Monday, July 30, 2012

Inspired by Convention: Changing the Conversation Requires Real Strong Voices

Welcome to the second post in the "Inspired by Alpha Chi Omega Convention" series. Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing stories of how Convention inspired us.

Ever since I learned we would be screening Miss Representation at Convention, I had been looking forward to seeing the film and hearing one of the professors featured in the film speak. I was not prepared for how moving sharing this experience with sisters would be.

Monday morning, Dr. Caroline Heldman, Associate Professor and Chair of the Politics Department at Occidental College, delivered a keynote titled "Time to Represent the Real Me." In a thoroughly academic and completely engaging way, she taught us about sexual objectification in the media and how it reduces our power as women.
"If objectification is the process of representing or treating a person like an object, then sexual objectification is the process of representing or treating a person like a sex object, one that serves another’s sexual pleasure." (source)
The first step is identifying the problem. Dr. Heldman shared her Sex Object Test: if you answer yes to any of 7 questions (see the full list with examples here), there is sexual objectification present.

The second step is knowing how damaging exposure to these images can be to women and girls.
"women who grow up in a culture with widespread sexual objectification tend to view themselves as objects of desire for others. This internalized sexual objectification has been linked to problems with mental health (e.g., clinical depression, “habitual body monitoring”), eating disordersbody shame, self-worth and life satisfaction, cognitive functioning, motor functioning, sexual dysfunction, access to leadership, and political efficacy. Women of all ethnicities internalize objectification, as do men to a far lesser extent." (source)
Dr. Heldman went through each item on the list, defined it for us, and for a few, shared examples from research. [Note each one on the list is a link you can follow to learn more.] The item that really hit home for me was political efficacy and realizing how fixated the media is on the appearance of women in general and political candidates especially. Seeing the way respected news organizations talked about Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin during the 2008 election was eye-opening.

Being able now to identify the issue and the harm it is causing, Dr. Heldman gave us ways to improve our mental health: four daily rituals of our objectification culture we can stop engaging in. See all four (stop seeking male attention; stop consuming damaging media; stop playing negative internal tapes; stop competing with other women) in detail here.
"When you see a woman who triggers competitiveness, practice active love instead. Smile at her. Go out of your way to talk to her. Do whatever you can to dispel the notion that female competition is the natural order. If you see a woman who appears to embrace the male attention game, instead of judging her, recognize the pressure that produces this and go out of your way to accept and love her." (source) (See also 4 Daily Rituals to Start)
We had two opportunities to see Miss Representation with Dr. Heldman introducing the film and answering questions after. The screening I attended was packed and the energy in the room was palpable.

Miss Representation 8 min. Trailer 8/23/11 from Miss Representation on Vimeo.

I left the room feeling so full of love for Alpha Chi Omega. I found myself
  • Inspired by our national organization's leadership and staff who incorporate our mission and values into so much of what we do - offering lifelong learning opportunities; helping us be more real, even stronger women; giving us the tools to find our voices, become better advocates, and create lasting cultural change (and maybe even change the conversation along the way); 
  • Fired up by the collegiate and alumnae sisters in the room who shared their experiences as students, mothers and volunteers, who asked wonderful thoughtful questions about the film, and who expressed their desire to bring change to their campuses and their communities; 
  • Inspired all over again by Alpha Chi Omega's Executive Director, Cheri O'Neill, when she set the bar with her marching orders to each of us in the room. As CEO of an almost multi-million dollar enterprise, she reminded us that just as she is a leader, we are ALL leaders: we all have a responsibility to make the world a better place and Alpha Chi Omega expects us to get out there and do it. 
I hope you'll take the opportunity to see Miss Representation (it's available on itunes here), like Miss Representation on facebook here and learn more/take action to help hold media accountable here.

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