#WhatIReallyReallyWant: GIRL POWER!

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July 16, 2016

Whenever I hear the phrase “Girl Power”, the first thing that comes to mind is the Spice Girls posing together, flashing peace signs. Although the phrase was coined prior to Spice Girl mania, there is no question about the fact that the Spice Girls were the ones responsible for popularizing the widespread use of the term, during the mid-1990’s. The phrase grew to become so popular that it actually landed itself a home in the dictionary, where it’s defined as “the idea that women and girls should be confident, make decisions, and achieve things independently of men.”

Girl power rests upon the fundamental notion of female empowerment. And for that reason, I find it absolutely brilliant that The United Nations Global Goals For Sustainable Development managed to work the Spice Girls into their latest campaign to promote awareness for Goal 5, which seeks to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

As part of the Global Goals campaign for girls and women, Project Everyone, Getty Images, and the global cinema advertising association SAWA partnered together to produce an amazing music video titled “#WhatIReallyReallyWant”. The video uses the famous Spice Girls hit song “Wannabe”, and features female artists from around the world. Throughout the background of the video, there are images calling for some of the things girls and women “really, really want”, which include ending child marriage and violence against girls, quality education for all girls, and equal pay for equal work. These are some, but not all, of the targets outlined by the United Nations in Goal 5.

The video is very well done. So well done that former Spice Girl members and other celebrities began endorsing and sharing the video, declaring their support for gender equality initiatives, and reiterating the important messages the video aims to deliver.

Along with the video, this campaign seeks to encourage girls and women to share a photo of themselves (or a piece of paper) stating what they really, really want for girls and women, using the hashtag #WhatIReallyReally. All images featuring that hashtag will be shown to the world leaders meeting at the UN in September 2016.

Goal 5, Gender Equality, became part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September of last year, when leaders from around the world gathered in New York at the United Nations Headquarters. The leaders in attendance reached an agreement on 17 specific goals and targets to achieve by year 2030, which are referred to as the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (also known as SDG’s or Global Goals). These goals tackle a wide range of issues, and highlight the need for transformative and universal change on behalf of not only the national leaders, but everyone around the world.

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Thanks to live streaming capabilities, I was able to virtually attend both the Women Deliver Conference and The United State of Women Summit a couple months ago, where  the importance of investing in women and girls was a topic that was repeatedly brought to the table. A conversation I never get sick of hearing.

During the Women Deliver Conference, Dr. David Nabarro, Special Advisor on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development touched directly on the topic of investing in girls and women, and how this is one of the most important investments. Dr. Nabarro described the 2030 Agenda as “a plan that is like a tapestry, that goes right across the totality of human experience, and right at the centre, is girls and women”. Nabarro argued that unless girls and women are given the best possible support and investment, they will be unable to contribute to the future of our world in the way they need to:

“It’s investing in girls and women that’s the key. In order to do that, what’s the most important thing? It’s for girls and women to be able to enjoy good health, to be able to make reproductive choices, to exercise their rights, and if that is done than the economic gains are huge – at least ten times greater return on investment. And at the same time, the countries themselves, if they’ve got healthy women who are able to enjoy well-being and to exercise their reproductive rights, they will be able to undergo the kind of development that is necessary for the future of our world.”

To me, it’s an absolute no-brainer to invest in girls and women, because the unfortunate reality is that millions and millions of girls and women around the world are unable to fully contribute to progressive development, as a result of denied access to education, forced harmful practices from a young age, and feelings of disempowerment as a result of their circumstances and cultural traditions. Due to such, we are missing a very large portion of the population which could be participating and contributing to advancing the Sustainable Development Goals, and this is extremely problematic. Imagine what we could do if we had an extra 60,000,000 girls and women helping us work towards these global goals? The possibilities are truly endless. Plus, we all know there is no force more powerful than a strong, educated, and empowered woman!

Please join me to help make some noise in order to raise awareness for the Gender Equality Sustainable Development Goal. Get your friends and family involved too! Use the hashtag #WhatIReallyReallyWant, and tell the world what issues matter to YOU! The more noise we make, the more pressure placed on national leaders to adopt and enforce concrete legislation promoting gender equality at all levels, and in all countries. When women do better, everyone does better…so what are you waiting for?!  Let’s get to it!

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Pornography: Promoting the Plight of Women Today

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July 6, 2016

Something you will soon learn from subscribing to the Sabatage is that I am never afraid to discuss touchy topics, but I never want to offend anyone or make anyone feel uncomfortable by writing about certain things. Rather, my aim is to address serious and pressing issues that some people have difficulty bringing up in conversation. Pornography is definitely one of those issues.

