Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Attn: Rapists Are Not Movie Villians

This post by karnythia on The Angry Black Woman blog tells people what they should already know, but often don't: That rapists are "good" guys. Rapists are often the guys who hold the door open for the elderly, have sisters they love dearly and generally represent the honorable American male. Unfortunately people continue to hold on to the idea that rapists are hiding behind bushes. Rapists are men who twirl the ends of their mustaches and smile menacingly.

This post confirms that they are not usually those men:

"That Time I Talked To A Rapist And He Was Such A Nice Guy"

People who know me well will tell you that I need a keeper. It’s partly my own refusal to stop adding things to my plate (guess who has 2 thumbs & 20 projects), & partly the invisible sign over my head that invites people to tell me things. Complete strangers have told me stories about abortions they regret, relationships they need to end, and on one memorable occasion a very nice old lady told me a story about the time she tried to poison her husband. So I’m used to the things that happen around me. Mostly. Today I met a guy who was clean cut, with a nice smile, super friendly & very much a gentleman in terms of door opening and stepping aside to let me board first.
The first few minutes of our conversation while we were waiting for the bus were the kind of pleasant chit chat you get when people establish that they have military service in common. Some ribbing about our respective branches, a little chatter about the weather, you know just the basics. Then we got on the bus, he sat next to me (I really have to stop using window seats), and kept on talking. He mentioned that his discharge was other than honorable, and when I guessed that it was for fighting he started to nod along, then he shook his head. I think I asked him what it was for, or at least alluded to being curious and he got really quiet.
Now let me say that at no point in this conversation did I feel threatened. He led with smiles and handshakes, he was polite, never once invaded my space, and in fact didn’t even give me a bad feeling. So when he started talking about the party he went to and how embarrassed he was about why he got out I was expecting something like infidelity. Or participating in a really stupid prank while he was in uniform, and winding up on Facebook or in the paper. It turns out he went to a party at a college kid’s apartment. There was a drunk underage girl, and he “let himself” be talked into spending time in a room with her. And two other dudes.
He didn’t go into great detail, but someone caught them during the act. There was screaming, some non military dudes who were happy to restrain them, and the cops were called in fairly short order. He plead guilty in order to avoid a full fledged court martial, and did a brief stint in jail before being released back into the world. He told me all about his remorse, his guilt, and his sisters who don’t know what he did. He’s let everyone who knows him believe he was just drunk and passed out in the room before the assault. But for whatever reason he really wanted to tell someone the truth.
There was a minimal glimmer of understanding that he was making me uncomfortable, but mostly his focus seemed to be on purging his pain. So, 20 minutes of not quite blubbering (his eyes were damp, he wasn’t smiling, didn’t seem to be enjoying the recounting, & his face was flushed but there were no actual tears), and then once we got to the right stop (we got off at the same place, but were headed to two different places) he jumped up to help a couple of elderly people off the bus & generally acted like a gentleman. Again.It was actually really jarring.
Once we were outside he thanked me for listening, invited me to friend him on Facebook (that would be a no), shook my hand again and went on his way. I went to the grocery store, sent a couple of tweets about it & then decided I need to lay it out all for some kind of analysis. Because I have so many questions. Not just about his urge to tell a complete stranger, but also about the way he did it. When I tell y’all we were having the most mundane pass the time on public transit conversation? I mean it. It wasn’t like we even really exchanged names before he told me. Hell the Facebook thing seemed to be an afterthought because I didn’t start screaming, & there was no indication that he thought about whether or not I’d ever want to see or speak to him again.
I know no one can explain what happens to bring these things to my life, but can anyone explain this dude’s mindset to me? The possibility that he was actually traumatizing me didn’t seem to register. And to be honest I’m not sold that the girl they assaulted was real to him either. He said some things about how he couldn’t tell his sisters because they’d never look at him the same way so I assume they are real people to him. But even that was flat, he showed the most emotion when he talked about what it did to him. And yeah, I can guess some answers but if we’re not really people then why the grand confession?

