gender: feminism/activism

Re-posted in honor of Roger Ebert’s passing. Cross-posted at BlogHer.

University of Minnesota doctoral candidate Chris Miller sent in a fascinating episode of Siskel and Ebert, a long-lasting TV show devoted to reviewing movies.  What is amazing about this episode is the frankness with which the movie critics — Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert — articulate a feminist analysis of a group of slasher movies.

The year? 1980.

First they describe the typical movie:

A woman or young girl is shown alone and isolated and defenseless… a crazy killer springs out of the shadows and attacks her and frequently the killer sadistically threatens the victims before he strikes.

They pull no punches in talking about the problem with the films:

These films hate women.

They go on to suggest that the films are a backlash against the women’s movement:

I’m convinced it has to do with the growth of the woman’s movement in America in the last decade. I think that these films are some sort of primordial response by some very sick people… of men saying “get back in your place, women.”

One thing that most of the victims have in common is that they do act independently… They are liberated women who act on their own. When a woman makes a decision for herself, you can almost bet she will pay with her life.

They note, too, that the violence is sexualized:

The nudity is always gratuitous. It is put in to titillate the audience and women who dress this way or merely uncover their bodies are somehow asking for trouble and somehow deserve the trouble they get. That’s a sick idea.

And they’re not just being anti-horror movie.  They conclude:

[There are] good old fashioned horror films… [but] there is a difference between good and scary movies and movies that systematically demean half the human race.

It’s refreshing to hear a straightforward unapologetic feminist analysis outside of a feminist space.  Their analysis, however, isn’t as sophisticated as it could be.

In doing research for a podcast about sex and violence against women in horror films (Sounds Familiar), I came across the keen analysis of Carol Clover, who wrote a book called Men, Women, and Chainsaws.

Clover admitted that most horror films of the time sexualized violence against women — meditating on the torture and terrorizing of beautiful female victims — but she also pointed out that the person who ultimately vanquished the murderer was almost always also female. She called this person the “final girl.”

The final girl was different than the rest of the women in the film: she was less sexually active, more androgynous, and smarter.  You could pick her out, Clover argued, from the very beginning of the movie.  She was always the first to notice that something frightening might be going on.

Boys and men watching horror films, then (and that is the main audience for this genre), were encouraged to “get off” on the murder of women, but they were also encouraged to identify with a female heroine in the end.  How many other genres routinely ask men to identify with a female character?  Almost none.

In this sense, Clover argues, horror films don’t “hate women.”   Instead, they hate a particular kind of woman. They reproduce a Madonna/whore dichotomy in which the whores are dispatched with pleasure, but the Madonna rises to save us all in the end.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Siskel and Ebert full episode:

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Full transcript after the jump:

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Cross-posted at Family Inequality.

The Pew Research Center put out a report this month titled, “Modern Parenthood: Roles of Moms and Dads Converge as They Balance Work and Family,” written by Kim Parker and Wendy Wang. It analyzes trends in time use among men and women in families, showing the big changes since the 1960s, and adds Pew’s own survey data on attitudes and perceptions. Lots of interesting information.

But what jumped out at me was that the stall in progress did not feature much in Pew’s narrative. I really noticed that when the Joy Cardin show featured the report on Wisconsin Public Radio, and Cardin’s intro was this:

Family gender roles are converging, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center. Father’s have more than doubled the time they spend on housework. More moms are paid to work outside the home (audio here).

Those facts are true, but old news — older than the new news, which is that nothing much has happened since the early 1990s.  Here are the trends, in Pew’s nice graphics. See if you can find the stall point in each figure.

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The last one, parents’ child care time, is the only one that shows continued real progress, albeit slower, in the last decade.

