Over the last two weeks two videos have repeated shown up on my social media pages: “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman” and “3 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Homosexual.” Both videos aim to illuminate the often unnoticed topic of street harassment. And both videos clearly illustrate what day to day life is like for some women and gay men. However, it is important to frame both videos within the context of location, race, class, and presentation.
“10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman” was created as a collaboration between Hollaback and Rob Bliss Creative, a video marketing company. In the video, actress Shoshana B. Roberts dressed in jeans, black t-shirt, and tennis shoes walked through various Manhattan neighborhoods recording the actions and comments of men she encountered with a hidden camera and microphone.
In working with survivors of human trafficking over the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to have a number of very personal conversations with women who are in the process of becoming empowered and rebuilding their self-esteem. One topic that continues to emerge in almost every discussion is being respectable. As I have been reflecting on what it means to be respectable in the context of surviving gender violence, I recalled a remarkable text I read a number of years ago and the similarities in understanding respectability among people of different races, ethnicities, classes, and histories. more...
The prosecution of 16 year old Ethan Couch has garnered considerable media attention in the past two weeks. Couch was accused of killing four pedestrians while high on valium and under the influence of alcohol. With a truck full of friends, Couch crashed into a group of pedestrians. The outcry from this case is twofold. First, Couch’s defense attorney argued that he could not be held fully responsible for his actions because he suffered from “affluenza.” Second, this defense worked and Couch was found guilty but only sentenced to 10 years under correctional probation. Couch, 16, was sentenced to 10 years under correctional probation for his actions. Couch never denied his actions, rather his defense argued that Couch’s dysfunctional upbringing was the reason for his actions and he deserves therapy over incarceration. more...
It is hard to imagine that only several decades ago, many women in the United States did not work outside the home. If they did work, their income was a supplement to the household, not the primary share. In fact, in 1960, census reports found that mothers were the primary breadwinner in only 11% of households. A new Pew Research Center study shows us how much times have changed. Not only are women working and making more money than ever before in history, the Pew Center is now reporting that mothers bring in the primary income for 40% of U.S. households. This is a dramatic shift in the politics of gender, work, and family in a relatively short amount of time.
Yet, not all women benefit equally. It turns out that there are two types of breadwinning mothers: married women who out earn their husbands and single mothers who are the only source of income for the family. The married women constitute 37% of the breadwinning mothers. They are well educated, better paid, older, and disproportionately white. The single mothers constitute the majority of breadwinning mothers, or 67%. They are less educated, poorer, younger, and usually women of color. more...
A few weeks back, I contributed a post highlighting possible explanations for the rise of criminal justice based practices within schools. Although these strategies have become popular for managing school crime, growing evidence suggests they are often overly excessive and may produce a host of unintended consequences. Serving as a sort of a Part II, this essay outlines the effects of what has been termed the “criminalization of school discipline” (Hirschfield & Celinscka 2011). As discussed below, the evidence stands against the school criminalization when considering its effects on: social equality, school performance, school crime, and other disciplinary strategies. more...
In the two weeks since I wrote about Secret’s “stress sweat” ad campaign, I’ve been thinking a lot about American society’s beauty standards for women. The prevailing model of female beauty (especially for young women, say 16-35 y/o) is best described by a term coined at Duke University: “effortless perfection.” As the Duke researchers explained, their interviewees felt they “had to be not only academically successful, but also successful by all the traditionally female markers — thin, pretty, well-dressed, nice hair, nice nails. And, the real rub is you had to do it with no visible effort” (see the Steering Committee’s report here). Secret reinforces this unrealistic standard through their new line of products. Take, for example, their clinical strength sport stick (which I mentioned briefly in the last post). Thanks to the efforts of feminist activists around the nation, the otherwise all-male realm of sport has opened up, ever so slightly, to women athletes. But this has not altered the heterosexist structures that govern women’s lives. Women are expected to balance it all—work, family, school, love, and now sports—and be at our best, without ever breaking a (literal or figurative) sweat.
