Saturday, February 15, 2014

Flying Solo at Midlife...Revisiting the Conversation

It’s the season of love, and once again, despite a gap in posts on Got Midlife, I felt inspired to post something amidst the barrage of flowers, chocolates and all things hearts. My source of inspiration? A colleague of mine who read last year’s post on “Ho-hum…Just Another Valentine’s Day” asked me if things had changed since then. Indeed, they had, so I thought it worthwhile to provide an “update.”

Over the year, my status as a single midlifer has remained the same: single. And the journey has also remained as amusing and interesting to me as ever…but not everyone finds singlehood as intriguing. In fact, for many single midlifers this status serves as a source of stigma, depression and isolation. And for those who have the experience of a recent breakup, the transition to singlehood feels doubly tough.

 Many of us hurl ourselves back into the dating world, coupling with people we probably wouldn’t have were it not for the fact that going back to being single seems so much harder…and lonelier. Speaking for myself, it’s taken several years to get that ‘ol feeling back – that “I know who I am now and I’m totally okay with being single again.” I make no apologies for not having a boyfriend/ husband and I have to admit that it makes me smile deep down inside when people seem baffled that I could be as happy without a partner.
So, what insight did I gain over the year to bring me to a better state of mind? A couple of things…

LESSON 1 – Know the difference between “loneliness” and “solitude"

I’ve been mulling this dichotomy over for a number of months now – loneliness versus solitude – what’s the difference? I’ve realized that it comes down to how we choose to live.
“Loneliness is marked by a sense of isolation. Solitude, on the other hand, is a state of being alone without being lonely and can lead to self-awareness.” 1
Essentially, loneliness reflects the negative qualities to being solo – a sense of isolation, the feeling like something’s missing. Solitude on the other hand is more positive – it’s about being alone but with a state of mind where one feels contentment either with others or by yourself.

The key here is connection: to yourself and to others. People who live in solitude have a life rich with relationships – not necessarily intimate ones, but instead deeply emotionally connected ones. They give love and receive love by the people in their lives. They are emotionally nourished. Over the past year, I have come to understand and embrace solitude, and thus, seldom feel “alone.”

LESSON 2: Be in it for the right reasons…

The feelings of loneliness can sometimes urge us to do things that aren’t necessarily good for us. For example, trying to make a relationship work even though you know deep down, this is not going last; or tolerating bad behavior when you know you should leave.

For whatever the reason, when we’ve been single for too long we tend to put on our rosy-colored glasses and pretend that everything is okay when it's not. We might overlook some troublesome statements or behavior. But most of all, we tend to convince ourselves maybe it’s better to be in something than nothing at all. Whatever the rationale, the truth is we’re in that relationship because of fear, not love.
Over the years, I’ve learned how my fear of being alone has served as a strong catalyst to making me tolerate all sorts of bad relationships. But over the year, I’ve finally understood its nature… and I’ve worked harder to not only take my power back, but to give myself permission to wait for the right relationship – to not settle on someone due to fear, but to wait…to wait for love.

LESSON 3: Know yourself better...

Because I’m clearer now about who I am, I am also clearer about the type of partnership that I want. This has had, of course, a chilling effect on my dating pool, lol - not because there aren’t good guys out there to date. It’s just that who they are and who I am isn’t necessarily a good fit. And that’s really okay for me.

As a midlifer, I have perspective now – and if you’re a midlifer reading this, you know what I mean by that. I’m no longer interested in repeating my past mistakes. Time has given me the gift of reflection, so I’ve been able to use that as a way of knowing me. I’ve done more soul searching and understand what it is I bring to a relationship and what I need to work on. I've gained insight about what's worked and what didn't work in my previous relationships.
The point is when we understand ourselves, we change the way we do relationships. We can avoid repeating unhealthy relationship patterns of the past, and foster strong and loving bonds with our partners. But that's only possible when you are the best expert on you.

LESSON 4: Find your soul mate… in you.

