religion

Carrie is largely about how women find their own channels of power, but also what men fear about women and women’s sexuality. Writing the book in 1973 and only three years out of college, I was fully aware of what Women’s Liberation implied for me and others of my sex. Carrie is woman feeling her powers for the first time and, like Samson, pulling down the temple on everyone in sight at the end of the book.”

– Stephen King, Danse Macabre

Screenshot_1Most feminist criticism of Stephen King’s Carrie has focused on the male fear of powerful women that the author said inspired the film, with the anti-Carrie camp finding her death at the end to signify the defeat of the “monstrous feminine” and therefore a triumph of sexism. But Stephen King’s honesty about what inspired his 1973 book notwithstanding, Carrie is as much an articulation of a feminist nightmare as it is of a patriarchal one, with neither party coming out on top.

The rise of Second Wave feminism in the ’70s posed serious threats to the patriarchal order — as well it should have. But even for those who think change is not only necessary but good, change can be pretty scary. This, with a hat tip to the universality of being bullied, is one of the reasons Carrie scares everyone.

While men in the ’70s felt threatened by the unprecedented numbers of women standing up for themselves and attempting such radical social changes as being recognized as equal under the law, women themselves must have felt some anxiety that the obstacles to fully realizing themselves might be too big to conquer. The story therefore resonates with men in terms of the fear of (metaphorical) castration prompted by changing gender roles, and with women in terms of the fear that no matter how powerful we become, social forces are still so aligned against us that fighting back might destroy not just the patriarchy but ourselves.

Feminism was not the only thing on the rise in the ’70s: so was Christian fundamentalism. In 1976, the year that the original movie debuted, 34 percent of Protestant Americans told the Gallup Poll that they had had born-again experiences, leading George Gallup himself to declare 1976 the Year of the Evangelical. In fact evangelism, then as now — when 41 percent of Americans report being born again — was one of feminism’s more formidable foes, one of those very social forces that would rather destroy women than see them powerful.

The triggering event of Carrie–the infamous shower scene–is a product of the meeting of these two forces. Because of a fundamentalist Christian worldview in which menstruation is not simply a biological process but rather evidence of Eve’s original sin being visited upon her daughters,Carrie‘s mother does nothing to prepare her for getting her period. When she starts bleeding at school, Carrie naturally panics, and as a result faces the scorn of her peers — who laugh at her for not knowing what’s happening — and the scorn of her mother, who believes that “After the blood the boys come. Like sniffing dogs, grinning and slobbering, trying to find out where that smell is.”

I can’t believe I’m about to go all Freudian here, but for the male viewer the shock of seeing unexpected blood between one’s legs clearly represents a fear of castration–a literal embodiment of King’s anxieties about feminism. From the woman’s perspective, the menstrual blood obviously signifies Carrie’s maturation — coming into her power — which has been marred by fundamentalism.

10304319383_31b0b70ec7Without making the new remake of the movie any more violent, director Kimberly Peirce emphasizes the imagery of this inciting event by adding waaaaay more blood to her Carrie. When Carrie gets her period in the shower, there’s more blood than in Brian De Palma’s film. When Carrie gets some of that blood on her gym teacher, which happens in both films, Peirce adds more of it, and the camera lingers on it longer and returns to it more often.

When Carrie’s mother locks her in the closet, Peirce has the crucifix bleed–something that doesn’t happen in the first movie. The blood of the crucifix connects Carrie’s first period to the suffering of Christ, deepening the relationship between debased femininity and religion.

Then, when Carrie gets pig blood dumped on her head at the prom, there’s not just more of it in the second film: Pierce shows the blood landing on her in slow motion three times. This final deluge of blood echoes a scene that Pierce added to the beginning of the movie, in which Carrie’s mother endures the bloody birth of her daughter. Carrie, then, is essentially born again at the prom, and the devastation she wreaks can be read as a result not of her feminine power but of the corruption of it by religion.

Peirce told Women and Hollywood that her goal was to make Carrie as sympathetic as possible. She removes the male gaze aspect of the original shower scene, in which many of the girls are naked and the long, slow shots of Carrie’s body are rather pornified. She makes sympathy for Carrie’s primary nemesis at school pretty much impossible by changing her from an angry girl in an abusive relationship to a sociopath without a conscience. In the new film, Carrie even has the strength to challenge her mother’s theology. Her prom date is more likeable and Peirce uses his death–something De Palma doesn’t reveal until the end — as further motivation for Carrie’s rampage.

