Archive for December, 2010
What would the world be like today if it were three wise women who traveled with gifts to the see the king of the Jews in the Christmas story? What if the shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night were women and they were the ones who got to hear the angels announce the birth? What if it were a little drummer girl who played for the baby Jesus? What if a woman ruled the Roman world instead of Caesar Augustus?
At Christmas, why does everyone only make gingerbread men? If it were Grandpa who got ran over by a reindeer, would the song still be so funny? Why not build a Frosty the snow-woman? What if it were daddy who the kids saw kissing Santa Claus? And speaking of Santa, imagine how much more fun Christmas would be for little girls if there were a female version of Santa, too.
The good news is that, although traditional thought does not recognize it, all of Santa’s reindeer – Rudolf, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen – are female. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, “While both male and female reindeer grow antlers in the summer each year, male reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of winter, usually late November to mid December. Female reindeer retain their antlers till after they give birth in the spring.” Therefore, according to every historical rendition depicting Santa’s reindeer, every single one of them, from Rudolf to Blitzen … had to be a female.
Finally! We get to hear about some females in the during the holiday season (although I think many would still assume Santa’s reindeer are males). I think you get my point, though. Women are left out of all the traditional stories surrounding this celebration time of the year. This is just one celebration connected to one religion in our very big world, but it is a good example of how women have long been omitted from most historical accounts and traditional folklore.
The sole woman in the biblical account of the Christmas story is Mary, the mother of the baby Jesus. I am pretty sure the only reason Mary was included is because a woman was needed to give birth. However, think of how much better the miracle would have been if a man had given birth instead of a virgin. Just saying.
Moreover, if a woman was queen of Judea, instead of Herod being the king, I would bet my bottom dollar there would have been no order to kill all the little boys who were two years and younger so no baby king could rise to take the throne. My reasoning on this matter is similar to the reason I believe that if a woman were president of the US when George Bush went to war, there would have been no war – women seem to value the lives of children more.
Therefore, I have decided to write my own holiday story that is all about women. Now don’t be mad, guys! You have plenty of stories, songs and prose about you. It is time for the women have some fun this Christmas. When you are reading my poem, please think of the classic poem by Clemens Moore, “Twas the night before Christmas.”
Twas the week before the New Year and all through the nation
Women were contemplating and pondering their station
What one does with one’s life is, after all, a great matter
So, best friends were consulted and thus began the chatter
One bright Girlfriend made it clear, girl don’t you marry for money
Yep, said another, as we all know, easy come easy go, honey
You gotta make your own way and be your own lady
‘Cause what happens if Mr. Right turns out to be Mr. Shady?
Don’t chase rude boys, said Bestie, they are nothing but trouble
If you think they are cute, you’d best change your mind on the double
Girlfriend said, hey, don’t forget to get yourself an education
That’s right said Sis, we know life ain’t no free vacation
Headaches and heartaches can be avoided when a girl thinks right
Don’t ditch girlfriends for a passing guy, keep your girls tight
A question is posed, but what if I find a guy who seems to care
Great, answered Sis, you found someone with whom life you can share
But, said Bestie, you don’t give up your life to please someone else
If he truly loves you for you, he will want you to be yourself
He won’t ask you to give up your family, your career or your friends
He would never scare you, beat you and leave you to mend
Girlfriend said, my Christmas wish is that in the New Year
No women are physically or mentally tormented and living in fear
All the girlfriends piped in, yep, that is my Christmas wish too
As they gazed at the fairy lights, the feeling of love was strong and true
In her red dress, Santa stopped by to see the girls and drop off their gifts
Sis picked up a snow globe of Frostie the snow-woman – it gave her a lift
As did the smell of baking gingerbread women that wafted through air
The girlfriends gave a group hug; grateful for the friendship they shared
These were three very wise women; of that there was no doubt
These ladies know just who they are and what life is all about
The table was set, the candles aglow, food aplenty with all the trimmings
The girls joined hands and declared, peace on earth and goodwill toward women
While my oldest daughter, who is stunningly beautiful, was growing up, I always reminded her that no matter how beautiful she is on the outside, if she is ugly on the inside…then she is just plain ugly. Today she is a beautiful woman – on the outside and the inside. My hope is to convey this same message to the girls growing up today.
