Why We Need to Stop Condemning Cosmetic Surgery

By Malene Bratlie

The last couple of years has not been so bad for feminism. Yes, we do still experience sexism, we are still paid unequally based on our sexual differences, and our nipples are still heavily sexually loaded despite our will but, at least, we are heading in a direction of conversations and debates on how to create a society that is equal for all genders. But if we ever are to reach that point, we need to unpick all those aspects that underpin gender inequality, why they still exist and how they can cease to exist.

One of those aspects is that of putting women into fixed categories. I like to think that we have grown towards a more nuanced understanding of women’s personalities and that there is little need to put us into categories. And in many cases we have, but when it comes to female celebrities, categorisation does happen.

It is especially so in the case of female celebrities who fall into the category of ‘sex symbols’. Though not all of them, there seems to be a subcategory of female sex symbols which is relatively rigid, shaped by aspects such as silicon breasts, blonde hair and plump lips.

Often these women are presented as slightly less intellectual and a bit too obsessed with their own looks. A very recent example of this is Norway’s top blogger Sophie Elise, a 21-one- year-old woman who has had two cosmetic surgeries including breast implants and nose job as well as Restylane injections in her lips. Almost immediately, the media and her readers put her in this category: a sex doll, only to be judged by her appearance and her ‘dumb’ statements. The moment she expressed her concerns for environmental issues, the dreadful treatment of circus animals and the prejudices towards refugees, she was ridiculed by the tabloid press and by media experts. She also flashed at an awards show recently to demonstrate how tired she was of solely being evaluated by her looks. It seems to be that when a woman succumbs to the pressure of ideal beauty, she is deprived of the right to discuss issues besides beauty and boobs, only to be seen through the lens of sexuality.  

In the latest issue of The Gentlewoman, Pamela Anderson follows in a similar vein of frustration. “People have a very fixed image of who I am and what I can do,” she said. One of the leading newspapers in Norway pointed out the irony of first having breast implants and then complaining about the immense body pressure women experience. However, what they did not point out is that the choice to undertake cosmetic surgery, at a very young and insecure age, is a choice very likely to be influenced by a patriarchal society that primarily focuses on women in terms of appearance.

What these concerned media experts fail to take into account is that a woman — cosmetic surgery or not — can actually be so nuanced and complex as to care about different things at once. Like we all do, we care about issues that affect us as a society, about the TV shows we watch and the conditioner we use. That doesn’t mean that the right to speak up about serious as well as shallow matters should be robbed from us. So why is it okay to do so in the case of these women? Is it because they chose to put themselves in the light of the media? Because they chose to go to more extreme lengths to meet a beauty ideal that we are being fed on a daily basis?

In the case of women who carry out operations to meet society’s ideal of beauty, we are quick to condemn. Is it because it is too uncomfortable to realise that it is not these women who create the pressure of ideal beauty, but rather, the patriarchal structures of society who so repeatedly tells us that we are evaluated first on how we look, and then for our intellect? Is it really so strange that in the midst of this pressure, some succumb to it, and let the wonders of cosmetic surgery revile the burden of never being pretty enough, or thin enough? What we need to condemn instead are these patriarchal structures that prevent a more diverse representation of women.

This issue is not a new one in feminist conversations. One way to tackle gender discrimination is to end objectification — an obvious goal on the feminist agenda. But we need to repeat this conversation again and again until we don’t have to fight for the choice of when we can be empowered by our sexuality and when we can be empowered by our intellect. Even though feminists (and everyone else for that matter) have a responsibility to dismantle and challenge the idealistic conception of beauty, we must also keep in mind that when women choose to have cosmetic surgery it is not them we should try to change, but the decisions of a media industry who consistently feeds us with a homogenous picture of ideal beauty.

White Feminism: Not Even Good for White Feminists

By Camille Jean Brown

How to Navigate a ‘Taylor Swift Moment’

When Feminista Jones came to my campus last autumn I was the most excited to hear her talk about her #YouOkSis campaign against street harassment. Thinking my feminist roommate (white, like me) would also be going to such a momentous occasion, I asked her if she would like to have dinner beforehand.

“I was going to go but I didn’t know she’d be talking about black feminism. I thought she’d be talking about everybody feminism.”

