Ten years ago this spring, I entered a fraternity house in broad daylight to see fellow sorority women perform a drunken strip-tease. The event had no official title, it was simply known as a lip synch. Its purpose, if you can call it that, was to see which sorority had the best song-and-dance routine. The best performance was determined by a panel of judges, mostly brothers of the fraternity, and that year, a “celebrity” guest judge: a professor in the college’s government department.
The event was one of more than half-a-dozen competitive events that made up the fraternity’s week-long charity fundraiser, known as Derby Days. The entire effort was held in the name of raising money for a network of children’s hospitals. But what was really at stake that afternoon was who was going to be deemed the most desirable group of women. And that made me feel numb, and then enraged, for reasons I would struggle to articulate for years to come.
Some of the Derby Days events were benign—a penny war, for example—but most, like the lip synch or the beauty pageant or the skit contest, had a clear message. The winners were the most sexually attractive group of women to a certain group of men.
If you had asked me before I went to college if these events would’ve upset me, I am not sure what I would’ve said. I never considered myself a prude, nor was I sheltered from the world of sexual innuendo. I spent my high school years at a liberal boarding school in the Northeast, where we watched endless reruns of Sex and the City and gossiped about our classmates’ hook-ups.
But there was something about that day in 2004 that gnawed at me. I am sure some of the women who performed in the event got a genuine thrill: They enjoyed performing in front of people. And of course most people like being viewed as attractive. But seeing the event play out in front of me—to feel swallowed by the intense competition, to feel like I was accepting the unspoken terms of the event—changed me. The event seemed to confirm so many negative stereotypes about women and men. That women valued, above all else, being seen as sexually desirable to these men. And that men wanted and encouraged the women to perform as objects for their entertainment.
Read more. [Image: waitscm/Flickr]
Laci Green grabs a thin sheet of latex, stretches it over the end of an empty toilet paper tube, and starts cutting away with a pair of scissors. “I’m makin’ a hymennn,” she sings before holding up the finished product to the camera, where, on the other side, more than 700,000 subscribers now await her every upload. “Ta-da!”
Since 2008, the 24-year-old YouTube sex educator has been making informational videos about everything from slut shaming and body image to genital hygiene and finding the G-spot. This particular scene comes from a clip called "You Can’t POP Your Cherry (HYMEN 101)" which explains, with the kind of bubbly, web-savvy humor that makes her a popular vlogger, that the hymen isn’t a membrane that needs to bleed or be broken during intercourse—it’s actually just small, usually elastic folds of mucous tissue that only partially cover the vaginal opening and can, but don’t always, tear if stretched. A year and a half after it premiered, with well more than one million views, Green’s video debunking one of the most enduring misconceptions about virginity is also one of the most popular segment she’s ever recorded.
For a lot of women (and men), Green’s message is hardly news, for any number of reasons. Several comments on the video, which still arrive almost daily, point that out. But other comments tell a different story: that myths about virginity, sex, and basic biology still pervade even among sexually active adults, and when those myths get reinforced by vacuums of reliable information and sexist messages ingrained in popular culture, they can have serious consequences for women’s health.
Read more. [Image: Jaynneandd/Flickr]
George Orwell’s handling of his main female character in 1984 is clichéd, clumsy, and not a little sexist. I made that argument in a piece I wrote last week, and in response, a couple of readers replied with what I’d call the “of its time” defense. Yes, they said, Julia is not necessarily treated as a human being, but you can’t really expect more from a book written in 1949. In the words of commenter LaurelhurstLiberal, “As for the claim of misogyny, that’s scarcely surprising in an author of his era, but he comes off a lot better than many of his contemporaries.”
This argument comes up a lot (as, for example, in this piece on Snow White). As others have also pointed out, the “of its time” defense is standard response to writing about sexism or racism in any non-contemporary cultural product. It’s quietly ubiquitous—but it’s also wrongheaded.
The members of the Republican National Committee gathered in Washington this week. On Thursday, Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and former presidential candidate, was the featured speaker. “The Democrats,” Huckabee declared, “want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government.”
The creepy, condescending-uncle image, the retrograde attitude toward sex: Huckabee managed to illustrate exactly the phenomenon he was trying to decry, the perception that Republicans don’t know how to talk to or about women. Democrats were gleeful. Within hours, liberal groups had bombarded reporters with outraged statements, the White House press secretary had called the remark “offensive,” and MSNBC was playing the clip over and over (chyron: “HUCKED UP”). “If this is the GOP rebrand a year later, then all they’ve gotten is a year older,” gloated the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Read more. [Image: Susan Walsh/Associated Press]
2013 was a great year for television. So great, in fact, that many critics’ best-of-the-year lists offered some especially enthusiastic and superlative praise. "One of the best years for TV in a long time," Time magazine noted. "One of the best years in TV history," the A.V. Club echoed a few weeks later.
But 2013’s stellar offerings didn’t come without their share of problems. Conversations about TV from the past calendar year raised questions about the character diversity and representations of minority groups. Why does Mindy Kaling only date white guys in The Mindy Project? Will Girls get over its race problem? Can Doctor Who overcome its disappointing whiteness and maleness? Given the success of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, why don’t more showrunners take cues from Shonda Rhimes and make diversity a priority? How can portrayals of bisexual people improve if television doesn’t even get female friendships right? Why is Orange Is the New Black the gold standard for TV diversity when even it could do so much better?
New allegations of sexual harassment and inequality could help change a culture that routinely alienates female fans and cartoonists.
According to Justin Lookadoo, “dateable” women “know how to shut up.” He’s given hundreds of speeches at public schools across the South.Read more. [Image: lookadoo.com]
In honor of “Titstare,” an ode: to the soft bigotry of bro expectations
Read more. [Image: K Jordan/Instagram]
"Thank you, honey, for ignoring my infidelity, here’s a diamond."
In The Smurfs 2, there are a lot of Smurfs. And they all have names based on their unique qualities. According to the cast list, the male ones are Papa, Grouchy, Clumsy, Vanity, Narrator, Brainy, Handy, Gutsy, Hefty, Panicky, Farmer, Greedy, Party Planner, Jokey, Smooth, Baker, Passive-Aggressive, Clueless, Social, and Crazy. And the female one is Smurfette—because being female is enough for her. There is no boy Smurf whose identifying quality is his gender, of course, because that would seem hopelessly limited and boring as a character.
These characters, originating as they did in mid-century Europe, exhibit the quaint sexism in which boys or men are generic people—with their unique qualities and abilities—while girls and women are primarily identified by their femininity.
Read more. [Image: Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Animation]