From Palestine to Ukraine: The Roles of Race, Whiteness and Gender in Negotiating Resistance

War and social media have coexisted for the last two decades or so, however, the role social media is playing in the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine stands out from other ongoing conflicts, whether it be the current bombardment and mass starvation of Yemen, the ongoing civil war in Syria, or the practically invisible suppression of West Papuans in their prolonged struggle for independence. I contend that the distinction lies in the way the Western world is responding to the crisis in Ukraine. As a very active American consumer of social media, primarily on Instagram and Twitter, I have noticed an outpouring of support for Ukraine from my American peers previously averse to posting on matters of politics and current events as well as from American and European individuals and institutions with prominent social media followings, including corporations, celebrities and government officials (see images below). These individuals and institutions are what I am referring to when I say “the Western world.” Even my own college of Davidson in North Carolina is currently flying the Ukrainian flag beneath the American one in the center of campus.

I am pointing out this distinction that is the Western world’s response to the war in Ukraine because I think it can teach us an important lesson on a) the political construction of whiteness, b) how race and gender influence how the West perceives and responds to human suffering around the world, c) who is entitled to resistance to violent aggression in the eyes of the West, and d) who is given unequivocal support from the West in their respective fights against imperialist aggression.

I will perform my analysis using a TikTok I encountered on Twitter depicted below. First of all, for a TikTok to make it onto Twitter, especially the politics-focused Twitter spaces I am a part of, it needs to be one that is very prominent and being widely discussed and shared. In the case of this TikTok, it had over 750,000 likes, 16,000 comments and 15,000 shares and 14.2 million views alone at the time that I encountered it. The TikTok itself centered a horizontal video of a young girl confronting a taller and armed male soldier. The video follows the girl as she yells at the solider who responds by walking away and laughing. The environment in the background resembles a desert with a sandy road and hardly any trees. For a moment at the end, the video cuts to an old woman who is crying being interviewed by RT, a Russian media outlet. Above the video, there is text that reads: “LITTLE GIRL TRY TO STOP” followed by two broken heart emojis and a sad face emoji, which is then followed by: “PRAY FOR UKRAINE” [Ukrainian flag emoji] [broken heart emoji]. The caption for the TikTok read: “#ukraine #army #fyp #fyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy #RUSIA #emotional.” The TikTok was posted by @staystrongukrainee, which had 127,400 followers on the app, and now appears to have been removed (most likely for spreading misinformation).

As evidenced by the strange caption and the questionable editing of the video, this TikTok exhibits many standard “red flags” of misinformation. In fact, the TikTok is an example of misinformation as the video it references as depicting Ukraine is really a ten-year-old video depicting a Palestinian girl named Ahed Tamimi confronting an Israeli soldier in the Palestinian territory known as the West Bank. It is precisely the fake nature of this TikTok that interests me the most, as I believe its ability to exist as a piece of misinformation to illicit support, solidarity and sympathy for Ukraine in the current conflict reveals a lot about the political construction of whiteness, as well as the role of race and gender in shaping Western discourse around the Ukrainian conflict specifically, but also war and resistance in general.

First and foremost, I want to speak on this video’s ability to be used as a tool for misinformation and how that is related to whiteness. Ahed Tamimi, who has blonde hair and a fare skin tone, is white passing.

Before I delve into this, I want to touch on the history of this term. “Passing” was first used in runaway slave notices from 19th century America, which Andrea Guzman claims “brings us back to the tension between being white and being free. Are they really the same thing?” This history is significant as it reveals that the concept of “passing” for white is a political construction with implications of power and freedom. It also reveals the fact that whiteness has historically been a threshold demarcated by upper-class, property-owning white people. The runaway slaves could not decide themselves whether they were or were not white passing, but rather their whiteness was contingent on the whims of white people as revealed by the fact that poor white people were sometimes cast as “mulatto” by other whites and sold into slavery.

