For years, the nuns went overboard when it came to sins of the flesh. This is a fact boldly recreated in the hit film “Philomena” which, though heartbreaking, isn’t nearly as wrenching as the book. This peek back at the 1950s and its rigid rules can’t help but make you grateful for today.
And I am grateful for today, most days.
But last week I watched the Grammy Awards and saw Beyonce, a superstar who five years ago sang “At Last” for the president of the United States at his inaugural ball, an amazingly talented woman who brought down the house. But now she was barely clothed, straddling a chair, gyrating and moaning and singing about getting drunk and having sex.
Then on walked her husband, Jay Z, dressed in a black-spotted tuxedo, to perform with her. And they were singing “Drunk in Love.” But the lyrics were crude and there was no love in the song, no love in the dance, no love anywhere. And I wanted to scream and cry because I knew an 11-year-old was watching, and I love that 11-year-old and I don’t want her thinking that growing up means growing into this.
There’s a lot to lament about this country right now. A war without end. Shootings every day. One in seven of us on food stamps. Public schools that continue to fail. Homelessness. Hopelessness. But this is lamentable, too, this sad, pervasive dehumanization of women.
All the men on the Grammys performed in clothes that covered their bodies. The women performed in clothes that revealed theirs. Why? Is this because even these multitalented, successful, popular, top-of-their-game professionals value what they look like more than what they sound like and who they are?
I lived through the 1950s and the sexual oppression of the Philomena days, then the 1960s and 1970s, when the world changed. Women said, “We are not subservient. We are equal.” Women shunned beauty salons and makeup, insisting that men — that the world — look at them, not at their bodies. Adamant, strident, determined women burned their bras and let their hair down and declared we are not Donna Reed and we are not Barbie dolls.
And everything began to change. At home. In the workplace.
But now? After all this change, there has been no change. Now, more than half a century after women’s so-called liberation, women are more subservient than ever.
Sure, we work at the same jobs that the men do, but for less money. And we can have babies minus a husband anytime and nobody blinks. But we better look good while working these jobs and having those babies, we better stay young and toned and buffed and above all thin and sexy, because if we don’t, if we don’t look like all the young and toned and buffed and thin and sexy people we see on TV, we’ve failed.
Sixteen-year-olds get breast implants, and 60-year-olds get face lifts. And there’s Botox for all the years in between. This is life for girls and women today.
There’s a one-minute clip on youtube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zKfF40jeCA) which shows a pretty little girl being bombarded with images of what pretty’s supposed to look like. It’s wrenching.
I have granddaughters, four beautiful girls who don’t yet know that no matter how smart or funny they are, no matter how caring they might be, no matter how they excel at sports or science or baking cookies, no matter if they grow up and find a cure for cancer, looking great and staying young will count for more.
But I know. And it kills me.