I remember going to the American Girl store in L.A. with my goddaughter and being so impressed by the diversity of the dolls, the historically accurate clothing, and above all the accompanying history books that dealt with major historical issues like slavery, war, and migration. Girls could effectively see themselves in history.
The Atlantic published an article last week about the disappearance of the spunky historical character dolls that were the hallmark of the wildly popular American Girl dolls in favor of modern dolls who focus more on appearance and activities. Addy who escaped slavery is being replaced by Lanie who enjoys gardening. While some scoff at the idea that the $100+ dolls were ever revolutionary, othersargue that these dolls were character-forming, educational, and allowed girls to see themselves as part of history. The company’s new marketing erases this powerful message as the historical dolls are fading away and all the focus is on “pretty styles” and matching clothes. I teach history, and I can tell you that in 2013 it is still a struggle to get women’s stories included in the curriculum. The only history this move by the American Girl company is teaching is what it was like before the women’s movement taught us the importance of women’s history.
There is a new weapon in the fight against rape culture: comedy.
2012 was dubbed the “year of the rape joke,” due mostly to the media storm about the boundaries of comedy after the so-named Toshgate incident in the summer of 2012. This video shows clips from popular network TV shows in 2012 that featured rape jokes. If 2012 was the year of the rape joke, then perhaps 2013 will be the year of the anti-rape joke.
While there are still manyorganizationsandindividuals working to fight sexual violence, activists are using comedy to point out the absurdity of rape culture. In late March, Hillary Bowman-Smart started the Twitter hashtag #safetytipsforladies to, in her words, recognize “that being drunk, being ‘sexy’, being out having fun, being loud, being trans, being queer, being sexually active – none of it causes rape, because rapists cause rape.“ Thousands of people have used the hashtag to laugh at the way “safety tips” keep the blame on victims rather than rapists. Artist Liz Chesterman has even illustrated some of the tweets.
Feminists using comedy to fight back? Now that’s something to smile about.
The hit documentary MissRepresentation pointed out the hypersexualized, demeaning image of women and girls in the media. Its organization missrepresentation.org has started a movement to change it. If you are tired of sexist advertising, there is a new campaign to harness the power of social media to change the culture of using sexist imagery to sell products. You may have seen #NotBuyingIt on Twitter (it received a good amount of press around the Superbowl ads) Now Indiegogo has launched a campaign for a new smartphone app that will allow users to photograph and tag sexist ads. Check it out here. Join the movement for change!
Despite the idea that young women are rejecting the word “feminist,” the truth is that more women (and men!) are self-described feminists than ever before. A recent poll by Lake Research Partners found that for women under the age of 30, 59% percent described themselves as feminist. After reading a dictionary definition, that number jumped to 73%.
Also, in contrast to the idea that feminism is a white woman’s movement, 66% of African American women and 71% of Latina women under 30 called themselves feminists before reading the dictionary definition.
The poll also found that among voters of all ages, 55% of women considered themselves feminist, and 30% of men. 74% of Democratic women defined themselves as feminist, as did 38% of Republican women.
With all the press surrounding the appointment of the new leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, there has been renewed interest in the future of Catholicism. A protest last week that filled the air outside the Vatican with pink smoke reminded the world that women’s leadership in the Church is central to that future. The Vatican has tremendous global influence, and even has a seat at the United Nations where last week it allied with Iran and Russia against a declaration to end global violence against women. The Catholic Church is a global power that has asserts significant control over women’s lives, bodies, and voices. Some nuns are hopeful that Pope Francis might be more progressive on issues such as women’s ordination, contraception, and gay rights (even if his record suggests otherwise.)
American nuns have been a particular thorn in the cassocks of Catholic leadership for awhile now. Last night, 60 Minutes ran a segment about the crackdown of American nuns (you can watch it here). Last year, the Vatican released an official “assessment” of American nuns, specifically the Leadership Conference of Women Religious ,or LCWR, which represents the majority of American nuns. This report accused the nuns of spending too much energy on issues of poverty and economic inequality than issues such as gay marriage and abortion. (these guys have read about Jesus’ works, right? Just asking.) Outspoken nuns and Catholic women the world over are calling for reforms to the Catholic Church and more leadership roles for women. Preach, sisters. (if only you were allowed to…)
Maybe my calendar is wrong. Up until an email from BabyCenter arrived in my inbox this week, I was pretty sure it was 2013. BabyCenter, which has a registered trademark staking their claim as “the voice of the 21st Century Mom,” gave parenting advice straight from 1983. The company offered several daily schedules for Moms, offering samples of what her day might look like. Whether Mom works at home or outside of the home, is breastfeeding or bottle feeding, the message is the same: she is responsible for 90% of the domestic work. In these “21st century” models, even in two-career families Mom shoulders the overwhelming majority of the work, while Dad is the relief pitcher who takes over while Mom makes dinner. Not only is this advice taken straight of the impossible ideal of the 1980s “Supermom,” but it is also far from the reality for most 21st century parents.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking book The Feminine Mystique. Friedan’s classic work about suburban women’s unhappiness with domesticity helped launch a movement when she wrote about the “problem that has no name.” Half a century later, the same problem is manifesting itself with a new name: work-life balance. It’s true that women still perform the majority of the unpaid labor in the home, whether they work outside the home or not. The majority of American mothers work outside the home, and both male and female American workers are working longer hours. At the same time, both mothers and fathers are spending more time with their children than ever before. Parents are seeking real advice about how to navigate 21st century work and family realities, not rehashed ideas from the 1980s.
A recent study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology revealed that our brains–the brains of both men and women–process the bodies of men and women differently. We process men as complete beings, and women as a sum of parts. The study did not specify whether this was an innate human reaction, but the lead author suggested that this objectification of women is culturally programmed, and reinforced by the media we consume. This has real consequences for everyday women, not just women in the spotlight. Studies have shown that the objectification of women fosters lower self-esteem, higher levels of shame and depression, and even worse scores on tests among girls and women. The good news is that learning about the consequences of objectification (and self-objectification) could be good motivation for rewiring our perceptions. Changing the images we see, avoiding certain images, or even simply developing an analysis of unrealistic media images have all proven to help lessen the negative impact of objectification.
Lupe Fiasco has released the first single from his upcoming album, and lo and behold, it’s social commentary about the use of the term “bitch” to describe women (check out the track here). He has a smart analysis of the implication this has on boys and girls, and the dynamic it sets up for how they interact with each other. It’s a bold choice for a first track release. I think Lupe Fiasco should be commended for bringing the issue of language and gender politics to the mainstream. However, there were a couple elements of the song that made me cringe.
First, his premise that embracing the trope of “bad bitches” is a woman problem, without addressing the way that male culture has created and reinforced the concept. The cultural blame falls on women–particularly Black women–as thoughtfully argued by the Crunk Feminist Collective. Lupe weaves in a central boy and girl character into his verses, and ultimately it’s her who is the problem: “He caught in a reality, she caught in an illusion.”
Second, the repeated line at the end “I’m killin’ these bitches” is alarming. In an earlier line he humanizes his central girl character, pointing out that she is acting the part of a “bad bitch,” when “she really nice and smart.” So it’s especially troubling that the song ends this way given the prevalence of violence against women, and the pass that is often given to abusers when the woman is perceived to have “misbehaved” or brought it upon herself.