Tag Archives: gender: femininity

Eating Meat is Funny and Sexy. Don’t Stop Eating Meat.

Activist Carol Adams has famously argued that the common phenomenon of sexualizing meat products is designed to make us feel better about eating animals. One of the ways it does this is by making it funny.  She explains:

Uneasiness becomes sexual energy… and everybody knows what to do about sexual energy.  You can laugh at it, you can talk about it, it reduces whoever is presented to an object.  And so it makes it okay again.

Sexualizing meat also turns the object of consumption, the animal, into a willing participant.  Sex takes two and, even when one partner is objectified, there is a desire.  If not “want,” it’s a “want to be wanted.”

If the meat wants you to want it, then you don’t have to feel bad about eating it.  As I’ve written before, “this works best alongside feminization, as it is women who are typically presented as objects of a lustful male gaze.”

This ad, in which roosters flock to Carl’s Jr to ogle and lust over chicken “breasts,” is a disturbing example.

Thanks to @wegotwits for the link!

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.

Reimagining Barbie: Villain or Victim?

Earlier this year, Barbie posed for Sports Illustrated, triggering a round of eye-rolling and exasperation among those who care about the self-esteem and overall mental health of girls and women.

Barbie replied with the hashtag #unapologetic, arguing in an — I’m gonna guess, ghostwritten — essay that posing in the notoriously sexist swimsuit issue was her way of proving that girls could do anything they wanted to do.  It was a bizarre appropriation of feminist logic alongside a skewering of a feminist strawwoman that went something along the lines of “don’t hate me ’cause I’m beautiful.”

Barbie is so often condemned as the problem and Mattel, perhaps tired of playing her endless defender, finally just went with: “How dare you judge her.”  It was a bold and bizarre marketing move.  The company had her embrace her villain persona, while simultaneously shaming the feminists who judged her.  It gave us all a little bit of whiplash and I thought it quite obnoxious.

But then I came across Tiffany Gholar’s new illustrated book, The Doll Project.  Gholar’s work suggests that perhaps we’ve been too quick to portray Barbie as simply a source of young women’s self-esteem issues and disordered eating.  We imagine, after all, that she gleefully flaunts her physical perfection in the face of us lesser women.  In this way, Mattel may be onto something; it isn’t just her appearance, but her seemingly endless confidence and, yes, failure to apologize, that sets us off.

But, maybe we’re wrong about Barbie?

What if Barbie is just as insecure as the rest of us?  This is the possibility explored in The Doll Project.  Using a mini diet book and scale actually sold by Mattel in the 1960s, Gholar re-imagines fashion dolls as victims of the media imperative to be thin.  What if  Barbie is a victim, too?

Excerpted with permission:

14 1a 53Forgive me for joining Mattel and Gholar in personifying this doll, but I enjoyed thinking through this reimagining of Barbie. It reminded me that even those among us who are privileged to be able to conform to conventions of attractiveness are often suffering.  Sometimes even the most “perfect” of us look in the mirror and see nothing but imperfection.  We’re all in this together.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard and Adios Barbie.

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.

Eroticized Inequality

Flashback Friday.

We are a species that reproduces sexually and has a penchant for power hierarchies.  One thing that we’ve eroticized, then, is inequality.  In other words, we have sexualized power asymmetry.  I’m not necessarily talking about BDSM, though that may very well be part of it; I’m talking about the everyday gentle or not-so-gentle eroticization of power difference.   If you’ve ever been turned on by the idea of overpowering or being overpowered, that’s what I’m talking about.

This image, used to illustrate a New York Times article about the sexual partners of vegans, is a striking example of eroticized inequality:

So the image, apparently, was chosen because it was a story about sexual relationships between vegans, or “fruity” types. But in order to make fruit look sexual, they positioned them asymmetrically with the pear not just standing next to the apple, or even taller than the apple, but towering over it.  It’s the implication of power difference (and the satin sheets) that make this seem like a sexual image instead of, say, a sleepy one.

This post originally appeared in 2007.

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.

Will Women Take Whiskey? Male Flight from Feminizing Spirits

This is a Pink Lady: 15 oz. gin, 4 dashes of grenadine, and an egg white.

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According to Shanna Farrell,  the Pink Lady was popularized in the ’50s.  Women were believed to have “dainty palates,” and so cocktails for women were designed to disguise any taste of alcohol.  In the ’70s, the Pink Lady was surpassed by the Lemon Drop and, in the ’80s, the Cosmopolitan.

