The topic of sexism or gender discrimination until recently has been denied or avoidable.
For decades the issues of gender inequality were censored in media and politics even in such developed countries and cultures as the United States and Europe. Dictated by cultural, historical and theological differences, on the global scope the facts of female sexism and discrimination have been even more covered. One who believes that nowadays due to the expansion of feminist philosophy and western thought on gender equality gender issues are changing in positive direction for women is fundamentally wrong. Discriminating trend towards women goes on in the most of developing countries, while western society still cannot completely respond to the philosophy of gender equality and feminism. This paper aims to reveal the nature of sexism, its main triggers and trends, and discuss some of the most important aspects of sexism towards women that are prevailing in contemporary society.Apparently, foundations of sexism are deeply rooted in human nature, religion, psychology and upbringing.
When Dr. Monique Fouant of the Medical College of Virginia studied Chilean mummies from the Azapa culture (circa 1000 B.C.) she found that 36 percent of the women, but only 9 percent of the men, had broken bones and over half were skull fractures. The nature of the fractures indicated that in 45 percent of the mummies examined, death had been inflicted by lethal blows.
It was the same story 750 years later, in the Alto-Ramirez culture. Of the women, 50 percent had fractures; of the men, only 20 percent (Raymond, 31). Despite these astonishing statistics, our century exhibits the similar situation. Between 1985 and 1986 alone, more than 2,300 Indian brides were killed in dowry disputes. The killing of brides, usually by burning, as an expression of dissatisfaction with the dowry, has become one of the scourges of modern India. These are only the official figures, mostly from urban areas, and police admit that many more dowry murders take place in the rural areas. India has already passed a Dowry Prohibition Act, the Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girls Act (1978) and the Cruelty to Women Deterrent Punishment Ordinance (1983), yet the problem continues due to lack of enforcement.
Nowadays, when western states and cultures talk about race equality, in many countries discrimination against is truly worse than discrimination based on race. Media revealed the tragedy in Pakistan, when a blind girl who had been raped and was pregnant was sentenced to be stoned to death (Voice of Women, 1985). She could not identify the rapist, but according to Islamic law since she was pregnant she was held to be guilty of illegal sex. Perhaps the foregoing was a case of one in a million, but then consider the following: the Islamic states have signed the United Nations convention forbidding any form of political, social or economic discrimination on grounds of gender, yet in most states a woman is forbidden to attend law school; may not visit a public theatre or cafeteria; may not purchase bread or milk at a shop without her husband’s or father’s permission; is considered to be worth only half the value of a man and must be fired by her employer if her husband so requests. In divorce, the man automatically receives custody of all children older than two years; automatically receives twice as much as the woman in any inheritance; and may legally kill his wife as punishment for adultery, but not the other way around.Assessing the progress made by women during the period 1975-1985, known as the U.N.
Decade for Women, most qualified observers are agreed that the changes have been extremely uneven and, on the whole, modest. As pointed out by Ruth Sivard in her World Survey, in no major field of activity can it be said that women have attained equality with men. The influx of women into the paid labor force has not significantly narrowed the gap between men’s and women’s pay nor has it stemmed the rising tide of poverty among women worldwide.
“Throughout the world women are still disproportionately represented among the poor, the illiterate, the unemployed and underemployed. They remain a very small minority at the centers of political power” (Sivard, 5).The wage labor market still discriminates actively and persistently against women, and salary, social security, pensions and working conditions are often less favorable for women than for men. The world averages do, of course, conceal very great regional differences. Working women in manufacturing industries – in Japan and the Republic of Korea, for instance – take home less than half the wages earned by men, while women in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, El Salvador, Burma and Sri Lanka fare best, with average earnings 80 percent of those of men (Raymond, 49). In Afghanistan only 4 percent of girls are enrolled in secondary schools as against 88 percent in Australia.
