One of the topics that really stood out for me from our GSS class was the discussion of body image. What especially resonated with me was when we talked about Adonis Complex and how people are concerned about their own bodies more than ever before. Since I talked about this topic in my literature review, I decided to focus on it more and apply it to my life. Being a male student-athlete, I am surrounded by an extremely heteronormative environment. It is easy to become ignorant and think that male athletics is only for heterosexual athletes because all the biggest stars are stereotypical masculine men. With the idealized image of masculinity comes the concept of muscle dysmorphia. It is a subset of the Adonis Complex that emphasizes a muscular male physique. As an athlete I feel this pressure of not only being in shape but also getting bigger even though it does not necessarily improve your performance on the court. From my personal experiences, this pressure comes from inside the team but also from outside observers.
Taking this class taught me so many new things and broadened my view of society. I think I can apply the ideas I have learned in this class to my own life and especially the athletic environment. I see gender and sexuality now as more of a spectrum rather than a binary. I am proposing a research project in which I survey several male athletic teams on campus to determine their attitudes towards masculine body image and appearance. I am interested if the perceptions of masculinity are similar across these different teams and if they differ from my personal experiences after taking this class.
Because of this class has changed my perceptions, I am excited to find out how my peers opinions will compare to those of society as a whole and my own views. This class has been a valuable experience for me and I am now much more aware of the structures and institutions that shape our society even though they may not be visible.
Over this semester, I have been exposed to a broad spectrum of concepts, issues, and questions through our readings and discussions. GSS has given me a new lens through which I see the world and a deeper understanding of the structures and institutions in place that govern our lives. As a senior, I will soon be entering the job market and am really looking forward to taking my newly acquired GSS knowledge to my future endeavors. I am looking for a job in the medical field, a field in which LGBT individuals are underserved and often reluctant to pursue care. In this context, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals are often grouped together in a way that implies homogeneity, which is not the case. These individuals are distinct in terms of race, socioeconomic status, age, and ethnicity in addition to their gender and sexual identities. What groups these people together is the underlying discrimination and stigma that they face in society as a result of living at the intersection of multiple different groups. The intersectionality of marginalized groups is a topic that came up frequently in our class discussion and has really opened my eyes as to how a person’s identity is not defined by just one element or trait, it is the combination of these interlinked traits that make up one’s identity.
There has been a long history of discrimination stemming from a lack of understanding of LGBT individuals in the medical field (i.e. the listing of homosexuality as a mental disorder in the DSM). However, as understanding has improved, the treatment of LGBT individuals in the medical setting has gotten somewhat better. There are certain diseases that disproportionately affect the LGBT community such as HIV and other STDs, and these disparities stem from structural and legal factors, social discrimination, access and availability of medical care, and the lack of culturally informed health care.
There are many things that those in the medical field can do to encourage an inclusive and welcoming medical environment. Below are some suggestions to be implemented in different medical environments, which I hope to bring with me to my future occupation:
Allow patients to privately self-input information about gender identity and sexual orientation (ensure that there are a wide range of options on the questionnaire).
Allow patients to specify the pronouns that they prefer.
Be open and non-judgmental when collecting sexual histories of patients.
Refrain from making assumptions about individuals based on appearance.
Do not assume heterosexuality (i.e. Ask “Do you have a
partner?” rather than “Do you have a boy/girlfriend?” when conducting sexual
Make sure all staff are trained to interact respectfully
with LGBT patients (i.e. ensuring use of their preferred pronouns).
Make sure that the medical environment has a non-discrimination policy that includes discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation and publicly display this policy.
The use of brochures and medical information that include images of LGBT people as well as medical information that specifically addresses concerns that
these individuals face.
All of these suggestions are important, as a clinician may be one of the first people whom an individual discloses non-heterosexual behavior to, and for this to happen, individuals need to be in a space where they feel comfortable. The goals of medicine include providing quality and effective care, and through these suggestions and the scope of my GSS knowledge, I plan to do my best to create an inclusive and welcoming environment for all patients.
This past semester, one thing that really interested me in GSS101 was the concept of intersectionality. It is important to recognize everyone’s co-existing identities, and I sometimes feel like certain organizations on campus have a hard time of doing that, if there is not representation of those different identities within the club. For example, I am a member of the Rape Awareness Club at Davidson, and we struggle to make sure that our events are queer inclusive. There are queer members in the club (myself included), but we find it difficult to include non-hetero sexual assault as one of our main concerns without assigning a queer person as a “spokesperson” for the entire community.
Next semester, I plan on finding ways to incorporate the queer community into our weekly meetings, no matter what we’re discussing. Perhaps we can try to designate a specific committee to talking about how RAC can involve the queer community in order to get us started. Another idea would be to invite those who would want to get involved from Q&A (another club on campus). Events such as the sex positivity fair and Take Back the Night should be advertised as queer inclusive.
RAC does a lot of good work on campus, and they spearhead a lot of the most notable events. So, it is extremely important for RAC to recognize the aspects they may be lacking. Intersectionality is not an easy concept to understand. Additionally, it takes a lot of effort to obtain and maintain an intersectional, inclusive environment. I plan on approaching the club as a whole, and hopefully discussing together what would work best in order to recognize non-hetero sexual assault as well.
During the summer, I work at an Episcopal summer camp in south Alabama in which the majority of both the staff and the campers come from predominantly white, conservative communities. Many members of the camp community attend private schools, which indicates a certain level of socioeconomic privilege, and about 60% of staff and campers identify as religious. All of this is coupled with regional customs and beliefs that tend toward overbearing patriarchy and heteronormativity. However, every year we are encountering more diverse staff and more diverse campers, some of which identify as LGBTQ. Therefore, many of our GSS 101 topics are relevant to the camp, but a majority of the staff are uninformed on issues of gender, sexuality, rape culture, and the intersections of these issues with race and disability. So, I would like to use the materials and research from GSS to develop policies and training for staff in order to foster an inclusive camp community.
