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Yes, Dove has done it again. “It” being releasing an ad meant to convince us that this company just wants us to feel good about ourselves. I’ve been seeing this commercial EVERYWHERE in the last couple of days, but just in case you missed it, you can watch it here:

 

This wholesome and positive commercial manages to annoy me a lot. It might seem like I’m just being negative, after all, what’s wrong with telling women to love themselves? Well, a lot, apparently.

1. If we actually felt good about ourselves, these companies would go out of business.

I mean, yeah, most of us will use soap and maybe moisturizer even if we felt beautiful all the time, but would we really need all the products Dove and their competitors offer us? Would we need the “Dove Beauty Bar” (as opposed to just regular soap)? Would we need their “Purely Pampering Pistachio Cream with Magnolia Body Wash”? Would we need their serums, masks, creams, sprays, and oils? Some of us will probably go for some pistachio and magnolia even if we felt great about ourselves, but not as many as if we felt that this is what we need to be beautiful (and beautiful is what matters).

Cosmetic companies have spent decades crushing women’s self esteem in order to get them to buy more products. They changed the standards of what’s considered “basic hygiene”, made it harder for women to make a living if they don’t use certain products regularly, and made us feel like crap if we don’t follow their rules for beauty. Now Dove comes out suggesting that they have the solution for this decades-long problem: cosmetics companies made you feel bad about yourself? Great! We have the solution — more cosmetics!

Personally I think it’s awfully rude for a cosmetics company to see itself as the savior of all women with low self esteem. Yes, you can make commercials that are not actively harmful to women (and I would welcome that), but co-opting feminism to sell cosmetics is just too low. You created a problem in order to sell us products, and now you’re going to pretend to fix it by selling us more products? How convenient. Mind you, this is a company that literally sells “whitening” deodorants, perfect for when your armpits are just too dark. Gender equality is not a sales pitch and using it as such is ridiculous. I’ll save Dove the time and money, I already have a new slogan for them: “To love yourself – Dove yourself.”

2. Low self-esteem is more complicated than “choose beautiful.”

These cosmetics companies did a great job of making us hate ourselves. And it’s not just them, it’s pretty much every industry that has something to sell us. They did such a great job that now most women and girls have very complicated relationships with their bodies and appearances. This complicated relationship cannot be solved with the simple “choose beautiful.” If it was that easy, we would have done it already.

Learning to love yourself in a society that is constantly telling you not to is hard. Making it seem so simple and easy is annoying and disrespectful. Making it seem like women who “choose average”, meaning women who don’t love the way they look, just have to get over themselves and “choose beautiful” is misleading and silly. The thing is that body image is more than just personal choice. It’s a societal issue with a historical context. It wasn’t created out of nowhere. Give some credit to the women who deal with these problems, we already tried to choose beautiful. It didn’t work. This also shifts the responsibility and the focus from the strong societal powers that make women hate themselves to the women who suffer from this system. Meaning: you hate yourself? It’s probably because you didn’t try hard enough to choose beautiful.

3. What’s wrong with average?

By definition, most of us are average. Or, to be more exact, there are just as many of us below the average as there are above it. That’s just the definition of the word “average”. That doesn’t mean that average isn’t beautiful, it totally can be, so why make them into opposites? If most (or all) people are beautiful, then being beautiful is average. I’m guessing Dove chose “average” because a door with a big sign that says “ugly” probably wouldn’t seem as inspiring, but it’s silly nonetheless.

We’re all average on some things, maybe even on most things. Is that so bad? There is something to be said for being realistic and acknowledging that we’re not all the best at everything. And again, there is something very odd about referring to beauty in these terms, which brings me to our last point.

In an alternate universe

4. Why do we keep telling women that they should be judged on looks?

Yes, we should all feel awesome about ourselves, but does it have to come from our looks? Do we all have to feel like the most beautiful people ever? Can’t we think that we look, god forbid, average, but still feel awesome because we’re smart, strong, kind, funny, or talented? It’s okay to feel good about yourself because of the way you look, but it’s also okay not to. It doesn’t mean you have to be pitied or fixed by inspirational commercials.

This just perpetuated the same old idea: what matters about women is their beauty. If you don’t feel beautiful then you’re sad, have low self esteem, and need help. How bout we let women feel good about themselves because of things other than looks? Why isn’t there a “smart” door next to the “average” door? Why not an “awesome” door that we encourage women to walk through? Or maybe a “generous” door?

Does Dove even consider that by constantly telling women that it is essential that they feel beautiful, they are actually making it worse, because they reinforce the idea that your looks is what matters the most? I mean, if they did consider that, it would make a lot of sense. This way they can have their cake and eat it too, have the facade of an empowering, women-positive company, while still getting our money. They can tell us that they just want us to love ourselves. They can tell us that they have the solution for the problem that them and their competitors created. They can tell us that we need to choose beautiful, which means we need to choose Dove.

