While medical advancements and cures for all sorts of illnesses are being found every day, what’s most alarming about the state of society today is the lack of understanding and advancements of equality.
With the most recent coming-out of Caitlin Jenner as a woman and consequently making her debut on the public sphere through a glamour magazine, it didn’t take long for the public and the media to start criticising her immediately for appearance.
No longer is she applauded and revered for athletic skills and achievements, but now she is reduced to the sum of her newly found gender and sexual organs. This kind of sexual objectification of women is not a new thing, but the fact that it still happens says a lot about our society today.
The fact is, all of these inequalities and intersectionalities are intertwined. If a person disregards another because of their sexuality or gender, then it’s likely that they also disregard others for race, ethnicity, class , or wealth, just to name a few things.
These kinds of thought patterns float around and they insert themselves into conversation every day, whether private or public setting, whether explicit or subtle. This isn’t about just misogyny or sexual objectification anymore. This is about holding up the rest of society by being stuck in an ignorant and often offensive mindset.
Women are constantly told to cover up and even Jenner was accused of being too sexual and showing too much skin, after the magazine cover was revealed. Thinking back to Caitlin’s days as a young male athlete, articles and pictures can be found everywhere on the Internet about his valour, athleticism and kind personality. A quick Google search today brings up a plethora of images of Caitlin in her underwear, under titles that simply scream sexual object, and are nuanced by the concept of ‘cougar’.
So, if society is turning a person into an object to be consumed and criticised, just because of their sex and gender, what does this say about the way society treats other marginalised or objectified members?
Speaking to Peta Daly, a young LGBTQI activist and active feminist, and a member of the Melbourne Gay and Lesbian Chorus, she says that, “people are becoming more aware of differences, but it doesn’t mean that they’re becoming more accepting of them.”
When asked thoughts regarding Caitlin Jenner and her experiences of the LGBTQI community, “we’re joyous but we’re also really worried for her.” Peta explains the worry comes from her public appearances, and whether she may be in danger because of her new identity and appearance. Thinking about her own transsexual and transgender friends, she remembers that it’s a really tough time, because “society wants to put you into one of two categories: man or woman…and sometimes it doesn’t work out that way.”
Peta is also a vegetarian. She believes that if she wants to support equality in human rights, then she needs to support equality to animals as well, and sees no differences between her and the animals she refuses to eat. She says she does not preach to her non-vegetarian friends, nor will she when she eventually becomes vegan, but tries to advocate it as a matter of equality.
This does not mean that everyone should become a vegetarian or join an LGBTQI community; this simply means that society needs to learn to broaden their horizons and accept differences and more fluid notions of choice or identity.
Keeping with the rigid, traditional ideas about marriage or sex bring society two steps back, when movements like feminism bring us one step forward. And so it becomes a gentle balance where the individual needs to learn to think differently, regardless of what society tells her she should consume – metaphorically or literally.
There isn’t any panacea or magical celebrity who is going to fix this, as seen with the backlash from celebrities and sport stars that have ‘come out’ as homosexual, or admitted their mental illness. But it is the individuals in the public view who need to take responsibility to be beacons of intelligence and acceptance. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be everyone, and nor could it include the entirety of middle-class society, but small changes can somewhat pave the way.
Lilly Sing, also known as internet sensation and YouTube blogger ‘Superwoman’, has often stated in her videos that she used to be depressed, due to her race and ethnicity, and didn’t feel accepted in her community. It was only once she started creating YouTube videos and expanding her community that she discovered herself, confident and content.
Recently, she toured around Australia, playing shows in all major cities and performing for children as young as ten, who look up to her and see her as an idol. When asked about her rise to fame and what this means for her as a woman of Indian ethnicity in the public sphere, she says that she’s “overwhelmed with happiness…[she] couldn’t ever imagine to help people in this way and reach so many young people.”
Singh is only 26, but she has taken the Internet communities and made them platforms for her voice and character. She says everything she says about her past life in videos is true, and she “went through a rough time” as a young, Indian girl growing up in a predominantly white Canada.
“The key”, she says, “is accepting who you are as a different person” but also as an equal person.
What does this mean for the Internet’s vast communities? While many consider it to be harmful and saturating society’s lives with too much information, it seems as though it is helpful in drawing people together about similar values and interests.
So, what does this mean for equality and the benefit of society, in helping understand difference and accept it at the same time? Actually a whole lot. Just like the public world, the Internet has its ups and its downs, and ignorant individuals are always on the lookout for someone to torment. However, the Internet contributes to a growth of society’s democratic values, and so helps to make the unequal, equal, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, gender, sexuality, status etc.
Kim Kardashian, who ‘broke the Internet’ not too long before Caitlin Jenner somewhat repaired it again, only contributed to what feminist scholars would call the ‘male gaze’. While some may see it as an exploration of sexuality and confidence, others may simply call it encouraging sexual objectification. Most choose the latter.
Stuff that floats around like this, in the public sphere, saturating the content consumed, holds up a progressive society that seeks to move forward and upwards. An individual cannot embody all of the different types of equalities or inequalities, but they could try to instil just one and work from there. In an era where most anything goes, individuals should be able to be anything.