Jarrah Hodge, the woman behind the Canadian feminist blog Gender Focus, has started a new video series called Feminism F.A.Q.s.  They’re short videos aimed at addressing myths about gender inequality and the people who care about it.  She’s already got 10 videos up, but here are a couple of my favs.

What Have Women Been Told They Can’t Do?

Ride bicycles (’cause of “bicycle face”), get a credit card, run marathons, and much more.

Did Feminists Burn Bras?

Answer: Nope!

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.

Thanks to YetAnotherGirl and Kari B., we can now feast our eyes on this ad from Unik (“unique”) Wax Center.  It’s a promotion offering 50% off hair waxing for girls “15 and younger.”  The Consumerist reports that all procedures are fair game, including bikini waxes.

The usual concerns regarding the sexualization of young girls apply here.  Why do girls this young need to be concerned about how they look in bikinis?

Perhaps more interesting is the frame for why such a girl might want to undergo waxing. According to the 4th of July-themed ad, it’s to “celebrate freedom and independence.”  Implicitly, hers. So, to follow the logic to its endpoint, a girl of 15 or younger can’t feel free unless she’s hairless.

The company, responding to criticism, gave arguments along these lines.  They framed waxing as a “regular activity” and a “process in life” that “goes along with our country.”  Moms are coming in to get waxed (as all women do), explained the corporate offices, they’re dragging their tweens along with them (obviously), and the girls “have questions” and “get bored,” so the next step is to initiate them into the ritual.

So, the whole process is “natural,” as the ad copy specifies.  It is just an inevitable step in a supposedly universal way of (female) life.  And one that liberates women from… um, I don’t know what… embarrassment, I guess.

The ad is reminiscent of many similar campaigns aimed at adult women, ones that frame consumption of clothes, make-up, jewelry, and cosmetic procedures as expression of freedoms.  In this way, it’s a capitalist appropriation of feminism/liberation ideology.  It’s also a naturalization of what is, in reality, a lifetime of compulsory, expensive, and sometimes harmful beauty practices.

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.

The Fourth Estate has found that the vast majority of people quoted in news coverage of the 2012 election are men.  The media research group collected a sample of election-related news stories from print newspapers and TV broadcasts, finding that 13% of print sources were women (79% were men and 8% were organizations) and 16% of TV sources were women (81% were men and 3% were organizations).

Male dominance was true in all outlets, though Meet the Press and Time Warner stand out as the least disproportionate:

This might be old (though still frustrating) news, except for the fact that the pattern held for issues traditionally considered “women’s”: abortion, birth control, Planned Parenthood, and women’s rights (blue is men, pink is women, grey is organizations):

This asymmetry is found across media.  See also our posts on gender and book reviewinggender and top billing at Paramount pictures, gender and top creatives for family movies, and women as news subjects.

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.

Abortion is highly politicized in the U.S. (more so than in many other countries) and the fight between those who are in favor of and against available abortion occurs on two fronts.  One is familiar to just about everyone: the effort to overturn Roe v. Wade, the legislation Supreme Court decision that established the legality of abortion in 1973.

The second front, though, is less familiar.  It involves reducing the ease of access to legal abortion. Efforts to increase barriers to accessing legal abortion include passing laws that require minors to notify their parents of an abortion or get their consent, requiring mandatory counseling for abortion-seekers, instituting waiting periods, and discouraging medical schools from teaching abortion procedures.  Some of the issues of diminishing access are non-movement related; others are the direct result of pro-life activism.

I bring this up in order to focus on an additional barrier to access: a reduction in the number of clinics and hospitals that provide abortions.  The map below, based on data from the Guttmacher Institute and compiled by ANSIRH, shows how availability varies by state.  In the darkest states, up to 20% of women live in a county with no abortion provider; in the lightest states, between 81 and 100% percent do.

Living far from the nearest abortion provider is a problem especially for low-income women.  Such women are less likely to have an employer who will give her a day off to travel to the clinic, less likely to get a paid sick day, and less likely to be able to afford to lose even a single day’s wages.  She is also less likely to have a car, making it more difficult to get to a distant location, and less likely to have reliable day care for any existing children.  If the state requires in-person counseling and has a waiting period, it means that the woman must take two days off, travel to and from the clinic twice, and arrange for child care on multiple days.

Reduction in the availability of abortion does not necessarily reduce the number of abortions.  We recently posted global data showing that less liberal abortion laws actually correlate with higher rates of abortion.  The data below, also from Guttmacher, show that were abortion laws are less liberal (largely in developing countries), the rate of abortion is 34/1,000 women oer year, compared to 39/1,000 in developed countries (the difference may look significant here, but imagine how trivial it would look if the horizontal axis went all the way to it’s true maximum of 1,000):

Guttmacher explains that the relevant variable isn’t availability of abortion, but the unintended pregnancy rate (which is surprisingly high in the U.S.).

