Law professor Osagie K. Obasogie interviewed a series of people who had been blind since birth about their understanding of the concept of race. Counter-intuitively, he found that race was as meaningful to them as it was to sighted people and that their descriptions and biases were largely in line with cultural norms. The article includes really striking quotations from the interviewees and what Obasogie describes as an “empirical assessment of the metaphor of colorblindness.” He’s also published a book based on the research: Blinded By Sight.
In this three minute interview, he explains some of his findings:
Several factors were in play in the 1920s for the emergence of what came to be known as flappers, teenagers and young women who flaunted convention and spent their time pursuing fun instead of settling down to raise children in the prime of their lives. Many entered college or the workforce and felt entitled to make their own decisions about how to live their lives.
A lot of young men did not return home from World War I, which left an entire cohort of women without enough husbands to go around. The horror of the war (and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918) also impressed young people with the knowledge that life is short and could end at any moment. Instead of staying home preparing to marry a man who might never come, young women wanted to spend what time they had enjoying all that life had to offer.
Movies popularized the image of the fun-loving and free-thinking woman throughout the US and Europe. The 1920 movie The Flapper introduced the term in the United States. The title character, Ginger, was a wayward girl who flouted the rules of society. Played by Olive Thomas, a former Ziegfeld Girl (left), Ginger had so much fun that a generation of lonely young women wanted to be like her. Another role model was stage and screen actress Louise Brooks (right), who also modeled for artists and fashion designers. She was the inspiration for the flapper comic strip Dixie Dugan.
Clara Bow wasn’t the first flapper on screen, but she was certainly a role model for young women of the era. She didn’t play by the rules, and was tabloid fodder for years for her sexual escapades with the biggest movie stars of the time. Bow’s first film was in 1922 and her career peaked in 1927 with the film It. “It” was defined as the sexual allure some girls have and others don’t. Bow’s fans wanted “it”, so they copied her look and behavior.
The rise of the automobile was another factor in the rise of flapper culture. Cars meant a woman could come and go as she pleased, travel to speakeasys and other entertainment venues, and use the large vehicles of the day for heavy petting or even sex.
These young women had plenty of opportunities for fun. Although Prohibition drove alcohol underground, that only added to its allure. Postwar prosperity allowed for leisure time and the means to spend that time drinking, dancing, and hanging out with free thinkers.
Being a flapper wasn’t all about fashion. It was about rebellion. In this article from 1922, a would-be flapper (but still a “nice girl”) explains her lifestyle choices to her parents. Flappers did what society did not expect from young women. They danced to Jazz Age music, they smoked, they wore makeup, they spoke their own language, and they lived for the moment. Flapper fashion followed the lifestyle. Skirts became shorter to make dancing easier. Corsets were discarded in favor of brassieres that bound their breasts, again to make dancing easier. The straight shapeless dresses were easy to make and blurred the line between the rich and everyone else. The look became fashionable because of the lifestyle. The short hair? That was pure rebellion against the older generation’s veneration of long feminine locks.
The party stopped when the economy crashed and the Great Depression curtailed the night life. Although the flapper lifestyle died along with the Roaring Twenties, the freedoms women tasted in that era weren’t easily given up. They may have gone back to marriage and long hours of toil for little pay, but hemlines stayed above the ankle, and the corset never went back to everyday status. And we’ve been driving cars ever since.
Miss Cellania is a newlywed mother of four, full-time blogger, former radio announcer, and worst of all, a Baby Boomer. In addition to mental_floss, she posts at Neatorama, YesButNoButYes, Geeks Are Sexy, and Miss Cellania. Miss C considers herself an expert on no particular subject at all.
John Millward, a self-described “ideas detective,” has done something intriguing. He cracked the Internet Adult Film Database (IAFD) and used a sample of 10,000 porn stars to tell a story about porn. Here are some of his findings.
The average female porn star, he discovered, was 5’5″ and weighed 117 pounds. She doesn’t have a double-D bra size; she’s a 34B. And she’s not blonde:
She’s also not disproportionately white. Millward found that the racial breakdown among porn actresses somewhat matched U.S. population demographics:
Race % of actresses % of the population
White 70.5 78.1
Black 14.0 13.1
Latina 9.3 16.7
Asian 5.2 5.0
American Indian no data 1.2
The average woman begins her career at 22. This has been unchanged for the last 40 years. The average age for men was 29 in the ’70s, but it’s dropped to 24. Careers were longer in the ’70s. Men quite after 12 years, women after nine. Today men quit, on average, after four years and women after three.
Interestingly, success for male porn stars is much more concentrated than for female. There are fewer of them (70% of all porn stars are women) and they’re less interchanged. Millward reports that 96 of the most prolific porn stars of all time — measured by number of films — are men. Women, on average, do fewer films each. Just over half (53%) do three or more.
The IAFD records all of the sex acts that actors do on film. Accordingly to Millward’s analysis, this is what actresses do:
And here are the roles they play:
Wives in porn, by the way, are not typically having sex with their husbands.
Cross-posted at Hawkblocker.This Dove commercial for hair dye is just fascinating. It features a woman talking about what color means to her. She observes that color is sensual, drawing connections between certain colors and the feeling of a cool breeze, the sun on one’s skin, a taste on one’s tongue, and more. She says colors are moods: blonde is bubbly, red is passionate. The voice-over explains that dying her hair makes life “more vivid” and makes her want to laugh and dance. She does it to invoke these characteristics.
She then explains that she’s blind. The commercial uses her blindness to suggest that hair dye isn’t about color at all. It’s about the feeling having dyed hair gives you, even if you can’t see the color. ”I don’t need to see it,” she says, “I can feel it.”
