Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day and Families

Tomorrow is Memorial Day.  Many of us think of it as one of the few three day week-ends when we can have some down time, maybe take a road trip.  For others, it may be a time to hit the stores to take advantage of sales.  It is also widely viewed as the official start to summer. 

But Memorial Day is actually a much more solemn occasion.  As busy Americans we often lose sight of that fact.  Beginning with the end of the Civil War, Memorial Day is the time set aside to remember and honor those who died serving their country in the military. 

To those who have lost loved-ones who served in the military, I extend my heart-felt condolences and sympathy.  The loss of someone we love is one of the most difficult of human experiences.

I don’t have any amazing insights or observations about Memorial Day.  I simply wanted to share two reports I heard on the radio while I was making my family breakfast this morning.  They continue a theme from the prior posts, i.e., the separation of families.  The first involves a soldier and his grandfather.  The second involves children whose father is currently deployed.

For more than a decade our country has been engaged in wars of questionable justification.  I come from a family where many have made great sacrifices to serve their country in the military.  My hometown in Texas is a city where for a long time the major industry has been the military.  I’m not from Berkley and I don’t eat tofu with much regularity.  But you don’t have to be a flower child to question our nation’s use of its military in recent years. 

Many have written eloquently about the dire foreign policy and humanitarian repercussions of our invasion of Iraq and our long presence in Afghanistan.  Those ideas do resonate with me.  As a Christian, I am concerned about all of God’s children, not just the ones who look like me or who bear the same passport.

But as we observe Memorial Day tomorrow, I would encourage us to think about these wars in a somewhat different context.  I would ask that we consider the impact on American families when we decide to send our military for dangerous and prolonged periods to other nations’ territory.   

What happens to a family when parents aren’t there when children take their first steps or begin school? 

What happens to their relationships when parents and children are physically separated for a year or more at a time? 

What does it do to kids who see mom or dad broken-hearted and in tears when they look at a picture of their partner or when mom or dad gets off the phone with him or her? 

What does it do to children who fear that their parents may hit an IED at any moment? 

Are these sacrifices of our families worth whatever the benefit is that we’re supposed to be reaping from these military engagements?  With an all-volunteer military, few of us think about the plight of military families who have borne the brunt of these sacrifices.

Job 5:11
The lowly he sets on high, and those who mourn are lifted to safety.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Reflections on Mother’s Day

As an academic, May is a very hectic time for me professionally.  It was a blur, but Mother’s Day was almost two weeks ago.  Around that time, two very different Mother’s Day-themed articles caught my attention.  They seemed apropos to share in light of my recent posts on women’s roles and family separation.

The first article is about the “most powerful” moms:  It originated from Forbes. 

I wasn’t really sure what they meant by “powerful.”  That is sort of an ambiguous term.  Power derives from a variety of sources, e.g., actual authority in the work place, influence in the home, influence in one’s community or profession, physical strength, the size of one’s bank account or credit limit, etc.  I wasn’t even sure what kind of power Forbes was intending. 

And it just seemed an odd thing to try to rank.  Power is hard to quantify.  I’m not really sure why one would want to quantify it and rank people, but there is interest in that apparently. 

When I came across the article, I also just wondered about societal attitudes towards power.  I guess by virtue of this ranking by a famous business magazine, power is something people admire and maybe even desire. I suppose I know that intellectually, but that does not make a lot of sense to me.  And I don’t know I had any particular admiration for the women who made it into this elite list.

From a Christian world view, power is not something to be envied or necessarily pursued.  Jesus rejected attempts to give him earthly power and instead made himself vulnerable on the cross.  Dr. Tony Campolo wrote a fascinating book about that: Which Jesus?: Choosing Between Love and Power.  I blogged about the book a couple years ago:  It is a terrific book and I highly recommend it.

The second article I came across was a photo essay about Mother’s Day in Prison:  Having just spent a lovely day with my own precious kids, I shed a bunch of tears when I looked at these photos on Mother’s Day evening. 

Being a mom inspires one to want to protect and nurture the vulnerable little human beings who are your children.  That is what being a mom is all about.  It is your job to take care of them, keep them from harm, and help them develop into the people God intended.  You’re supposed to hug them when they have nightmares or get frustrated by long division.  You are supposed to give them a smile and tell them they are beautiful even when they feel ugly due to a new hairstyle or a pimple.  You are supposed to make them a healthy breakfast even if you are exhausted and haven’t consumed your coffee yet.  You do those things not because anyone makes you do them, but because you have such a profound and powerful love for these little people.  You’d do just about anything for them. 

