Last fall UCLA changed the name of the Women’s Studies department to Gender Studies and I have gone back and forth as to why I believe the name change does the major a disservice. The decision was based on the views of faculty and graduate students in the department who took a vote and decided that ‘Gender Studies’ was more inclusive of a term that highlights the ability to reach a wider audience. Jenny Sharpe, Chair of Gender Studies and professor in English, Gender Studies and Comparative Literature at UCLA, made this statement regarding the name change:
Building on the path-breaking scholarly legacy of the first generation of Women’s Studies departments, the shift to Gender Studies marks the rich terrain of intellectual inquiry now encompassed by the field, which includes exploration of the histories and experiences of diverse women as well as studies of sexualities, masculinities, and gender systems in historical and transnational perspectives.
The change stems from UCLA’s attempt to make the major more relatable to everyone, not just women. While I commend the attempt to be more inclusive, it seems as though actually being more inclusive needs to come from within the major and not just by simply changing the name. Women’s Studies is an interdisciplinary field in which studies of sexualities, masculinities and other gender systems are the areas of focus; the name Women’s Studies derived out of a need to learn history and experiences of women that have been largely silenced within the dominant historical discourse. It is not a major solely intended for women, it is the study of using an intersectional lens in which to view the world, outside of male and female binaries.
As a Women’s Studies major, I have dealt first hand with the incredible amount of prejudice and stereotyping that comes along with being in the major. References to the ‘soft sciences’ and interrogations about my character and political affiliation are typically at the forefront of the conversation. While I believe that the change can be beneficial to those who hear ‘Women’s Studies’ and automatically think that it a male-bashing major made just for women, I truly believe that deciding to change the major’s name is somewhat of a cop out. Simply changing the name without an in-depth look at how the department plans to make the material more relatable (or the professors less judgmental) does not magically make Women’s Studies more inclusive- if anything, it makes it more exclusive.
The first Women’s Studies class I took at Santa Monica College with Professor Melanie Klein changed my life. It created a space in which students were given the ability to recognize the inherent erasure and silencing of women’s voices in a historical perspective and pushed us to bring women to the forefront of political and social discourse and to create change. On the first day of class, we were given a questionnaire about the word feminist and the types of stereotypes and misunderstandings that are linked to that word. Yes, the term feminist brings with it a slew of unwanted perceptions, questions and often times a conversation that can be quite confrontational but never once did I decide not to openly call myself a feminist because I was afraid of the backlash. In fact, it instilled in me an even more important reason why I openly call myself a feminist- to demystify the negativity.
The same can be said for my views on changing the name ‘Women’s Studies’. Changing the name on some level acknowledges that there is something wrong, something not to be proud of and for that I inherently disagree. The role, experiences and achievements of women is just part of the importance of the name Women’s Studies; it is a way of understanding the world that is intersectional, embodying all aspects of the society in which we live related to gender, race, class, sexuality, age, ability, the list goes on. I graduated last month and am thrilled that despite the department’s name change, my diploma will say ‘Women’s Studies’ because I transferred into the program before the change went into effect. With that said, it saddens me that an area of study I care so deeply about is more worried about conforming to the ideals of the dominant culture rather than keeping alive a spirit of women and men who have worked hard to see Women’s Studies accepted as a field of study.
and the actress who portrays Skyler White, Anna Gunn, discussed that she is found to be an “annoyance” on the show, in an interview with Vulture.
If you haven’t watched some or any of these shows, you might be wondering what awful behaviors and actions have lead to such strong hate among viewers. To very briefly recap the storylines of each of the women listed and pictured above: (SPOILERS Within)
The image above was created with a sample of recent post titles, and the comments I found on those posts.
Gawker has 8 different blogs, each with a different focused topic. Kotaku is Gawker’s gaming blog, and it’s little surprise that they also have a bit of a problem when it comes to women. While in recent months the site has semi-frequently posted about the issues that women in gaming face, and the misogyny that’s usually allowed to run freely, their comment moderation shows a serious case of hypocrisy on the part of the editors.
While men are the majority of Kotaku’s writers (they compromise the entire daily editorial team), there are two female contributors who write occasionally for the site. A majority of the comments on the bios of Leigh Alexander and Lisa Foiles comment on their looks, or belittle them for constantly drawing attention to the fact that they’re female. (Interesting side note – neither woman writes the posts that deal with gender issues in gaming – these pieces are almost exclusively written by the all-male editorial team mentioned above.) A comment on one of the women’s bios included a death threat which was visible for months before it was finally removed, and the user banned.
