Virtue Makes You Beautiful

Purity, Slut Shaming, and Virtue Policing – On “Virtue Makes You Beautiful”

I’m always one for a good remake of a pop song.  Hell, I even worked with friends to create a consent-based version of “Call Me Maybe” a few years ago.

So when I saw someone post a remake of a song I absolutely hate for its really messed up, sexist message to young women, I thought to myself, “Hey, it can’t be worse than the original!”

Wow, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

In short, I hate “What Makes You Beautiful” because this group of “heart-throb” teen pop-stars tell young women over and over through a myriad of cheesy lyrics that  what makes them beautiful is having no self esteem and not actually finding themselves beautiful.

Just what we need! Another song telling women that it’s “hot” for them to hate themselves!

And what’s worse, it’s a bunch of men telling women what they should think about themselves!

So when I saw that there was a remake out there, I was intrigued, hoping that maybe it would put some subversive spin on the terrible message.  And this is what I found.

In case you can’t bring yourself to rage watch the whole thing, it’s a bunch of high school boys with the help of superstar (within a certain world) Mormon musician Alex Boye signing about how women are far more attractive when they have the “self respect” not to wear “short skirts or low cut shirts” and that they are most beautiful when they are “modest” and “virtuous.”

Oh, and with the line “girls with integrity are hard to find these days,” they basically say that women who don’t “respect themselves” by dressing “modestly” have no integrity and only would dress the way they do to attract the attention of “a guy that only cares what he sees with his eyes.”

Ugh.

Okay. So it’s hard to know what all to say about this, and I can’t help but think that I’m being trolled with this entire thing, but it’s really popular!  It has a total of probably 500,000 hits in various copies on the internet!

While it may seem that I’ve taken to my blog just to complain about this nastiness, I actually do want to do more than just rage out about this purity policing.

When the song first started, I had hope.  After all, a message telling young women that they are more than sexual objects and that confidence and self respect and intelligence are all beautiful qualities could be a good one.

But this remake doesn’t do that. It sends girls and women some really terrible messages, but as an educator who works primarily in engaging men in feminist work, I am concerned with the messages it sends to men:

1. Whether by valuing only a woman’s sexuality or “virtue,” men still get to decide what’s beautiful. What girls and women think doesn’t really matter.

In reality, though, we as men should have absolutely no right to tell a woman (or any person for that matter) “that’s what makes you beautiful.”  Sure, we can be attracted to certain things like confidence and even particular styles of dress (though we should definitely interrogate that attraction for underlying sexism and paternalism), but women are the only ones who get to decide what’s beautiful.  If a woman feels beautiful in a niqab or in daisy dukes, her opinion is the only one that matters.  And by publicly putting out messages like this one, we are basically shaming any woman who doesn’t act in the way we deem “beautiful” as somehow the opposite.

2.  There is a dichotomy (a false one) between women who “respect themselves” by dressing “modestly” and slutty slut sluts who have no “virtue.”

Young men (well, men in general) get some pretty terrible messages about how they should think about women, but this false dichotomy not only hurts women for obvious reasons (I hope they’re obvious…), but it forces men to lie about our attractions so as not to appear “without virtue” ourselves.  After all, yes, we may be attracted to people who dress in what these dudes consider “modest clothing,” but we are also likely attracted to all sorts of people and styles of dress and ways of being (and not just women, but I’ll get to that later).

When we claim that we think it’s wrong for women to be anything but “virtuous” in this strict construction of virtue, we end up shaming women while casting ourselves into guilt and shame when we find women attractive who don’t fit the “virtuous” profile. It’s just unhealthy, repressed sexuality mixed in with some good, old-fashioned slut shaming!

The reality is that a person can dress modestly and be a terrible, mean, downright nasty person, and another person can have all the integrity in the world and love to show their beautiful thighs to everyone while riding their cruiser bike.  How we as humans dress says nothing about our character!

3.  Men have the right to body police and slut shame women so long as we do it through positive language like “modesty” and “virtue.”

I would guess that if I asked most of these guys if they think it’s wrong to yell “SLUT” at a woman on the street who is wearing a low-cut top, they would say yes (even if, in practice, they might do it).  Yet that’s exactly what they are doing, only in reverse.

