Tag Archives: Gender

Get Your Eyes Off My Thighs

So I live in this neighborhood that’s . . . well, not exactly like the safety bubble I had experienced in college. I recall the good old days where I could scooter over to class wearing a jumble of tye-dye sleeveless shirts and camo shorts or if it was really hot, a yellow cotton halter and a loose-fitting mid-cut skirt. I never left the house worrying what others thought of me. I was never bothered. The only signals I got were the occasional wave and/or verbal greeting from a friend or classmate. What I wore didn’t matter to anyone. Those that knew me knew my personality and those who didn’t know me, well … got out of my way before I ran them over with my razor scooter.

Then I moved. I moved to a some-what financially distressed, socially oppressed neighborhood in Brooklyn where the schools were struggling and the graduation rate was teetering. That’s when I noticed. I noticed that my body was being followed by dozens of eyes. The first thing I did was look down to see if a button was missing … or maybe a third eyeball had grown out of my cheek. But I saw no signs that would lead to alienation. I must admit, I was puzzled. Why would anyone do that? What’s there to see anyway? I’m just another human being walking down the street. Isn’t that what we all are?

So when I took on a job that had a fairly materialistic dress code that required “trendy attire,” I panicked. I panicked for the first time since I was four years old – about what I should wear. I knew that if I had received stares and taunts now, imagine what I would get when I was wearing flashy blouses and black dress pants with heels trotting down the street. For the first time, I walked outside of my apartment not with the thought of what I was going to do or who I was going to see, but how I could make myself as invisible as possible. I made sure that, no matter how high the temperatures reached during the soggy summer days, I always had a zip-up sweater over me. It was like a comfort blanket to me and I felt that without it, things would be a lot worse.

As I said goodbye to the tingling rays of sunlight and warm temperatures, and welcomed in the winter season, I felt a sigh of relief. Yes, now I would be wearing bulky jackets and surely now I won’t receive any attention! This is what I told myself, but when I started taking a tally and calculated the ratio between people on the street and number of glances/cat calls, I noticed that the numbers during the winter time reflected the numbers during the summer time.

Then a small miraculous gift came into my world: an iPod shuffle. I played my anthems and speed-walked down the street changing my atmosphere into a fake playground of bass lines and pure funk. For those of you who believe that I am just ignoring the problem, have no fear. One of the first tasks I did when I moved to my neighborhood was to print out fliers and hand them to every pervert on the street who dare mentioned a word. Don’t get me wrong, at first I was shy and just walked away, but I found myself unable to contain my anger as time went by. I found relief in replying with a few nasty words myself, shaking my fist or a combination of pointing my finger and swearing in different languages. I feel it’s important to let the perpetrators know that what they’re doing is not acceptable. After all, it may be possible that some of them believe women like to be treated as sub-human.

One day, my shuffle ran out of batteries while I was still on the subway. Being somewhat lazy at times, I left the ear pieces in and, being the somewhat forgetful person I am, I forgot that the ear pieces were still in my ear as I walked down the street. That day, no one said a word, and the obvious glaring was non-existent. I didn’t think anything of it until I reached my door and reflected. The next day, I resolved to partake in this experiment and walked with my ear pieces in sans music. It was the same deal; no one even attempted to harass me.

My experience with street harassment isn’t special or an exception by any means. Coincidentally, a recent article in the Gotham Gazette called to light the issue of street/subway harassment and the growing popularity of the website, “Holla Back” a resource that invites New Yorkers to share their experiences and anecdotes in an online forum. But before this website was even created in 2005, filmmaker Maggie Hadleigh-West created a documentary in 1998 that focused on men who harass women entitled “War Zone” that still receives publicity to this day.

According to the Gotham Gazette, group of women from Brownsville Brooklyn, inspired by this documentary, congregated to form Girls for Gender Equity. They’ve set out to create “harassment-free zones” in their neighborhoods and, according to Executive Director Joanne Smith, train the girls to “Own up to their own comfort zone and identify what they think is harassment.” The girls are encouraged to hang posters to raise awareness and to take part in the battle by letting their perpetrators know that they are uncomfortable with that type of behavior.

As ineffective as some may claim this approach is, I do believe that this can be used as a crucial tactic. I recall a story I was told about a friend who was getting harassed on a fairly filled subway car. This friend pointed at the man and proclaimed loudly “Dirty man!” Everyone on the train looked over to the man, who immediately ceased his taunts. Not only did this effectively shut him up for the time being, but perhaps taught him a lesson to never harass again. Of course there are more physical ways to approach this dilemma, such as the instance where four women stabbed and beat a harasser in Greenwich village with a steak knife, but I would like to stay away from advocating violence unless necessary.

