Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Super Tuesday Thoughts: for Palpable, Positive Change, Support Mike Gravel

Change. According to National Public Radio’s renowned program “Marketplace,” “change” has been a buzzword of presidential campaigns since 1988, the year that Democrats and Republicans alike realized the importance of appealing to independents with vague but powerful rhetoric that could ultimately win them over. However, if Mike Gravel, former Democratic senator from Alaska, were to become elected Commander in Chief, “change” would not be just a choice catch phrase any longer. In the primaries today, vote for Mike Gravel to represent the forward-thinking leftists of the United States as the Democratic candidate of the 2008 presidential election.

Due to the Bush Administration’s unilateral policies, our government and country quickly gained a terrible reputation abroad. In order to reaffirm our alliances with the European Union, African Union and others as well as to improve our image in the Middle East and Latin America, we need a liberal leader who can show the rest of the world that we are not the regressive, ignorant fools they have begun to assume Americans to be. Regarding Mexican immigration, Gravel believes that to displace the 12 million or so illegal Latino immigrants working in the U.S. would not only severely damage American industries and our economy, but would also be equivalent to a second “Trail of Tears” (Blue Star Observer). Unlike Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Gravel does not believe in having a fence—which he sees as highly symbolic of our lack of empathy for the political and economic turmoil that Latinos are enduring in Mexico—along the U.S.-Mexico border; instead, he acknowledges the roots of illegal immigration and wants to monitor the flow of immigrants into our country, allow Mexicans to participate in guest worker programs, and set up naturalization procedures to get immigrants on the path to becoming American citizens (gravel2008.us).

I believe that one of the main reasons for animosity towards Latin Americans is racism. In the 1920s, Asian immigrants were considered scum and were thus almost completely barred entry to the United States; however, today, Asian Americans are seen as the “model minority” due to their outstanding contributions to American businesses and society, and Asian cultures are fetishized and admired. As the trends of history indicate, attitudes towards Latinos and their culture a few decades from now will be identical, especially thanks to forward-thinking legislation from politicians such as Mike Gravel.

Similarly, regarding the issue of Iraq, Gravel has examined the roots of the turmoil in the civil war-laden country, and he believes that we must assist Iraq as well as improve America’s international reputation by pulling troops out of the country over a period of 120 days. However, he would not simply abandon the region afterwards, causing tensions to fester; according to his campaign website, Gravel will work with Iraqi businesses and neighboring Middle Eastern nations in a collective effort to rebuild and bring peace to Iraq. This may mean aggressive diplomatic action against sectarian violence, but it does not mean maintaining troops in the country. This series of actions will drastically improve America’s approval ratings in Europe, the Middle East and other areas—thus insuring our access to foreign oil sources as well as protecting our country against hateful acts of terrorism—and will end the too-long list of maimed or killed military personnel. Currently, the stagnant, seemingly pointless war in Iraq is one of the most frustrating issues for millions of Americans; in order for a major change to occur, Mike Gravel must be elected President of the United States this year.

As I mentioned earlier, American society becomes more and more accepting of difference with every passing decade. One marginalized group that has gained national attention in the past fifty or so years but has yet to experience the joys of equality is America’s homosexual community. With Mike Gravel as our president, we will finally be able to catch up to the rest of the developed world and legalize gay marriage, allow gay people to openly serve in the military, and block constitutional amendments that stifle gay rights (gravel2008.us). Presidential candidates such as Clinton, Obama and Huckabee exhibit extraordinary cowardice by hiding behind their religious upbringings, ineloquently and illogically deeming gay marriage immoral or claiming that it goes against the teachings in the Bible. Gravel, always a progressive thinker, sees that denying rights to any American is the truly immoral action. Gravel says that he is perturbed by religious people’s claim that marriage is a religious institution:

"Marriage preceded all forms of religion in civilization. Marriage is a commitment between two human beings in love. And understand me, I'm saying two human beings. They can be heterosexual; they can be two lesbians; they can be transgender; they can be two gays (glassbooth.org)."

Even Obama admits in his 2006 book “The Audacity of Hope” that his unwillingness to support gay marriage may be ultimately misguided, stating, “… in years hence I may be seen as someone who was on the wrong side of history." Show your support for the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for every American by supporting Mike Gravel.

Many Democrats in the United States may argue against selecting Gravel as the Democratic presidential nominee because he is not an “electable” candidate. His beliefs are too radical for many independents to swallow, which means that, if he were running against a conservative candidate who made constant appeals to “the middle,” Gravel would probably lose the election. I agree with the logic behind this notion, and I have already come to terms with the fact that, come November, I will be voting for either Clinton or Obama. However, today in the primaries, I am going to support the candidate whose beliefs and ideas are the most progressive, moral, diplomatic and empathetic: Mike Gravel. Knowing that most Democrats and leftists are going to be voting for either Obama or Clinton today, show support for Gravel in order to attract national attention to the growing number of liberal thinkers in the United States. The time for change is now.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Hyper-sexuality: a Discussion of Femininity & Society

A woman's leg coils around an erect metal pole while dozens of entranced men stare at her greased body. A female teenager in a miniskirt and revealing halter-top struts past a group of drooling high school boys. By passionately embracing traditional notions of feminine sexuality and allowing herself to be admired by others, is a female obtaining social control and personal empowerment or is she consenting to her own objectification? While adhering to traditionally feminine ideals of beauty and sexualized social roles (by, for instance, wearing a short skirt or deciding to pose topless for pay) is not necessarily problematic, adhering to models of extreme femininity and hyper-sexuality in dress, behavior, and speech may challenge female social equality. Since one of the keys to equality and empowerment is respect from both others and oneself, perhaps women should exercise their femininity and sexuality moderately so as toa appear and feel respectable. This does not mean that a female must act like a man to succeed in society; however, presenting herself as a feminized, sexualized object ready for consumption may fail to earn a woman genuine respect for her personality, her feelings and opinions, or her personal rights.

Although most feminists would agree that patriarchal societies have suppressed female sexuality for centuries, feminist thinkers have formulated a wide range of opinions regarding how women should experience themselves as sexual beings. Current feminists, so-called “postmodern feminists,” would argue that a woman who takes advantage of her powerful feminine sexuality harbors a great deal of control because she can easily persuade others—especially men—to give her exactly what she wants. On the other hand, traditional feminist thinkers may label this tactic mere manipulation, claiming that the best way for a female to obtain social and personal power is to reject traditional feminine aesthetic ideals and established gender roles. Postmodern feminist thinkers, in response to this viewpoint, may accuse traditional feminists of expecting women to adopt normalized masculine characteristics and thus deny their unique feminine instincts, but traditional feminists would shoot back that permitting others to view oneself as an object leads to both one's dehumanization and powerlessness.

Several sources illuminate this ongoing debate. In their 1998 book Feminism and the Female Body: Liberating the Amazon Within, S. Castelnuovo and S. R. Gunthrie argue that the female body is an important vehicle for female empowerment because both women’s minds and bodies are sites of patriarchal oppression, and that women may most effectively assert control over their bodies through physical discipline. The authors advocate bodily strength and wellbeing over the weak prettiness and “restrictive body beauty norms” that they perceive “mainstream feminists” (131) to encourage, and they reference female bodybuilders and martial artists as women who experience physical and mental liberation because of their engagement in “empowering physical practices that challenge the feminine body beauty discourse” (62). Castelnuovo and Gunthrie are proponents of women finding power within themselves and meaning in their lives not by adhering to traditional norms of beauty or by emphasizing their feminine sexuality, but through mastery of their physicality. This concept does not claim that women should look or behave like men, but instead encourages females to develop their own unique physical strength.