One of the things that happens when you choose solitude is that you also start to devote more energy to developing you – yes, me, myself and I. And as I started doing more things to get reacquainted with myself, I discovered things about myself that I liked…and loved!
It is essential for us to have a loving relationship with our selves. What I mean here is that we show loving kindness towards ourselves just as we would towards an intimate partner. Likewise that we forgive ourselves whenever we make mistakes. These qualities are also known as self-compassion and it should come as no surprise that people with high levels of self-compassion experience life more positively, they are indeed happier.2  

So what does this mean?  As Dr. Brene Brown has so astutely observed, “you can’t love others more than you love yourself.” 3  For me, it’s made me rethink my definitions for soul mates and true love - that’s there’s a sense of inner love required here as well. I used to wish on the first evening stars and shooting stars and say I wish for “true love.” The day that I finally realized that true love was me was the day that I realized that my wish had been fulfilled.

All in all, the year has been plentiful with love and connection... I guess I've been celebrating Valentine's Day all along?

P.S. - Thank you DocLo for rebooting the conversation on this


3. Dr. Brene Brown, “The Power of Vulnerability”

yvonneberenguer (c) 2014

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Leaning into the journey...

Whew. Since my last post, the past few months have felt like a whirlwind. Work afforded me more special projects on top of my regular responsibilities. My son’s first year in high school brought added busy-ness when baseball season hit. I had to start taking more drastic steps to deal with an aggravating knee problem – which finally got diagnosed as tendonitis. I started working on a new workshop about building contentment in one’s life … AND then, somewhere in the middle of all of this, we moved!

Yes, as if life weren’t stressful enough, we had to move in the middle of the school semester. Thankfully, we were blessed to find a reasonably-priced home in a decent neighborhood, but this cute little fixer-upper ended up needing more fixing in the beginning of our move than anticipated – more unexpected change.

On many occasions, I reminded myself that this was just temporary...taking comfort in the fact that the pain associated with change eventually passes. But there were plenty of times when the pressure of managing it all had reached a boiling point, and I really was feeling overwhelmed. Despite being a general optimist in life, reality was reminding me that this is oftentimes easier said than done…thus, when life takes you through rough patches, the real test is “are you who you say you are?”

SO, here was the universe, taunting me: “Ok, lady who likes to live with a positive attitude that everything will be alright…let’s see how well you walk the talk. Let’s see how your new found ideas about building contentment are supposed to work now?” (universal sarcasm)

Shit…I had no answer…it was a humbling process indeed, but a much needed one. What I thought I knew as some “helpful” tools to help deal with life’s challenges, turned out to be recognition that I really didn’t know how to put them into play when I needed them to. However, with lots of reflection and soul searching I came to realize a couple of things:

(1)  Many people have a lot to offer in terms of wisdom, advice, living strategies or tools – just look at all the self-help books and popular psychology books out there. Everyone has an idea about “what works.” But only you can determine which belief or system resonates strongly for you…there is no singularity of “truth” on how to be or how to live your life. How you choose to live it is as unique as the individual heart and soul.

(2)  We all think we know how things are supposed to work, but the real adventure in life is the not knowing. So many times when life deals us a strange set of circumstances, it’s easy to become anxious or resistant to seeing where things will go because we want a particular outcome – a positive outcome. We want things to work our in our favor. But the outcome is invested in the adventure itself – how do we handle it? Did we resist what was coming our way? Or did we just sit back (with a twinge of excitement and nervousness) and just let things play out, as nerve-racking as that process can be? The bottom-line: What can we say we learned about ourselves in the process? 

(3)  It’s always easier said than done. Perhaps that is a truth, lol…despite my own level of assuredness and faith that all things happen for a reason, I have to admit that it’s often easier to resort to doubt or rely on past ways of coping than to stick with a more evolved approach. I am reminded of Pema Chodron’s words, “…when you see the storm approaching, lean into it, and let it pass through you.” When you’re about to reach breaking point, those are hard words to swallow, lol, but indeed, she is talking about acceptance about our situations. And I’ve come to realize that by doing a quicker assessment of the type of storm or storms approaching, I’m better able to prepare myself for the leaning-in that will be required of me. I’ve also noticed that by not holding expectations or setting time constraints about how quickly a storm should pass allows me to just stay present and focus on experiencing the here and now.  

