gender: feminism/activism

Sometimes you have to take the long view.

This week Bill O’Reilly — arguably the most powerful political commentator in America — was let go from his position at Fox News. The dismissal came grudgingly. News broke that he and Fox had paid out $13 million dollars to women claiming O’Reilly sexually harassed them; Fox didn’t budge. They renewed his contract. There was outcry and protests. The company yawned. But when advertisers started dropping The O’Reilly Factor, they caved. O’Reilly is gone.

Fox clearly didn’t care about women — not “women” in the abstract, nor the women who worked at their company — but they did care about their bottom line. And so did the companies buying advertising space, who decided that it was bad PR to prop up a known sexual harasser. Perhaps the decision-makers at those companies also thought it was the right thing to do. Who knows.

Is this progress?

Donald Trump is on record gleefully explaining that being a celebrity gives him the ability to get away with sexual battery. That’s a crime, defined as unwanted contact with an “intimate part of the body” that is done to sexually arouse, gratify, or abuse. He’s president anyway.

And O’Reilly? He walked away with $25 million in severance, twice what all of his victims together have received in hush money. Fox gaves Roger Ailes much more to go away: $40 million. Also ousted after multiple allegations of sexual harassment, his going away present was also twice what the women he had harassed received.

Man, sexism really does pay.

But they’re gone. Ailes and O’Reilly are gone. Trump is President but Billy Bush, the Today host who cackled when Trump said “grab ’em by the pussy,” was fired, too.  Bill Cosby finally had some comeuppance after decades of sexual abuse and rape. At the very least, his reputation is destroyed. Maybe these “victories” — for women, for feminists, for equality, for human decency — were driven purely by greed. And arguably, for all intents and purposes, the men are getting away with it. Trump, Ailes, O’Reilly, Bush, and Cosby are all doing fine. Nobody’s in jail; everybody’s rich beyond belief.

But we know what they did.

Until at least the 1960s, sexual harassment — along with domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, and rape — went largely unregulated, unnoticed, and unnamed. There was no language to even talk about what women experienced in the workplace. Certainly no outrage, no ruined reputations, no dismissals, and no severance packages. The phrase “sexual harassment” didn’t exist.

In 1964, with the passage of the Civil Rights Act, it became illegal to discriminate against women at work, but only because the politicians who opposed the bill thought adding sex to race, ethnicity, national origin, and religion would certainly tank it. That’s how ridiculous the idea of women’s rights was at the time. But that was then. Today almost no one thinks women shouldn’t have equal rights at work.

What has happened at Fox News, in Bill Cosby’s hotel rooms, in the Access Hollywood bus, and on election day is proof that sexism is alive and well. But it’s not as healthy as it once was. Thanks to hard work by activists, politicians, and citizens, things are getting better. Progress is usually incremental. It requires endurance. Change is slow. Excruciatingly so. And this is what it looks like.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Why did people march on January 21, 2017? As a team of sociologists interested in social movements, we know there are many possible answers to this seemingly simple question.

As a team of sociologists we have developed a multi-method, multi-site research project, Mobilizing Millions: Engendering Protest Across the Globe.* We want to understand why people participate in a march of this scale, at a critical historical juncture in our political landscape. Within weeks of discussion of the first march, there were already “sister” march pages national and internationally. While it is beyond the scope of this post to discuss all of the project findings thus far, the predictability of the racial tensions visible in social media or the role of men, local opportunities and challenges we do offer some early findings.

In the project’s first phase, we had team members on the ground in Washington D.C.; Austin, TX; Boston, MA; Los Angeles, CA; New York, NY; Philadelphia, PA;  Portland, OR; Santa Barbara, CA and St. Louis, MO. We are currently conducting a survey about the motivations and experiences that brought millions of people to the marches worldwide. We recruited respondents from marches in the aforementioned cities, and online. This has resulted in responses from around the world. Our preliminary findings from the observations and survey highlight that 1) there were a range of reasons people attended marches and 2) across and within sites, there were varying experiences of “the” march in any location.