Holland, Ramazanoglu, and Sharpe similarly claim in their article Power and Desire: The Embodiment of Female Sexuality that society wrongly assumes the female body to have a fixed essence of femininity; the body is socially constructed, according to the authors, which causes women to feel pressure to adhere to a prescribed ideal of physical femininity. Other women, however, have embraced patriarchal notions of female physicality by practicing sexualized behaviors usually reserved for erotic dancers. According to the post “Housewives, Pole Dancing, and Empowerment?” from the blog Feministing.com, middle-aged suburban women across the United States have recently embraced a form of aerobic exercise based on pole dancing. The craze has so thoroughly penetrated the nation that The Sopranos and Desperate Housewives have both displayed characters engaging in this type of aerobics, and pole dancing itself has become normalized to the point that mini-poles can now be found at extravagant bat mitzvah parties (Feministing.com).a
The females who participate in this activity claim it to be empowering because groups of women do it together for fun and for each other’s gazes only. Joan Price, author of Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk About Sex After Sixty (2006), explains that she and other proponents of pole dancing aerobics do not find the activity to be degrading because of the clear difference between women choosing to strip in front of men to avoid poverty, thereby putting themselves in demeaning and potentially dangerous situations, and middle-class women throwing single-sex pole dancing parties. Ariel Levy, author of Female Chauvinist Pigs, disagrees with this mindset. According to her, many women have internalized men’s objectifying views of themselves and now strive to embody these fantastical ideals to feel empowered. This has led to the rise of what Levy labels a “raunch culture” in which women harshly critique each other’s bodies and strive to exude sexuality; however, raunch culture fails to empower women, Levy states. For females to truly experience empowerment, she advises that women invent their own forms of sexual expression not based on the male gaze.
a
MILPH (Mothers in Life, Passion, and Health), a company created by entrepreneurial housewife and mother Amy Deming to help middle-aged mothers feel sexy again, is a perfect example of the raunch culture about which Levy writes. According to Paul Liberatore of the Marin Independent Journal, author of “Liberatore at Large: Sexy Startup Hopes to Empower Mothers,” the organization was inspired by the slang acronym M-I-L-F, meaning “Mom I’d Like to [expletive],” which is applied to attractive middle-aged women who young men consider sexually appealing. Ms. Deming explains to Liberatore that she wants to help moms everywhere feel sexy because of her own former perception of herself as being as an unempowered suburban housewife; after years of letting herself become “frumpy” and “drab” (Liberatore), Deming finally came to the realization that she needed to regain control over both her body and her sexuality. To encourage mothers to similarly embrace their sexiness, the MILPH website features extremely provocative photos of petite middle-aged models as well as produces calendars each year featuring twelve scantily-clad “MILPHs.”

Most aof these pinup-worthy women in the calendar and on the website, however, are “professional models and actresses” (Liberatore) that MILPH carefully selected from a large number of mothers from across the globe. This fantastical representation of housewives is problematic because it implies to both middle-aged mothers and society at large that the most successful housewives are extraordinarily attractive, which reinforces the stereotype of the sexy "trophy wife" and would harm the average housewife’s self-esteem more than it could guide her towards empowerment. By displaying oversexualized rare beauties that happen to be married mothers over the age of thirty, MILPH has created an unrealistic standard of physical appearance to which middle-aged women associating themselves with the company may feel intense pressure to adhere.

Unlike these newly conceived MILPHs, however, strippers have long been known for their hyper-sexualized behavior; consequently, they are the subject of many feminist debates about the effects of women overtly displaying their sexuality. Some argue that strippers are powerful because they are highly in control of their own sexualities and are able to completely captivate viewers, while others claim that a stripper is powerless to the whims of the men she is visually stimulating. In her article "The Dialectical Gaze" from the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, author Alexandra G. Murphy recognizes both of these possibilities by discussing how strippers are simultaneously subjects and objects of the male gaze. She begins her article by describing various viewpoints regarding females’ degree of agency within the sex trade—radical feminists believe that female sex workers are hurting not only themselves but also all females by encouraging the objectification of women, whereas liberal feminists consider strippers to be “subjects with power” rather than “objects of power” (Murphy 308) and benignly view sex workers as simply people looking to capitalize economically by selling their bodies.

According to Murphy, strippers are constantly negotiating their power relationships in the workplace and therefore are neither completely powerful nor devoid of control. When females allow themselves to be “sex objects,” they do not passively become the fictitious embodiment of male desires and fantasies; rather, as the author explains, strippers actively construct themselves as being fantastical sex objects. Women actively perform the role that they think men want them to play but are not intrinsically the “objects” men desire. Therefore, women are not submissively allowing themselves to be objectified but are employing discursive strategies to maximize profits. Men may seemingly exert control over strippers by making them the subjects of their gaze, but males are simultaneously controlled by their own spectatorship because they act as passive witnesses to the actions of their subjects.a

Strippers develop complex methods of deception in order to maintain control over their customers—they build a false sense of intimacy with the men they interact with so that the male customers will tip more generously. In one stripper’s words, “I am making so much money off these guys that are stupid enough to spend it. That is power. What is more power than that?” (317) Furthermore, strippers, like their customers, employ gazing strategies; they are constantly watching customers to figure out which men have the most money to spend. On the other hand, according to the author, female strippers must put up with various inappropriate behaviors in bowing to the whims of male customers: “[a man does] not have to be witty, nice or smart for these female bodies to serve and entertain him. To make money in this occupation, dancers must stand almost naked in front of fully clothed men and tolerate their insulting and degrading comments, daily sexual propositions, roving hands, and even some physical threats” (314). As Murphy explains, while exotic dancers may have some discursive control over their customers, they must pretend not to have any power and are forced to be extremely accommodating to the wishes of even the most brutish males they serve.

Are today's females more willing to sport hyper-sexualized appearances, and if so, why? According to Claire Hoffman, reporter for the Los Angeles Times, modern American popular culture is saturated with sex and exhibitionism thanks to media sources. In her article “Joe Francis: ‘Baby, give me a kiss,’” a story on the mastermind behind the Girls Gone Wild soft-core porn empire, Hoffman describes that, after speaking with many scantily-clad young women in clubs who bared their breasts for the GGW crew, she realized that today’s youth—accustomed to cheap video technology and reality TV—consider the camera a source of validation. Some American women believe that striking racy poses for a film crew may “catapult them to Paris Hilton-like fame” overnight (Hoffman). Young females may also feel validated by receiving a man’s selective sexual attention; as one GGW participant named Jannel Szyszka explained, “Whoa—Joe's, like, trying to talk to me, like, out of all the girls in here” (Hoffman).

Because of the intense social pressure to be physically attractive that is encouraged by the existence of stylish celebrities and anorexic models, some American women may believe that flaunting their bodies and accentuating their sexuality are the most effective ways to entice others—both men and women—to like and “respect” them. Females feel that they must correct the "flaws" in their appearances and draw attention to their most attractive qualities by employing makeup, hair dye, high heels, certain clothing, and even plastic surgery. Although these tactics may seem to attract positive attention on the street, aespecially from men, they have the opposite effect in other places—for instance, the workplace.

According to the ABC News article "Can Sexy Women Climb the Corporate Ladder?" by Eric Noe, if a woman is interested in holding a position of power, she will be looked down upon by coworkers of both sexes for emphasizing her sexuality or putting blatant effort into improving her physical appearance; this is because people often immediately judge women who obviously strive to appear attractive as being unintelligent and promiscuous. Unfortunately, when a female has lower status in the office than others—such as a woman in a secretarial position—far fewer of her coworkers will care if she presents herself in a highly sexualized way or not (Noe). In fact, a woman in an inferior position may be expected to dress and act accordingly to gender stereotypes due to traditional gender roles.

The experience of the title character from the film Erin Brockovich (2000), based on an actual woman's story, provides a key example of this phenomenon. Erin (played by Julia Roberts), who becomes passionate about law because of the injustice occurring in her community, begins working with a seasoned male lawyer to challenge the corporation at fault. Although Erin’s work is incredibly thorough, the male character chastises her several times for wearing revealing clothing. Instead of seeing Erin as a dedicated coworker and person—in which case, gender should not matter—the man is constantly distracted by Erin’s overt display of her feminine sexuality. Similarly, the conservatively dressed female corporate defense attorney makes a negative remark about Erin’s clothing upon their first meeting. The corporate defense attorney did not respect Erin because she was shocked by an appearance she perceived to be inappropriate.