It’s been a wild few months for me and the kids, but I’ve come to appreciate them for their wealth of teachable moments…in fact, as of this posting, we are still riding the waves (blog material for later posts J). So for now, it seems appropriate to acknowledge the learning thus far... For the constant reminder that life is not a simplistic journey but rather a process fraught with unpredictability, familiarity and the unknown.  

Despite its dissonance and whimsicality, I am grateful to be on this grand adventure called life…and ever mindful to keep leaning in every step of the way.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Can You Consent to Rape?

My 22 year old daughter came home excited the other day about some news. “Did you hear about it, mom?” she asked, “did you see the video of some reporters’ and how they were commenting about a rape case?” I feigned ignorance, even though I knew she was talking about the rape trial that had been going on in Steubenville, OH. I wondered if she’d had the same impressions as I did… and she did. “I can’t believe they said it!” she exclaimed. “I can’t believe they acted as if the boys didn’t do anything wrong! And what about the victim?”

The troubling broadcast she’s referring to is CNN’s live coverage which aired on March 18th. (If you haven’t caught it yet, the link is provided below at the end of this post). So here’s what’s disturbing about the broadcast: the reporters are acting as if the boys just received punishment for a crime they didn’t commit! The depth of sympathy portrayed for the rapists was akin to likening their circumstance as victims of some unfortunate accident…Really????!!! (steam rising from my head)

And what about the victim? Sadly it’s a full six minutes before the victim is even mentioned…and a statement from the victim’s angry mother about the sentences the boys received. Gee, wouldn’t you be angry if your 16 year old daughter was raped AND pictures of her rape were posted all over Facebook by her rapists???

There’s such an emotional disconnect here: sympathy for the rapists and intolerance for their victim’s anger. It doesn’t make sense.

And where’s the consideration for the victim in all of this? What about the lifelong scars that she will have to deal with? As one blogger aptly noted, rape carries consequences with it that only the victim alone must bear. Three years in a juvenile facility seems inconsequential compared to the life sentence that was given to this young victim.

But wait… this gets more tragic.

My daughter then described to me how the news was hitting the proverbial Facebook fan. I listened… and I listened intently, because what young people think is always telling in terms of how far as a society we’ve evolved. Amidst the mix of responses, one discussion was particularly disturbing to me because it was a reflection of the “blame the victim” mentality. In sum, the comments concluded that: yes, rape is wrong, BUT the girl was partly to blame in that situation (for her own rape) because she had allowed herself to get too drunk. She should’ve known better.

Wow… that’s not new news to me, but I have to admit I was taken aback by it. This was someone my daughter knew, and who was also a college student. But this comment, like so many others in the she-was-asking-for-it camp frequently touts that women are to blame – at least in part – for their own rapes because: they dress too provocatively, act too sexually seductive, are in the wrong place at the wrong time, are high on other substances, etc. Somehow these victims are inviting rape based on what they wear or how they act? If that’s the case, I guess we should tell people to stop driving cars that will make them targets of carjacking or tell folks they should stop using their credit cards lest their credit and/or identity get stolen.   

That sounds ridiculous right? So why doesn’t it sound as absurd when we say a woman asked for it? Why can juries believe that a woman who is drunk and provocatively dressed consented to being raped? Or better yet, that she knew or should’ve known that she put herself at risk for that to happen.

The sad tale is that we have much work to do in helping folks – especially our young men - understand that rape is about forcing yourself, your will upon the victim. It’s not about sex, it’s about power. It’s about violating and subjecting another person to what you want, without their opinion or despite their protests. There is no consent if the other person is intoxicated or under the influence of something else…and NO, you aren’t allowed to presume that there is consent just because they can’t tell you “NO.”

Despite what you believe about whether a victim can or cannot consent to rape, this issue reminds me that the specter of double standards still looms. So here’s another double standard we can add to the list (sad but true):

“When a woman is intoxicated and is assaulted, she is often blamed because she was drunk and she shouldn’t have been.  When a man is intoxicated and assaults, he is often forgiven because he was drunk and didn’t know better or couldn’t control himself.”