I have noticed multiple situations in my years at camp that are worth addressing. The first, and possibly mostly difficult to overcome, is the physical infrastructure that reinforces the gender binary. For housing purposes, cabins are delineated strictly as “male” or “female.” However, in the last couple of years, we have had two campers who have identified as trans. This has been a tricky situation to navigate due to the lack of resources for gender-neutral housing and demonstrated transphobia, particularly on the part of male staff. At this time, there is no written policy concerning the housing of trans* identifying campers, and I think it would be worthwhile to establish such a policy, even if we are not in a position to be the most accommodating, so that parents and campers know that we are open to considering options that work for all campers.
The establishment of this strict binary reinforces heteronormative expectations based on a perceived obligation to spend time with and impress the opposite sex. For example, there are camp traditions such as adopting cabin “sweethearts” who are counselors of the opposite gender, or serenading cabins of the opposite gender. At times, fake marriages are staged between a male and female counselor. All of these promote heterosexual relationships without any regard for campers (or staff) who may not be interested in such thing. The language used by staff can also contribute to this idea by suggesting that the “norm” is interest in heterosexual relationships, such as a counselor asking a female camper “Is there a boy you like?”
To counteract potentially ostracizing language on the part of the staff, it is important to incorporate a workshop into the pre-existing week long staff training that in the most simple way possible addresses gender, sexuality, and their role at camp. However, it is also worth noting that a large number of the staff I have worked with have expressed blatant sexism, homophobia, and transphobia through the language they use around other staff members. Many come from strong religious and cultural backgrounds that have influenced their personal belief systems. Therefore, the most effective training would like not involve attempts to change individual’s ideologies; instead, the focus should be on establishing languages and practices that are designed to keep all campers safe, not just those who identify as cisgender and heterosexual.
Potentially, staff could do an assessment of their own implicit biases using online materials as a way to be aware of the biases that they bring to the camp setting. Since I have heard staff perpetuating widespread stereotypes about different groups, i.e. gay men, or lesbians, perhaps training could also include an activity in which the the staff engage with any stereotypes that they represent. This would give counselors the opportunity to become aware of how other people perceive them, and perhaps experience first hand the overgeneralization that accompany stereotypes so that they can work to counteract them at camp.
Finally, a very tangible area that could use both revised camp policy and staff instruction is camp dress code. As it stands, the camp recommendation is that all girls bring a one-piece swimsuit to camp, but when a girl does not, the expectation is that she will be asked to wear a t-shirt over her swimsuit, whether it is a tankini or a bikini. Male staff strongly support the enforcement of the policy and have used terminology such as “it protects them from boys” to justify their beliefs. This type of language reinforces rape culture, since the idea is that women who do not cover their bodies appropriately are at fault if men advance upon them. Instead, the policy and training of staff should reflect a level of accountability for all parties such that the objectification and potential victim-blaming of women is not tolerated. Particularly for younger campers who are are too young to understand why they might be asked to cover up when the heat index reaches 114 degrees, being asked to put on a t-shirt over a new swimsuit reinforces the shaming of female bodies as young as 7 years old.
Breaking down the gender binary, heteronormativity, and nascent rape culture would be very solid steps forward for the camp setting. I have no doubt that some of these ideas would be met with some degree of resistance by the staff, but in the long run, they would promote a healthier, more inclusive camp environment.
“Do I wear blue because I’m a boy, or am I a boy because I wear blue?” asks a perplexed young toddler, dubbed the “philosotoddler,” in a meme on a Buzzfeed Pinterest post. A seemingly simple question that, once pondered, actually conjures up all sorts of questions, conjectures, and arguments in today’s gender culture. The post, originally intended to be nothing more than a joke about the confusing life of a toddler, has no philosophical meaning when looked at in its original context by an average viewer. The intended audience for this post is the modern internet-user, in particular a Pinterest user, which means it is likely aimed more at younger audiences, especially teens and such who are frequently on Pinterest. Because the post was originally meant to be simple entertainment, many people have surely seen this meme and have thought nothing of it. Most peple who see this post have likely grown up in the heteronormative, gender stereotype-enforcing culture in which we live today, therefore they did not read deeper into the meaning of the picture and merely laughed at the “philosotoddler’s” deep inquiries about life. However, when the post is viewed through the probing lens of gender and sexuality, the reader can truly realize a much deeper meaning hidden between the lines.
This perspective first reveals that, by merely making the assumption that blue is masculine, the post abides by the heteronormative trends that have consumed society for hundreds of years. The meme addresses the role of gender stereotypes and the idea that certain qualities or accessories are so associated with a certain gender that they are seen as identifiers of that gender. For example, a baby wearing blue is typically assumed to be a boy. He is a boy because he has male genitalia, and he is expected to eventually exhibit the qualities that are typically seen as being masculine. This progression is the logic most people use in society even today, because these are the ideas of heteronormativity. The baby has already been assigned the gender “male” because of his biological sex. Almost automatically, the baby, not even old enough to speak or express his/her own identity, already has expectations to fill and assumptions to meet because of gender stereotypes. These concepts were not part of the original poster’s intentions in discerning meaning from the post, but these topics, heteronormativity and gender stereotypes, are the main focus of this meme when analyzed through the lens of gender and sexuality.
Looking at the original post makes it clear that Buzzfeed originally posted the meme as a joke; along with this meme, there are many others with the same picture, but with different captions: “How did she turn the spoon into an airplane?” “How can you really know something if you haven’t put it in your mouth?” The point of the other memes is merely to joke about the “deep questions” of being a toddler, yet this meme in particular means much more than that, and many Pinterest users have noticed this idea. For example, another user pinned the meme, stating, “It’s a good question to ask. Gender stereotypes are so big for young children.” Because such basic assumptions are made about gender in this meme, it means much more than Buzzfeed originally intended, and has a greater significance than many of the other amusing memes with the confused toddler.
