The Danger In The Silence

TRIGGER WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS DISCUSSION OF TRANSPHOBIA & VIOLENT ACTS

Silence is a powerful thing, for its absence leaves space for endless interpretations. As a social species, when us humans are faced with the choice between silence and noise, we often find ourselves mute. We tend to prefer the easiest option, the one that leaves us feeling most safe and secure in the welcoming arms of the status quo. However, in recent years, silence has lost its false sense of security, as we have become more aware of the ways in which oppression so frequently masquerades as silence. This is because silence at the expense of those not given a voice is not neutrality, but complicity- and thus is the crime of Silence of The Lambs.

The irony of this early 90’s psychological thriller is that its heavily-praised dialogue is also its greatest downfall. It is obvious early on in the film that every detail has been meticulously crafted to create a gothic aura of simultaneous beauty and repulsion. This is particularly evident in the delivery of its metaphor-heavy lines and narrative motifs surrounding bodily transformation, forbidden attraction, and literal disguise. Everything about the film, from its gloomy scenery to the distinctive voices of the characters themselves, is presented with a sort of melodramatic flare that is actually most revealing of the screenwriters’ confidence in their ability to take on a theatrically camp approach to the horror genre. However, what could have been an artistic masterpiece instead became an arrogant overuse of problematic cliches when the writers failed to give their gender-ambiguous villain the same level of careful consideration as the cismale villain, Hannibal Lector. 

For anyone not familiar with “Silence of The Lambs,” it tells the story of a young cisfemale FBI recruit, Clarisse, who is instructed to enlist the help of captured serial killer and cannibal, Hannibal Lector, to try to catch an active serial killer, nicknamed “Buffalo Bill.” The reasoning behind this strange plan of attack is that Buffalo Bill has recently kidnapped a high-profile senator’s daughter- meaning that the FBI have now become so desperate to catch the killer and save the girl that they are left with no choice but to ask Hannibal Lector (a genius psychiatrist prior to his imprisonment), for his insight in creating a psychological profile of the killer in order to uncover his whereabouts and identity. 

At the beginning of the story, all the FBI knows is that this active serial killer has been removing large chunks of skin off of ciswomen’s bodies, and dumping their naked corpses in various locations. Lector discerns that the killer’s goal must be to create a patchwork bodysuit out of the skin he has collected, which is why he has chosen to exclusively kidnap and murder plus-size women. Aside from the problematic way in which the cis-male investigators discuss these women in regards to their size, this plot line could have been successful on its own. However, instead of continuing with their established theme of detail-heavy dialogue and carefully considered backstories, the writers chose the easiest and most problematic motive possible for Buffalo Bill: he is confused about his gender identity, and thinks that he must be “a transexual.”

Hannibal Lector & Clarisse discussing the profile for the active killer

The movie does make a point of having Clarisse say, “there’s no correlation in literature between transexuals and violence. Transexuals are very passive,” to which Hannibal clarifies that Buffalo Bill was not actually a transexual, he only thought he was because he hated his own identity. However, between the cryssalized moths that the killer hides in his victim’s bodies to the confidence he appears to exude while dancing in front of a mirror “tucked” in a woman’s robe and makeup, the writers seem to have no problem portraying all of the stereotypes that they clearly associated with transgender women. This, plus the lack of any character development indicating that Buffalo Bill was actually wrong in his newfound gender identity- and this initial conversation serving as the only reminder that Buffalo Bill was not in fact transgender- suggests that the writer’s decision to make this villain “not really transgender” was actually more of an afterthought to avoid accusations of transphobia, rather than another detail that actually benefited the narrative somehow. It was as if they thought they could undo all of the inevitable harm this character would bring towards transwomen, simply by adding a quick randomply placed line about the character not actually being transgender.

Buffalo Bill dancing & putting on makeup while his victim tries to use his pet dog to escape

This is exactly where the silence in “Silence of The Lambs” becomes deadly. The  writers find themselves unable to fully commit to either interpretation of Bill’s gender identity- meaning that the visuals of Buffalo Bill dancing naked create far deeper impressions in the audience’s mind than the single line spoken about Bill’s identity crisis. It is clear that writers did not give Buffalo Bill’s character near as much thought as Hannibal Lector’s character or even the movie’s minor characters, which still manage to contribute to the overall narrative. As Christopher Schultz states, the “narrative suffers from an error of omission rather than intent.” The effect is that most viewers interpret Buffalo Bill to be a transwoman, and this presentation confirms the problematic trope in the film industry that transwomen are men disguised as women for the purpose of committing violent acts towards women. This is further emphasized not only by the murders that Buffalo Bill commits, but also by the literal suit made of women’s flesh that he wears. 

Though the writers may have added the “Buffalo Bill is not actually trans” detail as an afterthought to avoid accusations of transphobia, this undermining of the gender a person chooses to present is actually incredibly harmful as well. This is because the other conservative argument against transgender people is that they aren’t actualy trans, they’re just confused- or even worse, that people who identify as transgender only do so because of some sort of childhood trauma that they have yet to deal with. In this way, the choice to invite the discussion of gender identity into this element of the narrative at all was a poor one, as its execution is harmless regardless of the way that the audience understands Buffalo Bill’s gender.

Using Power to Sing About Abusing Power- Analyzing ‘Your Power’ by Billie Eilish

‘Your Power’ Music Video by Billie Eilish

“Try not to abuse your power,” Billie Eilish sang to a crowd of 15,000 fans in Charlotte last month. Every other song in the concert was accompanied by manic shouts of the lyrics, jumping, and choruses of “We love you Billie!” but once the familiar chord progression sounded from a single accompanying guitar, silence engulfed the auditorium. As Eilish tells Rolling Stone, the song “Your Power,” released in 2021, talks specifically about the relationship between a young girl and an older man in the entertainment industry. Her usage of he/him pronouns to describe the abuser and she/her pronouns to describe the victim additionally narrows this focus. 

The music video for the song opens with Billie sitting on top of a mountain in a desert wearing neutral, almost camouflaging colors. She has a snake in her lap who appears to be friendly. 

The first shot of Billie Eilish in the music video for ‘Your Power’

There’s a lot to unpack here. Firstly, her sitting on a mountain could imply that she has a certain element of power of her own. Perhaps, the higher up she goes, the more alone she feels because she has so much more to lose if something goes wrong. Perhaps, the reason she’s so high up in the first place is because she got accustomed to this dark, desolate place with snakes. She let herself relax around the snake, not knowing what it could potentially do to her. The clothing choice could also add to the atmosphere of desolation. She’s acclimated to her surroundings; like a chameleon she’s changed her colors to fit the role she’s meant to play. She’s in bed with the enemy because she knows it’ll take her higher up the mountain. It could also signify that she’s blended in so well that a) no one can tell that something’s wrong and b) no one can see her pain and help her. Another possible reason for the neutral tones and not something flashier or individualistic could be to signify that she is not a special case- she is just one of many victims who have gone through the same abuse.

The video is first a zoomed out view of the entire mountain landscape, which then slowly zooms into Billie sitting on the mountain. This could signify that things don’t always seem the way that they are. One might’ve thought it was an empty stretch of mountains at first, but it wasn’t- there’s someone sitting there. Similarly, one might’ve thought there was no foul play at hand, but there is- it’s an abusive power relationship. 

Zooming into Billie Eilish

Billie’s interactions with the snake are symbolism for the power dynamic explored in the song. When the snake crawls into Billie’s lap, her hands are limp and she makes no attempt to push it off, communicating perhaps that she’s scared and she doesn’t know how to.

Billie’s first interaction with the snake

Slowly through the course of the song, the snake wraps itself tighter and tighter around her. She’s also sitting at the ledge of the mountain, implying that she has nowhere to run and adds to the feeling of powerlessness.

Billie being strangled by the snake

The song ends with Billie being strangled by the snake and the camera zooms out to show that she is camouflaging with the background. No one would be able to see her pain and see what’s happening behind the scenes. 

Zooming out of Billie to show the mountains

While the music video has many subtle layers and nuances to unpack with multiple viewings, the lyrics are direct and straightforward, without being laced with too many metaphors.

The lines, “She was sleeping in your clothes but now she’s got to get to class,” add to the narrative of the younger girl with the older man. It is clear that he was sleeping with her, and she’s a student.

And you swear you didn’t know (didn’t know)

No wonder why you didn’t ask

She was sleeping in your clothes (in your clothes)

But now she’s got to get to class

Verse of ‘Your Power’

The line, “You said you thought she was your age,” is a clear indicator of the age gap. There is also a reference to the abuser’s ‘contract’ which is a reference to their professions in the entertainment industry, which adds to the complex power dynamic.

And you swear you didn’t know (didn’t know)
You said you thought she was your age

How dare you?
And how could you?
Will you only feel bad if it turns out
That they kill your contract?
Would you?

