Tag Archives: gender: objectification

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 author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Does History Repeat Itself, But With More Porn?

In 1990 I was still an American Culture major in college, but I was getting ready to jump ship for sociology. That’s when Madonna’s “Justify My Love” video was banned by MTV, which was a thing people used to use to watch videos. And network TV used to be a major source of exposure.

I was watching when Madonna went on Nightline for an interview.  The correspondent intoned:

…nudity, suggestions of bisexuality, sadomasochism, multiple partners. Finally, MTV decided Madonna has gone to far.

They showed the video, preceded by a dire parental warning (it was 11:30 p.m., and there was no way to watch it at any other time).  In the interview, Forrest Sawyer eventually realize he was being played:

Sawyer: This was a win-win for you. If they put the video on, you would get that kind of play. And if they didn’t you would still make some money. It was all, in a sense, a kind of publicity stunt. … But in the end you’re going to wind up making even more money than you would have.

Madonna: Yeah. So, lucky me.

The flap over Miley Cyrus completely baffles me. This is a business model (as artistic as any other commercial product), and it hasn’t changed much, just skinnier, with more nudity and (even) less feminism. I don’t understand why this is any more or less controversial than any other woman dancing naked. Everyone does realize that there is literally an infinite amount of free hardcore porn available to every child in America, right? There is no “banning” a video. (Wrecking Ball is pushing 250 million views on YouTube.)
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No one is censoring Miley Cyrus — is there some message I’m missing? When she talked to Matt Lauer he asked, “Are you surprised by the attention you’re getting right now?” And she said, “Not really. I mean, it’s kind of what I want.”

I think the conversation has slid backward. In Lisa Wade’s excellent comment, she draws on a 1988 article, “Bargaining With Patriarchy,” which concluded:

Women strategize within a set of concrete constraints, which I identify as patriarchal bargains. Different forms of patriarchy present women with distinct “rules of the game” and call for different strategies to maximize security and optimize life options with varying potential for active or passive resistance in the face of oppression.

I think it applies perfectly to Miley Cyrus, if you replace “security” and “life options” with “celebrity” and “future island-buying potential.” Lisa is 1,000-times more plugged in to kids these days than I am, and the strategies-within-constraints model is well placed. But that article is from 1988, and it applies just as well to Madonna. So where’s the progress here?

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Interviewed by Yahoo!, Gloria Steinem said, “I wish we didn’t have to be nude to be noticed … But given the game as it exists, women make decisions.” That is literally something she could have said in 1990.

The person people are arguing about has (so far) a lot less to say even than Madonna did. When Madonna was censored by MTV, Camile Paglia called her “the true feminist.”

She exposes the puritanism and suffocating ideology of American feminism, which is stuck in an adolescent whining mode. Madonna has taught young women to be fully female and sexual while still exercising total control over their lives. She shows girls how to be attractive, sensual, energetic, ambitious, aggressive and funny — all at the same time.

When Miley Cyrus caused a scandal on TV, Paglia could only muster, “the real scandal was how atrocious Cyrus’ performance was in artistic terms.”

Madonna was a bonafide challenge to feminists, for the reasons Paglia said, but also because of the religious subversiveness and homoerotic stuff. Madonna went on, staking her claim to the “choice” strand of feminism:

I may be dressing like the typical bimbo, whatever, but I’m in charge. You know. I’m in charge of my fantasies. I put myself in these situations with men, you know, and… people don’t think of me as a person who’s not in charge of my career or my life, okay. And isn’t that what feminism is all about, you know, equality for men and women? And aren’t I in charge of my life, doing the things I want to do? Making my own decisions?

And she embraced some other feminist themes. When Madonna was asked on Nightline, “Where do you draw the line?” she answered, “I draw the line with violence, and humiliation and degradation.”

I’m not saying there hasn’t been any progress since 1990. It’s more complicated than that. On matters of economic and politics gender has pretty well stalled. The porn industry has made a lot of progress. Reported rape has become less common, along with other forms of violence.

But — and please correct me if I’m wrong — I don’t see the progress in this conversation about whether it’s feminist or anti-feminist for a women to use sex or nudity to sell her pop music. As Lisa Wade says, “Because that’s what the system rewards. That’s not freedom, that’s a strategy.” So I would skip that debate and ask whether the multi-millionaire in question is adding anything critical to her product, or using her sex-plated platform for some good end.  Madonna might have. So far Miley Cyrus isn’t.

