Token: Chelsea Manning Talk

Sitting in the Lilly Gallery, hearing Chelsea Manning speak made me want to throw my phone across the room. Manning discussed how technology has gotten so good at understanding what we view as innately human, which made my spine crawl and my leg violently shake. While I have been exposed to and heard about the power of artificial intelligence in controlling our battles, Manning talked about how technology can predict our actions, which made me feel like freedom is really subjective. Manning pushed the idea that while in 2010, her leaking of information was critical in helping transparency, the issue we face now is having too much news available to the public, to the point where it’s hard to distinguish misinformation, disinformation, and what is reality. Culture is controlled by technology, which is all ruled by capitalism.

However, having the awareness that this is our reality provides hope. Manning talked about the importance of building coalitions. From her years in the US’s unjust prison systems, she recognized the importance of working together and intersectionality, a topic we talked about in GSS this term, to help break this negative feedback loop that technology has placed us in. She spoke of the absurdity of having solely one cause to be passionate about when everything intersects. The way Manning encouraged intersectional action was aligned with the ideas we learned about in class as well as through readings such as hooks. 

During the Q&A section of the talk, the last question that was asked of Manning was, “What advice would you give young activists?” Manning’s answer was what stuck with me as she said something along the lines of “You guys don’t need any advice from us; all I can give is encouragement.” I thought this answer was insightful and spoke to her support of young voices.

Feminine Mix-Tape of “Prom Queen” by Beach Bunny

The song “Prom Queen” was released on August 10th, 2018 by Lili Trifilio, who uses the name Beach Bunny, for her band. Trifilio began releasing music on her own in 2015, and began releasing music with her current band in 2017. None of Beach Bunny’s previous songs had reached 50 million streams on Spotify, but Prom Queen was a breakthrough. As of April 27th, 2022 the song has 218,116,371 streams, more than quadrupling her previous songs! 

The song addresses common teenage struggles of wanting to be thin, in general, and in this instance for the upcoming dance, prom. Trifilio sings about the social pressures of being thin, and placing too much weight on the actual weight of yourself. The song blew up on Tiktok, which is no coincidence considering Tiktok is a social media platform by majority used by the teenager/young adult community. The song resonated with many teenage users, who posted videos relating to the lyrics. The sound has been used 105,200 times as of April 27th, 2022.

Trifilio starts the song out with the line: “Shut up, count your calories” already alluding to her struggling with body images. As the song progresses, we get more detail, “Wish I was like you, blue-eyed blondie, perfect body” and “I was never cut out for prom queen” she explains how she isn’t stick thin so the public would never choose her to be prom queen. 

@harleysinthehouse

why can’t i be perfect like soooo many other people. it’s not fair. no matter how hard i try

♬ Prom Queen – Beach Bunny
This is just one example of the many Tiktoks, of teenagers relating to these body confidence issues.

She then starts talking about how she feels like she has to be thin for boys to like her. She expresses that through the lines “If I’m pretty, will you like me?” Following with “They say, “Beauty makes boys happy”. This is a common and such a sad societal norm that I think directly connects to the Fat studies we did towards the end of February. Specifically, the conversation we had in class relating to the Jezebel article about the history of deodorants and how it relates to diets. 

Just like advertisements made women feel like they had to wear deodorant to be attractive, and appeal to sexual partners, advertisements and media have done the same thing for body weight. The advertisers have invented a problem, not being stick-thin, in order to sell products, such as diet meal plans, or waist trainers, but in doing so, they’ve made a profitable income but also damaged our generation and so many to come. Teenagers are reached within the song prom queen, but people of all ages are so concerned with being thin in order to attract a partner, when in reality, by feeding into this, we are letting the advertisers win and profit.

Trifilio closes out the song talking about how she is starving herself and the final lines read “They say beauty is pain, you’ll only be happy if you look a certain way. I wanna be ok. I wanna be ok”. Trifilio wants to be comfortable in her own skin so badly, but because society tells her she must look a certain way, she is unsatisfied.

Lili, Trifilio. “Beach Bunny- Prom Queen (Official Video).” Youtube, Beach Bunny, December 31, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dc6SSu5pnHw.

Kot, Greg. “Meet Chicago’s Newest Rising Band Beach Bunny.” Chicago Tribune, 5 Feb. 2020, https://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/music/greg-kot/ct-ent-beach-bunny-0209-20200206-te2hfolpy5hxtaa3cei3st7gru-story.html.

Book Review- “Her Stories”

What comes to mind when you hear the words “soap opera”? Grey’s Anatomy? One Tree Hill? Jane the virgin? Whichever show you thought of, you probably thought of a modern example in the genre. But have you ever stepped back and wondered about the history behind the genre? Or what role does it play in society? If you’re anything like me, the answer is no! Even after binge-watching all eighteen seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. Yes, eighteen full seasons, never once did I stop and think about the impact a soap opera could have. Whether you answered yes or no, but especially if you answered yes, I recommend you read the book Her Stories, by Elana Levine! She spent twelve years researching and connecting pieces of soap opera history in order to grasp and explain the effect of how soaps influence the role of women, and how it affects society.

In a three-part book Levine gives a very informative, yet extremely interesting explanation of the impact of soaps. As the author herself puts it: “Her Stories is a history of the US daytime television soap opera as a gendered cultural form and a central force in the economic and social power of American broadcast network television from the late 1940s through the 2010s” (4). She believes that social identities and changes in television were heavily influenced by soap operas. She works to prove her points by exploring developments and trends in media and society depending on the time period and current events.

Elana Levine grew up in Chicago Illinois. She attended Indiana University and received her Bachelor’s in English and Telecommunications in 1992. She then moved on to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to earn her Masters in Communication Arts in 1997. Next, she remained at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to earn her Ph.D. in Communication Arts in 2002. With her Ph.D., She started out as an assistant professor in the department of journalism and mass communication at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee from 2002-to 2008. She continued to work her way up and from 2016 to the current day, she is a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the department of Journalism, Advertising, and Media studies. Along the way she got married and gave birth to two sons. She currently lives with her family in Milwaukee Wisconsin. With her degrees alone, it is clear research in soap operas is her passion project, she examines how soap operas affect the past, present, and future, and reveals that soaps were her main focus of grad school, even were the focus of her thesis. Accompanying the teaching, she continues to research and write. 

The book’s introduction starts out with Levine thanking those that made her 12 years of researching and writing possible. She conducted many interviews with those currently in the daytime soap opera industry including Holly Cato, fans of the field, and past members of the industry. In addition to the interviews, the majority of her research utilized the qualitative methodology, by digging into and analyzing the archives of soap operas. In order to gain access, she connected with many universities including Northwestern and UCLA to view episodes, scripts, and summaries of soap operas. With that, she also utilized the quantitative methodology through graphs and images to further her points. After describing the early technique of superimpositions to show a character’s state of mind, Levine shows an image of an example in the show Search for Tomorrow (26). Additionally, she mentions every soap opera she cites an exact episode, she has seen it (as opposed to reading a script or summary). She watched many episodes, and seasons of shows and this book also contains interpretations of her own, along with those discussed with colleagues, in a more casual style than an interview.

