Review of Wild Things: the disorder of desire

Photo of Jack Halberstam and cover of book by Vincent Tullo

In Jack Halberstam’s Wild Things: the disorder of desire, wildness is a multifaceted concept intertwined with queerness, queer bodies, and human desire. There are many ways of thinking of the “wild” and “wildness” in culture today. The wild speaks of uninhabited growth and unrestrained actions of something (un)natural, of people resisting societal rules, and of animals refusing to submit to humans. The wild is often something that we do not, and cannot, fully understand. Therefore, it is applied to a variety of things that do not make sense to a society that thinks in binaries of male and female, heterosexual and homosexual, and animal and human. With wild queerness comes wild desire. Wild desire is neither heterosexual nor homosexual, but also neither normal nor perverse (Halberstam 11). The people that exhibit wild desire have sexualities that are difficult to place in post-1800s conceptions of sexuality and that are sometimes linked to a longing to become wild and even fully feral (23). Halberstam also investigates what makes something wild, the rules of wildness, and our role in destroying or perpetuating the wild. Wild Things: the disorder of desire explores human fascination with the wild, wildness’ ability to escape binary thinking, and the benefits of being wild.   

Through the book’s nine sections, Halberstam traces the wild through the past and the present to assert various arguments about the humanity-wildness connection but also to explain how the wild challenges human hierarchies that separate the human from the other. He begins by locating the original European-American ideas of wildness and longing for the wild in colonialism; wildness was something “native,” non-European, pagan, or savage that Europeans fell in love with and tried to replicate (35, 53-54). At the same time, he highlights Native American and Black uses of wildness; where wildness was once used to control and dehumanize these groups, they reject the idea of humanity as defined by Western standards, choosing to live outside any colonial or Western conception of what they should be (26). He then analyzes specific modern narratives of falconry to point out that some people do not only wish to replicate wildness, but also long to shed their humanity and become feral animals (79). These lines between human and animal blur even further in the section on pets and children that not only brings together wildness and domesticity, but also introduces “zombie humanism” wherein humans project living death onto others so that their humanity can only be discerned when compared with these (un)dead beings (116-120). First, he expands on the feral child, asserting that before entering the adult world, the child lives in a space of wild emotion and rejection of adult-imposed power systems, opting instead to follow the rules of the wild  (130). Second, he expands on the trope of the zombie that represents modern anxiety over the blurring boundaries between the wild, the domestic, the living, and the dead (148-149). He finally concludes that the wild is all around us and urges us to deconstruct the world we know and let the wild accept us into its fold (180). Halberstam communicates these arguments as the wild and queerness continue to fascinate him in his professional career and personal experiences. 

Jack Halberstam is known mostly for his scholarly writing and public speaking about gender, sexuality, and popular media. He holds a Ph.D. and an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis and a B.A. with Highest Honors in English from the University of California Berkeley (“CV”). He is currently a professor of English and Gender Studies at Columbia University and the author of seven books including Female Masculinity and The Queer Art of Failure (Jack Halberstam). In 2018, Places Journal awarded him its Arcus/Places Prize for “innovative public scholarship on the relationship between gender, sexuality, and the built environment” (Jack Halberstam). He has also written articles for journals and magazines and is a co-editor and public speaker on topics such as queer failure, subcultures, gender variance, popular film, and animation (“Bio”). In recent years of his everyday life, Halberstam has gone by he/him pronouns but tried not to ‘police’ other iterations of his pronouns or his name, such as Judith or Jude (Sexsmith). His attitude towards his own gender expression in his personal life reflects the way of living outside binaries that he illustrates in Wild Things. This relationship between queerness, media, and the wild intrigues him so much that he is working on a second volume of this work titled The Wild Beyond: Music, Architecture, and Anarchy (Jack Halberstam).

Halberstam’s methodology for illustrating his arguments in Wild Things is to weave together a variety of media that supports his theories. The book is divided into two parts, the first of which is “Sex in the Wild” which explores wild sexualities and their histories. The first instance of wild sexuality that he mentions appears in chapter one, “Wilderness, Loss, and Death,” with Roger Casement, an Irish diplomat who was both an anti-colonialist figure and a man who sought sexual favors from men in the Congo and the Amazon whose rights he fought for. To Halberstam, Casement displays an ‘untimely sexuality:’ a desire for the wild, non-European person and his/her world understood as queer and yet established before the language of homosexuality (Halberstam 43). In discussing colonial wild desire, he also mentions anthropologist Michael Taussig’s theory that colonialism views the non-western other as savage and violent and in trying to subdue those wild traits ends up displaying those traits itself (37). Halberstam then uses The Rite of Spring in chapter two, “‘A New Kind of Wildness:’ The Rite of Spring and an Indigenous Aesthetics of Bewilderment,” as an example of that colonial view of wildness in art. Through examining its convention-breaking choreography, its inversion of musical chords and instrumentation, its creative team’s queer relationships with each other, and its riotous reception by critics, he presents the ballet as a replication of a fictional Native American rite and of queer fantasies of wildness (53-60). However, his analysis of Kent Monkman’s paintings points to a Native American embracing of this characterization of wildness through works like Seeing Red that parody western art by inserting queer symbols such as Monkman’s alter ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle (74). Moving away from colonialism, the falconry accounts of J.A. Baker, Helen Macdonald, and T. H. White in chapter three, “The Epistemology of the Ferox: Sex, Death, and Falconry,” demonstrate wild desire outside of the hetero/homo binary that is not attributed to being in the closet or longing for human connection and while related to sexuality, is not actually sexual (79). The wild desire here is to live vicariously through birds and use their knowledge even when that knowledge makes no sense in human contexts (80, 82). According to the falconers, when people have this desire that does not fit human categories, they long for a similarly wild place where their desire does not have to be dissected or designated (94). Thus, part one of the book connects colonialism, art, and queer theory with different interpretations of wildness. 

Part two of the book, “Animality,” explores wild animals, children, and forms of living. The introduction to part two, “Animals Wild and Tame,” examines capitalism’s role in human-animal relationships. Halberstam looks at Gabriel Rosenberg’s “How Meat Changed Sex: The Law of Interspecies Intimacy after Industrial Reproduction” which details a contradiction of anti-bestiality laws that forbid bestiality on moral grounds yet allow human-animal contact for meat production, suggesting that the difference between a companion and meat is not love but capital (120-122). Extrapolating from Jane Bennet’s book, Vibrant Matter, he states that pets are not alive in their wild original form, but are not dead like animals for slaughter (119). A pet is useful in its companionship but has to live by human rules; it can nip but cannot bite, so pets become prosthetic extensions of humans doomed to a half-wild life (119). Halberstam also looks at the child, that other half-wild creature, and compares Max from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are with Pi from Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. He notes that both boys understand that the wild separates people into predator-prey relationships, that it has a set of rules entirely different from the human realm, and that the only way to survive it is to follow those rules and participate in the ‘wild rumpus’ (134-139). Halberstam then returns to “zombie humanism” and how zombies force us to consider the value of life. In the film, White God, animals will revolt if given the chance as in the case of Hagen, an abandoned dog who spends the film meeting and killing other dogs, rising up against pound guards, and feeling indifferent when reunited with his previous owner (159-160). In looking at zombie films, Halberstam demonstrates that zombies’ motivation in The Walking Dead is not to become human but to destroy humanity as agents of the wild (170). He compares this motivation with how In the Flesh tries to question the importance of life over a zombified existence through a gay protagonist who committed suicide and then was revived as a zombie. (172). In his final chapter, “The Ninth Wave,” he analyzes the B-side of Kate Bush’s album Hounds of Love and encourages readers to surrender to the wild in their lives just as Bush seems to surrender to the themes of her music (176-180). 