This is all related to the case for Ahed Tamimi in this example of misinformation as it was her white appearance that allowed this video of her to be repurposed for the Ukrainian conflict, which is situated in a country where the majority of the population has fare skin and, in some regards, is considered white. In fact, some journalists are noting how the skewed coverage of the Ukrainian conflict compared to others around the world (Syria, Yemen, Somalia and West Papua as some examples) is due to its nature as a nation of white people. Another source astutely classified the skewed nature of the coverage as “blatant racism.”

But while Tamimi’s white passing appearance has allowed an account like @staystrongukrainee to co-opt and frame her resistance against the Israeli soldier to be an assumed example of resistance from a Ukrainian girl against a Russian soldier, Tamimi’s identity as a Palestinian, and therefore a non-white, non-Western individual, did not afford her resistance to Israeli aggression the same level of support and sympathy from the Western world that has been afforded to cases of Ukrainian resistance against Russian aggression. Kuan-Yun Wang, in an analysis of American and Canadian media coverage of Tamimi notes that “the media frame Tamimi and the Palestinians as violent initiators.” Wang found that the media also decry her persona as “fake’ and ‘propaganda,'” all of which Wang claims to “achieve the purpose of legitimising the use of state violence on colonised bodies, which ultimately reflects settler-colonial history in North America.” In terms of Tamimi’s reception in Israel, one member of the Israeli government has called her a terrorist, while the current Prime Minister, and Education Minister at the time, Naftali Bennett stated Tamimi deserved to be incarcerated for life following another instance of her slapping a soldier in 2018, which she served time in prison for. I will also speak on popular gendered tropes used against Tamimi in Israel later on.

This is all in stark contrast to the women in Ukraine who have taken up armed resistance against the recent Russian aggression and have been hailed by Western media outlets (examples: France24, Vanity Fair, Slate) and labeled as “brave” and as “heroes,” as seen in the tweets below.

While Tamimi’s relation to whiteness (being non-white but white passing) has impacted the way her resistance is received and, in this case, commodified to illicit certain reactions, her gender has also been used to further delegitimize her resistance, unlike the case of the Ukrainian women. For example, Yasmeen Serhan in an article for The Atlantic noted that “a young girl known for her long, curly hair isn’t the image one might typically come to expect of a national freedom fighter.” While the validity of Tamimi’s status as a “hero” figure is questioned due to her age, appearance and gender, the Ukrainian women being heralded on Twitter and in the media are not subjected to such scrutiny, even when, in another case of misinformation used to illicit support for Ukrainian women fighters, the women are wearing neo-Nazi symbols on their bullet-proof vests. Additionally, I have yet to come across any source that labels the Ukrainian women fighters as “fiery,” which is the sexist term The Mirror used to characterize Tamimi.

The fetishization of Tamimi’s hair is also very prevalent in media and individual accounts of her. The Washington Post described the appearance of her hair as “wild locks swept up in a hair band,” which is yet another example of the emphasis on Tamimi’s supposed feistiness and “wild” nature, which is notably not how men, or the Ukrainian women I’ve referenced, that participate in resistance are ever described. A popular nickname for Tamimi among Israelis and others is “Shirley Temper,” which both fetishizes her hair, in its reference to the hair of Shirley Temple, and weaponizes her gender as something that is associated with rage. The general focus on her hair above everything also points to a form of dehumanization that Tamimi, and not the Ukrainian women, experience.

Other accounts of Tamimi have described her as a “metoo heroic victim” and have classified her resistance as “provocative,” which is yet another sexist term commonly used to objectify and victim-blame women. One Twitter user, who notably has their profile picture set as the Ukrainian flag, objectifies Tamimi in referencing her “usefulness.” They wrote: “Shirley Temper’s arrest was the grand finale of her parents’ grooming. Now that she’s no longer a photogenic little girl, she’s no longer useful.”

Returning to the focus of this analysis, it is clear from these examples that resistance to violent aggression is not created equal according to the West. While Ukrainians are heralded for resisting the violent invasion of Russia, Palestinians like Tamimi who resist the violence of Israeli soldiers (unarmed, in the case of Tamimi) are put under intense scrutiny, delegitimized, objectified and ridiculed. Additionally, it is clear race and gender play key roles in how resistance to violence is negotiated and classified by the West. As evidenced by the TikTok I’ve been referencing, the political construction of whiteness, and its ability to be weaponized at the whims of those looking to achieve certain goals, also plays a key role. Tamimi’s white passing appearance was weaponized to create misinformation to illicit Western sympathy for Ukraine, while her identity as a non-white Palestinian girl (at the time of the 2012 video) complicated and invalidated her actual act of resistance in the eyes of the West.  

