This is one of my favorite spoken word poems–it’s about a young woman struggling with her identity and empowerment as she confronts conditioning and history of being told to be quiet and submissive. The instances and anecdotes she uses to describe this struggle align perfectly with the content we’ve been discussing in class, and reveal the consequences of gendered child rearing in our still highly patriarchal world.
The poet describes how she and her brother were raised differently; she was raised to be more dismissive and quiet while her brother was taught confidence. “My brother never thinks before he speaks,” she says. “I have been taught to filter.” This is an example of how gendered parenting can create more effects than simple color and toy preferences in youth, but lasting effects in confidence and personality.
For much of the poem, the poet also describes the body issues she has experienced as a woman. Like The Cult of Thinness and Reading the Slender Body and Killing us Softly 4 all agree, women feel enormous pressure to maintain a thin and nonthreatening physique while men are allowed to have hulking presences that symbolize their dominance. This issue becomes extremely poignant in her descriptions of her own and her relative’s frail bodies, and in her words “my brother has been taught to grow out, I have been taught to grow in.”
The struggle she describes is a personal one, as the poet tries to straddle the boundary of defying her ancestry while maintaining a relationship with her mom. But as we’ve learned through various readings in this class, the personal is often political, and her personal struggles reveal larger oppressive gender structures. Now, within that context, this poem not only moves me on intimate level, but compels me to address historic discouragement and oppression of women.
This advertisement follows the typical expectation for fragrance marketing: a gorgeous, highly feminine white woman and the suggestion that using that perfume will give the consumer those same narrow traits. Only this portrayal is more offensive and unnatural than that; though the woman looks authentically white with her bleach blond hair and lightened skin, she is actually hip-hop artist and woman of Trinidadian descent Nicki Minaj. This decolorization (for lack of a better word) is the marketing counterpart of the cinematic racism that bell hooks described in Oppositional Gaze, or the “violent erasure of black womanhood.” Instead of portraying Nicki in a less stereotypically white way or perhaps revealing her true ancestry, she follows the mainstreams of white representation. This ad reveals the ridiculous ideal of white womanhood that Killing Us Softly 4 alluded to. It caters to white audiences, while implicitly telling women of color that the ideal of whiteness is supreme.
And beyond the marketing sphere, this advertisement is also disappointing in the larger context of Nicki Minaj’s career. Nicki is one of the few salient female artists in hip hop, and as such, she holds the potential to be influential in an industry mostly dominated by misogyny and the objectification of women. But instead of using this power to become an empowered role model for female audiences and a defiance of objectification, she lapses into the familiar narrative of an ethereal and sexualized princess. Also, the appearance of the perfume bottle in the bottom left hand corner literally objectifies her, as her torso and head compose the perfume bottle, a literal object. Instead of Nicki being a subversive force in advertising and hip-hop, with this ad she merely corroborates both white supremacy and female objectification.
The vast majority of people understand gender discrimination through the narrow lens of women’s issues. Though they are indisputably important components of the fight against sexist oppression, our understanding should be more inclusive to those who do not necessarily fall into this traditional definition of gender discrimination, but still suffer for defying society’s expectations of a gender binary. Dean Spade offers a more holistic and inclusive definition in Resisting Medicine, Re/Modeling Gender, saying that “sexist oppression requires that all people adhere to two narrowly defined gender categories; that all people work, dress, reproduce, and generally behave according to the standards set out as appropriate.” With this new definition, we can acknowledge that more than cisgendered women suffer from gendered expectations. As Dean Spade writes, transgendered people suffer gender discrimination as they receive mistreatment and prejudice for failing to adhere to “expectations of the gendered category they have been assigned,” in appearance, demeanor, and behavior. Intersexuals likewise suffer; as activist and intersex person Eden Atwood describes in a youtube video, “out of a great deal of fear and prejudice, a scalpel is raised in order to normalize the genitals and force a gender identity onto the child.” Thus, intersexuals are denied of their autonomy and self-determination, and surgically altered as birth. Even cisgendered men can suffer gender discrimination if they deviate from their masculine expectations, like the father Belkin described the New York Times that struggled to succeed professionally because he prioritized parenting- a task usually designated for women. Though the plights of these people have often been ignored in the larger understanding of gender discrimination, we as progressive thinkers in the modern era should include them in our goals of ending sexist oppression.
video, “inter thoughts” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJ-GNZ5QA4Q
Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” New York Times Magazine. The New York Times, 15 June 2008. Web.