Wild Things’ use of multiple forms of media and of racial, class, and economic perspectives contributes greatly to its success. While referencing other scholars like Foucault, Wild Things works within queer theory by arguing against the view of wild desire as specifically homosexual, instead suggesting that it is something entirely different because the desire is not for a human subject. It also adds to philosophical discourse about the differences and similarities between humans and animals and to racial discourse on slavery as well as empowerment. By looking at where wild things appear in popular culture, making connections, and speculating as to the implications for our lives, the book calls for furtherinvestigation by queer scholars. A good amount of writing on this relationship between wildness and queerness exists, but Halberstam seems to have written the first monograph within the discipline. The book’s insistence on accepting the wild also fits into Halberstam’s previous work with accepting failure as a queer way to escape the status quo enforced by nationalism, capitalism, and heteronormativity. All of this is delivered through Halberstam’s succinct writing, lively tone, and reference pictures for a quick but deep read that makes one question one’s assumptions. 

However, Wild Things falls short in a few areas. First, it requires that one know or research large amounts of (sometimes obscure) media. Without knowledge of the referenced material, one’s understanding of the book cannot be as deep as Halberstam assumes it is. One might even say he overuses media. Almost the entire book is quotes of other people, and what original main ideas he does have he sometimes struggles to make flow from chapter to chapter or to sum up efficiently. While he focuses on queer sexuality, he omits queer gender and misses out on analyzing the popular media trope of the wild woman. Most importantly, he offers a critique of modern thinking by pointing out certain issues, but does not attempt to convince the reader to take action. In the chapters on pets, he seems to oppose pet owning, but provides no alternative. He says nothing about his personal stance on pet owning and focuses almost exclusively on dogs, leaving out other more independent house pets such as cats. One is often left wondering if other scholars would agree with his assumptions about and connections between pieces of evidence. 

Despite its flaws, I would recommend this work to scholars and those interested in learning more about queer theory or wildness as a concept. However, an open mind is essential to reading this book because of the heavy and occasionally controversial topics Halberstam takes on such as bestiality, animal domestication, and sexual exploitation. Overall, Wild Things presents a roaming yet insightful analysis of the wild and wildness. 

Works Cited

1. Halberstam, Jack. Wild Things: the disorder of desire. Duke University Press, 2020. 

2. Jack Halberstam. Department of English and Comparative Literature. Columbia University, 2022. https://english.columbia.edu/content/jack-halberstam. Accessed October 21, 2022. 

3. “Curriculum Vitae.” jackhalberstam.comhttp://www.jackhalberstam.com/cv/. Accessed October 21, 2022. 

4. “Bio.” jackhalberstam.comhttp://www.jackhalberstam.com. Accessed October 21, 2022. 

5. Sexsmith, Sinclair. “Jack Halberstam: Queers Create Better Models of Success.” Lambda Literary, February 1, 2012. https://lambdaliterary.org/2012/02/jack-halberstam-queers-create-better-models-of-success/. Accessed October 21, 2022. 

6. Tullo, Vincent. Photo of Jack Halberstam and book cover of Wild Things: the disorder of desire. “Bergen Kunsthall.”https://www.kunsthall.no/en/events/2571-2022-09-29/#. Accessed November 12, 2022. 

7. Monkman, Kent. Seeing Red. 2014. kentmonkman.com. https://www.kentmonkman.com/painting/2014/seeing-red. Accessed November 12, 2022.

Seeing Red — Kent Monkman

Insatiable: The Complex Commentary on Body Image for Young Women

Poster for Insatiable

Growing up, we are often told what to do with our bodies – women especially. We are told how to dress, act, speak, and eat. This message comes from many sources, including our parents, social media, and movies/TV shows. One TV show that communicates these social norms to teen girls is Insatiable. It shows women in a negative light in a variety of ways. Fat women are unhappy, inhuman and undesirable; skinny women are manipulative and willing to do anything for a man. Another message communicated by Insatiable is that, for women, romantic relationships with men are more valuable than female friendships.

Insatiable follows a high school student named Patty Bladell, played by Debby Ryan – a former Disney channel star, who already has a large following of pre-teen girls. Patty spends much of her life struggling with her weight until she breaks her jaw and is forced to go onto a liquid diet that causes her to lose 70 lbs. Once she becomes skinny everyone starts paying attention to her, including Bob Armstrong, a local lawyer and beauty pageant coach. 

Debby Ryan as “Fatty Patty” vs. “Sexy Patty”

Insatiable reinforces the idea that there is a wrong way for women’s bodies to be—fat and unhealthy—and a right way for women’s bodies to be—skinny, pretty, young, and sexy. Regardless of their weight, all women’s bodies are objectified, showing their power and agency coming from external factors such as appearance. Fat women are portrayed as unhealthy and undesirable; skinny women are portrayed as selfish and boy obsessed. 

These messages are communicated through scenes involving “Fatty Patty” and “Sexy Patty.” The scenes involving Fatty Patty alway portray fatness in a negative light. She is seen binge eating at home on a Friday night with her best friend instead of going to a football game. She says, “So, while my classmates were out losing their virginity, I was at home, stuffing another hole…” (“Pilot” 1:002 ). That links being sexually desirable and active to being skinny. It also denigrates a strong female friendship and places more value on heterosexual relations. There are also several instances when Patty is compared to a pig. Someone pasted a photo of her face taped to a pig on her locker, and she received the comment, “Smells like bacon,” (“Pilot” 2:34) from skinny girls. This is comparing Patty to an animal and dehumanizing her. Pigs are known for being dirty animals so comparing her to one conveys the message that being fat is “dirty.” Being fat is also associated with being unhealthy. When Patty starts her laps in gym class, she passes out after 15 seconds. Throughout the episode, flashbacks of Debby Ryan in a fat suit reminds the audience how bad Patty’s life was when she was fat. It instills the idea that being fat is undesirable, dirty and unhealthy within younger and teenage girls.

Just as Fatty Patty is used here as a cautionary tale, Sexy Patty is used to show how women use their sexuality to attain their end goal: men. Patty’s main goal is to get with Bob Armstrong, who is an older, married man and an accused child molester. Rather than being cautious, she makes light of this by saying, “Which means I might actually have a shot [at being with him]” (“Pilot” 12:35). Patty goes to great lengths to achieve her goal. Now that she is skinny she understands that she can use her sexuality as a tool to achieve this. Patty seduces a clerk at a convenience store to get him to commit a felony on her and Bob’s behalf. Patty also harms other women to achieve her goal. When Patty and Bob’s wife, Coralee, first meet, Patty calls Coralee “A shrew” (“Pilot” 20:45). Then, Patty says, “I was already driving a wedge between them. Long Island Lolita would have been proud” (“Pilot” 20:50). This is an allusion to Amy Fisher who had an affair with Joey Buttafuco when she was 16 and he was 38. Fisher shot Buttafuco’s wife in the hope she would be able to be with Joey. Coralee also objectifies Patty, based on her appearance. She tells Bob, “She looks like an underage hooker” (“Pilot” 20:15) immediately focusing on Patty’s sexual appearance. 

The title of this show, Insatiable, has multiple meanings. Patty is always hungry and wants to eat, but cannot eat everything she wants due to the fear she will get fat again  (which apparently is the worst thing imaginable). Insatiable also refers to women being hungry for power, often with the ultimate goal of being with men.

