Tag Archives: gender: politics

Fox News Says Feminists Want to Have Sex with Underage Men

Cross-posted at PolicyMic.At the end of my sociology of gender class, I suggest that the fact that feminists are associated with negative stereotypes — ugly, bitter, man-haters, for example — is not a reflection of who feminists really are, but a sign that the anti-feminists have power over how we think about the movement.  The very idea of a feminist, in other words, is politicized… and the opposition might be winning.

A clip forwarded by Dmitriy T.C. is a great example.  In the 1.38 minute Fox News clip below, two pundits discuss a North Carolina teacher, Leah Gayle, who was accused of having sex with her 15-year-old student.  One of the show’s hosts suggests that feminism is to blame for Gayle’s actions. She says:

There’s something about feminism that lets them know, I can do everything a man does. I can even go after that young boy. I deserve it… It’s turning women into sexualized freaks.

This clip reveals a discursive act.  She is defining who feminists are and what they believe.  And this idea is being broadcast across the airwaves.

This happens all day every day.  Some of the messages are friendly to feminists, and some are not.  These messages compete in our collective imagination.  Most have little to do with what feminists (who are a diverse group anyway) actually believe and many are outrageous lies and distortions, like this one.

So, next time you hear someone describing a feminist, know that what you’re hearing is almost never a strict definition of the movement. Instead, it’s a battle cry, with one side competing with the other to shape what we think of people who care about women’s equality with men.

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.

Christmas at the White House: A Role for the 1st Lady

We’ve posted before about how women are held disproportionately responsible for making holidays happen.  In our imaginations, and all-too-often in real life, the majority of the cleaning, the decorating, the cooking, the gift buying, and the card sending is done by women.

Last year Jeremiah J. sent in a twist on this theme: a CBS report on the First Ladies’ intimate involvement in the decorating of the White House for the holidays. Accordingly to the guest, they are the “commander of chief of Christmas, and they all really care.”

Embedding is disabled (watch the video here), but here are some screenshots:

The segment is also a really great example of how women get associated with trivial things. In addition to that stunning line, “commander of chief of Christmas,” the guest explains: “they all have their signature style… it’s really a lot of fun.” Fun, yes, but not by any means important. At the end of the video, the guest is asked if she wrote the book on First Lady involvement with decorating because she wanted ideas for how to decorate her own home. A good sport, the woman replies yes.

This year the White House highlighted Michelle Obama’s role in managing the decorating of the 54 Christmas trees that currently dot the residence.  The story specifies that Ms. Obama had help — 85 volunteers — but also that they were there to help her, specifically, with her job: “…none of this would be possible if not for the volunteers… and Mrs. Obama thanked them in her remarks this afternoon.”

Michelle Obama receives the “official White House tree” (LA Times):

See also: 12 Mums Make the Workload Light, Christmas is Women’s Work, and Holding Women Responsible for the Holidays.

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.

Who Would Have Won If…

…voting rights still excluded certain groups?

Buzzfeed has put together a great collection of U.S. maps showing what last Tuesday’s election would have looked like if women, non-whites, and 18- to 23-year-olds had never been given the vote.

Actual results:

Results with just white men:

Results with only men, all races:

Results with only white people, men and women:

Results excluding people 18- to 23-years-old:

The results are stunning and are a hint of just how consequential the ongoing voter suppression and disenfranchisement can be.

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.

Vintage Anti-Suffrage Postcards

A while back, David Dismore posted about his archive of suffragist postcards, which appeared in the early 1900s as part of the campaign for women’s right to vote. The postcards got the messages of the movement across in short, clear, and often humorous ways.

Those opposed to women’s suffrage also used postcards to get their message out to the public. The Palczewski Postcard Archive at the University of Northern Iowa, sent to us by Katrin, has a number of great examples that illustrate the frames used to present women’s full political participation as threatening.

For instance, a 12-card series produced by Dunston-Weiler Lithographic Company presented suffrage as upending the gender order by masculinizing women and feminizing men. Suffragists, the postcards tell us, cause women to abandon their household duties and become aggressive and unladylike:

In an effort to win her own rights, then, women make their families suffer — a message complete with visuals that don’t seem out of place among stock images of crying babies and their working mothers today, as Katrin pointed out:

Equality in voting rights is clearly presented as female domination:

Postcards issued by other groups reflect these same themes. The clear message is that giving women the right to vote threatens men, the family, and the entire natural order of things:

The archive has a bunch more examples, categorized by various themes — including Cats and Suffrage, because lolcats are timeless.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

How Are Women Voting? And Why?

Nate Silver, the statistics guru behind FiveThirtyEight, is predicting that the gender gap in tomorrow’s election will be “near historic highs.”   According to Silver’s averaging of recent poll data, Obama has a 9-point lead among women, Romney has the same size lead among men.

Women haven’t always leaned Democratic.  The trend started in the 1990s, as data at Mother Jones reveals:

Single women are especially likely to vote Democratic.  Seventy percent voted for Obama in 2008:

A concern for reproductive rights, especially in light of recent Republican comments, are likely a big driver of women’s retreat from the political right.  Their concerns very well may swing the election.  In a poll of swing states, Gallup found that abortion topped the list of concerns for women; it didn’t make men’s top five:

It will be interesting to see how long the Republicans will hold onto positions unfriendly to women’s reproductive options.

