Janet Bloch. Self Portrait as Shakti, 2004. Acrylic & Mixed Media,
16 x 16 in. © Janet Bloch. Reprinted with permission.
Full Disclosure: I am a feminist. It never crossed my mind that there might be anything problematic about labeling myself this way since I have openly articulated my interests in gender issues and social, political, and economic equality since my early undergraduate days. Of course, I knew that researchers had shown women today often reject the term “feminist” (McRobbie 2004; Rowe-Finkbeiner 2004; Levy 2006). However, I somehow had convinced myself that these individuals were just not informed. I truly believed that if men and women could critically examined the social construction of gender, see the ways in which gendered notions impact their lives, and take the time to critique these forces there could be greater understanding, acceptance, and embracement of feminist politics.
Last fall I found myself working on a project on women’s art. I met with several female artists whose work examined, questioned, and challenged cultural gender expectations. What I found utterly shocked me; within the art world, there are a number of female artists that use art as a vehicle to challenge gender inequality but are cautious, hesitant, or dismissive of being labeled as “feminist artists.” I found that many female artists believe that term “feminism” is so deeply connected to a stigmatized social movement that strongly reject the label even while creating feminist art.
Did you know that October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month? As such, the month of October is full of bullying prevention and awareness events. The National Bullying Prevention Center advertises many of these events and hosts a great deal of information about bullying. But, a major piece of the bullying puzzle is missing, both from their website and much of the national (and international) discourse on bullying. That missing piece is gender.
Our colleague Cliff Leek convincingly wrote
about the importance of involving men in rape prevention work. Today I want to go back to a ‘debate’ on Fox News earlier this year, in which feminist writer Zerlina Maxwell raised this issue by arguing that rape can be prevented if men learn not to rape – an idea that was shot down (no pun intended) by Fox News host Sean Hannity as an unrealistic liberal pipe dream. Rather, Hannity and Gayle Trotter of the ‘Independent Women’s Forum’ – a conservative think tank – argued that the right to carry concealed weapons is what can protect women from being raped. Although clearly being an attempt to intervene in the gun control debate by these conservative thinkers, their arguments reveal some of the underlying assumptions about sexualized violence and masculinities in mainstream discourse – assumptions that are in strong conflict with findings from research.
Disney Princes and Princesses. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Disney has a gender problem.
A long line of feminist scholars and activists has used Disney princesses as examples of exactly what is wrong with the representation of women in mainstream media. The classical Disney princesses (Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel, Jasmine, etc.) have been lambasted for having story lines in which they are helpless damsels in distress whose lives revolve around male characters. Even the more modern princesses such as Tiana from Princess and the Frog and Rapunzel from Tangled have story lines that are largely tied to their romantic interests in male characters. Indeed, Jezebel has already posted an article addressing the many ways in which Disney’s upcoming film, Frozen, appears to undermine its female protagonist.
Unfortunately most of the criticism of Disney’s gender problem only addresses one pole of the gender spectrum – femininity. That is, Disney’s portrayal of masculinity is also problematic but has received little attention. (more…)
Harvard Business School Graduates. Source: businessinsider.com
In a recent Sociology Lens post, my colleague Markus Gerke discussed the so called ‘Boys-Crisis’ in Education, and provides an excellent critique of anti-feminist stances that point to boys apparent underachievement in education. As he argues, these stances so often fail to account for gendered practices that occur in schooling and education, and by utilising feminist education studies and masculinity studies, the differences between boys and girls achievement can be explained much more accurately. Rather than inherent ‘qualities’ existing to either sex, in an essentialist view about what makes ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ the way that they are, certain classroom behaviours are viewed as more acceptable for boys or girls, in line with social and cultural understandings of masculinity and femininity. These expectations can be used to understand a great many behaviours – why girls are more inclined to read or sit quietly, or why boys may resort more easily to playing up in classrooms, all have in them inherent implications about what is gender-appropriate behaviour. In terms of understanding why girls and boys succeed in different areas, we simply have to ask whether the behaviour is ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’. Writers such as Bev Skeggs and Mike Savage have written extensively about how these categories also intersect with class: acceptable masculinities and femininities vary drastically according to class and background.
