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Friday, July 31, 2009

Breast Implications #3: Cross-Cultural Breasts

In this installment of Breast Implications, I am looking at the cross-cultural examination of breasts that our group researched. In this section, we originally set out to look at how people in different cultures perceived and thought about breasts. But what we found is that there was a severe lack of research on this topic. As a result, breastfeeding in other cultures was focused on. I will discuss more about this decision after I give you the information that we had in our zine...


It is hard to fully discuss the cross-cultural interpretations of breasts for a couple reasons:

  1. The immense variation between cultures around the world
  2. Many cultures have a taboo around surrounding discussing breasts and/or sexuality
Keeping these factors in mind, the generalized information presented in this section does not represent all cultures around the world but a sampling of research. There is not a vast amount of research on the subject and a large amount of the research found pertains to African cultures, primarily Mali and Senegal in particular.

Research both stressed and denied the importance of breasts as sexual entities in different cultures, so it is unclear how these particular cultures feel about and see breasts because of the conflicting research.


The decisions to breastfeed and to breastfeed in public show some of how the culture perceives breasts. In Mali and Senegal, the prominence of breastfeeding shows the importance of the working breast.

In Mali, working, or lactating, breasts are not seen as sexual objects because of their connection to nurturing children (Dettwyler 175).

Women's decisions on whether or not to breastfeed are framed by attitudes towards their bodies and their breasts that may have nothing to do with breastfeeding (Van Esterik 2002, 262).
Breastfeeding is "a complex process shaped by social and cultural forces interacting with local environmental and political conditions." - Penny Van Esterik (2002, 258).

Breastfeeding creates a special bond between the mother and child as well as between all of the children that nurse from the same woman, even if they are not biological siblings. Choosing not to breastfeed is, essentially, deciding not to be related to her children (Dettwyler 179, 181).

In breastfeeding, the mother is passing on a part of herself as well as traditional values of the culture marking the child as human and a part of that culture (Wright et al 766).

Breast milk itself is a cultural product with cultural value. It is deeply connected to the woman's body and said to be "from the blood." Because of breast milk's conection to a woman's blood, semen is seen to cause the milk to spoil, so sex during pregnancy or breastfeeding is forbidden. If breast milk can be spoiled, either through contact with semen or other ways, it is a potential source of destruction as well as nurturance (Dettwyler 179; Van Esterik 2002, 261).


The westernization of developing countries shifts the emphasis from the working, nurturing breast to the sexual breast. With this shift, breastfeeding, and breastfeeding in public in particular, becomes less common because of the fear of others seeing part of a breast and the fear that breastfeeding will deform the breast. This is a result of interpreting breasts primarily as sex objects, which comes along with Westernization (Van Esterik 1989, 73, 74).

The effects of Westernization on the view of the breast made it easier for companies to promote breast milk substitutes. Only July 4, 1977, there was a boycott launched in the United States against the Nestle corporation prompted by the concern over the company's marketing of breast milk substitutes in developing countries. Switching from breastfeeding to baby formula has led to health problem and deaths among children in these countries (Van Esterik 1989).

This move away from breastfeeding towards baby formula shows a disconnect within cultures based on the transmission of culture that is associated with breastfeeding.

In the past (and still today to some degree), the use of bodies, especially breasts, of foreign women, usually African women, were used as a form of entertainment. This form of orientalism dehumanizes these women by objectifying them so that they are just seen for their breasts. This was done both in the name of entertainment and of research and science (Masquelier).


"The breasts of women not only symbolized the most fundamental social bond, that between mother and child, but they were also the means by which families were made since their beauty elicited the desires of the male for the female." - Ludmilla Jordanova (Van Esterik 2002, 263)

The lack of research concerning cross-cultural interpretations of breasts shows other cultures reluctance to discuss breasts as well as the taboo discussion topic within "the West." Because most of the research is done by people in "the West," primarily the United States, this lack of research is evident not only of the invisibility of breasts within "the West," but also in developing countries.

Additionally, the fact that the research was primarily focused on breastfeeding shows the importance of the nurturing role of the breast in these cultures. Even if breasts are sexualized in other cultures, which is unclear based on the research, it is clear that the working breast is of equal if not greater importance.


This research is definitely not perfect and not complete. But looking at the view of breastfeeding in other cultures can give us a little bit of a glimpse into how the culture feels about the breast. If breastfeeding is not taboo in public, it could signify an emphasis placed on the nurturing breast rather than the sexual breast. And the fact that breasts are becoming increasingly sexualized along with Westernization speaks to the view of breasts in "the West."


Works Cited
Dettwyler, Katherina A. "More Than Nutrition: Breastfeeding in Urban Mali." Medical Anthropology Quarterly 2 (1988): 172-83.
Van Esterik, Penny. Beyond the Breast-Bottle Controversy. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1989.
Van Esterik, Penny. "Contemporary Trends in Infant Feeding Research." Annual Review of Anthropology 31 (2002): 257-78.
Wright, Anne L., Mark Bauer, Clarina Clark, Frank Morgan, and Kenneth Begish. "Cultural Interpretations and Intracultural Variability in Navajo Beliefs About Breastfeeding." American Ethnologist 20 (1993): 781-96.

Suggested Reading
Jones, Diana P. "Cultural Views of the Female Breast." The ABNF Journal (2004).
Whittemore, Robert, and Elizabeth A. Beverly. "Mandinka Mothers and Nurslings: Power and Reproduction." Medical Anthropology Quarterly 10 (1996): 45-62.

Women in Home Security Commercials

Home security commercials usually make me uncomfortable, but I've never really been sure why. But then I realized that these commercials usually focus on women being attacked while they are alone in their house. The one that especially makes me uncomfortable is this one where the woman is attacked my an abusive ex-boyfriend:

I know that these kinds of situations, where a woman is alone in her house or alone with her children, are very realistic fears for people, they are certainly not the only instances when people break into houses.

Are these commercials playing off of violence against women to make money? It certainly wouldn't be the first (or last) time. But the one that really gets to me is the one above where they play off of the very realistic and traumatic situation for many women: domestic violence.

I am all for women protecting themselves. Maybe a home security system would be beneficial for women who have abusive ex-boyfriends who stalk them. But when a company uses domestic violence and violence against women in general to sell their product, then I have a problem.

And all these commercials do is promote fear to make women feel uncomfortable in the one place where they should be able to feel safe: their home.
By featuring primarily women alone in their home in these commercials, the companies are implying that women cannot protect themselves and therefore need a man, whether a physical man in the house or a man ready to call when someone breaks in. The reason men are not featured in these commercials is because they are capable of protecting themselves.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Breast Implications #2: Societal Implications

This part of our zine focused on societal views in the United States concerning breasts. Because this was created in zine form, this section is informational and focuses on the development of breasts through stages in life and our relationship with our breasts and the breasts of others. The stages that are highlighted are adolescence, womanhood, motherhood, and aging. I'm going to try to organize this the best that I can for a post because the layout for the zine is so great but different from the layout of blog posts.


