Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Woman's Success

“A woman like that should have a sign tattooed to her forehead warning men to back off if they don’t want to loose all their money.” Says my well-educated uncle, who lives on a tightly calculated budget, but holds undeniable wealth and privilege in this society. Over coffee on a lovely Saturday morning, talk about economics lead to talk of law suites and the “sue-happy” nature our society has adopted. When I chimed in with a story about my good friend who has been exposed to lawsuits from a very young age, and is very aware of the possibility of extracting money through the court. The comment above was my uncle’s reaction.
            I had to remind myself: 
Stop. Don’t react. 
            There were many levels on which this comment felt inappropriate, but what triggered the biggest level of frustration, was the perception that women are gold-diggers. Nothing was said about the father of my friend who in fact conditioned his daughter to understand the advantages one can have in the courtroom (if one has the money to hire a strong enough lawyer… but that is another discussion), or the society that encourages such a crude form of money exchange. So I prompted my uncle:
            “So do men like that need a tattoo as well?”
            Chuckling my uncle responds, “No. They just need to be executed.”
            Laughter spread across the table, and I said nothing. Caving in to the silence that perpetuates this system of inequality and misread assumptions. However, I do realize I have to pick my battles, and challenging my uncle in this moment would not have been wise.
            However, this comment truly ignited a curiosity within me. The comments made by individuals who consider themselves informed and progressive can be astounding. This idea that women are manipulative and gold diggers, is quite offensive, but unfortuantly is widely accepted. “Those women” – the branding of them – it is almost as if they could be excused for their actions, if they are labeled and put in a box. But the men –  just get rid of them, so they don’t continue to contaminate this idealist image of what a man should be.
            This also prompted me think about this idea of exploitation – is it the man, woman, or both who get exploited when it comes to money. Lets take the example of the bars that employee exotic dancers: are the women exploited because of the way they behave, or the men because of the money they loose. Depends on who you talk to. In court, a divorce case perhaps. Is it the woman, who may (or may not) have entered a relationship with money as a motive, or the man who may not have met the expectations one would hope for in a relationship. Recently, British comedian, Stephan Fry commented, "sex is the price [women] are willing to pay for a relationship with a man, which is what they want." ( This idea spurred backlash from men and women alike. One has to acknowledge that these comments continue to come up in discussion today, and distorted perceptions of women are still very much part of our reality.
            Be it in the context of a friendly chat or on TV, this idea that women are in relationships for money can be true, but it does not have to be the norm. However, it is more than apparent that a woman’s body can be seen as an object in this society, and therefore can be used as a tool in this societal structure. This image of the powerful, sexy woman has become interlaced with an image successful women (in many cases – media especially), creating a distorted image in ones head, that leads to a whole slew of issues on what it means to be a woman… But the problems that form from that widely accepted image of "woman" could lead to another blogpost and a half.
            It is interesting to think about. I am going to encourage myself and those around me to observe and question their perceptions of women, and how they “get ahead” in this society, what it means to be a successful woman… and question what values or resources I may be giving up in order to meet societies expectations, and in order to gain the resources I need for survival. 

1 comment:

  1. Hannah, thanks for this amazing, insightful post... you touch on a lot of great points. I've definitely been in those troubling family/public situations where an offhand comment sends me reeling in thought... thanks for sharing some of your processing with us.
    It's so important when examining these cultural narratives of women that we step back step back step back and keep in mind the wider structure which women must operate within. the example of the exotic dancer - certainly she is enticing patrons away from their dollars, but surely she is being exploited by a wider system in which capitalizing upon our sexualized bodies is sometimes the best means for economic survival.
    Certainly there are true gold diggers out there. There are also extremely manipulative men who seek financial gain as the end to their sticky means. The distinction is that women are followed by cultural narratives as being enticers, seducers, irresistible persuaders who use their feminine wiles to get what they want. When womens' value is largely dependent on their sexual appeal, remarks like stephen fry's might fly in the general public. Women have to work with what currency and capital they have in our society, and unfortunately that is mainly their sexualized bodies and ability to flatter & persuade with their male-defined (and desired) femininity. Some might argue that this framework means women can "exploit" the system and use it to their advantage (an oversimplified version of this argument might be: "women are sexy, therefore they have an advantage in the workplace"), but who is really winning here... what are the effects of this narrow image of a successful woman on womens' sense of self-worth and agency... and what women are left out/do not have access to this means of 'success'?

    again, excellent contribution, thank you. keep thinking :)