In Angola only 1 percent of women have access to contraceptives; in Belgium 76 percent do (Raymond, 49).The causes of women’s discrimination status are deeply rooted in society’s psychology, its religion, education and values. This statement is supported by many feminist specialists that analyze the perception of women from the historical perspective. For instance, the artistic concept of nudity has been developed by male artists, and from feminist perspective, nude in art degrades women and their status. Nude in art is nothing else than the relationships of sexual power and subordination. Feminist writings in general claims that the male or masculine signifier is privileged, valorized, and given the centre over the female opposite, which is absent from the historical, economic, political, and social discourse.
According to Burgin, what is absent in female’s body then fetishized as “presence” (Burgin, 35). A certain representation of woman is offered as an object of adoration – to be dressed, cuddled, and infantized. The absent, apolitical, and embodied woman has been fetishized like the collection of fine wines – full bodied, scented, rich in color, delicate, fruity, mellow, and “present for consumption.”Historical context of complex relationship between men and women accompanied with mythological subjects emerged from Ancient Greece and Rome provided a wealth of erotic inspiration for many sixteenth- and seventeenth-century painters. Numerous books were written on the virtues and vices of women and on the merits of educating women to be good courtesans, wives, or nuns, such as Pietro Aretino’s “Dialogues.
” In depicting love and sex, sixteenth and seventeenth century artists made reference to ancient and contemporary historical sources as well as to literary sources. These painters disguised the life of their own time and sublimated it into a realm of fantasy and imagination. Mythological paintings thus became the visual vehicle for their erotic desires and sexual fantasies. Italian painters of the sixteenth century, known as the Cinquecento or “fifteen hundreds,” reveal their erotic fantasies in the depiction of nude women from the more daring mythological legends (Mcdonald, 96). Cinquecento painters also used allegory as a vehicle of disguised sexual celebration, to arouse and seduce viewers into experiencing a visual sexual fantasy.
This arousal created by the artist’s image is personal as well as universal, since the painted fantasy manipulates the spectators’ imaginations and stimulates their recollections and associations with other images from the erotic feast of sexual fantasies. Bronzino “Allegory of Luxuria”, also entitled “Venus, Cupid, Time and Folly”, is an example. It depicts the sexual desire between Cupid and Venus, his mother. The figures in the painting are distressed at what is revealed by time, jealousy and despair; the Sphinx smiles falsely while plotting revenge; and the dancing Cupid in his inexperience does not recognize the pitfalls and perversities of erotic love (Mcdonald, 92-93). The cold, porcelain treatment of the lovers’ bodies emphasizes their sensuality. “Allegory of Luxuria” is one of the clearest examples among Italian paintings of the Cinquecento of the changes from the earlier depiction of disguised eroticism to eroticism manifested as overt sexual fantasy. The relationship between art, nude and women have been brought on new levels with the emergence of new artistic movements. For instance, the surrealists chose to embrace the illicit and often dark side of human nature.
They canonized the Marquis de Sade and invented a cult of love that elevated libertinism. They employed Sigmund Freud’s method of evoking repressed material through free dream association and took greatest interest in the psychiatrist’s theories on sex (Eros) and death (Thanatos) (Belton, 1995). The surrealists expressed their opinions freely on such matters as female orgasm, onanism, and sadomasochism and other sexual perversions, and often made sex the subject of their work.
Artists like Max Ernst, René Magritte, Salvador Dali, and Paul Delvaux created artworks that shocked on two levels, the candor with which they depicted sexuality and the odd juxtaposition of subjects and objects that do not belong together in the rational, real world. Dali’s “Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by Her Own Chastity” (1954) recalls his scandalous publication “Reverie” “Le Surréalisme ASDLR” but this time in oil. The figure of a nude female wearing high-heels dominates the painting. She is shown from the rear, looking out a window onto the Mediterranean. Her buttocks spread and metamorphosize into two phalluses.
