Tag Archives: Feminism

A Woman’s Truth

At the end of the documentary “The Punk Singer,” Kathleen Hanna makes a very provocative statement, “When a man tells the truth it’s the truth, as a woman I need to negotiate the way I’ll be perceived. There’s always suspicion around a woman’s truth.” This statement is reflective of the discussions we’ve had in class regarding how a woman must always defend herself. She is always judged and constantly surveyed for the way she looks and the way she behaves. Hanna always feared that her allegations of sexual abuse and the stories that comprise her life narrative would never be believed. She feared the media’s judgement and her friend’s criticism. So, for self-preservation she kept it all to herself. In the film, Hanna explains that she combats this fear by finally telling her truth without worrying how she will be perceived. The documentary is testament to her truth; she finally reveals it all.

Third Wave Feminism and the Riot grrrl Movement

The film “The Punk Singer” highlights the three major feminist movements that have occurred in America’s history. The first wave of feminism sprang out of women’s suffrage in the early 20th century, and the second grew as a result of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s fueled by pervasive political activism. The third wave originated in the 1990’s and is considered to continue to the present. Riot grrrl-an underground feminist punk rock movement dominated by bands like Bikini Killer, is considered part of this third wave. It is evident that Riot grrrl heavily influenced the feminist atmosphere of the late 1980’s-90’s; it was evocative and controversial sparking media attention and feminist debate. It sought to eradicate essentialist definitions of feminine behavior and to combat stereotypical portrayal of women in the media. I’m curious as to what specific part Riot grrrl played in the emergence of third wave feminism? What allowed Riot grrrl to become such a formidable cultural faction? From the film it seemed as if Riot grrrl grew alongside third wave feminism, responding to the political and sexist climate of the day. Riot grrrl widened the public perception of feminism because it spoke through a medium that everyone could understand – music. Does a movement like Riot grrrl still exist at all today, or has it transformed into a new type musical feminism?

The Punk Singer

The documentary “The Punk Singer,” which chronicles the life of Kathleen Hanna, explores the stage as a feminist space. As a young artist, Hanna sought to combat the violence and the sexism that usually rules punk rock music shows. She did this by ensuring that her concerts were targeted to a female audience both figuratively and literally. Hanna would call women to the front of the stage protecting them from the dangerous mosh pits that were known to erupt. Hannah’s supporters explain that this small request was actually revolutionary for gender relations as men are accustomed to dominating a room. In addition, the content of the music focused on women’s issues, such as rape and gender prejudice. Instead of music normally acting as escapist, it forced listeners to confront the issues head on; Hannah “screamed what was unspoken.” Concertgoers expressed that Hanna’s stage presence was that of a man’s; she was known to act aggressively and crudely. In “Ways of Seeing,” John Berger asserts that women behave according to how men will perceive them. However, Hanna destroyed this idea by rejecting a man’s idea of how a woman should act through her behavior and through the content of her music. It was difficult for me think of an analogous figure in music today that approaches feminism with Hanna’s aggressive approach. Has this type of feminism died in today’s culture?

Sources
Berger, John. “From Ways of Seeing.” The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. By Amelia Jones. London: Routledge, 2003. 37-39. Print.

Link

http://www.buzzfeed.com/spenceralthouse/3-minutes-that-prove-how-the-media-failed-women-in-2013

Buzzfeed recently posted an article about “The Representation Project” that is fighting to change the way women are represented in media. Included was a powerful three minute video that demonstrated how media failed women in 2013. A lot of the example were reminiscent of the ones we saw in “Dreamworlds” and “Killing Us Softly”, but the sexist excerpts from politicians, news anchors, and radio really left a lasting impression. Seeing women put down and objectified in advertisements and commercials is (unfortunately) not surprising anymore, but the comments from well respected and influential people is. Being at a university that advocates so much from women and equality has put me in a bubble, and now I am shocked by the ignorant and ridiculous comments from the rest of the world. Take a couple minutes and watch the video as well. 

Let’s Get Physical: Healthcare Campaign Doing More Harm than Good?

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Ad copy reads: “OMG, he’s hot! Let’s hope he’s as easy to get as this birth control. My health insurance covers the pill, which means all I have to worry about is getting him between the covers. I got insurance.”

“Susie and Nate: Hot to Trot”

“*The pill doesn’t protect you from STDs, condoms and common sense do that.”

ProgressNow Colorado and the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative have recently released a new ad campaign promoting ObamaCare that is offensive to young people, especially women. One ad specifically appears to target young, white, middle-upper class, heterosexual women, most likely aged 18-35. It portrays young women in an unflattering light, showing a woman holding a pack of birth control pills and giving a thumbs-up with her mouth open wide in an excited smile. Next to her, a confident looking man has his arm around her. In the ad copy, the young woman boasts about her birth control pills and hopes that the man next to her will be easily convinced to sleep with her.

The ad reinforces heteronormative ideas that women constantly think about having sex with men. The ad makes it seem that birth control is the only healthcare issue women find important. While birth control is “a fundamental prerequisite for the emancipation of women” (Davis), the attitude that women will only support the Affordable Care Act to have sex with men is not only demeaning to women but harmful to the overall cause for safe and accessible birth control methods and affordable healthcare.  Ad campaigns like this one turn a serious issue (contraception and healthcare in general) into a joke and make women appear shallow and driven solely by sexual desire for men. It over-simplifies feminine needs and “reduces women to sex organs and one night stands” (ColoradoPeakPolitics).

