My little cousin is intelligent. She’s fifteen years old and as sharp as a lion’s tooth. But my aunt told me she got a call from my cousin’s teacher one day saying my cousin had stopped raising her hand in class because her friends made fun of her for being smart. In order to fit in, she dumbed herself down. Hearing this made me wonder if it was just a phase she was going through, or something that would potentially impact her trajectory in life and the way she perceives herself in this world.
It’s apparent that we still live in a society that dictates and shapes how we perceive women, and how they perceive themselves. Through mediums such as television and magazines, religious practices and political agendas, we create and reinforce structures and mindsets that continue to undermine the progress women have made culturally, socially, economically, and politically. It’s an assault that leaves some women, both young and old, questioning themselves and their worth, questioning their own abilities and aspirations, questioning their weight and their looks, questioning their own brains, body, and beauty.
Women have come a long way. From the right to own property to the right to an education, from their right to vote to equal pay in the workplace, the equality they struggled to attain was long overdue. Women have broken barriers. From Condoleezza Rice to Hillary Clinton, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to Christine Lagarde, their ability to break ceilings and be respected in arenas and environments dominated by men could never be understated. From Joan of Arc to Amelia Earhart, Queen Hatshepsut to Rosie and the Riveters in World War II, history provides an impressive, and sometimes tragic, account of women’s ability to overcome the odds stacked against them by a gender biased society, biases and double standards we still see today as women fight for reproductive and birth control rights.
I lament the day shows like Toddlers & Tiaras began to air and all of sudden little girls watching from home were drawn into a world of superficiality and materialism. I lament the day fashion magazines and modeling shows began to set unrealistic and unhealthy standards of what body and beauty should be, and in an instance teenage girls traded in their youthful innocence for lip gloss and eyeliner, short skirts and bathroom Facebook photos. I lament the day hip hop became obsessed with booty and video vixens began grinding on the crotches of artists. In that moment, the depiction of women as accessories to men’s success, much like cars and fine wine, was cemented in song lyrics and video shoots. I lament the day shows like Bad Girls Club and Jersey Shore had their first cat fight and gossip session, a moment that reinforced stereotypes depicting women as overly emotional, irrational, manipulative, and unstable. I lament those occasions and many others, because on those days, the progress women have made, the progress women continue to strive for, was undermined and compromised.