“I’m just going to come out and say it: I love insecure women.”
That was the introduction to an article entitled “The Case Against Female Self Esteem” by Matt Forney. I refuse to post a link to it because I don’t want to give his site any more traffic than it has already gotten, but if you are hell bent on reading the awful things that he wrote in that article then feel free to Google it on your own.
The deep-seated anger I felt after reading this article was palpable. The more I read the angrier I got. I realize that my blog is almost entirely NFL Draft focused, and quite literally is 100% football focused, but thanks to all of the people who have read my work and supported me since I started writing, I have a platform from which to speak. This blog isn’t a big platform. In fact, it is extremely small, but it is a platform none the less. After I read Forney’s article I knew I had to respond to it. I apologize that this isn’t football related, and perhaps some of you will be turned off by the fact that I am discussing something other than football. That’s fine; you are entitled to your own opinion, but I would be remiss if I didn’t respond to this article because I strongly disagree with many of the assertions Forney makes. The claims made were so egregious I honestly thought it must have been a joke or an article on The Onion, but unfortunately I don’t think that is the case.
For those of you who didn’t read the article yourself (which I thank you for, by the way, because I am not proud of the fact that my response may direct additional traffic to his article) I will highlight some of the claims that the author makes. If you are anything like me, you will likely be offended, and I apologize for that too. However, I need to discuss them briefly so I can illustrate why they are wrong. Here are some of the claims:
“The idea that women should have self-esteem or need it…is one of the most disastrous social engineering experiments of the modern era… [confidence] prevents women from fulfilling their natural biological and social functions. ”
“In order for America to right itself, there needs to be a massive and concerted war on female self-esteem.”
“From the moment they are old enough to speak, girls in America are bombarded with propaganda that artificially boosts their self-esteem.”
“Most girls have done nothing to deserve self-esteem.”
“Women claim they want equal rights, but don’t want equal responsibilities. As such, they demand respect not based on their merit as people, but for merely continuing to breathe. Most girls’ so-called achievements, the ones they take pride in, are complete jokes.”
“If anything, having a college degree is a strike against a girl…as it shows that she’s a conformist who thinks credentials are a substitute for knowledge and experience.”
“The same goes for having a job. The vast majority of girls work useless fluff jobs…If every girl were fired from her job tomorrow, elementary schools would have to shut down for a couple days, but otherwise life would go on as usual.”
“In squelching her inborn insecurity with you-go-girlisms and drugs, the modern woman has become an emotional cripple.”
“They [girls] want to be collectively led back to the kitchen, told to make a nice big tuna sandwich with extra mayo and lettuce, then swatted on the ass as we walk out the door. I say we give them what we want.”
Are you angry yet? I certainly was. It might seem like I quoted a lot from the article, but trust me those are just the things that made my blood boil. Very little of this article was based on actual fact, rather it was largely based on the author’s personal opinions. Normally I would disregard an article so reliant on opinion and not on fact, but the notion that someone actually believes all of the things written in this article, much less advocates for other people to think the same way, warrants a rational response.
I hardly know where to begin in my response to this, but I suppose the assertion that America needs to start a war on female self-esteem in order to “right itself” is as good a place to start as any. I don’t really think I need to spend much time on this thanks to this article as well as this article. Those are articles discussing the government shutdown and the FEMALE Senators that helped end the shut down. Senator John McCain was quoted as saying “Leadership, I must fully admit, was provided primarily from women in the Senate.” Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas added “The truth is, women in the Senate is a good thing, we’re all just glad they allowed us to tag along so we could see how it’s done.”
It isn’t a stretch or exaggeration to say that, had it not been for these women (who one might say are probably pretty strong and confident) the government shutdown would not have ended as quickly as it did. So knowing that, why would you advocate for a war on female self-esteem that discourages women like those who helped lead the charge for the end of the shutdown? These women prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that confident women aren’t bad, in fact, they are essential. These articles debunk the myth Forney proposes that “most girls have done nothing to deserve their self esteem” and that “most girls’ so called achievements are complete jokes.” Obviously female senators aren’t in the majority, but given their effectiveness in working together across the aisle to end the shutdown maybe they should be.