Below her buttocks is what appears to be a third phallus, ready to sodomize the “young virgin.” In the context of discussed painting by Dali, some explanations provided by Laura Mulvey (1975) can be considered justified. According to Mulvey’s critique on classical Hollywood film, the sexual apparatus of exploitation continues with the camera lens acting as a voyeuristic sadistic eye; the female star is placed in a masochistic subject position of narcissism in compensation for the male spectator’s castration anxieties.It is necessary to emphasize that throughout their modern history, women were no more a mere observers of their discrimination, sexism and false stereotypes. Thus, in the beginning of twentieth century, the sole concentration of the Women’s Movement has been made on obtaining of the suffrage, a major objective that has not been achieved in 1868 with the Fourteenth Amendment and in 1870 with the Fifteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. However, with decades the focus of Women’s Movement has been shifting to expansion of civil rights, which can be seen on the examples of abortion and divorce rights.
The suffrage movement’s strategy was to develop a sophisticated lobbying effort at every level of state government. For instance, Carrie Chapman Catt of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) had devised a plan of action for some legislative sessions. Labeled the “precinct plan” it was first implemented in the 1896 Idaho and California suffrage campaigns. In 1911, largely due to activities of women suffrage organizations California women obtained full voting rights. In August 1920, Congress adopted the Nineteenth Amendment, according to which women gained the right to vote in all federal, state, and local elections.
However, the consequences of this achievement were controversial. At the time, the adoption of the suffrage amendment was perceived as an enormous victory because the women’s movement assumed that formal and de facto rights were one and the same. The leaders believed that the “right to vote” would empower women and give them the equality they had sought in the political, economic, and social arenas for almost a century. Many women’s groups disbanded, not to be revitalized for another forty years. In 1926, Bertha Knight Landes became the first female elected mayor of the US big city, namely Seattle, Washington. In the 1960s, as an aftermath of civil rights and anti-war movements, the debate on abortion rights began in California.
Women who supported abortion rights argued that laws prohibiting abortion created problems with both criminal and therapeutic abortions, and they argued that certain kinds of abortions, such as those undertaken to safeguard the health of the woman or to terminate pregnancy after rape or incest, deserved the protection of the law. In 1967, the Colorado legislature passed a law allowing abortion up to the sixteenth week of pregnancy if a doctor agreed that carrying to term would endanger the physical and emotional health of a woman, or if there was a suspicion of fetal abnormality. Abortion was also allowed for women whose pregnancies resulted from rape or incest. In California, the Therapeutic Abortion Act in 1968 allowed for abortion to be performed for reasons that went beyond simply protecting the physical life of the woman, but physicians would retain effective control over a woman’s decision and a significant number of abortion requests would still be denied. In 1970, California launched a “divorce revolution” when the state legislature abolished the fault requirement in divorce proceedings. Thus, there was no longer any need to demonstrate moral wrongdoing by either spouse. And “justice” required, according to feminists, along with a new breed of lawyers specializing in family law, that the traditional roles of breadwinner/husband and homemaker/wife be abolished for purposes of determining what was to happen after a divorce. The courts consequently assumed that the “new woman” would be able to support herself soon after divorce.
In May 1971, the California Supreme Court – one year earlier than the U.S. Supreme Court – declared that sex classifications were “suspect” and required, therefore, “compelling justification.” In 1987, in a case widely hailed by women’s groups as a resounding success, the Supreme Court ruled in California Federal Savings & Loan Association v. Guerra that states may require employers to grant special job protection to employees who are physically unable to work because of pregnancy. The Court upheld a California law requiring employers to grant up to four months of unpaid leave to women disabled by pregnancy and childbirth, even if similar leaves are not granted for other disabilities. That achievement has been largely gained with efforts of Women’s movement.Contemporary Issues of Sexism: Women, Media and BeyondAlthough there were many positive outcomes in female movement during the twentieth century, which resulted in shifts in female perception in society as well as triggered positive trends in sociocultural place women occupy in society, in contemporary context sexism or inadequate attitude, like to supplementary or outsider’ position, to women still occur.