Working Mothers Still Struggle to Find Pumping Space

            Every time Meagan Cavanaugh tries to pump breast milk, she braces herself for the sound of a coworker’s knock on the door. Her breastfeeding room is the same as the conference room at the national non-profit she works for. She has to sign up for a time slot to use the room, like everyone else in the office, to reserve pumping breaks for the next day.
          “Two of three times I’m there, people are trying to get in, completely disregarding that it’s reserved,” Cavanaugh said. “To pump successfully you need to be mentally relaxed and it’s challenging when people are always knocking.”
           The Federal health care law, or Obamacare, includes a provision that will allow women in                  Cavanaugh’s position to have access to private pumping rooms. The legislation requires employers to provide a room other than a bathroom for women to pump milk and ample break times to use the room.
Instead of forcing employers to recognize the health needs of mothers and babies, the law has had little effect on labor practices. Employers are either unaware of the law or fail to meet minimal standards, such as privacy and cleanliness. The federal government has offered state breastfeeding coalitions the funding needed to reach out to businesses and inform them of the new law’s requirements.
            Breastfeeding became important to the health care law when it became labeled a preventative health measure for both the mother and baby. Marsha Walker, lactation consultant and registered nurse, said breastfeeding is vital for babies because breast milk boosts the baby’s immune system to prevent sickness.
             “It’s extremely important to prevent leukemia, cancer and diabetes. It’s not just to prevent ear infections. It’s protection from both common and serious illnesses,” Walker said.
            Breastfeeding also preserves the mother’s health, Walker said, because the chance reproductive cancers and cardiac problems are more likely to occur when the body does not express breast milk.
If better enforced, federal law could level the playing field for mothers, especially low-income women who do not always have the option of staying home after-baby. When the rate of breastfeeding among women aged 19 to 35 was broken down among class, race and education, a 2007 survey by the Centers for Disease Control found clear disparities.
Black women, women with only a high school degree or less and women receiving WIC, a nutritional program for low-income women, infants and children, breast-fed less than other groups.
            Felina Rakowski Gallagher, owner of The Upper Breast Side in Manhattan, a breastfeeding consultation service, said she knows many working mothers resort to strange methods in order to pump milk, such as pumping milk from inside an electrical closet.
            “I don’t know what these employers are thinking,” she said. “They’re hiring women of childbearing age and then they think the cost of maternity leave and all of these other benefits are too high.”
            Babies’ n’ Business LLC helps companies set up lactation rooms, purchase pumps and provide supportive services. A registered nurse and lactation consultant at the company, Jane Balkam Ph.D., said businesses with as many as 4,000 employees need to be persuaded to give extra benefits.
            “Once companies know that it’s a win-win situation it’s not hard to persuade them to make that effort. But there is a lack of understanding in the business community about why they need to do it and why it is necessary,” Balkam said.
            Balkam said federal agencies account for a recent uptick in the number of employers requesting services from Babies’ n’ Business. She said federal agencies that are made aware of the new Obamacare provision are quick to adopt it but many large private sector companies are not aware the law exists.
The law is a challenge for small businesses as well said Laurel Pickering, spokesperson for the Northeast Business Group on Health centered in Manhattan.
            “For small businesses, it’s just a matter of space. We are a small business here and we have 30 to 35 people in the office. Until we redid the office, that was a struggle for us. Now we have room for a breastfeeding privacy room,” Pickering said.
            Pisticci, an Italian restaurant on La Salle Street in Manhattan, employs 33 people. Its manager, Elizabeth Powell, was not aware the regulation existed but she said she does keep a spare office room, which she said employees are free to use for breastfeeding.
            “It’s never been an issue but if needed we would provide it,” Powell said.
Breastfeeding mothers have often found their employers were willing to convert a room into a breastfeeding room but the room did not always meet their needs due to a lack of privacy or cleanliness.
            Working mothers find conditions are much less ideal because their employer offers scant breaks and unclean places to pump milk.
            An assistant editor who works at a major television network said she routinely uses co-worker’s offices when they are out or finds an empty neglected office inhabited by mice. She did not want to be named for fear of angering her employer.
            “There isn’t one place that is the pumping room for me.  I use one room most of the time but last week I found mouse droppings in there. No one should have to work with that,” she said.
            The 37 year-old assistant editor said it is difficult to work in a male-dominated industry with mostly fathers who do not face the same parenting responsibilities.
“It’s hard to be a woman in this business. It’s a hard situation for moms because even my union doesn’t know how to deal with it.  It’s just society in general that people think, ‘You just have to deal with it. It’s not my pregnancy so its not my problem,’” she said.
            Cassandra Adams, 23, gave birth to her child a month ago and plans to return to work as a Walgreens beauty advisor in Grand Island, New York. She said she knows she will have a sterile place to pump breast milk but she will be expected to pump during the lunch and break times she had before she gave birth. Adams said she is not sure she will be able to continue pumping if she can’t balance the break times she has with the pace of her job.
            Though many new mothers have experienced a lack of breaks and clean rooms in which to pump, there are a few exceptions. Lisa Mou, a strategy group manager, works at American Express, a company well known by breastfeeding advocates as one of a few companies that provide outstanding benefits to new mothers.
            The company pays for breastfeeding seminars at nursing schools, offers support groups, and gives employees 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. Once employees return, the company helps them get in touch with lactation consultants. Mou also benefits from the basic breaks and breastfeeding rooms required by law.  
            Mou said she was touched by the company’s effort to reach out to new mothers because she never expected the level of support she received. The company allows her to take work home if she is feeling tired or overwhelmed.
“I had a hard time with my hours and I thought it would be a difficult situation to explain it to them but people were very supportive of it,” Mou said.
            *I wrote this story last spring as I was attending graduate school and did not find the time to pitch it to as many magazines as I would have liked. However, I think it's an important problem facing working mothers, and it should be brought to people's attention, even in a limited space such as my personal blog or a feminist community forum. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Mad Men, Scandal, and Sexual Coercion

Last night's Mad Men was thoroughly entertaining in its kookiness, from Kenny Cosgrove's tap dancing (More Kenny please!) to Stan's drug-induced mania. But there was definitely a lot of darkness; more darkness than you see in an average Mad Men episode, which says a lot for "The Crash."