I previously mentioned that no rational person would advocate for a war on women’s self-esteem. Unfortunately, the mass media has been doing a number on female self-esteem for years. Do you ever watch television ads? Do you see the scantily clad women in them? Do you ever read magazines? Do you ever notice the photo-shopped women on the cover or in the advertisements? If you aren’t aware of how often women, even women who are objectively gorgeous without photoshop or even make-up, are photoshopped in magazines, advertisements and billboards, you should take a look at this article that highlights some considerable doctoring of women in the media. If you don’t believe that women are bombarded with images of nearly perfect women that they are expected to emulate, check out this study that articulates similar thoughts.
I didn’t realize that someone could be so completely oblivious to these facts, but that is my mistake. Still, the point is that when many young women see these images it negatively impacts their self-esteem. It can also ruin their own body image because they don’t look the way the women in the pictures do, even though the women in the photos are not real. That leaves young women striving for an unattainable level of beauty that not even the women paid to be photographed were able to reach. Doesn’t that sound like a problem to you? It might sound strange to some people, but if a woman close to you struggled with her body image or had an eating disorder I can assure you that you wouldn’t find it funny in the least. It’s a serious problem, particularly in the United States, and the portrayal of women in the media contributes to a myriad of problems for young women. So the author doesn’t need to advocate for a war on female self-esteem to begin; it has been raging for years.
Unfortunately, the war on female self-esteem goes beyond pictures in magazines or advertisements on TV. Perhaps the most pervasive attacks on female self-esteem are in mainstream music, particularly rap music and music videos. I spent some time reading through a 26 page study titled “Misogyny in Rap Music” to further educate myself on something I already knew to be true: Women are not portrayed as equals in rap music, and are regularly degraded. In fact, according to that study, women are rarely portrayed positively and are often degraded in rock and country music as well.
This study focused on all rap albums that attained platinum status (selling at least one million copies) from 1992 to 2000, a timeframe the authors Ronald Weitzer and Charis E. Kubrin claimed had not been examined in previous research on misogyny in rap music. Weitzer and Kubrin pointed out that while they were solely focusing on studying misogyny in rap, a study done in 1999 indicated that in 57% of rock music videos women were portrayed in a “conventional” manner. That includes being passive, dependent on men, or accenting the woman’s physical appearance. Only one third of the videos presented women as strong and independent.
Country music isn’t much better, as a study done in 1999 determined that country music videos portrayed women in a traditional or condescending manner in two thirds of the videos, and only 9% of them presented women as fully equal to men. Just for the sake of being thorough, a study done in 1993 indicated that “blatant abuse” of women is uncommon in heavy metal songs.
That leaves rap music.
Surprisingly enough, misogyny was only found in 22% of the 403 rap songs that were randomly selected for Weitzer and Kubrin’s study. They made sure to point out that while this is less prevalent than many people would expect, it is still clearly a significant theme. They also added that “significance is not simply a matter of frequency. Also important is the nature and intensity of the messages.” They argued that the intensity of the derogatory messages aimed at women in rap music are much more intense than in other genres.
Weitzer and Kubrin also argued that “Much rap music… seeks to restrict, rather than broaden, women’s proper roles and resuscitate male domination. The messages are thus both essentialist and normative—portraying men and women as inherently different and unequal.” This leads me to the topic of “hegemonic masculinity” which Weitzer and Kubrin discussed at significant length. For those that are unfamiliar with this term, hegemonic masculinity has been defined as attitudes and practices that perpetuate heterosexual male domination over women (does this sound anything like Matt Forney?). “It ideologically legitimates the global subordination of women to men” (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005, 832).
According to the definition of hegemonic masculinity, to be a “man” requires the acceptance of attitudes that objectify women, practices that subordinate them, and derogation of men who adopt an egalitarian orientation equally affirmative of men and women and all sexual orientations (Connell 1987; Donaldson 1993; Connell and Messerschmidt 2005). “To remain normative, it requires ongoing reproduction via the mass media.” Weitzer and Kubrin claim that, stated differently, “popular music can be seen as part of a larger ideological process of persuading the population that heterosexual male supremacy is natural and normal.”
Weitzer and Kubrin also added that a number of rap songs can be described as a full-fledged “status degradation ceremony” directed at women. In these songs it is typically women in general, rather than a specific woman, who are shamed with derogatory names. This theme was present in half (49%) of the misogynistic songs in their study. Additionally, sexual objectification of women was evident in 67% of their misogynistic songs. Sexual objectification refers to the idea that women are only useful for sex.
