Feminist Mix Tape: “Bitch”

  When it comes to strong feminist music, there’s nothing quite like the songs from the 90s. When considering which of these songs best encapsulates that iconic spirit of 3rd wave feminism and assertive, powerful women taking control over their own sexuality, Meredith Brooks’s hit song “Bitch” is the clear winner. The overarching theme of the song is a woman owning her individuality, and unapologetically celebrating the many facets of her identity that make up who she is as a person. 

   The title itself is an ironic critique of the way that men will claim that they want a “strong woman,” and then call her a “bitch” when she actually speaks her mind or refuses to conform to certain gender norms. This is referenced most clearly with the line “So take me as I am / This may mean you’ll have to be a stronger man,” which is essentially saying “If my strength and agency make you feel threatened in your masculinity, then that is your problem, not mine. I will not make myself weaker for your comfort, so you will simply have to be a stronger man.” 

   Her expression of the ways in which modern feminism begins to recognize the intersecting identities of womanhood is evident in the chorus of the song, where she lists the many facets of her sense of self; “I’m a bitch, I’m a lover / I’m a child, I’m a mother / I’m a sinner, I’m a saint / I do not feel ashamed.” The first line addresses how she can be both independent (referencing how society calls free-thinking women “bitches”) and loving at the same time. The second line addresses the way in which our society has determined that once a woman becomes a mother, this is all that she is allowed to be. With the words, “I’m a child, I’m a mother,” Meredith states that the responsibility and stability that come with the role of motherhood are not concepts incompatible with the freedom and creativity of childhood. The third line again challenges this notion that women must be “one or the other,” but this time in regards to her innocence and intentions. 
   A final important line to consider is Brooks’s “And don’t try to save me,” where she acknowledges society’s tendency to disregard women who refuse to be silenced, and instead label them “hysterical.” She predicts that men will assume her duality is an illness or issue from which she needs deliverance, and reminds them she is not some “damsel in distress” in need of saving- so do not even try.

“The Invention of Women:” A Review for Oyèrónkẹ́ Oyěwùmí’s Revolutionary Book

In 2011, Beyoncé asked, “Who run the world?” and answered, “Girls.” Almost a decade later, many of the protest signs at the Women’s March on Washington featured this same declaration. Worthy as it may be, Nigerian sociologist Oyèrónkẹ́ Oyěwùmí’s first book, The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourses, which provides a deconstructive analysis and history of womanhood and gender—and their absence— in Yorùbán society, presents a strong case against the idea that “girls” are, and have been, a global and universal social category. As evidenced by the title, The Invention of Women, Oyěwùmí lays out how “the fundamental category “woman,” which she claims is “foundational in Western gender discourses,” “simply did not exist in Yorùbáland prior to its sustained contact with the West.” (Oyěwùmí x) Moreover, Oyěwùmí presents evidence for how the Western constructions of gender, as well as sex, were brought to Yorùbáland and implemented in such a way that they became salient social institutions that eventually led to the “patriarchalization” (86) of Yorùbán history and society and as a result, the subordination of what is now the category of women.

Before I begin to review and summarize the work of Oyěwùmí in The Invention of Women, I want to foreground her definition of gender as it forms the basis of her analysis. Oyěwùmí considers gender to be “an institution that establishes patterns of expectations for individuals based on their body-type, orders the social processes of everyday life, and is built into major social organizations of society, such as the economy, ideology, the family, and politics” (39).

The work of Oyěwùmí in her 1997 monograph takes the boundary pushing scholarship of sociologist Judith Lorber and others at the time who were focused on the construction of gender, and complicates it by noting that gender was not only socially constructed, but that it was socially constructed in the West and is therefore not applicable transnationally or transculturally. To set the stage for her argument, Oyěwùmí speaks to the characteristics of Western thought that allowed for the construction of gender. She contends that the somatocentricity (ix) of Western thought, in which biological determinism is the basis for the organization of society, coupled with the West’s “privileging of the visual,” (3) made the physical human body “the foundation of social thought and identity” (x) and thus subject to the creation of gender. Oyěwùmí makes it clear that in contrast to the West, Yorùbán society, prior to Western contact, did not privilege the visual sense or the body in its construction of sociocultural meaning.

