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.

Coming Out of the Woods: On Hugo Schwyzer and Accountability

Last Friday, I was getting ready to unplug from technology for a week in preparation for a busy end to summer and beginning of fall, and I got a few messages from people about how Hugo Schwyzer was melting down on Twitter.  I didn’t click any of their links, not having the energy.  Instead, I turned off my phone and headed to a wedding and then to the woods of Northern Minnesota for a week.

When I came out of the woods, this is what I found.  And I’ve spent the last 18 hours or so reading things like the #solidarityisforwhitewomen twitter stream and this piece from Mikki Kendall and others.  And I’ve been reflecting.

For those readers of mine who are not followers of this whole mess (good for you in many ways), here’s a very brief summary: Hugo Schwyzer is a professor who has for some time championed himself as a feminist (and also, strangely, a bad boy?) and who has been championed by many prominent, mostly White feminists as a good guy and an example of redemption.  He is an abuser who claimed to have gotten past his addiction that “caused him to abuse” and boasted a “redemption” narrative about turning one’s life around to work for good, all the while quietly (and not so quietly) continuing his patterns of abuse, particularly toward women of Color who he admits he could abuse without facing consequences because of his privilege and power relative to theirs.  For years, women (but particularly women of Color) have been calling him what he is, but too many of us didn’t listen.  It took him melting down and admitting his abuses for too many of us to pay attention.

As I’ve reflected upon all of this since coming back into the world of internet yesterday afternoon, I’ve know that there are a few things that I need to say.

First and foremost, I need to apologize.

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CFW’s 2011 Year in Review

After spending a little time this morning going through my blog and looking back over some of what I had written this year, I thought it would be fun to do a little recap of my top posts from the year.

Thus, without further ado, here are

The Top Posts of 2011 from Change From Within

10. The tenth most visited post that I authored in 2011 was one I wrote after visiting the Sand Creek Massacre Memorial in southeastern Colorado – Cultural Amnesia: The Sand Creek Massacre.  Though it is perhaps easiest to forget that we live on the lands of a genocide, we must never forget what has happened in our own back yards.

9.  The 9th most popular publication that I wrote in 2011 was in response to the oh-so-common idea espoused among White folks that because of the election of Barack Obama, we now live in a post-racial society.  I posit, though, that Post Racial = More Covert in Our Racism.

8.  The 8th post popular post on my site was also the most popular post among our White Supremacist buddy over at Unamusement Park who decided to hijack the comments section for his White Supremacist ramblings. The blog, though, was a reposting of a profound piece by Ewuare Xola Osayande in a critique of Tim Wise (and other White Anti-Racist activists such as myself).  On White Anti-Racist Activists by Equare Xola Osayande

7.  Coming in at number 7 is one of my posts that was republished at the Good Men ProjectMy Take On Sex was a response to a young man who was interested to hear my perspective on sex and relationships, as he couldn’t find many perspectives outside of the Christian one he heard in his church community.  The comments section also turned into a rousing debate on abortion, a debate that is still continuing.  I would love to see some comments from more of my readers!

6.  Rounding out the latter half of the Top 10 is a piece that ruffled some feathers locally and got some national traction in the #Occupy movement.  Occupy Denver has a Race Problem criticized the local iteration of the #Occupy movement in its lack of responsiveness to the needs of communities of color.  It posited that if Occupy Denver doesn’t work to be more inclusive, it will quickly become irrelevant, something I fear is happening.

5.  The 5th most popular post on Change From Within in 2011 is one that still saddens me incredibly.  It was my last-minute plea to join in the multitude of voices trying to stop the execution of Troy Davis.  Injustice Anywhere: Stop the Murder of Troy Davis called on my readers to join in the activism that ultimately failed to save the life of a man who was convicted of a murder he very likely didn’t commit.

4.  The 4th most popular post was another repost blog from White Anti-Racist activist Tim Wise that I posted right before attending the White Privilege Conference in Minneapolis, MN.  Tim Wise and White Privilege reposted one of Wise’s pieces where he critiques the racism often present on the American Left.

