No Peace Until Women Are Free

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Unpopular opinion: Christmas cards are the absolute worst. My favorite winter tradition is filling trash cans with pictures of friends and relatives grinning over their red and green turtlenecks, Joy To The World scrawled in Comic Sans, and of course the annual bombardment of psalms. I thought I had seen the worst of these unsolicited rectangles of holiday cheer when I made the mistake of checking Facebook.

“Finally, Peace on Earth!” captioned a Christmas card photo depicting the young women of the family bound with fairy lights and gagged with festive duct tape in front of their grinning father and little brother. Now, I am aware that my scroogey stance against all Christmas cards is not for everyone, but I hoped we would all agree that this specific Christmas card is the absolute worst.

As usual, my hopes were crushed by internet commenters. A worrying amount of people defended the photo, and these valiant crusaders for freedom reminded  “the PC world” that “it’s a free country,” and to “stop being such pussies!”     

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A taste of the ignorance that plagued the photo’s comments. Of course, there were a handful of people who saw the photo for what it was and vocalized their opinion, but they were a minority.

I noticed that a lot of these commenters insisted that since the women supposedly posed out of their own volition, the picture in question is impervious to feminist critique. An uncomfortable similarity between the anti-feminists and the liberal feminists is their shared ideology that if a woman chooses to do xyz, then xyz is not misogynistic. The problem with this logic is that choice doesn’t happen in a bubble. Choices are influenced by social, cultural, and political forces. So, would the girls still participate in this photo if they didn’t live in a culture that grooms women to believe their degradation is normal and comical? I doubt it.

Archaic cultural attitudes normalize images that make light of female subjugation. The image in question is a visual representation of “ladies should be seen and not heard.” It is inspired and justified by the idea that women are frivolous creatures who talk too much, and one of the many rights of men is to silence those annoying women. At best, the photo plays off the immature and harmful boys vs. girls cliche. At worst, it epitomizes so-called “Republican family values.”

I scrolled through the Facebook page of the photographer Hannah Hawkes, hoping to find an apology or at least an explanation for the photo. Hawkes’s statement addressing the controversy was inadequate, to say the least. She tried (and failed) to access feminist rhetoric by framing herself as the one who is truly being silenced. The most relevant argument she conjured up is that due to her femaleness, she could never perpetuate the systematic degradation of women.

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Let’s rewind a little bit. One of those social, cultural, and political forces that can influence a woman’s choice is sexism. Women who grow up in an anti-feminist culture often internalize their oppression, and unwittingly perpetuate the hatred of women. Therefore, the phenomenon of internalized misogyny means the photographer’s status as a female has nothing to do with whether or not the picture she took is offensive.

But wait! Silly me, she said it was supposed to be funny. Misogyny is okay as long as it makes you laugh, right? Wrong. I want to know what’s so funny about women being forcibly shut up in the name of “peace on earth.” I want to know what makes female oppression so amusing. I want to know how people can laugh off a picture that is so clearly a direct reflection of sexist ideals.

Most importantly, I want people to realize that choice and femaleness aren’t get out of jail free cards when it comes to perpetuating the systematic oppression of a patriarchal society. The first step to becoming politically aware is to think critically about what we think is funny and normal, regardless of how we were raised and our status in society, especially if it makes us uncomfortable.

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