Posts Tagged ‘sexism’

by Julia

After months of tea partying, Stupak (“baby killer!!”), death panels, and “bipartisanship,” Congress passed legislation late Sunday night designed to greatly expand health care coverage and combat the tyranny of medical insurance companies. Despite my reservations about the bill, I am confident that this step is significant for millions of Americans in a similar way that Civil rights legislation was to previous generations under Johnson in 1964. President Obama and Congressional Democrats weighed reelection and popularity with the plight of the under-insured – particularly the lower classes – and thankfully, their ideological beliefs trumped potential losses in the 2010 and 2012 cycles. George Packer at the New Yorker writes:

“Civil rights brought an oppressed minority of Americans closer to equality, and—as Johnson knew—was so hated across the South that it was bound to cost the Democrats the region. Health-care reform, if it does what its supporters claim, will humanize a system in which the vast majority of Americans feel trapped. It will redress social and economic, not racial, injustices. Its breadth and potential effect will resemble those of Social Security and Medicare far more than civil rights—programs that became prime instances of popular activist government and tied substantial segments of the electorate to the Democratic Party for decades.”

The reform purportedly will cost $940 billion over 10 years. Not too shabby, recalling that the US budgets $700 billion annually for the military. The real test, of course, is whether the legislation actual delivers on the glossy prediction of increased equality. Among other things, the legislation:

  • Expands coverage to 32 million currently uninsured Americans
  • Bans denial of coverage or higher premiums based on pre-existing conditions (phased in by 2014)
  • Bans higher premiums for women
  • Creates an exchange market in which small business owners can shop for insurance coverage for their employees
  • Taxes households making over $250,000 in order to pay for the expanded coverage to the lower classes
  • Allows young adults to stay on their parents insurance through age 26 regardless of college enrollment
  • Requires everyone to have insurance, either under Medicare/Medicaid or private insurance (those without insurance coverage will pay a $695 annual fine. No word on who exactly enforces this clause…)
  • Closes the Medicare prescription drug donut hole
  • Consolidates all student loans under the government starting in July and greatly increases Pell Grant funds
  • Places a 10% tax on tanning salons (sorry, Jersey Shore)

The bad news:

  • Abortion – a legal medical procedure – is still not covered by federal funds (though, without a public option, this basically maintains the status quo of Hyde.) Jos over at Feministing fears that the incredible silence on the part of pro-choice organizations will lead to a further marginalization of women’s rights, and she’s right.
  • Women insured by private companies will be forced, by the Nelson “compromise,” to pay separately for abortion coverage and the rest of their health insurance. Political scientists predict that this clause will ultimately lead to the elimination of abortion coverage by all private insurance companies. Stellar.
  • The bill lacks a public option. We are very much still at the mercy of insurance and Big Pharma, and anyone who tells you otherwise is greatly deluded.
  • It prevents undocumented immigrants from purchasing insurance through the exchange.

The conversation is far from over. Major props to Ezra Klein for his start-to-finish coverage of the process of health care reform, and to the Tea Party for providing plenty of comic relief. Lest we forget: underneath all of the bantering from both sides about the faults of government-run health care, there are millions of uninsured Americans declaring bankruptcy and in some cases dying for lack of health care. This is unacceptable in any society, and it is about time that the United States takes care of its citizens. Is the legislation perfect? Not at all, especially because it lacks a public option. But passing legislation which begins to establish equality in access to a necessity for survival is something I can and should support. Here’s hoping for continued reform and expansion (and abortion coverage).


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by Julia

March 4 was The National Day of Action to Defend Education, and at Maryland we took action to create the kind of education we desire. We held a series of workshops in the Art-Sociology building’s atrium on feminism in academia, hip hop and society, sports and education, the prison-industrial complex, and whatever else is in our everyday lives but is little discussed in our classes. I am fortunate enough to be enrolled in several courses this semester which deal with issues of sexism, classism, ableism, racism, and other inequalities which are prevalent in our system today, and I wish to share just a sample of the progressive and intellectually stimulating topics from my 300-level Women’s Studies class on the Sociology of Gender.