Part one consists of chapters one and two and stretches through the time period of 1940-1960, known as the post-World War II era. Chapter one explains the transitions of soap operas being streamed on the radio onto the television, where we now enjoy them. She takes us through popular trends for the time period, as networks were learning how to film this type of a show. The progression was astounding. Beginning with actors featured in Big Sister “standing in front of a microphone reading a script”(22), and amounting to visual storytelling effects, such as reaction shots used to “mimic characters’ states of mind”(26). Chapter two zeros in on the role of soap operas, and how they began to make gender assumptions. When tv programs began to be used instead of radios, tv stations feared that divorces would increase because women wouldn’t be able to get their work done around the house. That being said, “white, middle class, suburban homemaker”(45) women were their targeted audience. They created soap operas to entertain this crowd and succeeded in offering a therapeutic element into these women’s lives, by having characters that related to the struggles of post-war life for women.

Part two consists of chapters three through five and takes us through the peak of soap opera economic and cultural power. The period covered spans from the mid-1960s to the 1980s. Chapter three goes into detail about how much popularity soaps had gained, because of this more and more networks started broadcasting and airing soaps. By the beginning of the 1960s, soaps had earned their permanent spot on television (vs. being a Radioshow). The audience still targeted the wealthy white woman housewife, but in chapter four we see heavy shifts. Chapter four demonstrates, how with the power soaps held they could now experiment with more than just housewife struggles. Starting out as a subtle, yet notable change, the Soap General Hospital in the 1960s goes into detail about the lives of Jessie and her husband Dr. Phil, with their marital problems both at home and in the hospital, their shared workplace. Female characters “no longer to be confined to the sphere of home and family” (107). As this show was successful, among others expanding women outside of the home, channels started incorporating more current social issues, such as reproductive drama, “stories about pregnancies wanted and unwanted, term and aborted” (120). Another big shift is in the 1960’s women’s sexual desire became much more explicit and shared through soap operas. All of these shifts had a huge impact on society, making women watching these networks feel heard, and their struggles normalized, soap operas now show women are more than just stay-at-home housewives. 

Finally, chapter five focuses on the peak of soap opera culture in the 1980’s and prefaces the downfall. With peak popularity, the audience had clearly broadened to more than housewives. “Male fans included shift workers home during the day, corporate types taking lunch at men’s club, college professors and professional athletes with flexible work schedules” (157). Eventually, soap operas began showing later at night too, so that the audience was not constrained to only those with schedules allowing them to watch during the day. Students in school, elder people, and working women were all added to the audience, bringing soap operas to their absolute peak of popularity. With that increased audience, additional sponsors came in as well, making the business more profitable. Characters of color also slowly integrated into the main characters of soap operas through the trend of supercouples. Supercouples was a story that followed two lovers that were not supposed to be together due to society’s normalities. Supercouples showed couples “triumphs over structural forces” (187) such as economic equality, “class, race, and external threats” (186).  Finally, the start to decline, although the supercouples storylines were popular, they failed to keep up with changing culture and for that became unsustainable and began losing popularity towards the very end of the 1980s. 

   That beginning of the end, brings us to part three of the book which captures chapters six through eight, during the time period of the late 1980s through 2010s. Chapter six explains the struggles and eventual failures within the networks of soap operas that led to the slow decline of the industry from it’s peak of popularity. Levine blames structural instability for the main three causes of the decline. Those three causes are: “conceptions of the audience and the problem of measuring the audience, the challenge of different ownership structures and their implications for creative control, and the limitations of existing distribution system” (201). Chapter seven expands upon the ways the industry of soap operas tried to save itself, and bring viewers back. They tried to incorporate new techniques hoping to expand their audience once again. Aesthetic experimentation such as the integration of music video style performances were thrown in as a final effort to appeal to younger audiences. Unfortunately, the soap operas only received temporary rise in viewership and then back to a steady decline. Despite producers’ best efforts, by the late 2000s “a wave of cancellations… had drastically shrunken the business” (234). Lastly, chapter eight explains more efforts to make the business as successful as it once was but failing. By 2012 the soap opera cancellations had come to a close and only four daytime soaps remained on air. To end the book, Levine brings us almost up to current day, 2020, and says that there is limited space for soaps nowadays when the traditional housewife was the long thought of natural viewer. Women are not all housewives that have open periods in the middle of the day to watch as they please. The industry of course isn’t dead! But nowhere near where it was 40 years ago.

One element Levine did to make this book more enjoyable was her descriptions of soap opera scenes. When I originally read the introduction of the book to get a glimpse as to what I was about to read, Levine went into depth about all the soaps she’s seen, read about, studied archives of, and the line: “Indeed my analysis is rooted in part in my own personal archive, episodes I haved saved to videotape, DVD, or digital format over decades” (14) made me uneasy. My knowledge on early soap operas was so limited, and I had sure not seen any myself. I feared this book was going to be using analogies, comparisons and examples from shows I’d never seen and I’d be lost and missing the main points of the research. This was not the case. Levine did a spectacular job of giving just the right amount of information/plot summary to the readers so that I was not overwhelmed, confused, or getting hung up on unnecessary details. I felt all her examples of past soap operas were well thought out and explained clearly to further her points and argument.

One element that I think Levine could have improved on is sentence structure. This is a nitpicky type of critique because I honestly loved the content of this book. I thought all of her points were well stated and all backed up with evidence easy to understand. That being said, when I am reading or writing I try to vary my sentence length. Sometimes, shorter sentences are needed. When there is continuous paragraphs of long, detailed, descriptive sentences it is really tiresome for the reader and easy to lose focus. My English teacher from this semester said: “Varying sentence length is how you distinguish between a good writer and a great writer”. That goes to say, I do think Levine is a great writer. She also packs in about 70 years of soap opera history, and 12 years of research into 298 pages of content, so it is understandable for it to be necessary to have long detailed sentences often. 

In conclusion, this book is relevant for anyone and everyone to read. Levine takes an everyday media, soap opera, something we are all familiar with and have an understanding of, and does a deep dive. That common understanding does an excellent job of enticing and making the material relevant in to all audiences. In addition to giving a summary of soap operas, she explains the unrealized takeaways weaved into the storylines. Recognizing and understanding when these biases are being pushed onto you is so important when forming opinions. Additionally, I could not summarize everything, there are far more fascinating trends and interesting details following the progression of soap operas (especially in chapter four) that had to be left out. That being said, Levine has an expansive vocabulary, that may be difficult to get through for younger audiences, I’d say it’s a great read for anyone 13+. In other words, go read this book!

