"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Feminist Lessons from Zombie Marie Curie

(Via xkcd)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Jackass for Girls

I found this recent College Humor sketch rather poignant, because it illuminates how although large pockets of society find daredevil dude-pain outrageously humorous, there's very little that's funny about lady-pain.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Subverting the Script

I babysat for my 19-month-old nephew over the weekend, and I learned that one of his favorite toys at the moment is an adorable "Finger Puppet Theater" featuring a fold-out, castle-shaped stage made of felt and a collection of "medieval"-themed felt finger puppets. Among these characters are a knight in armor, a dragon, a wizard in a purple gown and pointy hat, and the only female character is, of course, a yellow-haired princess in a pink dress.

The kid has just entered the cutest phase where he'll climb into your lap, act fascinated, and actually sit still long enough for you to tell a couple of stories with the puppets. So, when he did this with me, I suddenly felt like the pressure was on for me to stretch my feminist muscles with some non-heteronormative feminist puppet tales.

The sad thing about this is that when all you have to work with is a knight in shining armor and a princess in a pink dress, it's actually really hard to subvert the traditional "princess is stuck in the castle tower and needs to be rescued by the knight" cliche. Because when you start to make the puppets "perform" for a little kid, it feels so natural to slip into using an over-exaggerated, super-high and weak-sounding voice for the princess and an over-exaggerated, super-low and heroic-sounding voice for the knight, which would make it so easy to lead right into repeating the same old story.

I resisted the bothersome urge to follow that sexist script, but I have to admit that the stories I did tell felt super forced. I had no idea what sorts of voices to use for the characters, since their appearances seemed to suggest what their voices should sound like. After having the princess teach new spells to the bumbling wizard and tame the dragon and rescue the prince, I just felt tired and welcomed the opportunity to switch to playing with choo-choo trains.

It just made me sad, because I know that as he grows, he's going to hear and watch and read hundreds of stories, and he's going to learn all of these sexist tropes that are lurking everywhere, and if his feminist aunt who has a master's degree in women's studies has trouble improvising a few gender-role-subverting stories, what hope do we have of ever thwarting patriarchy?

Friday, September 17, 2010

How is Gender at Work?

As you've probably figured out, it's hard for me to consume visual media without thinking about the ways in which gender is at work in what I'm seeing.

For example, yesterday, I watched an episode of Hoarders that followed the separate stories of a woman (Robin) and a man (Ken) with terrible hoarding problems that made their homes completely unlivable. The interesting difference between the two stories was that while Robin was facing the possibility that her home might be condemned and demolished, Ken was being threatened with six months of jail time as a consequence for the condition of his property.

Now, it's not like their situations were identical except for their gender. I wondered if maybe Ken faced incarceration because his yard was incredibly littered with junk, whereas Robin's problem was contained indoors, and one was just more visible and therefore violated more city ordinances or whatever, but I still couldn't shake the feeling that gender mattered in how these two cases were handled.

Whether or not that's true in this specific scenario, we do live in a culture that is quick to punish men through the criminal system and more reluctant to slap women with the same charges. (I should note that this is especially true of white women, and that women of color are often not afforded the luxury of appearing too "fragile" for prison.) In many situations, we assume men are acting rationally and therefore deserve punishment for their actions, and we are quicker to assume that women are mentally ill and in need of social services.

I'm not saying that we should be quicker to send women to jail or that we should stop punishing men who commit crimes, but it's important for us to think about how gender stereotypes act subtly on our social consciousness, affect our actions and reactions to people and events, and result in myriad inequalities.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Axe Tells Men to Clean Their Balls

I refuse to give Axe any accolades whatsoever, but I can't say I'm not amused to finally see an ad campaign implying that men could use a little hygiene of their own "down there".

Now, don't get me wrong. This ad isn't sexism-free, what with the message that men should clean their junk so hot women will want to play with it, but the general absence of male hygiene ads contrasted with the sheer volume of such ads for women has helped to enforce the cultural notion that women are dirty and men don't really have to try.

Still, one funny "wash your balls" ad will never outweigh the decades of nauseating "freshness" messages we've endured.