Looking deeper into the meaning of the post through analysis from the perspective of gender and sexuality, one can find meaning in the use of a baby as the one posing this meaningful question. The baby has not yet had a chance to understand gender stereotypes, yet he is already being influenced and even defined by them. The gender norms of society are being forced upon him and shaping his future, already affecting his learning of what gender is and what it means to be a boy. The normative gender idea of dressing baby boys in blue is already affecting the baby, before he even has a say in what he wants. Because of the color blue, the baby already has expectations to be masculine and to fulfill the role of a boy in society. Associations and assumptions such as these will only continue to happen and expand as he grows and begins to understand more about life. Blue is a boy’s color. Trucks and cars are toys boys play with. Boys are tough and masculine. It all begins with the color blue.
This tendency to enforce gender stereotypes also has a connection with following the heteronormative ideals of society. For example, teaching young boys that they should be masculine goes along with the idea that they are not feminine. Being feminine is for girls, and so is wearing pink, and being emotional and fragile. Because of heteronormativity, one assumes that this boy, who will grow up to be masculine, will grow to like girls. The baby is put in a categorical gender at a young age, and this gender gives him a natural, expected role in life. He will follow the idea that girls have a feminine, even subordinate role in comparison to men, and he will grow up surrounded by the idea that romantic relations are most fitting for those of opposite sexes. All of these assumptions and expectations are related to the heteronormative culture that begins at such a young age that it can affect the shaping of one’s future.
In conclusion, although this Pinterest meme was not originally intended to demonstrate such meaningful and controversial topics such as gender roles and heteronormativity, many users were able to see a deeper meaning in the post. There is irony in the fact that the “philosotoddler,” meant to be nothing more than a joke, actually did end up posing more of a philosophical question about normative gender roles in today’s culture. The meme can be seen as an implementation of our tendency to assume the roles of gender in society, and to make assumptions based on gender that cause expectations to be held throughout life. Maybe a better question for the toddler to ask would be when will we stop adhering to gender roles and heteronormativity and allow kids to discover their own roles in life instead of having them assigned at birth?
Day by day interactions with the world lead to many an unanswered question in our minds. When it comes down to the hard ones – figuring out what type of domesticated animal you are or how much your relationship resembles Beyoncé’s, there is only one place to turn: Buzzfeed. This social media entertainment web-sphere creates everything from memes to movies for their readers, who are usually young adults. The most enticing thing about all of Buzzfeed’s posts and articles is the quick, easy to read and comprehend quality. Everything opened will be closed within 3 minutes, have plenty of visuals to grab attention, and language that is up to date with pop culture. When looking at a particular video created by Buzzfeed called “8 Types of Girls You’ve Danced with”, the question comes up: why is this video so easily entertaining to their target audience? While I may not be immune to the tempting articles on puppies, I aim to answer this question by pointing out the assumptions and stereotypes of gender, sexuality and race present in this Buzzfeed video.
The video is presented to us through first person. For a little more than 1 minute, the camera, representing ‘us’ as the dancer, dances with 8 different females that all have catchy nicknames and corresponding personalities. I say personalities and not dance behavior as there are actually no references to how that woman dances or their style. I will return to this later. Its purpose is to entertain and humorously relate to a person’s dance experiences.
The viewer of the video starts watching with this first person perspective and places themselves in the position of the one being danced with. This allows one to relate to the person being danced with, with the shaky camera movements and eye contact directly to the viewer. One feels as if they are truly the female’s dance partner. The dancing view of the camera and characters talking directly to you brings forth the humor of the video as well. However, 35 seconds into the video, a selfie reveals behind the camera. The picture shows the female being presented, ‘The Photographer’, and the person revealed is male. This reveal breaks open the effect of first person. Now the video has shown the viewer the person dancing with all of these females is most likely male, and has been all along. The first assumption has been brought into the video. There is now a heteronormative perspective to look through. This reveal has multiple effects. Firstly, the relatedness has been shattered. For some, there is no relating to the male’s gender. Further, since there is now a face and distinct person assigned to behind the camera, the video is no longer first person. It is as if a veil has been lifted. Although the veil may be placed back in front of one’s vision, they still know who is under the veil. This reveal does represent a societally comfortable lens of heteronormativity though; seeing a male and female dancing together is more comfortable in a person’s mind in this contemporary society and makes it easier to watch this video. This use of heteronormativity, while destroying one’s ability to relate to the video, does provide a space that is assumed typical in society for our brains to imagine.
Each dancer in the video is named with text that describes their personality. As I stated before, none of the descriptions of the females include any reference to their dancing moves or style. All are representative of the characteristics they display on screen. Further, almost every single one of the 8 female characteristics shown correspond with a typical female stereotype. Here are a few of the examples of the portrayal of the females in this video, and the underlying assumptions that each nickname and corresponding traits bring forth. The first female is ‘The Texter’ who only texts while dancing. This goes along with the stereotype of a female being vapid and unconcerned about important issues and life around her. ‘The Mess’ is a drunk woman who can’t control herself, an age old stereotype. This points to the idea of women being stupid and unable to take care of themselves. It also subtlety reinforces rape culture by placing the inability to care for oneself on the fault of the woman, and therefore leaves a space open to blame her for events to come. The ‘Leave Room for Jesus’ is taking jabs at the idea of a religious women that has a certain set of beliefs by representing her as someone who is fairly unwilling to dance. This character is countered and immediately followed by her opposite, ‘The Pro’, a seductive figure who is very willing to dance. This age old dichotomy of the ‘virgin and the seductress’ is a common theme when talking about women throughout history. Freud coined this phenomenon as the Madonna-whore complex. Women’s sexuality has been seen in these binary terms; it is pure or impure, suited for a man’s marriage or suited for his lust. This phenomenon is present throughout culture and appears specifically in visual history. Works of art spanning from 1400 by Carlo da Camerino with The Madonna of Humility with the Temptation of Eve (left image) to Edvard Munch’s Women in Three Stages from 1895 (right image) show this very dichotomy. It is interesting that in an entertainment video of today this same theme is brought forth. The last female character is ‘The Clinger’, a dance partner who won’t let the (male) partner escape. The stereotype brought forth is the female as a dependent only looking for and needing the attention of a man. Laid out in this fashion, these female personas make one cringe with the blatancy of the sexist stereotypes. However, Buzzfeed chose these because these assumptions make it easy to classify females in contemporary minds. These stereotypes and themes are still around, easy to understand, and easy to create.
