The Normalization of Rape

If there was one thing to be taken from Gender Studies 125, it would be that nothing is ever as it appears. All year the class has analyzed the media – everything from news coverage to animated movies to awareness/fundraising ads. We have learned that even the things that appear good have their own faults. Whether done intentionally or unintentionally, the faults are prevalent and serve as a severe concern.

People may disagree, but Legally Blonde is one of the best woman empowering movies out there. The main character, Elle Woods, transforms her ideals (while remaining herself) in order to achieve her dreams. She studies like crazy, refuses to sleep with her superior to get ahead of her other classmates, and is asked out as a sub-par subtext in the final credits. However, while re-watching this film recently, I picked up on something else. In one scene, Elle gets tricked into dressing up for what she believes to be a costume party. When she arrives to find her peers in regular clothes, one character greets her casually with, “wow, don’t you look like a walking felony.” In addition to the completely unnecessary and really just not funny rape joke, the line is also hints at victim blaming. This is what Elle was wearing to the party.

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Regarding only what she was wearing, the movie accustoms Elle dressing up as bunny to her deserving of rape. It associates what a person is wearing as a justifiable reason for someone else to take advantage of him or her. In her piece The Not Rape Epidemic, Latoya Peterson states on page 141 “…I fully understood the concept of being raped twice – first during the act, and then later during the court proceedings” in response to hearing a lawyer comment on a victims attire. Elle could have showed up naked. Even then, she doesn’t deserve to be “a walking felony” because frankly, no one deserves to be “a walking felony.” No one deserves to be raped, the same way no one asks to be raped; yet the topic is consistently joked about. In addition, people tend to neglect that rape is not just a female thing.

This video was recently brought to my attention, as some guy on my floor showed it to me because “it was funny.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HIoha2cc6bM The clip begins with Michael Cera and a female talking via their computers. In week six we read about “hyper-personal effect” which was a term coined by Joe Walther of Cornell University to justify how individuals are more revealing, open and sociable online than they are in real life. The female in the clip asks Michael Cera to “sex chat” in which she places herself “alone in a dark alley”, “vulnerable and half naked.” Michael Cera being unaware to what she is asking of him does not know how to respond.

Moreover, it is important to note that the clip depicts the female as wanting to be taken advantage of, and the male being unsure of what to do. As a testament to rape as whole, this clip speaks volumes about how women are not just victims, but rapists themselves. Although the clip conveyed this message comically, it shows that rape is a multifaceted issue. I am not saying that because the female asked to be raped this makes rape okay, or because Michael Cera was unsure of what to do that in the situation that he is supposed to represent all males because neither of these statements are true. The clip merely displays another side of rape that is not often shown – sometimes males are the ones taken advantage of.

Right here at Queen’s rape is considered a joke. This week, Queens Musical Theatre began running a musical called “Reefer Madness.” The production follows one boy and his gradual obsession on marijuana. The show is funny despite its serious subject matter, and most scenarios are exaggerated for humor. In one scene, the main character is shown in jail, in which the narrator states “prison showed Jimmy many horrors, but they are to inappropriate for our eyes.” During this bit, three other male inmates force Jimmy to his knees and crowd around him, before the narrator cuts them short. When she shoos them off the stage Jimmy praises her and mouths thank-you numerous times. It is important to note that the scene was not essential to development of character or story line. It was placed to add humor because prison rape jokes are so mainstream that they are no longer considered offensive by the general public. It would be harder to find a show/movie that DOES NOT make a prison rape/rape joke than it is to find one that does. The very serious and life altering issue has been made so comical it is a board game – “don’t drop the soap,” allows players to make their way through a prison system.

Although arguably one of the most prevalent and disturbing issues, rape remains a constant. I have watched clips in which women claim that men need to be taught not to rape, I have participated in self-defense classes that would help me ward off a potential attacker, I walk with my keys in between my fingers at night and I hope that people just stop wanting to rape others. People place on blame on the victims as well as the perpetrators, and people edify both protection and human respect. Yet, the issue thrives.

One TV show, One Tree Hill, filmed a controversial episode surrounding a school shooting. In a voice over, one character stated: “Does darkness have a name? Is it your name?” People can blame all they want, and they can try to protect all they want, but rape is carried out by humans, and it is done so everyday. Rape is a physical attack, but it is also deeply moral, mental and societal. Has anyone ever thought to question the occurrence of rape paired with society, culture, humans? They are pieced – paired together like two sides of a magazine or a coin, feeding and building off each other. Rape cannot dissipate until we change, taking giant actions towards a culture so embedded within our society.

I am Who I am

“I am who I am,” that’s the motto that I believe everyone should rule their lives with. After finishing this course, the strongest message that has resonated with me is that no matter your gender, race, or sexuality you are who you are and nobody should let you feel differently. Due to the fact that I am cis gender and thus receive cis privilege one would say that I have the easy life, as I am what I appear to be. In contrast to what people think, I believe because of the fact that I am cis gender and I receive all of these invisible cis privileges I am more likely to recognize the hardships that trans gender individuals have to face.