While Insatiable can be seen as a parody, the images and messages about women, their bodies, and how they achieve agency (or not) are pervasive. Even though these messages are ostensibly being ridiculed, the intended audience of pre-teen girls may not realize that much of it is satire. Insatiable is “funny” but its humor is based on negative ideas and stereotypes that are harmful to women, especially young viewers who don’t have a well-developed lens of media literacy and who will not understand that this is a parody not a guidebook on how women should behave.

Citations: “Pilot.” Insatiable, created by Lauren Gussis, season 1, episode 1, Netflix, 2018.

My Skin: An Anthem of Self-Love

As Lizzo’s presence in mainstream media has rapidly increased in recent years, so has the impact of her iconic messages of body positivity and self-love. Though many people know her for her 2019 album “Cuz I Love You” and her recent 2022 album “Special,” Lizzo has always been calling for reform in the way that society views women’s bodies. Her 2015 song “My Skin” and accompanying music video serves as a call to people everywhere to love and appreciate their bodies and skin.

Lizzo opens the music video with a brief monologue in which she states that learning to love yourself and your body is a journey that every person experiences—especially women. Her first verse paints a picture of why this is the case: society has created an impossible beauty standard that women feel that they must strive towards. Women are taught from birth to compare their bodies to what they see in media and to each others’, creating insecurity and self-hatred toward their own. This is an unspoken yet universal experience—one that Lizzo calls “the darkest, best kept secret.” As women compare their bodies to each others’, they are pitted against each other in competition for all the promises—love, respect, happiness—that society has convinced us we will receive if our bodies meet its standards. Lizzo articulates this in her lyrics “Let it bring us together, or it could tear us apart.” This comparison of bodies is currently tearing women apart. Lizzo is calling for women instead to unite against this harmful societal norm and revel in our universal beauty. She asserts that “the most beautiful thing that you have ever seen is even bigger than we think it means,” suggesting that the beauty of bodies and skin as well as self-love is much more significant and important than we give it credit for. She accompanies these lyrics with close-up images of diverse, seemingly unfiltered bodies painted in a beautiful light. These bodies are not perfect: they have fat, blemishes, stretch marks, hair, and other qualities that our societal standard would label as flaws. This representation of imperfect, diverse bodies in a popular music video tells women that their bodies are normal—and that their bodies are also beautiful, desirable, and worthy to be looked at.

Lizzo also applies this specifically to women of color. Societal beauty standards have created a very specific picture of what true beauty looks like: the “ideal body” is often portrayed as white and thin. Due to this association between whiteness and beauty, people of color are made to feel as if their skin inherently lacks beauty. The internalization of this belief takes away people’s ability to love and be proud of their skin, leaving shame in its wake. This can also be applied to fat women. Because thinness is seen as a requirement for beauty, fat women are made to feel as if they can’t be beautiful. In the chorus, Lizzo sings, “I woke up in this—in my skin. I can’t wash it away, so you can’t take it from me—my brown skin.” It is a call for women to reclaim the definition of beauty in their own skin. As Lizzo sings this in the music video, she runs her hands over her body with love and compassion and shows close-up images of her skin and hair, appreciating her body for its beauty.

As the music video nears its end, Lizzo, along with the other women in the music video, begin to pop the balloons that have been around them, sending glitter flying everywhere.

Throughout the video, it was not apparent that the balloons were filled with glitter—they seemed like regular balloons. As long as we believe the misconceptions that society has imposed on us, we cannot see the possibilities for ourselves that it hides. They initially appear unassuming, but when societal norms and standards of beauty are rejected, the result is magical. We can have full compassion for ourselves and unconditional love for our bodies and skin. Lizzo then runs her hands through the gold glitter and spreads it over her body, symbolizing an external layer of self-love and compassion.

This song and music video does a phenomenal job of encouraging women to reject societal standards of beauty and love their bodies as they are. Its inclusion of imperfect and diverse bodies adds representation to a historically image-conscious industry that has been plagued by photoshop, telling women everywhere that their bodies are normal and beautiful. Lizzo is an incredible role model for young women who face these standards—her unapologetic love for her body encourages others to do the same. Her popularity and presence in mainstream media gives hope that one day we can break free from societal standards and have universal unconditional love and respect for all bodies.

#Sharetheload

I’ve grown up watching my father do all the household chores. To many, this may be the ‘bare minimum,’ as it rightly is. However, patriarchy is so deep-rooted in Indian culture that such behavior is considered abnormal. Family members visiting our home would become physically uncomfortable watching my father cook, wash dishes, clean, and do the laundry, because that wasn’t ‘his job.’ In Indian society, men partaking in domestic chores is an alien concept.

This gender stereotype was challenged by an award-winning #ShareTheLoad initiative by an Indian laundry detergent company, Ariel, in 2015. The company launched this campaign through impactful advertisements, spotlighting the everyday, normalized gender inequality experienced in Indian households. They aimed to create “happier households where men and women Share The Load equally.”

https://youtu.be/QAxm23SjHDo

In the advertisement, we see how a young child observes the polar opposite realities experienced by her parents. The daughter notices how her mother is never asleep next to her at night and is up late doing household chores. In the morning, her mother wakes up unrested, hastily tossing breakfast for her family. She returns home after a long day of work only to face the endless to-do list on her phone. Yet, her mother never lets her professional commitments come in the way of looking after her family. She’s seen tucking her daughter into bed, reading to her, and preparing materials for the next school day.
In contrast, the daughter watches her dad get a good night’s sleep. He enjoys a relaxed morning, spending quality time with his daughter before heading to work. He seems carefree and unburdened. He is also oblivious to the amount of work his wife completes ‘behind the scenes’ at night to provide him with a comfortable lifestyle.

We can see the woman working- what Marxist feminist sociologists call- the triple shift. This refers to the idea that women in capitalist societies are expected to do paid and unpaid work and cater to their families’ emotional needs. Women are expected to juggle professional and familial responsibilities mechanically. Hence, the rise in the percentage of women employment in India is progressive only at face value. The reality is that there has been no change in the social expectations put on women. Women must work, be the best wives and mothers and conform to all social norms. Multi-tasking is glorified and regarded as a skill that ‘successful’ women have, prompting others to achieve this unrealistic standard.

In the advertisement, the daughter is the change initiator. When she notices her overworked mother, she wakes her father up and ushers him to the laundry room. The girl symbolizes the literal wake-up call that Ariel wanted to give India. The father is shocked to find his wife, completely exhausted, dozing off near the laundry machine in the middle of the night. He realizes how his lack of contribution affects his wife and makes an immediate change by taking over the laundry. The advertisement ends with a display of empirical evidence to support its argument. It draws a connection between the unequal division of household chores and women’s health, stating that 71% of women sleep less than men.

Apart from highlighting the unequal distribution of domestic work between men and women, the advertisement also emphasizes how children unconsciously pick up gender norms and roles. Children internalize gendered behaviors, roles, and activities by watching their parents. This advertisement was applauded for its ability to convey a meaningful message in a minimalistic way. It illustrated a scene that most Indians were familiar with and could relate to. It showed the Indian population that making a change doesn’t always entail grand gestures. One can change the status quo by something as simple as sharing the laundry with their partner.

However, the advertisement is far from perfect. In my opinion, the ads create a one-step forward, two-step back situation. The campaign fails to address the issue’s root- that household chores are not a woman’s job. The phrase ‘ShareTheLoad’ implies that household work is a woman’s job or ‘load’ to begin with and that men should ‘help’ them by ‘sharing’ the burden. It encourages the depiction of men as saviors who go out of their way to help the women in their families. Household work continues to be portrayed as a gender-specific role. The idea that domestic work is a life skill everyone should have regardless of gender is not translated through the screen.