According to Noe, people associate positions of power with masculine characteristics because men traditionally and most frequently hold these positions. Therefore, high-ranking women in the workplace who flaunt their femininity and feminine sexuality are immediately looked down upon; coworkers may assume that such women are not actually qualified for their jobs and, thus, are showing off their more redeeming qualities. As is the case when it comes to sex, the author of "Can Sexya Women Climb the Corporate Ladder?" points out that there is a “double standard” for men and women in this situation. A man who strays from the stereotypical image of a professional businessman, perhaps by looking slovenly in a wrinkled, partially-buttoned shirt, may receive scornful glances from his peers at the office; however, his intelligence, competence, and personality will probably not be doubted simply because of his appearance. For a woman, on the other hand, wearing exaggerated makeup or revealing clothing can severely harm her career advancement.Women interested in climbing the corporate ladder must acknowledge the existence of this situation and dress accordingly. This does not mean that businesswomen must dress like men, but it does mean that they must dress and behave sensibly to garner respect as office authority figures.

Women who choose to overtly display their feminine sexuality in behavior or dress could profess to be reclaiming activities originally used to please men in order to mock or show apathy towards patriarchal ideals—a strategy similar to that of African Americans who refer to each other as “nigger” to dispel the term ’s racist connotations or women who call each other "whore" to dispel its sexist connotations—but this intention may not be apparent to other men and women. For instance, a woman who claims she that likes to wear a short skirt “for herself” when she goes to bars is probably not coming across as a sexually empowered woman to male strangers; instead, her appearance is most likely encouraging others to view her as a consumable sex object. If some women truly feel self-respect when they take on a hyper-sexualized appearance (perhaps they are proud of their bodies or strongly believe that looking sexy is empowering), then they should dress and act in whatever manner makes them feel most comfortable. However, they must remember that their actions could potentially be slowing the movement towards complete social equality for women; other people may form immediate judgments about their personalities, sexual habits, etc., that could turn into negative stereotypes of females in general. Wearing revealing clothing can be exciting because it elicits male attention, but, again, women should be wary that an oversexualized appearance may cost them genuine respect from others.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

If You've Got It, Flaunt It? A Literature Review

Although most feminists would agree that patriarchal societies have suppressed female sexuality for centuries, feminist thinkers have formulated a wide range of opinions regarding how women should experience themselves as sexual beings. In order to assess multiple feminists’ thoughts about women who choose to publicly experience themselves as sexual beings by flaunting their femininity and sexuality, I scoured the Internet for literature on this topic. The ten sources I located, a few of which I have already discussed in previous postings, are evidence that feminist scholars and thinkers have been conflicted about issues surrounding female sexuality for decades.

In their 1998 book Feminism and the Female Body: Liberating the Amazon Within, S. Castelnuovo and S. R. Gunthrie argue that the female body is an important vehicle for female empowerment because both women’s minds and bodies are sites of patriarchal oppression, and that women may most effectively assert control over their bodies through physical discipline. The authors advocate bodily strength and wellbeing over the weak prettiness and “restrictive body beauty norms” that they perceive “mainstream feminists” (131) to encourage, and they reference female bodybuilders and martial artists as women who experience physical and mental liberation because of their engagement in “empowering physical practices that challenge the feminine body beauty discourse” (62). Castelnuovo and Gunthrie are proponents of women finding power within themselves and meaning in their lives not by adhering to traditional norms of beauty or by emphasizing their feminine sexuality, but through mastery of their physicality. This concept does not claim that women should look or behave like men, but instead encourages females to develop their own unique physical strength.

Holland, Ramazanoglu, and Sharpe similarly claim in their article Power and Desire: The Embodiment of Female Sexuality that society wrongly assumes the female body to have a fixed essence of femininity; the body is socially constructed, according to the authors, which causes women to feel pressure to adhere to a prescribed ideal of physical femininity. However, other women have embraced patriarchal notions of female physicality by practicing oversexualized behaviors usually reserved for erotic dancers. According to the post “Housewives, Pole Dancing, and Empowerment?” from the blog Feministing.com, middle-aged suburban women across the United States have recently embraced a form of aerobic exercise based on pole dancing. The craze has so thoroughly penetrated the nation that The Sopranos and Desperate Housewives have both displayed characters engaging in this type of aerobics, and pole dancing itself has become normalized to the point that mini-poles can now be found at extravagant bat mitzvah parties (Feministing.com).

The females who participate in this activity claim it to be empowering because groups of women do it together for fun and for each other’s gazes only. Joan Price, author of Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk About Sex After Sixty (2006), explains that she and other proponents of pole dancing aerobics do not find the activity to be degrading because of the clear difference between women choosing to strip in front of men to avoid poverty, thereby putting themselves in demeaning and potentially dangerous situations, and middle-class women throwing single-sex pole dancing parties.

Ariel Levy, author of Female Chauvinist Pigs, disagrees with this mindset. According to her, many women have internalized men’s objectifying views of themselves and now strive to embody these fantastical ideals to feel empowered. This has led to the rise of what Levy labels a “raunch culture” in which women harshly critique each other’s bodies and strive to exude sexuality; however, raunch culture fails to empower women, Levy states. For females to truly experience bodily empowerment, she advises that women invent their own forms of sexual expression not based on the male gaze.

What could be a reason for the increasing number of females willing to have an oversexualized appearance? According to Claire Hoffman, reporter for the Los Angeles Times, modern American popular culture is saturated with sex and exhibitionism thanks to media sources. In her article “Joe Francis: ‘Baby, give me a kiss,’” a story on the mastermind behind the Girls Gone Wild soft-core porn empire, Hoffman describes that, after speaking with many scantily-clad young women in clubs who bared their breasts for the GGW crew, she realized that today’s youth—accustomed to cheap video technology and reality TV—consider the camera a source of validation. Many American women seem to believe that striking racy poses for a film crew may “catapult them to Paris Hilton-like fame” overnight (Hoffman). Young females may also feel validated by receiving a man’s selective sexual attention; as one GGW participant named Jannel Szyszka explained, “Whoa—Joe's, like, trying to talk to me, like, out of all the girls in here” (Hoffman).

Despite the fact that I am now familiar with many different viewpoints regarding female sexuality, I still believe that women should not strive to find empowerment in an stereotypically "sexy" feminine appearance. Women who dress and act in oversexualized ways could profess to be reclaiming activities originally used to please men in order to mock or show apathy towards patriarchal ideals—a strategy similar to that of African Americans who refer to each other as “nigger” to lighten the word’s racist connotations—but this intention may not be apparent to men or even other women. For instance, a woman who claims she likes to wear a short skirt “for herself” when she goes to bars is probably not coming across as a sexually empowered woman to male strangers; instead, her appearance is most likely encouraging others to view her as a consumable object.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The "Friends with Benefits" Phenomenon

Teenagers may have adults baffled by the relatively new form of relationship they have embraced that combines friendship and sex, sans the commitment: the "friends with benefits" relationship. According to the article What’s Love Got To Do with It? Exploring the Impact of Maintenance Rules, Love Attitudes, and Network Support on Friends with Benefits Relationships by Hughes, Morrison and Asada, a “friends with benefits relationship” (abbreviated “FWBR") is a relationship between two friends of the opposite sex who participate in sexual acts but who do not consider themselves as being in a romantic relationship. The authors conducted a study to understand how people who engage in FWBRs perceive love, seek support from and communicate with their same-sex friends about these relationships, and decide on rules for their FWBRs.

The study's findings reveal that both men and women are quite open to talking about their FWBRs with their same-sex friends; they even seek advice from friends regarding friends with benefits relationship maintenance. Also, the results show that FWBRs are more stable than “hook up” and casual sex relationships because they combine the benefits of both friendship and sex while discarding the responsibilities and commitment of a typical romantic relationship—friends with benefits have sex or engage in sexual acts purportedly without emotional involvement.