Verse of ‘Your Power’

The victim has so much more to lose as a young woman who has just started advancing in her career, as opposed to this man who appears to be her supervisor and has control over her future. She has nothing she can do, just like Billie with the snake: if she tells someone or tries to get herself out, she could fall off the ledge.

We must emphasize the usage of the word “try” in “Try not to abuse your power.”

Try not to abuse your power
I know we didn’t choose to change
You might not wanna lose your power
But power isn’t pain

Chorus of ‘Your Power’

This implies that men in power abuse it so often that it almost goes without saying that they will; it’s such a common occurrence that Billie almost says, “I know it’s hard and you’re used to doing this, but please try not to.” This adds to the submissive tone of the song and reinforces the idea that the women have to plead to not be taken advantage of. Rather than the song’s lyrics being, “Do not abuse your power,” the usage of the word ‘try’ implies that young women like Billie do not even have the power to stand up for themselves without them having to pay some kind of price for it or face brutal consequences in their careers and reputations.

The song’s lyrics alternate between using third and first person pronouns for the victim, possibly implying that Billie has gone through this, but that she isn’t the only one. She’s speaking about her own experiences, but is also indicating that several young people in the entertainment industry are also in complex power relationships and being used for sex.

I thought that I was special, you made me feel
Like it was my fault you were the devil, lost your appeal
Does it keep you in control? (In control)
For you to keep her in a cage?

Eilish uses first-person pronouns in the first two lines and third-person in the last line

Something must be said of what power means to Billie Eilish and how that could differ for different sections of society. Billie Eilish may have a snake around her body, but she is still on top of a mountain. That mountain is the privileges she has as a white, cis, rich celebrity. Some may not have that mountain, and it’s important to recognize that she is representing a single story that does not accurately represent intersectionality. 

Additionally, there is the question of the color of the snake. Perhaps it wasn’t intentional that a black snake was being wrapped around a white woman’s body to represent abusive power relationships. But intentions go out the window when we question impact. If the singer was intentional about the neutral palette of her clothes, then surely she was intentional about choosing a dark, contrasting colored snake. This could perpetuate the dangerous idea that a majority of abusers are people of color, which is untrue, especially in the predominantly white music industry that Billie Eilish is singing about. These are details that must not be overlooked when creating media for the consumption of millions of viewers.

Although the song has issues that must be addressed, it also touched a chord with several individuals who have had similar experiences. That night in Charlotte, I didn’t just hear a song about abusing power. I heard Billie Eilish use her power.

“I Kissed A Girl”- Analysis

I recently watched Katy Perry’s music video for her 2008 hit song, “I Kissed A Girl,” on YouTube, and was intrigued by some assumptions about sexuality that were sometimes not so subtle in the video. In this blog post, I will explain those assumptions and how they were presented in Perry’s production.  

It is not completely clear who Perry’s intended audience is for this music video, however, I can infer that it was intended for pop music fans. With that said, the video likely targets young Americans, since that demographic tends to be more interested in American pop music. Continuing to discuss intention, it seems that Perry’s music video’s intended purpose is to share an experience that she had when she kissed a girl for the first time.

“I Kissed A Girl” is a song that was sang and released in 2008 by Katy Perry, a 37-year-old female pop star from Santa Barbara, California. Before diving into my evaluation of the music video itself, I want to provide a brief biography of Katy Perry. For context, Katy Perry is an American singer and celebrity who was born in Santa Barbara, California to parents who were Pentecostal (a form of protestant Christianity) pastors. Growing up, Katy Perry’s family moved homes often to different places in the western United States. Perry’s family was strictly religious, and she left home at fifteen to pursue a music career in Nashville, Tennessee. Perry’s music breakthrough took place during the early 2000s. “I Kissed A Girl” remains one of Perry’s most popular songs.

To accompany Perry’s hit song, a music video for “I Kissed A Girl” was uploaded to YouTube in 2008. In this music video, Katy Perry sings her song “I Kissed A Girl,” while flirting with other female friends in a bedroom setting. Throughout the video, Katy Perry and her friends are all wearing lingerie, and at one point during the music video, Katy Perry has a pillow fight with some of her female friends in the scene. This pillow fight is an example of a scene here that has a flirtatious undertone.

While acting in a flirtatious way throughout the video, Katy Perry sings along to her song “I Kissed A Girl,” which overall communicates a regret for kissing a girl.

For instance, in the first few lines of her song as she approaches the chorus, Perry makes the following statements: “this was not the way I planned,” “not my intention,” “lost my discretion,” and “it’s not what I’m used to.” When I first clicked on the music video on YouTube, I was aware of the title, “I Kissed A Girl,” so when I heard the first few lines of Perry’s song, I interpreted her as trying to explain to the audience that she did not want to kiss the girl. The idea that presented in my mind as I was watching was “is she apologizing or trying to plead some sort of innocence because she kissed a girl?” When making these statements, Perry is alone with a devious smile in the video.

During the chorus part of her song, Perry makes these statements: “I kissed a girl and I liked it,” “I kissed a girl just to try it,” “I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it,” “it felt so wrong,” “it felt so right,” and “don’t mean I’m in love tonight.” When making these statements in the video, Perry displays a more genuine smile, while surrounded by other women.

Two key feelings are conveyed in these statements. First, it seems clear that Perry enjoyed kissing the girl. Second, it is suggested that Perry might regret kissing the girl, but it is clear that she feels that her kissing the girl was unacceptable. By saying that “it felt so wrong” and “just to try it,” and “I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it,” Perry is suggesting that her behavior was in some way potentially unacceptable by her, her boyfriend, or greater society.

All the statements mentioned up to this point only make up the first minute of the music video, which altogether is three minutes. Pausing here, an observer of the video up to this point can assume some norms of society that are represented. More specifically, the first minute of this video is enough for one to correctly assume that American society views homosexuality as something that does not fit with the societal norm (heterosexuality).

Perry’s music video takes an interesting approach to homosexuality not being the norm. While the words being sang in the music video are apologetic for kissing a girl, Perry’s behavior on screen challenges the norm. If a homophobic person were to watch Perry’s video, their comfort would be directly challenged. Perhaps this impact was Perry’s intention through her music video. Maybe she wanted her words to acknowledge that two girls kissing is not the norm, and her behavior to challenge society’s conception of this norm.

The earlier mentioned statements persist throughout the remainder of Perry’s music video, along with others that are consistent with Perry’s regretful and apologetic attitude. For instance, Perry says “it’s not what good girls do,” “my head gets so confused,” and “hard to obey.” These statements are consistent with the ones made in the first minute of Perry’s music video.

Later, towards the end of Perry’s video, she makes the statement “ain’t no big deal, it’s innocent” when singing more about kissing the girl. This statement towards the end of the music video suggests that Perry has come to accept that there is nothing wrong with her kissing a girl. Instead, she asserts that society is guilty of making homophobia an unfortunately powerful norm that American systems promote and protect.

The Infamous Cackle: The Rise of Drew Afualo and Her Presence on TikTok

As we all know, especially through the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, when individuals dealt with the stay-at-home order and many were without work or school, TikTok’s popularity soared. One of the content creators on this app that later found success after this rise was Drew Afualo. To note, Drew is from California and is now 26 years-old. Regardless, Drew, who uses she/her/hers pronouns, started posting on TikTok on March 25th, 2020. However, she did not reach her current target audience until the end of March 2021 with her video captioned “UR WELCOME.” That video now has 3.2 million views and counting and almost 700,000 likes. Since then, she now has a total of 149.1 million likes and over 6.2 million followers on her verified account. Her other accounts on Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter garner her an extra half-a-million people. 

Making the majority of her content for mainstream heterosexual women, Drew confidently attacks stereotypical gender norms through nontraditional methods. If we were to analyze the social roles of gender, men would feel the need to be overly dominant and masculine to differentiate themselves from women. As seen in Alok Menon’s book report of Plucked: A History of Hair Removal, they outline how societies preferred there to be a “visible difference between males and females.” While that book report was directly talking about body hair removal, it applies to all other aspects of life. This need for differentiation furthers the tradition, in some men, that they have the right to control women who are socially seen as inferior and submissive. Drew’s stitches work to interrupt these societal norms and clap back at misogynistic creators by specifically undermining these norms for her impressionable audience. As such, Drew’s main following and uploading focuses on her target audience of women, especially teens/young adults, and feminists. For Drew, it seems her intended purpose is to directly influence and inform her younger audience that they do not need to degrade their self-worth at the pleasure of men.

