Archive for the ‘Stereotypes’ Category

Awesome article on the Greek system and how it infantilizes women and creates an unhealthy attitude towards women on campuses:

As vice president of Theta, I was tasked with figuring out how to get members more involved. We began fall recruitment, only to be told that the fall was only for the boys—we had to wait until the second semester. We planned a social event, only to learn that we had to get permission from our national headquarters to do so—and that we didn’t have access to the funds created by our annual dues, despite our brother fraternities having the ability to plan (and pay) for events at their discretion. Later, when we planned a homecoming party, complete with Bloody Marys, we were told that sororities were bound by a “no-alcohol policy”—something that, again, didn’t apply to the boys. “Why don’t you have a tea party?” our adviser offered, as if we were living in the 1950s.

The upshot was this: For trying to play by the boys’ rules, our sorority chapter was put on probation. Meanwhile, some of our male counterparts were on probation for serious, even criminal offenses like date rape, drug abuse, and hazing, yet they proceeded to party. When I asked our national office why we’d been punished, they spoke in euphemisms, but I understood the message: “Sorry, but you must abide by a different set of rules. This is how it’s always been.”

I sent a letter of complaint, and tried to organize a protest. But while many of my sisters shook their heads at the injustice, few were angry enough to leave the system and go rogue. All of which has led me here—to speak out about a system that gives millions of men and women in this country a backward education. While only 8.5 percent of undergraduates in the U.S. are involved in fraternity and sorority life, fraternities have produced 120 current Forbes 500 CEOs, 48 percent of all presidents, and similar numbers of senators, congressmen, and Supreme Court justices. I wonder what the Greek system has taught some of the most influential people in our country about the differences between men and women? But then I realize I know: Despite all the strides young women have made, we’re not so equal after all.

If a university-approved system present on hundreds of campuses nationwide continues to treat women as second-class citizens, then we should not be surprised when men call women “f–king sluts.” I am not advocating the end of fraternities—Greek life is fun and valuable if done correctly. But if we’re going to change the testosterone-dominated college culture, the Greek system must empower women to take part in campus life with full and equal rights.

via The Daily Beast

What really got to me was the line about a tea party–as if women are expected to behave like children, and obey rules that boys cannot possibly be expected to be held to. I’ve actually had a conversation with a friend of mine at Penn, the school the author went to, about the fact that at least at Penn, it’s considered the norm that fraternities have crazy parties with drinking, and during sorority rush, girls aren’t supposed to even mention alcohol at all. If that’s not an absurd double standard, I don’t know what is.


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I saw this Youtube video a few weeks ago, and was shocked that I’d never seen it before (because it’s funny and great):

The video is called “The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies” and was created by FeministFrequency. It describes a test for all movies with three simple qualifications:

  1. Is there more than one woman in the movie who has a name?
  2. Do the women talk to each other?
  3. Do they talk to each other about something other than a man?

It then goes on to show a long list of movies that do not pass the test—and I was amazed at just how many there were, and how none of these movies are known to be particularly misogynistic. Milk? The Princess Bride? WALL·E?

It’s a funny video—the star is sassy and sarcastic—but it’s also a very depressing video. When I think about movies I’ve seen recently like Inception or The Social Network, it becomes clear just how male-centric these movies really are—the women, even independent and dynamic female characters, end up serving as props in a male-dominated plot-line. The women are not the center focus, but rather (sometimes interesting, sometimes not) sidenotes.

I think that this lack of female-centered content stems from the fact that most big-name Hollywood directors today are men. Every director nominated for a Golden Globethis year is male, fewer than 10 percent of all movies are directed by women, rarely are woman consistently hired by big movie production houses, and a woman has never won an Oscar for best director (Ed: until last year, when Katheryn Bigelow won for The Hurt Locker); these facts do not justify the fact that so many movies are solely focused on either male/male or male/female interactions, but they do help to explain it.

The thing is, though, that women went to the movies more than men in 2009. Women clearly are a market for films, and yet are not exactly treated as one—but still seem to be returning to the movies over and over again. Why is this? In an interview, Manohla Dargis, a NYT film critic, said:

There’s a reason that women go to movies like Mamma Mia. It’s a terrible movie . . . but women are starved for representation of themselves. I go back to Spike Lee and She’s Gotta Have It. I remember going to see it at the Quad in New York, surrounded by a black audience. People are starved for representations of themselves.