Several breast growth patterns can be troubling to the adolescent and her family. Among these are [1]:

  • Unusually early breast development
  • Unusually delayed breast development
  • Unusually large breasts
  • Unusually small breasts
But, is anything "normal" in breast development? Our society makes it seem so, but in reality, breasts grow at very different rates and develop to have very different shapes and sizes.

Breast development normally begins about one year before the menstrual period begins. The development takes several years [2].
  • In the first stage (during childhood) the breasts are flat.
  • Next is the breast bud stage. In it, the nipple and breast are slightly raised as milk ducts and the fat tissue begin to form. Also, the areola begins to enlarge.
  • Then the breast starts to get bigger. Often this happens initially in a conical shape, and later on in a rounder shape. The areola begins to darken.
Statistics show that by age 13, 53% of adolescent girls have self-image issues about their breasts, and by age 17, 78% of girls are considered unsatisfied with their bodies [3].

The following are questions about breast development from teenage girls [4]:
  • "Puberty seems like it is working except it is skipping the breast stage! Will my breasts get bigger and how much longer do I have until they stop growing?"
  • "Hi. I am 15 years old. My breasts have started grwoing but not like my other friends. Can you please give me a solution to make them bigger."
  • "I am 16 years old and one of my breasts is larger than the other one. Is this normal?"
  • "I'm 13 and in my school girls have big breasts and it seems that I'm the only one flat-chested."
As you can see, teen girls have self-image issues related to their breasts. The media doesn't really help this by showing girls and women who have so-called "perfect" breasts. But everyone's development process is different and there is no "normal" breast development.


All of the names for breasts [5]: apples, balloons, bazongas, bazooms, bean bags, blouse bunnies, boobies, boobs, bumpers, butterbags, gazongas, globes, grapefruits, handful, honkers, hooters, jaboos, jugs, jumbos, kazongas, knockers, lactoids, love bubbles, mangoes, melons, milk cans, mounds, niblets, nippers, nubbies, orbs, peepers, pillows, sandbags, snuggle pups, sweater meat, tits, torpedoes, upper deck, yabbos, zeppelins.

Types of breast aesthetic surgeries [6]:
  • breast augmentation
  • silicone breast implants
  • breast lift
  • breast reduction
  • breast reconstruction
The average age in America for female breast implantation is 26 [7].

Statistics from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery release in March 2009 [8]:
  • 2004: 264,041 breast augmentations
  • 2005: 291,350 breast augmentations
  • 2006: 315, 616 breast augmentations
  • 2007: 332,880 breast augmentations
  • 2008: 355,671 breast augmentations
Women obviously don't have a healthy relationship with the breasts if so many women are opting to have breast augmentation surgery.

"Scienctists now believe that the primary biological function of breasts is to make men stupid." - Dave Barry, comedian [9]

A 2004 study of Google searches showed that the Janet Jackson Super Bowl nipple incident received 25 times more searches than the Mars Rover, and 4 times more searches than the 2000 election [10]. Way to go, Janet! Americans agree that your breasts are better to look at than Al Gore's!


See a map showing current public breastfeeding laws in the U.S. here.

In our world, "the sexual aspects of women and the maternal aspects of women are expected to be independent of each other...breasts are a scandal because they shatter the border between motherhood and sexuality." - Cindy A. Stearns, author of "Breastfeeding and the Good Maternal Body" [11]

Does level of education affect whether or not a woman breastfeeds? Studies show that "over 70% of college graduates breastfeed, less than 15% of women with no high school breastfeed." - Stearns [12]

Good news for all you mothers out there! Nursing mothers are exempt from jury duty in more than 10 states and the number keeps on rising [13].


The breasts lose support. Aging breasts commonly flatten and sag, and the nipple may invert slightly. The areola (the area surrounding the nipple) becomes smaller and may nearly disappear. Loss of hair around the nipple is common [14].

There are some interviews from aging women about their relationship with their breasts. They were interviewed in
Breasts [15]:
  • "Everything for young people today is different. We were taught not to touch or expose I think there is a big different in how one feels about her boob." - Lucille, age 76
  • "This is the way it is and I have to cope with each age as it comes along. I wouldn't want to change my breasts or my age back." - Evelyn, age 75
Breast Self-Exams are extremely important and should be performed at least once a month in order to detect any changes or irregulaities [16]. Here are some simple steps for a breast self-exam:
  1. Begin by looking at your breasts in a mirror with your hands on your hips. Look for any bulging, redness, or general changes.
  2. Then, raise your arms and look for the same changes.
  3. Feel your breasts while you are standing up, using a circular motion with your finger pads - make sure to cover the whole breast - feeling each breast one at a time.
  4. Next, feel your breasts while lying down, covering the entirety of both breasts - begin at the nipple and move outward in larger and larger circles 0 from the armpit and in to the cleavage. Feel for lumps and irregularities.
We felt that being informed about breast development and breast health is one of the steps in a health relationship with your breasts and the breasts of others. In the zine, we did not discuss how society and the media can affect one's relationship with their breasts and the breasts of others, but we did talk about this in the presentation. Society and the media can great affect the self-esteem of women, as has been discussed for a long time, and that does not exclude affecting women's relationship with their breasts. Society and the media give women unrealistic expectation that there is a "normal" breast development, size, shape, etc.

Much of this section of the zine focused on pictures, maps, and charts. I tried to include some of them, but I could not find all of them. I was not the person in the group that created these pages so I was not sure where all of the pictures, maps, and charts came from.

Works Cited
[1] Disease Health Information:
[3] Brumberg, Joan Jacobs. The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls. New York: Random House Publishers, 1997.
[4] Brown, Mary D. "Breasts and Self-Image: Adolescence."
[5] Breast Names:
[8] American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery:
[10] Google search study, 2004.
[11] Stearns, Cindy A. "Breastfeeding and the Good Maternal Body." Gender and Society, Vol. 13, No. 3, (June 1999).
[12] See #11
[15] Spandola, Meema. Breasts. Berkeley: Wildcat Canyon Press, 1998.

All About the Anti-Feminists

Not surprisingly, there are many blogs out there dedicated to anti-feminism. Because anyone can make a blog and there has been anti-feminism around as long as feminism has been around, it is to be expected that there would be anti-feminism blogs. But this doesn't make these blogs ok.

Because I am always interested in what anti-feminists are arguing, I thought I would collect some blogs and posts that work against feminism. It is important to know what the other side is saying in order to make an informed and effective argument against them.

*Note on the picture: for the lovely argument that all feminists are lesbians.