Tamimi’s relationship to whiteness can be understood using the words of Bree Newsome Bass, an artist and organizer based in North Carolina, who writes that “The ongoing conflict in Eurasia again shows that whiteness is not an ethnicity but a fluid power construct, a product of colonialism, where inclusion/exclusion fluctuates largely according to the whims of the ruling white elite. Where is the dividing line between Europe & Asia? Between East & West? Between European & non-European? Between white & nonwhite? Anti-Black racism remains the only constant that holds this fragile construct together. There must be clarity on who is unequivocally excluded.”

Bass’ inclusion of anti-Black racism is also relevant to the Ukrainian conflict, as African international students, migrants and residents of Ukraine have experienced immense racism, as well as acts of violence, in their attempts to escape the fighting.  

This case of misinformation from TikTok I have dissected is important in that it reveals the impact of whiteness as a “power construct,” to use Bass’ terminology, that factors into the negotiation of whether or not certain people are entitled to resistance, whether or not it is acceptable that certain people suffer, and whether or not certain people are given unequivocal support from the West, even in the extreme cases of displaying connections to Nazism, like some fighters in the Ukrainian army.

As the Ukrainian conflict continues to this day, alongside numerous other conflicts and cases of Western imperialism around the world that have been purposefully swept under the rug and overlooked, it is important that we do not perpetuate narratives or spread media that supports the racist Western double standard regarding resistance that is rooted in whiteness and its weaponization. All peoples are entitled to resistance against oppressive forces, and we must recognize that.

Book Review *Everyday Sexism: The Project That Inspired a Worldwide Movement*

The overwhelming truth of our world today is the ignorance or dismissal of still- rampant misogyny is as harmful as ever. In some cases, it feels as if the most effective way for the public to understand and agree there is a problem to actively work against, the accounts must be clearly laid out in front of our eyes. Laura Bates, journalist and feminist who details her own reports of assault, takes this to heart as she transforms what began as a catalog for women to share personal experiences of sexism, into a full-forged book of facts and real life stories of how misogyny is woven into everyday life. After her own experience of being harassed on London transport in 2012, Bates becomes passionate about the reality that if she went through this act, other women most definitely have their own stories to share as well.

The beginning of this movement was founded on the idea that the day to day instances of harassment and under representation of any degree deserve to be reported and known, so the argument that this does not occur in current day society can be rebutted. The Everyday Sexism Project, which began in London but became a worldwide phenomenon, is still running as a website, and anyone can report cases of misogynistic actions. After the online platform gained momentum, Bates formatted the stories told into one of the boldest works on the fight against sexism. The power of this collection comes from it being exclusively compiled of real life and relevant circumstances of misogyny being alive today, from women who have lived to tell the tale. 

Laura Bates has certainly already left her mark on the gender and sexualities field, from her numerous publications to her awards won in the craft. An English feminist writer who graduated from the University of Cambridge, Bates has published five works of literature, including Misogynation: The True Scale of Sexism (2018), The Burning (2019), and Men Who Hate Women (2020) as her most recent works. She is also working with the Women Under Siege Project, which is based in New York and has a mission of chronicling how gender violence has been utilized in warfare. Articles she has contributed to this platform include “The Impact of Nurturing Male Violence,” “Shutting us down: How online misogyny prevents women from fully participating in misogyny,” and “A crime upon a crime: rape, victim-blaming, and stigma.” Bates is strong in her assertion of important conversations into her work as she tackles women’s issues. Her relentless dedication to both breaking down injustice and empowering women, which go hand in hand, has led her to earn many honors, including the British Empire Medal in 2015 for services to gender equality and Cosmopolitan’s Ultimate New Feminist Award in 2013. More recently, she has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature as a result of all of the new and upcoming works she has provided. Bates’s publication of Everyday Sexism, in particular, began her trajectory as a feminist writer and opened more doors for how the misogyny women face can be addressed in future literary works. 

