Dress codes, slut-shaming, and the male gaze

A friend sent me Ms. Magazine’s article on dress codes and their influence on girls, and ultimately our culture’s respect for women’s bodies. “What Do Dress Codes Say starts an important conversation we need to be having about policing girls’ and women’s bodies.Female Dresscode

The author writes about various middle schools and high schools that keep popping up in the news with stories of new additions to their dress codes for girls. The argument for most of the restrictions is that girls’ bodies are distracting to the boys. The problems with this argument are manifold; we are teaching girls to live their lives based on the male gaze, that they are objects. We are also teaching girls that the way they dress determines their character, and any deviation leaves them vulnerable to slut-shaming.

Not the role model I'd pick...

When we tell young girls that their clothes are distracting the boys, we are telling them that their thoughts and emotions come second to their male peers. When schools tell girls that their clothes are causing problems for boys, they learn that boys’ behavior is more important than they are. By telling girls their clothing is more representative of their selves than their actions and thoughts, we are telling them that they, as people, are lesser.

We accept these rules because they fit neatly into the system of patriarchy, specifically that which allows boys and men to reject responsibility for their actions.

-TW – discussion of sexual violence – When we tell twelve-year-old boys that getting distracted by girls’ clothes is an acceptable excuse for doing poorly in school or harassing students, we are laying the groundwork for telling men that it isn’t their fault if they sexually assault a woman depending on how she’s dressed. It perpetuates the “boys will be boys” argument that allows boys and men to get away with violence.  slutshame–End TW –

Beyond the external harm, the argument tells boys and men that they are stupid and unable to control themselves or act rationally when women are in their presence. I don’t know why we can’t see this idea as incredibly insulting to men’s intelligence; We are consistently telling boys that nothing is their fault because they couldn’t possibly know better. I think it’s time we start talking about accountability.

We need to teach girls that decisions about their bodies are theirs to make so that they can grow up feeling empowered instead of objectified.  We need to teach boys that a person’s outfit does not excuse their behavior in any context. Girls need to grow up learning that their clothes do not necessarily mean something sexual, and if that is their intention, they should not feel shamed for it, nor should it dictate others’ actions. We are suppressing women’s sexuality, and creating tight confines around men’s, so that they are uncontrolled monsters.

Middle school girls should not worry about being harassed or causing someone else’s academics to suffer based on whether or not their dress has straps. The whole idea is absurd, and we need to stop recreating these situations where we constantly police women’s bodies.

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

Not All Visibility is Created Equal

Advisory: discussion of pornography

Eisner’s book, Bi: Notes for a bisexual revolution, talks a lot about bisexual invisibility as one of the ways to maintain the power structure. She also writes about the ways that female bisexuality, specifically, is used within mainstream pornography and ultimately the general media to devalue any deviation from the single standard of masculinity.

“Instead of erasing female bisexuality per say…media representations – and society in general – neutralize the “sting” that it carries by appropriating it into the heterosexual cis male gaze. From being a potential threat, female bisexuality is converted and rewritten into something else, something that’s both palatable and convenient to patriarchy and the hetero cis male gaze, and which caters to its needs.”

I know that is a lot to read but basically the idea is that we take something that could threaten the power structure and use it to instead reinforce these ideas. Eisner uses mainstream pornography as a typifying example, but I’ll make sure to be less graphic here.  The gist of it is that “lesbian” is a sub-category under “straight’ since these videos are for a straight male audience. The scenes, moreover, involve women “preparing” one another for the man to enter the scene and thus, the real sex to occur.

 The other way female bisexuality is made to be less threatening is with the phrase, “everyone is bisexual.” Of course there is a spectrum of sexuality and in many ways this may help to break down the binary, but more so it devalues bisexuality as part of one’s identity.  Freud used bisexuality (and clitoral orgasms) as a means of trivializing women and women’s pleasure. If everyone is bisexual, then it is easy to use the immaturity argument and wait for someone to “grow out of it,” or “make a decision,” instead of accepting it as a real identity.  This argument is a way that bisexuality is devalued while making it visible only insofar as it’s used to promote straight men.Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 10.42.50 AM