They are yelling singing publicly that women who dress “modestly” are “virtuous” and “beautiful,” they are slut shaming without ever yelling impolite words.  This allows us as men to feel like we’re being honorable when we’re really no different than the men on the street who harass women for what they wear.

4.  Guys are and should only be attracted to women.

Finally, I know without a shadow of a doubt that they meant it to be this way, but watching this video, you would think that men only are ever attracted to women.  Why is this hurtful?  Well, LGBTQQAAI young people who grow up in “purity cultures” like that pushed by this video live in worlds founded on guilt, shame, hurt, and violence, and they take their lives in staggering numbers.  Thus, though it’s not the focus of the video, the heterosexism present also hurts.  Who knows, maybe it’s hurting one of the people acting in the video!

In essence, this was a bit of a rant.  But it was meant to be more than that!  It was meant to be a call to consider how “purity” and “virtue” messages like this one are actually really damaging, and we need more adult men (I’m looking at you, Alex Boye) to call young men to consider why this hurts everyone.

SavingRoomforCats

10 Ways Men Can Combat Sexist Entitlement in Public

After the tragic mass murder in Isla Vista, CA in May, violence driven by Elliot Rodger’s misogyny and racism, countless women used the hashtag #YesAllWomen to voice the endless ways in which overt and microaggressive misogyny shows up in their everyday lives.  It was an incredible response to a terrible tragedy, one with the power to raise awareness of the constant assault on their lives, bodies, personhood, and livelihoods that women-identified people face.  I, along with a number of other pro-feminist men, called on men to read as many of the tweets and to reflect on what they cumulatively call on us to change.

Sadly, though, many men saw it as a chance to question and challenge women’s experiences with misogyny rather than to listen.

One of the most common refrains, despite the thousands of voices cumulatively calling on men to realize the harsh realities of misogyny, was “PROVE IT!”  Men, and not just your hardcore MRAs, were challenging women (without a hint of intended irony) to show evidence that misogyny exists while the evidence rained in tweets all around them.

One dude in particular tweeted at a number of women, asking for proof that men are socialized to feel entitled to women, women’s bodies, women’s accomplishments, women’s space, and so on.

As one example, someone tweeted the “Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train” Tumblr, trying to help him understand that male entitlement extends beyond overt commodification of women’s bodies, and that it extends into how we are socialized to be in society.  Literally, we are socialized to take up more than our fair share of space!

MT2MSOTT

Source: Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train

From there, someone linked to the “Your Balls Are Not That Big” Tumblr, and someone else posited that maybe the men on trains are just “Saving Room for Cats:”

SavingRoomforCats Source: Saving Room for Cats

The guy didn’t really get the connection.

But there is an important connection to be made.  #YesAllMen are socialized to feel and act entitled in society, and we tend not to see and understand the ways we act with entitlement because, well, privilege.  And for many of us, this entitlement just plays out through microaggressions like asking a woman to smile or touching a woman’s hair without her permission.

But it doesn’t just impact women.  Last week I was on a plane, and I was exhausted. I had just spent the night in the airport after a series of annoying delays, and it was a long flight.  The guy sitting behind me was pretty obnoxious during boarding, cracking stupid jokes and being overall way too loud for a 7 am board time.  I was in the exit row, which meant there was a gap between my window seat and the actual window/door, and a few hours into the flight, I was woken up my a terrible smell.  This is what I found:

MyFlightCompanionYeah, that is my arm rest, and those are his shoeless feet.

Now before you rush in with a #NotAllMen trope or a story of a woman being super entitled in public space, listen: no, not all men would have the gall to put their stank feet up on someone else’s armrest, and yes, I have seen women get super entitled about how their drink was made a at a coffee shop.  However, when we pair the entitlement that men too often feel and act upon with the everyday misogyny that women face, we have a dangerous combination.

No, not all men will be an Elliot Rodger, killing women who reject us, but if we are not actively working to dismantle the ways in which men learn the type of entitlement that Elliot Rodger felt, then we are surely contributing to the wider problem.