None of this changes the fact that Carrie dies at the end, but it does foreground the idea that the message doesn’t have to be that powerful women are indeed dangerous. It can be that fundamentalism is dangerous to women.

If you’re a feminist, I say go see Carrie. Watching her be destroyed — but not without taking out a lot of the patriarchy with her — and then, as a viewer, emerging again into the sunlight unscathed, allows feminists to process some of our deepest fears about what we’re up against. Then we can get on with making the world a place where religious beliefs don’t corrupt our sexuality, where women don’t have to destroy themselves to be powerful and where women’s equality doesn’t trigger men’s fear of their own doom.

Holly L. Derr, MFA, is a feminist media critic who writes about theater, film, television, video games and comics. Follow her @hld6oddblend and on her tumblr, Feminist FandomFor more of the Feminist Guide to Horror Movies, check out Parts OneTwoThree, and Four at the Ms. Magazine blog.

Cross-posted at Ms. Magazine.  Photos courtesy of Jade and thefanboyseo1 via Creative Commons 2.0

Can we at least agree that it’s racist to dress your dog up like a racial caricature?

“Little Spanish Bandito Dog Costume” (link):

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“The Geisha Dog Costume” (link):
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“Pup Shalom Dog Costume” (link):

 

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“Indian Dog Costume” (link):

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Originally posted in 2009, but the links are still live! Via Alas A Blog.  

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.

Screenshot_1Earlier on SocImages, Lisa Wade drew attention to the tourism industry’s commodification of Polynesian women and their dancing. She mentioned, briefly, how the hula was made more tourist-friendly (what most tourists see when they attend one of the many hotel-based luaus throughout the islands is not traditional hula).  In this post, I want to offer more details on the history and the differences between the tourist and the traditional hula.

First, Wade states that, while female dancers take center stage for tourists, the traditional hula was “mostly” a men’s dance.  While it has not been determined for certain if women were ever proscribed from performing the hula during the time of the Ali’i (chiefs), it seems unlikely that women would have been prevented from performing the hula when the deity associated with the hula is Pele, a goddess. Furthermore, there is evidence that women were performing the dance at the time of Captain James Cook’s arrival in Hawai’i.

Second, while the traditional dances were not necessarily sexualized, they were very sensual.  The movement of hips and legs that are seen as sexual by some visitors, and showcased as such by the tourism industry, certainly existed in early practices.

In fact, the supposedly lascivious and blasphemous nature of the hula prompted missionaries to censure the public practice of hula, and in 1830 Queen Ka’ahumanu enacted a law prohibiting the public performance of the hula. This law was highly ineffective, however, and when King Kalakaua ascended the throne he actively encouraged public hula performances and other expressions of Native Hawaiian culture, earning him the moniker “Merrie Monarch.”

Eventually, a modernized dance emerged that did not incorporate much religiosity and employed modern music rather than chants. This is closer to what you would find at a hotel luau, but differs drastically in costuming and lacks the uncomfortable cloud of objectification associated with hotel-style hula (that is, the focus is on the dance rather than the dancers).  Below are some examples of the evolution.

Hula (men’s dance, traditional):

Hula (contemporary):

These examples of hula, and other Polynesian dances, are vastly different from what one finds in a hotel’s “Polynesian Revue” luau.

Hula (hotel):

In conclusion, it is true that the hula dances, and other dances of Polynesia, have been usurped by the tourism industry and commodified.  The culturally authentic forms, however, still thrive. Native dances are impressive enough without the ridiculous costuming and disrespectful bending of the islands’ histories seen at hotel luaus; unfortunately, it is difficult to find any culturally sensitive displays of Polynesian culture due to the huge influence of tourism over these locations.

*The information in this post was gleaned from various courses I’ve taken at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. For more information on hula and the commodification of the Hawaiian culture, see Haunani-Kay Trask’s From A Native Daughter.

Sarah Neal is currently working on obtaining her M.A. in English at North Carolina State University.

Cross-posted at Racialicious and Family Inequality.

Trying to summarize a few historical trends for the last half century, I thought of framing them in terms of diversity.

Diversity is often an unsatisfying concept, used to describe hierarchical inequality as mere difference. But inequality is a form of diversity — a kind of difference. And further, not all social diversity is inequality. When people belong to categories and the categories are not ranked hierarchically (or you’re not interested in the ranking for whatever reason), the concept of diversity is useful.

There are various ways of constructing a diversity index, but I use the one sometimes called the Blau index, which is easy to calculate and has a nice interpretation: the probability that two randomly selected individuals are from different groups.