Vintage Ad of the Day

I'm too creeped out by this to comment.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Boobs Drive Technology


Of COURSE the world's first 3D billboard would have to be for Wonder Bra.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Beauty and the Doofus

Last summer, when I was making my way through every episode of 90210, I posted about some stereotype-breaking, gender-flipped scenarios I'd love to see on television.

The other night, Dan and I watched Anchorman, and not only was it way less funny to me than it was six years ago, but it got me thinking about how annoyingly common this premise is in comedy:

Absolutely ridiculous, unattractive and/or unintelligent male protagonist actively and creepily pursues and/or sexually harasses a beautiful (but not funny), intelligent female love interest. She is either immediately or eventually (and often without explanation) won over by him and falls deeply and madly in love. They work together to resolve some sort of plot conflict. He remains comically strange and unattractive. She remains beautiful. They live happily ever after. The end.

(See Wayne's World, Austin Powers, Anchorman, Zoolander, Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, and a million others.)

Just ONCE, I'd like to see the gender roles reversed. Can you think of any film at all where a super-quirky, not necessarily beautiful female lead lands a strikingly handsome guy with little to no personality? The only examples I can think of that come close are the ones where the female character is a robot, alien, mannequin, or mermaid, and she is quirky by virtue of her non-humanness. However, in these movies she is still incredibly beautiful, and the story is still told from the point of view of the male character who falls in love with her.

It's just nauseating sometimes.

(See here for an example of a similar conundrum.)

Friday, September 10, 2010

More Options or Dangerous Double Standard?

My Women's Studies students always wanted to conclude that the fact that women are culturally freer to enjoy more "masculine" things (like sports, beer, and action movies) than men are to enjoy "feminine" things (like knitting, Twilight, and Lean Cuisine) means simply that women are advantaged and have more opportunities available to them. They didn't stop to think that perhaps things associated with women and femininity are so devalued that men are socially encouraged to avoid them at all costs, while activities associated with men are elevated such that it makes women seem "cooler" when they engage in them.

A good example of this is the ability of male comedians to get laughs by pretending to really like "feminine" things. I was reminded of this when watching a Daily Show episode from a couple weeks ago where Lewis Black expresses his disappointment in the film adaptation of Eat, Pray, Love for its inability to live up to the profound spirituality of the book and has the audience rolling with laughter at the notion that this heterosexual man would actually have any interest whatsoever in this feminine cultural phenomenon. (The video won't embed, but you can watch the segment here.)

Can you even imagine this scenario with the genders reversed? A female comedian waxing poetic about the latest Transformers movie with the audience laughing at the complete HILARITY at the idea that she might have enjoyed it? It would just come off as confusing.

Most women know from experience that showing off all the ways in which we like what "the boys" like can earn us a little bit of power, because it somehow gives us instant credibility if men know that we know all the rules in football or how to change a tire or whatnot. Growing up, I always felt like "one of the guys" for knowing my fair share about heavy metal music, video games, and Star Wars. I only regret that guys never expended nearly as much energy trying to impress me with their knowledge of anything "girly".

Monday, August 23, 2010

Objectification, Made Simple

Via Indexed.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Diet Advice, Social Eating, and Feminism

(Cross-posted at UNBREADED)

You know the standard diet tips that are always showing up everywhere? The ones we've all heard a million times, but the magazines keep printing them, and the thin and bubbly morning news anchors keep filling segments with them? Sometimes, I feel like the media is droning out an endless Lost-style radio signal telling us to take the stairs, use smaller plates, and stop eating hours before bedtime.

While I find the repetition of many of these tips mildly annoying, there's one that I keep seeing that really gets under my skin: the one that advises we avoid eating alone.

The logic behind this tip is that people who consume most of their food in the presence of others apparently let their self-consciousness about appearing gluttonous get in the way of stuffing their faces. And while this advice may work wonders for some people, it's totally lost on me for a couple of reasons:

1) I've realized over the years that I'm what you might call a social eater. For me, food -- especially junk food full of sugar and starch -- is more fun when it's being shared. While I can stay on track with a healthy eating plan with few problems by myself, I often find a way to use getting together with friends as an excuse to stop caring about what I'm putting into my body. Sadly, this has meant that the times in my life when I feel the most fulfilled socially are also the times when I tend to gain the most weight, and rededicating myself to health and weight-loss often means having to isolate myself for a while in order to develop new habits.