One striking similarity we observed across sites was the limited visible presence of social movement organizations (SMOs). For sure, SMOs became visible in social media leading up to the event (particularly for the DC march). Unlike at social movement gatherings such as the US Social Forum or conservative equivalents, the sheer number of unaffiliated people dwarfed any delegations or representatives from SMOs. Of our almost 60-member nation-wide team across sites only a handful had encountered anyone handing out organizational material, as we would see at other protest. This is perhaps what brought many people to the march—an opportunity to be an individual connecting with other individuals. However, this is an empirical question as is what this means for the future of social movement organizing. We hope others join us in answering.

Second, while the energy was palpable at all of the marches so was the confusion. As various media sources reported, attendance at all sites far exceeded projections, sometimes by 10 times. Consequently, the physical presence of the expanded beyond organizers’ expectations, which in many places required a schedule shifted. At all marches there were points where participants in central areas could not move and most people could not hear scheduled speakers even if they were physically close to a stage.  Across the sites, we also observed how this challenge stimulated different responses. In multiple locations, people gathering spontaneously created their own sub-marches out of excitement as happened in DC when a band started playing on Madison street and people followed. Or, while waiting, waiting participants chanted “march, march.” Still, in many locations, once the official march started, people created sub-marches out of necessity because the pre-planned march route was impassable. When faced with standing for an hour to wait their “turn” to walk or create an alternative, they chose the latter.

Creativity was visible in artistic forms as well. While there were professionally printed signs (and T-shirts), there was a wealth of handmade signs at the marches. As expected, a slew that referenced phrases the president-elect had said noting, for example, “this pussy grabs back.” Yet there was also a range of other signs ranging from simple text to complicated storyboards (see below).

Across sites, we also saw many differences: including which types of organizations sponsored (or “supported” or “ were affiliated with”) that march.

At the Austin, Texas march, marchers’ signs and chants reflected a wide variety of concerns, including women’s reproductive health care, Black Lives Matter, and environmental justice. The emotional tenor was frequently celebratory, though it varied from one point in the march to another across a crowd reported to be more than 40,000. Many speeches at the rally immediately following the march connected the actions of the Texas state legislature–on whose front steps the march began and ended–to the broader national context.

Photo of Austin, TX by Anna Chatillon-Reed.

The Los Angeles March numbers suggest it exceeded DC participation. There was a noticeable presence of signs about immigration and in Spanish, which is not surprising considering the local and state demographics.

Photo of Los Angeles by Fátima Suarez.
Photo of Los Angeles by Fátima Suarez

The Philadelphia, PA march was close to bigger cities of in New York and DC. Some participants noted that due to the location it was  “competing” for marchers.

Philadelphia photo by Alex Kulick.
Philadelphia photo by Alex Kulick.

The Portland, OR protest also exceeded attendance expectations as marchers withstood hours of pouring rain. Holding the “sister” marches on the same day worldwide emphasized the magnitude and assists in building collective identity. Yet it also meant organizers in different locations faced vastly different challenges. Factors such as weather that might not have existed if organizers had been scheduling based solely on local norms and contexts.

Portland photo by Kelsy Kretschmer.
Portland photo by Kelsy Kretschmer.

To help provide a preliminary sense of the motivations and continued engagement of marchers, we examined a sample of the ~40,000 tweets posted over two months. The analysis continues.

In the coming month, we are launching a separate survey to better understand a group social movement scholars are sometimes less inclined to study: people who do not participate in marches on January 21 (there are exceptions to this of course). As social movement scholars know, mobilization is actually a rare occurrence when we consider the range of grievances present in any society at any given moment. For a second phase of the project, we will conduct interviews with select survey participants.

Understanding the range of responses to grievances is critical as we move into this new era. If the first month of Trump’s presidency is any indication of the years to come, scholars and activists across the political spectrum will have many opportunities to engage these questions.

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*The team Faculty collaborators are Zakiya Luna, PhD (Principal Investigator, California, DC, LA,PH and TX coordinator); Kristen Barber, PhD (St. Louis Lead); Selina Gallo-Cruz, PhD (Boston Lead); Kelsy Kretschmer, PhD (Portland Lead). The site leadership was provided by Anna Chatillon (Austin, TX); Fátima Suarez (Los Angeles, CA); Alex Kulick (Philadelphia, PA & social media); Chandra Russo, PhD (DC co-lead). We are also grateful to many volunteer research assistants.

Dr. Zakiya Luna is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research focused on social movements, human rights and reproduction with an emphasis on the effects of intersecting inequalities within and across these sites. She has published multiple articles on activism, feminism and reproductive justice. For more information on her research and teaching, see http://www.zakiyaluna.com.

