Thursday, December 30, 2010

Kids comments on gender and beauty

We were watching an old episode of So You Think You Can Dance on television, which is a show that I'm not sure whether or not I like my kids watching... I love dance, but here is the issue...

After 3 performances where women took off at least one layer of clothing, my son (5 years old) said "the girls can never keep their clothes on"

My daughter's (8 years old) response was "That's because they want to look good."

I changed channels immediately... we are going to have a discussion about gender and hegemonic beauty standards this morning, and I am going to find some dancing shows that are a bit more appropriate for them. Still, I feel as though I can talk to them about this stuff forever, but regardless of what I say to them, the media still gets through at least as strongly as I do.

dating while hairy, fourth edition...

This post was written about 3 weeks ago, and has been waiting for me to get around to uploading the picture from my camera. I will have to do an updated leg hair post in the very near future, as there have been some new developments since this was written.

This will be, by far, the most disturbing post yet for many people... I am actually going to include a picture of my legs... now with 6 months of hair growth!!!

I have had two recent experiences where these legs have led to problems... and the weirdest part is that the people had not even seen them! I was discussing gender performance with a very feminine lesbian that I met online. I'm not sure exactly how the discussion on shaving happened, but I remember it being something about her complaining about not liking to shave, but doing it anyway. She asked me if I ever planned to shave again, and I told her that I wasn't sure... I haven't thought much about it, but I wasn't entirely opposed to the idea. She had to go a few minutes later and hasn't come back online since (which I think means that she blocked me... I'm not offended or anything, we had only spoken a few times, but I think it's a bit funny).

When I did shave my legs often, they would often get little red bumps all over them, the skin would get rough and dry, and within a couple days they would have prickly stubble beginning to grow again. They didn't feel nice to touch without the help of shaving gel and several types of moisturizers. Now that I'm not shaving, the hair and skin are both incredibly soft and I find them way nicer to touch, and they feel better.

I knew that having hairy legs would not be a popular choice for many people, and I was expecting people to be a little uncomfortable with my decision not to shave (for now) at times, but I am surprised by how completely shocked some people have been.

As you can see from the picture, the hair isn't particularly coarse and isn't all that noticeable from a few feet away. Still, when a woman in my grad program saw the hair last week, she jumped back, hands flailing, and almost shrieked "what the hell is that?" She always has perfectly applied makeup and not a hair out of place, so I would imagine that body hair would be a complete no-no for her. I couldn't help laughing at the severity of her reaction, but still, it led me to question whether this was possibly more transgressive than I had originally thought.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Why I love my office!

Ok, the office itself isn't great... really tiny and usually too dirty to put your schoolbag on the floor, but the people are amazing.

A few days ago, I came in to find this sign on the door and I couldn't resist taking a picture to post it here... unfortunately, my cell phone camera leaves something to be desired.

If you cannot see the photo, it has a photo of Karl Marx in a Santa hat and says:
Happy Sociological Xmas (where X= your preferred deity or socially constructed rationale for gift giving)

He sees you when you profit! He knows when you exploit!
Candy for the masses. But for the capitalists, COAL.

Keeping with the holiday spirit, I wanted to use this opportunity to do an entirely non-critical post about how much I like the people I share the office with (ok, maybe I should write 'most of' somewhere in that sentence, but that is not the point).

Three women in particular I want to mention
J, with your never failing inappropriate sense of humor to help lower stress levels when there are impending due dates or stacks of papers to grade (or get distracted from by facebook posts that my mom did not approve of!).
M, with lots of advice about the program and life more generally, one of the wisest young people that I know... and jeggings!
And A, who I rarely get to see because I think she is nocturnal or something, but I feel like I have more in common with in certain ways than anyone I've met in the past few years...

I should also mention E, whose reaction to my leg hair amuses me to no end!

I have found that those of us who risk the germs from whichever random bug happens to be going around that week, discomfort from dust allergies, and wild temperature variations to get work done in that sometimes very crowded environment have grown quite close over the past few months, and I look forward to working with everyone again next semester!

And now I should be getting back to that stack of exams to grade...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Raising tuition fees... Again.

It has been brought to my attention that the university that I attend just raised tuition fees at a meeting last Friday (of course, organized during exams/christmas holidays so that we could not mobilize in any real form at the meeting). I was not there, but I heard that tuition would go up by 5% for returning students, 8% for new students and 16.2% for international students!

Here is the part that really gets me... I was just informed that they approved bonuses for some admin during that same meeting!

I'm glad that the money being taken from my family is going to make a few people that much richer.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sexual Assault Crisis Centre closing

I just read that the city's only Sexual Assault Crisis Centre is now closed. Just a few months ago, the Women's Centre closed, and now this. I can't believe that the government can get away with this kind of attack on women's programs.

I have never personally accessed this service, likely because I didn't identify my own experiences as rape until years had passed, but I can only imagine how important these services must be to women in our community. I have accessed one of the programs that was suggested as an alternative and it took 3 weeks after registering to get an appointment, and another 3 months to access services, so hopefully that will not be the case for women who have been assaulted.

I'm going to find out if anyone is organizing a letter writing campaign or protests, because I don't think we should sit back and just let this happen or all of these services will be gone and it will be too late to do anything about it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dear radio commercial,

Can you please refrain from making any more jokes about women and their shoes? Yes, we get it... women on TV (and presumably, some women in real life) enjoy wearing cute shoes. But is it really necessary for the company selling snowmobiles to tell us to imagine how many pairs of shoes the $2800 in savings will buy us? Or for the shoe store ad that followed to tell us that high heels are a sign of class? Someone should have told that to Karl Marx... here he was doing a complex analysis of capitalism, when he really should have been looking at women's feet this whole time...

Rest assured that if I am going to spent thousands of dollars on any item, if I will be measuring the savings based on a sale price, it will be in dollars, not shoes... and this is coming from someone who owns about 20 pairs of shoes (which I think is a lot).

I am trying to imagine a similar commercial directed towards men... what would the savings be measured in... beer? I like beer more than I like shoes...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Least favorite christmas commercial. Ever.

Here is my new least favorite christmas commercial. A group of women lying passively on fluffy mattresses in lingerie, singing carols while making sexy face the entire time. I don't think I can sing in sexy face, but then, I don't usually sing only in Ahs and Ohs with a few Las thrown in for good measure.

They seem to think it is clever because music notes and bra sizes both come in letters. However, as a musician I feel the need to point out that I am pretty sure lady number 2 should be wearing a size B flat (no pun intended).

But what I would like to know is whether La Senza actually carries sizes E-G... I know they don't carry my size (at least, not in their adult store).

Friday, December 3, 2010

Another reason I don't like the local newspaper

This is a quote from a letter that was published in the local newspaper in which the writer was objecting to using the term "holiday" instead of "christmas"
"Immigrants don't change my way of life, they change theirs to ours --or go back to where they came from."
I almost think this isn't worth commenting on because it seems so ridiculous... when i see a comment like this online I usually ignore it, but this was published in our local newspaper, which I believe gives it the illusion of seeming more valid than if it were just a comment online.

Does the writer not realize that unless they are aboriginal, they too are immigrants to Canada? And I'm pretty sure that Santa Clause didn't visit indigenous children before Europeans settled on the land that we now know as Canada.

Canada is supposed to be multicultural, which should mean that nobody has to change their beliefs or practices in order to fit in, but what actually happens is that the dominant culture becomes the norm, and all other practices become otherized. They are seen as something that is not normal, and not as good as "real" Canadian (euro-centric) cultures and traditions.

There was a recent news story about the citizenship test being more difficult than ever before, which conforms entirely to this notion that if immigrants do not know "our" culture, they should not be in "our" country. I would like to quiz your average Canadian citizen about indigenous cultures just to see what happens... I probably wouldn't pass that test.

Experiment on stopping violence against women

This is an experiment that was conducted about the reporting of domestic abuse. It was conducted in South Africa, but I would suggest that the results in many countries would be more similar than we would like to think.

