My husband and I declared date night and thought it would be an extra-special treat to spring for dinner and a movie. We couldn’t even remember the last time we went to a movie together.
We didn’t have many choices, so I caved to Watchmen. Supposed to be about super-heroes he said. There were girl/women super-heroes so I was interested.
Guess what happens to the girl super-heroes? Violently raped and beaten by one of the a-hole male super-heroes. Another female super-hero was violently raped and beaten and then murdered by pornographers, but “she deserved it because of her whorish-lifestyle.” At least I think that’s what happened, it was cryptic and I had my eyes closed and my ears plugged to avoid ingesting more violent rape of women on-screen.
In fact, most the super-heroes were really violent, angry, mean, cruel, heartless murderer-slash-rapists who dressed up in costume to commit their crimes and yet kept talking about how they were “saving the world.” Huh?
About half-way through the movie one of the super-heroes shoots a Vietnamese woman he impregnated. She asks him to acknowledge his coming child and refuses to disappear so he shoots her in cold blood. Kills his own unborn child and its mother. He’s remorseless.
“This movie should be called ‘Plotless Gratuitous Violence,’” I muttered.
“Want to sneak out and go see Madea?” my husband suggested.
“Yeah, that will be funny and light. It’s PG-13. Tyler Perry’s funny,” I say.
I sit through another preview – ears plugged eyes slammed shut - so horrifically violent that even my husband closes his eyes so as not to take in a graphically violent depiction of Satan and evil spirits torturing and killing an entire family.
Aside from the pot-smoking uncle and the wanton criminal behavior of Madea it’s almost appropriate for 13-year-olds, you know, if they are 25-year-olds.
Then there I am – plugging my ears and smashing my eyelids together – trying to avoid ingesting yet another very graphic, long violent rape and beating of a woman. Tyler Perry takes 13-year-olds (and the rest of us) through an examination of prostitution, how a smart college girl might end up on the streets, how she might be raped and beaten into submission by a pimp (he shows us how in graphic and horrific, bloody detail). How she’ll need a Pretty Woman moment to save her.
Hysterically funny, really.
There was a 9 or 10-year-old girl, with her family, sitting right in front of us and no one bothered telling her to close her eyes and plug her ears.
I spent nearly the whole “romantic evening” with my eyes closed, shoulders hunched up, and fingernails digging into my ears to avoid taking in and internalizing the atrocities in these movies. Of course, the most violent and horrific of these atrocities were committed against girls and women. But, you know, sometimes they “deserved it” because they were “just whores.”
What the Bleep is going on in the distorted, jumbled, sick and violent minds of film-makers?
How are people watching this kind of graphic violence against women (or humans in general) as entertainment?
My friend Jillian* called me last week with the latest crisis involving her 9-year old daughter.
“Can you talk to Megan*?”
“Sure, what about?”
“She wants to be a blonde. She hates her hair.”
“But Megan has gorgeous red hair. It suits her perfectly! Why does she want to be blonde?”
“She thinks blonde hair is prettier. She’s convinced boys won’t like her because of her hair. Oh, and her freckles.”
“Well, what do you want me to tell her? What have you already told her?”
“She isn’t listening to me any more. She said I was a hypocrite for telling her she could be anything she wanted to be, but then changing the story when she decided that what she wanted to be was blonde.”
“Oooh. That is definitely your child.”
“I know she is, and I love her, but right now….”
“Alright Jilly, I’ll call her after school tomorrow”
I hung up the phone flabbergasted. Maybe mothers of redhead girls experience this regularly, but this was new for me. I grew up dreaming of a heedful of auburn tresses. All of the heroines from my favorite childhood books had red hair. Nancy Drew, Pippi Longstocking, Anne of Green Gables, and even Madeleine had red hair. Even though Eloise, the girl who lived at the Plaza hotel, was always in black and white, I inferred from her spirit that she was also a redhead. And, Junie B. Jones, the star of her own series of books was a redhead too. Why on Earth wouldn’t Megan want to revel in the joy of being a redhead?