No matter what is written, no matter the topic, the focus always becomes their appearance. On every one of Lisa Foiles’ recent posts, the majority of comments are sexually harassing, threatening, belittling, and just plain cruel.
Kotaku wants to draw attention to women’s issues in gaming and hear our thoughts but provide nothing even slightly resembling a safe space for us to do so. If they are promoting comments that reduce their female staff to their cup size, why the hell would I want to register for an account to contribute to the discussion of “I’m An Anonymous Woman Gamer“?
My guess for the reason behind this completely contradictory attitude is that if they remove comments and ban users who contribute misogynistic comments on a daily basis, their readership will suffer. (Something that I don’t think any Gakwer blog is willing to risk after the redesign.)
Kotaku’s own commenting guidelines claim, “…break the rules, get off topic, start calling names, and you’re going to get banned.” However, with a complete lack of enforcement, the “guidelines” are joke, and utterly worthless.
I was excited for the panel, considering I am frequently frustrated by the media’s exploitative use of women (whether it be the host of a show, such as Olivia Munn, or booth babes at E3) to appeal to a market that they treat as exclusively male. However, my expectations were quickly dashed when discussion of media literacy was tossed aside in favor of accusations of jealousy. Bonnie Burton and Adrianne Curry mused that women who were critical of sexy geek culture in any way were just jealous, had no confidence, and were projecting their issues with self-esteem onto the women who felt empowered by walking the Comic-Con floor in a Slave Leia costume.
When Jennifer Stuller (one of the creators of the upcoming Geek Girl Con) suggested that women who criticized “sexiness” were more than likely deconstructing the media, and by extension a society that tells women their worth lies in their ability to appeal aesthetically to men, she was rebuffed by the other members of the panel. Later, Stuller attempted to turn the discussion towards media literacy, to which Clare Grant responded that she doesn’t read magazines, therefore the media has no influence on her whatsoever. Adrianne Curry added that women criticize one another “because we’re all a bunch of bitches.”
Attitudes such as “Slave Leia kicked Jabba the Hutt’s ass while wearing that bikini – that is EMPOWERING!” and “I can’t help it that some of the characters I like to cosplay as are scantily clad” were met with rounds of applause from almost everyone in the audience. When the moderator mentioned that one of her friends posted a picture of her seven year old daughter wearing Slave Leia costume on Facebook, Adrianne Curry responded that there was nothing wrong with the human body, and that the U.S. is way too purtinical and prudish.
There were many disappointing moments that had me almost leaving the panel entirely, but nothing was quite so horrifying as the one contribution Chris Gore made when he finally showed up five minutes before the panel ended. He took the stage, apologized for being late, and said “Hey, I’m here to represent all the guys in this room who want to stick their penis in every woman up here on this panel.” There was nervous laughter and a bit of applause. I don’t even need to explain how disgusting and problematic that is.
The only good moment during the entire hour, was when the moderator called out Seth Green, who was looking disappointed with the discussion, sitting in the front row of the audience. Katrina Hill asked if he wanted to contribute or share his thoughts, and he unexpectedly took the mic for about fifteen minutes. As Hill explained to the audience what the audience would know him from (Robot Chicken), Jennifer Stuller mentioned that she had seen him promoting media literacy for the Girl Scouts. Seth responded that he felt media literacy is incredibly important in the ever-increasing, constantly-unavoidable, media saturated world we live in. He described how celebrities hold tons of influence over decisions people make, whether it’s over what product to buy or what sources can and should be trusted, and that certainly shouldn’t be the case. Green said that the media promotes a lot of “poison” and that girls, kids, and even adults need to know how to keep that poison from infiltrating the way you think, make decisions, and live.
When I returned from Comic-Con, one of the first things I did was go in search of that video. It is amazing and here it is:
Image taken from JCrew.com – featured in the June 2011 catalog.