Levine, Elana. Her Stories: Daytime Soap Opera & US Television History. Duke U.P., 2020. 

Feminist MixTape: “enough for you” by Olivia Rodrigo

If you ever feel the need to go for a drive and cry about how much the patriarchy sucks, listen to “enough for you” by Olivia Rodrigo. Olivia Rodrigo is a singer, songwriter, and actress. She blessed the world with “enough for you” in 2021, as part of her album, Sour, which also presents several feminist perspectives. I particularly recommend listening to the final song, “hope ur ok,” as it reaches out to the LGBTQ+ community through its discussion of abuse, sexual orientation, and acceptance. 

The first way that Olivia Rodrigo instills feminist beliefs in “enough for you” is through the theme that she, as a woman, felt as though she did something wrong or was flawed and that is why she is experiencing a breakup. This feeling of self-hate is obvious in the lyrics, “You found someone more exciting The next second, you were gone And you left me there cryin’, wonderin’ what I did wrong…”. When listening to this song, it reminds me of the book I read for the book review, The Tragedy of Heterosexuality by Jane Ward. I sense a similarity between this song and that book because of its connections with the misogyny paradox. Essentially, the misogyny paradox asserts that boys’ and men’s desire for girls and women is expressed in a society that simultaneously encourages them to hate girls and women. This is evident in everyday life through men’s practices of abuse, mansplaining, and disrespect towards women (Ward 35-38). Olivia Rodrigo’s lyrics demonstrate the harmful effects that the misogyny paradox has on women. Specifically, it leads to negative thoughts in which women think that they are at fault for men’s poor treatment of them. In reality, women have done nothing wrong and this is a flaw of the patriarchy. 

Olivia Rodrigo also presents the societal expectation that women should be responsible to beautify and improve themselves to be “acceptable” to men. The artist sings, “I wore makeup when we dated ‘Cause I thought you’d like me more If I looked like the other prom queens I know that you loved before Tried so hard to be everything that you liked Just for you to say you’re not the compliment type…”. These lyrics remind me of the efforts by the diet and deodorant industries to exploit people’s insecurities so that they feel motivated to buy their products. A similar practice is at work in the heterosexual-repair industry, as I learned in The Tragedy of Heterosexuality by Jane Ward. Women are led to believe that they must keep their bodies “fresh” and “sexually appealing” to their male partners. Advertisers then put the strain on women to maintain their appearances to keep their partners happy (Ward 47). Olivia Rodrigo also falls victim to this harmful burden put on women. She sings about how she felt as though a romantic interest may have liked her more if she used more beauty products. 

While this song speaks to me as a straight, white woman, there may be some limitations in that the song is not inclusive of Black feminist theory and Olivia Rodrigo appears to be singing about a heterosexual relationship. While Olivia Rodrigo is unlabeled in her sexuality, she uses the term “boy,” to describe the person she is singing about. Therefore, a member of the LGBTQ+ community may feel ostracized from relating to the lyrics of “enough for you.” Furthermore, Olivia Rodrigo seems to be singing very generally about problems faced by women and does not acknowledge Black feminist theory and the increased inequity faced by Black women due to the intersectionality of their identities. 

To conclude, Olivia Rodrigo finally establishes at the end of “enough for you” that there is nothing wrong with her, she is a strong, beautiful, powerful woman. Instead, there is a problem with the patriarchy and the expectations put upon women. She demonstrates that in the following lyrics: “Yeah, you always say I’m never satisfied But I don’t think that’s true You say I’m never satisfied But that’s not me, it’s you…”. Overall, I find that this song has its most profound impact when I think about any relationships with men, whether that is professional, familial, or romantic relationships. It is in these relationships that I find myself questioning my self-worth the most and feeling as though I am never good enough. In response to that, Olivia Rodrigo reminds her audience to be kind to themselves despite patriarchal barriers. Listeners need to keep in mind that despite societal pressures and expectations, there is nothing wrong with them. 

Book Review: Pregnancy and Its Negative Images in Hollywood

Referencing the movie Twilight in a room often draws a mixed reaction. Either people are incredibly interested and ready to contribute their fan experience to the conversation, or they immediately groan and drown out any further discussion. No matter its polarizing tendencies, it is undeniable that Twilight has had a major impact as a social phenomenon. In fact, many aspects within this saga perpetuate 1940s family ideals and traditions onto the pregnant body. Kelly Oliver analyzes this film, and the films before it, in her book Knock Me Up, Knock Me Down: Images of Pregnancy in Hollywood Films, which was published in 2012. Within her book, she emphasizes how, despite pregnancy being more openly seen on television over time, Hollywood has not embraced new feminist thought, but has, instead, kept conservative family values at the forefront of heterosexual movies that depict horror, comedy, and/or romantic plots. 

Knock Me Up, Knock Me Down | Columbia University Press

Born and raised in Spokane, WA, Kelly Oliver now teaches as a philosophy professor at Vanderbilt University and has published articles about the refugee crisis, the prominence of rape on college campuses, and about women in the media for newspapers such as The New York Times. Alongside these achievements, she founded philoSOPHIA, which is a feminist philosophy journal. Born in 1958, Oliver most likely watched the developments of pregnancy on-screen throughout her adolescent years. As a young child, she would not have seen much, as the word “pregnancy” was banned on television until 1959, and women were not allowed to look pregnant for several years later (21). But, as she grew up, there would have been increasing visualizations and normalization of pregnancy on-screen; yet, with these developments came a negative side effect that Oliver explores in the rest of her book. Covering the negative representations of pregnancy in film has helped further a specific aspect of the feminist movement: pro-choice and women’s reproductive rights. By exposing how Western media present all of their characters as pro-life, which feeds into anti-abortion conservative beliefs and force excessive social pressures onto moms to be perfect, Oliver’s scholarship works against this media of influence on younger generation girls.

Using the methods of textual analysis, Oliver focuses on symbolism in shows and cinemas to decipher Hollywood’s representations of pregnancy and and women’s reproductive rights, given the prevalence there of men directors and executives. She also takes the time to chronologize pregnancy in film for us within her monograph. Starting in the early 1600s and 1700s, midwifery was transferred to male control resulting in the medicalization of pregnancy (112). This change in labor ties in with Foucalt’s understanding of male experts taking over many lines of work, and that includes midwifery. During this time, women were advised against exercise and encouraged to complete bed rest in order to not disturb the baby (24). On top of the physical restriction women had, they were told their thoughts negatively impacted the child: that mothers “corrupted by forces outside herself, which cause her to have morbidly perverse fantasies and episodes during pregnancy” had moral insanity which caused horrific and monstrous children (115). Hollywood, in this manner, greatly aligned with First-Wave Feminists who perceived women to be the educators and standard for children’s moral upbringing. Regardless, with pregnancy being seen as a private and delicate matter, pregnancy was never mentioned or shown on film. Additionally, since sex and reproduction were linked in this era, viewers would have seen pregnant characters as less pure than ideal. It is not until the popularity of birth control and the Sexual Revolution in the 1960s that we even see sex on-screen without its former ties to reproduction (66). Nevertheless, the newfound acceptance of sex opened the door for a stronger pregnancy presence in the media; to note, we can also thank Demi Moore’s 1991 nude Vanity Fair illustration for pushing more pregnancy representation as well (37). Although these progressions can be seen as beneficial, it is not without their downsides.   

