Gender and Politics

The following link will take you to a story about women in the recent elections in Afghanistan: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8198126.stm

In a culture in which we as Americans view the word “woman” to be synonymous with “oppressed” I have to admit being surprised to see female candidates running for office. I assumed the aforementioned article would be about the controversy of women running for office, but there already are some women in office, and the controversy in the article is not over women in politics as much as it is displaying women’s pictures in public. Shows how ignorant I am.

Women run for office and vote in Afghanistan. Women were among the only 40-50% of Afghans who voted on August 20, due to political disillusionment and threats of violence (according to The Associated Press: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090820/ap_on_re_as/as_afghanistan). However, there were attempts to deter women especially from voting. Female staffers at the women’s poles were injured or killed causing one province to open only 6 of the 36 women’s polling stations. Furthermore, some worry that this lack of representation by women in the polls may lead to further isolation of women from the public realm (http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090824/ap_on_re_as/as_afghanistan_women).

As I thought about all that is going on in Afghanistan with women in the media and politics, I thought about women in the public eye in America. Women who are in higher politics are usually termed bitches (Hilary Clinton) or sexualized (Sarah Palin). Women not in politics are generally the same- though mostly just sexualized. The portrayal of women in the media generally suggests that women are sex objects (nothing new here). But isn’t it interesting that in Afghanistan, where most of us are appalled at how women are treated (and in some ways, I’m sure, rightly so) that they are more careful about how women are portrayed in the media than we in America who are so “gender sensitive.” We look down on their “oppression” of women, but it’s totally okay for us to exoticize ethnic models, exploit women with eating disorders, and promote an unhealthy and unrealistic standard of beauty for not only our women but our young girls. No one seems to care that more and more magazine ads or TV commercials depict women who are half naked, in vulnerable positions, or on the receiving end of violence, but we feel confident in our assessment that a burqa- which was originally worn to keep women safe against raiders who could not tell if they were of child-bearing age- is so oppressive. I’m only scratching the surface of a complicated issue, and of course it’s not that simple, but it is important to look at how easy it is to judge “others’ culture” and be blind to what’s going on in our own.

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