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.

Rape and Other “Gifts from God”

Cross-posted at Caroline Heldman’s Blog.

During a debate this past Tuesday, Indiana Republican senate nominee, Richard Mourdock, made the case against the rape exception for abortions: “I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God, and even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

So according to Mourdock, God intends for rape to happen, and the outcome of rape is a gift from God.

What puzzles me is how Mourdock’s rape enthusiast comments fit with Missouri Republican senate candidate Todd Akin’s recent comments that “legitimate rape” (read“forcible rape”) rarely leads to pregnancy because, ”If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Mourdock and Akin’s beliefs, when considered together, produce a bizarre philosophy. I would like to know: Why would God create female bodies that reject God’s “gifts”? And if women don’t get pregnant from “forcible rape,” does that mean that God doesn’t intend ”forcible rapes”? Put another way, does God only intend certain types of rape, you know, the ones that come with “the gift”?

One-in-five Americans agree with Mourdock and Akin’s abortion stance. Razib Khan’sanalysis of the General Social Survey shows that 20% of Americans think abortion should be illegal in cases of rape. Republicans with lower levels of education who identify as extremely conservative and believe the Bible is the word of God are more likely than other Americans to hold this belief.

For Mourdock, Akin, and more than 50 million other Americans, God truly does work in mysterious ways.

Caroline Heldman is a professor of politics at Occidental College. You can follow her at her blog and on Twitter and Facebook.

Reifying Gender in Election Coverage

I watched the first U.S. Presidential debate of the election last night and I noticed something interesting about the coverage at CNN.  Notice that the live viewer information along the bottom includes the degree to which female (yellow) and male (green) Colorado undecided voters like or dislike what each candidate is saying (measured by the middle bar).

By choosing to display data by gender, CNN gives us some idea of how men and women agree or disagree on their evaluations of the candidates, but it also makes gender seem like the most super-salient variable by which to measure support.  They didn’t, for example, offer data on how upper and middle class undecided voters in Colorado perceived the debate, nor did they offer data on immigrant vs. non-immigrant, White vs. non-white, gay vs. straight, or any number of demographic variables they could have chosen from.

Instead, by promoting gender as the relevant variable, they also gave the impression that gender was the relevant variable.  This makes it seem like men and women must be really different in their opinions (otherwise, why would they bother highlighting it), strengthening the idea that men and women are different and, even, at odds.  In fact, men and women seemed to track each other pretty well.

It’s not that I don’t think gender is an interesting variable, it’s just that I don’t think it’s the only interesting one and making it seem so is problematic.  I would have loved to have seen the data parsed in other ways too, perhaps by rotating what variables they highlighted.  This would have at least given us a more nuanced view of public opinion (among undecided voters in Colorado) instead of reifying the same old binary.

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.

Sexual Objectification (Part 2): The Harm

This is the second part in a series about how girls and women can navigate a culture that treats them like sex objects (see also, part One)Cross-posted at Ms. and Caroline Heldman’s Blog.

The “sex wars”  of the 1980s pitted radical feminists, who claimed that female sexual objectification is dehumanizing, against feminists concerned about legal and social efforts to control and repress female sexuality.  Over a decade of research now shows that radical feminists were right to be highly concerned.

Getting back to the “sex wars” and how radical feminists were right, women who grow up in a culture with widespread sexual objectification tend to view themselves as objects of desire for others. This internalized sexual objectification has been linked to problems with mental health (e.g., clinical depression“habitual body monitoring”), eating disordersbody shameself-worth and life satisfactioncognitive functioningmotor functioningsexual dysfunctionaccess to leadership, and political efficacy.  Women of all ethnicities internalize objectification, as do men to a lesser extent.

Beyond the internal effects, sexually objectified women are dehumanized by others and seen as less competent and worthy of empathy by both men and women.  Furthermore, exposure to images of sexually objectified women causes male viewers to be more tolerant of sexual harassment and rape myths.  Add to this the countless hours that most girls/women spend primping and competing with one another to garner heterosexual male attention, and the erasure of middle-aged and elderly women who have little value in a society that places women’s primary value on their sexualized bodies.

Theorists have also contributed to understanding the harm of objectification culture by pointing out the difference between sexy and sexual.  If one thinks of the subject/object dichotomy that dominates thinking in Western culture, subjects act and objects are acted upon.  Subjects are sexual, while objects are sexy.

Pop culture sells women and girls a hurtful lie: that their value lies in how sexy they appear to others, and they learn at a very young age that their sexuality is for others.  At the same time, being sexual, is stigmatized in women but encouraged in men. We learn that men want and women want-to-be-wanted. The yard stick for women’s value (sexiness) automatically puts them in a subordinate societal position, regardless of how well they measure up.  Perfectly sexy women are perfectly subordinate.

The documentary Miss Representation has received considerable mainstream attention, one indicator that many are now recognizing the damaging effects of female sexual objectification.

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To sum up, widespread sexual objectification in U.S. popular culture creates a toxic environment for girls and women.  The following posts in this series provide ideas for navigating new objectification culture in personally and politically meaningful ways.