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Posts Tagged ‘Media’

Feast or Famine?

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

Food for thought… burger Food is an integral part of human existence — we need it to survive. It is part burgerof a global system linked to issues like trade, genetic modification famine, slavery, health, food miles and sustainability. Sounds complicated huh? It gets even more complicated when you consider the huge number of media messages and images we are bombarded with every day, telling us what to eat, how to look and what is beautiful. Basically, food corporations want us to eat cheaply produced food lacking in nutrition and stuffed with chemicals, harvested by poorly-paid labour and flown half way across the world, while advertisers and the media place unrealistic expectations on us to be thin and beautiful. An exaggeration? You decide.

Stuffed or starved? child with foodThere are 800 million people in the world who go hungry every day and there are over a BILLION people who are obese. There is enough food in the world for everyone, but the systems in place mean that some people don’t get enough food and others have access to lots of unnutritious food. Fast food outlets and supermarkets have made food convenient and easy… you don’t have to think, just eat! Un-conscious eating is making us unhealthy and a lot of us obese. But as we keep over-consuming in the developed world, many people in the developing work — including those who pick our cocoa beans, coffee beans, bananas and tomatoes — are struggling because they don’t have access to affordable food. More info: stuffedandstarved.org Killing us softly mannequinsFiji, a country that traditionally valued the fuller figure’, was affected by an outbreak of eating disorders three year after television arrived in 1995. A study by Harvard Medical School found that 74% if teenage girls surveyed felt they were “too big or fat” and 15% of the girls reported they had vomited to control weight. The introduction of western values and (unrealistic) images of beauty was seen as the likely cause of the increase in eating disorders. More info: Borrow the movie Killing Us Softly 3: Advertising Images of Women (DVD) from the Global Education Centre library Freeganomics dumpsterIn the US it is estimated that half of the food produced each year is thrown away. You probably know about vegans but have you heard about Freegans? Freegans are a group of people who live solely off the waste of others and distance themselves from big corporations and consumerism. They go through dumpsters outside supermarkets and other shops (known as dumpster diving’) and pick out the unspoiled food that has been thrown away. They also grow their own food or contribute to community gardens. They are not poor or homeless, they do this in an attempt to minimise their impact on the planet. More info: http://freegan.info When cows lay eggs?! cowNot sure where your food comes from? You’re not the only one. A recent survey of 1,000 British kids aged eight to fifteen revealed some strange ideas. In answer to the question: If cows ate grass, what colour would their milk be?’, eight percent answered brown, green or not sure. Ten percent of the city kids in the survey (the country kids did a little better) didn’t know where yoghurt came from and eight percent were unable to say which animal beef comes from. Of the same group, two percent thought that bacon might be from cows or sheep, and that eggs come from cows. More info: www.foodroutes.org Are biofuels worth it? cropAlthough recently highlighted as a key solution to another pressing global issue — climate change — the production of biofuels may actually be causing more harm than good, particularly when it comes to food. Biofuels need a large amount of water and fertile land — land often found in developing countries which could otherwise be used to grow food crops. The UK government’s Chief Scientific Adviser recently described the global rush to grow biofuels as “profoundly stupid”, pointing out that a global food crisis is going to hit before some of the more serious impacts of climate change. More info here. LEARN MORE: Find out about food production and distribution at Food First or Global Issues TAKE ACTION! It can seem too big and complicated to do anything about, but taking action is the ONLY way things change, so here are a few suggestions to get you started. Get reconnected with your food by growing your own veggies. Check out the action section on www.sustainablehouseholds.org.nz for some great tips on organic gardening. Watch these DVDs, all available to hire FOR FREE at the Global Education Centre: Media that Matters — Good Food A Selection of Short Films on Food and Sustainability What’s Really In Our Food? InsideNew Zealand SuperSizeMe The Future of Food This article originally appeared in Tearaway magazine as part of the Global Focus project.

Mapuche, the people of life

Monday, December 3rd, 2007

By Gonzalo Garcés
Translated by AJ McDougall

Mapuche CeremonyThe Mapuche, are a people originally from the south of Latin America, whose name means “people or persons of the earth”, and whose worldview has been intimately connected to the natural environment. It is said that “Mapu à‘uke”, or Mother Nature, has given the Mapuche culture and society the knowledge they possess. This knowledge is transmitted through conversation in sacred places of the natural world linking Mapuche to the earth and to family.

SnakeEvery part of the natural world, including human beings and the dead, possess a spirit. Amongst them there are caring and guiding spirits of nature. For example, stones and serpents have an important role in the Mapuche way of life. Even now, the Mapuche ask permission to pass through certain places that are considered sacred. On such occasions, the Mapuche people take time to appreciate these places and ask for the protection of the earth and their families, as part of their attempts to overcome the unfortunate realities for their people.

The sacred places, such as the paliwe and the nguillatuwe, are spaces where the Mapuche pray, give thanks, and share with the spirits their desire to see them respected and to see the Mapuche culture survive.

The history of the Mapuche people is a history full of battles in defense of the earth. These battles have continued for more than 500 years, since the attempted takeover of the area by the Inka and the Spanish, and later the battles against the genocide attempts of Chilean and Argentinean governments at the end of the 19th Century. These attempts have not ceased, and Mapuche FarmlandChile and Argentina have increased their efforts to transform their culture into spitting images of Western society. Big business has also appeared on the scene. These businesses have claimed — and continue to claim — to those same governments that Mapuche land would be better utilised through the development of economic projects such as single-crop forestation. Yet they do so without planning nor providing for the harmful effects on both human and environmental health.

Historically a system of private property did not exist on “Mapuche territory”. There weren’t any fences nor were there extensive plantations of single-crop forestation like that which exists today, but instead the people were free to roam. They could take freely whatever was needed for the continued sustenance of Mapu à‘uke.

Mapuche DanceThe Chilean government has, throughout history, pushed through “social integration policies” which have attempted to destroy the unique customs of the Mapuche people, and in this way the Mapuche social organisation has been twisted and modified through the imposition of unknown and destructive social models. These politicians, who are not part of the Mapuche culture or way of life, do not understand or value the traditional lifestyles of the Mapuche people, instead imposing new lifestyles upon them.

This is but a brief snapshot of the relationship the Mapuche people have with the state and big business.

There currently exists a situation which is worrying. Seven Mapuche political prisoners are on a hunger strike that has recently reached 42 days. The strikers are our Mapuche peà±i (brothers) and lamgnen (sister). They are striking for: the freedom of all Mapuche political prisoners throughout various Chilean jails; demilitarisation and an end to the oppression of various roaming Mapuche communities so that they can exercise their political and territorial rights; and an end to the political-judicial conspiracies against Mapuche organisers and leaders.

