Tag Archives: gender: feminism/activism

Women, Liberation, and Sex and the City

This being the opening weekend for Sex and the City 2, it seems like a perfect time for this video of sociologist Tracy Scott, from Emory University, discussing the cultural impact and contradictions of the SATC franchise. Enjoy!

Thanks to Nicole J. for sending it in!

Disparate Trends in Permissiveness: Homosexuality and Prostitution

Will Wilkinson posted the following two figures, both featuring data from the World Values Survey, and asked his readers to join him in speculating as to the difference.

This first figure shows that, across several industrialized countries, tolerance for homosexuality has been going up (or, more reflectively of the image, intolerance is going down) over time:

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This suggests that countries are becoming more liberal and permissive.  However, this second figure shows that tolerance for prostitution has progressed much less.  The overall trend is towards more tolerance, but with significant backlashes and a much gentler slope downwards.

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What gives?

Wilkinson offers five possible explanations:

(1) Being versus doing. People just are homosexual, and it’s not up to us if we are. Prostitution on the other hand is an activity we can more easily choose to avoid.

(2) The cash nexus. Some things just shouldn’t be sold, and sex is one of them. The problem is the money not the sex, and the law reflects that.  Homosexuality, like sexuality generally, is mostly expressed outside the cash nexus.

(3) Related: Exploitative versus non-exploitative. Prostitution is a low-status line of work that people avoid if they have better alternatives. Taking advantage of the fact that people don’t have better alternatives is exploitative and demeaning.

(4) Sexist paternalism. Homosexuality is (wrongly) primarily conceived popularly as a man-on-man sort of thing. Prostitution is (rightly) primarily conceived popularly as a man-on-woman sort of thing.  Men (and their virtue) don’t need protection from men, but women (and their virtue) need protection from men.

(5) Marketing. There has been an ongoing, effectively carried-out campaign to de-stigmatize/normalize homosexuality. There has been no similar effort to destigmatize/normalize sex work, so the reputation of prostitution continues to languish.

What do you think?

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

How Suffragist Postcards Got Out the Vote

Considering what obvious justice suffrage for women was, it’s surprising that it took 62 years from the birth of the U.S. suffrage movement to come up with an equally simple way of making the case. But in 1910, the National American Woman Suffrage Association distilled their best arguments into one-paragraph gems printed on postcards. Their “Think It Over” series proved to be not only an excellent consciousness-raiser but fundraiser as well, since NAWSA received a commission on each card sold. Here’s a particularly insightful one:

Some other sample sayings on these postcards:

The Declaration of Independence was the direct result of taxation without representation. Either exempt WOMAN from taxation or grant her the right of Equal Suffrage. What is sauce for the GANDER is sauce for the Goose.

Woman, if granted the right of Equal Suffrage, would not endeavor to pass new laws for the benefit of WOMAN only. She would work and vote with MAN on all legislation. …

WOMAN should not condemn MAN because she has not the right of franchise–rather condemn parents for having trained their sons since the beginning of time, in the belief that MAN only is competent to vote.

Of course, suffragists didn’t rely entirely on gentle logic. At the bottom of each card was the phrase, “An ounce of persuasion precedes a pound of coercion.” Symbolism was employed as well. In the upper left corner was a shield of stars and stripes shown as having a dark spot in the center, labeled “The ballot is denied to woman” with “The blot on the escutcheon” inscribed underneath.

Though people today generally associate black and white images and grim determination with the suffragists, here’s proof from 1916 that they could be colorful and whimsical:

The disarming image of a child was common and popular, as above and below. The following image from 1913 was created by  Bernhardt C. Wall (1872-1956), an exception to the rule that most postcard artists labored anonymously:


No doubt the suffragists were well ahead of their time, but the card that follows from about 1916 is unusually far-sighted. (Of course, Victoria Woodhull had already run for president in 1872 on the Equal Rights Party ticket.)

Lots of adults were expressing similar sentiments in 1914, when the card below was in circulation. On May 2, 1914, there were more than 1,000 coordinated demonstrations, parades and rallies nationwide, and that same year the all-male Senate took its first vote on a suffrage amendment since 1887. (It gained a majority, 35-34, but was still well short of the 2/3 required). Of course, the term most suffrage workers in the U.S. preferred for themselves was “suffragist,” because “suffragette” was originally used by opponents in Britain and then the U.S. as a derisive term implying “little voter,” or to give the false impression that all supporters of woman suffrage were female. But in this case it seems uniquely appropriate, since it’s a cute little girl with a ballot in her hand.  The postcard was sent as a Valentine on February 12, 1914 from “Marjorie” to “George”.


