Out of all the topics that I've written about over the past 9 months, I know this one will be the trickiest. There was a time when I kept most of my views to myself, and only recently has being "environmental" come into acceptance. I found that meshing my passions with yoga and the environment almost seamless.
My passion with feminism, however, hasn't been fitting so well or garnered the same kind of like to like in the yoga world. This actually came as a surprise, as the realization that practicing yoga wasn't truly the same kind of "left" as being an environmentalist. Whereas many environmentalists are also feminists (in some way, shape or form, whether they use the label or not), I have found that many yogis are not, or aren't even aware of a need for feminism.
Perhaps this is due to Yoga's history; modern yoga being introduced to our Western culture by men, a traditional text that was written in a time deeply eschewed in patriarchy and male superiority or that it has been popularized by a media in a culture (ours) entrenched in unequal, misogynistic tendencies where women are objects and sexualized. Regardless of the reason, yoga's rise in popularity is most definitely coloured by how our culture views women/men, their bodies and our power structure.
After spending years studying and presenting on how our media influences our body image, self esteem and relationships, how women in Canada and the US do not, in fact, make equal wages (70 cents to the male dollar...as of the Gender Report 2008), the corporate "glass ceiling", the percentage of women with eating disorders vs men (90% of diagnosed eating disorders are with women, the number 1 cause of death by mental illness) etc etc.... I started to realize that I was accepting cultural mores as "normal" as I rationalized everything through my own socialized "glasses".
I'm talking mostly little things, comments that irk or may go completely unnoticed but are telling. Like when the instructor apologizes to the one man in the room for calling Utkata Konasana "Goddess Pose" while she had spent the entirety of the class naming "warrior's", "Lord of the Fishes", "King Pigeon" etc. Regardless if you believe that names are simply that, meaningless (which of course as someone trained in language, our words matter and influence our thoughts), it is interesting to note the instructor's reaction. Why did she apologize for calling it "The Goddess Pose", but didn't even think twice about the other "male-named" poses?
Another area of interest is those celebrity Yogis who are leaders in our community. Quickly I can name both female and male: Shiva Rea, Seane Corn, Patricia Walden... and B.K.S. Iyengar, the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, Bikram Choudhury, Baron Baptiste, John Friend...
Notice any difference? All the women are beautiful and described in physical terms along with their revolutionary impact on Yoga. Have you seen pictures of the male yogis? Not one would I term as a traditional "male model beauty"- their fame has been achieved solely through ability. I would be kidding myself if I believed that Seane Corn, Patricia Walden and Shiva Rea became such media icons completely through their yoga expertise.
All movements have media "reps" who do well in the lime-light, the women are usually always beautiful. In the feminist movement Naomi Wolf received quite a bit of backlash from her very own feminist-sisters for this very fact. For a woman in our current culture, more so than men, being beautiful sells and the female body is being sexualized younger and younger (Have you SEEN the recent music videos?? ugh). I just read a post discussing Tara Stiles and her "sexy" videos. The author implied that Tara, Ford model, was popular because of video's being "sexy" and that she was cashing in and using her body to sell her yoga (in part). I have checked out her videos and there are many, many, that are not overtly sexual in any manner other than the fact that she is beautiful. There is definitely one where all the video shots (labeled Tara Stiles Yoga) are conveniently close ups of her butt and feminine bits, but that was a promotional video... telling all by itself.
What I thought was interesting was that the author implied "blame" being put on Tara and not the consumers (whom were quoted to like her yoga because of her beautiful bod). His opinion; she had a choice (to be born beautiful?) and therefore if she wanted to "use her body" to sell her videos, so be it. There was a discussion on how short her shorts were, or revealing her tops were. If you check out her videos she wears skimpy clothing for the promotional vid and stretch vid, the rest being long pants and shirts or shorts and long shirts... jogging pants and work out clothing. Hardly as if she had decided to practice yoga in a bikini, which was what I was expecting from his post. I especially thought this video (Handstands Everywhere) was sexy... seriously though. If an entire culture views women's bodies as sexual, how can she have a choice in the matter? I would postulate that perhaps as consumers WE have that choice on how we view, discuss and judge other Yogi/nis and people. My clothing (or lack thereof) should not be considered an invitation for sexualization or objectification.
An interesting discussion on Yoga Dawg's site with Tara's American Apparel advert occurred in August. Tara even made an appearance. As an ad that sexualizes the female body (which it does) it continues to support the cultural norms of female body objectification. We are bombarded with ads every day which as a BILLION dollar industry, obviously works. We are influenced by ads.
This brings me to Bikram... whom I've seen in skimpy, skimpy speedos, and have not heard of followers claiming they love him because he's sexy. As women we are caught, practicing yoga can be Hard Work, we get sweaty and smelly. I personally do not like to practice yoga in long pants and cannot even FATHOM practicing with long sleeves (as IF I care about somehow being inappropriate by showing my arms). I would like to be able to practice in a class without worrying that a fellow yogi will deem my shoulders, back, arms and legs as inappropriate. I'm there to practice yoga comfortably, not to be judged. Lululemon, the most popular yoga clothing supplier, sells and pushes clothing with a focus on looking cute above function. I remember reading somewhere that the founder, Chip Wilson, "wanted yoga pants that would make women's butts look good". There's even a weird video explaining WHY the pants enhance the female bottom.
Alright. Enough about this entire can of worms. I do feel very grateful to the awesome Yogi/nis who are aware and are angry that I have met. :) If you don't think it's a problem, perhaps take the next few weeks to notice just how many ads are geared at the sexualization of women... or watch Killing Us Softly (1,2 or 3), here's a clip.
article authored by EcoYogini at ecoyogini.blogspot.com