Moreover, the campaign is very heteronormative. It does not do an excellent job of representing queer individuals and families. While the ad does a great job of exposing the inequalities faced by women in households, it continues to reinforce the idea that families can only consist of heterosexual couples. 2018 was a monumental year for LGBTQ+ rights in India. Article 377 of the Indian Penal code (which criminalized any form of queer sex) was struck down and deemed unconstitutional. However, removing the law did not manage to remove the social stigma around the LGBTQ community in India. The fear of representing queer relationships in mainstream media remains evident through the continuous display of heteronormativity.

Nevertheless, the campaign marked a significant first step towards encouraging companies to use their mainstream platforms to advocate for gender equality. I hope to see a more mainstream representation of the Queer community in India in the future!

Is All Representation Good Representation?: an Analysis of Power Imbalances in Call Me By Your Name

1983. Northern Italy. As soon as the opening credits roll, audiences are swept into the entirely different world of Call Me By Your Name. It’s a world of soft hues and cool breezes in the leisurely Italian countryside. A world of endless time and music and exploration. A world of romance and self-discovery. 

Yet this 2017 coming-of-age film is more than just the captivating cinematography and aesthetic landscape. Based on a 2007 fiction book written by Andre Aciman, Call Me By Your Name depicts the story of Elio, the 17-year-old son of a professor, whose father spends the summers doing archaeological research in Northern Italy. While his father works, Elio takes a break from his Parisian life and occupies his time by reading, transcribing music, riding his bike around the countryside, and spending time with his childhood friends. Except the summer of 1983 is different. Elio’s father hosts a graduate student as a summer research assistant, who stays with the family and does archaeological work for a number of weeks. As soon as Elio lays eyes on Oliver, the tall, confident, 24-year-old American who is to stay with the family, he is captivated. Soon enough, Elio and Oliver begin a whirlwind summer romance that leaves Elio confused, heartbroken, and hopeful. 

Though Call Me By Your Name may be a love story with a captivating ambiance, a leisurely pace, and just enough suspense to keep the viewer engaged, it is more than its beautiful storytelling. As a popular coming-of-age queer film, Call Me By Your Name had a large impact on the LGBTQ+ community and its representation. While Elio and Oliver may have had a beautiful love story, the film completely ignores a glaring red flag in their relationship: their large age gap. While their relationship is legal and consensual in the film, is it ethical? The difference between a young, inexperienced 17-year-old and a 24-year-old adult creates serious power imbalances in their relationship. Oliver is not only 7 years older, but also works for Elio’s father, and is much more experienced, both in sex and romance, than Elio is. On the other hand, Elio is a mere 17-year-old, who is just discovering his sexuality for the first time. In fact, Elio shares his lack of experience with Oliver before they ever begin their romance. In the scene at the monument to the Battle of Piave, Elio says to Oliver “If you only knew how little I know about the things that matter.”  Oliver bluntly asks, “What things that matter?,” and Elio responds quietly, “you know what things,” clearly referring to his lack of knowledge about matters of love, sex, and romance, as well as his lack of experience in homosexual relationships. Oliver bluntly tells Elio that they can not talk about such things, yet soon after, they begin their romance. This situation presents a very concerning power imbalance in their relationship, where Elio is not only 7 years younger, but also much less experienced than Oliver, yet the film never fully addresses it. Instead, it is glossed over, as the viewer is meant to focus on the beautiful landscape and the sweet, romantic aspects of the film.

Yet, by not addressing the concerning aspects of Elio and Oliver’s relationship, Call Me By Your Name is not only perpetuating unhealthy relationships, but also suggesting that an age gap is standard and normal for gay male relationships. This perpetuates harmful stereotypes about gay men, including that they are predatory towards younger people. 

Call Me By Your Name could have very easily been a beautiful coming-of-age film about discovering one’s sexuality and having new experiences, but it is ruined by the inappropriate, and largely unaddressed, age gap relationship. This negative representation actively harms the LGBTQ+ community and perpetuates negative stereotypes about gay men. Despite the beautiful and innovative cinematography, Call Me By Your Name simply missed the mark as a queer film. 

How I Met Your Mother – Sitcom For Skinny People?

Trigger Warning: fatphobia, mention of sexual assault

How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM) is a popular American sitcom that came out in 2005 and continued through 2014. Set in the New York City, it follows the story of a group of friends and their romantic relationships. The main character, Ted, is the narrator, and tells his children the story of how he met their mother, while also including the stories of all of his friends in the process. Barney, one of his best friends and our main focus today, is known for sleeping with a lot of women, inappropriate jokes, and, unfortunately, fatphobia.

“Over 200 women, spanning six continents, 17 nationalities, 74 sexual positions, and not a single fatty. It’s impressive.” (Season 5, Episode 14)

Barney’s idea of “success,” which involves sleeping with a variety of women from different backgrounds, emphasizes not one of them being fat. He presents sleeping with a fat woman as something to be ashamed of and avoid at all costs, expressing it as success if being able to avoid it.

“Let’s say the young lady you’re bringing home is dressed for winter. Under those layers, an unwelcome surprise could await you. The scale with body fat calculator I’ve hidden under the welcome mat makes sure you never have banger’s remorse.” (Season 8, Episode 19)

By going through so many measures to ensure he doesn’t sleep with a fat woman he shows the audience that they themselves should avoid it at all costs. Additionally, he points out that winter layers can make it impossible to assess whether someone is fat or not; it implies that any form of fat is unacceptable, even if not seen at first. I believe that, unfortunately, Barney is generally a liked character, meant to make the audience laugh and, perhaps, copy some of his behaviors. For example, his famous line “It’s gonna be LEGEN… wait for it… DARY. It’s gonna be LEGENDARY” is catchy and can easily be used by everyone to “spice up” what they’re saying. What if Barney’s other behaviors are copied like that as well?

The constant mockery of fat people, and especially fat women, is a big part of the show. The audience may laugh, but through those not-so-subtle jokes, they are subconsciously impacted. Barney’s comments can create problems that go way beyond a joke – it can lead to extensive weight bias or violence. Barney even made up a commandment, which is defined as “a divine rule” called “no fat chicks.” It is also catchy, like his famous saying mentioned earlier, and is incredibly harmful to others.

Marshall: He’s rich? Please tell me he wrote you a big, fat check. A check so fat, it doesn’t take its shirt off when it goes swimming.

Barney: That is a big, fat check. A check so fat, after you have sex with it, you don’t tell your buddies about it.

Robin: A check so fat, when it sits next to you on an airplane, you ask yourself if it should have bought two seats.

(Season 4, Episode 23)

Fat people are dismissed, mocked, laughed at, and excluded from any spaces in the show. Every male and female character in the show is skinny, besides one – Patrice. She is one of the main character’s, Robin’s, coworkers. She is a very kind person, and whenever she opens her mouth to say anything, she is met with frustration and something that can be described as a demonic scream from Robin.

As we can see, no matter what she says or does, she is verbally attacked. She can compliment Robin, bake her cookies, try to help her, or simply exist – she will be yelled at for all of those things. Some might blame it on Robin’s intense character, her upbringing, or many other things… but is it a coincidence that the only person in the show who is fat is also treated like that? Let that sink in.

Another very prevalent issue in the show is constant lack of consent. We all love FRIES – acronym for consent (Freely given, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic, and Specific). Barney fails to follow one of the most important aspects of it – consent being informed. He had created an entire “Playbook” with different schemes on how to get women to sleep with him; most of those scenarios include him changing his identity.