The pressure for “effortless perfection” envelops women daily. When it comes to beauty, “effortless perfection” is about looking as lovely as every retouched fashion model, but making it seem as though it comes naturally to you. Like women roll out of bed with “soap opera” curls in their hair, are born with pink blush splotches on their cheeks, and have eyebrows that sculpt themselves. Take this ad for Clairol’s Nice n Easy hair dye. In it, the husband marvels at his wife’s nearly magical ability to maintain her youthful beauty even as life’s ups and downs have left him with grey hair. “I don’t know all her secrets” he tells us, “but I do know that Kate’s more beautiful now than the day I married her.” Kate’s dirty little secret is that she isn’t perfect—that 15 years of marriage, new jobs and homes, and carrying and delivering 2 babies weren’t effortless endeavors for her. And yet she hides her greys to maintain the allure that captivates her husband.
Its directive is simple, but impossible to achieve. “Effortless perfection” is artificiality masquerading as nature. It is the female athlete who glows (not sweats) on the field and the wife whose flaxen hair grows more golden with age. It is, perhaps, best exemplified by the “au natural” makeup trend, easily found in any fashion magazine. Just for fun, I found this guide online. Getting the “natural beauty” look that “guys love” requires 5 multipart steps and more than 10 beauty products/tools: face wash, makeup remover, moisturizer, tinted moisturizer or foundation, concealer, liquid shimmer luminizer (which sounds more like a sci-fi weapon than makeup to me), eyelash curler, mascara, blush, and loose powder. And since all of this is set in a hypercapitalist context, you can’t just buy any old makeup; you’ve got to buy the right stuff or risk exposing the artificiality of one’s perfection—mascara flakes tell the truth about your insufficient lashes and the wrong shade of foundation reveals that your skin is not actually made of porcelain or milk chocolate or caramel.
And this is where things get more complicated. While all women living in our society are subjected to some version of heterosexist beauty standards, only some are able to live up to them. That is, the pressures of “effortless perfection,” problematic though they may be, are themselves a privilege restricted to women of certain class positions. As one reader commented on my Secret post, these products are costly—Secret’s clinical line costs up to 3 times more than a regular stick of deodorant. Natural looking cosmetic products are pricey. Women who are economically disadvantaged cannot afford this beauty ideal and are often stigmatized. Moreover, this ideal is racialized. While product lines are increasingly including more cosmetics for women with darker skin tones, these options are still limited compared to those for lighter skinned women. Additionally, deodorants which claim to be invisible on skin are often only invisible on light skin; when dark skinned women wear it, we see the “effort” in their “perfection.” The ideal of “effortless perfection” emerges from society’s center: white, middle class, heterosexuals. Marginal women are always already excluded, as their bodies have historically been the foil for white, middle class women, the proof of white women’s superiority.
Ultimately, the ideal of “effortless perfection” is bad for all women—it says to us, “As you are, you will never be good enough.” And then it whispers, “But some of you can try.”
New York City is a city characterized by its diversity and multiculturalism. Some of the U.S.’s largest populations of racial and ethnic minorities live within the city limits. And yet, in many ways, NYC continues to drop the ball when it comes to truly integrating its diverse population. A recent example illustrates this problem.
The NAACP recently filed a federal civil rights complaint, stating that the city’s elite public schools, like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, have accepted far too few black and Latino/a students (at Stuyvesant, for example, only about 1% of students are black, and just about 2.5% are Latino/a) and that the entrance test required for acceptance is not a reliable measure of success. Students might have gotten straight As every year, have recommendations from teachers, or demonstrated excellence in extracurricular activities, but none of this is considered; only the test score matters. The NAACP would prefer that multiple measures be used to determine entrance to these schools. And what was Mayor Bloomberg’s response to the complaint of this highly respected civil rights group? “Life isn’t always fair.”