We find out that Don was beaten by his mother with a wooden spoon and told to sleep in the basement once he got sick. We also find out that a prostitute who once comforted him and brought him back to health sexually abused him. I know that viewers get tired of examining Don's neuroses, and I'm one of them, but I think this flashback made sense in the context of his recent behavior with Sylvia. Don has a hard time engaging in sex without playing a dominant or submissive role. The element of power has to be there. It hardly ever seems to center on mutual satisfaction or love.

In past episodes, Don hired a woman to slap him during sex. in the context of his abuse, that scene looks much different to me. His strange choice of words with Sylvia, and his desire to dominate her and have her confirm the idea that she only exists for his pleasure, has a whole new meaning. I'm not a psychologist and I can't pretend to know how often victims of sexual abuse bring issues of power and control into their relationships and I'm not claiming that all victims have emotionally broken relationships with their S.O.s as Don does. But I do know from interviews with psychologists, that past sexual abuse in one's childhood can have a significant effect on current adult relationships.

What disturbs me most about "The Crash" recaps I have read so far, is that none of these articles explore Don's sexual abuse by the prostitute. What happened to him is called "sex."

I don't know how old Don is supposed to be in that episode. I do know the audience would have received the scene differently if a man in his 20s or older nursed a teenage girl back to health, convincing her she was in safe, loving arms, far from her abusive father, and then proceeded to grope her as she lay stiffly in bed, barely registering what was happening to her. It would have been read as rape, or at worst, just plain immoral and wrong.

But he's a teenage boy, and she's an attractive blonde with ample breasts. Viewers assume he wanted to have sex with her, despite her creepy words (paraphrasing slightly) "That's okay. You don't have to do anything. I'll do the rest." Two adults enthusiastically consenting and actively pursuing the other is definition of sex, not a young boy laying on a bed while an adult woman touches him.

Scandal also dealt with sexual coercion in its own way. In one scene, a drunk President Fitzgerald Grant took a shower. His wife, Mellie, entered the shower and began to give him a blow job. Fitz continued to tell her to stop but she didn't listen. He eventually gave up.

This is not what people are trained to think of when they imagine rape. People are taught that rape victims are always women and perpetrators are always men. People are taught that force must be used, or that a perpetrator must threaten the victim with a weapon. Rape between husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend is still difficult for some people to comprehend. It is even harder for some individuals to understand rape between boyfriend and boyfriend, girlfriend and girlfriend, husband and husband and wife and wife.

That is why the Fitz shower scene was received with about the same indifference as Don's scene with the prostitute. Men love sex. Men love blow jobs. How could these men have been raped?

We need to think differently about men and the way men can be coerced into sexual acts. We need to question assumptions about how men view sex. We need to reinforce the idea that a man can say "No" and really mean it.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Stop Telling Me to Make Female-Driven Things If I Want Them

I was having a conversation with someone about sexualized images of women, i.e. posters of half naked women in office environments. I pointed out that the problem is not with partial nudity in itself but the context behind having a sexualized image of a woman hanging in an office in a field that is dominated by men. I said it would have been another matter if there was a poster of sexualized, half-naked man on the wall, and proceeded to point out that the female gaze is usually ignored if not considered nonexistent by advertisers.

He essentially responded, "If you want your own images of half-naked men, make them."

His argument was that I should become a photographer and take pictures of half-naked men (or draw them) for a living if I wanted those images out there for public consumption.

If I were making my living as a photographer, it would be great idea. It would be an even better idea if I were a known photographer who had connections to decent galleries or worked for an advertising company that was receptive to this idea. However, it's an argument that men happy with the status quo generally throw out whenever women complain that an industry doesn't serve them. And it's a very weak one.

"If you think video games don't feature enough female characters, become a game designer and make your own video game!"

"If you think easily accessible mainstream pornography treats women like dirt, make your own pornography!"

Those statements try to oversimplify complicated problems and put the onus on women instead of men for failing to acknowledge women's humanity, as if it's assumed that men never will and never should have empathy for women and want to write our stories, or shoot our advertisements or direct our porn. The trouble with that statement is not that it asks women to be activist. Women should be activist. The trouble with that statement is that it totally abandons the idea of men being part of the solution and more specifically, a part of the feminist movement.