Women are sexually assaulted, objectified, disrespected, and presented as dumb in the show for falling for it. All of those schemes are meant to be funny, but instead are countless examples of sexual assault, which the show does not acknowledge whatsoever as anything else besides a joke.

As we can see, How I Met Your Mother is problematic for a plethora of reasons, including prevalent fatphobia and lack of consent. The media can impact individuals in a variety of ways, including indirectly, which makes the show incredibly harmful. Weight bias is seen as funny and met with no consequences. The show is currently, best to my knowledge, not easily accessible on streaming platforms, which might slightly limit the impact. The issues in the show should be addressed, and everyone should be aware of its problematic nature.

quotes from: https://knowmediaorg.tumblr.com/post/123573154453/how-i-met-your-mother-fatphobia

Dismantling Jules Vaughn

The show Euphoria, starring multiple famous actors like Hunter Schafer and Zendaya Coleman, shows a raw demonstration of the struggles teenagers go through daily. Euphoria is about a group of teenagers from California who are in high school. They experience a multitude of issues. Some important characters are Rue, Jules, Nate, Cassie, and Maddy. The group of friends is divided and united by their trauma, experiences, and conflicts with one another. The audience is shown clips of couples involved in toxic relationships and teenagers struggling with drug addiction. In this blog, I will discuss how this show illustrates the assumptions about gender, race, and sexuality of the main character, Jules Vaughn. 

To begin, Jules is introduced to the show as a transgender woman struggling with her identity for a long time. For instance, when she was 11 years old, her mother sent her to a psychiatric hospital because Jules had a history of self-harm and depression. She suffered from gender dysphoria – someone fighting against their biological and gender identity because they believe it is not the same. In Season 1, Episode 2, Jules talks to her therapist about a Supprelin implant embedded in her body that prevents her voice from dropping and stops her male genitals from developing. The thought of puberty scared her during her childhood because she felt out of place in her body from a young age. Although the journey of a transgender youth experiences highs and lows, Jules’s father serves as a positive example of a support system for LGBTQ+ youth. Jules has a father-daughter relationship rather than a mother-daughter relationship. This is unusual because typically, mothers are known for being more nurturing and accepting than fathers; however, in this case, the roles are versed and Jules’s father is the one who stays with Jules during her transition.

Sexuality also plays an important role in how Jules is presented to us. For example, we can categorize her sexual orientation as bisexual because she has a relationship with Rue Bennet, a female, and romantic feelings for Nate Jacobs, a male. In addition, she has sexual encounters with Rue in addition to Nate’s father. However, not everyone is accepting of Jules’s gender identity. Jules and Nate shared explicit text messages and images through a dating app. Nate catfishes her and creates a persona labeled ‘Tyler.’ He struggles with internalized homophobia, which causes him to lash out against Jules and blackmail her when he acquires some of her nude pictures. Also, internalized homophobia implies that Nate does not consider Jules a female but a male because she has a penis. He feels homosexual because he is attracted to someone with male genitalia. This is discovered when Nate’s girlfriend, Maddy, finds pictures of male genitalia on Nate’s phone. Nate blackmails Jules because he believed that she was going to make a report to the police about his father sleeping with Jules, a minor, and recording a sex tape, which would be considered child pornography. Other than this, every other character in Euphoria respects Jules’s pronouns and identity. However, in Season 1, Episode 8, Rue approaches Nate outside during a school dance and threatens him about ruining his life and his father’s if he does not leave Jules alone. Rue further expresses her anger towards Nate by saying that “I have no problem walking into any police station and telling them that Nat Jacob’s daddy likes to f*ck little kids.” This scene demonstrates the lengths that Rue would go to stand up for those who disrespect her friend Jules. You can see this in action in the YouTube video attached below. Warning: Inappropriate language is used. 

Lastly, Jules’s race is white, meaning she does not experience the same problems as a black transgender person in the LGBTQ+ Community. Euphoria follows the default of white representation in media rather than illustrating a diverse trans woman. Also, statistics have shown that across the United States, Latinx and Black trans women encounter more violence, discrimination, and hate crimes towards their identities. For example, in San Francisco, 47.9% of Black and 49.0% of Latina trans women experience hate crimes. Because the creators of Euphoria made Jules a white character, they failed to demonstrate the hardships experienced by other transgender POCs (Persons of Color). Another important aspect is that she gets involved in an interracial relationship with Rue, which shows us that Jules does not have a preference when dating someone. Jules’s interracial relationship with Rue illustrates that her experience of being marginalized in society allows her to be more empathetic toward other oppressed populations.

Euphoria portrays an accurate picture of teenagers who are transgender. Although Jules is a 17-year-old trans woman rather than an older trans woman who has encountered more obstacles, Euphoria mimics these real-life situations. A teenager struggles through a period where puberty and identities are questioned; however, adults are more secure about themselves, explaining the chaotic nature of Jules’s experiences. She has not only combated against gender dysphoria but her future and personal identity. Unlike other shows and movies, Euphoria shows us an accurate representation of the difficulties adolescents face throughout their lives that many prefer to conceal, although it can be inaccurate because the show is not based on true stories. It can be hard at times to digest the scenes presented by the actors, but it helps us better understand what it is like to experience these situations and develop sympathy. Although life is complex and complicated, it is essential to grow awareness about how people who are considered to be “different” in society face societal prejudice and learn to overcome these obstacles. 

Jules Vaughn

Sources: https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-021-11107-x

Teleflora – Let’s Sell Sex: Enforcing Gender Norms, Body Norms, and Racist Views

Lights, camera, (sensual) action! Teleflora, an online flower delivery service, debuted their “Valentine’s Night” commercial during the 2012 Superbowl (“Teleflora”). Through this strategic marketing, the company reached its intended demographic of a male-dominated audience. By design, the commercial aims to capture the attention of a heteronormative group of male spectators, which also has implications on societal norms surrounding sports and masculinity. The overt focus on societal norms and expectations surrounding the male perspective, in turn, leads to a regressive depiction of the featured female – a depiction filled with undertones of patriarchal and sexist views of women in society. 

Teleflora Ad – “Valentine’s Night”

As if a title like “Valentine’s Night” didn’t already scream sex and sensuality, the portrayal of a female in the intimate space of her bedroom furthers the theme of sex and sensuality emphasized by Teleflora. The camera in the commercial quite literally embodies the male gaze as it follows Brazilian model Adriana Lima from head to toe… sliding stockings over legs, fastening her lingerie, slipping into her red bottom heels, and slowly applying ruby red lipstick. This voyeuristic effect elicits a sense of intimacy between the audience and the “object” of the commercial. In a sense, the commercial objectifies the female body and promotes the expectation that women should “look pretty” not for themselves but for the gaze of others, specifically males. This expectation finds explicit emphasis in the female model’s own words… the only words uttered throughout the entire commercial.

Lima getting ready for “Valentine’s Night”

With the camera up close and personal, Adriana’s red lips come into focus as she says:  “Guys, Valentine’s Day is not that complicated. Give and you shall receive.” The message comes across as “Men, it’s simple… give women flowers and get [you know what] in return.” This transactional depiction not only demoralizes female agency but also plays upon the patriarchal tropes and symbols that permeate society and systems. Adriana’s words reinforce the harmful expectation that giving females a material object triggers an obligation for the female to return the favor. This notion couches females’ worth in their service to males; A male initiates a transaction and the female is expected to return the favor. This uneven distribution of power subverts female agency and reinforces the harmful notion of female inferiority to males – perpetuating sexism and patriarchy in modern-day marketing. In this context, sex transforms into a form of payment for the “Valentine’s Night” gift. 