The sexual objectification of women, according to Weitzer and Kubrin’s study, has a flipside in the sexual empowerment of men. Male sexual bravado and hypersexuality were present in 58% of the misogynistic songs. Just as young men may earn respect from their peers if they are viewed as having casual sex with many women, rappers likewise frequently brag about their sexual exploits, and are rewarded for doing so.
Finally, Weitzer and Kubrin claimed that although women are presented as subordinate to men in a majority of rock and country songs as noted earlier, rap stands out for the intensity and graphic nature of its lyrical objectification, exploitation, and victimization of women. Rare are lyrics (in rap) that describe women as independent, educated, professional, caring, and trustworthy. Although the majority of songs in the original sample did not contain misogynistic lyrics, even these songs failed to present women in a favorable light. In other words, the absence of misogyny does not equate with a positive representation of women.
Now, that was a lot of information, so I hope I didn’t overwhelm everyone reading this article with all of those statistics. I didn’t include anything from the study that I didn’t think was eye opening or significant. At the risk of dumbing down such a well done study, the point is that rap music, and other popular music in general, thrives on age-old stereotypes of women, degrades women, and rarely describes them as strong or confident. Now think about how prevalent this music is in our culture, and how easy it is for young women to hear this music or see music videos for these songs. It’s just as easy for young men to listen to this music, and while mainstream songs certainly aren’t solely responsible for how young men learn about how to interact with women, it certainly isn’t helping them learn to treat women with respect and dignity. In fact, this study argues that many rap songs are doing the complete opposite.
Once again, if you are curious to read any more about the misogyny in rap music, refer to that study. My point has been made: the mass media isn’t artificially propping women up as the author claims, it is dragging them down. The irony of this is that even in spite of this onslaught of negative messages from the mass media, women outpace men in college enrollment by a ratio of 1.4 to one. According to this article describing a book called ‘The Rise of Women’ a 2010 study showed that 36% of all women graduate from college versus only 27% of all men. That might have something to do with the fact that the rate of women being the primary breadwinners in their household has quadrupled since 1960. This article claims that in 2007, before the recession started, only 20% of women told Pew Research Center that their “ideal scenario” would be to work full time rather than part time or not at all. That number has jumped to 32% by the end of 2012.
The fact that women are out-earning men or solely supporting their household is made all the more impressive considering the significant gender wage gap in this country. According to data from the US Census Bureau, women still earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earned in 2012. That equates to a wage gap of $11,500 between men and women. While that may not concern Forney, it certainly concerns women who are being paid less for doing the same work as men (though Forney likely doesn’t believe they do the same work) and all this wage gap is doing is hurting households that rely on income from women to support their families. That is a serious problem, and the backwards ideologies Forney propagates in his article contribute to the lack of progress in solving these problems.
I do have one confession to make. I hate to admit it, but the author does have a point about finding vulnerability attractive in women. Maybe it’s how I’m wired, but I have always been drawn to women who might “need me.” Maybe it’s because of where I grew up, or maybe it’s because when I was 16 my mom needed me to provide her with a little bit of extra emotional support when she was going through chemotherapy after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Or maybe it’s because my little sister, who I love more than anyone on this planet, has been dealing with self esteem issues since she was a little girl. But even though I admit that I feel the same way as this author does in this particular instance, I hate that I feel that way. I love being there for people, whether they are women or men, and I think all of my close friends would echo that statement. Nothing makes me more proud as a person than someone telling me that I am a good friend, except for people telling me that I am a good brother to my sister.
Forney and I are different, though, in that I do not wish vulnerability on women. I do not want women to lack confidence. I do not want them to struggle with self-esteem issues. I do not want women to look at themselves in the mirror and hate their bodies. I want women to be confident, to have a strong self-esteem and healthy body images. That is what every man in this country should want, because if they advocate for anything else then they are doing potential harm to any woman they love, whether it be their wife, their daughter, another family member, or just a female friend.
So I have to ask, why must so many men spend so much time tearing women down instead of building them up? Clearly women are capable of doing spectacular things (the fact that I even have to say that in the year 2013 made me die a little inside) so why do men cling to these backwards ideas of what women are capable of or what they should be asked to do?
