Explaining Sexism 101 to Ali Velshi

CNN’s Ali Velshi

I don’t want to be writing this post. I was hoping this Labor Day would truly be free of labor, but I woke up to another dismissive Tweet from CNN Senior Business Correspondent Ali Velshi that compels comment. I’ve always enjoyed and respected Mr. Velshi’s analysis, but was unpleasantly surprised yesterday by his response to Mitt Romney’s claim to create 12 million new jobs if elected. Mr. Velshi stated, “Are you kidding? I’ll wear a dress for a week if after four years we have averaged a quarter million jobs per month.” Uh, wear a dress?

In other words, if Mr. Velshi loses his wager, his punishment is to wear women’s clothing. His comment derives its punitive meaning from the fact that we live in a society that routinely devalues women, and it’s considered absurd and demeaning for men to don anything feminine. Comments disparaging femininity are so ubiquitous and societally acceptable that Mr. Velshi’s sexism likely went unnoticed by most of his male and female viewers. Stealth sexism right in front of our faces.

Most boys learn to devalue the feminine at a young age since masculinity is learned through parents, teachers, media, advertising, and other entities encouraging intense rejection of everything associated with femininity (e.g., reviling the color pink, “boys don’t cry” (like girls), and the now classic gendered insult, “you throw like a girl.”) Both boys and girls learn to value masculinity. To highlight this double standard, it would be non-sensical for a female news personality to say she would wear pants as a punishment.

Granted, it’s problematic to reify or celebrate socially constructed femininity since it comes with damaging baggage, but it’s also not okay to publicly disparage it as this equates to disparaging the values girls and women are raised to embrace. This is what Mr. Velshi did. I tweeted him to say his words were “demeaning to women,” and he went out of his way to insult me. He labeled my critique “dumb” without articulating a counter argument. Here’s the exchange:

@alivelshi just promised to wear a dress for a week if Romney’s economic plan works. Demeaning to women. @CNN

@carolineheldman why is it demeaning?

@AliVelshi You plan to wear it for losing a bet, a punishment. Dresses are symbols of femininity. You’re saying being feminine = punishment.

23hAli VelshiAli Velshi@AliVelshi

@HeeWhoSay yeah I sort of ignore coments like @carolineheldman unless I’m VERY bored. That was a dumb comment

@AliVelshi My “dumb” critique was obvious. Gender 101. It’s called “devaluation of the feminine.” Thought u were a smart guy. Disappointing.

Unfortunately, Mr. Velshi’s comment joins a multitude of other television personalities saying blatantly sexist things. His statement was couched in a channel surfing marathon that included watching Snooki’s unbridled excitement in finding out that her (then) unborn baby would be a boy. Different channel, same sexist devaluation of girls/women. And unfortunately, Snooki and Mr. Velshi’s words matter because popular culture creates, reflects, and reinforces cultural norms.

I’m sure Mr. Velshi and others will think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but to mix metaphors, I’m zeroing in on a drop of water that serves as a reminder that there’s an ocean. If Ali Velshi acknowledges the blatant sexism of his sentiments, either privately or publicly, I promise to wear a dress for a week.

Sexual Objectification, Part 4: Daily Rituals to Start

This is the fourth part in a series about how girls and women can navigate a culture that treats them like sex objects. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Daily Rituals to Start

This post details some daily rituals that girls and women can engage in to interrupt damaging beauty culture scripts.

1) Start enjoying your body as a physical instrument. Girls are raised to view their bodies as a project that they have to constantly work on and perfect for the adoration of others, while boys are raised to think of their bodies as tools to use to master their surroundings. We need to flip the script and enjoy our bodies as the physical marvels they are. We should be thinking of our bodies, as bodies! As a vehicle that moves us through the world; as a site of physical power; as the physical extension of our being in the world. We should be climbing things, leaping over things, pushing and pulling things, shaking things, dancing frantically, even if people are looking. Daily rituals of spontaneous physical activity and thanks for movement are the surest way to bring about a personal paradigm shift from viewing our bodies as objects to viewing our bodies as tools to enact our subjectivity.

Fun Related Activity: Parkour,”the physical discipline of training to overcome any obstacle within one’s path by adapting one’s movements to the environment,” is an activity that one can do anytime, anywhere. I especially enjoy jumping off bike racks between classes while I’m dressed in a suit.

2) Do at least one “embarrassing” action a day. Another healthy daily ritual that reinforces the idea that we don’t exist to be pleasing to others is to purposefully do at least one action that violates”ladylike” social norms. Discuss your period in public. Eat sloppily in public, then lounge on your chair and pat your protruding belly. Swing your arms a little too much when you walk. Open doors for everyone. Offer to help men carry things. Skip a lot. Galloping also works. Get comfortable with making others uncomfortable with your transgressions of gendered scripts.

3) Focus on personal development that isn’t related to beauty culture. Since you’ve read Part 3 of this series and magically given up habitual body monitoring, body hatred, and meaningless beauty rituals, you’ll have more time to develop yourself in meaningful ways. This means more time for education, reading, working out to build muscle and agility, dancing, etc. You’ll become a much more interesting person on the inside if you spend less time worrying about the outside.

4) Actively forgive yourself. A lifetime of body hatred and self-objectification is difficult to let go of, and if you find yourself falling into old habits of playing self-hating tapes, seeking male attention, or beating yourself up for not being pleasing, forgive yourself. It’s impossible to fully transcend the beauty culture game since it’s so pervasive and part of our social DNA before we’re even conscious of being conscious. It’s a constant struggle. When we fall into old traps, it’s important to recognize that, but quickly move on through self forgiveness. We need all the cognitive space we can get for the next beauty culture assault on our mental health.