Welcome to Courtney Steele's home page, which contains a few essays. Back issues of the literary magazine Children, Churches and Daddies also contain poems by Courtney Steele.

Editors Choice award recipient

do you know you are not dreaming right now?

Many times the average person wakes up in the morning after experiencing a vivid nightmare.
“““Thank God I was only dreaming,” a person might claim. But a question then arises: is it possible to know for a fact, without a shadow of a doubt, that you actually aren’t dreaming right now? After pondering this question, the conclusion only seems evident that you cannot have true (propositional) knowledge about whether or not you are not dreaming right now.
““In order to have true (propositional) knowledge, the three premises from the Justified True Belief Analysis of Knowledge must apply. In other words, one’s argument must possess the following three qualities: 1) What the subject claims to know must be true, 2) The subject must believe that what they claim to know is true, and 3) the subject must be fully justified in believing what they claim to know to be true.
““When it comes to answering the question of whether or not we are not dreaming right now, we cannot fully answer or prove claims 1 or 3 in the Justified True Belief Analysis of Knowledge.
““Therefore, it seems only appropriate to state that we cannot have true (propositional) knowledge concerning whether or not we are not dreaming right now.
““Let us first address the soundness of the premises of the argument stated, concerning ourselves first with the Justified True Belief Analysis of Knowledge. In order to have true (propositional) knowledge, three conditions have to be met: 1) What the subject claims to know must be true. If, for example, I claim that my philosophy professor has blonde hair when in actuality he has very dark brown hair, I cannot have true knowledge about his hair color. The subject cannot make a false claim and also correctly claim that they have knowledge over the particular topic. This can be represented through a diagram of the argument:.
““a) I claim that I have blonde hair.
““b) I do not have blonde hair; I have dark hair.
““c) Therefore I cannot know (have knowledge) that I have blonde hair.
““Without this premise, many arguments would be invalid, for a false conclusion may be made if what the subject claims to know isn’t true.
““2) The subject must believe that what they claim to know is true. To continue with the example used earlier: if I were to claim that my philosophy professor had blonde hair, but I didn’t believe that he had blonde hair, I wouldn’t have knowledge on the subject. A broader example could pertain to religion. I could claim that God exists, but if I don’t believe he exists then I do not have knowledge of the matter. In this case, his existence (premise 1) is irrelevant, for if one doesn’t believe in his existence (premise 2), the argument has already been proven that the subject doesn’t, in this case, have true knowledge. This could be diagramed as follows:.
““a) I claim a statement to be true.
““b) I do not believe my statement to be true.
““c) One must believe in a certain piece of knowledge in order for them to have knowledge in that area.
““d) Therefore I cannot have knowledge that my statement is true.
““3) The subject must be fully justified in believing what they claim to know to be true. In other words, there must be no reason to suppose the subject is wrong in claiming or believing what they know to be true. To provide an example: if I claimed that I owned a dog, and I believed that I owned a dog, but I had no reason to believe that I owned a dog, then I wouldn’t have true knowledge of my “ownership”. Furthermore, if I claimed I knew that I owned a dog because my dead grandmother told me in a dream that I did, I still wouldn’t have knowledge: this is because there is reason to suppose that I am wrong in believing it. In other words, I would not be fully justified in my claim to knowledge on this particular topic. A possible argument may be:.
““a) I claim that I own a dog.
““b) I believe that I own a dog because my dead grandmother told me in a dream that I own a dog.
““c) A claim to knowledge because one’s dead grandmother told them in a dream that their statement is true is not a valid reason.