With that mindset, I looked at the photos in this slideshow and tried to imagine the experiences of these children and mothers who live so far apart, who see each other so infrequently.  These children, who have to be bused in to see their moms on Mother’s Day, are essentially growing up without a mom.  Quite a stark contrast to the Forbes article, these incarcerated moms are incredibly powerless.  The most personal, most vital relationships of their lives are completely dictated by the impersonal decisions made by others in the criminal justice system.

I teach Criminal Law.  I understand retributionist and utilitarian arguments for imprisonment.  But the reality is that the vast majority of women in prison have not committed any violent offense.  Most are serving time for drug offenses and/or are caught up in an overly broad net of accomplice liability when their husbands, boyfriends or lovers actually commit the target offense. 

And I won't even get into the issue of wrongful conviction.  Over 90 percent of criminal cases never go to trial.  Hiring a lawyer is expensive and court-appointed attorneys are notoriously over-worked.  So, there are serious issues as to whether people in prison have even committed the crimes for which they are serving time.  But that is a complicated issue for another day.

Even assuming everyone in prison is guilty, in this age of dire government debt and overspending, I don’t understand why we insist on continuing our ill-conceived experiment in mass incarceration.  Others have written at length how we incarcerate a higher percentage of our population than any other nation—even the People’s Republic of China can’t compare.  Criminologists and fiscal conservatives have made cogent arguments that we need to take a smarter, more financially responsible approach to criminal justice.  I tend to agree.

But looking at this photo essay, the more pressing issue to me was what we’re doing to families.  Our experiment in mass incarceration has been going on for several decades.  In a country that purports to embrace family values, how can the ripping apart of families be a good thing?  How can there be no allowance made to support the retention and nurturing of family bonds?  What do we think will happen to the precious little children who grow up without enough hugs and encouragement from their moms (and dads)?

Psalm 116:16
Truly I am your servant, LORD; I serve you just as my mother did; you have freed me from my chains.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Discovery Atlas: China Revealed (Separation of Families)

There was another family highlighted in the film that I wanted to mention.  A male window washer in Shanghai was chronicled.  He is a migrant from the provinces who had come to seek better wages in the big city.  He risked his life on a daily basis doing a very dangerous job.  He washed high rise office buildings at night to avoid disrupting elite professional workers during business hours. 

Sadly, he lived in Shanghai alone.  He moved to Shanghai for economic opportunities, but due to the limited freedoms people have to relocate within the PRC, his wife and child had to stay in their home village.  That is such a sad situation, but not uncommon in the PRC in the twenty-first century. 

Tragically, this pattern in the PRC is not new in the world.  It is not uncommon for couples and parents/children to be split apart for long periods because of dire economic conditions that prompt adults (usually but not always males) to go elsewhere to earn money to support the family. For example, the current situation in the PRC is not unlike the plight of Mexican and Central American migrants in the United States who are separated from their families for months or years at a time.  And it is reminiscent of the separation of families in South Africa during the apartheid era when men would go work in mines or other locations far away from the “homelands” where their wives and children were legally confined.

Discovery Atlas: China Revealed focused on the window washer as he traveled home to see his wife and child at Lunar New Year.  This is a very common practice.  Many adults in the PRC have had to leave their families in the provinces to seek jobs in large urban settings.  They typically are poor and don’t have the resources to travel home very often.  The Lunar New Year is a huge holiday in Chinese culture, perhaps analogous to Christmas in the United States.  It is the time when many such families reunite. 

I felt so sad in watching the documentary that when the window washer arrived in his village, his little daughter did not recognize him or show any excitement over his presence.  She seems stunned and weary of him.  Understandably, he is heartbroken to be a stranger to his only child.  What parent wouldn’t be?  He has had to make huge sacrifices to provide financially for his family, and his daughter does not even know him.

Psalm 2:7

I will proclaim the LORD’s decree: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.”

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Discovery Atlas: China Revealed (Women and Families)

There were a few other parts of Discovery Atlas: China Revealed that seem particularly relevant to this blog.    For example, part of the documentary featured the PRC’s war on drugs.  The film focused on the nation’s drug police.  There was a scene where a taxi driver was arrested for dealing drugs, and the narrator noted that he would face the death penalty for such crimes.

