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Put Self-Objectification Under Wraps

by Lu Bailey

I am saddened by today's pop-culture version of feminism, and especially by the number of women who have embraced a new definition of feminism. Instead of seeing feminism as ensuring that all females have the right and opportunity to exercise their human capacity, many subscribe to the notion that being a free woman in today's culture gives a woman the right to disrobe at will -- as long as a man didn't make her do it.

I recently had a discussion with a well-educated, professional woman who identifies with the feminist agenda. She told me that it's time for women to take control of their own bodies and benefit from their sexuality. When I asked her to clarify the phrase "benefit," she said that, as long as a woman is in control of the situation, there's nothing wrong with using what you have to gain a competitive edge. What happens, I wondered, when the "competitive edge" leads to sexual assault? She said I was being dramatic. Did she have an example of a woman truly "in control" of a situation? She described how she really wowed a group of executives during a PowerPoint presentation primarily because of how she looked. I inquired if she wore one of those Victoria's Secret push-up bras to seal the deal. She said no, but that she wore a bra that increased her cup size from a "B" to a "C." I think that's when my meltdown started.

Pop culture has tricked many women into thinking it's liberating to shed their clothes because they have the power. But at the end of the day, who truly benefits from T&A? Not women.

All women are denigrated and diminished when any woman is objectified either by her own hands or at the hands of others. We all pay a price when women are applauded for "shaking it fast." Don't believe it? Just walk into any department store and try to purchase an outfit for any seven year-old girl, as I have done.

Everything I looked at was low-cut, tight and too short. Who are these people who think little girls need to look like little prostitutes? Are they men? Are they women? Whoever they are, they have one thing in common -- the objectification of women and girls.

That's the high price we pay when females are sexual objects. The even greater problem and impact is sexual violence against women and girls.

Progressive women, feminists, womanists or just women who want to buy something decent for our daughters must voice displeasure and outrage when women or girls are displayed as body parts in any form of the media. Where's the passion to fight against the objectification of women? Even though we're living in progressive times that have allowed women to move in spaces rarely occupied by women, there seems to be one space the world wants to keep us in -- and that's literally the space between our legs.

Several years ago, I joined a nationwide movement to remove something called "BET After Dark," a smorgasbord of butt-jiggling videos that in its racial content would have never been allowed to air on MTV for fear of being labeled racist and disrespectful of black women. But, since the videos were of nearly naked black women shown on Black Entertainment Television, there wasn't an outcry by the usual suspects.

But what BET didn't expect was a group of enraged women from all across America to write letters and threaten to boycott all and anything BET if they didnt cancel the show. They got the message and pulled the porn-fest.

The BET incident is a tangible example of how a group of committed people can make their collective voices heard and make a difference. We need to hear the authentic voices of today's feminist leaders who are ready, willing and able to speak out against the denigration of any female image. I'm doing what I can in my community, but we need the anointed ones to get involved as well.

Because of the BET dispute I remain hopeful that women will progress beyond our body parts and embrace the fierceness within our spirit to do phenomenal things and advance a progressive women's agenda. But, in the meantime, can anyone tell me where I can buy some decent clothes for my seven year-old?

May 13, 2009

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Lu Bailey is the former president of the Chicago Council on Urban Affairs, a public policy civic group, and the co-founder of the Women of the Millennium Project (an initiative build partnerships and collaborations among racially diverse groups of
women). Bailey is also a recipient of the Metropolitan Chicago and Lake County, IL YWCA's Racial Justice Award.

Also see "Higher Ground, Not Common Ground" by Merle Hoffman in this edition of On The Issues Magazine

See"Intimate Lines: Teaching Daughters About Lollipop Politics" by Margot Mifflin in this edition of On The Issues Magazine


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