April 20, 2012

Rekha Basu Reports on the Screening of Miss Representation

From the Des Moines Register, Written by Rekha Basu, April 20, 2012
The New York Times reported last Sunday on women so desperate to lose weight before their weddings that they’re going on feeding tubes for eight days at a time to avoid eating.
My husband was on a feeding tube before his death. The tubes deliver fluids to people too sick to chew or swallow food. They prolong life but replace some of its most sensual pleasures. What a subversion of life-saving technology to use it for streamlining a figure. And what a distortion of medical ethics for a doctor to participate.
Enhancements that once sounded extreme in their invasiveness, risk factors and costs have become normalized in pursuit of female bodily perfection and to forestall the inevitable signs of aging. Feeding tubes for weight are just the latest twist in the continuum of purging and starvation, Botox and facelifts, buttock implants and breast augmentations.

Not all woman are going to those lengths, but every woman who watches television or music videos, or reads fashion magazines gets The Memo. The one that says “Look sexier, skinnier, younger or risk being ugly, unloved and irrelevant.”
Even women who take pride in their accomplishments and had rejected the idea of going under the knife or getting injected with botulism admit, in a film called “Miss Representation,” to succumbing in order to stay viable as actresses.
The movie was screened at Drake University Tuesday night by the Chrysalis Foundation for Women and Drake’s Student Activists for Gender Equality (SAGE). It focused on the role of mass media in perpetrating unrealistic images of beauty and sex appeal and the sexism underlying them.
Commercials sell images, part of whose goal is to keep us feeling insecure about how we look so we’ll keep buying the products. It works at all age and income levels.
“It’s obscene, the spending,” said Sheila Brassel, the president of SAGE of how much even college women pay to primp themselves up. “If you’re struggling financially, the last thing you will cut as a college student is the specific salon brand shampoo you use.” For some, it’s nail care. Even spending on high school proms has hit $1,078 on average, according to USA Today.
Brassel’s organization tries to get students to look critically at those idealized images and persuade young women not to hang their sense of self-worth on male acceptance. But she says some women balk at the idea of feminism, fearing that to call themselves that will make them unattractive to men.

Some of the TV talking heads carrying on about how a woman looks, or should, or what she might have done to look that way, are themselves women. Actress Ashley Judd was recently provoked to fight back at the gossip and speculation surrounding her puffy face after she’d been on steroids for a sinus infection. The 44-year-old who appears on television’s “Missing” was being accused of having plastic surgery.
In the April 9 Daily Beast, Judd wrote, “This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times — I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.”
Not that women are alone. Men can be especially hard on aging actresses and female politicians. When actress Demi Moore was hospitalized in January, two months after breaking up from her younger husband, Ashton Kutcher, a male commentator informed us her real problem was being 49.
For those of us who grew up in the women’s movement, these discussions bring a frustrating sense of déjà vu. Didn’t we learn to value ourselves beyond our looks and to support one another instead of competing and back-stabbing? And didn’t men get Our Memo — the one demanding equal treatment?
“I’m pissed off,” said a woman of my generation after the screening of “Miss Representation,” recalling the sense of possibilities when sports first opened up for girls and people were picketing for the Equal Rights Amendment.

Organizers of the film showing suggested actions for young women to take, from boycotting magazines, movies and TV shows that objectify and degrade women to campaigning for female candidates to “Stop talking about your weight (especially in front of young girls).”
Women’s activism needs to be rekindled at younger ages, in middle and high schools. Girls need to be taught to stand up for themselves and not hand their power over to men. And boys need to be shown alternative models of manhood.
No woman should be raised to believe that getting thin through a feeding tube is the way to start a good marriage. Nor should any man.