Eisner argues that bisexually threatens the fabric of the traditional male power role, because the existence of bisexuality makes it more difficult (for men, mostly) to “prove” one’s straightness.  Additionally, male bisexuality is pushed to the margins and made invisible because of the assumption that if someone has sex, or thinks about having sex with a man, they are no longer attracted to women. It is for men as well as women that our identities are so often decided by our relation to a penis. This presumption means that bisexual men are really gay, and bisexual women are really straight. Eisner describes these presumptions: “…Everyone is really into men – a phallocentric notion testifying to this stereotype’s basic reliance on sexism.”bisexual men

We need to break down these assumptions and stereotypes in order to move towards true visibility.  As I talked about in my last post, bisexual people are viewed as unreliable and traitorous, and therefore cannot fit into the mainstream without being marginalized and/or fetishized. We need to rethink the way we understand and normalize sexuality.

Trophy Wife: Worst Parenting Handbook Ever

Just when you thought Trophy Wife couldn’t get any more racist or sexist, episode two of opens with some pretty offensive material.

Pete and Kate going through Bert’s bedtime routine, though Kate is just watching; she has no active role in the process. Bert wants a foot rub, and his clothes laid out for the entire week. Pete says “no judgment,” and it’s not a big part of the episode, but I found that to be racist towards Asian people, stereotyping them to be overly methodical. Why, again, did Slate say this show was good?Soccer Coach

Pete complies with most of his eight-year-old’s ridiculous requests, no doubt to show his dedication as a father. When Pete and Kate leave Bert’s room, Kate says, “Sweetie, he’s made you his bitch.” Men aren’t allowed to do too much emotional bonding with their sons.

Click here to see last week’s episode in all its offensive glory.

Bert and Kate sneak away from Bert’s room as he falls asleep, and Kate challenges Pete to a race to the living room. She tricks him and wins, just like all women being deceitful to get ahead.

The intro to this show is a slideshow of pictures, all of the women characterized only as “First wife,” “Second wife,” and then as the pictures fade we see the title, “Trophy Wife.”

What your teenage son doesn’t need to know about your thong

The next morning, Pete is getting the kids ready for school. Kate makes a few offers to help, but nobody pays much attention. Kate is folding laundry when Warren pulls a red lace thong out of the laundry hamper and says, “Oh, whose fancy headband is this?” Kate smiles, takes them away and says, “Those are mine,” to which, Hillary adds, “Classy.”

Bert then asks, “What’s a thong?” Kate answers, “Underwear for people who don’t want panty lines.” Warren chimes in with a very chipper, “Why wouldn’t you want panty lines?” “Because it’s not sexy,” Kate responds. Warren then shouts, “Wooo! Sexy time! Because you guys like to have se-“ Pete cuts them off, but does not address how incredibly inappropriate for a fifteen-year-old to be handling their stepmother’s underwear, and mocking her for it. Nobody talks to the teens about safe sex or personal boundaries, because the whole thing is a joke. And it’s okay for the 8 year old to hear all of this?

The show’s sexualization of children and teenagers is already disgusting, and I’m only on the second episode.  And there were no consequences to this behavior.

At least she’s good for something

Kate walks out of the room, clearly feeling dejected, going into the bathroom while Pete is in the shower. Pete makes comments and jokes about sex, and when Kate turns him down, he says, “You miss a hundred percent of the shots you don’t take,” as if he is supposed to be constantly firing off attempts for sex with his (trophy) wife.Family tree

Kate says she isn’t feeling needed and it takes him a while to accept that she’s serious. She says she wants to feel more like a parent, and it’s clear that nobody takes her seriously.  Pete continues to take it lightly and ultimately agrees to give her some of the “crap” he gets.

Kate is then seen struggling to carry a cooler onto a field while Pete is being Bert’s soccer coach. Again we see Pete having no difficulty juggling his family/work/life balance.

It’s a co-ed team, and half of the members don’t have uniforms. He tells them not to sit down, and the assistant coach says that his wife is having an affair. Even though Pete tells him not to share, it’s still a joke. TV shows are constantly talking about their sex lives in front of children.

Jackie and Pete are discussing their busy schedule and Kate tries to help by caring for Bert for the night. That night, Kate struggles to put Bert to bed, ultimately failing at her duty. Bert ends up watching TV he shouldn’t, since Kate falls asleep first. She’s so unreliable.