Young women growing up today spend so much time fretting about their hair, makeup, clothes, shoes, etc. They primp incessantly; yet I wonder if they spend any time at all grooming their manners, their kindness or their generosity. Being rude seems en vogue lately – and I think it is just ugly.
With rude role models in the media and in real life, it seems a natural evolution for young women to follow the examples set for them. I have seen some young women who are very beautiful on the outside, but their dominant behavior is malicious and spiteful. It is a very ugly thing to watch.
Even worse, these women justify their mean and nasty actions by saying they are just “keeping it real.” Absolute nonsense! Disregard for the feelings of others is not keeping it real – it is keeping everything about one self-absorbed person. When that ugly girl needs to have others who are honestly real around for support, she will find herself all alone.
Let’s face it, ugly is as ugly does. Webster’s Dictionary defines ugly as “offensive or unpleasant to any sense.” I find mean, self-centered, obnoxious, malicious and spiteful girls to be very ugly. In fact, I do not waste my time around such young women or grown women. I have better things to do with my time than to squander it on people who do not give a second thought about hurting others.
On December 19, The Huffington Post published an article entitled, “Narcissism: The New Normal?” This piece talks about the fact that narcissism “has become so much a part of our culture, particularly our parenting, that narcissistic traits are considered normal — so much so that if we don’t have a reality show named after us, we use our own phones or video up-links to transmit our private lives to anyone from Alaska to Antarctica who will watch.”
As a society, are we raising our children – both boys and girls – to be narcissists? Are we actually training the next generation to be ugly? The laissez-faire attitude of adults toward ugly behavior from young people is a perfect example that this is the case. Being rude and mean is not cute or cool – it is ugly. And no amount of physically attractive features can make a person who is ugly on the inside an appealing person to be around.
The aforementioned article continued, “People — particularly parents — often confuse true authority with meanness of spirit. They are not the same thing. In fact, a parent who has no authority, who cedes his position to his child, has done that child a great disservice. Authority is benevolent, even though it demands respect. It is loving, even though it will not accept bad behavior. It is structured, which is not the same as strict and certainly does not mean fearsome…And, finally, benevolent authority is critical if we’re going to have anything but a generation of unabashedly self-centered, entitled children who believe the whole world revolves around their desires.”
How much time do young women today spend helping others? How much time do they spend with an elderly relative who cannot leave the house? How much volunteer time is committed to help orphans, the homeless or the poor? Is there any time for the disabled neighbor who needs groceries from the store? Are these activities even important anymore? Or do we only teach our young women to think about themselves all the time?
Raising young women to be grounded and well-rounded adults who give back to the community requires parents to teach them to realize the importance of their internal beauty. Regardless of the fact that society heedlessly rewards women for being beautiful on the outside (i.e. beauty pageants), the internal beauty of a woman is far more important to the woman herself – and to society as a whole.
A woman who is ugly on the inside will one day have a harsh awakening when she realizes the world does not, in fact, revolve around her. She will have difficulty forming and maintaining relationships and she will feel lonely because her ugly ways have alienated even those who truly care about her.
In the community, the woman who is beautiful on the outside will get stares, catcalls and the attention of the males, but unless she contributes to the community with more than her physical appeal, what service does that woman provide for humanity? What good has she done to make the world a better place? What legacy of significance has she left for the next generation?
Women have so much more to offer the world than just external beauty. Women have brilliant minds, creative spirits, political prowess, spiritual intuition, business expertise and commanding leadership skills. These are the far more vital features for which women should be rewarded – not something as shallow and trivial as outward beauty.