Finally, this still-appropriate postcard, issued in Great Britain in 1909 by the Women Writers’ Suffrage League, shows a woman being pulled away from “Justice” by “Prejudice.” The WWSL was founded in June, 1908, by playwright Cicely Hamilton and novelist Bessie Hatton “to obtain the vote for women on the same terms as it is or may be granted to men. Its methods are those proper to writers–the use of the pen.”

Today we might say “the use of the blog,” but the message still rings true !

All postcards are from David Dismore’s personal collection.

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David Dismore is a television news archivist and feminist history researcher for the Feminist Majority Foundation.  As a teenager he was inspired by a photo and a few paragraphs about the suffragists in his high school history textbook in Greenville, Ohio.  The post below, originally published at Ms. magazine, looks at some of the propaganda that helped earn U.S. women the vote. You can read more from David at Feminism 101.

If you would like to write a post for Sociological Images, please see our Guidelines for Guest Bloggers.

The Submissive Asian Stereotype: Classy Asian Ladies Dating Site

In “The Yellow Fever Pages” (full citation below), Karen Eng discusses a recurring problem she, as a Chinese-American woman, faces when dating: that many men, particularly White men, who express interest in her are not interested in her as an individual, but rather in a generalized Asian woman and the fantasies that are associated with them. Eng sums up the fantasies many men hold about Asian (particularly Japanese) women:

The fantasy Asian is intelligent yet pliable, mysterious yet ornamental…perpetually pre-pubescent–ageless and petite…high-pitched, girly–while simultaneously being exotic and wise…She comes from a culture where women traditionally serve men… (p. 68).

Thus, when men ask her out, Eng has to figure out whether they are asking her out because they think she specifically is interesting, or whether they’re asking her out because what they see is an Asian woman to whom they attach all kinds of expectations about exoticism, subservience, and so on. As she puts it, regardless of how she presents herself, the interests she expresses, the type of music and clothing she’s interested in, “…they still see a little Oriental flower.”

I could not help but think of Eng’s article when one of my students, Casandra L., let me know about the dating website ClassyAsianLadies:

The website specifically markets Asian American women to men in the U.S., drawing on all of the stereotypes Eng describes. Here are some images from the site; I highlighted some of the most blatant examples of the “Asian women as hot but also passive” stereotypes in red:

So they aren’t trying to use you to get to the U.S. (though, after stating these are women living in the U.S., they are always described as Asian, not Asian American). And the men who want to date them just love and respect “the Asian culture” (and, you know, there’s just one culture in all of Asia). And how do you show your appreciation for a culture? By marrying someone who personifies the elements of that culture you have romanticized.

Notice the guys using the site appear to expect quite a lot in a woman: she has to remain “a lady,” be “sweet, gentle, beautiful, loving, fun,” but also be “intelligent and independent.”

I don’t know to what degree the website specifically targets White men. There were three photos of Asian women with men on the site; two showed Asian women with White men, one showed an Asian woman with an Asian man.

In case you aren’t convinced yet, here’s some more information on why you should marry an Asian woman:

Unlike “the average woman” (which presumably means White women in the U.S., since we’re the majority of women and all), Asian women haven’t become too competitive (just intelligent and independent! But that’s different!) and certainly aren’t “masculine.” Again we see the romanticizing of a certain stereotype of “Asian culture,” with Asian women having a “well-known cultural attitude of gentle and caring support” and “Eastern values,” which apparently involves being sweet and supportive. Though they’ve also “learned Western values,” which here is associated with being “outgoing…independent and fun…”. Thus, the West = independent, fun women, while the East = supportive, submissive ones.

Notice the last line in that image:  “…that perfect Asian girlfriend or wife.” This is what Eng was getting at: this isn’t about finding the perfect girlfriend or wife; this is about a fantasy of the perfect Asian girlfriend/wife. “Yellow fever” refers to the fetishization of Asian women by men who have a specific idea of what Asian women are like and view them as particularly desirable mates based not on their unique personalities but because of the “Eastern values” they supposedly adhere to. The women thus become somewhat interchangeable. Eng’s frustration grew largely out of the difficulty of getting men to notice her, as opposed to her status as an Asian American woman.

Some other gems:

Asian women are exotic but also make a lot of money (no gold-diggers here!). Men find them “intoxicating.” They’re loyal, and “dedicated to their men.” An Asian woman “always thinks of her man first!” They’ll help with financial planning without being “intrusive”–that is, they’ll make suggestions, but it’s ultimately up to him to decide and she’ll accept whatever he decides on.

They’re “easy to be with…rarely complain…and constructive with their criticism.”  One of my students said the whole “Wonderfully easy to be with” section made her think of the way people describe breeds of dogs: “Get a Labrador! They’re smart, fun, and easy-going! They’ll make a nice addition to any family!”

The translation to all of this: Asian women will offer their wisdom and support, but will then step back and let their men decide. They aren’t bitches who will nag at you or criticize you in a nasty way, or complain that you aren’t doing half the housework, or expect to have an equal role in financial decisions. And she won’t let herself go and become a fatty, so be assured–what you see now is what you can expect she’ll stay like forever.

Aside from the objectification of Asian women (and “the Asian culture”) as having a predetermined set of characteristics you can count on, this says a lot about concerns surrounding changes in gender roles in the U.S. These women are being marketed as the antithesis of the “average” woman in the U.S., who is demanding, hard to get along with, too competitive, and doesn’t stay sufficiently attractive. Female assertiveness or insistence on gender equality is de-feminizing and unattractive; it turns us into masculinized women who won’t submit to men’s authority to take our ideas into consideration but make final decisions based on what they think is best.

For a certain group of men, then, dating an Asian woman is a way to reclaim a romanticized gender hierarchy in which women mix cultural elements associated with the “East” and the “West.” They’re independent and make money (the fun part of female empowerment, unless the independence goes to far and they get uppity), but they retain “Eastern” gender roles in which their independence is, ultimately, limited by their passivity and submissiveness to men, as well as appropriate displays of femininity (being thin, beautiful, and exotic). And, thus, this type of relationship allows men who believe they have been victimized and emasculated by the women’s movement to reclaim some of the overt patriarchal power the believe they’ve been robbed of.

NEW! (Mar. ’10): Rachel K. sent a link to this t-shirt, which ThinkGeek says translates as “now accepting applications for Japanese girlfriends.” It’s a great example of the fetishization of Japanese women:

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(“The Yellow Fever Pages.” 2000. Bitch issue 12, p. 68-73.)

Also check out Lisa’s post on marketing Asian women to specifically anti-feminist men.

NEW! (May ’10): Sophie L. sent in this spam message she got on Skype, offering “a sweet lady that will be caring and understanding” in case ” European and American women are too arrogant for you.” In this case the source of of these nice, lovely women is Russia…which, yes, is part of Europe, but don’t get caught up on geographical details. You can find yourself a woman with “royal blood and royal look”!

Re-Framing the Abortion Debate

Emily D., Jeff S., and Dmitriy T.M. have all sent in links to a series of billboards, recently put up in Atlanta, that suggest that abortion is a form of genocide against African Americans:

We’ve posted before on the argument that abortion should be made illegal because it is used disproportionately against the children of Black mothers.  There are good reasons to both credit and discredit this argument, but I’d like to point out something a bit different.

The fact that abortion is highly politicized in the United States, deeply connected to feminism (but not race or class movements), and framed as a contest between “life” and “choice” seems natural to most Americans. Indeed, it’s hard for many Americans to imagine a world in which the procedure is less politicized or debated differently.  But the politics of abortion in the U.S. is not the only kind of abortion politics that could exist.  Myra Marx Ferree‘s award-winning book comparing abortion politics in the U.S. and Germany, Shaping Abortion Discourse, is a great example (with Gamson, Gerhards, and Rucht).

So, whether you agree or disagree with the claims in these billboards, they nicely jolt us out of our acceptance of abortion politics as is.  How might thinking about abortion as a race issue or a class issue change the debate?

NEW! (Mar. ’10): Dmitriy T.M. let us know about this billboard in Poland, sponsored by the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, that connects abortion to Hitler (found at Opposing Views). The text reads, “Abortion for Polish women introduced by Hitler on March 9, 1943.” It was put up in time for International Women’s Day on March 8th.

I’m putting it after the jump–it has images of bloody fetuses and might not be safe for some workplaces.

(more…)

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

Trailer for “Demographic Winter”

p.j. sent in a link to the trailer for the movie “Demographic Winter,” which apparently educates us about the coming downfall of humanity, or at least humanity in developed nations:

Thus, gay rights, women’s rights, and non-marital sexuality are not just immoral, they’re literally threatening the very survival of the human species.

Well, maybe not the human species. Certain members of the human species, those that live mainly in Europe and the U.S. Of course, what we’re really getting at here, ultimately, is the fear that Whites in developed nations are not reproducing sufficiently. For another example of this, see our post on the Louisiana Senator who proposed paying “these people” and “illegal aliens” $1,000 to be sterilized.

