Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Barbies and Explosions

Guess what we studied today? (Hint: it's gender.)


Dr. Felicity Paxton took over today's class, introducing herself, and asking us to guess where she was from. (She had an accent.) She took guesses, told us she was from London, and took a moment to quickly give us examples of a few European accents. Then the class began. We were asked when we first became aware of gender, and received a few interesting responses that sparked discussions. One female student was told that it was against the law for a woman to be president. Another young woman said that in elementary school, she had been called the "smartest girl," and not the "smartest person" in her class, even though there was no "smartest boy." Dr. Paxton told us that the "universal subject is a male," and that being female is additional informationeven though we make up more than half of the population. Maleness is implied. Why else would we add a "W" to the NBA rather than make an MNBA?

Dr. Paxton pointing out a specific
word difference in the gendered
"congradulations on you baby" cards
Dr. Paxton asked us to freeze. Okay, we stopped moving. She told us to look around. We noticed a trend: most boys sat with their legs open, and most girls sat with their legs crossed. This was used to demonstrate how instilled gender norms are, but I also concluded that women are taught to take up less space. 

We talked about gender policing, the social enforcement of gender norms, and the Bechdel test, which originated in a comic strip, stating that: "I only go to a movie if it satisfies three basic requirements. One, it has to have at least two women in it...who, two, talk to each other about, three, something besides a man." Believe it or not, this test really narrows down the films the character could watch. 

The class moved on to a new activity: we would be analyzing baby's clothes and greeting cards for new parents. We analyzed the qualities for boys (adventurous, messy, loud) and girls (innocent, sweet, small), and broke down the gender norms from them. Dr. Paxton proposed a situation where a parent was given a card that said "Congratulations on your new Republican!" The parent probably wouldn't react well. The kid has a choice in political opinionsbut not with gender. And, to be clear, gender is a choice. Sex, on the other hand is physical; it's biological. But it's assumed that every child will be cisgendered, that their sex and their gender will match. We noticed the "princess-y" girl's clothes and the military, aggressive boy's clothes. After we wrote up all of the "male" versus "female" roles, Dr. Paxton asked us, just based on this activity, "who wants to be a boy?" 

Most of the class raised their hands. 

The notes from Miss Representation
After a shorter lunch, we watched most of Miss Representation, a documentary on the representation of women in positions of power and the portrayal of women in the media. I watched Miss Representation last year in Women and Leadership, and it was definitely more interesting the first time I saw it, but the second viewing was still very rewarding. 

It was nice to refresh what I think of as my "sexism goggles," which make it easier to recognize...well, how about an example? Later today (now that my goggles are back on, it's an everyday example) I saw a TV showing a shirtless man standing next to a blonde woman in a revealing outfit. I commented, "Look, gender stereotypes!"

We talked about culture jamming, a way of protesting consumerism and the media culture, often by making fun of advertisements. Culture jamming often involves mimicking the power corporations like McDonald's or Coca-Cola, because a lot of culture jamming is done as an attack on major corporations. The two images below are ones we saw in class as examples of culture jamming. (I remember one other about Vitaminwater, but it wasn't exactly...verbally appropriate, for this type of blog.) 

We looked at two different examples. One: the Barbie Liberation Organization, a 1990s group of people who switched the voice boxes for G.I. Joe and Barbie toys and returned the toys (they were sold to people who thought they were buying the regular product) to protest gender norms. Joe would ask, "Wanna go shopping?" and Barbie would say, "Vengeance is mine!" The media reacted very negatively. calling it "sick" and a "terrorist act against children." 

Another example was a man who went on BBC News claiming to be Jude Finisterra, a representative from Dow Chemical, to say that Dow accepted responsibility for killing 20,000 people in Bhopal after twenty years of damage caused by a chemical disaster from an acquired company (Union Carbide Corporation). By doing this, Andy Bichlbaum ("Jude") forced Dow Chemical to do something; it was a very new and controversial type of protest.

We did an activity where we decided what we would do in a relationship if our partner does certain things (throws your cell phone in the toilet, doesn't like your music, punches a wall when angry): break up, talk, or stay together. We gathered in front of the paper that represented what we would do, and had discussions based on those decisions. 

Then we had a lecture about rape, and the difference between risk reduction (stopping rapes in progress, aimed at the victim) and primary prevention (stopping rapes from happening at all, aimed at the perpetrator). Lexi J. White gave us a lecture on street harassment—if you don't know what that is, then you probably know it by another word: "catcalling." We looked at pictures from Hannah Price, a photographer who took pictures of her catcallers, and portraits from Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, who drew women with a caption of what they would tell their harassers. One of my favorites? "Women are not outside for your entertainment." 

All of a sudden, class was over. It was awful. 

At least we had dinner with Andy to make up for the loss of such a good class period. Julia and I had signed up for lunch with Andy today, but lunch was cancelled, so he had us go with the dinner group, a few of whom decided to skip the meal to rest at their dorms. Andy walked us to Allegro Pizza where he bought us dinner in exchange for a discussion on income inequality and Paraguay, among other things. Andy saw two people he knew in the restaurant, and one of them, a Peace Corps member named Estee, actually joined us for dinner. 

We walked back to the dorms, and Julia and I decided to split from the group to take a look in House of Our Own, a bookstore Andy recommended on the way over. When we started to break off the sidewalk toward the bookstore, Andy said goodbye to the rest of the group, and followed us, and when we got inside, he told us that he was going to buy each of us a few books. Julia and I insisted that this was unnecessarily kind, but Andy will be Andy, and we found ourselves looking for books for Andy to buy us. The bookstore was great, and I had to remind myself more than once to close my mouth because I probably looked like, you know, a little kid filled with wonder. At Disneyland or something. That kind of expression. 

Disneyland? No, Penn has something much better.
When I couldn't decide what to look for, I asked Andy, "If I have never read a book, what book should I read?" His first response was Invisible Cities, and I walked out of House of Our Own with that and a handful of other books. Andy's generosity amazes me. 

While we were browsing in the Philosophy section (I ended up getting An Essay on Liberation by Herbert Marcuse), Andy whispered, "wow, this is so much fun," and he was right. It's crazy: we were hanging out with our professor outside of class, having intelligent discussions on books, and somehow, insanely, magically, we ended up having fun. 

Conclusion? Andy is the best. 

Artsy picture from the ground. So artsy. So ground.
I'm noticing a theme in how I've been ending these blogs: I miss everyone back home, and I am in love with this class. Today, I can add that it was a total flashback to Women and Leadership last year. The analyses of the social construction of gender, the recognition of societal gender norms, Miss Representation...I missed it. I hadn't done anything so similar to my class at Brown last year since the class ended, and it was very nostalgic and very beautiful. I love that I missed the class, but even more, I love that I'll miss Social Justice  in the same way.

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