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Arguing on the internet. One of those things that have become so famously useless that it’s hard to actually discuss it seriously (partially because it’s embarrassing to admit that you do it).

But I’ll admit it: I argue on the internet. I try to avoid it, but it’s often hard to overcome my natural tendency to not let anything go. I don’t seek it out, but I read and write in a lot of groups and pages that deal with things that are important to me, and every once in a while – someone says something that really pisses me off (or I say something that pisses them off). Most of the time this sort of online engagement in activism and issues of social justice is very enriching, interesting, and even empowering. I learn a lot from the women who share their experiences in small and big feminist discussion groups, I read a lot of interesting articles about sexism, racism, classism, speciesism and other isms, and find out about current events that aren’t covered by the mainstream media. AND, once in a while, I get into really bitter arguments with people I’ve never met, which often leave me feeling like a pile of shit on a bad day.

You might be thinking “well, why don’t you just stop arguing with people on the internet and use you time for something more productive?” and maybe you’re right, but that’s not what I want to talk about. It is a fact that a lot of people argue online at least once in a while, and so I think it’s worth thinking about without dismissing it as a silly waste of time as we often do. Also, like I said, a lot of good stuff comes out of discussing things online (particularly for people who don’t have access to these contents in real life), and sometimes it’s hard to draw the line between a constructive discussion and a poisonous argument, so it’s not so easy to just stop engaging in those (and I don’t think we should just stop talking about important issues on social media to avoid the arguments).

So here’s what I’ve been thinking about: the online arguments that really get to me, that have a strong and negative impact on my emotional state, that leave me feeling like the pile of shit I mentioned before, aren’t those infamous ones with trolls and mansplainers. They’re not with the people who comment “yum, bacon” on animal rights posts, they’re not with the oblivious men who burst into feminist discussions to generously explain how women are asking for it, and they’re not with the white people who express their deep concern over “reversed racism”. I mean, yeah, I do engage with those sometimes and they are always frustrating and really sad, but I always know that I have the online activist/feminist/anti-racist/social justice-ist community behind me, and I know that I’m most definitely on the “right” side, and will be treated accordingly. So most of the time I manage to let arguments with trolls and jerks bounce right off of me, and they almost never leave me feeling distressed in my personal life.

But when I encounter serious conflict within this “community” (which is obviously a very loose use of the word since it’s quite an elusive group of people) – that’s when it really gets bad. That’s when comments from total strangers stay with me for days, that is when I feel like just quitting all together, that’s when I wonder if I was just a fake feminist all along.

I’ve seen feminist communities tear each other apart online. I’ve seen activists that I really appreciate (in real life) behave like bullies when they don’t have to look the other person in the eye. I’ve done it all myself, wrote in ways that I would never speak and used my familiarity with the activist vocab and trends to get more likes and make myself feel cool. I think we all do this, all the time. Someone uses a word that we only learned is offensive two weeks ago – we bash them, someone asks a question we don’t like – we bash them, someone doesn’t know the exact way to talk about all the different issues we’re dealing with – we bash them, someone has a slightly different take on feminism – you guessed it, we bash them.

It’s not that we shouldn’t be angry when people say stupid shit. It’s okay to call people out and to be upset when they disagree with you. But I think that what is missing from the online discussions I’ve seen (and this is maybe the most obvious thing to say today about the internet and alienation and those kinds of things that people love talking about) is the simple understanding that on the other side there is a person, and like all of us, that person is in the middle of a process. “In real life” (as if when we sit in front of a computer we cease to exist in the real world) we put up with a lot from our friends, families, and fellow activists, and not only because we don’t want to make things awkward. Sure, that’s often a part of it, but the other part is that we are able to contain their complexities, recognize their processes, and give people the benefit of the doubt and some room to grow. We can understand them as more than just the binary of “totally awesome” or “awful and terrible pseudo-feminists”. We don’t start every conversation on 110% intensity and we don’t disregard people’s entire existence because of one thing they said. When I told my friend about the idea of the post she put it as “we see people online as static and as incapable of change”, and that’s a good way to think about it. Online our words literally stay static and out there (unless we choose to change them), and so every small comment or word weirdly becomes the static representation of our full and whole selves.

Illustration: bad calling out!

When we call people out, when our mom says that homophobic thing or our fellow feminist makes a slightly classist comment, we don’t flip the table and yell “You’re so damn homophobic and you should be ashamed of yourself!” (even if sometimes we feel like doing it). We say the classic “that thing you said sounded homophobic” and take it from there, giving the other person a chance to actually reconsider what they said or explain themselves (maybe even apologize or take it back), instead of shitting on their entire self and leaving them with nothing but resentment. And we expect to be treated the same when we’re called out, and we’re all called out every once in a while (or we should be), because we all make stupid comments sometimes and none of us started as the perfect activist who’s 100% against all oppressions, takes part in none of them and knows all the current and appropriate lingo in the world of social justice.

I’m a firm believer in the idea that the oppressed should not have to explain their oppression to the oppressor, so I know that it’s a little complicated to think about how we can have space to express our legitimate thoughts, frustration, and anger, and not have to “tone it down” for anyone, but at the same time still save space for the mistakes that we will all inevitably make and avoid policing and bashing each other. And that’s another important thing: we all have areas in which we are privileged and we need to remember that. Those areas of privilege, and just the reality of living in a messed up society, will definitely create messed up ideas in our heads that we will have to work through. We’re not just totally bad or totally good, totally feminist or totally sexist, we’re always somewhere in the process. And “working through it” doesn’t just mean learning which words will get you bashed online, it’s a more complicated process that takes time and happens on a deeper level. But it seems to me that this process, in the online world, has become not a process of learning and growing, but of trying to exert power over the other person, proving that we’re the better activist,  and constantly attacking and defending.

And it’s not surprising that we do this. When you read comment after comment saying really messed up things, when you have long arguments with really insensitive people who keep saying offensive and oppressive stuff, and when you’re just constantly in this battle called “the internet” (and “the world”), it’s natural to eventually just keep your sword in your hand at all times. It’s hard to tell a troll apart from someone who’s simply new to the topic, it’s hard to tell if someone’s being offensive or is just challenging something that is now “activist-consensus” and so it upsets us, it’s hard to tell if we’re talking to someone openly sexist or someone that just has a bit of a different take on feminism (or has a specific disagreement with us). All we have representing us and the other person is just a handful of comments, sometimes one sentence, on which we base an entire theory of who this person is and how they fall in our understanding of justice. So often we can’t tell the difference, and honestly, even when we can tell – we’re so damn tired, angry, and fed up with all the sexism, racism, and other isms on the internet, that we don’t even care.

I don’t have answers, no “Do’s and Don’ts of Online Activism” no “Ten Ways to Fix Our Poisonous Relationships with Each Other Online,” and no “17 GIFs that Will Change the Way You View Facebook Arguments.” just my thoughts and the hope that this is a conversation that people can have. For me, the bottom line is that we need to figure out what calling out can look like online (as opposed to bashing), what productive and inclusive discussions are (as opposed to bitter arguments), and how to use criticism to make each other better activists (as opposed to make each other feel like crap).

To conclude, I will give you an easy-on-the-eyes list of what I do know (some of them are reiterations) and I think can be used to help us rethink about our online conversations about social justice and activism:

  • Leaving people feeling like shit isn’t going to make them better allies/activists/feminists/whatever.
  • We are all in a process and no one is born the perfect activist (and so we all end up on both sides of this occasionally).
  • There are obvious activist trends that dictate which opinions are okay to express and which are not, and they are actually not so clear cut “good” and “bad”, they are often just different approaches to the issue, and although I might agree with a lot of them, treating any slightly different opinion as terrible betrayal doesn’t help us, it just keeps us from developing, critiquing, and improving ourselves and our activism.
  • Learning what words to avoid and what phrases to use to get more likes from other activists is not the same as understanding and deconstructing oppression.
  • When we use our familiarity with activist knowledge, trends, and ways of talking to make someone else feel crappy or to make ourselves feel cool- we’re not helping anyone.
  • Sometimes, when you’re being a “bad” ally, a “bad” feminist, or a “bad” whatever, maybe it’s okay to feel like one and to feel bad in general. Sometimes feeling bad can push us to become better, to expand our understanding of justice, to include more oppressions in our understanding of intersectionality, and to recognize the ways in which we are still benefiting from oppression. But it’s a fine line between all of these great things and the feeling of “I’m a bad feminist, I’m not worth anything, my activism is bullshit and I should probably just give up and go watch Netflix instead.” This is the line we need to find.

Hopefully we can take some of these thoughts, stir in some other thoughts, and find ways to create online communities that can handle complexities, include all of us as individuals who are always in the process of changing, contain our anger, provide us with opportunities for challenging, improving, and calling each other out, and keep us energized, hopeful, and strong.

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Many people of this generation think that feminism is dead or that there is no need for feminism anymore. Students at Cambridge University were asked why they need feminism and here are some of the responses. You can check out more here. Thanks to the students who organized this! What great messages!

 

Ineedfeminism2Ineedfeminism3Ineedfeminism

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Grade Five. I am stronger than I’ve ever been.
I am quick and smart. I love math.
I wear bright orange (even though it clashed with my short red hair).
I hold a calculator up and yell “Yippee”
To discover how the world works
……………..through the abstract.
……………..through numbers.