Frustrated, I went to the talk alone.

My roommate, like many white feminists, didn’t get it. Equality for women may be a single issue but, as Audre Lorde put it so well, “there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”

For feminist ideologies to work properly they require a fundamental understanding of intersectionality, namely the way in which various societal constructs (e.g. race, gender, class, sexuality) work together for various individuals. That means feminist ideologies, even when applied to a subgroup of women, are applicable to even those who do not identify with that group.

Let me give you an example.

A few weeks ago, the internet blew up over Nicki Minaj calling out the MTV Video Music Awards for nominating a video that “celebrates women with very slim bodies.” A few tweets later, Taylor Swift invited Minaj onto the stage with her to share the victory if ‘Bad Blood’ were to win Video of the Year, but in doing this, Taylor was ignoring intersectionality in favour of a “white feminist” viewpoint. What I mean is that Nicki’s whole string of tweets were recognising a racial unfairness as well as pointing out her body’s nonconformity to beauty standards. Nicki’s statement came at the intersection of her being black and being a woman. Taylor’s counterargument, unfortunately, took the white feminist approach and dismissed Nicki’s racial statement. By suggesting Nicki was “pitting women against each other” and inviting her to share the stage, Taylor was tapping into a mainstream white feminism that is not inclusive.

Okay, so Taylor’s apology tweet about misunderstanding makes sense.

But doesn’t it also make sense for Taylor or some other white feminist to misunderstand the argument in the first place? We were so quick to feel better about the two making up. We forgave the white feminist for not understanding.

On the other hand, it definitely makes sense for black feminists to have understood where Nicki was coming from. The problem here is that the person with more privilege is given the benefit of the doubt while the person with less privilege has to understand mainstream (white) feminism to make the argument in the first place. In many ways, black feminists must take mainstream feminist ideologies and weave in racial experiences in order to make an argument under which they apply at all.

Apply that to women of any other non-white racial or ethnic identity and you see that the same approach is necessary.

Make sense?

So, now, why should white feminists care about this if “their” feminism is the “norm”?

The freedom to ignore intersectionality is a sign of privilege. And white feminists (like myself) have the option of running with that privilege without looking back. However, gender equality will not go as far if we do so.

In addition, when I talk about feminists I don’t only mean women. Men can be feminists, too. My roommate didn’t want to attend Feminista Jones’s talk because of a racial difference. That’s similar to a man saying he didn’t want to attend because of a gender difference.

The talk definitely applied to men in attendance, just as it applied to white women. There were things to be learnt. In fact, most women of colour in attendance probably already knew most of what Feminista was talking about. Those not identifying as black feminists probably had the most to learn.

And that is why white feminism isn’t even good for white feminists.

White feminism ignores a whole slew of issues that women of colour deal with perhaps in more intense ways. For example:

  • White women are the standard of beauty that women of colour are expected to conform to. At the same time, white people have a tendency to appropriate the fashions of other cultures — picking and choosing what they deem “beautiful.”
  • The black community tends to prize “thick” women but those same women receive critiques for not having the thin body type that mainstream society prizes.
  • Affirmative action tends to help white women more than women of colour.
  • White women don’t struggle with the same level of anxieties about their natural hair.
  • Women of colour have a much harder time finding beauty products that work for their hair type and skin colour.
  • As Feminista Jones described in the talk I attended, women of colour are more likely be street harassed, more likely to be victims of random acts of violence including sexual assault, and more likely to be murdered.

All of the above and more are true. The facts aren’t meant to diminish the struggles all women face. Rather, they are meant to point out the diversity of struggles mainstream feminism tends to ignore. They are still very much issues of gender equality. White feminism leaves behind women of colour and, therefore, does not allow gender equality to reach its full potential. It’s still okay to have a Taylor Swift moment from time to time but only if you recover with a healthy look at your privilege in relation to the statement you’re making.
[Note: For the most part I’ve spoken about intersectionality as it applies to race and gender because those are ideas I’ve studied extensively. It is important to consider while reading how intersectionality applies to any other social construct that creates a system of privilege as it interacts with feminism.]

Is Mainstream Media Confused About Bisexuality?