Mainstream sociology, tackling the issue of gender, focuses on the unequal position of men and women within the social structure. Key areas investigated include the family, work and pay, and sexuality. The devaluation of women’s role, whether as mothers, wives, or workers has been a central concern. For the sociologist, femininity is acquired and reproduced through socialization and the development of selfconcept. Real-life role models, the exposure in childhood to forms of activity and play that naturalize gender divisions, and the influence of the media and other cultural forms, encourage men and women in adult life both to adopt behaviour that reinforces gender-specific roles, and to internalize the appropriateness of this as part of their own sense of identity.Gender as a category is often linked by sociologists to other forms of social classification such as class or ethnicity. Results, for example, of a self-attitude test incorporated into interviews with 40 married mothers in Ann Oakley’s pioneering study of housework found that middle-class women tended to base their self-concept on their individual personality characteristics, whereas working-class women were more likely to define themselves in terms of their domestic role. Other studies have challenged white assumptions about the socialization process.
Standard accounts of the construction of femininity are accused of ignoring the impact of the specific family structures and work experiences of ethnic minority groups (Mirza, 71-72 ).For the sociologist investigating gender, the media play an important part in setting stereotypes and promoting a limited number of role models. Unlike social psychologists, who mainly adopt a developmental approach to socialization, sociologists concentrate on adult influences. The concept of the stereotype is used to criticize the reduction of the three-dimensional quality of the real to a one-dimensional and distorted form.
Particularly when the group being stereotyped is already in a disadvantaged position, the stereotype intensifies the offence. From bra-burning feminists to house-proud housewives, from sex-crazed seductresses to neurotic career-women, the media regularly serve a menu of female stereotypes that stimulates misogynistic taste buds. Yet, as Tessa Perkins pointed out, stereotypes survive by undergoing change, and by convincing us that they are not entirely false, but contain a ‘kernel of truth’ (Perkins, 137). Like ideology, the stereotype works by being plausible, and by masking its own value-system. Those who criticize the limitations of the stereotype often also demand a wider range of positive role models, especially for groups that are denigrated or marginalized. The relative lack, for example, of professional women in soap operas, or of fat, disabled or Asian women in women’s magazines, attracts frequent censure.
There are, however, a number of problems in relying on stereotypes as a critical tool. First, this approach suggests that the ideal would be for the media to re-present reality as truthfully and accurately as possible. As I indicated in the Introduction, this begs at least two questions: whose version of reality is to be given priority, and what happens in those instances, such as advertising or film, where the producers’ stated intention is not to represent reality but to conjure up an appealing fantasy world? Hunting stereotypes can be an entertaining but ultimately unrewarding pastime. It can also be dangerous, if we fail to take account of the play on stereotypes that is increasingly common in the media. The short-lived Scottish feminist magazine Harpies and Quines (‘quines’ is a Scottish dialect word for women) provoked a storm of protest in the early months of 1994 when it used an advertising slogan ‘not just for dungaree-clad dykes’ over an image of a sexually alluring woman provocatively sporting a low-cut black dress. Perceived by lesbian readers as insulting, and by heterosexual feminists as advocating Cosmopolitan glamour values, this advertisement appeared to many readers to negate the magazine’s claim that it was intended to be ironical and to poke fun at existing stereotypes.
While sociologists who have transferred from straight sociology to cultural studies have developed important work on the reading and interpretation of images and words, analysis of stereotyping focuses solely on texts. At its crudest, it even disregards how the stereotype is integrated within the text, and is blinkered to the possibility that the same stereotype can be presented within the narrative context of soap opera or film as either a victim or as the protagonist. This distinction in terms of narrative role has more impact on our responses than our understanding of the character’s social role. Listing the media stage entrances of, for example, the 1980s’ stereotype of the ‘superwoman’, effortlessly combining career, children, sexual pleasure and leisure pursuits, tells us nothing about how we are invited to respond to her. To answer this crucial question we need to attend both to her role within the text’s structure, and to the varying reactions of different audiences.Tracing dominant stereotypes historically is more helpful in revealing changing ideologies.
