Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

her_golden_cage____by_chryssalis-d4lhz29Maya Devi Georg

In 2012 I wrote an article called Tits & Ass in a Mala: Yoga in the Media – it was obviously about the media and its portrayal of yoga.

Since then I have seen enough sexual images, naked ladies, and misogyny in both yoga and mainstream media to make me question how we got here. And, unless you have been avoiding all media, you might have missed a news story and perfect example of the pervasiveness of misogyny in our culture when a California man killed six and injured many others because women owed him sex.

Let us put aside the important discussions of mental health and gun control—for now—and discuss misogyny instead, because thinking that women owe men sex is misogyny. And, no, I do not believe all men are like this. I know they are not, but the monsters that do have megaphones—and guns.

If gunning down innocent people does not convince you of the prevalence of misogyny in our culture I invite you to research the outpouring of support and agreement of the attackers public rants by others (one even going so far as to say that the two women that were killed deserved to die more slowly). I could bore you with rape statistics (18% of all women and 1.4% of all men have been raped), or statistics on sexual assault on US college campuses (1 in 5 female college students will be raped or sexually assaulted), but we have a bigger problem.

10414210_841059079254833_859033439_o

 

We live in a world where ‘Rape Culture’ is a thing, where almost every image of women in the media is hyper-sexualized or outright pornified. What separates the difference between sexualized and pornified is that in sexualized images women are undressed, their head is lowered and their gaze is not on the camera, or their face is not in focus. They are almost always in passive positions. In many cases, only parts of women are in the image- arms, legs, tits and ass. In pornified images women are reclined or on a bed, hair splayed, undressed or undressing. Their lips are parted and tongue is exposed. In pornified images, women are not sexy, they are simply ready for sex.

These images make women and men more accepting of violence against women.

“Turning a human being into a thing, an object, is almost always the first step towards justifying violence against that person. It is very difficult, perhaps impossible, to be violent to someone we think of as an equal, someone we have empathy with, but it is very easy to abuse a thing” ~Jean Kilbourne

Statistically, only 17% of images of men are sexualized, while 83% of images of women are sexualized. Media images of men show them as violent, “as uniformed football players, big-fisted boxers, and leather-clad bikers,” as animals incapable of controlling their sexual urges. Gender stereotypes of men consistently tell men that they must be strong, stoic, dominant, and needing sex.

Think about the message our media is sending: Women are things used for sex; Men need sex and cannot be expected to control themselves. We have created a world where violence against women is not only acceptable, it is encouraged. This is rape culture.

Rape culture is the permissive attitude about violence against women. It is what makes the New York Times think it’s appropriate the report how an 11 year old victim of gang rape dressed. It’s what makes the media refer to high school athletes as having “promising futures” after sexually assaulting, and recording the assault, of a class mate. It is the common belief that 20-25% of all rape claims are false, when in reality, only 0.6% of rape claims are fraudulent.

As women we are not only losing our humanity and right to safety, but we are losing our rights to birth control and reproductive choices, as well as fair pay and equality in the workforce. This idea that women are not people is being exploited by the American Taliban (or Y’All Qaeda as some call them) as they try to change legislation to limit women’s rights.

When Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis is depicted in life-size posters as a nearly nude doll and called “Abortion Barbie” by her opposition, it is clear to see that these misogynists see women as nothing more than dolls, to be played with and manipulated, and to remain silent and still when they have been put away and in their place. But a life-size poster of a politician depicted as a Barbie doll is obvious.

In social media and in blog posts I regularly see words meant to empower women paired with images of faceless, nude, young, white women, and no one sees the hypocrisy.

This has become the societal norm, being adopted and celebrated in yoga culture. It is very hard not to find fault with the yoga community as it cherry-picks through these issues. Bikram studios are still in business regardless of the allegations of rape, and his trainings are just as popular as ever.

One curious example is the continued support of Lululemon after founder Chip Wilson made comments blaming breast cancer on birth control, the women’s liberation movement, and smoking (he also promoted child labor, and admitted the racist origins of the companies name). The yoga community was ok with that. But the minute he implied some women were too fat for his pants the yoga community collectively lost its mind.

Let’s face it, misogyny is as present in the world of yoga as it is everywhere else. And many yogis and yoga teachers all have a story about a creepy male teacher or studio owner. Others can just point to the many, many sex scandals in yoga.

I experienced this recently when a male New York City based yoga teacher, studio owner, and one-time friend responded to a thread on my public Facebook page regarding sexual impropriety in yoga by stating that I “need to get laid.” He very clearly was demonstrating that same misogyny by ignoring my argument and attacking me personally.