Mapuche ManTo speak of Mapuche political prisoners, and to speak of their ethnic, political, and territorial demands, has been criminalised by the Chilean government, placing the interests of big business over and above those of the Mapuche communities involved. Because of these events, Chile has received international condemnation and many recommendations to end the criminalization of the Mapuche people. One such recommendation came from the UN’s Rodolfo Stavenhagen.

Mapuche men and women are not the violent people they are made out to be by the government through their utilisation of the media. The continued struggle of our Mapuche brothers and sisters tells us that they are not ready to renounce that which is most precious and beautiful to them: the earth, la mapu.

LEARN MORE & TAKE ACTION

You can find more information on how to support the Mapuche cause at:
http://aespo-arica.blogspot.com
www.mapuche.info

You can sign a petition to President Michelle Bachelet and the Chilean Government led by at
www.mapuche-nation.org

Gonzalo Garcés is from Chile and is an Oxfam International Youth Partner. He recently attended Kaleidescope in Sydney, check out Pip Bennett’s article on her experience at this event.

All photos are from www.mapuche-nation.org

An age old problem

Friday, June 29th, 2007

Elisabeth Perham

Racism and sexism are forms of discrimination that we hear about all the time, splashed across the media, littering our history books with sad stories of people whose lives have been ruined because society has failed to get over the colour of their skin or the level of different hormones their bodies are coded to produce. There is, however, another form of discrimination that, while still being very damaging, we don’t hear much about.

YoungpersonHave you ever felt like you’re being watched in a shop because it’s assumed that you’re “just a thieving teenager”? Ever felt hard done by because an older co-worker is being paid more money than you, to do the same job? If you’ve answered yes to either of these questions, then you have experienced ageism. Ageism can be defined as stereotypes or prejudice against people because of their age. It can manifest itself in a variety of ways and can apply whether you are young or old.

Youth WeekInternational Youth Day is celebrated on August 12 in countries all over the world, as an opportunity to draw attention to youth issues worldwide. In Aotearoa New Zealand we mark a whole WEEK in May, to celebrate the accomplishments of young people and the amazing contributions they make to our society. At the same time it is sad to note that in the media the same group is presented as a bunch of drunken, drug-crazed miscreants, arsonists and shoplifters, a group which society must protect itself from rather than embrace. Headlines such as Second cell break at Rimutaka youth unit’, “Concern about Youth Drinking Culture’ and Youth crime on the rise’ are common, and if this is the kind of journalism our parents and grandparents consume every day, then it is little wonder that a negative stereotype of youth has been established. Where are the stories about the vast majority of young people?! Those who go to school every day and work hard, take up part time jobs and participate in their communities.

Video Game PlayerAdolescence is a tough times in anyone’s life, whoever you are, wherever you live. Growing up is never easy and it has been made even more complex by the plethora of paths available for us. Drugs have never been so readily available, nor alcohol; violence has never been more mainstream, nor sex. Just as adults are exposed to bad press about the youth of today, so we are is exposed to this press about ourselves. Everyone is having sex so you should too. Drinking is cool’, right? Ditto smoking. And who cares if drugs are illegal. Remember the news? That’s just what teenagers do. And we are exposed to these ideas younger and younger. You may remember recent uproar over the use of dirty slogans on children’s underwear. Young children, especially boys, can be seen playing violent war games and hoon’-ie car games on gaming consoles. One might think we, today’s youth, are doomed to a life of unprotected sex, drugs and uncontrolled parties.

GraduatedBut consider this: never before have so many young people stayed in school, never have so many graduated from university. Never before have there been so many young people with part time jobs, working hard despite low wages. There is much to celebrate about our peers. You only need to look at the wonderful work of young people in JET magazine, to marvel at the awesome leadership of your head boys and girls, to appreciate the great contribution students participating in the Peer Support programme make to their schools, in order to see that young people have great value and that we are so much more than a bunch of P-crazed, STI-carrying thugs. The young people we read about in the papers are not all of us. And we know that. We just need society to realise that.

PYF delegationBeing young doesn’t mean you’re useless. It doesn’t mean that a security guard should be following you any more closely in a store than any other shopper. It doesn’t mean old ladies should avoid you in the street. The best way to change negative stereotypes is to fight back, so it is our job to let society know how great we really are. Be proud to be young. Get involved in Youth Week this year and rubbish those bad impressions! In the words of a US teen-pride campaign: “Prove them wrong by doing something right.”

Five Facts:

  • Nearly half the world’s people are under 25 years old. 87% live in the developing countries
  • Tertiary participation of young people In Aotearoa New Zealand has increased by 50.3 percent since 1987
  • Young people are ethnically more diverse than the rest of the Aotearoa New Zealand population
  • Despite reports that say otherwise, data suggests that youth offending in Aotearoa New Zealand has in many areas decreased as a percentage of total offending over the last ten years
  • A UK study undertaken in 2005 found that 81% of stories about young people were negative, yet only 8% actually quoted youth, suggesting a greatly skewed representation of youth by the media

LEARN MORE

TAKE ACTION!

  • Visit the Youth Week website for info on how you can get involved in this year’s youth week, 21-27 May 2007. We are the youth, so the only people who can change stereotypes about us, are us!
  • Learn to see beyond the negative press. Excel and shine despite the stereotyping, excel and shine because of the stereotyping! Show the world that you’re better than that!
  • Keep an eye on the Ministry of Youth Development and Just Focus websites for opportunities to get involved with national and international youth events.
  • Tell the world! If you do something awesome then let everyone know. Ring your local paper and get them to come and give you some coverage. They get a story, you get some media attention, the community can see what good young people are doing and your gran gets a clipping to paste in her scrapbook. Everyone’s a winner!

A version of this article was originally published in JET magazine.

What is sexism? It’s a global problem

Friday, May 18th, 2007

by Eliana Darroch & MZ

Bikini girls

  • It’s when a woman walks home from the bus and someone wolf-whistles at her
  • It’s when we see half-naked women on billboards, usually advertising something completely unrelated like burgers
  • It’s when magazines tell us, as men and women, how to behave, how to look and what to desire
  • It’s when a woman feels unsafe to walk alone at night
  • It’s when rape survivors are blamed for the abuse they have suffered, assuming “they asked for it.”
  • It’s when women are destined to have a life of up to 2/3 less pay than men and significantly more difficulty in advancing in their jobs
  • It’s being EXPECTED to be strong and tough, or to be sweet and defenceless
  • It’s assuming a nurse will be a woman and a doctor will be man
  • It’s when a woman playing with children is seen as a natural maternal activity, but a man playing with children is regarded with suspicion

It happens everyday, it’s all around us and worst of all, many of us pretend it doesn’t exist —Sexism