By Alice Ryder

The media’s portrayal of female sexuality has always left much to be desired. However, recently, there has been a specific focus and — on the part of the media — confusion, over fluid (and sometimes very clearly stated) sexualities of female celebrities.

There have been constant examples of this. The media downplayed Kristen Stewart’s relationships with women by calling them her ‘gal pals’. They named Abby Wambach’s wife her ‘friend’ alongside a picture of them kissing after Wambach won the Women’s World Cup. Amber Heard was labelled as an ex-lesbian upon her marriage to Johnny Depp resulting in her having to come out publically as bisexual yet again. Vogue reporter Rob Haskell implied that not only is Cara Delevingne’s bisexuality a phase, but that her relationships with women are also due to her having a difficult childhood dealing with her mother’s heroin addiction.

This is not an unusual opinion to have. Many people — both straight and within the LGBTQ+ community — have the opinion that bisexuals are attracted to two or more genders due to something awful that happened to them in their past, leaving them confused, greedy, promiscuous or all of the above. Even more people assume that bisexuality is a pit-stop they will leave behind on the way to being ‘fully gay’ — whatever that means. These are all harmful stereotypes that continually force bisexual and queer people back into the closet.

The problem is that the media is not interested in the romantic side of these relationships. They don’t care about the fact that this person fills a space in the female celebrities’ lives and that they ultimately love them for who they are, not the gender they are. Instead these reporters are reducing the relationships to either a sexual component (Who is the man in the relationship?, Do you miss sleeping with men?, How many other men and women have you slept with?) or some kind of pathology that will eventually be fixed by… you’ve guessed it, a man, when he tames their wild side or helps her solve the mental torment of whatever happened in her youth.

These patterns are also repeated in TV and film plotlines, where the bisexual character* is shown to be dangerous, malicious, a cheater and usually an all-round bad person, before her early exit into heterosexuality or untimely death.

[* This is if that word is ever used — which 99% of the time it isn’t — instead we might see that they dated a male character and then have some love affair/sex scene with a female character.]

There is a simultaneous fear and morbid curiosity when it comes to female sexuality and the media cannot decide if it is going to refer to every same sex-partner as a ‘gal pal’, erasing the lesbian and bisexual relationships, or become inappropriately involved in their sexual and romantic workings. Needless to say, either way, they aren’t doing it right. The question really needs to be asked: why do we feel the need to report on these things in the first place? And why, when they have been told multiple times, do they continue to get the identities of these women wrong, writing offensive, erasing and degrading articles instead?

One thing that is ultimately confusing for them is that bisexual identities are vast, and unsurprisingly not the same from one person to the next, with relationships involving multiple gender identities or some people having preferences in the gender of the people they date. It will not be easy to apply broad, sweeping generalisations on bisexual people, as often happens when it comes to lesbians and gay men. Big publications such as Vogue should be using this opportunity to promote alternate sexualities correctly instead of feeding into these harmful stereotypes about bisexual people.

It is these harmful stereotypes that have a lasting impact on the bisexual/queer community and the reason why bisexuals have lower mental, sexual and physical health than gay and lesbian people. Or why the statistics of rape, domestic violence and sexual assault against bisexual women are alarmingly higher than straight women or lesbians. Or why bisexual people are more likely to have low standards of sexual health due to health providers not understanding or just denying their sexuality. Or why suicide is high for bisexual people. Or why bisexual people are put into conversion camps or why ‘corrective rape’ is used against them to make them ‘pick a side’. Unfortunately, it is usually those who are most disadvantaged in the LGBTQ+ community who don’t reap the rewards from mainstream LGBT efforts.

It isn’t just the straight mainstream media that is writing damaging, biphobic articles about bisexual women. This week XO Jane posted an anonymous article written by a lesbian who has decided she is the identity police, ranting about her queer friends’ sexual activity and telling all bi women who are not out or who happen to date men, ‘fuck you’. It would be funny if it weren’t a damaging and upsetting opinion shared by a lot of the LG community.

The question we all really want answering is why do these platforms continue to post this discriminatory, biphobic content? Why aren’t there editors and blog owners who are standing up to journalists and writers who continually write misgendering, biphobic, homophobic, transphobic and generally terrible articles?

