Saturday, December 15, 2012

Posing for Charity

My fiancé and I are giant dorks who love to show each other stuff we've found on the internet. Occasionally these things are socially acceptable to share with the masses. The other day Don showed me a post he had found on Jim C. Hines' blog that I immediately knew I had to blog about.

Hines, a fantasy writer, is raising money for the Aicardi Syndrome Foundation in a rather unusual way: by taking photographs of himself posing in the ridiculous and hyper-sexualized manner of women on book covers. You can find some of these photos here, here, and here (with special guest poser, John Scalzi). You can also find a post about what we should be laughing about when we see these photos rather than what we might be laughing about here. As Hines himself says:
...if you’re laughing because you’re a straight guy and therefore must declare all male bodies brain-searingly ugly? If you’re laughing because you think a man in a dress is funny and should be mocked? In other words, if you’re laughing because of various aspects of ingrained sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other discriminatory nonsense? Then you’ve missed the point so badly it’s not even funny.
The point Hines is trying to make is a good one. We as a society tend to laugh at that which we find absurd...and we find the wrong things absurd. The media has shown us images of men in dresses (think TootsieMrs. Doubtfire, Work It, etc.) and told us to laugh at them. In a world where sexuality and gender expression are a spectrum and in which rigid gender roles are forced on us from birth even if we don't want them to be, the message from the media is that men should wear pants and suits and that only women can wear dresses and skirts and that any man who doesn't fall into those strict guidelines should be laughed at. Our pink/blue dichotomy is impressed upon us even before we're out of the womb and the media does everything in its power to keep us thinking of ourselves in an either/or sense--mostly for the sake of advertising products and measuring demographics, I'm sure.

Hines is pointing out the absurdity of the aforementioned ridiculous and hyper-sexualized poses that women are portrayed in on book covers. Science fiction and fantasy are ripe with examples of this, but they can be found everywhere. How many times have you seen a man lying across a car in a skimpy bathing suit or lasciviously licking an ice cream cone on a commercial? I'm going to guesstimate here and say the likelihood that you have is around zero.

Escher Girls, a tumblr blog designed to "archive and showcase the prevalence of certain ways women are depicted in illustrated pop media, specifically how women are posed, drawn, distorted, and sexualized out of context, often in ridiculous, impossible or disturbing ways that sacrifice storytelling," explores the issue even further than Hines does by ridiculing and attempting to correct illustrations of women that are featured in comic books, manga, and the like. Both Hines and Escher Girls realize the real thing to be laughed at is the way in which women are portrayed in the media.

We have sexualized women for ages, demeaning and degrading them and making them out to be objects rather than functioning members of society. Men, on the other hand, are portrayed as being strong, rugged, powerful...and irresistible to women. The repercussions of this reverberate throughout the world, leading to rape, abuse, disempowerment, and a feeling that men are the superior sex. Our language further perpetuates this false belief. Someone who is scared or weak is "a pussy." Someone who is bad at pitching is told they "throw like a girl." Women who are strong and in a position of power are frequently portrayed as "bitches" who have slept their way to the top while a man in the same position of power is seen as a driven, hard-working individual who earned his distinction. The gender gap isn't about the differences between men and women; it's an unfortunate byproduct of deeply-held and erroneous cultural attitudes towards women.

As Hines states, it is not just sexism that is the issue. Homophobia and transphobia are similar cultural issues that need to be dealt with. I am a member of the LGBT community and have faced harassment and ridicule. LGBT friends of mine have had even worse to deal with: violence, discrimination, neglect. They have been disowned by their parents or have at least lived in fear of that happening if their family were to find out. A lot of the problems that the community faces stem from cultural beliefs held about us that are perpetuated by the media and religious groups. There is a good reason why GLAAD called ABC out on its show Work It: it's yet another attempt by the media to push the "men in dresses are funny" meme. And it's gotten pretty old.

This honestly started out as a post bringing awareness to Hines' efforts to raise money for a good cause. And I urge you to donate to it, obviously. But what started as a simple "Hey, here's something interesting" post has become a way for me to discuss what I think is a huge problem in our society today: othering. We see the world as "us" and "them." If "they" are different from "us" then we dehumanize them by laughing at them, hurting them, conquering them, trying to keep them from having what we have. Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ageism, and the like are all ways of othering, of keeping all the power and money and whatever else we desire away from "them."

The issue isn't with the people being othered; it is with the people doing the othering. This country (and every other country) needs deep societal change in order to push forward toward equality. The only way that we are going to be able to provide safety, success, and a loving environment for all is to take a look at our prejudices, whether we know we have them or not, and to change ourselves. Our beliefs are not our own--they are influenced by the media, the government, religion, our parents. They are pushed upon us at an early age and it is up to us to break out of them and to start thinking for ourselves. They are socially driven but can be individually altered.

How are you working towards changing your own beliefs? How are you trying to break out of the social status quo?


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