Oyěwùmí then goes on to explain the ways in which Yorùbán society was organized absent of gender and sex. One key tenet of Yorùbán society that Oyěwùmí explains is the “centrality of the family compound,” rather than gender, “in defining the status of residents” (44). People who married into a household, or “ilé,” were known as “aya,” while those in the household were known as “ọkọ.” The “aya” was considered an outsider while the “ọkọ” was considered an insider and their relationship was ranked such that the “ọkọ” was “the privileged senior” (44). Overall, the hierarchy of Yorùbán society was based on age—with older people having the most status— and thus “social positions of people shifted constantly in relation to those with whom they were interacting” (xiii).

In the latter half of the monograph, Oyěwùmí speaks to the process in which gender was brought to Yorùbán society through missionaries and the imposition of the British “patriarchal colonial state” (123). Because “access to power was gender-based” in Britain, the British arrival in Yorùbáland led to the creation of “women as an identifiable category, defined by their anatomy and subordinated to men in all situations” (123). Oyěwùmí claims that one the most impactful aspects of colonialism that led to this subordination was the colonial educational system as it excluded those under the new category of women. This in turn led to the creation of a stark gender divide in terms of power, wealth, and status, which Oyěwùmí claims is an impact that is still felt in “the contemporary period” (128).

In the final pages of her book, Oyěwùmí widens her focus and criticizes the way in which “womanhood has been pathologized, at a global level” (177). As a result, Western feminists have assumed that the experience and subordination of women is universal without recognizing that this represents a “globalization of what was once a local Western preoccupation” (177). However, because colonialism imprinted gender and the category of women on Yorùbán society, Oyěwùmí speaks to the challenge of “present[ing] alternative ways of looking at anatomic sex-distinctions without pathologizing the female” (178).

I believe the greatest strength of Oyěwùmí’s The Invention of Women lies in the fact that it paints a holistic picture of Yorùbán society and culture before gender was introduced, as well as after colonial contact. As a result, I was able to understand the way in which specific cultural institutions were changed and perverted in the formation of male hegemony in Yorùbán society as a result of colonialism. Oyěwùmí also relies on primary sources, such as Yorùbán elders, to make her argument without preemptively imposing foreign cultural concepts, such as gender, on her research, which she claims is often the case with Western and Western-educated researchers. In her words, “Researchers always find gender when they look for it” (31).

A challenge I would levy on the work on Oyěwùmí in her monograph is the lack of elaboration on her very brief mention of homosexuality. In a discussion around sexual relations in precolonial Yorùbán society, Oyěwùmí contends that “homosexuality does not seem to have been an option” (63) without any further elaboration. Feminist, academic and human rights activist Sylvia Tamale, in her essay, “Confronting the Politics of Nonconforming Sexualities in Africa,” reveals that in many African cultures, there are examples of nonconforming sexuality while noting that “the context and experiences of such relationships did not mirror homosexual relations as understood in the West, nor were they necessarily consistent with what we may today describe as a gay or queer identity” (Tamale 35). Thus, without assuming the presence of homosexuality and nonconforming sexuality in precolonial Yorùbán culture, I wonder whether or not it is even possible to state that these sexualities were absent given Oyěwùmí’s evidence of the absence of gendered identities. In other words, how would nonconforming sexuality be conceived without the construction of gender? Additionally, Oyěwùmí claims that “issues of sexuality were not really issues of morality” (Oyěwùmí 64) until the arrival of Christianity and Islam. Thus, what is nonconforming sexuality when there is no conception of moral, normative and conforming sexuality? Nevertheless, I think Oyěwùmí’s work would be strengthened with a deeper interrogation of homo/nonconforming sexuality in precolonial Yorùbán culture in addition to a discussion on the impact colonialism had on notions of homo/nonconforming sexuality.

All in all, Oyěwùmí’s The Invention of Women is a fairly accessible and relatively short monograph that is not only vital to understanding how gender is constructed, but also vital in that it problematizes the supposed universality of the construction of gender. This book is suited for anyone interested in the intersection of gender and colonialism, for Oyěwùmí reveals how the colonial project in Nigeria was inseparable from the imposition of gendered identities and a gendered hierarchy. Finally, if there’s anything to take away from this review it is this. Next time you hear/say/think “Fuck the patriarchy!” think about the contributions of Oyěwùmí, and how they might inform your answer to this question raised by philosopher and art historian Nkiru Nzegwu: Is patriarchy a “valid transcultural category of analysis?” (21).

