Signs of the times

On my road trip across the country, I saw some very interesting signs. There’s, unsurprisingly, quite a bit of sexism in the middle of nowhere. Here’s a sample of some of the signs I saw! All about keeping your woman complacent with jewelry.
Wife Insurance road side engagement

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A “Got to see this video” that you actually have to see

I’m usually pretty skeptical of these videos that claim to be so awe-inspiring or life changing, but this one this one worth a watch. We need to change the way we think about engineering, among other professions. This seems like a good jumping off point. Let’s use the momentum to start breaking down some of these gender barriers.

What a Poser! Why popular gender-swap memes are a joke

pinupswap3These gender-swap images have been making the rounds lately, but I wanted to take a quick look at while they’re so funny to us. Showing women posed the way women often are doesn’t really showcase the problems with objectification because it seems like a joke. I see how this is a really accessible way to discuss objectification, but it, in many ways, reinforces the gender dichotomy and hierarchy by seeing how comical it is to see men displayed the way we pose women.

The eighteenth century saw a lot of masquerade balls where men and women would dress in drag, but because of the context, it strengthened gender roles instate of subverting them.

pinupswap4Of course men are objectified for their looks, but it’s not in the same way, and not with the same implications as when women are. For one, it’s not as threatening to men because society and media value them for things other than their looks. (It’s usually money and power, which is also problematic because it reinforces the singular idea of masculinity in which men are only useful to the extent that they can provide monetary gain).  And when men are objectified for their looks, mainstream media depictions will show men being strong and powerful – their legs are hardly ever in the frame. The way society looks at men’s and women’s bodies are very different, and when they are showed side-by-side like this, of course it’s a joke.

We don’t see women posed in ways we usually pose men – because that would show women in too serious and powerful a way, and isn’t as funny. It follows the same way children play games as a kid – a girl can play games with predominantly boys without losing status as a girl, but a boy playing with girls would cause a lot of ridicule. The hierarchy prevails in all facets of life.

It’s great that we’re starting to see the problems of how we objectify women, but it’s still important to consider the ways we’re displaying people. It’s a joke for a man to dress like a woman, and so this campaign can only go so far.

pinupswap2

Isn’t it Ironic?

I’m going to follow a new show and provide commentary about the episodes. I’m going to deconstruct the issues of race, class, and gender as I see them. The new show I’ve picked is Trophy Wife, which has the tagline, “The third time’s the charm.” This post will is a bit long since I need to introduce the characters so bear with me.

Third time's the charm

Third time’s the charm

The premise of the show is Kate (Malin Akerman), a “reformed party girl,” meets Pete (Bradley Whitford), a –you guessed it – highly successful lawyer, while dancing at a bar where she literally falls into his lap.Kate

Trophy wife petePete has two ex-wives, both of whom are portrayed as less likable than Kate, who is, I suppose,  “the charm.” Diane (Marcia Gay Harden) is Pete’s first wife, with whom he had two children, Warren and Hillary, twin 15-year-olds. Diane is a surgeon as well as an Olympic medal-winning athlete, and her success must preclude her from being likable, as with all successful women portrayed on tv. She is a cold character who does not appear to like Kate all that much; I suppose we’re to interpret this as jealousy, since Kate has the real prize.

Pete’s second wife is much less scary and threatening, as she is portrayed as a flake and a hippie. Jackie (Michaela Watkins) and Pete have one son together, Bert, who they adopted. Jackie does not seem to have a profession, and her day is overloaded when she discovers a new food co-op, something that is more important that taking care of her child. Her character is there to make Kate seem more earnest and adult-like, though I think it’s a toss-up. Jackie is yet another character that is used to dismiss care about one’s health and spirituality outside of mainstream religion. She is a joke to be laughed at, not a real person.trohpy wife jackietrohpy wife diane 2013-09-30 at 10.55.57 AM

Suggesting that Kate is somehow reformed, one might expect that she had personal issues to deal with, but the show’s use of the word “reformed” is a stand in for “married,” or let’s say “kept.”

Trophy Wife shows us that being single and dancing at a bar is cause for concern, but not for the reasons you might expect.

Using the word reform might mean that she has a problem with alcohol abuse. If this is the case, the show does not seem to concern as Kate downs an entire water bottle of vodka to protect her stepdaughter, Hillary, from getting in trouble with her mother. Kate then must get a ride home with Diane, where we see Kate, drunk, in the back seat of her husband’s ex-wife’s car, looking as much like a teenager as the actual teenagers in the car. This scene reinforces the cold, adult role that Diane plays, in extreme contrast to Kate’s fun and likable one. When Kate’s drunkenness is discovered, Hillary’s mother, Diane, understands Kate’s actions and the family considers what she did to have been a noble effort. The only way Kate can be a mother figure is to drink?

None of the show’s characters are very well developed, and it’s just another show where the only thing the man brings to the table is money and stability, and the woman only brings looks.

The show’s producers are calling the title ironic, but I guess I’m still waiting for the punch line.

Dude is so Wasted: Drinking to Reinforce Masculinity and Bro Culture

Bros Get Wasted; Girls Get Tipsy: Why Boozy Talk Matters, posted on NPR on July 10, 2013,  discusses a recent publication in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, picks apart the ways in which men and women in college are described while intoxicated. I was unable to access the full text of the article, so I am relying on NPR’s analysis and Alcoholism’s abstract for my insights.

A-little-TipsyNPR’s article begins by discussing the problem of students’ perceptions of other students’ drinking habits.  People tend to assume that everyone else is drinking more than they are – people tend to also assume the same about sex.  The article opens up for a discussion of the way people perceive levels of intoxication for men and women separately. The study in Alcoholism, “Gender Differences in Natural Language Factors of Subjective Intoxication in College Students: An Experimental Vignette Study” had 145 participants and examined the terms they used to describe the drunkenness of students.

