Letters to the editor
September 5, 2003 | Page 4
Sexism is a real issue for women
Dear Socialist Worker,
David Bliven misses the point when he says that "merely portraying women as sexy is not 'sexism.'" (SW, August 15). The problem is not that Hollywood portrays women as "sexy." The problem is that Hollywood portrays women as what passes for sexy in our incredibly repressive, sexually alienated and sexist society.
The idea that women have to have long legs, deep cleavage and 18-inch waists in order to be considered sexy is enormously oppressive. Just ask any woman who has ever been on a diet or suffered through an eating disorder.
Bliven's claim that the depiction of women as sassy sex objects is not a "real" issue for the women's movement is also off the mark. In fact, the images of women produced by Hollywood and through the media have a dynamic relationship with the more easily measurable effects of sexism, like wage disparity, diminished opportunities and attacks on abortion rights.
It is not that we get paid 75 cents to the male dollar, and then there's The Man Show. The two work together. The ideological and economic arms of sexist oppression feed into and reinforce each other.
For the women who work in Hollywood, the relationship between image and opportunity is direct. Earlier this month, Showtime aired Searching for Debra Winger, a documentary directed by actress Rosanna Arquette that examines the things women have to do to survive in Hollywood. A review of the program reveals some very significant statistics: more than 50 percent of men in movies are over 35, compared to only 8 percent of women.
An ever-increasing number of actresses are resorting to plastic surgery, Botox injections, fad diets and diuretics to stay in the business. The message: if women age or gain weight, their stories are not worth telling. Most horrifyingly, the 36 actresses interviewed agreed that when they answer a casting call, they are judged not only according to their looks, but on whether or not the men in the room would like to have sex with them.
Now that's called sexism, and it both reflects and reinforces all the other expressions of sexism in our society. Anyone who thinks different is kidding themselves.
Elizabeth Terzakis, San Francisco
Dear Socialist Worker,
I was absolutely appalled a few days ago when I read the article "U.S. admits it used napalm bombs in Iraq," by Independent journalist Andrew Buncombe. It is not, however, surprising that the U.S. would do such a thing. A United Nations Convention in 1980 banned the use of napalm against civilians, but the U.S. didn't sign on to it, and has continued to use napalm.
No one can forget the image of Kim Phuc, the napalmed Vietnamese girl running in the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph during the Vietnam War. Although no comprehensive study has been done into the number of victims, the civilians affected by it certainly number in the millions. And succeeding generations have been affected due to the environmental consequences.
The Pentagon has the nerve to justify its use by saying that it now uses an upgraded version of the chemical called Mark 77, which causes less environmental damage. But the damage to human life remain the same.
According to Col. James Alles, describing one napalm bombing during the war on Iraq, "We napalmed both those [bridge] approaches. Unfortunately, there were people there...you could see them in the [cockpit] video. They were Iraqi soldiers. It's no great way to die. The generals love napalm. It has a big psychological effect."
The use of napalm shows the lengths the U.S. is willing to go in order to fulfill its ambitions of oil and empire. It should be obvious that no single nation possesses a greater weapons threat than the U.S.
While all nations should be disarmed, the U.S. should be the first. This won't happen by one nation "disarming" another, but from a mass movement from below.
Adam Helfgott, Providence, R.I.
Dear Socialist Worker,
Nicole Colson's review of Bravo's new gay TV shows (SW, August 15) was right to take a hard line on the social and political implications of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Boy Meets Boy. With Bush and the religious right moving to ban gay marriage, these shows play right into their hands by promoting an image of gays as comfortable, middle class and obsessed with sex and fashion.
The two most popular and long-running gay-themed shows, ABC's Will and Grace and Showtime's Queer as Folk, may not be nearly as backward, but do fall into some of the same traps. Queer as Folk does take up tough issues, from gay bashing, drug abuse and emotional dependency, to homophobia in the workplace. One of this season's dominant storylines was the campaign to discredit a right-wing police chief who had led a crackdown against gay bars while running for mayor.
But the show also panders to stereotypes. The characters are all white and disproportionately middle class, the men are obsessed with working out, and the lesbians are deathly boring housewives who argue about table arrangements.
Queer as Folk should be given some credit for raising awareness about important aspects of gay oppression, and for showing both gay and straight characters standing up to it. But recognizing this does not mean that we should ignore the political implications of the stereotypes about gays that the show accepts.
Socialists should welcome depictions of gays on TV that in some way capture the real-life experiences of the majority of gays and lesbians. But real progress comes through struggle, and all visibility is not good visibility.
Conservatives are eager to portray gays as a comfortable elite with nothing to complain about. In this climate, shows that in any way suggest that gay oppression is a thing of the past are actually dangerous.
David Thurston, New York City
Dear Socialist Worker,
When I saw the title of Brian Jones' article, "Do We Consume Too Much?," (SW, August 8) I excitedly began reading, but was soon disappointed. I applaud Mr. Jones for reminding us of the problem of consuming too much. However, he lets the consumer off wholesale, putting entirely too much blame on the producer.
I will not deny the fact that marketing and advertising help to convince people that their lives are not complete if they are not wearing Gap jeans, driving a Hummer and eating a burger from McDonald's. However, people are still ultimately responsible for their own decisions, and have more influence over producers than they realize or would like to take responsibility for.
For example, if people would simply eat only at locally owned restaurants for one month, in every city across the country, there would be a remarkable change in this country. As for driving, yes, people do love their vehicles, and some people don't live anywhere near a bus or subway. But they still have options in the purchasing of their vehicles and assessing fuel efficiency, safety and otherwise.
I do accept that people are largely driven by what the market dictates, but the market is not a dictatorial figure--it still takes cues from consumers. We're all to blame. Every dollar that we spend contributes to the kind of world that we want to live in.
A. Heather Williams, From the Internet