The approach Laura Bates takes covers how sexist behavior exists in all places, but it is easy for those who do not experience it’s harm to become oblivious to its effect when it goes unreported. Through the one hundred thousand entries posted, it can no longer be waved off as an invalid, already resolved issue. This myth is debunked further with every inclusion of personal stories from cat-calling, unfairness in the workforce, to violent rapes. Laura Bates declares these crimes against women need to be addressed on a wide, global platform. 

Bates presents both qualitative and quantitative research as the methods of which to layer this argument. The qualitative accounts are derived from the inclusion of women’s personal stories and experiences. While the Everyday Sexism itself website gained over 100,000 submissions before this book was published, the book includes around 15 short excerpts of what these posts had to say. This strengthened the work tremendously, since it backed up Bates’s argument of how misogyny is interwoven into the trials of daily life through following up a point with an undeniable example that proves it. Quantitatively, each chapter begins with a list of vital statistics regarding the topic. This is equally as advantageous to the case at hand, since it sets in place a series of irrefutable numbers and percentages that cannot be overlooked. Both methods, when imputed together, are effective in conveying the serious message of what women have faced both historically and, now, face currently. 

The first four chapters, after the introduction, focus primarily on “Silenced Women: The Invisible Problem”, “Women in Politics,” “Girls,” and “Young Women Learning.” Bates sets up her argument in a way that naturally flows and substantiates as it goes along. To start, she pinpoints three elements that lead silencing to occur: “these three powerful silencing factors- the invisibility of the problem, the social acceptance of it, and the blaming of victims- are corroborated loud and clear by the reports we received, particularly from young women who are learning such lessons hard and early” (29). Later on, in the chapter of women in politics, Bates offers striking statistics, including how at the current rate of progress, it will be 2121 before gender parity is achieved in Congress, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Bates follows this up with stating how women are enormously underrepresented in politics around the entire globe, and how “one frustrating consequence of women being underrepresented in politics is that often any woman is seen first and foremost to represent all women, as if she speaks and advocates for them, and can be judges as if all womankind stands or falls by her actions” (66). This is especially problematic when taking into account women who are also marginalized by their disabilities, sexuality, or skin color, “none of whom are miraculously included in the debate simply by the introduction of a white, middle-class voice” (66). Bates starts her book with powerful sentiments that cannot be overseen. 

The next following chapters include “Women in Public Spaces,” “Women in the Media,” “Women in the Workplace,” and “Motherhood.” These four sections are incredibly telling as they combine all of the different areas where women may face the most discrimination. One particular area this is amplified is street harassment. Bates includes stories of women who “describe the emotional and psychological ways street harassment affects them to an extent that those who do not experience it might struggle to imagine” (173) including the self-hatred and shame that can result from it. Bates also adds how “women of color, trans women, and women of the wider LGBT community experience disproportionate levels of street harassment (the Stop Street Harassment study found that 45 percent of all LGBT people surveyed experienced physically aggressive harassment or assault compared to 38 percent of all heterosexual people) (178). The implications of mistreatment in these key areas is extremely harmful, as Bate expresses, since it devalues the way women view their presence in their fields of study, and how much more difficult it becomes to advance. Also, it is detrimental for institutions to refuse to evaluate how they may be playing a complicit role in this issue. 

The final four chapters of this book incorporate “Double Discrimination,” “What About the Men?” “Women Under Threat,” and “People Standing Up.” The final excerpts of Bates’s work are arguably the most dire to address today. This is where Bates highlights intersectionality as a key term. She explains how “since the Everyday Sexism Project started, many of the stories we have catalogued have described not only sexism but sexism intermingled with other forms of prejudice- racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ageism, disablism, stigma around mental health problems, and more” (291). It is indisputable that transgressions are commonly made against multiple identities at once, and Bates’s inclusion of double discrimination as an entire chapter gives this book an added layer of depth. She states how anyone different from the dominant norms including heterosexuality, white, cisgendered, and nondisabled are met with serious threats. From a feminist perspective “if we are to tackle the fact that women have historically been oppressed because of characteristics that are seen to be different from the male norm, how can we protest such treatment while simultaneously excluding from our own movement the needs and agendas of those with other significant characteristics?” (293). Bates seeks for intersectionality to be synonymous, or rightfully included in every action of the feminist movement, which is crucial for her case to not be met with protest of it being catered exclusively towards white women, which is a route taken time and time again with feminist works that do not account for all women. 

