Book Review: The Beauty Suit – How My Year of Religious Modesty Made me a Better Feminist by Lauren Shields

41zMxUQgBZL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_As women, we’re constantly bombarded by society to look younger, stay slim, have blemish free skin and frizz free hair.

Social media hasn’t helped us out at all – fashion bloggers are constantly reminding us we need to have our eye lashes filled, our eyebrows microbladed, our skin freshly spray tanned and that last week’s top we bought from the clearance rack is already out of style.

Superficiality is consuming western society and in The Beauty Suit, Lauren Shields argues that women are being told that our worth is defined by our looks and even though the measurement of our hemline is supposed to liberate us, it actually can stifle our path to empowerment.

So she set out to do an experiment – for nine months out of her life, she was shedding “The Suit” as she calls it, and dressing modestly. No make-up, no heals and no blow-outs – Sheilds decided to take inspiration from American Muslim women who wear a hijab for feminist reasons and see how dressing modestly affected her life and how people treated her.

This was a fascinating read and one that most women will relate to. The first time Sheilds goes out in public without make-up, she’s mortified to show her bare face in public. Will someone ask her if she feels alright? Are people noticing the blemishes on her face? What women who wears make-up on a daily basis hasn’t felt that way?

She noticed that men stopped paying attention to her when she’d go out with her friends, preferring someone who looked like they “made an effort.” People asked her if she was a nun. As she documented her experiment for Salon, fellow feminists criticized her saying she was trying to dictate how other women dressed.

Her entire experiment is coupled with the way religion views modesty, so there is quite a bit of historical context throughout as well as a lot of feminist exploration of the patriarchy, toxic masculinity, slut shaming and victim blaming.

However, Shields focuses so much on how women do all these things to please men, but she never really addresses the idea that women put on a full face of make-up for other women. I would have to agree that at first, women try to look their best to catch a mate, but once our significant other has seen us barefaced and naked, we don’t care so much about always looking attractive for them. Instead, we put on “The Suit” because we’re constantly scrutinizing – and judging – how other women look and we know they’re doing the same to us.

(If you’re a woman and you’re reading this saying “I’d never do that” then I’d have to call B.S. on you because ALL women have done this at least once in their life.)

I personally would have liked a little more about what she was feeling and how people were reacting to her experiment versus the heavy focus on feminism and religion but overall, this is an intriguing read and a challenge to women to look past the materialistic facets of our lives and start embracing that “life’s too short to keep cramming ourselves into a costume that tells us we’re secondary in the world.”

Book Review: Flyover Nation – You Can’t Run a Country You’ve Never Been To

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Flyover Nation: You Can’t Run a Country You’ve Never Been To
By Dana Loesch

I discovered Dana Loesch’s radio show some time last year. I’m not sure how – maybe it was a re-tweet from someone else I follow or I simply left my radio dial set to WIBC after listening to the Chicks on the Right show the previous day. I read her first book, Hands off My Gun, last fall and try to catch a little of her show each day on my lunch hour. Some might find her personality too tough or in-your-face, but her stances on the Second Amendment, abortion and individual freedoms granted by the Constitution resonate very deeply with my own beliefs and as a female millennial surrounded by peers who veer to the left, I love listening to a strong female conservative standing up for the same things I hold near and dear to my heart.

Dana’s latest book, Flyover Nation: You Can’t Run a Country You’ve Never Been To, pretty perfectly sums up the state our nation is in right now. There’s a great divide between how those of us in the heartland and those who live in the coastal regions view the issues affecting our culture today. If you grew up in the rural areas of a flyover state (a state most people only view by air but never actually visit) you probably went to church every Sunday, learned how to drive a tractor before a car, have a family member who served in the armed forces and know how to shoot a gun. Communities are small. Everybody knows everybody and people are willing to pitch in to help each other out. Neighbors share fruits and vegetables from their gardens and look out for one another in times of need.

Nearly every important issue currently affecting our nation is covered in Flyover Nation. Dana touches on gun control, the Black Lives Matter movement, feminism, equality and explains how each topic differs from the coastal’s point-of-view. A lot of the content is autobiographical and very personal but the subjects covered are also balanced out with research and facts (the sources can be found at the end of the book and are broken down chapter by chapter, which is very helpful).

The most interesting chapter, in my opinion, was Dana’s chapter on feminism and equality, which was one of the most personal parts of the book. After being raised Democrat and actively participating in third-wave feminism, the birth of her son completely changed her perspective on the movement:

“Up to this point I had spent my time making him, the male sex, the enemy. I had helped create a culture that was growing in hostility toward the male sex…Things that I supported were harmful to his well-being. Suddenly my long-held ideology and the reality of my circumstances collided: How could I continue railing against the travesties of the patriarchy, how could I continue my campaign against men, when here in my arms lay a boy, a boy whom his father and I
were to raise into a 
man?”