Oliver demonstrates that throughout the latter of the twentieth century and early twenty-first, Hollywood has increasingly promoted unhealthy and harmful practices via pregnant characters. In one regard, Hollywood’s portrayal of white mothers in comparison to black or Latina mothers is blatantly racist. For white moms that keep an accidental pregnancy instead of aborting the fetus, they are described as “good choice makers” (100) while their black counterparts are seen as having “‘bad’ babies to ‘put on welfare’” (96). Not only is this stereotypical of socioeconomic status, but it also plays into eugenics and the belief that “educated white women have a duty to have babies because they provide the ‘best’ gene pool” (95). Thus, when Hollywood continuously enforces the idea that middle-class white women have happy endings when they have kids, they exclude the notion that women of other races and social classes can as well. But, Hollywood only supports a specific type of middle-class white woman: the ones that push back their careers in favor of building a family first. Often, career-driven women are explained as “bossy” and “racing against their biological clocks” to have children (67;93). These women’s success is blamed for their “baby hunger,” (93) and the impressionable audience is encouraged to have kids younger, else they too will be “racing against their biological clocks” for kids when they are older. In these cases, the women who are ‘too late’ and resort to IVF, are described as less-satisfied than parents with “real” babies (150). Like in the movie The Backup Plan, Hollywood again displays its conservative values by promoting traditional heterosexual relationships over assisted reproductive technologies which do not depend on a heterosexual couple to reproduce. Moreover, Hollywood also makes pregnant women the butt of its jokes in its films. From comedies’ gross-out humor about women’s excessive cravings, ‘larger-than-life’ size, and constant need to pee, movies and television that partake in these tropes consistently do not take pregnant women seriously (79). With the culmination of all these attributes, it is safe to say that the increase in pregnancy in film has not been completely positive.  

Similarly, Twilight has not contributed positive images related to pregnancy. During Bella’s birth in Twilight: Breaking Dawn, we see “the most blood we ever see…associated with birth and women’s role in reproduction” despite previous movies in the series going over vampire wars, hunts, and beheadings (196). These portrayals also reflect the view of “women’s wombs as harboring evil” since Renesmee, Bella’s child, survives by drinking her mother’s blood and ends up temporarily killing her mother in the “nightmarish” labor scene (14,195). This Othering of pregnant women and acknowledging them to be a risk to society exposes how little Hollywood understands about pregnancy and how much they can vilify their pregnancy fears, producing controlling images that shape public ideas about pregnancy. Not only are these fetuses seen as a danger and life-threatening, but knowing that Bella refused to abort the baby continues to show how Hollywood “endorse[s] family values” and disregards abortion as a proper solution to a grave issue (197). END SENTENCE 

Oliver engages feminist scholarship on the general stigmatization of pregnancy, including Julia Kristeva, Iris Young, and Simone de Beauvoir. Julia Kristeva, a French Feminist philosopher of the 1970s and 1980s, “described pregnancy and the maternal body in positive body in positive terms” (4). She and her American follower, Iris Young, do not believe that women have a biological clock and that the urgency for early pregnancy is unnecessary (6). Not only does Oliver agree with these two and that regard, but she also agrees when these two assert that pregnant bodies are not abject or gross, but desirable (21). Where Oliver disagrees with Kristeva is on the topic of assisted reproductive technology: while Kristeva goes against the “automation” of reproduction (34), Oliver values its versatility and ability for people to have kids later without worry. Another stance of disagreement comes up with the value of motherhood. While individuals like Simone de Beauvoir, who never had kids or was married, say that pregnancy “renders women docile,” Kristeva and Young do not. In this instance, Oliver takes a more neutral stance and leaves the value of pregnancy up to each individual woman. Although Oliver agrees with de Beauvoir that biology “never completely defines human beings”, she is not as extreme to believe “that women’s reproductive function limits them and prevents their true participation in the social and political spheres” (23). Another circumstance where Oliver partially agrees is with Young’s hope to “resexualize” pregnant bodies (36). Over time, as the media defined pregnant bodies to be abject and horrific, they were not sexualized and Young acknowledges that “the desexualization of the pregnant body can open up a space for ‘self-love,’” yet insists that, since “Patriarchy is founded on the border between motherhood and sexuality,” mothers should be “resexualized” (36). In this sense, Young understands men as the cause of the initial aversion over pregnant bodies, which would be why motherhood and sexuality were not previously associated. Oliver does not agree that the solution to this border is to sexualize any woman; however, she relents that pregnant women can be desirable and that a “desiring body would be liberating for women” (36). To resist the de-sexualization of pregnant women is a way for expecting mothers to take back their independence and have more control over what people should/should not say about their bodies. 

Across the board, Oliver has made her stance clear on dispositions against and for pregnant women’s bodies, but that does not mean to say she wrote the perfect book. Though her writing covers the depiction of pregnancy as abhorrent in horror films, she never includes how this may apply to transgender or gay couples too. In this book, Oliver highlights how IVF and assisted reproductive technology help older women have children, but she forgets that these same procedures also help same-sex couples or transgender couples have children as well. The failure to mention the importance of non-heterosexual couples now being able to have kids, and how that may also impact Hollywood’s opinion on these procedures, is unfortunate. However, it is important to note that this book was published in 2012; as a result, some of the LGBTQ+ considerations we have now were not as common then. Still, Oliver was successful in other domains of intersectionality. By including examples of Latin and black moms in film, she put the attention away from the typical middle-class, white mom we usually see and recognizes how racism and classism are still prominent issues within Hollywood–and that includes their pregnancy movies. But, the focus solely on live-action films limits her piece. Mentioning other types of media, such as animation, could have also breached how the lack of pregnancy in these genres represents Hollywood’s unwillingness to have pregnant characters–who are impure in Hollywood’s conservative mindset–shown to the younger audiences that consume animated films. Nonetheless, Oliver has done an incredible job in defining and outlining the portrayal of pregnancy in the media across multiple decades. Her book and the scholarship it provides would be a strong resource for any film producers or avid movie-watchers who want to properly and accurately understand how what we see on screen about reproduction does not correlate to the realities of pregnancy today.

