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Posts Tagged ‘Gender’

A long time ago in the Milky Way galaxy, Star Wars came out and prominently featured one woman with a lot of lines and… basically no other notable women. In December, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens came out and prominently featured another woman with a lot of lines and… a few other women. There was a crucial difference between the prominent women in each of these movies, though. While Leia in Star Wars was undoubtedly a main character, the movie was centered on her brother, Luke, to the extent that at one point Leia is rescued by men like another princess would be (repeatedly) starting a few years later. The Force Awakens, however, undoubtedly centers on Rey.

That Rey was a major (if not the major) character was not surprising to anybody who followed the early rumors about the movie, but it might have been surprising to anybody who purchased some of the toys that came out before the movie was released. In response to her absence from a Star Wars Monopoly game, Hasbro claimed that it was intended to “avoid spoilers.” Even J. J. Abrams, the movie’s director, called her absence “preposterous,” noting sarcastically that “It doesn’t quite make sense why she wouldn’t be there. She’s somewhat important in the story.” An updated version of the game will feature Rey, but the situation also prompted some to wonder what toys for other movies would look like with their starring women removed. (Saturday Night Live‘s recent sketch about whites receiving awards in movies about blacks is also reminiscent of this.)

Why is this important? Many have praised Rey for being a feminist hero but not a “female hero,” meaning that she gets to do the same things that a male hero would do. (Not surprisingly, there have also been some complaints.) Rey is obviously important to young girls but I also like Mike Adamick’s argument that Rey is the hero that young boys need. As Adamick states, “She’s a role model for the boys in front of me — and the millions like them — who continue to grow up under a steady drip drip drip of societal sexism that says even fictionalized female heroes are unbelievable, let alone that our real life heroes shouldn’t be paid as much as their male counterparts or be in control of their own bodies.” Rey contradicts these ideas and we need more characters like her.

I should note that although Hasbro doesn’t seem to get this, at least the creators of a few commercials for Disney (the company that now owns the Star Wars franchise) and Toys ‘R Us do:

 

I guess that companies hear us most loudly when we speak up for women’s representation with our wallets.


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Sociologists recognize that many things are social constructions. This means that things like gender norms are not based on actual biological differences but on accepted social beliefs – there is no biological reason, for example, that men cannot wear makeup and skirts and women must shave their legs. As is the case with gender norms, social constructions can allow arbitrary ideas to be seen as “normal” representations of the “truth.” This can be harmful, whether by limiting individual expression and opportunity in the case of gender roles or by actually increasing health risks in the case of those who will not vaccinate their children because of now-debunked research. Thanks to the amplifying power of the internet, social construction even affects the way that corporations produce and market our food.

According to a recent article in The Atlantic, Diet Pepsi will no longer contain aspartame not because of scientific research, but because of customer perceptions that it is linked to harmful health outcomes. Similar concerns have been related to the rise of low-carb foods in recent years and, more recently, gluten-free foods. Next up might be protein. I recently saw a commercial extolling the virtues of the protein in yogurt, and the aforementioned Atlantic article states that Coke is introducing a new milk with 50% more protein than regular milk.

With information more easily accessible than ever, it is important to spend a few seconds seeking out the research the posts we see online. Otherwise, we might find ourselves skipping cancer screenings because we eat bananas.

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Today is December 15, which means that there are 10 more days to gear up for Christmas or, alternatively, ten more days until you will stop hearing “Jingle Bell Rock” everywhere you go. In either case, here are some snarky Christmas-themed posts to pass the time:

2014: Christmas as social control

2013: Christmas at Fox News

2012: Kevin McCallister, murderer?

2012: Toys for rich and poor

2012: Toys for boys and girls

2012: Thoughts on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

2011: Holiday advertising gone wrong (a.k.a. the Folgers commercial)

2010: The world’s most offensive Christmas song

2009: Christmas spells relief

Christmas Bonus: A subscription to the Jelly of the Month Club? No, its the Hater’s Guide to the Williams-Sonoma Catalog for 2012, 2013, and 2014

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook and I promise I will stop playing “Jingle Bell Rock” (and doing the dance from Mean Girls).

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Stores in the United States often helpfully designate the items for sale as “for girls” or “for boys.” These designations are particularly helpful when the only difference is the color of the items, since in those cases color-blind people might make a mistake. Gift card sections are typically not much different, though the labels get a little redundant when there are also images of ponies or robots, since even color-blind people can recognize the difference between super-feminine ponies and super-masculine robots. Shopping in Target recently, I noticed a section of Halloween cards that were labeled not only “For Kids,” but “for “for a boy” and “for a girl.” You can see the cards below:

photo 1Since both cards appeared to feature the color orange, which is neither pink nor blue, I wondered about the distinction between the two and got them out to look more closely:

photo 3The card on the left is clearly a poorly-wrapped mummy (if it had been better-wrapped its skin may not have turned orange) while the card on the right is an orange owl (which is apparently possible). Based on its hat, the owl is possibly also a witch (or maybe a pilgrim). So maybe the mummy is for boys because it is a boy and the owl is for girls because it likes to wear pilgrim witch hats? Those don’t seem like strong reasons for gendering these cards, so let’s open them up and see if the inside of the “boys'” card is blue and the inside of the “girls'” card is pink:

photo 2Nope, just more orange. So the lesson Target has taught us this Halloween is that poorly-wrapped mummies are for boys who are “totally awesome” while owls wearing pilgrim witch hats are for girls who are “very special.” It is a good thing that Target labeled them for me because otherwise I may have thought that each was equally suited to both boys and girls, which would have been a huge mistake. Now I know how color-blind people feel (which explains why they get so upset about it).

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In the midst of the attention LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling has received lately, J. J. Abrams released information about the cast of Star Wars Episode VII. As several others have pointed out, the cast is notable for its white maleness. Amanda Marcotte at Slate argues that this was Abrams’ chance to make some Star Wars history, since the previous movies haven’t had many women, either. She notes that Battlestar Galactica successfully integrated more women into its reboot, and explores the impact that gender equity in a major sci-fi franchise like Star Wars could have had on the genre.

By looking into the future (or the past of “a long time ago,” in the case of Star Wars), science fiction allows writers and filmmakers to imagine a world where race and gender boundaries have changed. The original Star Trek was noteworthy in part because of its racial diversity. J. J. Abrams is not necessarily opposed to the creation of strong female characters, as Alias and Lost show, but it is interesting that his recent history in the area of diversity is noteworthy primarily for his casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness and the lack of female characters in Star Wars. It is interesting to consider what Abrams’ Star Trek reboot would have looked like if he hadn’t been focused on finding actors who matched the race of the original cast.

Of course, a lack of diversity is more appropriate for Star Wars, which hasn’t always had the best depictions of race, as explained by Hooper in this edited clip from Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy:

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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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Many of the things that are reversed in the video below highlight how arbitrary (and ridiculous) many gender norms are. It might be interesting to have students consciously reverse gender norms for a period of time and then write a reflection paper about the experience to see if they come to similar conclusions.

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