Tag Archives: norms

Big Question: For What Are We Responsible?

In the essay “Sisterhood: Political Solidarity Between Women,” bell hooks confronts the problem of disjunction within feminist movements. She discusses how mainstream feminism has alienated women of color because of a perception that aspects of their culture are counter to feminist causes–for instance, that black women’s refusal to self-victimize excluded them from feminism. Different groups face different oppressions; yet, hooks points out, mainstream feminism struggles to realize that feminism looks different for different groups.

Last week, Politico Magazine published an article subtitled “How Michelle Obama became a feminist’s nightmare.” The author charged the First Lady with anti-feminist offenses including “gardening,” “tending to wounded soldiers” and “reading to children.” Michelle Obama, the author argued, should be a politically involved activist, not a “mom-in-chief.” She has an obligation to the women of America; she should represent all that feminism has achieved.

But to what extent is one woman obligated to act on behalf of a nation? Is Michelle Obama single-handedly responsible for defying all norms? The demand for a woman to embody a specified role, without room for choice in what she can accept or reject, is constricting and regressive. As bell hooks argues in “Sisterhood,” feminism must account for the complexity of individual experiences. Michelle Obama’s feminism may not be Hillary Clinton’s feminism, but their experiences are equally valid.

With that in mind, are we responsible for making choices with an eye towards what will most benefit women as a population? Or are we free to pick and choose which paths to follow? How much must we consider our individual choices in the context of society?


hooks, bell. “Sisterhood: Political Solidarity Between Women.” No. 23, Socialist-Feminism: Out of the Blue (Summer, 1986), pp. 125-138.

Cottle, Michelle. “Leaning Out.” Politico Magazine, November 21, 2013. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2013/11/leaning-out-michelle-obama-100244.html?ml=m_a3_1

Is there such a thing as fee choice?

Throughout this unit we have discussed various choices a person might have to make. Often a person’s decision reflects submission to societal norms and values, rather than on an individual’s preference and agency. For example, a mother who initially chooses to give birth naturally may be told during labor that a certain medical procedure would be best for the baby. At that point, does the mother truly have a “free” choice?  Choosing not to undergo the procedure appears selfish to society. The mother, internalizing society’s high valuation of medical science, feels she must, under the pressure of a professional, abandon her desires and adjust them to meet societal expectations (“The”).  Similarly, when two full-time working parents decide to have a child, women often choose to take on more than half of the domestic duties because it is accepted they are more suited for domestic chores (Belkin).  However, there is no biological reason that a woman can use a washing machine better than any man. Thus, the couple’s choice is not one of free will but one shaped by a society that makes them feel that choosing otherwise would be a waste of innate womanly traits.

Of course, there are limitations in which a person’s choice could be considered free such as what to eat for dinner. However, analysis of big life-style choices often indicates that an individual’s perception of what options are available and the value of each are dictated by society and are not truly free. I believe that, when making big decisions it is nearly impossible to choose with absolute free will. Norms, values, and expectations are omnipresent so a lifestyle choice is not just judged by society but also by the decision-maker, who has absorbed and internalized those same values.

Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All”” NYTimes. The New York Times, 15 June 2008. Web. 29 Nov. 2013.

“The Business of Being Born”(2007)

You Know What They Say About Good Intentions

MelissaThis month, Melissa McCarthy is featured on the cover of Elle in celebration of women in Hollywood.  However, many expressed outrage at the covering of her face and body by her hair and large coat.  They believed that Elle placed McCarthy in a context in which she could not be considered sexy like other cover models. Melissa McCarthy laughs, “I kind of wanted to look like the walk of shame. To guys that’s just got out of bed look, which is very sexy.” For me, the public’s response brought up questions of “To what must you react?” There is no doubt that the advertising industry constructs this idea of what beautiful is, and it typically has excluded full sized women. However, McCarthy specifically chose this look because it was sexy to her, and the public quickly cried “anti-fat” (Wann xii). In this case, it inadvertently reinforced norms by telling McCarthy that her ensemble was not attractive. While we must always react to exclusion and marginalization, we must also acknowledge the power of images of  “very chic, urban, unmarried, 18-34-year olds with huge disposable incomes” (Kilbourne 35). This predisposition never completely disappears, and in our reactions to injustice, we must constantly remind ourselves to shed preconceived notions of beauty.

