In light of the fantastic response to my last article “I’ve a Feeling We’re Not in Kansas Anymore” I decided to write a follow up piece. My colleague, Pat McGann from Men Can Stop Rape, commented that he had written a piece about how the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion are actually counter stories to societies definition of masculinity (no brain, no heart, no courage). I started thinking more about the characters in the Wizard of Oz as metaphors for issues like gender, power and oppression.
Throughout the movie, we are told that in order to get what we want, we must go see the “great and powerful Oz”. It is the Wizard that has all of the power. He is the gatekeeper. He can provide the Scarecrow with a brain, the Tin Man with a heart, the Lion with courage, and above all else he can get Dorothy back to Kansas if he feels like it. Once they reach Oz, he quickly demonstrates his power by refusing to see them and then by declining to help them unless they bring him the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West (a daunting and seemingly impossible task).
Overcoming great odds, and a gaggle of flying monkeys, the 4 travelers return to the Emerald City with the broomstick. This time around, Oz tries to turn them away by using intimidation and fear. Take a look:
The Wizard represents power. In our culture that translates to wealthy, white, straight, Christian men (the power elite) since it is generally wealthy, white, straight, Christian men who are the “decision makers” in America. That has not changed much since our country was formed. The Wizard wields his power in order to maintain control over others (refusing to see the travelers) or to gain more power (obtaining the broomstick) in the same way that the power elite have done for decades. If you need examples, how about slavery, denying women the right to vote, the ban on gay marriage, “golden parachutes” for corrupt CEOs, and even the whole concept of being “one nation, under God”. Of course these are the ones you can’t miss, but isn’t it reasonable to think that there are smaller, less noticeable things that also serve the power elite at the expense of the “have nots”? How about Capitalism? On paper it seems like a good idea, but in practice it’s a system that makes the rich get richer often at the expense of everyone else.
This is what brings me back to the sexy Halloween costumes. Not only do these costumes sexualize and objectify women for the pleasure of straight men, they also put more money in the pockets of the CEOs of the companies that make them. Each time we purchase on of these costumes, we support the current social power structure because the power elite are making money at the expense of women. To back this claim up, I did my homework. Let me lay it out for you as best I can. Spirit Halloween is owned by Spencer Gifts (another company known for selling products that sexualize and objectify women). Spencer Gifts is owned by ACON Investments which was co-founded by Bernard Aronson (ACON also owns Mariner Energy, which was purchased in the aftermath of Enron and since it’s inception in 1995 has managed over $1.5 billion in investments). In addition to his work with ACON, Aronson currently serves on the Board of Directors for Liz Claiborne, Royal Caribbean, and the Global Hyatt Corporation and has strong ties in the political world. In fact, he once served on the White House Staff as Deputy Assistant to the Vice President (1977-1981) and as the Director of Policy for the Democratic National Committee (1981-1983). He also serves on the board forth Democratic National Institute. Make no mistake, this guy is a heavy hitter and has a tremendous amount of power and influence. We must pay attention to the man behind the curtain for it is he that is shaping the world we live in. He only has power if we continue to grant it to him. Like the wizard, power is often an illusion that we help create and proliferate.
Of course it is not only his fault. After all, this is a Capitalist society. People will only sell what others will buy. Some will say that if women don’t want to be objectified or sexualized, then they shouldn’t buy or wear the costumes. I agree with that to a certain (small) extent. However it becomes problematic when you realize how very few options there are for women. Nearly everything is intended to be sexy. Also I’d like to point out, as I did in the last article, that you have to look at what would motivate women to buy and wear these costumes. For many I have to think that being sexy is one of the few ways women are granted any power by men. So should women give up the small amount of power they have? Or is the better solution for men (particularly those that are white, straight and Christian) to be more willing to share the tremendous amount of power we have by building equality for everyone.
It seems obvious that the latter is the only viable option if our goal is to create equality. If we can agree on that, then why can’t men agree to do it? Why is it so hard for men to share the power that we have? Is it that we don’t know how or don’t feel safe doing it? If you think about it, the power we have is not something we earned. It was granted to us at birth. It has been passed down through history from father to son. To break the cycle, all it would take is a generation or two of men who believe in equality for all to teach their sons differently. All it would take is to tell our sons things like “pink is just a color”, “it’s OK to cry when you are upset”, “solve problems with your brain, not your fist” and “regardless of our differences, we are all just people.” Small changes bring about big changes.
I wanted to leave you with something a little different this time. I came across two great videos on Facebook the other day. I did not intend to make them a part of this blog, but when I blog, I let the article write itself. Sometimes, I end up in unintended places. I hope you can appreciate that. Anyhow, the first video was created by a teenager from a teenager’s perspective. While it isn’t about preventing violence or building equality, I think it captures what is at the core of my message – doing something to make change happen. Here it is:
The second speaks to the things that we, as adults, pass along to our children. This one is about the things we pass on to children. It is from Child Friendly Australia and it is a little hard to watch, but very powerful. Take a look:
Thanks for reading. Please feel free to share your thoughts.