One of the biggest sites I found was Misandry, according to the website, is the hatred of men, so the website is dedicated to fighting this hatred. They have a complete page of ways that men are discriminated against, such as health, circumcision: genital mutilation, suicide, domestic violence, local council, public libraries, radio, newspapers, advertising, marriage, lifestyle opportunities, family courts, parental alientaion, mother-headed households, fatherless homes, education, politicians, passports, taxes, pensions and benefits, safety, employment, criminal law, catering, wealth, and travel. I feel like this list of areas in which men are discriminated is just grasping at straws and showing that these men are just blind to their own privilege. Also check out thier page titled "Why Modern, Western Has Become a Bad Business Decision for Men."

Antimisandry is all about pushing women down even further so men can feel powerful. Their whole premise is that women are getting too powerful and therefore have a hatred for men. But the people on this site completely ignore the fact that most feminists believe in equality of the sexes, not in dominating men.

I also came across a site called AlphaBelle. While this site is not specifically dedicated anti-feminism, many of the posts on it are definitely anti-feminist. Three that stuck out to me were "Building a Better Breed of Feminist," "Women and Politics: An Ode to Testosterone," and "The Funeral of Feminism." In "Women and Politics," the author proclaims,

In order to survive in politics, a person has to be assertive, aggressive, dominant, and have the ability to compartmentalize emotion. Basically they have to be an alpha. Just like in a wolf pack, no one is going to follow someone who displays even the slightest amount of insecurity. This doesn't come easily to most women.
What about the fact that women are trained by society to be beta, as she calls it? And what about all the women who are in politics right now? Women are obviously capable of competing in the political arena, it's just a matter of getting them elected. And why aren't women elected? Because of people who hold views like this; that women aren't capable of being assertive and getting things done.

In "The Funeral of Feminism," the author talks about the appreciation of men.

Over the years, my understanding and appreciation of men has grown. I imagine that is the way it is supposed to be as you grow into maturity. I listen to them now whereas I couldn't get beyond my own bullshit when I was 22. And in our society, being male (especially if you happen to be a heterosexual Caucasian male), you are pretty fucking far behind the 8-ball. No one cares about your rights.
Again, we get the belief that feminism is all about pulling men down instead of building women up to the level of men.

And then there is the website Objectify Chicks. The name pretty much explains it all. This site is all about the faults of feminism and the oppression of women. There is a post on this site that is solely dedicated to this quote from Lionel Tiger, a professor at Rutgers University:

"There is an ideological commitment to the notion that any differences occurring between males and females represent a failure of society to create equal and perfect opportunities for everyone so that the sexes will end up the same. This is a mindless concept."
This post was titled "Feminism: Philosophy of the Mindless." This shows that anti-feminists believe that feminists are mindless for challenging that status quo that the anti-feminists are trying so hard to protect. I would aruge that the anti-feminists are the mindless because they are just following the status quo instead of trying to change anything.

The final site I am going to discuss is The Counter-Feminist. In the post "Another Glimpse of the Real Feminism," the author argues that all people who chose to take the label feminist are man-hating bitches.

What's that you say? It's unfair to treat all feminists the way that radfems treat all men? Well I think its bloody ill-mannered of radfems to treat all men that way in the first place!
I don't even know what to say. So I'm just going to leave it at that and let you make your own conclusions about it.

The anti-feminist websites that I have come across are all about the hatred of women, rather than the hatred of men (like Antimisadry proclaims). With the exception of AlphaBelle (which I'm assuming is written by a woman), the men that write these blogs, I feel, only feel good about themselves when they have control over someone and that someone is women. So when feminism promotes the rights and fights the oppression of women, they feel threatened. And as for AlphaBelle and female anti-feminists -- I don't really understand. I mean they are entitled to their own opinions, but how can they not see that they are discriminated against and oppressed? Are they just using the anti-feminist "wave" to get ahead? I don't really know.

And to end: here's some anti-feminist BINGO from Hoyden About Town!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Washed Over by a Wave

In response to my post about feminist blogging as activism, a tweet from ShelbyKnox questioned whether we were really in a "third wave." On the same note, Ashley at Small Strokes tipped me off to an article at Conducive entitled "Drowning in the Shallow End: Third Wave Feminism" by Heather Tirado Gilligan. I found this article very interesting and it has inspired me to address my views on third wave feminism.

I don't identify myself as a "third wave feminist," even though I would probably fall into that category. I am a feminist, plain and simple. That's simply how I identify. Using identifying characteristics to define my feminism does not work for me like it does for others. It just doesn't work for my personal approach to feminism, but certain identifying characteristics are important to others' investments in feminism. But that's neither here nor there right now.

I use the term "third wave" to signify the shift in feminist between the 70s (or "second wave") and today. The term may not be perfect, but it works for these purposes.

Gilligan completely denounces the use of the wave metaphor.

I've come to think that the watery metaphor should be tossed out altogether, and our focus aligned away from the coming of the next bout of sisterhood-is-powerful. Instead, we should set out sights on tangible, civic-minded outcomes: documenting and protesting the inequality that still structures women's lives in the United States and abroad, for example, rather than debating the nature of feminism itself.
While I agree that feminists need to focus on "tangible, civic-minded outcomes," I don't know if the wave metaphor itself is the one causing the problem. Or maybe it is if we are now concerned with the fourth wave.

But I think that the call for a "fourth wave" is the result of a handful of people reading too much into the wave metaphor. I think the wave metaphor can be appropriate and that Gilligan's main problem is with the state of feminism today rather than with the use of the term "third wave."

Using the term "third wave" is a way for feminist to disidentify with the "second
wave," who they saw as an old-fashioned, white woman's movement. Gilligan talks a lot about the demonizing of the "second wave" and (or by) making feminism marketable.

Rather than situating feminism in the context of this remarkable history, the focus on newness inherent in our current use of the wave metaphor has made feminism vulnerable to consumerism. The quickest way for younger feminists to appear as the next new hot thing has been to call the second wave passe.
There are generational differences. Feminism evolves. But where Gilligan sees a problem in this is how today's feminists (whether we call them "third wave" or not) reinterpretation/revisioning of the past to promote their own agenda. Today that is done by demonizing the second wave to promote the "differences" between them. There is also a view of the women's movement of the 70s as a monolithic entity, which it wasn't, but it is easier to oppose this way.

Making feminism marketable has diluted feminism generally. Trying to make feminism appealing to everyone (or a wide range of people) takes the "edge" off of feminism (but there is definitely still a perceived edge since people are afraid of the word).

This everyperson definition of feminism is so broad as to be meaningless - what action is expected of women as a result of calling themselves feminist?