    Book Review: Legalizing Sex: Sexual Minorities, AIDS, and Citizenship in India 

  

“Legalizing sex” by Chaitanya  Lakkimsetti reflects the everyday struggle, difficulties, and discrimination faced by the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Kothi Hijara (LGBTQKHI) Community, on the social, political, and economic level in India. It presents the conservative, discriminative and unwelcoming culture of the LGBTQKHI community in India. Lakkimsetti introduces a new term “LGBTQKHI “instead of the renowned term “LGBTQ” where she includes men who have sex with men, the Kothi, and the hijra (MSMKHI), marginalized sex workers neglected by the government. Lakkimsetti effectively portrays the reality and the constant struggles of the transgender, sex workers, and the gay community in fighting for their rights and class in society. 

Lakkimsetti questions the ghettoization of sexual minorities in India. She questions the position of sexual minorities in society by presenting the everyday struggles of the sexual minorities. She collaborates with the LGBTQKHI community, several organizations, and the government to promote equal protection, control the pandemic, and fight for the rights of the marginalized sexual minorities. She reflects on the unsupportive government, its sardonic anti-homophobic laws, and a discriminative society in marginalization and stigmatization of the LGBTQKHI community. Her research and surveys around various parts of India such as New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai gather the data on sexual minorities that reflects the reality of the discrimination in civil, political, social, and economic rights of LTBTQKHI people in India.  

She also reflects on the boorish nature of the government and how the pandemic shifted the position of sexual minorities in India. Sexual minorities once discriminated against and marginalized by the Indian government come to attention as “high risk “groups to combat HIV/AIDS to create an effective response in the mid-1980s. This book reflects on how unsupportive government, homophobic laws, and discriminative society have led to several social, political, and economic barriers to sexual minorities. Such barriers have left them with no choice but to fight for social, political, and basic civil and political rights demanded by the state government of India. It reflects the heterosexist perspective of society as demands and protests by the sexual minorities for their right results in shock to the government with how previously stigmatized and marginalized groups could stand up for themself and make demands.  

Chaitanya Lakkimsetti is a professor specializing in gender, sexuality, law, and citizenship. She is renowned for her studies in sexual and gender inequalities in a global context using transnational and intersectional approaches. Her expertise in the field of gender inequality has contributed to her book “Legalizing sex” where she successfully addresses the demand for political and legal change by the gender minorities in India. Her wider extended research on the sexual minorities in contemporary India has highlighted the contemporary struggle for social and political justice in relation to the anti-sodomy. She provides a social and political approach to ending the injustice and suppression of sexual minorities legally.  

The first chapter reflects on how sexual minorities are drawn into the category of “high-risk group” to develop a strategic approach to control the HIV/ AIDS pandemic. After the first detection of HIV/AIDS on sexual minorities, they are taken into serious consideration as a threat, blamed, hatred, and even punishment. The same marginalized group is later given a leadership position in combating the pandemic by the Indian government. The second chapter – “Challenging bare life” emphasizes abuse and incessant violence especially arbitrary police violence supported by the criminal laws against sexual minorities. It presents the ways in which sexual minorities negotiate for accountability and redirects the government’s attention towards the protection of the rights of marginalized groups.  

Chapter 3 “Empowered Criminals” focuses on the mechanism of resistance as a means for negotiations with the Government regarding the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It addresses the success of sexual minorities as they become able to gain the support of several HIV/AIDS organizations and from the federal state ministry of health. This chapter elaborates on legal acts as important implications for the rights of the sexually marginalized group. Lakkimsetti successfully scrutinizes the everyday policing of the non-generated class and emphasizes the struggles of gay groups and transgender/ Hijara focusing on two judgments. Those two judgments include the Indian supreme court, the Koushal that declared section 377 constitutional, and NALSA(National legal services agency) that granted rights to transgender people. The closing chapter “Interconnected rights” presents the need for cooperation and active participation among the sexually marginalized groups for the transformation of goals of sexual minorities with a focus on a welfare discourse. It includes the success of the sexual minorities who have been protesting against section 377 for two decades and finally supreme court of India makes it unconstitutional in September 2018.  

One of the greatest strengths of this book is that it successfully presents the reality of the constant struggles and fights for legal change by the sexual minorities in India. Through her experiments, research, interviews, and collaboration with several organizations is able to reflect on several homophobic laws, discrimination, and homophobic society resulting in discrimination, unfairness, and harassment of sexual minorities not only in India but in the entire world. She mostly emphasizes the homophobic laws in chapter two with how Such laws freely consigned sexual minorities to death by depriving resources and made it extremely harder for the sexual minorities to stand up for their right and place. She portrayed that such violence reveals the internal contradictions in the Indian government, the cusp of the juridical and biopower. She not only includes the difficulties and the suffocation of sexual minorities but also points out some success and positive changes that took place after the mid-1980s after the HIV/AIDS pandemic, a global issue. For example, in chapter one, she includes the repeal of section 377 in 2009, which marks a significant history for sexual minorities as a victory in a legal battle for their social, political, and economic rights.  

Despite some positive changes and success, she presents the reality of how the homophobic perspective of society remained the same, and they are still marginalized and stigmatized in today’s modern world. Although the author effectively communicates the struggle and reality and their oppression of LGBTQKHI people, it does not provide a fully comprehensive account of minorities such as lesbians and bisexual people. She emphasizes more on the Gay, transgender, hijra leaving behind bisexuals and lesbian community. Such has left a small room with not much understanding of the reality of bisexual and lesbian people and their struggle and class in society. It would be better if she had emphasized including all the sexual minorities in the category of the LGBTQKHI community and not just Gay, transgender, and sex workers. 

Overall, its intersectional nature provides the deep root stigma, discrimination, and struggles associated with the marginalized sections. The author does an excellent job as she helps us understand how activism can influence and change the different political discourses and the dominant politics in bringing positive legal change. She emphasizes how active cooperation, active participation, and fighting for a change play a vital role in achieving a goal. The book successfully presents the existence of discriminatory and biased laws against sexual minorities and encourages its views to thrive for a change and fight for rights and equality. I would highly recommend anyone interested in the field of sexuality read this book. 

Reference:

Legalizing Sex: Sexual Minorities, AIDS, and Citizenship in India, Chaitanya  Lakkimsetti , 2020

Book Review: The Tragedy of Heterosexuality by Jane Ward

Cultural propaganda, sexual assault, incest, compulsory marriage, economic dependence, control of children, and domestic violence; are the only possible reasons a woman would remain in a heterosexual relationship. As a straight woman and having had conversations with other straight women, these reasons are evident in every heterosexual relationship I have come across. Jane Ward in The Tragedy of Heterosexuality explores the societal expectations and pressures of the patriarchy upon heterosexuality and the heterosexual-repair industry that desperately attempts to mend these broken relationships. In addition, as a lesbian, in her book, she describes the sadness she feels upon witnessing the violence, control, diminishment, and disappointment experienced by straight women. In summary, her book leaves readers wondering, are heterosexual relationships worth the toxicity of straight culture?