Foucault and Purity Balls

On March 4, we discussed the intersection of Michel Foucault and sexuality in society, specifically concerning purity balls. For further information on purity balls, I highly recommend Jessica Valenti’s book, The Purity Myth, as well as these links. These often federally funded events represent the hegemony of several institutions on the bodies and brains of young women, a phenomenon which Foucault links to the definition of the Self solely by one’s sexuality.

“Since Christianity, Western civilization has not stopped saying, ‘To know who you are, know what your sexuality is about.’”

-Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction

“Sexuality as a term did not appear until the beginning of the 19th century. What had been some 300 years earlier just so many disparate urges, inclinations, and activities were delineated as a problematic set of traits and drives that supposedly define a central aspect of human nature…[and]…define us as sexual objects.”

– C.G. Prado, Starting with Foucault: An Introduction to Genealogy

Because the Self is a social and cultural construct, the hegemony of certain institutions in society and their obsession with sexuality led to the definition and eventual policing of our bodies in terms of our sexuality. The Church, specifically, pursued its their goal of disconnecting sex from pleasure starting in the 19th century, and began to define sex as a sin punishable by eternal damnation – allowing religious morality to permeate all forms of privacy, so that people ended up policing their own choices for fear of retribution. Our sexual selves are also managed by the government and medical communities, under the guise of the “public good.”  In short, the advent of this new Self definition represented the institutionalization of sexuality.

Purity balls, then, represent a fairly recent evolution of this institutionalization. As I see it, underlying these ceremonies is a great fear that the expression of women’s sexualities will in some way topple the order of society which, for the past 200 years, has recognized the power of individual expression to the independence of many social groups. Most tragically, this trend of hypersexualization essentializes young women so that they are defined by a single issue – their sexuality. How sad that equal focus is not placed on their education, advancement in male-dominated academic fields, or protection from the patriarchy instead of from themselves.

Young women who express their heterosexual desires – not to mention those women who *gasp* align themselves somewhere else on the sexual spectrum – are forced to suppress their wants by social institutions. At the same time, however, young women are also hypersexualized from a very young age because of this very same trend of defining the Self not by one’s thoughts or actions, but solely by one’s sexual expression.

Foucault challenges us to not only recognize who we are sexually – gay, straight, bi, trans, queer, etc – but also to deconstruct why many of us identify so strongly with our sexual selves in the first place. 200 years ago, few defined themselves by sexual expression, and to claim otherwise is to lay a false metanarrative of sexual expression on history.

Foucault’s strongest attribute in terms of deconstructing sexuality is his ability to question exactly whose ends our identifications serve.

“The central issue…is not to determine whether one says yes or no to sex…but to account for the fact that it is spoken about, to discover who does the speaking, the positions and viewpoints from which they speak, the institutions which prompt people to speak about it and which store and distribute the things that are said. What is at issue [is] the way in which sex is ‘put into discourse.*’”

– Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality

*Foucault defines “discourse” as simply a discussion among people, but as a discussion that “society has with itself: a set of meaning-making practices.” The discursive power of the narrative of purity produces certain types of individuals with repressed sexualities.

The hypersexualized young woman who is forced into purity balls is certainly not serving her own desires or interests, but most likely those of her parents, and religious leaders. This definition of women by their sexuality and “purity” is detrimental to all involved. It hurts young women who learn to measure their worth based on a single issue. It hurts young men who struggle to see their sisters, cousins, friends, and partners for more than their sexual purity. It hurts society because this focus on the sexuality of young women impedes the recognition of so many other facets of a women’s mind. Ultimately, all parties lose out, but none so much as the women who fall prey to the policing of their minds and bodies by a society which strategically subordinates them to maintain dominance.

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by Julia

First of all, congratulations to the New Orleans Saints. A great game, and I couldn’t think of a more deserving city. Also this:

The Super Bowl, unfortunately, is not just about the game. The commercials often dominate the news cycle the following day more than the results of the game itself. This year’s ads seemed less funny and more sexist than in years past.

Jezebel has a good summary up of some of the particularly unsavory culprits. Also, see Elizabeth’s previous post for a sweet flow chart. Not surprisingly, the majority of the offenders are car and beer manufacturers. The worst ad, in my opinion, was from FloTV.com (not gonna link here), in which a man was rendered “spineless” by his wife and *horror* prevented from watching the game because he was shopping with his wife. I was also disappointed in Dove for creating such a sexist ad depicting more stereotypes than I care to mention. This was especially sad given Dove’s fantastic Campaign for Real Beauty that works to combat these very constraints on women. I guess creating Dove for Men necessitates washing all other efforts for gender equity down the drain (pun intended).

Jezebel also published before the final Bud Light ad aired. This one depicted a woman’s book club discussing a book in which “two women are thrust towards confronting the hardships of war.” One woman’s male partner enters the room with his buddies and proceeds to sexualize the possibility of “two women” and the word “thrust” in one sentence. He also expresses shock at the idea that a group of attractive women could actually read (“I’d like to hear you read some words,” he says to one of the women.) All of the women look on disgusted while the men consume all the beer and cheer about how great book club is for them.

I was underwhelmed by the infamous Tim Tebow ad. I echo Tracy’s sentiment of “that’s what all the fuss was about?” Honestly, I’m much more disturbed by some of the aforementioned ads, or the creepy kids singing about foreign debt in a suspiciously Tea-Party-esque spot.

This year’s ads carried a very overt theme of emasculation at the hands of women (see Elizabeth’s post), as though men are suddenly under attack in our society. This mirrors the current trend (parodied fabulously by The Daily Show last week) in which men, when faced with the possibility of even a semblance of gender equity in the workplace, rush to assert themselves against the onslaught of female domination. 40% of the Super Bowl audience is now women, yet this year’s ads were so overtly sexist, one would almost think the companies did not care what their female/feminist consumers thought. Newsflash: they don’t care, and that’s because they don’t have to. Y’all know my rant on sexism’s inherent link to capitalism, but suffice it to say, this stuff still sells, revealing a deeply systemic sense of patriarchy. Where is the uproar about CBS allowing blatant sexism in advertisements? That’s “advocacy” if I’ve ever seen it – advocacy for the reinforcement of a destructive system of male hegemony.

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by Elizabeth

If you watched tonight’s Super Bowl– or, like me, put the game on mute until the commercial breaks- you were probably pissed off.  It seems this year’s big trend in advertising is what Jezebel has deemed the “woes of bros” who have been emasculated by their claustrophobia-inducing, hyper-feminine, worth-less-than-tires girlfriends.  I know I just can’t wait to buy these products!

More analysis of these blatantly sexist and just plain annoying ads is on the way, but in the meanwhile check out Lauren Wick’s brilliant flow chart to determine “if Super Bowl commercials are helping you be all the man you can be”:

Stayed tuned and congrats to the NOLA Saints!

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by Julia

I’ve spent the past three days snowed in following an epic 30 inches of snow here in the DC area. This translates to lots of movies, food, alcohol, and reading. Here are some highlights:

Epic snowball fight on McKeldin Mall here at UMD.

DCist has lots of pictures from Snomgasm 2010 in the nation’s capital.

The Daily Show on the plight of men in this new, post-patriarchal society. [sarcasm]

Jersey Shore beauty lessons. Genius.

A list of the most influential feminist texts, courtesy of Feminist Philosophers. There could definitely be more additions, but a good start for sure.

Definitely going to check out this book, I Don’t Care About Your Band: Lessons Learned from Romantic Disappointments. The Miss Piggy analogy is great.

Carla Fiorina’s hilarious campaign ad. Politics could use a dose of humor like this.

In the “really?” category, the Olympic Committee refuses to allow women to participate in certain events based on potential damage to their vessel status. Charming.

Jaclyn Friedman tears it up regarding sexism and the Super Bowl.

If filmmakers directed the Super Bowl.

If you haven’t checked out the British tv show, Skins, you really really need to.

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by Julia

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Rush Limbaugh has always represented the epitome of hypocrisy, not to mention anti-feminism at its worst. And pageants aren’t usually a paradigm of feminist values, either. Still, I couldn’t help but be shocked on Saturday night while watching the Miss America pageant with my roommate, when Rush Limbaugh appeared as a judge.