““d) Therefore I do not have knowledge about the topic (owning a dog).
““This argument does not even address whether or not I do have a dog. It is because of the subject’s unsound reasoning (speculating that they own a dog for some very odd reasons) that the subject cannot have knowledge pertaining to this topic. Whether or not I even own a dog in this case doesn’t matter.
““This argument can also, once again, be applied to religion. If a subject claimed to believe in a God (whether or not a God existed), the subject cannot claim to have knowledge over God’s existence because the subject was not fully justified in believing that a God existed.
““These three premises, when combined, form the Justified True Belief Analysis of Knowledge, which can be diagramed as follows:.
““a) The subject makes a claim, and what the subject claims to know is true.
““b) The subject believes what they claim to know is true.
““c) The subject is fully justified in believing what they claim to know to be true.
““d) Therefore their claim is a valid claim to knowledge.
““These conditions must be made in order for a person to be able to correctly claim that they have knowledge.
““When applying the Justified True Belief Analysis of Knowledge to the question, “Do you know that you are not dreaming right now?”, a problem arises, for there are evident conflicts with premises a and c in the Justified True Belief Analysis of Knowledge.
““Firstly, concerning premise a: we cannot know (positively) that what we claim to know is true.
““As Descartes explains in his Meditations on First Philosophy, we have no way of proving that we are not dreaming right now, and are possibly about to wake up. In Meditation I (concerning those things that can be called into doubt) he explains: Indeed, how often has it happened that during the night I have dreamt these familiar things, that I am here, dressed, sitting by the fire, although I lie undressed in my bed. But now, at any rate, I am surely gazing at this paper with wakeful eyes, this head I am shaking is not heavy with sleep, I am consciously and deliberately extending this hand, and I am feeling it. In sleep what happens would neither be as clear nor as distinct as these things. But, thinking carefully, I recall having often been deceived by similar thoughts in dream. Now, as I think over these matters more attentively, I see so plainly that there are no conclusive signs nor sufficiently certain indications for distinguishing being awake from dreaming that I am almost amazed. And this very amazement almost convinces me that I am dreaming.
““Based on the skeptic’s claim that if something can at all be doubted, or if something cannot be proven to be true then you cannot have true propositional knowledge, the conclusion would be that one cannot be sure that they have true knowledge pertaining to whether or not they are not dreaming right now.
““This can be illustrated as follows: a) In order to have propositional knowledge on a certain topic (for example, knowing whether or not you’re not dreaming right now), the claim must be true (i.e., you must not be dreaming right now).
““b) It cannot be proven, or we cannot know, whether or not we are not dreaming right now. This is because, for example, our senses have deceived us before and they could again, or people have thought that they were awake before when they were actually in a dream and this could be happening now, or because people can have dreams that they are dreaming and “Life” (as we refer to it) could merely be one long dream.
““----------------------------------------------------------------- c) Therefore, since we cannot know if our claim is true, we can’t know if we have knowledge pertaining to whether or not we are not dreaming right now. In other words, we do not know that we know we are not dreaming right now.
““ Furthermore, it can be argued that premise c of the Justified True Belief Analysis of Knowledge in this example cannot be achieved, for it may not be possible to acquire full justification (even if partial justification may seem reasonable enough). Some possible examples for justification will be given later, but it will become evident that although they are reasonable justifications, they do not give full justification. Therefore, one cannot be certain that they ever have true knowledge.
““This can be shown as follows:.
