Six times when misogynistic bullshit was sold to us as ‘empowering women’
Written by Jessica Eaton
It’s one of those blogs. And it’s been one of those days. Hold tight.
We have to call time on misogynistic, sexist bullshit being peddled to women as ‘empowerment’. More and more companies, activists, organisations and even governments are latching on to the concept of ‘empowering women’ and then using that concept to flog their wares. Even worse, we’ve seen a move towards misogynistic, sexist, hate-filled language as a way of ‘empowering’ each other as women.
We need to stop. Step back. Take stock – and start to wonder why lots of approaches to ‘empowering women’ actually continue to oppress, objectify and exploit us all.
So here’s six examples of misogyny and sexism being sold to us as ‘empowering women’.
1. Empowering women through boudoir or lingerie photoshoots
This one has throughly annoyed me this week, and inspired this entire blog. So let’s unpick it. A woman has grown, been through the trials and experiences of being a woman in the world, maybe had kids, maybe had traumas, maybe had loss in her life, illness, miscarriage, abuse or operations.
Maybe all of that has worn her down, made her feel tired, unhealthy, unattractive, unworthy.
And what’s the answer to how she’s feeling and everything she’s lived through? By empowering her again. By building her back up. By helping her feel worth something again. And how should we achieve that?
Why, by encouraging her to take her clothes off for a photographer of course!
What more could she possibly need than pictures of herself in awkward poses in lingerie with stupid props to help her feel ‘empowered’ as a woman?
And this is literally the central issue with the boudoir and lingerie shoots as a way of ‘empowering women’. Why is this approach not applied to men? Poor 40 year old Barry, having a midlife crisis, recently lost his Dad, struggling with diabetes. You know what he needs to do? Strip down to a thong and let some bloke take pictures of him on a fluffy blanket.
Yeah, sounds fucking stupid, doesn’t it?
There is absolutely nothing empowering about the assumption that women will feel better and more powerful by being objectified and sexualised. This is literally the opposite of female empowerment.
2. Calling each other ‘bitches’ and ‘hoes’ is empowering
Oh, if I had a penny for every time I heard some woke youth saying ‘We call each other bitches, sluts and hoes, because we are taking back ownership of the words and it’s empowering us.’
Lemme tell you a little something about how language constructs reality:
If the oppressing class is still using those words to oppress you, you can’t take them back and use them to empower yourselves as the oppressed class. If men are using those words to construct you as less than them, as sex objects and dogs; you also using those words to describe yourself and your friends is COLLUDING with the oppression, not fighting it.
Women and girls being encouraged to call their friends ‘my bitches’ and ‘my hoes’ and telling each other ‘I’m a slut’ is not empowering at all. It’s constructing and describing your friends and yourself in the exact same way misogynistic men see you and perceive you. All we are doing by adopting this language is supporting and reinforcing our inferiority and objectification.
We are not ‘taking it back’ when the people using it against us are using it in exactly the same way we supposedly are. It’s one of the reasons you will never ever catch me using misogynistic slurs or female cuss words to talk to or to describe women. We’ve got enough shit on our plate without calling each other hoes and bitches. Don’t play into their hands.
As a bit of evidence that we have already played into the hands of the misogynists, there was a study in 2011 by McMahon and Farmer who asked undergraduate university students to help them to review a rape myth acceptance psychometric scale. One of the items, written in the 90s used to say:
Women who wear revealing clothing deserve to be raped
The undergraduate students told researchers that it wasn’t modern enough and that it needed to be changed to make it *more* socially acceptable in 2011. You know what they changed the item to?
Women who dress like sluts deserve to be raped
Because apparently, that language is *more* socially acceptable and recognisable than the original. Go figure.
3. Pole dancing and lap dancing for exercise and fitness empowers women
Ugh. Just no. It never manages to stop shocking me just how long the tentacles of the sex industry are. Women are looking to lose weight, get toned, feel good about themselves and build fitness.
So what should they do? Run? Swim? Cycle? Weight train?
Oh no, no, no. That’s man exercise. Of course, the way to ‘empower’ women during exercise is the make the exercise about sex. Then it’s super empowering and gets them fit at the same time. Bloody genius.
Years ago I used to work for a children’s charity, upstairs was a pole dancing fitness company that allowed children from the age of 8 years old to take part in pole dancing lessons. In the years I went to that office to go to work, I never forgot the misogyny, objectification and sexualisation of women (and girls’) fitness. Every day I walked up the steps to see the huge poster encouraging little girls and women to feel confident, sexy and empowered by learning to pole dance upstairs.
Sorry to sound like a broken record, but can you imagine ANYONE advising poor 40 year old Barry (from before) to take up pole dancing or lap dancing as a way to empower him again after all he’s been through?