Nancy Jo Sales, author of “American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers”, was the one who opened my eyes to the reality of what’s really happening in the lives of teenagers today, in terms of porn. In both her book and a discussion I attended to hear her speak on the topic of sexuality of teens and social media, Sales highlighted the fact that while porn is not new, what’s new is the fact that the porn itself has changed. Both the accessibility and the constancy of porn have changed dramatically in recent years, and the porn teens (and even kids) are watching today is very, very different in nature, when compared to the porn of the past.

If we rewind to the dinosaur times of having no Internet, accessibility was much more limited, and it was very difficult to access any type of hardcore pornography if you were underage. But with the Internet, came the elimination of many barriers, leaving access to all types of pornography at the fingertips of any child with a computer or mobile phone. Now being observed, is the heightened popularity of a type of hardcore porn called “extreme porn”, which can best be defined as exceedingly violent, degrading, and fetishtic pornography. I did some research on my own to learn more about what this porn really encompasses, and my findings were both shocking and deeply disturbing. To paint a clearer picture, some of the tags used on these videos include: “violent”, “brutal”, “extreme hardcore gangbang”, “extreme teen abuse”, “crying”, “puke”, “forced” and “painful”. There are even a number of sites, which cater specifically to the category of “rape porn” (which actually makes me feel nauseous even typing).

My research also led me to confirm that Google Trends analysis supports the reality that many desire watching this type of porn, and searches for “extreme porn” and “teen porn” continue to rise at rapid rates. Obviously this is troublesome for several reasons, but I would like to identify four reasons in particular.

1) Boys now believe that sexual violence, force, and rape is acceptable.

This quote from the introduction of the American Girls book summarizes the severity of this issue perfectly in two lines:

In a study of Canadian teenagers with an average age of 14, there was a correlation between boys’ frequent consumption of pornography and their agreement with the idea that it is acceptable to hold a girl down and force her to have sex…Among U.S. boys and girls aged 11 to 16, greater exposure to R- and X-rated films was related to stronger acceptance of sexual harassment.”

Where do I even begin? The fact that these behaviours are becoming commonplace, and regarded as “acceptable” is so appalling I can’t even find the right words to describe how this makes me feel. This is very, very disturbing evidence. It is so easy to see the connection between extreme porn and the promotion of rape culture, that I am so shocked I never identified this link prior to reading Sales’ work. The quote above reminds me of everything that was wrong with Brock Turner’s verdict, and his father’s statement defending and downplaying non-consensual, forced rape. It is a chilling reminder that this is what reality looks like now, and we can no longer continue to ignore these grim issues, or brush them under the rug.

2) Boys are being taught it is okay to disrespect women.                                                       

This is a no-brainer, and a direct consequence of #1. Constant consumption of this type of pornography, lends a hand to desensitizing boys to violence and disrespect against women, and also encourages the notion that it is okay and acceptable to disrespect women. How horrible is this? Porn works to encourage and instil patriarchal values and attitudes from a young age, rather than encouraging values of respect, and gender equality. Additionally, becoming desensitized to disrespecting  women from a young age, helps foster the likelihood of imitating and mimicking the disrespectful actions they observe pornstars engaging in. This also increases the chances of males behaving in such a way in future intimate relationships. 

3) Pornography dehumanizes women by portraying women as objects.

Extreme pornography aids in dehumanizing women, by sending a message that women are inferior objects designed for being used and abused by males. The dehumanizing nature of porn also ends up turning the act of sex into something that is self-serving for males. “When we encourage males to include dehumanizing acts in sex and teach women to accept various forms of violence against them as a “natural” part of sexual activity, we are condoning violence against women.”

4) Extreme porn is a dangerous form of sexual education.

Extreme porn does an excellent job of providing misinformation to all those watching it. While adults are better able to differentiate between scenarios that are unrealistic and inappropriate, young, impressionable teens are unable to do so in the same way. It is a known fact that pornography is typically how adolescents are introduced to sex, and where many turn, in order to learn more about sex. Consuming extreme porn from a young age not only provides misinformation of what sex really means and represents, but more concerning, it helps to create an appetite for deviant, violent, sexual relationships and unrealistic expectations of males. Extreme porn programs the brain from a very young age to be attracted to unrealistic sexual deviance and sexual violence, rather than be attracted to healthy, safe, respectful sexual relationships.

