Today is International Women’s Day.
It’s a day when we celebrate all the progress that has been achieved for women’s equality over the last hundred or so years, we honour those who have sacrificed so much – even their very lives – for those gains, and we champion the cause of women, highlighting all that still needs to be done.
There is still so much of the world in which women are treated as barely human – as nothing more than what their bodies can offer to men. We must continue to advocate for our sisters, wherever they are today. We also need to recognise that legal female equality in the West is, in many areas, still very young. Discrimination based on gender has been legal in my country within my lifetime. The reality is that sometimes laws can be changed more quickly than ingrained mentalities and even organisational patterns.
But there’s something I find troubling, not ‘back then’, or ‘over there’, but here, and now.
Something on a collision course with our little sisters; our daughters; our nieces.
It’s an embrace of sex appeal as the pinnacle and arbiter of style. It’s the fact that as a group, we women, after fighting tooth and nail to be taken for more than the value of our “assets”, seem to be insisting it’s still the first point of reference.
Fashion has always been evolving (that’s half the fun!), and standards will always be shifting, but that’s not what this is about. It’s that there is a distinction, or should be, between beautiful, attractive and appealing…and hot.
You know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s the difference between, say, Kate Middleton and Megan Fox.
And whilst clearly there have always been those who have exploited the sex kitten style, we haven’t always considered it so common to trade in its currency. We haven’t always been so collectively enthusiastic to give the impression that the epitome of feminine value is in how effectively we can display our sexuality.
It doesn’t help, I know, that we’re now more photographed on a daily basis than your average ’90s model. The enveloping world of social media creates an environment that skews us towards an acute awareness of our appearance.
But we’re better than this. We’re more than this. And we live in a society that allows us to be.
Bangable is not the bar. Really.
It’s not the bar, ladies, for what we should be aiming for.
It’s not the bar, gentlemen, for what we should be looking for.
Each of us was created to share beauty with the world through our hearts, our actions, our speech, and yes, our appearance.
So how do we best share, and honour, that beauty? Is it through posting and affirming images that are all about our sexuality – all boobs, butts and half-bitten lips? Or is it that, in the now widely-shared words of ’12 Years a Slave’ Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, “What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul.”
It may not be possible to dismiss the power of social media in our society, but it is utterly possible to shift the nature of that power by what we recognize and value in ourselves and others through our engagement with it.
If we believe women should be recognised first and foremost as individuals of value, worthy of respect rather than objectification, and especially if we are those who believe sexual desire and expression belong within certain contexts and bounds, we have to recognise that it’s a fantasy to imagine that considering sexuality as currency can ever be a good idea. Historically, any overlap of those areas has not been good for anyone.
We who are such privileged representatives of the global sisterhood need to remember who we are; remember all that we are as women. We who are such privileged members of the global community need to do all we can to honour that.