Furthermore, the authors discuss the fact that a FWBR may form out of the ruins of an ended romantic relationship. Two people who experienced manic (possessive, obsessive and dependent) love together are especially likely to develop FWBRs because the two ex-lovers desperately want to cling to the remains of their relationship. Concerning gender and FWBRs, women were previously thought to associate the concept of love with sex, whereas men were seen as being able to separate the two. The researchers have concluded, however, that this may no longer be true because women in FWBRs are now reportedly engaging in sex without the presence of love more than ever before.

This last piece of information about the similarities between male and female perceptions of friends with benefits relationships is interesting—are modern women truly adept at separating feelings of emotional attachment and love from the act of sex? Unlike Hughes, Morrison and Asada, other researchers have claimed that women are biologically predisposed to become attached to sexual partners in order to commit to the mates who will provide for them and their children. The answer may lie somewhere in between these two assumptions, or the answer that these three authors suggest may, in fact, be based on a lie; perhaps women, in an effort to increase their senses of personal autonomy and independence inspired by the notion of women's liberation, are convincing themselves that they are able to separate sex and emotions as their male counterparts can so as not to feel needy or appear vulnerable.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Femininity, Sexuality and the Workplace

Because of the intense social pressure to be physically attractive that is encouraged by the existence of stylish celebrities and anorexic models, American women often believe that flaunting their bodies and accentuating their sexuality is the most effective way to entice others—both men and women—to like and respect them. Females feel that they must correct the "flaws" in their appearances and draw attention to their most attractive qualities by employing makeup, hair dye, high heels, certain clothing, and even plastic surgery.

Although these tactics may seem to attract positive attention on the street, especially from men, they have the opposite effect in the workplace. According to the ABC News article "Can Sexy Women Climb the Corporate Ladder?" by Eric Noe, if a woman is interested in holding a position of power, she will be looked down upon by coworkers of both sexes for emphasizing her sexuality or putting blatant effort into improving her physical appearance; this is because people often immediately judge women who obviously strive to appear attractive as being unintelligent and promiscuous. Unfortunately, when a female has lower status in the office than others—such as a woman in a secretarial position—far fewer of her coworkers will care if she presents herself in a highly sexualized way or not (Noe). In fact, a woman in an inferior position may be expected to exude femininity due to social norms and traditional gender roles.

The experiences of the title character from the film Erin Brockovich (2000), based on an actual woman, provide a key example of this phenomenon. Erin, who becomes passionate about law because of the injustice occurring in her community, begins working with a seasoned male lawyer to challenge the corporation at fault. Although Erin’s work is incredibly thorough, the male character chastises her several times at the beginning of their relationship because of her revealing clothing. Instead of seeing Erin as a dedicated coworker and person—in which case, gender should not matter—the man is constantly distracted by Erin’s overt display of her femininity. Similarly, the conservatively dressed female corporate defense attorney makes a negative remark about Erin’s clothing upon their first meeting. The corporate defense attorney could not respect Erin for her ideas because the attorney, like Erin’s male partner, was shocked by an appearance she perceived to be inappropriate.

According to Noe, people associate positions of power with masculine characteristics because men traditionally and most frequently hold these positions. Therefore, high-ranking women in the workplace who flaunt their femininity are immediately looked down upon; coworkers may assume that such women are not actually qualified for their jobs and, thus, are showing off their more redeeming qualities. As is the case when it comes to sex, the author of "Can Sexy Women Climb the Corporate Ladder?" points out that there is a “double standard” for men and women in this situation. A man who strays from the stereotypical image of a professional businessman, perhaps by looking slovenly in a wrinkled, partially-buttoned shirt, may receive scornful glances from his peers at the office; however, his intelligence, competence, and personality will probably not be doubted simply because of his appearance. For a woman, on the other hand, dressing too sexually, wearing thick makeup, etc., can severely harm her career advancement.

Women interested in climbing the corporate ladder must acknowledge the existence of this situation and dress accordingly. This does not mean that businesswomen must dress like men, but it does mean that they must dress and behave sensibly. Anything to draw strong attention to one’s gender, whether one is male or female, is inappropriate for an office setting in which a diverse group of people are trying to work together, hopefully without personal biases. If a man at work rolled up his sleeves and began asking people to squeeze his “manly guns,” coworkers would label his behavior inappropriate because it is lowering productivity—it’s a distraction to other workers—and is detracting from the sense of equality in the environment—women may feel threatening or harassed by his display of physical strength. Although coworkers might not feel harassed by a woman who is flaunting her femininity in the workplace, both men and women would be too distracted by her appearance to respect her as an office authority figure.

Disney's Ethnic Princesses: Positive or Problematic?

The Disney corporation is infamous for envisioning and creating gorgeous animated princesses that seemingly every little girl wants to be like. Each year, thousands of young American females dress up as Cinderella or Snow White for Halloween, throw "Disney Princess" themed birthday parties, or drag weary parents through Disney theme parks just to hug actresses wrapped in shiny polyester gowns.

Most of the Disney Princesses are Caucasian women, but there have been a few exceptions, such as Jasmine, the feisty daughter of an Arabian ruler; Mulan, a courageous Chinese warrior; and Pocahontas, a free-spirited Native American. Many Disney fans claim that these characters add much needed diversity to the Princess clan, and commend the company for such portrayals. Disney may have had benevolent intentions by developing ethnic female protagonists; however, I do not believe that the existence of these characters is solely positive.

These animated women, especially Pocahontas and Jasmine, tend to be extremely over-sexualized. Jasmine's appearance plays perfectly into the romanticized stereotype of the enigmatic Middle Eastern belly dancer: her thick black hair--crowned with a bejeweled headpiece--falls gently around her huge brown eyes and billows down her back, her long neck is adorned with a golden necklace, and her curvaceous but thin body is revealed by low-riding silk pants and an off-the-shoulders brassiere that poses for a shirt. Pocahontas is not depicted much differently. Animators drew this tanned Native American with flowing dark hair, and she wears a tight tube top dress made from animal hides. Her outfit, which accentuates the character's buxom hourglass figure and incredibly tiny waist, includes two wide slits up both legs that display a generous portion of Pocahontas' outer thighs. The most notable similarity between Disney's interpretations of Jasmine and Pocahontas is that both characters boast stereotypically attractive Caucasian facial and body features, just with "ethnic twists."

The problem with these depictions is that they may influence viewers--especially affluent white children who are exposed only to their own mostly homogeneous communities--to assume that all ethnic women are sexualized versions of white women. Furthermore, Disney's non-white Princesses, who look more like plastic toys than like humans, set an unrealistic standard of beauty for young ethnic viewers and females in general.

Disney's upcoming film debut of their first African American Princess seems to promise viewers with even more ethnic diversity, but images of this character prove that she, too, is an over-sexualized Caucasian woman with black skin. Her waist is as small as her upper arm, and despite full lips, her body lacks common African American female features such as a wide nose and hips.Although it may be admirable that Disney chooses to represent ethnic females at all, when will the corporation display ethnic (or even white) female characters that look realistic? Until that day comes, the line of Disney Princesses cannot truthfully be called diverse. Nor may the Princesses be called role models, for that matter.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Your Mom's a Total MILPH

“Woah, man, your mom is a MILF!” Several variations of this phrase, often uttered by teenage boys, slipped into American slang thanks primarily to frequent reference in the popular film American Pie (1999). The acronym M-I-L-F, meaning “Mom I’d Like to [expletive],” is applied to attractive middle-aged women who young men still consider to be sexually appealing. An entrepreneurial housewife from Marin County in Northern California, 36-year-old mother of three Amy Deming, decided to create an entire industry based on this concept.

Ms. Deming, founder of MILPH (Mothers in Life, Passion, and Health), explains to author Paul Liberatore that she wants to help moms everywhere feel sexy because of her own former perception of herself as being as an unempowered suburban housewife; after years of letting herself become “frumpy” and “drab” (Deming), Deming finally came to the realization that she needed to regain control over both her body and her sexuality. To encourage mothers to similarly embrace their sexiness, the MILPH website features extremely provocative photos of petite middle-aged models as well as produces calendars each year featuring twelve scantily-clad “MILPHs.”