Cross-posted at Family Inequality and Pacific Standard.

Philip N. Cohen is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and writes the blog Family Inequality. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

The Curious Evolution of the Sign Spinner

In the midst of the recession a new occupation emerged: the sign spinner.  These individuals stood on sidewalks outside of businesses, dancing with signs or arrows that they threw and twisted in the air and around their bodies.  Some of them were pretty cool, actually.

Yesterday NPR discussed the replacement of some of these spinners with mannequins. Robots that are programmed to spin the sign.  Of course, they aren’t nearly as good as a halfway decent human sign spinner.  But, it was argued, they’re getting the job done.

From human to machine, then.  But no one commented on the bizarre race- and sex-change that accompanied this shift.  In my part of the country, most human sign spinners are black or Latino men.  I suspect that’s true wherever there’s a substantial non-white, non-Asian population.  But the mannequins appear to be overwhelming white women.

The Google image search for each somewhat supports this narrative.  The mannequins are overly white women and the humans are almost all men and, arguably, disproportionately men of color.

Google search for “sign spinners” (click to enlarge):

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Google search for “‘mannequin sign spinners”  (click to enlarge):

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Isn’t. This. Interesting.

When the business owner or manager can make choices about what race and gender they prefer, they choose white females.  Presumably because “sex sells,” the female body (in a bikini) is the universal symbol for sex, and white women are the most valuable commodity in that market.

When we’re hiring low wage human workers, however, business owners and managers have less control over the race and gender composition of their workforce.  It appears most would prefer to hire white women in bikinis for everything but, because of institutionalized racism and the sex segregation of occupations, they get men and, perhaps, men of color.

How amazing that something so simple — the evolution of the sign spinner — can tell us so much about who we value and why.

Here’s a commercial for the new robotic sign spinners, to drive the point home:

Cross-posted at Racialicious and Pacific Standard.

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.

Why Do We Sexualize Chicken?

The Sexual Politics of Meat is a scathing, powerful analysis of the relationship between the oppression of women and the farming of animals for food.  Written by Carol J. Adams and published in 1990, it inspired many a feminist to choose vegetarianism and made many more take pause.

In the six-and-a-half minute video below, she discusses the sexualization and feminization of chicken specifically.  She shows lots of examples of the ways in which chicken carcasses are objectified as women: put in high heels, bikinis, sexual positions, etc.  We feature many examples of this at our Pinterest board collecting gendered and sexualized food, some of which we’ve borrowed from Adams.

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Adams then argues that this is a way to distract us from the fact that we are eating the flesh of an animal that has been killed for us. She writes:

By sexualizing animals, we trigger another thing, that 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.

So the sexualization of animals enters into and participates in the wider issue of “Why are we doing this to animals?”  Oh yeah, because it’s funny, because it’s fun, because we can have fun with it. And it takes the ethical out.

Moreover, presenting chicken as dressing up for the male gaze suggests that the animal wants to be consumed.  The animal appears to desire to inspire (culinary) lust and, accordingly, it’s okay if you eat her.  This works best alongside feminization, as it is women who are typically presented as objects of a lustful male gaze.

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Bonus: Fifty Shades of Grey makes an appearance, and not incidentally.   In response to its popularity, a book was published called Fifty Shades of Chicken.  Here’s the book trailer:

Adams call Grey a “regressive book that implied that despite all the advances feminism has made, women really just wanted to be in bondage.”  In both books, she argues, we’re seeing the “packaging and sexualizing [of] dominance over another being.”

Hear it straight from Adams, via Uncooped:

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

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.

And Now Let’s All Mock Robin Thicke

Screenshot_2If you haven’t watched Robin Thicke’s disaster of a music video for Blurred Lines, you absolutely must.  But first, feast your eyes on this quote by Virginia Woolf:

Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses… reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size.

It’s women’s work to prop up male egos the idea of male superiority.  To me, that’s exactly what’s going on in this video.  It’s actually quite funny when you look at it that way; it makes the men look so desperate.

Anyhow, I’m glad smart, feminist, fearless women and men are fighting back:

An exercise in gender bending helps expose the ridiculousness as well. Why does it seem silly when men do it, but not when women do?  Because it’s women’s job to be fans of men.

Also, because I can’t help but add a little more snark, how does someone with ZERO charisma end up a pop star?  There’s got to be a story here about money and connections.