Though I lacked the words, even as a child, I associated red hair with a fiery spirit that couldn’t be crushed. The redheads that I discovered in fiction were smart girls who kept things lively. For those blessed with russet, titian, or auburn hair, there was never a dull moment. The only blondes that were memorable didn’t seem like the kind of girls I wanted to be my friends. Goldilocks seemed to lack what my very Southern mother referred to as “home training.” Who went into someone else’s house and messed around with their stuff? There was also Susan, the girl with the “boing-boing” curls in Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books. She seemed to be utterly lacking in adventure to me. She would never want to practice being a ninja, or ride dirt bikes, or climb trees with me. These character flaws assured me that we could never be friends. As a child, I seemed to thrive on what I called adventure. Adults typically called it mischief, but I did not have a boring childhood.
Anticipating my call to Megan, I started to think about what had changed in the 25 years that had passed since I was her age. I thought about this blog, about my own observations, and about what I have learned in my research. Suddenly, Megan’s desire to be blonde didn’t seem so crazy. Even Barbie, originally a reddish blonde, has abandoned the red and gone platinum. Our society has very narrow definitions of feminine beauty. While they are beginning to include more variety, we are still a culture that worships blondes. This is not to say that blonde girls cannot be beautiful. What I am stressing is that we need to help our girls resist the message that only blonde is beautiful or that having blonde hair is all you need to be considered beautiful. Unfortunately, the how of this is tricky. How do adults offset the media blitz that our children are exposed to? Logical appeals don’t mean anything to a 9-year old. They are often ruled by feelings. If Megan doesn’t feel that boys will like her unless she is blonde, then explaining Judith Lorber’s work on the social construction of gender is pointless. She isn’t going to watch one of Jean Kilbourne’s excellent films and suddenly understand that privileging blondes is part of the sordid partnership between patriarchy and the media. She won’t care. She is a 9-year old girl. She wants to be liked, and she wants people to think she is pretty.
As promised, I called Megan. I made up some reason for calling her – I saw something that made me think of her. She’s a smart kid, but she is still a kid. After a few moments, she got right down to the point.
“Do you think I would look good blonde?”
“I think you look good just the way you are, doodlebug.”
“Yeah, but do you think I would look better with blonde hair?”
“No, baby, I don’t. First of all your eyebrows wouldn’t match. Secondly, it would wash you out. You would look really pale. People might think you were sick. Or that your mom wasn’t taking care of your nutrition.
“Well, I want blonde hair and my mom says no. Can you talk to her?”
“Sure, honey. I can talk to her. But why do you want to have blonde hair?”
“Because…because it’s better. I don’t know why, I just do.”
“Ok Meggy, I’ll talk to your mom for you, but she is going to need convincing. Your mom is pretty smart. You’re going to need something better than ‘I don’t know’.”
“Well then what should I do?”
“Let me do some thinking, and I’ll call you when I have a plan.”
I haven’t called Megan back with a plan yet. I have a couple of ideas, but they sound crazy – even to me. My favorite (for the sheer insanity of it) is to convince Megan that hair dyes are unsafe for girls her age and to suggest that she asks her mother to buy her a high quality blonde wig in an age-appropriate style. That way, she can wear it around the house to see how she likes the “new” her. If she really likes it, then she can wear it to school and see what kind of reception it gets. My guess is that the kids will FREAK OUT and she will come home ready to be a redhead again. At least for now.
I’m appealing toThe Girl Revolution community for suggestions.
Anyone been through this and want to share some ideas?
Photo Credit: People Magazine: “It makes you develop your personality. Because you don’t conform, you have to find different ways of expressing yourself,” Nicole Kidman says about growing up with red hair.
Rihanna, 20-year-old music star, was beaten by her famous boyfriend Chris Brown. Evidently, it’s happened 4 times before and Rihanna asked the judge NOT order Chris Brown to stay away from her. Since the beating, its been said – and I heard this on Ryan Seacrest’s radio show so it might be true – that Rihanna and Chris Brown were in a studio yesterday recording a duet.
Oprah had this to say to Rihanna and other battered girls and women, Love doesn’t hurt. If he hit you once he will hit you again.
True that. But, what do we tell our kids? Kids who might actually look up to the singer and her boyfriend? Who previously fantasized in their bedrooms at night, “If only I could find a true love like Rihanna and Chris Brown.” Yeah, those kids are out there. Bad enough that he beat her. Worse that she’s staying.
First it’s important to understand why Rihanna would participate in this type of insanity.
