On July 13th, George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the shooting of 17 year old Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman shot Martin during a scuffle—the details of which we will never truly know—and claimed that he had done so only in self-defense. The jury believed him; much of the viewing public did not. In the weeks since the verdict, the nation has been reeling. The shooting itself, the failure of the police department, the vigilantism encouraged by “Stand Your Ground” (SYG) laws, the racial tensions—all of it brought to light deep seated issues in the US. Clearly, we are not a post-racial society. (more…)
Many young American girls grow up playing with Barbie dolls. I certainly did—brushing her hair, dressing her up in dresses and high heels, even taking her pink Corvette out for a spin. I had Barbie, Ken, Skipper, the whole gang. She was so beautiful, popular, and successful. Oh, and skinny. And busty.
It wasn’t until a college women’s studies class that I really thought critically about Barbie. There I learned the truth about Barbie: that the doll was inspired by an erotic German adult toy; that a real woman who was built like Barbie wouldn’t be able to stand straight; and that Barbie, like so many cultural influences on young women and girls, produced an unrealistic and unhealthy, not to mention heteronormative, racialized and classed, standard of beauty. (more…)
Battleground Afghanistan and Eyewitness War are two new shows premiering on National Geographic Channel this July. Both reality dramas follow the firsthand experiences of soldiers on the front lines of combat, as they engage in battle and carry out a variety of missions for the American military. And although these shows have yet to begin, I’d like to pose some “guiding questions” for those who might end up watching them. (more…)
In an advanced capitalist society, such as the United States, individuals express their identities through the items they purchase, how they present themselves to others. For those with a lot of money, this often means conspicuous consumption, or buying items with the express purpose of being able to show them off to others (e.g. a waterfront mansion, a yacht, a Maserati). But expressing one’s personality through clothing, jewelry, make up, and other grooming practices is not just reserved to the rich. We are all taught to be conscious of our appearance. We know that we are being judged based on the choices we make, and our ability to conform to fashion norms and trends. In this way, fashion is a performance in which we all engage. (more…)
Angelina Jolie recently made a huge decision, choosing a double mastectomy to prevent what she and her doctors saw as an inevitability—breast cancer. She then bravely came forward with the decision, writing an op-ed detailing how she made the choice, trying to take away the stigma and fear many women experience. She describes not only the testing that she underwent, but also points to the inequities of breast cancer—that it happens in mainly low- and mid-income countries, and that even in wealthy countries, many women cannot afford the genetic testing or preventive care that she had. She also fights the notion that her post-operative body is now less feminine. I am grateful for Jolie’s willingness to speak up about her choice; I have a family history of breast cancer, and have personally known women who, even after diagnosis, struggle with the mastectomy choice, fearing that they will be less feminine, less attractive after surgery. Jolie’s op-ed is demonstrative of how the breast cancer movement specifically, and the women’s movement more generally, has affected our culture. Rather than viewing the disease (or in this case, its prevention) as a private issue, Jolie uses her experience to influence change. She makes the personal political.