The film then focused on the experience of a female drug police officer.  As a woman, she had broken barriers to succeed and excel in her profession.  It was noted how rare and amazing her achievements were in the male-dominated culture of the PRC.  It was also noted that she constantly had to prove herself despite her past achievements.

The film also noted that this female drug police officer was a single woman.  In her interview, she expressed that she couldn’t find Mr. Right, and men did not seem to approve of her professional accomplishments.  In listening to her, I came away with the sense that she was destined to a life of loneliness simply due to her professional success.  That was very sad to me.

However, I was heartbroken by the attitudes of the parents of this female drug police officer.  Apparently, she was their only daughter.  In their interview, they initially described their pride in her accomplishments.  But contradictorily, they also spent a lot of time expressing concern that she had not taken a more traditional path in life.  Her parents wished she had become a full-time wife and mother. 

My heart just broke for the female drug police officer.  She had worked so hard and accomplished so much, but she was still being condemned by her parents.  And how hurtful it must have been to be condemned for not having started a family.  I had the sense that she was already sad about her inability to find a supportive, suitable partner.  I had the sense she did not want to end up alone in the world such that her parents’ condemnation seemed to be rub salt in the wound.

Moreover, I felt very frustrated that the parents were so ungrateful for their daughter’s hard work.  Despite the fact that she comes home late from grueling hours at her job with the drug police, she cooks for her parents and cleans their clothes (by hand because they did not have a washing machine).  She seemed to be supporting them financially and caring for all their basic needs.  They lived in her home.  She was clearly making a lot of sacrifices for them. 

This drug police officer was caring for them and was asking little of them, which seemed odd to me.  They looked to be about 60 years of age and in very good health.  Indeed, I was surprised they didn’t have jobs themselves.  They seemed a little young to have retired.  But even if they had retired, they seemed to be perfectly capable of caring for themselves.  I was stunned that they were not doing more to pitch in around the house.  From my perspective, they ought to have been washing her clothes and having a hot meal on the table for her when she got home from a long day on the job.  The parents’ attitude seemed selfish and not loving.

Colossians 3:21

Fathers, do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Discovery Atlas: China Revealed (Female Beauty)

I love learning about different cultures.  For various reasons, I have a particular interest in the People’s Republic of China (“PRC”).  A while back I watched a fascinating documentary on the country.  It was part of the Discovery Atlas series, which apparently features vignettes of people in different parts of the planet to give viewers a sense of the culture of a particular land. 

The episode I watched was called Discovery Atlas: China Revealed.  It was released in 2006 and is narrated by actor James Spader.  I found it fascinating and would highly recommend it.  I watched it with my children; we all enjoyed it and learned a lot.  In particular, to continue with the themes of recent blog posts, I would like to focus on a few aspects of the documentary that I especially found interesting.

The film described how there is huge competition for professional jobs in the PRC. And the film noted that such job competition was particularly difficult for women.  To explain the situation, one woman, who went by the Western name “Eliza,” was interviewed along with her boyfriend. 

In the interview, Eliza’s boyfriend noted that getting a good job in the PRC was not dependant entirely on one’s professional qualifications.  With Eliza standing next to him and listening to everything he said, the boyfriend explained that if there are two female candidates with the same qualifications, the better-looking candidate would get the job.  I felt rather humiliated for Eliza because the clear suggestion was she was not good looking.  And it was a strange suggestion because to me Eliza looked quite lovely.  The narrator then explained that with such intense competition, aspiring professionals do whatever they can to get a leg up on fellow job-seekers.

The documentary then followed Eliza’s consultation with a traditional Chinese medicine expert who noted her dehydrated skin and the impact stress was having on her appearance.  Eliza then went for more extreme measures; she visited a plastic surgeon.  The documentary then followed her decision to get a number of cosmetic surgeries. 

This was mind-blowing to me.  These were expensive, painful and time-consuming surgeries.  Moreover, any surgery involves serious risks, including death.  It was tragic to me that anyone would feel compelled to devote such resources and take such risks just to improve one’s appearance.  And it was particularly tragic when the pressure was attributable to trying to get a job in an office that would not appear to have anything to do with one’s appearance.  Eliza was not applying for jobs as a model or actress.