Lately J. Crew has featured content on their website and in their catalog that steps outside the “norm” of what is usually found in fashion catalogs, or advertising in general. In April, an ad on jcrew.com featured creative director Jenna, painting her son’s toenails pink (it’s his favorite color.) The May catalog featured a designer for the preppy clothing brand, with his boyfriend. So I wasn’t surprised, but happy to find when I opened the summer catalog today to find images of unconventional “models” featured. J. Crew staffers were featured again, this time in “Jenna’s Picks”. The employees featured are of varying races, body shapes and sizes, including one employee who is pregnant.
The best part is that there’s no self-congratulatory praise – the inclusion is just there. They act like it’s normal – because it IS normal. It can come across as insincere when magazines like Glamour give themselves a huge pat on the back for including one small picture of a plus size model across hundreds of pages.
Even as the conservative news outrage continues about J. Crew’s so-called “agenda” they continue to say nothing, and let the images speak for themselves. There’s no apologies to people who may have been offended or worry about alienating potential customers. Their actions show they don’t give a shit what the critics say or think; which makes me proud to call myself a J. Crew customer.
The sweet J. Crew ad I celebrated last week has ignited a “pink scare,” with socially conservative commentators outrageously upset. The ad features a mother– J.Crew’s creative director, Jenna Lyons–and her son delighting in one another’s company on a Saturday afternoon by painting their toenails hot pink (and thereby selling J. Crew’s Essie nail polish). The ad doesn’t make much fanfare of the nail painting and is fairly inconspicuous. As Melissa Wardy, founder of Pigtail Pals- Redfine Girly, comments on Good Morning America‘s coverage of the gendered hoopla:
The camera has to zoom in SO much on the toes to make the news story, you completely lose sight of the delightful moment between loving, doting mother and happy, beautiful son.
In, what Nikita Blue calls, “ominous paranoid ramblings,” Dr. Keith Ablow goes off in a “conspiracy-theorist tangent,” claiming this ad contributes to “psychological sterilization,” erases gender differences and homogenizes males and females by propagandizing them to choose a gender identity that is not the “natural” one they were born with:
Well, how about the fact that encouraging the choosing of gender identity, rather than suggesting our children become comfortable with the ones that they got at birth, can throw our species into real psychological turmoil—not to mention crowding operating rooms with procedures to grotesquely amputate body parts?
Media Research Center’s Erin Brown claims the ad exploits Lyons’ son, Beckett, through the “blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children.” According to Brown, ads like these and irresponsible mothers such as Lyons will create more confused boys, much like the controversial “Princess boy.”
Sexist and homophobic concerns like the ones expressed by Ablow and Brown raise several important points worth exploring. First and foremost, the notion that there is a direct correlation between color, gender and sexual identity is ludicrous. Color codes are recent social inventions, constructs originally inverse. Phyllis Burke’s Gender Shock and Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter trace the sociohistorical origins of pink and blue segregation–gendered coding that wasn’t instilled until the early 20th century. Prior to that, glancing at a babies clothing didn’t reveal any trace of gendered identity: They all wore white gowns. Photographs of my great-grandparents, both born circa 1902, are identical and indistinguishable. Check out this photo of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1884!
Once color coding got underway in earnest, the colors were reversed. Pink, a color close to red, was equated with strength and masculinity. Light blue was a “natural” sign of femininity and, according to Orenstein’s reasearch, equated with “intimations of the Virgin Mary, constancy, and faithfulness.” Given that history, it becomes clear that color codes are arbitrary, socially constructed and have no bearing or impact on one’s “natural” gender or sexual identity. As Dr. Logan Levkoff explains:
Dear Fox, colors don’t have genders. Colors are just colors. Liking certain colors [doesn't] mean you like girls or boys, or want to be either of them, now or in the future.
Secondly, there’s nothing “natural” about gender. Gender is a social construct reflecting cultural dictates within a specific historical context and those gendered prescriptions change as the culture changes. Just as culture is dynamic and fluid, so are gendered expectations. Obviously, Ablow and Brown aren’t familiar with the difference between the biological concept of sex, referring to maleness and femaleness and the continuum between the two, and gender, the socially constructed definitions and expectations of masculinity and femininity. Their critiques of J. Crew’s ad demonstrates rampant essentialism–the idea that one’s biological sex is destiny while ignoring historical and contemporary contradictions to that idea. If having a penis “naturally” led boys and men to embody “masculinity” and a vagina “naturally” equated with all things “feminine,” we’d see much more historical and cultural uniformity.