In order to contextualize Drew’s videos, she typically takes 3-5 second long clips from other accounts to use for her own educational/entertainment purposes; these are called “stitches.”  So, in this video, you’ll first see about 5 seconds of a clip by another TikToker, and then Drew jumps in afterwards with her own commentary. In the video mentioned above, it utilizes this Tiktok stitch filter with a different content creator, @Maysunbabe. As of 2022, Drew uses this stitch feature to directly react to misogynistic men or anyone opposing feminist ideology; but, in the video I linked, she is responding specifically to the prompt of “weirdly specific things I consider red flags in men.” For her answer, Drew lists out men that “love the movie Wolf of Wall Street [sic],” “call women ‘females’,” “starts any debate about women’s equality at all,” etc. In each of these examples, men who believe that women should be called females or that women’s equality is a subject to debate feed into the ideology that women are inferior to males. When it comes to Wolf of Wall Street, the movie portrays women as a commodity for rich men to objectify and do with as they please. This association to women as objects of pleasure in this movie demonstrates how the male audience should not revere this film. Additionally, referring to women as “females” also demotes women, a term inherently for humans, as something less-than-human because “females” refers to any egg-bearers for all animal species. And starting an argument with any intention to oppose women’s equality diminishes the hundreds of years of fighting women across history have done to better women’s socioeconomic position in relation to men. The real-life culmination of these beliefs in men or partners, as well as the other beliefs listed in Drew’s video, encompass her main reasonings for posting: to go against mysogynists and anti-feminists while creating a space where women feel comfortable enough to share their experiences with these types of men and avoid similar ones in the future.

Nowadays, Drew’s content contains more elements of comedy, but her message and support for women remains the same. She will start off her videos with a brief stitch, deliver her signature laugh, and dive into conversation about why men are not socially above women. In this newer video, Drew is much more comfortable with the audience and takes on a casual tone. She sits in what appears to be her bedroom, looking down as if she is on Facetime, and has a conversation with her viewers. For this tiktok, she laughs at and mocks the notion that men treat women nicely, and that women have full political and bodily autonomy, as a response to a male creator who was upset at the “men ain’t shit” narrative. The male creator in question, Actlikemetoo, is currently banned on TikTok, but previously asked “What if men treated women the exact same way women treated men?” His main argument was that the newfound hatred women are fostering towards men is unfair, and that men do not treat women badly enough to warrant this current aversion. Drew argues back by mentioning a list of achievements, like the right to vote or own property, that women have only recently acquired in the past 100 years, noting how the way men have treated women throughout much of human history was never fair to begin with, and that Actlikemetoo is severely in the wrong.

Considering Drew’s content and relatable video styling, she is greatly appreciated as an influencer: as Photoshop and what we see online becomes more edited, ensuring there are people to look up to that prioritize healthy mindsets is incredibly valuable. For her audience of young women, they can rely on her to not only produce videos that diminish sexist ideologies but also make a comfortable atmosphere for other women to laugh at these misogynistic stitches. In the end, women should live for themselves and not have to change when they enter heterosexual relationships.Still, while the majority of her content is meant for mainstream heterosexual women, she confidently attacks stereotypical gender norms. If we were to analyze the social roles of gender, men would feel the need to be overly dominant and masculine to differentiate themselves from women. This furthers the tradition, in some men, that they have the right to control women who are socially seen as inferior and submissive. These norms are interrupted by Drew’s stitches, which focus on specifically undermining these norms for her impressionable audience. As such, Drew’s main following and uploading focuses on her target audience of women, especially teens/young adults, and feminists. For Drew, it seems her intended purpose is to directly influence and inform her audience that they do not need to degrade their self-worth at the pleasure of men. Influencers such as Drew are greatly appreciated: as Photoshop and what we see online becomes more edited, ensuring there are people to look up to that prioritize healthy mindsets is incredibly valuable. In the end, women should live for themselves and not have to change when they enter heterosexual relationships.

Selling Sex – The Theatrics of Perfume Ads

Perfume ads are known to be dramatic and over the top while not actually saying anything substantive. Unlike ads for most things, where companies can show their product being used, perfume doesn’t do anything and you cannot smell a scent through a screen. This means that companies need to tap into the consumer’s emotions and desires through a video in order to sell their product. To do this, they create advertisements that sell a very specific aesthetic: sex. Perfume ads are loaded with sexual imagery and tones and often have roles played by celebrities or individuals who are the beauty standard. The advertisements are ultimately trying to say that if you buy our perfume or if you smell a certain way, you too will be sexually desired, beautiful, and successful. The specific perfume advertisement I chose to analyze was for Jean Paul Gaultier’s perfume “Le Male”. I originally saw a very condensed version of this on TikTok, but I will be looking at the full video for my media analysis. 

The opening scenes of this advertisement depict scenes of male presenting sailors in a port. These sailors are all muscular and well-defined, shirtless, and engaging in activities that are stereotypically masculine and physical – carrying and pulling ropes, arm wrestling, carrying large boxes. Most of them are white and the main character in the video is a blond, blue-eyed, tanned, (and shirtless) man. He becomes entranced by the female lead in the advertisement, a white blonde woman in bright red lipstick wearing a pink bustier/bodysuit. She sings opera from the top of a lighthouse, and the male sailor begins running towards her, cutting through the crowd of people and jumping over things. 

Along the way, he evades seduction attempts from other women in bodysuits and a group of shirtless male sailors (pictured above and below). These moments from the advertisement had overt bisexual undertones, which I thought was interesting. As one commenter stated, “Never in my life have I seen a commercial with bisexual energy like this. Gay energy, sure. Straight energy, totally. Bi energy? First time. I am very happy.” I thought this was a positive inclusion, but did not erase the much stronger tones of misogyny and heteronormativity. 

He eventually makes it to the top of the lighthouse and he and the woman kiss as the crowd of sailors and women in bodysuits look on. The advertisement includes a short scene of a young boy in a sailor outfit tipping his hat to them before they kiss. This scene of the young sailor was also included in the shortened version of TikTok, and is one of the reasons I selected this piece of media. Many portions of this advertisement felt unnecessary, but this was perhaps the most unnecessary scene in the whole video. 

Overall, this is an extremely over-sexualized advertisement that has absolutely nothing to do with the product it is selling (or even perfume in general). Additionally, it enforces the societal beauty standard, is unnecessarily gendered, and has misogynistic undertones. These can be seen through the individuals cast in this video, what they are wearing, and the plot of the advertisement itself. It suggests that women are a type of prize or reward, and that it is a man’s job to pursue and ultimately get to the woman. Even the name of the perfume “Le Male” translates into “The Male”, and implies that to be a “true male”, you have to look, act, and ultimately smell a certain way. The advertisement makes it clear what this “male” look is – shirtless, well muscled and defined, and gets the girl in the end. Beyond this, the creation and advertisement of a perfume specifically made for men suggests that men are only allowed to smell specific ways. This advertisement is not unique in these qualities, as I think it is very common for perfume ads to be very heteronormative, gendered, and marketed in a manner that sells sex or a specific aesthetic. As I stated previously, perfume ads are the perfect storm for these kinds of issues because it is impossible to advertise a perfume online in a way that allows people to smell the product. 

The comments on this ad from YouTube are a little bit all over the place. Many were in french, and others were praising the advertisement itself or the product: “I’m going to buy this because it will make me handsome and beautiful women will long for me”. I honestly wasn’t sure if this was a sarcastic comment or not, but either way, it targets one of the overarching problems with this advertisement and many perfume ads in general. There were a few comments criticizing the advertisement for the same issues I had recognized in the video: “Men and women are so sexualized these days. This is so unnecessary. What kind of implicit messages does this ad send?” and, “No hate but is it just me who thinks this contains gender roles and is slightly misogynistic?” It seems as if other viewers were able to pick up on the same reasons why I chose this advertisement to analyze. 

Let’s talk about Sex– Gilmore Girls

Gilmore Girls has long been lauded as an iconic feminist show of the early 2000s. Truthfully, this show is my guilty pleasure. Growing up, I watched the episodes on repeat with my mom while we sat on our couch with our takeout containers and our lazy dog. The main characters, Lorelai and Rory, are the mom-and-daughter duo that everyone roots for. Their relationship is one with quips, movie references, questionable fashion choices, and a lot of love. The show is remarkable because it is carried by these complex female characters.

Because of Gilmore Girls’ cult following and fast-talking characters, it is easy to overlook some of the more questionable dialogue and plot choices in the show. There are a number of fat jokes, racist undertones, and homophobic remarks. One of the more negative views of sex is found in the portrayal of Paris after she loses her virginity in season 3, episode 16. Paris, Rory’s incredibly ambitious, bossy, honest, and unapologetic friend, has sex with her then-boyfriend Jamie.

Not one to be coy, Paris immediately confides in Rory and asks her opinion on whether or not it was right for her to sleep with Jamie. Lorelai overhears the girls talking, and stands outside the doorway listening. Paris proceeds to ask Rory whether she has had sex with her ex-boyfriend Dean or her current boyfriend Jess. The camera pans to Lorelai, whose face looks terrified of the idea that her daughter has had sex. When Rory assures Paris that she is still a virgin, Lorelai smiles and sighs with relief. Later, she hugs Rory and tells her that she’s taking her shopping. Then she says to herself, “I’ve got the good kid.”