Sexism is the oppression or discrimination of a person based on their sex or gender. It reinforces attitudes and behaviour based on traditional stereotypes of sexual roles in our society. Sexism can be anything from pay inequality to a music video that portrays women as sexual objects. Sexism affects us all, but particularly women, as it is engrained in our patriarchal (male-dominated) society. Sexism is an attitude that can affect women in almost every aspect of their lives and can prevent them from achieving their potential.
Language
MasterSexism manifests itself in our society in many different ways, from the accepted gender roles to the language we use. When you think of the word “master” and “mistress”, which meaning holds more power? They both mean the same thing, apart from the gender that is attached to it. What about bachelor or spinster? Which would you rather be? Almost anything can become an insult if you add like a girl’ to the end of it. “Ahhhh you throw like a girl.” Music videos, TV programmes and the mass media give women a variety of labels from ho’ to chick’ or doll’. There are also many words used to describe people who do not conform to socially accepted gender stereotypes, like poofter’ or tomboy’.
CosmeticsBeauty
Media and advertising is a powerful medium in our society and virtually impossible to escape. Everywhere we go, we are bombarded by sexist images that subject women to a certain ideal of beauty. While using women’s bodies to sell you something, the airbrushed images tells us what beauty is. Women start to measure themselves against these impossible and unrealistic standards. The cosmetic industry uses women’s insecurities to their own advantage, by selling us products to help us achieve this beauty ideal. The underlying message of many ads is, “you’re not beautiful unless you buy our product.” These insecurities can develop into lack of self esteem or even psychological disorders, often related to eating. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia are eating disorders suffered mostly by women. One in four girls may suffer from the symptoms of an eating disorder and 52% of teenagers begin dieting before the age of 14.
Aotearoa New Zealand
AotearoaGlobally Aotearoa New Zealand has led the way in promoting women’s equality, being the first in the world to give women the vote and first in the world to simultaneously have a woman governor general, woman mayor and elected female prime minister. Although many improvements on the position of women have been made, sexism still exists in this country in many forms. Women are still associated with passivity, weakness, submissiveness and being emotional. They’re often seen or treated like sexual objects. Men are stereotyped to be aggressive, powerful, strong and rational. Particularly in New Zealand culture, men are expected to be tough and rugged and not show emotion. These stereotypes are blatant sexism, but are usually accepted- subconsciously or not.

We still have a long way to go. Women all over the world still struggle for justice, equality and respect. Next time you see sexist behaviour- don’t just accept it! Do something about it, challenge this behaviour and let people around you know that sexism will no longer be accepted or tolerated.
Five Facts

  • The majority of people worldwide who live in absolute poverty (that is, living on less than one dollar a day) are women.
  • Women do 75% of the world’s work, including unpaid, yet own only 10% of the world wealth.
  • Out of over 180 countries, only 11 are currently led by women.
  • 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence at some point in their lives.
  • Female graduates are likely to earn less than their male counterparts and take, on average, twice as long to pay back their student loans. (Meaning they could pay up to 20% more for the same education!)

Learn More
Women’s Rights - Human Rights Commission
Prejudice
Violence against Women, Global Bits Issue 09
Eating Disorders

Take Action!!

Be informed, read, think about the language your use, be respectful, discuss issues around gender, sexuality and discrimination
Challenge your friends and your own stereotypes
Help create an atmosphere at work, school or home that doesn’t tolerate sexism
Learn more about human rights and go along to the Human Right’s Film Festival

A version of this article was originally published in JET magazine.

The F word

Monday, April 30th, 2007

By Nicole Mathewson

The F Word Regardless of what many people may think, feminism is not a dirty word. The dictionary [1] defines feminism as the belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. Not all feminists are lesbians, (though there’s nothing wrong if they are) female Nazis, bitter or man-hating.
While early feminists focused on attaining the right to vote, modern feminists campaign on issues such as reproductive rights, which includes the right to safe and legal abortion, access to contraception and quality prenatal care. Protection from violence within relationships discrimination and rape are also a common issues, along with workplace rights such as equal pay and maternity leave. [2]
The term feminism itself is broad and many different forms of feminism exists, with even more variation amongst individual feminists. However what all feminists share is a belief in equality and the need for internationally recognised women’s rights.
Womens Rights MovementNaomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth, suggested a cultural backlash against feminism used images of “beauty” to keep women “in their place”. How many people have believed (or still do) the idea that women are feminists only because they’re too ugly or undesirable to get a man? That popular concept originally showed up on the scene to describe the feminists who appeared in the 19th century. These were women who were lobbying for the right to vote. Since then society has attempted to punish women who seek more control over their lives.
“A century ago, normal female activity, especially the kind that would lead women into power, was classified as ugly and sick,” Wolf said. “If a woman read too much, her uterus would ‘atrophy.’ If she kept on reading, her reproductive system would collapse and, according to the medical commentary of the day, ‘we should have before us a repulsive and useless hybrid’.” [3]
Many believe discrimination against women still exists worldwide, but there is disagreement regarding what the problems actually are, how serious they are and how they can be confronted. Radical feminists such as Gloria Allred and Mary Daly argue on one side that human society would be better off with dramatically fewer men. In contrast feminists such as Christina Hoff Sommers or Camille Paglia, accuse the movement of being anti-male. [4]
When discussing feminism online, most people I talked to about what feminism meant to them believed there was equality between the sexes now - especially in developed countries — but there were still areas which could be worked on and certain rights which were sometimes abused.
Doll faceOne suggested issue was the perception of women in the media. “There is still an expectation in the media and advertising that women must be physically and sexually attractive in order to be valued,” said one male.
Another issue that was identified was the lack of safety and security many women felt.
“There’s small things like walking down the street at night, cars beep and men yell derogatory things at you because you’re a girl. Not feeling safe at night outside by yourself, you can’t even get into a taxi and feel safe anymore.”
The New Zealand NGO Women Experiencing Discrimination Report 2006 cited domestic violence as the fifth leading cause of death from injury for New Zealand women. The report also identified that half of all homicides involving women were committed by the woman’s partner or ex-partner, and that there was under-reporting of other forms of violence against women. [5]
We Can do it!When asked what feminism meant to her, one female I talked to imagined the feminists of the 70s— “burning bras, a shift in the status quo with regards to women and their place in the workforce, some of the most amazing art of the last few decades, and the original Suffragettes of the early 20th Century.” For her, feminism was about standing up for womanhood and all it entails without being over the top. “Embracing what sets us apart from men, but still having the right to do more ‘manly’ things.”
Debate occurs between feminists, who on one side believe there are important differences between the sexes and on the other believe there are no essential differences between the sexes and so the gender roles we see were simply made up by society. From the perspective of some strands of feminism inequality and stereotypes based on gender are detrimental to both men and women - and so both sexes suffer from the expectations of traditional gender roles. [6]
NOWMany who support masculism (men’s rights) argue that because of both traditional gender roles and sexism infused into society by feminists, males are and have been oppressed. Men and Family rights groups oppose feminists such as Robin Morgan, the openly lesbian editor of Ms. Magazine, who advocated ‘man-hating’ as an honourable and viable political act and said the inequities between men and women cannot be resolved until marriage is destroyed. These groups are also critical of feminist encouragement of Lesbian agendas, undermining the traditional role of men in the family. Sheila Cronan controversially said to National NOW Times in 1988 that every woman must be willing to be identified as a lesbian to be fully feminist. [4]
Further criticisms of feminism include The Violence Against Women Act which is viewed as discriminatory by some men’s groups, and Father’s Rights advocates are critical of feminist efforts to block shared parenting after divorce. One male I talked to agreed that Fathers had a hard time compared to Mothers. “It had taken me thirteen weeks to get money out of WINZ when I applied to the DPB. My ex just went straight on it without a problem.”
Anarcha-feminist Sally Darity suggests feminism needs to be broader than just women’s issues and should focus instead on “gender oppression” as a whole.
“Anarcha-feminism means being against all oppression, domination, and authority, but focusing on gender oppression, not because it is most important, but because it affects so many of us and must be dealt with… Gender oppression includes patriarchy, sexism, homophobia, heterosexism, heteronormativity, transphobia, the gender binary, fatphobia and other body image issues, sexual violence, etc.” [7]
The feminist movement will continue to divide opinions and ideas, but one thing most people seem to agree on is that there should be equality amongst the sexes. Feminism is not something to be feared, or to be ashamed of. While there are a select few who believe feminism means hating men and making women more important, I’m sure most people agree with the idea of having equal rights and breaking down the boundaries created by culture and gender.
Learn More:
Read Feminism 101