I had to watch it with the volume off because the sound of the assault was a bit too realistic for my liking.

In the video, neighbors come to the door right away to complain about the noise when someone is playing the drums. But nobody comes or calls the police when they believe that a woman is being abused.

I think every one of us should think about what we would do in such a situation, and if we ever find ourselves in a situation where we see or hear someone who might be in need of help, we should do something about it. Even if you aren't entirely sure whether they want help, I think that the consequences of not calling are far too real.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Children and body image

This morning, my 5 year old son was upset that my 8 year old daughter was not playing by the right rules in a game (did you know that there are right rules and wrong rules?) so he called her names. He called her fat.

We typically don't use that word in our house. My daughter is very small for her age, and she already spends a lot of time looking at herself in the mirror (usually dancing, sometimes in her underwear, trying to copy the moves that she thinks female rock stars are supposed to do- I am not sure if her babysitter is amused or disturbed by this). She occasionally talks about her fear of gaining weight, which I try to address mostly in two ways; first, by talking about health, and not body size, as the standard that is best to be internalized, and second, by talking to her about the objectification of women's bodies and unrealistic standards of beauty that she sees in the media (in a way that I believe is age appropriate).

Anyway, the point is that a 5 year old child, who still hasn't figured out that Santa doesn't exist and has trouble differentiating between cartoons and real life, has somehow figured out that the worst thing you can call a female is fat.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Airport security

This is an infographic on the evolution of airport security... I've only been on a plane once in the last decade, but I was scared that I would end up having to face some kind of security. I would rather take a bus than go through a scanner or face "pat down." I spent a few hours researching all of the rules about what I can carry on the plane and what I could not, and even printed and packed a list so I wouldn't get in trouble coming back... and all of this was for a 1 hour flight in which I never left Ontario.

But, my concern with this was made clear to me while I was listening to the radio in the car last week. There was a local radio show that was talking about the "pat downs" and their call-in question was with regards to which celebrity the callers would like to give an airport security pat down to. As much as airport security officials claim that it is not sexual to touch people's bodies in the name of safety, it is certainly invasive and the experiences of women who have been through it suggest that many of them felt violated.

TSA Gone Wild
Via: Criminal Justice DegreeTSA Gone Wild

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Active men and passive women in Lego

I will probably be called out for being overly picky here, but I am somewhat annoyed that the characters that I would gender as typically masculine on this lego box (which my daughter got for her birthday) are busy doing things... there is a business man, a delivery man, and a policeman, whereas the one I would gender as a woman is just sitting on a bench with no apparent job or title.

This side of the box shows the same thing... the men are busy doing things... walking to work, delivering heavy packages, protecting road signs while holding various fancy noise making devices (?), and the woman sits down on the bench and listens to music.

Because men do things while women just are. Maybe it just gets to me right now because the last couple months of thesis work has centered largely around the invisibility of unpaid domestic labour.

I'm going to go switch the people's stuff around right now and destroy the box... the woman is about to get the briefcase and I will make a tiny vacuum or something for the now business-less guy.

Edited to add: I also just noticed that the woman is the only one smiling... not sure if it is because she's not busy doing stuff like the men so she is allowed to enjoy her free time, or because, as a woman, she is supposed to be pleasant. Either way, delivery people enjoying their coffee don't need to scowl.

SPARKsummit video on the sexualization of girls in the media

This video, on the sexualization of girls and women in the media, is from the SPARK summit, SPARK stands for Sexualization Protest: Action, Resist, Knowledge.

I would suggest that it is more about objectification and the culture of beauty than it is about sexualization or sexuality. I think that they need to make sure to differentiate between sexuality and sexual objectification. Maybe it has something to do with being made for young teenage girls, but I find that the video comes across as being opposed to all forms of female sexuality in the media, as opposed to being opposed to the objectification of women and girls. I see this as being closely linked to slut-shaming.

That being said, I do like the message that they are trying to get across, and I agree that it is important get young girls to actively decide to watch on TV, but I just think this particular video is somewhat blurred with anti-sex messages.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Private Practice: an example of how sexual assault is depicted on television

Last night on Private Practice, one of the main characters, a doctor named Charlotte, was sexually assaulted at work. People making the show were in close contact with rape victims and an anti-sexual assault organization. Still, I had a few problems with this episode. I am not going to embed a video of sexual assault on my blog (for reasons that will be discussed further in this post), but if you feel the need to see what I am referring to, there is a video here.

The biggest problem is the "type" of rape that was shown. The perpetrator was a patient at the hospital who appeared to have a mental illness of some sort (people with mental health problems are more likely to be the victim than the rapist). It was an extremely violent case of stranger rape. The woman involved had no prior relationship with her rapist, she was not drinking, not walking alone outside at night, nor was she dressed provocatively or doing anything else that a "good" rape victim doesn't do. So, this episode really didn't push any boundaries to help people conceive of rape differently. I thought it could have been much more useful to depict a type of rape that isn't often seen as such, rather than playing into stereotypes of what constitutes "real" rape.

So many shows on primetime tv (think CSI and Law & Order), can show various forms of sexual assault in ways that can help people become more aware of sexual assault, but they generally depict scenes in a way that make rape look a lot like sex. The act of rape is typically more about power than sex, but that can be difficult to depict on television. Private Practice did show parts of the rape, which sexualizes it to a degree. I prefer when the scenes show enough to imply what is happening, without graphic images when "No matter how well-motivated, a rape scene is a sex scene, and TV shows are fantasies."

The part that bothered me most was her hiding the rape. At every commercial break, I expressed my frustration with her silence to the person I was watching the show with. She told people she was mugged, only told one person what actually happened, and refused a rape kit. I understand how horrible the criminal justice system can be, but it is not a he-said-she-said trial, so I personally cannot understand why she wouldn't report it other than a fear that other people will look at her differently. And this is an area that I hope they focus on differently in upcoming episodes.

Charlotte said "he took my wallet. He didn't take anything else" to the one person she told about the rape. I personally tend to agree with this statement... but not in the way that she meant it. He didn't take anything, he raped her. I don't like thinking about rape as taking something from someone. My opinion is that conceiving of it as something being taken from you is linked to patriarchal notions of purity and innocence and considers rape victims damaged in some way, which I completely do not agree with. I don't mean to erase some people's experiences with this last paragraph, as some people do experience it as something having been taken from them... this just doesn't make sense to me, personally.

One thing I did like is probably best articulated by entertainment journalist Emily Nussbaum
In what was clearly Rhimes’s mission statement, Charlotte contrasted her rape with rapes in "made-for-TV movies." In these gauzy victim narratives, she says mockingly, the woman rocks in the shower crying, and when the rape happens, her eyes go blank so she can go somewhere else. “It’s nothing like that,” she says bitterly. “It's dirty and sweaty and he licks your face and he wipes himself off in your hair and when you try to scream he punches you so hard you see God.”
I'm not sure that narrative is any more true for all victims than the made-for-TV movie shower crying scene, but it is good to see this depicted in a different way.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I don't even know where to begin...

I just don't know what to say about this... do we really think that we are so far past racism that this is appropriate on any level?

On the left, there is a white man dressed as a member of the KKK holding a rope that is tied as a noose around the neck of another white man dressed in blackface.

The most horrifying part is that these two men won the costume contest at the Royal Canadian Legion in Cambellford, Ontario, a small predominantly white town not far from Toronto.

They meant it as a joke... they found it funny. I don't think that we can (or should) get to a point where murder, slavery, and racism are funny.

On CTV News tonight, the son of one of these men said "no, he's not racist or anything. Obviously not" and then said something about how it is ok because people dress like serial killers every day. How can I argue with that logic?