I favor three explanations for this gender stall:

  • Work-family policy that encourages specialization in domestic or labor force roles, as described by Stephanie Coontz here.
  • Cultural trends toward “egalitarian essentialism,” which “blends aspects of feminist equality and traditional motherhood roles” (e.g., intensive parenting mania), as described by David Cotter, Joan Hermsen and Reeve Vanneman here.
  • Weaker government enforcement of anti-discrimination law, as described in the new book Documenting Desegregation, by Don Tomaskovic-Devey and Kevin Stainback.

These explanations do not exclude others.

Philip N. Cohen is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and writes the blog Family Inequality. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Originally posted in 2009. Re-posted in honor of Women’s History Month; cross-posted at Mental Floss.

Several factors were in play in the 1920s for the emergence of what came to be known as flappers, teenagers and young women who flaunted convention and spent their time pursuing fun instead of settling down to raise children in the prime of their lives. Many entered college or the workforce and felt entitled to make their own decisions about how to live their lives.

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A lot of young men did not return home from World War I, which left an entire cohort of women without enough husbands to go around. The horror of the war (and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918) also impressed young people with the knowledge that life is short and could end at any moment. Instead of staying home preparing to marry a man who might never come, young women wanted to spend what time they had enjoying all that life had to offer.

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Movies popularized the image of the fun-loving and free-thinking woman throughout the US and Europe. The 1920 movie The Flapper introduced the term in the United States. The title character, Ginger, was a wayward girl who flouted the rules of society. Played by Olive Thomas, a former Ziegfeld Girl (left), Ginger had so much fun that a generation of lonely young women wanted to be like her. Another role model was stage and screen actress Louise Brooks (right), who also modeled for artists and fashion designers. She was the inspiration for the flapper comic strip Dixie Dugan.

 

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Clara Bow wasn’t the first flapper on screen, but she was certainly a role model for young women of the era. She didn’t play by the rules, and was tabloid fodder for years for her sexual escapades with the biggest movie stars of the time. Bow’s first film was in 1922 and her career peaked in 1927 with the film It. “It” was defined as the sexual allure some girls have and others don’t. Bow’s fans wanted “it”, so they copied her look and behavior.

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The rise of the automobile was another factor in the rise of flapper culture. Cars meant a woman could come and go as she pleased, travel to speakeasys and other entertainment venues, and use the large vehicles of the day for heavy petting or even sex.

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These young women had plenty of opportunities for fun. Although Prohibition drove alcohol underground, that only added to its allure. Postwar prosperity allowed for leisure time and the means to spend that time drinking, dancing, and hanging out with free thinkers.

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Being a flapper wasn’t all about fashion. It was about rebellion. In this article from 1922, a would-be flapper (but still a “nice girl”) explains her lifestyle choices to her parents. Flappers did what society did not expect from young women. They danced to Jazz Age music, they smoked, they wore makeup, they spoke their own language, and they lived for the moment. Flapper fashion followed the lifestyle. Skirts became shorter to make dancing easier. Corsets were discarded in favor of brassieres that bound their breasts, again to make dancing easier. The straight shapeless dresses were easy to make and blurred the line between the rich and everyone else. The look became fashionable because of the lifestyle. The short hair? That was pure rebellion against the older generation’s veneration of long feminine locks.

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The party stopped when the economy crashed and the Great Depression curtailed the night life. Although the flapper lifestyle died along with the Roaring Twenties, the freedoms women tasted in that era weren’t easily given up. They may have gone back to marriage and long hours of toil for little pay, but hemlines stayed above the ankle, and the corset never went back to everyday status. And we’ve been driving cars ever since.

Miss Cellania is a newlywed mother of four, full-time blogger, former radio announcer, and worst of all, a Baby Boomer. In addition to mental_floss, she posts at Neatorama, YesButNoButYes, Geeks Are Sexy, and Miss Cellania. Miss C considers herself an expert on no particular subject at all.

Re-posted to add to the discussion about sexual assault in the aftermath of the Steubenville rape trial, the Senate hearing on rape and harassment in the military, and the controversy at Occidental College.