Take Action

Sweet as sin

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

By Nicole Mathewson

PebblesMmmm. A sugar rush. You can’t beat it eh? But how much sugar do we consume? A lot more than just what we add to our tea or cereal. What about all those fizzy drinks, lollies and cakes? And it doesn’t end there - sugar is a staple ingredient in most processed foods including savoury ready-made meals. Globally, sugar consumption increases by about 2% per year, and is currently around 150 million tons!

A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down?
With so much sugar, you’d be forgiven for not being able to imagine a life without it. But did you know humans evolved without ever using it? The only kinds of sugar we need to remain healthy are lactose (found in milk) and fructose (fruits, vegetables and anything naturally nutritious). The kind of sugar we’ve come to know and love, though, is sucrose (aka sugar, refined from sugar cane or beet).

Sucrose was gradually introduced to our taste buds over time. It began innocently enough in the 1700s with a teaspoon or two in tea, but by the end of the century consumption had more than trebled. It has continued to increase worldwide ever since.

We have become so used to sugar that many people forget sucrose is just “empty calories” — it has no nutritional value. Medical problems associated with over-consumption of sucrose include obesity, increased chronic fatigue, anxiety, irritability and possibly serious mental conditions. [1] Scary huh? And this isn’t just happening in rich countries — it is also occurring in the developing world, and faster than ever.

“The consumption of sugar still goes up despite all the fanatical attacks from health cranks,” smugly says Sir Saxon Tate, boss of British sugar giant, Tate and Lyle.

A less than sweet industry
Sugar Cane HarvestingAs well as being terrible for our bodies, and almost addictive, sugar also widens the gap between the world’s rich and poor.

From the beginning, the sugar industry has not been nearly as sweet as the product. Sugar production was a big part of the slave trade, funded the expansion of European empires and put much of the original capital into capitalism.

Inequality is still rife today. For example, British Sugar’s majority shareholders, the Weston Family, receive NZ$76,700 a day from their shares, while Bekele, a typical sugar cane cutter in Ethiopia, earns less than NZ$3 a day. [2]

The power of the sugar giants
In the 1970s some companies in the sugar industry, and some which heavily used sugar in their products (e.g. soft drinks manufacturers) banded together and established various foundations’ and institutes’ which used their influence to undermine or silence any reports linking sugar with health problems. [3]

“The sugar industry has learned from the tricks of the tobacco industry,” says Professor Philip James, chairman of a national dietary guidelines committee in the UK. “Confuse the public. Produce experts who disagree. Try to dilute the message.” In the same way that oil companies deny climate change sugar companies try to persuade us that their product is not damaging.

And in New Zealand we can see the influence of these companies. Plans to remove full-sugar drinks from secondary schools have been criticised because the agreement between the Government and two of the biggest beverage companies won’t come into effect till 2009 and still allows diet drinks which can contain caffeine and artificial sweeteners which are hardly healthy. Green MP Sue Kedgley sees it as a public relations move. Children will still be exposed to “nutritionless, enamel-destroying soft drinks with addictive and controversial additives in them”, she said. [4]

Environmental concerns

Sugar plantations are harmful to the environment, being to blame for the loss of huge areas of fertile land (which could be used for growing food for local people, rather crops for export) and reducing water levels. After sixty years of sugar production in Pakistan there has been a 90 percent reduction of freshwater available. Pesticide spraying is also a problem, with twenty five million cases of serious chemical poisoning each year.[5]

It’s not all bad though. You’ve heard of Fair Trade chocolate and coffee, but you might not know you can get fairly-traded sugar too from Paraguay, available from Trade Aid stores. And it’s organic too, so no nasty pesticides were used. The most obvious way to escape from being caught in the sugar trap is to simply eat more fresh fruit and vegetables! You’ll gradually regain control over your appetite and eventually realise you don’t really need sugar at all — but if you must, try to make it fairly traded. Sweet!

Brown SugarBrown Sugar

Did you know?
A can (330ml) of regular soft drink contains up to 10 teaspoons of sugar.

  • We are the 11th biggest soft-drink consumers in the world.
  • Worldwide, about a billion people are chronically overweight and, on the flip side, a billion are chronically hungry.
  • Ethanol is a sugar-based fuel produced by fermenting cane juice. It is clean burning and can be used to fuel vehicles on its own, or mixed with petrol or diesel. Brazil has saved hundreds of millions of dollars by using ethanol rather than importing fuel, and other countries could do the same.
  • Mauritius in the Indian Ocean generates nearly half its electricity from bagasse (the crushed stalks of the sugar cane plant, after cane juice has been extracted for sugar production), and other countries, including Pacific islands such as Fiji could potentially do the same.

Learn more:
Read the New Internationalist magazine on The Sugar Trap

Take Action:

  • Join Oxfam’s Make Trade Fair campaign
  • Be aware of what you’re eating and where it came from.
  • Encourage others to take notice too.
  • Write to your local supermarket to ask them to stock Fair Trade sugar.

References:

[1] http://live.newint.org/issue363/perilous.htm
[2] http://www.maketradefair.com/en/index.php?file=sugar_pr06.htm
[3] http://live.newint.org/issue363/keynote.htm
[4] http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/1/story.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10414952
[5] http://environment.guardian.co.uk/columnist/story/0,,1932189,00.html

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A version of this article was originally published in JET magazine.