A famous case of a female to male trans man that has received a lot of media coverage is Thomas Beatie. Beatie’s claim to fame was the pregnant male. Thomas’ wife could not conceive children and luckily he still had his female organs, therefore he became inseminated and bore them three children. This story received a lot of media coverage, deeming this man a freak show, a freak of nature or just completely unnatural. As a cis gender individual I believe that this story should not be regarded as freaky, but viewed as a miracle! People spend their whole adolescence trying to avoid getting pregnant with the use of condoms, birth control and plan B. All of these techniques are avidly used by youth, but these can have adverse affects after prolonged use making women completely infertile. Beatie and his wife, Nancy faced this problem but instead of having to pay tens of thousands of dollars to higher a surrogate or doing donor implantation, Thomas was able to save the day with his female organs. This is a true case that portrays that love prevails over all regardless of your sex or gender and in this case Thomas’s sex that he was born with ended up being useful in their marriage. Thomas truly breaks the sexual script of his gender by bearing children, as he is recognized as the first pregnant man.

Thomas Beatie’s life is back in the public eye as he is now seeking a divorce from his wife, Nancy. Thomas Beatie married Nancy in Hawaii where he was deemed a man without having to show any records of procedures to legally make him a male. Currently, as a resident of America the courts do not recognize Thomas and Nancy’s union of nine years as a legal marriage, therefore will not authorize a divorce. This is not only discrimination against trans people, but against sexuality. Arizona will not allow them to get a divorce because Thomas still has female organs, deeming him a female in the states therefore labeling the couple as lesbians. I believe it is completely unfair that the courts have power over the individuals identity, which is this case is trapping both individuals in an unhappy marriage. Moreover, the court is labeling this couple as lesbians even though both Thomas and Nancy identify as straight.

What is quite interesting is that the first time Thomas was in the media he was presented as the first pregnant male, but now that he is seeking a divorce and they are not authorizing one, they are technically calling him a woman. It is important to question what has changed over the past couples years that has made the media recognize him as a different sex. Was it because the government was not involved so Thomas was allowed to be whatever gender he chose to be? Now that the government is involved is it fair for them to have power over his gender identification and sexuality? 

In addition it is important to question whether Thomas’ race effected his treatment when filing for a divorce. Due to the fact that he is half Caucasian and half Filipino he is lower on the cultural hegemony. Thomas’ mixed ethnicity is seen as a minority race in America, therefore one must question if the rulings would be different if he was part of the majority and thus received white privilege.

Overall, I believe that the plethora of media coverage that Thomas has received; being on Oprah, magazines, newspapers and more has truly been beneficial to the trans community as he has made society more aware of the of the normality of trans gender. As stated on Oprah “he does not see himself as both a mother and father. ‘I see myself as a father who gave birth,’ he says. ‘Susan, Austin and Jensen call me ‘Daddy.’ And that is my name. I’m not Thomas anymore — I’m ‘Daddy.’” Thomas is a strong, outspoken man who he is a great representative of the trans community. The treatment Thomas is receiving is completely unfair and I believe he should be authorized a divorce.

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Racial Profiling Gone Wrong

            The original term “racial profiling” referred to when law enforcement uses a person’s race or cultural background as the primary reason to suspect that the individual has broken the law. A primary and common example of this is airport security. Individuals who are Muslim or physically have an ‘Arab look’ tend to receive extra airport security check because it is automatically assumed that they might be a terrorist.

I have actually had a personal experience with this when my family was driving across the boarder one summer. My father, who has a full beard and mustache and tanned skin, facial appearances that resemble those of Arabic descent, was at the driver’s seat when we arrived at the boarder. Right after he put down the window to talk to the officer, before any questions were asked the officer immediately asked my father to step out of the car and to open all doors. As the oldest child I was asked if “this man” is really my father and if the other children in the car are really my siblings. I blankly looked at the officer and told him that he was my father and that we are going on a family trip. After my father received a pat down and they were done investigating every aspect of our car, we were free to cross the boarder. Unfortunately, this is one of many stories related to racial profiling. Now, statistics have shown that an Arab-looking man boarding an airplane is more likely to be a terrorist. However, do statistics like this give law enforcement officers the right to treat those who physically appear as “danger” different and more extreme security treatment than those who appear “safe,” such as a white individual? Racial profiling has turned into extreme racial discrimination and it is a serious problem that seems far from being fixed.

 

To begin, lets first take a look at this article that I found online:

http://www.cireport.ca/2011/12/canada-racist-prison-system-sees-50-spike-in-black-inmates.html

 

            Evidently, racial profiling is not only a serious problem that occurs in security checks, but individuals that are apart of minority groups are having their lives ruined and limited because of this problem. The above article shares that there has been a 52% increase in black offenders in jail, which is the most dramatic increase that there has ever been. The article also explains that black offenders placed in jail are locked up at younger ages and for longer periods of time. Therefore, if and when they are released, it is at their peak employment time, however they are let back into the world with no employment or housing because their lives have been spent behind bars instead. This most defiantly has an impact on why the poverty rates for coloured people are significantly higher compared to the white population. This is a prime example of institutional racism, which is any kind of system of inequality based on race. Unfortunately, it goes even further than coloured individuals just being charged than their white counterparts. The treatment that this minority group receives in jail tends to be harsher and much more brutal by the officers. If law enforcement officials are treating minority groups with greater enforcement and harsher punishment, then what does this say about society? Individuals look up to officials, like police officers, and if their treatment towards minorities is unfair, then individuals are going to believe that this treatment is just and will follow their lead.