One of the surgeries Eliza elected involved changing the shape of her face.  Another involved a controversial procedure to create more of a crease in the eyelid to give Eliza’s eye more of a European appearance.  These were surgeries with huge repercussions and would completely alter what this young woman looked like.

Eliza explained to the filmmakers that she knew that she had classical Chinese beauty, but she said that was not enough.  Without any sense of irony, Eliza noted that the surgeries would make her look more like a “Barbie doll” and such dolls are so “lovely.”

I’m not even sure where to start.  The documentary was fascinating, but this portion of the film was one of the most depressing things I’ve ever viewed.

To American ears, it would be easy to look down on Chinese culture for such blatant sexism.  It would be easy to take the superior attitude that such things could never happen in the U.S.  I’m not sure that is true though.  We may just be less open and honest about it.

Several years ago, Barbara Walters did a report on 20/20 about the role of appearance in how people perceive others.  Studies showed that we make judgments on people based on their appearance.  We are drawn to make favorable judgments about attractive people, harsher judgments on people who are not attractive. There was a part of the report about job interviews.  Attractive people did better with the same qualifications than less attractive people.

I think I have seen such subtle attitudes play out in the course of my professional life as a lawyer.  I’ve known female colleagues with great credentials and talent, who are obese or have very visible acne scars, and somehow never get a good legal job.  I’ve always suspected that their appearance had something to do with it. 

I’m no longer in practice and am now an academic.  Even before I stepped into the classroom, I was well aware that female profs get judged (at least in part) based on their appearance.  I had heard that through the grapevine, e.g., from trusted female advisors and at a new professor conference.  Many of us feel the need to powder our noses, put some lipstick on and/or comb our hair before stepping in front of the class.  We know our appearance is scrutinized—much more, I suspect, than our male colleagues. 

Over the semesters I’ve been teaching, I’ve had countless student comments about the shorter (or longer) length of my hair and details of my jewelry.  I even have had students feel at liberty to ask pretty personal questions like whether I color and/or perm my hair!  I was visiting with a female colleague not long ago, and we laughed that we both avoid mid-semester hair cuts if at all possible.  We have learned through past experiences that such changes are too distracting to students.    We now limit our hair cuts to winter and summer breaks.

I had heard over and over in various ways that course evals are in part a reflection of snap judgments at the beginning of the course, and such snap judgments are disproportionately influenced by physical appearance.  Repeatedly, I’ve heard female profs half jokingly say they’ve considered plastic surgery.  I don’t think the American women who’ve said that to me really mean it.  But I think it is telling that in the 21st century anyone even makes jokes of that kind.  In the United States, we may think we’ve come a long way, baby, and the status of women here is vastly superior to their status in China.  I’m not sure that we necessarily are light years ahead in this area.

John 7:24

Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

"More Beautiful"

Ironically, just a few hours after my last post, I was listening to Christian radio and heard another song that fit with the recent themes in this blog.  The song is Jonny Diaz's "More Beautiful."  It is a powerful song and fits nicely with the songs in the last post, so I wanted to add it.  Take a listen by using the link below.  Enjoy!

1 Samuel 16:7

"The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."

Friday, May 18, 2012

Songs about Beauty

I’ve been blogging recently on our culture’s double standards with respect to physical appearance for men and women, as well as the culture’s impossible standards for female beauty.  There are many disturbing aspects of these phenomena.  But as a mother to daughters, one aspect that particularly concerns me is the struggle of girls and young women to conform to these standards. 

First, they are unattainable standards.  As I have noted before, these images are not reality.  Between the Botox, the plastic surgery and the air-brushing, what we see is only an idealized vision of what women should look like. 

Young people especially don’t always understand the falsity of these images.  And it causes all kinds of pain when girls and young women can’t make themselves look like these phony popular culture images being lauded.  When females try to live up to these standards, it is equivalent to boys and young men trying to live up to the standard set by the Superman character in comic books.  It’s a no-win situation.

Second, as a person of faith, I particularly worry about the misplaced time and effort when our youth are encouraged to focus disproportionately on their appearance.  At best, physical beauty is fleeting.  It is not permanent.  And Jesus taught us to minister to the brokenness of those around us.  That is how we should use our time and resources instead of primping and buying tons of make-up and accessories.

There are two songs I wanted to share that seem apropos to these concerns about our culture’s fixation on physical beauty.  They are accessible at the links below.  I hope you enjoy them.