Most of the pinup-worthy women in the calendar and on the website, however, are “professional models and actresses” (Liberatore) that MILPH carefully selected from a large number of mothers from across the globe. This fantastical representation of housewives is problematic because it implies to both middle-aged mothers and society at large that the most successful housewives are extraordinarily attractive, which reinforces the stereotype of the "trophy wife" and would harm the average housewife’s self-esteem more than it could guide her towards empowerment. By displaying over-sexualized rare beauties who happen to be married mothers over the age of thirty, MILPH has developed an unrealistic standard of physical appearance to which middle-aged women may feel intense pressure to adhere.

Who Has the Power: A Stripper or Her Customer?

Although a stripper may be seen as powerless to the whims of the men she is visually stimulating, many people argue that strippers are powerful because they are highly in control of their own sexualities and are able to captivate viewers. In her article The Dialectical Gaze from the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, author Alexandra G. Murphy recognizes both of these possibilities by discussing how strippers are simultaneously subjects and objects of the male gaze. She begins her article by describing various viewpoints regarding females’ degree of agency within the sex trade: radical feminists believe that female sex workers are hurting not only themselves but also all females by encouraging the objectification of women, whereas liberal feminists consider strippers to be “subjects with power” rather than “objects of power” (Murphy 308) and view sex workers as simply people looking to capitalize economically by selling their bodies. According to Murphy, however, strippers are constantly negotiating their power relationships in the workplace and therefore are neither completely powerful nor devoid of control.

Although females, when they allow themselves to become “sex objects,” theoretically cease to exist because they become the fictitious embodiment of male desires and fantasies, Murphy explains that strippers who men and outsiders view as sex objects are actually quite active in constructing themselves as being such. Women actively perform the role that they think men want them to play and are not intrinsically the “objects” men desire; therefore, women are not submissively allowing themselves to be objectified but are employing discursive strategies to maximize profits. Thus, men may seemingly exert control over strippers by making them the subjects of their gaze, but they are controlled by their own spectatorship because they are passive witnesses to the actions of their subjects.

Strippers develop complex methods of deception in order to maintain control over their customers—they build a false sense of intimacy with the men they interact with so that the male customers will tip more generously. In one stripper’s words, “I am making so much money off these guys that are stupid enough to spend it. That is power. What is more power than that?” (317) Furthermore, strippers, like their customers, employ gazing strategies; they are constantly watching customers to figure out which men have the most money to spend.

On the other hand, according to the author, “strippers are molded, controlled, and ordered to maintain a ‘proper’ performance in front of their customers, their managers, and their families” (313); in this way, strippers have little personal control and are forced to behave in specified ways in various situations both in and outside of the workplace. Also, in bowing to the whims of male customers, female strippers must put up with various inappropriate behaviors: “[men do] not have to be witty, nice or smart for these female bodies to serve and entertain him. To make money in this occupation, dancers must stand almost naked in front of fully clothed men and tolerate their insulting and degrading comments, daily sexual propositions, roving hands, and even some physical threats” (314). As Murphy proves, while exotic dancers may have some discursive control over their customers, they must pretend not to have any power and are forced to be extremely accommodating to the wishes of even the most brutish males they serve.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Objects Ready for Consumption

A woman's leg coils around an erect metal pole while dozens of entranced men stare at her greased body. A female teenager in a miniskirt and revealing halter-top struts past a group of drooling high school boys. A sorority member carefully coats her face with multiple shades of makeup because she considers the task art.

By passionately embracing traditional notions of feminine sexuality and allowing herself to be admired by others, is a woman obtaining high levels of social control and personal empowerment, or is she simply consenting to her own objectification? Postmodern feminists would argue that a woman who takes advantage of her powerful feminine sexuality harbors a great deal of control because she can easily persuade others--especially men--to give her exactly what she wants. On the other hand, traditional feminist thinkers may label this tactic mere manipulation, claiming that the best way for a female to obtain social and personal power is to reject traditional feminine aesthetic ideals and established gender roles. Postmodern feminist thinkers, in response to this viewpoint, may accuse traditional feminists of expecting women to adopt traditionally masculine characteristics and thus deny their unique feminine instincts, but traditional feminists would shoot right back that permitting others to view oneself as an object leads to both one's dehumanization and powerlessness.

Although both viewpoints have merit, I will take a position that is more similar to that of traditional feminist thinkers for Paper 3. While I do not endorse completely rejecting traditional feminine ideals of beauty and social roles--wearing mascara and deciding to stay at home to raise children are not problematic in and of themselves--I do believe that adhering to models of extreme femininity in dress, behavior, and speech is an ineffective method of gaining power because no one could truly respect the intellect and rights of a woman who, say, looks like a stripper. Since one of the keys to power is respect from both others and oneself, it is necessary for women to exercise their femininity moderately so as to appear and feel respectable. This does not mean that females must act like men to succeed in society; however, presenting herself as a feminized object ready for consumption will never earn a woman respect for her personality, her feelings and opinions, and her personal rights.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Achieving Female Empowerment Through Self-Confidence

Forty years ago, during the second wave of American feminism, society saw a slew of women inspired by a newfound sense of emancipation to deviate from societal norms of beauty and femininity—hundreds of females chose not to shave their legs, not to wear bras, not to dedicate their lives to raising families, and to be more assertive and aggressive. Thus, these women decided to engage in behaviors usually reserved for men. In 2007, however, not only is the percentage of females again choosing to be domestic caregivers on the rise, but the number of women who are embracing traditional standards of gendered physical appearance is also increasing. According to the currently dominant feminist ideology, “postmodern feminism,” females should embrace their distinctly feminine sexiness by donning high heels and miniskirts, wearing makeup, etc., and potentially utilize this attribute to exert control over men.

These two opposing viewpoints are progressive in different ways; yet, both are similarly problematic because they suggest that “maleness” is the ultimate model for female identity. Inadvertently, both traditional and postmodern feminist ideologies suggest that traditional male behavior and appearance are social norms against which women must develop their own personal standards of living.

Is there, then, another formula for female empowerment that doesn’t revolve around men, traditional perceptions of maleness, or the male gaze?

Of course, there is no definite answer to this question. However, in my twenty years of observation, I have come to determine that the females I define as being “powerful” are also extraordinarily confident people. Women such as Hillary Clinton, Amelia Earheart, Sojourner Truth, Maria Shriver, and Rosa Parks are and were able to inspire change and influence people because they possess/ed unshakable faith in their capabilities, talents, and goals. Even seemingly ordinary women—those not renowned for achievements like piloting, authorship, or political involvement—can influence those close to them by exuding self-assurance and finding strength in themselves. For instance, I attended a presentation of student feminist art a few months ago at my university and, there, met a young woman who had taken several black and white photographs of her mother, a breast cancer survivor who had endured a double mastectomy. The photos featured a topless middle-aged woman staring resolutely into the camera lens, seemingly challenging the viewer to find beauty in the two crescent-shaped scars that smiled where her breasts had once been. These images were moving, but even more memorable were the gushing statements of admiration the female student made about her mother. “My mom is the strongest woman I know,” the young woman stated proudly, and went on to explain that she found her mother’s exceptionally positive attitude throughout her battle with cancer inspirational. This mother, through her confident determination to survive a frightening and debilitating disease, taught her daughter the meaning of power.

Is female empowerment simply having control over others (mainly men)? Or is it embracing traditionally feminine behavior and beauty standards after redefining their meaning? I would argue that leaning towards one extreme or the other, both of which battle the perceived power of maleness, is not a truly effective way to obtain power; rather, female empowerment rests in a woman’s ability to find confidence within herself. Whether a woman chooses to be a full-time wife and mother or a corporate CEO, if she is self-assured regarding her skills and lifestyle decisions, she will not only find meaning and happiness in her life, but will also inspire those around her—both men and women—to be proud of their choices, abilities, and ambitions.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Diigo: Social Bookmarking on Feminism and Gender

As I logged into Diigo, preparing myself for a grueling search, I wondered how I was ever going to find someone with multiple bookmarks pertaining to gender studies and feminism. I typed the tag word “gender” into the search engine at the top of the page, skeptically clicked “Tag,” and found my mouth dropping in immediate surprise. I was amazed to find that a single person had posted almost every single bookmark that was listed on the page! This Diigo user, Jlesage, has posted forty-seven bookmarks tagged under “gender" and fifty-five under “feminism.” While sifting through Jlesage's feminism bookmarks, I noticed that most of these saved sites are blogs about gender issues, the hardships and/or benefits of being a woman in today's society, etc. The sites tagged as pertaining to gender include a few blogs as well, but this list is unique from the feminism tag list because it includes a number of academical websites and links to published work about gender studies.