Jane Ward is a professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of California, Riverside. She received her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. In addition to The Tragedy of Heterosexuality, Jane Ward has written two other books: Not Gay and Respectably Queer. Her books cover a wide array of topics including, feminism, queer parenting, the racial politics of same-sex marriage, and the social construction of heterosexuality and whiteness. She currently resides in Southern California with her partner, Kat Ross. One may argue that because Jane Ward is a lesbian, she should not be making such broad claims about heterosexual women. I counter this by suggesting that a lesbian is the best person to observe and criticize heterosexual relationships and the burden they put upon women. Ward can compare the respect and fulfillment she feels in her lesbian relationship, to the stress and disrespect felt by the heterosexual women in her life.

As a white woman, one aspect lacking from The Tragedy of Heterosexuality is the expectations imposed upon Black women by the patriarchy. One hardship that Ward’s book does examine is the fact that many early white feminists based their arguments for nonviolent marriage and women’s rights on the claim that bringing white women closer to equality with their husbands will ensure a unified front among white people against the Black civil rights activists. However, as a reader who has now read “Controlling Images and Black Women’s Oppression,” by Patricia Hill Collins, the lack of attention paid to the controlling images forced upon Black women in heterosexual relationships, and the constant criticism of their sexuality, is highlighted. Therefore, there is a slight bias in the book to feel sadness toward white women in heterosexual relationships, because Jane Ward is a white woman. 

 The overarching argument present in The Tragedy of Heterosexuality by Jane Ward includes the efforts by the heterosexual-repair industry to improve the enduring defects of straight culture. The heterosexual-repair industry has been flawed since its emergence. It is made up of eugenicists, sexologists, and social reformers. Ward cites three broad concepts present in the industry: they exposed the violence and mutual dislike in heterosexual relationships and reassured the population that this was natural, they took on the role of defining modern heterosexuality and repairing the problems that came along with it, and they accepted the premise that men and women found each other’s bodies undesirable and advocated for the use of beauty products to stimulate desire. Each of these concepts is inherently misogynistic. For example, at one point, experts were channeling their efforts to discover why women had annoying personalities and attempted to mediate men’s irritations with their wives. The solution the “experts” discovered involved women being submissive, lovely, and always putting their husband’s needs before their own. They went as far as asserting that women should be responsible for heterosexual success because they managed men’s emotions and should also be responsible for the happiness of their households and communities. Did no one ever wonder if it was men’s sexism and unrealistic expectations that caused them to be irritated with their wives? Or consider this: perhaps wives’ personalities come across as irritating because they are having unpleasurable sex?

Furthermore, the heterosexual-repair industry also came to the solution that women had to keep their bodies “fresh” and sexually appealing to their husbands. Advertisers collaborated with the heterosexual-repair industry in provoking fear among women to purchase their beauty products. The logic was that if women were not careful about their appearance then they could risk losing their husbands’ affection or “suffer their wrath.” One should not even have to explain the flaws in this argument and the unnecessary strain it places upon women to improve straight culture and desire. The toxicity rooted in straight culture is thanks to the patriarchy, and yet women are expected to help men improve their relationships. To conclude, Jane Ward, in her argument, exposes how the efforts to improve the conditions of straight culture are misogynistic and put the responsibility onto women. 

The single greatest strength in The Tragedy of Heterosexuality by Jane Ward is explaining the misogyny paradox that plagues straight culture. Essentially, this paradox asserts that boys’ and men’s desire for girls and women is expressed in a society that simultaneously encourages them to hate girls and women. Jane Ward provides a possible explanation for this paradox in which society is suspicious of women because they stand to threaten men’s patriarchal power. The author analyzes this in the context of violence against women and girls. The misogyny paradox is evident when a man rapes and/or murders a woman that he reported to have desired or loved. Another example of this outlook is seen in the 18th and 19th centuries in England and colonial America. At this time, wives were seen as a “necessary evil.” Many would argue that wives, and heterosexual marriages, in general, are still seen in this negative light today. While these are all extreme examples, the misogyny paradox takes a simpler form in everyday life. Often, straight men claim to love women but continue to speak over them, mansplain subjects to them, and train their sons to imitate this lack of respect for women. To comprehend the true tragedy of heterosexuality, the author must portray the disrespect, violence, and ignorance displayed by men to women who claim to be in affectionate, romantic relationships. Jane Ward understands the importance of this paradox to her argument and succeeds in making the misogyny paradox accessible and easy for her readers to understand. 

One weakness present in Jane Ward’s book, The Tragedy of Heterosexuality, is the lack of proposed solutions to this tragedy. The author notes that no feminist efforts have made a dent in straight culture, but she doesn’t go further to explain where they fell short. In fact, Ward describes the sexism and toxic masculinity surrounding heterosexuality as “inescapable.” Later, she also reveals that, as a lesbian, it is painful to witness straight women’s “endless and ineffective” efforts to repair straight men. As a straight woman reading this book, it is incredibly depressing to read these statements and feel as though there is no hope. The patriarchy and toxic masculinity seem like grand problems that can never be solved, certainly not by the time that I’m ready to settle down and get married. It leaves me wondering, am I destined for an unhappy marriage? Is there any point in dating if sexism is normalized in straight culture?

After reading this book and sharing facts and anecdotes with my non-straight friends, they unanimously decided that I represent The Tragedy of Heterosexuality. Over my 19 years as a straight woman, I have heard from friends, family members, and therapists that there are good men out there and not to give up. However, upon reading Jane Ward’s book about the emotional and physical strain of heterosexual relationships on women, I began to question if straight culture is worth the control, diminishment, and not to mention, disappointing sex. I will now respond to these friends, family members, and therapists that until the misogyny paradox is abolished and women are treated with genuine respect, finding “one of the good ones” will be challenging. Finally, I wish the heterosexual-repair industry the best of luck as they take on the impossible endeavor of mending the relationships between men and women, following a long history of sexism and abuse. 

Works Cited

Ward, Jane. The Tragedy of Heterosexuality. New York, New York University Press, 2020. 

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.

Troubles with the Growing Confidence Cult

Hit songs like “Truth Hurts” by Lizzo or “Sorry Not Sorry” by Demi Lovato, hashtags like #realmemonday or #wellnesswednesday, and advertisements like Dove’s self-esteem project represent the influx of self-confidence messaging in today’s mainstream media. Women, in particular, are targeted by these messages. They are told to embrace their fears and insecurities by self-help books, celebrities, and television shows. Subsequently, there is a growing “confidence cult” as the authors of Confidence Culture, Shani Orgad and Rosalind Gill, suggest. 

Confidence Culture

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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

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.

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

Is Vogue Still Setting Unrealistic Body Standards or Breaking Them Down?

Vogue’s “What’s Changing About Fashion’s Relationship to the Body?” featuring Kim Kardashian who talks about the negative comments she has heard about her body both in person and on social media.