If the answer is because it fuels controversy, then that simply isn’t a good enough reason when it contributes first-hand to the violence that is inflicted on the bi community. It’s amazing that we have celebrities such as Amber Heard, Alan Cumming and Anna Paquin publically standing up for bisexual rights. But there is an essential need for the mainstream media to catch up with LGBTQ+ politics and refuse to publish biphobic, homophobic and transphobic content as well.

Gender and Fashion at the Met Gala: Power, Ideology, and Culture

By Hana Shaltout

Film and fashion are closely tied together, and trends are often created through both simultaneously. It is no surprise that the Met Gala is often called the fashion equivalent of the Oscars because that night has been known to produce some really interesting ensembles. There is also always an ensuing media ruckus about best dressed, worst dressed, and so on. However, this article is more focused on what fashion as a medium means in relation to the world today in terms of culture, and particularly US/UK celebrities .

To briefly introduce the event, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announces a theme that those attending are encouraged, though not necessarily obliged to, abide by and the theme reflects the exhibition that takes place inside the museum itself. This year, the theme was “China: Through the Looking Glass”.

Several bloggers and writers have voiced anxiety about cultural appropriation and orientalism at the Gala which, to be fair, is not entirely an unfounded claim. While the curators and experts behind the exhibition have pointed to the fact that the West’s fascination with China rests on a reproduction of China that is more imaginary than real, I wonder what it is like to represent a ‘real’ China. Is that even possible? The point here is: what does the Chinese-themed Met Gala tell us about gender and culture?

Part I: Gender, Culture, and Orientalism/Postcoloniality

In Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity, Elizabeth Wilson, a scholar on fashion from a sociological perspective, tells us that: “Fashion is obsessed with gender, it defines, and redefines the gender boundary” (p118). This becomes particularly prominent as we remember that costumes were crucial for silent movies: “Clothing can reinforce a film’s plot, theme, or mood and act as a metaphor for a certain character type. This was especially important in silent movies, where costume could be mobilised to say something about someone as a replacement for speech itself.” (Paul Jobling, “Border Crossings: Fashion in Film/Fashion and Film,” in The Handbook of Fashion Studies, p174). This was definitely the case at the exhibition, which combined film clips from various eras to augment the dresses and fashion attire on display, and was completely gendered. Other than the exhibition itself, there is no doubt that the articles and pictures of the Gala portrayed gender stereotypically. I wonder if different ways of dressing would even be “allowed”? All the men wore tuxedos, and almost all the women wore dresses (there were a few who wore trousers and tops).

But it is not just how fashion relates to gender, but how the theme of China was portrayed through the Gala. Wilson also tell us that we can understand fashion “as a cultural phenomenon, as an aesthetic medium for the expression of ideas, desires, and beliefs circulating in society…fashion may then be understood as ideological” (Wilson, p9). And from my own analysis, ideologically speaking, the attendees conjured up a whimsical mix of ancient-imperial-1920s-fantastical China; in sum, a China that was not “really” present temporally or spatially. We can see this in Sarah Jessica Parker’s headdress and Rihanna’s yellow robe. This is not to say that doing that is “negative” or “bad,” since, as a themed event it is highly likely that imagination would take over “reality.”

There are a number of points I want to raise. The first came from reading through the comments on some articles, where people had said that China doesn’t need to be treated as a child whose feelings could get hurt because someone wasn’t portraying it accurately. These kinds of comments really made me aware that I should not embark on a “I’m-Going-to-Save-China-from-Orientalism” crusade. We should not speak over or for others. The other really important point comes from Rey Chow’s amazing chapter, “Where Have All the Natives Gone?” which is something I recommend everyone read. As a cultural studies scholar who is also postcolonial, Chow smashes the idea of authenticity. There is no “authentic native” or even “authentic” moment in time. Authenticity, just like the “native” is a construct of scholars and historians. Trying to find either can be just as bad as colonialism (!).

Okay. So now we have established three things:

  1. Fashion and film are inextricably linked; a “reciprocal border crossing… enabling fashion to reproduce itself in the image of film and vice versa” (Jobling, p170) and that fashion and gender constantly influence one another in a dynamic and complex process.
  2. Orientalism is really important and we should not undermine practices of stereotyping and cultural appropriation, but neither should we act like we have all the agency and ability to speak for others.
  3. Trying to find, and replicate authenticity –whether through fashion or exhibitions –is futile since our interpretation of history is always a construction already, according to Chow.