So here are 10 simple ways that men can combat sexist entitlement in public:

1.  Don’t Act Like the World is Your Living Room, and Call Out Men Who Do

This one’s simple.  Be aware of the physical space you take up in public: on trains, in coffee shops, at the library, on airplanes.  I’m plenty guilty of waking up on a plane, only to realize my large legs have taken over some of the space afforded to my neighbor when they bought the ticket. I simply apologize and reposition myself so I’m not taking over!  See a dude with his feet up and shoes off in a crowded Starbucks?  Politely ask him to consider how much space he is using.

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Courtesy of DumbSainthood

How Do We CHANGE Rape Culture on College Campuses?

Carly PuchCarly Puch is a recent graduate of Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minnesota. With a Bachelors degree in sociology and women’s studies Carly’s interests are in gender, masculinity studies, and all things feminist. Carly developed an increasing interest in social media and women and work working as an intern at the Minnesota Women’s Consortium. To see more of Carly’s work check out her blog, “Carly Puch: Life Through a Feminist Lens”.

Follow her on Twitter: @carlypuch

***

I recently graduated from Augsburg College in Minneapolis, MN. My last year at Augsburg I, along with some other amazing women, started a group on campus called Augsburg Against Gender Violence. Our goal was to address what we thought was lacking on campus when it comes to education, information, and resources regarding gender violence and sexual assault. Augsburg College has been a leader on many hard issues, but it does not lead in the conversation concerning sexual assault. So our first step was to brainstorm.

Where to start? The task seemed more and more daunting. At our intimate meetings (we were lucky to have five people), we would throw out some truly incredible ideas. But we always ended on that ok where to start kind of vibe.

Should we call for more professor sensitivity training? Should we check if we are a Green Dot campus? Should we try and contact our public safety department? Should we target students and plan an on-campus activity? Basically were we thinking micro or macro? Both? In-between? I started to realize we took on a lot. It felt out of reach to make change.

Some of these options we attempted to pursue, and some we even accomplished. We attempted to contact the department of public safety, but our voices remained small. However, we managed to have Carlos Andrés Gómez speak at our school. Gómez is an award winning poet, actor and writer that discusses the connection between toxic masculinity, violence against women, and overall all how we fail to allow men to become fully developed emotional human beings. It was a lovely event.

As I reflect I thought that maybe we were asking the wrong questions. But really we weren’t asking enough.

After all, truly all of the above should be addressed: professors, students, faculty, staff, orientation leaders, and the public safety department. We should think about micro and we should think about macro. We need both. We need it all.

But it is time to admit that addressing sexual assault and rape against women after it happens is not enough. I do not mean to dismiss the many amazingly hardworking people that do this type of advocacy because it hard and under-appreciated work. But we need the before so we can stop relying on the after.

Statistics get thrown around all the time: 1 in 4 college women will be sexually assaulted. But I ask you to truly think about that. Now yes, that woman could be your daughter, mother, sister, or friend.

I am sick of that argument. We should care because they are people. End of story.

Building a Movement

There have been many steps in the right direction this year for addressing sexual assault on college campuses. The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault paired with the 1 is 2 many campaign to release a PSA encouraging men to be a part of the solution in ending sexual assault.

The White House then released a list of schools that have not properly responded to sexual assault complaints. Campaigns like Know Your IX, which work to educate college students to know their rights under Title IX, are gaining national attention.

KnowYourIX

But with every step forward there have been reminders as to why dealing with the after is not enough.

The most poignant example surely is the recent tragedy at University of California, Santa Barbara. The shooter, Elliot Rodger, had connections to Men’s Rights Activist and Pick Up Artist groups, and shared with the world about his hate for women via YouTube.

This spring a female student at Harvard wrote a letter to the college paper, titled, “Dear Harvard: You Win.” The letter outlined how Harvard completely failed to do anything when she came forward and named her rapist.

A young man at Duke is actually suing the college because he was expelled after being charged with rape.

These incidents remind us that the problem is deeply rooted. We have been socialized to embrace rape culture. I say we because I am NOT exempt from it. I too fall prey to the effects of this system.