           

            Looking at the history of minority groups, there seems to be influential causes for their treatments seen today. For instance, black students have received harsher punishments in school, a place where all children should feel safe. Therefore, these children have higher chances of growing up into “rebels,” contributing to the reputation that blacks are affiliated with gangs and want to cause to harm to others. Another further contribution to this problem is the Prison-Industrial Complex. The Prison-Industrial Complex helps secure the authority of people who get their power through racial, economic and other structural privileges by defending current power distributions. This is created through media portraying certain groups as criminal delinquents. For example, in the movie Training Day, Denzel Washington trains a police officer, but by following his own techniques, which are quite unorthodox for the police force. By the end of the movie, Denzel’s character becomes what one would consider a dishonest and disproved cop. When media, one of the strongest influential tools, is consistently portraying those of minority groups as villains or outcasts, it is surely going to influence how society behaves towards them.

           

            Racial discrimination is extremely problematic that requires a change in the structure of society in order for fixture to begin. Media has a large amount of influence and power to help this change, but instead it has been used to contribute to the issue at large. The way media portrays minority groups, such as coloured people, is often done in a negative light and this contributes to the treatment they receive in real-life by authorities. Making assumptions based on one’s physical appearance or cultural background is wrong, even if statistics may prove otherwise. There always needs to be probable cause for search or seizure and this law should remain enforced in all areas of society. 

 

            

Muslim women in the media: Silenced or Sexualized

For many years, particularly the period following 9/11, there has been an overabundance of misconceptions and misrepresentations of Muslim women in American television and film, which has had an enormous impact on the public mind. The negative stereotyping and homogenous outlook has led to a large cultural misunderstanding of Arabic and particularly Muslim women as many Westerners see such women as inferior to the Western defined norm by virtue of their “incomprehensible” difference. These false and exaggerated representations in the media have ultimately led to the oppression of this minority group. As stated in the 2006 documentary “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People”, “Washington and Hollywood spring from the same DNA”. It is no wonder that individuals in Western society hold the same misguided views on Muslim people that are so often portrayed in the media. It is with this post that I will highlight several examples of the stereotyping of Muslim people that is exhibited through television and film. For example in the television show “The Bachelor” and the film “Zero Dark Thirty”.

In Hollywood film and television today, Muslim women are often characterized in two extreme but very different manners. Muslim women are either portrayed as silenced victims or as sexually available and exotic beings. In both these extremes, victimhood and sexualization, the oppression is always at the hands of a man. The abundance of media images of Muslim women pleasing men, through submissiveness or through sexuality, is a constant reminder of the heteronormative society we live in. These forms of pleasure are never directed towards another woman nor are they self-satisfying, but these images always convey men in a powerful position receiving pleasure from the oppression of women, which ultimately represents a male privileged society.

With respect to Muslim women who are depicted as passive victims of masculine dominance, this victimization is often demonstrated in the media through images of cloaked women submissively following a dominant male figure, often for example, images of women shuffling in the background are seen. Moreover, in many movies it is not uncommon to see women covered in black from head to toe, appearing as unattractive and enslaved beings to men. They shuffle behind abusive and dominant “terrorist” men following their every command while not muttering a word. This for example is prevalent in the movie “Zero Dark Thirty”. While I searched the Internet to find a clip or an image to demonstrate the portrayal of Muslim women in this movie, I came up empty handed. After further research, here is why: The movie, lasting over two hours, takes place in many different Middle Eastern cities in the Islamic republic, yet Muslim women are only shown in 13 scenes, most of such scenes taking place at Osama Bin Laden’s compound during the American attack. Not one of the Muslim women shown in this movie had single scripted line (the only noises that the women made were screams or crying), thus emphasizing the stereotypical silenced submissive figure. Furthermore, these women are depicted as the “belongings” of terrorist men in the movie. The only discussion of Muslim women is when a CIA officer notes that Muslim women must live with their husbands and are never found independently living in a home (which can explain why most of the women were seen in Bin Laden’s compound). This comment reiterates the Westernized view that Muslim women are the possession of men, and are oppressed by Islam. In other scenes of the busy downtown streets, occasionally several women in burqas can be spotted in the background, but even this is seldom (I think it is important to note that in present day Pakistan, where several of the scenes took place, many women in fact do not wear any head coverings). Moreover, not only are the Muslim women in this film displayed as the victims of Muslim men, but also are vilified and made inferior in comparison to the “heroic” upper-class white American men. To conclude, non-Muslim people frequently mention veils as evidence of the oppression of Muslim women, and when media outlets such as the film “Zero Dark Thirty” only portray these oppressed images, it is no wonder that non-Muslim people develop such false notions. Not only do these images narrow the Western understanding of Muslim women, but they also create cultural barriers for Muslim women in reality, as they are unfairly judge based on these false representations.

On the contrary a very different representation of Muslim women is also demonstrated in popular media today. The second common representation is of Muslim women being exotic and darkly-tempting sex-symbols. Particularly more recently, exoticized, and hypersexualized images of Muslim women are becoming increasingly popular. Many movies and TV shows highlight objectifying Muslim women as sex symbols, for example in the heteronormative and highly criticized, but ever so popular show, “The Bachelor”. This season, America was introduced to the first-ever Muslim woman on the Bachelor, Selma.

Selma

Selma (The Bachelor, Season 17 Contestant)

It was not until Selma mentioned her families faith, however, that the viewers realized that she was Muslim as she has had numerous cosmetic surgeries to make her face appear less “Middle Eastern”, as well as admitted to undergoing skin-lightening treatment. Moreover, America assumed that she was not of the Islamic religion by virtue of the fact she did not wear a veil. The Bachelor himself was shocked when she confided in him of her religious views, as was the rest of America.  Following the addition of Selma to the cast, “The Bachelor” was praised for “racially diversifying their cast”. I disagree with this statement, as the producers would never include a woman of Islamic decent if she was not a glamorized exotic woman, falling into the category of a conventionally beautiful feminine woman. Adding a Muslim woman who wears a veil to the cast would be unheard of in this television series, as a woman who wears a veil, most definitely does not fall into the Western idea of a conventionally beautiful woman. One also has to note that Selma comes from a highly privileged background, which I believe also played a major role in her casting on the show, as “The Bachelor” always casts professional and successful women of high socioeconomic status in order to glamorize the show, ultimately to achieve a high profit. Finally, I find it hard to agree that “The Bachelor” could ever diversify their cast by virtue that the show exhibits a dominant heteronormative culture, excluding any individual who identifies themself as queer. It would be unheard of if the nature of the show changed to having homosexual couples finding love and happiness. I find it quite ironic that women who identify themselves as lesbians would never be cast on this show, however, the show is constantly promoting girl-on-girl verbal and physical violence in order to win over the “heart” of a man, ultimately promoting female competition and enlightened sexism.

Finally, I personally have felt to a small degree the oppression that Muslim and more broadly, women of Arabic decent face. Based on my physical appearance, no one has ever guessed that I come from a Middle Eastern decent, as I do not fit the stereotypical “Arab” appearance. My family on my maternal side, however, is from the Middle East. After I share this part of my heritage with friends and peers they immediately assume I am Muslim and do not initially believe that I have family from the Middle East, as I do not fit the veiled and victimized Arabic stereotype so often portrayed in the media. Then after telling people of my family background come the endless and repetitive Middle Eastern “jokes” and “remarks” that never seem to end.

It is because of the popular distorted and inaccurate images of Muslim women exhibited in Western culture, that many people have the view that the Islam community equates with the oppression of women and that such women yearn to live in a “liberating” country like the United States. As stated in the 2006 documentary, “Reel Bad Arabs”, the more Arab women advance, the more Hollywood keeps them locked in the past. I am curious about other positions and views on Muslim women in the media. Do you think that American film has become more oppressive towards Muslim women since the tragedies of 9/11, or do you believe that our society is evolving and becoming more inclusive and less narrow-minded on the Islamic faith?

Transgender Male (FTM) Chaz Bono

Transgenders are bodies that are subject to victimization for gender transgressions. Discrimination against these bodies is prevalent, however underreported. Many studies show that many incidents of transgender violence go unheard of, which is a major issue in today’s society.

In 2011, ‘Dancing with the Stars’ (DWTS) was one of my favourite shows on television. Season 13 featured phenomenal cast members, such as Chaz Bono, Ricki Lake, Kristin Cavallari, Rob Kardashian, Rob Artest, Carson Kressley, and many other famous stars. Chaz Bono on DWTS aroused major controversy with the media because he is a transgender male (FTM). In the picture below, we are able to view the transformation that Chaz went through with a “before-and-after” photo. In the before photo (left), ‘Chastity’ Bono (female) had long hair and more feminine features, whereas the after photo (right) shows the transformation Chaz went through (FTM) where he encompasses more masculine features.

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On Fox News online, Keith Ablow (2011) posted a transphobic article ‘Don’t Let Your Kids Watch Chaz Bono on ‘Dancing with the Stars.’’ Ablow refers to Bono as a “transsexual” woman, therefore right from the beginning we can tell that he has no idea what he is talking about in reference to Bono and trans people. Chaz Bono is in fact a transgender male. Ablow continues to refer to Chaz using female pronouns, such as “she” and “her” and humiliate him by saying how he is a “woman who underwent plastic surgery and takes male hormones in an effort to appear to be a man, and who asserts she is a man.” The ways in which Ablow is referring to Chaz is degrading and a form of trans bashing. Ablow is a white, successful man who is ultimately arguing that trans people are confused and that this is an issue that can be fixed if they just get help. Ablow believes that trans people do not have a place on the gender continuum. Keith Ablow’s positionality definitely puts him at the highest level of the hierarchy, whereas Chaz Bono, a transgender male who is clearly at a lower rank on the social scale with limited advantages. Bono steers away from cultural gender roles that are deemed normative. Ablow states that by watching Bono on this TV show, children’s gender dysphoria “is a toxic and unnecessary byproduct of the tragic celebration of transgender surgery.” In psychology, I have learned that transgender individuals do not feel any sort of suffering or pain because of their gender identity, therefore this statement is used solely to humiliate these bodies by arguing that trans people do not exist or have a place in our society or world.

Ablow continues to argue that parents should keep their children from watching any episodes that include Bono as children are at their most vulnerable state. He believes that by making their kids subject to such a horror, it “can erode our children’s evolving sense of self.” Trans people are continuously attacked by the privileged, especially those who are cissexual. By denying their children from watching this TV series, they are reinforcing the stigma that is associated with transgender individuals. Depictions of trans people in the media often perpetuates this violence and reinforces the negatives stereotypes associated with these bodies, such as Ablow’s transphobic article. Due to this stigma, trans people are often victims of physical, sexual and verbal abuse, such as rape, hate speech, and other forms of abuse.

Transgender bodies are constantly being victimized for transgressing against normative gender roles. The law is designed for a cissexual body and as a result, transgender individuals do not possess any form of sexual citizenship. Consequently, this leads to violence against trans bodies in many different spheres of society, such as at school, workforce, in the home, jails, etc. For instance, transgenders in prison are extremely vulnerable, especially when compared to those who are cissexual. Cissexual bodies in prison have many more advantages compared to transgenders. This is an example of cissexual privilege, where the advantages cissexuals possess in prison vastly exceeds the rights possessed by transgenders when in the same environment. An LGBT person in prison encourages an atrocious amount of violence. ‘Just Detention International’ (JDI) recorded studies on abuse in juvenile facilities and “found that kids who reported a non-heterosexual identity had been assaulted at twice the rate of youth detainees overall.” Moreover, other surveys have shown that “adult prisoners have found that gay and transgender inmates are, by far, the most likely to be raped.” These studies show the tremendous amount of vulnerability that is associated with being queer. Cultural hegemonies at stake are those minorities, such as transgenders due to cissexual privilege.

Transgender bodies are victimized solely due to their gender that they identify with. Those with cissexual privilege degrade trans bodies by dehumanizing them, using derogatory names and blaming it on a psychological disorder. For instance, Ablow argues that those who are transgender are experiencing a “journey of a very disordered person who endured, and likely will continue to endure, real suffering based on extraordinarily deep psychological problems.” These issues concerning transgender people are increasingly perpetuating violence, should not be tolerated and must come to an end immediately.

References used:

Article on Juvenile Detention International on Vulnerable Inmates:

http://www.justdetention.org/en/vulnerable.aspx

Article by Ablow on Chaz Bono:

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2011/09/02/dont-let-your-kids-watch-chaz-bono-on-dancing-with-stars/

Article on Trans Violence (on Queen’s Library website):

Gender Violence: Transgender Exepriences with Violence and Discrimination by: Lombardi, Wilchins, Priesing and Malouf.

I Get I’m A Woman, but I Think I Can Save Myself

I love to read, and I do so extensively. Up until a few years ago, I never understood the depth of which I was influenced by the books I so whole-heartedly devoured. A person is everything they see, their actions, their beliefs – everyone is. This is common knowledge and its understood to be true and accepted. I guess I just never realized the extent. I am a product. Everyone is a product. Feelings and actions are created not only because of the things a person is taught, or the things they inherit, but they are the result of the TV shows watched, the music listened to, and all the books they consume.

This month in lecture we began to analyze. Instead of discussing issues, Professor Tolmie showed us real evidence. She presented us ads, discussed TV shows, scrutinized movies and dissected books. Having read both series she discussed a few weeks back, she had my attention. It was so weird for me to see books I had read picked apart; and in doing so, I was able to pick up on things I had never noticed before. I guess it is important for me to mention I read fast. I read so fast that I don’t really take the time to reflect on what I’m consuming, or its effect on me. I never associate the roles of the characters I read as being problematic unless they are evidently flawed. Sure, some are written as stupid, or afraid, or waiting for their prince charming, and those are normal attributes that can be associated to anyone – regardless of their age, sex or nationality. But I honestly never associated these ideals as being offensive, derogatory or undermining. I never realized that these ideals are so consumed and socially constructed that we don’t even recognize them anymore unless we take the time to critically analyze. And let’s get real, who makes the time to do that with everything else they have to do? Not many of us.

But that’s the problem. We let these things stay prevalent in society because, hey, they aren’t that detrimental. It may be a popular series, but it is not that noticeable. No one really picks up on how Bella Swan or Anastasia Steele depend on a man, no one notices how much they request their approval before they act, no one picks up on their inability to self sustain. No one except a Gender Studies prof, or maybe a feminist. But that simply isn’t true. The signs are all there, and we ignore them. We let them slide by because were reading these books, or watching this show for pleasure, not to scrutinize. So what, you may ask? (I asked it too – don’t worry). Then I stumbled across this:

http://www.rolereboot.org/culture-and-politics/details/2012-12-a-letter-to-the-guy-who-harrassed-me-outside-the-bar

It’s an article on the unwarranted and unwanted compliments women receive from men in public (and it’s worth a read!). Most women disregard the comments as annoying and obnoxious, or we cross to the other side of the road, or we just ignore it. It’s the same as in the books. We’ve just accepted that this is our reality – it doesn’t matter whether we want the attention or not, or if were even deserving of it (a friend of mine once got cat-called walking her dog in her fathers sweatpants – “the perks of being tall and blonde” was her response to it), all us women just accept these situations to be truth. But in doing so, we are promoting rape culture.

These things are so embedded within our society it is almost impossible to think of a reality without them. What is good TV if the cute boy doesn’t fight two to three seasons for his dream girl? How can a book hook so many readers if one the character lacks an attribute that needs to be fixed? How can anything work without gaps for others to fill? But with that, our society continues to perpetuate women as victims, as naïve girls who need to be saved.

Maybe it’s appealing – I know I dreamed of my knight in shining armor for years because Disney showed me that he was coming – but it leads to so much more. People aren’t meant to be saved, and women don’t need someone else to complete their lives for them. Characters can still be ideal and relatable without the assumption that their independence is lacking, or without a strong male “counter-part”. Relationships can be people of equal attributes and a level playing field – as much as I enjoy the different realities to escape to, I don’t think I would ever want to live in one where my boyfriend told me what to eat. We as women complain often about the world we live in, and we do so because it isn’t fair, or fun, or equal most of the times. We complain because were scared and were aware, and we know reality. We’re entitled to that much at least. Yet, we let it slip by and remain as we consume it in different worlds through the characters we read and see. Maybe we have more to change than we thought.

Growing up, my favourite movies to watch were definitely Disney. At home I have three shelves of different Disney films, including all the Disney princess ones of course. I basically thought I was a princess and apart of Disney World. These movies truly fascinated me. I was a young girl who was mesmerized by their lives and the fairytales they were living in. I agree with the previous post in that these Disney movies highlight many negative stereotypes concerning gender and race. All of the princesses are beautiful, thin, and attractive young girls. These are the stereotypes and sexual scripts that are unfortunately instilled in the minds of children at such a young age.

Similarly, these stereotypes and sexual scripts are apparent in television shows today. In my opinion, I believe the degree to which television shows portray certain stereotypes is quite obscene in popular culture. The majority of television programs that adolescents watch nowadays are filled with gender stereotyping, racial stereotyping and as mentioned earlier sexual scripts. However, I also feel that some shows are trying to bush the boundaries of stereotypes and show the truth of it all. I will do an analysis of several shows comparing the differences some being very stereotypical and others not. For example, on Modern Family, Cam and Mitchell are homosexuals and the way they behave on the show is very stereotypical to gay men, such as the way they talk and act. Max Blum, a character on the show Happy Endings is portrayed as the gay best friend, however his character is very different than Cam and Mitchells. Blum’s character portrays a man who is “a hairy, horn-dog, no-good single gay dude…who spent more time eating Cheez Whiz than applying ‘product’” (Pinkert, 2013). As I was watching this show, I immediately thought this to myself. He is not depicted as the typical, stereotypical gay guy on a TV show. His character is hilarious and he’s essentially the joker in their friend group, but the majority of his jokes are not about him being gay or even homosexuals at all. I thought this was very interesting to compare the two TV shows and compare the portrayals of these two homosexual men. Another interesting comparison I would like to address is Sofia Vergara’s character on Modern Family, Gloria. I am a fan of this television show; therefore I am quite familiar with each character. Gloria does not go an episode without mentioning her ethnicity, her promiscuous clothing or acting in a certain way because she is “Colombian.” Of course, Gloria is always dressed in revealing clothing with her breasts out. This is typical and also very stereotypical, which is quite apparent in many episodes. On the other hand, April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation is also Latina. Her character is very different from Sofia Vergara. The humor on the show got me hooked immediately along with the cast and their personalities. The majority of the characters are presented without all the typical stereotypes that are visible in the majority of television shows today, such as Modern Family. April is “vivacious” and never goes on a rant in Spanish or even with a heavy accent as Gloria takes on in Modern Family. Also, Tom Haverford played by Aziz Ansari in Parks and Recreation is without a doubt comical and charming. His role on Parks and Recreation breaks the barrier of stereotypes as he is not portrayed like most South Asians would be – “proud and macho” or even “effeminate and nerdy,” however he is sweet, comedic and definitely considered the coolest guy on the show by far. The last example I feel is really prevalent in TV shows today would be the typical dumb blonde. On the Big Bang Theory, Penny definitely fulfills this character of a dumb blonde that is dating a nerd. On the other hand, Dallas Royce played by Cheryl Hines is very good at handling things, has great judgment with a good head on her shoulders as much as she comes off as a blonde bimbo.

These TV shows show us how gender and racial stereotypes are so apparent in popular culture. However, some shows in popular culture are able to push these boundaries and make great television. I believe it is quite distressing that children are being instilled with these stereotypes at such a young age and I believe more television programs should stop trying to make their show more comical by being extremely stereotypical.

Sofia Vergara, Modern Family

Sofia Vergara, Modern Family

 

 

Max Blum, Happy Endings

Max Blum, Happy Endings

 

Modern Family

Modern Family

April Ludgate, Parks and Recreation

April Ludgate, Parks and Recreation

Penny, Big Bang Theory

Penny, Big Bang Theory

The Utopia Isn’t So Perfect After All

It has become common knowledge that those with disabilities in western, modern society are constantly faced with social barriers that prevent them from fully participating within their community. I personally believe that with time and effort that these barriers can begin to diminish. However, the influential and powerful pop culture today plays no role in helping reducing the barriers for people with disabilities, because movies and advertisements are constantly portraying disabled persons as helpless and useless. We, society, are unconsciously influenced by these endless amounts of media portrayals that surround us on a daily basis.

Definitions and terminology play a strong role in defining the negative perceptions placed on those with disabilities. For instance, the individual model of disability uses a physiological approach and states that impairment is due to genetic heritage, accident or disease. This definition clearly claims that those with disabilities do not follow what the majority of modern, society defines as ‘normal.’ Official terminology, like the individual model of disability, has the capability to affect how society perceives those with disabilities. If the terminology is giving a negative connotation on those with disabilities then the perception of disabled persons by society will also tend to have an undesirable implication.

You might be wondering now what media portrays disabled persons in a negative light. One example is a top selling box office movie hit in 2009, Avatar. Not only does Avatar make those with disabilities appear weak and unworthy, but it also has numerous racists and gender stereotypes remarks. No wonder thousands of articles were published critiquing the movie after it was released.

