Thursday, March 31, 2011

Men & Feminism: An Unlikely Pair?

This week in one of my classes, we discussed whether men can do "feminist" research. For example, can men interview women about their experiences? Could they every understand what it is like to be "female"? While debating those questions in class, one student brought up the clip from Modern Family where Phil goes to the spa. (It's nice to know that other people are questioning themes from the show as well!)

So, what does it mean to be a feminist? Feminism usually gets a bad rap. It is stereotyped as being a movement made up of bra-burning man-haters. Well, that's not the case! Many people who identify as feminists claim different definitions. I think feminism is an attitude. It is an attitude of openness towards all people considered "different" whose rights have been "limited." It inspires me to work to promote a "better" world where there is less gender, sex, race, and class discrimination.

I stumbled onto a blog about an inspiring teacher that shares feminism with her students. She recently wrote an article about "Teaching Boys Feminism", and I think she makes a great point about women and men embracing feminism. Here's the link:

Monday, March 28, 2011

A little "Too Close" for Comfort: Rethinking 90s Music Memories

To set the scene for this post, let's travel back in time... It's the 90s, and I'm sitting in the car gossiping with some friends in the back seat while my mom is driving us to a friend's house. A song comes on (Think Spice Girls "Wannabe" or "2 Becomes 1"), and we begin dancing and mouthing the words to each other. You may be thinking "What's so problematic about this scene?" (or you're thinking "Oh, Baby Spice was my favorite" which means you are missing the entire point of this post...)

Let's fast-forward a few years later to another conversation:
Me: What are you talking about?
Friend 1: Lena, don't you remember that song?
Me: No. Play it for me.... My friend begins playing "Too Close" by Next.
Me: Oh, yeah I remember it. 
Friend 1: Listen to the lyrics...
Me: Why...Oh...
To get my point, check out the video:

So the entire song is about getting "too close" to a member of the opposite sex at a party, and I, at 20 years old, just realized the true meaning of the song when I revisited it. The same thing happened when the Spice Girls went on tour again. I revisited the song "2 Becomes 1" and had another revelation about my childhood. What's problematic here is that I danced to these songs as a naive 14-year-old without recognizing the sexual innuendo, and the same pattern is continuing with 8-year olds replicating Lady Gaga's dance moves on Youtube. (Yes, there is a video of an 8-year old boy dancing to "Poker Face.")

For kids today, Lady Gaga is their idol, and yes, her songs are great to dance to, but there is something problematic about the messages these songs are telling young people. The songs over-sexualize young girls and tell them that to fit in they need to be "sexy." While I've said on my blog that there should be more open communication with young people about sex, another layer is to inform young people of the negative messages they are receiving from the music industry that lead them to uncomfortable sexual situations they are not prepared for. Yes, the songs are nice background music to dance to at parties, but the lyrics need to be problematized and seen as potential harmful manipulators of men and women's sexual behaviors.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Last "Single" Girl?

A few weeks ago, I watched the Sex and the City movie with a few friends of mine, and it brought up an issue I am all too familiar with... the label of being "single." Even if Sex and the City made it cool for women to be in their thirties, single and sipping martinis, there is still a stigma against women who are single. If you're single and not desperate on Valentine's Day, then there is something wrong with you. Why is that? Of course, I have my theories, but really why can't women be single, happy, and looking?

I found this article on a blog about "36 Things Every Single Girl Must Do Before She Settles Down." While I agree with many of the points (check out #11!), I think this article should be renamed "36 Things Every Woman Must Do in her Lifetime." Why can't a woman, for example, go to a movie on her own while she's in a relationship? Is she forced to always go with her significant other? Why can't she continue checking off the list while she's in a relationship? It's empowering to do things on your own, and you can still do that single or not.