Marilyn Wann, “Fat Studies: An Invitation to Revolution” (2009)

Jean Kilborne, “Buy this 24-year old and get all his friends absolutely free” (1999)


What is privilege?

When I first heard of privilege, I thought of the idea that my parents had taught me — of earning something. Something that is not a right, but rather something that had to be earned. Of course the definition of privilege in a feminist context is a near opposite to my former definition. Privilege describes not a particular earned ‘thing’, but rather what is unearned, Privilege describes the things given to those who fit the ‘norm’. The norm describes simply the ‘better’ or ‘natural’ category that society deems best. And the opposite of privilege, oppression, being the deviation from said norm.

The norm of heterosexuality, the norm of whiteness (in America), the norm of cisness, the norm of maleness; all of these describe a quality in which a person is deemed normal, yet this normal is deemed superior. Those who fit these characteristics don’t have to face the problems that many ‘others’ have to face (for the most part). Thus, this privilege is not something given, but rather something not taken away.

In media, we see those who fit the norm — or as close to the norm as possible. We see those who succeed overwhelmingly possess this attributes, even when considering population size. Their privilege, their closeness to the ‘norm’, is what allows them the opportunities to achieve these positions. So is privilege giving the opportunities? Or is oppression taking them away?

Perpetuating Gender Norms – To what must women react?

It’s been somewhat of a struggle for me to fully grasp why gender norms seem to be so perpetuated in our society. Ideally, the women’s rights movement should’ve turned everything around, yet women are continuously lowered and viewed as subordinates to men. I come to realize that there just isn’t one party to blame but that both men and women continue to contribute to their own traditional stereotypes that are outdated and in some respect, regressive. What got me thinking was seeing the film, Dreamworlds 3. I never really analyzed music videos farther than the point where I told myself that it was bad to portray a woman as an object or sex-crazed creature. Now, when thinking about the actresses of the music videos themselves who seem glad and willing to pose in little clothing and make provocative gestures (pop stars who become sex symbols are not excluded here), I can’t help but feel that they are approving and promoting the sexualization of the female body, which subsequently leads to sexual harassment/abuse. So I think that we, as women, must react to not only the stereotyping we receive from others, but also and more importantly, to our own conformity to societal norms. We must ask ourselves why we are going along with the system. Is it perhaps easier to do so? Or is it virtually impossible to escape the norms that are pushed upon us? If we hope for change, we must realize that we hold some of the cards as well.

Dreamworlds 3: Desire, Sex & Power in Music Video. Dir. Sut Jhally. Media education foundation, 2007. Film.

Ad critique: “Come as You Are”

In this French McDonald’s ad, a young man has a phone conversation with someone who is clearly a romantic partner. The two reminisce over their days in grade school together, and it is not until the end of the commercial that it is revealed that the protagonist went to an all-boys school. The commercial ends with a title card that reads “venez comme vous etes” or “come as you are.” The ad forces viewers to reflect on the assumptions they make about others; the sex of the person on the other end of the call is intentionally left unknown, and most people (including the man’s father) will assume it is a woman. Simone de Beauvoir writes that “A man never begins by presenting himself as an individual of a certain ex; it goes without saying that he is a man.” Along this vein, I think many people just assume that most men are heterosexual. This ad—unlike many other advertisements in popular media—breaks with traditional assumptions about sexuality. I think the fact that this ad was shown in France and not the US is a testament to the hurdles that still need to be overcome in the states. Assumptions about gender are so ingrained in American culture that McDonald’s thinks it would be bad for business to challenge them.

De Beauvoir, Simone. “The Second Sex: Introduction.” Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives. Ed. Carole R. McCann and Seung-Kyung Kim. New York: Routledge, 2003. 32-40. Print.