Brandon Reid Theory to Praxis: Deliberation Guide

Title:

An Open, Honest Deliberation About Positions on Abortion

Central Question:

To what extent should the U.S. government intervene on the issue of abortion?

Intended Audience:

For this deliberation on the United States government’s intervention (or lack thereof) on the issue of abortion, Davidson students will be invited to participate. I am interested in helping Davidson students articulate a clear stance on the U.S. government’s intervention on abortion. Although students who are confidently supporters of the polar pro-life or pro-choice positions might be initially most prepared for this deliberation, I want this deliberation to be accessible to all students. With that said, student’s whose views align somewhere else on the pro-life/pro-choice spectrum will be encouraged to participate too. Additionally, I want experts on the issue of abortion to participate, so that there is a greater understanding of the issue that can be achieved. Those experts will include doctors, activists, and legal experts from across the ideological spectrum.

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The Feminist “Love-Politics” of Labelle in “Morning Much Better”

Labelle, formed in 1971, was all-female rock trio comprised of Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx, and Sarah Dash. Known for their “godless gospel music” fit for the “space age,” Labelle was revolutionary and boundary breaking in a plethora of ways, whether it be their sex-positive lyrics, futuristic costumes or the fact that they were the first Black rock group to perform at the New York Metropolitan Opera and the first Black vocal group to be featured on the cover of Vogue magazine. I contend that Labelle was uniquely “womanist,” in all the senses of activist and author (and also anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist) Alice Walker’s term, as they were a Black feminist group that loved music and dance and promoted sexual and non-sexual love through their intimacy-laden lyrics and “sexual self-expression” focused performances.

In this short essay, I will analyze their 1971 track “Morning Much Better” from their first album Labelle and lay out why I think it is a feminist song. “Morning Much Better” begins with this demand addressed to a sexual partner: “But if you want to keep me happy / Better hear what I’m saying to you.” To me, this sets the song off on a particular feminist note, as it emphasizes the agency of the person making the demand, which in the case of Labelle, is three Black women. This is especially significant given the fact that Labelle was a departure from the girl group model of the sixties and seventies exemplified by The Supremes, who, also as Black women, were subject to a degree of respectability politics that made them look practically identical and sing about sentiments such as “waiting for love,” in the case of their song “You Can’t Hurry Love.” The difference in tone and agency of The Supremes’ song and “Morning Much Better” underlines both the boundary pushing nature of Labelle as well as their song’s feminist message, which rejected the notion of passively waiting for love and/or a sexual partner.

While the song has one mention of “Daddy,” it is otherwise pronoun-less and thus could apply to anyone of any gender identity, which is another unique feature of many Labelle songs that cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon contends, “surely contributed to the group’s appeal among gay men and lesbians.” Thus, “Morning Much Better” is also part of Labelle’s legacy of promoting a more intersectional feminist message that included people of all gender identities and sexualities.

The central narrative in “Morning Much Better” is a desire to have sex in the morning. One line in the chorus goes: “But I usually like it much better in the morning, yeah.” This overall sentiment of the song renders it as one that is, in signature Labelle fashion, sex-positive, which is a feminist ideal exemplified by many feminists including poet and activist Pat Parker. It also renders the song as one that promotes communication and dialogue in sexual relationships, which I contend is a feminist principle in that it is the foundation of healthy relationships of mutual respect in which both sexual partners have the ability to express their desires as well as what makes them feel good.

In advocating for sexual partners vocalizing their own personal desires and preferences, “Morning Much Better” exemplifies what writer, feminist and civil rights activist Audre Lorde envisioned as radical self-care, which she writes, “is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” While self-care today has veered far from this conception as it has come to adopt the kind of “competitive atomistic” and “liberal individualism” that author and feminist bell hooks claims “undermines the potential radicalism of feminist struggle,” Labelle in “Morning Much Better” is advocating for a radical self-care based on consensual and fulfilling sex, healthy relationships and a good night’s sleep! As the song goes: “But I don’t know, baby, just what it is, but that’s mmmm, when I feel good / Oh, with seven (I assume hours) behind me / Oh, you better come find me, yeah.”