The opinions described by Forney are, unfortunately, ones that a number of men in this country share. Looking at the comment section for his article made that clear to me. That brings me to my next question. Why are confident men revered as strong leaders, but confident women are ridiculed and often pigeon-holed as “bitches”? I don’t have any evidence for this, but I think men who hate confident women are threatened by them. What is more terrifying than something you don’t understand? I don’t profess to be an expert on confident women, but I can tell you one thing: I’m not afraid of confident women. I have been trying to help my sister become more confident in any way I can since I was 16, and the strides she has made are amazing. She’s about to graduate from college with a degree in psychology and is a better student and academic than I could have ever dreamed of being. I am so proud of her for all she has ACCOMPLISHED, especially because of all she has overcome in her young life, and because she is becoming more confident and self assured. I almost feel like a proud father watching her grow up and become stronger and more confident with each passing year.
Why isn’t that the norm? Well, unfortunately it’s likely because of fathers. Some refer to them as “daddy issues” in jokes, but they are not a joke. Studies have shown that the relationship between a daughter and her father are incredibly important because they shape what women know and look for in men. When the father is either absent or emotionally closed off those young women tend to be insecure, lack self confidence and have poor self esteems. As a result they go looking for male attention and approval from other men. Take a quote from this article, for example:
“A father’s love gives a girl strength, empowers her, makes her feel worth of a man’s love,” says the counselor. What she means is a father’s affirmation goes a long way into building a woman’s self esteem. Girls loved by their fathers tend to be very confident. “Even if they encounter partners who may try to abuse them or tear down this confidence, they are not easily demeaned,” she says.
From another daddy’s girl, Milly Babirye, 37, “It is the best thing to know that you are valuable. If you grow up hearing positive things, knowing you are capable it makes you able to weather anything. No one can take that away from you.”
This explains why most of the confident women I know also boast of a very close relationship with their fathers, or at least did in cases where he is deceased.
This perfectly illustrates my point, and this article illustrates the negative aspects of absent or emotionally insufficient fathers:
Women with ‘daddy issues’ are usually seen to have an unhealthy need for male attention. Sometimes that plays out as being clingy, sexually aggressive, or promiscuous; other times as using men and then abandoning them (often just like fathers have done). Women let themselves be mistreated by men because they so desperately ache for male attention.
Did you have a father in your life growing up? Without a safe male role model, women can have a difficult time developing a healthy view of self and sexuality. Think about it. Without a father, you don’t have anyone to show you love that has nothing to do with sexuality and everything to do with who you are. If your only experience with men is distant or sexual, it’s easy to see yourself as a sexual object versus a complete person with much to offer a relationship.
It is obvious that fathers are integral to the development of their daughter’s self-esteem and self worth. Absent fathers or fathers who do a poor job of connecting emotionally with their daughters perpetuate a vicious cycle that is causing women to struggle with self esteem and self confidence. This isn’t to say that every father is like this, which certainly isn’t the case. However, if we are going to correct the problem with women’s self-esteem it starts with our fathers. So to all the men reading this: be a good father to your children whether they are boys or girls. Teach your sons how to treat women with respect, and teach your daughters that they are worthy of respect and love.
I think it’s safe to say that I have gone on a long enough rant on this subject by now, but hopefully this sufficiently evidences how strongly I disagree with so many of the things Matt Forney wrote. I have been lucky to be surrounded with many strong women in my life, from my grandmother, my aunts, my cousins, their friends, my female friends, and most importantly my own mother. I can say without a doubt that if it were not for these strong women supporting me since I could first form memories I would not be who I am today. I can only hope that any man reading this will take this time to think about all of the women in his life and how they have helped shape the person he is. I know this isn’t the case, but I wish every man had the chance to be surrounded with such a strong, positive group of women. Having read the author’s thoughts on the subject, I am inclined to make the assumption that he hasn’t had this luxury. That would certainly explain some of the negative opinions he seems to have of women. I hope by writing this I am able to restore some faith in this country’s men–faith that any female who read Forney’s article surely lost.
Thanks for reading,
P.S. I’m sure a lot of people who read Forney’s article will become angry and feel the need to lash out. I would ask you not to do that. I spent some time looking at the author’s Twitter account yesterday and he is clearly feeding off of the backlash and vitriol some women are spewing back at him. I am not saying that it isn’t deserved, but he is clearly enjoying the fact that he is causing women so much anger and frustration. Either don’t respond to it, or do so respectfully. Don’t stoop to his level.