Paris and Rory are the top students in the class, and they are set to give a speech on live television later in the episode. However, college acceptance letters have just come out. Paris, who is the definition of hardworking and driven, gets rejected from her dream college. When she shows up to deliver the speech with Rory, she is late, her hair isn’t brushed, and she looks on the verge of a breakdown. She then proceeds to fall apart in front of the audience. She blurts, “I’m being punished. I had sex, so now I don’t get to go to Harvard.” She then points to Rory and says, “She’s never had sex. She’ll probably go to Harvard. She’s a shoo-in. Pack your chastity belt, Gilmore!” Paris runs off crying. When Lorelai and Rory get home, they open the mailbox and find stacks of acceptance letters. Rory is accepted to Harvard. Lorelai says, “Apparently, you’re the biggest virgin in the world.”

Today I (re)watch: Gilmore girls, 3.16 | Amaneceres Líricos

Although Paris obviously did not get rejected from Harvard because she had sex, the two ideas are clearly linked in the episode. Paris can either be sexually active or successful. Rory is “pure”, and she is accepted to every school. Virginity is celebrated, and sexuality is not acceptable if one wants to achieve their goals.

This idea is particularly evident when observing Lorelai’s reaction to Rory’s virginity status. She describes Rory as “the good kid” based solely on the fact that she has not had sex before an arbitrary time that is deemed appropriate. For a show that seems to be progressive and support feminist views, this scene is difficult to watch. It suggests that powerful women can be brought down by owning their sexuality or making the “wrong” sexual decisions. Rory and Paris are portrayed as antipodes of each other, with Rory basking in the glow of her virgin innocence. 

Also, it is interesting to view this episode through an intersectional lens. Both Paris and Rory are skinny, heterosexual, white women. Paris is very wealthy. Although Rory does not have as much money, she still attends an expensive private school. Both of these characters are quite privileged, and they are on the path to receiving the most exclusive educational opportunities. They are also both attractive young women, and I think that this reemphasizes the point that even the women with the most privilege can lose opportunities because of their sexuality. 

This episode is almost disturbingly sex-negative. It fits with Foucault’s theory that we are obsessed with talking about sex and that sex is not repressed, but it portrays sex in a negative light. Sex is openly discussed, but it is shown in the show to cause setbacks for women. They can only have sex after they are established in their academic and career goals. Rory’s decision to remain a virgin until she gets into college allows her to have more opportunities than Paris. 

Sarah Baker

Societies’ gender expectations and the suffocation of transgender people. 

Enough is enough. Don’t you think you have a right to express yourself without fear of being judged? Don’t you think you deserve equality like everyone else? Aren’t you tired of living a life full of society’s expectations and gender construction? Unfortunately, society’s failure in accepting transgender people in the community and hatred towards them has resulted in discrimination, unfairness, and devastating consequences for transgender people in society. A recent post on Instagram by username “Trevorproject” presents how transgender people have been facing several discriminations and hatred, leading from depression to suicide because of the social construction and acceptance of only gender binary (only male and female) in society.  

The post consists of digital artwork created by artist Caitlin Blunnie, a famous queer feminist. The post was posted on Instagram on the 24th of February 2022 by username “Trevorproject”, an official Instagram account of The Trevor Project, the largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for the LGBTQIA community specially focused on youth. LGBTQIA community refers to the people that fall in the category of finding themself as either lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (questioning), intersex, and asexual (agender). Similarly, The post has depicted a Black person facing their back with short hair. The background is an abstract representation of a pink sky and bright moon with tiny shining sparkling stars around the person. The slogan in the post says. “Trans youth deserve gender-affirming health care “. The bio of the post states that “our research has found that gender-affirming care can be lifesaving, and transgender youth who have accepting parents are less likely to attempt suicide.” 

The post talks about a disturbing announcement made against the LGBTQIA + policies by the texas department of family and protective services in the United States in January 2021. The legislated policy mentioned that gender-affirming care to transgender and nonbinary teenagers should be investigated as “child abuse.” Several LGBTQIA + activities, medical providers, and Instagram posts have criticized this policy as transphobic and damaging to safety and wellbeing, especially to transgender and non-binary people. Instead, the post states that gender-affirming care is not child abuse but is a necessary life-saving measure that helps in the physical as well as the mental wellbeing of transgender and non-binary people.  

The Instagram post reflects on how gender-affirming care and having accepting parents to transgender youth can play a vital role in preventing severe problems such as suicide and depression. This social media post has touched upon the crucial point on society’s social construct of the gender binary, a system in a society where all the individuals are classified only as either male or female, has failed to accept and recognize the existence of transgender and non-binary people in the community. 

Let us look at some of the responses to the social media post. Despite the awareness campaign in support of transgender and non-binary people, the comment section is a mix of admiration and hatred for transgender people. Let us see what people have to say on this social media post. One person has commented, “I hate having to live here “, while another commented, “My child and all people deserve to be treated equally for who they are, not whom society tells them they should be.” Through such posted comments, people have conveyed their struggle and the discrimination they face not fitting into society’s gender construction, making it difficult for them to live a normal life without being judged by society. Similarly, while several users took the social media post as an appreciation and a medium to raise their concerns and problems, some users made a joke out of the post.  

In response to the social media post, several users have posted a laughing emoji, while another user has said, “This is nonsense.”   This clearly shows that, despite ongoing efforts to alleviate discrimination and difficulties faced by the transgender and non-binary people in the community, our society still struggles to accept people of the LGBTQIA community. This reflects how being transgender and not fitting in societies’ gender binary perspective have made them feel very depressed and pressured. As a result, transgender people have faced a constant threat and challenge in living the life they want dealing with discrimination and difficulties. 

Our Society has been constantly supporting gender binary and heteronormative values where society assumes every individual to be heterosexual. With all of society’s expectations and pressure to conform to gender norms, society has failed to accept and respect the existence of people belonging to the LGBTQIA community. What about the non-binary people whose gender identity does not fit in society’s “male” or “female” binary? What about homosexual people who do not fit in society’s heteronormative values? What about the transgender people who do not fit it in the society’s “biological sex and gender “ perspective. Don’t they have a right to live in society normally like everyone without any hatred or discrimination? Such gender expectations have made it extremely hard for transgender and non-binary people to live in a society. Not fitting into society’s social construction of gender norms and values has made them feel trapped in the bodies they are born with because what they feel internally does not match what exists physically. Several people in the LGBTQIA community have constantly been a victim of mental pressure and such has led them to depression and even suicide.  

Despite all of today’s modern world’s understanding and advancement in numerous fields, acceptance of the LGBTQIA community, particularly transgender and binary people, is still a new concept to society. As a result, such individuals, particularly teenagers, have struggled to live the life they want. Every individual has the right to live in a manner that they want and are comfortable with. Society’s expectations and gender construction, on the other hand, have always posed a threat to transgender and non-binary people. Such expectations have led people to severe problems, from depression to suicide. 

Reference: 

https://www.instagram.com/p/CaXuOWBvUpM/

Media Analysis of Lola- the Kinks

I think we can all remember a time being in the car and your parents singing songs from when they were younger. For some kids it’s embarrassing, some it’s funny, and some willingly sing along. I was a singer. My brother on the other hand would ignore us and roll his eyes with embarrassment. The song Lola by the Kinks was always a family favorite. The catchy toon and repetition of Lolaaa made it easy to remember and hard to get out of our heads. This past weekend, however, the song came on and my dad started singing. When I heard the final line this time around “But I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man. And so is Lola” I realized the song is about a transgender woman.  

I went home and listened again while looking at the lyrics. Upon doing this I realized the only lyrics I’d known all these years had been the chorus! The rest of the song contains some really hurtful, offensive, and untrue information about transgenders! After this, I did more digging and went to watch the music video. Here I witnessed even more disapproving messages that you couldn’t get from the lyrics alone.

The music video illustrated like a comic book clearly depicts the main character’s (the singer’s) negative view of Lola and other transgender people. In the whole song, he is singing about how he has been deceived and lied to about her identity. He doesn’t accept that Lola has transitioned into a woman at all. Instead, he feels as though she (Lola) is actually a man and is lying to the public appearing as a woman. He introduces this idea of being lied to first through coca-cola. 

I met her in a club down in old Soho

Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like Coca-Cola

The singer does this again later in the song where he talks about the artificial candlelight.

Well, we drank champagne and danced all night

Under electric candlelight

In both of these lines, he points out that everything is not what it seems in this club. The champagne, which is typically high quality and expensive, tastes like a cheap soda. While with the next line he brings to our attention that the candle is fake, getting us familiar with the idea that he is being lied to in this club. He then moves on to talk about Lola.

The lines “But when she squeezed me tight, she nearly broke my spine” and “I can’t understand why she walks like a woman and talks like a man”

These lines are greatly offensive to all women. Who is this singer to suggest that women can’t be strong and give a tighter hug? Or who is he to say the feminine tone of voice must be a certain pitch and if you don’t meet that pitch you “talk like a man”. And then within the next line began the additional hurtful messages not heard in the lyrics, but shown in the music video. 