Here's the link:

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sexual Violence Isn't "Sexy"

Some conversations and films I've watched recently have pushed me to discuss the issue of sexual violence on my blog. A few weeks ago, I stayed up late watching Unfaithful. It's a thriller with Richard Gere and Diane Lane. Lane is a stay-at-home mom with a high-powered lawyer for a husband. When the film begins, it's clear that their marriage is happy, but Lane is looking for sparks and passion because Gere is  workaholic. She has a chance meeting with an attractive frenchman played by Olivier Martinez on the street, and they begin a passionate affair. I won't spoil the ending for those who haven't seen it. 

There were a few scenes in the film I wanted to draw attention to because they raised some questions for me about rape and sexual assault. In the first sex scene Paul (Olivier Martinez) tells Lane to hit him when she expresses that she doesn't know "how to do this." That was the first indicator for me that there was something off with this relationship. In one of the final scenes between Olivier and Lane, when she tries to leave, he pushes her into a wall and begins undressing her. What's problematic here is that most people would think that is "sexy" but for me, it seemed that he was taking advantage of her, and she did not fully consent. It reminds me of the Lady Gaga lyrics from her song "Poker Face" where she sings: "Baby, if it's not rough/ it isn't fun." I think this tension needs to be discussed among men and women because where are the boundaries when rough IS NOT fun anymore?

It seems based on conversations I have overheard and taken part in over the past few weeks that these boundaries are NOT clear to men and women. Let's be honest here... This is a situation that is not just happening in movies. Think about it the next time you're at a party and see two intoxicated people going off together.

Continuing with the subject of rape, my roommate recently introduced me to "rape- fighting condoms." A doctor in South Africa created a condom women can wear to protect them from rape. To summarize, women wear a condom with "teeth." A man tries to rape her, and the teeth grab on. The man is in pain and must remove himself. The only way he can remove the condom is by going to a doctor, and the more he tries to remove it himself the tighter it gets. Take a look:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Who is this woman?...

Who is this woman? Well, guess what? She doesn't exist. It's the wonderful world of Photoshop and the Rimmel cosmetic company at work "destroying" beautiful Zooey Deschanel's face. Let's compare:

Happy Monday!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Funny or Offensive. You decide.

While perusing my favorite celebrity gossip sites, I stumbled onto this video about a "joke" infomercial Jimmy Kimmel recently released on his show. It advertises a fake diet called "The Hottie Body Jim Miracle Diet" where Jimmy eats 4/5 of the food his female guests are eating. The women eat 1/5 of whatever food they want and the result is the beautiful, stick-thin ideal body. He has a slew of celebrity guests including Heidi Klum, Emily Blunt, Scarlett Johansson, and Jessica Biel who each promote this special diet.

At first I thought it was funny until actress Kerry Washington shared: "I can eat whatever I want and still make women want to kill themselves." I was struck by how NOT funny this sketch is. I think Jimmy took it to an extreme, and in light of the recent Eating Disorder Awareness week, it is not funny to tell women that eating 1/5 of their food intake will make them beautiful.

I am also still stuck on that last image in the clip where Jimmy is on a motor chair looking overweight surrounded by the beautiful actresses on his commercial. To me that image reflects a sad reality where men are praised for having healthy appetites while women must refrain from eating 4/5 of their meals to maintain a "beautiful" meaning thin body.

You decide:


Friday, March 18, 2011

Holding on to that "Teenage Dream"

In one of my classes, we recently read and discussed Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver. It’s a trilogy meant for a teenage audience about the romance between two teenagers. The twist is that Sam is a werewolf while Grace is a human; therefore, they face many obstacles in their love affair. While I’m not a big fan of a lot of popular teenage literature today (cough Twilight), I liked this book. If you are interested in writing and reading young adult literature, check out Stiefvater’s webpage and blog. She’s a quirky, funny woman. Here’s the link:

Both characters are likeable, and their romance is “sweet.” Yes, there are definite oddities about their relationship since Sam is a werewolf half of the year and human the other half, and they only dated as humans for the span of a few months, but if anyone reads it and wants to discuss it further, we can talk. The point I’m trying to get at is this utopian view of falling in love and being young. I think I’m going to start calling it Disney syndrome. Yes, I have my reservations about that view of the world because it is idealistic, and women need to know that a prince is not in the guise of every frog. Sometimes frogs are frogs. But, there is something wonderful about that teenage innocence Grace and Sam have. It reminds me of the way I feel when I listen to Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream.” Here’s a clip from Glee that sums up my emotions: As I get older, I do become more cynical and wiser which I consider a good thing, but I don’t want to lose that open, “innocent” attitude.