Third, not only is the idea that the J. Crew ad squelches “naturally” assigned gender identity ridiculous given the difference between biological sex and socially constructed gender, but Ablow’s quote doesn’t address the real culprit in stifling natural and healthy explorations: the color-coded assault by marketers on children’s play. It seems to me that the hyper-segmented pink world of the princess and the blue world of the boy warrior is much more responsible for shaping gender identity than an ad featuring hot-pink toenails on a boy. In that way, J. Crew is a small sign of opening up gendered possibilities–possibilities that represent authentic personal choice.
In Brown’s opinion piece, she goes on to say that mothers such as Lyons or Sarah Manley are setting up their sons for a hard time in the future. There she’s right, and this gets to the crux of the issue. The system of patriarchy values masculinity and devalues femininity. In fact, within patriarchy, masculinity is a fundamental mainstream cultural value. In the Good Morning America segment, Manley rightly points out that if the ad featured a girl playing with trucks in the mud there wouldn’t have been this type of outcry. While girls are awash in a sea of pink, they are more likely to be encouraged and celebrated for exploring and developing “masculine” characteristics, while boys are discouraged and shamed for developing “feminine” characteristics precisely because of masculinity’s cultural capital. What Ablow or Fox don’t acknowledge is that these are simply human characteristics, gendered one way or the other and thereby differently valued. As I wrote on my Feminist Fatale blog last week:
J. Crew’s ad doesn’t depict misguided and dangerous decisions made by J. Crew or parents like Jenna Lyons. The reactions and social outcry against it depict the dangerous world of gender policing within the system of patriarchy.
This week, developer Gearbox Software announced the multiplayer options that will be available in the latest installment of the franchise,, including a spin on “Capture the Flag”, titled “Capture the Babe.” Rather than trying to steal another team’s actual flag or taking an enemy captive, the objective is to “capture” a woman.
The first reports about “Capture the Babe” stated that while playing, you slapped “the babe” in the face to get her to calm down. The CEO of Gearbox Software, Randy Pitchford took to twitter to correct everyone – it turns out she gets slapped on the ass instead of the face. Here’s a quick note for Mr. Pitchford – slapping a woman who is scared and trying to break free, on the ass, instead of the face doesn’t make it better. It means the word “sexual” should be added to the assault.
As CEO, Randy Pitchford is the one in charge, and I have no problem blaming him for the consistent misogynistic crap his company continues to promote. In fact, he thinks it’s “great” and “awesome” that he has angered feminists with the game’s promotion of sexual violence and objectification of women. Randy, you know what’s not awesome? The reality of sexual violence against women – statistics, such as, there’s a woman sexually assaulted every two minutes in the U.S. According to Pitchford, the game can be used by feminist organizations as a teaching tool. I guess it never occurred to him that making a game that promotes respect towards women could achieve the same educational effect.
By not just allowing, but rather, encouraging sexual violence to be perpetuated against women, Randy Pitchford (and Gearbox Software) are not only affecting the gaming community, but rather society as a whole, by adding on to the millions of images and messages that further promote and perpetuate a culture of violence against women. If Randy really thinks the work that feminist organizations are doing is “really important” then maybe he should try changing the messages in Gearbox’s games to include positive female role models, rather than to promote violent gameplay against women.
My view of a day spent in a Cape Town township, South Africa.
Today is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. A day to celebrate economic, political, and social gains by women worldwide. Today we honor achievements, and remember the women before us who brought us to this day. Today. A day to celebrate women.
Sisters, wives, mothers, daughters, grandmothers, aunts, neighbors, friends, schoolmates, and coworkers. The women of our world.
Yet in many places of the world, today will pass without celebration. Odds are good somewhere a woman will cradle a starving or sick child. Somewhere a woman will receive verbal threats or a physical blow from an intimate partner. Somewhere a girl will be raped as she walks to school. Somewhere a woman will walk miles for the clean water she needs to feed her family the one meal a day they can afford.
Somewhere a woman will be informed she has lost her job because she had taken time off to birth a child. Somewhere a woman will take home a paycheck that is nearly 1/3 less than that of the guy in the office next to her, although they do the same job. Somewhere a girl will sit in a classroom and be too timid to raise her hand. Somewhere a woman will give up on political ambitions.
All of those things have just happened in the time it took you to read those sentences.
