Gender Violence & Self-Mutilation

Disfigurment; real & self-imposed  by Gwynne Hunt

Who would have ever thought that cheap sulfuric acid would increase gender violence towards women?  It is estimated that over 200 acid mutilations occur in Bangladesh every year.  Our western publications cover cases of gender violence on a regular basis.  Shocking but not overwhelming until you really think about how many women are burned and mutilated for dowry disputes and domestic fights.

I read a report last year about a woman inBangalore,India who is blind and disfigured because her boss who was in love with her threw acid on her when she refused to return to work and his advances.  Hassena is not alone as it is estimated that thousands of young women in India have been burned when they have spurned lovers or have tarnished the family honour.

A report from Cambodia claims that not only men use acid to disfigure women but other women prefer this method of revenge.  It is reported that two thirds of acid attacks are perpetrated by women.  An angry wife of a government official threw acid on her husband’s 17-year-old mistress.  In a poor country like Cambodia where girls don’t have equal access to education, beauty can be the only way to a comfortable life.  The aim of disfigurement is not to kill but to strip a woman of her beauty.

In western culture we find other means of attacking women’s self-esteem so they literally disfigure themselves with anorexia and bulimia.  During the selfish generation of the 80s it was popular to believe that you cant be too rich or too thin.  Fat people have always been seen as not as bright, not as desirable, not as acceptable.  Ugly women aren’t very popular.

A healthy body image is the most important tool a woman can have today to succeed.  We are held back by our fear of being unacceptable and most of our vulnerability comes from the way we look.  The average woman sees 400-500 advertisements a day and by the time she is 17 she has seen 250.000 commercials.

Advertisers often put huge emphasis on sexuality and the importance of physical attractiveness.  Being thin and beautiful is the ideal standard  for women.  The diet industry generates billions of dollars in revenue each year.  Marketing tactics tend to stress the health benefits of being thin but it is really about looking good.

Women compare themselves to other women.  If you watch commercials with nothing but thin women you begin to feel bad about your tummy and your flab.  Look at all the shows on television where the wives are beautiful thin model types and the husbands are fat, overgrown boys.  Yeah, isn’t that every boys dream?  Men don’t feel the pressures to be beautiful and thin as much as women.

Certainly there is a trend for men to wax, pluck and exfoliate these days.  More men exercise and take care of themselves and many bow to the same societal pressures as women.  But no man feels the pressure to be beautiful as much as a woman does.  Men can be slightly homely and still pass for attractive if they clean up nice.  A homely woman is a homely woman and women are still judged by their looks more then men.  You rarely hear of a man being disfigured by a jealous girlfriend.

How we define what is beautiful depends on society.  Regardless of era  there has always been an expectation for women to be beautiful and destroying her beauty the greatest insult.

In the early 1900s women attempted to contort their bodies for that thin corseted hourglass look. Flappers in the 1920s were supposed to be free of those Victorian traditions with their flat-chested skinny little bodies.  They were still slaves to being desirable and beautiful.  We went from full-body curves in the 1950s to the skinny Twiggy look of the 60s and evolved into the 80s feeling smug because now we were just being healthy and fit.  Healthy and fit with lovely faces.

Only about 4% of women in the 90s obtained that frail waif-like look naturally.  Now most women don’t have the large breasts and narrow hips that the models do.  Skinny gaunt women with that ‘junkie’ look tend to be junkies.  The average woman is 5 foot 4 inches tall and weighs at least 140 pounds.  Most of those average women spend enormous amounts of time trying to look like 4% of the population.  So the norm is not set by our peers but by the media, advertising and marketing.

How many older women do we have to see on television that have had face lifts before we feel sensitive about our own waddles?   So more women are heading to the plastic surgeons to look good and mutilate their own bodies to look like what they perceive the rest of the world does.  Supporters of do what every makes you feel good don’t take into consideration that is societal pressures that makes us feel bad.   In the 50s, 50-year-old women looked like 50-year-old women.  Now 60-year-old women look 40 and that leaves the majority of women feeling fat, stupid and ugly.

If make-up makes you feel good about the way you look, ask yourself this simple question, if nobody wore make-up would you?  Not likely, because we would all look like we just got out of bed and have uneven complexion and blah eyes.  We base our appearance on what everyone else looks like.  When it was a fad in the early 1900s to have a straight nose women wore a horrible contraption called a nose shaper that was metal and adjusted by screws.  Today, they just get nose jobs.

Young girls use make-up to look attractive and older, older women use make-up to look attractive and younger.  Women don’t wear make-up to look attractive to men . . . we wear it to look attractive to each other and to fit in to what society says we should look like.  We strive every day to fit the description.

There is such a huge emphasis placed on flaw-concealment.  Beauty icons worked hard for a natural look in the 60s.  Then towards the end of the 80s we had the Madonna women who symbolized what a woman was supposed to be then.  Very sexy, feminine but in charge, in control.  A big homely women in charge would be called a lesbian.  So, as I understood it I could be woman and I could be strong but I had to look devilishly cute while doing it.

Cosmetic surgery has simply raised the bar and made looking good even more obtainable and while I wear make-up and do my best to look good I balk at surgery and find I am overly annoyed at my sisters who go under the knife to maim and cut themselves.  They are leaving us hard-nosed realistic women behind like the ugly stepsisters while like Cinderella they run off to the ball with everything they ever wished for.

From the turn of the 20th century to now the predominant feature of beauty is the importance of outward appearance and obsession with everything beautiful.  Beauty is linked with success and success to happiness.  You can destroy someone’s happiness if you take away their beauty.  We may not have a rash of acid throwing in North America but gender-violence is on the rise against women and girls.

Strong women on this planet today don’t have to wait to be attacked or maimed– we mutilate ourselves in order to keep looking good.

About Gwynne Hunt

I am a writer, activist, producer, director and creative performance artist. My new book Through My Lens is based on newspaper clippings going back to 1928; the stories in-between the clippings are about my mom Gunvor Berglund, my step-dad Ronald Robinson and my DNA father Harold Larsen. How did they come together to make me? Some of the research was shocking, some funny but it left me to define the parts of the story I did not know. a tribute to my three parents. My last book, Unlocking the Tin box is about my journey into trying to find our who I was, who my father was; a complicated con man and a carny. But he was more than that and the journey took me as far as doing DNA tests, digging through his old tin box and an examination of my own life. Published by Silver Bow Publishing, available from the Publisher, Amazon and the Author. Fifteen years ago, the book ‘Rampage; the pathology of an epidemic’ written by me was released at the International Celebration of Women in Abbotsford. The book is my personal journey over six years working on the book and the Memory March (a walk/vigil honouring over 4,000 missing and murdered women and children in Canada). It includes interviews with grassroots' workers she met. There are a lot of individual, concerned people who work to end violence against women. One of those women is Mary Billy, a writer and activist in Squamish. There are interviews, case stories and conversations with family member’s who have lost loved ones. The book is not about how we are going to end the violence but an examination of the problems, concerns and stereotypical thinking that keeps us trapped in a cycle of violence. Included are the names of 4,000 missing and murdered women and children that have been compiled for The List. Other books include bruises & bad haircuts (poetry) and Bob & Boo. (illustrated by my grandkids)
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