The line reads “She said, Little boy, won’t you come home with me?” Lola is asking the singer to go home with her, but the music video depicts the singer for the first and only time as a doll/puppet. To me, this imagery was extremely disturbing. It felt like the singer was suggesting that Lola was taking advantage of the singer and keeping him there against his will. Like he has no say, he’s under Lola’s control. 

The next line again doesn’t read offensively but is paired with the music video, showing the underlying rude message the singer implied. The line reads: “But when I looked in her eyes, well, I almost fell for my Lola”. The image shows the singer and Lola with switched hair colors and in the singer’s right arm he holds a box labeled Turkish Delights.

Now I thought this was odd that the Turkish delights were labeled because nowhere in the lyrics are they mentioned, and it seemed odd to specify that in a low detail cartoon comic book image. This prompted a google search “What do Turkish delights mean? ” According to google, they are a gelatin pastry usually dusted with a bit of icing sugar. Seems innocent enough. A second search: “What do Turkish delights symbolize?” and there it was. The truth behind how he viewed transgenders. The Turkish delight symbolizes evil sin and temptation. Implying loving Lola, the transgender woman is evil and a sin, even though it is tempting. 

As the song is coming to a close another lyric reads: “She said, Little boy, gonna make you a man”. This line again made me feel as though the singer was claiming she took advantage of him. Calling him a “Little boy” and not asking for consent just saying she will make him a man feels creepy in the way the singer has framed it. When in reality the singer just doesn’t want to be held accountable for being attracted to a transgender woman. 

The song closes out with the line I said earlier: “But I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man and so is Lola”. The singer then repeats Lo-Lo-Lo-Lola until it eventually fades out and the song ends. That final line solidifies he still sees Lola as a man, despite the fact that she is not. Granted this song did come out in the 1970’s so transgender people and knowledge was in little supply the song is still unacceptable. Despite the song being dated, it still feeds into the hurtful and incorrect stereotypes of transgender people that we deal with today. I can’t believe these hurtful messages went undetected by me through so many years of listening to this song! But alas, the ugly truth of the singer’s view on transgender people will never be forgotten.

(Both images were screenshots of the music video. The link to the music video can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CzrYXcXweI

Get in Loser, We’re Going to Lose Three Pounds: Mean Girls and Diet Culture

Mean Girls was released in 2004 and was quickly embraced as a cult classic, especially by young women. The movie follows Cady, who has recently moved from Africa (country unspecified) and has to navigate the drama and politics of “girl world,” where mean girl Regina George and her friend group, “The Plastics,” control the high school social scene. Cady joins The Plastics as a spy for her new, unpopular friends Janis and Damian, but her loyalties and goals become muddled when she has a crush on Regina’s ex-boyfriend Aaron. Tina Fey wrote the chick flick, which was partially inspired by her own high school experiences.

Mean Girls movie poster

Body image issues, especially relating to weight, are prevalent throughout Mean Girls. Disparaging comments about the appearance of women are common in the movie. One example of diet culture that stands out is how Cady weaponizes the fear of fatness against Regina as part of her plot to destroy Regina’s popularity. While there are many mentions of weight and body image throughout the movie, this specific subplot brings to light many of the stereotypes connected to anti-fatness and diet culture. 

The scene where Cady introduces Regina to the Kalteen bars.

In the cafeteria, Cady gives Regina “weight loss bars” which are actually Swedish Kalteen bars that her mother used to give children in Africa to help them gain weight (a plot point that is problematic for its own reasons). Cady deceptively gives her these bars in an attempt to rid Regina of her “hot body” by inducing her to gain weight non-consensually. This correlation between gaining weight and becoming unattractive is implied and never questioned. Regina immediately grabs the bar from Cady and stuffs it in her mouth. When Regina points out the packaging is in “Swedish or something,” Cady says the bars have an ingredient that is not legal in the US. Regina then names several weight-loss drugs that she’s memorized and asks if these are the illegal ingredient, but she still eats the bar when Cady says they are not. Regina mentions she wants to lose three pounds and waits expectantly until Gretchen and Karen assure her she is already skinny enough, to which her only response is “shut up.”

This scene is clearly supposed to be a mockery due to Regina’s obsession with weight loss. There is dramatic irony since the audience knows the bars are going to cause the opposite effect of what Regina wanted. The audience is laughing at Regina for being so eager to try this new weight-loss method, despite it being dangerous enough that the active ingredient is illegal in the US. The audience is also supposed to be making fun of Regina for being so obsessed with weight loss that she has memorized the names of common weight-loss drugs (ephedrine and phentermine, both of which can cause heart issues). While these moments are supposed to be funny, the thing that is being made fun of is not the beauty standards themselves; it is how fully the obsession with thinness controls young women. The movie frames Regina’s obsession with weight as stemming from her own vanity and shallowness, with little exploration of the outside pressures and standards that might be causing this harmful behavior. This view of disordered eating puts all blame on the individual and acts as if she is making these dangerous and foolish decisions in a vacuum. Unfortunately, Regina is not wrong in her belief that being skinny will benefit her. Fat people are given worse medical care, paid less, and treated worse overall than non-fat people in our thin-obsessed world. Regina’s beliefs are troubling, but not because they are unfounded, because of the damaging culture and realities that have led to these beliefs. Regina’s obsession is sad, but it is not uncommon, and trivializing the diet culture so many people fall victim to invalidates the real (and sometimes deadly) harm of fatphobia. Additionally, all the lead female characters throughout the movie are thin, so there is a level of removal from the most serious effects of fatphobia that allows the audience to laugh at Regina without considering the extremely harmful consequences that attitudes like hers have on actually fat people.

Regina eagerly eating the “miracle weight loss” bar Cady brought her.

The end of the scene, where Regina stares at Karen and Gretchen until they tell her that she’s already skinny, enforces this idea that anyone would prefer being skinny over being fat, and it would be offensive to let someone think they are fat without correcting them. Regina considers telling someone they are not actually fat to be such a common courtesy that it means nothing to her, and she tells them to “shut up.” This idea strongly contrasts the body neutrality and Health At Every Size movements, which claim that body size is not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, just a characteristic that varies among individuals. Karen and Gretchen’s comments also exemplify bonding around body image issues, which is a common practice for young women.

The idea that fatphobia is ingrained in the message of Mean Girls was confirmed for me near the end of the movie when Cady decides there is no use in being a mean girl because putting down others will not benefit her. In her internal dialogue, one of the examples that helps Cady come to this realization is that “calling someone fat doesn’t make you skinnier.” This is one of the most serious moments of the movie, and it clarifies that the writers of the movie consider it to be an unquestioned truth that anyone would prefer being skinny to being fat. Cady’s growth is realizing that you should not bully fat people because it is unkind and will not help you avoid the same fate, and not because there is nothing wrong with being fat in the first place. This moment enforces the idea that fatness is an inherently negative characteristic, so the kind thing to do is ignore someone’s fatness or pity them for it. While Cady thinks she’s being kind, this idea continues to stigmatize fatness. 

At the surface, Mean Girls seems to address body insecurity and diet culture. However, the movie makes fun of the results of these issues, and the young women who fall prey to them, without any discussion of where these beliefs come from. Representation like Mean Girls minimizes the dangers of diet culture and fatphobia.

Works Cited

Burgard, D. (2009). What is “health at every size”? In E. Rothblum & S. Solovay (Eds.), The fat studies reader (pp. 42–53). New York University Press.

Waters, M. (2004). Mean Girls [Film]. Lorne Michaels Productions.

Witter, B. (2020, May 19). Tina Fey used her real life as inspiration for the unforgettable characters in ‘mean girls’. Biography.com. Retrieved March 4, 2022, from https://www.biography.com/news/tina-fey-mean-girls-characters

Grey’s Anatomy: Challenging or Reinforcing Stereotypes?

Throughout Grey’s Anatomy’s , Shonda Rhimes seems eager to write and direct episodes that highlight pressing social justice issues and challenge gender and racial stereotypes. While many of her episodes tackle social issues regarding race, gender, sexuality, mental health, drug use, she also includes a lot of representation of marginalized groups. Many of her episodes showcase people across all marginalized groups taking on the empowering and glorified profession of surgery. 

Specifically, an episode in the 14th season highlights stereotypes about women in relation to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. This episode mostly features Miranda Bailey, an African American woman who is also Chief of Surgery at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. Dr. Bailey is an inspiring figure not only for her admirable work ethic and striking leadership abilities, but also for representing groups particularly marginalized in society: she is black, fat, and a woman. 