Toban B. sent us two pairs of photographs showing feminist activism and backlash (images found here) at the University of Western Ontario.  These posters, and their defacement, nicely demonstrate how resistance to oppression is met with counter-resistance.  Until inequality is challenged, things often seem to be just fine; when groups stand up and demand equality, we suddenly see how fiercely people will defend their privilege.

Images after the jump (includes language about sexual violence):

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Cross-posted at Ms., The Huffington Post, and BlogHer.

Earlier this year a coalition of students and faculty at my institution, Occidental College, convinced the administration to make several changes to its sexual assault policy.  One of these changes involved the addition of reports of sexual assault to our OxyAlert system.  This meant that any time there was a report of a sexual assault, the college community would receive an email saying so, just as we now get alerts of all other crimes that are reported to have occurred in the vicinity.  The administration agreed to do this.

Last week the students learned of a report of a sexual assault second-hand (from the media), simultaneously discovering that the administration had declined to send out an OxyAlert in response.  Considering this a betrayal of their agreement, the students organized a marchpetition, and tumblr.

In response, the president of Occidental College, Jonathan Veitch, wrote a letter to the campus community. In it, he confirms what the students of Occidental fear: he is inclined to disbelieve students that report sexual assault.  He writes that OxyAlerts in cases of reports of sexual assault are not “possible or desirable” because:

In the first few hours, days or even weeks, it is not always clear what has happened in incidents like these. Investigators need time to sort through conflicting accounts in order to provide a clear narrative of what took place.

By suggesting that “incidents like these” need vetting, Veitch is reproducing a bias against sexual assault victims that feminists have been trying to eradicate for decades.  He is saying that sexual assault reports must be “sort[ed] through,” but reports of all other crimes can be taken at face value.  In other words, there is nothing wrong with the OxyAlert system per se, he just doesn’t think that women who report sexual assaults should necessarily have access to it.  This is unacceptable.

In fact, all crimes can be falsely reported and there is no evidence that reports of sexual assaults are more likely to be false than other reports of other crimes.  The sparse research is inconclusive: some find that sexual crimes are more often reported falsely, some find less.  So Veitch is on shaky ground suggesting that the college has a right to treat reports of sexual assault as hypothetical.  Moreover, the OxyAlert system is not judge and jury.  In all cases — whether it informs the community about a mugging, a stolen car, or a sexual assault — it simply states that there has been a report.

While I will admit that sexual assault is often complicated, this is a very black-and-white issue.  Sexual assault is a crime, Occidental has a system for alerting people to reports of crime, when a person reports the crime of sexual assault, that report should be included in this system.  To do otherwise is to allow college policy to be driven by the belief that women are uniquely untrustworthy and prone to malicious lies.  That is bias against women, plain and simple.

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.

Originally posted in 2011. Re-posted in honor of the holiday.

I recently posted a vintage cartoon featuring men showering. Today, in the context of “don’t drop the soap” jokes, it seems obviously homo-erotic (or -threatening).   At the time, however, it likely didn’t because homosexuality didn’t hold such a central place in our collective imagination.

Dmitriy T.M. sent along a series of vintage Valentine’s Day cards that, similarly, have a different effect given our contemporary cultural sensibilities. After decades of efforts to draw attention to and problematize men’s violence against women, these cards seem misguided at best:

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Cards borrowed from Funny or Die and Buzzfeed.

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.

This post originally appeared in 2011.  Revised and re-posted in honor of Mardi Gras.

If you attend a Mardi Gras parade this year, you’ll likely notice that the float riders will be all-White or all-Black and all-female or all-male.  In fact, the majority of krewes — clubs that sponsor parades and other festivities — are race- and gender-segregated.  This is not de facto, but according to official krewe policy. And it remains legal to discrimate along these lines.  How did this happen?

According to Kevin Fox Gotham‘s book, Authentic New Orleans, Mardi Gras was transformed from an unorganized local festival to a rationalized tourist attraction by white elites. The first organized parade occurred in 1857 and was organized by the Mystick Krewe of Comus, several dozen social elites. This krewe, like many that followed, was race, gender, and class specific. Only white males who could afford membership in the krewe (essentially a social club) could participate.

Krewe of Comus (1867):

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White only parades were part of a strategy to make New Orleans a tourist destination for white travelers. Unlike today, when New Orleans capitalizes on its multicultural heritage, for a very long time New Orleans tried to suppress popular knowledge of its non-white population, disinvested in that population, and drove them out of touristy areas.

It was not until 1991 that the City Council proposed banning racial segregation of the krewes and the Council voted unanimously to make bias illegal. Krewes that refused to integrate (in principle, if not in reality) would be denied “city services and parade permits, and would require jail time and fines” (p. 182). Mayor Sidney Barthelemy said:

We close off streets. We deny the taxpayer the right to drive down the street to give a segregated club the opportunity to parade. Now that’s unbelievable in 1991.

The decision brought simmering racial tension to a boil. Two krewes, the Krewe of Comus and the Knights of Momus, cancelled their parades in 1992 rather than comply with the new law. Another, the Krewe of Proteus, canceled the following year. An African American krewe, the Krewe of Zulu, mocked the decisions of the all-white krewes in 1992.

Ultimately the anti-bias law came under fire from all-female krewes such as Krewes of Isis. Wanting to preserve their exclusive membership, Iris and Venus “opposed any discrimination ordinance because they recognized that it would undermine their power to exclude men” (p. 185).

In the end:

…the City Council voted to remove the jail sentence provisions in the ordinance and shifted the burden of proof onto individuals who maintained that they had been discriminated against if they attempted to join a krewe (p. 185).

But even this did not hold. Courts decided that the anti-bias laws violated laws of free association and, when the case came before the Supreme Court, they declined to revisit it. So, race and gender segregation of krewes remains legal.

Today, krewes segregated by race and gender still persist (and people without means are excluded from krewes generally, as they are very expensive), though newly formed krewes are often integrated on both axes, including Harry Connick Jr.’s Krewe of Orpheus.

Cross-posted at A Nerd’s Guide to New Orleans.

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.

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post.

Why do women wear high heels?  Because men did.

Men were the first sex to don the shoe. They were adopted by the European aristocracy of the 1600s as a signal of status.  The logic was: only someone who didn’t have to work could possibly go around in such impractical footwear.  (Interestingly, this was the same logic that encouraged footbinding in China.)

Women started wearing heels as a way of trying to appropriate masculine power.  In the BBC article on the topic, Elizabeth Semmelhack, who curates a shoe museum, explains:

In the 1630s you had women cutting their hair, adding epaulettes to their outfits…

They would smoke pipes, they would wear hats that were very masculine. And this is why women adopted the heel — it was in an effort to masculinise their outfits.

The lower classes also began to wear high heels, as fashions typically filter down from elite.

How did the elite respond to imitation from “lesser” people: women and workers?  First, the heels worn by the elite became increasingly high in order to maintain upper class distinction.  And, second, heels were differentiated into two types: fat and skinny. Fat heels were for men, skinny for women.

This is a beautiful illustration of Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of class distinction.  Bourdieu argued that aesthetic choices function as markers of class difference.  Accordingly, the elite will take action to present themselves differently than non-elites, choosing different clothing, food, decor, etc.  Expensive prices help keep certain things the province of elites, allowing them to signify their power; but imitation is inevitable.  Once something no longer effectively differentiates the rich from the rest, the rich will drop it.  This, I argue elsewhere, is why some people care about counterfeit purses (because it’s not about the quality, it’s about the distinction).

Eventually men quit wearing heels because their association with women tainted their power as a status symbol for men.  (This, by the way, is exactly what happened with cheerleading, originally exclusively for men).  With the Enlightenment, which emphasized rationality (i.e., practical footwear), everyone quit wearing high heels.

What brought heels back for women? Pornography.  Mid-nineteenth century pornographers began posing female nudes in high heels, and the rest is history.

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.