The last stereotype this Buzzfeed video utilizes happens when the female character ‘The Hair’ is shown. There is really no sugar coating this pretty flagrantly racist portrayal of the only female of color in the video. Her character’s face is never shown, instead an image of her hair is shown taking up the whole view of the camera for about 10 seconds. This is problematic for a couple reasons. First the woman’s face is never shown, meaning that not only has this character been narrowed down to one trait, but she is not even allowed the humanity of the face. Second, the only representation of a woman of color in the whole video is one where her face isn’t even shown. And last, the history of shame and prejudice against a woman of color in regards to her hair is as old and thorough as the history of racism. Women of color and their natural hair are underrepresented now and throughout media history. This background in our society means Buzzfeed’s choice to use black hair as their representation of a faceless woman who is hard to dance with is intentional and relatable to contemporary media. I cannot speak for anyone, but it seems with this choice Buzzfeed would pretty easily offend lots of people of color. Whether their audience truly is more white or they have just catered to their white audience’s historical media assumptions means the same thing, Buzzfeed’s target audience is white.
Almost more frightening than this video is the paired video Buzzfeed created called “6 Types of Guys You’ve Danced with”. The video begins right away with the heteronormative assumption: this time the camera view is in third person and the person dancing with all the males is a female. There is an underlying masculinity assumption underneath all the male personas that each needs to impress this female somehow through different means. As opposed to degrading stereotypes, there is an assumption of impressing and a focus on success. This paired video shows us that these videos are not anomalies in Buzzfeed’s collection. The video “8 Types of Girls You’ve Danced with” is focused on quick, relatable humor for Buzzfeed’s audience. It does this by incorporating a heteronormative lens, using age old categories to define different women, and stereotypes on black hair to ease their (white) audience in through assumptions that have been present throughout history. It’s easy to look back at all the subtleties present in this video and scoff, but the reason they make audiences feel comfortable is because they are not only society wide but present in many other contemporary forms of media. So when reading the news or scrolling through the internet, go forth and take that quiz on cheese Buzzfeed has made; but remember they too are victim to the contemporary conventions surrounding gender, sexuality, and race.
“9 Non-threatening Leadership Strategies for Women,” was a heavily shared graphic article during the summer of 2016. Sarah Cooper published the article on her satirical “office humor blog” known as The Cooper Review, which generates a variety of cartoons, listicles, and videos under the descriptor tagline, “Funny because it’s true.” However, as I dig into the complexities of the article’s simplistic assumptions, this tagline becomes less ironic and more revealing in how the media it promotes is actively harmful in reinforcing particular norms and binaries.
The graphic article begins with an introduction that suggests the audience (females in business work environments), the antagonist (males and “the patriarchy”), and the purpose (how to alter female leadership style in order to avoid negative perception from men): “In this fast-paced business world, female leaders need to make sure they’re not perceived as pushy, aggressive or competent. One way to do that is to alter your leadership style to account for the (sometimes) fragile male ego.” The full introduction, brimming with sarcasm and humor, sets the reader up for the satire to come: “Should men accept powerful women and not feel threatened by them? Yes. Is that asking too much? IS IT? Sorry I didn’t mean to get aggressive there.” The piece goes on to present nine graphics, each with its own caption and “strategy” for women in the workplace. This framework alludes to the “corporate manual” and variations of leadership strategy guides in the corporate world. These guides permeate the business world in the form of books, magazines, online publications, and are sometimes specified towards women, such as Levo League, an online platform dedicated to providing resources, advice, and connections to businesswomen.
Each of the graphics in the article is a colored square framed by the article’s name “9 Non-threatening Leadership Strategies for Women” on top and The Cooper Review branding on the bottom. Between that framing, bold black letters spell out “#1” through “#9” and range from simple actions (e.g. “sharing your ideas” and “emailing a request”) to responding to external incidents (e.g. “someone steals your idea” and “hearing a sexist comment”). Each square is split by a black line, the left side title “THREATENING” highlighted black and enclosed in sarcastic quotes, while the right side title “NON-THREATENING” is not highlighted and is not enclosed in quotes, making it more approachable. Underneath each title is a simple gray scale drawing of a woman or a woman with a man and a text bubble above the woman’s head. The only differences between the left and right sides of each graphic are the characters’ facial expressions as linked to the text (“threatening” vs. “non-threatening”), showing that the “non-threatening” responses are supposedly more polite and happier for all those involved. The left to right transition, imitating the normal English reading pattern, also subconsciously implies which situation is the “right” way for women to act in order to be respected by men.
