The Gender Price Gap

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http://genderpricegap.tumblr.com/

Look at that link. It will open in a new window for you. It won’t take long, and the rest of this post won’t make any sense if you don’t look at that link first.

Did you look? Are you furious? You should be!

Have you ever gone shopping found yourself accidentally looking at a shirt in the section of the store that was not intended for your gender and thought ‘Oh dear, I shouldn’t be looking at this, it is not for me’?

Have you ever picked up a toiletry product for a family member not of your gender and felt self-conscious at the checkout because someone might see it and think that you had stupidly got yourself the wrong one?

Have you ever gone shopping for children’s clothing and had an uncomfortable moment where you were not quite sure which section was appropriate for you child’s gender, knowing you could not possibly bring home a girl t-shirt for your son?

I have done all of these things. What I remember most is that feeling in my gut that someone would see me and judge me for not knowing the difference between men and women.

One time I even paid extra for black ink pens because I wanted pink and purple ones. I am not very proud of that…

It took a conscious effort to realise that you can actually buy an item of clothing from the Men’s section for yourself when you are a woman. That there are some perfectly good deodorants out there with a neutral or minimal scent that say ‘For Men’ but are cheaper than the pink and flowery ones marketed at women.

Next time you are in the supermarket, have a look at the names given to deodorant for men, versus the equivalent item for women. I did this recently, and it is absurd. There is an actual variety of deodorant marketed at women called ‘Sexy’. *shudder* These gendered labels give a very disturbing insight into how commercialism views the roles of men and women.

But to bare-facedly charge women more for an item because it is marketed at women or girls? That is reprehensible. When women go to buy toiletries or clothing or toys, does it even cross your mind to check the price of the equivalent item for men? Of course not.

Now that I know this happens, I am going to make sure that anything I buy that has been pinkified is the same price as the equivalent ‘For Men’ product. And it if is not – I will buy the cheaper one.

I don’t need my deodorant to smell like flowers, I need it to stop me from smelling like sweat and not leave residue on my clothes. And razors, not that I use them, do the same thing whether they are pink or blue. My hair is shorter than my partner’s, so why should a haircut be cheaper for him than for me?

More, more and more evidence of how we are shoved back in our gender boxes every day and women are penalised for being women.

We are taught that there are things for boys and different things for girls and we must never cross that gender line or we will be laughed at, teased, considered stupid, whatever.

But it is all lies. Gender doesn’t matter. ‘Beauty’ doesn’t matter. Just be people, preferably kind people, and we will all be much better off.

 

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On Choice, and Why Body Hair is a Feminist Issue

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You know that thing where a topic keeps popping up so I write a blog post about it? It is happening right now.

Be thankful I am not doing a rehash of all the things wrong with Fifty Shades of Grey. Nope, I am not touching that one with a barge pole.

Instead I am going to launch into an attempt to organise my thoughts on choice, beauty standards and armpit hair.

This is a little bit more political than a lot of the stuff I post on here, but as I gain confidence I am becoming more comfortable with sharing these ideas with my audience, rather than hiding them in my secret feminist blog.

As women, we are constantly told that the things that happen to us are a result of our choices. That we choose to date or marry abusive men. That we choose to be single mothers. That we choose to work in lower-paid jobs. That we choose to drink too much or eat too much or act in ways that make us targets for violence. This way we are left in no doubt that whatever happens to us, whatever predicament we find ourselves in, we have only ourselves to blame. The flip side of this, that nobody talks about, is that those who harm and oppress us are absolved of all responsibility.

We are told that women choose to be prostituted, that women choose to act in porn. That to take away these choices would be taking away women’s choices, and that would be bad.

The lie that we are told every day is that women choose to be oppressed, and that men are doing us a favour by oppressing us.

We are told that women don’t want the hard/dangerous/high-powered jobs because we would rather stay at home and have an easy life while our husbands earn the money. That we want to be treated as sex objects. That we want to be abused and humiliated. That when we leave abusive partners we have chosen to break up our family, deprive our children of a father and be poor and stressed with limited opportunity to improve our lot. I hear it all the time. Women don’t want to work, they want to stay at home and be treated like princesses. Women like rough sex, but they are ashamed to admit it. Women think ‘nice guys’ are boring, so they always go for the ‘bad boys’. Women have it so easy. Women are their own worst enemies.