One of the most prevalent issues within the fashion industry is its lack of diversity. Lately, I have been seeing more and more online content discussing this topic. Among this content is a Vogue video I found on Youtube titled “What’s Changing About Fashion’s Relationship to the Body?” The three minute video stars pop culture phenomenon Kim Kardashian alongside other successful female-identifying models of various races, nationalities, sizes, and ages. There are various shots of the models throughout the video as they offer overlapping commentary on their personal experiences loving and owning their bodies. Of course, the video is well-directed and entertaining through its editing and background music. It captures the challenges of finding self worth and confidence in an industry that has set impossible beauty standards not only through discussion but through visual cues. We see scenes of women exercising and weighing themselves whilst hearing the models talk about the negative body shaming they have faced. Historical female sculptures are shown in a probable effort to depict the everlasting beauty standards for women. Vogue clearly wanted to promote body acceptance through this video though there are several ironies that belittle its goal which commenters are not afraid to share. 

Screenshot of a woman weighing herself on a scale while models talk about the body shame they have received.

First of all, Vogue is a major contributor to the beauty standards set by the fashion industry. They have taught women that in order to be pretty and fashionable, they must be unattainably skinny and have flawless skin. Many commenters on the video echo this feeling as they reveal Vogue is in fact partially responsible for making them feel uncomfortable with their own bodies. One commenter points out that while the magazine is trying to reverse some of its past mistakes by capturing different bodies, it is not enough. If they want to change the narrative, they have to do more. The company definitely has the power to do so as Vogue is the epitome of fashion for many people. Vogue thinks so too as the “About Vogue” reads “Vogue is the authority on fashion news, culture trends, beauty coverage, videos, celebrity style, and fashion week updates.” They could use their power for good and create a new standard that every body is beautiful. 

The video was not received well not only because it was created by Vogue but because it featured Kim Kardashian. Like Vogue, Kardashian herself has set unrealistic body standards. While Kardashian just as rightly deserves to own her body like anyone else, commenters take issue with her being in a video alongside other women who have battled the beauty standards, not created them. Kardashian readjusts her pose in a short clip and asks if  “this looks good.” Kim Kardashian trying to look her best in a video promoting body authenticity and acceptance makes Vogue’s intentions seem fake. They could have easily made this video without Kardashian, which would have generated more positive reception. Instead, they likely added her to reach a larger audience and generate more profit. It seems like Vogue’s real goal was to appear politically correct whilst making money. Yet, they do capture many other models besides Kardashian who have faced struggles loving their bodies. But does this diverse cast of models appear on the runways too?

Another commenter who claims to work in the modeling industry argues that this diversity in the video is nonexistent in the actual industry and only appears in the media. I find this fact unsurprising as it’s easy to create the false appearance of something. Despite all the pushes towards diversity, the fashion industry is changing at a slow rate. Vogue doesn’t completely overlook this notion, writing that “body acceptance is a long and winding road” in the description box. They may be trying to suggest that the industry has a long way to go before it is inclusive. Nevertheless, it’s probable that the diversity on screen is mostly absent in real life. 

The video sparked major debate among viewers for good reasons. Others interested in social justice would likely agree with me and the other commenters. It is hard for an audience to watch a video produced by a company that lowered their self-esteem in the first place and celebrate them. Although, I believe Vogue had good intentions. They are making an effort to rebrand themselves and pave the way for increased body diversity in fashion. Obviously, it will take more than a three minute video to achieve this goal and after a bit more research, I found other online content that Vogue has published surrounding body inclusivity. However, none of it avoided criticism including their March 2017 cover on Modern American Women that was criticized for not being diverse enough. It featured seven light skinned models including one plus size model. If they have faced this kind of scrutiny before, I have to wonder whether they expected the same comments or praise for their efforts to celebrate body diversity. Did they want to be celebrated for including models of all backgrounds instead of the usual suspects like Kendall Jenner or Gigi Hadid? Are they trying to forget their damaging past? Perhaps, by continuing to produce more inclusive content, they hoped to show their commitment to body diversity. Nonetheless, this video, various articles, and magazine covers act as baby steps towards a future with representation for all shapes and sizes. Just like many other companies in the fashion industry, Vogue has a long way to go with much more to learn. 

References

Torgerson, Rachel. “Vogue’s ‘Diverse’ Cover Slammed for Not Being Diverse Enough.” Cosmopolitan, 9 February 2017, https://www.cosmopolitan.com/style-beauty/fashion/a8696839/vogue-march-2017-cover-controversy/.

Sister Cindy’s Shaming: Funny or Harmful?

Cindy Smock, or “Sister Cindy” as she calls herself, is an Evangelical campus preacher turned Tik Tok user. She first gained attention when college students posted clips of her speeches on Tik Tok, inspiring her to make her own account. She currently has over 370,000 followers, and #sistercindy has over 194 million views (Fowler). The main subject of her Tik Tok content is encouraging college students, particularly women, to turn to Christianity and be a “ho no mo.” In many of the videos she uploads, she welcomes viewers to “Sister Cindy’s Slut-Shaming Show.” While many of Sister Cindy’s followers regard her as a comical figure, the shock factor she employs in her preaching through homophobic and misogynistic comments is harmful. 

Through a glance at Sister Cindy’s Tik Tok account, it is evident that her content is misogynistic and demeaning towards women. In nearly every video she uploads, she casually uses the words “slut,” “hoe,” or “thot,” as insults towards women. For example, when visiting college campuses, she often changes the names of the universities to incorporate the word “slut.” At the Louisiana State University campus, she renamed the institution, “Louisiana Slut University.” By insinuating that college students are sluts, Sister Cindy is weaponizing the word to be used against women and normalizing the slut-shaming that is common in society, particularly on college campuses. However, Sister Cindy is proud of her slut-shaming tendencies and makes it a common theme in her posts. In a different post filmed by a college student, she exclaims, “You are princesses made in the image of God. Yet, you’ve traded your crown to be a cock-sucker.” This is quite the opposite of sex positivity and guilts women into practicing abstinence. Sister Cindy, or anyone for that matter, should never use guilt tactics to influence other people’s lives. Furthermore, why is this hateful comment only directed towards “princesses,” or women? Why is it that women should feel guilty for engaging in consensual oral sex and men should not? Last I checked, oral sex is an act requiring at least two people. 

Another example of sexism in her uploads is found in a Tik Tok filmed by a student at the University of Florida. In this clip, Sister Cindy shouts, “Men, if you buy her one margarita, she will spread her legs.” This statement is incredibly insulting towards women. Not only does it perpetuate the view that women are sexual objects, but it also furthers the entitled belief held by some men that women are sexually indebted to them after buying them a drink. In addition, this comment is heteronormative and leads straight men to assume that all women are attracted to them and want to have sex with them, which is simply not the case. Finally, similar harmful views were expressed in a Tik Tok clip of Sister Cindy telling a college student that she is “an accessory to the rape crime on campus” because she is causing boys to get their “passions stirred up” (Fowler). This belief is so inherently false, that it should not require any explanation. The blatant disregard for holding men accountable in situations of sexual assault is destructive to anyone who views this post. It reminds me of the common argument in society that someone is “asking for it” based on the clothes they are wearing. Placing blame and guilt upon women seems to be a common theme in the media posted by Sister Cindy. Again, why is it that sexual assault victims should feel guilty for something that is out of their control and not their fault? 