A woman’s outward beauty is a biological endowment. The woman has no control over what society deems beautiful on the outside or whether she was born to be beautiful. However, the parents and the young woman craft the internal beauty. The older the girl gets, the more responsibility she assumes for her internal beauty. A woman who has molded herself to be beautiful on the inside should garner far more admiration from society than one who happened to be born with outward beauty.
While the television, pop stars, magazines, commercials and billboards tell our daughters that outside beauty is important, we need to make sure they understand their internal beauty is even more important.
Women have been dying in stunning numbers while giving birth. Internationally, it seems that during the past few months, woman after woman has died in childbirth. This is yet one more demonstration of how little society values women’s lives.
According to the International Initiative on Maternal Mortality and Human Rights (IIMMHR), “Over 500,000 women die every year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. These tragic and preventable deaths are the culmination of human rights violations against women and girls in many aspects of their lives and at all levels of health decision-making. Ending these human rights violations is essential for preventing maternal death.”
When I recently posted a story on my Facebook page about yet another maternal death in Guyana, South America, one woman’s response was, “Unbelievable! Can we rule out some sort of deliberate activity? This is highly unusual. It’s 2010 for goodness sakes!!!”
This feeling of utter exasperation is exactly how any woman feels concerning the high number of maternal deaths. I have had women tell me that if men were the ones giving birth, this situation would not exist. It is difficult to fight with such logic when even finding a cure for balding hair seems to take medical preference over putting an end to maternal mortality. This problem of preventable maternal deaths has been around for years and solving this issue years ago could have saved the lives of so many women.
It is time for us to recognize preventable maternal mortality for the massive human rights problem that it is. IIMMHR states, “Failure to provide available, accessible, acceptable and quality health care, including emergency obstetric care, for women during pregnancy and childbirth is a violation of women’s rights to life, health, equality and non-discrimination.
Respect and protection of women’s rights to information and decision-making in reproductive health, to freedom from gender-based discrimination and violence, and to participation in planning and implementing health policies are critical for making pregnancy and delivery safer for women.”
The April 16, 2010 Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights said, “According to WHO, UNICEF, the World Bank and other stakeholders, the majority of maternal deaths and disabilities could be prevented through access to sufficient care during pregnancy and delivery and effective interventions. This affirmation is supported by the observation that in some countries maternal mortality has been virtually eliminated. Only 15 per cent of pregnancies and childbirths need emergency obstetric care because of complications that are difficult to predict. WHO estimates that 88 to 98 per cent of maternal deaths are preventable.”
I would be numbered in that small percentage who required medical intervention while having my first child. The umbilical cord was wrapped around my daughter’s neck and even after ten hours of induced labor, I would not dilate. The child was safely delivered via caesarean section and both she and I lived. A hundred years ago, in all likelihood, we would have both died. In today’s modern world, it is a given that every woman deserves a right to a healthy delivery.
What is to be done? What can fix a system that is still plagued by neglect and incompetence in many countries?
According to IIMMHR, “An effective response requires that we look beyond the delivery of quality health services and embrace the language and norms of human rights. A human rights approach to reducing maternal mortality is a powerful tool for several reasons: 1) It ensures that we can hold governments and others to account for their policies, programs, projects and pledges to reduce maternal mortality; 2) It empowers people to advocate for rights related to maternal health; 3) It offers civil society a means by which to engage in a constructive dialogue with governments around their responsibility to ensure safe pregnancy and childbirth; and 4) It places women’s equality and well-being at the center of governmental responses to reproductive rights and health issues. A human rights approach to maternal health plays a critical role in legitimizing, promoting and enforcing norms, policies and programs that seek to reduce maternal mortality.”
It is heartbreaking when the hopes and dreams of expectant parents are dashed into pieces when the mother – and possibly the child – dies during delivery when it could have been prevented. More to the point, it is a moral wrong and the inaction of the government to fix this situation years ago is simply indefensible.
In closing, some final words from IIMMHR, “Experience in various countries over the past decades has demonstrated that maternal mortality can be reduced significantly and sustainable when it becomes a political priority.