In this episode, Dr. Bailey confidently claims that she is suffering a heart attack, seeking medical attention at Seattle Presbyterian Hospital. Despite providing her professional opinion and self-diagnosis to the medical staff treating her, her suspicion of a heart attack is relentlessly shut down by doctors who are white, cis-men. Bailey stays loyal to her own professional judgment and requests that she speak to the Seattle Presbyterian’s Chief of Surgery, Dr. Maxwell. Maxwell immediately dismisses Bailey’s belief that she is suffering from a heart attack. He looks at her with sympathy, places a comforting hand on her shoulder, and assures her that his medical opinion is correct. This effectively portrays the harmful stereotype that women are inherently less intelligent than men. It reinforces the idea that women don’t belong in professions where many urgent, important, and high-pressure decisions must be made with utmost skill and knowledge. Maxwell, who actually holds the same position as Bailey in hospital authority, quickly assumes invalidity in her opinion and overlooks her judgment confidently. As a white, cis-man with an intensely glorified job, he feels he holds authority over Bailey, whose blackness, fatness, and identification as a woman devalues her skill and judgment as a highly qualified surgeon.

To make matters worse, Maxwell then suggests she consider mental-health related factors that could be the cause of her physical discomfort. “Do not go down that road with me,” she says. Maxwell continues to ask Bailey about “big stressors” and her history of mental illness. Bailey quickly recognizes that Maxwell’s inference is based solely on stereotypes that women are unable to handle their emotions and anxiety. Bailey asserts her confidence as a black woman who deals with OCD, claiming that she views it as a piece of her story rather than a disadvantage.  Refusing his inference, she requests a new doctor. This scene shows Bailey resisting the socially ingrained idea that women are more mentally and emotionally immature and unstable compared to men. Too often, women’s heart disease is overlooked as merely a manifestation of anxiety or stress. This emerges in relation to the overarching idea that white men are inherently stronger, smarter, and better prepared for success than women of color.

Unfortunately, rather than upholding Bailey’s request for a new cardiologist, Maxwell refers Bailey to a psychiatrist, who is also a white cis-man. He speaks to Bailey in a condescending tone, insisting that he help “treat” the mental issues he believes are causing her physical pain. He describes her as a woman “who has a big job with a lot of responsibilities,” who “manages life and death scenarios on the daily,” “has a history of mental illness,” and has “limited coping skills.” His assumption that someone like Bailey could not possibly handle the stress that comes with such a highly respected and important job feeds into the belief that such positions belong to white men. It reinforces the stereotype that only white men could ever qualify for such an intense, emotionally strenuous, extraordinary profession; this is because society has held the idea that only they have the mental capacity and qualities to handle and deserve such a responsibility. 

The title of the episode, “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” contradicts the episode’s message in an abstract and interesting way. The title originates from a song written by Buck Dharma, a member of a band called Blue Oyster Cult. The song is basically about the inevitability of death and how it shouldn’t be feared. It’s less of a comment on the gender and racial stereotypes of the episode and more of one on the humanity of the situation she is in. The “death” aspect reflects Bailey’s grueling work life and stressful home life. The title insinuates that Bailey should surrender to the forces weighing her down, such as the inevitable stress of her job and as an individual part of intersecting marginalized communities. It implies that despite how secure and empowered she is in herself, she must allow herself to succumb to the natural struggles of life. While this episode title represents the humanization of Bailey, it also places greater emphasis on her struggle, which reinforces negative stereotypes about people like her. This tainted message takes away from the episode’s message on gender and racial stereotypes. Although this message does tie into Grey’s Anatomy’s overarching theme of the imperfectness of humanity, it dulls the episode’s commentary on more pressing social issues.  

Overall, the writers successfully tackle stereotypes about women regarding anxiety and heart disease. Miranda Bailey, a fierce and resilient black woman who is Chief of Surgery at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, is known for speaking on issues concerning gender, race or sexuality stereotypes. The writers of Grey’s Anatomy utilized such admirable qualities of her character to effectively comment on the harmful gender and racial stereotypes that are ingrained in our society.  

Social Meaning of “It’s My Vagina”

Sex Education, Season 1 Episode 5

Recently, there has been a gradual increase of feminism, queerness, and anti-racism incorporated in popular culture in response to the public, especially the younger generation. Some media accurately portray gender ideas and racial representation, but some screenwriters or producers are ill-informed and fail after attempting to appeal to a younger generation. I will be introducing one of the TV series that comparatively did well for an audience that cares about social justice: a British comedy-drama, “Sex Education.” I would like to focus on [Season one, episode five] of the series written by Sophie Goodhart and Laura Hunter, which says a lot about all three – feminism, queerness, and anti-racism. 

In episode five, two important incidents happen simultaneously that show the character’s struggles based on their identity. First, it starts with a nude picture anonymously being released at school -a photo of someone’s vagina, which gets teased for its color and shape. The owner of the vagina photo, Ruby, approaches Maeve -the main female character who accepts clients for sex therapy- asking for help to find a person and stop him or her from revealing her name. Despite Ruby being mean and rude to everyone, Maeve agrees to help without compensation and starts the investigation with Otis -a main male character whose mom is a sex therapist and ends up working as a sex therapist for his peers. 

With Maeve leading the first part of the story, the nude picture represents and tackles female anxiety and insecurity that are often not discussed enough. The students in school humiliate and judge the vagina photo that it is ‘brown and shaped weird’ as if there is a specific ‘normal’ way of how the female body is supposed to be. Degrading women based on their body parts is considered Hostile Sexism, which seemed to be engrained in their school’s culture for both boys and girls. Not only does seeing Ruby scared of the threats of being revealed as the owner of the photo portrays the problem of the shaming culture, but also the later confession by Maeve represents the toxic environment of Hostile Sexism. She shouts to Otis why she has been called ‘Cock Biter’ for four years: “Do you know how long I’ve been called Cock Biter? Four years. People I’ve never met call me Cock Biter to my face. I bit Simon Furthassle’s scrote. I had sex with four guys at the same time, I fucked my second cousin. I’ll give you a hand job for a fiver if you like. Do you know how it started? Simon tried to kiss me at Claire Tyler’s 14th birthday. I said no. So he told everyone I’d given him a blow job and bitten his dick, and that was it. This kind of thing sticks. And it hurts, and no one deserves to be shamed, not even Ruby.” (Sex education, Season 1 Episode 5) Her speech sums up the hostile environment girls or women are in this society: the victim-blaming and male gaze. She gets blamed for not kissing Simon back when she is a victim in the situation. While out of revenge, he objectifies her by giving her the name ‘Cock Biter’ which follows her for four years, emotionally distressing her. 

While the episode criticizes such culture by showing the female character’s fear and anger, it also reconciles the conflict in the last scene. When everyone is gathered in the hall and the headmaster emphasizes that faculties are looking for the owner of the photo -another insensitive way to blame the victim – girls start to stand up shouting “It’s my vagina!” It represents how they accept their insecurities about bodies and stand up to the shaming culture. The episode touches upon social problems toward women and demonstrates an ideal way of tackling the problem; although it might not be a practical way, in reality, it still is worth watching to reflect on our society. 

<Wherever I look> https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwherever-i-look.com%2Ftv-series%2Fsex-education-season-1-episode-5-recap-review-with-spoilers&psig=AOvVaw0kKRq3k8obirBI0z2ifmJK&ust=1646503177547000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CAsQjRxqFwoTCKidmLCFrfYCFQAAAAAdAAAAABAh

The second conflict arises when Otis agrees to help Maeve because he promised his best friend, Eric for a birthday tradition they have been doing every year: they dress up in drag and see Hedwig and the Angry Inch together. However, Otis leaves Eric alone to get on the bus and breaks the promise to help Maeve continue her investigation. Left alone, Eric gets his wallet and bag robbed having to walk back alone at night. As a black queer man dressed up, he gets beaten on the road, traumatized, and returns home. Not only does Eric and Otis’ friendship got destroyed, Eric feels broken inside and grows resentment about his identity being humiliated and hated in society. When he comes back home, his dad says: “If you are going to live like this… you have to toughen up.” (Sex education, season 1 episode 5) As an audience, we understand Dad’s frustration and concern about Eric’s queerness, but it represents victim-blaming that he is criticizing his son who is traumatized. Experiencing homophobia from a stranger, Eric gives up his identity and dress up as a straight man when he goes to school the next day. The episode shows the struggle of queer identity in our society including their families and friends that it is hard to find a safe place for them. It is also rare to see the representation of the struggle of people of color identifying themselves as Queer. 

Season one, episode five of Sex Education portrays multiple societal problems people feel and experience regarding feminism, queerness, and anti-racism. It shows the struggles and accurately points out what causes them, which makes the show worth watching for people who care about social justice.

The Power of Men’s Skincare: How Moisturizer will Supposedly Make You Look Muscular and Manly

In this ad by Lumin titled Mansplaining How To Avoid Dull Skin, we see a man trying to convince another man to pay more attention to his skin and to use their moisturizer. At the beginning of the ad, the man is looking in the mirror when a hand pops out and offers him skincare, at which he says skeptically, “skincare… for men?!”. The man who gave him the cream then goes through all the reasons why he should be using the skincare product and taking care of his skin, most of the reasons relating to being masculine and being attractive. He says that skipping skincare is like skipping leg days (and shows a man with skinny legs), he points at all the problems with the man’s skin, and at the end of the ad, the man is convinced of the need for the product and is shown using it, the other man saying to him, “We got this, I’ll spot you”.