Part of the commercial where Lima addresses her male dominated audience

Additionally, the female image presented in the commercial promotes narrow, unrealistic beauty standards. Teleflora plays upon societal beauty standards that idolize skinniness, long legs, toned arms, cleavage, fair skin, high cheekbones, and silky smooth hair among other features. Overall, these characteristics are not representative of the actual diversity of female body types and skin tones. In this way, harmful beauty norms surrounding the female body also intersect with the oppression of other forms of identity, like race and ethnicity.

At first glance, the commercial appears to provide a platform of ethnic representation, but upon further analysis, it does quite the opposite. Teleflora depicts Brazilian model, Adriana Lima, in an errotic light – a strategic marketing ploy to gain the attention of viewers (“Teleflora”). The commercial reinforces the sexualization of Hispanic women in the media and plays upon the trope of an “attraction to the exotic.” Though this marketing decision may capture the attention of more viewers, the question becomes, “At what cost?” Biases are shaped and reinforced by symbols and images people are exposed to everyday. Pairing sexual symbols with the image of a Hispanic woman only furthers stereotypes about the broader group of women who identify with the Hispanic culture and overshadows the diversity of beauty and body type within the ethnic group. The “Valentine’s Night” commercial positions an intersectionally marginalized identity in service to the dominant male (likely white) audience. Even though the dominant group is not present in the commercial itself, it still manages to influence the narrative and support the maintenance of oppressive depictions of the marginalized identities. 

In the end, Teleflora makes buying flowers “sexy” by pairing the flowers with a sexualized and unrealistic female depiction. Though this marketing tactic may have been helpful in reaching the targeted male audience, it has harmful implications for gender and sexuality norms. The commercial perpetuates symbols of females as objects rather than humans with agency and reinforces sexist and patriarchal notions of femininity. It also perpetuates racist views by exoticizing a Hispanic woman and reinforcing ethnic stereotypes about what a “sexy Hispanic woman” looks like or wants. Just as Teleflora’s red and white floral arrangements trigger images of Valentine’s Day, its narrow and sexualized depiction of a Brazilian female triggers deep-seated undertones of patriarchy, sexism, and racism. 

Work Cited:

“Teleflora – Valentine’s Night Video from Ad Age.” Ad Age, 5 Jan. 2012, https://adage.com/videos/teleflora-valentines-night/1187.

The Obstacles Blocking the Pathway to Reproductive Rights

People, especially those who can give birth to a child, have been in a constant back and forth argument about having the choice to have or not have an abortion. 

Although Roe v. Wade was a big step in the reproductive rights movement, the idea of this choice of keeping or aborting a pregnancy goes back to before this impactful court decision. 

After the Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022) decision was made, reproductive rights were taken away from many people in the United States. This decision led many individuals to lose their reproductive rights including the choice to have an abortion or even the decision to use birth control to avoid the possibility of pregnancy.

This image connects to what is occurring today especially in the United States because, for many people, going to the voting polls and taking part in elections is the only way to protect their reproductive rights. The image above shows a woman at a voting poll with a speech bubble that says “This is now a part of my birth control routine…”

What first stood out to me from this image was the way in which the woman is being portrayed. Based on things like her posture or even the colors used for her clothing, it seems like she is stressed or concerned even about the impact of her vote. In a way, this can connect to all people who were impacted by the Dobbs v. Jackson court case decision because many people are tired of having to fight for their own reproductive rights. Before and even after Roe v. Wade, reproductive rights were constantly being challenged by the government whether at the state or federal level, and people, especially women, were already having to go to voting polls to make their voices heard. Eventually, this got tiring for many once it was evident that the government did not really pay much attention to what the people wanted. This same sense of exhaustion and hopelessness can be seen in this image and the way in which the woman is standing at the voting poll in a posture that makes it seem like she has the weight of the world on her shoulders.

Going back to the colors of her clothing, for the most part these are all dark colors. The use of color for the clothing can reflect on the emotions being felt not only by the woman portrayed in this image, but by all people who are currently being impacted by Roe v. Wade being overturned. After the Dobb vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization court case, women around the country felt a sense of defeat and loss of hope. These dark colors connect to the dark times that people are going through now that they do not have access to reproductive rights that for many were considered to be lifesaving, whether it is from a medical complication or simply as a way to avoid having an unsafe abortion. 

Another part of this image that caught my attention is the speech bubble. This idea that voting is a reproductive right alone says a lot about the accessibility to reproductive rights here in the United States. The text in the image is portrayed in a way that at least for me, it leads to a sense of uncertainty and worry even. Specifically, the use of the ellipsis in the end leads me to wonder about the even longer list of thoughts that people have when voting, especially on topics regarding reproductive rights. Reproductive rights alone encompass many different areas and having to vote for all these rights alone to then potentially not be heard can be quite a lot to have on your mind. 

This post also leads me to reflect on the lack of access to this right for people of color in the United States. For white people, it is a normal thing to be able to do things like vote, but many communities of color are given certain obstacles that make voting inaccessible to them. 

Obstacles like making voting polls farther away from people of color or having fewer voting polls than in places that are mainly made up of white communities leads to the voices of people of color to be ignored. Reproductive rights, before Roe v. Wade was overturned, were not as accessible to many people of color, but now that the case is overturned, women of color are left with few, if any, reproductive rights. This in itself is quite harmful because it leads many individuals to take part in unsafe abortions which can negatively impact a person’s health physically, mentally and emotionally. Going past the impact that this can have on a person’s health, limiting these rights, especially to women of color, has led to the deaths of many people who were only trying to ask for help, but instead were denied and left with options that were not safe for them at all. 

Overall, this social media post opens up the floor to the topic of reproductive rights, but it also reflects on the inequality seen in the voting system and the impact that this lack of choice can have towards people of color and their own reproductive rights.

“But Girls Can’t Like Lizards!” – Gender Stereotyping in a Popular Kids Show

Jessie, a Disney Channel show, ran for four seasons from 2011 to 2014. It follows the story of a woman in her twenties, Jessie, who’s an aspiring actress nannying for a family in New York City while trying to land a role. She nannies four kids – Emma, Luke, Ravi, and Zuri – whose parents are almost always traveling for work. I first watched Jessie when I was twelve years old and will admit that since then it has become one of my comfort shows. However, in the past few years I’ve started noticing that there are a lot of problematic things throughout the show, including a vast amount of gender and racial stereotyping. 

Although there are many issues with the show, I would like to focus specifically on the storyline of Ravi’s crush on a girl named Tanya in season one, episode 21 titled “A Doll’s Outhouse.” In Jessie, there is a lot of emphasis on following gender norms. Emma and Zuri are perfect examples of this as they are “girly girls” who follow traditional beauty standards and their interests include fashion, boys, makeup, and dolls. The most notable thing about Tanya’s character is that she doesn’t follow these gender norms and could be considered a “tomboy.”

Tanya sitting in Central Park.

The first time we see Tanya is in Central Park when Luke is trying to talk to Ravi but he’s not paying attention because he’s too busy staring at her while she’s painting a lizard on a canvas. Eventually Luke does get Ravi’s attention and the dialogue during this scene is as follows:

Because Tanya doesn’t dress like a “typical” girl, Luke sees her and assumes that she’s a guy. This idea that Tanya being a girl is shocking carries on throughout the episode. After Luke finds out that Ravi likes Tanya, he says Ravi should try to talk to her which then leads to the following conversation:

If Luke, the character representing the stereotypical tween boy (meaning his main interests are girls and sports and he hates doing homework and taking showers), had farted, it would’ve been turned into something funny. However, when Tanya farts it’s used as something to show how “unladylike” she is. Furthermore this fart is used as a reason for why it’s “understandable” for Luke to think she’s a guy.