I feel sadness for Jane Doe and her family… and am saddened even more that we as a society, still have a ways to go when it comes to things like this. I wish it didn’t take public tragedies like the Steubenville rape to raise the discourse.

what do you think?

Link to CNN video:


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Ho-hum…Just Another Valentine’s Day

Another Valentine’s Day has come and gone…sigh. There’s something about this holiday that makes it seem “exclusive”… like it’s a holiday only if you happen to be in a relationship that day – for people flying solo, you need not apply because this is a holiday for lovers! Lol..

For lovers… or for love????

You would think that with all the hype and commercialization that goes on around this time of year that retailers would’ve got smart by now and realize that they’re missing out on a huge part of the market: singles. Sure, they’ve got a sweet deal going on by creating valentines for kids give to out to each other…and it helps of course that the schools require kids to bring enough Valentines for every member of your class. But what about single adults? There are plenty of them out there – just look at the myriad of dating websites that exist. There are sites for the young and the old, the millionaires and the not-so-rich, from Christian-specific to any religion, and of course, even ethnic specific. Singles come in all types of shapes, sizes, and belief systems and yet Valentine’s Day retailers have failed to capitalize on this. What does this say to us? That singles are somehow unlovable???
There’s something about being solo and a mid-lifer that lends itself to seeing the day differently. I’ve been able to enjoy Valentine’s Day in a different light – without any feelings of sadness, self-pity or loss. Sure, I may not be in any relationship with a “lover” but there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be enjoying the day as a celebration of LOVE, period.

Growing up, Valentine’s Day was always a big deal… in large part because my dad really enjoyed the holiday. Without failure (and even up to now), my dad would buy us kids a heart-shaped box of chocolates accompanied by a Valentines card that in so many words said, “I love you.” As an adult, I have always appreciated the gesture and as a parent, I have continued my father’s tradition by bestowing a box of my kids’ favorite chocolate on this day. But as a single person, you can’t help but feel cheated (at least in the earlier years of singledom) by this holiday because of its overemphasis on couples and couple-hood.

It’s bad enough that being single does bring about a certain amount social stigma from time to time. When you’re young and still quite attractive, it’s not such a big deal… it’s easy to deflect the “why aren’t you married yet?’ queries with excuses about the lack of good dating prospects. It’s quite another story when you’re a mid-lifer. I’ve observed at least three things about this status:

(1) People tend to assume there’s something “wrong” with you because you’re still single;

 (2) People think there’s something “wrong” with you if you are genuinely happy without a significant other in your life OR they doubt that you could be genuinely happy without one; and

(3) If you’ve ever been married before and are now happily divorced, people presume you’re damaged goods…and therefore probably not good relationship material either.

AND all of these stigmas get magnified ten-times over if you can answer “yes” to any of the above on Valentines Day.

For example, this year for Valentines Day I treated myself to a lovely lunch, bought myself some wonderful new shower gels at the local Bath & Body Works store, got dressed up and went out salsa dancing. While at the nightclub, I was in conversation with a newbie to salsa when he asked me, “So, did you get a lot of chocolate and flowers today?”

Hhhmm…the question caught me completely by surprise, and I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that. Immediately, a number of other questions began to swirl around in my head: If I tell him that I didn’t, will this person think less of me? Will I somehow be perceived as “defective” because I don’t have a special someone to give those to me? I entertained several such questions for about five more seconds before going with my gut.

I then replied with a large smile, “Why no. I believe it’s all about loving yourself too. Valentine’s Day isn’t just for couples; it’s about LOVE, and loving yourself as well. So I treated myself out for Valentine’s Day.”

I think my answer came as both a surprise and a reassurance to him – as if he realized that there was no sin or crime for being single…and that Valentine’s Day need not be a painful reminder of the past. I later learned that night that he was still dealing with a fairly recent divorce… and he was feeling the shame and stigma that can often be felt when you have to explain away your marital status, i.e., single status at midlife.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that Valentine’s Day (like Christmas) should be celebrated every day! If we truly see it is as a celebration of LOVE, then the special things that we do or say should be happening each and every day with all of our loved ones, whoever they may be.

Happy V-Day

Monday, December 31, 2012


New Year’s Resolutions

I can’t believe we are already saying goodbye to 2012…where did the time go? As I ponder how quickly the days have gone, I can hear the faint rantings of my parents saying, “Wait till you get older.” It was their way of telling me that life as an adult would be different – kind of hard to imagine that when you’re a kid, but now at midlife, it rings resoundingly true.

For weeks now, I’ve been musing about what to write as my last post for the year. Our world has given me plenty of material with which to comment on: tragedies, victories and the outright idiotic. And so it was that as I was trying to sort out what to write, I went about organizing my work space. I proceeded to compile a mix of assorted index cards and scraps of papers – things that I wrote notes on when there was no computer or writing tablet in sight  – generally notes that inspire me, things that make me think…reflect.

I don’t think that is was coincidence or chance that as I was sorting through this stack, there was one in particular that made me stop. On the back of a receipt from the Dollar Tree store, I had scrawled this: 

“Live the life you have imagined…simply become who you are…Be yourself – everyone else is taken.”*

No, there is no coincidence in coming across that note. The message to me was loud and clear… and what a wonderful message to start off the new year with!

If you think about it, much of our time is spent trying to live a life that someone else had imagined for us – usually our parents or caregivers. Or conversely, we try to measure up to what society says we “should” be – skinny, wealthy, fashionable, drive the right car, and so on… the list goes on in this arena, just take a look at what the magazines are selling.  

For me, much of the childhood messages I got about what my dreams should be emphasized going to college and being a professional of some sort. I’m not sure that I ever entertained other dreams for my life – not because I didn’t have other things that I enjoyed and was good at, but because it seemed like a deviation from “the plan.”  

But their dreams were not for naught – everything that I’ve become has brought me to this point. For that I am eternally grateful to them. I can understand the desire to see your offspring succeed, to do better than you did. But as an adult and midlifer, I can now choose to live what dreams I want to fulfill, to live the type of life that I want for myself… yes, we have choices!

It’s not a novel idea, but somehow, as adults we lose sight of the fact that we really can decide the direction of our lives – no longer constrained by the dreams of others. However, the path to doing so can prove to be more difficult or challenging. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to simply sit on the sidelines and go about life “as usual” or to play the victim when misfortune comes our way. But the real question is, “Are you really living or merely existing?” (Joel Osteen)

I had a girlfriend once, Bertha, who suffered terribly from the break-up of her 25 year marriage. Her ex-husband had an affair and ultimately left her in favor of his new love. Understandably, Bertha was devastated. But it’s been many years since and she’s still talking about her ex-: like how he had mistreated her, how she hoped he’d rot in hell, she still takes him to court to quibble over alimony issues, etc… you get the picture. Bertha is stuck in the past – emotionally frozen in time. Yet rather than seeing this event as an opportunity to grow from, she’s chosen to live in her past – in the meantime, she’s passed up opportunities to be in relationships with some very good men.

But we all have experiences like this with which to draw from… that one relationship that left you heartbroken, the death of a loved one, the loss of a friendship or job… or a dream. Whatever the event, we can decide as to how we will allow it to shape us: Will we be a better person for it? Stronger? Wiser? Even more loving? OR will the experience make us bitter? Hopeless? Angry? Insecure? With every experience – good or bad – we can use them as opportunities for either self-growth or _________.

And so, for this year and the many years to come, I am putting a new twist on my New Year’s resolutions. Rather than my traditional list of things “to do,” I’ll be looking at how I can simply live the life I’ve imagined and be the person I was always meant to be.

Happy New Year’s to you all!  





*NOTE: I can’t recall when I wrote it down or who to give the statement credit to, although I think I saw it on a home d├ęcor sign at Hobby Lobby, lol, go figure

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Avoidance, Writer’s Block, Life…

Yes, I’m finally writing again… and for this first post, I had initially set out to write about writer’s block and internal darkness - in fact, I have about 1200 words floating around somewhere in Word talking about the connection between the two. But instead, I discovered that what I really wanted to say was something about how my round with writer’s block felt like an example of something that happens to all of us in varying degrees and forms. It wasn’t something unique just for writers…

These past few months, I have been struggling to write creatively... I found myself doing all sorts of others things instead, like veg’ing out in front of the TV because there was a NCIS marathon… or spending mindless hours in front of the computer searching for who knows what… And of course when all else failed, there was always work related stuff to do when I seemed to have any down time to write. Point is and quite simply, I was avoiding writing (not a very promising habit for an aspiring writer).