Many parents feel uncomfortable talking to their kids about pornography, or neglect to acknowledge the fact that their child may be consuming pornography. This is an issue that requires immediate correction. Just as parents talk to their children about safe sex and the dangers of unprotected sex, it is now necessary for parents to begin engaging in conversations with their children about porn from a younger age than most feel comfortable doing. Parents need to be having these conversations with their kids; educating them on the fact that pornography is not anywhere close to a real representation of sex, and that violence against women inside and outside the bedroom is 110% UNACCEPTABLE…no matter how it is portrayed. While this post primarily focused on how pornography is affecting boys, please stay tuned for a follow up post discussing how pornography affects girls. Has anyone noticed this trend firsthand, by experiencing a male saying or acting in a way that showed he believed it was okay to disrespect a female? Please comment below!

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In Conversation: Nancy Jo Sales

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Heather Reisman and Nancy Jo Sales

July 1, 2016

To be completely honest, I am a terrible reader and I definitely have the track record to prove it. Although I have quite an extensive book collection (covered in cobwebs), I couldn’t tell you the ending of any of them. I have mastered the art of beginning books and never finishing them.

Given my rocky relationship and commitment problems with books, I had never once thought of attending a book talk with an author before. Actually, what’s worse is that I was completely unaware these talks happen all the time, and that some bookstores actually have event calendars! I was exposed to a whole new world when one of my classmates shared an Indigo ‘In Conversation’ event with me and suggested I check it out. After doing a bit of research on the book, I made the decision to attend the event and begin a new chapter (pun intended) of my life…one where I actually finish books. I thought listening to a discussion held in a bookstore, would help breathe some new life into me and give me some inspiration to get cracking on kicking this nasty habit.

The discussion was held on the bottom level of the Bay Bloor Indigo bookstore, and the Chief Booklover of Indigo, Heather Reisman, was the one moderating the conversation with award-winning Vanity Fair writer Nancy Jo Sales. The discussion was on Sales’ newest book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, which details the disturbing truths about the dark side of social media, and how social media platforms are essentially destroying the innocence of children and teens growing up today.

My whole inspiration for starting this blog was based on my personal observations of destructive trends happening on social media. A couple of years ago, I began to notice an alarming increase of hyper-sexualized posts coming from females (especially very young females) on all social media platforms, but I had yet to discover all the external factors that were simultaneously contributing to this trend. This discussion provided me with the answers to all my questions I didn’t know I had.

Did you know that kids are now watching porn as young as the age of six, even though it’s illegal? Did you ever give any thought to the connection between the ‘bro culture’ of Silicon Valley maintaining sexism in the tech industry, and how this works to support the toxic trends currently being observed? Did you know kids are spending an average of 9-11 hours per day on their mobile devices? Are you familiar with the term ‘slut page’, and how these pages are essentially self-generated pornography by children, being shared non-consensually?

I didn’t know any of this.

I was absolutely BLOWN AWAY  listening to Sales discuss certain aspects of her book and her corresponding research. What really mortified me was that I had no idea I was that out of touch with reality. I mean, I’m not that old. I’m a millennial, turning 25 later on this year, and I am someone who uses social media everyday, frequently. I was completely and utterly stunned to find out that I was so oblivious and unaware as to how serious and deeply rooted these issues really are for teens growing up in this day and age. A recurring theme, and what I found particularly fascinating, was how many times the role of porn was mentioned throughout the talk, and how this is one of the huge contributing factors to the disastrous state we are currently experiencing. The discussion also touched on the pressure social media places on girls to produce hyper-sexual content, and how this sexualization of girls has been linked to misery and a wide range of mental health problems in young females.

Going into the discussion, I had no intention of purchasing the book. But after listening to Sales talk about her findings and some of the topics covered in her book, I was so mind blown and I realized there was no way I could leave without purchasing a copy of American Girls ($40 CAD).

imageThe discussion left my head spinning, and left me feeling all types of ways. Primarily, I began to feel so sad for all the young teenage girls growing up now, who have to deal with all sorts of added pressure (as if growing up in general isn’t hard enough on its own). The discussion also inspired me to get to work, and try and figure out how on earth we can work towards correcting these trends.

I’m only two chapters into the book so far, and I’m already in love. I don’t want to give too much away, plus, technically I can’t really do that because I’m not finished the book yet. I am confident that this book is definitely what I need to kick my habit of not finishing books, because this book has become my new favourite accessory. I carry it around with me everywhere, and I kind of feel like one of those annoyingly proud parents who never misses a chance to bring up their kid or show you their kids most recent pictures. I never miss a chance to bring up this book or show people I’m reading it, because I truly feel like EVERYONE needs to read this.

imageSeeing as this book is so closely tied to everything my blog stands for, there are going to be tons of future posts where I delve deeper into the research and important topics this book explores. To learn more about Nancy Jo Sales you can head over to her website. I also suggest checking out this great interview on American Girls that she did with Teen VogueDon’t forget to subscribe if you haven’t already, to be sure you don’t miss upcoming posts related to these topics!

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