By using a woman who is (supposedly) blind, the commercial for hair dye uses the element of surprise to detach the product from the promise. The sole purpose of hair dye is changing how something looks, but this ad claims that the change in appearance is entirely incidental. Instead, dying one’s hair is supposed to make all of life more vibrant, every moment incredibly special, every pleasure more intense, and fill you to the brim with happy emotions. It’s completely absurd. Fantastically absurd. Insult-our-intelligence absurd.
And yet, it’s also exactly what nearly every other commercial and print ad does. Most ads promise — in one way or another — that their product will make you happier, your life brighter, and your relationships more magical. The product is positioned as the means, but not an end. Most hair dye commercials, for example, promise that (1) if your hair is dyed to be more conventionally beautiful, (2) you will feel better/people will treat you better and, so, (3) your life will be improved. This ad just skips the middle step, suggesting that chemicals in hair dye do this directly.
So, I’m glad to come across this utterly absurd commercial. It’s a good reminder to be suspicious of this message in all advertising.
The September issue of Oprah’s magazine, sent in by YetAnotherGirl, features the woman herself on the cover wearing her hair in a “natural” (that is, real and non-straightened). The O website announces that this is the first time in its 12-year history that Oprah has appeared on the cover without “blow-drying or straightening” her hair.
Black women’s hair is a touchy issue wrapped up deeply in racial power struggles. The appearance of White people — in this case, the hair White people are more likely to have (that is, straight or slightly wavy) — is often considered the most beautiful or normal. Black women who have tightly curled hair are faced with deciding to push back against white supremacy and wear their hair more-0r-less naturally (and face being seen as a “political” or “non-assimilating” Black person) or straighten their hair (and risk being accused of capitulating to racism). Whatever they do, it’s sends a message.
What I think is notable here is that Oprah, of all people in the world, has never until now appeared on the cover of her own magazine with “natural” hair. Lest we’ve forgotten who Oprah is, here’s a reminder (from wikipedia):
Winfrey was called “arguably the world’s most powerful woman” by CNN and Time.com, ”arguably the most influential woman in the world” by the American Spectator, ”one of the 100 people who most influenced the 20th Century” and “one of the most influential people” from 2004 to 2011 by TIME. Winfrey is the only person in the world to have appeared in the latter list on all eight occasions.
What I mean to say is, when even Oprah largely avoids being seen as she really is, we know we are seeing a powerful cultural force. In this case, a racist and sexist one demanding that women of all races conform to an unreasonable White standard of beauty. I’m glad that Oprah decided to appear this way for the cover, but I’m saddened by why it took this long.
Thanks to YetAnotherGirl and Kari B., we can now feast our eyes on this ad from Unik (“unique”) Wax Center. It’s a promotion offering 50% off hair waxing for girls “15 and younger.” The Consumerist reports that all procedures are fair game, including bikini waxes.
The usual concerns regarding the sexualization of young girls apply here. Why do girls this young need to be concerned about how they look in bikinis?
Perhaps more interesting is the frame for why such a girl might want to undergo waxing. According to the 4th of July-themed ad, it’s to “celebrate freedom and independence.” Implicitly, hers. So, to follow the logic to its endpoint, a girl of 15 or younger can’t feel free unless she’s hairless.
The company, responding to criticism, gave arguments along these lines. They framed waxing as a “regular activity” and a “process in life” that “goes along with our country.” Moms are coming in to get waxed (as all women do), explained the corporate offices, they’re dragging their tweens along with them (obviously), and the girls “have questions” and “get bored,” so the next step is to initiate them into the ritual.
So, the whole process is “natural,” as the ad copy specifies. It is just an inevitable step in a supposedly universal way of (female) life. And one that liberates women from… um, I don’t know what… embarrassment, I guess.
The ad is reminiscent of many similar campaigns aimed at adult women, ones that frame consumption of clothes, make-up, jewelry, and cosmetic procedures as expression of freedoms. In this way, it’s a capitalist appropriation of feminism/liberation ideology. It’s also a naturalization of what is, in reality, a lifetime of compulsory, expensive, and sometimes harmful beauty practices.
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow, I thought I’d re-post this one from 2010…
Some recent ads making fun of redheads has brought gingerism — or hateful attitudes and behavior towards people with red hair, light skin, and freckles — into the news lately.
It appears to be an ongoing form of discrimination, especially in Britain. Men and boys appear to be more frequent targets than women and girls, who at least are sometimes seen as uniquely beautiful. A recent series of verbal and physical attacks is nicely documented at Wikipedia. They include a stabbing, a family who has had to move twice after their children were bullied, a woman who won a sexual harassment suit after being targeted for her red hair, and a boy who committed suicide after being teased relentlessly.
Katrin brought our attention to these three examples. An ad for Tesco:
An ad for an energy company, npower:
This latter ad generated a handful of complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority. The Authority declared that the humor was unlikely to cause widespread offense (BBC). Tesco voluntarily withdrew their ad after complaints.
Katrin also sent in M.I.A.’s video for the song “Born Free.” It was pulled from YouTube for excessive violence and inappropriate content. Among other themes, it shows red-headed, freckled adolescents being rounded up by the police (this becomes clear at about 2:45), taken out to a deserted area, shot at or bombed, and physically attacked. The video is supposed to highlight ethnic cleansing, though a number of critics argue the gratuitous violence overshadows any political point. It’s about 10 minutes long, but you don’t have to watch the whole thing to get the idea: