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Archive for the ‘Sexuality’ Category

Time is running out to send your Halloween cards and get your Halloween costume. For women, the choices for pre-made costumes range from “sexy maid” to “sexy map.” (I was trying to be as ridiculous as possible with that last suggestion, but…) These costumes are universally ridiculous, but in order for men to realize this they apparently need to try them on. It is interesting that in their discussions of how ridiculous these “sexy” costumes are, the men in the video below still manage to make a number of approving comments about how women would look in them. Sort of like if comic book artists responded to the Hawkeye Initiative by thinking, “Hawkeye looks ridiculous in that pose! But if he had breasts…”

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If you have access to Facebook friends who are feminists and/or sociologists you might have seen the video above, directed by Eléonore Pourriat. In it, a man faces the sorts of things that women in the real world face on a daily basis. By reframing things in order to change the viewer’s perspective on them it is reminiscent of the Heterosexuality Questionnaire (which asks questions like “Is it possible that your heterosexuality is just a phase you may grow out of?”). At Buzzfeed, the director stated that her inspiration “came from my experience as a woman over the past 40 years, and from the incredulity of men when I told them about the comments and behavior of some men on the street, in high school, in public transportation, everywhere really.” In that way, it is also similar to many of the early posts by FemaleScienceProfessor.

As a white male, the most interesting thing about the video to me is how hard it is to see the women’s statements as threatening toward the man after growing up in a society dominated by white cisgender straight men. Pedagogically, then, I think that the discussion of why it is so hard to see men as threatened by women in our society would be even more interesting than the discussion of the ways that the director plays with gendered experiences.

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Much has been written about the controversy surrounding Patti Adler’s Deviance course at the University of Colorado at Boulder, to the extent that the story moved beyond academic circles to more general outlets like the Huffington Post. I followed the story as it moved through numerous channels, from Boulder’s Daily Camera to Inside Higher Ed to Slate. Other than the facts that Adler was a tenured professor and fellow sociologist, one of the most interesting things to me was the University’s reported statement comparing Adler’s lecture on prostitution to the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State. As Inside Higher Ed reported,

Adler said that she was told by Steven Leigh, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, that a former teaching assistant had raised a concern that some participants might be uncomfortable, but that none had in fact complained. Adler said that participation was entirely voluntary and not part of anyone’s grade.

She said that Leigh told her that there was “too much risk” in having such a lecture in the “post-Penn State environment,” alluding to the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

A recent article about CU-Boulder’s Philosophy Department by Rebecca Shuman at Slate suggests that the real reason for Leigh’s concern may have been much closer than Pennsylvania.

The article begins:

On Friday, the University of Colorado–Boulder released a scathing report from an independent investigating team about sexual misconduct in one of its top humanities programs, the department of philosophy

The damning 15-page report is the result of extensive on-site interviews with administration, faculty, staff, and students, undertaken by the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Women. The committee concluded that despite its enviable academics, CU’s department “maintains an environment with unacceptable sexual harassment, inappropriate sexualized unprofessional behavior, and divisive uncivil behavior.”

In addition to the 15 official complaints filed with CU’s Office of Discrimination and Harassment since 2007, the report details a near-universal witnessing of “harassment and inappropriate sexualized professional behavior” at alcohol-soaked extracurricular activities. Further, a large portion of the faculty either were “not knowledgeable about the harms of sexual harassment,” or were “not sufficiently familiar” with university policy, state law, or federal law.

Last year CU-Boulder also faced claims that it failed to properly report sexual assaults, though it was recently found to have “met legal requirements.”

Although I am not a journalist and I have done nothing other than read news stories regarding these events, it seems likely that CU-Boulder is currently hyper-aware of anything that could be perceived as sexual harassment, even if no actual complaints have been filed. If this is the case, it is telling that the university responded to accusations of women being harassed and assaulted by attempting to force out a female professor who had been accused of nothing. (This scenario is reminiscent of the time Justin Bieber was suspected of egging his neighbor’s house and police arrested his black friend for drug possession.)

I have no doubt that CU-Boulder’s administrators responded in what they thought was the best way to what they perceived as yet another possible gender-related scandal. During faculty meetings at my own institution I have often heard administrators express fear of potential lawsuits. The problem with these statements is that none of the people who make them have any sort of legal experience, so they act on what they think the law might say, changing the language of many faculty and staff policies based on the fact that they have seen a few episodes of “Law and Order.” In Adler’s case, administrators at CU-Boulder brought a lot of negative attention upon themselves, not to mention the potential for a lawsuit from Adler (who has been reinstated), by doing something that was likely intended to avoid negative attention and lawsuits.