3.  It’s notable that the 3rd most visited post I authored in 2011 was only written on the 1st of December, and it holds the record for the most single-day hits on Change From Within.  Profitable Objectification: The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show problematizes the perspective from which the “fashion show” is presented and how this can not only affect women’s body image but can drastically impact the way that men see women.

2.  The second most visited blog that was published on Change From Within in 2011 addressed the issue of immigration and the English-Only movement in the U.S..  Speak American” – Multilingualism and the English-Only Movement looked at the ways that English-Only as a mindset and policy is not only unconstitutional but actually works to the detriment of the United States and its citizens.

1.  Finally, the single most popular blog post of 2011 was authored January 26, 2011.  It’s Not Just Rap – Misogyny in Music looks at the way that violent misogyny is not a problem solely in rap music, as often asserted, but is actually simply a problem in MUSIC.  From Kanye West to Avenged Sevenfold, from NoFX to Trace Adkins, misogyny is rampant in our music culture, and it’s time for us to do something about that!

Thank you to all my readers for helping to make 2011 such an incredibly successful year at Change From Within.  I look forward to what 2012 will bring, but in the mean time, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Did your favorite post not make the list?  Feel free to post in the comments!

Guilty for Speaking Up – Blaming Survivors of Sexual Violence

Dominique Strauss-Kahn

As many of you undoubtedly know, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, now-former head of the International Monetary Fund and a candidate for President of France, has been accused of raping a hotel housekeeper in New York City.

Cue the survivor blaming.

The letter of the law in the United States requires that someone accused of a crime must be considered innocent until proven guilty. If only the law required such a high standard for a survivor of sexual violence.

This morning when I was reading the New York Times, I came across an article about all of the attention given to the survivor of this allegedly horrific attack.  In situations like the one involving Strauss-Kahn, “the women suffer the collateral damage of our interest” in powerful men.  The article describes the way that we obsess over the women who are tied sexually to powerful men like Strauss-Kahn, whether that obsession regards a consensual relationship like in the recent scandal involving Arnold Swartzenegger or rape.

Almost immediately after the allegations of rape were made against this powerful man, the allegations of fraud and sexual impropriety against the survivor began to pile up.  The common narrative isn’t that a power-obsessed womanizer might have taken his lust one step too far, sexually assaulting a woman who he sees as beneath him.  The NY Post even victimizes the alleged rapist, calling him a “humiliated, 62-year-old suspect” who couldn’t get bail due to his being a flight risk (since if he gets back to France, he will never see a court room).

No. The narrative is that a low-income immigrant woman MUST be lodging fake allegations in hopes of getting rich.

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Spring is Sprung, but Men Needn’t Be!

How is it possible that any person could hate spring?  I love few things more than stepping out of the gloom of winter to enjoy the warmth of the sunshine with friends, tossing around a frisbee, having picnics, going for bike rides!  Spring makes me absurdly happy!

After reading a post by “Sista Toldja” over at The Beautiful Struggler entitled “Cruel Summer,” I remembered a conversation I had with a female friend a few years back.  We were getting ready to go to the park to enjoy the sun, and before we walked outside, she took a deep breath and said, “I hate this!”  I didn’t ask immediately what she hated so much, but I quickly realized what she was preparing for with her deep breath.  In the ten blocks or so that we walked to the park, nearly every man we passed stared, eyes down, some even being bold enough to lick and smack their lips.  One dude even grabbed at his crotch.  The part that amazed me is that we were walking together and very likely could have been a couple, and a few guys even felt entitled to “cat call,” commenting on her ass as we walked by!

She ignored them and asked me to do the same, and as we got to the park, we talked about it.  “It’s hard for me not to hate spring,” she said.  “It’s always worst in spring when the warm weather clothes first come out.  It’s like they’re starved puppies who are watching a meat truck unload its wares for the first time in months!”

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