TGIF: Why is Beyonce Giving Me Mixed Signals?

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On skytrain journalism, sanitary pads and the real face of dignity.

I don’t typically brood over words like “dignity” while chomping on a piece of toast on a Thursday morning. I’m usually preoccupied with trying to make decisions like, “Can I get away with not washing my hair today?” or “How long can I sit on Facebook before I’m officially late for work?”

This week, however, was different. I came face-to-face with the stark reality that dignity is:
– A vague concept.
– A scarce commodity.

Allow me to illustrate my point by going over my week.

Monday: I spot this guy on the Skytrain. The repressed journalist in me just HAD to take a picture of his hoodie.

It’s a little hard to read in the picture because I was trying to be discreet. His hoodie says, “Chicks should come in six packs.” The infamous mudflap girl imprinted on each can. Pun intended.

The feminist in me was appalled. For the record: I’m not anti-men. I’m just pro-women.

Tuesday: I read this really great article: “MILFs and Happy Endings” (You should read it too.)

“Was it just me, or was I being bullied, along with everyone else, into having to accept porn’s invasion into everyday life with its coarseness as the new norm?”- Lili Bee

Wednesday: I sat across from this guy…

“My parts are the best,” his T-shirt reads. TMI … but I’ll take your word for it kind sir. On closer inspection, it’s mudflap girl again! Only this time she’s on her knees. I’d like to give her the benefit of the doubt but I’m guessing she’s not changing the tires.

How does a woman living in today’s world define “dignity” when the media tells us we are most appreciated on our knees, half-dressed, preferably in front of an automobile.

Don’t believe me? Take Beyonce’s music video “Run the World” for example. Ms. Knowles is singing about female empowerment on all fours in front of a car. Look at the similarities between the T-shirt and the video.

Car? Check. Mudflap girl? Check. Girl power? I don’t think so. Talk about sending mixed signals.

I really don’t want this to sound Anti-Beyonce because I love the girl. She can sing, dance and is a successful business woman. What’s not to love? It just bothers me that the music video for a song about girl power is communicating a conflicting message.

Why aren’t there more T-shirts emblazoned with the faces of Rosa Parks, Madeleine Albright and Margaret Atwood? I’d wear that!

Thursday: As you can imagine I was feeling pretty deflated by this point. The overly sexualized imagery and language surrounding my gender was depressing.

In an effort to cheer myself up I was browsing through the Living Hope website on my lunch break. Readers who have been following SheLoves regularly know that a group of 50 women in Vancouver are running a Half-Marathon on September 25th to raise money for the Living Hope Program that aids women in northern Uganda.

Looking through the photos on the website, I saw a true picture of dignity. I saw women with deep-rooted self-worth, effortless grace, resourceful spirit, fervent courage and untainted joy.

This is the kind of “girl power” that appeals to me. I’m tired of the in-your-face, skin-baring, swearing-like-a-sailor, overly sexual, middle-finger showing, aggressive, violent, catty, condescending “girl power” the media advertises. It’s a cop-out. It’s counterfeit.

True girl power is someone who forgives the unforgivable, loves the unlovable and dares to show up for life even at the risk of getting hurt in the process.

“What should move us to action is human dignity: the inalienable dignity of the oppressed, but also the dignity of each of us. We lose dignity if we tolerate the intolerable.”Dominique De Menil

The Intolerable: Abducted, gang-raped, infected with AIDS, left for dead, mutilated, forgotten, beaten, disfigured, shunned from society and sold as sex slaves.

“Restoring dignity” is the mandate of the Living Hope program that supports the women of northern Uganda. These women have suffered the intolerableand are rising up from the ashes, daring to rewrite their story.

That to me is real “dignity.”

Real women with real dignity

This is the glee-inducing portion of this post. The Living Hope Training Center provides vocational training and helps the women generate projects with the help of micro-finance loans.

The key to restoring their sense of dignity is training and equipping them with skill sets so they can integrate back into their communities as valued contributing members of society.

Here’s a peek into the Living Hope Training Centre in Gulu:

1. Sewing Workshops

2. Making Honey

3. I was saving the best for last, a brilliant initiative called “MAKAPADS.”

According to UNICEF, approximately 1 in 10 African girls will skip school during menstruation because they fear being ridiculed or stigmatized. Rural schools don’t usually have proper toilet facilities or water and girls can’t afford sanitary pads. Often times they have to resort to unsanitary alternatives like leaves or cloth. This is the crucial juncture where many girls drop out of school.

The Living Hope ladies in Gulu have been part of an initiative that provides affordable sanitary pads, called Makapads made mainly of papyrus reeds and almost entirely of local materials. It is exciting because, not only is this a skills development opportunity, but the ladies also get to be a part of an initiative that is giving a new generation of girls the opportunity to remain in school.