Even though dying of an easily preventable cause is a human rights violation—as much as extrajudicial executions, torture, and arbitrary detentions are—the connection between maternal mortality and human rights has not been widely recognized. The time is ripe for an effort that confronts this unacceptable situation.”
There are a million reasons for women to feel bad about themselves. It seems a woman never measures up to any number of measuring sticks when it comes to cooking, cleaning, style, beauty, intelligence, motherhood, etc. Women are subject to a constant bombardment of advertisements that tell them how they can improve themselves – because, according to the world, women need to be improved.
Why do these ads insist that women do not measure up?
According to “Flattery Will Get an Ad Nowhere,” a December 10 New York Times article,”Apparently, it doesn’t take much to make a girl feel plain. Just looking at an object intended to enhance beauty makes women feel worse about themselves, according to a study from the April 2011 issue of The Journal of Consumer Research.”
In other words, advertisers feel they must create a need. In fashion apparel and shoes, hair products, cosmetics, anti-aging creams and lotions – as well as many other areas – the need is that a woman needs to look better. Therefore, it is necessary to make her feel she is not good enough yet and needs the advertised product to make her better than she is without it.
The article continues, “The study looked at how women responded to an image of something (say, a high-heeled shoe) depicted in an advertisement and as a simple photograph with no advertising context. According to the authors — led by Debra Trampe, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands — advertised products, unlike unadvertised products, affect both whether and how the viewer thinks of herself afterward.
In other words, an image of the high-heeled shoe in a stylish advertisement is likely to trigger a sense of inadequacy.”
In an attempt to satisfy their thirst for money, advertisers spend billions of dollars on making women feel inferior so they will buy a product that is supposed to make them better.
Better than what? As it is, most women will not even leave the house without makeup on their face, because they are not “good enough” without the makeup. Meanwhile, men are just fine the way they are…no makeup, no unnatural and uncomfortable high heels to walk around in all day, no form-fitting or low-cut clothing to put body parts on display.
This is just madness. How can women ever get to a place where they feel good about themselves while every television commercial, every magazine, every music video, screams that they will never measure up? This type of pressure for women to be someone other than who they are is unreasonable and immoral.
The New York Times article said, “According to the study, ‘advertisements displaying beauty-enhancing (rather than problem-solving) products are likely to remind consumers of their own shortcomings.’ This, in turn, makes them view themselves more negatively. The authors quote Christopher Lasch, who back in the 1970s said, ‘modern’ advertising ‘seeks to create needs, not to fulfill them; it generates new anxieties instead of allaying old ones.’”
This is the world in which women live. This is the world in which our daughters are growing up.
Who do these advertisers think they are to believe it is ethical to sell low self-esteem to millions of women just to make money? There are so many other ways to sell their products that would not leave women around the world feeling like they will never be good enough.
I would have to be starved for something to read before I would pick up a fashion magazine. I simply refuse to allow others to decide what I should look like – what shoes I should wear, what clothes I should buy, what make-up looks best on me, whether I need to use anti-aging creams…and even what feminine products I should use. I prefer to be a woman of my own choosing.
When it comes down the bare bones of advertising, ads are crafted to make women feel ugly. Why on earth would I subject myself to such degradation? The truly ironic part of reading this article on the New York Times Website is that right alongside the article was an ad with a nude woman covered only by two baby lions and a Bulgari bag. My reaction to the ad is that I am offended.
I am offended that the advertisers think so little of me that they will put a nude woman on their ad and think it will some how provoke me to buy their product. I want to know the details about the bag. I am also offended because I am aware that the woman in that ad is not even real. She has been ‘photoshopped’ and tweaked to the point that she is not a real woman at all.
However, these types of ads do work many times and until women recognize what is going on – that they are being made to feel ugly and held to unrealistic standards just so advertisers and their clients can make money – these degrading ads will continue. It is time to stop buying products from ads that demean women. It is time to start buying from ads that are informative and attract the customer based on the facts of the product.
