Can this soapbox be saved?

A potentially preachy soapbox! Maybe your FHE needs some spice?

On the whole, I'm not a huge fan of gendered statements. The whole "men are from Mars, women are from Venus," stuff. Not because I don't acknowledge differences between men and women, but because I don't see those differences as interplanetary. For example, say we use a scenario oft found in women's magazines:

Woman has a problem.  Men hear about the problem and offer a solution, infuriating the woman who didn't want a solution, just a listener. Enter a bunch of "Can this Marriage be Saved" hijinks, fade out on Lucy and Ricky hugging it out. Lucy promises to tell Ricky how he can best respond to her problem, Ricky promises to listen. Yay!

I understand how that scenario is appealing, and how many, maybe even most, women and men identify with it. So I'm not going to say it isn't valid in some cases. However, I would not go as so far to say that men always want a solution, and women always want a listener. Sometimes men like listeners too, and saying otherwise implies that they are just Tarzan -like doers that must be trained to listen. Sometimes women like solutions, and saying otherwise implies that women aren't solution oriented.

Gendered language bothers me because it easily dissolves into exclusionary language. A person's masculinity or femininity shouldn't be defined by a series of black and white statements.*

Surprisingly though, the previous paragraphs are not my "main" soapbox today. In fact, it is just a cleverly disguised disclaimer for a gendered statement I'm about to make:

(Some)women are mean. We've all watched it on TV (Tina Fey** at least makes it funny,) read about it books, and most importantly, experienced in real life: the girl-on-girl woman-on-woman hate that eats at our souls and makes men call us "crazy."

(Some) women are mean, but I don't think it is an innate behavior. I don't think women are born mean, or that there is something in about double X chromosomes that make us meaner than our XY counterparts. (Evidence: High school, where I've seen boys gossip, and girls sport black eyes.)

I do however, believe that we live in a culture that encourages women to be mean, especially in areas relating to physical appearance. For instance, in my experience, a man calling a woman fat is generally thought of as a pig, but if a girl makes a comment on how "She shouldn't be wearing those pants" well, that's okay. It is especially okay if done in a funny and sarcastic way,  or by a very pretty girl.

Other areas in which it is okay for a woman to pass judgement on a woman's body:

Breastfeeding without a cover (Gross! You're making me feel uncomfortable!)
Pale skin (If you can't tone it, at least tan it!)
Anything over a size four (Ewwww, muffin tops!)
Clothing not found, or at least similar to, clothing found in magazines. (Frumpy!)
Personal Hygiene routines that do not feature razors, waxers, and make-up prominently (It is your job to use these so that men will like you!)
"Immodest" clothing (Slut!)

I know it is socially acceptable to mock these things because I've been guilty of it, and gotten away with it. Past selves have made comments on how she's "let herself go" or "gotten big" or "frumpy." I've said it, but seeing in crop up, and even celebrated in the blogosphere makes it seem less funny than the Means Girls sequel, and more depressing than, well, the Mean Girls sequel.

The idea that our foremothers would fight for control over their own bodies, only to have their granddaughters dissect them on a limited and superficial is just mean, and it ought to stop. I don't think girls develop negative self-image simply from seeing air-brushed photo on Cosmo, they develop negative self-image from the women who tell them they are failures for not looking like the images they see.

So here's the deal, from now on, I'm not going to-

1. Tell you how often you need to shower, wash your hair, shave your legs, or wax, in order to be "attractive" or even "clean." I will trust that you know your body, and what it wants. This also includes comments about how much or little you need to weigh in order to make me happy.

2. Tell you that your husband, boyfriend, significant other, or partner "deserves" a version of you that requires you to alter your physical appearance. If you want to wear make-up, wax yourself bald, and strut in high-heels, I salute you, but not because it will make your husband happy. Because it makes you happy. Apparently.

3. If you chose not to cover up your body while feeding a baby, I will realize that I too have control over my own body and mind. I can chose whether to see boobs as "awkward" and "gross," or I can chose to see it as natural. Thinking breastfeeding is gross doesn't make it gross. Making comments about how disgusted you are is gross.