On a positive note, I was happy to find that I wasn’t the only one handing out fliers, and relieved to see that I was certainly not alone when I say that I know that sexual harassment is unacceptable. And for the sarcastic commentators: no, my fliers weren’t banal. They did not simply say “Don’t look at me.” They called upon the fact that I am a human being: a daughter a sister and a girlfriend. (People forget those things, you know.) They also defined what a rape culture is and how that harasser is contributing to it and how it affects our future . . . perhaps even that harasser’s future daughter. Those fliers helped define me as a human and hopefully made them see the situation from my point of view so that I’m not just tits and ass floating down the street, I’m alive and have feelings. They need to know that their words aren’t just words, their words are poison to the community, to the victim and even to the harassers themselves.

As for blaming attire . . . it really urks me when a woman is harassed or even raped and people ask what she was wearing at the time. First of all, not only is it irrelevant, but it doesn’t make any sense – what was “trampy” back in the fifties, wasn’t “trampy” in the 70’s. What’s tasteful fluctuates with time. What people need to get off of their minds is this myth that what women wear determines if a man will “lose it” or not. What people need to realize is that everything from cat calls to rape to domestic violence is all about power. And no wonder these issues are prevalent in low-income neighborhoods. They are oppressed socially and economically and in most cases, will stay hovering among the lower rungs of the ladder by the corrupt powers that be. According to sociologist Laura Beth Nielson who was quoted in the Gotham Gazette, sexual harassment “[Is] a mechanism designed to reinforce [traditional] status hierarchies.” I couldn’t agree more.

A part of me tries to find a thread of compassion, but it’s hard to look through your enemy to see the battered soul that feels that there is nothing left to lose. The anger I feel is the most prevalent emotion I experience and I have to admit that it’s a good idea that I stay away from firearms. But there also exists a small ray of hope that tries to show me that it doesn’t have to be like this. After all, I lived in a community where I felt completely at ease – these places exist! Why not make it happen everywhere else? Why not dream and work on that day where you can walk outside your home wearing whatever you want and for once, not think about how modest or appropriate you are in other’s eyes for your safety against men’s “weakness”, (cough cough, BULLSHIT) but instead focus on what goodness your day can bring.

– written by Elena Gaudino

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Dolce’s Bitter Take on Sexuality

“Rarely will two boys alone engage in a cut fight. But put the same two boys in a group and they often feel compelled to insult each other or another boy in the group. A cut fight requires an audience. At center stage are the higher-status boys; around the periphery are the lower-status boys, and admiring audience who, by their presence, attention, and laughter, validate the higher status of the boys at the center. This dynamic starts as early as first grade and is well established by high school . . .

“They sometimes gathered in a home when parents were away to watch pornographic films and masturbate together. Next they developed a group entertainment called voyeuring, in which one guy at a party would try to convince a girl to go upstairs to a bedroom to have sex. But first his buddies would go up and hide in a closet, under the bed, or behind the door, where they could watch. Sex with a girl, for these guys, was less an intimate encounter with a valued human being than it was the use of a woman’s body as a sexual performance for male buddies, a way to create their own porn movie. . .

“In gang rape, men use female bodies to bond with each other. Anthropologist Peggy Sanday and others who have studied gang rape are careful to argue that, from the point of view of the woman, the rape is not a sexual experience but a violent, degrading, and painful assault. For the perpetrators, however, gang rape certainly is a sexual experience-but it is not about sex with a woman; rather, the males in the group use the violated woman’s body as an object through which to have vicarious sex with each other. Underlying gang rape is male anxiety about status in a hierarchy of power, expressed through denigration of women and erotic bonding among men, and rooted in the misogynist joking culture of athletic teams.
Most heterosexual boys and young men go through a period of insecurity and even discomfort in learning to establish sexual relations with girls and women. Men who were former athletes told me that in high school, and even in college, talking to girls and women made them feel anxious and inadequate. These young men dealt with their feelings of lameness with young women primarily by listening to and watching their male peers deliver a rap to women. This peer pedagogy of heterosexual relations taught them to put on a performance for girls that seemed to work. The success of this learned heterosexual come-on allowed a young man to mask, even overcome, his sense of insecurity and lameness in his own eyes and, just as important, in the eyes of his male teammates. It also deepened his erotic bond with other members of his male peer group by collectively constructing women as objects of conquest.”