For me, avoidance behavior served as a twisted form of writer’s block. I was “blocked” not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because of something else. After all, this was not the first time that I’ve experienced this phenomenon… I’ve seen this behavior before, manifested in a variety of forms, in different contexts and during all parts of my life. What I discovered was that “avoidance” is a coping mechanism that I use when something seems unpleasant or scary. On the surface, writing is neither unpleasant nor scary for me… but on reflection, writing represents a change… and that’s what’s scary.

Change is oftentimes greeted with a mixed sense of excitement and caution. We are generally hesitant or resistant to change because its qualities are unknown to us. We don’t know what will happen to us as a result of changes… and we don’t know if moving forward with a particular plan will help us or hurt us. Change frequently requires us to take risks while our primal instincts remind us to protect ourselves from harm– physically, psychologically, and emotionally.

Thus, with creative writing – this act represented a huge change for me – it was asking me to move forward in an identity shift. No small task for one so old, lol. It now meant that if I wanted to be a writer, I needed to make a commitment to being one - not just a dabbler anymore. It meant that I would need to be okay with letting others see my vulnerability – to see my spirit exposed, where for a lifetime it has been silenced and sheltered. It meant that I would need to be willing to share my thoughts and ideas at the risk of feeling the sting of criticisms. And it meant embracing this other dimension to myself that has been but a shadow lurking in my being, sequestered away until now,… and now, I would need to own it. Engaging in this change meant that I would be taking risks and putting my work out there – putting me out there.

And while I may have arrived at some resolution about my writer’s block, it made me wonder: How is this type of avoidance any different from how we use avoidance in our every day lives?

As I referenced earlier, avoidance is a familiar tune to me. It has been both a useful tool and unhealthy way of functioning as I go through life. And we all have examples with which to draw from where we could identify avoidance as part of the scenario. You know, it’s that project you waited until the very last minute to get to… or the conversation you haven’t had yet with your partner because you’re both too busy… or it’s the phone call you waited until 5:05pm to respond to and so forth.

By any other name, avoidance is seen or known as “procrastination” or “delay” or “too busy” to name just a few. These may be more palatable sounding words because they don’t infer a shirking of one’s responsibility or a character flaw, but they are in fact synonymous with avoidance.  The end result is the same: we’ve managed to avoid doing something for a particular time frame.

And while sometimes it’s not a big deal to avoid doing something, there are certainly occasions or contexts where avoidance does not serve our self-interests. Rather than the change being what’s hurtful to us, our own failure to see the role of avoidance in our own lives is what hurts us more.  

So just what was it that I wanted to say about avoidance behavior, writer’s block and life? The truth is that avoidance can take many forms; it’s not just a barrier to writing…it can be a roadblock to living.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Women's Sexuality: Why does the Debate Still Linger?

These last few weeks, I have been in and out in following the news… but the recent controversy about whether or not a faith-based organization should be forced to provide medical coverage for birth control prescriptions grabbed my attention…. Oh, and let’s not forget how politics have really muddied the waters. I soon found myself researching the issue and evaluating the many spins the “issue” has enjoyed.

It’s an interesting time to be a raising a daughter… and my daughter and I found ourselves talking about and wondering: just what is the issue here? Is it really about the alleged conduct of our government attempting to regulate religious freedom? Or is this about men attempting to regulate (yet again) the lives of women, or more specifically, regulating our sexuality? Or what?...

Whatever your opinion is, it would be great to have a discourse on the varying perspectives… so please, do chime in.

And since I am on the subject of women, I thought I’d share with you a piece that I wrote for a writing class that explores the issue of women’s sexuality from another aspect. Enjoy:

Girls Gone Wild or Girls Gone Exploited?

On one of those rare occasions, I had full control of the TV… my son was at his dad’s house, my daughter was in her room, the dogs were in the garage and there I was – alone in my living room with the TV and the remote control. Not finding anything I wanted to watch, I channel surfed and was surprised to discover an episode of “Girls Gone Wild” airing (with full breasts being shown) at , during prime time.

My first thought came as parent, wondering if my 12 year old son had known that I had failed to get this channel blocked. My next thoughts however, came as I actually watched what was unfolding. The series was promoting “The Hottest Girl in America” contest. The series showcased the adventures of the staff and camera crew as they traveled across the country in search of the young lady who would garner enough website votes to earn this title. It struck me as a twisted form of the country’s obsession with audience participation shows, only this time, the audience would be voting for the young lady who had that fantasy combination of being both All-American girl and sex kitten. 

The real tragedy for me lay in the women’s responses when asked why they wanted to be the hottest girl in America. A typical example is: “I’m going to be popular now. I come from a small town in the Midwest that no one knows, and now, I’m going from being no one to being famous.” This was the essence of what they had to say, the common theme being: fame at any cost. For me, the more glaring and sinister theme at play was: Make it a contest and you mask its true intent - sexual exploitation for profit. Who exactly was benefiting from the contest? Certainly not the contestants. I wondered if they really thought that this kind of fame and glory was the stuff you could put on your resume... REALLY?

So, as I observed this parade of young ladies being “interviewed,” I wondered if this is what young women think equates to “equal rights”? Have they confused sexual liberation with sexual exploitation? I retired that night feeling depressed about the state of femininity and feminism and how shows like this perpetuate women as sex objects for men. I reflected on how damaging it was for all women to have such images perpetuated by those unaware that they were being used for pure profit. This caused me to search the Internet and seek the feminist voice and commentary about shows like these.

Interestingly, I was fortunate to find Ariel Levy’s work Female Chauvinist Pigs. Her book stemmed from her observations and interviews while on the set of Girls Gone Wild. Levy found that many of the young women she interviewed saw their participation in the show as behavior that was synonymous with empowerment or liberation. They seemed to describe their behavior as part of a societal norm. Empowerment? Liberation? How could these young women arrive at such a conclusion?

These questions led me to wonder if we, as women, were in fact truly sexually liberated. If that was the case, then why couldn’t we just walk around topless on a hot day as men do? Why is it called indecent exposure if we do it when we feel like it, but “just business” if men produce it? If we are sexually liberated, then why do women still earn the labels of “whore,” “skank,” or other denigrating terms applied to a woman who is promiscuous or sexually deviant? With men, on the other hand, such behavior is frequently interpreted as sexual prowess.

The taint of such behavior also has more longstanding consequences for women than for men. This is shown by several lawsuits filed by women who had previous appearances on Girls Gone Wild. They are now seeking remedies to remove their videos from the public eye. Evidently, we are not allowed to have indiscretions or exercise bad judgment that can later be attributed to being young and foolish (unlike the privilege of our male counterparts). The reality is that we are not truly sexually liberated; the double standard is alive and well. 

So why would young women willingly participate in Girls Gone Wild? Levy attributes this to a cultural phenomenon she calls “raunch culture.” In this context, men and women alike find the slutty stereotypes for women as appealing and acceptable. She notes that, “the idea of a woman participating in a wet T-shirt contest or being comfortable watching explicit pornography has become a symbol of strength” for women. Interesting. I call it a sociological form of identification with the aggressor, where the female identity has integrated these male definitions for sexual attractiveness or sexually appropriate behaviors. I believe we have merely transformed our oppression as men’s sex objects into our identity as women. As such, sexual exploitation fails to be recognized because the behavior has become part of what defines being a woman.

I don’t take issue with women capitalizing on the sex market and making videos themselves to sell, so long as it was their choice and they fully enjoy the profits of their business venture. What I do take issue with is the current compensation scheme, or the lack thereof, that occurs in the sex industry. A vast amount of money is being made off of these women in the form of website hits, video clips, TV shows, and product merchandise. Yet the women portrayed do not enjoy any of the royalties or profit sharing nor are they adequately compensated. In the case of Girls Gone Wild, only the corporation and CEO get to reap the monetary rewards, while the girls… well, they get to keep their T-shirt. Now, that is sexual exploitation.