Farrell asks “What does it mean to drink like a woman” today? Anecdotally, she finds that bartenders consistently expect her to order something “juicy or sweet” — “It’s pink; you’ll like it” — and respond with a favorable nod when she orders something “spirit forward.”

This is typical for America today: women are expected to perform femininity, but when they perform masculinity, they are admired and rewarded. This is because we still put greater value on men and the things we associate with them.

This phenomenon of valuing masculinity over femininity — what we call “androcentrism” — may be changing how women drink, since everyone likes that nod of approval.  Farrell reports that “women account for the fastest-growing segment of worldwide whiskey consumers.”  Well hello, Hilary.

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I wonder how men will respond to women’s incursion into the whiskey market. Traditionally we’ve seen male flight.  As an activity, occupation, or product is increasingly associated with women, men leave.  In a society where women keep infiltrating more and more of men’s domains, this is a bad long-term strategy for maintaining dominance (see, for example, the feminization of education). As I ask in my forthcoming sociology of gender textbook: “What will happen when women are sipping from all the bottles?”

Thanks to the super-cool bartender Naomi Schimek for the tip!

Cross-posted at Jezebel and Pacific Standard.

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.

What Do Little Girls Really Learn from “Career” Barbies?

Like a lot of moms, I faced the Barbie dilemma when my daughter was younger. Ultimately I  figured a little bit of Barbie would sate her appetite (and stop the nagging) without doing too much harm. Like a vaccination, or homeopathic inoculation against the Big Bad. I told myself my daughter didn’t use her dolls for fashion play anyway: her Barbie “funeral,” for instance, was a tour de force of childhood imagination. I told myself I only got her “good” Barbies: ethnic Barbies, Wonder Woman Barbie, Cleopatra Barbie. Now that she’s 10 and long ago gave the dolls away (or “mummified” them and buried them in the back yard in a “time capsule”), I can’t say whether they’ll have any latent impact on her body image or self-perception. It would seem ludicrous, at any rate, to try to pinpoint the impact of one toy.

But now, according to a study published this week,  it turns out that playing with Barbie, even career Barbie, may indeed limit girls’ perception of their own future choices. Psychologists randomly assigned girls ages 4-7 to play with one of three dolls. Two were Barbies: a fashion Barbie (in a dress and high heels); and a “career” Barbie with a doctor’s coat and stethoscope. (NOTE: I just pulled these images from the web: I don’t know which actual Barbies they used.)

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The third, “control” doll was a Mrs. Potato Head, who,  although she comes with fashion accessories such as a purse and shoes, doesn’t have Barbie’s sexualized (and totally unrealistic) curves.

So, after just a few minutes of play, the girls were asked if they could do any of 10 occupations when they grew up. They were also asked if boys could do those jobs. Half of the careers, according to the authors, were male-dominated and half were female dominated. The results:

Girls who played with Barbie thought they could do fewer jobs than boys could do. But girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head reported nearly the same number of possible careers for themselves and for boys.

More to the point:

There was no difference in results between girls who played with a Barbie wearing a dress and the career-focused, doctor version of the doll.

Obviously, the study is not definitive. Obviously, one doll isn’t going to make the critical difference in a young woman’s life blah blah blah. Still, it’s interesting that it doesn’t matter whether the girls played with fashion Barbie or doctor Barbie, the doll had the same effect and in only a few minutes.

That reminded me of a study in which college women enrolled in an advanced calculus class were asked to watch a series of four, 30-second TV commercials. The first group watched four netural ads. The second group watched two neutral ads and two depicting stereotypes about women  (a girl enraptured by acne medicine; a woman drooling over a brownie mix). Afterward they completed a survey and—bing!—the group who’d seen the stereo- typed ads expressed less interest in math- and science-related careers than classmates who had watched only the neutral ones. Let me repeat: the effect was demonstrable after watching two ads.

And guess who performed better on a math test, coeds who took it after being asked to try on a bathing suit or those who had been asked to try on a sweater? (Hint: the latter group; interestingly, male students showed no such disparity.)