I was faced with that dilemma when watching the television show How I Met Your Mother. In one episode, Robin, one of the main characters, gets back together with her boyfriend from high school and ignores his obvious flaws because she is swept up in the jittery, carefree attitude that she has when she’s with him. She states that she just wanted to be the vulnerable, 16-year-old she once was. At the end of the episode, I was left thinking: Isn’t that a quality that we all want to sustain? Can we maintain the ability to look at things like they are new and shiny even when we’ve been hurt and disappointed? What about the ability to see the world from new perspectives without feeling jaded? Can those feelings sustain life’s hardships?


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"Modern" Constructions of Femininity

I was watching an episode of Modern Family today that had me thinking about "modern" constructions of femininity and masculinity. In this episode, Claire tries to mediate an argument between her daughters while Phil enjoys a day at the spa where the women teach him the "proper" ways to speak with his wife when she is having a rough day. Instead of offering a solution like "don't use the highway if there is traffic", the women tell Phil to just sympathize with Claire and tell her "I'm sorry" and "That's horrible." In this clip, it is evident that Phil sees men as "problem solvers" while women sit back in their chairs gossiping and giving advice without actually "doing" anything. 

It was funny to me because I remember in my AP Psychology class in high school my teacher pointing out that stereotypical difference between men and women. Men always answer by finding a solution and offering steps to fix the problem while women answer with empathy and a response such as "Oh, I'm sorry. That's awful." I keep returning to that statement because I think it is true and false. While it's true in some situations, in others, I just don't think it is because I'm surrounded by a group of women that are empathetic with advice and sympathy but also know how to solve a problem with concrete solutions. Why can't women be both, and why do those traits need to be separated into masculine and feminine terms?

Also present in this episode is Phil's "feminine" side. He is often made fun of on the show for his tendency to behave in stereotypically "feminine" ways. He goes to the spa, and in this clip, he speaks about his preference for kiwi hand cream. I know this is just supposed to be funny (and of course, I see the humor in it!), but I wonder if it is offering a reality about the way masculinity and femininity are constructed? We need to question what exactly is so funny about Phil behaving this way. It's funny because Phil is acting out of the "norm". He's a man at the spa, a stereotypically female space and behavior. I wonder: Where did that thinking come from, and do I perpetuate it in my daily conversations? I'm not saying that women shouldn't go to the spa (I think it's great!) but can we make it a gender-free zone? But then again, can anything be free of gender differences?

Take a look:


Tell me. What's so dangerous about my desires?

A few weeks ago I did a presentation on Catherine Breillat. She’s a French filmmaker, actress, and writer, known for her films that push the boundaries of censorship. Her films feature nudity and graphic sex scenes. She writes about women that explore their sexuality and desires without shame and embarrassment. I was excited to research her because it’s rare to find a woman in the media so open and honest about sex. In the media, female desire comes with many stigmas. It’s dangerous, dirty, unknown, silenced, and forbidden.

Breillat offers her opinion stating in an interview, “It's a joke - if men can't desire liberated women, then tough. Does it mean they can only desire a slave? Men need to question the roots of their own desire. Why is it that historically men have this need to deny women to be able to desire them?” Women lack the language and tools to discuss their desires because they are always labeled as dangerous. Our society wouldn’t want a woman actually admitting to liking sex. How could her desires ever be equal to men or teenage boys who don’t have any control over their wild hormones!