““a) In order to have true knowledge, one must be fully justified in believing that what they claim to know is true.
““b) Concerning the question of knowing whether or not we are not dreaming right now, full justification cannot be provided.
““c) Therefore we cannot have justified true knowledge about whether or not we are not dreaming right now.
““Some possible rebuttals to this argument may lie in the original argument second premise: “When it comes to answering the question of whether or not we are not dreaming right now, we cannot fully answer or prove claims 1 or 3 in the Justified True Belief Analysis of Knowledge.” Critics may state that this is unsound and that it is possible to know the answer to be true or “yes” (premise 1), or that we can be fully justified in believing their conclusion to be answered affirmatively (premise 3).
““In stating that premise 1 in the Justified True Belief Analysis of Knowledge can be true in this instance, a critic may assert that through tests of brain waves, breathing patterns or REM monitoring, differences can be proven between awakened states and dreaming states (because awakened states possess different body functions and patterns than dreaming states). A possible reply to this, however, could simply be that the subject dreams that these tests exist to differentiate sleeping/awakened states. Other arguments could be given, but because this argument alone shows that there is doubt in this proof, no other argument is needed.
““Other critics may state that premise 3 is possible to achieve-- that it is possible to have full justification in believing that one is not dreaming right now. The fallible person would probably claim that full justification can be justification which is possibly uncertain to a slight degree. For example, Descartes’ depiction of an “evil-genius” is unreasonable, and unreasonable accusations don’t necessarily have to be taken into consideration when considering full justification. To make the point clearer, let us suppose that we have a large jar full of 10,000 marbles. We cannot see into the jar, but is it safe to assume that after pulling out the first 5,000 marbles and seeing that they are all green, the next one we pull out will be green? Without a doubt? After 7,500 marbles are pulled out-- can we be sure then? What about 9,999 marbles? Can we be sure that the next marble pulled out will be green, and that there is no chance that there could be a marble of another color in the jar? A fallible person may answer “yes” to any one of these questions; however, the definition of full justification entails having no reason to doubt. No matter what the chances are that the next marble pulled out won’t be green, no matter how thin they are-- there is a chance. Therefore there is a doubt. Therefore there isn’t full justification.
““Therefore, we cannot have true knowledge about whether or not we are not dreaming right now. In summary, this can be proven in the following argument:.
““a) In order to have true knowledge, the following three conditions ( from the Justified True Belief Analysis of Knowledge ) must be met:.
““1) what the subject claims to know must be true,.
““2) the subject must believe that what they claim to know is true, and.
““3) the subject must be fully justified in believing what they claim to know to be true.
““b) When it comes to answering the question of whether or not we are not dreaming right now, we cannot fully answer or prove claims 1 or 3 in the Justified True Belief Analysis of Knowledge.
““c) Therefore we cannot have true (propositional) knowledge concerning whether or not we are not dreaming right now.
““Although this argument may seem unreasonable or outrageous in the respect of considering even unreasonable (or almost impossible) possibilities in the achievement of its goal, it is ultimately not farfetched at all. In an endless universe, most anything could happen-- and, more importantly, everything has the opportunity for happening. Even if these ideas seem far-fetched, it doesn’t matter. For as long as there is a slight possibility that there is but a shred of doubt, then that shred of doubt must be taken into consideration.
““In light of this argument, Descartes’ conclusion seems only appropriate. “This very amazement almost convinces me that I am dreaming.”