Bert is tired when Kate wakes him up the next morning, and worries that a doctor will steal his uterus, since he saw something on TV that he shouldn’t have.  Kate’s dressed like a teenager, probably to make it harder to distinguish her from one. Kate gives Bert a sip of coffee to hide her error. He drinks all of it.

Allergies, Racism, and Pedophilia Jokes

On the soccer field, Pete makes Kate an assistant coach. Kate and Jackie talk about Bert, and Jackie shares her past failings as a coach.  Kate tries to introduce herself to the team, including, “I love playing with little boys,” and Pete just tells them to start playing. Pedophilia is a joke now? We need to stop sexualizing children and making it commonplace to make jokes about abusing them.

Kate kicks a soccer ball and hits Bert in the groin. They are all in the hospital waiting, and Jackie berates Kate. They struggle to say the words testicle or groin, but Jackie already worries about grandchildren. Pete tells Jackie to cool it because she’s “acting like Diane.”  A doctor approaches an Asian couple in the waiting room and tells them that they can see their son. “We don’t have a son.”  They don’t address this mistake.

At the hospital, Jackie tries to commiserate with Kate about being a new stepmom. Kate is fun with Bert in the hospital and all is well. Bert realizes he doesn’t have a uterus but asks about what is in his butt. Pete says, “butt stuff” and the scene ends. The final scene has Kate and Pete in the shower, but Bert interrupts.  Kate finally feels needed but Pete is left high and dry.

Chick Beer: Sexism Goes to the Liquor Store

chick beer (rev)

Sexism in advertising is nothing new, yet I still find myself taken aback every time I see “Skinny Girl” alcohol. Lately, I have seen many different manifestations of sexist alcohol branding, and it’s  pretty difficult to stomach… and I’m not just talking about the hangover.

Chick Beer was the one that inspired the search, though it wasn’t the first time I’ve encountered this labeling. Chick Beer was found at a gas station somewhere in Wisconsin. It’s labeled as “premium light beer,” and we’re instructed to, “Witness the chickness.”

I’m not sure what the company meant by this slogan, and I have to wonder if the copy is written for the potential consumers or for people who are buying this beer for women. I’m curious as to the demographic who most often purchases this beer, but I have a hunch that a lot of men buy this for women, and probably many who are not old enough to purchase it themselves. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but I can’t imagine what sort of “chickness” I would be witnessing as I consume premium light beer.

Mad Housewife

Chick Beer seems to be reclaiming beer, but I have trouble seeing how making something pink and degrading does much for equality.  Their first line says, “the world of beer is dominated by men.” I see that perhaps this campaign is trying to take back this particular realm of drinking; maybe it gives some women an opportunity to expand their horizons, but overwhelmingly, it creates another dichotomy to show that women are lesser than men. The intentions here might have been good, but the results are tired.

Then we have Mad Housewife wine, which is a fun one. Are we supposed to assume that this is mother’s new little helper? Women need this wine to keep their uteruses from making them do something crazy, like having their own thoughts.

Their website is fun, and full of confusing pictures; is she from the American Dream 1950s or is she a modern, cook-from-scratch hipster? It’s hard to tell. We know for sure that she loves cooking with her Kitchen Aid (okay, who doesn’t?) and when she stands in front of that school bus in her sensible chic outfit you know she’s being a good mom. But what does this have to do with drinking? Boy, I hope this wine keeps me from getting too hysterical!

Mad Housewife websiteI am going to continue to document this branding whenever I see it.  Of course, I cannot capture all of it, and I have so far just starting with the names that stand out the most, not to say there aren’t many other forms of this branding that I’m neglecting. For now, I won’t touch the advertising campaigns and I’ll instead stick with the labels themselves.  I’ve also made a point to not search for these images because there is a lot of potential here for future posts.

Keep an eye out for more sexist alcohol branding!