It also fails to acknowledge the fact that most movements do need help from the people who have financial, social and political power over them in order to work. A lot of women are doing these things, but it's hard to bring them to fruition when the people who hold the purse strings are still predominantly male. The people who run the businesses that decide how to market a product are mostly men, and the people who decide whether or not your porn gets distributed or marketed well are men.

Women should not have to quit their jobs as nurses to make porn because there isn't any porn out there that suits them. That's nonsensical. If a woman who majored in film as an "aha" moment and this presents itself as a creative and smart business opportunity, that's great! But that nurse shouldn't have to leave her career to find things that exist for her. It should be out there because the need exists and someone in the industry recognized it.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

RadioShack Sells Sex in New Dreadfully Banal Ad

I'm not sure what's more sad and predictable: That RadioShack is telling its remaining female customers to talk a long walk on a short pier or that the rest of their customers have bought into it.

RadioShack, a company that is in serious trouble, has become exceedingly desperate and decided that the very real problems their company faces can be solved with a heavy serving of t&a. I think RadioShack could take a more honest approach, however. They could simply play this great classic by DJ Assault and gather a few models together for a car wash scene. Maybe the car would be covered in RadioShack logos. They could try to incorporate the image of electronics in there somehow, but why don't they take a bold, Mad Men-like strategy and forgo the image of the product entirely?

Here is the real ad if you'd like to take a gander:

As Wall Street Journal writer Ann Zimmerman put it, "Not subtle."

My biggest problem with advertisements like these is not that I think it's never okay to sell sex, but that companies selling products that aren't inherently gendered always chose to favor the male gaze. The female gaze doesn't exist to RadioShack, or beer companies, or car companies. I don't have time to list how many companies ignore women and our perspective in these advertisements on a regular basis. The only companies vying for straight women's attention are Oikos, H&M (though I think gay men are also a target in that ad) and Kraft.

Apparently straight men don't eat yogurt or use salad dressing, and looking fashionable is not a high priority. After working with some Rush Limbaugh-listening construction workers who once bragged that Kashi GoLean was both tasty AND healthy (several of whom refused my offer of cookies as they were on a diet), I think these companies could question some of their assumptions about what men and women like.

On top of that, I always find it interesting that these companies can't sell sex in a more sophisticated way. Putting a speaker in a hot dog bun isn't simply offensive because it presents young women as vapid sex objects. The fact that its ad is a black hole of imagination and creativity is cringeworthy in itself. After all, they stole it from a music video.

Women, like men, are sexy. But that doesn't mean we need to be presented as porn stars: silent, mouths agape, kneeling on all fours. It is impossible for many of these companies to design an ad that encompasses this idea: Women can be sexy without being passive objects. Women can be active humans, who have thoughts, say more than two words, have goals unrelated to the male libido and still be sexy doing them.

I think this commercial sells sex tastefully. It's simple and it's enough.

A breakthrough for women? No. And it doesn't have to be. It just allows Christina Hendricks to sell something without getting on all fours or pretending to eat a phallic object. The drink is obviously being compared to Christina Hendrick's image, "classic" and "bold." If we're going to keep selling sex, and targeting straight men, which will happen as long as straight men and alcohol exists, I'd rather that companies refined their advertising and presented women in a way that allowed them to appear more human than fembot. I guess it isn't too much to ask, but a little taste goes a long way.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Mansplainer Argument I'm Most Tired of Hearing

           I can rehearse statistics on rape or explain why feminism is not a zero sum game, listing how its ideals benefit men, or deconstruct why something is sexist but all of these well-reasoned arguments, all of these facts and experiences mean absolutely nothing the minute the guy in front of me says:

         "Oh, come on."

         In three words, everything I said has been destroyed, obliterated; become null and void. Those words are death in any argument about feminism despite the fact that they mean absolutely nothing. There isn't a single rational argument in those words, and yet, it works. It works the way that "calm down" and "chill out" does. It makes the person you're arguing against angry as hell, but also confused as to why they don't know what to say next. They don't know why they are speechless and yet, they just can't put together any words in defense.

         It's one of the greatest Jedi mind tricks a sexist can ever play against a feminist, especially if the feminist is a woman.

        Woman are used to doubting themselves. We have been socialized to make other people comfortable, which as feminists, leads us to wonder if we have gone too far in expressing our point of view. In the past, when I have countered something a male friend of mine has said about feminism and or assumptions about women, even when he has patiently listened and may be receptive to what I've said, I may still knee-jerk apologize after I've said it. "What are you apologizing for?" he might say. I'll say I don't know. But I do know. In the back of my head I'm always wondering if my point of view is distasteful to others, which is a feeling I'm not sure MRAs (men's rights activists) are accustomed to. Feminists tend to wonder if they're alienating men from the conversation, which can be a legitimate concern as we need to rally men to our cause, but too much concern neuters the meaning of what we're doing. A Bikini Kill lyric also comes to mind:

       "I'm so sorry if I'm alienating some of you. Your whole fucking culture alienates me."