Spade, Dean. “Resisting Medicine, Re/modeling Gender.” Berkeley Women’s Law Journal (2003): 32. Web. 14 July 2003.
One key element I noticed about this ad is that it completely lacks any discourse on health, or even weightloss; it does not motivate the audience to purchase Sono Bello liposuction to be healthier or to confront obesity, but to “remove fat, permanently.” This tells the audience to value appearance over health, which is clearly an inverted and problematic ordering of priorities. Also, in calling for the removal of fat, this advertisement (as well as the existence of a liposuction company like Sono Bello) exemplifies Bordo’s observation that media constructs fat and bulges as the enemy.
Furthermore, this advertisement imposes what Marilyn Wann described in Fat Studies as the belief that the fat life is not worth living. The advertisement asks the question “remember what your life was like two dress sizes ago?,” implying that as weight increases, enjoyment goes down. The slogan for the ad is also “it’s your life, live it beautifully,” which again implies that the only way to achieve a beautiful life is through abolishing fat. Also in its imagery of happy, smiling, thin people, this commercial again associates joy with a slender body, imposing values of thinness on the viewer.
Bordo, Susan. “Reading the Slender Body.” Unbearable Weight. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. 185-212. Print.
Marilyn Wann, “Forward,” in The Fat Studies Reader, by Esther D. Rothblum and Sondra Solovay (New York: New York University Press, 2009), XIV.
As a class we have collectively analyzed the ways in which media fail to accurately represent gender and sexual desire. Furthermore, we have discussed how these failings can often be problematic– leading to the appropriation of male violence and the objectification of women. Though our discussions have been comprehensive on addressing problems, we have underscored the role of free will and failed to offer solutions on how we can transcend and defy our media-generated culture.
For an answer to this, we can turn to Bell Hooks and her essay Oppositional Gaze. Though her writings concerned black female spectatorship in the cinema, the sentiments apply to anyone dissatisfied with representations in cultural narratives, including young people in modern mediascape. Bell Hooks does not endorse isolation or passivity, but a critical gaze that actively questions and deconstructs convoluted expectations. Using Hooks method of a critical gaze, we can reject the ridiculous expectations of thinness and beauty that media teaches us to pursue, and we can reject the expectation of men to be violent and dominant. Though it may seem like consumers are helpless victims of unhealthy media images, our spectatorship gives us the “power of agency” as Bell Hooks call it, and we have authority on how we resist media and construct our own identities.
hooks, bell. “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators.” Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End, 1992. 115-31. Print.
Several of the authors we have read use the term destiny, implying that individuals have no personal control over their gender identity, and therefore, no free choice. Judith Butler, namely, posits that the gendered expectations and structures are so pervasive that culture “becomes destiny,” forcing people into preset norms. Though it would be foolish to overlook the influence of gendered culture, this conception of gender as a rigid destiny is incomplete; gender is also a process, as Judith Lorber articulates. Though admittedly difficult, I believe people can impose their free will against gender norms, and alter gender norms through the “resistance and rebellion” that Lorber describes. People can subtely deviate from traditional conceptions of femininity and masculinity, and exhibit and individuality contrary to ‘destiny.’
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1999.
Lober, J. (2006) The social construction of gender. In E. Disch (Ed.), Reconstructing gender: a multicultural anthology. McGraw.
Cosmopolitan Magazine (better known as simply Cosmo) reinforces gender in its largely female audience. The magazine is full of ads and content that encourage women to behave in a highly sexualized feminine manner. Most of the magazine does this in a risqué manner, but the sexism in Estee Lauder’s new perfume advertisement is more implicit. While the brand describes the Muse women as “the heroine of her own life” and an “independent spirit,” this directly contradicts to the concept of a muse. A muse is never the central character of any story, but instead someone whose only significance is its service to another, superior being. This construction of a muse starkingly resembles how Simone de Beauvior describes women in The Second Sex: “man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him.” This advertisement presumes this dependence on men, and encourages women to be a muse instead of an independent creator, to “be an inspiration” as if they are incapable of being inspired themselves. Furthermore, with its surreal and almost angelic photograph of the woman, the advertisement continues what de Beauvior calls the “myth” of women. Instead of imbuing women with strong and tangible characteristics that men possess, this advertisement perpetuates that ethereal, “other” perception of women.
1. Beauvoir, Simone De. “The Second Sex: Introduction.” Introduction. The Second Sex. New York: Knopf, 1953. 32-40. Print.