In both cases, women’s reproductive capacity would ultimately be targeted as a means to a social goal–one group of women will need to give up their silly concerns about women’s equality and start having more babies (and gay men gotta start impregnating women!), while other women must be discouraged from having them. It’s a story we’ve heard many, many times before.

Early Appropriation of the Women’s Movement in Advertising

In this ad, which ran in the Los Angeles Times on January 20, 1910 (and uncovered by Larry at The Daily Mirror), the Woman’s Home Companion markets itself to potential advertisers by playing on the women’s suffrage movement, depicting female readers as “voters”:

It’s a reminder of a still-relevant fact: while we often think of magazines, newspapers, TV stations, and so on as primarily selling themselves to us, they are doing so in order to then sell us (especially if we’re part of the 18-to-34 demographic) to advertisers.

Are the New Disney Princesses Feminists?

Amy R. sent in the commercial below for Disney Princess bikes.  In the ad, two girls save the stranded prince (a teddy bear) and then go off to have “another adventure.”  It concludes, “With Disney Princess bikes, trikes, and scooters, every girl’s a princess!”

Is “princess” being redefined?

One of the compliments aimed at the new Disney movie, The Princess and the Frog, is that the heroine isn’t just a pretty face, but in fact an entrepreneur who wants to open her own restaurant and is uninterested in catching a man.  This observation was made to me, for example, when I was interviewed for a story by CNN reporter Breenana Hare, who suggested that this new princess was making a break with the old princesses in more than one way.

I replied that this “new” kind of princess had been on the scene for a while.  Belle, from Beauty and the Beast, according to imdb, was “a bookworm who dream[t] of life outside her provincial village,” not of a prince charming.  That was 20 years ago.  Both Pocohantas and Mulan were adventurous and brave.  Most princesses, these days, are not perfect embodiments of femininity, they balance their femininity with a bit of masculinity.  It’s ‘cess + sass as a rule.

But, to be fair, these princesses aren’t radical.  They aren’t pushing the envelope of femininity.  They are only reflecting the fact that ideal femininity in the West has changed such that the perfect woman now incorporates some masculine character traits.  “Some” is the operative word here.  Today’s ideal woman is still feminine, but she works, wears pants, and plays sports.  She may even be a sports fan and drink beer.  But she also preserves her femininity, especially those aspects of femininity that mark her as “for” a (just barely and totally benevolently of course) dominant male.  She still doesn’t disagree too vigorously or laugh too loud.  She marries a man who is slightly older, more educated, larger, taller, and makes a bit more money at his job that is just slightly higher prestige.  And, no matter what, she looks, dresses, and moves in pretty, feminine ways.  Barbie and the Three Musketeers is another, non-Disney example of this phenomenon:

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Not a man in sight!  But damn do they look good in those boots!

Simon O. also sent in a Barbie website that fits this theme nicely.  It asks “What Should Barbie Be Next?” and let’s us vote on her next profession: pet vet, race car driver, ballerina, baby sitter, “kid doctor,” rock star, pediatric dentist, or wedding stylist.

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Barbie can be anything she wants, as long as she looks great doing it.  Or maybe it’s that Barbie can be anything she wants because she looks good doing it.

The new rule is: a girl can be anything, as long as she’s hot (and deferent when push comes to shove).  Whether she likes it or not, she always gets the guy in the end because, well, she’s so damn sweet and adorable (and, yes, those words are totally coded with gendered meaning).  This fact, the fact that she always still ends up with the guy in the end, is a really important part of this story… it reminds us that getting the guy is still the happy ending… even the little girls in the bike commercial came away with a “prince.”

So, yeah, we can debate about whether these princesses are a qualitative and substantial break from previous princesses.  I’m not sure they are.  Or, if they are, I’m not sure the difference is all that fantastic, given that the ideal is still incredibly rigid and damn difficult to live up to.  And I’m not even sure I like this new (impossible) ideal any better than the old (impossible) ideal.  What we see today is a couple generations of women who are expected to be both masculine and feminine.  As if staying fit, looking lovely, smelling great, volunteering, and having a clean house, a sexually satiated husband, and behaved, brilliant, well-adjusted children wasn’t enough of a job… women now have to be go-getters at the law firm and ass-kickers on the court.   It’s called The Second Shift and women work more and relax less than men.

For more examples of the ideal balance of femininity and masculinity, see these posts on pinkifying masculine jobs, prints, and hobbies (sports and guns), the “girl” ranchhand, this ad suggesting that a girl’s razor should be “no girly man,” the social construction of female athletes (here and here), and the color blue.

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