There’s a reason for that. There’s a reason men’s interventions and approaches are not based around their sex appeal. Have a think. Keep reading.
4. Rape self defence classes are empowering to women
No they’re not. They’re a way of pushing the responsibility of rape and sexual assault back on to women and girls because no one has yet figured out how to stop sex offenders from relentlessly attacking women in some sort of genocidal madness we’ve been witnessing for centuries.
Rape self defence classes are the opposite of ‘empowering women’. They are directly saying to women: ‘Let us teach you how to fight off the inevitable sex offender who will probably attack you multiple times in your life because we live in such a misogynistic world, you are better off prepared for rape than just hoping men won’t rape you.’
Women have a 1 in 3 chance in the lifespan of being raped or attempted to be raped. Rape defence classes are the ultimate admission of a society who are no longer interested in stopping male violence against women. It’s also in many cases, futile. As most women and girls will tell you, the shock and trauma they go into during an attack will prevent them from fighting back (Moller et al., 2017). Further, even women who are martial arts experts, MMA cage fighters and in the military report freezing during a sexual assault or rape. Even further than that, the majority of all rapes and sexual assaults of women occur in a relationship with someone they love, and they often don’t even know they are being raped (because they have been fed the myth that rape is from a stranger attacking you in an unfamiliar environment at night time). If you don’t know you are being raped because your partner has guilt-tripped you, coerced you or blackmailed you, you won’t fight back.
Rape self defence classes don’t empower women, they force women to shoulder the responsibility for a massive global issue so no one has to deal with it on a systemic level.
Instead of it remaining a societal problem of male violence towards women, now it’s your problem and you need to learn self defence. Clever, eh?
5. Make-up and contouring empowers women
Last week, I read a national news article about a school holding contouring and make-up classes for girls who needed a confidence boost or empowerment. My blood boiled. Whilst I can see that approaches like this are well intentioned (ugh, all the worst shit is, isn’t it?), this is not the way we should be helping our young girls build their self-esteem and feelings of power.
Further, Julie Bindel recently wrote an article about the way make-up has been oppressing women for so long – and she quoted a statistic that 15% of women wake up before their husbands to go and ‘put on their face’, meaning their husbands and boyfriends had never seen them without make up. I’m sure you know a woman or girl who even sleeps in make up, I know I do. We’ve created a world in which women are supposed to look flawless at all times, even when they wake up.
So what’s the issue with make-up, contouring and cosmetics being sold to us as empowering?
Well, it’s not exactly empowering to sell products to women and girls to make their faces look artificial, is it? Make-up to make our noses look smaller, skin look browner, eyes look bigger, lips look bigger and shinier, skin look smoother, cheekbones look more defined, eyebrows look darker and thicker.
How exactly is making ourselves look nothing like ourselves ‘empowering’ us?
*throws major side-eye at Snapchat and Insta flawless filters*
6. ‘For her’ products to empower women.
So finally, the ‘for her’ products invented (or usually just turned pink) for our ‘empowerment’. Like the pink toolkits that hardware stores sell. You know what I mean, the pink hammer and the pink screwdriver set meant to empower us to do our own DIY with our pretty new tools. Or the ‘for her’ Bic pens for the ‘feminine hand with a manicure’. That’s right, Bic invented pens ‘for her’. Fuck knows what we were using before they made these. Feather and ink, I think.
And what about the ‘for her’ laptop created by Toshiba. It’s a laptop with less power, less memory and less capability – but it does have special keys for long fingernails and it even comes with horoscope software! I mean. Wow.
What more could we possibly need? We’ve got laptops for her so now we can finally use the internet and our computers. We have pens for her so we can finally write things. We even have toolkits for her so we can finally tighten that loose dining table chair with our new pink screwdriver kit. We are literally so empowered now.
Take away message from this blog:
Not all that glitters is gold, my sisters.
Empowering women is about us taking back actual power in the world. Leadership. Research. Money. Property. Politics.
Empowering women is not about us being further objectified, sexualised and discriminated against.
Empowered women are not those who are duped into calling their best friends ‘bitches’, whilst they all go to their empowering pole dancing class to get fit, buying their pink toolkits for a spot of DIY whilst they google rape self defence classes on their new ‘laptop for her’.
Wake up. We are being manipulated.
This year for International Women’s Day 2019, be on the look out for these sneaky, disingenuous approach to ‘empowering women’ and call them out where you find them.
Written by Jessica Eaton
Dedicated to challenging victim blaming and misogyny
You can get books, resources and e-learning on these topics from: Www.victimfocus.org.uk
Tweet this: @JessicaE13Eaton