……………..

Grade Eight. I am quiet and confused
Confused(, Why am I feeling so lifeless, so cardboard?).
All the girls are made of cardboard.
The math teacher pours water over them.
……………..Making them wilt.
……………..Making them mush.
……………..Losing all excitement for the future they could have had.
……………..Losing all dreams.

The boys he waters (like the water dripping off the swimwuit models of the only Sports Illustrated that he’s not allowed to plaster on the wall of his classroom).
The boys he waters, with drops of knowledge.
……………..that make them grow.
……………..that make them dream.

The girls he pours on so their cardboard selves slump, into a lack of dreams.
……………..(The Lack of Dreams.)

[He does not desire this.
……………..(Or does he?)
The lack of dreams that they are supposed to embody.
……………..(supposed to?)

(Embody, whose body?) The only bodies they ever had were owned by others, controlled by others, like this man
This Gardener of Boys and Pulperizer of Girls]

……………..

Grade Ten. Their bodies are not their own just like their dreams. (My body is not my own just like my dreams.)
Their dreams of being a good girlfriend, a writer, a mother, an assistant.
Never a scientist, an astronaut, an owner.
They have finished their transformation to cardboard cutouts.

The boys raise their hands.
The girls sit unmoving. Cardboard cutouts cannot raise their hands.
……………..Not unless someone meant them to raise their hands.

The boys answer the questions.
The girls are silent. Cardboard mouths cannot speak out.
……………..Not unless someone meant them to.

The boys dream.
The girls are empty, for cardboard cutouts cannot dream.
……………..Not unless someone meant them to.

……………..

Mr. ——,
Did you ever mean to make hands that could not be raised, mouths that could not speak?
Did you ever mean to make girls that could not dream?

(You must have.)

(You must have.)

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The name of the game is free information. In a time when the government threatens to censor the interent, and information from companies about their products are held back from consumers, we must consider how access to free and open information is essential to our wellbeing, even if we are looking at the world through the narrow view of neoclassical economics.

Neoclassical economics is the current leading school of thought in economics. It is the type of economics that every student learns in economic classes these days no matter how progressive the rest of their education institution may be.  It is the basis for current day free market ideologies, mainstream economic theory and also government policy regarding hot topics like the budget deficit, what to do about unemployment… basically any policy that the government enacts is based on neoclassical economic thought.

BUT neoclassical economics itself is based on a few assumptions, some of which are so generalizing or so uninformed that they negate the rest of economic theory and remove it from actually informing us about the real world.

For example it is based on the idea that every human being is completely individualistic, selfish and will make decisions based solely on their utility, a fancy way of saying their preferences towards what will make them happiest. An individual’s utility, or happiness, is not actually a measurement of happiness at all however. It’s not based on anything that makes me happy at least (spending time with friends and family, doing things that are rewarding, etc..) In fact this measurement of happiness is not really based on anything at all except the idea that we will always consume as much as possible and that this is what will make us most happy in life. Utility is essentially a measurement of our preferences to different combinations of goods that will make us the most happy. Remember, you will always consume as much as possible because this is what makes you rational. Also, every human being is rational 100% of the time in neoclassical economics.

Neoclassical economics is based on another  underlying assumption: that all consumers are fully informed. Fully informed meaning you know everything about the products you might buy and about all the other alternatives that are on the market and just how much they all cost. So for example when you go to the store to buy a new pair of shoes you would know exactly how those shoes were made. You would know that they are made in a sweatshop by someone making X amount of pennies an hour and you would know exactly what the carbon footprint of those shoes would be. You would know exactly how unsustainable and socially irresponsible it is to be buying products that come from halfway around the world at such a low cost. You would also know about all the other shoes you could buy, where you could buy them and at exactly what cost to you. But clearly this is not the case in real life because we do not know where our products come from, how they are made or what the alternatives are. Sometimes even if you search for years for this information you cannot find it. Take for example the commodity chain of your cell phone, people have been trying to figure out exactly where that nasty little metal, coltan, was sourced from. Imagine that economic theory assumes that we know, and have always known, this for as long as coltan was being mined in the Congo.

The internet allows sites to report on commodity chains, materials that go into products, conditions in which they were produced, and their environmental impact. Without the internet this information would be extremely difficult to find. In an age when companies are not required to report any of this information to consumers who are interested, and are allowed to in fact hide it from consumers, it is essential that this information remains free to access on the internet. It is concerning that the US government is moving to censor the internet because while the government is in the pocket of corporations this information, or the sites that provide this information, could come under attack.

If an underlying assumption of all economic models assume that all individuals taking part in the market already have all of this information, then from a neoclassical economists perspective surely this information should be at the very least available for any interested consumer to view on the internet.

This is why even neoclassical economists should support open access to information on a free internet.

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