One particular area where Bates’s strengths as a feminist writer come to fruition is her thoroughness when it comes to detail. Each chapter is filled to the brim with resources, research, and insight into the topic at hand. Her word choice is poignant and powerful, and causes readers to be introspective and process what is on the page, and how it is ever present in the world around them. Her inclusion of intersectionality and how incredibly important it is to understand how the issues white, middle class women experience cannot be the loudest voice in the room, since they cannot speak for everyone, sets her tone and supports her argument as one that is inclusive. 

One identifiable weakness is how, although there was a chapter dedicated to the presence of double discriminatory factors, this was not brought up until the very end. Bates did an exceptional job of spotlighting it as she wrote, but it could have been included throughout more of the book. If it were touched upon inside more of the work, readers might gain a greater sense of how pressing and real it truly is. Also, Bates does not elaborate much on what the word “women” covers for her, so this either means it is an umbrella not necessary to exclusively define for the book to still carry the same message, or it is a binary approach. After reading, I believe Bates refers to this term more closely to the first option. 

Critics rave of Everyday Sexism as a pioneering work, and after analyzing it, this remains true. The layout is concise, and the material is nothing short of compelling and raw. Bates has most definitely succeeded in bringing forth a book that is both personal and provocative in how it addresses the issues that need to be dissected. Every skeptic of misogyny and gender discrimination as a real deterrent of women’s empowerment and equality should read this book. College-age students specifically may gain the most from diving into this work, as it is important to pinpoint how these misogynistic mentalities penetrate our world as we are learning individuals, so we can dismantle them together. Overall, this work from Laura Bates is a must-read for all. 

Heroes So White: Lack of Diversity in the World of Superheroes

by Jo Papadopoulou

Written for Autostraddle

One of the first images that comes up when you google “superheroes.” Notice the number of non-male and non-white characters. (Screen Rant, 2019)

I once asked my 10-year-old sister who her favourite superhero was. “Flash!,” she answered excitedly. When I asked her why, she looked at me curiously and said “Cause he is fast, he is so fast sometimes it looks like he is flying, and he is so strong too!” Simple enough answer, right? Well, I then asked whether she knew of any female superheroes with the same abilities as Flash and she couldn’t come up with a reply. When asked about female superheroes, she only knew to list three: Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Catwoman. None of them were her favourite though. An indicator that she probably didn’t choose her favourite based on gender but based on the abilities she could identify with best (she likes running, so Flash makes sense). However, what if she chose Flash because that was the only one she knew? There are other superheroes who are not cishet white males and have the same (and even more) abilities as Flash. She chose Flash because it was who she was most familiar with. It Is who TV series and ads and video games show her.

And that is not true only for my sister. Most kids, most people, only know the white, cishet male, super fit (and usually rich) superheroes. But they are not the only kind of superhero that exists. That is certainly not the only type of people who exist. So why are they the ones mainly shown? How can this very specific, very excluding group of superheroes represent the whole of them? The answer is, it can’t.

Diversity in Superheroes

For many years, the only superheroes shown on television are ones like Superman and Batman, white fit guys who fight crime and get all the beautiful girls. Companies have been trying to appeal to teenage white boys by promoting a heteronormative, fatphobic narrative. For decades, these companies have been creating false, dangerous role models for children and adults everywhere. And while most turn a blind eye to this, some people have always known how hurtful these role models are. All black, gay, fat, Latinx, trans (and many more identities not reprented) folx know. We have always noticed the lack of representation when it comes to superheroes. They never looked like us. We could never fully identify with them.