 This ad incorporates lots of prevalent ideas about gender norms and expectations. In US society today, women are typically expected to put more effort into their appearance than men in terms of skincare – this ad is trying to market their moisturizer to the male market using certain gendered advertising strategies to market a typically feminine product to a masculine market. The title of the ad plays on the idea of mansplaining, which was first used in the comment section of an article from 2008 called “Men Explain Things To Me”, and is used when men explain things to women in a condescending manner and with the assumption that the women is ignorant of the topic. The man in the video claims that “skipping skincare is like skipping leg day”. The advertisers are assuming that most men work out and would appreciate a fitness reference. In saying this, they are comparing skincare to something more stereotypically masculine in order to dissociate it from femininity to make it seem more acceptable to be used by men. They show a man with skinny legs working out his arms, to instill fear into men that it’s just as bad to have bad skin as it is to have skinny legs. This brings in the idea of body image, and how toxic masculinity tells men that they need to be muscular and strong in order to be attractive, worthy, and manly. The ad uses words like ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ to play on common insecurities of men and guilt men into feeling like they are actually less masculine by not paying attention to their skin. The man in the video shown as the one with ‘skinny legs’ is also shown in all pink clothes and using pink weights. This is another way that they make this man resemble femininity, thus relating not taking care of your skin as something that’s bad because it makes you look more girly. With this logic, they’re saying that being girly is an inherently bad thing and something to be embarrassed about, whereas it should be normalized for men to wear pink and do things that may be considered girly and be proud of it. This ad is shaming men who may prefer to embrace the feminine aspects of themselves and tells men that they need to be manly in order to be respected by others and that men who are not hyper-masculine are failing as men.

This ad also brings up what we saw in the Poretsky and Everts readings in which they discuss how companies have created problems and insecurities in order to sell a product to solve that problem. In this case, men are told that they should be worried about having dull, wrinkly skin, and that this cream is something that they need to buy in order to be more attractive. The man in the video seems to have not cared about these aspects of his skin before, and now will spend money to fix something that Lumin has deemed a problem, not himself. In these ways, this simple, 30-second advertisement has very deliberately and blatantly played into gender stereotypes and marketing strategies that perpetuate stereotypical ideas of ‘masculinity’ and create insecurities in order to sell a product. In addition, all of the settings shown within the ad tell the viewer something about class and wealth, as all of the rooms and fixtures are expensive and fancy looking. This may be a way for the advertisers to make it feel like people who use this cream are fancy and wealthy, and so anyone who uses it will also come across this way.

It is also noteworthy that Lumin’s ads feature many men of color, non-white men, and racially ambiguous men. It is impossible for us to know whether this diversity is due to genuine race-blind casting or simply an attempt to appeal to the growing public awareness of the lack of diversity in advertising in order for the company to appear woke.

The whole Lumin skincare line is advertised as being specifically for men, which relates to other posts I’ve seen online about examples of things being unnecessarily gendered so that they can be advertised as ‘for men’ or ‘for women’. The whole Lumin skincare line is advertised as being specifically for men, which relates to other posts I’ve seen online about examples of things being unnecessarily gendered so that they can be advertised as ‘for men’ or ‘for women’. Companies then use different marketing strategies for the two so that they appeal to each gender in different ways. These gendered products are completely unnecessary and are simply ploys for the companies to make more money by perpetuating gender norms and stereotypes. I would be interested to see the scientific evidence (or lack thereof) of what makes these “men’s” products different from women’s products, as they claim substantial differences between men and women’s skin on their website. Personally, I see no need for products to be different from one another in accordance to gender, but plenty of people buy into the need for such products. Where do these gendered products leave non-binary people, gender-fluid people, transgender people, and anyone not within the gender binary? They are left with needing to choose either the male product or the female product.

Sorry, But Pantene Ain’t Cutting It.

Pantene’s “Sorry, Not Sorry” ad urging women to stop apologizing  

Well-intentioned, well-meaning, but well-executed? Yeah, that would be a no. In Pantene’s 2014 ad entitled “Sorry, Not Sorry,” an attempt is made to call attention to the tendency -specifically for women- to apologize. The ad cuts from scene to scene of female-identifying individuals of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds apologizing to male-identifying individuals. Examples featured include a woman sitting in a conference room asking her male colleague, “sorry, can I ask a stupid question?” or a woman sitting in an office waiting room apologizing for a man’s arm taking up too much of her personal space, causing her to say “sorry” and move her arm. These are just two of the many examples Pantene touches upon in their ad. Then, suddenly, a dramatic cut is made, and the screen states in big, bold black lettering, “don’t be sorry, be strong and shine.” The scenes are preceded to be re-told. The woman in the conference room confidently says, “I have a question,” and the woman in the waiting room refuses to move her arm when the man gets in her space.

Screenshot from commercial of women moving her arm to make space for a man’s arm

Screenshots from commercial of Pantene’s message to women 

This command feels more imposing rather than empowering. Additionally, The “be” in “be Strong” is directed at women and their hair, implying women are not strong if they apologize and not strong if they do not use Pantene products. This messaging works to diminish the power of apologies and perpetuate certain beauty standards for hair care.

My major qualm with this ad is that it does not get at the root issue occurring; rather, the ad shames women for their inherent sorry problem. Granted, there is only so much Pantene can achieve in a 1:17 clip, but they should have known what they were signing up for. Therefore, this ad feels like it’s shaming women rather than “empowering women” because there is no acknowledgment about why women feel the urge to apologize so frequently. As seen above in the ad, the use of grammatical imperatives is practically yelling at women saying they are not enough. Therefore this is the individual women’s fault, which is simply incorrect. This sorry issue is a societal condition, not a group of women who don’t understand social cues. 

On top of the scenes of apologies and dramatic phrases flashing across the screen, the spa-esque background music irked me. A single piano key is repeatedly played at a slow tempo; suddenly, once the message to stop apologizing flashes across the screen and the scenes are repeated with no apologies from the women, the piano playing gets faster. A fast strumming of a guitar is now audible. The stark change in tempo and guitar accompaniment sounds so disjointed and comes across as cheesy. While Pantene is trying to empower women, the music is another example of how their ad falls short. 

This brings me to my second point, the way the ad tried to relate the message to their product is half-baked and undercooked. Profiting off of “women empowerment” poses its own moral dilemma that unfortunately seems inevitable in our capitalist society, but if you’re gonna do it, at least do it well. Sure, one could argue that no men apologizing in the video implicitly depicts the patriarchy being at fault in the matter and the greater systemic issue in educating our youth. But I think that would be giving this ad too much credit. Instead, this ad comes across as this sorry problem being a “women’s problem,” which is seen through the commands for women to “be strong,” and even in the left-hand corner of the cover of the ad saying, “why are women always over-apologizing?” These phrases feed into the idea that women don’t just apologize sometimes but “always.” The ad makes this dangerous generalization that paints women in one light and fuels the gender binary. 

This ad promotes the binary of men and women and thus leaves no room for representation of other genders. I would be remiss if I did not contextualize this ad. In 2014, this ad was labeled as groundbreaking and perceived as empowering. However, reading it from the vantage point of 2022, the ad lacks an understating of intersectionality and its relation to patriarchal society. Events such as the Women’s March in 2017 remade the concept of intersectionality more visible to the public. The Guiding Visions and Definition of Principles for the March explicitly addressed intersectionality in its framework. Pantene’s ad does not promote intersectional thinking, therefore, does not successfully get out the complexities of the “sorry” issue being a product of the capitalist patriarchy. Only conventionally attractive women are depicted in the ad. There was no attempt at body inclusivity or representation around disability or even an attempt to address how gender nonconforming individuals fit into this equation. 

In 2014, many articles came out applauding Pantene’s ad and discussing how it helped specifically women reflect on the idea of the apology. The Washington Post wrote, “pantene calls out women for saying sorry,” and The Huffington Post claimed Pantene “puts the power back in women’s language.” These praising reviews work to a. shame women for their word choice, and b. reinforce a gender binary by suggesting that there is such a thing as “women’s language” to even begin with. 

Digging deeper into the “Shine Strong” campaign, I discovered how this ad was released alongside Pantene’s “Shine Strong Fund.” This fund’s purpose was to write grants and give women access to influential leaders. However, when I tried to access the campaign, I was greeted with the words “page not found” on the Pantene website, which left me feeling even more certain the only apology needed is one from Pentene to do better.

Screenshot of Pantene’s web page on the “Shine Strong Fund.” 

