Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Positive Pick: Communities working together

My positive picks are usually focused on particular products, websites or companies. But today I wanted to share the positive impact of members of a community coming together.  When we stand together, we are more often heard. And even when our message is ignored, it is heard, and when we stand together, we gain strength.

This past week has been a strange one for my local community of Abilene, Texas. A young woman who is from the area was selected to pose in an adult magazine in what has been described by the local newspaper as “nearly nude” poses. As an adult woman, she has the right to do so and nobody that I heard in the community said anything unkind about this young woman. However, many were annoyed that the local Books-A-Million in the Mall of Abilene had chosen to host the signing. There are places that seem much more appropriate for the signing of an adult magazine, such as an adult bookstore or even a lively bar where all of the customers who are in the venue are actually legally allowed to view the materials being signed. Books-A-Million is a store with a large children’s section that many local families frequent, and the signing was held from 7-9pm, hardly past the bedtime of many children. The point is that adult magazines are regulated materials that are not usually spread open on a table for anyone to see when they walk by.

No, I’m not afraid of children learning about sex and sexuality. As I’ve said in many posts before, sexuality should be seen as a beautiful and healthy part of one’s identity. But healthy sexuality involves mutuality, relationships, and emotions. Adult magazines focus on women as objects of desire, pure and simple. That is not the way to teach healthy sexuality to young people. If you’d like to read more about the dangers of objectification, see the posts in the Exploring Objectification series.

I’m not sure of the number of people who called the local bookstore and emailed or called the corporate office. While they did take names and contact information, Books-A-Million told me they had gotten a “rather large response” but were not allowed to share how many complaints they had gotten asking that the magazine signing be moved elsewhere. However, I received many, many messages from people who did call or email both the local store and the corporate headquarters.

Given that feedback from their customers, many from the city of Abilene itself, Books-A-Million continued with the signing and not one person who complained received any kind of response. If the corporate office had said to us, “Listen, we think it’s very healthy to openly display adult magazines where anyone can see it and we will do so,” then at least we would have felt that we had been acknowledged. But instead, Books-A-Million chose to host the signing, ignoring a large number of clients. The headline in the local paper said that “Dozens” turned out to meet this young woman. Dozens? The report in the paper said approximately 150 people had turned up to get their magazines signed. I can guarantee you that at least that number of people either wrote in or called Books-A-Million asking that the signing be moved elsewhere. So, in the end, the store and company may come out even. But will the slighted customers return? Will those who complained and got ABSOLUTELY NO response want to spend their money there in the future? Will those 150 people who came just for the magazine signing make up for the loss of good will from the other customers? I guess Books-A-Million will have to wait and see.

So, it’s been a strange week in our community. Those of us who want to promote the idea that girls and women are more than objects to be desired by men have had a hard time of it. We’ve generally been depicted as prudish housewives out to get this poor young woman. That can’t be farther from the truth. In fact, I wish this young woman the best in her life. I hope that as she is growing and learning about who she is, she will be assured of the fact that she is more than what she looks like. I hope that deep in her heart she knows that a pretty smile and beautiful body are not who she is, that she is so much more than that. And I hope that for all of our girls and women. The local promotion of this young woman as a celebrity because she posed nearly naked does not promote the ideas that girls and women are more than what they look like, that they are more than their sex appeal.

The local media coverage of this has made me sad. Did they give this much coverage to the young woman who went to MIT? How about those girls who are doing service projects all around our community and the world? The women’s university soccer team who made it to nationals? No, I don’t see them being interviewed.

But here is my positive spin, there is a community of people here who did chose to stand together in this and speak up. Even when I feel frustrated with the way others in our community see this issue, I’m comforted by knowing that we did stand up. There is power in that. There is strength in that which is much stronger than the prevailing “who cares” that we get from much of the area on many, many issues.  I hope that we take something powerful away from this, even though nothing changed immediately. I hope that we remember that we must stand for something, that life is not about living it with your head in the sand and a “who cares” on your lips. Those attitudes do not change the world. People have scoffed at all of those who have dared to stand up and say, “This world can be a better place,” from Martin Luther King to those fighting for women’s right to vote. It’s easy to stand on the side of the road and scoff at those who want to make changes. It’s easy to say, “who cares”, “no big deal”, “live and let live.” It’s much harder to get out there and stand up for what you believe is right. That’s what our community did, and we will make a difference. Small groups of people who are passionate about changing the world are the only ones who ever have.

2 comments on “Positive Pick: Communities working together

  1. Naomi
    November 19, 2011

    It is wonderful when communities come together like this and support a cause. It is good to see passion in people and standing up for what they believe in.

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      November 21, 2011

      Thanks, Naomi. I love the way the internet also allows people from all over the world to come together and support each other.

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