/we have the power to take this into their own way/own ideas, and could either not participate or participate in their own interpretation (which I must say many of my proud feminist friends did and had fun). But thank you so much for the comment and its great to have these discussions, and I am thinking perhaps the campaign was made by a ultra smart person, who foresaw these discussions ahead of time, and wanted to really bring that forward… (but again, I think it was quite silly, and understand how you see it –awareness issue etc as well!)

insatiable hee said...

oh another thing, I am well known in my close group of friends to make these sexual innuendo jokes (all the time), and never meant as "girls gone wild", making myself as an object way. Actually, I think me (and some other friends who are similar) are helping pave the way for many guys to think, girls are/can be very comfortable about sex(sexual issues), too - oh yeah.. and be funny. (which is another sterotype I want to abolish!) I do not make light of my sex or myself, but just SEX itself!!(which I think is what alot of the people who participated were doing as well).

Khrys said...

If there had been a male campaign like that I wouldn't have found it much better. What could it have been? Where I'd like to have beer/whiskey/sex?

The fact that I cannot think of a similarly stereotyped male accessory/item right now says a lot about how women are forced into this character of "the funny other" with handbags, lipsticks and cupcakes.

About the female eunuch. I really think women SHOULD express their sexuality. As much and as openly as men are allowed to - and more sincerely (many many men are not happy in their role as sexual predators). But do you think this campaign is about strong sexuality and sexual liberation?

Actually it's about handbags and heterosexual men's sexual thoughts. Not about strong women and not about breast cancer. And that's my problem with it.

I'd have found a statement like "I really like to have sex on stairs/in changing rooms/office toilets/park benches" much more liberating than the current "Giggle, it's not really about sex but about handbags and breast cancer". So please don't get me wrong. I just dislike the half-hearted sexual allusion and the role men play in this campaign.

And yes, the campaign has now got so much attention (and raised very little awareness I must say). Quite a PR genius the person behind it must be.

You mentioned racism in your post. That's something I want to write about soon. I don't think racism towards Asians is being discussed enough.