After all Lindsay-Lohan-acting-as-Caddy-written-by-Tina-Fey said it best,

"And that's when I realized,making fun of Caroline Krafft wouldn't stop her from beating me in this contest."

So from the vaguely- hippie- liberal -soapboxers- who -sometimes- forget- to- shower to the shower- nazis-grossed-out-by-bus-breastfeeding-moms-plastics: making fun of us won't stop us from beating you in this contest.

What? I said we shouldn't be mean, not doormats.

* Including statements about providing and nuturing, but you already know how I feel about that.

**Tina Fey is not mean, Regina George is mean.

Controversial post check-list: Gender relations? Check. Breastfeeding? Check. Soapbox? Check. What am I missing, what am I missing? Oh, right: BENTLEY WILLIAMS IS A JERK.


Anna Elizabeth said...

I loved this! Especially the Mean Girls references!

geoffsn said...

"I don't think girls develop negative self-image simply from seeing air-brushed photo on Cosmo, they develop negative self-image from the women who tell them they are failures for not looking like the images they see."

This reminded me of a scene from Arrested Development. (This clip won't be visible until hulu rotates to season 3)

Lucille: "Dinner's ready. We're having Lindsay chops. What? I just wanted to be ready in case some bully at school was as clever as I am."
Narrator: "No bully ever would be."

Mary said...

Thanks for this. I, too, have been guilty of such jerky comments. I'm going to think more carefully so that I don't feed into the mean-ness.

Wendy said...

It's always funny to me, when we start covering gender discrimination in Intro to Soc classes, that the students (male and female) all assume I'm about to take off on some male hate rant. They are then surprised when I point out that females are as guilty as males for perpetuating gender stereotypes and that sexism hurts males as well as females.

Yes, I imagine our suffragette and bra burning mothers would not be impressed with much about our generation.

Nemesis said...


Bwah hahahahah! Love it all.

thelilybee said...

This is too true. I stopped reading a blog where the author would post some uplifting general conference quote and then the next post would be a picture and mockery of someone who's shorts the author deemed to be too short. I was so tempted to write "good luck making it on broadway, sister, your attitude stinks" but then I would be acting like a mean girl too. It takes a lot of work to be kind to all of our sisters.

Me said...

I love this! You are awesome!

Erin said...

My husband is the one in our relationship who always wants to talk about his feelings. My tendency is to sail along, pretending that everything is okay.

I love this post. And you're one of my heroes. Soapbox and all.

rachelclements said...

The movie Mean Girls was created from the book Queen Bees & Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. It's on my list to read.

Stephanie said...

@Erin: My husband is the kind, nuturing, thoughtful person who brings people cookies "just because."

I am the agressive misanthrope who wants to argue politics.

I don't know if that is alternative gender traits, or if my husband is just really nice and I am not.

@rachelclements: I heard it was based on a book, thanks for letting me know.

Jennifer said...

How sad and how true. My BF was horrified when I told him of some of my exciting adventures during my last trip home (it included such highlights as "Can't you tell she's around 30. She has crow's feet just like yours." and "back when Jennifer (me) was skinny...." (I've now 'ballooned' to a size 8 from my teenage, early 20s size 2. Even better, the woman who made this comment, as well as her husband and daughters, are obese. So, um, hunh? Why am I getting called out?)

Beyond horrified, he was completely perplexed. Friends make these comments? This is normal? WHAT?!?!?!

The best part is, these lovely comments were made by women who in many ways acted as surrogate mothers (better to just leave real mom's comments out of this. Oh, but I can't. How about age 8, the comment that I had pretty big thighs and at 15 that my ankles weren't as delicate as hers.) to me and proved over and over how willing they were to do anything to help me in life, yet still such vitriol.

Come to think of it, why was I never anorexic? As you wrote, my self-esteem images have very little to do with Cosmo!

Thank you for writing about this. It's been on my mind a lot lately.

Stephanie said...


I've been there. It sucks. It sucks especially when the people tearing you down are people who ought to be supportive.


Erin said...

"Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all loved ourselves no matter what our size and shape? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all women felt beautiful inside and out? Maybe then some women would stop criticizing the looks of other women?" From the book This is who I am by Rosanne Olson

Arual said...

Kudos on the nursing mention. I am pretty much a die-hard lactivist and it's so discouraging when people believe that to nurse modestly you must use a cover.