Part II: Capitalism

Then what does the Gala signify? We can answer this through Wilson: “Fashion speaks capitalism” (p14) and “Hollywood certainly made glamour into a mass commodity” (p100 in “A Note on Glamour,” in the journal Fashion Theory). If the Gala is not about finding an authentic China and replicating it, but rather about fantasy, imagination and costumes, then we can turn to capitalism to understand more about the symbolic meaning of the Gala.

Without going too much into the theories behind capitalism, I am going to briefly conclude the article by analysing this meme:

rihanna

My main argument is this: media, fashion and culture, broadly speaking, have the capacity to uphold norms. These can be norms about gender, about culture (e.g. what we think of China), about sexuality, and so on. This is not to say that this is always the case, just that the capacity is certainly there, and has been used before. The reason that the meme, which is influenced by the Hunger Games, is so striking is that it shows two separate worlds, where on one hand, there is wealth, power and on the other, struggles for power (to say the least, and I know am doing this half of the meme gross injustice).

Chris Rojek, another scholar on celebrities and capitalism tells us that: “Capitalism requires consumers to develop abstract desire for commodities… The compulsion of abstract desire under capitalism transforms the individual from a desiring object into a calculating object of desire… Fashion… provides consumers with compelling standards of emulation.” (Celebrity, p187).

Fashion is not trivial, and trying to see the Met Gala only through the surface will not show how deeply celebrities, fashion, power, wealth, gender, culture and so on are complex systems that are all interrelated. The Gala, symbolic of capitalism, creates a desire to emulate fashion, for example, but it is also capable of obscuring two things. The first is that the gala can mask the fact that interpretations of history are constructions, and authenticity and “native” Chinese things are always mediated through that interpretation. The other is that it obscures power relations or struggles for power.

In Search of the Real Woman

By Sarah Van Horn

Recently, a report called Blurred lines: Exploring Contemporary Attitudes to Gender Portrayal in the Media — carried out by the BBC — found that there is a desire amongst audiences to see more ‘real women’ on television. Whilst the notion of a ‘real woman’ is curious, it’s easy to recognise where this desire is coming from.

Our media unabashedly exposes us to images of women with perfectly contoured, tanned, bleached body parts: a single blueprint for an ideal feminine beauty. And yes, maybe we are aware that she has been nipped, tucked and photo-shopped, but this does not take away from the fact that she is what is presented as the ideal: what we should be aspiring towards. A destructive culture of comparison has been created whereby women are taught to compare themselves to an unattainable standard of beauty.

That said, I do find the notion of suddenly populating our screens with ‘real women’ problematic, for a number of reasons. First of all, it begs the question: what is a ‘real woman’? The term suggests that not all women are real women. More specifically it tends to be used to refer to women who are not skinny, as in the ‘real women have curves’ trope that has been circulating over the past few years. But skinny women are real women;  so are fat women. So are women who have children and women who don’t, and women who work outside the home and women who don’t. Women who get Botox injections and have boob-jobs are also real women. They are ALL real women, because they are human beings. Suggesting that some women are not ‘real’ while others are, comes dangerously close to reinforcing the existing restrictive binaries into which women have historically been placed (such as virgin-whore). Real women are complex and multifaceted, just like real men.

The other concern about the notion of promoting visibility of so-called ‘real women’ is that it risks making the public humiliation of women and their bodies permissible. I suspect certain tabloids would justify photographing female celebrities in highly intimate situations as a means to meeting the demand for ‘real’ women; providing us with proof that they are REAL, just like us, because they too have cellulite! Thanks, but no thanks. All this is doing is adding to a nasty culture of competition between women with an incessant focus on bodily imperfection.

Why does ‘real’ always seem to refer to how a woman looks? If we insist on using ‘real’ as the goal, why not include the real conversations, ambitions, lives and worries of women? It’s time to move on.  All women are real women. What’s unreal is the unwavering focus on their bodies.

