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What it means to be a woman

Amanda Peña | Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Most people have seen the movie “Anchorman.” For those who haven’t, here’s a quick synopsis: Ron Burgundy is a famed anchorman in San Diego forced to work with a female co-anchor. Through comedic but heated competition, the plot chronicles Ron’s inability to deal with a woman as his counterpart. This is one of my favorite movies, but I realized how it satirizes women’s misplacement in a male-dominated society and promotes sexual objectification.
For hundreds of years, there has been an array of social, economic and professional barriers for women all over the world. Women in contemporary society have made great advances beyond those barriers – like Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s first woman president and, more generally, the increasing presence of women in the workforce. I believe extending conversations about women’s equality and their struggles is critical to making important societal improvements for women; however, the objectification of women is, and continues to be, one of the most pressing issues facing our society, though it is not discussed as often.
Before this gets cast aside as another feminist article, it is important to know that on every level, women are subject to discrimination and sexual harassment because they are typically seen as sexual objects, inferior and emotional. While there is some truth to the emotional argument, it does not justify the economic, social and professional inequalities posed upon us. You may get tired of hearing feminist rants for equality, but if things were truly equal, we wouldn’t need to mobilize movements for it. In any case, the lack of respect for women continues to hinder many younger generations of girls’ self-worth, confidence and ambition.
Take the recent controversy over Robin Thicke’s hit single, “Blurred Lines.” I love this song – it’s fun and catchy to listen to. However, the video and lyrics are degrading and distasteful. With a few naked girls strutting around in front of men in suits and ties … bring in the feminist groups.
My argument here is, surprisingly, not the obvious one. To be honest, it is women that allow themselves to be sexually exploited – by spreading out for Playboy and disrespecting their human dignity, they make it difficult for other women to be taken seriously in the real world, about real-world issues like human trafficking and domestic abuse. We’re not all porn stars or dumb blondes or great cooks, and we shouldn’t have to look the same physically. My point is that women, like men, are unique and can offer a lot if given the opportunity to maximize their potential and not their bodies.
Gender stereotypes hinder and defeat large-scale societal progress. It all begins, though, with the small and seemingly harmless interactions we have on the micro level. Here are some personal examples.
When I was 13, I struggled with an eating disorder after a crush made a fat joke about me to our class. For years, I felt subjected to the opinions of men regarding my sexual value. After recovering and immersing myself in sports and fitness, I saw a shift in male attitudes toward me; I became more attractive because I was athletic and many guys were interested in how that translated into sexual performance. Over the last six years, I have encountered men who have shared their lust and sexual fantasies about me, my friends or other girls. Eventually (though certainly not always), they got around to valuing our intellect, our passions and motives, but in general, the lot of them were more interested in sex.
Last week, a guy I had just met in class asked me on a date to the movies. Flattered, I agreed to it. Later that day, he asked me to visit him in his room, and when I respectfully declined, he made it clear I had disappointed him and I have not heard from him since. To be honest, I couldn’t care less. But for many other girls, the attitude that women are unworthy to date unless they are willing to put out can be damaging.
Let’s face it: on the whole, Notre Dame gender relations stink. You have a lot of socially awkward kids who struggle to interact with the opposite sex without being extremely sexual or sexually repressed. The hook-up culture drives hormonal levels up and communication and values down. These kids are going to go out into the world and either add to or change how women are treated in society.
I am not in anyway implying that women’s intentions with men are not driven sexually either. As humans, we are sexual beings who often want to explore what that means, but mass sexual exploitation and degradation make it difficult for people to understand or formulate a stance on what it means to be a woman. There are endless answers, but they certainly do not include a sex object or a woman in a kitchen.

Amanda Peña is a junior
sustainable  development studies major with a poverty studies minor. She can be
contacted at apena4@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.