Saturday, March 24, 2012

Being a "Good" Woman

A few months ago, Jeremy stumbled upon this site called The Good Women Project. He sent it along knowing I may be interested. The tagline for The Good Women Project reads: "They do exist. And you can be one. This is the project."

I'm not exactly sure what that means. Anymore than I understand what a "good" Christian is or a "good" Republican. The word "good," doesn't necessarily tell me much because "good" is relative. It depends on who you ask. However, I find myself more often agreeing than disagreeing with their definition of a what a "good" woman is.

I've gathered that this project is a community of people (men and women) talking about stereotypes, gender inequality, and the sexes through the lens of Christianity. And I appreciate that it's not just the things I've heard before; that women must be "modest" (whatever that means) and that women must "submit" to their husbands (whatever that means).

I particularly like that they often feature male writers who share their views on the subject. This one, written by Hugo, shares a letter to a woman called, "Your Body is Never the Problem." I was instantly drawn to it because, frankly, it feels like my body is always the problem.

A few blog-worthy quotes from Hugo's letter:
"...the sad truth is that no matter how you dress, no matter what you wear, you will be perceived by some men as a target for their unwanted advances."

The bottom line is that there’s nothing you can wear that will guarantee respect from others. And the reason is that the root of this problem isn’t skin or clothing, it’s our cultural contempt for women and girls."

"Have you noticed the way this works yet? If a girl is thin, she’s accused of being “anorexic”; if her weight is higher than the cruelly restrictive ideal, she’s “fat” and “doesn’t take care of herself” or “has no self-control.” If she wears cute, trendy clothes she “only wants attention” and if she wears sweats and jeans, she “doesn’t make an effort.” If she’s perceived as sexually attractive, and — especially — if she shows her own sexual side, she’s likely to be called a “slut.” If her sexuality and her body are concealed, she’s a “prude.” As you’ve probably figured out, the cards are stacked against you. You cannot win, at least not if you define winning as dressing and behaving in a way likely to win approval (or at least decent respect) from everyone."

"Here’s a key point: As a father and a teacher and a youth leader and a feminist man who has been around a while (and worked with thousands of young people), I want you to know that while not all men are safe and trustworthy, men’s bad behavior is never, ever, ever, ever, ever “your” fault. Your miniskirt doesn’t cause guys (of any age) to do anything they don’t choose to do (no matter what they say to the contrary). It’s not your job to dress to keep yourself safe from men."

What Hugo writes is exactly what I've grown up knowing (and being taught) about what it means to be a woman: that my decisions about what I wore determined how men would responded to and treated me. And I should accept the consequences because they just can't help themselves.

I (and too frequently religious cultures) was reducing men to animals with no mental capacity to make decisions for themselves (which is to often what happens a.k.a. letting them off the hook). And I'm sorry for that. Many men are better than that. Men should be better than that. A woman is never "asking" to be treated like an object. That is a choice that a man makes.

It's become an all-out war where it's women who are the problem. They're the ones prancing around in booty shorts causing our "good" men to sin. It's all those strippers and prostitutes (sense the sarcasm?).

In fact, during World War II it was "loose" women who were to blame for the spread of venereal disease (or VD) in the military (never the men who were cheating on their wives with such women). Entire poster and radio propogandas were devoted to warning society about these immoral women, never acknowledging the equally immoral men. But hey, men aren't "loose." They're men. They're allowed to be sexual. So it must be the women's fault. Again.

I recently read Jessica Valenti's book He's a Stud, She's a Slut and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know. In it, she shares her discovery that nearly every woman she knows (and most I know) has been called a "slut." It's like this horrible title that no woman wants, but every woman receives at some point in her life whether she's a goodie-never-break-a-commandment religious or a stripper.

Because being "good" enough--no matter your behavior, your appearance, or your morals--is impossible for women. We're all sluts, apparently. And always will be until men and women take responsibility for their actions, behaviors, and attitudes related to sexuality.