All in all, “Morning Much Better” is a “sonically intimate” and vibrant feminist, and arguably womanist, boundary breaking song that incapsulates a Black feminist tradition of “love-politics,” in the sense that it advocates not only for relationships of love and intimacy that personally feel good, but also a relationship of love with oneself through its promotion of radical self-care. According to a member of the Atlanta Feminist Lesbian Alliance, Labelle’s impact was indeed felt. In their words, Labelle represented “very together women who love people and each other. And they have a heavy feminist message.”

Listen to “Morning Much Better” here.

Brandon Reid Feminist Mixtape: Flawless- Beyonce and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

For my feminist mixtape assignment, I decided to submit Beyonce and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s hit song “Flawless.” For context, Beyonce is a Black woman music artist who grew up in Houston, Texas. According to Wikipedia, Beyonce’s mother is Louisiana Creole and her father is African American. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi is a Black woman writer who spent her childhood in Nigeria. Adichi’s parents are both Nigerian, and according to Wikipedia, Adichi has worked to support LGBT rights in Africa.

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Feminist Mixtape: “Exactly How I Feel (Feat. Gucci Mane)”

Lizzo’s Cuz I Love You album took pop culture by storm in 2019. Track 8, “Exactly How I Feel (feat. Gucci Mane),” is the perfect combo of upbeat chords, techno beats, and empowering messages of self-love. Lizzo evokes messages of second-wave feminist thought, specifically connecting to the book’s ideas that became a worldwide phenomenon entitled Our Bodies, Ourselves, originally published in 1973. The book discusses how “body education has been liberating for us and may be a starting point for the liberation of many other women” (Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, 296). Lizzo’s song coincides with these messages because she is promoting bodily autonomy; as she sings, “Love ’cause I want to,” not because society is telling her to do so, solely to procreate. Or even “Smile if I want to.” She is showing control over her body and that she is the person who gets to decide “exactly” how she feels each day when she wakes up. 

Lizzo’s song also connects to black feminist thought scholar Patricia Hill Collins. Collins argues how images of black women have been controlled by “elite white males” to put black women into boxes where they are either the “mammy,” “matriarch,” “welfare mother,” or “jezebel.” Collins articulates how these forms of control ultimately work as “justifications for racial oppression, the politics of gender subordination, and economic exploitations” (Patricia Hill Collins, 271). Lizzo’s lyrics and identity of being a black woman simultaneously work to break down these stereotypes. She sings, “Can’t hold back my tears/That would be a crime/‘Cause I look pretty cryin'” and “Cry ’cause I want to/Smile if I want to”/Get so mad I could scream.” Lizzo tells us exactly how she feels and all the versions of herself. Each holds power, whether she is crying or smiling, and all these actions happen on her own terms. Lizzo does all this impressively in two minutes; she can present herself as a fully actualized black woman, which employs black feminist thought. She asks the listener, “Ain’t I so amazing? And to that, I answer yes, yes you are Lizzo. 

However, some limitations make it hard to claim this to be “exactly” right on the mark with all feminist frames of thought in 2022. First off, the inclusion of Gucci Mane rapping on the track, on the one hand, displays bell hook’s idea that black women need support from black men in their fight for liberation. As hooks writes, “The formation of a liberatory feminist theory and praxis is a collective responsibility, one that must be shared” (bell hooks, 17). On the other hand, Gucci Mane’s lyricism feels at loggerheads with feminist intersectional thought. He raps, “My heart ain’t got no feelings,” which promotes ideas of toxic masculinity and shows no apparent solidarity for women. Additionally, searching the lyrics, there are no explicit references to intersectional feminism, and subsequently no mention of womanism, transfeminism, or queer feminism. Despite these limitations, “Exactly How I Feel” has a universal message that anyone can relate to, about validating all feelings that arise and crushing the binaries of “good” and “bad,” reminding us we are all humans at the end of the day. 