Lets first focus on the portrayal of those with disabilities. For those of you who do not know, Avatar is about a white man named, Jake Sully, who abandons his disabled body and goes to a world called, Pandora. In Pandora he is suppose to persuade the nature-loving Na’vi tribe that lives there to make way for humans to come in and mine in their land. Eventually, Sully switches sides and falls in love with the Na’vi princess and leads the tribe to victory against the white men. Sounds familiar, right? To begin, Avatar takes place in a utopian society, meaning it is an imagined place where everything is perfect. Yet, one aspect that does not appear ‘perfect’ is Sully’s disabled body. Throughout the movie, Sully expresses that he prefers his Avatar body because in it he is able to walk and is not restricted in his wheelchair. The movie delivers the message that one should be happier and life is better when you are not disabled, for Sully’s character only feels powerful and useful when he is in the Avatar world and not in his wheelchair. In addition, the utopia created in Avatar is extremely high-tech and futuristic. Technology is constantly aiding researchers on the Avatar world and helping them solve their problems. In other words, the movie is predicting that in the future it is possible that technology might be able to solve multiple problems for it will become so advance. It is quite interesting how the technology in this utopia is used in multiple ways, yet it appears that it was never used to study how it can assist those with disabilities, showing that disabled persons’ life style remains the same in the present and the future and they will always have barriers restricting them.

While on the topic of Avatar, it is relevant to mention the gender stereotypes and racists remarks that occur throughout the movie because these are still ongoing issues that surround us. Lets first take a look at the structure of the Avatars:

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Avatar’s Body Structure

Notice how both are practically naked and that the male is muscular, strong and has a defined six pack and the female is thin and physically fit. Both the male and female Avatars are given the ‘ideal’ body image of their sex. Even in a utopian world, media shows that there is still only way to appear attractive.

The racism throughout Avatar is the plot of the entire movie. If you recall the plot summary, Sully, is a white male that leaves his disabled body and becomes an Avatar in Pandora. Although Sully physically appears as one of the Avatars, white privilege – advantages that white people benefit from that is beyond the common advantages experienced by coloured people – remains with him throughout. Sully does not necessarily get the whole Na’vi experience because he always has the choice to switch back to human mode, giving him an advantage over the rest of the Na’vis. Lastly, the movie ends when the white man, saves the ‘helpless’ coloured people, in this case blue people, from the white peoples’ attacks. As usual, the white person is accepted in the coloured world, becomes the most loved person and then eventually becomes their leader and saves them. Again, media is emphasizing that coloured people always needs a white person to rescue them, even though we all know this is not true.

Although Avatar may have been a box office knock out, it is no secret that the movie discriminates those with disabilities, reinforces gender stereotypes and reiterates the historical white people-colour people relationship. With pop culture producing movies with these messages, it is no wonder that barriers exist for minority groups today.

Disney Princesses and Villains

I couldn’t agree more with Wordtothewomen1’s statement, “there is a large inequality of racial representation with Disney princesses”. In fact, I could argue that this is an understatement of the racial representation of Disney princesses. Despite Disney’s small strides towards diversifying the representation of gender and racial differences with its characters (e.g. Disney’s 2009 film, The Princess and the Frog), what occurs “behind the scenes” is far from diverse. Not only are the vast majority of princesses and other Disney characters white in colour, but the voice actors of the few racially diverse princesses are in fact Caucasian themselves. Take for example princess Jasmine, a young woman of Arabic decent. One with think, like her character, the voice behind the princess would be of a similar background, however, unsurprisingly a white-American is the actress. Similar with Pocahontas, a Caucasian women (whom is not in the slightest Native American), is the one belting the songs for the animated character.

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One does not have to look very deeply into what goes on behind the scenes in Disney movies to discover a lack of racial diversity and the presence of racism. Below are several photos of Disney villains. While looking at these photos, I urge you to find similarities.

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It disturbs me to realize that many of the Disney villains are made to look as though they are a different race from the “white” norm portrayed in films. In Aladdin for example, Aladdin and the villain, Jaffar, are both Arabic men. Yet Aladdin has been given a very light skin-tone and speaks and sings with an American accent. Jafar on the other-hand is portrayed in a more ethnic manner with a thick Middle-Eastern accent and a darker complexion. An even more distinguishable example would be the colour difference between Scar and Mufasa in the Lion King. Although both are kin of the same parents, they appear to be two different “races” of lions, with of course, the darker of the two being the evil lion. This racial insensitivity is also displayed more subtly in films such as Cinderella. Looking at the skin tone of Cinderella’s evil stepsisters, they differ from that of her own, a porcelain-white skin and blonde hair appearance. Her one stepsister, the biggest villain of them all, has a much darker complexion. Moreover, both stepsisters are made to be unattractive compared to their beautiful stepsister. What kind of message does this give young children, particularly children of colour? That women of colour are not as attractive or appealing as those who are white? It is very discomforting that I did not make these realizations until now, which makes me fear how many young children subconsciously develop the notion that lighter skin is more attractive than darker. Providing villains with the appearance of racial minorities is very unsettling to me. Coming from a family of diverse racial backgrounds, it saddens me that my caring, compassionate, and loving family members whom are of Middle-Eastern and African-American decent are indirectly portrayed as villains in such films.

