Thursday, April 28, 2011

Revisiting the Princess

"Don't be such a princess." It's an expression that is sometimes used when you're being spoiled or sulking because you can't get your own way. The word princess has changed meanings over the years and it might be time for us to rethink what we mean by princess.

These are not the Disney princesses wearing beautiful gowns and crowns. A princess, back in history, was a member of a royal family whose status meant that they enjoyed special privileges associated with their rank. It also meant that they carried the burden of responsibility for carrying on their royal lineage through good marriages and fruitful childbearing. The context of the historical princess is particular to an age when royalty actually meant something and countries were constructed around a social pyramid with the exploited masses making up the majority at the bottom, while the elites held the wealth up top, well out of the way. This outmoded notion of a princess need not apply today.

The modern day princess has come to symbolize the selfish, self-entitled and spoiled women today whose passions include the spa and shopping and taking care of oneself. It also seemingly applies to that category of women who have no qualms with relying solely on the generosity of their friends, family and hapless boyfriends. This princess is usually the one swimming in consumer debt and designer purses and is the basis of the reality show 'Princess' where dollar diva Gail Vax-Oxlade tries to help these women in debt change their lives.

With all the talk of the royal wedding, it's natural that this whole notion of princess will come up once again and that a lot of women are going to have visions of puffy ball gowns, tiaras and myriad other shiny sparkly things. This usually leads to a reverie where a damsel in distress is rescued by some God-like gorgeous man who happens to be a prince and whose only desire in life is to whisk her away on his mighty steed, blah blah blah.

Time for the bubble to burst.

But the news isn't all bad. While the outmoded version of princess has taken on a more sinister and serious connotation which is indicative of a social phenomenon of self-obsession, the new age princess can also be an independent woman. That's the beauty of crowning Kate Middleton. For all the critics say about her family being well-heeled and far from common, Kate is her own woman. She's highly educated, beautiful, capable and has had success in her own right working in business. Although she will enjoy certain luxuries in her new life, she won't be anyone's subject or poor pawn like the late Princess Diana. Kate has the unique ability to re-shape our vision of what a princess is and transform it from a superficial helpless damsel to a strong woman capable of standing on her own two feet- even if those feet are in a pair of fabulous Laboutins.

Little girls grow up dreaming about becoming princesses, but it doesn't really mean anything. They think that wearing a gorgeous gown, crown and jewels and being adored by a man are all you need to live that fantasy. But little girls should aspire to be more, using Kate's example, a real life princess who actually got her education, worked and walked a mile in the common person's shoes. They should want to wear beautiful clothes because they're proud of themselves, and proud of their ability to pay for their own things, not because they 'like nice things' or 'daddy bought it for me.'

Little girls- you can be beautiful, poised and well-attired with your own money and your own success story. You can be proud of yourself for being self-sufficient and for being yourself. And you don't need a prince to be a princess. You can love yourself, treat yourself and pride yourself on being a lady.

It used to be that someday your prince will come. It should now be that someday, your self-confidence and poise will lead you to great success.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Rock the Vote

It's time to vote in Canada- again. But don't let election exhaustion and hours of bad political mudslinging advertisements in between hockey periods get to you. It's time to vote en masse- it's time to rock the vote because there's too much at stake right now not to get involved in the politics and government that often screw up our lives.

Democracy is a system that doesn't exist without its people. While it's true that what we practice now is far from the original concept of democracy which involves an engaged and educated populace of mostly white men sitting in an agora, the core principle remains the same: the right to vote is the right to have a say in how things are run in a society. And a society needs the people to vote to stay true to its people. After all, how does anyone know what you want when you don't speak your mind?

And how can you have the right to complain about things being dysfunctional when you never expressed your opinions in the first place? This idea that people can read our minds or that they should just know what we want is foolish and often can lead to the breakdown of relationships. And in order for society to work, the people need to be involved.

It is often said that a society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable. That means the elderly, the impaired, the poor, and just those people who are struggling to get by in the world. If we don't vote, we show zero support for those people. We need to vote in the candidates that we think will support our most vulnerable and help make this country a better place. We need to vote with our values, our principles and our hearts. We can't let ourselves get too jaded.

But in case principle isn't enough, let's go through the most common reasons why people don't vote and debunk them:

1- My candidate won't win anyway.
It doesn't matter. You don't vote to win, you vote on principle and to make winning harder for the person you don't want to get in. At least it was recorded.

2- I don't have time.
There are laws in place that allow you to take time off from work (up to 2 hours) so that you can get to a station and vote. There are also advance poll days where you can go if you don't find time later.

3- Canada's first past the poll system is unfair and makes my vote count for less.
While this is true, it's still not a good reason not to vote. Just because a system is unfair and gives a better advantage to someone else in another part of the country, you are still one person who is entitled to believe in what you believe in and have your voice heard. And again, it makes winning harder for the guy you don't want to get in.