The “Original” Avengers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, some of the most well-known superheroes by one of the most well-known entertainment companies. (Cinema Blend, 2019)

White Dudes (it’s always them)

White male superheroes are still dominating our screens and comic book pages (e.g. Iron Man, Spider-Man, Superman, Deadpool, etc.). When non-white characters are shown, they usually follow old, hurtful stereotypes (for example, Mantis of Guardians of the Galaxy appears as a submissive Asian woman and her main power is lulling people to sleep). When the companies try to create a more diverse environment around superheroes they usually go about it by adding characters of colour (e.g. Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) and most (if not all) times these characters have huge success due to the fact that there’s so little diversity. So, the question that comes up is, are the companies really being more diverse and inclusive for the fans or for the money? (Sadly, usually capitalism wins over us).

Genre as Old as Time

This struggle with diversity has its roots mainly to the fact that the superhero genre was created some 40 or more years ago and has seldom changed since. Most, if not all, of the creators back then were rich white males making art for almost exclusively white male audiences. Because of nostalgia, a general fear of change, or pure laziness, the genre is still marked by the “white guy hero” trope that was the staple when it started.

Fighting the Status Quo

Another reason superheroes are still white guys is because a big part of what these heroes do is fight the status quo (e.g. bank robberies, coup d’états, etc.). And it is always shown from the perspective of the powerful, that is rich white men. For example, Bruce Wayne (aka Batman), who is a rich white cishet man, is at the center of Justice League sidelining the female characters and (few) characters of colour.

Fatphobia

Apart from being cishet guys and white, the majority of superheroes are slim and fit. In comic books, their abs and excessive muscles are always visible through their suits and in movies and TV shows actors go through long periods of dieting and strict work outs to achieve a “superhero-worthy” body. Whenever fat characters are included they are usually viewed as something to laugh at (e.g. Thor in Avengers: Endgame) or follow hurtful fatphobic stereotypes.

Chris Hemsworth as “Fat Thor”, as he was named by the fandom, in Avengers: Endgame. (“Avengers: Endgame”, Marvel 2019)

New Superheroes

To create a more diverse world, instead of dismantling the pre-existing wider superhero world, new ones are created without the stereotypes of the old ones. Companies like Marvel and DC, big entertainment companies, are starting to release novels with new, more inclusive, more diverse characters. Some examples are: América Chávez (the newest Miss America) is a Latina and a lesbian, Doreen Green (the newest Squirrel Girl) doesn’t have an incredibly slim body with abs and excessive muscles, and Miles Morales (the newest Spider-Man) is half African American and half Puerto Rican. But while it is great that all these diverse characters exist, they don’t appear in the companies’ big cinematic universes, they appear in comic book series not that accessible or well-known to the wider public. While the creation and existence of these characters is a huge step forward, it is still not enough. This diversity needs to be made more widespread and not stay limited to a few comic book characters. We, the fans, need to keep asking for more representation and we can only hope that the companies will listen.

We all deserve to be able to see ourselves as heroes.

Audi’s Display of Sexism and Stereotyping

In 2017, Audi, a German car manufacturer known for its luxury vehicles, released an advertisement to its Chinese market that sparked much controversy around the world. In their attempt to promote used cars to potential customers living in China, the brand not only displayed apparent examples of sexism, but promoted racist stereotypes. This commercial starts off with an Asian heterosexual couple standing at the alter about to get married. Right before their marriage was officially declared, the groom’s mother interrupts the officiant and begins handling the bride roughly, attempting to inspect parts of her body. Only after the bride’s future mother-in-law examines some of her physical aspects, like her eyes, nose, ears, and teeth does she declare the bride fit to marry her son and gives her approval. The terrified bride is seemingly relieved after her future mother gives the couple her consent, until the mother’s focus turns to the bride’s breasts, bring her back to a panicked state. After this blatant objectification, the commercial’s narrator voices “An important decision must be made carefully” as a red Audi Sudan zooms down a highway (Greatdung 0:22-0:23).