Nationally we have arrived at a point that Augsburg Against Gender Violence did, the now what? stage. What can we do with this information? More specifically how can we change the culture that allows and condones rape on college campuses?

Luckily there are people, groups, and organizations working on this effort all over the country. But they tend to be based at one school or one geographic location.

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Jamie Utt's 7 A's of Hooking Up

[Video] The 7 A’s of Hooking Up

Some of y’all might remember that back in the fall, a Phi Kappa Tau fraternity brother from Georgia Tech made national headlines when he sent the rapiest email ever to his frat email list.  Entitled “Luring Your Rapebait,” the email listed off the “7 E’s of Hooking Up.”  If you want to read them, you can here, but I’d advise against it, as it’s pretty damn misogynist and degrading toward women.

In response, I wrote a piece for the Good Men Project that called the dude in to consider the implications of his email while putting forward the “7 A’s of Hooking Up.”  Eventually the Huffington Post even picked up the piece and ran with it.

Wel,l when I was in New York City last fall, the incredible Fivel Rothberg (who I profiled in my 7 Men Who are Transforming Masculinity piece) and Martyna Starosta had the idea to film a short piece about the 7 A’s of Hooking Up, so working with their colleague Abe Vazquez, they shot and edited an amazing little video about consent!  Check it out!

I’d love to hear your thoughts and reactions in the comments!  I tried to parallel my 7 A’s with dude’s 7 E’s, but in doing so, it surely left out a few aspects of consent.  What would you add?

CoolStoryBabe TShirt

A New Masculinity: Why I Need Feminism as a Man

As I was thinking through what I might say in this article, I found myself sitting in the back of a classroom, observing a teacher in a school where I was offering some bullying-prevention training.

While the teacher was engaging the students in a discussion on the foundations of Judaism for a World Religions class, I noticed that a young man was wearing this t-shirt:

Capture

For the next ten minutes or so, I considered what I could say to engage this young brother in a discussion about the impacts of his choice in t-shirts.

After all, he undoubtedly wears it to court attention, so a confrontation or preachy approach surely isn’t the best route. And I wasn’t sure of the best question that I could ask him to get him thinking about the problematic nature of his shirt.

Then the bell rang, and he quickly grabbed his things and ran out the door, disappearing into a mass of students before I could get his attention.

As I sit here hoping that one of the other men in his life calls him into a discussion, I am still not sure what I would have said to him, but I do know that the route that would likely be most successful in encouraging critical thought would be one that calls him to reconsider what it means to be a man.

After all, I know that I’m more likely to critically engage when someone calls me in rather than simply calls me out. Sure, calling him out would have felt good, but calling him in may have led to change.

That said, the “calling in” conversation isn’t likely to be a discussion I could have with him in passing, for a reconsideration of masculinity and gender isn’t exactly the stuff of hallway banter in a busy high school.

Meeting Men Where They Are

Yet reconsidering mainstream masculinity and its role in a wider system of gender oppression is one more of us as men need to take up in all of its nuance and complexity.

And yet without fail, every time I have written something addressing the need for a new masculinity – one not rooted fundamentally in oppression, violence, and power over others – someone offers a comment or an e-mail about how my efforts are misguided.

They argue that the problem is not just in masculinity, but in gender as a whole, and if we really want to end gendered oppression, we have to “blow the whole thing up.”

While these comments are often quite thoughtful and give me much upon which to reflect, I still cannot really get behind the simple “Let’s just destroy gender” argument for one main reason: I don’t find it helpful for meeting most people where they are.

If my goal is to engage men, and mostly cisgender men, in participating in the movement to end patriarchal oppression, telling men that we should just end gender doesn’t get me very far.

Further, the “destroy gender” argument, while rooted in sound theory, doesn’t (at least as I’ve seen it offered) effectively address the ways in which people of all genders are invested, both positively and negatively, in current constructions of gender.

Thus, while my ideas may be evolving, it’s possible that I simply see the need for construction of a new masculinity as part of the journey toward the reimagining of our current notion of gender altogether, but that doesn’t mean that we as men shouldn’t invest earnestly in transforming what it means to be a man.

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.