Last Wednesday, January 20 18, over 7000 websites participated in a massive protest opposing bills H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and S. 968, the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). While these bills aimed to curb online piracy, many fear that they also pave the way for widespread internet censorship. Although consideration of SOPA and PIPA has now been “postponed,” the bills and the protests raise the issue of who has the authority to control access to knowledge. The different visual and technological ways that websites protested SOPA and PIPA demonstrate the importance we as a culture place on unfettered access to information. In imagining what a censored internet might be like, the protests also show how much the medium — in this case, technology — shapes our individual and collective knowledge and what kind of a threat censorship would be. In additional to concerns about free speech and access to information, the protests also remind us how many profitable businesses are based on assumptions that those things will remain uncensored.

Many sites (such as Craigslist, Pinterest, and icanhascheezburger, screencaps below) took a traditional web protest approach by posting informational messages encouraging visitors to take action against the bills:

Other websites (WordPress, Wired, Google), along with Facebook status updates and Tweets, visually depicted what internet censorship would look like. This kind of protest is particularly visually powerful — stark black blocks out the text, making the message unreadable:



Others shut down altogether (like Wikipedia, Reddit, MoveOn, and Mozilla), essentially removing their website’s resources and information for 24 hours:

Many of us are fortunate to take for granted open, easy access to information, including open access to everything on the internet (though the continued existence of a digital divide makes such information more available to some than others, and school districts routinely censor online content for students). The protests of SOPA and PIPA illustrate how much we rely on technology for access to information by raising important questions about what censorship would mean for access to knowledge. Seemingly boundless information is at the tips of our fingers everywhere we go:

(Via Shoebox Blog.)

As the cartoon shows, our knowledge is shaped by what medium is physically available to us for seeking new information. Students in my classes can’t fathom a time when they couldn’t look up any bit of information they needed on Google.  They can’t imagine the way I used to do research for a school paper– by consulting my family’s dusty encyclopedia set, or heading down to the library. Though their experience is physically removed from the research librarian’s desk, they have access to much more information than I ever did in my local library. The protests against SOPA and PIPA — the website outages and blacked out texts — make real the idea that if the internet were censored, our avenues for learning would shrink.

Recently, Raz sent in this image of cans of WD-40, part of their Collectible Military Series, for sale at an auto parts store:

The types of war-related advertising we see can give us insights about how average Americans are connected to, and affected by, different wars. During many U.S. wars, contributing to the war effort was the duty of every citizen; this is particularly apparent with World War II. The draft, the deployment of some 16 million Americans, and public calls to purchase war bonds and ration food meant that war was nearly everyone’s concern. In contrast, the current War on Terrorism mostly only impacts those connected directly to it—military families. There are no widespread calls to ration, buy war bonds, or otherwise support the war effort through employment, growing vegetables, saving scrap metal, or other changes to our daily lives. My own research shows that members of military families feel the war is ignored and forgotten by most Americans. They feel isolated in their daily anxieties and their efforts to support their loved ones.

Products like the WD-40 Collectible Military Series were more common during WWII than they are now. During WWII advertising used the war cause and feelings of patriotism to sell a wide range of products that, ads argued, would help the U.S. win. Some were clearly connected to the war effort:

With others, the connection was much less obvious or direct:

Both Shlitz and Camel donated to the war effort. Similarly, with their “Drop and Give Me 40” campaign, WD-40 is donating part of their profits to charities that support service members and their families:

For each can purchased from March 2011 through May 2011, WD-40 Company donated 10 cents to three charities that help active-duty military, wounded warriors, retired veterans and their families. On Memorial Day, WD-40 Company presented $100,000 checks to each of the following military charities: Armed Services YMCA, Wounded Warrior Project, and the Veterans Medical Research Foundation.

Although military-themed products (aside from “support the troops” t-shirts, stickers and pins that are widely available) are not as common as they were during WWII, some companies have come out with patriotic advertising.

Goodyear has “support the troops” tires, sold and marketed at NASCAR races:

An Anheuser-Busch commercial shows ordinary Americans stopping their everyday lives to thank the troops. There is no mention of the company until the very end, and nothing at all about beer:

American Airlines has a similar advertisement depicting various Americans being supportive the troops before and during their flight:

The messages in these recent ads are markedly different than the WWII messages of everyone taking part and working toward victory, reflecting changing relationships between war efforts and the average citizen. No reminder of the war was necessary in the 1940s—war was a part of everyday Americans’ lives. Current ads, like the WD-40 series, often serve less as a call to specific action than as a reminder that the war exists, as a reminder to thank the troops and support service members. It’s a different type of message for a different type of war, one that only involves a small fraction of Americans and is often largely invisible to everyone else.