First, I will delve into several of the sources tagged under “feminism.” The first blog listed that caught my eye, “The Happy Feminist," has a color scheme that reflects its name: soft greens, blues and pinks cushion the text and arouse a contented feeling within the reader. The content, however, is not as optimistic as the aesthetics of the blog imply; for instance, the most recent posting (November 8, 2006) by the blog’s creator—a “30-something, married, Unitarian, dog-loving attorney”—is titled “REFLECTIONS ON PLAYBOY, GIRLS GONE WILD, AND SOFT CORE PORN” and explores the objectionable and often illegal behavior of the Girls Gone Wild crew, Hugh Hefner’s objectification and infantilization of both the Playboy Bunnies and women in general, and the problematic nature of making pornography that is “soft” enough to be distributed to the masses. Another posting from October 31, 2006 with a similarly solemn title, “MARYLAND COURT’S INTERPRETATION OF RAPE LAW IS PREDICATED ON THE NOTION OF WOMEN AS CHATTEL,” discusses a Maryland court’s ruling that the state will no longer sympathize with women who withdraw consent to sex after penetration has already occurred. According to the blogger, this ruling is based on the ancient belief of woman as chattel—one whose value is lost upon penetration. “The Happy Feminist” is a well-written blog about a plethora of feminist topics that is relevant reading material for anyone interested in gender studies.

Another site that Jlesage bookmarked with a feminism tag, “CultureCat: Rhetoric and Feminism,” is also a valuable website for those interested in gender studies and feminist issues. This site provides many people the opportunity to publicize their blogs; for instance, the left-hand side of the page features a blog roll that includes the names of several feminist bloggers and links to their blogs. In addition, the front page of the CultureCat website acts as a mini-blog for a professor of English at East Carolina University, who often comments on feminist rhetoric and posts images and videos in which gender roles are strictly defined.

Jlesage’s list of bookmarks pertaining to “gender” also contains several resources, some of which are blogs, but others are academically oriented sites. One of the sources Jlesage saved to Diigo is an online version of a journal called “Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media” that carries the tags “ethnicity,” “feminism,” “film,” and “journals” in addition to “gender.” Founded in 1974, this journal specializes in analyzing mass media images and messages in various social and political contexts; the journal’s writers strive to closely examine media in relation to ethnicity, sexuality, socioeconomic standing, and gender. On the site’s homepage are links not only to the journal’s online paper issues, but also to other related resources such as major film making websites and AIDS activism pages.

A second page bookmarked under “gender” is the website for The Center for Women & Information Technology: News About Women and IT. This site, appropriately topped with a dark pink image of a complex computer chip, promises daily global news stories about women in the Information Technology field—not only about how women are affecting IT, but also how IT is affecting the lives of females internationally. The website also includes an online archive of relevant articles dating back several years. At the top of the homepage are links to multiple other pages of information, such as “About CWIT,” “Resources,” “Initiatives,” “Contact,” and “FAQ,” and upon scrolling down past a description of the site’s purpose, one will find links to hundreds of articles pertaining to the subject "Women and Information Technology." This website is an appropriate resource for someone interested in facts about how women are fairing in the world of technology.

After examining several of Jlesage’s social bookmarks—some tagged under gender and some under feminism—it is clear that this Diigo user has dutifully compiled a plethora of information about gender studies, gender and sexuality issues, and constructions of gender. Those interested in these areas can sift through the blogs, websites, articles, online journals, etc. that Jlesage has bookmarked and find more than enough social commentary to contemplate.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"The Pornography of Meat" and "Islamic Feminism in Iran": Two Feminist Resources

1. Since my freshman year of college—when I enrolled in a gender studies class and quickly realized that the subject fascinated me—I have devoured a number of books and articles on the topic. Just last weekend I read a piece about media juxtapositions of women and animals. This book by Carol J. Adams, titled The Pornography of Meat, is simultaneously a feminist and vegetarian manifesto that decries the fact that women are often compared to meat in advertisements. For example, in order to sell meat products, advertisers personify animals to look like sexy women or compare images of faceless voluptuous human females to the curves on fattened pigs’ and cows’ bodies. Because cows, pigs and females are all creatures that men objectify and “consume” in some way, these advertisements effectively bring in revenue, according to the author.

Another topic Adams delves into is rape. For instance, she compares man-against-woman rape with the artificial insemination of female animals that occurs on breeding farms. When farmers breed pigs, they trap the females into small cages that lock them into place before releasing a genetically altered “alpha male” to forcefully inseminate as many females as possible. The females protest this treatment with squeals and squirming—naturally, mating occurs gently and is preceded by several minutes of nuzzling. Adams compares this form of rape to human rape, arguing that men trivialize both women’s and animals’ bodies; according to the author, the female body in all its forms is often seen as being nothing more than a breeding machine.

Furthermore, Adams explains that humans have grown accustomed to classifying all animals of the same species as being a single entity. “Never name an animal you are preparing for slaughter,” a farmer advises, “or else you and the kids will be sitting around the kitchen table with tears in your eyes.” Instead of letting ourselves see that every animal is a unique, individual creature, we instead choose to, say, grind up hundreds of cows into one huge vat of hamburger meat. When a person purchases a burger at their local fast food restaurant, they are about to consume the remnants of at least three or four cows, Adams calculates. Homogenizing cows, pigs, chickens, etc. makes eating them easier on our consciences. This process can also be compared to human rape, according to the author. Women are not called by their names during or preceding sexual harassment; they are labeled “slut,” “whore,” or “cunt”—instead of being viewed as individuals, they are objectified, trivialized, and reduced to their reproductive parts.


2. Beginning in 1979 with the Iranian Revolution and coming to a climax after 9/11, a strong fear of Islam has grown in the United States. Americans picture the Middle East as a dark landscape teeming with terrorists-in-training and women draped in full body veils. Thanks to Iranian and Islamic feminism, however, the latter is becoming less common. In fact, according to the article “Islamic Feminism in Iran” by Fereshteh Ahmadi, Islamic feminists’ two-decade struggle against a patriarchal society is already having an enormous impact on the declining social acceptability of the following practices: veiling women to maintain a physical barrier between the sexes, preventing women from participating in social life, and the Islamic clergy’s barring women from religious ceremonies.

As Ahmadi explains, Islamic feminism is simply a movement of men and women who wish to reinterpret Islamic theology and law from a feminist perspective. These revolutionary thinkers uphold a feminist discourse and practice that are articulated within an Islamic paradigm. Many women in Iran are extremely concerned about their lack of rights, and are struggling to change their lives by aligning with Western feminist philosophy and protesting against patriarchal Islamic laws, their energy coming from the exhilaration of proving themselves against all odds. Some Iranian females are even brave enough to demand full recognition as citizens of the country, a restricted right due to Iranian “re-Islamization” policies. However, despite the hard work of women’s activist groups both inside and outside of the Iranian parliament, many patriarchal laws and restrictions remain in full practice.

Western feminists have not given Islamic feminists’ movement to reinterpret the Qur’an enough credit; unfortunately, this lack of recognition stems from Western society’s deeply rooted fear of Islam. Americans, in particular, are skeptical that Islam could ever be reinterpreted to fit the demands of a modern society based on gender equality. This need not be a concern, however—as the author explains, Islamic feminists believe that some aspects of Islam are “essential,” such as the conception of a single God, but that other components of the religion are “accidental” and stem from the particulars of the time period in which Islam’s prophet Muhammad was born. Because Muhammad lived in the thirteenth century, his vision of Islam’s gender dimensions was shaped by Arabian society, which happened to be patriarchal.