Ads like this are reflective of how women are viewed in society, as they reinforce the attitude that women are “biologically speaking, specialized for one function and one alone – sex” (Ehrenreich and English), and that this function consumes their consciousness and determines their opinions on healthcare plans, which women have various and complex reasons for supporting or not supporting.

Sources:

<http://coloradopeakpolitics.com/2013/11/13/stay-klassy-obamacare-got-insurance-ads-under-fire/&gt;.  Web.

Davis. “Racism, Birth Control, and Reproductive Rights.” (202-221). Print.

Ehrenreich, Barbara and Deirdre English. For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women. New York: Anchor Books, 2005 (2nd ed). Print.

Ad Critique: The Sexist Swiffer

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Image Courtesy of Business Insider

This advertisement for a Swiffer mop offensively uses a powerful image of American feminism to sell a product associated with centuries of female oppression. Although the racist and patriarchal elements of Rosie the Riveter make her a problematic icon to begin with, Swiffer’s equation of housework productivity with female empowerment is contrary to current feminist goals. This advertisement is reminiscent of pre-second-wave feminism—a time in which technological improvements like the washing machine were viewed “as liberating, rather than as oppressive, agents.”[1]

In addition to misusing Rosie the Riveter, Swiffer also employs the common advertising tactic of the alluring female glance. This Rosie’s seductive glance portrays womanhood as sexual and compliant rather than direct and assertive, which negates her authoritative arm-cross. This ad is also unrealistic. The actor’s appearance is significantly modified by makeup and editing, and the kitchen undoubtedly belongs to an upper-middle class family, inaccurately representing Americans’ real economic conditions.

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Image Courtesy of Ad Forum (text refers to celebrating a quiet vacuum)

The possibility of a different advertising culture has been proven in Sweden, where “ads for cleaning products rarely feature women as homemakers.”[2] Below, is one such ad for a vacuum. While this image suggests Sweden may have an problem with race variability in its advertising, it notably does not portray an adult woman. This is representative of the gender-neutral shared housework responsibilities existent in Swedish families.

Although there are significant differences in the racial, economic, and governmental conditions between the US and Sweden, this ad provides hope for alternatives. Perhaps nonsexist American advertising will only appear widely when an expansion of the social welfare system in the US creates more support for families. Until then, American consumers should demand advertising changes from the companies they buy from through investment strategy and product boycotts.


[1] Ruth Schwartz Cowan, “Household Technology and Household Work between 1900 and 1940,” in More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave (New York: Basic Books, 1983), 191.

[2] Lisa Belkin, “When Mom and Dad Share It All,” NYTimes Magazine, June 15, 2008, 4, accessed November 25, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/15/magazine/15parenting-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

Big Question: What is motherhood?

As our understanding of gender evolves we must ask, “What defines motherhood?” Until the mid-twentieth century, motherhood was generally confined to reproduction, childcare, and housework. [1],[2] Despite many decades of change, this traditional understanding of motherhood remains the basis of our social knowledge. Nonetheless, with the groundwork done by previous waves of feminism, today’s mothers are challenging traditional feminine motherhood unlike ever before.

With third-wave feminism’s reevaluation of femininity, mothers are uniquely challenging the presumed responsibilities of motherhood. Specifically, they are exploring different divisions of childcare and housework. Instead of accepting traditional motherhood responsibilities such as feeding and clothing, women are asking why they shouldn’t be the ones to mow the lawn. Moreover, many are noticing and demanding change in the unequal amount of time they spend (while working full time) on household chores and childcare compared to men.[3] Today’s women are increasingly focusing on inequalities in their family lives, meaning tomorrow’s mothers and fathers may approach the world from a different perspective.

The question of what motherhood is must also be asked in the context of family variability. Increasingly, there are families comprised of two gay or lesbian parents. Can a family have zero or two mothers? For many today, motherhood is separate from reproduction. Outsourced childcare, especially to nannies of vastly different cultural upbringings, is increasingly common.[4] Many women have children through alternative processes such surrogacy or in-vitro fertilization, meaning children may not be biologically related to or physically born from their mothers. Variability means that today’s motherhood is about complicating, if not transcending gender.

Ultimately, our evolving answer to the question, “What is motherhood?” is of particular importance due to the historical role motherhood plays in the family—humanity’s foundational social unit. In considering the bigger picture, we thus must ask, “As motherhood changes how will our society as a whole change?”

 


[1] Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, “The Sexual Politics of Sickness,” in For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women, 2nd ed. (New York: Anchor Books, 2005), 113.

[2] Ruth Schwartz Cowan, “Household Technology and Household Work between 1900 and 1940,” in More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave (New York: Basic Books, 1983), 189.

[3] Lisa Belkin, “When Mom and Dad Share It All,” NYTimes Magazine, June 15, 2008, 4, accessed November 25, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/15/magazine/15parenting-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

[4] Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild, “Global Woman,” in Reconstructing Gender: A Multicultural Anthology, by Estelle Disch, 4th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006), 445.