I’ve been puzzled with those questions over the last few weeks. Eve Ensler, the creator of “The Vagina Monologues” stated that women’s empowerment is deeply connected to their sexuality. Yet, if women’s sexuality is constantly being denied and ignored, how can women hope to reach the heights of men? I had the privilege of seeing “The Vagina Monologues” performed a few weeks ago while I was visiting Hillary in Indiana. It is a set of monologues compiled after 200 interviews with women discussing sex, relationships, and their vaginas. The monologues present areas of women’s experiences that have been neglected and considered “dirty.” I think it is through work like this that women’s experiences can gain value and respect.

Female desires will continue to be dangerous as long as young girls and boys remain clueless about birth control. I do not know what the solution to sexual education is, but I do know that young people are having sex, and they are not prepared with the consequences. Let’s break the cycle. Let’s start talking about sex, bodies, protection, and vaginas.

Here are some links you might enjoy:

This is a great book I read in my Introduction to Sociology course freshman year about the lack of knowledge about teenage girl’s sexual desires:

A brief history on Catherine Breillat:

Information about V-day, a non-profit organization, fighting violence against women:

A great video in response to the cut in funding to Planned Parenthood where students declare that they “have sex”:

Courtesy of Hillary Combs.

Enjoying some gelato & great conversation in Bloomington, Indiana.

Monday, March 14, 2011

In the mood for some dessert? Here’s a slice of “Humble” pie…

Lately, I’ve been realizing how important being a “humble” person and surrounding myself with “humble” people is to me. I think it is easy after traveling abroad to believe that I am now more “worldly” and that my learning is behind me, but I don’t see it that way at all. Arrogance is the easy way out, but humility is the harder path. To me, having humility means seeing that there are other people around you that are struggling too and their problems are bigger than yours. Sometimes I feel that the more I learn, the more I realize what I do not know. It is that thought that propels me to keep learning, wondering, and questioning. Just some food for thought…

(Also, I love any excuse to put food up on my blog!)

Another article of interest relating to this post is from EcoSalon called "Rolling Around in Insane Potential: It's Bright Faith, Baby." It describes a level of faith called "bright faith" where people bring passion, enthusiasm and appreciation to their lives. She ends on an optimistic, positive note writing:

"That fresh salad you get with your entrée. The insurance on your car. The clothes you wear, where you want. The hands you hold in public.
 The light you’re reading by. That vaccination scar on your arm. 
Your innocence.
Really, what’s the worst of your problems?
Perspective isn’t everything in terms of have’s and have nots. But you can work it to your very great advantage."
Take a look:’s-bright-faith-baby/

Special thanks to Hillary Combs for sending me the article.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Dude, I was nice to her. I made her breakfast.

Today, I overheard a conversation between a group of boys that I needed to share on my blog. Here's how it went:

Boy 1: Dude, that girl was totally making eyes at me.
Boy 2: Oh, I hate that.
Boy 1: No, I mean it was good like "she totally enjoyed what we did on Saturday, and we should totally do it again next weekend."
Boy 2: Man, that never happens to me.
Boy 1: Well, I'm nice to them after we hook up. I make them breakfast in the morning.

Here is my message to these boys: Women deserve to be treated with respect, and respect does not equate to making us breakfast. Please stop referring to "them" a.k.a the girls you hook-up with as a generalized group as if they are cattle you can "herd" into your rooms whenever it is convenient for you. I do not mean to be judgmental to those who engage in "hook-up culture" because I feel that people have every right to make their own sexual choices, but there is a problem with the way these boys were talking about women. I think it is damaging that these girls are only seen as sexual objects, but then again, I do not know these girls, and I don't want to speak for them.

What have relationships come to?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Calling All Female Leaders

I watched this TED talk a few months ago and was inspired to share it with someone. Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, discusses why "we have too few women leaders." One of her strongest points is about the negative correlation between job success and like-ability for women. When a woman is asked about why she is successful, she attributes it to external factors such as other people or hard work while when asking a man why he is successful, he'll say, "I'm awesome. Obviously." It is not as simple as telling women they deserve success because for women, success comes with labels such as "arrogant", "self-centered" and "cut-throat." A woman is disliked for her success, and this is a real problem. 

Take a look: