Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Value of Women

I found this cartoon which immediately made me go, "ah ha!" followed by a "wait a minute..." Can it be that both cultures, being extreme opposites, put down the true value of women equally? Of course it can, because they do! Now, don't get me wrong, a woman can freely dress in a bikini or a burqa and not indicate anything about the male-centric nature of the culture. It is not so much about the dress as the stress. In Islamic cultures, women are ultimately forced and coerced to cover up. Not for their own sake, of course, but due to a tradition long established likely for the purpose of hiding the beauty of one's wife so that others will not steal such a man's "rightful" property. Given also that they cannot drive, go to school, or whatever else in many countries, it is safe to say that women are not regardly very fairly. Similarly, the western culture stresses the value of women almost entirely based on their looks and nothing else. Whether or not women truly are viewed this way despite the apparent pressure the women feel to focus on their beauty, all we need to do is look at the Republicans and The Donald.

Trump. Oh, Trump, Trump, Trump. The master of offensive content toward women. Despite the obvious foolishness behind Trumps misogynistic views of women, dare I say that he accidentally made a valid point once? While far from ignored, Trump's point went unheeded and had been immediately placed in the bucket of misogyny coupled with further attacks at his character. I mean, fair enough--Donald is a terrible, terrible man, and his extreme fame in the Republican party shows just how terrible and unconcerned a significant portion of our populace is with the plight of women--but he was far from wrong when he said that a woman's looks were important and referred to the questioner when indicating that she would not have her job if she were not beautiful.

Before I explain further, be it ever so clear that women are worth a lot more than what can be summed in an image. A picture cannot tell the value of a woman by a long shot even though pigs like Trump and his supporters like to think it can. Further, Trump may have been right that the lady in question would not have her job without her looks, but that does not mean it should be this way and that is certainly where the poor-excuse-of-a-man gets off the truth wagon. What I would like to bring up, however, is how we ever-so-unshockingly swing the pendulum too far the other way in saying that looks are unimportant or even that they should not be important at all.

Again, a woman cannot be summed by a picture, or her worth determined by the clarity of her skin and the size of her lady lumps. A woman need not be sexy by cultural (or genetically-induced) standards to be worth something. A woman need not bear children, raise children, or cook anything to be of value. Perfectly valid points are these and absolutely clear they must be. After expressing such quite clearly, we must now allow for the ever-expected "however," however. Even though these things are not the sole value of a woman, they are indeed still valuable aspects to possess. Certainly no man should scoff at a woman who cooks and cleans as if it is of no value. Such things would be valuable aspects of a man as well. What woman would find no joy in a man who takes care of the house and children?

So let us be entirely fair: qualities deemed feminine are not at all to be dismissed as if not valuable in a woman. The problem is that too many men think that women are valued only by these particular qualities and they often undervalue such worth as well. Such qualities are not trifles. But truly, there is no shame in a man desiring a woman who can cook, clean, raise kids, and look good doing it. Hopefully he wants more than just that, but this is no more atrocious than desiring a woman who likes playing video games, has a sense of humor, and enjoys watching Star Trek. They are simply qualities that we, as humans, can be attracted to and there are oh so many different things that go into the value of a human be it male or female. How one looks is certainly a pretty big part of that even if not the only thing.

I hold absolutely no value when it comes to sports. If someone is a sports nut, they will likely find little value in me unless they also value other aspects which I possess. And women who prefer a more well-built and ripped man will be absolutely let down by my physique. I certainly do not blame them since we do not exactly pick who were are physically attracted to. It is innate to our being. Innate especially is the visual appeal of a woman to a man. Studies have shown time and time again that men are (only on average, of course) more visually stimulated than women. Men are simply going to put a high value on the looks of a woman when looking for a mate. Of course, the problem is that men are valuing women based upon looks even if not looking for a mate. Even that, however, might have some slightly valid justification even if it is extremely unfair or even immoral.