I am a Muslim

Thursday, December 7th, 2006

mosqueIt is a Sunday and I am inside my first ever mosque. Today is a learning day where all the young people gather to learn about their faith. Happy laughing kids run around the corridors and burqa wearing women cook up a mean sausage sizzle. I am greeted by a pākehā woman (also in a burqa) who leads me to a group of teens willing to talk about growing up as Muslims in NZ. Where are all the terrorists, I wonder slightly disappointed by the obvious joy in the mosque. Clearly they are not all into blowing themselves up and abusing women. But I had to find out for sure. What is this thing called Islam?

I talked to three New Zealand teenagers about their life in a largely agnostic/Christian country…

Where are your parents from and have you ever lived in another country?

Salma: Both my parents are Arabian. I grew up in Kuwait; I was born during the Gulf War. I also lived in india and Jordon before moving to NZ.

Did your parents leave because of war?

Salma: They found it hard to live in a country with so much conflict. They came as refugees.

Alam: My parents are from Fiji and I was born here. And lived here till I was 14 before moving to Dubai. We moved there for a chance to live in a Muslim country. Actually the only difference is there are mosques everywhere and you can eat easily because all the meat is halal. (Especially prepared)

Ayeesha: Both my parents are Iraqi and lived there till I was 6 years old. Then we moved to Yemen for a year and then came here. I’ve been here for about 7 years. Iraq is not the most secure place to bring up a child and opportunities are more prolific here.

What are you doing here today?

Salma: We start at about 10 and we have koranic learning. We learn about it and how to read it. The little kids have to learn the alphabet. In the afternoon we have religious studies and the history of Islam.

What are the foundations of Islam?

Salma: In terms of moral guidelines we have the same basis of the 10 commandments. It’s just common sense and what all society is based upon. But in terms of action we have the five pillars of Islam which dictates how we live our lives and the routines we go through every day. For example we have prayer five times a day and fasting once per month.

How do you fit praying five times a day into a normal life?

Ayeesha: We just pray at school. We have a room.

How long does a prayer last?

Alam: Five minutes. But it’s quite good because it keeps you focused. It’s a very good time for reflection and you can go over your own faith.

Do you ever get to sleep in?

Ayeesha: Well you get up and pray and then go back to bed for a sleep in! You can live your life with praying.
Salma: We don’t even think about it. We get raised that way. It’s not forced upon you until puberty but by then it’s just such an entrenched habit that you don’t really think twice about it.

How could you want to get up at 6am to pray?

Ayeesha: It’s a want. I know I will be accounted on this on the day of judgment. I’m pretty religious so I know I’ll be punished in the hereafter.

How do you know this?

Ayeesha: Because it’s written in the Koran.
koran
Does stuff going on overseas affect you?

Ayeesha: We see what other Muslims do overseas and we think they’re going to represent Islam in a bad way and they’re going to make it look bad. If a non Muslim steals something, it’ll be he’s just a thief. But if a Muslim does it, they’re a Muslim thief and they’re distinguished big time. If you have massive numbers of Muslims dying it won’t be mentioned, but if 11 Americans die it’s a huge deal.

Salma: The main thing that people really understand is that the reason why extremists do what they do is it’s not religious. It’s mainly political. In terms of political differences, people turn to religion. At the same time you’ve got cultural factors influencing how you understand religion. We see these people on TV, we understand they don’t mirror our sentiments and our actions but most people don’t see that. They’ve become caricatures now. I think people have to realise that what’s being shown in the media doesn’t represent. It’s in the papers constantly, on the news but those people are not the majority of Muslims. You don’t hear about the rest of us because we just lead normal lives.

Last month national MP Bob Clarkson opened his gob and said “Islam religion-type people’ who wear burqas could be crooks hiding guns. Do you understand why he might have that attitude?

Ayeesha: When you go through an airport, you know they are going to hard core check you. You can’t really say that because they’re wearing a burqa or abaya, they’ll be hiding weapons. They’ve got all this technology to check. They just have to pick it up and use it. You could be hiding a bomb under a jersey. Really it’s just all clothes, not just burqas.

Have you been flying?

Ayeesha: I went to Auckland. I wore my black abaya. They checked me hard core. She checked my bag. I was definitely being checked way more than other girls. It hurts but because of what politicians say and what’s going on, you just have to deal with it.
muslim girl
Could you help me understand why a female body should be covered?

Ayeesha: It’s to do with attraction. If it’s not covered properly then the guy would be attracted and then you’d start dating and it would lead to more problems. If you start off with basic rules and you apply them, you’ll be safe.

What if a woman feels attracted to a man? Would that be bad?

Alam: We have our coverings as well. Most people don’t understand that it was ordered to the women to cover up but before that, the men were ordered to lower their gaze.

Can you be attracted to someone’s personality?

Salma: The thing is we’ve all known each other for a long time so we’re just really good buddies and we don’t think of each other that way. It’s just a good place to come and hang out with like minded people.

How do you meet someone you could love? Do you ever dream of romance?

Alam: All these feelings are normal for human beings and you can’t be blamed for them. What you can be blamed for is how you act on them.

Salma: What people normally do when they want to get married is find someone else in the community who is ready to get married.

Alam: My mother might talk to her mother.

Salma: It’s through the grapevine of the mothers. We all know what’s going on each others lives.

How if you’re not allowed to date. How would you meet your husband?

Ayeesha: You don’t have to date to find a husband. We do talk to guys but you have to know your limits. My parents and I will eventually decide oh this is a good guy for me’ so I’ll sit there and talk to him, try to understand to understand what he knows about Islam. If he’s a good Muslim then he has what I’m looking for in a husband. We’ll get engaged to get to know each other a bit more and eventually we’ll get married. You don’t have to date someone to marry them.

So it’s arranged?

Salma: A lot of people think that arranged marriages are part of Islam. But they’re not. It’s cultural. It isn’t just Islam. Islam doesn’t force you have to arranged marriages; it’s just part of the culture. Just optional.

So falling in love comes later?

Ayeesha: Is he a good Muslim, that’s the first question? Does he pray in the mornings? Some people if they’re not religious, they’ll be like oh it’s so early, screw this, I’ll pray later’. But if they’re deeply religious, they will get up and pray and do the things that Muslims do.

Is it hard to fit in here?

Ayeesha: It was hard for me to grow up in a Muslim society and then move to NZ. There are all the actions of what New Zealanders do, such as going out and having boyfriends. Then there’s me having to apply what I learnt as a young child. It’s very difficult. But things that have made it easier for me are coming to the mosque and doing all the traditions that my parents have taught me. They keep it with them. They like tell me ok you have to pray now, so I do. It’s hard but…

Do you ever feel like an outsider?

Salma: I think you have be very convinced of what you’re believing in. If you’re just living your faith for the sake of it and you don’t really believe in it, you’re just doing it because you have to, it’s not going to be a very successful attempt to assimilate into a culture. If you are very strong in your convictions and you understand why you don’t do it, you can explain it to them. Most people don’t bother you too much about it. A lot of times you can have a normal social life, you know, going to the movies and stuff.