Alex Kulick, MA, is a doctoral student in sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara and trainee in the National Science Foundation network science IGERT program. Their research investigates social processes of inequality and resistance with an emphasis on sexuality, gender, and race.

Anna Chatillon-Reed is a doctoral student in sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is currently completing her MA, which investigates the relationship between the Black Lives Matter movement and feminist organizations.

The 2017 Super Bowl was an intense competition full of unexpected winners and high entertainment value. Alright, I didn’t actually watch the game, nor do I even know what teams were playing. I’m referring to the Super Bowl’s secondary contest, that of advertising. The Super Bowl is when many companies will roll out their most expensive and innovative advertisements. And this year there was a noticeable trend of socially aware advertising. Companies like Budweiser and 84 Lumber made statements on immigration. Airbnb and Coca-Cola celebrated American diversity. This socially conscious advertising is following the current political climate and riding the wave of increasing social movements. However, it also follows the industry’s movement towards social responsibility and activism.

One social activism Super Bowl commercial that created a significant buzz on social media this year was Audi:

The advertisement shows a young girl soapbox racing and a voiceover of her father wondering how to tell her about the difficulties she is bound to face just for being female. This commercial belongs to a form of socially responsible advertising often referred to as femvertising. Femvertising is a term used to describe mainstream commercial advertising that attempts to promote female empowerment or challenge gender stereotypes.

Despite the Internet’s response to this advertisement with a sexist pushback against feminism, this commercial is not exactly feminist. While at its core this advertisement is sending a fundamentally feminist argument of gender equality and fair wages, it feels disempowering to have a man explain sexism. It feels a little like “mansplaining” with moments reminiscent of the male “savior” trope. There is also a very timid relationship between the fight for gender equality and the product being sold. The advertisement is attempting to associate Audi with feminist ideals, but the reality is that with no female board members Audi is not exactly practicing what they preach. There are many reasons why ‘femverstising’ in general is problematic (not including contested relationship between feminism and capitalism). Here I will point out three problems with this new trend of socially ‘responsible’ femvertising.

1. The industry

The advertising industry is not known for its diversity nor is it known for its accurate representation women. So right away the industry doesn’t instill confidence in those hoping for more socially aware and diverse advertising. The way advertising works is to promote a brand identity by drawing on social symbols that make products like Channel perfume a signifier of French sophistication and Marlboro cigarettes an icon of American rugged masculinity. Therefore companies are selling an identity just as much as the product itself, while corporations that employ feminist advertising are instead appropriating feminist ideologies.

They are appropriating not social signifiers of an idealized lifestyle, but rather the whole historical baggage and gendered experiences women. This appropriation at its core is not for social progress and empowerment, but to sell a product. The whole industry functions by using these identities for material gain. As feminism becomes more popular with young women, it then becomes a profitable and desirable identity to implement. The whole concept is against feminist ideology because feminism is not for sale. Using feminist arguments to sell products may be better than perpetuating gender stereotypes but it is still using these ideologies like trying on a new style of dress that can be taken off at night rather than embodying the messages of feminism that they are borrowing. This brings us to the next point.

2. Sometimes it’s the Wrong Solution

Lets consider Dove, the toiletries company that has gained a fair amount of notoriety for their social advertising and small-scale outreach programs for women and girls. Their advertisements are famous for endorsing the body positive movement. But in general the connection between female empowerment and what they actually sell is weak. Which makes it feel insincere and a lot like pandering. Why doesn’t Dove just make products that are more aligned with feminist ideologies in the first place? If feminist consumers are what they want, then make feminist products. Don’t try to just apply feminist concepts as an afterthought in hopes of increasing consumer sales.

Dove is a beauty company that is benefiting from products that are aimed at promoting a very gendered ideal of beauty. The company itself is part of the problem so its femvertising makes me feel like Dove (and their parent company Unileaver) is trying to deny that they are playing a huge role in the creation of these stereotypes that they are claiming to be challenging. If you want to really empower women then don’t just do it in your branding start with the products you are making, examine your business model, and challenge the industry as whole. Feminist concepts should run through the entire core of your business before you try to sell it to your consumers. We don’t need feminist advertising, we need a system that is not actively continuing to increase a gender divide where women are meant to be beautiful and expected to purchase the beauty products that Dove sells. Using feminist inspired advertising doesn’t solve this underlying core problem it just masks it. Femvertising therefore is often the wrong solution, or really not even a solution at all.