Despite the biting sarcastic humor of the graphics and their respective captions, the graphic article makes several assumptions that detract from its explicit attempt to undermine particular gender societal expectations. Most glaringly obvious throughout the nine graphics is the reinforcement of the gender binary and gender stereotypes as well as a complete lack of racial and body size diversity. Cooper’s article is fixated on women versus men and their respective perceptions in a corporate work environment. Every “woman” has long hair (either white or black), white skin, is thin, and wears some sort of blouse or suit jacket. Almost every graphic also includes the image of a “man,” also white with either white, gray, or black hair and a collared shirt and/or tie. In promoting such homogeneous images though, the graphic article reinforces a deeper problem of norms in the corporate world. The graphic images only present two categories of gender identity, one type of body size, one race, and most likely one social class, which perpetuates the same normature that the aforementioned “corporate guides” already promote. By showing one type of person, Cooper falls right into line with the large marketing structures that subconsciously promote homogeneous images and what is acceptable in the corporate world.
Cooper’s #whitefeminism mission leaves out several gender and racial identities, but she also goes further as to pinpoint and use male stereotypes. For example, “#6 When You Already Knew That,” depicts a “threatening” standpoint in which the female character tells the male character that she has already explained something to him. The “non-threatening” side presents the woman saying she would love to hear him explain it again. In the caption below, Cooper states “Men love explaining things.” While she might intend to present men as stereotypes in defiance of the generalized representations of women, such a statement doesn’t lead to a productive outcome for her assumed female audience. In breaking down expectations of women in the workplace, she builds up and reinforces stereotypes and expectations of men. In the last graphic, “#9 When You Disagree,” the only change between “threatening” and “non-threatening” is the fake mustache on the female character. She claims that wearing a mustache makes you “more man-like.” But what does “man-like” even mean? Having facial hair? “Growing a pair”? Although Cooper intends this comment as a joke, there’s also an unfortunate underlying assumption about what masculinity even means. But, her assumption that men receive more respect in a work environment due to their biology also reveals a subtler point about gender characteristics and perceptions. As we discussed in class, butch and femme characteristics receive different treatment outside the LGTBQ+ community, and perhaps more masculine qualities (i.e. butch) receive a greater degree of respect in the office environment. Studies have shown a counter-intuitive wage gap in which gay men receive a smaller salary than straight men while lesbian women receive a larger salary than straight women. Not only does the graphic article present the characters as cisgender, they also appear heterosexual, which brings us back to another corporate normature that Cooper sustains. One of our takeaways from the Wilchins piece discussed in class was that with sexual queerness comes a level of gender queerness and vice versa. Meanwhile, the characters in Cooper’s graphics seem to all fit the socially constructed gender and sexual norms that the typical corporate guide would also promote, whether intentionally or not.
Cooper sets out to critique and disrupt the man/woman dynamic in the corporate workplace and model that has been promoted by countless publications, advertisers, and media. She focuses on women’s oppression in the workplace and uses a male/female inversion to prove the lack of respect women receive. However, this graphic article fails to act as a didactic piece and comes across as only entertainment because she only inverts the heteronormative male/female relationship and reproduces other homogeneous racial, sexual, and class expectations in the corporate world. If she wanted it to be more than a piece of entertainment, highlighting the intersectionality of oppression in the workplace would ultimately teach and flip her audience’s expectations of who really does work in the business world.
“Sex sells.” This is a phrase that is ever popular in the advertising world and is used to sell products, services, and businesses alike. This strategy is usually seen as effective, but sometimes advertising companies purposefully push boundaries past what is deemed acceptable in order to evoke shock value in their viewers. In 2009, Burger King did just that with the release of an advertisement promoting their new “Super Seven Incher” burger. The advertisement had a limited release; it was only made public in Singapore, but was pulled from the market very shortly after it began circulation due to its controversial nature.
The images of the advertisement are overtly sexual and intend to depict a woman performing oral sex on the “Super Seven Incher.” The woman is the focus of the advertisement, as her profile from the neck up is shown on the left side of the ad. She is a white woman, has a blonde bob, and a face full of makeup. Her eyes are wide and her red lips are parted in an oval shape. Coming out from the right side of the page is the Super Seven Incher, aimed directly at the woman’s mouth. The advertisement is shaded darker at the corners and becomes increasingly lighter as the focus moves inwards towards the mouth and the burger. Below the image of the woman and the burger are the words “IT’LL BLOW YOUR MIND AWAY” in white, bold letters. Below the phrase is a yellow panel depicting the burger along with a drink and fries and a price of $6.25 for the whole meal. The description of the meal is in the lower right hand corner of the ad.
The target audience of this advertisement is very obviously the heterosexual male and it is supposed to be viewed through the framework of the male gaze. The sexual nature of the image is attention grabbing and conveys the message that by eating the Super Seven Incher, they will receive as much gratification as they would from receiving oral sex. By depicting the act in this way, the ad is designed to create a fantasy for heterosexual males, which can be fulfilled by eating this burger. Eating this burger will make heterosexual males happier, more satisfied, and more appealing to women, according to the ad.
Depicting the woman in the advertisement in such a hyper-feminine way insinuates that the woman’s sole purpose in the advertisement is to provide pleasure and act as a sexual object. Creators of the ad specifically used a young white woman with bright red lips and blonde hair, characteristics that are routinely associated with sex appeal, to target their audience. Although the advertisement was released in Singapore, the woman is white which reinforces the westernized beauty ideals that we see across most media. By portraying the woman in this way, the ad creators have established that this is what a “real woman” should look like and this is how she should act. The woman is submissive to the man and his desires (as represented by the burger) and the ad links her femininity to sexual objectification. Sex sells, but usually only if it is in a heteronormative way. If the roles had been reversed and an image was insinuating that a male was performing oral sex on a female, the reactions would have been different. People would have been taken aback by the overt sexuality, since a male gratifying female sexual desires is not something often portrayed in contemporary media. The same goes for if a woman was illustrated performing oral sex on a woman, a man on another man, or any other combination of gender identifications.