Why the ‘vamp’ should have been popular in the early decades of the century, the ‘dumb blond’ in the middle, and the ‘superwoman’ in the last quarter, are issues worth exploring in the quest to understand how myths of femininity have changed. Equally revealing is the continuing imbalance in both the extent and quality of male and female stereotyping in media constructions. Stereotypes of men (e.g.
‘macho man) may elicit negative emotions but they do little to dent male authority. Even the ‘new man’ stereotype, far from weakening male power, has been cynically viewed by some critics as an attempt to shore up masculinity’s defences against the erosion of feminism (Chapman, 231).Women have long been encouraged to view their bodies as intrinsically related to their sexual desirability. Female sexuality, in media and advertising discourses, is normally perceived to end by the time a woman enters her forties.
By associating sexual feelings with bodily perfection, the point of view remains firmly masculine. One of the reasons why women regard soap opera as offering a positive representation of their lives is its willingness to include older women who still take pride in their appearance and who refuse to deny their sexuality. Women’s magazines, on the other hand, replace sexuality with romance for the older woman.
As the joke goes, Vogue will tell you how to have an orgasm with style, but Woman’s Weekly (aimed at older women) will tell you how to knit one. Male sexuality has floated free of the constraints of age, with concepts such as ‘virility’ and ‘potency’ relating for the duration of a man’s life to the energetic and active functioning of the body rather than its aesthetic quality.For women, ageing is constructed as a process to be feared and avoided as long as possible, while for men it often enhances status and prestige. The different cultural perception of the process of growing older by men and women in the western world has attracted considerable attention (Arber and Ginn, 28 ). Because of the close relationship for women between appearance and identity, the signs of ageing trigger worries about loss of social value and esteem that have no equivalent for men (even hair loss – despite its more dramatic visual impact than wrinkles or greying hair – raises more muted anxieties). Historically, in western industrialized societies, old women have been characterized as witches, hags, old maids and crones, while in other cultures, as Arber and Ginn point out, the older woman can be regarded as a source of wisdom and leadership (Arber and Ginn, 48).The fear of ageing is stimulated by the glossy women’s magazines and driven by advertisers of the multitude of products claiming age-delaying or even age-reversing properties.
By the mid-1980s, skin-care products. and eye gels were using scientific or quasi-scientific discourse to sell themselves to the affluent reader (most of these products were and are expensive). Women, the traditional carers of others, were now invited to devote as much nurturing attention to their own skins.
Preventive action was encouraged, as advertisers targeted younger rather than older women’s magazines. Lancôme was in the 1980s one of the first manufacturers to claim a breakthrough in the battle against ‘the pressure of time’. The discovery of Niosomes ™ as ‘unique microscopic spheres which match the skin’s natural supporting structure’ formed the ‘principle [sic] constituent of Niosome Système Anti-Age’ (Cosmopolitan, December 1986, 42-3).
This was easy to follow compared with the language of 1990s’ advertisements, addressing a readership now well versed in the ageing properties of sunlight and polluted atmospheres. ‘Liposomes’ (Vichy) and ‘Ceramides’ ( Elizabeth Arden) enlarged the reader’s vocabulary at the same time as they promised to extend the anti-ageing resistance of her skin. For the skeptical, quantifying the advantages was meant to offer reassurance. Elizabeth Arden’s claims for its moisturizing cream were typical: ‘supercharged with HCA, a unique alpha-hydroxy complex, ceramides and other skincaring essentials; boosts skin’s hydration level over 450% after one hour’ (Marie Claire, November 1993, 134).