3. Femvertising shouldn’t have to be a term

We really shouldn’t be in a situation where all advertising is so un-feminist and so degrading towards women that there is a term for advertising that simply depicts women as powerful. When the bar is set so low we shouldn’t praise companies for doing the minimum required to represent women both accurately and positively. We should be holding our advertising, media, and all other forms of visual representation to much higher standards. Femvertising shouldn’t be a thing because we shouldn’t have to give a term to what responsible advertising agencies should be aiming for when they represent women.

So as to not leave you on a depressing and negative note, here are three advertisements that should be acknowledged for actively challenge the norms:

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Nichole Fernández is a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of Edinburgh specializing in visual sociology. Her PhD research explores the representation of the nation in tourism advertisements and can be found at www.visualizingcroatia.com. Follow Nichole on twitter here.

Sometimes there’s nothing to do but take matters into our own hands. Danielle Lindemann, a mother and sociologist, decided to do just that. After discovering that one of her daughter’s books required some “subversion,” she decided to do a little editing. Here’s to one way of fighting the disempowering messages taught to little girls by capitalist icons:

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Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

No matter which way you voted or who wins, today will go down in history as the first time a woman either won or lost the presidency of the United States. Today, in a contemplative mood, I turned back to the chapter on politics I wrote with Myra Marx Ferree for our sociology of gender book. It’s an ode to the suffragist with a final paragraph that resonates very, very strongly on this day. Read, and let the reverberations of history stir your soul.

— Lisa

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In 1848 a small group of American women made the decision to seek suffrage, the right to vote. For most of modern history, governments did not allow women this right, nor the other rights and responsibilities of citizenship—to serve on juries, give legal testimony, or hold public office—and American women were no exception. Many thought the idea was impossible, dangerous, even laughable. Opponents mocked suffragists, suggesting that giving women the vote was as ridiculous as giving it to housecats.

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The fight for suffrage was not won quickly or easily and many suffragists died of old age before they could see their efforts realized. In addition to ridicule, suffragists faced government repression and violence. Most suffragists were peaceful, but some weren’t above aggression themselves. One group in the United Kingdom set buildings on fire and learned jujitsu to defend themselves from the police. Over 1,000 suffragists would be imprisoned in the United Kingdom and United States. There they endured brutal force-feeding after initiating hunger strikes that endangered their lives.

The fight for suffrage involved both inspiring coalitions and ugly divides. Many suffragists were abolitionists first, activists in the fight against human slavery. White and black men and women worked side-by-side for this hard-won victory. After slavery was abolished in 1865 and black men were granted suffrage in 1869, black women continued to fight valiantly for their own vote. As abolitionist Sojourner Truth observed: “If colored men get their rights, and colored women not theirs, the colored men will be masters over the women, and it will be just as bad as it was before.”

White suffragists often disagreed on whether their efforts should benefit all women or only white women. Anti-suffrage activists tapped into widespread animosity toward black people, reminding a racist public that women’s suffrage would not only put women into the voting booth, it would double the black vote. Some suffragist groups were themselves racist, excluding black women from their organizations, activities, or platform. Many black women started suffrage organizations of their own.

Eventually, suffragists began making alliances with women in other countries. By the early 1900s, this international women’s organizing had begun to shift public opinion in their favor. Finland and New Zealand were the first to grant women the right to vote in the 1910s. The United States came around in 1920, giving suffrage to both black and white women together. By then the movement was rolling across the globe. In less than thirty years, women’s suffrage became a global norm. The last state to disallow women’s voting, Saudi Arabia, allowed them to vote in 2015.

Today universal suffrage, the right of all citizens to vote, is the very definition of democracy. This right is taken for granted today, so much so that many people don’t even know the word anymore. In the 1800s, however, it was a wholly radical claim, defined as an idea that doesn’t (yet) resonate with most members of a population. In fact, it was a massively important step toward dismantling political systems that recognized some people as full citizens but not others. It was also extraordinarily disruptive to the social order and the distribution of power. It is a testament to the fact that, even when social conditions are stubbornly entrenched and defended by powerful people, change—even radical change—is possible.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Myra Marx Ferree, PhD is a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is the recipient of numerous prizes for contributions to gender studies and does research on global gender politics. Among her many books is a textbook on the sociology of gender , with Lisa Wade.