Part of the problem is that I feel like I'm less fun (maybe even less me) when I'm ordering a salad instead of fries and drinking water instead of soda. I've never smoked, and I rarely drink, but I imagine the psychological process involved is similar for people who smoke or drink socially. I have this strong feeling that such indulgence is somehow necessary to my good time. Remember that study that came out a few years ago claiming that people with fat friends are more likely to also be fat? It made sense to me, because I think people just like surrounding themselves with like-minded people who enjoy similar things. Katie and I talk a lot about how there are so many people out there who just don't seem to care about food the way we do, and we both agree that it's much harder to relate to these people socially. Similarly, I doubt someone who thinks a party isn't a party without alcohol would get a lot of enjoyment from hanging out with me, but if you're always in the mood to get together and consume a large pizza and a tube of raw cookie dough, I'm your girl.

2) Those who know me well know that I'm a raging feminist who resents how women in our culture live in a regime in which we are constantly judged by our behavior and appearance and encouraged not to take up too much space. And the "friendly" dieting advice telling us not to eat alone actively counsels us to yield to insecurities derived from societal rules about how much and what types of foods women should be eating. In a culture in which we are are constantly taught that men are entitled to rich foods in large amounts and women are not, diet advice that encourages this sort of self-surveillance in women (anyone else read Foucault in college?) serves to further entrench gendered oppression and inequality.

My problem is that my feminist consciousness makes me want desperately to rebel against diet culture, even though I often actively participate in it, and that creates an ambivalence in me about eating that makes me go back and forth between trying to eat really healthfully and wanting to lash out at the diet industry by eating whatever the hell I damn well please, thankyouverymuch. It's not that appetite and/or fatness are inherently feminist, but in our sexist culture, unapologetic appetite and/or fatness in women is inherently political. And throughout my life, I have taken a special pride in being able -- in the presence of others -- to "eat like a man". I don't know that it's ever even really occurred to me to worry that people might think I'm eating too much, but I hate it when other people know I'm watching what I eat, because it feels antifeminist and stereotypically girly.

I'm interested in hearing what others think about this. Do your individual health goals sometimes end up conflicting with your self-image or your personal politics, and if so, how do you deal with it? Which conventional diet/fitness/health tips annoy the crap out of you?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Vintage Ad of the Day

American Airlines, 1950:


Copy reads:
VACATIONS are for Father but... Mother makes the plans!

In most families planning a vacation is mother's job. Carefully for months on end, she looks for just the right place to give father a good rest.

Today Flagship travel brings within her reach many wonderful places never before practical. Long tiring hours "on the road" are the thing of the past. By Flagship the trip is quick and easy. The family arrives rested and ready to enjoy those extra days of vacation.

So plan to vacation by Flagship this year. You'll find your holiday starts the moment you board the plane.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Real Dolls and the Problem with "Anatomically Correct"

One of my friends just shared this short documentary piece on the making of Real Dolls. There's also a super creepy series of photos from the factory here.

Honey Pie from California is a place. on Vimeo.

Real Dolls certainly give us feminists plenty to be bothered about, but when watching this video, the thing that probably bothered me the most is when the guy explained that when he started making these things, he got lots of questions about whether they were "anatomically correct", which is why they ended up with fuckable vaginas. And it struck me -- why, in our culture, does the term "anatomically correct" automatically equal genitals? When someone uses that term, we know exactly what they're talking about. (Sort of like how we know what the term "legal" is supposed to mean, when we're referring to young girls. Shudder.)

Shouldn't "anatomically correct" also refer to working brains? Central nervous systems? Hearts, lungs, bones, pores, blood cells, metabolism, digestion? These dolls, of course, have none of these things, but as long as they're "anatomically correct" in the way that serves the penises of the men who buy them, that's all that matters.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Video Chatting and the Male Gaze

So far, I've seen two of these new iPhone 4 commercials featuring the device's video chatting capabilities, and I'm really struck by how both of them feature someone who's male reassuring someone who's female that she looks okay.

In a culture where girls and women spend such large portions of their lives feeling self-conscious about how they look and feeling scrutinized by the male gaze, it's interesting to think about the types of political consequences face-to-face video chatting technology might someday have for women.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Thursday, July 15, 2010

More like Stereotypical

According to Allstate, "your typical teenage girl" is MAYHEM!