This, Islamic feminists claim, is an “accidental” aspect of history; Muhammad could have been born during any time period, and the confines of society at that point in time would have shaped Islam differently. Thus, according to the author, Islamic laws such as male custody rights in the event of divorce and the permission of men to marry up to four women are classified as accidentals that can be eradicated because of a changing society.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Everyone Loves Dead Women

This is a comment I made on the blog, "Season of Die, Women, Die!" from ms.musings.

"After inhabiting Los Angeles for three years, I am alarmingly accustomed to glancing up at billboards towering over Venice Boulevard or Third Street and seeing what look like female corpses staring down at me with blackened eyelids and sunken cheeks. I often wonder how these advertisements could possibly inspire customers to buy these companies’ products; I usually look at them in disgust, shake my head, and avert my eyes until I am well past them. However, these billboards must appeal to many people—mostly women, I assume, since females are typically the ones purchasing what these manufacturers have to sell—because the advertising campaigns featuring “dead models” continue to be created. This fascinating disturbing issue, one that your post focuses on, is fundamental in understanding how modern women perceive beauty. What captures our attention, stimulates, and entertains us about images of male-upon-female violence and deceased women?

One explanation for females’ attraction to images of dead looking peers could be that they have been conditioned to accept the attractiveness of often emaciated women displayed in submissive positions by males’ attraction to these images. For thousands of years, men have been conditioned both by biology and society to be more aggressive and strong than women; as a consequence, men have developed a taste for weak and helpless women whom they could idealize, protect, and, perhaps, dominate—all to increase their feelings of masculinity and self-worth. This socially ingrained tradition of portraying women and soft, gentle, dependent, and weak eventually led to the advertisements and media portrayals utilizing scrawny and dead looking women or displaying violence against women that are seemingly ubiquitous today.

Although I realize the possible origins of this phenomenon, I am continually confused by its appeal, as I mentioned earlier. For example, do men watch fictional footage of other men forcing women to submit to them through rape or sexual assault and find it primarily sexually arousing? And if so, is it simply because some form of sex is being displayed, or is it actually because men desire to dominate helpless women? The description of the TV show that you mentioned in your post is an example of the kind of media that I am talking about:

'Television crime shows are often riddled with clichés -- from the tough-yet-committed cop to the black morally upright commanding officer -- but one cliché in particular stands out for its exposure of society's fascination with and ultimately its tolerance for violence against women. Make that attractive, barely dressed women.

It's the female crime victim you see every night: beautiful, tortured and dead…

…"In the opening minutes of the new Fox crime show 'Killer Instinct' (9 p.m. Friday, Fox), deadly spiders bite a sleeping woman; she wakes up, but is soon immobilized by the spiders' poison. Conscious but terrified, she's powerless to prevent a man from breaking into her apartment and raping her."'


This description reminds me of an episode of the new and popular TV show
Dexter I saw recently that depicted a young, attractive woman lying spread eagle in a hotel room bed, her limbs tied to the four bedposts, screaming and bleeding as she was about to be raped by her male captor and torturer. Even though the male character was eventually shown as being arrested for his violence against the female, the fact that the act itself was displayed on national television is problematic.

What kinds of ideas are we giving to potential rapists and batterers? But even more generally, how are all male viewers reacting to this kind of portrayal? I would guess that they are highly stimulated by seeing such an act. Perhaps some merely experience stimulation through suspense because they want to save the helpless woman, but perhaps there are others who feel excited by the prospect of sexually invading a woman’s body, thereby treating her as a piece of meat to be bled and consumed. Understanding why these images pervade our culture and what effects they may have on both men and women is necessary for gender awareness."

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Ms. Magazine Online: A Visually Effective Site

On any given school night, a student such as myself may be cracking open a textbook in hopes of absorbing the valuable information within its tightly bound pages. However, if the text has not been organized well, the student will quickly zone out after just a few minutes of staring at hundreds of clumps of letters. For this reason, written information is best conveyed when it is organized efficiently. The page must direct the reader’s eyes to move from one location to another, must be easy to read, and should include images to stimulate interest as well as to cater to visual learners. For this reason, Ms. Magazine online is an exemplary website from which to obtain information about feminist news; it keeps one’s attention effectively and conveys information clearly.

For instance, the homepage of Ms. Magazine is separated into three clear columns—the first is a sidebar on the left which lists the different features of the website, the second is a middle column that boasts Ms. Magazine’s latest news stories and photos, and the third column on the right is split into small blocks of information about items such as upcoming events, the story that the Magazine deems to be its most significant from its latest issue, interesting articles from the archives, etc. The set-up of this homepage is visually effective because it immediately guides a viewer’s eyes from the Ms. logo in the upper left-hand corner to the centered logo “MORE THAN A MAGAZINE—A MOVEMENT,” then to the center column, where bold headlines and related images convey important information and news. After seeing this and presumably glancing over the headlines, the reader’s eyes travel to the left, where they can see all the different options that they will have while exploring the website further. Lastly, as an afterthought, the reader will briefly glance at the blocks of information on the right, which contain the least important or relevant information. Thanks to this clear and organized website format, the reader notices information in order of importance and is enticed to keep viewing the site because of the bold blue and red headlines and various photos.

When exploring the interior of the website, a reader will find the same degree of organization and efficiency. When a user clicks on “FEMINIST DAILY WIRE,” for instance, the website directs them to a page that is headed with the centered words, “NEWSBRIEFS ARTICLES” and then contains a list of all of the Magazine’s news stories in a top-down pattern, the most recent residing at the top of the list. The ways in which the dates, names of the articles, and article summaries are organized on the page are visually effective because all the dates are italicized and precede the titles, which are typed in large blue font to indicate that they are the most important words on the page. Finally, the titles are followed by brief summaries written in small black font so as not to take attention away from the article titles. Although there are no images on this page, the text is aesthetically organized to convey information effectively and is, thus, visually effective.

A page that is also visually effective because it is ripe with images is the Ms. Magazine Cruise information page. The site is layered on the top with small pictures of cruise boats, palm tree-laden islands, ocean views and delicious delicacies, and three pictures—two small and one large—as well as large, bold text that advertises the cruise (which, interestingly enough, sets sail to engage participants in both relaxation and political discussions) share the center of the page. One’s eyes are first drawn to the text and then move to the left to feast on the colorful, enticing photographs. This page exudes tranquility and exotic fun so thoroughly that it is difficult not to want to enjoy the Magazine’s socially conscious cruise. In addition, on the left is again a top-down tool bar that indicates all the different areas of information pertaining to the cruise that a user could possibly be looking for—program schedules, speakers, port info, passport requirements, etc. This is effective in that it is clear and easy, and directs the reader’s eye.

Ms. Magazine is a great example of a source that successfully communicates information visually. I find it simple and precise; engaging, but not too colorful or distracting in any other way. It will be one of the most important websites that I will refer to while blogging this semester, and I am thrilled that the website’s text and images have been organized so efficiently.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Blog Entries Revamped

1) My Blog's Focus

When I was five or six years old, I fantasized about what I would look like when I was all grown up. I imagined that I would have the traits of "the perfect girl"—flowing hair, ample breasts, and a mesmerizing singing voice. By eight, I was flipping my hair out of the pool to look as sexy as Ariel does in The Little Mermaid when she first bursts out of the ocean as a human. I even ascended the sauna steps in a dress slip to resemble my trans-species heroine when she emerges from the sea for the last time—her shimmering gown clings to her slim, beautiful body as she runs into the arms of her handsome Prince Eric. Unlike Ariel, however, I did not shimmer, and I certainly did not look beautiful; my slip hung limply from my chubby prepubescent frame and I moped about my lack of sex appeal. I was eight years old.

Images like those from The Little Mermaid have strongly impacted my perceptions of femininity ever since I was a child. In fact, I attribute many of my preteen and adolescent behaviors to these media-based perceptions; thus, I am deeply interested in exploring how television shows, films, magazines, advertisements, and Internet images affect self-image as well as shape children's notions of acceptable gendered behavior. I believe that viewing certain media images can have negative consequences for both males and females—thanks to hypersexualized cartoon characters and fitness-obsessed celebrities, women grow up yearning to be thin and pretty while young men encounter stifling pressure to become wealthy, muscular, and emotionally "tough."