Barriers to accessing abortion, then, don’t lower the abortion rate.  They do, however, increase the likelihood that an abortion procedure will occur later in pregnancy and guarantee a greater logistic burden on the pregnant woman.

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.

In a collection of alcohol ads from the 1960s and ’70s, Retronaut included an ad that is a nice example of how marketers sometimes co-opt social movements.  In this case, the co-optation works against the movement, sending the opposite message that it intended.

“I never even thought of burning my bra until I discovered Smirnoff,” says a woman with bedroom eyes.   The message, of course, is not that a woman who drinks the vodka will become politicized; instead, it is that Smirnoff will “loosen her up” and facilitate seduction.

We’ve posted other examples of this phenomenon, including a series of Playboy illustrations that co-opted the feminist movement (“Male supremacy is all right — but I favor a different position”) as well as the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements.  We’ve also collected instances of feminist rhetoric being used to market a wide range of products and, of course, there’s always the remarkable “torches of freedom” pro-smoking campaigns.

The bra-burning story, incidentally, is a myth.  In 1968 feminists protested outside of the Miss America pageant; they threw many items deemed oppressive into a trash can: bras, yes, as well as cosmetics, high heels, etc.  They didn’t light the trash can on fire.  The idea that they burned bras was added later, in an effort to link the Women’s Movement to the Anti-War Movement (remember that draftees were burning their draft cards).  The Anti-War Movement was, at the time, being taken more seriously, so the link was meant to give feminism more credibility.  Instead, the idea of feminists burning bras became a humorous cultural trope, hence the ad above.

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.

The cartoon added below inspired me to revive this post from 2008.

Many believe that the U.S. is at the pinnacle of social and political evolution. One of the consequences of this belief is the tendency to define whatever holds in the U.S. as ideal and, insofar as other countries deviate from that, define them as problematic. For example, many believe that women in the U.S. are the most liberated in the world. Insofar as women in other societies live differently, they are assumed to be oppressed. Of course, women are oppressed elsewhere, but it is a mistake to assume that “they” are oppressed and “we” are liberated. This false binary makes invisible ways in which women elsewhere are not 100% subordinated and women here also suffer from gendered oppression.

(If you’re interested, I have a paper showing how Americans make these arguments called Defining Gendered Oppression in U.S. Newspapers: The Strategic Value of “Female Genital Mutilation.”)

I offer these thoughts are a preface to a postcard from PostSecret.  The person who sent in the postcard suggests that she’s not sure which is worse: the rigid and extreme standard of beauty in the U.S. and the way that women’s bodies are exposed to scrutiny or the idea of living underneath a burka that disallows certain freedoms, but frees you from evaluative eyes and the consequences of their negative appraisals.

Cartoonist Malcolm Evans drew a similarly compelling illustration of this point, sent along by David B.:

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.

Amber W. sent in this ad for laser eye surgery:
See our post on the surprising history of the Rosie the Riveter icon.

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.

The declining birth rate in Latin America, depicted in this graph, is a nice example of the way that both cultural and social change affects individual choices.  Brazil is highlighted as an extreme case. It’s birthrate has fallen from over six children/woman in 1960 to under 1.9 today.

The accompanying Washington Post article, sent in by Mae C., explains that the decrease in the birthrate since the 1960s is related to migration to cities.  In rural areas children are useful. They can help with crops and animals.  In crowded and expensive cities, however, they cost money and take up space.  Economic change, then, changed the context of individual choices.

This transition — from a largely rural country with high birthrates to an industrialized one with lower birthrates — has been observed across countries again and again.  It’s no surprise to demographers (social scientists who study changes in human population).  But Brazil did surprise demographers in one way:

…Brazil’s fertility rate fell almost uniformly from cosmopolitan Sao Paulo, with its tiny apartments and go-go economy, to Amazonian villages and the vast central farming belt.

The decline in birthrate, in other words, has occurred across the urban/rural divide. Demographers attribute this to cultural factors.  The idea of “an appealing, affluent, highflying world, whose distinguishing features include the small family” has been widely portrayed on popular soap operas, while Brazilian women in the real world have made strong strides into high-status, well-paid, but time-intensive occupations.  They mention, in particular, Brazil’s widely-admired first female president, Dilma Rousseff, who has one child.

Ultimately, then, the dramatic drop in the birthrate is due to a combination of both economic and cultural change.

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.