If you thought her content could not get any worse, we have not even analyzed the blatant display of homophobia present in countless Tik Toks. For example, in one clip while preaching to college students, she orders, “Don’t do it. Don’t kiss a girl and like it.” In defiance of her hate speech, two women make their way through the crowd to kiss in front of Sister Cindy’s platform. Apparently, the act of two women kissing is a difficult sight for Sister Cindy, because she has to cover her eyes. In a second Tik Tok, Sister Cindy, with no shame, shouts to a young man walking past her, “Are you a homo? You kinda act a little effeminate there. You need to repent!” There are so many problems with this statement, it is a challenge to decide what to unpack first. To begin, a straight, cisgender person should never use the term “homo” to describe someone of the LGBTQ+ community. Second, Sister Cindy is reinforcing the societal gender expectations that men cannot be feminine and women cannot be masculine. And if that is the case, then that person must be a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Finally, telling someone that they need to repent because of their sexuality, something that is out of their control, is unacceptable. Religion should never be manipulated to discriminate against groups of people. People’s sex lives and sexuality are an intimate part of their lives and should never be a subject of criticism. Therefore, someone who posts homophobic content, like Sister Cindy, should not have a platform to project those hateful beliefs. 

To reflect, one’s values and beliefs should never be used as a weapon or a way of guilting others into adopting those practices. While Sister Cindy’s intention may be to educate college students, her comments are misogynistic, heteronormative, homophobic, and may even be classified as hate speech. Sister Cindy even admits that she expects to be removed from social media for her problematic comments (Fowler). If that is the case, what is Tik Tok waiting for?

Works Cited

Fowler, Kate. “Who is Sister Cindy? Evangelist Christian Preacher Turned Tik Tok Star.” Newsweek, 6 June 2021, https://www.newsweek.com/who-sister-cindy-evangelist-preacher-tiktok-star-1597651. 

I love this post and how it highlights the way that people will oftentimes use comedy to hide rhetoric that is actually very harmful. Although Sister Cindy is oftentimes funny, she’s still promoting a toxic culture that prevents women from embracing their sexuality. This is a super important topic and I’m glad that you’re shedding light on it!

Can Society Really Determine Perceived Genders?

Mastermind magazine produced this image of Willow and Jaden Smith in the 2019 fall issue. Mastermind magazine releases bi-annually and focuses on current events and attitudes of the younger generations. It is a space to be creative and display a range of talents and people. The intended audience ranges from young adults to millennials. This exclusive magazine was founded in 2017 and is available for purchase online and paperback. They chose to include Willow and Jaden in the 2019 issue because of their impact on gender expression, unique styles, and confidence as individuals. Willow and Jaden both actively participate and advocate within queer spaces. They also have developed into queer fashion, music, and film symbols. Willow and Jaden reinforce that beauty, individuality, and confidence does not have to fit into the narrow boundaries of what society portrays as normal and abnormal. As young, black, queer adults, Willow and Jaden represent the positive ways non-conforming people can live in our nation. As the younger generations become more accepting and educated on topics of gender and sexuality, we come to realize that beauty and gender have no particular features, shape, or color, and Willow and Jaden depict this with no remorse. The photograph from the magazine presents a symmetric reflection of Willow and Jaden gazing upward, hands identically pressed to their cheeks. They are challenging this notion of physical difference between men and women. If one did not know the Smith siblings prior, would the gendered differences be obvious? I believe this is the question they are forcing the audience to reconcile with and reflect on. This photograph examines the viewer’s bias and understanding of how gender functions as invented categorizations to divide people. 

Although intersectionality of gender and race play into the lives of Willow and Jaden, it does not consume this photograph. As a person of color, perhaps I brush over the fact of their blackness when gazing at the photograph, or perhaps it was looking for an intentional gender-directed reaction. However, I want to acknowledge the intersectionality in this photo as another product of social construction that produces real consequences. Willow and Jaden also come from a previously wealthy family which contributes to their success and ability to be openly unique individuals. Intersectionality plays an important role when discussing aspects of gender and sexuality because it often influences and dedicates the way we interact with it.

Willow and Jaden break down the gender norms and stereotypes associated with the binary in the photograph. As Jonathan Van Ness explains in his Netflix special, Can We Say Bye-Bye to the Gender Binary, gender is performed and enforced in society. This can be seen through the segregation of colors inflicted on people in society. Jaden projects a commonly feminine look with his pink eyebrows and hair. In the context of public expectation and presentation, blue is typically for boys, and pink is for girls. Pink has not always been associated with femininity. Pink was more of a boy’s color, if a gendered color at all, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. People dressing in gendered clothes is a relatively new invention. Jaden proves in this photograph that people can dress, alter, and perform gender in any way they choose. It also connects deeper to the ideas of how the binary should project and display itself. Men are supposed to be tough and masculine whereas women are soft and emotional. Jaden and Willow’s gazes are identical with soft, innocent-like features. Neither of them is visibly wearing makeup, contributing to the vulnerable look. They both wear rings in the photo, revealing that jewelry does not belong to a singular gender. Willow does have earrings and a nose piercing, however, this just means that every individual is different. It is celebrating diversity, preferences, and choices between human beings. Willow Smith wears a similar short hairstyle to Jaden further breaking down the ideas of what is supposed to be masculine. Society loves to associate female beauty with hair, but Willow shows that beauty exists beyond long this. As Lorber explains, “​​For the individual, gender construction starts with an assignment to a sex category on the basis of what the genitalia look like at birth… A sex category becomes a gender status through naming, dress, and the use of other gender markers” (Labor 55). Gender is not determined by biological or psychological differences. There are no features that accurately reproduce the binary, but instead, it is a construction of our surroundings, interactions, media depictions, and upbringing. This calls to question the title of this photograph. If their names were not written across the page, neatly drawn into their boxes, would it be obvious which image was Jaden and which one was Willow? In a way, it feels as though the magazine wants to be progressive, but not to the extent of complete freedom. If the magazine did reject all gender norms, it would not have placed the lettering where it did. Alternatively, it could simply be educating viewers who are unfamiliar with the Smith siblings. There are multiple ways to interpret the purpose and placement of the title. 

Willow and Jaden Smith have become icons of the younger generation for their confidence, identity expression, and talent. Mastermind magazine exhibits Willow and Jaden’s beauty and originality in this edition. The photograph calls to question our notions of gender and forces us to reconcile with our constructed worldview. The upcoming generations are more and more open to diverse gender expressions, giving me hope that many adolescents looked to this photograph as inspiration, not with hostility.