Overall, I agree with the major points of Gilligan's article about what feminist should be focusing on or trying (and succeeding) to accomplish. Gilligan claims that...

what falls by the wayside is the idea that gender inequality exists, that it affects women disproportionately depending on class status, race, and nationality, and that feminists have a responsibility to address this inequality.
But I think that feminists today are all too aware that gender inequality still exists. More so that anyone else.

What Gilligan is arging for in abolishing the wave metaphor is what my feminism is. Like I said, I don't identify myself as a "third wave feminist." And maybe what we need is a new term for feminists today but feminism today has changed from the feminism of the 70s and the suffrage movement. I'm not going to debate whether or not it was a good change right now, but there is no denying that there has been a change.

Gilligan discusses "third wave feminism" as another white women's movement, just one of the things that the second wave was criticized for. The term "third wave" might just be another alibi for white, middle class women to feel like they are discussing diversity. And maybe it is. But I think an important part of feminism today is the different identities that can fit into it (ex: African American feminism, working class feminism, Middle Eastern feminism, etc.). Because feminism is about examining the intersection of different oppressions, feminism can work with other types of oppressed identities.

So with the different kinds of identity feminism, do we need a term like "third wave" to classify all types of feminism? Maybe not. But I do think it is important to differentiate from the feminism of the 70s.

Gilligan would classify this need to differentiate as daughters trying to separate from their mothers of the second wave.

Much of the discussion of the newness of third wave feminism comes out of an active desire from daughters to separate themselves from the previous generation.
But what is so wrong with trying to separate from the previous generation? Every generation generally rebels from their predecessors in some way. Feminism today needs to create its own identity or identities. This doesn't mean forgetting the feminism of the 70s, just building on it and making it our own.

There still has to be a connection with the creation of a new identity. We have to realize that...

Our rights, such as they are, were won by the tireless work of earlier generations of feminist, and obligate us to correct the inequality that continues to structure women's lives, starting right now.
This is why the wave metaphor can work. It implies connection but still a separate identity. I am not attached to the term "third wave" as an identity. I understand the concerns of Gilligan, but I see that more as a result of people as opposed to the term "third wave." And I definitely see the value in the wave metaphor (or some other appropriate term) as a way to differentiate between the suffrage movement, the feminism of the 70s, and today...because there is definitely a difference.

Suggested Reading: Gilligan references the book The World Split Open by Ruth Rosen. I read it for my feminist theory class. It's a good book about the history of feminism and the women's movement.

Breast Implications #1: Introduction

During my last semester at Beloit College, my senior seminar created and executed a project on the cultural implications of breasts. We looked a societal, cultural, environmental, and medical implications of breasts and created a zine that was distributed to our campus and we also gave a presentation open to the campus on our research.

I was really proud of this project not only because the three of us in the senior seminar designed and completed the project all on our own, but also with the resulting research that we found. I thought this research might be of interest to my readers, so I've decided to create a new series with the different sections of our research. I will be writing posts about each section in the zine that we created. We had
creative pieces and our academic research was split into three sections: societal, cross-cultural, and environmental and medical (we did have a section on the historical implications of breasts, but the person who was doing that research had to leave the class).

Our project was called "Breasts: Can You See Us Now?" But I will be calling the series "Breast Implications." I will be posting in this series either every day or every other day until I have gotten through our research. I hope you find this research interesting and thought-provoking. There are definitely things that were left out because we did not have limitless resources and time, but this is what we created for the public.

The first installment of this series is the introduction to the series as well as the introduction that we wrote for our zine, which follows:


Dear Breast Enthusiasts,

This zine (these posts) was created by the Women's and Gender Studies senior seminar, spring 2009, as an homage to our collective Women's and Gender Studies journey. We have become a tight knit group, sharing stories and experiences, but we realized along the way that we all share a fascination with breasts. There they are, but there they aren't. Even though as women in the class, we realize we each have breasts, we often don't think about them and this project allowed a space for us to become more breast-savvy. We would like to pass the particulars on to you and provide you with a resource for you to start thinking about breasts in a meaningful way. Hence, we offer you our zine (posts).

Even though we live in a breast-centric culture and our lives are filled with images of breasts, little is discussed as far as their social and biological functions. Our purpose in making this zine (these posts) was to "milk" the issue. Because invisibility perpetuates oppressive norms, we want to make visible the significance of breasts in our society, the environment, and the world. In this zine (these posts) you will find information on the breast as an environment within an environment, an examination of our sexual obsession, breastfeeding as a cultural decision, and outrageous societal statistics.

We hope that this zine allows you a space to think about your investments in breasts and the meanings of breasts to you. Enjoy your exploration!

Your Campus Gynecologists*

*In this use of gynecologists, we are referencing the actual meaning of the word: the study of women.

Why I'm Excited for August 7

It's no secret: I love movies. Way too much money is spent on me getting to see the movies I love oh-so much. I even enjoy watching bad rom-coms and teen movies. There are certain movies I get really excited for, like Harry Potter. But there is a day coming up that I am very excited for: August 7, 2009. I am not excited for some big-budget movie, but for 3 amazing-looking movies.

1. 500 Days of Summer

With movies coming out this summer like The Hangover and The Ugly Truth and all those formulaic rom-coms, I am anxiously awaiting 500 Days of Summer. While this movie has been released, it doesn't open in Grand Rapids until August 7. I will watch the trailer every so often to get my fix of its amazing-ness until the movie comes out.

Part of why I'm so excited for the movie is because I love Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. And the music in it is so great (I've already purchased the soundtrack!). But this movie also looks so different from all those other romantic comedies. It says from the beginning: "this is not a love story." So while I can already guess how the movie is going to end (no I don't mean them breaking up, I mean how the movie ends), it is not going to be like other romantic comedies.

The man (Gordon-Levitt) thinks that his life is incomplete until he finds "the one" and the woman (Deschanel) is the one that doesn't want to be tied down while she's young and doesn't believe in love. It is refreshing to see the stereotypcial roles reversed. It's still very stereotypical to believe that the men are the ones that don't want to be in a relationship and the woman is the one who is romantic. While we all know this is not true, it's still refreshing to see that reflected in a movie.

I am reluctant to call the movie feminist or say that is has a feminist message until I see it and see how the story line actually plays out. There is only so much you can tell from a trailer. But it looks great and probably more feminist that most of the other movies coming out this summer.

2. Julie & Julia

Julie & Julia is definitely more big-budget than 500 Days of Summer. This movie stars two amazing women, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. Julia Child was an awesome woman in and of herself. The movie shows part of her life in Paris, from starting cooking school with an all male class to her cookbook and TV show. Julie Powell on the other hand, is a woman who doesn't really seem to know what to do with her life and finds her answer in cooking.