Studies have shown that simply placing a picture of a pretty lady on a credit card flyer causes more people to sign up for that credit card. The applicants have no chance of ever meeting this woman, and yet somehow her pretty face reduces their logical and critical thinking skills and makes them more desirous of whatever it is "she" is selling. The pretty face sells the merchandise. And marketers know this. They are not marketing for the purpose of defining the value of women even if that is the outcome; they are marketing to sell a product in the best way they know how: sexual appeal. No amount of us learning to value women in other ways is going to reduce this fact, and corporations are not knowingly going to make such a vaguely-proven moral decision at the cost of their sales. The fact is, beauty in general has value in nearly everything and we are extremely hardwired to enjoy the beauty of a woman in particular. The only problem is if we think that beauty is the say-all and end-all.

We should be wise enough to realize that a cute smile and an hourglass frame is not guaranteed to make a decent person. Such a person could be any number of negative adjectives despite looking sexy. Similarly, a woman not so gifted in the realm of sexual appeal could be any number of positive qualities (including being better at sex despite the appeal) that would make her a far better candidate for whatever she is being evaluated for. The biggest problem I think we face in regard to women is not that we value their looks--it is that women believe that is all we value. And for a large segment of the population, that might very well be the case. Where this comes from is multifaceted but it certainly includes the fact that women are used everywhere as decor and advertising. If the vast majority of female depictions are in materialistic appeal, we are guaranteed to subconsciously draw strong connections between women and beauty rather than anything else.

When we see men, we see them playing sports or video games, being engineers, saving damsels, going on missions etc, etc. Women? We mostly see them being hot and sexy. Sure, there are a few outliers here and there, but it is actually quite difficult to find a movie where two women with names talk to each other for more than sixty seconds about anything other than a man. This is called the Bechdel test. Imagine how easy it is to find the converse of two named men talking to each other. It would be just as hard to find a movie where that was not the case for men as it is to find where it is the case for women. How cray-cray is that? It is crazy how women are often used only as filler for beauty or shallow backstory as if some side-thought that we need moms and girlfriends to help a movie's plot. Recognizing this injustice is only the first step--how we overcome this discrepancy and start showing depictions of women being something more than simply hot is entirely up to us as a society to figure out. Some people are already doing it, but still too many people misunderstand the real problem.

Too many women think they must be as skinny as a pencil or have breasts the size of cantaloupes to be valuable. They get this from the depictions of women everywhere they look and how they are treated by others who similarly derive their opinions from the depictions around them. Marketing campaigns are not going to stop using women to sell their products because we will always value sexuality and beauty. So we ultimately have two options: we can create laws to forcibly stop the use of sexy women (probably not the best solution), or we can inundate our culture with other depictions of women to counteract the overwhelming use of women as art. We can also make this issue more obvious and palatable by explaining it in a more practical manner besides "men are pigs for desiring sexy women," and people could then make conscious decisions in their daily activities to promote alternative depictions of women. An author, for example, does not generally need to have women in any stereotypical feminine roles to sell their books. If they are unaware of the plight of women, however, they are likely to write solely what is familiar and stereotypical: women as decor and housemaids.

I am a strong proponent of uplifting women in positive ways and helping them overcome the false perception that their looks are all that are important. As such a proponent, I think it is extremely important to be clear and precise in how we strive for these goals. In writing this article, I hope to better express the problem without at all indicating the failings of men who are more likely to respond with indignation by a perceived attack. I believe the problem is not men in particular in today's age but a simple propagation of devaluing behaviors via cultural repetition, marketing tactics, and ignorance of the issue. We need not swing the pendulum of misogyny into misandry. Women today are actually to blame to some degree as well who, similarly corrupted by society, focus heavily on their own looks and the looks of others. They continually express the value they, too, place on beauty and perpetuate the failings. We need not blame men or women alone. We are one race and together, hand in hand, we can help our culture overcome this unbalanced depiction of women for the betterment of us all.

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