This Don Imus debate is raging longer than I thought it would. It’s a catalyst for something bigger, or so I’m hoping. It’s interesting, because, being the whore that I am for Oprah’s more insightful shows (not the lame celebrity crap), she’s been tackling the drama from the perspective of just how denigrating (African-American) culture is towards African-American women. The spin is more or less that if they can’t respect themselves within their culture, then how can they ever expect others to respect them?
It’s really the age-old cultural chicken-or-the-egg scenario: What comes first, self-respect or respect from others? Can you respect yourself if no one else respects you? Or can you cause others to respect you by setting the benchmark for them in having respect for yourself, no matter what others say or do?
The thing is, this isn’t an African-American phenomena. Today’s young women in all cultures are regressing to a dumber-than sex-comes-first mentality of “if you’ve got it, flaunt it, ‘cos that’s all you got”. I’ve tackled this topic before in one of my personal favourite (and one of my most-commented & quoted) columns, and it’s an issue close to my heart. I hate knowing that a growing number of young women (but not all, thank god) seem to be of the belief that the only way to get ahead is through tight skirts, tight asses, and bursting bra cups filled with bouncy boobs.
Unfortunately, because they believe that, the reality is shifting, and it is starting to become more necessary for women to have that element of sexuality in order to get anywhere – or, if they’re to really get taken seriously, they have to do the complete opposite and abdicate their sexuality, which is also very unsettling. The trouble with each of these approaches is, if you build it, they will come, y’know? By giving in to the mentality of sexy substituting for smart, or sexy being eliminated in favour of smarts, they’re empowering this perception that women cannot be both. A lie if ever there was one.
There’s nothing wrong with letting your physicality speak volumes, but intellect should not be a mere footnote; it should be the spine, the binding, and the cataloguing in the library of your life. Intellect is everything. Knowledge is power. Articulation and debate can solve all the world’s problems, and women have the insight, the power, and the emotional capacity to contribute in far greater ways than we have ever allowed them to before now.
It’s no surprise that the most powerful women on the world stage – those like Hillary Clinton, Margaret Thatcher before her, and others – have had to almost entirely veto their sexuality in order to have any credibility. It’s because those women who use their sexuality for their success have failed to do so in a way that embraces their mental prowess.
Things aren’t improving. It’s not just a “Black” problem. It’s a “Woman” problem. I am a feminist. I don’t give a fuck that “feminist” has a negative perception to it. Wake up, world. That was then, this is now. Germaine Greer’s dead, people, and there are new voices rising in the dark that speak loudly in real terms applicable to today’s women without disempowering today’s man. There are women like Pink, India Aire, Salma Hayek, Oprah, and others who have found a way to celebrate their beauty while showcasing their minds.
I do not like this old-fashioned trend of women abdicating their sexuality in order to be taken seriously on the world stage, a la Hillary Clinton in her dark business suits and stern facade. I do not like the obsolete notion that a woman must be masculine in order to be strong. I do not believe women must belittle men in order to be card-carrying feminists.
There is a new feminism that embraces the greatness each sex has to offer. Women can offer softness and beauty and sensuality while contributing strength and wisdom and articulation to the world debate.
In this age where violence seems to speak louder than ever, sexuality is being reduced to crassness, and media swims only in the shallow end of the pool, the female soul has so much to offer, so much insight to give, yet it’s being drowned out by more of the cliché stereotyping we’ve seen so much of in all the ages before us.
Men have run the show for long enough, and look at what we have to show for it – shootings in schools, divorce at an all-time high, teenage pregnancy an epidemic, poverty growing by the day. Can women fix everything? Fuck, no. But we can help offer a different point of view, a new spin on things, a new set of values. Men and women truly working together, each showcasing their strength of character, we might just have a chance of turning things around.
But it all has to start with today’s young women believing they have more to contribute to the world around them than just tits and ass. They need to believe that their paths to success don’t lie only in auditioning for The Pussycat Dolls or in being the next 15-minute celebrity bimbo clad scantily with her glitter makeup being the only way she’s able to shine. Like Pink says, sexy and smart don’t need to be oil and water. It’s time to be more.