Last year, when a group of white students dressed as the cast of Cool Runnings at the University of Toronto, there was a forum where students and faculty were invited to discuss the issue of blackface and whether it is appropriate... keep in mind that these students were trying to portray people that they admired in a movie they enjoyed, not showing a violent scene as a joke. One thing that came out of this forum was an article that presented various sides to the issue, and stated that
one look at the deeply rooted and violent history of racism and blackface iconography is all that it takes to understand that a white person painting themselves to depict a black person shouldn't
I tend to agree with this statement. Blackface is never ok. And blackface that depicts this level of hatred can never be funny. At very least, it appears as though there will be a thorough investigation.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Students and Class Consciousness: A story from the picketline

There is currently a strike taking place at the university I attend. The workers are part of the medical school on campus, which means that many students take the position that the strike doesn't concern them at all, other than to inconvenience them by making them wait in a short lineup and accept a piece of paper before arriving on campus despite the obvious connections between the medical school and the university more generally.

I am currently a teaching assistant for an intro to sociology course. The professor decided to hold class on the picketline yesterday rather than forcing students to cross in order to write their previously scheduled midterm exam. About two thirds of the class showed up on a very cold day to take part in this class (and witness the year's first snowfall at the same time). There was a really interesting series of events that took place during the class.

Part of my job was to take attendance, and a lineup of students were waiting to sign in. Two young guys were joking around, and one said something like "Imagine if a striker got hit by a car" and they both started laughing. I responded by telling him that several strikers have been hit by vehicles, one even went to the hospital. Keep in mind that because strikers must be off university property, the person who is going up to cars to hand out information and talk to drivers is in the middle of an intersection. The two students stopped laughing, but I'm not sure if they really thought much of it.

The professor asked how many of them would be interested in walking the picketline with the workers, and less than 10 of the 60 students present raised their hands, the rest agreed to watch from the side after the mini-lecture and conduct participant observation.

About 10 minutes later, a driver refused to stop for the picketers walking across the road at the entrace to campus. As the car inched forward slowly, one young male worker stood his ground and refused to get out of the way of the vehicle. The car drove slowly into his legs and continued to drive forward, pushing the striker backwards. He turned around, presumably so that the car was on the back of his legs so they would bend instead of break, the car continued to drive forwards, pushing the striker another 2 feet forward and he was almost seated on the hood of the car from being pushed. Meanwhile, a dozen strikers on the line were yelling at the driver to stop, and another striker ran accross the street to get the police officer who was nearby. When the police officer came, he pulled the driver over and made him wait for about 10 minutes while he talked to him (and hopefully wrote a ticket).

The students watched this transpire, some looked horrified by the event, others amused, but I think it affected most of the people who saw it in some way. After the lecture, most of them spent some time walking the picketline with the strikers and very few stood on the sidelines to watch. Seeing one piece of the abuse that these striking workers face every day seemed to bring about a form of class consciousness (or at very least solidarity) that was not there previously.

Now, if only I could find a way to take this experience and bring it on campus to show other students that we need to support these workers.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Heterosexism, Homophobia and "It Gets Better"

I have been watching the news (and various TV programs, as well as reading blogs and news articles) covering the recent deaths of several gay teens and young men. Like so many others, I am saddened and outraged that the suicide rate is so high for this group. I also would like to mention that it is not any higher than usual this month, there has just been media coverage stemming from the circumstances surrounding Tyler Clementi's death. I would also be curious to investigate whether this is also the case with other queer groups... I know the suicide rate is astronomical for transgendered people, but I haven't seen any reports of lesbian suicides over the past month and am not as aware of what these statistics might look like.

Many celebrities, in an attempt to prevent more suicides, have began a campaign entitled the "It gets better" project. I am happy that they are trying to help, and I am glad that so much attention is being brought to the issue, but I have some problems with the concept of it gets better. I feel like I need to add a disclaimer of some sort, because I don't want this to come across as being overly cynical... I think this campaign is important to continue, despite what I am about to write. I think that it is a good start to opening up debate on bullying, especially in relation to people who identify as LGBTQ (I never know how many more letters to add here). And I think that it could conceivably help to save some lives. That being said, I think that it is quite limited and limiting, and should be opened up into a broader campaign to make things better now, instead of getting people to hope that it will get better for them someday.

To me, it is almost like they are condoning the bullying (which is far from their intention). They are saying that it won't last forever, but it can come across as "yes, kids will be cruel, but when they are all grown up, you will be able to find a niche within society where you can fit in most of the time." Note that it is not saying that broader society becomes more accepting, only that these celebrities have found a place where they fit without the bullying.

Another teen committed suicide right after a city council meeting, when after having been told that it would get better, he realized that some things never change when he heard adults giving homophobic arguments opposing LGBT awareness month.

My uncle has told me (and anyone else who will listen) that non-hetero lifestyles are wrong because his God said that a man should be with a woman. Yet, his god is fine with him emotionally abusing his wife, and his god is fine with him being financially abusive to his family, and his god is fine with him screaming at my sister (who, due to a mental illness and past trauma cannot handle loud noises or angry people). I am all for people believing in whatever they want to believe, but I don't want a god who is ok with being cruel to people, but not ok with allowing two consenting adults to have a relationship because they have the wrong genitals for each other. (after reading this part back, I want to note that I am not saying that he is representative of religious people or any religion specifically, merely an example of how things, in my life, have not always gotten better).

As I was walking to the bus stop this morning with my 5 and 8 year old children, I am pretty sure a neighbor yelled a homophobic slur at me. It wasn't loud enough to be clear, and I am a bit on edge due to a really upsetting bullying incident that I faced at the co-op earlier this week, but even if I try to give her the benefit of the doubt, I can't think of what else she might have said. And when I told my best friend about this, his response was that I should be more careful who I tell that I am queer. I understand that he means well, he is concerned about me and trying to protect me, but why should I have to live closeted or in fear? I have not had girlfriends over to my house or done anything for people to label me as gay (not that it would matter if I did), but I have told a few people in private conversation when it came up because I don't feel like it is something that I should need to hide. My sexuality is such a huge topic of discussion for community gossip that people who I don't even recognize know that I am The Gay person in the co-op.

Do people get better? I am not so sure... It is not something that I have to face everyday, so maybe it does get better... but does it ever end?

Overall, the people in my life are generally more accepting than they were highschool, not because it gets better, but because I spend most of my time at university. I study in the social sciences and work in an academic union, where people are generally open to all kinds of things that are not accepted throughout some areas of broader society.

I was reading one of my favorite blogs, which said that instead of "it gets better" maybe we should change slogans to "make it better." I would suggest reading the post, especially if you are interested in this from the point of view of someone who Taught While Gay (brilliant... I only hope my kids get a teacher like this).

Why should we ask children to tolerate the bullying at all, even if it does get better? How do we accept that any child anywhere is being bullied for sexual orientation, nevermind when it is this widespread. What is the most insulting word that you can call a teenage boy? I'm guessing most would say it is a gay slur or feminine term (you probably know which ones I am talking about, I'm not going to repeat them here, that is not what my blog is about).

So, how do we fix this, if not by telling children that it gets better and hoping that someday it actually will? It seems so simple... end institutional forms of heterosexism. Sarah Silverman made an excellent point when she said
Dear America, when you tell gay Americans that they can't serve their country openly or marry the person that they love, you're telling that to kids too. So don't be fucking shocked and wonder where all these bullies are coming from that are torturing young kids and driving them to kill themselves because they're different. They learned it from watching you.

What we learn from instutionalized heterosexism is that to be queer is to be different. And if we are different, than we can be treated differently. And because the assumption that we are somehow different is taken as common sense, then it becomes ok to say that it will get better eventually, instead of making it better for everyone NOW.

Bad photoshopping on the cover of Maxim

Check out the cover of Maxim. Does it look normal too you? Look closely at Avril Levigne's right arm. But as long as her waist is unnaturally skinny, I guess it is ok. Gotta love photoshop!