Participants in the study read scenarios in which the characters were described in varying levels of intoxication. The student participants were asked to describe the character. Students overwhelmingly underestimated moderate drinking, quite possibly because students assume their peers are drinking much more than they are. Students also were far more likely to use words such as  “tipsy, buzzed, light-headed,” when describing even the most intoxicated woman. When describing men, on the other hand, students used, unsurprisingly, more harsh and strong words, such as “plastered” and “obliterated.”

Bro Party

The leader of the study, Ash Levitt, says that the “trashed and wasted” view of drinking men have leads to sometimes deadly consequences. When students assume everyone drinks more than them, and that men must drink significantly more than women, it creates a competition that inevitably ends badly.

The study concludes that college students are putting themselves at great risk, and highlights the threats to men. Studies such as these illustrate just one of many downsides to the singular view of masculinity we have. Men become much more likely to over-indulge if they feel their manhood, their sense of self, depends on them acting out and becoming belligerent. One commenter on NPR’s website mentioned the effect this has on consent for women – the commenter noted that if women are always described as “tipsy” than they can always be faulted for assault and rape.

I believe this is just another way that society perpetuates the dichotomy where men should not be held accountable for their actions but women are always in control. This viewpoint is an easy way to explain victim blaming and the “boys will be boys” attitude that gives men the freedom to avoid responsibility.

Bros Drinking

The type of behavior perpetuated by college drinking culture is a dangerous one for everyone. Students police each other to ensure their peers are in near-constant drinking contests, whether outright or implicitly. Creating this competition forces people to go far beyond their personal limits, and as the pressure is more intense for men to prove their masculinity, it makes them even more vulnerable to harm.  I took a screenshot of the google image search, “bros drinking,” and the first row of pictures shows men hypermasculinizing themselves and each other while drinking copious amounts of alcohol.

The Twitterverse Responds to Sexism

Last month,  #thingspeopledontsayaboutmen was trending on Twitter. I feel like I’m constantly biting my tongue when I think about the frequency with which I hear things like, “lady doctor,” “female doctor,”  “woman CEO,” “male nurse,” “lady contractor,” etc.

What is particularly frustrating is that the same people will tell you that all of these occupation titles are gender neutral. Each of these assumed gender-neutral titles conjure up images of who should be in that job – who would be the ideal person. A “male secretary” is someone whose masculinity is in question because he is in a lesser-respected job, long-held for women. A “lady scientist” is subversive to the hierarchy of professions.

 

As women outnumber men in colleges, some feel this is a threat to the status quo. It is in some way, but looking deeper at the outcomes of these scenarios will show you that women continue to be at a disadvantage when it comes to position in the corporate ladder.  When a woman gains even marginal success, she is either too masculine, or she used her femininity to dupe men to promote her. It’s something I notice on TV a lot – women are gaining some recognition as potentially successful in their careers – but it always comes at the price of their family or love life.

sleepingto the top

 

 

When men succeed, they are often viewed positively, but when women succeed, they are hated for it.

vindictive

Women are hated when they try to break out of the role of nurturer; suppressed time and time again. I like how this hashtag looked at how people question a woman’s decision to work outside the home, but never consider that men are making a choice to be away from their families, same as women.

career men

Issues of success and careers are only the tip of the iceberg when you think about the way we view men and women.  Victim blaming was another major topic on #thingspeopledontsayaboutmen.

 

trousers

 

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The saddest part of these instances, to me, is that these are some of the most mild examples of victim blaming I’ve encountered.

 

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Unfortunately there are enough examples here that I could write books on, so I’m going to leave it here. I’m glad to see that a hashtag like #thingspeopledontsayaboutmen could gain some fame, though it really is not enough.

The more we begin to catch ourselves when we tell our friends about a “lady engineer” or a “male social worker,” the closer we can get to accepting that one’s gender does not create an intrinsic need or ability to do one particular job over another.  And hopefully we can soon stop teaching boys and men that women’s bodies are property that men effectively own.

She knows the answer? Jeopardy! and Uptalk

Oops my success is showing!

I’ve spent many frustrated minutes looking for episodes of Jeopardy! online, but really, who hasn’t? When I noticed this article popping up on my Twitter feed, I knew it would be a perfect way to get my new blog started. It’s the intersection of two of my favorite things: gender and Jeopardy!

The article, “Gender in Jeopardy! Intonation Variation on a Television Game Show,” was first published in Gender and Society in February 2013 by Thomas J Linneman, and has been picked up by a few news outlets.

Linneman’s article is about uptalk and its prevalence and variation in Jeopardy! Uptalk is a speech pattern that generally conveys uncertainty in speech by adding a rising inflection at the end of a sentence, suggesting a question. The use of uptalk, although debated, is more often used by those in subordinate positions.

Linneman found that men used uptalk 27% of the time when they had a correct response, and 57% when they had an incorrect response. For women, the numbers were 48% and 76%, respectively.

Success in Jeopardy! Is tied to either being a returning champion, or simply being ahead at a particular moment during the show.  Linneman found that women with greater Jeopardy! success used uptalk more than their less successful female counterparts. For men, the opposite was true.

Linneman’s findings reinforce the gender performance expectations that discourage women’s success. Women, when they are successful, are viewed as unfeminine, and this research suggests that uptalk is a way to downplay the disparity between femininity and success.  By creating a persona of uncertainty, women are able to gain success with a lower risk of tarnishing their gender performance.

Next time you watch Jeopardy!, pay attention to how women and men handle their success differently.