TSP_Assigned_pbk_978-0-393-28445-4Assigned: Life with Gender is a new anthology featuring blog posts by a wide range of sociologists writing at The Society Pages and elsewhere. To celebrate, we’re re-posting four of the essays as this month’s “flashback Fridays.” Enjoy! And to learn more about this anthology, a companion to Wade and Ferree’s Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, please click here.

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When Your Brown Body is a White Wonderland, by Tressie McMillan Cottom, PhD

This may meander.

Miley Cyrus made news this week with a carnival-like stage performance at the MTV Video Music Awards that included life-size teddy bears, flesh-colored underwear, and plenty of quivering brown buttocks. Almost immediately after the performance many black women challenged Cyrus’ appropriation of black dance (“twerking”). Many white feminists defended Cyrus’ right to be a sexual woman without being slut-shamed. Yet many others wondered why Cyrus’ sad attempt at twerking was news when the U.S. is planning military action in Syria.

I immediately thought of a summer I spent at UNC Chapel Hill. My partner at the time fancied himself a revolutionary born too late for all the good protests. At a Franklin Street pub one night we were the only black couple at a happy hour. It is one of those college places where concoctions of the bar’s finest bottom shelf liquor is served in huge fishbowls for pennies on the alcohol proof dollar. I saw a few white couples imbibing and beginning some version of bodily grooving to the DJ. I told my partner that one of them would be offering me free liquor and trying to feel my breasts within the hour.

He balked, thinking I was joking.

I then explained to him my long, storied, documented history of being accosted by drunk white men and women in atmospheres just like these. Women asking to feel my breasts in the ladies’ restroom. Men asking me for a threesome as his drunk girlfriend or wife looks on smiling. Frat boys offering me cash to “motorboat” my cleavage. Country boys in cowboy hats attempting to impress his buddies by grinding on my ass to an Outkast music set. It’s almost legend among my friends who have witnessed it countless times.

My partner could not believe it until not 30 minutes later, with half the fishbowl gone, the white woman bumps and grinds up to our table and laughing tells me that her boyfriend would love to see us dance. “C’mon girl! I know you can daaaaannnce,” she said. To sweeten the pot they bought our table our own fishbowl.

My partner was stunned. That summer we visited lots of similar happy hours. By the third time this scene played out my partner had taken to standing guard while I danced, stonily staring down every white couple that looked my way. We were kicked out of a few bars when he challenged some white guy to a fight about it. I hate such scenes but I gave my partner a break. He was a man and not used to this. He didn’t have the vocabulary borne of black breasts that sprouted before bodies have cleared statutory rape guidelines. He didn’t know the words so he did all he knew how to do to tell me he was sorry this was my experience in life: he tried to kick every white guy’s ass in Chapel Hill.

I am not beautiful. I phenotypically exist in a space where I am not usually offensive looking enough to have it be an issue for my mobility but neither am I a threat to anyone’s beauty market. There is no reason for me to assume this pattern of behavior is a compliment. What I saw in Cyrus’ performance was not just a clueless, culturally insensitive attempt to assert her sexuality or a simple act of cultural appropriation at the expense of black bodies. Instead I saw what kinds of black bodies were on that stage with Cyrus.

Cyrus’ dancers look more like me than they do Rihanna or Beyonce or Halle Berry. The difference is instructive.

Fat non-normative black female bodies are kith and kin with historical caricatures of black women as work sites, production units,  subjects of victimless sexual crimes, and embodied deviance. As I said in my analysis of hip-hop and country music cross-overs, playing the desirability of black female bodies as a “wink-wink” joke is a way of lifting up our deviant sexuality without lifting up black women as equally desirable to white women. Cyrus did not just have black women gyrating behind her. She had particularly rotund black women. She gleefully slaps the ass of one dancer like she intends to eat it on a cracker. She is playing a type of black female body as a joke to challenge her audience’s perceptions of herself  while leaving their perceptions of black women’s bodies firmly intact.  It’s a dance between performing sexual freedom and maintaining a hierarchy of female bodies from which white women benefit materially.