Now think about the culture girls are exposed to over and over and over and over and over, whether in toys or movies or tv or music videos, in which regardless of what else you are—smart, athletic, kind, even feminist, even old—you must be “hot.” Perhaps, then, the issue is not “well, one doll can’t have that much of an impact,” so much as “if playing with one doll for a few minutes has that much impact what is the effect of the tsunami of sexualization that girls confront every day, year after year?”

Peggy Orenstein is the author of four books, including The New York Times best-seller Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture.  You can follow her at her blog, where this post originally appeared, on facebook, and on twitter.

Femininity: Feared and Reviled

11The paradox: masculinity is strength, power, and dominance… but femininity is terrifying. Gender rules insist that men must avoid association with the feminine at all costs because, if they do not, they are weak.  They are pussies, bitches, women, girls. Femininity is weakness and yet, oddly, it has the power to strip men of their manliness.  It is as if, as sociologist Gwen Sharp once put it, “masculinity is so fragile that apparently even the slightest brush with the feminine destroys it.”

Behold the best example of this phenomenon ever:

Let’s be clear.  The reason he’s afraid of femininity is because it’s reviled.  It makes you a woman, which makes you worthless.  Which is fine for the ladies, but dudes are advised to avoid personal denigration if at all possible.

Thanks Summer’s Eve, you make my job easy.

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.

Questioning Media Portrayals of Female Drunkeness

At the New Statesman, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter skewer the common media hand-wringing over women who get drunk in public.  Above and beyond the victim-blaming “don’t make yourself so rape-able” message, Cosslett and Baxter point out that the tsk-tsking is deeply laden with the idea that women should behave like “ladies.”  This, of course, is an old-fashioned notion suggesting that women are or should be the moral superiors of men (invented during the Victorian era).

Using a Daily Mail article as an example, they criticize the typical language and imagery that accompanies these stories:

Platell’s piece manages to feature almost every aspect of drunken female behaviour that tabloids simultaneously loathe and desire. Yes, this article has the whole shebang: long lens photos of young women with their fishnets torn up to the bum at a fancy dress party in freshers’ week; phrases like “barely leaving anything to the imagination” and “neo-feminists behaving like men” and creepily voyeuristic descriptions of “pretty young girls lying comatose on the pavement.”

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From another point of view, Cosslett and Baxter argue, this looks like “a pretty cracking night out,” stumbles and all.

They point out, smartly, that many of these stories frame women’s interest in alcohol as an effort to hang with the boys.  The message, they explain, is that “‘young ladies’ are being warped by the hard-drinking university culture… going along with men’s behaviour because they’re weak-willed and they think it will make them look cool.”

Because men invent things, and then women jump on board because they feel like they have to — that’s the way of the world, isn’t it? It’s not like those of the female variety enjoy a pint, after all, or even — God forbid — enjoy the sensation of drunkenness once in a blue moon. It’s not as though our decision whether or not to drink has anything to do with us or our own lives… modern female binge drinking is still all about the men.

This is not to defend drinking per se, or binge drinking or public drunkeness, but to point out the gendered coverage of the phenomenon, which still portrays women’s drinking as somehow less natural, more worrisome, and more dangerous than men’s.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

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 Feminization of Love and Masculinization of Sex

What comes to mind when you think of romance, love, and Valentine’s Day?  Probably things like sunsets, flowers, chocolates, candles, poetry, and bubble baths.  You know, girl stuff.

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Francesca Cancian, who writes on love, calls this the feminization of love.  It makes love seem like its for women and girls only.  This is a problem for at least two reasons.  First, because men are supposed to avoid girly things in our culture, they are pressured to pretend like they’re not into love and love-related things.  That’s why men are offered the alternative Steak and a Blow Job Day.

Second, it makes other ways of expressing love less visible.  Maybe he shows love by always changing the oil in the car or making sure the computer is updated with anti-virus software.  These can be mis-recognized as not about love because they aren’t the proper socially constructed symbols.  So, if he doesn’t also show up with flowers or candy once in a while, maybe she doesn’t feel loved.

The flip side of this is the masculinization of sex.  The rather new idea that what men are really interested in is sex and that this is secondary or, even, obligatory for women.

The feminization of love and masculinization of sex manifests itself in a myriad of ways across our culture, causing all sorts of problems.  In the case of Valentine’s Day, it makes it seem as if the (assumed heterosexual) holiday is for women but, if he does it right, he’ll get sex as a reward.  How romantic.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

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.