This image from the FAIL blog nicely illustrates the distinction between tanning to have darker skin and being born with darker skin– when is dark skin acceptable/desirable and when isn’t it? Presumably, this advertisement comes from somewhere near the U.S./Mexico border, and although it is probably meant to be funny, the point it makes is real. A white person (the blond pictured in the ad) can tan until they’re dark– which is acceptable and often highly desirable (which still surprises me in the day and age of skin cancer). But, getting a very dark tan, or being born with darker skin in the first place, means that near the border you might be “held by security” (although with the blond on the billboard, I doubt that mistake would be made).

And here are some images of desirable tans from tanning company websites:



I’m not from a military family so Memorial Day has mostly been about a three day weekend, grilling, and maybe giving a tiny bit of thought to members of the military who have fought in various U.S. wars. But, in the last couple of years, Memorial Day has taken on so much more significance for me, and it seems rather fitting that this weekend I’m working on my dissertation– writing about the mothers of current U.S. service members who have been deployed in the U.S. war on terrorism.

Mothers, and all members of a service person’s family, often refer to themselves as “the silent ranks.” And they are a key part of the “ranks” of the military in many ways. Next to the troops, family members shoulder the majority of this particular war. Unlike previous U.S. wars (WWI and WWII), the public has not been asked to do much– we are not planting victory gardens, living with rations, working in factories, or collecting scrap metal and even lard for the manufacturing of weapons and supplies.

The military knows how important the families of service members are– for both recruitment and deployment support. You may have noticed the Army recruitment commercials specifically target parents. The Army knows they need parental support to enlist new Soldiers. Often these commercials focus on Army service as an opportunity for training, for an education, for a career, while also telling parents how strong their children will become when they join. Thus the motto “You made them strong: We’ll make them Army Strong.”

[youtube][/youtube] [youtube][/youtube]

Despite the fact that the military is changing, and more women are joining, homefront support remains largely gendered. The video below “Army Families = Army Strong” is one that the Army put together as a tribute to the work these silent ranks do during wartime.


What is striking (but not surprising) to me about this video tribute is how gendered the home front is. With a few exceptions (a few female Soldiers), this video mostly depicts wives left at home taking care of young children. These families (women and children) need to be strong to deal with the stress and anxiety of having a loved one deployed, and to carry on their day to day lives. The military also needs them to be strong– to hold down the home front, send supportive packages and emails to deployed Soldiers, and to be there for Soldiers to come home to. As the voice over says “they wear a different uniform… theirs is a uniform of strength… the strength of courage, integrity, and sacrifice.” Even if they aren’t deployed to a war zone, families are enlisted to military service along with the Soldiers.

For my dissertation I interviewed 60+ mothers of service members (and hundreds more in online support groups) who also describe themselves as part of these “silent ranks.” I would love to be able to share their incredible stories here, but I only have their permission to write about the for research purposes. So instead I’ll write about what I’ve learned from them about how complicated home front war support is for mothers.

Like other military family members, the mothers of service members also see themselves as members of the military– even when they are more removed from receiving the kinds of benefits a military wife (or husband) would receive. Here are some of the slogans mothers use to identify themselves as a strong, tough, part of the military:


Usually when we think about the mothers of service members, the most publicly active (and anti-war) ones come to mind. Like Cindy Sheehan:



While many mothers of service members take the same war stance as Cindy Sheehan, most have widely different, and often contradictory relationships to war (just as other military family members do, I imagine). My research is about these contradictions. Some mothers disagree with the war, but publicly support their child’s mission– and want the war to succeed. Others disagree with the war but would never say so publicly for fear of being seen as unpatriotic. Some just want the troops to come home safely. Others support the war fully, and some who support the war fully see anti-war mothers like Cindy Sheehan as degrading to the job their children are doing.


Mothers of service members may have opposing ideas about war, but they all feel unbelievable anxiety for their deployed child. They cry in the grocery store when they see their son’s favorite food. They panic every time an unknown car pulls into the driveway, fearing that dress uniforms will show up at their door. And they all feel a duty to their deployed child (to send care packages, buy their child supplies etc.), and feel a sense duty to all the troops and military families– taking part in efforts to make sure the troops and their families feel supported.

Here are some images of different mothers supporting the troops in different ways (these images are all public domain, and none are mothers in my study):






Finally, take a few minutes to watch this video interview with Vicki Castro, whose son was killed in Iraq (“life as you know it stops…”). I can’t embed the video here, but it is worth clicking on and watching.

This vintage add (found here) for Kenwood appliances is a nice example of how the act of preparing food is gendered, and how one side of the gendered dichotomy is valued more than the other. Men are chefs– professionals, with careers. And their wives are cooks– they cook at home. Men have prestige as professional chefs outside the home, and women have value as caregiver cooks inside the home.

I guess that this ad is from the early-1980s. How much of this gendering of cooking changed over the years?


As discussed on and Jezebel today, Dell Computers has started to market directly to women with a new website, Della. Joshua and Frederick both told us about it. Here are some images from the site:





Apparently women shopping for computers care about (1) style– whether or not it matches their outfits, (2) how light it is to carry around when they hang out with equally-coordinated friends and their laptops, and (3) the ability to check movie times, and restaurant directions whenever you need to.