According to our Mayor, it is not the city’s responsibility or concern if some students have access to expensive tutoring and enrichment activities that will inevitably improve their entrance exam scores. For Mayor Bloomberg, the concern is whether the test is objective or not, not whether students from various racial/ethnic backgrounds are able to succeed on it. And by his account, the test is objective—“You pass the test, you get the highest score, you get into the school, no matter what your ethnicity, no matter what your economic background is. That’s been the tradition in these schools since they were founded and it’s going to continue to be” (NY Daily News). Mayor Bloomberg fails to see how your race, ethnicity, and economic background might work against you getting the highest score.Mayor Bloomberg’s “life isn’t fair” response is not only insensitive, but also sociologically uninformed. There are many reasons to question whether a single entrance exam can accurately demonstrate a student’s ability. Especially when that student is a racial minority, who very likely comes from a low-income background and may have attended a poorly funded school. Though Mayor Bloomberg claims to care about equality of opportunity (as opposed to equality of outcomes), his recent stance represents a fundamental lack of understanding about racial discrimination and poverty, and about how these might undermine the seemingly “equal opportunity” exam.
Here are some of the things we know about the experiences of many black and Latino/a students in our country: they are disproportionately from low income backgrounds, and much more likely to live in segregated neighborhoods; they are much more likely to attend predominantly minority schools, schools that have large poor populations, schools that are much more likely to be underfunded; they are more likely to attend large schools, with large classes, low quality materials and buildings, and less qualified teachers; they are less likely to have personal computers or internet access at home; their parents are less likely to be able to provide tutoring services and other enrichment activities. Moreover, they are more likely to be affected by hunger and poor health. For them, Mayor Bloomberg is right—life really isn’t fair. And not only is it unfair, it is unjust.
I hope that the NAACP and its co-council pursue this case to the fullest. I hope that the criteria for admission to these schools expands to include better measures of success, measures that might be more sensitive to the issues facing underprivileged students. But this case is just a small step, and won’t change the many things I’ve listed above. Problems of segregation and racial discrimination are so complex, owing to their long history and deep entrenchment in our society. The real question is how to secure justice for the growing population of poor and minority students across the country.
“If you don’t believe that childcare is work, then try telling your parents or whoever took care of you that raising you was not work.I don’t imagine that would go over well.”I say this in my social problems class as a counterpoint to the assertion that welfare-recipients are lazy and immoral.Most recently the sentiment was employed to defend wealthy “stay-at-home mom,” and wife of presidential candidate, Ann Romney.The sentiment that childcare is work is fairly uncontested when referring to the non-poor.In class, I urge students to consider whether the sentiment is equally valid for their (likely) non-poor parents and for poor parents.I make this statement in the context of welfare to point out that both the ability to stay at home and the status of “stay-at-home mom” are class privileges and not merely reflections of moral or ideological choices.Indeed, even for women who have privilege the vernacular meaning of “choice” rarely applies. more...
Lately there has been a lot of talk about class, and not just the vague election year pandering to the vague demographic of the “middle class.” Instead, the very concept of class has become a subject of debate. Last time, I focused on Mitt Romney’s comment’s about “people who have fallen out of the middle class.” This time I focus on fellow candidate Rick Santorum’s criticism of Romney for using the word class. Here’s what Santorum said:
“There are no classes in America. We’re a country that don’t allow for titles. We don’t put people in classes. Maybe middle income people.”
Once again, it’s tempting to dismiss these statements as bizarre gaffes perhaps brought on by a grueling campaign season. However, I have convinced myself that there are no “bad” political soundbytes. Partly because shouting “what are you insane?!?!?” at my computer is apparently frowned upon at my local Starbucks, but also because such comments often provide a useful starting point to discuss a complex phenomenon like class. more...
“Somebody who’s fallen from the middle class to poverty, in my opinion is still middle class.” Mitt Romney, Republican presidential candidate, made this statement on a talk show a few weeks ago. Bloggers ridiculed the comment as nonsensical. I admit I too was tempted to just call Romney an idiot (again) and move on. But, as I’ve been watching politicians in a society of growing inequality and high unemployment struggle with the concept of class while desperately trying not to alienate any potential voters, I’ve begun to see these comments as teachable moments regarding class. Here I will offer some possibilities of Romney’s meaning and more importantly employ this statement to discuss the concept of class. more...
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