And yet his wife, also a yoga teacher, followed her husband’s example in the same thread and stated:
“The only woman that has a problem with objectification is one that would never be objectified.” This wasn’t the first time I had my personal appearance attacked.

I received similar criticism after I wrote Tits & Ass in a Mala: Yoga In The Media. While some men agreed, and others disagreed with my argument, the consensus from men was ‘that’s just the way it is’ and ‘there’s nothing you can do about it’. (I am sure many people made the same comments to abolitionists and those fighting for women’s suffrage.)

But the response from women was surprising. Many women accused me of criticizing   the clothes they wore to yoga class. This was a surprising argument. Especially since there was nothing in the article about the clothes women wore while practicing yoga. In fact, the title of the piece addressed that I was discussing the media and its portrayal of yoga.

Nevertheless, I was instructed to ‘burn [my] bra,’ I was called ‘sexist’ and ‘judgmental,’ and found guilty of ‘slut-shaming’. But the most plentiful attacks against me where those that called me fat and ugly. The attacks on my appearance were, and still are, telling. We live in a world where the only value a woman has, not just to men but to other women, is in her appearance. My appearance was attacked, not my ideas or the words I had written. These insults came primarily from women.

“You may not agree with a woman, but to criticize her appearance — as opposed to her ideas or actions — isn’t doing anyone any favors, least of all you. Insulting a woman’s looks when they have nothing to do with the issue at hand implies a lack of comprehension on your part, an inability to engage in high-level thinking. You may think she’s ugly, but everyone else thinks you’re an idiot.” ~ Erin Gloria Ryan

In politics it is very common for men to attack a woman’s appearance rather than her words or arguments. It is one thing when a man assumes the ridiculous posture of responding to a women’s argument with a personal attack, but a woman stooping so low as to insult another based on personal appearance is just mind-boggling.

Since when do women defend the worst of the patriarchy? Since when do women promote objectification as a worthy goal?

Since women accepted idealized and sexualized images of women as the norm.

These media images surround us and bombard girls and women, boys and men. It is almost impossible to avoid these images. After massive exposure to this women start seeing themselves as objects, bodies and body parts, and only in terms of how others see and receive pleasure from those parts. When the media presents only one version of women, society accepts that image as the norm. Sexualizing women equates women’s worth to their appearance and their ability to provide pleasure.

This in turn becomes embedded in women’s psyches as they self-objectify. The process of self-objectification begins in childhood. Have you ever seen a Bratz doll?

Have you seen the padded bras and bikinis for 6 year old girls? How about Halloween costumes for girls?

As Sharon Lamb and L. M. Brown state in their book Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers’ Schemes,

“The image of girls and girlhood that is being packaged and sold isn’t pretty in pink. It is stereotypical, demeaning, limiting, and alarming. Girls are besieged by images in the media that encourages accessorizing over academics, sex appeal over sports, fashion over friendship.”

There are girls as young as 5 years old preoccupied with their weight and appearance. We have a very real problem on our hands.

“Studies show girls and women can’t throw a softball as hard when they feel self-conscious of their looks. But you can say the exact same thing for math tests, spatial skills, weight lifting, and lots more. Self-objectification is linked to poorer sexual functioning and inability to find satisfaction and pleasure in sexual experiences, as well as decreased sexual assertiveness, including the ability to say “no” or ask about contraception.” ~BeautyRedefined

This self-objectification makes women try to appear more sexual, while it actually makes women less likely to enjoy sex.

I can’t help but think of breast augmentation surgery. This procedure actually limits sensation and sensitivity for women. This type of cosmetic surgery transforms a women’s breasts from a part of her own body that she gains pleasure from, into objects that exist only for men’s pleasure.

But why would women and the yoga community hold on to, and so vehemently defend, the sexual objectification of women?

Consider this: the yoga world is a matriarchy!

The majority of practitioners, teachers, and studio owners are women. In the world of yoga women outnumber men 4 to 1. The world of yoga is a world of women. So why do we promote ourselves and our practice through this hyper-sexualized and objectified lens? Media images of yoga are primarily sexualized. Women are regularly depicted in the nude, in underwear, or bikinis performing asana. This is in advertisements, promotional materials, and most disturbing, on social media.

On Facebook and Instagram I see young women sharing yoga selfies that conform more to the sexualized and pornified parameters than images that clearly show a love for the practice. Who are these pictures for? If you practice in a bikini, in your underwear, or nude, as a sexual expression and it brings you happiness and pleasure, why do you need to document and share it? Does it deepen your practice? Does it promote the practice? Or does it perpetuate the mistaken notion that women are things meant for the pleasure of others?

And before you go ahead and accuse me of slut-shaming, I offer you these words from Rashida Jones:

“I’m not gonna lie. The fact that I was accused of “slut-shaming,” being anti-woman, and judging women’s sex lives crushed me. I consider myself a feminist. I would never point a finger at a woman for her actual sexual behavior, and I think all women have the right to express their desires.”

This isn’t about blaming the victim, or shaming our sexuality, this is about reclaiming our sexuality, and attaining our real power, which extends far beyond our sexuality. As consumers we create the world around us. We can begin by changing yoga as a business, but first we, as women, need to take responsibility for how we present ourselves and the practice. As long as we are primarily concerned with our appearance we are not paying attention to politics, society, or even our practice. 

Globally, women are the world’s consumers. We have a global buying power of $28 Trillion (That’s Trillion – with a T). 73% of all household purchases in the United States are made by women. The yoga industry in the United States alone is a $27 Billion industry.

We buy the magazines and fashion trends and diet pills and plastic surgery. We are the ones marketed and advertised to. We should be making the rules.

Women have the power to change these disturbing trends by demonstrating through our voices and purchasing power that we have so much more to offer the world.

When we only present ourselves as bodies we limit our potential, we allow women and girls, men and boys to see women as things of pleasure, things that owe men sex, things that have no other value. The idea that these images in the media, and when women engage in this self-objectification is somehow empowering has been disproven. In fact,

“Such images also have been shown to increase rates of body dissatisfaction and/or eating disorders among men, women and girls; and they have even been shown to decrease sexual satisfaction among both men and women.”
~Erin Hatton, PhD

It’s clear to see that sexual objectification anywhere does not promote sexual liberation or empowerment. It only robs us of it.

I believe we have fallen into a patriarchal trap of allowing ourselves to be objectified and used while claiming we are empowered. It simply makes sense that if we continue to display ourselves as only sex objects, men will continue to see us as only sex objects. We are in a cage and rather than breaking free of the confines, we fight one another to sit on the highest perch.

I believe women hold onto sexual objectification because it is the only form of competition they know. The media tells women that appearance and sex appeal is the only accomplishment worth achieving. Education, art, music, and sports are not worthy pursuits.

The ultimate goal is to become a thing of beauty.

Like birds in a gilded cage, most young women have never known life outside the narrow bars of conforming to a perfect appearance. And so they fight for supremacy within that cage, all trying to be prettier, sexier, more desirable than the others, trying to be the queen of the cage.

I can’t help but think of Tara Stiles, arguably one of the most successful yoga teachers around, being displayed in a glass cage and paraded through New York City as she performed yoga asana on a mattress. I imagine people looking at her like an animal at the zoo, or as a mannequin in a shop window, as an object to be admired or coveted. In a worst case scenario, and perhaps because I only recently traveled to Amsterdam, the thought of a women behind glass brings to mind a completely different industry.

I understand this was clever marketing, after all, everyone was discussing it.

But, is this the pinnacle of success in the world of yoga business? Is this the best we, as women, can do in a field that we dominate? What does this say about us as a community of women?

We should be changing the world through our practice, influencing business and politics with our voices and our money. Until we stop attacking one another because of our appearance, weight, or outfit, we will each be in our own glass box, being led and never leading, isolated and objectified and all in a world we control. If it doesn’t change for the better, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

It’s not enough to believe that if we “practice and all is coming,” anymore than it is okay to assume we are all simply “walking each other home” when rape and violence against women is glorified. Sitting back and expecting the to world to change for the better without putting in any effort is delusional.

We have the financial and political power to end this. If we stopped creating/buying/sharing/liking and otherwise supporting the media that promotes and perpetuates this violence, we would stop seeing it. 

The only real and meaningful way to end violence against women is by educating men and women alike. And the best way to reach entire generations of men is by influencing the media and media images, raising boys who respect and stand up for women, and stop supporting and perpetuating the female and male stereotypes which fuel violence and rape culture. 

We need to work together.

If we stop competing and start collaborating we could change the world. Let us collaborate with women and men alike to end violence against women, and against all beings everywhere. Our options should not be between the outright aggression of the patriarchy, and the passive-aggression (or relational aggression) of the matriarchy. We should strive to rise above the worst of either gender, and be equals with kindness, patience, and compassion.

Let us collaborate to build an inclusive and healthy yoga community based on respect, trust, and honoring the practice in its many forms. Yoga as a practice transforms the self, and as an industry yoga has the means to transform the world. It’s time to put aside our vanity, jealousy, and poverty mentality (there are more than enough students to go around), and start working together for worthy goals.

Fighting over who gets to be the queen of the cage of misogyny isn’t getting us anywhere.