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Thankfully for fans, this year’s Super Bowl featured some ads to keep them entertained during Seattle’s demolition of the Denver Broncos. Two of the ads, in particular, stood out to me for their recognition of America’s diversity.

The one that has provoked less controversy was for Cheerios and featured a biracial family:

This commercial is actually a sequel to a previous commercial from last spring that featured the same family. The previous ad ignited racist comments online, leading comments to be disabled on the video at YouTube. These comments demonstrate that a casual depiction of an interracial family is still a big deal over 40 years after the Supreme Court struck down anti-miscegenation laws in its ruling on Loving v. Virginia.

The second commercial was for Coke and has received considerably more attention:

The attention this ad has received is reminiscent of the controversy after Marc Anthony sang “God Bless America” at last summer’s MLB All-Star Game. In both cases people seem to have forgotten that not everybody in the United States speaks the same language or has ancestors from the same part of the world. This was also reportedly the first Super Bowl Commercial to feature a gay family.

While it is great to see these depictions during one of the most-watched television events of the year, there is also an element of calculated risk that it seems General Mills and Coke were willing to accept. That is, airing a commercial that will anger some people will also ensure that people will be talking about that commercial and, by extension, the product. Katie Bayne, Coke’s president, said, “We hope the ad gets people talking and thinking about what it means to be proud to be American.” Oh, and Coke!

The fact that these complaints will be written off as bigoted by the majority of the audience they are trying to reach also reduces the actual risk that they take on and says to consumers, “We think those people are idiots, too. Buy our product.”

Update: Here is a post by Jenny Davis discussing these ads and the way our reaction to them helps us overlook systemic racism.

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Because I’m a sociologist with lots of Facebook friends who are also sociologists, my Facebook news feed can be a pretty depressing place. Facebook tends to be my source for stories like that of Shannon Gibney, who was accused of racial discrimination by three white students (Nathan Palmer has a nice discussion of the reasons that white men are much less likely to be accused of these sorts of things). For this reason, it was nice to see a post by Eric Grollman at Conditionally Accepted discussing the positive ways that academic allies have affected his career and calling for academic communities to share the responsibility for support. I have to admit that I have been conditioned by the constant information about terrible people in the world to expect the worst as Grollman set up each scenario, which made it particularly heartening to read about the responses he received. These sorts of responses may not make headlines but they can make a difference in the lives of our students, friends, and colleagues.

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Over at Sociological Images Lisa Wade breaks down Lily Allen’s new video for “Hard Out Here,” in which she mocks the tropes associated with some recent music videos, particularly Miley Cyrus’s. You can see the video here:

As I watched the video, my first thought was, “Oh, she is making fun of the expectations that women face in the music industry.” My second thought, though, was, “Isn’t she using these black women as props in the same way that Miley Cyrus used them?” Mia McKenzie at Black Girl Dangerous was better able to turn these thoughts into words, writing:

Satire works best when you are flipping the script on the oppressor, on the system. When you are calling attention to the ways that the system is jacked by amplifying the absurdity of that system. Not caricaturing and otherwise disrespecting the people who are oppressed by that system.

In general, I think that music that challenges listeners to question the stereotypes associated with pop culture is a good thing, so I don’t fault Lily Allen for writing this song or wanting to make a video playing with these ideas (though Lisa points out that the only reason a song like this can get recorded is because somebody thought that it would be successful at making money). I wish, though, that she had found a more clever way to play with these ideas than simply appropriating them for her own purposes.

The lesson learned here, I think, is that we have set the bar so low for thoughtful dialog about race, gender, inequality, and sexuality in popular music that just pointing out how stupid we are about these things is seen as a thoughtful critique. Everybody can do better.

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Mia McKenzie at Black Girl Dangerous has an important post about what it means to be an ally, brought on by people who claim to be allies for various groups but do not always behave in ways that are supportive. Instead of defining people as “allies,” she suggests “currently operating in solidarity with” because of the focus it places on current behavior. Of course, “currently operating in solidarity with” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue (which McKenzie acknowledges) but that is actually in keeping with her concluding point that being supportive is not supposed to be easy. She writes:

Sounds like a lot of work, huh? Sounds exhausting. Well, yeah, it ought to. Because the people who experience racism, misogyny, ableism, queerphobia, transphobia, classism, etc. are exhausted. So, why shouldn’t their “allies” be?

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