I am also fascinated by the effects that social constructions of gender and gendered behavioral clues may have on children. For instance, there are generally two types of aisles in every major toy store: one is stocked with various pink fuzzy items, plastic kitchen sets, and female dolls whose bodies are atomically impossible; the other is jam-packed with black and red race cars, squirt guns, and extremely muscular action figures. When parents buy gender-specific toys for their young ones, they are inadvertantly encouraging their children to adopt specific roles—sweet, sexy and pretty or strong, loud, and aggressive. Furthermore, parents are often quick to discourage behaviors deemed socially inappropriate, such as young boys slipping into their mothers' heels and skirts. I am deeply interested in discussing these and other related topics this semester.

In addition to blogging about media portrayals of gender and the development of sex-specific behavior, I am interested in discussiong social justice issues related to gender and race. Unfortunately, gender inequality still thrives across the globe—women are routinely paid less than men of equal standing in several countries, Afghani women are forced to endure clitoridectomies, and countless female babies in China have become the victims of infanticide. Due to centuries of international patriarchy, people of both sexes continue to act on the fallacious belief that men are more valuable than women.

I am looking forward to spending the semester writing about gender discrepancies in media portrayals and social roles as well as thinking critically about social issues stemming from gender inequality. Again, because my life has been deeply affected by my perceptions of what a woman "should" look and act like, I am fascinated by social constructions of gender. Career-wise, I hope to identify and change harmful social expectations and media portrayals of men and women both in the United States and abroad. Perhaps this blog will be my first step in doing so.


2) Profile and Evaluation of a Blog on my Link List

Gender stereotyping often occurs in conjunction with vicious racial profiling. Countless females throughout history have endured hardships because of their sex, but women of color often experience insurmountably difficult and painful situations. For example, American President Thomas Jefferson forced Sally Hemmings, his African American slave, to act as his life-long concubine. Because both ethnicity and gender define one's position in the social hierarchy of power, I must analyze sexism in conjunction with racism over the course of the semester.

Blackfeminism.org, "one woman's opinion on race, gender, and politics," is a source that can help me achieve this goal. Tiffany B. Brown, a web developer and designer from Atlanta, Georgia, created and maintains this blog. Although Ms. Brown is not directly connected to the fields of gender or racial studies, she has contributed to those fields with her expert knowledge and understanding of the World Wide Web—the Internet has had a huge influence on the formation of gender roles, prejudices, and social expectations due to its ability to widely distribute images instantaneously. Also, as an African American from the heart of the Southern United States, Ms. Brown has directly experienced racial tension and gender-specific racism; therefore, she has a unique perspective on racial and gender issues that may influence my blogging.

Ms. Brown publishes a post to blackfeminism.org approximately once every three days, and her blog—ranked in popularity at 28, 629 by Technorati—has 318 links from 113 other blogs. The content within this fairly popular site speaks to my feminist interests because Ms. Brown discusses gender-related issues, such as a woman's preparation for marriage, through racially conscious eyes. Specifically, one of her posts focuses on the lack of black models shown in bridal magazines:

Those of us who have the means are quite keen on seeing people who look like us in the media we consume. ... I completely agree with the notion that advertisers and magazine publishers could and should feature models of color (Brown).


This subject incorporates analysis of media portrayals of females with the rarity of images of African American women in American popular culture. Being a Caucasian woman, I may not be as sensitive to issues of race as this blogger is; thus, this online resource will help me closely examine racial issues through a feminist lens.

Although blackfeminism.org is not an academic blog, Ms. Brown bases her discussion topics on credible, published information such as news articles. Her audience—which consists of women, African Americans, and people interested in racial issues—participates in the discussions by posting engaging comments on the blog posts. These readers' criticisms, questions, and ideas are valuable because they more fully illuminate the racial and gender issues presented in Ms. Brown's posts. In its entirety, this online publication will feed my knowledge of racial and gender issues in the United States and abroad and will help me find ways to discuss both gender and ethnicity in my own blog.


3) My Resources

In a pop culture class I took last semester, the professor explained that my generation—traditionally referred to by scholars as "Generation Y"—would be more aptly named "The Internet Generation." Truly, my peers and I revolve around the Internet; most of us couldn't imagine living without access to it. Whenever we want to locate information about anything at all, we can simply type a keyword into Wikipedia or Google and instantly have a world of knowledge at our fingertips. Attending college in such a technologically advanced era is incredibly exciting and convenient; students can create blogs as an alternative to writing essays, and most academic research can now be conducted online using scholarly search engines.

The online resources and blogs that I will be referencing over the course of the semester will prove invaluably informative. For instance, one of my resources—the See Jane project website—will enhance my knowledge of gender portrayals in television programs and films. This is a passionate interest of mine—I will write several posts about media constructions of gender. The See Jane project will provide information about the research being conducted to quantify gender portrayals in media, especially in children's programming. The mission statement of the site describes the project goals:


Gender equity has progressed in many ways, but male characters still dominate television, movies, and other media for young children. Since women and girls make up half of the human race, the presence of a wide variety of female characters in our children's earliest media is essential for both girls' and boys' development. See Jane seeks to engage professionals and parents in a call to dramatically increase the percentages of female characters—and to reduce gender stereotyping—in media made for children 11 and under.


The project's website aims to provide viewers with information about portrayals of women in children's media as well as to explain how the project could potentially affect policymakers' decisions regarding gender equality. This website will disclose pieces of information that I would not be able to access anywhere else because the complete findings of the many of the studies being conducted—one of which took place at the University I attend and for which I was a researcher—have not yet been published.

Another online resource I located, the website for Ms. Magazine, will continually provide me with information about the premier feminist magazine's latest articles and projects. Although the website is replicating a print source and is not Internet-specific, it provides immediate access to news about what is currently endangering or improving the lives of women. The site, geared towards a male and female feminist audience, features daily feminist news, information about how to become a part of Ms.'s "We had Abortions" petition, and contains links to three feminist blogs written by Ms. staff members. I predict that these three blogs will allow me deeper insight into the Ms. Foundation and feminism itself over the course of the semester and will help me write a better, more enticing blog. As I continue to shape my personal feminist mindset, I will constantly analyze the information posted on the website for inspiration.

Other websites I have added to my list of resources and will be referring to over the next few months are TWN's Women's Rights and Gender Issues page, Kid Source's Gender Issues in Children's Literature page, and the InfoPlease Gender Issues page.

Moving now from websites to blogs, "Hey Ladies!: Anything and Everything from a Woman's Point of View," a blog I added to my resources list, features an interesting post called "You Might Be a Feminist If…". This post explains the blogger's opinion that modern women have failed to educate their daughters about the importance of the second-wave feminist movement:

What do you think of when you hear the word feminist? Sadly, too many women today believe a feminist is a hairy, bra-less, ugly woman that can't get a man. Why have we allowed the women who fought so hard for rights we now take for granted to be ridiculed after all these years? When feminism is made a joke of, so is woman herself. I believe that failing to teach our daughters about the importance of the women's movement has contributed to young ladies tolerating labels like bitch and whore.

Although the blogger's writing style can be unprofessional, I enjoy reading her perspectives on society and feminism; her posts may inspire topics for my own blog—which, surprisingly, is already featured as a link on hers. As for the blog's audience, the writer intends to speak to females about current issues related to women's rights and social roles. And because "Hey Ladies!" is a weblog, its contents are Internet-specific and can only be accessed online.

Six other blogs on my link list will prove to be valuable sources of inspiration as I build my blog this semester: Bad Feminist, My Husband Betty, Onehandclapping, Provoked Thoughts on Feminism and Christianity, Red Neck Feminist, and Blackfeminism.org.

These websites are incredibly helpful and fascinating resources I found thanks to the information-diffusing power of the Internet. They may play a significant role in the formation of "Sugar and Spice vs. Rough and Tough" and will help me grow as a feminist thinker.