Yes. She’s participating. Yes. It’s insanity.
She believes, as nearly all battered women and girlfriends do, that she has caused Chris Brown’s feelings. When Chris Brown feels in love and passionately lovey dovey and head-over-heels for her she believes it’s because she was good enough, pretty enough, nice enough, lovable enough, wonderful enough. That’s her goal. To make Chris Brown love her.
Our Love Culture teaches girls that they can change and control the feelings of men. We often believe we can make them love us.
How many times have we heard or said the phrase, You make me feel?
Belle ultimately changesthe Beastby being beautiful and wonderful and clever enough to make him feel love. The whole fairy tale centers around the idea that Belle can change, and therefore control, the Beast’s feelings if she’s just good enough, pretty enough, loving enough, and wonderful enough.
The same distorted thinking is in the wildly popular Twilight Series.Bella the teenage protagonist of the books is so stunningly beautiful, clever and all-around wonderful that she makes vampire boyfriend Edward Cullin resist his natural temptation to destroy her, kill her and take her life. Throughout the books we’re transfixed, and even turned on and aroused by, imagery of Edward Cullin’s overwhelming desire to crush her fragile and delicate hot body, which is why the couple doesn’t cave into sex.
Which is all well and good. Except that we have a Love Culture where around 30% of teenage girls and adult women are being battered by their love interest.
The sane thing to do when a girl or woman gets hit is to say, F#$& You! on your way out the door, never, ever to return.
Instead the mental Love Distortion of Rihanna and nearly all other battered women and girls says, If I didn’t make him angry he wouldn’t hit me. If I did what he wanted me to do when he wanted me to do it, he wouldn’t hit me. If I just try harder I can change him from a beast into the loving boyfriend I imagine. If I’m just good enough, nice enough, pretty enough, sexy enough, then he’ll resist his entirely natural male urge to destroy, killor berate me. I’ll just try harder and give him another chance.
Chris Brown agrees. Nearly all abusive men and boys agree with their beaten-up girlfriends and wives, she’s causing the violence because she’s making me angry.
The fundamental problem with Rihanna’s thinking is that women do not and can not control men’s feelings.
We never could.
We never can.
Feelings originate with the person feeling them. They do not come from outside of us.
The only person who can control one’s violently angry feelings is the person feeling the violently angry feelings. For a batterer to stop beating his girlfriend or wife, he has to take responsibility for and learn to control his own feelings. For a battered woman or girl to leave her abuser she has to hold him responsible for his feelings and stop trying to change or control his feelings with her behavior.
This almost never happens while a couple stays together. Not never. But, almost never. In fact, what generally happens is that she becomes worse and worse at controlling his violently angry feelings and sometimes he kills her.
They both believe it’s her fault. They both believe she’s causing it. They would have to both agree that its his fault and hold him accountable for it to change. How often do two insane people reach a clarity of thinking at the same time, in the same relationship,when its already gotten to the point of physical violence? Almost never.
Which is why in many progressive and right-thinking states the court refuses to give battered women an option of not prosecuting or of having immediate contact with their abuser. They realize that the victim’s thinking is as distorted as that abuser.
There is not a lot we can do about Rihanna. She’s deep in Love Distortion, a form of insanity clinically referred to as Battered Woman Syndrome or Co-dependence. Hopefully, she’ll find her inner Tina Turner or Madonna and kick Chris Brown to the curb. (Ike who? Congratulations on your new Oscar Sean Penn.)
As parents, counselors, educators we do have a lot of power to teach both our daughters and our sons these fundamental lessons for prevention:
You are responsible for your feelings.
You are responsible for how you behave.
You can not control other people or their feelings.
Other people can not make you feel anything.
We can also use Rihanna and Chris Brown as a teachable moment by repeating Oprah’s advice to our girls – just in case they fall for the wrong guy: Love doesn’t hurt. If he hits you once he will hit you again.
She’s not eating? She doesn’t have any food? She’s choosing not to eat.
Don’t try to understand it Ainsely. It’s stupid. It’s a dumb thing do to. I’ts a a way of being crazy. It’s a way some girls make themselves sick to be skinny because they think its pretty. I hope you’ll never understand it.
I am not ever going to do that Mommy.
I’m so glad. Let’s listen to something more uplifting like One Girl Revolution!