Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Day 16: "Be the Change You Wish to See in the World"

Four days left, and it would seem there is so much I still desire to do but do not possess the time. It feels as though with every amazing experience, the last few days is where you regret any thought of wishing the time would go by faster. My only thoughts are that I must cherish the moments I still have here and ensure that I make this experience memorable as it will be one I carry with me for many years to come.

Moving on however. Morning session was rather interesting as it revolved predominantly over the issue of gender in society. Our guest speaker was Dr. Paxton, who possessed a North London accent and believed in the term "check your privilege". In other words, she was aware the benefits that a person can receive because of their heritage, race or religion etc. She described her experiences growing up on a commune in Scotland and it had portrayed the topic of gender equality. Everyone on the commune shared roles. Women would do jobs associated with men and vice-versa. It essentially embodied a society where gender roles were not pre-determined by society. From, this stemmed the issue of social confines on gender. As an exercise, we divided the constructs of gender as defined by society in terms of certain categories. For example, sports, toys and colors etc. are all ways in which society attempts to define gender roles. Certain sports are considered male sports and others are thought to be of only females. This is applicable to various other categories, however, this fact raised the question of the effects of popular culture on social norms in terms of gender, specifically those pertaining to women. Five major questions were raised throughout these discussions. 1.) How are women depicted in pop culture? This question revolved around the effects of film, TV, advertising etc. all had on the image of a women in society. 2.) How women consume popular culture? Here, we analyzed works such as "Walking Dallas" by Ien Ang and "Reading the Romance" by Janice Radway, which go in-depth at the issue of the influence popular culture has on women. 3.) How women produce popular culture? This was a discussion over the way women fall into conformity with the norms that popular culture establishes and deems proper. 4.) How gender is represented in popular culture? A systematic form of oppression in which gender roles are defined by the perspectives of pop culture. Lastly, 5.) How sexuality is represented in popular culture? This expanded into the argument of media portrayal of specific sexual orientations. To emphasis all five questions, we engaged in an exercise where we were given, at random, either an article of baby clothing or a "congratulations of your new baby girl/boy". The objective was to see how in each of these gender roles were already being defined for children. Aspects such as colors, text styles, adjectives etc. all played a role in the formatting of norms for gender.

Lunch was cut short today, as there was an optional screening of the movie "Miss Representation". Naturally, I was very interested to learn what the pun associated with the title was intended to represent and how that related to the investigations we had done earlier in the day. The main message of the documentary was the influence media has on women. It creates a system that bases a woman's value solely on an unattainable standard of beauty. With the introduction of technology and computer editing software, the definition of beauty of society has become one that is impossible for anyone to attain. This essentially causes individuals to act in ways that are not true to themselves. As a result, self-objectification has become an epidemic in society as media sends the message to women, that their value is based on their bodies. Ironically, this is also clearly portrayed in our government. These social norms that are set for women, discourage many of them from obtaining ambitious positions. As a result, national leadership roles are continuously chosen from the top 6% of the American society. The leading cause for the gender norms that cause this effect is Hollywood. The leading producer of media in the U.S is a very bleak one. Women are almost never portrayed as protagonists, and there is always an emphasis on hyper-sexualization. Moving past Hollywood, however, and looking in terms of mass media, the more powerful a woman becomes, the greater the backlash against her is. Power in society is defined from the perspective of a man, causing media to be bias. For example, a woman in power often possess negative connotations, which relates back to the concept of power from a masculine perspective. This topic brought us to another major issue that is associated with topics such as this, Culture Jamming. Intended to strike back at the perpetuation of gender roles  by the media, culture jamming often implements methods such as mimicry while possessing a hint of subtlety. We then were introduced to a statue known as Title IX, which states gives students on a college campus protection from sexual assault. We investigated heavily into the issue of "risk reduction posters", which often blame the victim rather than the culprit. This led into the last topic for the day, a presentation by Lexi White, a recent graduate of UPenn who had done her thesis work on "Catcalling". The terms refers to unwelcome words or actions by an unknown stranger that invade a persons physical emotions. Common in areas such as public, urban spaces and college campuses, this issue has flared over the past few years. Again this is all attributed to the social norm that a woman's value is associated with appearance.
Examples of Culture Jamming
The evening was more of a bonding period for my RC group and I. Being that the majority of us had gone to the Union's soccer game last week, we were unable to get spots for the Philly's game. However the evening was not a complete bust, as we spent our time in one of the lounges discussing and watching videos pertaining to the various social issues we had discussed in class. In addition, those who were in the Biomedical Academy also educated us a bit on their daily life and the interesting aspects of their course. Although not necessarily a medical buff, I was greatly intrigued at the various topics they were discussing and the elaborateness of the labs they were doing. I feel that this year, compared to my previous year at Columbia, I have established a much closer relation with my RC group, as well as my RC. We spend an enormous amount of time together and share comments about our daily lives to keep us all up to date with what everyone is experiencing. I will truly miss the friends I have made here, but I aspire to keep in touch with as many as possible and maybe see them in the distant future, if my future is destined to lie somewhere on the East Coast.  

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