Thursday, February 16, 2012

Just So We're Clear...

After decades - excuse me, centuries - of fighting for their rights, women are finally finding equal footing within a male dominated world. Now, I won’t turn this into some political rant about the lack of respect women still receive in the work force (or just walking down the street for that matter), but you can’t talk about Women and “Cultural Roles” without getting a little political… so, sorry in advance.

            We as women were born from a piece of Adam’s rib. (I’m not sure how one is born from a rib, but… the Bible says so…so it must be true. Or not. I digress.)  I’m making the point that women didn’t get the best start in this world. We were second to Adam. A man. Obviously the cultural roles women found themselves in were very different than the cultural roles women play today. As a woman, you were looked at as a baby-makin’ machine, a tool used by men to seek pleasure or take pleasure. The only rights a woman had, were granted by her husband, Father, or Brother and trust me, those rights weren’t really “rights”.

            Today, women are still viewed by many as second-class citizens, as evidence by the eagerness by some politicians to restrict our reproductive rights and turn back the clock to Biblical gender roles; still, we have come a long way. We have the right the vote, the right to own property, the right to our own accounts, the right to work in a profession of our choice for equal payment.  And our relatively new roles as independent citizens have both inspired cultural changes and been inspired by the culture.

            The portrayal of women in books, film, and television has significantly changed to accommodate our expanding role in society, but it isn’t a one-way street. Cultural trailblazers like Mary Tyler Moore not only inspired women to join a predominately male workforce, but she also was an inspiration to single working women in their thirties. Where a few years before, a single woman in her thirties was pitied, Mary Tyler Moore portrayed a strong and independent woman who just happened to be single and happened to be in her thirties.

            Another example of a cultural trailblazer was Mae West. Mae West was brash, loud, opinionated, and sexual. All of which were viewed as scandalous at the time, but Mae made herself heard. She was strong and beautiful and men loved her, not just for her looks, but for her open sexuality, her strong opinions, and her bawdy banter. She opened the doors for women to embrace their sexuality and to allow themselves the freedom to express themselves naturally.  Both Mae West and Mary Tyler Moore were and still are viewed not only as cultural icons, but fashion icons.

            Fashion plays a huge part in determining women’s cultural roles. (It was no accident that feminists burned their bras to protest for equality.) How women dress influence how they are viewed in society. For example, I can’t work in a bank in a mini skirt, thigh-high boots, and a crop top and still expected to be taken seriously as an intelligent businesswoman. Why is that?   Because the cultural role of a woman dressed in a mini skirt, crop top, and thigh high boots is not “banker,” it’s “prostitute”. 

At some point in history, it was decided that women should be covered from head to toe, because our “assets” were too tempting. Because, ya know, men couldn’t control themselves. Then it became a religious “thing” and it all went to hell. Literally.

            A woman in a pantsuit and loafers, with her hair pulled back in a tight ponytail and little makeup on must be a lesbian, a prude, a plain-Jane. A woman in a mini skirt and crop top must be a slut, unintelligent, a drug-addict. A woman in an apron and housedress must be a homemaker with no goals, no future, and little education. These cultural roles have defined women for far too long. They place a negative view on a sex that has been dominated and ruled over. It’s amazing to me that some people still have such a backward view towards creatures that are so beautiful.

Unfortunately, now that everything seems possible for women, there’s a push back in the culture to diminish women. For example, such reality shows as “Toddlers & Tiaras,”  “The Real Housewives” series, and the endless adventures of the Kardashian family make women and women-to-be look like such cartoon characters.  These shows portray women to be greedy, slutty, duplicitous, and angry.  They sexualize pre-adolescent girls.  They create awful stereotypes of women and then cast their characters to fit those stereotypes.  This strain in the culture inspires not liberation, but eating disorders.

Cultural roles for women aren’t something we all sit around and vote on every year. They’re always changing, growing…and if they can change in one direction, they can change back. It’s important for those of us, who believe in equality for women, to use whatever talents we have to keep pushing the ball forward. Women will always be on a constant pursuit of equality and freedom. Whether that is expressed in fashion, ideals, opinions, thought, standards, values, or …whatever. The fact remains it should be expressed.  In the immortal words of Madonna, “Don’t go for second best baby, put yourself to the test… express yourself!”

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