I love to cook myself, so I'm excited for that part of it. But I think this movie also has the potential to be empowering. There's the Julia Child side of it: taking on the men of the cooking world and disproving all the nay-sayers. I've also heard that the book (I meant to read it before the movie came out, but I haven't gotten around to it) has a message of developing a healthy relationship with food and your body image. I hope that they keep this part in the movie. It would be great to see a movie with that kind of message.

3. Paper Heart

This movie looks really sweet and awkward. Paper Heart is about the making of a documentary starring a teenage (?) girl who does not believe in love and goes around interviewing people on the subject. Then she meets this boy (Michael Cera) and starts to fall for him, but of course all of their relationship has to be taped for the documentary. This movie just looks adorably awkward, not necessarily feminist. And it kind of looks along the lines of the overall story line of 500 Days of Summer with a documentary and awkward teens (but I would probably rather see 500 Days of Summer). But Paper Heart is only coming to "select theaters" on August 7, so that means that it probably won't be coming to Grand Rapids. But I'm excited to read about what other people think of it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Quick Hit: Sotomayor Receives Endorsement from Senate Committee

Today the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to endorse Judge Sonia Sotomayor with a 13 to 6 vote! All that's left is a full Senate vote which is expected to take place by the end of next week.

Further reading:
Senate Judiciary Committee Endorses Sotomayor [Shakesville]
Senate panel endorses Sotomayor [Feministe]
Sotomayor Approved for Supreme Court by Senate Judiciary Committee [RH Reality Check]
Committee Approves Sotomayor Nomination [Jezebel]
Senate Judiciary Committee Votes for Sotomayor [Feministing]
Senate Panel OKs Sotomayor [Appetite for Equal Rights]

Welcome to Cougar Town

Many times when I have gone to see a movie over PG lately, I have been subjected to this promo for the new fall ABC show, Cougar Town, starting Courtney Cox (of Friends fame):

Cougar Town...a show about a 40-year-old divorcee who decides that getting back into the dating world means dating younger men. So many things wrong with this promo/show, where to begin...

How about at the beginning? The promo opens with Courtney Cox scrutinizing every fault of her body. First of all, I don't think that is actually Courtney Cox's body. Other promos have her in underwear and she does not have any "flab." Second of all, the body that is shown (whether it is Cox's or not) is an amazing body. Scrutinizing a body like that not only shows the fear of aging (prevalent throughout the show/promo) but also the impossible body standards that women have to live up to.

The show is all about the fear of aging. Women are going to "shrivel up and die." Throughout society, everyone fears getting older, but I feel like there is a stronger fear among women. A fear that men will no longer be attracted to them when they get older. Because age does not equal beauty. Age equals wrinkles and flab and death.

How does divorce equal "shrivel up and die"? There is nothing wrong with being an independent woman and living the life you want to live. While I think that is the message the show is trying is doing what she thinks is expected of her. I may be wrong, I mean it is only a 30 second promo. But the show does seem to say that a woman is incomplete without a man, even if that man is just a young "boy toy."

And why is that older women who date younger men are called "cougars" but older men who date younger women is a bachelor or a playboy? Cougars are predatory animals, so this implies that women are preying on and attacking young men where as men are congratulated for dating younger women.

Courtney Cox was so great on Friends, so why does she have to go and make a show like this (but Jennifer Aniston is really the only one of the cast that has had any major success after Friends)? Maybe the show is supposed to be some sort of commentary about the fear of aging in society. But if the promo starts out like this with scrutinizing every little imaginary fault on a body, I think it is just reinforcing the fear of aging.

Funny Men, Attractive Women

Have you ever noticed how male actors, especially comedians, don't have to conform to societal beauty standards? But female actors are usually shunned if they don't conform to these standards and as they get older.

I was watching an interview with Jonah Hill for the movie Funny People (Judd Apatow's latest creation) and they showed a clip starring Hill and Seth Rogen. Neither of these men are "attractive" according to cultural standards, yet they are both popular actors. In the clip that they showed, Seth Rogen was discussing his looks (he has recently lost a good amount of weight for a different role) and how he isn't good looking but isn't bad looking either. Jonah Hill goes on to reprimand him for losing weight because there's "nothing funny about a physically fit man!" This line really struck me because, at least to me, it shed light on the double standard that funny and talented men don't have to be physically fit where as women do.

Men can be physically "unattractive" and make up for it with their personality/humor. But women, on the other hand, have a hard time making it big if they are not culturally attractive. Of course there are some exceptions such as Dame Judy Dench and Queen Latifah. But both of these women are beautiful, they just don't conform to societal standards of beauty; Dench because of age and Latifah because of weight. In comedies, women have to be both attractive and funny where as men just have to be funny.

This is oh-so evident in Judd Apatow movies. The women that "star" in these movies are much more attractive than the men that play opposite then. Not to say that a relationship where the woman is more attractive than the man could never happen, but it is definitely not the norm in movies. For example, in
Knocked Up, Katherine Heigl stays with her unattractive, slacker boyfriend, Seth Rogen. I could understand that if Rogen was actually a good boyfriend, but he wasn't. Just one example of how women in comedies have to be attractive in order to play a prominent role.

And even as attractive, funny women age, they are shunned from the mainstream. They are offered roles to play the mothers of people they are only 10 years older than and to play the old hag next door. Feministing posted a video with Amy Pohler, Sarah Silverman, Christina Applegate, Jane Krakowski, Mary Louise Parker, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus discussing what it means to be getting older in show business. They talk about the roles they are offered and the ones they are turned down for, about not getting magazine covers because they are over 35, etc. While all these women are amazing actors and very attractive, this video speaks to the value of youth (including society standards of beauty) in show business and society.

There are of course exceptions to this "rule." But they are few and far between. Men have the pleasure of relying on their talent and humor instead of their looks whereas women generally have to rely on their looks in order to get least at first.

Further Reading:
Judd Apatow Talks About Sexism, Seth Rogen [Jezebel]

Monday, July 27, 2009

Anti-Homophobic Commercials Hit the Airwaves

When I was babysitting this past weekend, we were watching the Tour de France (I'm not entirely sure why) and what really caught my attention was a commercial that came on. The commercial featured Wanda Sykes reprimanding a group of teenage boys in a pizza place for using the phrase "that's so gay."

I was very pleased with the commercial and reinforced the message to the children I was babysitting. I was so impressed by the commercial that I decided to research it a little further.

This commercial was put out by Think Before You Speak, a campaign of Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network aimed at ending homophobic language in schools.

This campaign aims to raise awareness about the prevalence and consequences of anti-LGBT bias and behavior in America’s schools. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce and prevent the use of homophobic language in an effort to create a more positive environment for LGBT teens. The campaign also aims to reach adults, including school personnel and parents; their support of this message is crucial to the success of efforts to change behavior.
This campaign has some great resources, so make sure to check them out.