Justin Bieber and Christian Grey: Sex Objects of the 21st Century

By Sarah Kendal

The women of our world have united. From every corner of the globe they have formed a mass of ‘Beliebers’ and 50 Shades fans, audibly panting with lust, funding these franchises with their or their parents’ hard-earned cash. Biebs and Grey’s fame relies purely on desirability: if women didn’t find them so sexy they would never have been this famous. E. L. James is not a good enough writer and Biebs just isn’t a good enough singer to acclaim such fame without their sex appeal.

One is human, one a fictional character, yet both have caused what the media have described as ‘palpable hysteria’. At a glance, Biebs is a spoilt baby-faced brat whose most famous song features him whining ‘Baby, Baby, Oh’, for most of it. Meanwhile, Grey is a controlling stalker who uses BDSM to express his emotions and employs legal contracts as foreplay. None of this seems particularly appealing, and yet, they have captured the desires of oh-so-many, almost with cultish popularity.

At the height of Bieber-mania, he had floppy hair, a puppy dog smile and a sort of feminised, unthreatening face. In his inevitable fall from grace he still has 61.7million Twitter followers. To the millions of girls around the world who are faced with male threat everyday, his affable manner, his pretty hair and his childish status were deeply eroticised. Biebs is an easy love-object for the pre-pubescent girl. Even Malala – the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner – loves him.

Meanwhile, Christian Grey is the young, good-looking billionaire with a bit of spanking and alpha-male pouting thrown in. His devoted interest, his alpha-male status and his inability to be in touch with his emotions (unless Ana ‘heals’ him), is a standard Mills and Boons construction of masculinity. Embarrassingly two-dimensional and consumable, he is easy to eat up and digest as a fantasy.

What I may find irritating in the lack of authenticity that these brands of masculinity present, is exactly what so many women find appealing. They are unreal. Biebs and Grey inhabit the cultural western maxims of sexual desirability, wealth, youth, Aryan, muscular physique. Meanwhile they purport to be utterly devoted and obsessed with an average young Ana or ‘fans’. They use a clichéd language of romantic love, echoing Disney, Mills & Boon and olden-day chivalry, but few of us live the kind of life where we expect our lovers to ‘be your soldier, fighting every second of the day for your dreams.’ They act out scenarios that are unrealistic or obviously untrue in comparison to our own reality. And their fans sing along to their catchy clichés with relish.

The presentation of this two-dimensional construction of masculinity is successful precisely because of its unrealistic status. Fantasy is meant to be unreal, and perhaps this is the secret of success for Biebs and Grey. Their brands present the idea of a ‘hero’ with a weakness: devotion to the female sex above all else. In this context it is not a surprise that so many lust-filled fans find this appealing. The culturally endorsed man puts a woman on a pedestal of worship, validating the female. In a world where women are constantly told to seek attention and validation, no wonder they find these men so deeply erotic.

Celebrating Being Single: Gender, Age and Coupledom

By Kate Gilchrist

It’s that time of year when the adverts for dating websites are in full swing, encouraging anyone who’s not already hooked-up to ‘fix their predicament’ in 2015. It reminds me of Tracey Emin’s announcement a few months ago – contrary to such ideas – which celebrates the fact that she is single in her new exhibition entitled ‘The Last Great Adventure is You.’ The Evening Standard quoted her as saying:

‘“I’m very much alone and wanting to celebrate that. It doesn’t mean I’m maudlin. I’ve got to make plans for the future alone.” Emin said that as they got older, couples considered retirement or moving to the country but, “when you’re on your own, you can’t make those plans.”’*

Her need to assert her singledom as a positive rather than a negative, speaks volumes. For a start, it stands out as it’s unusual – how often do we hear of people celebrating their single status in contrast to celebrating their married/coupled status? Emin refutes an association with sadness that being single apparently evokes. She describes how there is no ‘clear’ path set out for her to follow and how she must instead construct her own life plan. This is something Emin clearly feels is less straightforward to do than for those in a couple but, she says, is no less valuable. Emin’s gender and age (she’s in her early fifties) deepen the discrimination she experiences with regard to her single status. While the word ‘spinster’ is now outdated, the associations such a word conjures up are still firmly in place. Emin doesn’t explicitly talk about gender, true, but it led me to think about how such constructions are gendered. And not only how inherently (heterosexually) ‘coupled’ western society is, but also how gendered and aged the status of singledom is.

