As a belated nod to ‘Breast Cancer Awareness Month’ (October, in the USA), and the plethora of pink, breast-cancer-sponsored items now on sale, I want to talk about the rise of the pink ribbon campaign and the concept of ‘pinkwashing’.
Breast cancer and the pink ribbon campaign is probably one of the biggest success stories, in terms of its ability to raise awareness and ultimately, save lives. Breast cancer activism started in the 1980’s, in part as a reaction to the patriarchal medicalisation of women’s bodies. Up until then, breast cancer was being silenced: the field was dominated by male surgeons with little information available for individual sufferers, and incidence rates were fast increasing. A huge, grass roots movement began, focusing on empowering and giving voice to suffers and their families. By the 1990’s the focus had been shifted away from the medical profession and onto the empowerment of patients, and this increased attention and exposure increased its status and cultural currency. This was furthered by the launch of the now now iconic pink ribbon in 1992.
This increased focus was incredible in its uptake. It allowed the breast cancer movement to become a prominent focus for the general public, ‘awareness’ was raised, huge amounts of funds were raised, and it was being run by women: by cancer survivors, sufferers and family members. Treatment improved, mortality rates declined. It was a success. But, as Gayle Sulik notes: “By this time, there were already controversies over the benefits of mammograms, concerns over conflicts of interest, rising competition in pharmacology, and infighting among thought leaders and scientists. Yet cause promotion and the desire to do something for breast cancer held the public’s attention”. (more…)
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.
My PhD compatriot, Jens* leans over to me, a glint in his eye and a bemused smile on his face that makes it difficult to work out whether this will be a joke, a statement, or something to deliberately challenge me. Past history tells me probably a combination of all three, but lets see.
“Can I ask you a question, before you go?” (I am just on my way out of the PhD office** we share, coat on, mug washed, ready).
He continues; “I know you are something of an expert on the subject…”
Oh here we go. This means one of two conversation topics are about to be raised: headhunting, or gender. Which means gender is about to be raised. I put on my metaphorical*** ‘Will Dispense Pertinent Gender-Related Critical Analysis For Food” T-shirt, and wait.
Source: Cosmopolitan Magazine, November 2014
Every day I drive a half hour from my home to my office at the university and a half an hour from the university back home. Like many of my peers, I pass time during my commutes listening to National Public Radio. I know it is a bit of a cliché, the doctoral student in the sociology department listening to NPR every morning, but I really do feel as if my 60 minutes of NPR each day keep me on top of current issues in local and global politics, business, science and technology, and global health. NPR is part of my routine and for the most part it is pretty predicable.
However, last week I was caught off guard by a segment in the special series “The Changing Lives of Women.” I had heard a couple of other stories in the series. There was a very interesting interview with the Navy’s first four-star admiral, Michelle Howard. There was also a piece on female programmer who were pioneers of the computer revolution. On October 14, 2014, the NPR series focused on Joanna Coles, the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine.
Recently, Netflix added the widely acclaimed documentary Half the Sky to its online streaming library. The film, inspired by journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn book of the same name, follows six American celebrities as they travel throughout Asia and Africa addressing some of the health care, educational, and economic issues that oppress women and girls across the globe. Throughout the film, the viewer clearly sees the impact women and girls of the developing world have on both Kristof and the celebrity activists who join him in Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Vietnam, Somaliland, India, and Kenya.
What is even more striking is the difference between the lives of the women featured in film and the actresses visiting from the West. At one point Kristof and actress Olivia Wilde are interviewing a former sex worker living in Kenya who is struggling to come up with the money needed to pay for her son’s tuition. When Kristof asks her what she will do if she cannot raise the money needed the woman simply relies that she will not eat. The conversation moves forward to other issues in the woman’s life and the viewer never finds out if the woman was able to pay her son’s tuition.
I am lucky, (if you can call it that, as I am fairly sure I can claim some credit for its creation) to spend much of my life surrounded by feminist men. I was raised by one, and have friends and colleagues who are very happy identifying as a (male) feminist. They can deconstruct the patriarchy, discuss oppression and understand intersectionality. They constantly and consistently ‘check their privilege’. And maybe this is why a recent article; ‘20 tools for men to further feminist revolution’ struck such a chord with me. It is written from one male feminist to the rest, pointing out that it is not enough simply just to identify as being feminist. Fighting patriarchy, (whatever your sex or gender) cannot be done apathetically or without actually doing anything.
By Iconshock [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Over the past few months, numerous publications have
discussed – and mostly: dismissed – the trend to incorporate so-called trigger warnings into the college classroom and syllabus. Trigger warnings have become a standard practice for articles in feminist blogs and other online media that discuss incidences of violence, sexual assault and that may contain other potentially ‘triggering’ material, with the purpose of giving readers a way to opt-out of exposing themselves to said material. As some college professors have started to incorporate this practice into their classrooms in order to warn students of potentially ‘triggering’ material – and some colleges
have even discussed adopting trigger warning policies – the public reaction has been mostly negative. However, it is my position that most of these commentators have it backward and misunderstand what trigger warnings are about and can do – granted, there are examples of very poorly-done trigger warnings out there that can easily be taken as evidence for some of the critics’ fears – and I believe they can and should have a place in the sociology classroom and that they can actually play a positive and productive pedagogical role.
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…)
[“White Ribbon”. Source: MesserWoland [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]
In response to the horrific murders at UC Santa Barbara two weeks ago, many commentators have pointed out the perpetrator’s connection to so-called Anti-Pickup Artist
online communities and to the misogynist
motivations of the shooting. Whereas the Pick-Up Artist fad has received some media attention and academic study
in the past, the so-called Anti-Pick-Up artist scene has received much less attention – with notable exceptions well worth reading
– and has probably been completely off the radar even for those of us studying gender. Even though the name suggests an oppositional stance on the idea of PickUp artistry, in reality, these Anti-Pick-Up Artists share in the very same gender ideology as those being drawn to Pick-Up Artist message boards and websites. Add in the frustration with the ineffectiveness of the Pick-Up Artists’ tips and strategies, and the Anti-Pick-Up Artist scene reveals itself as promoting an equally – if note more – toxic gender ideology.
Nina Conti (www.youtube.com)
Last week I went with a friend of mine to see a performance by comedian and ventriloquist Nina Conti. I really cannot recommend her enough, and as with all her performances I was in stitches. Whilst I could easily fill this post waxing lyrical at her talents, there is (as always) as sociological element to her work. Firstly, elements of her performance demonstrate how displays of emotion have become cultural currency, particularly for women. Secondly, it engenders interesting questions regarding power dynamics in interaction; there is a contradiction between her ‘powerful’ role as leader of the interaction, and the power-less position of being female.