YouTube, 17 July 2017

This sexist Audi advertisement centers around the objectification of a woman by not only debasing the bride’s value to just her physical attributes, particularly her facial features, but also by comparing her to something one can buy and own. By insinuating that marrying a living breathing person is an equivalent decision to buying a car, Audi turns the bride into an object that can be materialized and possessed. Not only is the bride objectified by her future mother-in-law, but with the attention shifting to her breasts, she also becomes sexualized. This overt objectification and sexualization of a woman not only advance the harmful ideology of women not being actual people and simply objects for the benefit of men, it can have dangerous consequences that go beyond these beliefs. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) makes this connection by declaring “The objectification and sexualization of girls in the media are linked to violence against women and girls worldwide” (UNICEF USA 2021). This treatment can also have a multitude of negative consequences on the targeted individual’s mental health that can last throughout a lifetime. With the massive platform stemming from the ability to air advertisements to millions of people, comes much responsibility to further notions of equality rather than ideologies that have the potential to cause an immense amount of harm. 

Not only is objectification based on gender a prominent issue in this ad, but race also plays a problematic role. The stereotype of the “tiger mom,” a term coined by Amy Chua which describes Chinese mothers as strict, controlling, and borderline abusive, is also deployed in this Audi advertisement. One aspect of this stereotype is the fixation Asian mothers have on the physical appearance of their daughters (Chua 2011). In this case, the need for the bride’s soon to be mother-in-law to examine her physical features, deciding whether they meet her standards prior to the couple’s marriage further perpetuates this stereotype. Most Asian mothers do not align with this parenting style and utilize a wide range of other strategies, contrary to popular belief. The bride also remains passive during this offensive interaction, exemplifying to this advertisement’s audience that this is the appropriate reaction in the face of maltreatment, which could be easily internalized by woman and child viewers. By displaying this inaccurate idea of what Chinese mothers usually place high value on, as well as the expectation of women staying passive, not only does Audi promote sexism, but also racist stereotypes.

Connecting these ideas, Audi exhibits how the intersection of both gender and race can work together, producing an even greater amount of discrimination for individuals like the bride in their commercial. On the basis of Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw’s concept of intersectionality, two social categorizations of the bride’s identity, being Asian and a woman, create a somewhat unique distinction of the discrimination she faces in this Audi advertisement. Unfortunately, this situation is not rare and many individuals who share these similarities in their identity experience this prejudice on a day-to-day basis. 

Shortly after this commercial aired, it received mass amount of criticism and backlash from the public. One commenter even voiced “The annoying thing about Audi’s used-car ad, besides its objectification of women, is that it thinks Chinese customers deserve only commercials like this” (Washington Post 2019). Others simply called the advisement sexist and disgusting. Many people initiated plans to boycott this company and convinced those around them to partake in this form of protest. Following this severe condemnation, Audi apologized for its ignorance related to this particular incident, assured the public an internal investigation would take place to avoid a mistake like this in the future, and removed this advertisement from television. Audi’s response to this backlash and quick withdraw of their commercial displays the power the public holds and how each individual’s voice matters when speaking out against discrimination. 

Unfortunately, this type of sexist and racist commercial is not the only one of its kind. These companies must continue to be held responsible for the harmful ideologies their advertisements promote and be hyper aware of the massive audience they have the ability to reach just through the commercials they release. These examples of sexism and racism through promoting stereotypes and targeting certain audiences unfairly in advertising must come to an end in order to create a more egalitarian world. These large-scale brands have the responsibility to advance impactful and beneficial messages to the massive audience they are capable of reaching, instead of carelessly feeding this harmful ideology to the masses. 

Works Cited: 

Chua, Amy. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Penguin Books, 2011. 

Greatdung. “Audi Used Car Commercial in China. Full of Sex Discrimination.” YouTube, YouTube, 17 July 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=WiBva8pEgTc. 

Smith, Jamiee, and Hannah Gould. “Not an Object: On Sexualization and Exploitation of Women and Girls.” UNICEF USA, 11 Jan. 2021, www.unicefusa.org/stories/not-object-sexualization-and-exploitation-women-and-girls/30366. 

Wang, Amy B. “An Audi Commercial in China Compared Women to Used Cars. It Didn’t Go Well.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 18 Apr. 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/07/18/an-audi-commercial-in-china-compared-women-to-used-cars-it-didnt-go-well/. 