I also discovered that there were two more commercials in addition to the one featuring Wanda Sykes; one featuring Hilary Duff (whom I'm not a huge fan of, but the commercial is still great). This following video contains both the Hilary Duff and Wanda Sykes commercials:

I think that these commercials have the potential to be effective because they point out how using the phrase "that's so gay" can be hurtful by turning it back on the person who says it. For example using "that's so 16-year-old boy with a cheesy mustache" to say "that's so stupid," as in the Wanda Sykes commercial.

They have the potential to get the message across, especially if they widen their reach. I would like to see these commercials reach network television. So far, I have only seen the one on ESPN (I believe, or whatever channel the Tour de France was on).

This is the third commercial that takes place at a drug store:

Update: I just saw the Wanda Sykes commercial on ABC Family...but it was after midnight.

What's In a Name?

Right now I am no where near getting married, but I decided a long time ago (before I defined myself as a feminist) that I was not going to change my name if/when I get married.

My mom kept her name, which I remember causing a lot of confusion among my friends growing up. It seemed so normal to me because that's what I grew up with. But I would always feel a little upset when my friends called my mom Mrs. Sundstrom instead of by her own name, not that they knew any better at first. When I was very young, I didn't understand why my friends just assumed that my mom shared my dad and I's last name. As I aged, I came to understand that it was societal convention that the woman has the same last name as her husband.

Going into late elementary school and on, I would sometimes get asked if my parents were divorced when my friends found out that my parents had different last names. Because in my conservative community (and in the rest of society), the only way that a woman can have her maiden name is if she is divorced from her husband.

Certainly my mom had some influence on my decision to not change my name, but once I started learning more about feminism, I was finally able to express some of my real motivations behind this decision.
I do not want to change myself when I get married. My name is part of who I am. And part of who I am is also an independent woman and I feel that as an independent woman, I should not have to change my name to enter into a partnership with a man.

Via a tweet from Ashely at Small Strokes, I learned of an article at The Globe and Mail entitled, "I took my wife's last name." The author goes through his decision to take his wife's name upon marriage and the struggles that he faced, both within himself and from friends and family.

In discussing why he chose to change his name, he says...

I did it because I love Mona - because I wanted her to know that I didn't expect her to become anyone other than herself. It mattered to me that we shared a name, so I reasoned I should be the one to offer mine up.

I think that this reason says a lot about what kind of person this man is and about how much he respects his wife and her values. He starts the article by saying that the decision was completely his, that his wife didn't even ask him to do it.

In today's society, I feel like a woman's decision to keep her name is not as uncommon as it was even when my parents married about 27 years ago. Some people still hold the expectation that the woman will change her name, but it is certainly more socially acceptable to keep your name.
But even when it is not uncommon for a woman to keep her name, it is almost completely unheard of for a man to take his wife's name. Why?

I think that some women don't want to change their name because it would show a kind of dependency on a man.
So if a man changes his name, is there an assumption that he is dependent on a woman? And why would that be so wrong? In any relationship there is a certain amount of emotional (and other kinds) dependency on the other person. But men would never admit that by taking his wife's name.

Every woman has the right to keep her name and every man has the right to change his name. And just because I have decided to keep my name doesn't mean that a woman who decides to take her husband's name is wrong or anti-feminist.

The Topless Double Standard

Being that it is summertime, I understand that people get exceedingly hot. I'm often walking or driving around on a particularly warm summer day and see numerous men walking or lounging around without a shirt on. I fully understand a man's right to do this, especially when it is very warm outside. But when a woman does it, it is indecent exposure.

I understand that breasts are sexual objects and sexual objects are a big no-no in society. But on a hot, sticky day, shirts can be awfully uncomfortable. Because of this, there are many days where I hate said shirt and wish I could shed it in public. While I often wish this, but I would never actually do it because it is not socially acceptable.

On a side note, there are many men who do not have shirts that have breasts, or at least what look like breasts. And I don't mean to be insensitive, but I don't always want to look at that. If men should have the pleasure of cooling off by shedding their tops, so should women...or no one should be able to. If people don't want to see women's breasts in public, then why should we have to see men's breasts?

Every time I see a guy walking around without a shirt on, I wonder to myself why it's acceptable for men while it's not acceptable for women (I know, basic answer is breasts are sexual objects and should be covered in public). I've brought this up to some people and I usually get the same answer: well, why don't you just walk around topless and demonstrate the double standard? Even if I wouldn't be arrested for doing this, in a cultural climate like this one, where women are told to feel ashamed about their bodies, I would not feel comfortable.

So it's not only laws that have to change, but culture's perception of female bodies entirely (but we all know that laws reflect cultural values). As long as women are made to feel ashamed about their bodies because they are not perfect (like anyone's is), we are not going to see any change. I have no inclination to believe that this will happen anytime soon because there is so much profit to be made, in almost every arena, on the objectification and deprecation of women's bodies, but a woman can hope, can't she?

And I'm not going to say that I'm completely comfortable with my body, because I'm not. I've struggled with my body image ever since I became aware that my body was not "perfect." As much as I try to tell myself that it doesn't matter what my body looks like, every time I go out anywhere, I see women whose bodies I envy and then feel ashamed about my own. And as much as I know that this is a product of societal values, it's hard (or impossible) to completely ignore 22 years of cultural indoctrination.

I think that it is just important for every woman to be constantly trying to love their body just a little bit more (and it is a constant struggle). Be conscious of the cultural images of women's bodies and the constant impression that your body will never be good enough. I'm not saying this is an easy thing, because it's not. And I'm not saying that just being conscious of it will make you 100% happy with your body, because it won't. I think that everyone just needs to be conscious of it and by doing that, it can be easier to fight these cultural images.

So in a post that started about men's shirtless-ness, I ended up discussing women's body image. But if men are comfortable enough with their imperfect bodies (not all men are) to walk around without shirt, why can't women? Or why can't women work towards being comfortable enough? Comparing the acceptablility of being topless for both men and women shows the double standard of men's and women's bodies. Women face more shame and criticism about their bodies than men do in the public arena.* Because of this, most women will never feel comfortable being shirtless or let alone showing a little more skin than normal on a hot day.

*Note: I do not want to say that men do not face any shame or criticism, and I cannot really speak to how much because I am not a man. I just believe that at least in the public arena, women face more criticism than men because there is the constant pressure on women (more than men, I think) to be skinny and have that "perfect" body.

Further reading:
Women should have the right to be shirtless [Daisy's Dead Air]

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Pregnant Bodies in Away We Go

Today I finally went to see Away We Go. It was a great movie, both funny and touching, and not that predictable. Watch the trailer if you've missed out so far:

The movie is the story of Burt and Verona, who are 33 and about to have a baby. They go on a trip trying to find a "home" near friends or family. They go from Phoenix to Madison to Montreal to Miami, meeting up with hilarious characters along the way. Every place they see as some where they could live but then realize that the people they are visiting are just as messed up as they are.