References:

Bennett, Jessica. “Pantene’s ‘I’m Sorry’ Ad Tells Women to Stop Apologizing #Shinestrong.” Time, Time, 18 June 2014, https://time.com/2895799/im-sorry-pantene-shinestrong/

Butler, Bethonie. “This Pantene Commercial Calls Women out for Saying ‘Sorry’ Too Often.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 30 Nov. 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2014/06/18/this-pantene-commercial-calls-women-out-for-saying-sorry-too-often/.

The Huffington Post Canada. “The One Speaking Tic Women Need to Stop Right Now.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 19 June 2014, https://www.huffpost.com/archive/ca/entry/pantene-not-sorry-ad_n_5511108.

“Shine Strong .” Pantene , Pantene , https://pantene.com/shinestrong.

“Sorry, Not Sorry .” YouTube , Cause Marketing , 12 Mar. 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TcGKxLJ4ZGI. Accessed 3 Mar. 2022.

“What the Women’s March Teaches Us about Intersectionality.” Anti-Defamation League, ADL, 24 Jan. 2017, https://www.adl.org/blog/what-the-womens-march-teaches-us-about-intersectionality

LET GO LEGO: LEGO Friends Failed Attempt to Deconstruct Gender Norms

I have always rooted for LEGO. As my all time favorite toy, LEGOs taught me that I can build anything and bring my dreams to life. I want the company to be a beacon of hope for a more inclusive world, where young people of all unique identities will be inspired to imagine and create. With LEGO vowing to make products “free of gender bias and harmful stereotypes” in 2021, I thought their discriminatory targeted marketing would finally come to an end, specifically with their biggest cash cow, LEGO Friends. The product debuted in 2012, branded as LEGOs “for girls.” In the attempt to peak girls’ interest, the company designed the toy sets with copious amounts of pink and story lines of caring and domestic life rather than that of adventure. Not only did LEGO profit from utilizing these preexisting gender roles, but  perpetuated expectations of how girls must play differently. The year 2022 marks the 10 year anniversary of LEGO Friends and subsequently the special release of 8 new LEGO Friends sets. When coming across a commercial for the sets, I can say I was simultaneously extremely proud and extremely disappointed. 

The commercial starts off with showing a child of color, a child in a wheelchair, and an older character painting posters for a friendship festival. The video then presents the same scene made out of LEGOs. In the background, children sing “We are different…together forever!” The children laugh together and push the friend in the wheelchair to the festival. More children of varying gender presentations join as they visit food trucks with tacos and smoothies. The advertisement ends with two live actors playing with their corresponding LEGO figurines. 

Off the bat, there is a clear inclusion of more diverse characters than the original five girls of LEGO Friends. The characters differ not only in regards to gender, including more masculine presenting figurines, but in ability, race, and age as well. In chanting, “we are different together forever,” the commercial is clearly acknowledging this inherent distinctness of the characters’ physical characteristics while also equalizing their value, as friends and as LEGO builders. Likewise, the commercial does not portray the character in a wheelchair playing with others as someone to pity. The children’s laughs and bubbly demeanor make the scene not only feel normal, but fun and appealing. The young audience might look at these joyous characters and want to experience the same, want to be their friends, regardless of any physical differences. When characters of all genders, skin tones, and abilities are seen playing with the exact same set, the constructed norms that previously dominated LEGO Friends go out the window. The audience is no longer forced to believe that girls have to play a certain way, that boys can’t enjoy pink, or that children of color or with disabilities aren’t as likely to construct a beautiful LEGO masterpiece.  

The commercial ends with the words, “Colorful Together, Better Together, Different Together.” For being exclusively displayed on kids TV channels, it is a truly empowering message that defies the biased history of the company. However, upon further examination of the commercial, my happy bubble of pride for LEGOs new progressive ways popped.    

While the live actors were not unfairly categorized or stereotyped in the advertisement, the same cannot be said for the LEGO people. All of the female presenting figurines in the LEGO set itself are wearing some shade of pink, while their male presenting counterparts are not. This pattern in the design suggests that the commercial’s strive for gender equity was purely performative, as pink is still being used to maintain a binary that perceives girls as separate. Likewise, out of the upwards of 15 new characters, all of the female characters are wearing short skirts and shorts. The majority also wear crop tops and sleeveless tops, while the males wear long sleeve shirts and longer pants. Are these kids living in different climate zones or is LEGO getting off on revealing female figurines’ bodies? The most concerning aspect of the design is that LEGO also gave female characters breasts. Keep in mind that these figurines are meant to be children, like their target audience…who can be as young as 4-years-old. Gendered distinctions like these continue to normalize the sexualization of girls and embed into children’s minds that girls have to act, dress, and play differently. 

So when LEGO claimed children should be “Different Together,” did they really mean it? Are girls on the same playing field if they are still sexualized and marked by pink? Clearly, LEGO still has a lot of work to do. As the world’s largest toy company, they have the responsibility to evaluate how their products affect the self-perceptions of the impressionable youth. I will continue to root for the goal of empowering all children to create without restriction and in a way that affirms who they truly are as people, not as categories. Hopefully LEGO will do the same.  

LEGO Friends 2022 Commercial: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ubNasSqK2KM

Washing Ourselves of Racism: Colorism in Media

International product advertisements are oftentimes the subjects of laughter for people around the world due to the presence of many cultural references or jokes that simply don’t translate well. Although these advertisements may not necessarily bring upon waves of international sales, they still usually manage to bring about fun conversation and good times. However, in the case of a viral advertisement for Qiaobi, a Chinese laundry detergent company, the only feelings being brought out of viewers are confusion and disgust. The advert, created to target Chinese audiences, was intended to be an outlandish, comedic take on just how effective Qiaobi detergent is at fighting dirt and grime to provide the most pristine clothes possible with every washing cycle. Ironically, all the advertisement has done is drug the company’s name through the mud. In a decision that can hopefully be defined as an ignorant, uninformed mistake instead of a prejudiced attack, the company decided that the best possible avenue for displaying the product’s cleaning power was to wash the melanin off of a black man. If this jumps out at you as being completely inappropriate and offensive, then congratulations; You’re at least not a blatant racist. Unfortunately, this advertisement is, in addition to some of its misogynistic elements.

The advertisement opens with an appearance of normalcy as it focuses on a young Chinese woman putting a load of laundry into a washer. However, the peaceful scene is immediately interrupted by the entrance of a black man covered in paint who stares at the woman provocatively before catcalling her. This scene is already triggering as it seems to paint catcalling, an offensive, misogynistic practice that many women, unfortunately, have to experience, as acceptable. Delving deeper into the scene, one can easily see how it upholds the racist idea that black people are sexually deviant, predatory creatures. These notions date all the way back to the Jim Crow era South where they were adopted by the white populace, still reeling from their defeat in the civil war, in order to accuse black men of rape and justify public lynchings.  This allowed the Southern community to put fear in the hearts of the local black populace while simultaneously supporting the power of the white authority in America. Unfortunately, these sentiments did not remain in America and have instead infected the cultures of countries across the globe. This can be seen in India where skin lightening creams are heavily marketed as the only way for women to be attractive or in countries such as Venezuela where the media is dominated by fair-skinned women. In addition to these issues, the scene itself is just unnecessarily triggering. Women experience harassment continuously in our problematic society, and this is only made worse by the trend in media to continuously use situations such as this just to add drama. Honestly, why does a commercial about laundry detergent need harassment to get its message across? Surprisingly, the woman beckons the man forward and seemingly reciprocates his attraction but instead shoves the man into the washer, before turning it on. I can honestly admit that I am a big fan of cartoonish violence in the right context, but I can’t help but feel uneasy about the image of a black man being roughly forced into a washing machine. The washing machine runs for a few seconds and then through some manner of tv commercial magic, the man exits the machine. However, when he exits the washing machine, he is now a fair-skinned Chinese man, much to the woman’s approval. We the viewer are then reminded that this is somehow supposed to be a commercial for laundry detergent when the company the logo appears on the screen as their signature jingle plays. This scene highlights the largest, most glaring issue within the ad, which is that it pushes the narrative that blackness is tied with impurity and filth while on the other hand whiteness is connected to purity and cleanliness. This sentiment is not a new one as it has been used to justify and further prejudice against all colored peoples.

The aftermath of the 1898 Wilmington Massacre where white citizens forcefully usurped the democratically elected interracial local government

Racism and colorism run so deeply in our society as humans that even our vocabulary reflects it. For evidence of this one only needs to delve into the pages of a dictionary of the English language. In the entry for the word “black”, we see definitions such as “dirty” and “characterized by hostility or angry discontent”. On the other hand, under the term “white” we see definitions such as “free from moral impurity” and “favorable”.  

Advertisements such as this one only serve the purpose of further ingrain these notions into our vocabulary and minds. It’s glaringly obvious why this advertisement went viral and rightfully received its badge of notoriety. One has to wonder; how did the advertisers think viewers with black skin (that doesn’t come off) would feel? Or did they simply not care?