Thanks to Marie N., Bronwyn L., and Natalie S. for sending in the videos!

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.

Open Thread: Selling Bras with the Male Body

Screenshot_2Sorry for the spoiler!  The gaze in the Wacoal commercial below, sent in by Kathe L., dances all over the body of a lovely young woman, focusing especially on the curve of her breast alongside the lace of her bra.  She slowly removes her make-up and disrobes, only to reveal a male body underneath.  The message?  A push-up bra so good it can even give men breasts.

I wonder what y’all think.  Does this queer the body?  Is there a transgressive identity behind the gaze?  Or is it just more gimmicky advertising based on normative expectations?  Both?

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.

Men Need Clothes; Women Need to Look Sexy

Caoileann A. sent in a great example of the way that women, but not men, are sexualized in our society.  In this case it’s a series of American Apparel ads.  I know, low hanging fruit. This example is extra great, though.

While normally it’s up to the critic to counterpose the portrayal of men and women in our society, in this case American Apparel does it for us. Here are the categories of attire for men and women exactly the way they appear on the website (i.e., side-by-side) as of Aug. 6th 5:46pm PST:

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The categories are exactly the same, but the way men and women are posed is strikingly different.  Only “Sweatshirts for Women” shows any commensurability.

This is — all too much — how we look at men and women in our society today. Caitlin Welsh said it nicely:

Women are presented too often not as consumers of the product, but part of the product – a sexy body sexily getting ready to surf, or a sexy body sexily wearing American Apparel. We’re used to seeing women look sexy and undressed in ads, while men in ads tend to just wear the clothes properly while also looking handsome in the face area.

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.

The Evolution of Hula: Traditional, Contemporary, and Hotel

Screenshot_1Earlier on SocImages, Lisa Wade drew attention to the tourism industry’s commodification of Polynesian women and their dancing. She mentioned, briefly, how the hula was made more tourist-friendly (what most tourists see when they attend one of the many hotel-based luaus throughout the islands is not traditional hula).  In this post, I want to offer more details on the history and the differences between the tourist and the traditional hula.

First, Wade states that, while female dancers take center stage for tourists, the traditional hula was “mostly” a men’s dance.  While it has not been determined for certain if women were ever proscribed from performing the hula during the time of the Ali’i (chiefs), it seems unlikely that women would have been prevented from performing the hula when the deity associated with the hula is Pele, a goddess. Furthermore, there is evidence that women were performing the dance at the time of Captain James Cook’s arrival in Hawai’i.

Second, while the traditional dances were not necessarily sexualized, they were very sensual.  The movement of hips and legs that are seen as sexual by some visitors, and showcased as such by the tourism industry, certainly existed in early practices.

In fact, the supposedly lascivious and blasphemous nature of the hula prompted missionaries to censure the public practice of hula, and in 1830 Queen Ka’ahumanu enacted a law prohibiting the public performance of the hula. This law was highly ineffective, however, and when King Kalakaua ascended the throne he actively encouraged public hula performances and other expressions of Native Hawaiian culture, earning him the moniker “Merrie Monarch.”

Eventually, a modernized dance emerged that did not incorporate much religiosity and employed modern music rather than chants. This is closer to what you would find at a hotel luau, but differs drastically in costuming and lacks the uncomfortable cloud of objectification associated with hotel-style hula (that is, the focus is on the dance rather than the dancers).  Below are some examples of the evolution:

Hula (ladies’ dance, traditional):

Hula (men’s dance, traditional):

Hula (contemporary):

These examples of hula, and other Polynesian dances, are vastly different from what one finds in a hotel’s “Polynesian Revue” luau.

Hula (hotel):

In conclusion, it is true that the hula dances, and other dances of Polynesia, have been usurped by the tourism industry and commodified.  The culturally authentic forms, however, still thrive. Native dances are impressive enough without the ridiculous costuming and disrespectful bending of the islands’ histories seen at hotel luaus; unfortunately, it is difficult to find any culturally sensitive displays of Polynesian culture due to the huge influence of tourism over these locations.

*The information in this post was gleaned from various courses I’ve taken at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. For more information on hula and the commodification of the Hawaiian culture, see Haunani-Kay Trask’s From A Native Daughter.

Sarah Neal is currently working on obtaining her M.A. in English at North Carolina State University.