        "Oh come on" looks like a form of gaslighting as well. If you're not familiar with the term, gaslighting refers to the movie, "Gaslight," where a woman's husband presents false information to convince her that what she perceives to be true is actually incorrect, disorienting her and causing her to question her own sanity. Obviously this is a more subtle form of it, but those three words are meant to shake a woman  and say, "Snap out of it! This is just so ludicrous. Can't you see that?" But the words don't actually form an argument to tell her why. It just makes her question her perception and wonder if it is exaggerated. Maybe she's getting worked up over nothing; a common assertion made by mansplainers when they don't have real facts and arguments to combat what a feminist is saying.

        The next time someone says "Oh, come on," simply tell them, "I don't hear an argument in there." or "How does 'Oh, come on" address what I've said about rape culture?" How does it address the fact, that despite women's educational progress, they still make less money than men and represent such a small minority of business leaders and politicians? How does "Oh, come on" counter the fact that a) What you just said about women not being suited to race car driving is sexist b) That women are still not starting their careers and personal lives from a place that is equal to men c) That the problems men face with child custody are a result of the patriarchy, not feminism?

        Don't let those three little words let you lose confidence.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Models Who Can't Decide: Repeating the Devil and Angel Theme

          I recently read Slate writer Katy Waldman's piece in reaction to Models Who Can't Decide, a tumblr that collects stock images of women looking quizzically at apples and donuts, among other foods, trying to decide if they should eat healthily or indulge. In the piece, "We Can't Decide How We Feel About 'Models Who Can't Decide'," Waldman talks about the representation of food as good and evil and our obsession with women's relationship to food. After all, there is only one man looking quizzically at food on the tumblr page.

        Then I remembered that I wrote a paper about this for a media class I took in my sophomore year of college for a Mass Media class. We analyzed advertising images and the one I choose happened to revolve around a woman struggling to decide between good and evil: A protein bar and dessert. I don't have the image and I couldn't find it, but I describe it below. I bolded the parts that I think are most relevant. In total the message is that a) overindulgence for women is bad no matter what the indulgence is, b) women feel more guilty about eating "forbidden" foods, and c) beauty is always emphasized over health.

                                   "Eat Good. Look Great."

               Flipping through the pages of Redbook I found an advertisement for protein bars in candy and ice cream flavors. The ad contains at the very top two panels of the same woman. In one panel, she is a devil and in the other panel, she is depicted as an angel. In the devil panel the woman is wearing red against a red background, computer imposed devil horns growing out. There are small differences between her and the angel on the other side that you may not notice until you look for a while.

               The devil wears black eyeliner, heavy blush and red glossy lipstick. Her hair is tousled and looks enlarged with hairspray. She’s wearing large silver earrings shaped like a paper clip. Her look is trendy not classic, maybe on the trashy side. Her tongue and bottom teeth stick out as she makes a wide grin and her eyes are dilated, with the eyebrows angling downwards. Frequently women wearing a lot of makeup are associated with promiscuity. The tousled hair and modern jewelry juxtaposed with the angel suggest that all of these aesthetics are “bad”. Since the common theme of this ad is guilt, it’s no wonder the stereotype of the “bad” woman looks this way. Since the devil represents evil, this just further perpetuates the stereotype that evil in women is represented by promiscuity.

              The devil is holding a pie, which is topped with whipped cream in and gobs of fudge. The red cherry on top is close to her face; its bright red popping against her crimson lips. The Janice Dickenson style smile is supposed to look seductive, just like the dessert. It’s quite possible that the dessert and sex are correlated. Bryan Wilson Keys explains in his book, “Subliminal Seduction,” that sex and death are both issues we constantly repress, so ads look to bring out these feelings in order to convince us to buy the product. He derives this idea from Freud’s theory that sex and death are repressed ideas that always exist in the subconscious [i]. The idea is that overindulgence in sex can lead to guilt, and so can overindulgence in food.  

               In contrast, the angel is wearing a grey shirt and a necklace of gold and pearls. The hair is neat and tidy. The makeup is minimal and the lips are salmon pink, not red. The look is very classic and the virginal absence of over-embellishment may symbolize a re-purification of your life through the product. She is holding the dish in a praying gesture. Her posture is upright, not hunched slightly like the devil and her centered body brings attention to the panel with the product, a wrapped protein bar. Her face is calm and demure. The centered body suggests renewal of balance in your life.

