Tag Archives: culture: color

Race and Gender in… Angry Birds?

I have enjoyed Star Wars Angry Birds since I first discovered it almost a year ago, at the suggestion of my brother (a fellow Star Wars fan). While I never warmed to the original Angry Birds, I was tickled that I could clearly identify the Star Wars characters the birds represented in the themed version of the game. When Star Wars Angry Birds II released last month, I anxiously dove into the sequel.  On a whim, I decided to use the new store feature to look through the many characters that I might someday unlock.

When I finally scrolled through all of the characters in the game, I noticed something peculiar.

Han Solo (played by Harrison Ford, a white male, in the Star Wars films) is portrayed by a yellow bird. Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill, a white male) is portrayed by a red bird. Qui-Gon Jinn (played by Liam Neeson, a white male) is portrayed by a tan bird. These birds all have costumes or props that identify them as the characters they are meant to represent, but their color is not related to the skin color of the characters/actors in the films.

This pattern held true for every (human) male character with two notable exceptions: Captain Panaka (played by Hugh Quarshie, a black male) and Mace Windu (played by Samuel Jackson, a black male) are both portrayed by brown birds.

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So, what’s the message? Well, for white, male Star Wars characters, skin color is unimportant; white characters can be represented by a bird of any color. It is the costuming or props used by these birds that convey the essence of the character. But for black Star Wars characters, their skin color (brown) becomes the defining element conveying the essence of the character.

Likewise, gender is also a defining characteristic for the portrayal of female characters. Princess Leia (played by Carrie Fisher, a white female) and Padme (played by Natalie Portman, a white female) are both portrayed by pink birds. There are no other pink birds in the game.   Again, the color of the bird is unimportant, unless the bird is female, in which case the character’s gender (denoted by its pinkness) becomes the essential element of that character.

This same pattern also appears in the original Star Wars Angry Birds, in which Princess Leia is the only pink bird and Lando Calrissian (played by Billy Dee Williams, a black male) is the only brown bird.

White privilege and male privilege persist, in part, by framing the white, male experience as normal. Even in a game like Star Wars Angry Birds II we see the invisibility of whiteness and maleness and the foregrounding of race and gender for people of color and women.

Galen Ciscell is a visiting assistant professor of sociology at Pacific Lutheran University.  He is also the designer of the cooperative board game Atlantis Rising.

Breast Cancer-Themed Pink Sexy Leopard-ish Costume Blows Our Mind

No costume could more perfectly capture this October at SocImages.  From The Ethical Adman’s collection of the worst sexy costumes of the year, this breast cancer-themed, absurdly sexy, looks-nothing-like-a-leopard costume.  Posts collide.

Breast Cancer Leopard Costume

When I clicked on the link, they tried to give me a free pair of panties.  Maybe you’ll get lucky.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Pink Makes Women Take Breast Cancer Less Seriously, Not More

This week I had the pleasure of being a part of Take Part Live’s discussion of “pinktober.”  Here’s a really interesting piece of research that I didn’t get a chance to talk about, sent in by Lindsey B.

A paper in the Journal of Marketing Research suggesting that the current approach to raising awareness of breast cancer hurts more than helps.  You might have noticed, just maybe, I mean if you’ve been paying attention, that breast cancer awareness has become associated with the color pink.

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Stefano Puntoni and his colleagues found that when women were exposed to gender cues, like the color pink, they were less likely than women who had not been primed with a gender cue to think that they might someday get breast cancer and to say that they’d be willing to donate to the cause.  Pink, in other words, decreased both their willingness to fund research and the seriousness with which women took the disease.

Puntoni explains this finding with a common psychological tendency. When people are faced with a personal threat, they tend to subconsciously go on the defensive.  In this case, when women are exposed to information about breast cancer at the same time that they are reminded that they, specifically, are vulnerable to it, they subconsciously try to push away the idea that they’re vulnerable and that breast cancer is something that they, or anyone, needs to worry about it.

Originally posted in 2010, with an extended version appearing at Ms.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Beauty = White: Photo Editing Software Edition

Here is something quite simple, sent along by Judy B.  It’s a screenshot of Gimp, an open source image editing application.  An optional plug-in, created by a user, offers a series of filters for images, including ones that “beautify.”  One of the options is “skin whitening.”

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This is one more reminder that we live in a racist society that conflates whiteness with beauty.  Remember, too, though, that someone — very possibly a set of people — had to make a conscious decision to include skin whitening as an option and position it as a sub-category of beautification.  Then they had to, literally, type the words into the program and make it so.

This shit doesn’t just happen.  It’s not random.  Racism isn’t just an ephemeral cultural thing.  It involves actual decisions made by real people who, if not motivated by racism, are complicit with it.

Cross-posted at Racialicious.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The Class Connotations of the Color Pink

Pink, as we all know, is all about gender – it’s for girls.  And sissies.

The University of Iowa… for decades has painted the locker room used by opponents pink to put them “in a passive mood” with a “sissy color,” in the words of a former head football coach, Hayden Fry.