Exploring Power

Imagine a perfect society. Imagine swaying trees, sunny skies and a cool breeze. Imagine when you walk down the all-too-clean streets that everyone you see is friendly. Everyone is your friend, and everyone is good and kind and giving. Imagine being able to come home from the job that you love to a warm, safe home. There is never a disagreement in this society, and differences in people (like gender, race, age) are not hated like they are today but loved and appreciated.
It’s a hard society to imagine, I know. The hardest part of this perfect society to imagine is the fact that power, as we define it in today’s terms, does not exist. Power, by definition, is the ability of one person to make another person do something against their will, or the ability of one person to do something against another person’s will. Power can be physical brute force, the power that a father and mother have over their children, the power that a man can hold over a woman, or the power of one race over another. The problem with power is that it is too often used - and too often used in poor ways. For example, in today’s society obedience is considered a virtue in reference to a child’s behavior toward their parents, but it is merely a submission on the part of the child to the power of their parents. In most cases the fact that most women care more about their physical appearances than men care about their physical appearances is a demonstration of the woman’s submission to the man’s power. The statistics show that white men still hold much more than their proportional share of jobs than black men do - and these statistics show that the black race is unwillingly in submission to the power of the white race.
Power as defined above would not exist in the society described here. Whether or not the ability to possess that power would not even matter - for each and every individual in that perfect society may have the capacity for possessing that power (in the same way that each and every individual in society may have the capacity for becoming a mass murderer, but most of us don’t realize that potential). In this society, no one would want to possess that kind of power (in the same way that not one member in the society will want to become a mass murderer). No one would want this kind of power because no one would want to feel as if they were hurting someone, and no one would want to force someone into doing something against their will. No one would want to have a job if having the job meant that they were taking the job from someone who was more qualified, even if that person was from a minority group. No child would want to do something that would hurt their parents, and no parent would want to have to reprimand their child (and wouldn’t have to if their child had not only their own, but also their parent’s best interests in mind). No man would want to force a woman into a situation that she did not want to be in, and no woman would feel the burdens of society to find herself a husband. People would no longer marry for economic reasons but for love.
The kind of power that would exist in this perfect society would only be an entirely self-contained power - a kind of power that we as humans all possess but seldom actually tap and use to our advantage. The power that would exist would be a power that enabled people to accelerate and do the best that they could (for themselves and for others). It allows personal achievement to become a reality in the pure sense of the word, and it shows how the individual can move ahead if they want to and be proud of their accomplishments. This kind of power will not hamper others, and it involves no competition, but only the completion of personal goals. This kind of power would let people feel good about themselves, knowing that they as humans (even humans that stand alone) can accomplish almost anything that they want to.
Call it power, if you will, or give it another name so that people of this society don’t get confused with this self-fulfilling power. Call it self-determinism. Call it the power over yourself, and not the power over others. Call it anything you want. Maybe in this society people wouldn’t even have a name for it - maybe people would know that they have some sort of abilities without even giving them names. The most important fact is the fact that this is the kind of power that will exist and dominate in this society, and not the kind of hurting, oppressing power that we in this society are used to.
This power would lead to the most efficient society - it would be economically be producing at it’s peak, it would have no crime and thus be a safe place for women and children as well as men to live in, and it would be filled with love for others instead of resentment, jealousy and agression. A hierarchy of power to implement laws would be unnecessary, and prices of goods and services would not be unreasonable, therefore giving people more money to spend in the market and eliminate both unemployment and competition.