It takes 3 clicks to even get to anything about the actual computers’ processor speed, RAM, hard drive capacity etc. I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m a proud geek and I want to know all the technical computer specs.

So what is Dell really saying, here, about women’s computer needs? That women care more about the color of their computers than how well it is going to perform for them? That women won’t understand all the tech specs anyway, so why bother? That women don’t use their laptops for work— to run businesses, write papers, network with clients, or design websites?

Instead we get incredibly informative descriptions  like “attractive, clean designs… with everything you want for your everyday needs.”

And content aside, I also take issue with the very existence of a separate website for women computer buyers. The not-so-subtle message is that the Dell website– with all the high speed (plain black) computers, business information, and detailed tech specs– is for men.



Oh, there are some tech tips on the Della site– about how to use your wicked cute laptop to keep in touch with friends and family and to exercise and eat better.

As I was digging around the internet for illustrations of mothers of service members claiming to be as tough as their enlisted children (I’ll save that for another post), I found the following “future service member” clothes for children, babies, and even pregnant women:




And a Marine bib/costume:


And a couple maternity shirts:



I have a few thoughts about these.

First, it’s interesting how the shirts (and the many more like them for other family members) enlist family members (and future family members) into military service along with the service member. Each branch of the military is considered a big extended family and members know they are “taken care of” to some extent by each other and by military programs that support the children and partners of those who are serving. Not only does it make practical sense to offer services to families who have a loved one deployed for months and years at a time, but it is also advantageous for the military as families are recognized as a key part of military success. Families are essential and are counted on to provide all kinds of support– from deployment readiness (moving at a moment’s notice etc.), to supplying their loved ones with emotional support, clothes and armor when they are deployed.


The military is also a profession that is often a viable choice for for many young people, and there are many families from strong military traditions– where multiple generations have served. It makes sense, then, that these families have a certain amount of pride in a career that has been in their families for generations. But, many who go into the military end up in combat situations where their lives and personal safety are put at high risk (especially during wartime). So, the idea of handing down the military as a profession doesn’t seem the same then as handing down pride in a university or in a sports team. Isn’t it much different to put a baby in a “future Badgers fan” outfit?

Finally, the pregnancy shirts make me think of how sociologists Nira Yuval-Davis and Cynthia Enloe talk about gendered and militarized citizenship. For Yuval-Davis, one of the primary ways women can be citizens is through reproduction– literally reproducing the people of the nation. Often reproducing soldiers to secure the nation is a part of pro-natalist policies. And Cynthia Enloe writes about the importance of mothers’ support (what she calls “militarized mothers”) for the continued recruitment and support of soldiers: “Militarizing motherhood often starts with conceptualizing the womb as a recruiting station.”

From the website: “Project E-MANcipate is a project to accelerate the acceptance of male pantyhose as a regular clothing item.”


Hey, I’m all for men and women wearing pantyhose if they want to (as long as no one makes me wear any) but what sort of “emancipation” is being advocated?

Is this about emancipation men from the confines of masculinity so that they can wear an item associated with femininity?

“Men who wear pantyhose do it to improve athletic performance, energize and revitalize tired, aching leg muscles, and to stimulate circulation if they sit all day. In addition, compression can help reduce swelling and decrease the dangers of circulatory problems. And of course there are many men who simply like the soft material and the comfort that sheer pantyhose provides.”

So men would mostly wear pantyhose for (manly) athletic reasons. And, as the website also notes, to keep warm in the winter. But, some men might just like “the soft material.” What about them?

Or maybe the point is to emancipate pantyhose from being associated with only femininity?

“Since pantyhose (or tights), as a garment, has about it nothing gender-specific (such as a panty that fits only the female body, or a bra that is ‘organ-specific’), there is no reason why people of either sex should think of it as a female-only piece of clothing in everyday life.”

But, as the website points out, it’s important for guys to wear pantyhose in a way that doesn’t look “femmy”– “even hosiery that is thought to be very femmy could go together with an average outfit without making the whole outfit femmy at all.”


So how about pink pantyhose? Is pink too “femmy” for men?

The conclusion: “White pantyhose with floral patterns [as opposed to plain pink tights] makes you look like a man.”

unusual_pantyhose_for_men_02unusual_pantyhose_for_men_01These images would be great for a class discussion on the reappropriation of gendered clothing items. What makes pantyhose specifically “manly” or “femmy”? Does this “e-MANcipation” reify the same old ideas about masculinity and femininity, or challenge and expand them?

And I think it’s interesting that this website is U.K.-based. (UPDATE: The company is actually Hungarian– thanks to commenter “bozeman” for the clarification!) I have a hard time imagining a project like this in the U.S. How are ideas about what constitutes a “manly man” different from country to country?