The finished product is pretty impressive if you ask me!

“Our ladies are not a drama of victimization; they are a story of empowerment that transforms formerly abducted little girls into successful businesswomen.”- Marilyn Skinner, Founder of Watoto – Living Hope

Transforming abducted girls into successful business women?!

Hello? I love that.

“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

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I’ve been running to Rachel Platten’s album Be Here” this week. It’s upbeat without being preachy. The video below is a live recording of her song “Nothing Ever Happens.” Enjoy!

“Nothing ever happens if you stay in your room
Nothing ever happens if you leave the party too soon
Never be a winner if you’re not in the game
Nothing ever happens if you always play it safe
So, make a little space and get out of your own way.”

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So … my global SheLoves sisters:
– Does the portrayal of women in media affect you on a personal level?
– Any stories or anecdotes that you’d like to share in lieu of this post?
– What is your definition of dignity?

Dear SheLoves Half-Marathon Bravehearts,
– Many of you have had milestone runs this past week, how are you feeling about the Half-Marathon now? Is the end in sight?
– How are your fundraising efforts going? I’d love to hear about how you’ve been spreading awareness. Mailouts, phonecalls, meetings over coffee, email, etc?

Share-share! :)

Love you more than Almond Herb Tarts with Dandelion Pesto, Truffled Fontina & Figs , (<- Recipe)
xoxo,
Teen

To read more TGIFs from Tina: Click here.

(Images of Living Hope Centre courtesy Watoto)

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SheLoves Half-Marathon for Living Hope
– How it all got started? Read the story: HERE
– Donate: HERE
– Facebook Event Page: HERE

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Tina Francis
My name is Tina. Loved ones call me: Teen. Words are my chocolate. Music, my caramel. Photography, my bread. Girlfriends, my butter. Confession: Some girls dream about Manolo Blahniks or their next Hermes bag. Not me. I dream of freshly baked bread, perfectly barbecued meat & steaming bowls of Pho. My dream lover *cue Mariah Carey song* is someone who would read out a menu to me in Barry White’s baritone voice. I celebrate food, ask for help, interrupt conversations, laugh and cry hard, acknowledge the elephant in most rooms, fight for the underdog and believe in the power of storytelling. I was born and raised in Dubai and currently live in the beautiful city of Vancouver, known for some of the best sushi in the world.
Tina Francis
Tina Francis

Latest posts by Tina Francis (see all)

Tina Francis
  • http://www.littledouce.blogspot.com Brandi-Lee

    “How does a woman living in today’s world define “dignity” when the media tells us we are most appreciated on our knees, half-dressed, preferably in front of an automobile.”

    So true…I’m so tired of the mixed messages of womanhood from the world! I feel like whenever someone tries to define what ‘real’ beauty is, ‘real’ power for women, or ‘real’ dignity, they get labeled a crazy, anti-male hippie. To me, being a powerful woman is not the ability to bare as much of our physical bodies as we can, or to swear like a trucker because we can. It’s the real, genuine, God-confidence in us. It’s wisdom, it’s knowledge of things that matter (something to strive for!), it’s extending our hands to those that need it. It’s doing the best we can with what we have been given and not squandering it. It’s standing on our feet.

    K I’ll get off my soapbox now. Great post, Teen! :)

    PS: We should totally make PROPER girl power shirts! Love that idea!

  • Kelley Johnson Nikondeha

    “True girl power is someone who forgives the unforgivable, loves the unlovable and dares to show up for life even at the risk of getting hurt in the process.” Love that definition, Tina.

    I’m always looking for good women who model the truly feminine for my daughter – like Wangari Mathaai of Kenya (founder of the Greenbelt movement in Kenya to save and plant trees – and Nobel Prize winner). Michelle Obama is another woman Emma recognizes, as well as female chefs known for culinary skill and not sex appeal. I try to showcase women with strength, smarts, savvy, skills. Women who are making a difference in their world, contributing beauty (or good taste!) and adding value.

    Feminism is not about hating men, it is about embracing who we are as women and recognizing that we, too, bear God’s image and have the honor of representing that part of His likeness in the world. Yes, we have the capacity for so much beauty. But there is so much more we have been created for and designed to give to the wholeness of the world God so loves.

    Love that the women in Uganda are addressing a very feminine issue. They are confronting the stigma straight on and bringing a solution for another generation of girls. Empowering – and so beautiful! I cannot wait to meet these women!

  • http://www.MotherTongues.com Michelle Hamman

    “The overly sexualized imagery and language surrounding my gender felt depressing.” So sad and true…
    And, “Why aren’t there more T-shirts emblazoned with the faces of Rosa Parks, Madeleine Albright and Margaret Atwood? I’d wear that!”
    Yes! That is exactly (part of) the reason I started MotherTongues. And since I read a LOT about t-shirts in the process, I can tell you about others who try to show a different side too. My favorites: http://syracuseculturalworkers.com/ and http://www.teesforchange.com/.
    Thanks so much!

  • Daniela

    I have a lot of issues with what women are allowing to still happen to them in the world today. Here is a quick little story I heard from an older women I had the privilege to speak with:

    She told me that when she was newly wed, she had completed her teaching degree and loved her job, but when her and her husband were 4 months into expecting their first child, she was asked to leave her job, because it was not appropriate for a women to be pregnant and working. Later when her children were older, her husband was posted up north and a job came available for her that she was perfectly qualified for. When applied she was told that although her qualifications were impeccable, She was told that although she was the most qualified applicant it was not appropriate for a women to work out of the home when they have a husband and kids to take care of.

    I think of this women when I see women allowing themselves to be degraded. Women were not allowed to vote with same rights as men till 1918. That is less then 100 years ago! Our Great grandmothers have paved the way for us, I’m sure it was not so some dufus can wear a shirt that says women should come in six packs and we could crawl around on hoods of cars half dressed singing about how powerful we are.

    Can ya tell this picked my butt????

    We can not forget where we have been so we can respectfully head into our future. Not where women are more powerful then men, but our potential fully realized. Ok now i’m going to go burn my bra. (kidding)

  • http://www.englishbydsouza.wordpress.com Shereen D’Souza

    I could write and speak volumes on this topic. I am very concerned about the mixed messages from the media about ‘girl power’ and from shows like ‘Sex in the city’ all the way to the chat shows even sometimes on Ellen and Oprah. Most of the time the subtext is confused where a woman has to appear confident and independent but all in relation to a patriarchal and male worldview. A woman’s identity is only made to develop in reference to the men in their world. Though Oprah does a much better job than most it is very confusing especially for girls becoming women and even for boys becoming men. It is hard to elaborate and too complex to concise but you are right in the fight for dignity. That for me is part of a true realisation of an individual’s self, man or woman.
    The need to help women especially though, through organisations like Living Hope is urgent because they have been silent victims like many other women in the world. Great job Teen especially with those journo shots. Good on you for speaking out about such an important topic!

  • http://findme.travishartwell.net/ Travis B. Hartwell

    Tina, thank you for the thought provoking article. I’d like to share a little of my perspective as a man. As I mentioned on Twitter, I love the idea of strong, confident, and meaningful women as role models. I fear the day when I have daughters and she choose a role model as someone like Kim Kardashian — who, no matter how talented she may be in other areas, is only initially famous because of her looks and her sex tape. I’d rather it be one of these women, or Michelle Obama, or even a beautiful actress or singer that has also got where she is because of her talent and hard work.

    I agree also with the article you linked to “MILFs and Happy Endings”. Though not a consumer of pornography myself, I know that I have absorbed at times many of the ideas that come from that world because it is so pervasive in popular culture, if even in subtext. And, when I wasn’t careful and conscientious, it has affected my underlying attitudes towards women. This deeply disturbs me because I would never want any of the important women in my life treated or thought of in this way.

    I like your definition of feminism and some of the descriptions that the other commenters have shared. In society I think there is a pretext that if you call yourself a feminist, it’s often in a militant and “I hate all men” stance. Until I met individuals that were as you describe, I didn’t understand it. I was even shocked when a male coworker of mine described himself as a feminist. But if that means “pro-women”, count me in. It’s an attitude of dignity for all that I want to cultivate more within myself and in the world around me.

    I can never claim to understand what it feels like to be a woman or ethnic minority or most other discriminated groups. I am a white, middle-class male from the United States, about as privileged as they come by the world’s standards. But I have had some experiences that give me a glimpse.

    But I do know what it feels like to feel “less than” for not meeting some ideal. I do know what it feels like for your body to not meet some kind of perceived ideal and thought less of, despite many other good qualities. You see, I’m only 4’6″ (137 cm or so). It’s not as blatant or severe as with women, but there is an attitude in society as well that if you aren’t “tall, dark, and handsome” (sorry, I’m just the pasty short white guy), you don’t measure up. In a slight way, like the attitude a woman isn’t worth anything unless she has a certain body and is “on her knees” as you describe, my entire life I have felt that the worth of a man is not any good if he is not taller than his female companion. He is less capable. Beyond my ex-wife and one other woman I briefly dated in my late teens, I haven’t known any other woman that has found me attractive. I’m in my mid-30s.

    This isn’t the atrocities perpetuated against women as in Uganda. I haven’t been passed up for a job because of that, as many of the commenters have described. I’m lucky, I’m in an industry (tech) where your abilities are more important. But what I wanted to say is I have a small inkling, and because of that, I’m even more horrified when I discover my own biases and attitudes being influenced by this lack of dignity for all people.

