An Update

A message from Founder and CEO Jennifer Siebel Newsom and Social Media and Outreach Director Imran Siddiquee

Since we wrote this blog in 2011, our organization has evolved greatly, and reading it again now, we realize it’s not our most thoughtful communication. We want to thank the many women and men online who have challenged us and pushed us, this week and over the years, to continually improve our communication.

We remain concerned about our daughters growing up in a culture that values them more for their beauty and sexuality than their ideas and actions, but we also realize we cannot place the responsibility for changing this culture on girls alone. As we examined in Miss Representation, they did not create this culture and they aren’t in charge of the industries that are perpetuating it.

There is a serious need for dialogue around female sexuality and empowerment though – how it is perceived by our larger culture, how it is exploited in the media, and how it ultimately impacts our girls and boys. And we must hold those in power in the media industries accountable.

We are grateful to those online who have encouraged us to engage in this topic more thoughtfully, especially when it comes to the impact on women and girls of color and those in lower socio-economic classes. We recognize that stereotypes around how young women should or should not dance are multiplied depending on race and class; and, that regardless of the dancing, others still sexualize and degrade women unfairly based on perceived sexual orientation, race, and class.

Furthermore, we did not, and do not, intend to single out Rihanna or any other woman in the music industry for the way they choose to dance or represent themselves. We are primarily concerned with the structural inequities which perpetuate a culture that wants to see all women as objects first and people second. The music industry often demeans women – particularly women of color – so we are anxious to see more women and men in positions of privilege in the industry challenge that norm.

Yet we do believe it’s important for each of us, women and men, to be agents of change in this culture – whether we are teenagers or pop stars. Of course we can take action by not consuming sexist culture or participating in it (check out our #NotBuyingIt campaign), but we should know, especially women and girls, that through each action we do have the power to contribute to the greater good of society. In other words, despite everything – the way the media devalues and negates our femininity – women and girls’ voices and choices have significant cultural impact.

We also recognize that we, as an organization, have a significant opportunity to learn here. So we would like to invite any and all to respond to this blog and to continue to help us find healthy language to move the conversation forward. Just as our youth need healthy role models, they also need better tools to deal with the mixed messages they receive around their own sexuality, sexual expression and sexual empowerment. And, we hope together we can help them.

All in all, we strive to grow as individuals and as an organization, to become more inclusive, and to work towards a society free of limiting gender stereotypes – where we all have access to the tools necessary to realize our full human potential.

- Jennifer Siebel Newsom and Imran Siddiquee

4 Comments

  1. As a blogger, human rights advocate and strong supporter of women’s rights I think there is no need whatsoever to apologize for what is happening in the media and music. Most pop stars are a disgrace. Miley Cyrus is an insult to girls and women. I strongly believe that if you fight for your beliefs and what is right, then people will follow. I work with many NGOs on human rights issues and you are on the right track. Keep it going. Doing back down.Don’t apologize. Speak your mind and use your voice to make change! We need more positive role models for women. Rihanna is sadly a terrible role model and I don’t see any reason to back down against what you stand for.

  2. Sotaro Shibahara says:

    @Nicole Melancon – I’m not sure it’s fair to condemn young female pop stars for their problematic media image when women largely do not control the boardrooms of the media companies. Women like Miley Cyrus and Rihanna are a product of our sexist and misogynistic society, and their overtly sexualized images are symptomatic of a culture and society that continues to objectify girls and women sexually and value their looks over any other qualities they may possess. While successful pop stars may have considerably more control over their media portrayal than the average girl or woman, that doesn’t preclude the real possibility that because they have bought into and internalized our society’s sexism and misogyny, they continue to parrot those views without even realizing what they are doing, and in that sense, it may be counterproductive to disparage them when what would be more helpful might be to raise these issues with them and engage in dialogue and education, to raise their awareness of the ways in which their media portrayals are negatively impacting girls and women. Rihanna in particular is both a Woman of Colour and a victim of domestic partner abuse, and her exploration of her experiences and the conflicted feelings she has, both about her abuse and her abuser, not only have artistic merit but in terms of provoking public dialogue amongst her fans (many of them girls and young women) about domestic violence and violence against women, can be entirely beneficial in raising awareness of these issues amongst a demographic that is often resistant to the discussion of ‘serious’ subject matter in favour of entertainment, and that is a good thing in an entertainment world which prefers party anthems and make-out music in lieu of consciousness-raising and thought-provoking lyrics.

    There is also a danger in equating all portrayals of women’s sexuality as being sexist or negatively impacting women’s rights: I think the issue is more that what passes for ‘authentic’ portrayals of women’s sexuality is usually nothing more than the perpetuation of cis-gender male heterosexual sex fantasies about women, rather than a genuine reflection of real women’s sexuality.|

    To suggest that young women today do not have the sexual agency to decide for themselves in what ways they wish to explore their own sexuality, or in terms of how they wish to dress, threatens to infantilize young women as well as serving to shame them for their sexuality, and that can become a regressive stance that harkens back to a time when women could only be taken seriously (by men) if they dressed like men, acted like men, etc. which is in itself problematic.

    That’s not to say that there isn’t a valid argument to be made that many young women have been sufficiently brainwashed by mass media that it cannot be said that they have free will or true agency in any real sense of the term, that it becomes difficult to distinguish between a young woman’s exploration and expression of her own sexuality, versus a young woman merely parroting the oversexualized portrayals of women that mass media, advertising, etc. have been feeding her since she was born.

    But in the end, the onus and burden to change society should not rest on the oppressed, but on those who truly hold the reins of power in our society, and those people are not Miley Cyrus and Rihanna. Rather than simply ignoring or boycotting such artists, I think it may be more helpful to try and engage them in dialogue, to show them how they might better serve their audience and fans of girls and young women by lending their considerable clout in the entertainment industry to raise awareness on these issues and to try and push mass media and the entertainment industry towards more progressive portrayals of girls and women, where women of all different body types, ethnicities, backgrounds, sexual orientations, etc. are represented in a realistic manner that does not perpetuate our society’s unrealistic expectations of how girls and young women should look like, and in so doing continue to feed the Beauty Myth which oppresses girls and women everywhere.

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