I haven't actually seen the cover, but saw the story here


Monday, October 11, 2010

Why the justice system doesn't work, as a comic

The comic doesn't exactly provide any answers, but the critique is good.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

facebook memes... for breast cancer?

I like it on the livingroom floor

I like it on the kitchen counter

I like it on the table

What am I talking about? Well, breast cancer awareness of course! Posting the location of your purse on facebook raises awareness about breast cancer. And of course, sexuality must be implied to get attention... for the cause, right?

At least the bra colour meme from last year was somehow linked to breasts... this one is a ridiculous.

My purse status was "I like to open it and actually give money (and time) to support a specific cause rather than re-posting inane memes that use sexual innuendo to get attention while pretending that purses are somehow linked to breast cancer... BTW, cancer is not sexy, even when it has to do with parts of the female anatomy"

I could tell you that the cell phone case that I usually carry instead of a purse is on the coffee table. Or the schoolbag I carry when I need more room is on the floor. Or the purses that I rarely use are in a cabinet. But how does that help raise awareness for breast cancer?

And why is it that breast cancer is the "sexy" way to support women's issues? It isn't bad enough that any product in existence, colored pink like toys designed for little girls, is meant to support breast cancer, but now we have to show off how sexy breasts are at the same time. Advertisements tell men that they should care about breast cancer because they like breasts... not because women are dying and not supporting the leading cause of death in women (cardiovascular disease- hearts are not sexy)... simply because men like breasts.

What, other than breast cancer do these ads have in common?

Using a cartoon sex symbol as a spokesperson...

I know I like to box in uncomfortable lingerie...

Nudity is common in these ads

And T-shirts like this one don't even pretend to be about a woman... just boobs.

In my opinion, they are as much about sexualizing and objectifying women as they are about trying to get money for researching breast cancer.

Don't do this research to save women's (and some men's) lives because you value women as people, or because they have a right to expect researchers in related fields to look for a cure. Support this research because you like breasts, and breasts happen to be attached to women.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mother blaming and conceptions of normal child behavior

I really haven't had much time for posting lately, which means I have missed some really important events (like the Ontario court decision to strike down laws that are harmful to sex workers). In this post, I will be discussing one of the many reasons why I haven't had time to post (other than grad school, union work, teaching, and all of the other work involved with being
a single mother with two children).

My son has always been a bit different in comparison to other kids his age, but I just thought that was his personality. I thought he was just shy when he wouldn't come out of a closet at a new daycare for a couple hours, or when he went more than 2 weeks without speaking to daycare workers and still won't make eye contact with them. I thought he was just a mama's boy when, at the age of 5, he still wants me to carry him a lot and will cry if he doesn't sit beside me in a restaurant. And I thought he was just really interested in art and building when he spent hours working on puzzles, coloring, or playing with lego without breaking concentration. I never really saw it as a sign that something might be wrong. Actually, I find him to be very intelligent, artistic, affectionate (with me, anyway), and even funny (like when he tells his only joke over and over again- knock knock, who's there, why'd the chicken cross the road- laughter).

But, after a few problems at school, I went to a referral agency to be connected to free services in the area that might help with parenting strategies, and after a few lengthy tests, they want me to have him assessed for Aspergers.

Now, I don't know much about Aspergers other than reading a few websites and watching a season of the TV show Parenthood, where one of the children has it and I've heard the writers and actor are quite realistic with this portrayal. I don't know what a diagnosis would mean about things like the possibility of discrimination within the school system. As a sociology major, I don't like labels and I am uneasy about the idea of giving a label to my child (yes, I know many sociologists are all about labels and categories, but that is not how I do sociology). But as a parent who has been raising him alone for years without understanding why I can't get him to listen to simple rules, this seems to offer an explanation and new strategies to deal with his behavior.

But I have been having some trouble figuring out how I feel about it. My first instinct is relief. Relief that it is not my fault that he is acting up. Relief that my family and his teachers and behavioral therapists will no longer look at me as though I am not a capable parent, that I am too strict or too lenient, that I am just not good enough. Relief that I will not be told that I need to drop out of school to control my kid (yes, that was suggested by a behavioral therapist). Relief that I am not to blame when he acts up. Then I feel guilt. Guilty that part of me hopes that this is what is going on with him, because it is not something that is likely to go away the way shyness could. That being said, the limited knowledge that I have suggests that Aspergers would have a better prognosis than the previous suggestion that he might have Oppositional Defiant Disorder along with Obsessive Compulsive tendencies. Have I mentioned that I really despise labels?

So, what I am now trying to figure out is how can I move beyond always feeling guilty about parenting. His father doesn't feel guilty about only seeing him for 1-2 hours a week. His father doesn't feel like his lack of parenting has contributed to the problems he's been having at school and daycare. His father thinks it is because I am not a good enough parent. This is a sentiment that, although changing, I still hear echoed throughout pop culture and from teachers and family members. I feel the same way about mother blaming as I do about labels. And yet, I still always blame myself.

I guess the big question that I am facing right now is whether it is in his best interest to try and get a diagnosis. I am hesitant because I have trouble conceptualizing what Aspergers really is. I mean, it isn't something that simply shows up on an x-ray or some other physical test, but a name that covers a group of behaviors that differ from how "normal" children are "supposed to" behave. I understand that categories and classifications can be useful, but I am still trying to locate information on the benefits of not getting an official diagnosis as well.

And, to bring in a bit of a class analysis, I would like to point out that if I had a few thousand dollars to throw around, I could get the diagnosis rather quickly. I could also get all kinds of help without a diagnosis, if I wanted to pay for it. However, as a student who is surviving on a scholarship meant to support a single person and not a family, he might need an official diagnosis before I could access many of the support programs available.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Another post on enthusiastic consent

Last week I wrote about the concept of enthusiastic consent as it relates to sexual acts between adults. This same basic idea can be used not only for sexual acts, but for many different aspects of everyday life, including children playing with each other and standards relating to everyday touch and physical contact.

When I was a child, one thing that I remember vividly is distant relatives and friends of my mothers hugging me without my consent, and being powerless to stop them because saying so would be rude. I remember the prickly stubble on the face of a man who kissed me on the cheek when I was 5 or 6 years old and really not liking it. These people were almost strangers to me, and you don't go up to a stranger in the mall and give them a hug because that would be inappropriate, but when you are a child and the adult knows your parents then it is considered fine because children are property of their parents. It is well accepted under normal circumstances that a boss should not be able to touch an employee (such as to give them a hug) because of the power relations involved, but when the recipient of that touch is a child it is fine as long as it is not sexual.

I think we need to move beyond this 'good touch, bad touch' dichotomy (with bad meaning sexual and everything else being acceptable) to teach our children to be empowered about their rights to their body. How can we tell a little girl that she is not supposed to make a fuss when grandma gives an unwanted hug and kiss, but she must yell, scream, and fight a decade later when her date tries to touch her or it is her fault if he doesn't stop when she wants him to? I have long been confused by these mixed messages. Although I do not see these two situations as identical, they are very similar in certain ways when you think about it in that they both involve a non-consensual touch. This does not only apply to children, every person should have the right to decide who touches them at any time and who does not, I just find it most obvious with children.

When people infringe on our space and touch us without our consent, it hurts... it makes us feel bad, regardless of whether it is a person that we like and might want to be touched by at other times and in other circumstances. The problem is, and I have faced this myself recently, informing them that you do not want to be touched hurts their feelings (even though it shouldn't). So, we are left with the choice of dealing with it or risking hurting another persons feelings. Being a parent or even a spouse does not give you entitlement to touch another person's body. Sometimes they might want to be touched, tickled, hugged, or kissed and sometimes they might not. And they have to be able to express that without worrying about hurting someone's feelings. The right to not be touched seems so simple to me that I am often surprised that it needs to be articulated, but it really does because it is so commonly infringed on and it is not considered to be a big deal.

