Ways the Media Failed Women, or Ways Women Failed Women?

Just this past week, The Representation Project released a video highlighting the ways in which the media has failed women in 2013. The included ads vary from hypersexualization of women in advertising, to blatant misogyny on the news, to Miley Cyrus on the VMAs.

“Imagine a world where the media inspires women rather than degrading them,” they say. However, while over-sexualized representations of women arguably do provide potentially questionable role models for women, the reactions of viewers nation wide revealed further questionable societal behavior.

Comments online included serious  chastisement of the girls in the videos for using their sexuality in ‘demeaning’ manners, comments to other commenters on how the women on the ads chose to use their image sexually and had a right to do so, and comments on the larger debate of sexuality vs. scholastic ability. Despite the point of the video, viewers everywhere have contributed to degradation of women by perpetuating the belief that there is only one right way to be feminist, and that women who do not behave in this singular, appropriate fashion are up for discrimination. It is truly this idea that allows the negative representation of women to continue, a social conception that allows women in the media to be judged upon this nonexistent binary scale.


Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

Kacey Musgraves, 24-year old rising Country Music star, addresses the Catch-22 issue of feminism that young women

Kacey Musgraves: Country's Femininity Crisis

Kacey Musgraves: Country’s Femininity Crisis

grow up in today. Her album, Same Trailer, Different Park, is currently proclaimed a wake-up call for Country Music’s ‘femininity crisis.’ In particular, the song Follow Your Arrow delivers a rather bold exclamation against what Musgraves calls the ‘damned if you do, and damned if you don’t’ mentality surrounding a girl’s identity today. The lyrics, displayed below, describe how the various factions of Feminism vying for power have created a situation where girls are not entirely able to use their freedom of choice due to the negative judgement they may receive from one side of the spectrum of Feminism or the other.

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Rolling Stone remarks on her work as well as the progressive message she is promoting in a very conservative, ‘red-blooded,’ male dominated genre. In an interview after her CMA Award Winning performance, RS reporter Adam Gold talked with Musgraves about what the 2013 Best New Artist award meant for her [see here]. Kacey happily remarked that “It just feels good to be [working] in a time period there’s room for everyone.” Coming from a small town and into a large spotlight, Musgraves fully experienced the vast variation of values that young women are conflicted with today. As her song says, you cannot be either conservative or overtly sexual as a girl today without a greater movement of Feminism rising up to chastise you for ‘doing Feminism wrong’ and therefore, being wrong as a woman. To Kacey, this is what inspired her to write her album for the new generation to hear and take hope.

“I’m so excited to be part of the women-in-country-music movement,” Musgraves said during a post-show press conference. “I look at people like Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton – songwriters who are sexy and beautiful and also intelligent and humorous – they inspired me, and if I can in any [way be] part of that, carry that on, that’s just the icing on the cake for me, and I feel like I’ve done my job.”


Interview with Eileen Pollack

Interview with Eileen Pollack on Gender Discrimination in Academia and the Workplace

Interviewer: Lorna Malja
Videographer/Editor: Gabrielle Valentic

[This is a private interview conducted with Professor Eileen Pollack at the University of Michigan for classroom use in English 340: The Historical Hinge. Usage for other purposes is strictly prohibited.]

In November, Lorna and I had the distinct privilege of interviewing Professor Eileen Pollack, the first woman to ever earn a Bachelors of Science in Physics at Yale University. Professor Pollack, author of “Why Are There Still So Few Women in the Sciences?, spoke with us regarding the existence and propagation of discrimination against women in academia and the sciences. Within a discussion prompted by Lorna’s interviewing skills, a particularly interesting theme arose: women could not be both attractive and display high intelligence in scientific fields.

“If you cross your legs, everybody stops talking and looks,” Eileen laughed sadly (2:00). “The culture is not conducive- You can’t dress in a traditional feminine way or you’re not taken seriously as a scientist (2:40). And then if you start dressing like a guy, you don’t feel good about yourself as a woman. And then there are the questions whether anyone will date you once they find out you’re a physics major!”