Example: Religion

Take religion. According to the 2001 census of India, this was the religious breakdown of the population:

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Diversity is calculated by summing the squares of the proportions in each category, and subtracting the sum from 1. So in India in 2001, if you picked two people at random, you had a 1/3 chance of getting people with different religions (as measured by the census).

Is .33 a lot of religious diversity? Not really, it turns out. I was surprised to read on the cover of this book by a Harvard professor that the United States is “the world’s most religiously diverse nation.” When I flipped through the book, though, I was disappointed to see it doesn’t actually talk much about other countries, and does not seem to offer the systematic comparison necessary to make such a claim.

With our diversity index, it’s not hard to compare religious diversity across 52 countries using data from World Values Survey, with this result:

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The U.S. is quite diverse — .66 — but a number of countries rank higher.

 

Increasing U.S. Diversity

Anyway, back to describing the last half century in the U.S. On four important measures I’ve got easy-to-identify increasing diversity:

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The last one is a little tricky. It’s common to report that the median age at marriage has increased since the 1950s (having fallen before the 1950s). But I realized it’s not just the average increasing, but the dispersion: More people marrying at different ages. So the experience of marriage is not just shifting rightward on the age distribution, but spreading out. Here’s another view of the same data:

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I calculated these using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics from 1968 (for those married in the years 1950-1968) and comparing it with the 2011 American Community Survey for those married in the previous year. There might be a better way, of course.

I have complained before that using the 1950s or thereabouts as a benchmark is misleading because it was an unusual period, marked by high conformity, especially with regard to family matters. But it is still the case that since then diversity on a number of important measures has increased. Over the period of several generations, in important ways the people we randomly encounter are more likely to be different from ourselves (and each other).

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.

Earlier this month, voters in Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, and Washington faced ballot measures on same-sex marriage. The measures in Maryland and Washington sought to repeal same-sex marriage rights passed by their legislatures, while Minnesotans voted on whether to ban same-sex marriage in the state constitution — and rejected the change. These three unsuccessful measures were part of a long history of anti-gay ballot measures dating back to 1974, which I document in my book, Gay Rights at the Ballot Box. Meanwhile, in Maine voters legalized same-sex marriage at the ballot.

In all four states, the campaigns to ban same-sex marriage developed political ads that suggest that same-sex marriage is a threat to individual religious freedom. One ad about a Gallaudet diversity officer whose job was temporarily suspended due to her support for a referendum on same-sex marriage was initially aired in Maryland before being pulled for copyright restrictions by Gallaudet University. This and similar ads warned voters that individuals who do not support same-sex marriage will be fined, imprisoned, or ostracized for their religious beliefs:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqO9_I2akOQ&feature=share&list=ULYqO9_I2akOQ[/youtube]

These ads draw from a documentary series called Speechless: Silencing the Christians, created by the Reverend Donald Wildmon, founder and president of the American Family Association, a national organization that has worked for decades to restrict same-sex marriage and other rights for LGBT individuals. The 13-episode series was produced in 2008 and published as a book in 2009:

This discourse of religious freedom relies on civil rights language rather than morality. It focuses on the ability of individuals to live lives of faith in the world and make decisions in all aspects of their lives in accordance with their religious beliefs.

This understanding of religious freedom has more in common with arguments about civil rights than ones about religious morality. Rather than arguing about a particular moral perspective (e.g., the immorality of homosexuality), religious freedom rests on an argument that all individuals should have the freedom to make decisions based on their religion and should not be obstructed in their daily lives in doing so. The ads present Christians as embattled victims of intolerance for their religious views.

The political ads also use many of the zero-sum arguments about civil rights that have been documented by scholars since the 1960s, with gains for one group seen as a loss for another group. For example,  a gain for African Americans through desegregation was constructed by some white citizens as an equally dramatic loss for themselves.

Thus, these political ads, which seem to emerge out of the individual politics of each ballot measure, are connected to a larger argument about same-sex marriage and a long history of arguments about civil rights.

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Amy L. Stone is an associate professor of sociology at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.

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Emile Durkheim, founding father of sociology and author of The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, would love  the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Consider this excerpt from a British observer, Jonathan Raban, who watched the parade twenty years ago from a window on Central Park West. The parade, he said, was…

…the secular, American descendant of the European Catholic Easter procession in which all the icons and saints’ bones are removed from the churches and carried ceremonially around the town. The baseball hero, the gaseous, rubbery Mickey Mouse, the Mayflower pilgrims were the totems and treasure relics of a culture, as the New Orleans jazz and Sousa marches were its solemn music.

Had a serious-minded Martian been standing at the window, he would have learned a good deal by studying the parade’s idyllic version of American history. [guns, refugees, rebels]… The imaginative life of children was honored to a degree unknown on Mars — which was, perhaps, why matters of fact and matters of fiction were so confusingly jumbled up here, with Santa Claus and George Washington and Superman and Abraham Lincoln all stirred into the same pot.

He would be struck by the extraordinarily mythopoeic character of life in this strange country. People made myths and lived by them with an ease and fertility that would have been the envy of any tribe of Pacific islanders. Sometimes there were big myths that took possession of the whole society, sometimes little ones, casually manufactured, then trusted absolutely.

In my class, when we read about religion, Durkheim mostly, I have students write a paper about a secular ritual. One goal of the assignment is to get them to see that, from a functional perspective, a ritual is a way to generate and distribute the energy for binding the members of a society together.  It doesn’t really matter whether the ritual is officially secular or religious. In fact, if you’re a complete stranger to the culture, you probably couldn’t tell the difference.

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No student has ever chosen the Macy’s parade. I wonder why not. Raban, who is from England, not Mars, senses the religious aura of the parade with its many gods. Had there been a Macy’s in ancient Greece, the parade would no doubt have had balloon representations of Demeter (god of the harvest), Poseidon (god of the sea), Aphrodite (god of beauty), Hermes (god of silk scarves), and of course in the U.S., Hebe (goddess of youth). And all the rest. We’re not Athenians. Instead, we throng the streets for icons like Snoopy and Spiderman, Pikachu, Bullwinkle, and Spongebob, but the idea is the same. They are our totems, our gods.

I imagine Durkheim on Central Park West, watching the children and grown-ups that have come together here to look up to these huge embodiments of our cultural ideals. Durkheim feels a frisson, a shiver of recognition. What better way to symbolize the idea about the binding power of ritual social energy?

Durkheim smiles.

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog. Photographs by Kay West.

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

I know everyone is tired of hearing or thinking about the U.S. presidential election, but Latino Decisions has released an interactive website that shows how Latinos/as in the U.S. voted, as well as the issues they found particularly important.

In many of the swing states, Latinos formed an essential part of President Obama’s winning coalition of voters. As you may have heard by now, Latinos voted overwhelmingly Democratic, with about 3/4 voting for President Obama:

But this varied by ancestry. Among Cuban Americans, only 44% supported Obama, while he received 96% of votes cast by Dominican Americans, 78% by Mexican Americans, 83% by Puerto Ricans, 76% by Central Americans, and 79% by South Americans (hover over the graph here to see the %s):

Language also made a difference. Among those who speak primarily English, Obama got 70% of the vote; among those who speak Spanish, it was 83%:

Religion was an even bigger factor. While 81% of Catholic Latinos voted for President Obama, he got a much smaller majority — 54% — among those who identified as born-again Christians:

The website also lets you get specific data on a number of swing states or states with large or growing Latino populations, as well as breakdowns of the issues that Latino voters said were most important to them. It’s an interesting website with a lot of breakdowns, so it’s worth clicking over and looking around.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Over at his blog, Made in America, Claude Fischer discusses data showing that the percentage of (White) Americans who say that they will vote for a qualified Black president has been rising since the 1950s. Today it sits at about 96%.

Fischer rightly observes that it’s difficult to know exactly what to make of this information. The trend likely reflects a combination of a real decrease in prejudice and a rising appreciation for the fact that it’s unpopular to admit that you wouldn’t vote for a Black person, even on a survey.

Still, assuming for the moment that it represents real attitudinal change, Fischer asks, is “the glass 96 percent full or is it 4 percent empty?”  Given our two-party partisan political system, elections are frequently decided by margins this narrow.  Obama won with just 53% of the popular vote in 2008.  Political scientists estimate that there was a 5 point racial penalty (that is, if he had been White, he would likely have won 58% of the vote).

Tomorrow is election day and it’s difficult to know if race will play more or less of a role than it did in the last election.  On the one hand, most people who were worried that Obama would be a racially radical President now know that he is not (some people will never be convinced) and others may have become more used to seeing an African American face in the White House.  On the other hand, racial progress usually incites a backlash.  That face in such a venerated position of power may have aggravated people who are now actively racist instead of complacently so.

Finally, as Fischer observes, we have absolutely no data on the penalty Romney will pay for being Mormon.

Happy election day eve, America. May we all end tomorrow with a strong beverage of consolation or celebration.

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.