Jolie’s decision and the public discussion she has reinvigorated provides us a chance to talk about the many facets of breast cancer. For all the discussion of the BRCA mutations and the increased cancer risk they produce, these genetic factors are only related to about 5-10% of breast cancer cases. And while the genetic influences are important, there are some breast cancer activists who want to change the focus from these individual level predictors, to other less-researched causes. I’m particularly interested in the environmental arguments, which tend to have less traction in public discourse. (more…)
An exciting new journal is slated for release next year—Routledge’s Porn Studies. The journal, the first of its kind, will focus explicitly on erotic and pornographic materials, as well as sex work generally. As its call for papers makes clear, it aims to include interdisciplinary, intersectional, and global analyses. Such a journal is a brave endeavor because the topic of pornography is an incredibly volatile one in academic and activist worlds. The journal is still a year away from publication and has already sparked angry responses, highlighting an ongoing problem in approaches to pornography that will be the focus of my post. (more…)
Last Wednesday, Cheryl posted an interesting analysis of the nature vs. nurture debate that has plagued the social and biological sciences since their emergence. More and more research, from both disciplinary areas, is accumulating to overturn this simplistic dichotomy. Rather than thinking of ourselves as purely determined by our body chemistry and structure OR by our social environment, it is useful to think of ourselves as what Donna Haraway terms “material-semiotic” entities—that is, as unique combinations of natural and cultural elements. This way of theorizing the relationship between nature and culture—or rather, the mutual and continuing construction of nature and culture—is given to us by critical science studies scholars. By thinking, as Haraway does, in terms of “naturecultures,” we escape the nature/nurture divide, merging the two inseparably. What we call “nature” and “culture”/“nurture” are actually mutually constituted. (more…)
In a recent post, I discussed a longstanding trend in American (and Western) media of using racial Others to embody evil. From adult action films to children’s animated features, we can find examples of villains whose malevolent nature is clear from the racial/ethnic stereotypes used to characterize them. But racial stereotypes are not the only stereotypes used to denote wickedness; we can also find many examples of non-normative sexualities and gender performances associated with evil. Importantly, this sexual Otherness is often developed alongside and in relation to racial/ethnic Otherness. (more…)
The History Channel’s miniseries, The Bible, has been lauded by some and scrutinized by others. Recently, some have raised questions about the show’s portrayal of the Satan, specifically the striking resemblance between the character and President Barack Obama (you can read a commentary at the HuffPost). The show’s producers have called the claims “utter nonsense” and insisted that actor Mohamen Mehdi Ouazanni’s long record working on religious film sets made him an obvious choice for the role.
I’m no mind-reader and won’t speculate whether the producers intended any connection between Pres. Obama and the devil. I’ve raised this little controversy for another purpose, to demonstrate a long-standing film tradition of racializing villains. From spy flicks and action blockbusters to children’s animated movies and faith-based media, evil is often embodied by dark-skinned characters. Think about it—who are the bad guys in James Bond movies? What stands out about the animated character, Jafar, in Disney’s Aladdin? And what can we say about the Devil in the History Channel’s The Bible, especially compared to the heroic characters? They are all highly racialized depictions of racial/ethnic Others. They draw on nasty stereotypes designed to make us fearful. They are shown as morally corrupt and physically unattractive. Jafar, for example, conforms to ethnic stereotypes much more than Aladdin or Jasmine, both of whom could easily pass (in white westerners’ imaginations) as well-tanned Americans if not for their desert setting.
Edward Said famously wrote about this representational tactic in his book Orientalism (you can watch a documentary about Orientalism, featuring Said, called On Orientalism, on YouTube). Said explains that Orientalism is a patterned way of representing Arabs and Muslims as a unified cultural group (despite the fact that the terms aren’t synonymous, that Muslims live in many places outside the Arab world, and that “Arab” is used to describe individuals from many different backgrounds), less civilized than white Europeans or Americans, and capable of terrible things; in other words, Orientalism is a discourse that presents Arabs/Muslims as a dangerous threat. Not limited to specific media, Orientalism surrounds us and, from an early age, inculcates us with a particular way of understanding the Arab world. It gives us a specific language that governs how we conceive of Arab people and naturalizes our stereotypes. The Arab is a terrorist; the Arab is patriarchal—these terrible generalizations make sense and seem real in an Orientalist framework. (more…)
A photo of my best friend and me
A recent article in Marie Claire magazine caught my eye. The title asks, “Are girlfriends the new husbands?” As the article explains, young adult women are increasingly turning to best friends for the kind of support that one might expect only from a romantic partner. As they choose to remain single later into life, women’s best friends become intimate partners (though not sexual ones). Cohabitation, “family” vacations, even some type of co-parenting between best friends is becoming more common. I should note, the article doesn’t discuss race, sexuality, class or any of the other intersecting social categories that affect women’s lives, so we cannot make sweeping generalizations, but among an abstract category of 20- to 30-something year old women, the nature of friendship appears to be changing. And I’d like to argue that this change is a good one. (more…)