You must hear people talking about boys and going out…

Ayeesha: Of course but I’m very used to it now. But I tell my friends look this is part of my culture, I can’t be with you at this time because you’re going to be drinking or doing drugs and it’s against my religion. Most friends try and understand my religion but others are just like oh that’s so weird, how could you not have a boyfriend’. They say all these things to make you feel bad about yourself but then I realise these aren’t friends.

Are you ever tempted?

Ayeesha: Of course. It’s just the way your hormones work. You can’t really do anything about it. Sometimes I get pressured but my true friends know it’s wrong for me. They’ll do it themselves. Everyone does it and I’m used to it. But I want to stick to what I believe.

Your parents must have done a great job to keep you on track

Ayeesha: I grew up very religious and I competed in Koranic readings. All the centres have competitions for the best readers. I just flew up to the nationals in Auckland. I always enter them. I love doing things like that. It keeps me on track. I got 3rd nationally.

What do you think of kiwi chicks who wear tight jeans and short skirts?

Ayeesha: I’m fine with it. This is their culture. I just do my thing. I’m not against anyone. Deep inside I know it’s wrong for me. You can’t change someone.

Do you know what it’s like to be a Muslim woman in Afghanistan and what’s the difference?

Salma: Most people don’t realise that what you see with regards to Muslim women over there is related to the culture of being an Afghani. It’s a lot more restrictive for them. Ayeesha and I really don’t feel as restricted as people’s impression that we are. We live slightly different lives in that we can’t do some things but we can do other things. But it doesn’t make this huge impact on our lives that most people would believe.

This article was originally written for and published in the October 2006 issue of JET magazine. It is reproduced here with their kind permission.

The confusion between sexuality and liberation

Thursday, December 7th, 2006

Nicole Mathewson

barbiesHand in hand with celebrity worship and the “dumb is cute” motto for women (see my article Stupid Girls) is a sensation identified as “raunch culture”. The concept of “Sex-positive feminism” centers on the idea that sexual freedom is an essential part of women’s freedom. However, while the movement may have started off to create sexual equality, the modern and popularised version is now leading to women being exploited through a false sense of sexual liberation. Sex-positive feminism isn’t a new idea (it was formed in the early 80s), but it is becoming increasingly popular.

An example of raunch culture is the $100 million DVD series “Girls Gone Wild”, (where College-aged girls exploit themselves and each other by performing sexual acts for the camera). Bill Horn, a spokesman for Mantra Films which produces the series argues that women are much more in touch with their sexuality these days, and that women “line up around the block to get in our events.” [1]

This idea that women can now make their own sexual decisions and control their sexuality is challenged by Ariel Levy, author of ‘Female Chauvinist Pigs’. She believes that if people weren’t so uptight in their attitudes surrounding sex (abstinence only education is taught in 80 percent of public schools in the US for example), they wouldn’t need to have such confining and limited shorthand for sexiness.

“Raunchy and liberated are not synonyms. If male chauvinist pigs were men who regarded women as pieces of meat, we would outdo them and be female chauvinist pigs: women who make sex objects of other women and of ourselves.”

So it’s not about suppressing your inner sexiness and confidence, what it IS about is not compromising anything else (i.e. intelligence and dignity) in the process. It’s about being yourself and not exploiting yourself, or other women, for a false sense of empowerment. How is a wet t-shirt contest empowering? Why do women take part? Partly to attract the attention of opposite sex, and partly it seems, because they feel if they don’t, it will tell others that they are uncomfortable and embarrassed about their sexuality.

Ms Levy comments on Playboy Enterprises, a publication that has taken over the world with its merchandise brought mainly by women and girls. “Licensing is going extremely well because of the army of women and girls eager to sport the rabbit logo on their underpants or tank tops or pajamas, as an advertisement for their independence and sass.” playboy logoThat logo is also the emblem of a man (founder Hugh Hefner) who said in 1967: “I do not look for equality between man and woman … I like innocent, affectionate, faithful girls - and plenty of them.” Hefner is now in his 80s and has three official girlfriends, they range in age from 21 to 32 and all are platinum blonde and stick-thin. And these are the women who are going to teach us about liberation?

Even more worrisome is the fact that this kind of mentality isn’t just limited to adult women anymore:

“Gone are the days of voluminous, bulky and cumbersome underwear meant to be worn under layers of clothing. These days underwear has become briefer, bolder and more stylish. There is even underwear to complement different moods you wish to portray: frisky, seductive or mysteriously alluring.”

This advertising blurb isn’t talking about women’s underwear; It’s the way one British company, Jellydeal, introduces the latest trends in underwear for little girls - trends that have also become noticeable in Australian and New Zealand retail outlets for childrenswear. Children can now purchase padded and decorative bras in sizes 6 to 10 under the name of popular brands such as Barbie, Saddle Club, Disney and Bratz.

dolls face“Little girls like pretty things but do they need bras with padding? And should they learn so early that their bodies are for flaunting? More than just another nail in the coffin of childhood, these underwear trends contribute to the premature sexualizing of children with cynical disregard for the consequences,” says Angela Conway Victorian vice president for the Australian Family Association. [2]

Even the majority of popular music on today’s charts is adding to the “if you’ve got it, flaunt it” idea. Groups like the Pussy Cat Dolls give the idea that acting and looking sexually suggestive is beautiful and empowering. The majority of mainstream rap, hip hop and hard rock videos also feature such scantily-clad women. But surely the fact is that it is actually confidence in yourself that creates beauty.

While in the past pop acts like the Spice Girls sometimes dressed skimpily and danced in suggestive ways, they also showed that you didn’t have to have model looks to be beautiful- you could be the girl next door or like sport. They also had their own personalities, and while they were stereotype personalities, it was much more than the bland-cardboard cutouts that are modern groups such as Girls Aloud and the Pussycat Dolls.

Some people may argue that groups like PCD can do what they like - they’re not paid to be role models, they didn’t choose to be. But because of the kind of job they have, they are. It doesn’t help when all forms of media (including advertising and even cartoons) reinforce the image. Even children’s toys are following the trend.

garterRecently a “sexy” pole-dancing kit was been pulled from the toys and games section of a website run by Tesco, Britain’s biggest retailer, after protests from outraged parents. The Peekaboo kit, which includes a “sexy garter”, was sold in the supermarket’s toys and games section. “Unleash the sex kitten inside… simply extend the Peekaboo pole inside the tube, slip on the sexy tunes and away you go!” the blurb reads. [3]

After family campaigners slammed the kit’s status as a toy, Tesco removed it from that area of their site, but denied it was sexually oriented and said it was clearly marked for adult use. “Pole dancing is an increasing exercise craze. This item is for people who want to improve their fitness and have fun at the same time,” a spokesman said.

Bratz’ dolls promote an obsession with shopping, heavy make-up and provocative fashion. Some argue the Bratz phenomenon is no big deal, just toys and clothes with attitude.

However, according to Angela Conway:

“The ambiguities of the Bratz products’ images are creepily reminiscent of the kinds of fantasies and warped perceptions of women and girls so central to pornography,” “Defenders of raunch culture say turning pornographic imagery into a weapon of “girl power” liberates girls and women. But just how powerful will little girls be when, with pelvises thrust forward, they have learned the scripted moves and obsessions of the Bratz dolls, underwear, website and DVDs? They will take on a sexualized language they cannot possibly understand.”

Yes, parents should be responsible for how their kids dress and are allowed to act, but when all the kids are acting in this way (because they all want to fit in and be like each other and the “pretty and successful” girls on TV) it’s harder for parents to stop their kid from joining in. Parents aren’t immune to influence from the media either. They’re led to believe that this is just what kids do and look like these days.

We all believe it, because we’ve allowed media and advertisers to brainwash us into believing it. Real beauty and success comes in the form of being happy and confident with who you are — not from being a stick-thin girl wearing skimpy clothes and participating in wet t-shirt contests.

References:
Sex-positive feminism on Wikipedia

[1] “The rise of raunch culture - Feminists are torn: Is it porn or liberation of women’s sexuality?” By Mackenzie Carpenter, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Wednesday, 12 October 2005

[2] “Young ones won’t be young for long - Stop stealing our daughters’ childhoods for cold commercial gain” By Angela Conway, The Australian, 2 Oct 2006

[3] “Outcry over tots’ pole-dancing kit” by David Braithwaite, Sydney Morning Herald, 27 October 2006

LEARN MORE

TAKE ACTION!

  • Challenge “raunch culture” by not falling for it!
  • Be yourself! If you’re not comfortable dressing or acting a certain way then don’t do it.
  • Live your life with your integrity

Do try some alternative pie

Tuesday, November 21st, 2006

Hannah Newport
doorway to freedom shopIn this age of information (or is it the year of the Rabbit? I forget which) we are inundated with junk. A vast sea of messages and sub-messages. Contrary to Rupert Murdoch’s vision though, our media is not completely conformist. Popping up in the most unexpected places all around the world are little hubs of activism, where a voice outside the mainstream can be found. Mexico, Scotland, Germany, New Zealand… a great many regions of our lovely planet are home to what some like to call these “infoshops”.

So, you’re in New Zealand’s fine city of Wellington, wandering along Cuba. Past the bucket fountain, past the pile of what you really hope is a wet fake-fur hat (shudder), and past the funny man on the corner with his fiddle. Ahead looms a fork in the mall. Well, more of a barely-noticed alley off the side, really. Go on - take the path less travelled!

So, you turned off the beaten track. Welcome to the Left Bank; home to Wellington’s cheapest satay, several small Asian clothes outlets and Oblong, a volunteer-run activist Internet café. Wander yourself on inside, and you might be in for a pleasant surprise. The ever-metamorphing Freedom Shop currently calls Oblong home, and does so with an exciting array of alternative media.

The Freedom Shop started out as a tiny punk-orientated anarchist bookshop on the upper end of Cuba St. It was run by a small collective of a few dedicated souls. Not too much has changed since then really but, with two new locations , some say the atmosphere has become welcoming to a wider audience. The shop has expanded in stock and collective size, however the central ideals remain the same.

A recently re-written Kaupapa of the Freedom Shop emphasises the aim to spread radical information and support DIY anarchist culture, and says “We are fighting for a world free of oppression and coercion. We believe in acting in a manner consistent with our ideals. Therefore, the collective and the shop must be free of domination and discrimination, including but not limited to racism, sexism, homophobia, physical violence and harassment of any kind.
freedom shop inside
The shop is unashamedly an anarchist infocentre, and certainly has an outstanding collection of anarchist literature, but some would also say that it’s about so much more than that: seek and you will find a book on veganism, organic gardening, anti-consumer culture, animal rights, anti-racism, parenting, sexuality, fair trade indigenous rights, feminism, anti-war, how to create your own zine…

Really what the Freedom Shop is, more than anything else, is choice. It’s a place to find information that you wouldn’t find in mainstream outlets.

With the lease for the space coming up for renewal in January 2007, the shape and flavour of the shop in 2007 and beyond lies in question, but there is no doubt that it’s not about to disappear into the stratosphere. Collective members of both The Freedom Shop and Oblong are always plotting and scheming. Plans are brewing to bring something brighter, shinier and more revolutionary than ever to the people of Wellington! And Wellington is not alone in this exciting wave of uber-awesome infoshops. Revolutionary folk in Auckland have been running Cherry Bomb Comics, to provide a place for people to stories and ideas which step outside the status quo, particularly feminist media. Dunedin too joined the bandwagon in 2003, when Black Star Books was born, as an anarchist bookshop and infocentre.

The phenomenon is worldwide. With the help of a little website, some more brief web searching and even old fashioned talking to people, it soon became apparent that countless countries play host to sparkling alternatives like the Freedom Shop. Melbourne, for example, is home to Barricade Books, Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse is resident in Baltimore, while Infoshop Assata can be found in The Netherlands. In Mexico, the San Christo Bal. And so on. Whether you’re in Argentina or Birmingham, the idea infoshops that represent is one of solidarity: Don’t hate the media, become the media! We don’t have to mindlessly swallow the “news” without challenging its inherent bias. Like, why is that soldier called a patriotic hero, and that one a barbaric terrorist? And why are they really killing each other in the first place?
leaflets in freedom shop
Everywhere, people are becoming aware of how mainstream bias subconsciously conditions our perceptions. Sure, every source of information has its bias (spoken like a true post-modernist!). But only with a range of information can we really hope to escape a pre-fabricated opinion. Places like the Freedom Shop offer an alternative, to counter-balance the often patronising, and rarely challenging lullaby that is our western media.

LEARN MORE

TAKE ACTION!

  • Visit The Freedom Shop and Oblong:
    Shop 204B, Left Bank, Cuba Mall
    Wellington
    Ph (04) 3847980
  • Visit Cherry Bomb Comics:
    41 New North Road, Eden Terrace, Auckland
    Phone: (09) 374-4504
  • Visit Black Star Books
    24 Stafford St, Dunedin
  • Make your own zine or pamphlet
  • Challenge your local or national newspaper to print a story about an issue you care about

Stupid Girls?

Wednesday, November 8th, 2006

Nicole Mathewson

clothes dummyApathy and acting stupid in order to be cute has become a full-time occupation for celebrities, and stories about these women have overtaken real news. Even real news shows and publications regularly feature celebrity gossip in their headlines (recent examples include the divorce proceedings of former Beatle Paul McCartney and model Heather Mills, and the arrest of singer George Michael on drug possession). The ad for a new show on C4 - Meaty (Media Entertainment Around Town) - features host Shavaugn Ruakere talking about some of the planets big problems like unrest in the Middle East and dwindling oil supplies, then she suddenly stops and says - “Who cares?!” and beings to ramble on about the excitement of “real” celebrity gossip.

Don’t get me wrong. Four two-minute segments of a show like this every so often isn’t such a bad thing - it’s funny and can be an entertaining way to release stress and stop worrying for a while. The problem is that these shows are everywhere - and many people would choose to watch a “news” show like this instead of a show about what’s really happening in the world. A little apathy is fine - in fact it’s healthy (by preventing stress/anxiety overload - just my theory) - but full time apathy is not. And it’s not just females who are following this kind of news either.

We’re also being bombarded everyday with the idea that we have to look and act a certain way in order to be successful. It’s in advertising, movies, magazines, on TV, in clothing stores, in music videos, and from each other. Sut Jhally’s Dream World documentary explores desire, sex and power in music videos and notes that 90% of videos are made by men. The videos are commercials for artists and what better way to appeal to their prospective audience than by showing them their fantasies? In these fantasies the only purpose of the female gender is to be looked at. While music videos are just that - fantasy - the scary thing is the idea of women being a passive thing to be used and explored for their physical attributes has spilled over into real life.

Celebrity worship and the “cute but dumb” motto are taking over the world. “What happened to the dreams of a girl president - she’s dancing in the video next to 50 cent,” sings pop star Pink in the song “Stupid Girls”. “You don’t have to be stupid to be sexy”, Pink recently asserted in an Oprah show special.

Psychologist Dr Robin Smith says women are abusing and exploiting themselves. Many young women who act “stupid” are actually smart girls whose obsession with imitating celebrities keeps them from being their true selves. “The word for me isn’t stupid girls - it’s lost girls, it’s girls who are being defined by somebody else,” she says.

Actress Reese Witherspoon also went on record saying she was sick of this new trend. “It’s a new movement among young women that it’s cute to be dumb. I have a little girl, and when I see her looking at those [starlets] who are pretending to be dumb, I think that’s [terrible]… Our mothers and our grandmothers and the women that came before us fought so hard to overcome the stereotype of women being not smart enough to vote, not smart enough to [receive] higher education, to have great jobs. And to single-handedly go out in a very public way and say, ‘You know what, I don’t really care about what they achieved. I’m just going be stupid and that’s cute.’ I don’t think it’s a good message for young women.”
girl's eye
Blogger Richard Marcus comments that instead of just a few with gossip columns, the world now has whole cable channels devoted to the doings of the celebrity crowd. “Is there anything wrong with it aside from the obvious that people of dubious talent and abilities are being foisted on us and passed off as gifted? Oops, I think I just stumbled on something there without even noticing.” (1)

One 18 year old female from New Zealand said she watched celebrity news “like every day - thanks to E!” and bought magazines every week. She said it wasn’t the behaviour she was trying to copy, but rather their physical appearance to a certain extent. “I’m a fashion fanatic so I have to be up with the trends!” The idea of getting the inside scoop on exciting celebrity lives was also appealing to her. “I just think I have a sorry excuse for a life so its kinda funny and interesting knowing about someone else’s.”

Another 18 year old female, this time from Australia, said she also read or watched celebrity news almost everyday. “Mostly on websites that take the piss out of celebrities. I also read some of the magazines for a laugh.” She said she did not compare herself to celebrities, but believed the world had gone celebrity crazy. ” All this attention on people like Paris Hilton who do nothing. Her grandfather is rich so we should care what her dog is wearing? I don’t think so. There are people out there everyday that work to make the world better or they are trying to find a cure for cancer etc but all anyone cares about is how skinny Nicole Richie is.”

The obsession with celebrity and appearance is having a detrimental effect worldwide. Websites promoting and teaching pro-anorexia philosophies have popped up all over the internet. Anorexia nervosa is a psychiatric disorder affecting around three in every 1000 females. It is considered the most lethal of all mental illnesses, killing one in five sufferers from starvation, organ failure, or suicide, and affects people as young as eight. “Pro-ana” websites share photos of scarily thin models and celebrities for ‘thinspiration’. The websites include tips and tricks on extreme fasting and exercise. Some even advertise accessories such as bracelets for users to snap against their wrists to remind themselves not to eat.

In the United States the number of eating disorder sufferers has more than doubled since the 1960s, according to the Washington-based American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, with an estimated 10 million females and 1 million males affected by anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating and other eating disorders. Forty-seven percent of U.S. females from fifth to 12th grade say they want to lose weight because of magazine pictures and 60 percent say magazines influence their ideas of desirable body types, according to the Philadelphia-based Renfrew Center Foundation. However the scary thing is that those images being portrayed in these magazines are completely unrealistic, airbrushed and manipulated. People don’t naturally look that way - it’s crazy to make them even try.(2)
putting on make up
It’s not just weight control that’s getting out of hand - darker skinned women are bleaching their skin to be what they think is “more attractive”. Health officials in Jamaica believe the practice dates back decades, but has increased significantly over the last five to ten years. The practice is encouraged by numerous reggae songs, including the early 1990’s hit “Dem a Bleach” by Nardo Ranks. “There’s a large segment of our population who are convinced that being lighter in complexion is to their advantage, socially, in terms of their relationships and economically, in terms of getting ahead,” says dermatologist Dr Clive Anderson. (3)

Asian women are also affected, but the practice relates more to being associated with the upper classes, female virtue and spiritual refinement, than celebrity imitation. One woman commented on Feministing.com - “A quick look at the popular Hong Kong actresses of any generation will show you that they are all overwhelmingly pale, with only one or two token dark-skinned actresses allowed per generation. It’s part of the virgin/whore dichotomy: pale-skinned skinny models and actresses are put on pedestals and given highly paid contracts and starring roles, while dark-skinned buxom actresses are marginalized into playing “bad girl” roles or porn.”

One man commented on a Guardian (UK newspaper) story about how females are allowing this kind of culture to continue by buying the gossip magazines and similar. “If you don’t like it then don’t buy it!” He said. And he’s right. By buying, reading and watching this kind of popular culture we’re letting ourselves be bullied, manipulated and pressured. Regardless of what other people might be telling you, acting dumb and refusing to reach your full potential will not get you respect - and is certainly not sexy! The obsession with celebrity is making us forget the real issues and forget our real selves.

References:
(1) Celebrity Worship And The Death Of Critical Thinking by Richard Marcus
(2) Fashion World Says Too Thin Is Too Hazardous By Juliette Terzieff
(3) The Skin Bleaching Phenomenon by Merrick A. Andrew

LEARN MORE

  • Read The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. Read this review.
  • Watch/Read the “Stupid Girls” episode with Pink on Oprah.com
  • Watch DreamWorlds (available from the Global Education Centre library).

TAKE ACTION!

  • Challenge the “sexy but dumb” motto
  • Encourage people to be themselves and have confidence
  • Start your own anti-anorexia and anti-celebrity obsession websites/articles/blogs etc.