It also translates into many different areas of people's lives... For example, children and play. Instead of waiting for a child to tell the other kids to stop wrestling or stop playing in a specific way, I try to teach my children to stop when it appears as though one person is no longer having fun (sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but it is worth working on). This is hard for them to do because they can get really caught up in a game, and as children, I believe they have less capacity to be aware of others' feelings than adults do (although I am not sure of this). I am hoping that this teaches them to learn how to be in tune with the people that they interact with. This skill is likely impossible to fully master, but think of the possibilities that will come later if it is learned in childhood as a principle guiding play.

There are times when children do not have a say over who touches them. For example, if a child is hurting themselves or another person, it might be necessary to move them whether they want to be touched or not. But it is important to start from the premise of enthusiastic consent and then come up with a few specific exceptions from there.

Some people like being touched casually... they sit and stand close to others, they make physical contact in ordinary conversation and they are quick to hug friends when they see them. I, however, am not like that, and neither are a lot of people that I know. Today, for example, the person serving me at Tim Hortons touched my hand when he took my money and it made me extremely uncomfortable. I don't like when family members insist on hugs... never have been comfortable with that. That's not to say that I never like to be touched... I just like to feel that I have a sense of control over the circumstances upon which it happens and I beleive that I am fully entitled to that control, as are my children and every person that I come in contact with.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Constructions of gendered differences in perceptions of colour

My brother sent me a link from a joke website that plays into a few stereotypes about men that I thought would be interesting to look at a bit closer. Here is the image

Notary Republic Not Necessary

It is a poster from a paint store that reads "Notice Husbands choosing colours must have a written note from their wives"

I am assuming that readers have all seen the commercials or TV shows where men are depicted as not knowing how to coordinate colors, whether it be paint, home decor, or dressing themselves (especially when it comes to picking out ties to match their shirt). It is a way that men and women are constructed as different from each other. It also makes women look as though they are actually the boss in the home, as men cannot make a purchase without a written note from their wives, like a child needing permission to go on a class trip or something. See, we don't need feminism because women can decide what color goes on the wall. And if women are naturally better at seeing colors, then there must also be things that men are better at, like everything more important than picking out paint.

That link reminded me of these two charts showing gender differences in color. The first is a joke depicting what some people think about how men and women view colors.

Color names if you're a girl ... Color names if you're a guy ...

Next is a more realistic look at how men and women actually view colors, according to one study conducted at xkcd (the article itself at is interesting too). They found that "men and women tended on average to call colors the same names."

There are still some differences between people who identified as male and those who identified as female in the study, but not nearly as many as the many jokes suggest. There was even at least one color that men said and women didn't, being salmon.

I should also point out that I would not have come up with aqua, hot pink, or probably even magenta... and I would have called one of the purples blue. I guess I shouldn't be picking paint colors or dressing myself.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Student paper's sex position of the week depicts sexual assault

Building from the previous post on enthusiastic consent, I came across a disturbing comic strip printed in a student newspaper at Purdue University. There is a great critique on Jezebel.

I was not sure if I was going to link a picture because I find it very offensive, but I think in this case a description alone will not suffice, so here is the comic strip in question.

The text describes Man 1 having consensual sex with a woman while man 2 hides. Then, without her knowledge, man 2 takes his place while man 1 gets her attention from a window, at which point she is surprised. Because she did not consent to the second partner, this becomes a rather obvious case of rape. And it is not funny.

One commenter on Jezebel added a fourth panel to the comic that I think sums it up nicely

The fortunate part, if one could call it such, is that the editor has issued a genuine apology (as opposed to an "I'm sorry if you were offended" type apology that is so often the case with offensive college newspaper columns). Here are some quotes from the apology;
First things first: We made a mistake in printing Friday’s sex position of the week, and I, the editorial board, and The Exponent are extremely sorry...

On Friday and over the weekend, we received a flood of e-mails and phone calls telling us that this sort of graphic is unacceptable. And as soon as we received the first one and looked at it again – really looked at it – we agreed. If someone engages in any sexual act with anyone without his or her explicit consent, it’s rape...

The first step, however, is to admit our mistake and apologize. That’s what I’m doing here. We erred and we’re sorry – not because of your response, but because we were wrong and would’ve been wrong even if nobody had said so.
Contrast this to The John Hopkins Newsletter's statement about "fat chicks" at a lingerie party, where he writes "Though we apologize for the harm the article did, we will not apologize for the intent of the article."

I have seen numerous examples of college papers running completely inappropriate material, whether it be an opinion piece, a (failed) attempt at satire, or a comic strip like the one described above. Every time, I wonder how it makes it through editing, and I am not familiar enough with how newspapers are run to comment on that. What I can comment on is that only in a culture where sexual assault(under certain circumstances) is trivialized can this type of material make it into print.

I hope that The Exponent uses this as a learning opportunity and uses its influence to fight rape culture at Purdue rather than being a part of it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Enthusiastic Consent and how "yes means yes" can replace "no means no"

I have seen a lot of news stories on consent in the past few week, and in light of the Take Back the Night march that took place here Thursday, I thought I should post about this issue now. And I should start with a trigger warning for discussion around consent and sexual assault.

The most recent news story about consent was with regards to a really terrible incident that happened in British Columbia last week. It is all over the news here, but for readers who haven't heard, a 16 year old girl was drugged and then raped by several boys and men at a party, and pictures of the incident have been spreading online, beginning on facebook. That isn't even the part that has me most outraged. The part that really makes me angry is the very public response to the photos online and even on the news. She is being called names like "whore" and "slut." Some are saying that she asked for it, or that she is exaggerating- it wasn't really rape. Some commenters have even made jokes about it, including "Cmon, whose not down for a gang bang." Someone went so far as to suggest that she is making up the rape accusation because she regrets having slept with all of these people. I can't even begin to imagine what this girl is going through right now (ok, maybe I can begin to imagine), but I am shocked at this response. Having a glass of champagne that happens to be laced with a drug of some sort does not mean that you are consenting to having sex. It also does not mean that you are asking for it. And just because women are often cautioned not to accept drinks from men does not mean that she should have known better. This is NOT her fault.

But I have some ideas about why it is happening. I can think of two reasons, one being the relative anonymity provided by the internet... I'm sure most of these commenters do not know her and do not expect to be identified, and many are just expanding on previous comments. But the more important reason- the reason we can do something about- is the fact that we live in a culture where violence against women is accepted and even celebrated.

Just look at this T-shirt (posted on socimages)

See, non-consensual sex is fine! As long as she doesn't actually have the ability to say no, right?

Here is another example, this time from the show Big Brother. The contestant who ended up coming in second place told a story about a game he likes to play. This game involves a man having his friends come into the room when he is having sex with a woman and forcibly restraining her for 8 seconds so everyone in the room can see her. When Enzo (the contestant who came in third place) asked if that was rape, Lane laughed it off. Even Britney, the only woman remaining in the competition at the time, after saying that she would kill herself if it happened to her, got involved in the description of the game and was joking around about it. As far as I am concerned, if he has done this, he should be in prison.

And there was another incident over the summer that keeps coming back to me as absolutely inexcusable. A young woman was dancing at a Girls Gone Wild party. The cameraman asked her to expose her breasts, and she refused. Another woman came up behind her and pulled down the first woman's shirt with the cameras rolling so that her breasts were captured on tape. When she found out that the incident made it onto one of the movies she decided to sue. Despite the fact that they have her on camera refusing to show her breasts, a jury decided that merely being at the party was a form of consent, and that she did not have the right to keep her shirt on in front of the cameras! Good girls don't go to these parties, and if you do, then I guess you are "asking for it."

There are so many other examples that it is absolutely ridiculous, but I'm not going to describe any more of them here because I believe I have made my point.

