Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Just a Girl?

"Just a Girl" has been popping up on my iPod often recently. Every time I hear the song, two things happen:

1) I'm thrown right back to high school, when Gwen Stefani was one of my role models (to be fair, she still is).

2) I think about how deadly accurate the lyrics are.

Let's have a listen, shall we?

There are so many great lines to choose from. Maybe you relate when Stefani sings, "What I've succumbed to is making me numb." Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, may have felt that way, so she pushed back against the princess complex springing up in our culture. Or perhaps Stefani speaks to you when she says, "Oh, I'm just a girl--my apologies." Madonna expressed a similar sentiment with "What It Feels Like for a Girl" several years after "Just a Girl" debuted. For me, it's a different line, though.

At the heart of "Just a Girl" is the observation that "they all sit and stare with their eyes." Presumably the "they" in question is men, and the male gaze is often a topic of discussion in pop culture, from the recent controversy surrounding Blue Is the Warmest Color to Cate Blanchett questioning a photog about his pan of her dress on a red carpet and much more, stretching back to time immemorial. It even has its own portion of a Wikipedia page.

I won't lie: I like attention as much as the next person, and sometimes I've been known to seek out the male gaze. This is natural, I think. But there's a difference between wanting to show off and being leered at. The first arises from my own power. The second arises from someone else claiming power. This is unacceptable.

There is a great deal of advice on the Internet about how to regain your power and stop being a victim. While I admire those trying to empower their fellow humans, I feel we need to change the system entirely. Teach your sons not to gape at girls walking past. If you find you do it yourself, look away. Smile politely but don't freak us out, because we live in a world where women often do not feel safe. Louis C.K. has a good take on this:

Sure, he's wrapped this truth in comedy, but it is still a fact. Note that C.K. is NOT saying that all men are violent rapists, but that when it comes down to statistics, men are more of a threat to women than women are to men in a physical sense. Women are trained to always be on high alert around men they don't know--or even men they do know--because our society refuses to teach everyone the same thing: don't hit, don't rape, don't abuse. When we stand on more equal ground on that front, C.K.'s comments will fade into irrelevance. Speaking of which, I think now is the proper time to point out that "Just a Girl" came out in 1995, and not much has changed in the intervening 18 and a half years. As a woman--nay, as a HUMAN--that bothers the shit out of me.

You've all been put on notice. It's time for us to change.


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