I show less breast while nursing my toddler than your average bikini-wearer, so let's be reasonable here.

I know that wasn't really the purpose of the post, but I couldn't help commenting anyway. =)

heidi said...

I loved this, and agree with you almost 100% :)
I love your blog and wish I had the gift for laying out my thoughts like you do...but I don't, so hopefully you can look past the horrible writing in this comment and I'll be able to express what I want to say. :)

One thing that I wonder about is how we're supposed to be comfortable in our skin, be accepted as we are, etc, almost to the point where I wonder if it's not too much. I heard a statistic (from the movie "Education") stating that American students rank #1 in confidence. We also have the highest obesity rate in the world. I worry that in our quest to make everyone accept who they are we've made it okay to be overweight and unhealthy. Not that I calling people names and deliberately putting them down is good (as someone who's struggled with weight all my life I know first hand how truly mean girls can be), I just think that it needs to be pushed more that being healthy is the best way...not just accepting your body as it is, but being active and wanting to improve your life and society as a whole.

I hope that made a little bit of sense, and I know it's not exactly what your post was about, but it is something that has been bothering me lately.

Stephanie said...

@heidi, I completely agree, I think there is a big difference between promoting self-improvement and good health, (Good!) and using someone else's body "imperfections" as the butt of your joke. (Bad!)

I think the "pretty" girl telling everyone else how disgusted she is by the rest of us is such a lame joke, and like you suggested, it doesn't make anyone any healthier/better.

geoffsn said...

This thread reminded me of this paper. It's an awesome paper, but long. I highly recommend it though!

~M said...

Regina George is a life-ruiner!

(I think most of us (female and male) are Cady, easily swayed by the siren song of fun/beautiful/popular (even as adults) people). said...

I've noticed it only gets worse if you become a mother. (You don't breastfeed? You're not a stay-at-home mother? You had a c-section? You use a pacifier? Etc. etc. etc. until all your self esteem tries to evaporate.

I can't decide if we do these things to each other, because we seriously believe there is only one right way to do things or because we seriously believe that putting someone down will somehow make us feel better.
I also wonder where would women be if we actually worked together instead of against each other.

ChristyLove said...

I freaking love your blog. I'm officially a boring commentor who only writes to tell you how awesome you are, how much I love every post, and how we agree on important things, etc.

(Because I am one of those people, I get to make fun of them. Just sayin'.)

Also: I take note of everyone's shoes. I've only recently come to realize that not a lot of other people do this. I.e., I notice this thing because I'm self-concious of it.

So when someone makes fun of my muffin top, I take heart in "knowing" [read: assuming] it's because they think they have one, too.

Meikjn said...

this is very true. I was bullied all through school,and the girls who did it got away with it because it was seen as ok. I think you are right on about where women get a bad self image.

Brittany said...

As Descartes once said, "I am, therefore I suck." Wait, that's not right. And like you said, neither is the way we treat ourselves or others at times. I can't help but think about how ideals of beauty start. Someone(s) had to plant the idea of body hair on women being gross, and now, we feel we're gross if we do not shave. We seem to fear what's natural because it fails the test of perfection. It really, well, sucks. I have to wonder though, did you get the idea for the beginning of your soapbox from a article about what husbands wish they could say to their wives? Because that article talks about women loving the listening man, how men are more prone to dealing out advice than a shoulder to sob on. Gendering bugs me too.

Stephanie said...

@Brittany: I didn't get the gendered article thing from any particular magazine. I just feel like I've read it a bajillion times. Kind of how every magazine has 100 ways to "please your man."


UK Yankee said...

For me, these awful judgey things that I think come from a place of terrible self-esteem. If I'm feeling/thinking judgey about you, then in some way or other, I'm jealous of you.

I hate this trait in myself, and I'm working to break it, but holy bad words is it hard.

I agree, let's take better care of each other!

Trish said...

Maybe in your post here, you've re-clarified why I always had a problem making and keeping "gal-pals". Girls see you both as friend and foe, it seems and you can never just be one or the other. Maybe its a co-dependency issue. My sister (16) still thinks BF-ing is "gross"...who even taught her this?