The imagery of the advertisement is extremely sexual and this is furthered by the use of language surrounding the ad. The name of the burger itself, the “Super Seven Incher,” has nothing to do with the taste appeal of the burger. It does not describe what is on the burger or its quality, but instead describes the length of the burger. This burger length is a not so subtle reference to male genitalia, adding to the visualization of the sexual image that is portrayed. In the quote under the burger, the words “IT’LL BLOW” are larger than the rest of the words on the page, immediately catching the viewer’s attention. Slang terms for performing oral sex are “blowing” or “giving a blow job,” so the use of this specific language was no accident. The most glaring use of language to conjure up sexual images was in the description of the burger in the lower right hand corner of the advertisement. The advertisement tells its audience to “Fill your desire with something long, juicy, and flame grilled” and “Yearn for more after you taste the mind blowing burger” Both of these particular quotes describe the burger, but they do so in a way that expresses the longing and need of the heterosexual male to have his desires fulfilled. The “yearning” and “desire” that is expressed can refer to the male’s need for sexual gratification, but can also refer to the female’s desire “for more,” not in reference to the burger, but alluding to it as a representation of male genitalia. Using the images along with the specific choice of words furthers the message of the advertisement and adds to its shock value.
Although the ad was removed from the market, it was successful in the regard that its shock value made it widely circulated and talked about. It successfully perpetuated the image of traditional gender roles and used sexual imagery to maintain heteronormativity. Its purpose was to push boundaries, spark conversation, and evoke a strong emotional response from its viewers, whether it was one of desire or disgust. By this ad fulfilling its purpose, Burger King got the publicity that it wanted, a publicity that has lasted longer than they could have imagined.
Stransky, Tanner. “Burger King’s Super Seven Incher Ad: Subtlety Is Dead.” EW.com. N.p., 24 June 2009. Web.
In recent years, Justin Bieber has become one of the world’s top celebrities with the expansion of his singing and modeling career. Beliebers (as Justin’s dedicated fans call themselves) keep up with all the latest news and gossip regarding Justin’s life, relationships, and, of course, the most current songs. When most fans think of this pop music icon, the words “handsome,” “sexy,” “stylish,” “friendly,” and “cool” may come to mind. However, “sexual predator” should possibly be added to this list of favorable words. When Justin Bieber released his hit single “What Do You Mean?” in 2015, it became the fastest single record to reach number one on iTunes (Lyons). Though a catchy beat, “What Do You Mean?” promotes rape culture through masculine dominance in the heterosexual relationship portrayed through the lyrics as well as contradictory actions and gestures throughout the music video.
Rape culture is a term coined in the 1970s by feminists in the United States as a tool to “show the ways in which society blamed victims of sexual assault and normalized male sexual violence” (What is Rape Culture?). In her book Transforming a Rape Culture, Emilie Buchwald defines rape culture as “a complex set of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women” (What is Rape Culture?). Though many view sexual assault and rape as predominately a masculine act that disproportionally affects women, as education has progressed, the belief has evolved to include the fact that it can happen to anyone regardless of gender identity. Along with the progression of sex education, the law has changed to encompass different aspects of sexual assault. Today, the law provides strict guidelines for the definition of rape, but rape culture has normalized this sexual violence in society through passively condoning rape. In terms of the law, lack of explicit verbal consent to any sexual act means that the sexual act is rape, which is a federal crime. However, pop culture often normalizes and victim-blames sexual violence through sexual objectification of women in music, movies, advertising, and TV shows.
Specifically exploring the lyrics of Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?” reveals of the promotion of rape culture. From the beginning of the song and throughout the chorus, Justin Bieber asks “What do you mean?” then proceeds with, “When you nod your head yes, but you wanna say no. What do you mean?” (Levy, Boyd, Bieber). Here lies the main problem in the lyrics: lack of consent. Though Justin uses this lack of consent to create sexual tension, it emphasizes women’s sexual indecision, which is a key component of rape culture. Rape culture simplifies this process of consent, letting one partner dominate the decision. Portrayed as the “good guy” on the surface level, Justin Bieber works to figure out what the woman actually wants. Just as Justin exemplifies, rape culture depicts the everyday, average guy as the “good guy” so that there is no way he could possibly be thought of as a rapist (Bridges, Pascoe). This ideology can then lead to the perpetuation of “playing hard to get” in order to earn the affection of a potential mate. The “game” of “playing hard to get” steers further into dangerous waters as it not only establishes the belief that “no” can equal “yes” in the journey of pursuit, but commends those who ignore consent. As non-verbal language becomes prioritized over verbal language, misinterpretation of meaning becomes more common, further promoting rape culture (Redkar). This tactic and use of non-verbal cues contrary to verbal language becomes a key component of Justin Bieber’s music video subsequently discussed.
Later in the song, Bieber states, “you’re so indecisive of what I’m saying,” (Levy, Boyd, Bieber). Not only does this statement not make sense grammatically, but it also adds a harsh stigma to female indecision. Often, this sense of indecision and hesitancy occurs in an uncomfortable or precarious situation as a personal warning sign to proceed with caution. In this situation, the woman experiences indecision due to Bieber’s dominant sexual actions as well as consistent pressure for her to make up her mind. Just like the woman in the music video, women are allowed to be indecisive about sexual activities and this indecisiveness should be a red light for their partner to let them have their space to figure out what they personally want to do. This does become dangerous, as Bieber exemplifies, when the partner takes it upon him or herself to determine what the other is thinking. Bieber’s lyrics make it seem that unwanted sexual actions or misinterpretations are the fault of the women because she was not clear what she wanted, adding “Better make up your mind” and “You’re so confusing” (Levy, Boyd, Bieber). He pressures her into making a decision as “we’re running out of time” (Levy, Boyd, Bieber). Though she clearly is sending him mixed signals about her true feelings, he forces her into a decision, once again telling her “Better make up your mind” (Levy, Boyd, Bieber). Due to her indecision, Bieber makes the decision for her and assumes that since they’ve had sex before, she wants to have it again: “Wanna argue all day, make love all night” (Levy, Boyd, Bieber). However, sex is not black and white, like Bieber depicts; people are allowed to engage in some sexual activities without going all the way to sex every time and to discontinue activities at any point. Further, in this lyric, Bieber sexualizes female aggression by linking arguing to sex, romanticizing a toxic relationship dynamic. This suggests that rather than being seen as mutually exclusive, conflict and intimacy are both key components of an ideal relationship. By normalizing violence and conflict within this idealized relationship dynamic, Bieber’s music video endorses another aspect of rape culture.