“Beautiful” by Mercy Me

“Fingerprints of God” by Steven Curtis Chapman

Matthew 7:24-27
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Models v. Most Women: A Growing Weight Disparity

Following up on the post about Jennifer Hudson’s motivation to lose weight, I came across an eye-opening report recently.  It is available at the link below:

I mentioned in the prior post that the entertainment industry is notorious for holding up unrealistic standards of female beauty.  The women promoted in the industry use all kinds of artificial means to meet those standards.  They aren’t natural beauties.  Or if they are, that is not what we’re being shown.  As a result, as a society, we have lost sense of what women naturally look like.  The images in media are such a distortion of reality.

But the report at the link above focuses on just one aspect of this—the weight of today’s models.  There has always been a gap between the weight of models and average women.  But the report describes how in recent years that gap has dramatically increased.  Models, who were celebrated in the 1980s and 1990s, would be considered fat by today’s standards in the modeling industry. 

Indeed, today’s models often look grotesque.  Long thin arms and legs without padding on the bones.  Protruding rib cages and hip bones.  Today’s models are so thin they are reminiscent of what human beings looked like when the Allies liberated Nazi death camps or when there is dire famine in Sub-Sahara African.  Those are such horrifying, tragic associations, I’m not sure why such extreme thinness is held up as a standard of beauty.  To me, it is just evidence of a person’s physical starvation and ill health.  It is tragic and sad, not a source of beauty.

1 Peter 3

Rather, [your beauty] should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Jennifer Hudson’s Motivation for Weight Loss

In recent posts, I have focused on our culture’s emphasis on what women look like.  Women are judged and valued based on how attractive they are.  Women who are considered to be physically beautiful are considered to be more important, more acceptable, more worthy than women who are not.  We aren’t necessarily always conscious of such judgments, but if we reflect on this for even a short period, it is obvious these attitudes are pervasive.

Such attitudes are extremely disturbing for a person of faith.  As Jesus taught us, such attitudes are completely at odds with those in the Kingdom of God.  A human being’s value is not based on what they look like.  It is based on the fact that they are a precious child of God. 

In this vein, I was very saddened by an article I read recently.  The person who gave me a copy of Allure also gave me a copy of Good Housekeeping, which is another magazine targeted to women.  Whereas Allure seems to target a younger demographic with few responsibilities beyond looking good, Good Housekeeping is appealing to women with families.  The magazine does focus on fashion and make-up sometimes, but it goes beyond to focus on raising kids, health issues, meal planning, sustaining marriages and personal finance topics.  I actually enjoy flipping through Good Housekeeping from time to time.  And sometimes I pick up practical tips that are helpful.

The copy of Good Housekeeping that I was recently given had acclaimed singer and actress, Jennifer Hudson, on the cover.  The article inside included an interview with Ms. Hudson.  That article is available at the link below.

The focus of the article was Ms. Hudson’s recent weight loss.  She lost 80 pounds and has kept it off for over a year.  That is an amazing accomplishment and I certainly admire her for it.  I have always struggled with my weight, but the struggle got particularly challenging after going to law school and entering a sedentary profession with long hours.  As a result, I know how difficult it must have been to lose so much weight and not gain it back.  With that perspective, I was interested in reading the article.

There are a number of reasons that being overweight is not a good thing.  There are a number of serious health repercussions including diabetes, heart disease, joint problems, etc.  As a result, I guess I naively assumed that the motivation for Ms. Hudson’s weight loss was her health.  I was stunned in reading the article that my assumption was very wrong.

The article describes how comfort foods were a staple in Ms. Hudson’s family and those around her were also overweight.  When she traveled, she was shocked that people in other parts of the country thought she was heavy.  Apparently what initially motivated her to lose weight was that she was not getting work in the entertainment industry despite lots of enthusiasm for her voice.  She was told she was “too big.”  This feedback inspired all kinds of dieting attempts, but each failed.  She remained heavy for years.

This continued until she became a mom.  In the article, Ms. Hudson said her son “deserved to have a mama who could run after him without getting winded or getting tired, to have a role model who could teach him to make healthy food choices.  I needed him to grow up with a mama who always would be there for him by caring enough about herself to take control of her health and her eating.” 

I respect and admire that epiphany.  I had a similar one when we adopted our first child.  It prompted me to join the YMCA and work out regularly.  It also inspired me to incorporate a lot more veggies, fruits and legumes in our family’s meals.  I ended up losing 30 pounds and have kept it off for a number of years.