            Guilt is a huge motivator when it comes to persuading women to buy a product. Women tend to stay focused on their guilt longer then men and it’s likely to make them more depressed and feel helpless. A 2004 University of Minnesota study showed that women are twice as likely as men to be depressed, and tend to turn to sweet desserts for comfort, resulting in guilt, which could lead to more eating [ii].

           The guilt-relieving protein bar is then very attractive to a good number of women, especially when it suggests immunity from indulgence as this one does. The angel’s protein bar is called chocolate peanut butter, offering great taste without the consequences. The consequence women worry about is the weight gain associated with desserts. But in its clever packaging and label, this protein bar doesn’t seem gluttonous at

            In the large font under the panels, the slogan reads “Eat Good. Look Great.” The word “Great” is underlined. Looking great is obviously going to be more emphasized than eating well because women are motivated to eat well only for the purpose of looking great. Looking great will always be the primary reason for selling products to women in ads. These ads are tailored for pre-existing beliefs, perpetuating and exaggerating the “need” for women to look great. The image of what is “good” for women in this ad is to be aesthetically pleasing, a common theme in every medium.

            In the type below the slogan there is the use of words and phrases “like high-quality”, “protein”, and “active lifestyle” to convince the reader of its health benefits. The immunity from guilt is repeated with “sinfully delicious” and “heavenly flavors,” reminding the reader that it is possible to combine chocolate and health. The emphasis of the phrase “high protein” is the effect of the Dr. Atkins Diet on the marketing of food. Protein is much desirable than carbohydrates now in the weight loss department, so women have been looking for protein to lose weight [iii].

           “According to a study published last year by Morgan Stanley, ‘19 per cent of U.S. adults are either currently on a low-carb diet or have tried one earlier this year, which is three to five times higher than many previous public estimates.’”

           Ads for protein bars aimed at women have always reinforced the conventional beauty ideal: slender, young or young-looking, and most typically white. In 2001, EAS protein bars, normally advertised to muscle-seeking men, were pitched to women. Christie Brinkley and Cindy Crawford were portrayed in the television ad as soccer moms leading busy lives, showing you can have the perfect body and be a busy mother [iv].

            I chose this ad because the contrast between the panels grabbed my attention. When I saw the obvious differences between the women in the panels and the message of guilt, it reminded me of ads women see in beauty magazines. It is a “before and after” type of ad because the message is carried through it’s juxtaposition of the same woman in different panels. This juxtaposition is much more obvious though than “before and after” ads because its idea of what is good and bad is shown through the devil and angel. The ad’s message is direct and simple which makes it more effective.

          The ad’s suggestive details, like the difference in makeup and hair have underlying messages but they don’t qualify as being a part of the traditional idea of what subliminal advertising is. In the book, “Advertising and Popular Culture” edited by Sammy R. Danna, a researcher suggests that subliminal advertising hasn’t been shown effective to the mass media. “Procedures for the development of commercial exploitation appear so unlikely that subliminal stimulation can initiate subsequent action, to say nothing of commercially or politically significant action.[v]

           While the elements of sex and death we may be repressing are part of the emotional appeals found in advertising, they probably do not constitute as subliminal advertising but as more of an unhidden subtext.

[i] Wilson Bryan Keys, Subliminal Seduction. Illinois: Prentice Hall, 1981 : p113-115

[ii] Academic Premier (3/24/07) Denise Foley, “lose weight like a guy”. Prevention May 2006: p158-217.

[iii] Academic Premier (3/28/07) Donald Coxe, “Sex is Out, Carbs are In”.
            Maclean’s February 2, 2004:p.34.

[iv] Academic Premier (3/28/07) Goetzl, David, “New EAS Ads Aim to Attract Women”. The Advertising Age January 1, 2001: p.4.

[v] Eric J. Zanot, Sammy R. Danna, Advertising in Popular Culture. Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1992: p.61

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What the Gwyneth Paltrow Debacle Tells Us About Modesty Culture

Apparently Gwyneth Paltrow is selling child bikinis on her Goop site. Classic Paltrow. The first thought that came to my mind was, "How ridiculous!" rather than "How scandalous!" I think a child bikini is as superfluous as it gets. Children do not have breasts to support or hide. Before one even gets into the debate over whether women should feel pressured to wear tops at all on a beach, I will tackle the debate over whether female children should feel pressured to cover their chests.

I won't try to minimize concern over pedophiles, but I think the way we're debating child bikinis has something to do with how we talk about women preventing their own rapes. Child rapists will not stop before molesting or raping a child and think, "No, this girl is too modest. She clearly isn't asking for it, like 'black bikini' over there." If you are a rapist of children or women, cloth will not deter you. One pieces will not deter you.

Others are concerned with telling children that they should be sexy. But bikinis are not inherently sexy. The revealing of skin and nudity overall isn't inherently about sex. The problem with our culture is that we equate nude or partially nude bodies with sex, even if they are children. We still worry that it must have something to do with sex. And it's sad that young girls should be worried about their dress being interpreted as sexual before they even grow breasts. At some point prevention of sexualization becomes the vehicle for sexualization and placing importance on modesty at the same time.