And I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that a man with a clear ideological alignment towards anti-woman anything would  judge “communication” in arguably the only redeeming feature of the pageant: the question and answer category. Immediately, I recalled the anti-gay marriage Carrie Prejean debacle, and envisioned Rush writing zeros down for any contestant who did not espouse similarly conservative views. (Thankfully, a woman of color, Caressa Cameron of Virginia, who chose to talk about HIV/AIDS was crowned the 2010 winner. For what it’s worth.)

But, come on, how could you not be shocked by this?

That’s right. Rush Limbaugh dancing like a fool to Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face“. The same Lady Gaga who is openly bisexual. A bad romance if I ever saw one. And the fist pumping? Really, too many pop culture references for me to handle. Especially from the man who the following day issued this gem of a statement:

LIMBAUGH: Oh, I’m a huge supporter of women. What I’m not a supporter of is liberalism. Feminism is what I oppose, and feminism has led women astray. I love women. I don’t know where all this got started. I love the women’s movement — especially when walking behind it. This idea that I don’t like women is absurd. This is Miss America. And if there’s a Mr. America out there, it’s me.


You know, in case his bizarre antics at the pageant had you forgetting this man’s day job pollutes the airwaves with racist, homophobic, sexist, and otherwise ignorant comments.

So this, dear readers, is me officially not being surprised by anything in the mainstream media, especially when it involved Mr. Limbaugh.

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by Julia

It’s one of those feminist revelations that occurs following a shift in consciousness. Once the switch is flipped, you can never look at a certain aspect of human interaction or culture in the same way. In this instance, I’m talking about film.

One would think it wouldn’t be so much to ask for to have a more than one woman in a film. And yea, those two women should probably interact. And hey, it would seem obvious that they should discuss subjects other than men, right? Wrong.

In 1985, cartoonist Alison Bechdel drew “The Rule,” as part of her comic strip, Dykes to Watch out For. In it, she lays out three simple rules by which to judge a film’s merit:

1) It must have at least two women

2) the women must talk to each other…

3) about something other than men.

In the 25 years since, hundreds of popular films (and TV shows, popular fiction, and other forms of popular culture) have been put to the “Bechdel Test.” The results may be shocking to some, but to those of us hyper-attuned to cultural sexism, they simply reinforce the incredible oppression women endemically experience.

A (small) sample of the films that did not fit the criteria:

Slumdog Millionaire, GI Joe, The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, Transformers, Ghostbusters, The Big Lebowski, Ocean’s Twelve, Pirates of the Caribbean (all three), Austin Powers, Fight Club, Milk, The Wedding Singer, Reservoir Dogs, Lord of the Rings (all three), The Truman Show, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Trainspotting, The Gladiator, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and When Harry Met Sally (ughhhh).

As Feminist Frequency points out, passing the Bechdel test “does not mean that the movie is a feminist movie, or that it’s even a good movie. Rather, it shows that two women are engaging with each other about something other than men.” And look at all of the films that couldn’t even meet that “ideal”…how sad is that?

Perhaps even more upsetting was the prevalence of films marketed towards children and young adults on the list, including Shrek, Toy Story, and Home Alone. If kids are not exposed to women with agency at the young age, what message does this send to them as they grow towards adulthood? Is it really any wonder that sexism prevails in the workforce if the majority of popular films portray women as only capable of talking about men and babies?

The reasons behind this is clear: movie consumers do not want to watch women with agency (or people of color or other underrepresented groups, for that matter) when they go to the movies. A female film student at UCLA was told point-blank by her professor, “The audience doesn’t want to listen to a bunch of women talking about whatever it is women talk about.” Ouch. What the professor and many film consumers who write this off as a product of consumerism don’t understand is that the problem is societal. And consumer demand is shaped by perceived “societal norms,” just as film strives to portray “normal life.” Instead of writing more films without a strong female presence, filmmakers should use their incredibly industry power to upend the conventions, both in film and in society. Until that time, consider my presence at a movie contingent upon its passage of the Bechdel Test. Honestly, if a film cannot fit these incredibly lenient criteria for female agency, you should think twice before watching, as well.

Here are a few films that have passed.

And a link round-up for further reading on Bechdel and the film industry.

[Song of the day: Y-Control by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (also, a sweet Spike Jonze-directed video)]

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