Theory to Praxis: Training a Summer Camp Staff in South Alabama in a GSS Framework

During the summer, I work at an Episcopal summer camp in south Alabama in which the majority of both the staff and the campers come from predominantly white, conservative communities. Many members of the camp community attend private schools, which indicates a certain level of socioeconomic privilege, and about 60% of staff and campers identify as religious. All of this is coupled with regional customs and beliefs that tend toward overbearing patriarchy and heteronormativity. However, every year we are encountering more diverse staff and more diverse campers, some of which identify as LGBTQ. Therefore, many of our GSS 101 topics are relevant to the camp, but a majority of the staff are uninformed on issues of gender, sexuality, rape culture, and the intersections of these issues with race and disability. So, I would like to use the materials and research from GSS to develop policies and training for staff in order to foster an inclusive camp community.

I have noticed multiple situations in my years at camp that are worth addressing. The first, and possibly mostly difficult to overcome, is the physical infrastructure that reinforces the gender binary. For housing purposes, cabins are delineated strictly as “male” or “female.” However, in the last couple of years, we have had two campers who have identified as trans. This has been a tricky situation to navigate due to the lack of resources for gender-neutral housing and demonstrated transphobia, particularly on the part of male staff. At this time, there is no written policy concerning the housing of trans* identifying campers, and I think it would be worthwhile to establish such a policy, even if we are not in a position to be the most accommodating, so that parents and campers know that we are open to considering options that work for all campers.

The establishment of this strict binary reinforces heteronormative expectations based on a perceived obligation to spend time with and impress the opposite sex. For example, there are camp traditions such as adopting cabin “sweethearts” who are counselors of the opposite gender, or serenading cabins of the opposite gender. At times, fake marriages are staged between a male and female counselor. All of these promote heterosexual relationships without any regard for campers (or staff) who may not be interested in such thing. The language used by staff can also contribute to this idea by suggesting that the “norm” is interest in heterosexual relationships, such as a counselor asking a female camper “Is there a boy you like?”

To counteract potentially ostracizing language on the part of the staff, it is important to incorporate a workshop into the pre-existing week long staff training that in the most simple way possible addresses gender, sexuality, and their role at camp. However, it is also worth noting that a large number of the staff I have worked with have expressed blatant sexism, homophobia, and transphobia through the language they use around other staff members. Many come from strong religious and cultural backgrounds that have influenced their personal belief systems. Therefore, the most effective training would like not involve attempts to change individual’s ideologies; instead, the focus should be on establishing languages and practices that are designed to keep all campers safe, not just those who identify as cisgender and heterosexual.
Potentially, staff could do an assessment of their own implicit biases using online materials as a way to be aware of the biases that they bring to the camp setting. Since I have heard staff perpetuating widespread stereotypes about different groups, i.e. gay men, or lesbians, perhaps training could also include an activity in which the the staff engage with any stereotypes that they represent. This would give counselors the opportunity to become aware of how other people perceive them, and perhaps experience first hand the overgeneralization that accompany stereotypes so that they can work to counteract them at camp.

Finally, a very tangible area that could use both revised camp policy and staff instruction is camp dress code. As it stands, the camp recommendation is that all girls bring a one-piece swimsuit to camp, but when a girl does not, the expectation is that she will be asked to wear a t-shirt over her swimsuit, whether it is a tankini or a bikini. Male staff strongly support the enforcement of the policy and have used terminology such as “it protects them from boys” to justify their beliefs. This type of language reinforces rape culture, since the idea is that women who do not cover their bodies appropriately are at fault if men advance upon them. Instead, the policy and training of staff should reflect a level of accountability for all parties such that the objectification and potential victim-blaming of women is not tolerated. Particularly for younger campers who are are too young to understand why they might be asked to cover up when the heat index reaches 114 degrees, being asked to put on a t-shirt over a new swimsuit reinforces the shaming of female bodies as young as 7 years old.

Breaking down the gender binary, heteronormativity, and nascent rape culture would be very solid steps forward for the camp setting. I have no doubt that some of these ideas would be met with some degree of resistance by the staff, but in the long run, they would promote a healthier, more inclusive camp environment.