None of these stories have changed in the 100 years we have celebrated women on this day. But still, we celebrate. Because for over 100 years the voices of women have not been silenced, their dreams have not been swept away despite often times incredible odds, their ambitions have been fulfilled despite being met with resistance. Women have always been strong. We have to be. We bear the weight of the world.
Women do 2/3 of the world’s work, earn 10% of the income, and own 1% of the land.
70 million girls are denied access to education in our world, and another 60 million will be sexually assaulted on their way to school.
That all seems far removed from me, as I sit in my comfortable home, typing on my laptop and fetching my son snacks while my daughter is playing at her preschool. It seems as far away as the photo above, that I took during a trip to South Africa in 2003. The children in the foreground danced around us as we unloaded treats from our pockets, and clung to our hands as we talked to the women gathered around those cement basins doing their wash. Do you see the women just right of center, in the white shirt and jean skirt? She was my age when I was on that trip – 25. She had a baby with her, which she later wrapped to her body as she carried her bundled wash on her head. She invited me to walk with her, calling me Tante Melissa. Auntie Melissa. Within minutes we had become sisters. We had nothing in common. Our worlds so different we could have been from separate planets. But still, she offered me smiles and we held hands while we walked. She was proud to show me around. I was honored she accepted me as her friend. When the combi drove away late in the afternoon, she was standing there, waving goodbye to me. I pressed my hand to the glass as I watched her get smaller and smaller.
That trip changed my life. Africa has a way of doing that to you. I have not been able to go back, as now I have my own two babes to carry around. I cannot leave them yet for several weeks at a time, so my return trip will wait. But my compassion does not have to.
Today I will celebrate the women in my world. I will send messages to the family members and colleagues who inspire me. I will thank the teachers at my daughters school. I will call a friend to say hello. I will inspire sisterhood in others. I strongly believe that sisterhood – the power of women coming together and working together – is the final untapped natural resource of our world. And it is continually renewed, with the birth of each new baby girl. We are all sisters.
There are only two IWD events in my entire state. But I won’t let that limit me. I do not believe in limitations. I will not let the comfort of my day-to-day routine in my predictable suburban neighborhood, in my cozy suburban home, make me blind to what we all need to be seeing.
So how can you change the world from where you are?
-Think locally and donate to a women’s shelter, food pantry, Girls Inc, write a letter to a woman soldier, or offer assistance to a family you know that is in need.
-Write a letter and thank your mama.
-Give flowers to a friend or mentor with a hand written note telling her why you honor her.
-Over tip the waitress.
-Stand up and walk over to a nearby office or cubicle and tell a colleague you appreciate them.
-Cook a meal for a neighbor. Or get together with a neighbor and cook some meals for a single mom, a new mom, or a widow.
-Invite that single mom or widow into your home for dinner.
-Round up old toys and books and donate them to a crisis nursery.
-Send cards to your closest girlfriends, thanking them for having your back.
-Bake some cookies with the kids and take them to teachers or nurses on the maternity ward, thanking them for what they do for children.
-Sit down with your children and go through a book or website that shares the biographies of the intrepid women who brought us to this day.
-Draw self portraits with your girl, and help her write down her attributes that make her unique and wonderful.
-Send a note to a former teacher. Do you know how important teachers are?
-Make a commitment to offer more grace and kindness to other women.
-And finally, tonight, when all is quiet and you have your mind all your own, write a letter to yourself. Offer gratitude for everything you have in life. Write down those dreams you are too shy to say out loud, and acknowledge the dreams you’ve already made come true. Write down some happy memories from the last year, and new ones you hope to create. Take the chance to inspire yourself.
From me to you, Happy 100th International Women’s Day. Cheers to us, and let’s prepare to celebrate 100 more!
Girls want to do ballet in preschool. And that can be fine. But most of them won’t want to do it anymore once it gets “real”–and given the body image concerns about ballet, most of us don’t want our daughters pursuing it anyway (I don’t mean to put a knock on ballet, which I respect, or certainly any other form of dance, I’m just saying the world of ballet can be very tough. I’ve seen “Black Swan….”). Anyway, in addition to, or instead of, ballet how about kids’ yoga? It’s graceful, you can wear a leotard if you want, and it’s something that can actually be the building block of a lifelong healthy practice that promotes POSITIVE body image, confidence, competence and inner strength. Sounds good, doesn’t it?