Eileen touches upon a startling reality for today’s young female generation. Girls today are faced with the choice in how they want to be viewed, as attractive, or highly intelligent. This dilemma directly influences what they choose to identify with, their femininity or their education, as if it is a binary choice. Women must be careful not to be too attractive, or academic respect is tainted, but they must also be careful not to be too intelligent, or they must therefore have lost touch with their femininity. Professor Pollack describes dating as a female scientist with some humor, “I was surprised that so many women of your generation that I talked to had that same impression… They were going, ‘Please tell us that some guys will ever want to date us.’ And these were really attractive women, fashionably dressed. You would think that any guy would be after them!” She continued to say that she still to this day withheld the full extent of her intelligence on dates. “Even today when I go out on a date, it’s several dates before I usually feel comfortable enough to reveal this ‘terrible secret’ that I have a Physics degree.” (7:10) .


“Amy Farrah Fowler” – The Big Bang Theory


Mayim Bialik – Actress playing Amy on The Big Bang Theory

Who then is enforcing these lines of judgement? Eileen thinks she knows. “Where is it coming from? Is it individual men? That’s hard to document. But if you look at the culture, when is a woman ever shown as a scientist? As someone attractive?” (5:53). She discusses how it is a very recent thing to portray a woman as both an intelligent scientist and an attractive feminine woman in shows like CSI. However, in the most popular sitcoms, women are still portrayed along the lines of the binary intelligence or attractiveness distinction. Her primary example of this is The Big Bang Theory, on which Amy, holding a doctorate in Neuroscience, is displayed as “homey” or “dowdy.” Eileen expresses frustration at this, questioning why the producers have to make Mayim Bialik, the attractive actress who plays Amy, seem less beautiful and feminine than she is in reality. While the ‘why’ remains a powerful, unanswered question, the effects of this conflict remain clear in the social conception that women who are both attractive and intelligent, particularly in a scientific manner, are simply unrealistic.

If you’re interested in reading more on how this issue directly affects education access issues for women, check out Lorna’s blog here for the original posting of this video and more discussion!


“Girls in Engineering aren’t real girls”

Full Article Here

Think for a moment about the University of Michigan. What are the first things that come to mind?

Diversity. Opportunity. Equality.

Those used to be the three words that I thought of and heard most often. On the 29th of October, 2013, all three of those words were shaken. At the beginning of November, it came to the attention of all students attending the University that a former Material Science Engineering PhD candidate was suing the University on grounds of unresolved cases of sexual harassment. At first, I shook my head, believing that the girl was likely crying wolf against a male faculty member that had so much as looked at her chest, her likely overly exposed chest. A few paragraphs into her story, I was sickened by not only my own discrimination as a woman against Jennifer Dibbern, but by the University’s academic response to her blatant suffering.

Dibbern was enrolled as a graduate student from 2007-2011. In that short time, she experienced verbal harassment, dismissal of her intelligence, accusations of lying, and multiple accounts of promised sexual assault and actual physical abuse. Starting from the very day of her program, she was accosted by a hostile environment of gender-based discrimination. One of the first things her predominantly male classmates said to her was,

“Let’s be honest, the girls in engineering aren’t real girls—no guy would look at them that way so we need more real girls to study with, date—something to look at in class. Real girls. There’s something wrong with the engineering girls.”