~Excerpts from Michael Messner’s essay entitled “The Triad of Violence in Men’s Sports”

“It does not represent rape or violence, but if one had to give an interpretation of the picture, it could recall an erotic dream, a sexual game.“~Response to the criticism by designer Stefano Gabbana

The most common argument against the gang-rape criticism is the fact that the woman is not putting up a fight, but instead remains still with an air of helplessness. I say, this is all the more reason that this promotes gang rape as it depicts a scenario where a woman is objectified and degraded and has no issue with this fact whatsoever. This gives the public and the male population a false sense of complacency when it comes to women and “putting out.” Advertisers constantly depict women as being hyper-sexual beings, ready to pounce and always willing to show you more of her body. This advertisement depicts a woman who, by lying motionless without a care or thought, relays the same message: I’m here, take me, degrade me.

Although Mr. Gabbana tries to take a stab at defending his advertisement, keep in mind that he is a businessman and in the world of selling products, one must stand out from the rest. Usually, advertisers delve into the oh-so tantalizing world of sexuality, illustrating a story of sexuality that plays into fantasy that many of us have been sold to since a very young age. Our minds are being tampered with, our wallet is at stake – all for the sake of a company’s profit. But at whose expense?

written by Elena Gaudino

 

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Art Imitating (Unreal) Life

Living adjacent to Williamsburg which boasts a growing community of starving artists in $3,000 a month lofts, I’ve come across not only a population of artists, but also their social havens that feature their work and their undulating poems.

The social spots are considered by many to be a brewing pot of progressive thought where the next generation goes to nourish its mind and soul and yet some how the “art work” displayed consisting of red spray-painted bare-breasted torsos and vintage prints of pointy-bra pulp women just don’t seem progressive at all in my eyes. But these poor souls and their interpretation of acceptable art work does not only dwell in casual settings featuring $4 beers, but on top of the most elite mountain of art as well.

Upon my last visit to the MoMA, I passed by one abstract exhibit after another, ascending floor by floor to what I believed would be art bliss. On my journey, I heard rumors of the featured Venezuelan artist that tickled my curiosity. This interest peaked once I reached the top floor where his exhibit was stationed as I passed by a group of white-haired socialites donning Burberry trench coats.

“Mmmm, it is very fascinating.”

“I absolutely adore his work.”

“It’s a thrill to have his work displayed here.”

As I walked through the exhibit, I was met with the awkward greetings of boobs. In fact, there were so many of them that I walked around the exhibit counting on my fingers how many paintings there were with bare breasts for no apparent reason, and had to switch my tally to how many paintings featured women who were actually covered. My tally proved to be disheartening, and the bare breasts won 10-1.

Of course, this argument is met by defense from individuals saying “But, the female body is beautiful.”

Well, this is true. The human body in general is a wonderful thing to celebrate, but there is a sharp distinction between using art to celebrate and empower versus usurping. One must ask what type of role the female is playing in the art piece. For instance, is she taking a part in a significant action? Does she have a character? Does she even have a head? Is she a subject or an object?

In this case, the woman’s breasts splattered across the canvas took away any sort of subjectivity this woman might have and instead objectified the woman for her two circular commodities. In many paintings, the woman was headless, lurking naked in the background. In some pieces, there was a male character, dressed of course, but always accompanied by the two perfect and perky bulls-eyes, which, all ladies know simply don’t exist in reality. Keeping all this in mind, one must ask what kind of position do these paintings place women in? What story is being told and most importantly, whose point of view is this story being told from?

According to the Guerilla girls, only 3% of the artists in the Met. are female, where as 83% of the nudes portraits are of women. This does not mean that there are less female artists in the world it means that male artists are more likely to gain recognition. Not only are these males picked to share their works with the public and gain publicity, they are the ones who get to choose what images will be shared with the public. The nude portraits, therefore, are mostly created by males who, no matter how many times will study a nude model, will never quite understand how the female body works and who many times, have a distorted notion of sexuality.

There are still individuals who simply don’t see the harm in any type of imagery, seeing an invisible line between fantasy and reality that can never be breached. Art, in this case, is the vessel for imagery where the imagination can go off to play with no expense, yet this holds no verity. Every image and every piece of “art” whether its meant for one’s twisted fantasy or not has an impact on what our society deems as normal and acceptable. Not only this, it paves the way for sexism to survive in a helmeted shell as carrying the “art” label usually puts the skeptics glances at ease.

A perfect and fairly extreme example of life imitating “art” comes in the form of a December 1984 issue of Penthouse that featured a photo-essay by photographer Akira Ishagaki. Ishagaki basically played into a necrophilia fantasy entitled Sakura which he explains:

Sakura is the word for the cherry blossom. From my childhood . . . I recall the resemblance between the petals of the cherry blossom and a woman’s body. In the spring of my twelve years, I caressed the petals with my fingers, kissed them gently with my lips.

His words pave way for what one would think to be a flowery and beloved portrayal of women. Instead, his images depict an array of women’s bodies in sexually charged post-mortem positions. The images, all taking after Asian influence, are bleak and reek of death. One picture in particular, had a woman with a Japanese-looking outfit hanging limp from a tree, her arms bound behind her back, her head slumped forward, her leg exposed up to her thigh.

Two months later after the issue hit the shelves, Jean Kar-Har Fewel, an 8-year old Chinese girl, was found raped and murdered hanging from a tree.

Once a piece of art meets our society’s artistic standards, that piece, the image it beholds and the story it tells sets up invisible social structures and defines the norm. The norm, in many cases, seems to be that women are itching to be topless, and as Ishagaki portrayed, disposable. The Venezuelan exhibit told me that women are dispensable. All of the portrayed women are alike, have no character and submit to any sexual advances. The most likely cause of the problem is that this is the story that men are telling. These men are setting the roles and putting the pieces into place from their point of view, and it comes to no surprise that there are both men and women out there that believe many of these images are true and normal because they’ve been handed a set script of how they should act at a very young age.

Every aspect of media has a consequence on our society, and the art world is no exception. The usurpation of the female body is all too commonplace, and many pieces of art illustrate this quite well. Just because an individual is an artist, does not make that artist all-knowing or that viewpoint the truth. For the most part, the images we see of women are through the eyes of men, and those works created by women are too far and few between. In this case, art is not imitating life, but changing our lives to imitate a lie.

-written by Elena Gaudino

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“You spelled my name wrong”

“You spelled my name wrong”

Those were the opening words shot at me during what I had wrongly assumed would be the best interview of my entire life. I quickly tried to recover, noting that I knew perfectly well how to spell her name and that spell check must have automatically changed it. I apologized a dozen times for such a rookie mistake and crossed my fingers that the rest of the interview would proceed a bit smoother . . .

It only got worse.

As I left the interview almost in tears, I retreated to the floor bathroom post analysis and came across one of the interviewers who had treated me well.

“Baby boomers have this . . . thing . . . against the millennial generation.” She explained during our surprise re-encounter. I thought about those words as I walked out of the building and back onto Broadway where I retreated back into my thoughts.

So because of my date of birth my value is seen as virtually non-existent? Or was it because I did not have a superior amount of credentials? I am, after all, quite fresh out of college sans graduate student status. Regardless, never before had I felt so gutted and worthless. There was no sense of respect whatsoever. I expected this from a large financial firm questioning me for a high-income job or some hoity-toity socialite not pleased with her caviar dish or . . .

“Heyyyy sexy,” a loiter called out to me. I looked to the loiter then back to the grey building that entrapped the recent memories and saw no difference. Except, inside that building was an organization geared towards empowering women. After all, it was a non-profit feminist journalism organization.

Seeking a career in feminism came natural to me. I had always considered myself a feminist even at the age of six when I transformed our class “Bug Book” by placing an “S” in front of every “He,” discouraged by the lack of female characters introduced to me. Of course during the course of my life there have been foggy definitions and misinterpretations, but as I became more aware of the downright landfill placed onto the face of women because of our patriarchal societal structures, lies and the power of the almighty dollar, I not only became passionate to seek more information and disburse it amongst others, but to destroy the perpetrators.

But of course my efforts for this noble fight in college via television, print and radio meant nothing once I graduated. A community of professors, directors and students eager and willing to support one another and help save others had disappeared like water escaping through cupped hands. I thought coming into New York knowing a city so big should have organizations of every interest, I would be sure to find a home and begin a fruitful life changing peoples’ lives as a living, even if only a little. Instead, in this instance, I saw a modern day girls club who turn their noses to those who are not of their stature.

I am ashamed for them. They’ve lost touch with their roots and the reason they exist. Feminism was born to give women a spirit and a soul and take them out of their physical definitions. Feminism knows no boundaries of material possessions and wealth, knows that those dwelling in a lower status were placed there by unfit powers and grabs their hands and pulls them up. Feminism takes in all women, wraps them into a blanket of support and empowerment, feeds them the truth and forgives their mistakes. We have to support one another. If we cannot, then no one will.

I do believe one of the women that I had met that day had lost touch of the meaning of her organization’s existence as well as the ideals upheld in feminism. I also know that there are organizations, and have interned at one, that are warm, welcoming and ultimately dedicated towards a better future for all women. I just find it sad that I, as a woman, who had so much hope and reverence and so quick to give my dedication, was ridiculed and trampled on by an organization whose mission it is to raise up the status of women around the world.

– written by Elena Gaudino

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