No Punch Line in Sexual Exploitation

A new study from the Parent-Television Council’s campaign, “4 Every Girl” shows that sexually exploitative scenes on television are overwhelmingly more likely to focus on underage girls than with women. Of course the countless sexually exploitive scenes with adult women are a problem, but the way television uses young girls and exploits their bodies, often for humor, is abominable.  Audience-Laughing

PTC conducted an analysis of 328 episodes of prime-time television to determine the level of sexual exploitation of women and girls. I didn’t get more than a paragraph into the study when I found these astounding results:

1). The appearance of an underage female character in a scene increased the likelihood that the scene would include sexual exploitation; and 2) the appearance of an underage female character in a sexually exploitative scene increased the probability that the scene would be presented as humorous.

I think the second part of those results especially bears repeating: Having an underage girl in a sexually exploitive scene makes the scene far more likely to be presented as humorous. So now prime-time shows are not only sexualizing, harassing, and exploiting children, but it’s a joke! The study analyzes how television shows promote and trivialize sexual exploitation. The article explains that humor reinforces stereotypes; this point is so important because when something becomes a joke, it means it’s harmless. People won’t view sexual exploitation as a problem if they’re taught to laugh about it. I see the parallels here to using period TV shows to incorporate racism and sexism (et al.) as major comedic plot points. If we’re laughing about it, the problem must be over. We solved the sexism problem.

tv productionAnother hugely important point that I cannot help but take away is to look at the way the media portrays grown women as infantile and young girls as hyper-sexualized creatures. So let’s make the connection. Women are infantilized while girls are sexualized – these seemingly contradictory issues serve to reinforce patriarchal notions that women aren’t to be taken seriously.

And what are the immediate consequences here? Beyond the atrocious way women are treated as sex objects to be thrown away after first use, these images are so harmful to girls and women. PTC’s study cites, “The average age for minors entering prostitution is 13,” and “80% of female victims who experienced their first rape before the age of 25, almost half experienced the first rape before age 18 (30% between 11 – 17 years old and 12% at or before the age of 10).”  I don’t mean to throw a ton of statistics at everyone but these numbers are staggering.

The bottom line is that we sexualized girls and we infantilize women, which reinforces notions of control and sexuality in which men control women. I can’t believe I have to write this sentence, but we need to stop looking at child sexual exploitation as a joke.

Quiz time! Are you Stepping on Enough Toes at Work?

are you too demanding

I found a quiz a few weeks back from a website that claims to promote women and fight for equality in the workplace.  The quiz, “Are you Too Demanding,” only serves to further promote the idea that women can only be successful if they act like men, at a detriment to their likability and womanhood.

Every question was problematic in at least one way; the title itself suggests that women who have achieved recognition in their field and have advanced their careers are probably stepping on other people’s toes. They are getting in the way of other’s success.  When the author of this quiz says, “A powerful woman knows what she wants, but standards have their limits,” they are saying that women should not try too hard to achieve. And of course, since this quiz is directed at women, implies that men do not have this problem; men’s achievements do not negatively affect them or those around them.

The seven-question quiz begins by asking women how they handle an opportunity to put down another woman. The assumption made in this quiz is that all of your coworkers are also women. This is another problematic assumption because it pushes women into careers that are traditionally feminine, not that their coworkers would be men. The first question asks how you handle when your coworker makes a mistake during a presentation. Your options are to sigh and correct the mistake, politely interject, or ignore it because she was just nervous.

correct her

Choice A is clearly the worst choice because you would be too out-for-yourself and undermining other women. I am personally bothered by the ever-present trope that women are “naturally” going to fight with other women, as if this is not a construction reinforced by media and men who want to put women down. I have heard way too many women tell people that they don’t like women because they are catty or putting each other down. I’m bothered by how pervasive this is because it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Anyway, choice B gives you a chance to not be aggressive when you politely correct your coworker, which I assume to mean using uptalk as to not sound too knowledgeable. Choice C is probably the best way to preserve your femininity, but it doesn’t give you a chance to succeed.

I’m going to skip ahead to question six now and let you read through the others on your own. This question is too good not to address.

Screen Shot mama bear

This question gives you a pretty simple choice between being and overbearing bitch, a good, nurturing woman,  or someone who isn’t qualified to be in a position of leadership.

 Womenworking.com presents itself as a website that serves women’s needs and helps them to learn how to succeed in the working world, which has never been kind to women. Instead, the quiz only perpetuates stereotypes about successful women and how they push other women down to get ahead.

 

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.