Feminist Mixtape: “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton is a well-known force in the music industry and, in general, the world. She is a nine-time grammy winner, while also having written over three thousand songs for various film and television projects. On top of her musical success, she has also had many philanthropic efforts, which include supporting child literacy programs and funding a COVID-19 vaccine. As you can tell by the previously stated information, Parton is an inspirational figure to all. 

One of Parton’s most well-known songs is “9 to 5.” Parton wrote the song for a movie with the same title that dealt with an American 9 to 5 workday. The song won a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance and for Best Country Song, both at the 1982 Grammys. It has been streamed more than 3.5 million times on Spotify alone. 

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Feminist Mixtape – “Video” by India Arie

Video by India Arie connects to the Womanist movement and body neutrality. It broadcasts ideologies found in the womanist movement by rejecting the ideals associated with whiteness and femininity. Black women are often ignored in the conversation about equality and representation. India Arie sings about not needing wealth or fancy things to be happy. Through this language, she is rejecting the idea of wealth in order to be feminine. This is part of what the womanist movement rejected from the first-wave feminists. First-wave feminism focused on white, upper-middle-class women instead of the intersectionality and marginalization of different women. India Arie also aims to spread body neutrality by accepting herself and not nourishing the unrealistic beauty standard. She makes references to not shaving her legs, not combing her hair, not getting plastic surgery, and not wearing pantyhose. This is deconstructing the ideals and standards set for women. In the class reading about body hair, it explains how in the late nineteenth century, body hair removal was normalized to show racial superiority and modernization. The Instagram book review writes, “Maintenance of white women’s ‘proper’ physical appearance became about maintaining ‘health’ of the white race in the face of migration and racial unrest” (@alokvmenon). This was an effort by men to control (white) women’s femininity and sexuality. The understanding of black women as inferior because they have body hair connects back to the womanist movement. The standards, acceptance, and discrimination between white and black women were very different. Black women had to deal not only with sexism but also racism. White men during this time aimed to control Black women while simultaneously interpreting them as racially inferior. The need for a movement that accepted all women regardless of race, socioeconomic status, and body size came from the rejection of Black women into the feminist movement. The chorus says, “I’m not the average girl from your video. And I ain’t built like a supermodel. But I learned to love myself unconditionally. Because I am a queen.” This song expresses modern feminist thought by inspiring women to take control of their lives and do what makes them happy. As a Black woman, India Arie tells the story of acceptance, self-love, and independence from the controlling society we live in. 

This song is personally inspiring to me as a Black woman because it rejects the beauty standard that is reinforced through all aspects of society. So often, young girls are told they are too fat, too skinny, not tall enough, too tall, etc. This song teaches young girls that they are beautiful just the way they are. Unlike many current artists, India aims to empower not degrade women. I grew up listening to her in my household which I believe positively impacted my self-esteem.

Feminist MixTape: “enough for you” by Olivia Rodrigo

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: The Tragedy of Heterosexuality by Jane Ward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

Book Review – Bodyminds Reimagined by Sami Schalk

Ondessa Kiliru-Liontree

Black literature is often criticized more heavily and held to a higher standard than the literature of other races. The lack of historical Black narratives has left many Black writers focused on constructing non-fictional literature and realistic portrayals to rewrite history and break down racist ideologies. Non-fiction has always and will continue to have a place in society, however, much can be learned and expressed through speculative fiction. Bodyminds Reimagined investigates Black speculative fiction as a necessary avenue to understand the implications of the intersectionality of (dis)ability, race, and gender. However, many Black authors criticize this hybrid genre and accuse other Black writers of betraying their mission. The question then arises, does Black speculative fiction have a place in Black literature and provide alternative modes for understanding oppression?

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Troubles with the Growing Confidence Cult

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

Confidence Culture

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

‘Your Power’ Music Video by Billie Eilish

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

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

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

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

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

Zooming into Billie Eilish

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

Billie’s first interaction with the snake

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

Billie being strangled by the snake

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

Zooming out of Billie to show the mountains

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

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

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

No wonder why you didn’t ask

She was sleeping in your clothes (in your clothes)

But now she’s got to get to class

Verse of ‘Your Power’

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

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

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

Verse of ‘Your Power’

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

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

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

Chorus of ‘Your Power’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry, But Pantene Ain’t Cutting It.

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

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

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

Screenshots from commercial of Pantene’s message to women 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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