4- I don't like any of the candidates.
Surprise. Nobody likes politicians, they fall in that special brand of people you meet in hell like lawyers. It's not about liking a person, it's about supporting the ideas and policies that you believe in. More likely than not, the politicians are all big disappointments and have enough integrity to fill a thimble. That's no reason not to make sure that you have your say.

5- My vote won't make a difference.
Every vote makes a difference. Try this argument in a country where they're dying for the vote and see what kind of reaction you get. The price of democracy is constant vigilance. To quote: "People shouldn't be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people."

Let's strike some fear in our Parliament.

Insecurity- New For Men

It's a growing trend these days and it seems to be getting worse. Cosmetic companies, notorious for eroding the self-confidence of women worldwide with their miscellaneous products, have started targeting men aggressively and it looks like this might be more than a passing phase. The latest Nivea for Men commercials are strangely disturbing, as they portray these two men using toner and eye gel to freshen up their pretty little faces for the day, but still try to make them look like men by showing them getting up next to their girlfriends. I guess they wanted to do that to make sure that the distinction was clear, that they are, in fact, targeting straight men and not gay men with their new line of blue products- but let's face it, making it blue doesn't make it manly.

Where have all the manly men gone? Where are the overconfident, macho alpha males who don't 'get' makeup or sad movies? Where are the good old boys who say that they're taking Friday night off to just be with the boys, who bowl, spit, and crush beer cans on their foreheads? Where are all the air guitar playing buttheads who can't watch a live fight without throwing air punches and yelling helpful advice to the combattants?

There have been periods where it's been ok for men to experiment with makeup, hair and clothes, to show that these are fun things that men don't have to be excluded from. We all know the glam rockers of the 80s and 90s with their androgynous look, their eyeliner and hairspray, looking good and rocking out, mostly to all male audiences. There was a period in the 90s too when a lot of men were using nail polish and other accents. All of that is fine and dandy, as long as it remains fun.

But there's a point where the industry turns fun into lifelong insecurity over beauty and appearance. One of the things that women love about men and envy them for, is their self confidence. Men are raised to be confident beings. They don't spend their high school years commenting on their friends gaining a pound or wearing a bad outfit. They don't hold themselves to the standards of lingerie models. There's a reason why self-esteem campaigns are designed for young women- there's so much pressure on them to live up to a certain standard of beauty, that most of them grow into adulthood still thinking that they're ugly or overweight, when this is often not true.

For a long time, it seemed like men were impervious to all of this. Even in today's day and age where we're all supposedly so enlightened, a smart man can still overcome average looks to get a great woman. A less than average attractive woman can't do the same. And what is the most common reaction to meeting someone's wife? You generally say that they're pretty. And if they're not, you generally don't say anything at all- and believe me, we women notice that.

I can't imagine many things less sexy than a man who says "babe, can you move over for a sec so that I can put my eye roller and face gel on? Can you see the lines under my eyes? Does that look even to you? Do you think I need a little more here?" I still prefer the man who wonders what all that crap in the makeup basket is and what exactly it does. You know that man. The one who wonders why you even need makeup, why you spend so much on it, why you leave the basket so close to the can, what that little stick thing does. That man.

Of course, selling insecurity is just so profitable. Cosmetic companies are well aware that the social model of the man is standing in the way of generating profits across the entire demographic. That's still no good reason to turn them into women. The insecurity over looks isn't the best part about being a woman either- if men wanted to take a page out of our book, they could learn to be more considerate rather than learning the intricacies of mascara.

Men should resist the For Men trend as long as possible. They should even scorn it. Stick to a shower, shave and a haircut. Keep it simple and stay confident.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Beware of Strangers

A woman in the US is suing the dating site for setting her up with a man who sexually assaulted her. The suit demands that the website screen its members for sexual predators. This lawsuit brings up critical issues surrounding internet safety, changing social trends, and questions of personal responsibility. And people should not be quick to dismiss this as a stupid and unfortunate case of someone making a bad judgment call; it is, in fact, a reminder of the stark reality that people should always beware of strangers.

In terms of personal responsibility, the lawsuit demonstrates that the woman was assaulted on her second date. This second date was a personal choice, therefore the woman should take personal responsibility for having put her trust in this person, regardless of the awful thing he did to her. The sad reality is that we are all putting ourselves at risk when we enter a relationship- particularly one with a total and complete stranger.

Changing social trends indicate that more and more people are putting their blind faith in technology, trusting it with just about every aspect of their lives, including their personal and romantic lives. This is an enormous risk. The internet makes you accessible, but it also exposes you and makes you vulnerable.

The rise of internet interactions is posing a series of unique challenges to our social behavior and our perception of risks. While websites will try to sell you internet dating as a great resource for accessing gorgeous potential romantic partners for candlelight dinners, it completely glosses over the inherent risks and also refuses to take responsibility for them by screens and disclaimers. In short, date at your own risk.