Even more frightening are the statistics provided by the advertisement copy for Lancaster skin therapy: ‘At 30, the skin’s oxygen content is already down by 25%. Fine lines are the first tell-tale sign. Lancaster has developed a revolutionary technology: pure oxygen molecules encapsulated in a smooth, light cream are channeled deep into the epidermal layers’ (Marie Claire, November 1993, 36-7). By increasing oxygen in the skin, the advertisement claims, ‘wrinkle depth is reduced by 40%’.By employing quasi-scientific discourses, these advertisements replaced skin-care’s association with narcissism and beauty with an address to the postfeminist woman: aware, self-reliant and taking responsibility for her own future and well-being. The products’ long-researched chemical structure also, of course, justified the inflated prices charged for the products.
Caring for the body, a developing obsession of the 1980s, was never going to come cheaply, as manufacturers took advantage of the new navel-contemplation, and the worlds of sport and casual fashion became increasingly intertwined. Cycling shorts and shell suits, trainers and baseball caps indicate how interwoven the connections between sport, fashion and identity became during this decade. A trend of the 1980s that extended across the gender and ethnic boundaries, this syndrome had an added urgency for women.
In the economic and cultural context of a society that devalues older women in other ways, by debarring them from many employment opportunities, removing them from prominent visual positions in the media, and discounting the management and negotiating skills that many older women have acquired within their child-rearing roles, advertising discourses that imply that grey hair and wrinkles are signposts towards the scrap-heap acquire additional power. Middleaged and older women as voices of authority (in, for example, television news and current affairs programs or documentaries) are not yet routinely established, although they are edging their way into visibility. Female film and television stars, likely to become recognized at an earlier age than their male counterparts, also have a much shorter shelflife than their male equivalents (Levy, 251-7).
Older female stars, such as Joan Collins, become best known for their curiosity value and their dependency on the aids of the beauty industries.Women philosophers and artists have increasingly over the last two decades questioned the traditional relationship between female identity and the body. Luce Irigaray has pointed out the importance of touch in women’s experience of their bodies. For women, she claims, the experience of touching takes the sensual place occupied by looking for men (Moi, 143-4). Visual representation in the popular media, with its problematic relation between text and audience, poses difficulties for exploring new approaches to female sexuality. In the arts, women have more scope to explore new relationships between artefact and spectator. The threedimensional and tactile nature of sculpture offers particular freedom.
Niki de Saint Phalle’s vibrant and exuberant sculptures of the female form (‘Les Nanas’) suggest the possibilities of a different relationship between looker and constructed form (Wikipedia, 2006). Encouraging participation and touch (one giant Nana invites the spectator to walk in through the vagina), and exalting size, energy and color, her sculptures celebrate female vitality and pleasure. Larger than life, unruly but never grotesque, her women’s outsize bodies invite admiration, not disdain (Chilvers, 194). Her inspiration for this work came from her antipathy to the Twiggy craze of the 1960s, and was no doubt intensified by her own experiences as a model for American Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar in the 1940s.
In the medium of photography, too, the process of reclaiming women’s bodies for the exploration of women’s own experience is well developed. Both Cindy Sherman and Jo Spence, in collaboration with Rosy Martin, have used photography as an autobiographical medium to challenge the simplicity of the correlation between bodily image and identity that prevails elsewhere in culture. Their projects are sharply different, with Sherman exploring her own body in a number of poses from imagined film narratives in Untitled Film Stills, or playing with the conventions of the centrefold spread to unsettle the ‘male gaze’. Spence and Martin courageously express the psychic and physical anguish of the woman struggling with identity against the ravages of both a repressive culture and a destructive disease (Jo Spence used photography as a therapeutic means of dealing with her breast cancer) (Jobling, 47-48) Breaking down our voyeuristic inclinations by declaring openly that these are images of themselves, these photographs put subjectivity within the frame, and force us to explore our own relationship to the visual representation of bodies that we are more accustomed to viewing in objectified form.
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