In my past writing, I have talked about how teachers at school occasionally thought I dressed inappropriately. I wore a baggy flannel shirt but the buttons weren't high enough. In fourth grade, I attended a 1950s-themed school dance. My mom, a conservative dresser herself, picked out a shirt that tied up above the waist. I had to change or I couldn't dance. My best friend once wore a Geisha-like outfit for Halloween and was made to change out of it, because Geishas are prostitutes. (Actually, the history of the Geisha is a lot more complicated than that.)

The twist-tie shirt looked almost exactly like this, except Elizabeth Taylor wasn't filling it out. That should make a difference, right?

My point is that all of the concern over modesty is misplaced and hurtful, not helpful. We were made to feel like we did something wrong. It's bad enough for women to be slut-shamed, but slut-shaming children is despicable. Instead of protecting female children from the big bad world where their worth is tied up with what clothes they're wearing, a world that often reduces them to sex objects, they are giving children a taste of it early. Before they even grow breasts, they know that their bodies are something to be ashamed of. They are taught the exposure of the body, for women, is connected with what level of class they belong to.

Yes, Goop's bikinis are silly. But they're silly because they have a top half. Girls and boys shouldn't have to cover up their chests on the beach because their chests really aren't any different from one another. If one is sexualized, the other must be. The argument that many modesty advocates use on adult women (That because women's breasts are different than men's, and seen as sexual objects by men, they are inherently sexual) doesn't apply to this scenario.

Monday, April 22, 2013

What The Good Wife Needs To Do About Will and Peter

I am one of many women who have become addicted to The Good Wife, a show that actually has a lot of female writers and a bevy of three dimensional, complicated female characters played by talented actresses. It's hard to find shows that don't reduce women to tropes, and The Good Wife has the added bonus of a bisexual character and gay character, both of which are not terribly stereotyped.

But I digress. From the beginning, the show has been set up to display a rivalry between two men, Will Gardner and Peter Florrick; who I would argue are the least interesting characters on the show. They need to be on the show because they are representative of the cutthroat environment that is politics or the practice of law in Chicago. But the rivalry between them is dull because they are the same breed. Whenever I think of a perfect love triangle, I think of men who are very different from each other. Rhett Butler and Ashley Wilkes are the perfect foil of each other. To some degree, Peter Florrick and Will Gardner are both Rhett Butler: smart, shrewd and well dressed men who tend to play outside the rules because they think the rules don't apply to them. Hey, one of them even cavorts with prostitutes!

I wondered what could be done to make the show more interesting, because as it is, the show relies on a stereotype about women, even though so much of it is groundbreaking. Alicia has developed as a lawyer, as a mother and as a person in general. Yet her destiny on the show is defined by her relationship with these powerful, albeit dull, men. She is interesting enough on her own. She is involved in intellectually challenging cases and power rivalries at work. The ultimate season finale that I'm looking for? No! Series finale? Alicia doesn't choose Will or Peter. She chooses herself. The series finale ends with her sitting down in a big comfy chair whilst drinking a glass of wine after a long day of whooping ass in court. It would be a much more original ending than anyone would have expected.

Originally I thought Alicia would do well to meet a third man, maybe a man totally disconnected from the firm or Chicago politics. Shocker: What if he weren't a lawyer? What if he worked in a bookstore? What if he was a high school math teacher? But that is unlikely to happen. A certain segment of the audience needs to believe that the ultimate dream of a woman as successful as Alicia will always be to attach herself to the wealthiest or most powerful (or both) man in the room. Either way, if the writers of The Good Wife don't take advantage of this chance to tell a lesson about Alicia's growth I'm going to be very disappointed. But a girl can still dream of a Cary Agos and Kalinda Sharma wedding.

To Everyone Who Called Feminists Chicken Littles: Roe v. Wade Decision Could Be At Risk

Dating back to the 2004 election, I can remember both conservatives and liberals telling me not to worry about the outcome, because, let's face it, no one is going to overturn Roe. v. Wade. During the 2012 election, I wrote about the general apathy some of my male friends showed toward women's issues, which they considered tangential to the election. They were more concerned about the evil of the two-party system, among other things. I didn't disagree with them but pointed out that as white men, they have the luxury of taking a chance on a third party candidate.

But this election season, I saw more posts than ever encouraging people not to vote, or to stop throwing this do-goody voting thing in their faces. Some of the posts suggested that social issues like gay marriage and abortion were hijacking the debate. As I read these posts, something else sank in. 

I noticed it not only when I looked through the endless feed of election related Facebook posts, but looking back to every single time I heard the apathetic mumbles of my generation. Those snide, holier than thou remarks, telling us that our votes don't really count. Who did they come from? Young white men.

