Depending on one’s interests, the month of March can usher in a wide variety of events and topics. Mainstream media will mostly talk about the NCAA College basketball tournament, known to fans as March Madness. It is the culmination of the season that ends with a single elimination tournament that involves 64 teams from across the country. Fans will follow along with daily news updates and cut out tournament brackets from the newspaper.
To top it off just about every corporation will use March Madness to sell us everything from beer to cars. “Come on in to Victoria’s Secret and try on the new March Madness panties…everyone will be cheering.” I’m not being crass, just making a point about how advertisers will use women’s bodies to sell just about anything. If you watched the Super Bowl this year, then you no doubt watched the commercials. Go Daddy ran one that featured a group of people sitting in a living room watching the Super Bowl. One guy is at the computer and tells everyone that Indy race car driver Danica Patrick was going to “expose herself” on the company’s website. As soon as this guy says that everyone jumps up from their seat and runs to the computer. It doesn’t matter that Danica Patrick is an accomplished racecar driver…she was unzipping her top.
This type of objectification and commodification of women is so frequent in the media world that it has become the norm. A couple of months ago the movie Super Bad was released on DVD. Super Bad was heavily marketed as the Fast Times of Ridgemont High for the 21st Century. The plot of the film centers around 2 socially “dorky” guys who are about to graduate from high school and all they want to do is get girls drunk and have sex with them. Women are objectified throughout the movie in a variety of ways, but all this objectification seems quite normal. The movie wastes no time communicating that reality, where the opening scene has the two main characters talking about viewing porn online. “Hey I was doin’ some research for next year and I think I decided which website I want to subscribe to…the Vagtastic Voyage. What’s the Vagtastic Voyage? The Vagtastic Voyage is the one where they find random girls on the street, get them to go in a van and then bang them once they are in the van.” It goes downhill from there.
In addition to the objectification is the increase of hyper-sexual images and messages in media. Turn on any cable channel, particularly ones that target young adult, adolescent and even the pre-adolescent age group and you are bound to see program content or ads that are hyper-sexual in nature. Even toy marketers are pushing the envelope with these themes. The Bratz doll is now the number one selling doll amongst girls globally. The Bratz Superstyling Funkitivity Book for 6-year olds has “luscious lip tips,” “design your own sexy skirt,” and “tips on being an irresistible flirt.” For 6 year olds! The hyper-sexual themes in the Bratz doll have even been criticized by the American Psychological Association for contributing to the sexualization of young girls.
There is cause for optimism in the month of March, however, since March is also Women’s History Month. People around the world will be celebrating Women’s History month in large part because International Women’s Day (IWD) falls on March 8. IWD was born out of years of struggle by women who fought for the right to vote, to work and for no discrimination on the job. The first countries to celebrate IWD were Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, where more than one million women and men attended rallies. A few weeks later on March 25, there was a fire at the Triangle factory in New York City that took the lives of 140, most Italian and Jewish immigrant women. Subsequently, that tragedy is now associated with the beginnings of International Women’s Day in the US and around the world.
Last month, West Michigan was fortunate to have feminist play-write and activist Eve Ensler give a talk in Grand Rapids. Ensler, best known for her play The Vagina Monologues, is not only an advocate of women’s equality, she also believes that in order to stop violence and against women we need to confront the fact that patriarchy is still very much a part of our institutions – political, religious, economic and educational. Ensler’s work celebrates women by acknowledging their vaginas. In her talk at Fountain Street Church, Ensler told the story of how there has been resistance to her play around the country. She told the story about a southern town where women tried to bring the play, The Vagina Monologues. The town officials, all men, said “no vaginas.” But an older woman spoke up and said, “I passed through a vagina, you did, and I believe even Jesus did. So if Jesus did, then it’s good enough for me.”
Ensler also talked about how wars around the world impact women and girls and said that one of the most important aspects of feminism is to be anti-war. March 19 will mark 5 years that the US military has been occupying Iraq and there seems to be no end in sight. None of the major Presidential candidates are talking about ending the occupation and the best that the Democrats can come up with is a phased out withdrawal by 2013. Even then, the US wants to maintain a permanent military presence to protect “our interests,” which is code for the interests of oilmen and their friends in government.
A feminist analysis of the US occupation in Iraq would conclude that US policy is driven power and control, not democracy or human rights. The same analysis would tell us that wars don’t end because of governments, wars end because of movements. Since the mainstream anti-war groups in the US have been so ineffectual, maybe we need to learn from women’s groups around the world do not put their hopes in partisan politics. Check out the Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom, Women Against War, Women in Black, The Mothers of the Disappeared, MADRE and the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq.
You can also join ACTIVATE on March 15 for a march against the US Occupation of Iraq. The march starts at noon at Heartside Park. For more information go to www.activategr.org.