Throughout the rest of the book, I laughed (especially when she quoted a family member as saying “warsh” instead of “wash” – members of my family do the same), smiled and nodded in agreement. People in big cities and on the coast may not understand our way of life or values here in the rural heartland but they’re worth fighting for and preserving. In Flyover Nation, Dana hits on a lot of issues affecting culture today and each chapter is just a brief overview of out of touch the progressive movement is with the values of many of the people who live in flyover.

One thing that I would have liked to have seen addressed in the book is how coastal thinking is creeping in to the heartland and how it may impact the political climate of the future. In the 2008 Presidential Election,  my home state of Indiana went blue – it stunned everyone because traditionally Indiana ALWAYS goes red. Then in the Democratic Primary this May, Bernie Sanders beat out Hillary Clinton in a surprise win. There’s a definite shift happening in the heartland so touching on this topic would have been an interesting addition to the book. Maybe a future topic?

Overall, Flyover Nation is a solid book that feels very personal and really hits home. It didn’t tell me a whole lot that I didn’t already know but hopefully it will make some waves and change some minds with on the other side of the aisle.

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Thanks to Dana for visiting Indy on July 8th & signing copies of Flyover Nation!

 

Grey Issues: A Look at “Fifty Shades of Grey”

Grey Issues: A Look at “Fifty Shades of Grey”

In 2011, British novelist E.L. James wrote an erotica Twilight fan fiction series originally titled Master of the Universe. Later, the story was re-worked, self published and released in Australia as an e-book under its new name, Fifty Shades of Grey. The story went viral and was eventually picked up by a division of Random House, printed and released in 2012 in paperback format.

Housewives went nuts over the steamy romance between Christian Grey and Ana Steele, causing some people to dub the series “mommy porn.” E.L. James eventually went on to outsell J.K. Rowling in the UK and in the US, the series flew off library and bookstore shelves. And it wasn’t long before Hollywood came calling, turning Fifty Shades of Grey into one of the most anticipated movies of 2015.

Instead of critically reviewing the movie (and to be honest, there’s nothing good to say about film anyway), let’s look at the deeper issues surrounding the overall arching theme of the books and the movie: the alarming relationship between its main characters and how its portrayal of the treatment of women is a step back for feminism.

To put it mildly, Christian Grey is a control freak. As his submissive, Ana Steele is to sign a contract and follow set rules for her behavior during the course of their “relationship.” It is not a romantic, sweep you off your feet with candy and roses type of agreement – Ana must agree to let Christian exercise control in all things. What she eats, who her doctor is, how much she weighs, who she spends her time with and what kind of car she drives all have to be approved by Mr. Grey. The list in the book is much more intense, but you get the idea.

The control does not stop there, but extends to the bedroom (a.k.a. The Red Room of Pain). Everything revolves around Christian’s sexual desires, needs and what gives him pleasure. And that includes stripping Ana down to nothing, blindfolding her, tying her up or hanging her from the ceiling and basically beating her with various whips, chains, and floggers until he is sexually satisfied. There’s no love, only carnal desire to dominate.

Ana is not allowed to touch Christian, look at him, bite her lip or even sleep in a bed with him after their activities in the Red Room of Pain are over. In fact, the contract states she’s only to stay over on weekends when he “needs” her. In exchange, they get a “date” once in a while where they go to the movies or fly in a plane over Seattle, which seems like a small reward in exchange for what Ana provides to him.

To be fair, Ana does consent to the various activities so it’s not like she’s being held hostage, but it’s still very sickening that so many women are reading/watching this kind of behavior and thinking it’s OK or that they want a man just like Christian Grey.

And what’s worse is women have fought so long and hard for equality and a voice in society, that to be glorifying a relationship where a woman can’t even so much as eat a hamburger if it’s not on a list of approved dietary foods is beyond sad and a step back for all of us.

Fifty Shades of Grey also portrays sexual violence against women as something steamy or desirable, when in reality it’s something far from that. And for a movie like this to come at a time when rape and sexual violence against women is such a hot topic in the media, it’s even more puzzling that women are flocking to a film that makes it seem OK for someone’s husband/lover/partner to beat them black and blue if he’s enjoying it. That’s a message that no one should get behind whether the story is fictional or not.

Relationships are complicated, messy and bring people from all backgrounds and walks of life together. None of them are perfect, but they should be built on love and respect for one another, not dominance and control. The idea that you can take a sick and violent man like Christian Grey and tame him for the better is dangerous and detrimental to women who might be in non-consensual domestic abuse situations similar to the relationship portrayed in Fifty Shades of Grey.

Many probably won’t care to think about the film critically and will choose to shrug off the disturbing and underlying themes as fiction or fantasy but we SHOULD care when anyone, especially women, are being portrayed in such a degrading manner in popular culture. Here’s a thought: instead of wasting $10.50 on a movie ticket to see Fifty Shades of Grey this weekend, donate it to a battered women’s shelter or similar charity where it will actually do some good.