What she says makes a lot of sense to me—and further explains why the movie industry is caught in a self-perpetuating cycle. Men make movies about men because that’s what they know, and succeed at doing well with the few movies they make about women because women see those movies en masse. Even if movies about women aren’t quality films, the succeed because women are willing to see them. Isn’t that depressing?

So, what can we do about this? Vote with your pocket, I suppose: see movies that have women in them, but not simply because they have women—demand quality movies about women, movies that portray women as complex characters in the same way that movies portray men. And hope that the industry recognizes women as the large and powerful movie-going audience that we are.

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This post is cross-posted at JWA

I’ll admit it–the first (and usually only) thing I think of when someone mentions the Miss America competition is the movie Miss Congeniality and a group of starving, not particularly bright, but beautiful women. But after reading this article about Loren Galler Rabinowitz in The Forward I’ve begun to rethink that reaction. Rabinowitz is a former competitive ice skater, Harvard graduate, classically trained pianist, poet (she wrote a book of poems for her senior thesis under the tutelage of Jorie Graham), and Miss Massachusetts 2010. She’s also Jewish. At first I was surprised that someone so smart and talented would want to enter a beauty pageant, but after reading about the positive effect being Miss Massachusetts has had on her life, I realized that maybe I should rethink my stance on beauty pageants.

She decided to enter the pageant world after graduating from Harvard in the hopes of earning a scholarship for medical school. She won $8,000 after winning the title of Miss Massachusetts, and is currently competing for the $50,000 that Miss America receives–certainly nothing to scoff at. After winning Miss Massachusetts, she spent the year coaching young ice skaters, tutoring children in math and writing, and using her position as Miss Massachusetts to raise awareness of issues at charity events. She’s been promoting the Children’s Miracle Network, which raises money for children’s medical treatment across the globe, as well as trying to work against childhood hunger. Wearing her tiara has the power to make people listen to what she has to say, and I respect her for using that power to say a lot of important things.

Impressed by Rabinowitz, I was curious about what one actually does to become Miss Massachusetts. According to the Miss Massachusetts website, contestants are judged based on an interview (to judge her “poise, charm, self-confidence and her ability to communicate,” as well as the “substance” of her answers), a swimsuit competition (for “beauty of face, figure, physical fitness, and the confidence”) and and an evening gown competition (for “overall appearance, self-confidence, sense of style and the beauty she brings to the gown of her choice”). I found this list to be pretty disappointing–after getting so excited about Rabinowitz and her achievements, I was surprised to see something like “beauty of face” on the list of judging points. Rabinowitz is beautiful, as are her former competitors, but there is clearly so much more to her than simply her beauty, and I find it sad that two out of the three judgment categories are physical judgments. It verges on demeaning, if you ask me.

That being said, I don’t think that how she became Miss Massachusetts should take away from the fact that she has been using her position for good, and that even before she became Miss Massachusetts, she was a successful and accomplished woman. However, I’m still not thrilled about the idea of a competition rooted in judgment of women’s bodies–there’s a long history of underweight and excessively thin pageant winners in this country, and even though contestants are supposedly judged on “fitness,” walking around in a bathing suit seems to me to really be a measure of how thin someone is. Not the healthiest selection process.

So, I wish Rabinowitz all the best in the Miss America competition, and hope that she succeeds in all of her endeavors, including medical school. But I also hope that people will think critically about the Miss America Pageant. It has the potential to empower women like Rabinowitz by giving them a podium from which to speak about and raise awareness of issues that matter. If the goal of the Miss Massachusetts’ competition is truly “To open doors and provide career and educational opportunities” to women, and to help them to “grow personally,” I believe that its selection process should reflect those values more than it currently does. A good leader should have poise and grace, but there are better ways to assess those assets than judging how well someone walks around in a bikini.

PS: Did I mention she’s 5’2.5″? Just a fun fact for all of us short people out there.

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I just wanted to share this video, Advice for Young Girls from a Cartoon Princess: The Little Mermaid. It’s incredibly funny and sarcastic, and touches on all the absurd things that Disney princesses are essentially preaching at small children. Now, I personally find Disney movies to be fun and enjoyable–who doesn’t enjoy it when people break out in song? However, I do think it’s interesting/important to think about the messages that Disney movies are actually sending. Even thought about Aladdin’s orientalist undertones? Or the fact that it’s completely forgivable for the male characters to be ugly (the Beast), but never the female ones? Yeah.

Some gems:

“Don’t ever talk to a man until he kisses you on the lips first. Then, as a woman, you’re allowed.”

“If you have a father that loves you, run away from him!”

“Never be comfortable in the body that you’re given. If you don’t like how you look–snip, snip, nothing wrong with that! I’m an ordinary human instead of being a beautiful princess mermaid, and I love that.

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A friend of mine sent me this article, a question and answer session with Kelly Valen, author of the new book Twisted Sisterhood: Unraveling the Dark Legacy of Female Friendships about female friendship, based on a survey completely by more than 3,000 women across the country. What interested me more than her actual book, however, was the story behind the book: the article links to a New York Times article back in 2007 that was supposedly her inspiration for creating the survey called “My Sorority Pledge? I Swore off Sisterhood.” It’s sad and somewhat disturbing: the author describes joining a sorority and being encouraged to lose her virginity, losing her virginity through the process of what was essentially public rape, and then being shunned by her sorority sisters until eventually being forced to leave. Because of this traumatic experience, she found herself avoiding female friendship at all costs, but having no problem with men, as the boy who raped her apologized and his frat brothers made his life miserable. The author lived her life this way, void of female friendship, until finally, one day, she ran into one of her ex-sorority sisters in a store and was faced with a smiling, friendly woman who wanted to laugh at the past as friends–and all of the anxiety, shame, and anger she felt at 18 came rushing back. While she had moved on with her life and become a lawyer, gotten married, and had children, the memory still hurt her, and forced her to think once again about cruelty among females, and inspiring her book.

Now, I find the article to be disturbing for a few reasons. First, the seemingly offhanded way that the author deals with what was really rape—she says that the offender apologized and the blame was put on him, and so she moves on, rather than attributing any of her shame to him rather than to the women around her. (And there is very little condemnation of “Ledge Parties,” the frat ritual of having public sex with an unknowing girl). More importantly, I think, is this: the fact that her story is real is disturbing in its sadness. It upsets me greatly that women do these cruel things to one another, or really, that anyone does these cruel things to one another. I’m part of the generation that grew up watching “Mean Girls,” I know, but it still gets to me (read it–how can it not?)

Besides simply caring about other women and their friendships, as I’ve blogged about before, I think a lot of my initial visceral disgust at reading about what happened to the author comes from the fact that it is so foreign to my own life. While for most of my life I’ve considered myself a “boy’s girl,” preferring to have male friends than female, I recently have come to terms with the fact that I have a group of very close female friends without whom my life would be completely different–for the worse. My grade in school went on a trip this weekend that ended up being emotionally trying and tumultuous, with half of the people there, especially the females, crying and revealing personal and intimate details about their lives (it sounds a little weird/cliche in retrospect, but so do a lot of things, after all.) After the weekend was over, I came home and realized that unlike a lot of the people there, my friends and I had, and really always do, have each other to turn to for anything and everything, from advice about boys to people to discuss politics with to people to hold our hands when we need someone–and for that we are incredibly lucky.

At the same time, however, I do know that for a lot of women and girls, what the author describes is a reality; perhaps not necessarily involving the same gruesome details, but definitely involving the same feelings of isolation, loneliness, and anxiety. Women can be incredibly cruel to one another. But a part of me, and this is just my own personal instinct, feels uncomfortable simply saying that women can be cruel–people are cruel. Men hurt women, and women hurt women, and men hurt men, and women hurt men; to me, at least, it seems that the author was particularly hurt by the women because they were the people she expected support from–not necessarily because they were women. It seems that what hurts the most, more than female gossip or exclusion, is betrayal by the people you consider your friends. I’m not trying to argue with the author (she’s gotten a lot of negative feedback from a lot of people, and her pain is certainly legitimate); I’m simply putting it out there that instead of emphasizing how we can become better girls, perhaps we should focus on how to be better friends–that rather than talking about “Mean Girls,” we should talk about fake friends and backstabbing, and teach children of both genders the importance of loyalty and trust.