The power structure that we see in today’s society would not exist in this perfect society. A structure of power in any sense of the word would not exist, as would not a limit to the power that could exist in a society or the power that one person could possess. This kind of power comes from the inside of a person, and doesn’t hurt others - it only helps others, as well as helping the self. Therefore, the only amount of power that would exist in this society would be as much that the members of this perfect society would want. Hopefully, that amount of power may be limitless.
I know, I know, this is a very hard sort of power to imagine, for it seldom exists in this society and it never exists in its pure form. I have a hard time fathoming how this kind of power may affect me, and what may be the end result.
So many times I set out to accomplish a task and I find that there is some sort of obstacle in my way that I have no control over. It may be something as simple as walking out at night alone (that I feel I cannot do because of a fear for my safety), or something as important in my life as trying to get the job that I want, but not getting it because I am a woman and there was a man almost as qualified for the job that took the job from me. An obstacle that has been created by the self can be eliminated and is therefore a problem that can be overcome. However, when there are factors that seem to be outside of one’s own control that take precedence, it can become very frustrating. It often makes me feel as if there is no point in even setting goals for myself when there is such a great chance of not being able to achieve that goal because of other people having unfair power over me.
With this sort of power eliminated, I can’t help but wonder if there would be anything that I wouldn’t be able to do. It’s an exhilarating feeling, to think that I would be able to go through life not having to battle other people to accomplish my goals but only battle the person that is my greatest competetor - myself. If I didn’t accomplish what I wanted, I could learn from my mistakes and set new goals for myself, not feeling any vengeance or resentment. If I was able to accomplish my goal, then I would be the better person for it. The sense of satisfaction would be great, I would have tangible proof of my achievement, and I would have done it all on my own, with the help or the hurting of no one. I would then be able to set new goals for myself and improve myself (and possibly the lives of others) even more.
With this new outlook, I almost can’t imagine how much better my attitude would be about myself. I would know exactly what my potential was, and I would have a much better chance of achieving my full potential. There would be no regrets in my life. I would never have to be ashamed of myself, because I would be the best that I could be. Everyone would have this feeling of self-satisfaction. How could it not be a perfect society, if everyone felt this way?
In a society like this, with an outlook like this, everyone would have the same opportunities and the same goals. Everyone would then be treated equally, for everyone would be the best that they could be. When people are looked at for their ability, they are seen as capable people - and not as people that are inferior. There would be no need for discrimination, and there would be no need to look down on other people. There would be a feeling of total respect and honor for other people - you would honor every other person the way that you would honor yourself, for they - like you - would be able to achieve anything that they wanted. This philosophy would eliminate the differences that people see today in ages, races or colors of the skin, or genders. With the elimination of this kind of power, this weed that has infested society, the seeds of respect would be able to grow and flourish.
Yes, I know, this kind of society doesn’t exist. People depend on using and abusing others in order to get what they want instead of depending on the abilities that they possess within themselves. Maybe the reason that people don’t rely on themselves alone is because they are too afraid that they wouldn’t be able to achieve all the things that they would want to. But they would, if they only tried. Maybe the reason the people don’t rely on themselves alone to do the things that they want and to get the things that they want is because they feel that it is too easy to achieve their goals while stepping on others, since the opportunity is there. But there are others - the oppressed, the downtrodden - who would tell you another story. The people who are oppressed, who are being abused by this power, want to have the same opportunities that others have. And it wouldn’t take anything away from the people in power now - if anything, it would only improve the lives of all. The only thing that this society would do is give everyone the opportunity to be the best that they could be. There wouldn’t have to be hurting anymore.