    I’d just finish by saying the women I am most drawn to these days are strong women, in the ways in which you describe. They are confident. They give of themselves. They are creative and share that with the world. And whether she be in a “traditional” role (stay-at-home mom) or moving up the corporate ladder, I’ve found that all women can have these amazing qualities and carry themselves with dignity, respect, and honor, despite the world around her. I honor those women.

    • http://findme.travishartwell.net/ Travis B. Hartwell

      Unfortunately, I need to clarify something less I offend someone. I meant that I am fortunately in an industry where, as a man, abilities are more important. I can imagine if I were in entertainment, or television news, or even sales, that would be a different story. I’m also very aware that this is not the case for women in my industry, and the misogynistic attitude that often pervades the culture in my industry disturbs me.

      The privileged don’t realize they are privileged. I hope my comment didn’t offend anyone, it wasn’t meant to.

    • Kelley Johnson Nikondeha

      Travis,
      Great to hear a thoughtful perspective from a man. I, for one, appreciate your sensitivity and vulnerability, searching your own story for deeper understanding of ‘the other.’ I long for a day when men and women value one another for their true selves, not shallow and surface ideals perpetuated by our various cultures. I believe we are all, male and female, made for goodness and have such great potential to reach the world with a better story and truer telling of what it is to be human!

  • Stacy

    My favorite, favorite Teen article so far. Dignity.

    In rural India, a lot of girls drop out of school for the same reasons as the girls in Africa — lack of toilet facilities.

  • http://na Tania J.

    Hi Tina. I follow your TGIF posts as often as I can as they are good. This topic is something i feel strongly about, and hence venture out to write my comment..
    First, I was really touched by: ‘True girl power is someone who forgives the unforgivable, loves the unlovable and dares to show up for life even at the risk of getting hurt in the process.’
    I know two women dear to my heart who truly symbolise this. My two mothers – the woman who gave birth to me and the woman who consideres me as her own, after I married her son.
    Back to your post. I started realising the disguised attack on a woman’s dignity by mainstream media (TV, movies, fashion, famous personalities etc..) only after my baby girl was born. It was as though my vision cleared. And both my hubby and I shuddered at the world that our little girl was inheriting..
    Children were growing up too fast. And at times, their parents werent helping either. Little girls being made to wear ridiculous costumes and makeup in the name of fashion parade / beauty paegants,etc..
    It sure is saddening. But even in this world and time, when come across a man of honour and a woman of indomitable courage and character, we know there is still hope.

  • http://www.PoSARC.com Lili Bee

    Thanks so much, Teen, for posting my article from The Good Men Project about being called a MILF and not being happy about that!! Here’s a piece I wrote a month ago on the same site about how being a Playboy Bunny shaped my worldviews as I was coming of age at 18.

    http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/when-playboy-bunnies-ruled/

    I am thrilled to find your site….can you hear my sigh of relief at finding Rosa Parks, Margaret Atwood and Madeline Albright heralded as women to look up to? Especially after I was done laughing my butt off at mudflap girl. Hilarious! But sad, too…..seeing Beyonce in that compromising position giving mixed signals was really depressing. I feel like that about The Pussycat Dolls, bumping and grinding in almost no clothing, while singing about how men only want one thing…..

    Your Ugandan women brought joy to my heart today….keep up the good work! I’ll send you a tweet and follow you on twitter…..you can do the same with me at PoSARC (partners of sex addicts resource center)…..we work with the wives/ girlfriends of porn addicts….Thanks again so much, Teen!!
    All love, Lili Bee

  • http://www.sherrinefrancis.com sherrine francis

    Oh my gosh..just lost my whole post. Okay its worth the re-typing.

    I was really upset..maybe its a sign that i should have calmed down before I posted it.

    I just saw that beyonce video where she’s in her underwear. Oh goly. What’s the deal with her and why doens’t her hubs convince her that she’s beautiful and doesn’t need to go there.

    And Inrique MORON Iglesias and bff Usher have a new song called “Dirty dancer” about this girl who is a dirty dancer (big surprise!) and how she’s never lonely..you know why? cos she’s a nasty dancer. Its makes me blood curdle.

    G hummed the tune to that song the following day and I pounced on him for supporting their melody. G was like”what song am i singing? I don’t even know” Make me laugh a lil..you know him…awful with lyrics. I was like “that’s a horrible song..and they are mean men..for putting stuff like this out there.”

    God bless his soul..he heard me out and nodded and acknowledged my issue with it.

    Dignity is a rough topic here. I’ve really struggled with it all week.

    Excellent post. I needed to see that..it calmed me down..big time. Thanks teeny.

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