The performance works as spectacle precisely because the background dancers embody a specific kind of black female body. That spectacle unfolds against a long history of how capitalism is a gendered enterprise and subsequently how gendered beauty norms are resisted and embraced to protect the dominant beauty ideal of a certain type of white female beauty.

Being desirable is a commodity. Capital and capitalism are gendered systems. The very form that money takes — paper and not goods — is rooted in a historical enterprise of controlling the development of an economic sphere where women might amass wealth. As wealth is a means of power in a capitalistic society, controlling this means of acceptable monies was a way of controlling the accumulation, distribution and ownership of capital.

For black women, that form of money was embodied by the very nature of how we came to be in America.

Our bodies were literally production units. As living cost centers we not only produced labor as in work but we produced actual labor through labor, i.e. we birthed more cost centers. The legendary “one drop” rule of determining blackness was legally codified not just out of ideological purity of white supremacy but to control the inheritance of property. The sexual predilections of our nation’s great men threatened to transfer the wealth of white male rapists to the children born of their crimes through black female bodies.

Today much has changed and much has not. The strict legal restriction of inheritable black deviance has been disrupted but there still exists a racialized, material value of sexual relationships. The family unit is considered the basic unit for society not just because some god decreed it but because the inheritance of accumulated privilege maintains our social order.

Thus, who we marry at the individual level may be about love but at the group level it is also about wealth and power and privilege.

Black feminists have critiqued the material advantage that accrues to white women as a function of their elevated status as the normative cultural beauty ideal. As far as privileges go it is certainly a complicated one but that does not negate its utility. Being suitably marriageable privileges white women’s relation to white male wealth and power.

The cultural dominance of a few acceptable brown female beauty ideals is a threat to that privilege. Cyrus acts out her faux bisexual performance for the white male gaze against a backdrop of dark, fat black female bodies and not slightly more normative cafe au lait slim bodies because the juxtaposition of her sexuality with theirs is meant to highlight Cyrus, not challenge her supremacy. Consider it the racialized pop culture version of a bride insisting that all of her bridesmaids be hideously clothed as to enhance the bride’s supremacy on her wedding day.

Only, rather than an ugly dress, fat black female bodies are wedded to their flesh. We cannot take it off when we desire the spotlight for ourselves or when we’d rather not be in the spotlight at all.

This political economy of specific types of black female bodies as a white amusement park was ignored by many, mostly because to critique it we have to critique ourselves.

When I moved to Atlanta I was made aware of a peculiar pastime of the city’s white frat boy elite. They apparently enjoy getting drunk and visiting one of the city’s many legendary black strip clubs rather than the white strip clubs. The fun part of this ritual seems to be rooted in the peculiarity of black female bodies, their athleticism and how hard they are willing to work for less money as opposed to the more normative white strippers who expect higher wages in exchange for just looking pretty naked. There are similar racialized patterns in porn actresses’ pay and, I suspect, all manner of sex workers. The black strip clubs are a bargain good time because the value of black sexuality is discounted relative to the acceptability of black women as legitimate partners.

There is no risk of falling in love with a stripper when you’re a white guy at the black strip club. Just as country music artists strip “badonkadonk” from black beauty ideals to make it palatable for to their white audiences, these frat boys visit the black body wonderland as an oddity to protect the supremacy of white women as the embodiment of more and better capital.

My mentor likes to joke that interracial marriage is only a solution to racial wealth gaps if all white men suddenly were to marry up with poor black women. It’s funny because it is so ridiculous to even imagine. Sex is one thing. Marrying confers status and wealth. Slaveholders knew that. Our law reflects their knowing this. The de rigueur delineation of this difference may have faded but cultural ideology remains.

Cyrus’ choice of the kind of black bodies to foreground her white female sexuality was remarkable for how consistent it is with these historical patterns. We could consider that a coincidence just as we could consider my innumerable experiences with white men and women after a few drinks an anomaly. But, I believe there is something common to the bodies that are made invisible that Cyrus might be the most visible to our cultural denigration of bodies like mine as inferior, non-threatening spaces where white women can play at being “dirty” without risking her sexual appeal.

I am no real threat to white women’s desirability. Thus, white women have no problem cheering their husbands and boyfriends as they touch me on the dance floor. I am never seriously a contender for acceptable partner and mate for the white men who ask if their buddy can put his face in my cleavage. I am the thrill of a roller coaster with safety bars: all adrenaline but never any risk of falling to the ground.