Kids Can Be Cruel: The Effect of Peers On One’s Full Potential

When I was a little child, I was very smart for my age. I was always considered the teacher’s pet, and I always did my homework as soon as I got home from school. I came from a family of all older brothers and sisters, and I constantly heard language that was more advanced than a normal infant would be accustomed to. I read by the age of three. I seemed to have a good ability for math, and my memory retention was above normal. Teachers from my grade wanted me to skip a year of school.
I also didn’t have a hard time getting along with others. I was always friendly (at least as far as I can remember), and I enjoyed having fun. However, it seemed as if other children had a hard time getting along with me. I would be picked on a lot because I was smart, and I never understood why - for there were quite a few smart boys in my class as well. I don’t think it was because I was very different from them because I was smarter, for I think I acted like a kid just as much as everyone else. I think other kids didn’t get along with me and picked on me because they didn’t like the fact that I was a girl and I was smart. I could always beat the boys in any academic competition, and it was very easy for me to do so. I think that is why the people that picked on me the most were the boys.
I don’t think I acted like a boy, and I don’t think I was any less feminine because I was smart. I never picked fights with these boys, and I was never too aggressive (generally considered a masculine trait). Every day I would receive a series of cut-downs because I was considered smart. Every day I felt these blows, trying to stop me from being what I really wanted to be - what I really could have been.
Once I got to high school, I never tried as hard in any of the work I did. I became a procrastinator. More importantly, I noticed a change in the way that I viewed myself - I suddenly became overly conscious of looking and acting like a girl, and not a boy. I’m sure that others go through these changes in opinion, but I don’t think that the reasons are the same. I notice the changes now - there are differences in the way that I keep myself, for example. I make a point to always wear make-up and jewelry. My nails are always manicured - to the point of giving me difficulty in writing this. My hair has been long ever since I left the third grade. I haven’t cut my hair in four years.
For the time I spend making myself look “pretty”, I could be doing something more constructive. I could be working harder to achieve my full potential in academics. I can’t help but wonder if I could have been any better if I wasn’t cut down when I was a child for doing something that was particularly masculine. I’m sure I could have.
I don’t know why the other kids treated me the way that they did. Maybe it was because the other boys felt threatened by my success. Maybe it was because the other boys thought that I was a girl that didn’t fit into the role that she was supposed to be playing. Maybe something different startled them, and maybe they felt that the only way to cope with that problem was to try to eliminate it. I don’t know what the reasons could be that a society would do that to a person, but those damages can be far too great.
I know that the things that have happened to me have had a great impact on my life as it is now. An example: I like to wear mini skirts. I must admit that they’re not particularly comfortable, and I often get annoyed by the stares that I get when I wear them, but I wear them anyway. Why? Because I feel that mini skirts will make me feel more feminine, and if more men notice that I am feminine, I feel better. Then I know that I will never be mistaken for a man again, or made fun of because I carry masculine traits. I find myself often playing the role of a “dumb blonde” around men-- I even find myself talking in a higher voice in an effort to make myself sound more feminine.
Once I grew older, I grew taller. Much taller. Five feet and ten inches is very tall for a woman to be - at least by today’s standards in society. This presents itself as another blow to my feminine ego (which is already damaged), and so I think I often feel as if I must overcompensate for these traits that I carry. I slouch more than the average; I try to act meek.
When I don’t gain acceptance in a feminine respect, especially after I’ve tried to (for example, when I’ve tried to look pretty and nobody notices the fact that I’ve made this effort to look “sexy”, “cute”, or “womanly”), I feel very dejected. I feel as if I haven’t done what I should have, and I feel like a failure. I feel miserable when I don’t have a boyfriend, for a woman can’t be a woman without a man. All my other female friends can’t understand why I want to have a boyfriend so much.
But I know why. Society tells me that I am supposed to be feminine. I am supposed to have a man, and if I don’t I am not a complete woman. I have accepted these notions, for they have been ingrained into my head for all of my life. I have already received blows to my fragile female ego-- I have been made fun of because I was smart (for that was a masculine trait), and I have been made fun of because I was tall. Maybe, because of this society and because of the things that have been said to me, I feel the need to make myself feel feminine.
And maybe that’s not right. And maybe, as I gain self-confidence, I will be able to change that and be myself in front of others. Maybe I will yet be able to grow to my full potential.
Look in advertisements today. There are women dressed as women in pretty pink dresses. There are men dressed as men-- in gray business suits. Women cook the meals, men go to work. Women are passive and submissive, men are strong and aggressive.
Children can see these signs at very early ages. Society - everyone that they know - accepts this and tells them that they should accept this as well. If a child sees something that doesn’t fit into this picture of a model society that everyone has construed for them, it can be considered understandable that the child may grow hostile to it, and want to make fun of it if it is considered something different.
Look at the influence that parents have over their child. Many children come from homes where the father works and the mother stays home and takes care of the kids. As soon as the child is born they are thrown into a nursery room with a color scheme that matches the baby’s sex. Girls are given dolls as opposed to trains, they are told to play inside instead of outside and they are appreciated when they act “feminine” instead of “masculine”, and they are cut down when they deviate from society’s norm. Picture books even impact the child’s beliefs: Male and female role models can be found in these books, and they are particularly masculine and feminine. In the picture books What Boys Can Be and What Girls Can Be, children are informed that boys can be firemen, policemen, businessmen. Girls are informed that they can be school teachers, nurses, and - don’t forget - mothers and housewives. The effect these childhood experiences can have on children can have a great impact on them for the rest of their lives.
Not only can these things influence a child’s attitudes toward their own sense of self, but it can also have a great influence over the child’s view of others. If another child is acting in a way that seems to go against all that had been taught to that child from everyone and everything else, they may want to act out against that behavior, in a passive, conforming context. The behavior of making fun of someone that has characteristics that are different from that of their assigned sex (according to society) can reaffirm a person’s belief in their own masculinity/femininity.
But that’s not the only thing that the action of teasing does. It also has a very negative effect on the person that is being made fun of.