We are told that we only dress up to compete with other women. That we can choose whether or not to wear make-up, whether or not to wear high-heels, whether or not to remove our body hair.

And sure, you can choose not to do the things that society tells us we MUST do. But what happens if you don’t?

Body hair on women is one of my pet topics. To me it is a core feminist issue. I cannot count how many times I have been told that it is a ‘first-world problem’, or that women can ‘do whatever they want’ and most just ‘choose’ to remove their body hair for no practical reason.

And then when i argue the point I get told that it is insignificant, unimportant, that being allowed an opinion on what I do to my own body has nothing to do with feminism, that I should shut up and be glad I don’t live in Afghanistan.

I have got into countless discussions on the topic and been told countless times that body hair on women is unacceptable. The words most commonly used to describe underarm or pubic hair on women are: gross, nasty, disgusting, unhygienic, dirty. Who is going to volunteer to be considered all of those things, when simply picking up a razor can prevent it?

Admit it, just reading this you are wondering why I am writing about such an icky and insignificant topic. You’re thinking ‘ew, I just had lunch, I don’t want to hear about your armpit hair’.

Ask yourself, would you grow your armpit hair? Would it be okay if your wife or girlfriend did? Why? Why not? Because it is gross or dirty? Is it really? Why?

Yes, we have a choice. But choosing to go against the majority is difficult. And it shouldn’t be.

When I chose to stop removing my armpit hair I did it for a number of reasons. I get bad razor rash, which leaves me with nasty red spots and sometimes big lumps, especially in summer. I wanted to see if not shaving would prevent this. It did. I also realised that I had been shaving the hair off since before I even started growing it. That I had never had more than a couple of millimetres growth. I had no idea what it would even look like if I let it grow.

But mainly, I wanted to see if I could. If I could really choose.

And do you know what? This tiny choice was incredibly difficult. I had to deal with worrying about what everyone thought. Would they think I was disgusting? While most people won’t come out and say it, if you ask them they will tell you that they find it a bit yuck. You certainly don’t have to travel far on the internet to find out that whether it is on Madonna or Sofia Loren or the woman next to you at the train station, 99% of people think armpit hair on women simply should not exist.

I have not personally encountered a single woman who would even entertain the idea of not removing her underarm hair. And when challenged, the women I have talked to about it all tell me that they choose to do it.

It took me months and lots of self doubt to finally be comfortable with my decision. My partner pulled faces and told me it was ‘manly’, but he has learned to live with it. Wearing singlets, raising my arms in public and letting the rest of the yoga class see it took some real guts on my part. This tiny decision, this thing I do for me and me only that anyone can do at any time? It was a real eye-opener. A real consciousness-shifter. A pivotal event in learning how to really make my own choices for myself.

Having our appearance micromanaged by society blocks us from dealing with the ‘bigger’ issues. The lipstick/body hair/skirt arguments are all manufactured by the patriarchy. None of those things should matter. But ‘choosing’ to shave your legs and ‘choosing’ to be a stay at home mother are two sides of the same coin, and go hand-in-hand with ‘choosing’ to be a prostitute. We are told we have a choice, but those choices are laden with threat and consequences. To you or me, feeling like you have to wear make-up  to fit in at work is a lesser hardship than feeling like you have to let men pay to rape you so you can pay your rent, so you just do it. But a win is a win. Oppression is oppression, and the ‘little’ oppressions are supposed to keep us obedient and teach us how to submit to the ‘bigger’ oppressions. You have to teach a horse to eat from your hand before your can teach it to carry a saddle and rider. And you have to teach women to ‘choose’ to shave their armpits before you can teach them to ‘choose’ to be owned, abused, humiliated and discarded.

By making that one tiny choice, I learned how to make an actual choice about what I do with my own body, regardless of the collective attitude and outside influences. Maybe next I will get a short haircut on my head or go out without a bra or shop for clothing somewhere other than the women’s section of a store.  You have to learn how to choose what you do with your own body, before you can choose to demand to be treated like a fully-fledged human being.