I have written at length about sexual harassment as well as the regulation of female bodies in previous posts, and I think this topic just adds to that discussion because it is all based on the same basic premise that women's bodies exist for men... and we need to make it clear that this is not acceptable. I think that the best way to help change this is with the notion of enthusiastic consent. Enthusiastic consent goes far beyond "No means No" and is often described as "Yes Means Yes." Having sex with someone who is not fully capable of consenting is rape. Having sex with someone who you reasonably believe would rather not be having sex at that moment is not following the standard of enthusiastic consent and should therefore be seen as rape as well.

The main difference between these two standards of consent is with regards to responsibility. In the first standard (no means no), the victim is responsible for making it clear that they are not consenting. If they do not yell, kick, fight, and scream, it can be hard to get a conviction. And it is often the case that victims of rape do not realize that what happened to them was in fact rape because they feel they did not make it clear enough that they did not want to participate or that they did something to mislead their rapist into thinking that they might have been "asking for it." If we switch to the standard of enthusiastically consenting, it then becomes the responsibility of both partners to ensure that the other is affirmatively expressing desire to engage in each act that takes place. This can get tricky from a legal perspective, but there is a great post here specifically pertaining to how this can work as a legal standard.

I'm not sure that it will stop every rape from occuring, but I do believe that enthusiastic consent would make victim blaming a thing of the past. I think that if it were adopted as the dominant standard of consent, the previously mentioned examples of rape culture would be different (if they even happened at all). The T-shirt would not be funny, the "8-second game" would end in an arrest and Girls Gone Wild would have lost the lawsuit. And if pictures existed of a girl being raped, they would be turned over to police, not posted on facebook and joked about.

It would also make sex seem less dangerous in many ways. The focus could be on pleasure and communication instead of sexuality being something that is feared and commodified at the same time. Maybe this is still too ideal of a way of thinking... maybe we are too far from that point to make the change right away, but if we start talking to our kids about enthusiastic or affirmative consent (which I plan to write about very soon), then we can hope that it is not that far off for the next generation... but I'm not sure they will get there if they are constantly being exposed to the various other aspects of rape culture.

Tyra bullies contestants in an anti-bullying episode of ANTM

Today, I am going to do a post on reality television, more specifically, this week's episode of America's Next Top Model (which, unfortunately, means admitting that I do watch the show on occasion, lets just pretend it is for research purposes).

This weeks' episode really bothered me. The aspiring models did a photo shoot where they had words written on their bodies, one was a 'bully word' which was supposed to represent names that they were called by others. The other word was supposed to be an empowering word, reframing the bully word into something more positive and powerful. I like the idea of drawing attention to real world problems like bullying, however, I didn't like how it played out. Some of the women were obviously not comfortable with their 'bully word' and others did not seem very genuine (I guess not everyone has experienced bullying). Some of them even had fun with it, laughing at their bully name as though it were all a big joke, whereas others broke down crying at the thought of painting a word that has been used to hurt them so many times on their body.

One woman used the word Queer as her 'bully word' and Free as her 'power word'... it was a beautiful picture, but I wish she had used queer for both in order to further reclaim it, but that is probably hoping for too much on a show like this.

Then, in judging (where the judging panel rips apart the models' photos, poses, and overall appearance), they reverted to name calling. Here are a list of the words and phrases used in the 2 minute judging panel that appeared on television to describe these women
  • dreckitude (This is a new word, which appears to be a combination of Dreck and Attitude. If I am not mistaken, the word Dreck is a German word, something like 'dirty' in English, used as a sexist and classist form of moral regulation)
  • Gauche (can mean socially awkward, or lacking social class)
  • Don't like her muscle (she had awesome biceps)
  • her body does nothing for me (sounds very sexualized)
  • Terrible picture of her
  • she is trying to model
  • hoochie, too overly ripe, almost stale (this woman had large breasts, but was not dressed or posed any more provocatively than many of the other women)
And these comments end with a panel member saying "This has been a wonderful wonderful first, cause it's really social consciousness. I think we helped so many of those young ladies."

Please don't help me Tyra. I'd rather be left out of all of this supposedly therapeutic coming-to-terms-with-bullying than have you and your elite friends tear my body apart like that (yes, I understand that this is a big part of what modelling is about right now, because only perfect female bodies sell clothing, but don't pretend that you are helping these women and fighting bullying when you are picking apart their bodies).

The episode got me thinking about my own experiences of bullying, and I realized that I could not come up with a bully word if I were asked to. I was tormented at school from grades 4-10, especially in grade 7 and 8. Acne combined with good grades and poor social skills led to bullying that made school a frightning experience for me. I would stay up all night worrying about how to try and avoid it the next day or how to convince my mother to let me stay home. Still, I could not take these experiences and sum it up in a single word or a short sentence, it was so much more complicated than that.

And I don't mean this to sound like an afterthought, but I think it needs to be mentioned that there was also a model who appeared as though she might have an eating disorder. She was quite skinny with protruding bones and she discussed being on a strict low calorie diet. Tyra told her to eat some bread and butter before eliminating her from the competition. I'm really hoping that there was more follow up for this contestant than just telling her to eat, because I'm pretty sure that is not how to help someone who may (or may not) have an eating disorder. I would suggest that it is a form of bullying to go up to a skinny person and just tell them to eat; if she is anorexic, it is so much more complicated than just going to the kitchen and buttering a slice of bread.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The gendering of toys at a second hand store

I was trying to pass the time while waiting for my daughter to finish drama class on a rainy day, so I took my son to a used clothing store to let him look at the toys. This has always been a treat for my kids... to go to a consignment shop or a used clothing store and when we were done looking at the things that I wanted to look at, they would play with the toys. One of my favorite things about it was that all of the toys were mixed together, so there was no division based on age or gender of the children who are supposed to play with the toys, like in other toy stores. Much to my disappointment, this is no longer the case.

The section labeled "Girls Toys" contains stuffed animals, toys that are pink or purple in color, dolls and for some reason, board games (although that could partly be because there is room for game shelf here).

These toys include a purple My Little Ponies playhouse, a pink Littlest Petshop playhouse, a Littlest Petshop ice cream parlor, purple secret diary with a key card, jewelry and craft sets, a Bratz toy of some sort, Barbies, Dolls, High School Musical Cheerleading pompoms, skipping ropes, a cooking set and plastic dishes, and many other things that I cannot see or cannot identify (as well as what appears to be an electric drum and black boys dress shoes that I think waere left behind by a shopper, as they don't seem to fit in with the rest of the items). All toys that I have consistently seen gendered as female in advertising. The next picture shows the board games and stuffed animals.

The section labeled "Boys Toys," on the other hand, is a bit different. Although it does contain toys that I would suggest are typically gendered as being for male children (Tonka Truck, monster truck, transformers action figure and various other cars and trucks just to name a few), it also contains many toys that I don't think are typically gendered (Rubix cube, chess set, M&Ms Candy toy, math and reading flashcards, outdoor activities/sports toys, waterguns, keyboards, etc). Not seen in this picture, but still in the boys section, were 3 average lego sets (the kind that was marketed for all children before they came out with pink lego sets for girls).

This is just another example of male as standard or normal, along with the devaluation of all things female. All children are allowed to shop in the boys section. Boys, however, will not find anything suitable in the girls section (thankfully, my son would dispute that.. he loves Littlest Petshop and jewelry crafts). I think this store needs to seriously reconsider this new setup. I just want these toy stores to put everything back together on one big shelf and just let kids be kids.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Explaining privilege to children

Today, I realized that I have to try harder to explain the concept of privilege to my 5 and 7 year old children and I'm not entirely sure how to go about doing this. My 7 year old just came up to me with her shirt up, rubbing her stomach, crying, and said "I'm starving."

I don't like when people who are actually just hungry say that they are starving, but I understand that I need to be somewhat forgiving when children speak. Usually, I just correct her and say "no, you are hungry" and get her a snack. Today, something set me off. Maybe it is because she just ate a rather large dinner followed by dessert only an hour before this comment. She also had a larger than usual breakfast and lunch, followed by a trip to the store with her father for a snack. Is it possible that she was having a growth spurt or something and was legitimately hungry? Yes. But more likely, she was just bored and wanted to eat.