One of the things that really struck me about the movie was the commentary (I believe it was purposeful) on pregnant women's bodies as public property. There were of course all of the people who felt that they had the right to touch Verona's stomach. And then there was the mother who pointed at Verona and asked her child: "what's that?" The child's response: "a baby!" (Not a woman, not a pregnant woman, just a baby as if her sole purpose in life was the serve as an incubator for this one child.) And the airline workers who stood around debating how far along Verona was. Verona was only six months, but the airline workers thought she was lying and was actually 8 months which means she wouldn't be able to fly. And it was completely appropriate to stand around discussing not only the woman's body, but her size and weight. Plus, the topic of parenting is always open for discussion with no real consideration of how the parents want to raise their children.

For pregnant women (I am NOT speaking from experience here), the world has open access to your body. Women's bodies and personal space are completely eradicated when there is a baby growing in there. In society, the baby/fetus is more important than the woman.

And then there was the hilarious charicature of a feminist women's studies professor played by Maggie Gylenhaal. While I a normally completely opposed to stereotypes of feminists portrayed in movies, this was different. Maggie Gylenhaal played a women's studies professor at U of Wisconsin Madison who breastfed her 3 year old (I'm estimating on the age), used a family bed shared with her husband/partner and their children, and did not believe in strollers ("why would you push your child away from you?"). She was the earth mother type of feminist.

Even though it was kind of a stereotype of a feminist, the way that it was handled was hilarious. Ending with Burt putting her 3-year-old in a stroller and running him around the house.

This movie was the perfect combination of humor, story line, with a smidge of social commentary about pregnancy (at least to me and I really hope that it was purposeful) and finding home in what is meaningful for you. It even kept me occupied enough to forget that I was hungry! If you haven't seen this movie already, I recommend that you see it if it is still playing near you or go out and rent it as soon as it is released on dvd!

This Week in Blogs: July 19 - 25

This week has been pretty uneventful for me. I get to spend my weekend babysitting three hyper kids, that's about as exciting as it gets. I hope all of you have had more eventful and productive weeks. Here are some of my favorite blog posts from this week. There are a lot of them because, well, there were a lot of really good posts this week and I am still constantly discovering new feminist blogs that I want to share with everyone!

Will "Orphan" hurt orphans? [Salon Broadsheet]
Health Care, It's Personal [Womanist Musings]
The Hermione in my Head [Feministing Community]
LOL you're a feminist [o filthy grandeur!]
What Feminism Is and What It Should Be (with a little help from bell hooks) [Small Strokes] - a little over a week old, but still good!
And finally, both The Curvature and Jump Off the Bridge participated in the blogathon yesterday - check out their numerous posts!

What have you been writing and reading this week? Leave links in the comments!

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Feminist Act of Blogging

Today, I received an email from a reader who raised concerns about armchair philosophy and me not taking any action to further the cause of feminism. From the outset, I would like to say that I have since addressed the issues that this individual had and we have worked towards a resolution, so this is in no way an attack on this individual. I simply wanted to express my inspiration for this post.

The question I want to address is: is blogging an act of feminist activism?

Of course the blogging in question would have to be feminist in nature; not all blogging could be considered a form of feminist activism (just too at, more on this later). (Note: feminist in nature does not necessarily mean specifically about feminism, just with a feminist leaning.)

I think that there is a general conception that feminist activism is all about marches and "taking to the streets." In the 70s, that's what got people's attention. "Sisterhood" was strong and radical things needed to happen (not that radical things don't need to happen today). Today, in the third wave, we are all about individual freedom and choice (I know I am generalizing, which is usually not a good thing, but the purpose of this generalization is to show the difference in activism between the 70s and today).

Today, activism can take many forms. Activism, to me at least, is all about enacting change in any way that you can. This can be done through volunteering, participating in activist organizations, writing letters or otherwise contacting elected officials, companies with sexist practices, etc. with your concerns, and anything else that you think can make some sort of change. And yes, activism still involved protesting, but it is not the only part!

For me, part of feminism is making sure that everyone's voice is heard, especially the voices of people who are usually silenced by society. I see blogging as a great way for these voices to be heard. Anyone can start a blog, therefore anyone's voice can be heard.

Feminist blogs are a great addition to the conversation that is going on in the blogosphere (I must admit that I am a little biased, obviously). And because of this,
the voices of the people who write feminist blogs (and comment on them) are being heard. While this may not seem like a lot, feminist blogs raise awareness about feminist issues, therefore are enacting a form of change. Raising awareness about feminist issues is an important part of activism and that is preciesly what feminist blogs do!

I do not want this post to seem like some form of excuse of a guilty conscious for not participating in other forms of activism. I started this blog as a compliment to other forms of activism. As the reader who emailed me correctly said:

any attemt to change must surely be active - it must involve a discourse between yourself and others, between culture and the individual, and through this active self sacrifice and imposition of a different 'narrative' the forms and connexions of power may shift in a way that you consider favourable.

Activism has to be active, has to be about conversation, and ultimately comes down to some form of self-sacrifice.

I see blogging as active because you are doing something about you personal beliefs in feminism rather than just sitting there wallowing in your anger over the state of the world. But if you are going to enact change, there has to be more than blogging. You have to partake in other forms of activism (as I talked about above) to enact change. This is not to say that feminist blogging is not adequate activism (because I would not completely negate all that I just said). Feminist blogging is just one aspect of feminist activism that is used to raise awareness of feminist issues and enact change.
So to all the feminist bloggers out there: keep doing what you are doing and be proud of the change that you are enacting through raising awareness about these very serious and important issues!

Period Bashing

Have you seen these commercials?

The Midol PM commercials have been around for a while now. I have always felt uneasy whenever I see them. But why? I support female comedians because there are so few of them. There's nothing wrong with women talking about periods, is there? Well, that's where my uneasiness comes in. I am all about women talking about their periods in a constructive way, sharing experiences (both positive and negative), worries, hopes, etc. But these commercials are not about sharing experiences in a constructive way.

These commercials make fun of periods. Saying that women "change into something that isn't human" during their periods is not any kind of constructive conversation about periods. This commercial is basically saying that the natural process of menstruation is something to be feared and that transforms women into monsters. I'm not saying that every woman should love their period, I don't always. But periods do not change women into monsters.

The second commerical just falls into the stereotype that women's "bad side" comes out when they have their period. While it can be true that women could be more irritable when they are on their period, there's no need to make jokes about this natural process that is already shamed by society.

Even though I cannot take Midol because of allergy reasons, these commercials make me never want to buy Midol because of their attitude towards menstruation.