I am not surprised that so many overlooked this particular performance of brown bodies as white amusement parks in Cyrus’ performance. The whole point is that those round black female bodies are hyper-visible en masse but individually invisible to white men who were, I suspect, Cyrus’ intended audience.

No, it’s not Syria but it is still worth commenting upon when in the pop culture circus the white woman is the ringleader and the women who look like you are the dancing elephants.

Tressie McMillan Cottom is a professor in the sociology department at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is the author of Lower Ed: How For-Profit Colleges Deepen Inequality in America. This essay first appeared at her blog, Some of Us Are Brave, in 2013. You can follow her on twitter at @tressiemc.

In 1970, the day after National Guard troops killed four unarmed protesters at Kent State University, students at Southern Illinois University went to the local McDonald’s and demanded that the flag be lowered to half staff.  The franchise owner complied.

Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s got wind of this and told the franchise owner to raise the flag back up to full staff. When he conplied, the students threatened to burn the place down.

The whipsawed franchise owner phoned McDonald’s CEO Fred Turner asking what to do. If Turner’s response isn’t part of the canon of management courses, it ought to be:  “The next delivery truck that arrives, have him back in to the flag pole and knock it down.”

Lands’ End now finds itself in a similar position but with no flagpole and no trucks.

You may have noticed that the most Lands’ End catalogue looks different from the other 273 they’ve sent you this year. Lots of people in a tableau rather than close ups of one model in merch. And palm trees. Palm trees? From Wisconsin? The paper too is less slick, with more of a matte finish. But what has landed Lands’ End in hot water is the four-page interview with Gloria Steinem wearing Lands’ End gear. (The text in the upper right begins, “Introducing the Legend Series, our ode to individuals who have made a difference . . . .”)

Lands’ End is in trouble – profits and sales way down – and the new CEO wanted to change the look of the catalogue if not the clothes. But that was the beginning of more trouble. First, conservatives got word of it and started criticizing Lands’ End for celebrating a woman who not only spoke out in favor of legalized abortion but who had actually had an abortion and said so. Lands’ End responded:  “It was never our intention to raise a divisive political or religious issue, so when some of our customers saw the recent promotion that way, we heard them. We sincerely apologize for any offense.”

Besides apologizing, they also wiped the Gloria material from their website. (So far, they haven’t yet asked me to return my catalogue, but who knows?)

Then the pro-Gloria forces took to Facebook and Twitter.

“I don’t intend to teach my children that anyone should do business with a company that is ashamed to even talk about feminism,”

The Washington Post says that Lands’ End, in its attempt to retroactively duck the issue, is tacking away from the trend. Companies, says WaPo, have now become “unapologetic in their stance on social issues.” Big companies –Target, Gap, Visa, Cheerios, etc. – have supported the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage or criticized Trump’s denigration of Latinos. Sears and Wal-Mart came out against the Confederate flag.

The message of these earlier moves seemed to be that the companies were willing to stake out a position they felt strongly about, even if it meant alienating some customers. Lands’ End, it appears, may have a different mindset.

Is it Lands’ End, or is it the issue? After the Charleston Church Massacre of June 2015, retreating from the Confederate flag became the majority view even in the South.3

The trend on gay marriage has also made acceptance a safe bet:

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But on abortion, the public is still split and the issue is still salient:
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Lands’ End was caught between equally strong opinions. Their dilemma on Gloria reflects their dilemma on clothing and clientele. Lands’ End wants to attract younger shoppers, who lean towards the pro-choice side, but not lose their older customers, who lean the opposite direction.
Here at the SocioBlog, we’re proud to show our colors – a bright orange Lands’ End sweater.
Originally posted at Montclair SocioBlog; cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

On February 14th, 1920, suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt founded the League of Women Voters. The League would go forward where the suffrage movement left off, thanks to the passage of the 19th amendment granting the right to vote to women.

Before that day, suffragists had used Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to spread their message. This 1915 valentine suggests that there will be no love on Valentine’s Day until women get the right to vote:

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This 1916 valentine suggests that women love men who stand up for their right to vote:

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And this one from 1918 suggests that if men really loved women, they’d give them suffrage.

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Happy early Valentine’s/League of Women Voters’ Day!

Via Ms. Magazine; images borrowed from the League of Women Voters.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.