The drama really bothers me. Crying and rubbing her stomach as though she hadn't eaten all day. She is often quite dramatic, such as when she gets hurt or when something exciting happens, but this was beyond excessive.

I told her that she is not starving. I told her that there are children all over the world who have not eaten ANYTHING today, or who have eaten very little, many of whom are not putting up the same fuss as she is. I reminded her that there are children who die because they do not have enough food. I told her that she needs to understand how privileged she is to get 3 meals and 2-4 snacks a day. Every day. I told her that she does not know what it means to be hungry... truly hungry. I am vaguely aware of what it means; I have gone days without eating because I did not have the means to get food, and weeks without eating anything more than a bowl of soup with bread a day from the soup kitchen, but I do not understand what it means to be starving.

I would like to find a book, movie, or even a youtube video that is age appropriate for her. The problem is that most of these films are deeply disturbing for a variety of reasons, often just because they can be incredibly ethnocentric. I want her to understand her privilege.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I read some Marx (and I liked it)

This video was sent to me today and I had to post it...

It is a bit simplistic at times, but then I think that is to be expected when trying to fit a complex theory into song lyrics.


I thought I just wanted to pass;
Good grades were all I cared for.
My college made me take the class
More stuff for me to ignore!
But then I found out that
His theories weren't so bad:
Labor and class combat,
What a very clever man!

I read some Marx, and I liked it;
The friend of the proletariat.
I read some Marx, just to try it;
Hope Adam Smith don't mind it!
It felt so wrong,
It felt so right;
Men of the working class, unite!
I read some Marx, and I liked it;
I liked it!

There is a spectre hanging o'er
The face of Europe!
'Tis communism, and it's more
Than just a social hiccup.
A time will come soon when
The masses rise as one
To carve out their place in
The brand new poetry to come!


Marx is the man, he's working for you;
The bourgeoisie, they just ain't your crew.
Alienation of labor is bad,
Commodification is not a good fad.
The capitalists are greedy you see;
A shorter workday, now that's what we need!
I'm reading some Marx, and I'm liking it;
Rise up now, proletariat!


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Jacob stores no retouching policy

Jacob has announced a new "no retouching" policy for their ad campaigns. The ads show three photos; the raw image, the slightly re-touched image they plan to use for their campaign, and the fully retouched image that they would have ran before this policy.

According to the press release:
With the launch of its new fall campaign, JACOB has committed to no longer digitally alter the bodies of its models in images for both its JACOB and JACOB Lingerie brands....

“As a socially responsible company, JACOB has always made an effort to promote a healthy image of the female body. By adopting an official policy and broadcasting it publicly, we hope to reverse the trend in digital photo manipulation that has become excessive in our industry,” says spokesperson and Communications Director Cristelle Basmaji. “Our decision to never reshape the bodies of our models is particularly innovative for our JACOB Lingerie campaigns.”

The basis of the new “no retouching” policy is to promote an honest and realistic image of the female body. However, JACOB is not against all forms of touch-ups. Certain digital enhancements cannot be avoided in order to produce an image the size that is required for advertising. In all transparency, JACOB will continue to retouch its photos in some regards, as there will always be a need to calibrate colours for better product representation and to even out skin tone or erase tattoos and scars.

Here is an example

I will concede that the first two images are more realistic than the third. That being said, I would definitely like to draw attention to the fact that we have a young, thin, white model who conforms to all of the dominant beauty norms wearing underwear and high heels to sell clothing. With only one example available at the moment, it is hard to say whether they will promote a "healthy image of the female body" but I am of the opinion that this image isn't it.

This ad campaign is not particularly different from mainstream ads, but I do like that it shows the image as it would be retouched, which hopefully will expose some of the ways that photoshop works in advertising to people who would not otherwise see these before and after images.

I am also a bit upset about the no tattoos or scars policy, as I have written about before, there are times that I think that these 'imperfections' are better than the retouched images would look, but maybe that is just me.

So, is this campaign better than most of the images out there? Yes, it is. It shows how retouching works to raise the standards of beauty to something that is absolutely unattainable to women in real life, which is a good thing. It definitely goes further than most campaigns. But unless the other images that are yet to be released feature models whose appearance varies a bit more from dominant beauty standards, this is not going to be enough to change how women see themselves in any significant way. But it does get them in the news, and get bloggers (such as myself) talking about them, so I'm sure this campaign will at very least help them sell more clothing.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Anorexia jokes and celebrity diets

***Before reading this post, if you are a person who is triggered by discussions about eating disorders, you might not want to continue. I talk about my personal experience with body image, and unhealthy thoughts that I have had about my appearance, and I want to make sure that writing this does not normalize unhealthy thoughts, but instead informs people who do not have these thoughts where they might come from and how it can feel to be really uncomfortable with your body. I have also deliberately left out things like measurement numbers, actual weight, and comments specific to my body or appearance when it was not integral to my point, because I believe that such comments can encourage the type of thinking that leads to unhealthy body image.***

My brother, in search of a good profile picture, sent me this link that he thought I would find interesting... it is called "11 secrets to taking amazing nude photos"... for the record, he would probably like me to note that he insists all of his photos will be clothed, he was just looking for tips on things like flattering lights and camera angles. The site is a joke site, often in good humor... I used to read it regularly and found some of the columns quite funny, but I stopped reading it a while ago because there is often sexist, misogynist, heteronormative and occasionally even racist humor. This one got me thinking about my own relationship with diet and exercise.

For the purpose of this post, I would like to show tip number 3... and at this point I feel I should include a trigger warning for eating disorders.
Don't eat on shoot day. Have you ever gone a day without eating anything? It completely changes the way you feel. When you look in the mirror, you'll just feel like you look great. It doesn't matter if you weigh 95 pounds or 295... if you go without eating for the day, when you look in the mirror, you'll think you look better.

So don't eat on shoot day. (If you're anorexic, on shoot day, skip the can of Diet Coke for breakfast and lettuce leaf for lunch to avoid third worlding out your belly.)

By not eating, you'll (1) look better without a meal sitting in your belly and (2) more importantly, feel like you look better. It comes back to that confidence thing.

I could understand, maybe, if it said don't eat a heavy meal before the shoot... but this is definitely crossing the line. I, for one, do not feel like I look great if I haven't eaten all day... I feel like I'm going to pass out. If I think I look better when I look in the mirror, it is only because the image is probably getting blurry. Without food, I do not feel confident, I feel sick. It upsets me that women might feel more confident when they are starving. Just look at these quotes from models/actresses...

I don't think there is ever an appropriate time for anorexia humor... it just isn't funny. It is a very serious medical condition that kills women (and men, but mostly women). With websites purposefully encouraging anorexia, it needs to be clear that none of this is funny.

My own struggle with my weight has been quite unhealthy. In grade 4, our teacher had us each go up to the front of the class and weighed us in front of the entire class. We had to write down everybody's weight and make a chart out of the data. To this day, I can tell you how much I weighed when I was 10 years old. There were 4 girls in the class who weighed less than me, and I was jealous of them because, even at that age, I knew that weighing less was a good thing, but only for girls. So my best friend and I would talk about dieting and exercising to lose weight. We would spend our allowances on teens magazines and used them as step by step instructions on how to diet, exercise, and aspired to look like the models from the fashion pages.

This was the same year that a girl in the class started telling me that my butt was so big that I wouldn't fit through a door sideways (I was a gymnast, so I was very muscular). I can remember spending long stretches of time standing on the ledge of the bathtub so that I could see my body in the bathroom mirror and thinking that I looked like a freak... and I was 10 years old. I also remember wishing that I had the willpower to become anorexic, because I thought that would help me. At night, I would resolve to stop eating the next day, then I wouldn't make it past lunch. But I would exercise instead to make up for it; it was about body image, but it was also about control. Did I mention that I was 10 years old?