So, I am second to none in admiring people who resolve to improve their health by losing weight.  That is a laudable goal.  And I can particularly related to and respect those who are inspired to improve their health due to caregiving responsibilities.

What does trouble me, however, is the impression in the article that Ms. Hudson’s initial motivation to lose weight was her career.  To be clear, I don’t judge or fault her desire to have a career.  It is natural for one to want to be a good steward of one’s God given gifts.  I also do not judge or fault her desire to have a career in the entertainment industry even though that industry can be highly superficial and seems to be populated largely by people with questionable values.  Ms. Hudson’s God-given gifts include a tremendous talent for singing, so it is natural that the talent would be used in the entertainment industry.

My concern with Ms. Hudson’s initial motivation to lose weight is more a concern about our culture, not her.  The entertainment industry is well-known for its imposition of and demand for unrealistic standards of beauty, particularly on women.  Women are expected to be stick thin, even right after pregnancy.  Women are also expected to have “perfect” facial features.  Plastic surgery, Botox and other expensive, risky treatments are apparently quite common.  This is so sad to me.  Breast implants and artificially full lips are pervasive.  Botched attempts to prevent visible signs of aging on one’s face are frequently seen as well.  Sadly, such Hollywood actresses are caricatures with their distorted facial and bodily features. 

Again, I don’t judge or condemn such Hollywood actresses.  But I am deeply saddened by the culture that would drive women to such lengths.  I cannot understand the values of a culture that would make women feel that such drastic measures are necessary to be successful.

Nonetheless, I don’t doubt that such pressures do exist.  I’ve never been in the entertainment industry, but even where I have worked women are judged by their appearance and they know that. 

On a more uplifting note, the end of the article on Ms. Hudson emphasizes her Christian faith.  She was raised in the church and her family spent lots of time doing work for the church.  Bible studies and choir were important parts of her upbringing.  She reads the Bible regularly and cited prayer in helping her get through trials in her life.  Ms. Hudson indicated in the interview that she tries to attend services regularly now.

Luke 12:27-31
“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!  And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well."

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The High Price of Maintaining an Acceptable Political Appearance

I don’t think I had ever read a copy of Allure magazine until recently.  To be honest, I’m not sure I had even heard of it until someone gave me a stack of magazines she had already finished and didn’t want to just throw away.  So at my daughter’s dance class last week, I was flipping through a bunch of magazines including the February 2012 edition of Allure magazine. 

To be honest, I wasn’t too impressed.  The magazine seems incredibly superficial.  It is just advertisement after advertisement for make-up and toiletries.  It had hard hitting articles with titles like “How to Take a Relaxing Bath,” and “Shocks of Color.”  There were also articles on fake eye lashes, accessories every woman should have, and the claim that “women will go to extraordinary lengths to tame their curls.”  Earth shattering stuff.

I was sitting next to a male friend as we were watching our kids in dance class.  He was giving his baby daughter a bottle while I was flipping through my copy of Allure.  Even before I got to the article entitled “How to Buy a Sex Toy,” I was pretty mortified that my friend saw me reading such a stupid magazine.  He is a smart, thoughtful fellow whose values I really admire.  (He recently quit his job when his wife had their third child so that he could be the primary caregiver as she grows the family’s business.)  This gentleman and I have had some great discussions about all kinds of interesting things:  the impact of student debt on the younger generation, work-life balance, whether our respective families will add more children, and even the parameters of attorney-client privilege.  What a disappointment it must have been for him to have looked over and seen a woman who had seemingly had a brain and family values reading such a moronic magazine!  I wonder if he’ll bother to strike up a conversation with me at future dance classes or if he’ll tell his wife to steer clear of the nit-wit with the make-up magazines.

Anyhow, as I was quickly flipping through the February edition of Allure one article caught my eye—it was a brief history of make-up through the centuries.  Maybe “article” doesn’t quite describe the piece.  It was more of a bunch of bulleted make-up facts.  One such bullet particularly got my attention:

“$22,800: Makeup artist Amy Strozzi’s earnings for two weeks of work with Sarah Palin in October 2008.  Strozzi was the highest-paid staffer on John McCain’s campaign.”

Now, based on my brief exposure to the magazine, I’m thinking the editors and readers of Allure like this fact and perhaps celebrate it.  The magazine seems quite obsessed with make-up. 

But I myself was horrified at this little fact.  Think about the repercussions.  Do the math.  What a sum must have been spent on make-up for Governor Palin’s vice presidential campaign!  And one can imagine this must not be an isolated phenomenon.  Other female candidates likely also need to have flawless make-up to be presentable.  That would suggest that female candidates routinely have to raise more money for their campaigns than male candidates.  They have extra expenditures to pay for the make-up artists (and presumably the hair stylists, if they want to avoid the Hillary “un-coifed” label).

1 Peter 3:3

 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Bachmann, Palin and the Role of Physical Appearance in Politics Generally

Following up on an earlier post about media attention to the sex appeal of Bachmann and Palin, I wanted to add that I don’t remember ever hearing similar comments about Newt Gingrich or John McCain when they were running for the GOP nomination.

Oh, wait, they are both male, and neither gentleman is considered physically attractive per our cultural standards.  Of course, we tend to not care what people like Gingrich and McCain look like.  How silly to judge them on looking dumpy.  They are serious political thinkers.  Looks don’t matter.  We’re looking for a president, not a pin-up.

That double standard concerns me greatly. 

I think by any objective measure, both Governor Palin and Representative Bachmann are endowed with great physical beauty.  I wonder what would have happened if they were not.

Actually, I should be more explicit.  I don’t just wonder, I have a very strong hunch.  I feel quite sure that it is not a coincidence that these two women—the first nationally viable Republican candidates we have ever had—are both quite pretty.  In all honesty, I don’t believe Palin or Bachmann would have gotten as far as they did if they were homely by our culture’s standards.  There have been other women who have run for high office, but they didn’t get as far.  If asked, I doubt most people would think that those other female candidates were as attractive in terms of physical beauty.  I’m not naming names, but it seems an obvious pattern to me. 

To be clear, I’m not saying Palin and Bachmann have gotten where they are solely on their looks.  Not at all.  Though I vehemently disagree with them on many (or maybe most) issues, I acknowledge that they are gifted orators and shrewd politicians. 

What I am saying is that very sadly I think there is a litmus test for female candidates.  To be successful in politics, they have to have all the same positive characteristics and credentials as male candidates, but they also have to be physically beautiful.  The less attractive women do not make it as far.

Nancy Pelosi is another example of this.  Again, she is a very handsome woman.  She has a lot of skills that helped her become the first female Speaker of the House.  But if she had buckteeth, a big nose, frizzy hair and a protruding gut, my guess is she would never have made it to be third in line for the White House. 

However, if you reflect back over the gentlemen who have served in leadership in Congress, by societal standards many of them were considered unattractive.  For a man that doesn’t seem to matter.  For a woman though, it is a huge roadblock.

This point is not something I see mentioned in the media, but it is something that should get more attention.  I am not sure most of us in the electorate realize that we seem to be imposing a double standard for female candidates.  They have to be smart and have to possess strong oratory gifts.  But they also have to be pretty.

Male candidates never seem to be looked down upon for a lack of physical beauty.  Actually it can be a detriment to them if they are perceived as too handsome.  Governor Rick Perry of Texas was dismissively derided by the late Molly Ivins as “Governor Good Hair.”  Dismissing his political aptitude and accomplishments, Ms. Ivins joked that his lovely coif was something that brought pride to all Texans. 

Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts has also experienced flack for his good looks.  To help pay for his education at a prestigious private law school, Brown posed nude for Cosmopolitan and then did a fair amount of modeling with his clothes on.  Posing nude does not help a candidate to be taken more seriously, regardless of gender.  But could you imagine Pelosi, Palin or Bachmann being as popular as they have been to their respective constituencies if it were publicly known that earlier in their lives they had posed topless for Playboy or Maxim?  Brown overcame his nude modeling to accomplish an astounding feat—capturing the Senate seat of the late Democrat Ted Kennedy for the GOP.  I somehow doubt a female candidate who had posed nude would have had similar success regardless of her intellect or the political positions she endorsed.

2 Corinthians 5:12

We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, and the Politics of Beauty

Following up on the prior post, I saw an article on a related theme:

The article's title was "Hillary Clinton, 'Au Naturale': Clilnton [sic] Hits Back at Critics."  As a result, I thought maybe the paparazzi had caught the poor woman in a swimsuit or something. 