Further reading:
Jokes About Menstruation [Appetite for Equal Rights]

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Weight = Expertise When It Comes to the Surgeon General

I debated about posting this video. While it is certainly newsworthy, it has been so widely reported on in the blogosphere. But, because I was completely outraged by it, I decided that I had a responsibility to myself spread it to even more people.

"Just because you eat a lot of dinner rolls doesn't make you a role model."

Who the hell is this guy and where does he get off claiming that Dr. Regina Benjamin is incapable of being surgeon general because she is (as he claims) obese? First of all, obese? Really? She looks perfectly fine to me. Second, being overweight does not necessarily correspond with "poor" exercise and eating habits. And since when does weight correspond with intelligence?

This is just another example of how women's bodies are fair game for discussion in the public forum. Would a story like this make it on the news if it were a male nominee? I don't think so. Men are judged by their intelligence where as women's only worth is in what they look like. Women's (plus-size) bodies are already under attack enough as it is with shows like Drop Dead Diva and More to Love. Do we really need to add into that mix attacking intelligent, qualified, strong women for the way they look?

P.S. A shirt that says "No Chubbies"?

Further reading:
Fatties Need Not Apply [Appetite for Equal Rights]
Is Regina Benjamin too fat to be surgeon general? [Salon: Broadsheet]
The Persuasive Fatty [Shakesville]
"No Chubbies" [Sociological Images]
Faux News: new Surgeon General nom 'too fat' to serve [Pam's House Blend]

MTSS Goes Cable

I love the Midwest Teen Sex Show. I was introduced to it this past spring and the proceeded to watch every episode, some more than once. If you have never seen it, watch you can watch the episodes on their website (above).

MTSS aims to provide sex information in an entertaining way.
It is a great way to counter abstinence-only education because it does not require reading a lot of research and information, it just requires watching an entertaining video. Many people watch it without abstinence-only just for the entertainment value.

From the MTSS website:

Teens and sex. It happens. Not every teen is having sex and not every teen is abstaining. We hope the Midwest Teen Sex Show will create a space for frank discussion of all things related to teen sexuality. Broadcast media shies away from any real exploration of the topic, and they forget that not all teens live in Orange County.

But MTSS does not pretend to be experts or a replacement proper sex education from parents or schools:

Is this sex education?

Sort of–we like to call it sex information. We’ll leave the formal education to classrooms and textbooks. Midwest Teen Sex Show is here to provide sex information in a clear and entertaining way. We won’t pretend to be experts, but hopefully a few of our own embarrassing experiences and insights will keep you out of trouble.

I think MTSS is a great way to provide information and I'm glad that they don't present themselves as the end-all-be-all of sex education...they are just their to supplement proper sex education.

And now onto the really good news. Comedy Central has asked MTSS to make a pilot that could be picked up by the cable network as a regular, 30-minute show. From the Women's Media Center:

after expressing interest following its third episode, Comedy Central has invited MTSS to make a full-length pilot episode this summer that may leap the online favorite to cable television. The news comes shortly after MTSS videos and fan groups were pulled from YouTube, Facebook and MySpace, which contended that they conflicted with community guidelines.

I think that bringing MTSS to a cable network is a great step in the conversation about teen sexuality. This will bring it to a wider audience and continue to help combat the abstinence-only people.

I can't wait to see if Comedy Central picks up MTSS. I know I will be tuning in!

Further Reading:

MTSS goes CC [The F Bomb]

We Heart MTSS - And So Does Comedy Central [The American Virgin]

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Good Intentions, Overweight Stereotypes

With the premiere of More to Love looming in the near future, I have been thinking more and more about the portrayal of overweight people* in the media. I posted earlier about how More to Love is further objectifying overweight people. But More to Love is not the only show on television right now centered around overweight people. The Biggest Loser has been around for a while now, Dance Your Ass Off recently kicked off their first season, and Drop Dead Diva just premiere on Lifetime.

Biggest Loser and Dance Your Ass Off are weight-loss shows centered around "bettering" yourself. These shows very clearly say that you are not good enough if you are overweight. More to Love is slightly (only slightly) harder to read because it portrays itself as loving the body that you are in. But that's not really the message that it sends. This show defines people by their weight as if it were their only identifiable characteristic and sends the message that only overweight people can love other overweight people.

Drop Dead Diva is a slightly different case because it is an hour long dramedy (by the looks of it) where as the other shows are reality shows. [Disclaimer: I have not seen this show. I am going off of commercials and reading other blog posts about it] The basic premise of the show is that model Deb and brainy lawyer Jane die at the same time and Deb is brought back to life in Jane's body. The only problem for Deb is that Jane is "plus-size."* She doesn't know how to handle. And my guess is that Deb-in-Jane's-body learns what it is like to be "plus size" and that it is beautiful to be "plus size" as well.

While I'm sure that the aim of
Drop Dead Diva is to bring light to the discrimination against and stereotypes of overweight people, I see it as having the same effect as More to Love. Focusing on weight as a part of personality further enforces the stereotype that weight matters. "Drop Dead Diva: Sunday Night's Big Comedy," a post on the Bitch blog says...

The show itself somewhat mimics Deb’s obliviousness when it comes to the issues of fatness it seeks to address. While its intentions are coming from a place of standing up for bigger women's right to be seen as fabulous and treated with respect, Drop Dead Diva plays on stereotypes of blondes as bubble heads and donuts as an obsessive distraction for fat women.
It then goes on to question the outcomes of the show...

On one hand, one could say that utilizing these stereotypes makes them more apparent and allows for them to be deconstructed. On the other hand, it also serves to reinforce them as true.

I think shows like
Drop Dead Diva and the reality shows focusing on overweight people do have good intentions. And there is some merit to having more normal sized people on television shows. But when they are put on television shows solely because of their weight, that's when we have a problem. These shows fall into the stereotypes they are trying to fight. On the other hand, what would a show that focuses on overweight people loving themselves and their bodies look like and how would it avoid falling into the stereotypes?

Maybe I will have to break down and actually watch one of them, but I just don't know if I can handle the objectification.

* I always have a hard time coming up with a label (not that there should be a label) for "overweight" people. "Overweight" implies that there is a normal weight and that these people are obviously over it. "Plus-size" has the same connotations. I normally choose to go with "overweight" because it is much more P.C. than "fat" and I don't really care for "plus-size." However, when discussing the plot of
Drop Dead Diva, I chose "plus-size" because that is the language used in show descriptions. Does anyone this that there is a better term to use in these situations?

Further Reading:
Do Plus-Size TV Shows Inspire or Disgust? [Jezebel]
Drop Dead Diva: "Fat Things Should Not Happen To Skinny People" [Jezebel]
On "Drop Dead Diva," Blonds are Dumb and Plus-Size Are Smart But Insecure [The Frisky]

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