This academic-social belief that women in engineering were not ‘real girls’ would color her entire experience at UofM, from classmate to faculty. The unchecked propagation that the reason so few women were enrolled in engineering stemmed from something distinctly wrong with either their femininity or their intellect created an environment which allowed Jennifer to not only be verbally, but physically harassed. The belief that she was not a ‘real woman’ allowed male cohorts to treat her with harassment that would incur legal retribution in any other setting. Here are but a few of the verbal lashings she suffered daily:

  • “Engineering women are different—they’re not normal. They aren’t like real girls. Not normal at all. Even if they are around, no one considers them women.”
  • “We need more cute girls in engineering to study with and more options for dates. It’d be great because if we let them in—you know real girls who were honestly, probably not smart enough to hack it—it wouldn’t matter if they couldn’t cut it. If we let them in and helped them study, skim by in classes, maybe there would be girls in engineering who were pretty.”
  • “You are a walking cliché. Everything you do is because you are a woman. Just learn and admit it.”
  • “Suck up . . . Or did you just suck to get a better grade.”
  • “You know you were let into MIT because you’re a woman. I applied several times and got rejected because less qualified—come on, be honest–less qualified women like you were let in to meet their quota.”

Looking at these comments, it is clear that Jennifer was either viewed as a woman admitted because she lacked femininity, or admitted because she had used her femininity to ‘overcome’ a lacking in intelligence. Regardless of which view was predominant, the absolute danger of this social conception was realized in the terrifying sexual harassment Jennifer experienced.

Jennifer experienced physical assault from her male classmates when she refused a sexist demand for a cup of coffee she had just purchased. The classmate slapped her, with no interjection from other classmates standing by, and continued to do so when she stood her ground. Following this, two male students approached Jennifer in the study lounge and graphically explained how they were going to rape her, discussing who would go first, and how easy it would be as they knew where she lived. After all, she wasn’t a ‘real girl,’ so how could their actions be wrong? Finally, a fellow student attempted to make good on his threats, cornering Jennifer in her own lab and attempting to force himself on her three times before she pushed him away successfully.

As if this was not sickening enough, the response from the University faculty was downright appalling. Faculty advisors told Jennifer that “these things happen” and that she needed to “get over it” and “not let it happen again” or interfere with her course and lab work. Jennifer’s attempts at preventing her own assault were then held against her academically. SAPAC authorized alternate examinations, suspension of late night work schedules, and notices to change her address were disregarded and used as reasons to dismiss Jennifer from her program. She was charged for “lack of commitment” to her degree per the following:

  • (1) the two week leave Ms. Dibbern took in April 2008 (immediately following the attempted rape)
  • (2) her incompletes in coursework (as a result of rescheduling following the attempted rape)
  • (3) coursework outside of MSE (arranged so to avoid her sexual harassers)
  • (4) a 10 hour per week research job in the School of Natural Resources and Environment (appointment with Professor Edward Parson who also teaches at the University of Michigan Law School; Ms. Dibbern met Prof. Parson while taking a law course outside of her department so to avoid her sexual harassers).

Jennifer Dibbern is a casualty of an extreme result of improper social conceptions of sexuality vs. scholastic achievement in women. No matter who was wrong or right in this story, the entire travesty could have been avoided had proper resources for the awareness and repercussions of gender discrimination been made available. Jennifer was accused of false reporting on the basis that “some women can’t take a joke” and report on inconsequential basis, a reality that does unfortunately exist beyond this case. If the many divides within Feminism have contributed to this ideology at all, it is the duty of all Feminists to take a second glance at the beliefs they propagate and to remember Jennifer as a victim of a nonexistent binary distinction of women as sexual or scholastic in nature.