Modern Day Footbindings and the Oppression of Women

I have never been one to think about my predicament. It’s a common predicament-- I have to face it every day of my life, and it indirectly causes me problems wherever I go. I can’t walk alone at night because of it. I can’t look a male stranger straight in the eye because of it. I have to worry about the kind of clothes I wear, the implications of the statements I make, and even the way I walk because of it. But I’ve never given it a second thought.
My predicament is that I am a woman. At first it doesn’t seem to sound like a predicament at all, but the more one thinks about the lack of freedom sentenced to a woman solely because she is a woman, the word ‘predicament’ becomes more of an understatement. In this male-oriented society, women are reduced to objects: pornography sells more than the top news magazines, the videos that MTV broadcast flaunt the woman’s body for just anyone to see, and instances of rape are at an all time high. Women today are held down by forces that are blind to many - society has evidently become a jail cell so large that its prisoners cannot even see the bars. But there are bars, and if we only look for them and see them for what they really are, we may then be able to make the changes that will make this society a more equal one. And a safer one.
In China, one man created the custom of wrapping up the woman’s foot so tightly that it restricted the woman’s walking because it caused so much pain. It was a way for men to be sure that women in their society were entirely dependent on them. In many third world countries, women are forced to wear dresses that cover up their entire body, for one man has no right to look at another man’s possessions. They call it tradition. If this is so, then tradition dehumanizes the woman.
Even in the United States these bindings are all around us, and these indirect restrictions are so commonplace that we have failed to notice that they are even there, keeping us “in our place”. I will only give one example. I feel that only one example is necessary.
I used to get a subscription to a women’s magazine. I enjoyed flipping through the pages of Glamour, even if it did only make me feel inadequate as a woman and as a person. As I read, as I flipped through the pages and saw the photographs of beautiful women staring me in the face telling me that I was no good unless I was beautiful and was able to attract the best looking men, I began to feel that I had to change my image in order to become the objectified model that society had typecast to be “the best”. These women’s magazines devote about one fourth of their contents to careers, and probably about three fourths of their magazines to looking good. These magazines focused on looking like the stereotypical woman, looking sexy, and doing this all for a man. That’s half of the problem right there.
But just the other day I looked through a neighbor’s recent issue of Glamour magazine, and I came to a startling realization. As I flipped through the colossal number of advertisements that appear in the first half of these magazines (you often can’t find an article until you reach page 50), I looked at the women. I looked at the underlying messages that these advertisements were relaying. And I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Here is an example that illustrates my point. “Every Valentine Needs A Hero.” The quote itself, from one of the first ads that I saw, gives the impression that a woman needs a man in order to survive. As romantic as the ad may look, I couldn’t help but notice the subtle signs: the woman is lying down on the bed, looking up at the man; the man is standing over her, looking down on her. Her back is turned to the camera, so that you can’t see the expressions on her face and so that you can’t see her humanness. The woman’s arms are crossed, evidently covering herself. A rose is placed right in the middle of the tray (remember-- nothing in advertising isn’t planned). Yes, the man is the hero, and the woman needs him for support. How would she function otherwise?
“Valentine... I got you just what you wanted.” This ad, as I looked at the couple plastered on the page, seemed to scream “submission” to me. As the woman’s face is turned toward the man, she is turned away from the camera - and becomes more of a body than an actual woman. Her arms are folded around him in a way that makes the viewer feel that she is clinging on to the only thing that matters to her. Furthermore, the two wide silver bracelets on her hands give the impression that she is handcuffed-- attached to the man, whether or not by force. The man, however, is merely smiling (maybe “smirking” is a better word) as he looks away from the woman. His happiness seems to stem from the fact that he has this relatively valuable possession.
Even the words in this advertisement are misleading. How handy it is that the woman has given her man just what he wanted. And she should, too. It’s her duty. She’s a woman. And what exactly did she get him? Why, “she got him a year of...” wait a minute, let’s put a little pause in there, one just long enough to make your mind wander... “GQ”. This relatively innocent ad has taken on a different meaning altogether in this new light.
Then I turned the page and saw another advertisement--and it appeared to be a centerfold. My only question was: how on earth is a clothing company supposed to advertise clothes when the clothes are barely on the model? Then, I’m afraid to say, I answered my own question. This company, like most others, isn’t advertising for the product that they are selling, for their products have become the means to another end, as opposed to the end itself. They are advertising an image-- an image of the woman being dependent on her looks in order to achieve success. Keep in mind that this - good looks - is the possible extent of a woman’s success. The concept of talent has seemed to fall by the wayside.

After looking at the images that bombarded me, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was reacting rather harshly. But then I began to think: what about the images that you see on billboards? What about the flaunting of women on television programs and commercials? What are these images teaching the children of today - the adults of tomorrow that will shape society? I couldn’t help but wonder if these signals were related to the increase in crimes against woman that are so prevalent today. If they are related, when will this ever change? Or will we be forever bound to the system?
Needless to say, I don’t get those magazines anymore. I try to explain to others how women are metaphorically abused inbetween the glossy pages of these magazines. But it’s only one source. One of many. And it seems that even if we as women were capable of removing one form of this degradation, other bars would still be up to keep us in our cell. Only until we break down the walls will we be able to say that we are free.