Remember this women, it is an insult to you every time an ad makes you feel like you would be a better woman if only you had that product. Don’t respond to the offense by buying that product. It’s time women demand that advertisers find a way to market goods without selling low self-esteem.
(The following is a combination of my thoughts and excerpts from “Women & Self-Esteem” by Linda Tschirhart Sanford and Mary Ellen Donovan, a great book I recommend for all women.)
Self-esteem is something probably everyone wants and which everyone definitely needs. We want self-esteem because it increases our chance of finding happiness in life and makes it possible to cope with life’s disappointments and changes. We need self-esteem because nothing is as important to psychological well-being.
Our level of self-esteem affects virtually everything we think, say and do. It affects how we see the world and our place in it. It affects how others in the world see and treat us. It affects the choices we make – choices about what we will do with our lives and with whom we will be involved. It affects our ability to both give and receive love. And it affects our ability to take action to change things that need to be changed.
If a woman has an insufficient amount of self-esteem, she will not be able to act in her own best interest. And if a woman has no self-esteem at all, she will become overwhelmed, immobile and eventually will “give up.” Many women unfortunately have gone through life with a minimum of self-esteem – just enough to enable their survival, but not enough to enable them to live as fully and to be as happy as they might have been.
According to the age-old double standard, high self-esteem is an exclusively male prerogative. In men it is seen as a moral good, and a man who likes and values himself and lets the world know is considered normal, and is said to be demonstrating a healthy self-interest. But a woman who likes and values herself and lets the world know is condemned for being vain, arrogant and conceited.
In fact, if a woman walks by with a confident stride, other females are likely to look at her and say, “Who does she think she is?” instead of being content to see a female with self-confidence. However, if a male walks by with that same confident stride, it is seen as normal, healthy and even attractive.
Many women accept their low self-esteem as a seemingly unalterable fact of life. Many, taught as most women are, that a good woman is humble and self-effacing, go so far as to maintain that there is something noble and virtuous, something appealing and feminine about self-hatred and self-denigration.
Moreover, other than having the capacity to achieve personal happiness, another reason self-esteem is an especially important issue for women is that individual levels of self-esteem also have political implications, affecting our actions and status as a group.
Women in a male-dominated world face many formidable obstacles men do not face. These obstacles are not going to magically disappear. Women must bring them down by standing up against them. Every gain women have made in obtaining greater equality in the workplace, in the eyes of the law, in religious institutions, in the media, in the professions and in the inter-personal sphere, has been at the cost of enormous struggle on the part of individual women working together. Sustaining that sort of struggle, and mounting new struggles, requires that women value themselves.
When one woman suffers the unhappiness of feeling that she is not worth much, nor capable of much either, it is easy to say hers is an individual problem. But when thousands of women suffer from lack of self-worth and have limited views of their capabilities, then what we are talking about is a group problem of enormous political implications. Only by raising ourselves in our own estimation can we bring all women up.
What is self-esteem? Self-esteem is the reputation you have with yourself. On the other hand, self-image is the set of beliefs and images we all have of ourselves.
For example, our self-image can include easily verifiable aspects of ourselves like: I am a woman, I am tall or short, I am a mother, I am poor, etc. And it can include aspects not so easily verifiable, like: I am smart, I am ugly, I am sexy, I am unlovable, I am worthless, I am incompetent. Self-esteem is the measure of how much we like and approve of our self-image.
Women are so hard on themselves because of a distorted view of themselves. Women’s self-esteem is impacted negatively by feelings that we do not measure up to what society expects us to be. I have long struggled with the fact that women are supposed to be compliant and quiet because I am a fighter and opinionated. In fact, I seldom fit into any of the traditional roles set out for women.
I believe every woman struggles like I did – to some extent or another – to fit into that small box society has placed us. But I think it is time we break that box to pieces and redefine ourselves as the women we want to be.
When this happens, when we can find the courage to be the women we want to be, that is when we will start to see healthy female self-esteem – and healthy, happy women.