Disney ‘Princess Filter’ On 10 Real Life Female Role Models

Screen shot 2013-11-18 at 9.55.06 AMThe following cartoons were taken from David Trumble’s collection of 10 real life female role models drawn through a “Disney Filter.” Using his artistry, Trumble was responding to the supposed conflict between the representation of heroines in Disney films and the reality of how heroines have actually looked historically. In Disney’s craft, the heroines are classically depicted as beautiful, modelesque young women, all with “the same sparkly fashion, the same tiny figures, and the same homogenized plastic smile.” Trumble believed this was a faux reality and wanted to create an ironic depiction of real-life role models with a Disney filter to emphasize the ‘ridiculousness’ of heroines both intelligent and ‘overly’ beautified. He took famous, highly intelligent women throughout history -including Malala Yousafzai, Susan B. Anthony, and Marie Curie- and took a “superficial brush” in painting them more attractive than they were in real life. There was a great amount of controversy in reaction to this creation, varying from jokes, to disagreement, to applause and desire for doll versions of his cartoons. One thing was for certain, a great amount of controversy surrounded the depiction of women as both scholastic and sexually attractive. Trumble’s response in Today [see here] can be likened to a verbal shrug:

“I feel like good satire shouldn’t be understood by everybody,” he said. “Some people [women] were angry at me because they thought I was reducing the women, which was obviously the point. But if it gets children interested in these real women and what they do, is it so bad?”

Screen shot 2013-11-18 at 9.57.33 AMScreen shot 2013-11-18 at 9.26.18 PMScreen shot 2013-11-18 at 9.56.55 AM

The answer is: yes, it is unfortunately bad. While his intention in getting children interested in real heroines was noble, the means with which he called attention to them speaks to the greater problem women face today: the dilemma that one cannot realistically be both beautiful and highly intelligent. The very word he used in describing the response to his work, “reducing,” highlights this unfortunate stigma that women themselves have had a heavy hand in creating.

Dina Goldstein, prominent Canadian visual artist, is a startling example of women’s role in contributing to the social conception of beautiful, smart, happy women as a “fairy tale.” In her collection, “Fallen Princesses,” Dina says that she began to imagine Disney’s perfect Princesses juxtaposed with real issues that were affecting women around me, such as illness, addiction and self-image issues” [see here]. She has created a series of photos in which disney princesses are shown through a ‘reality’ filter, resulting in imagery of Rapunzel ridden with cancer, Belle cut and injected with silicone, and Little Red Riding Hood morphed by obesity. (Click the images below for more).

Princess Rapunzel in 'reality' - Dina GoldsteinPrincess Belle in "reality" - Dina GoldsteinLittle Red Riding Hood in 'reality' - Dina Goldstein

While Goldstein’s claims that the pictures force viewers to contemplate “real life”: failed dreams, pollution and ocean degradation, war, obesity, the extinction of indigenous cultures, cancer and the fallacy of chasing eternal youth, [see here], they also make an unfortunate contribution to the idea that ‘real’ heroines cannot be beautiful, modelesque characters, and likewise, that highly intelligent women who care about these ‘real life’ issues cannot be either.

Dina Goldstein and David Trumble make a fair point that the consistent portrayal of heroines as thin, sparkling, attractive women by Walt Disney with no variation beyond race or ethnicity is, to a point, unrealistic. However, their means for discussing this largely overcompensates for the problem and corroborates the Catch 22 identity crisis for young girls that they must either choose to grow up as primarily scholastic, or primarily attractive.


“We are Scholastic, not f-ing Plastic”

“We aren’t good girls, We are scholastic, not fucking plastic.” This line is perhaps the most vivid and clear expression of the message the Harvard Law Revue girls are trying to get across in their parody of Blurred Lines, Robin Thicke’s arguably sexist single that was released this past summer 2013.

Thicke’s music video featured nude, female models who danced and grabbed Thicke and his fellow musicians upon the command “I know you know you want it.” Ironically, Thicke’s video touches upon the Feminist conundrum of having to be either a ‘good girl’ or enjoy feminine sexuality. Lines like, “now he was close, tried to domesticate you,” “you’re far from plastic,” “you don’t need no papers, that man is not your maker” mirror the struggle girls face between being sexy, in balance so as not to be thought of as dowdy or slutty, not to mention how this dilemma reflects upon your intelligence. Unfortunately, Thicke followed these valid points with controversial conversation:

Blurred Lines Music Video Shot

Blurred Lines Music Video Shot

  • “But you’re an animal, baby, it’s in your nature, just let me liberate you,”
  • “Nothing like your last guy, he too square for you, He don’t smack that ass and pull your hair like that”
  • “Baby can you breathe? I got this from Jamaica. It always works for me, Dakota to Decatur, uh huh. No more pretending, ’cause now you winning.”