In reading Markus’ article I was struck by the similarities to the subject I intended on discussing in this post – the evidence of gender inequalities at Harvard Business School and how they are being addressed. Harvard Business School were the subject of a front-page article in the New York Times last month, when an article by Jodi Kantor revealed that the school, one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world, had restructured their curriculum, assessment criteria and even social rules and regulations in order to attempt to address a gender imbalance and encourage female success. (more…)
A few weeks ago I posted some thoughts on the impact of Title IX beyond collegiate athletics and last week my colleague, Markus Gerke, wrote brilliantly about the myth of the boy crisis in education. In this post I will illustrate how Title IX proponents and believers in the boy crisis myth have come to clash over the topic of single-sex education.
The movement to single-sex education in the US has been framed as a solution to both girls’ absence from science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines and the perceived decline in boys’ overall academic success. However, the data behind these assertions is shaky at best. Diane Halpern, Professor of Psychology at Claremont McKenna College and former President of the American Psychological Association, wrote a particularly biting review of the pro single-sex education literature. Perhaps as a result of the pro single-sex education framing, the US has seen an increased interest in single-sex schooling in the last few decades. More private single-sex schools have emerged and even many public school districts have begun to experiment with single-sex programs or classrooms.
An important question that arises in consideration of public schooling, though, is if separate schooling is actually fair to all students. The racialized question of separate but equal in education was answered by Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. The Supreme Court ruled that separate but equal in regard to race is not actually equal at all. Should we expect gendered segregation of schooling to be any different? (I am certainly not the first to ask this question.) (more…)
On September 20th, 1973 recent Wimbledon winner, 29-year-old Billie Jean King took on a 55-year-old former tennis champ, Bobby Riggs, in an exposition match dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes.” King dominated the court, winning straight sets (6-4, 6-3, 6-3) and marking a historically significant moment for female athletes, second wave feminists, and women’s history in general.
ESPN’s recent exposé, suggesting the match was rigged has resulted in passionate responses from journalists, sports commentators, feminist scholars, and tennis fans across the globe. The ESPN feature was based on statements from Hal Shaw, a former assistant golf instructor, who claimed to have overheard mafia bosses discussing Riggs’ plan to tank the match against King to settle a $100,000 debt.
Bechdel Test – Source: tiffchow.typepad.com/
The Bechdel test is a simple but effective way of assessing the feminist qualities of a film, and how women are represented. The test was introduced by Alison Bechdel in 1985, in a comic strip called ‘The Rule’. The test asks three simple questions of a film:
1) Are there more than two (named) female characters in the film?
2) Do they interact with each other?
3) If they do, do they talk about something other than a man?
If the answer to any of the questions is no, it does not pass the test. Despite women making up 51 per cent of the population, and (one assumes) spending a large amount of the time between birth and death watching films and talking to other women about subjects other than men, the number of films that pass this test is consistently and disappointingly low. Whilst the Bechdel test is a relatively crude measurement for gender equality, it is indicative of a real problem in the film industry; a total lack of diverse, relevant, intelligent or well-developed female characters. Female characters in films are far more likely to be poorly developed, or exist simply as a prop for male characters. As an exasperated Miranda asks in the Sex and The City series: “How does it happen that four smart women have nothing to talk about but boyfriends?”
One explanation, (more…)
“My buddy here has more bitches that the Oprah Book Club”
“Now I’m not gay, but if I was I would be rubbing this guy’s bald head all night long”
Last week, I (along with 2000 other screaming women) went to see Michael Bublé play at the 02 arena in London. The above statements were both made by Michael Bublé as part of his ‘band introduction’. The all-male brass section all had nicknames, funny quips and spinning portraits.The whole section of the concert was made to imitate an American Football team, ‘Team Bublé”. Whilst not all of the introductions were particularly tasteful, this in itself was not that remarkable. However, later on in the concert the string section came on, and were all female. They played as many songs, their contribution was as integral to the music. Despite this, in that time they were not acknowledged at all, they had no names and were treated largely as if they weren’t there. This inconsistency reflects many wider sociological trends in music performance. (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…)