Victim Blaming

No... I don’t victim blame.
Nobody wants to think that they are at fault. When it seems that the accused is too innocent looking, when it seems that the boy next door is the one being accused of rape, it may only seem appropriate to think that somehow the victim caused the incident to happen. And especially when we are bombarded by society with messages that state that if the victim of sexual harassment was wearing a tight dress, was drunk or flirting, then they were at fault, how could we not come to that conclusion on our own?
But just as a burglar has no right to steal, a rapist has no right to rape.
That last sentence is often never considered, however. Most seem to feel that an act of rape - acquaintance or stranger - is just too bizarre to actually have no reason for happening. It may seem too strange to think that a man you’ve never met before could just come out of a bush, pick you out and attack you. It may seem too strange to think that a friend, or a boyfriend, or someone that you thought you could trust, could turn on you in such a way for no apparent reason and hurt you so much. In this world, things don’t just happen - there’s a reason for things, and there is sense in the world. Besides, the victim probably brought themselves into the trouble and therefore deserved what they got. If we as onlookers just don’t make the same mistakes that they did, we won’t have the same problems that they did. In this way unexplainable, traumatic acts such as rape can be explained away and therefore be easier to handle.

This is the line of reasoning that many people go through. If a woman can victim blame another woman, then she can eventually say to herself, “That’s never happened to me, so it must have been something that she did. Well, if I don’t do what they did, then I will be safe.” Since women live with the fear of rape all the time, victim blaming makes them feel better about the irregularities of the world. If a man victim blames a woman, it may be because he can’t understand that another man - possibly someone that he knows, possibly a friend - can do what the accused did. If another man has the capacity to do that, than that male onlooker may have that capacity, too. It’s a frightening thought to think that you could be a rapist. The man may eventually say, “I couldn’t do that, and therefore that other guy couldn’t do that. It must have been something that she did.”
The reason I find is the most believable is the reason that there is sense in the world and that there is a reason for everything. If there is a reason for everything, then there must be a reason for something as insane as rape - even if the reason doesn’t seem immediately apparent. Maybe, as many come to think, maybe the reason that it happened is because the victim led her attacker on or didn’t do enough to stop him. When someone blames the victim, the behavior is then correctable, and when the victim corrects that ’wrong’ behavior, then they feel not only safer, but also a better person for correcting their own faults.

I have often found myself victim blaming, and although I may realize that it is irrational for me to do so, I can’t seem to help it. What I have noted, however, is that I only seem to victim blame when it comes to myself. Maybe I do that because experiences that happen to someone else aren’t as hard-hitting as experiences that happen to yourself. You hear news casts of people dead in a plane accident, or of people held hostage by irate third world terrorist groups, or of a woman beaten to death after she was raped, but these experiences, possibly because we don’t experience them first hand but only hear about them, don’t seem to affect us. Sadly enough, when I hear of these experiences, they don’t affect me and I therefore don’t have to explain them away through victim blaming. But when I live through an experience and it seems as if there is no reason for the violence or the trauma, I can’t help but try to explain it away through investigating my own behavior.
When I hear of another person that has gone through a traumatic experience such as rape, I never think that it was their fault or that they deserved it. When it comes to my own experiences, because I have to explain them away (when I don’t have to explain away other’s experiences), I find myself victim blaming.
I have always been taught respect and kindness for others. I have always been taught to turn the other cheek when I am hurt, and I have been taught to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Because I possess these qualities, I often have a tendency to think of them as faults and see them as a cause for victim blaming - when it comes to myself.
I was forced into a traumatic sexual experience, and although I had no choice in the matter, I still to this day can’t help but feel that there still was something that I could have done. I should have been more explicit in what I wanted. I shouldn’t have had so much to drink. I should have seen that he was trying to get me drunk. I shouldn’t have been so nice to him. I should have said something afterwards: to him, to the police, to myself. I keep thinking that if I just keep looking over the pieces of the puzzle, something will fall into place and make it all understandable, all comprehendible. I keep thinking that if I keep looking for what I did wrong, once I find it I will be able to explain away what happened.

If I blame myself for what happened, I feel that then the problem is solvable, avoidable, and correctable. It makes my world make sense again.
But the thing is, I can’t. I can’t try to depend on the myths that surround us to explain away unexplainable behavior. I can’t try to hurt myself by blaming myself for something that wasn’t my fault.
But sometimes that pain seems better than shattering everything I’ve always believed in.<

All poems copyright © Courtney Steele. Web site design copyright © Scars Publications. This page is sponsored by Scars Publications. Scars produces the literary magazine Children, Churches and Daddies, as well as books and audio. Scars sponsors contests and has free stuff and games at their web site.