Justin Bieber’s music video for “What Do You Mean?” continues to promote rape culture by hiding the lyrical meaning through contradictory actions and gestures. The video’s broader narrative framework expands the meaning of rape culture, starting from the beginning of the music video. The scene of the video opens with a dark, stormy night as Justin Bieber and John Leguizamo stand outside a motel. Justin hands John money, making him promise “the girl won’t get hurt,” but John, handing Justin a lighter, replies, “you play with fire, you might just get burnt.” Later in the video, it is discovered that Justin is paying for the fake kidnapping of the woman he meets in the motel room and him. The screen then flashes to the motel room with a woman waiting as a clock begins ticking, immediately creating the tension and pressure surrounding the impending situation. The woman then answers the door to Justin, instantly sexually drawn to him. As the video progresses with on and off sexual intimacy between Justin and the woman, the tension builds. Soon after, they are both taken by men in masks, tied up, and driven to a warehouse in the trunk of a car. At the warehouse, Justin is able to use the lighter, given to him by his kidnapper, to burn the ropes and escape. Here, they run to a door on one of the top floors, which leads to outside. As the pressure builds, the music suddenly stops; Justin holds out his hand and turns to her saying, “Trust me. Do you trust me? Take my hand.” Breathing heavily, she takes his hand and they jump out of the building, landing on huge air-pillows in the middle of a party. As the “kidnappers” take off their masks smiling, the woman discovers it was all a trick, grabbing Justin and kissing him as they begin to dance (JustinBieberVEVO).
From the beginning of the video, the woman is immediately sexually drawn to Justin Bieber, contrary to what the lyrics imply. The video content works to conceal the content of the lyrical connotations, a common theme in encouraging rape culture (Bridges, Pascoe). The woman does not appear to be bothered by Bieber’s demands and questions, going along with all he wants her to do and again acting contradictory to the lyrics. In the lyrics of the song, the woman seems unsure of her feelings as she “nods” her “head yes,” but she wants to “say no” (Levy, Boyd, Bieber). However, the video makes it clear that she is sexual attracted to Justin and wants to be intimate with him as she immediately grabs him as he enters the motel room. Her actions make it appear as a normality for women to abide by the demands of a man, not questioning their own feelings or desires; masculinity is, therefore, equated with power in a heteronormative relationship.
The story line of the music video is a key element used to take away from the lyrical connotations and indecision. The broadened narrative throughout the music video does not at all tell the story of the lyrics from the song. The lyrics create this tension surrounding the pressure on the woman to be intimate with Justin and his frustration with her indecisiveness. However, Justin Bieber’s scheme throughout the video is just a test of her trust: a ploy to get her to make a decision about their relationship and to earn her trust so that she will have sex with him. This terrorizing view of romance, contrary to the rape culture influences, is not the way to go about love. Rape culture portrays violence as pleasurable and desirable in a relationship. This creates the view as the masculine figure in a relationship as the protector. Once again, equating masculinity with power.
Though a common cultural icon, Justin Bieber is a key contributor to the promotion of rape culture in society today. The lyrics to as well as the music video for his recent hit “What Do You Mean?” encourages masculine dominance and violence against women in heterosexual relationships through lyrical connotations, actors’ actions, and setting. Rape culture not only creates the problem of sexualized power within relationships, but supports heteronormative relationships. In a rapidly changing culture regarding gender and sexuality, this constructs yet another barrier to breaking down norms. Justin Bieber is just one example of the countless celebrities encouraging rape culture, further enforcing the monolithic ideology behind heteronormativity.
Bridges, Tristan, and C.J. Pascoe. “Pop Music, Rape Culture, and the Sexualization of Blurred Lines.” Feminist Reflections. The Society Pages, 12 Nov. 2015. Web. 06 Sept. 2016.
JustinBieberVEVO. “Justin Bieber – What Do You Mean?” YouTube. YouTube, 30 Aug. 2015. Web. 06 Sept. 2016.
Levy, Mason, Jason Boyd, and Justin Bieber. “What Do You Mean? – Justin Bieber.” Google Play Music. Warner/Chappell, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group, n.d. Web. 06 Sept. 2016.
Lyons, Sofia. “How ‘What Do You Mean’ Promotes Rape Culture.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 04 Sept. 2015. Web. 05 Sept. 2016.
Redkar, Nikita. “4 Reasons Why Telling Women to ‘Play Hard to Get’ Perpetuates Rape Culture.” Everyday Feminism Magazine. Everyday Feminism, 30 Nov. 2015. Web. 11 Sept. 2016.
As an alternative to the Grant Proposal assignment, Caroline Okel, Vance Graves, Felicia Zi, and Collin Epstein created a poster for the Sex Positivity Fair hosted by 1972, ‘a group at Davidson College focused on gender expression on campus and issues affecting women’, according to their Facebook page. We chose to examine virginity as a social construct, hoping to start a conversation with attendees at the fair about how they experience virginity. We researched information on four topics related to virginity that caught our interest, and provided sticky notes and pens so that those who came to the fair could respond to our poster by adding their thoughts to it.