By the time I was 13, my best friend and I would exercise together and discuss food, weight, boys, fashion, makeup... all of the things that this magazine told us to that we were supposed to think about. We even began counting calories and measuring ourselves regularly to make sure puberty was not making us get bigger.

By grade 8 I was a competitive figure skater. I was really healthy and fit and in great shape, but I hated my legs because they were so thick... it didn't matter that I could press more weight than any of the boys in my class using the leg press, or that I could beat them at the 1500 meter race (the longest in my age category). I was a girl, and girls leg muscles were supposed to be long and lean, and mine weren't lean enough, so I would do a lot of ballet-style stretching and exercising to try and lengthen my muscles.

My first pregnancy was terrifying for me as well. Women are actually supposed to gain weight... but I heard so many horror stories about trying to lose that weight that I was scared to gain it. From the day I found out I was pregnant until the day I gave birth, I gained a total of 12lbs... The doctor had me coming in for weekly visits at 5 months because I was losing weight instead of gaining. I started exercising 5 days postpartum (most doctors recommend waiting 4-6 weeks). I would go for long walks (10+ km per day at 2 weeks postpartum) with the stroller and work out in my livingroom 2-3 times a day. And people kept complimenting me on getting my pre-baby body back, so I kept at it. And the less control I had over my life (the more abusive my partner became), the more I would exercise.

I am currently the heaviest I have ever been in my life, with the exception of my second pregnancy... which means only that I no longer have to purchase any specific clothing items from the children's section at most stores. I eat... I always have... that is not my issue. I struggle with exercising. I need to figure out how to find a healthy balance. I tend to begin exercising, go all out for a week or two, get scared, and stop altogether. Maybe the healthiest way to do this would be to pick 2 or 3 days a week and only exercise those days. Or to only choose fun ways to exercise, then it is entertaining and not compulsive. I'm not sure... I haven't thought about it much yet. But I can guarantee you that it does not help when I see jokes about how great I will feel if I don't eat for the day. Or quotes from celebrities normalizing unhealthy dieting behaviors. Or ads depicting which standards of beauty I am supposed to conform to.... this list could go on...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Street Harassment comic

This comic, found here, sums up way too many of my experiences.

I could literally tell hundreds of stories about street harassment that I have experienced, one of the most intimidating was a look without any comments at all. I could also tell a few stories about being physically attacked by men who thought that it was ok to force himself on me. I don't think it is fair to try and separate street harassment from physical and sexual violence.

Now, when I am walking in nearly deserted school hallways, I always get that knot in my stomach if there is a man walking behind me. Although it isn't fair to men for me to always assume the worst, it is a much better option than assuming otherwise and getting hurt. This is how it works for me, and I'm sure this is true for many women; we hear about sexual assault a lot, it plays on television, we have been warned about how to protect ourselves since adolescence (if not childhood), we know people who have experienced it, and many of us have experienced it ourselves. Upon hearing comments, such as those depicted in the image above, I am reminded about my position in relation to men. And I am reminded that men are usually stronger than I am. And I am reminded that we live in a culture where the objectification of female bodies is normal. This is why I don't welcome street harrasment, even the most 'innocent' comments.

J (daughter) learned about street harassment when she was only 4 years old. Everyday, when she got home from Junior Kindergarten, we would walk 5 minutes to her brother's daycare and another 5 minutes home. And more often than not, I would get harassed while holding J's hand and pushing a stroller with a 2 year old inside. At first, she thought that people were honking because they knew me, but it didn't take her long to realize that I didn't know that many people. Some comments were difficult to explain, mostly things like whistles, "hey baby" and "want a ride?" but sometimes vulgar comments were made even when I was with my children. And this happens regardless of what I am wearing.

Daring to go outside while female does not mean that my body is public property for men to look at and discuss. It does mean that I have to take added safety measures, compared to most men that I know. It means that I check the backseat before getting into my car. It means that I don't use specific parking lots on campus when I have night classes (which sometimes costs me money). It means that I usually avoid going outside alone at night, and the odd time that I do, I learn rather quickly not to do it again (at least for a while).

And I am not being irrational, as so many people have suggested. This is a real fear, not just for me, but it has been written and blogged about by so many other women... the fact that the above comic exists means that it is something that is really affecting the lives of women. My suggestion for men is that if you want to approach a woman on the street, maybe try holding back and just smiling from a distance. If she maintains eye contact and smiles back, then consider approaching. If she does not, than she is not interested at the moment. That does not mean try harder, it means leave her alone.

How to be a princess

My mother purchased a book for my daughter when she was on vacation in England and Scotland. It is called "The Usborne Princess Handbook: Your Top Secret guide to becoming a True Princess." I think she does this just to annoy me, as she was carefully watching my reaction as she began reading it.

Some of what it says is so awful that I hope it is meant as a joke, but my 7 year old daughter (who is obsessed with all things pink, sparkly, and "princess-like", definitely does not see it as anything other than explicit how-to instructions. In 6 years of trick-or-treating at halloween, she has dressed as a princess 3 times (and Hannah Montana once, which is basically the same thing). So this is serious stuff for her.

I will just type a few specific sentences and phrases that I have found in the limited reading I have done in this book.

Every girl has an inner princess - you just need to find her.
So this book applies to every girl, no exceptions. Tomboys, you aren't looking hard enough.

...there's more to being a princess than traipsing around in tiaras. You also need to know how to behave like one...
It is not about being born into a royal family of some sort... it is about behaving in specific ways. And since every girl has an inner princess, every girl (and woman, presumably) should behave in these ways.

The first step to becoming a princess is to be helpful... polite... and kind to everyone. A true princess never loses her temper... goes off in a huff... or makes a fuss.
Can you imagine a book telling boys that they have to be helpful and kind to everyone? Me neither... Boys are important. They are allowed to make a fuss on occasion. But a good princess must be groomed into taking orders from her father and husband, and giving orders (kindly) to children and servants.

Remember to keep clean! You can only sparkle if you're spotless.
Another double standard. Boys aren't only allowed to be dirty sometimes, but it is expected of them. Boys play in the mud, they play sports, grass stains on boys are an accepted part of life. Girls, however, must sparkle.

Don't cake yourself in make-up. It can be very unattractive.
But there is a limit on how feminine a girl is allowed to look before it crosses a line. We wouldn't want to be too sparkly, lest the princess be mistaken for a prostitute. The Madonna/whore dichotomy is alive and well in children's literature.

As a true princess, you need to be graceful at all times, from the turn of your head to the sweet of your curtsey. That means no tripping, no falling, no slouching, no plodding.
Great advice! It would be horrible for a princess to slouch on occasion... or trip and fall. That would be so unladylike... And again, advice that would never be given to a boy. Boys can't be graceful... that would be a little...

...try not to eat too much, or too fast.
Eating disorders. Let's start them early. Because there is nothing worse than a fat princess.

...the rule is quite simple: princesses don't run.... After all, you have to give the prince of your dreams a chance to rescue you.
Seriously?!? How are you supposed to play if you can't even run? I guess a good princess doesn't need to play sports or a good game of tag, but what does she do for fun other than kissing random frogs in the hopes that one will someday turn into a prince? And what do princesses need rescuing from, exactly? According to the book, things like hairy spiders and fire breathing dragons.

So, princesses (and by princesses I mean all women and girls out there, cause we all have inner princesses, remember), if you see a spider, don't kill it yourself, wait for a prince to come rescue you. And if you see a fire-breathing dragon, do not run away. If you run, how are you going to meet prince charming? Sure, if he isn't on time, the dragon might burn or eat you, but at least you know you died doing everything you could to meet a prince, right?

Thanks mom! (BTW, your other gifts were wonderful and very appreciated, even the purple tartan tights! Who knew I would ever wear tights?). And no, the book has not been banned in our house, we are reading it critically, and I am trying to turn it into a joke about how ridiculous these standards are, whether or not it was meant that way.