And so are "hot babes out jogging":

Good to know.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Gendered Marketing Compare and Contrast

I just saw the Shake Weight for Men commercial for the first time, and I was sort of stunned (although not really surprised) by how different it is from the earlier commercial aimed at women. Everything in these ads -- from the background music and narration, to the types of bodies shown -- communicates messages about "proper" masculinity and femininity.

It's "Look how easy this is, ladies! Anyone can do it!" versus "It will kick! Your! Butt!"

It's "Be strong and build muscle, men!" versus "Get rid of those problem areas, so you can look pretty in clothes!".

But most of all, it's just annoying.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Massive Eyeroll Friday: Charlotte, NC Named "America's Manliest City"

(Warning: Out of sheer necessity, this post contains an unprecedented amount of snarky quotation marks.)

So, the Mars corporation (which owns about a million trademarked food brands) apparently just conducted its second annual study to determine the "manliest" city in the U.S. Aside from consumption of Mars' more "manly" snack foods (Get the hilarious promotional tie-in? Get it?!), the criteria to determine "manliness" included participation in sports and "manly occupations", along with a ton of other activities I sort of thought women were allowed to participate in, too. I guess I was wrong, though.

Just read for yourself. (Emphasis mine):
The COMBOS® “America’s Manliest Cities” study ranks 50 major metropolitan areas, using manly criteria like the number of home improvement stores, steak houses, pickup trucks and motorcycles per capita. “We’re excited to release the second installment of the COMBOS® ‘America’s Manliest Cities’ rankings,” said Craig Hall, general manager, Mars Chocolate North America. “Charlotte is NASCAR country so we’re not surprised that they’ve taken over the top spot. After all, COMBOS® has been the ‘Official Cheese-Filled Snack of NASCAR’ since 2002.”

Several cities made big jumps up the rankings this year – Chicago, Baltimore, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia all broke the top 10 after being in the lower half of last year’s rankings. In addition to cities improving or declining in returning categories, the change in rankings can also be attributed to a new category this year – manly occupations (fire fighters, police officers, construction workers and EMT personnel).

The manly occupations category was added this year to recognize the hard-working guys that make so many American cities great places to live.

Supporting the theme of manliness, COMBOS® also recently launched its Zone Sweet Home sweepstakes at www.COMBOS.com – an opportunity for guys to win an ultimate Home Theater Zone, Tailgating Zone or Gaming Zone, each worth up to $25,000.

Manly Study Highlights

  • Charlotte, N.C. now has chief bragging rights on manliness thanks to its top 10 rankings in the sports, manly lifestyle, manly retail stores, manly occupations and salty snack sales categories.
  • Chi-town natives have another reason to applaud local police officers and firefighters. Chicago moved up 39 spots in the rankings to No. 7 overall, partly thanks to a strong ranking (No. 3) in the manly occupations category.
  • Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento, Calif., Oakland, Calif. and Portland, Ore. failed to pull themselves out of the basement of manliness as they each remained in the bottom 10 spots of the rankings for a second consecutive year.
  • Tennessee men embrace a manly lifestyle as Memphis and Nashville finished first and second in the “manly lifestyle” category that tracks the number of pickup trucks and motorcycles registered in the city, sports TV viewing habits, fishing and home improvement.
  • Long known as a city for diehard sports fans, Boston backed up that claim by taking the No.1 spot in the sports category thanks not only to the number of professional sports teams, but the quality of professional sports in the city.
  • The men of Oklahoma City still know how to snack with gusto. For the second year in a row, their city owns the highest purchase rate of salty snacks, such as COMBOS®.

Glad to know that giant corporations are spreading the important message that salty snacks, steak houses, law enforcement, firefighting, construction work, emergency medical training, all sports and sports TV viewing, home improvement stores, fishing, motorcycles, and pickup trucks are the purview of men. Since my city happened to take second place in manliness, I guess that means I'll have to move to the girly west coast.

Vintage Ad of the Day

In another surprisingly gender-neutral ad from the 1960s, a woman is shown using a power tool right alongside a man. Gasp!



Thursday, June 24, 2010

Futurama Returns!

Catch the new episodes starting tonight at 10pm on Comedy Central.

Leela Turanga from Futurama Pictures, Images and Photos