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I was very excited to see this article in The New York Times today. Titled “Why Can’t Middle-Aged Women Have Long Hair?” it addresses an issue I have long wondered about myself–why do women automatically cut off their hair when they reach a certain age? The mothers of most of my friends all have some variation on the same haircut, cut either slightly below the ear or above the shoulder. To me it just seems to be the “mom” haircut–and I’ve always been kind of saddened by the idea that one day I too will have a “mom” haircut.

Since I was small, I thought that a close family friend of mine had black hair. However, when I saw her head of black hair replaced with a head of white, I discovered that she had been dyeing her hair black as white strands began appearing, until finally around age 50 she decided to give up and allow her entire head to turn white. At first I found it slightly shocking to see an entire head of long, white hair (she is one of the few “long haired” women that I know), but I soon began to appreciate it for uniqueness and, albeit surprising, beauty. She looked so natural with her hair that I couldn’t help but wish that more women learned from her and let their hair grow out and not try to change it too much.

So I loved the fact that Dominique Browning wrote an article about having long hair at 55. Not only does she have long hair, but she is letting it naturally go gray. I really admire her for that, as I frequently tell the aging women in my life: getting old is nothing to hide–everyone does it. She addresses the biggest complaints she has heard against long hair: that it is “acting out” against society, that it is proof that she is deluding herself into feeling like she is still living in the 70’s, that it is high maintenance, and finally, that men like it. And she addresses them by affirming them: she explains that she is “rebelling” against the idea that women must look a certain way, that the women of the 70’s are still good role models, that while she does have to think about her hair she does not have to spend tons of money or time on it (some people forget that not all long hairstyles require expensive products), and finally, that there is nothing wrong with having hair that men like. All I have to say is: amen.


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This week I was introduced (a little late) to Diesel’s “Be Stupid” ad campaign.  It’s really best seen, rather than described, so I would highly recommend watching this video and getting an idea of what the ads are all about.

Now, at first, the video seems to be encouraging people to follow their dreams, which is always nice, I suppose. But the video quickly devolves into a criticism of society’s “smart” people, who apparently don’t take risks, or have any good ideas (except, of course, for Diesel, the company that thought of the “Stupid” concept), and seem to just represent people interested in following a traditional career path rather than, you know, sticking their heads into mailboxes.

If you look at the actual ads in the campaign, you will soon discover that apparently “stupid” means, in fact, being oversexualized and usually naked. I’m not exactly sure where they got their definition of stupid from, but according to Merriam-Webster it means “given to unintelligent decisions or acts.” Now, while running around naked, or flashing a security camera certainly is an “unintelligent decision,” the ad campaign has taken stupid decisions and glorified them by making it appear that being stupid is equivalent to having friends who will be willing to have sex all the time and run around naked with you.

For this, two of the ads have been banned in Britain. One ad featured a woman flashing a security camera, while the other had a picture of a woman in a bikini taking a picture of her genitalia. The British Advertising Standards Authority said that the ads could encourage “anti-social or irresponsible” behavior and that the bikini one could cause “serious offense to many adults”, and banned the ads from public posters. Now, I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that I believe the ads should be banned, but they certainly have caused quite the controversy.

One thing I find interesting is Diesel’s response to the complaints about the ads. According to the above article, the company responded to complaints about the bikini ad by saying that it “portrayed a very strong and unexpected image of femininity, aligning it with typically masculine themes.” Perhaps they’re referring to is the lion awkwardly lurking behind the girl taking a picture of herself as a “masculine theme,” but other than that, I can’t think of what is particularly masculine about the ad. The fact that she’s taking an inappropriate picture in the middle of daylight? That doesn’t seem masculine to me, just stupid–which, I guess, fits with the name. Just as Diesel has taken liberty with the meaning of “stupid” in an attempt to make it a symbol of counterculture and creativity, it also seems to have created its own gender paradigm in an attempt to prove that they are subverting it.

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