One of the topics that we were interested in exploring for our poster was the comparison between the expectation that people have for losing their virginity versus the experience that they actually have. As Hanne Blank describes in her book Virgin: The Untouched History, we are able to define virginity without describing its loss. She recognizes that we “speak of virginity loss rather than virginity itself… [because] virginity is because it ends” (Blank 96-97). Their definitely is a fascination with the topic of “the first time,” especially in a college setting, but we have noticed that for most people we know, the first time was not all what it is cracked up to be. For example, in Laura M. Carpenter’s Virginity Loss, she interviews people about their stories of losing their virginity. As Bryan Meyers summarizes in her book, “It was just so unbelievable that this, like, this thing you talk about your life is actually happening. And honestly, I think that… it’s not as, like, as mind-blowing as you expect it to be” (Carpenter 72). Therefore, we asked individuals to answer questions about their expectations that they have for their first time or that they had prior to their first time. We found that those who had not lost their virginity expressed desire for a first time with someone they loved and that they feel comfortable with. When actually discussing the first time, the sticky notes expressed more of a feeling of less than ideal conditions such as disappointment, a lack of feeling changed by the experience, and awkwardness. One person simply answered “NO” when asked if it met their expectations. This portion aimed to shed light on the fact that the first time may not be a romantic, life-changing moment like the virginity loss scenes portrayed in popular movies like Titanic and The Notebook and that this is perfectly okay.
A topic that was initially a starting point for conversation in our group was the definition of virginity. We were interested in social and cultural constructions of virginity, and the myth of the hymen was something we discussed and included in our poster, with the main takeaway being that no medical definition exists for what constitutes virginity. One of the open-ended questions we asked on the poster read, “How do you define virginity?” People posted a variety of answers, demonstrating that different individuals defined virginity differently, and that virginity had a different value for every individual. An answer that we found particularly striking was, “IT ISN’T REAL.” Our group also discussed stigmas and double standards surrounding the idea of virginity, such as social perceptions of male versus female virginities. We included a few memes from pop culture films to demonstrate these double standards, and people seemed to find them not only amusing, but relatable. A female responded to the question, “How did your parents influence your views?” with, “My parents taught me that virginity is purity. I should wait until marriage.” Another female responded with, “Same!”, demonstrating that these gendered perceptions still exist in today’s society. Given that most of the posts were anonymous, it was difficult to find connections between people’s answers and their gender, but the clear variety of answers demonstrated that virginity meant something different for everyone. Ultimately, our group was pleasantly surprised with the amount of people willing and eager to participate in the open-ended questions. It was interesting to generate conversation about a topic that is not normally discussed in everyday conversation and read what people had to say about it.
Another one of the topics we researched for our poster on virginity as a social construct is virginity in the LGBT* Community. We examined how views towards virginity differ between the straight and LGBT* communities. For example, it is often debated as to whether or not lesbian women can actually lose their virginities. This belief stems from the idea that one cannot have sex without the involvement of a penis. In order to change how we look at virginity in the LGBT* community, we need to change how we look at sex. Perhaps we, as a society, view things from a very heteronormative viewpoint. This is due to compulsory heterosexuality, a concept put forth by Adrienne Rich in “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” (1980). With this concept, it is believed that for most people, straight is the default sexuality. This view is very constricting when it comes to looking at how we view sex, and therefore the construct of virginity. Because we asked questions about what people believe to be sex, it was interesting to see whether or not Davidson students would comply with compulsory heterosexuality when answering questions. Interestingly enough, many of the students who answered questions about what they believe sex to be, left gender out of their answer, like when one student wrote that, “Sex is when two or more people have intimate relations with their sexual organs.” Another student just defined sex as, “when all parties orgasm.” It appears that these students took away something from our poster, or perhaps already came with thought that that when we discuss sex, we need to be more inclusive of other sexual orientations and gender identity.
We also explored historical and cultural representations of virginity in our poster. Historically, virgins have been represented in Western cultures in a series of narrow roles: women as pillars of virtue, men as pathetic or eccentric, and both as holy or deified. Cultural images of virgins contribute to what Barbara Risman refers to as “gender as structure” at the “interactional level of analysis: cultural expectations” in her essay Gender as Structure. These images are crucially dependent on a very heteronormative definition and expectation of gender.
Female virgins in history are usually portrayed as exceptionally virtuous, usually because of their virgin status (ex: Queen Elizabeth I). Culturally, virginal leaders garnered more respect as virgins, perhaps because of their apparent rejection of men.
On the other hand, men are typically portrayed as pathetic losers (ex: Steve Carrell in the 40-Year-Old-Virgin) or as eccentric geniuses (ex: rumors about Sir Isaac Newton). In either case, the attitude in which these men are viewed is a sort of bemused surprise. In contrast to women, the expected state for men is as not a virgin. However, failure to conform is not regarded as deeply shameful for men as it is for women.
The role both men and women have filled as virgins has been as holy people (ex: Joan of Arc, St. Augustine) and as deities. However, even as deities, male and female virgins are represented very differently. There are vastly more female virgin goddesses in Western traditions (ex: Artemis, Athena, the Virgin Mary) than male virgin gods (Jesus). Additionally, the implications for male and female people differ in that all women are implicitly expected to be Mary, but no/few men are held to the standard of Jesus.
It is important to understand that our telling of history is an important component of how we construct our culture. The clear dichotomy between male and female virginity represented in our culture reinforces the concept of “compulsory heterosexuality” that Adrienne Rich describes in her essay Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence. Learning about how virginity has been understood and portrayed historically allows us to understand virginity as a social construct, and puts the responses of students who reacted to our poster into a wider cultural and historical perspective.