One last notable example of Luke commenting on how Tanya seems like a boy, happens near the end of the episode when Ravi and Luke are preparing to duel because Ravi thinks Luke is trying to steal Tanya from him. Luke attempts to get Ravi to cancel the duel and this is a short part of their exchange:

Luke (left) and Ravi (right) during their duel while Emma (behind Luke) watches.

The Tanya slander continues in the duel scene as Emma listens to Tanya’s comments as she watches the duel and responds quietly to each one. These comments are problematic for many reasons, one of which is that Emma’s character is about three years older than her – Tanya is in elementary school and Emma is in middle school.

The final comment Emma makes during this scene is particularly upsetting to me. After the duel, Ravi realizes that Luke really wasn’t trying to steal Tanya and the two of them leave the park without Tanya. After they leave, Tanya and Emma have a brief interaction:

This would be upsetting in any situation, but in this case it’s even more so because of what demographic makes up the intended audience of Jessie. The show is intended to be for children ages 7-10. An important part of media, especially television and film, is for the audience to be able to see people like them represented. In this case, there may have been quite a few girls watching the show who felt they could relate to Tanya’s character. When Emma insinuates that because she isn’t pretty in the traditional sense and has “non-girly” interests, Tanya is going to be alone forever, that’s the message being sent to all the young girls like Tanya who watch Jessie

A similar message may also be sent to some young male viewers who identify with Ravi’s character. Ravi is the show’s token nerdy Indian character. He is often the butt of jokes (usually Luke’s) and in this episode is mocked for his lack of skills when it comes to romance. One particular line that stood out to me in this episode was when Ravi showed up to the duel wearing an old-fashioned soldier’s uniform. Ravi asked Luke why he hadn’t worn his proper dueling attire and Luke responded by saying “Because some of us don’t want to die alone” (14:36). Just like viewers who relate to Tanya, viewers who relate to Ravi are getting a similar message that because of their “nerdiness” they’re going to be alone forever.

Ravi in his proper dueling attire.

Most kids who are at the ages of the intended audience for shows like Jessie don’t have very well-developed critical thinking skills which means they aren’t able to think about shows the way older people can. I know that when I first watched Jessie all the problematic things about it didn’t register as problematic until I was older. There are so many messages sent by this show, even in this episode alone, and a majority of them are negative. This episode tells young girls and boys that if they’re “nerdy” and not conventionally attractive, they’re going to be alone for the rest of their lives and reinforces this idea that being conventionally attractive and dumb is synonymous with romantic success. That’s why it’s important to be very intentional about how shows for children are written. Writers need to be intentional about the messages they are sending to young viewers and Jessie is a great example of how not to write.

Heartstopper’s Promotion of Positive Queer Representation

Heartstopper Cast Picture

Testing positive for covid on my last day of high school was not ideal, however it did provide me with the necessary free time to fuel my obsession for the hit Netflix series and webcomic, Heartstopper. I truly did not stop consuming content for my five days of isolation and at this point, I cannot count the times I’ve seen the show in its entirety, though I believe it’s getting close to double digits. I do not regret a second. If you are not familiar with the show, Heartstopper, written by Alice Oseman, originally started as an online comic released in September of 2016. Today, Oseman is working on their fourth volume with the show recently renewed for a second and third season. The story follows two boys, Nick Nelson (Kit Connor), a “straight”, popular rugby boy, and Charlie Spring (Joe Locke), a quiet drummer who was recently outed as gay, and their growing relationship as unlikely friends turn to lovers. This story is not only heart-warming, but also so important for the LGBTQ commnuity and more how queer characters are presented in the media. In my blog post, I will further explain why I believe this and specify how the show validates the identities of its queer characters.

One aspect of the Heartstopper storyline is the relationship forming between Charlie’s two friends Tao (William Gao) and Elle (Yasmin Finney). While the three of them formerly went to an all boys school together, Elle recently switched to a nearby girls school. With Tao and Elle spending more time apart, their feelings for each other strengthen. In many shows or movies, the language used to describe relationships between cis and trans people is harmful and invalidating, but Heartstopper trains audience members to view Tao and Elle’s growing relationship no differently than they would view any other heterosexual relationship. One way the show does this is in a conversation between Charlie and Tao. When Tao warns Charlie about having crushes on straight boys, he says, “As you token straight friend, it’s my duty to remind you that sometimes people are straight.”

Heartstopper (Season 1, Episode 2)

This line, while subtle, is incredibly important to the show. By clarifying Tao identifies as straight, the show later affirms Elle’s identity. Tao having a crush on Elle uplifts the fact that trans women are women, no exceptions. In addition, the only concern they both have with their crushes on each other is the thought of ruining their friendship. As Tao talks about why he hesitates to tell Elle his feelings, he says, “The last thing she needs is me throwing a curveball and messing up our friendship.”

Heartstopper Comic (Volume 3, P.719)

There is NEVER any discussion of Elle’s transness being an issue because that should never be an issue in the first place. By simply normalizing a relationship between a trans girl and a cis man, Heartstopper changes the audience members preconvienced biases about trans characters. 

Heartstopper also uses language to break down biphobia, particularly the invalidation of bisexual men. Biphobia often takes shape in the erasure of bisexuality, meaning certain people believe one cannot be attracted to multiple genders. This assumption comes up in the Heartstopper comic. Before Nick and Charlie get together, Nick’s friends spend time discussing his sexuality. Miss Singh, the rugby coach, comments on their conversation, “You can’t tell whether people are gay by what they look like. And gay and straight aren’t the only two options. Anyway, it’s very rude to speculate about people’s sexuality.”

Heartstopper Comic (Volume 1, P. 204)

While Heartstopper aims to normalize LGBTQ+ identites, it also breaks down harmful ideology surrounding the queer community. Additionally, it replaces negative talk surrounding queer people with positive examples of queer discourse. After Nick and Charlie’s first kiss, Nick feels unsure about his sexuality. However, his new friends, Tara and Darcy, validate his questioning. Darcy adds in that, “Tara didn’t know she was a lesbian until [they’d] kisses like 6 times.”

 Heartstopper Comic (Volume 2, P. 434-435)

While the quote itself is intended to make readers laugh, it also promotes the idea that self discovery takes time. As friends surround Nick with positive encouragement, he feels more comfortable and confident in himself. This newfound self-understanding ultimately leads to Nick identifying as bisexual. After going out with Charlie for a few months, Nick feels he finally understands his sexuality and at the end of the first season, he decides to come out to his mom.
Heartstopper (Season 1, Episode 8)

While coming out scares him, Nick confidently tells her about both his boyfriend and his sexaulity. This scene shows incredible growth for Nick in not only overcoming his internalized homophobia but wanting to share his relationship with others. In addition, when his mom tells him that it’s okay if he doesn’t like girls, he assures her that “it’s definitely not just guys.” This interaction shows positive behavior on both sides; his mom supports him no matter his sexuality, and Nick feels secure in his identity. As bisexual men are not particularly prevelent on screen, Nick’s character is an incredible role model for both masculine guys who may be questioning their identities and audience members who may be concerned about the legitimacy of bisexuality. 

As you may have gathered by now, I cannot say enough about this story. Both the Heartstopper show and webcomic have done so much good worldwide, and I’m excited to see how the series continues to break down stereotypes and promote positive queer culture in later seasons. 

A Voice for the Voiceless: How Grey’s Anatomy Moves from “Silent All These Years” to “Shattering the Glass Ceiling”

Women are taught to never walk alone at night, to carry their keys between their fingers, and to dress modestly but not too modestly. I consider these basic “Woman 101” tips. And somehow, these tips are supposed to keep me and other women from becoming another 1 in 3. 

When current conditions are voiced, we as a society tend to turn a blind eye. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the court despite being accused by multiple women of sexual assault. Many women and girls limit their behaviors for fear of rape— for fear of being told that “boys will be boys,” “you were asking for it in that dress,” or “maybe next time you shouldn’t drink so much.” Concomitantly, adolescents have learned that consent does not matter—that it is irrelevant. 

While discussions are finite, popular media has begun to tackle the topic of rape. The season fifteen Grey’s Anatomy episode, “Silent All These Years,” written by Elisabeth R Finch, aims to initiate the dismantling of rape culture while highlighting the importance of consent and the lasting impacts of rape. The title, in and of itself, highlights just how oppressive and dismissive society becomes when women speak up about instances of sexual assault and rape. 

The episode begins when Khalilah Joi, guest-starring as a woman named Abby, arrives at Grey Sloan Memorial. With a cut to her face and bruises, coupled with skittish behavior, Dr. Jo Wilson recognizes the signs of rape. As the episode progresses, viewers learn that Abby was raped after leaving a bar. Aware of the victim-blaming narrative frequently used against women, Abby is hesitant to report the incident to the police or let her husband know. In attempting to break the stigma, Dr. Jo Wilson breaks protocol and shares her story of rape and sexual violence. She humanizes herself, therefore allowing Abby to see her as more than a woman in a white coat. When Abby agrees to a rape kit, something she knows will probably end up sitting in the back of a police station, Dr. Jo Wilson and Dr. Teddy Altman shift the power back to Abby. Before moving to the next portion of the rape kit, Abby must give them consent. She makes all the choices for herself. Something so seemingly simple is immensely powerful. Just hours before, Abby had lost all body autonomy. 

Dr. Jo Wilson sharing her story with Abby

That said, the most moving part of the episode comes prior to Abby’s surgery. Hesitant to go under anesthesia out of fear of being vulnerable again and fearful of seeing her attacker in the faces of the male staff and doctors, Abby resists the surgery. From that, the “hall of awesomeness” was assembled. The hospital’s female employees lined the entire length of the hallway right up to the operating room (which only had female doctors because girl power!!). The vast majority did not know Abby but showed up because they would want others to do the same if they were in that position. 

The “Hall of Awesomeness”

The show made an additional point to shift the fault from the woman. We live in a society that thrives off victim-blaming. Contrary, in “Silent All These Years,” Ben Warren, played by Jason Winston George, took the time to explain consent to his stepson Tuck Bailey, played by BJ Tanner: “If she stops having fun, just plain stop,” said Ben. “Time out. Game Over.”

Media portrayals of sexual assault correlate with increased victim blaming and the way the public discerns victims. Contrasting the standard image of women as sexual objects, Grey’s Anatomy humanizes the victim, emphasizing the importance of consent while moving away from victim blaming. 

I was talking to someone the other day who said he thought this episode was cringy. He viewed the “hall of awesomeness” as unrealistic and unnecessary, leaving him emotionally detached. And while I listened to his opinion and told him he had the right to hold that belief, I elaborated on my perspective. The unity and “women supporting women” narrative present throughout the episode not only reinforced the idea that you are never alone but highlighted just how essential lessons on consent and education about rape are. 

There is a common misconception that feminism is anti-male when the movement’s principle is contingent on equal rights for women. Women want to be heard, to be supported, and to be given a choice. This episode highlights this message. The creators gave a voice to the voiceless. They addressed the intersectionality between race and gender; Abby was played by a Black woman, serving as a nod to the increased vulnerability of Black women. They highlighted the healing power of female solidarity while recognizing that trauma is real and does not go away overnight. They emphasize that survivors are not alone and that they are not at fault. 

To anyone that finds Grey’s Anatomy over-dramatic, cringy, or over-rated, I encourage you to give it another chance. While it might not change your opinions on the show, it empowers survivors in a world that usually silences them. If not for yourself, do it for the one in three. 

All About That… One Body Type

All About That Bass Official Music Video

I love Meghan Trainor’s song “All About That Bass” in which she is apparently encouraging women to embrace their curves and hating on the idea that women should be “stick figure, silicone Barbie dolls.” The message that she is conveying though could actually be counterproductive to a societal norm of recognizing beauty in all body types. 

Firstly, the message that Trainor is sending through her lyrics is that female bodies are inherantly sexual and that women should embrace their curves because “men like a little more booty.”

She additionally says that she has “all the right junk in all the right places,” meaning that she has curves, or fat, in places on her body that are generally considered attractive and/or sexy, probably her ass and her breasts. This line makes it seem as though Trainor believes that there is a right place for fat on a female body and that fat should enhance a woman’s sexual features. The idea of women being fat in only specific places on their bodies in order to be more sexually attractive is definitely not a fat positive or feminist stance on female bodies. Fat can be considered sexy in any place in the body, from the belly to the back to the cheeks to the ankles, and Trainor is unfortunately just enforcing another impossible stereotype for women. 

Also, fat should not be seen as something sexual, neither should a lack of fat. Human bodies are made for so much more than sex, and female bodies in particular are seen so often in culture as symbols of sex, and being a fat sex symbol is no better than being a skinny one. Trainor uses the idea that men like fat asses to make fatness seem acceptable. Telling women that men like a specific trait and that makes it a good trait is certainly not a feminist idea. I should be allowed to live in my own body without having to justify my beauty by saying that men think I’m sexy so it’s ok.

One lyric from this song talks about “skinny bitches” and definitely gives a negative connotation towards skinny women, implying that being fat is better than being skinny. In this way, Trainor is trying to impose a new standard of beauty that is just as unattainable for some people as being super skinny is by shaming skinny women. “Skinny shaming” should not be a substitute for fat shaming, we shouldn’t be shaming anybody about their body type!!

As if the lyrics aren’t enough, the music video for Trainor’s song is just as damaging. Trainor and her four main backup dancers, as well as the other female presenting dancers in the video, are all pretty much the same body type, and they aren’t even fat! 

In a song that is supposed to be about empowering fat women, having a bunch of women who, while they might not be stick thin, certainly aren’t fat, play as if they are fat is incredibly damaging. Additionally, Trainor has two young girls as dancers in the video who are very thin, sending a message to the young girls who watch the video that this is the ideal body type for their age.

The only truly fat person in the video for a song ABOUT BEING A FAT WOMAN is a MALE presenting dancer who doesn’t even get much screen time.

In a society that shames fatness, telling women that very mid-sized people are the fat people in our world completely discounts a whole group of people AND makes mid-sized people think that they are fat, which is damaging in a world that shames fatness.

In addition to the lack of size representation in the music video, the lack of racial representation is prominent, too. Depending on what you consider “dark-skinned,” there are no more than three dark-skinned people, one of them being one of the children, one of them being a backup singer (most of whose face is covered by a wig), and one of them being part of Trainor’s main group of backup dancers, in a cast of about 14.

None of these cast members get much screen time. There do not appear to be any Asian, Latinx, Native American, or any other races of cast members. The only races shown are black, white, and mixed black and white races. There are only two male presenting cast members in the video, and the white man is meant to represent a potential boyfriend type for Meghan Trainor.

So, the main takeaway I get from the combination of the lyrics and the video from All About That Bass is that white (sometimes black) women should strive to have big butts, avoid being skinny, avoid being fat, and to do all of this in order to be sexually appealling to convintionally attractive white men. Definitely not the fat power anthem that we need.

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.