This is an excerpt from a speech written by Jackie, a California high school sophomore,
on the subjection and opression of women in areas including school, the media, and religion.
The Opression of Women In SocietyPeers
In the midst of junior high, many girls rely heavily on the opinions of other to make decisions on dress and action. In order to have approval, girls reduce themselves. Mary Pipher, Ph.D. and author of Reviving Ophelia, Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, a New York Times bestseller, states that in junior high, girls feel enormous pressure to be popular, and they learn that good grades can evedn interfere with popularity. . .a 7th grader who was failing everything said, "My friends and I decided that making good grades wasn't cool." What will girls do when they feel that to be cool, they have to steal or cheat? If the desire to fit in takes over a girl's life, what's left for them to believe in when such things as morals are attacked? Why is this desire so strong? It could be that most girls have a desire to please everyone--this comes from girls needing approval. In most cases, the only approval they get from society, their parents, boys and other girls is for their looks or their "nice" behavior, so that is all they focus on.
The lack of role models for girls has never been a surprise to anyone, though its just one more blow against us. Granted, with the admission that women were being treated unfairly since God created Eve, there isn't a lot that can be done about the lack of women in our history books. However, what little information about the contributions of women in history is known, the amount included in the curricula of children of both sexes is pathetically minimal. Mary Pipher agrees with me: Girls come of age in a misogynistic culture in which men have most political and economic power. Girls read a history of Western civilization which is essentially a record of men's lives. Women barely influenced history in the United States until the 19th century when Susan B. Anthony and her friends who I am outraged that I was never taught their names started to fight for women's right to vote. It was only in this century that women were granted to right to own property in their own names. Before that, women were actually considered the property of their husbands or fathers. Full suffrage wasn't granted to women in all 50 states until 1920, a mere 77 years ago. What does that tell you?
What girls see around them in television, magazines, movies, books, newspapers and basic culture is a bunch of mixed messages. For example in magazines made for girls such as YM, Seventeen, and Sassy, there are superthin models that are inhumanely beautifullly airbrushed. Yet we are expected to separate reality from the fantasy of such perfection. How can we not compare ourselves to these images? Mary Pipher writes that Girls struggle with mixed messages: Be beautiful but beauty is only skin deep. Be sexy, but not sexual. Be honest, but don't hurt anyone's feelings. Be independent, but be nice. Be smart, but not so smart that you threaten boys. How are we supposed to understand these distinctions? Furthermore, the role of women in society is unclear. We are faced with the blatancy of women being viewed as nothing more than sex objects for men by many media. On the cover of YM for April 1997 is Gwen Stefani, a lead singer in a very popular band. She appears much younger than her 28 years, with barrettes in her hair and a coy expression. On the cover of Details magazine for men for the same month is also Gwen Stefani, wearing half as much clothing and photographed to seem sexually inviting. Although YM is for girls and Details is a men's magazine, an analysis of the the portrayal of the same person shows the indecency of the way she is changed to fit the audience. Is that all she's worth to men, the sex appeal she contains? In the articles about her, the same themes are followed. Although she is the same person, her different qualities are magnified to the general tastes of the assumed readers. The portrayal of her as very sexy in the men's magazine reinforces their stereotypic value that women are good for nothing but sex. The portrayal of her in the girls' magazine reinforces the stereotypic value that women are good for nothing but sex and must be submissive, nice and well-behaved as well. The messages that girls receive from their teen magazines are that they should be thin, pretty, and that their main goal in life is to attract boys. It isn't possible for everyone to achieve the ideal of weighing so little to be "attractive". Did you know that "eating disorders affect more than 7 million girls and women," according to Jill Zimmerman, a writer for Mothering magazine. It doesn't only come from peers and the media, in a 1994 Glamour survey of 4,000 young women, only 19% had mothers who liked their own bodies, although it can be assumed that a lot of ideals come from places other than the home. Mary Pipher says that "Most girls scorn their true bodies and work for false bodies. They allow the culture to define who they should be." They will go to any limit in order to gain acceptance or to feel beautiful. This is instilled in them by what they see and hear in the world of television and fashion and movies. The most beautiful people in the world are all put on pedestals for us to compare ourselves to, to set ideals upon, and to worship. Mary Pipher says that "in the last 2 decades, we have developed a natural cult of thinness." It is as if the phrase "happy and fat" is an absolute oxymoron.
Imagine that all of these things I've mentioned are continually ignored. All of these confused teenage girls will be the women raising the next generation, and laying down what life will be like for the future. Do you think everyone can afford psychotherapy to get rid of these myths and misconceptions to live a happy, healthy life for their children's sake? Many of the issues I've raised can be easily overlooked. Although the worse things get, typically the more likely the will be noticed, how long before the world recognizes that something must be done? By the time it will overwhelm all of us? All of these factors make it nearly impossible for a girl in the 90's to grow up healthy and happy, and the madness forced onto us is bringing us all down. Girls are oppressed because of the culture we are forced to grow up in.