However, the article is even worse.  Apparently, it makes news when the Secretary of State appears publicly with "very little make-up, sported glasses and had un-coiffed hair." 

Really?  This is news? 

Representative Eric Cantor and Senator Mitch McConnell routinely appear in public with "little make-up" and wearing glasses.  That never seems to attract any attention.

In the photo of Secretary Clinton, I'm not sure her hair qualifies as "un-coiffed."  It was combed.  She didn't have bed-head or anything.  It is not like she fell out of bed and threw on a baseball cap to hide her lack of grooming.

In the photo, it looks to me as if Secretary Clinton's hair was as neat as that of Representative Boehner or Senator Hatch.  Secretary Clinton simply has a whole lot more. 

Are we saying that a professional woman must spend an hour out of her busy day to blow dry and curl her hair into perfection befitting the senior prom?  We don't expect professional men to spend that much time on grooming.  Why is it newsworthy (or even noticeable) when women follow that sensible lead?

At the end of the article, there is mention that Clinton's predecessor, Secretary Condoleezza Rice, also is scrutinized for her appearance.  There is reference to a recent article on Huffington Post about the former Secretary of State's fashion style. 

Good grief!  When did you last see a retrospective of a male politician's wardrobe and an analysis of his fashion sense?  (Jokes about Senator Santorum's penchant for sweater vests don't count!)

1 Timothy 2:9

…in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing…

Monday, May 7, 2012

Bachmann and Palin: Media Attention to Physical Appearance and Sex Appeal

As noted in a prior post last fall, I’ve been disturbed by what I perceived to be a lack of respect in the mainstream media for Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin’s intelligence.  Not only do I think there is a double standard about female candidates’ intellect, I’ve also been disturbed by disproportionate media attention on Bachmann and Palin’s physical appearance. 

I haven’t heard a lot of that emphasis on physical appearance in the news media, but it has been a reoccurring theme in the entertainment media.  (However, I have noted in the past that the two are often hard to differentiate these days.) 

Last summer in particular, whenever I caught the opening monologue of late night comedians, the physical appearance of Bachmann and/or Palin seems to garner more attention than I would have expected.  I don’t even watch such programs very often, but I’ve heard Jon Stewart, David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel all make comments that I found to be offensive about Bachmann and/or Palin’s appearance.  I’ve heard the term “hot” used to describe them, as well as similar terms denoting their physical attractiveness.  I’ve also heard them referred to with the word “babe.”  Such characterizations are disturbing to me on many levels.

First, Bachmann and Palin are politicians who have been considered for the presidency.  Neither Representative Bachmann nor Governor Palin has hit the campaign trail to win a beauty pageant or a wet t-shirt contest.  Their intelligence, leadership abilities and vision for the country should have been the focus.  Their physical appearance should have been irrelevant, so I’m amazed that it even got noticed.

Second, I cannot help but notice that these late night talk show hosts are all male and they are apparently heterosexual.  So, I find it quite depressing that through their lens a woman can be so easily diminished to nothing more than a sexual being.  Haven’t we evolved to be a little more sophisticated view than that?  Apparently not.  That depresses the heck out of me.

However, it is also sad to me that even speaking out against such sexism is immediately suspect to many in our society.  Indeed, many may read this very post and dismiss these concerns out of hand.  Lighten up. They are just jokes.  What a tight ass. 

Such dismissive reactions fail to appreciate the gravity of such pop culture references.  Sadly, many people look to such comedians as news sources.  Even those who do not are often greatly influenced (even unconsciously) by the joking characterizations of such comedians.  Such jokes send the subtle message that women like Bachmann and Palin are just sexual objects and don’t count for much else.  They are not real politicians.  They aren’t to be taken seriously in campaigns.  How outrageously demeaning such attitudes are.

To anyone who might be inclined to think of such pop culture jokes as harmless fun, I would encourage you to reflect on whether you would feel the same if they were used against someone other than Bachmann and Palin.  What if your mother, your sister, your wife, your daughter or your niece were running for political office and was publicly characterized in such terms—emphasizing only her physical appearance and not her intellect and beliefs?  Would you want your mother, sister, wife, daughter or niece to be referred to as a “babe”?  Would you want to hear strangers describe her as “hot”?  Would that contribute to the dignity of her political campaign?  Would it encourage voters to take her candidacy seriously or would it invite them to view her campaign as a joke?

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.