Social Gendercide in America
The United Nations estimates that 13 million people have been affected by the famine that has struck the Horn of Africa. Meanwhile, there are nearly 10 million people starving themselves deliberately in the United States, and most of them are women. Culturally, however, it is easier to turn the attention towards other’s problems than to face our own. Women have become silently neglected by our own society, which is a primary cause of the country’s social, political and economic failure.
One of the most furtive but most destructive factors of the hunger problem in America is modern-day media. Amidst the glaring reality that American media is fueling the gluttonous furnace of gender inequity, culturally, it has become acceptable and even the norm: Women reach for virtually unattainable body-image goals and will do anything to reach them, while men are confined to the mold of hyper-masculinity in which rejects healthy outlets of emotion. Unfortunately, the consequences of these cultural stereotypes reach more than just ground-level society, but rather they infiltrate our politics, economics, health care, and even infringe on our basic human rights.
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) found that in 2003, a majority of those with eating disorders do not receive proper treatment. According to NEDA, the mortality rate for females fifteen to twenty-four years old who have anorexia nervosa was twelve times higher than the death rate of all other causes of death in 1995. This problem has not subsided since then, in large part due to the growing media empire and the dictatorship the industry has asserted over the American public.
The “I’d die to be thin” mentality has shaped the lives of younger and younger girls as technology advances have created virtually fictitious women. The average woman is 5’4” and weighs 140 pounds, yet the average model is 5’11” and weighs 117 pounds. Young girls and boys are being exposed to this false body-image every day, and almost every minute of the day. The newly released film Miss Representation, written, directed and produced by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, states that children and young adults watch more than ten hours of media each day, which in turn, sets these unrealistic expectations for both women and men. The outcome of the new media age is high levels of victimization, sexualization and oppression of women.
The film cites that twenty-five percent of women are abused by a partner in their lifetime, one in six women are survivors of rape or attempted rape, and fifteen percent of rape survivors are under the age of twelve. These facts have more to do with the male stereotype generated through the media. This stereotype claims that men should be dominant, physically strong, powerful and show emotions limited to anger, silence or happiness. Therefore, the media has not only confined women to an oppressive stereotype, it has imprisoned men in an equally unhealthy confinement. Unfortunately, women become the human punching bag for this kind of suppression.
In contrast, female hyper-sexualization, although perpetuated equally by men, is a problem involving the oppressive female stereotype and has changed the psychological messages girls receive about how they should be and how they should act, especially during their teen years. The United States has the highest teen birth rate of industrialized nations, mainly because it has become culturally acceptable for girls to degrade and objectify their bodies. Teen pregnancy also corresponds with high levels of poverty, homelessness, and maternal mortality, all of which have a negative back lash on national productivity, including both political and economic productivity.
When women and other minorities are adequately represented in leadership positions, whether it be in a government body, a company or a community organization, the progress and productivity of that institution exceeds that of its single-gender or single-race counterparts. One example of how women in the upper tiers of decision making in a society can have a positive impact on the country’s overall well-being is the formerly violence-ridden country in East Africa. Rwanda has become the new model for empowering women and mobilizing them to take on leadership roles, with the world’s highest percentage, 56%, of women in parliament. This has been a key factor in rebuilding the country after the 1994 genocide. According to panelists of the Third International Genocide Conference, in Rwanda today, there is a ninety-seven percent enrollment in primary schools and fifty-two percent are girls; the nation ranks one of the lowest in criminality; it is number one in the continent and number eight in the world for doing business, and number two in controlling corruption; ninety-six percent of Rwandan citizens have health care coverage; and it is the only African nation not at risk of hunger. This is more than many “developed” countries, most of which continue to have male-dominated governments, can say for their overall progress on the same issues.
Lastly, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to three women leaders this October highlights the impressive change one woman can make in a community. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia and the first woman to be democratically elected into the presidency of an African nation, has been able to keep the once war-torn country from falling back into civil war. Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian community organizer, has led initiatives to counteract violence, especially during the civil war, by calling together women in the community to act. Tawakkul Karman, a Yemeni human rights activist who founded Woman Journalists Without Chains, has been key in mobilizing women in the face of the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa. Each of these women has brought to the forefront the importance of women’s involvement in the change-making process.
American culture has far to go in terms of social progress. In instances where people wonder how the economy collapsed or how the political climate became so divided and intolerant, the answers lie in our nation’s history of teaching women to devaluing themselves and to be inhumanely “normal,” which in turn, excludes so-called minorities in positions of power and leaves the decisions to the country’s one percent.