Cindy Crawford has famously said that she wishes she looked like Cindy Crawford. Recently, we got to see what she meant, as a photo of Cindy in which her abdomen bears witness to the fact that she has borne children was leaked on the Internet. Author Leslie Goldman sums up the leak and its consequences nicely: “Women everywhere are feeling empowered, relieved and grateful to her,” Goldman said. “I just wish it had come about under her control.” Indeed, here we see the cultural “iron maiden” (as Naomi Wolf describes it in The Beauty Myth) of beauty at work: women—even supermodels—can’t assume privacy or control when it comes to our own bodies. And the images we are expected to live up to are so unrealistic that every time we get a peek at reality, we heave a collective sigh of relief. This, my friends, is a public health issue.
In the three years since The Representation Project has taken on sexism in Superbowl ads, we’ve seen quite a bit of improvement. As Caroline Knorr points out over at Common Sense Media, most families don’t want sex—much less sexism—in the ads that they see with their kids during the big game, and advertisers are responding. They’re also responding to the tweets The Representation Project sends out every year via the #NotBuyingIt and #MediaWeLike campaigns: each year, we see a round of ads and a round of responses. This year, the discussion started early, as some ads were released pre-game. Among them was a very important public service announcement: NoMore.org’s reminder about the realities of intimate partner violence (IPV). So—what does all this say about our culture? Are we making headway against sexism as the foundation for our entertainment and economy? Yes—and no.
In 1985, lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel offered a tongue-in-cheek proposal for judging female representation in films. Her cartoon “Dykes to Watch Out for” presented this vision:
Yesterday—January 11—was Alice Paul’s birthday. Alice Paul, who fought body and soul for suffrage, organizing a famous march for the cause in 1913 that upstaged the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson, and later challenging the president’s refusal to pass suffrage by leading a hunger strike in jail. Alice Paul, who I love the way I love all my heroines, with fierce gratitude and pride. I’ve been thinking about Alice this week, as I just watched Iron-Jawed Angels, a movie about Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, Inez Milholland, and others who gave female suffrage its final push into being. Although I enjoyed the movie, I was frustrated by some aspects of it—including the way it downplayed the role of another heroine of mine, Ida B. Wells. I think the movie did this for the same reason all mainstream stories of “how feminism got us where we are” downplay the role of black women: white culture doesn’t want to look too closely at the flaws in our heroines.
The United States understands genocide to be a terrible thing that other countries have done, or are doing. The eradication of an entire population—civilian women, men, and children—along with their culture and national sovereignty—is something we condemn in our media. When we see genocide happening elsewhere, we debate if and when we should step in with economic sanctions or military action—when it is time to put a stop to a crime against humanity. Rarely, if ever, do we examine our own history long enough to understand that the United States was created by people who committed genocide against the people who were already living here. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, in her book An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, gives us this truth in its fullness, showing us the history we have attempted to deny. She does so “…not to make an accusation but rather to face historical reality, without which consideration not much in US history makes sense, unless Indigenous peoples are erased (p. 7).”