 

Hiding in Plain Sight

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Sometimes I go looking for trouble, sometimes it finds me.

The other day I was sitting in the waiting room at the hospital waiting for my pacemaker review. I glanced at the stack of magazines on the table next to me, pushed aside the ‘Women’s Weekly’ and ‘That’s Life’, and picked up a glossy beast innocuously titled ‘Women’s Health’.

I started to flick through. I don’t know exactly what I expected, but I really thought there might be something in it actually beneficial to women. Clearly my years of avoiding commercial media have made me soft. What I saw was a manual for making yourself sexually attractive to men.

The quick-fix diets, the fashion and make-up tutorials, and most disturbingly, the ‘what men really think’ article that could be summed up as ‘men want women to pander to their every requirement, and be decorative and sexy but also faithful and not slutty, while men do whatever the hell they want’. I pulled a face and put the magazine back on the stack at this point.

Seriously, this magazine doesn’t even try. It is just another waste of paper telling women how to fit into the tiny box of ‘acceptable’ that has been created to control how we look and how we live.

So of course, I went looking for trouble. I visited the websites of both Australian Women’s Health and Australian Men’s Health to see what kind of message these publications are peddling.

Women’s Health in a nutshell – how to get your chocolate fix without getting fat. How to drop a dress size – fast! How to zap belly fat or get great legs. The Fitness section had subheadings for Running and Yoga – activities that are not likely to cause increase in muscle mass and therefore affect your apparent femininity.

Men’s Health had different subheadings in the Fitness section – Muscle Building and Cardio. Because apparently muscles are only for men. Weight loss short-cuts also feature, and under the heading Sex and Women is a section on how to ‘improve your game’, also known as ‘getting women to have sex with you’.

Where Women’s Health has recipes and nutrition information, Men’s Health has supplements and cooking tips. Apparently women know how to cook, but men don’t.

One of the first articles I saw on the Men’s Health page was about ‘ticking off your bedroom bucket list’. This is an article about getting your partner to indulge your sexual fantasies. And it begins with the author doing ‘what any man would do’ – plying his partner with alcohol to make her more receptive to his suggestions. According to Men’s Health, manipulation and coercion are an important part of the male sex life. Good to know.

Presumably that is why Women’s Health is dedicated to making women decorative and sexy and fuckable and educating them on how to do what a man wants in bed.

The covers and images of both these magazines are so bland and generic as to almost be sterile, yet the air of casual harmlessness hides a disturbing theme. They tell men that they must be buff and tanned and healthy in order to get all the women. They tell women that they must be slim and tanned and healthy and wear just the right amount of make-up in order to be seen as acceptable.

These magazines are the media equivalent of that moron internet troll who tells everyone that fat people are gross because they are unhealthy. They are the published version of the constant reinforcement of the gender binary. Their titles suggest that they care about the wellbeing of people, but their content perpetuates the sterotypes that harm every person who does not look like the airbrushed models in the photographs.

Why can’t there be a magazine simply called ‘Health’, which is gender neutral and doesn’t set out to divide the population? Eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising and managing your mental health are issues relevant to all people.

On the topic of mental health, I did a search for ‘depression’ on the page of both magazines. Nothing showed up in the links for either on the main pages, so I had to do some digging. It seems that mental health is not sexy or cool enough to feature in these publications, despite it being a huge health issue for men and women.

I think what bothered me the most about the content of these magazines, is that they seem to represent the attitudes of society in general. Rags like Cosmopolitan and Cleo make a point of being racy and over-the-top, but these Health magazines present as wholesome advice for everyday living, rather than the manuals for slotting seamlessly into the patriarchal abyss that they actually are.

On Fat Shaming

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I’ve had a few posts roll through my Facebook newsfeed today about plus-size models and beauty at all sizes. Every single time I read the comments they are full of fat-shamers putting in their opinions about how ‘unacceptable’ the pictured women are.