Evidently, it is not only Disney that can be faulted for its racial insensitivities. More specifically, Disney is not the only franchise to racially stereotype villains as being ethnically diverse. Many movies (e.g. Twilight) and novels (e.g. 50 Shades of Grey) can be faulted for the same underrepresentation of racial minorities. In fact, the sole character of a racial minority in the two examples provided above both happen to be the “villain”. Laurent, an African-American vampire, is set out on a mission to kill Bella Swan in Twilight. In 50 Shades of Grey, Jose Rodriguez, a Latin American, is the romantic competition and only threat to Anastasia’s love interest, Christian Grey.

I would like to add that on a very different note, these same Disney movies, novels and blockbuster hits can all be faulted for giving fantasies of power to females. As stated by Susan Douglas in her novel, Enlightened Sexism, (2010), “we are getting images of imagined power that mask, and even erase, how much still remains to be done for girls and women”. It is through media outlets such as those described above as well as tv shows, for example, the Apprentice and movies such as Legally Blonde, where women are competing or acting alongside men, or even have a superior role to men, where both women and men develop the notion that all are finally equal in society. However, looking deeper into these female roles, it is apparent that they are simply given fantasies of power, and contribute to the concept of enlightened sexism. In Legally Blonde for example, the main character Elle Woods, is hyper-feminine. On the surface, she is the top of her class and ultimately wins a major court case. One must think, however, how did she get to the top? Well, through her sexuality and femininity she trickled her way to the top. Enlightened sexism is taking the gains of the women’s movement in the past as a given and consequently turning women into sex objects, whom succeed because of their appearance. Enlightened sexism is merely one of many consequences that have arisen from fantasies of power in popular culture, and I am certain that if this downward spiral continues, the efforts of feminism and women’s rights from the past will slowly disappear.

Does a Princess Always Need a Prince?

 

           As a child I grew up, like many, surrounded by Disney princesses. The Disney princesses were first introduced in movie form, but quickly grew into a large-scale business endorsement. The main Disney princesses such as Aurora, Cinderella, Snow White, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine and Mulan appeared on all childhood products such as birthday hats, blankets, clothing, toys and even had their own figurines. Although each story varies all of the Disney princesses share a similar plot element: a man that saves the princess.  For those of you who have not see any Disney movies I will highlight the plot of a few of the famous stories. For starters we have Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty and Snow White in Snow White, who both need kisses from a man to awake them from a permanent sleeping state. Then we have beautiful Cinderella who is put to work by her evil stepmother and needs Prince Charming to save her from her future of slavery and misery. Lastly, we have Princess Ariel in the Little Mermaid whose beautiful voice is taken away so she can become a human, but Prince Eric saves the day and gets Ariel her voice back even when she is a human.

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            Evidently, all of these storylines include a man saving a woman. These are the movies that are instilled in children’s minds from a very young age. All of these stories bring to the foreground the same sexual script. A sexual script is the way one is suppose to act in relation to one’s gender. These movies represent women as having to be attractive, happy, but always in need of rescue from a male. Many of our current sexual scripts are similar to those portrayed in the Disney movies. Furthermore, Disney’s slogan is “where dreams come true.” If this is really true then can a woman’s dreams only be fulfilled if there is man in her life? What message does this send to the young audience?  Personally I believe this message is corrupt and instills the wrong values in children. Women are independent beings and should not conform to any sexual script imposed upon them.

               Disney Princess act as role models for young children and continue to be present throughout their entire lives. People who aspire to be similar to these characters are what some would call fandom. Fandom is a person with a strong interest with a particular show, book, movie, character etc. Fan viding is the most demanding form of fan engagement. There is a plethora of fan vids surrounding Disney princesses, and I have chosen one to examine. It can be found on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyrLed7Fp-s. It would be good to quickly watch the clip to understand what I am going to be talking about.

              After watching this clip the first thing that resonates with me is the fact that more than half of this video is focused on the relationship between the princess and the particular male lead. The fan that created this video and many others have pinpointed the most important part of these movies to be the relationship. This fan has taken multiple Disney movies and highlighted that in every movie there is a princess that falls in love with man. This portrays the fact that the fans feel as though the princesses, their role models, need a man in their life to be happy. This is confirmed by the fans choice of music. This fan chose the song title “Ever Ever After” by Carrie Underwood. The choice of music is very important as it tries to encompass the meaning the fan wants to get across to their audience. This song is very upbeat and happy with lyrics that delineate that fairy tale endings do come true and that you can find true loves kiss. While these lyrics are playing all the princesses are being saved by their specific prince and they are experiencing their happy ever after. This fan vid clearly shows the impact these Disney movies have on children as it makes people believe they need to find a prince to be happy. This creates a distorted image of reality as a woman can be independent and still happy.

             In addition, all the couples present are heterosexual couples. These couples act as role models to young children, therefore by having all heterosexual couples it emphasizes the stigma of compulsory heterosexuality. Due to the fact these movies are repeatedly shown throughout our childhood it creates an environment where children feel uncomfortable to truly express their sexual identity.  Not only are homosexual couples not present, but there is a large inequality of racial representation within the princesses. Out of the seven main Disney princesses, only two of them are not of the Caucasian descent; this is less than one third. This inadequately represents our multicultural population, thus introducing inequalities between the races at a very young age.

            In conclusion, these Disney movies instill bad morals  in young children as they all want to live happily ever after, but Disney creates many boundaries to achieving this as they portray one as having to be skinny, attractive and predominately Caucasian to achieve this happy ever after. Truth be told, a woman does not need a prince to be happy and this is a moral that clearly isn’t present within Disney films as reflective in the fan video presented.