For example, the recent marriages of two ‘older’ celebrities – George Clooney and Jennifer Aniston – highlight this. They were framed in the media in such a way that not only constructed singledom in a highly gendered way, but also revealed how it is intersected with age.

George Clooney’s marriage at the age of 53, to lawyer Amal Alamuddin, was hailed as the final taming of the handsome playboy, with articles describing Clooney as Hollywood’s most eligible and lusted-after bachelor, and Alamuddin as ‘stealing’ his heart. Jennifer Aniston who – despite her brief marriage to Brad Pitt – placing her ahead of Clooney in terms of being coupled-up – recently announced she would be marrying again at the age of 46. But the media coverage has portrayed Aniston’s nuptials as a long-awaited, overdue ‘life-raft’, saving her from a life adrift as a single woman. While Clooney has just been having years of fun dating different women, (with lots of articles celebrating his list of ex-girlfriends), Aniston has apparently been tirelessly and miserably trawling through Mr Wrongs, to finally find Mr Right – much to our collective relief.

Thus the single heterosexual man is still linked to the image of the carefree, fun-loving bachelor, and while men are admired for eventually becoming ‘family men’, there is much less restriction on when that can happen, with older fathers often only praised for their continued virility (actor Steve Martin has become a father for the first time at 67 to very little negative comment). The older, single, childless woman is still castigated, as we can see from the relief over Aniston’s marriage and by Emin’s need to challenge its current status of ‘something to be pitied.’

Remaining single (or at least unmarried) would not have harmed Clooney’s reputation as much as Aniston’s. Clooney’s situation provoked more a suggestion of disappointment that no lucky woman could ‘catch’ him and an enviousness that Clooney can choose to play the field forever thanks to his sex appeal, rather than despair that he couldn’t attract anyone into marriage. This is not to say, however, that lone men escape entirely unscathed – the failure of a man to be (hetero)sexually active is always frowned upon at any age, whether they are single or attached (film The 40-year-old Virgin is a case in point). What about the other side of the gender binary when it comes to singledom and sex? The sexually active older single female – when not being cast as an animalistic ‘cougar’ – is virtually invisible, bordering a social taboo. And while the sexually active younger single female has become more visible, I’d argue that women pay for that visibility with an intense scrutiny and critique of their behaviour.

The celebration surrounding both of these celebs’ marriages shows that coupledom (ideally in the form of marriage) is always privileged over singledom. As many of my female friends and I can attest, in our mid-thirties we are repeatedly asked in social situations – particularly (surprise, surprise!) at weddings –  whether we are coupled up (married or in a long-term relationship) and if not, why not. That’s not to say that these questions are asked to intentionally harm us, but harm they can. I’m sure if we started asking married people why exactly they were married it’d reveal how loaded such a question is.

It was in response to repeatedly being asked that question that artist Suzanne Heintz, as documented by the Feminist Times, made an art project which explores how singledom is gendered. Using a set of mannequins, she constructed her very own husband and two children to make a fake ‘nuclear family’ and took family pictures in a kitsch 1950s Kodak style. It’s a family structure that haunts her as a single female of a ‘certain age’ living in the U.S. Despite the fact that the nuclear family is a myth rather than a reality (most people actually do not live in a family unit of one heterosexual couple and their children), it is still upheld as the ’norm’; a norm to which, by not conforming, we continue to pay a social price. Heintz uses her mannequins to demonstrate the true hollowness (perfectly embodied by dummies) of hailing only one way of living as, in her words, ‘the only successful life.’

As much as we’d like to think things have changed since the era of Mad Men, we’re just using different ways to reinforce a lot of the same messages. Can we start rewriting the scripts for 2015?

*(The Evening Standard even uses a headline that mimics the language of matrimony: “Emin: I’m going to spend the rest of my life alone and want to celebrate that”).

End of Year Rankings? We’re All Losers When it Comes to Gender Inequality

By Kaammini Chanrai

Given that it’s coming to the end of the year, it’s somewhat unsurprising that several articles have featured highlights of the past twelve months. Multiple times a day, such articles are shared or posted by friends of mine on various social networks: ‘Best TV Moments of 2014’, ‘Most Important Cats of the Year’, ‘Top Goals So Far This Season’ – they’re ubiquitous and, to be honest, they’re often quite entertaining.

