The United States still has sexism at the root of its normative culture.
Women are still valued first and foremost for their looks. This is so true that many women have starved themselves and become literal victims of societal expectations. Almost every woman deals with the emotional torment of not being the ideal that society expects of her. (I say almost, because some women have gone beyond this.)
Because of these societal pressures and unreachable goals, women in the United States are facing a firewall. By this I mean, when searching for happiness and their goals, many women hit a wall in which they cannot be happy; because they cannot be what society wants them to be. Many women are discriminated against for being overweight, but once they lose weight and change themselves completely, they may still not be what society perceives as beautiful. After all, most of us will never be supermodels.
Women face this firewall and self-identity crisis in the United States for many reasons. One example of this is the norm that women’s bodies are owned by men and, in turn, society. In advertisements, women become objects (many times actual mannequins) that are used to hang clothes. Women in entertainment are valued for their sexual appeal first, talent second.
Another reason is that women’s voices are not valued. The Air Force Academy is currently under scrutiny for ignoring women’s voices, and actually punishing women when they have chosen to use their voices. It has been said that the Air Force actually punished women for coming forward with sexual attacks. In one case, a woman actually received demerit points for “sexual contact,” the very contact that she had come forward about.
This phenomenon is not restricted to the military. It is estimated that only one in three rapes is reported. Many women are raped by people they know, and because of their relationships with their attackers, many women fear that they will not be believed when they come forward. It is not a part of the United States’ culture to acknowledge that women are raped by their husbands and boyfriends. Once again, men own the bodies of women and the voice of women.
Even in our own Collegian, we have seen how women think it’s reasonable to be victims. One columnist wrote, “Fear can be more powerful than reason, and a traumatic ordeal bonds the ‘survivors’. (Speaking about a boyfriend and girlfriend. Of course it is the woman living with the fear.) When the battle is over, there exists a bond that is stronger than common sense.” For this woman, this is a reasonable excuse for women to stay in relationships that seem abusive and demeaning. I question a bond based on fear. I would rather have a bond based on two people with a sense of their own identities. With that there is no need for battles between two people who supposedly care enough for each other to participate in a relationship.
If women can rationalize their own victimization, how can they define their own identities outside of this victimization? So far in United States society most women have not. Even young women, with the advantage of living now, rather than 100 years ago, still base their identities on norms created by a patriarchal society. They still say that they want a relationship with the “bad boy.” They want to “survive” these types of relationships because they have been trained that “surviving” is the ideal patriarchal relationship.
My last point as shown through this venting of my own attempt to escape the expectations of society and belief in victimization, is that women are active participants in sexism. Many times we allow bad relationships to go on. We allow rapes to go unreported. We allow an institution to punish women for men’s actions. But we can acknowledge this and strive to change it. First it takes recognizing that we are humans, not owned by patriarchal society. Second we must know that we are not defined by unhealthy patriarchal norms, but we can be defined by our own healthy search for own identities.
We can own our own identities and use or own voices to create lives that are based on love (of ourselves) and not fear of what others want.