Now, as a person who is what is deemed a ‘healthy weight’ it is easy for me to spout phrases like ‘all bodies are beautiful’ and ‘size is not an indication of health’. But I grew up in a family where the number on the scales was an ever-present spectre and everybody talked about ‘when I lose the weight’ or ‘when I get skinny’. All sorts of diets were tried and weight came and went. But the body image issues were constant.

Obesity is a huge problem in the developed world. In some countries, two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. Obesity and poor diet have been linked to many life-threatening health problems. Governments and food companies must take a fair whack of the blame for their misleading marketing of processed foods as ‘healthy’ and the laws that allow this. Drug companies are invested in treating the illnesses caused by poor diet. It is a hard battle to fight on a personal level when the whole system is invested in making you fat.

I might not be an overweight person, but I am not a healthy person. I have an extensive history of heart problems, and mental health difficulties on top of that. I eat with the goal of prolonging my life. But there have been times when, due to medications, my weight has threatened to spiral out of control.

The last time I tried antidepressant medication, I got to a point where no matter how I tried, my weight was climbing by about half a kilogram every week. I was probably eating half of what I am now, and exercising, but my weight kept rising. I counted calories obsessively, and even tried going all fruit and vegetables one week. Nothing worked. Until I went off the medication.

So yeah, I can sympathise with people who try everything they can think of but struggle to lose weight. I can also sympathise with people who have great difficulty eating the way they are told they ‘should’ in order to lose weight.

One thing all those fat-shamers lean on is that promoting body acceptance is the same as promoting obesity, and since obesity is unhealthy then promoting body acceptance is socially irresponsible. Think of the children, they say, growing up in a world where they are encouraged to be unhealthy because being fat is okay. They pretend that the reason they want everyone to be slim is because they want them to be healthy.

This is a load of crap. The reason fat-shamers want people to be slim is because they want them to be decorative, and we live in a world with stringently-enforced beauty standards. A world where people who don’t fit that standard are expected to cover up, change their appearance, and hate themselves if they don’t comply.

And what good does that do?

We all want to be healthy. It is easier for some people than for others. We all want to like our bodies and like ourselves. We all have ‘imperfections’. We have rolls and wrinkles and scars and stretch marks and none of these things make us less of a human being.

Even women who are not overweight are encouraged to hate their bodies. We are given a set of Rules that we must adhere to. Don’t be too tall. Don’t be too hairy. Don’t be too old. Don’t be too fat. Spend ages making yourself look good enough, but make sure you look natural. Unless you can follow all the Rules, you are not allowed to feel good about yourself. And even if you do follow the Rules, don’t get too cocky, you’re not that hot…

The idea of women in particular being decorative above all else should be stomped on, crushed and criticised every time we see it. You might see plus-sized models promoted as ‘real women’, but they too are a marketing trick. You don’t see models with cellulite or hairy legs or blemished skin.

We are all allowed to be comfortable in our own skin and happy with how we look. Whether we are old, sick, fat, disabled, hairy or scarred. We do not have to conform to beauty standards. We are good enough. We are valuable. We are beautiful. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Because whatever ‘imperfections’ you may have, the person who would shame you for your appearance has a bigger problem. They are probably a self-righteous jerk.

Overweight people exist. In the western world there are a lot of them. Yes, being overweight has been linked to health problems, but does that mean that every overweight person is expected to hate how they look, and if they don’t hate how they look then everyone else is allowed to do that hating for them? What does that achieve? If being slim was easy, everyone would do it, but a huge proportion of the population find it very difficult. The issue is complex. The solution is elusive. But if shaming overweight people made them healthier, we would have no overweight people. All it does is make people feel bad about themselves. People who look after their health are people who feel that they are worth it. Your weight is does not always directly correlate with your health or wellness. And none of these things represent your value as a person.

Oh, and here’s me at the beach recently in a bikini. Old, white, hairy, scarred. I don’t care. I think I look great.

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From the Mouth of the Beast – How Marketing Makes Fools of us All

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In this amazing video you will see a marketing professional explain the techniques they use to get you to buy factory farmed meat and feel okay about it. This illustrates that thing I keep banging on about; the importance of being an informed consumer.

The video is seven minutes long, but feels much shorter. Watch the faces of the people in the audience when they realise what is really happening to them.

 

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