That’s from Frank Bruni’s NY Times op-ed today.  But not all cultures link pink to femininity.  The Palermo soccer team wears pink uniforms as do other European teams.  In the U.S., it was only in the 1950s that pink took on its “boys keep out” message, and even then, a charcoal gray suit was often matched with a pink shirt or necktie.  In The Great Gatsby, set in 1922, Nick writes of Gatsby:

His gorgeous pink rag of a suit made a bright spot of color against the white steps, and I thought of the night when I first came to his ancestral home, three months before.

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DiCaprio as Gatsby in the recent Baz Luhrman film.

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In the previous chapter, Tom Buchanan says that he has been “making a small investigation” of Gatsby’s past.

“And you found he was an Oxford man,” said Jordan helpfully.

“An Oxford man!” He was incredulous. “Like hell he is! He wears a pink suit.”

Gatsby’s choice of suit colors reveals not his sexuality but his class origins.  An educated, upper-class gentleman – an Oxford man – would not wear a pink suit.  Anna Broadway cites this passage in her Atlantic article and adds,

According to an interview with the costume designer for Baz Luhrmann’s recent film, the color had working-class connotations.

Today, that class connotation is reversed.  It’s the preppie type men at the country club who are wearing pink shirts or even, on the golf course, pants.   That trend may be reinforced by something entirely fortuitous – a name.  The upscale fashion designer Thomas Pink, perhaps because of his name, does not shy away from pink as a color for men’s clothes.

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Do you agree that pink still has class connotations?  And how do they intersect with the color’s gendered meaning today?

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

Bookstore Says: Dads Read, Moms Like Pretty Things

@plouie01 snapped these two pics of the suggested gifts for Mother’s and Father’s Day at Chapter’s Bookstore in Vancouver.  You might notice an interesting difference:

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Yep, that’s right.  Men get books, interesting books even!  And women get… pink stuff.  Mostly paper products, but without words and ideas on them, and also candle and soap..  You know, pretty good-smelling things meant to please the daft.  Forgive me, perhaps I’m being overly harsh towards stationary.  All I’m saying is, not a single book for ladies at the book store?  Alas.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Managing Stigma: Doing Race, Class, And Gender

Cross-posted at Racialicious.

I featured the two-page ad below in one of the first posts I ever wrote for SocImages (it was October of 2007 and we’d written less than 100 posts; today we’re approaching 5,000, but I digress…).  It’s still one of my very favorite images.

I use it in Sociology 101 when I argue that race, class, and gender are, among other things, performances. Activities, items, and behaviors carry class, race, and gender meanings. In order to tell stories about ourselves, we strategically combine these things with the meanings we carry on our bodies (a gendered shape, skin color and hair texture etc., and signs of economic wealth or deprivation).

The ad for PhatFarm deftly balances Blackness (the body), upper-class Whiteness (the sailboat), and femininity (the pink sweater).  In strategically using culturally-resonant signifiers, he challenges popular representations of the Black body.

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This happens in real life too.  Journalist Brent Staples powerfully discusses how he adds a signifier of upper-class Whiteness to his large Black body in order to avoid the discomfort of frightening people on the streets of New York.

…I employ what has proved to be an excellent tension-reducing measure: I whistle melodies from Beethoven and Vivaldi and the more popular classical composers. Even steely New Yorkers hunching toward nighttime destinations seem to relax and occasionally they even join in the tune. Virtually everybody seems to sense that a mugger wouldn’t be warbling bright, sunny selections from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

“It is my equivalent to the cowbell that hikers wear when they know they are in bear country,” Staples adds, referring to the fact that being perceived as dangerous can itself be dangerous, as we know from the example of Trayvon Martin and Rodrigo Diaz, who was shot in the head in January when he accidentally pulled into the wrong driveway thinking it belonged to a friend.

Thinking of class, race, and gender as performances gives us credit for being agents.  We don’t have control over what the signifiers are, nor how people read our bodies, but we can actively try to manage those meanings.  Of course, some people have to do more “damage control” than others.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

News Outlet Startled by Professional Athlete Wearing Pink

I know, I know. We can expect nothing more from the Daily Mail.  And yet I can’t help but point out this scintillating article on what tennis player Roger Federer wore at the Australian Open.  An article on what a man was wearing, you might ask?  Indeed.  What might prompt such an abnormality?  Well, you see, Federer was wearing just the slightest bit of pink.

This daring choice earned Federer 374 words in the Mail Online and six photographs highlighting his apparently newsworthy fashion choice.

Now this isn’t a big deal, but it is a particularly striking example of the little ways in which rules around gender are enforced.  Federer took a risk by wearing even a little bit of pink; the Daily Mail goes to great lengths to point this out.  He also gets away with it, in the sense that the article doesn’t castigate or attempt to humiliate him for doing so.

Federer, however, is near the top of a hierarchy of men. Research shows that men who otherwise embody high-status characteristics — which includes being light-skinned, ostensibly straight, attractive, athletic, and wealthy — can break gender rules with fewer consequences (see also, the fashion choices of Andre 3000 and Kanye).  A less high-status man might read this article and take note: Federer can get away with this, kinda, but I should steer clear…. and they’re probably right.

Thanks to Todd Schoepflin @CreateSociology for the tip!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.