Also this year, feminism has gained an even stronger presence in the media. This has been – from my experience – predominantly positive, with an increasing amount of individuals debating feminist issues online, discussing gender inequality and analysing occurrences and events from a gender perspective.  But of course I would say that this is a good thing, given that Gender and the City has attempted to join in on this conversation.

However, the intersection of media discussions on feminism and end-of-year reviews has, for me, been rather disturbing. For example, the most recent article to appear on my ‘News Feed’ named Emma Watson the ‘Feminist Celebrity of the Year’. Now, Emma Watson has undoubtedly made some significant achievements in 2014 pertaining to feminism: her speech at the UN catalysed an array of conversations about gender universally; the #HeForShe campaign that was launched aimed to engage 1 billion men and boys by July 2015; and she attempted to reduce the stigma that is often attached to feminism as a term by embracing it continuously throughout her argument. I do not have a problem with Emma Watson, although I am aware that there are several imperfections of both her speech and the campaign. I do, however, have a problem with assigning anyone with this label. The Feminist Celebrity of the Year was not an isolated ‘award’. There were articles that listed ‘The Most Iconic Feminist Moments of 2014’, ‘The Top Feminist Fiascos of 2014’, ‘The Most Powerful Feminist Moments of 2014’, etc. Why the media insist on ranking the winners and losers of feminism is beyond me.

Let me first try to add a positive spin to these lists. Firstly, they do seem to create awareness of certain events that occurred throughout this year, both in terms of how gender inequality is still a very real problem and the efforts that are being exerted to alleviate this inequality. Secondly, they mostly illustrate feminism as a positive notion and aim to dismantle the stigma often associated with the term.

However, there are still several inherently problematic aspects of classifying feminism and gender inequality in this way. These lists propagate that there is a single notion of feminism that can be classified in some sort of objective order. This simplifies the very notion of feminism, which is a complex and diverse term. I understand that everybody adopts their own individual notion of what feminism is and such articles simply aim to illustrate an individual’s perspective. This would not be a problem except that these lists are available to a mass audience and exemplify feminism and gender inequality in a specifically narrow way. For example, many of these rankings featured stories and individuals predominantly from America and the UK, generally with high-profile celebrity status. Newsflash: the fight against gender inequality is happening everywhere and, I’m sorry, but Taylor Swift identifying as a feminist has not helped to improve equality this year. Sure, such celebrities may have made feminism more ‘cool’ but, let’s face it, that’s about the extent of the effect this has had.

The so-called ‘winners’ of these lists are somewhat questionable as well. On several of these articles, Beyoncé featured quite significantly. I would call myself a Beyoncé fan but, if I’m being truly honest, to call her the epitome of modern-day feminism is troubling. Yes, she performed in front of a giant sign reading ‘Feminist’ and, yes, she wrote a very impressive feminist essay. While I am more than willing to accept that it is difficult to get things 100% right all of the time, it still makes me uncomfortable that somebody who normalised scenes of domestic violence in one of her songs is lauded as a superhero who is mitigating gender inequality.

Call me extreme, but I believe that such arbitrary rankings have the capacity to cause a detachment from our very humanity. What’s next? A ranking of ‘The Saddest Events to Happen in 2014’? Will the Ebola virus be placed top because of the deeply saddening death toll or will the recent attacks at a school in Peshawar clinch the title because the majority of those who were murdered were innocent children? Frankly, that would be ludicrous – both are awful, alongside countless other events of 2014. Attempting to decide which is worse does not only demonstrate a lack of tactfulness: it shows a fundamental lack of empathy. Human lives are lost. All these events are tragic.

Gender inequality is a reality that we face everyday, universally. It isn’t a competition where we should pit achievements against each other. If someone is doing something to tackle this inequality, it should be celebrated. If an event occurred that demonstrated that this inequality is being challenged, it should be celebrated. But please, let’s stop ranking this for our own entertainment. Because when it truly comes down to it, the fact that gender equality is still not a reality, renders us all losers. That incremental steps are being made to confront this inequality will hopefully make us winners. But nobody has won yet, so please let’s stop pretending otherwise.