It's not the website's responsibility to screen their candidates. They're only interested in making money off membership fees. They are a cold hard cash business and don't fool yourself into thinking that they give a rat's ass about whether or not you find true love. In fact, the more times that you fail to find true love and end up on multiple dates with multiple losers, the better things are for them. So they are essentially making money off your misery.

This is not to say that nobody finds love on the internet or that websites don't work. But people should consider some important things before they do online dating.

1- People lie. It's so much easier to lie from behind a computer screen somewhere. You can be just about anything that you want to be- and many people feel that they want to be the best possible version of themselves, maybe slightly taller, slightly thinner, slightly younger. In any case, not themselves.

2- Pictures lie. In some cases, they're old photos, in others, they're 'borrowed' from other people. Yes, these people exist- few people would be stupid enough to pose as Angelina Jolie- but they are often not the person whose profile you're browsing.

3- Profiles are superficial. 1000 women who play soccer are not destined to be the love of your life, no matter how important soccer is to you. Not to mention the fact that breaking down a person by vital statistics like age, gender, race and likes vs. dislikes is not exactly a profound analysis. While companies like EHarmony claim that they have a formula with in-depth questionnaires, it's nothing compared to meeting someone face to face, learning what they're like in their every day lives, seeing them in unique situations, or having a history with them. This model may work at getting all these things, but it may also just be successful by happenstance.

4- First impressions lie. The woman in the lawsuit likely found her attacker to be charming because she agreed to a second date. Indeed, most people are charming at first glance, including dangerous ones. You can't assume that you actually know someone based on a first meeting. How many times have you heard people talk of bad relationships and start off with this well-known refrain: "At first, he seemed like a really nice guy. And then..."

It's the "and then" part that people should be wary of.

5- You are ultimately responsible for your own safety and well being. This means that you can't blame companies if you give a psychopath your phone number or if you sleep with someone you've just met and catch a sexual disease. These are your choices and you need to live with their consequences. Be careful, because you can't expect companies to look out for your interests; that's not what they're there for.

Only you can take care of you.

Monday, April 4, 2011

All For Fighting

I recently read an article on the UFC (The Ultimate Fighting Championships) in Report on Business, a free magazine insert in the Globe and Mail which featured Georges St. Pierre on its cover, claiming that the UFC has risen from basement level obscurity into a multimillion dollar franchise for the fight-loving masses. The article was incredibly insightful and it got me to thinking about the role of violent sports in society and how the rise to prominence for the UFC may have less to do with slick marketing than it does with good timing.

A look back in history will tell you that violent sports often meet their peak with the masses when times are good. Take the Greeks at the height of civilization with the first Olympics and the Romans with their gladiators. The first Olympics was not the clean, happy world gathering that you see nowadays littered with Coke ads, but rather, it was a brutal show of force between rivals and could, on occasion, replace an actual war. By sending out their fiercest warriors to battle it out in single-handed combat in front of the people, the people were giving out a clear message: don't mess with us.

The entertainment industry can sometimes offer an unique counter portrait to the society that it's targeted for. During the Depression, there was a rise in cheesy, banal and over the top optimistic films featuring lots of singing and dancing, which was what the starving masses needed in order to take their minds off their troubles. Likewise, times of leisure and opulence are usually the best time for introducing horror and apocalyptic style films- hence, the rising zombie trend, the best selliing war games and now, the rise of the UFC into mainstream sports.

The octagon is basically a return to the gladiator arena. It's been regulated into a sport which is less bloodshow and more sportsmanship. The advertisers are quick to play up the hours of rigourous training, regimes, and all-around diversity of their fighters, who are skilled in several forms of combat. It's not just a bop on the head sport- it requires reflexes, adaptability, anticipation, and a variety of techniques borrowed from judo, kickboxing and others.

It also helps that their spokesman is a presence. Georges St. Pierre has an air about him that's clearly alpha male in the best sense of the word: he's the strong, silent type who proves himself through actions, not words, and his eyes are all steely determination. He appeals to both men and women alike because he's the kind of man most men want to be and the kind of man most women want to be with. Watching him work out is hypnotic. And the most surprising thing? He's articulate. He's not a big dah dah crush beer can on forehead beast.

The UFC has a gold mine in St. Pierre and they know it. He's an icon in Canada and all over Japan. Dana White may be famous for causing controversy and self-promotion, but he bet on the right horse to make his venture a success. Anything with St. Pierre in it is going to be a runaway success- unless he starts doing romantic comedies. And even then, who knows? Can anyone stop Georges St. Pierre?

A final sociological positive note for the UFC and St. Pierre is this: countless generations of young men have been defined and initiated into manhood by going to war. With less men in North America being recruited for this kind of activity, and with wars being less deadly than the battles of the two world wars, more men have been defined by sports figures going to war for them. This gives men like Georges St. Pierre an even more important social role to play, because he battles for these young men.

And he makes it look good.