Young white men have plenty to lose in a general election. But they don’t have as much to lose. It is the luxury of a privileged group to separate itself from the drab responsibilities of every day life and look down upon the conventional, less than perfect path ahead. It is the luxury of a group that has always had the right to vote since the country’s founding, to take that vote for granted. 

It is the luxury of a privileged group to tell less privileged groups to calm down, because even if the other guy wins, your rights aren’t really in danger. It’s easier to call Democrats’ appeal to women voters fear mongering when you haven’t actually wondered how soon a group of politicians would start to chip away at your personal agency.

Not only is that argument reductionist (feminist women care about helluva lot more than Roe b. Wade) but the idea that Roe v. Wade will be protected forever is just patently false.

North Dakota's governor recently signed a law banning all abortions in the state. And many other states are chipping away at abortion rights as well. This trend could ensure a Supreme Court battle happens sometime in the near future, which is ultimately what conservatives want.

Here is a New York Times graphic that breaks down recent developments in states' battle for abortion rights:

To read more on how this North Dakota law could provide a constitutional challenge and overturn Roe  v. Wade read here.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Response to Samantha Daniels' "10 Types of Women Men Do Not Want to Marry"

Samantha Daniels, a professional matchmaker, has written an article on the Huffington Post's Women blog. The Huffington Post's Women blog is just lovely by the way. Among the blog categories HuffPo thinks women should care about: Healthy Living, Weddings, Divorce, Style, Fifty...Parents...you get the idea. We don't care about sports and foreign policy, am I right, ladies? I'm telling you this so you understand the context for why Daniels is publishing her wonderful matchmaking advice on The Huffington Post Women's blog as opposed to anywhere else.

She provides a few tropes of women men should avoid marrying. This is not groundbreaking. Women have written pieces about types of men you shouldn't date or marry as well. Some of the qualities are understandable. Why would you want to be with a jealous woman or a woman who is trying to fundamentally change you? But some of the descriptions on the list are innately gendered.

Like Miss Bossy Pants:

This woman usually can't help herself; she has bossy in her DNA. When a man first meets her, he might think this character trait is cute, for awhile. However, once he starts to feel like he is in grammar school being told what to do by his second grade teacher, he will give this woman her walking papers.

First of all, she thinks the term "walking papers" is clever. Secondly, she isn't saying this woman is abusive or controlling. She doesn't say she's the female version of Patrick Bergen in "Sleeping With The Enemy." But good lord, don't you hate it when a woman tells you to do something? She's just like that second grade teacher who thought she could tell you what to do just because you were acting like a  child. How annoying.

It reminds me of how Neil Cavuto of Fox News once spoke of how men couldn't handle the idea of Hillary Clinton as president because they would hear their wives nagging them. The fact that assertive women are perceived as "nagging" is the whole reason Daniels lists Miss Bossy. However, you will see other traditionalist matchmakers like Patti Stanger tell women they should expect men to lead the date and pick the place. A "bossy" man isn't supposed to be a turn-off for women.

But I saved the best for last. Miss I Don't Eat is the worst offender.

Miss "I Don't Eat": This woman picks at her food, is on a never-ending diet or doesn't eat pretty much everything that most people eat. When a man first meets her, he thinks to himself, at least she will never become overweight, but eventually he realizes that it's no fun to eat alone. The fact is men like to eat; they like steak, they like trying different foods, they like dessert and women should be eating too, at least sometimes.

Part of me thinks the author ran out of tropes so she started scraping the bottom of the trope barrel. This stereotype exists thanks to a sexist expectation of "effortless perfection." It isn't enough to BE perfect, or at least very close to perfect according to mainstream beauty standards. You also have to act as if you didn't even try to achieve it. So instead of simply eating less or eating differently to maintain her weight, the skinny girl should eat whatever makes her significant other happy, then work out for hours to burn off that fried fish sandwich, or perhaps take a trip to the bathroom...? I would hope that the author would never advocate for bulimia, but she clearly thinks the man's expectation is that she stay thin and eat "normal" food. There are only so many options available.

I find it especially funny that most of the commenters on the article are men, all of whom agree with her, except one, who appreciates Miss I Live For You and Have Nothing Else Going On:

I agree with most these, although I've never experienced a woman waiting by the door for me and I believe it would be nice.

It looks like Daniels may have read her audience wrong. The kind of men she is appealing to ARE looking for Miss I Live For You and Have Nothing Else Going on. Because that is the only kind of woman who would take this advice seriously.

If you want to check out Lindy West's takedown of Daniels' listicle, here is the link. She takes it as seriously as it should be, which is not at all. My favorite is Mr. "Nyeeehhhhhhh, I Work for the Phone Company and I'm Wearing a Windbreaker." I would totally go on a date with that guy.