Thicke’s joke that he as a man could free a girl from the “blurred lines” which confused her, or that all girls needed was a little hair pulling to help them put themselves ‘in place,’ was not received well in the Feminist community. In fact, it sparked a strong argument across both the factions of feminism that support overt sexuality and those that claim hyper-sexuality downplays a woman’s intelligence. Feminists clamored that the video objectified women, propagated ‘slut’ behavior amongst women, and even supported rape culture. Regardless of the right or wrongs behind these claims, their counterproductive natures to each other speak to a greater wrong within Feminism: women using Feminism against other women.

The arguments against Thicke’s video devolved into verbal degradation of types of feminism by conflicting feminist opinions. Women who believed that all sexual choices should be respected were attacked by others who claimed they supported sexual behaviors that propagated ‘rape culture’ [see here]. Women who claimed that the video propagated ‘slutty’ behavior in girls were chastised as not supporting a woman’s right to sexuality. Women attacked other women on the basis that how they wanted to express their liberation was wrong, an idea so contrary to the foundation of Feminism that it could only be expressed in a satirical parody [read more here]. Enter The Harvard Law Revue Girls.

Screen shot 2013-11-30 at 10.01.08 PMThe Harvard Law Revue girls make a pleasant visual joke of this conflict between factions, creating a confusing satirical parody which encompassed all three of these main charges against Thicke. Throughout the parody, they sing that they are tired of the “exploitation,” “if you want to get nasty, just ask [me]” instead of “harassing [me]” as “that’s a sex crime,” and “don’t want you to come on my face!”

Harvard Law Revue "Defined Lines" Shot

Harvard Law Revue “Defined Lines” Shot

They reject the controversy that intelligent women are separate from sexual women, claiming that they “are not good girls” but are “scholastic, not fucking plastic.” While the last part of this line would seem to contribute to the ideology that scholastic women are not distinctly beautiful, the imagery along with the lines does not. Dressing in thigh highs, short skirts, and mid-drift shirts, it’s clear that their song is not a validation cry for the button-up librarian image of scholastic women. Rather the girls display that they are extremely attractive beings who value their sexuality without compromising their scholastic ingenuity. Defining the ‘lines’ between the two as they were, as the only thing wrong. 

This makes me wonder if their call for “every bigot shut up” just might be intended for more than male viewers.

Also, don’t miss the HerStoria reference in the rap towards the end! Check out Kathleen’s post here to learn a little more about this interesting resource on women’s leadership and fight for equality!


“feminist” ideologists

“For all the progression and sexual liberation that self-proclaimed “feminist” ideologists allege to encourage, for all the demands of respect they put forth, for all the emphasis on “not letting society tell you how to feel” it seems mighty hypocritical to tell me repeatedly — thank you, Salon, Jezebel, et al. — how incorrect I am to see things the way I do.” -Caitlyn Brennan, University of Michigan, The Michigan Daily

This quote is taken from Caitlyn Brennan, LS&A Junior at the University of Michigan, and her Viewpoint in The Michigan Daily, “In defense of ‘Blurred Lines.” While Brennan’s Op Ed is negative response to claims that the Blurred Lines music video encourages rape culture, her commentary on the behavioral response of Feminist Culture speaks to the greater conversation on the marginalization of women from a modern perspective: the marginalization of women by other women. Brennan explains that in the movement towards liberation, feminists have taken a wrong turn at defining with straight lines who is “for us” and “against us,” “more often against us.” The article provides a great example in how feminists have begun to exclude and even stigmatize women on the binary scale of being either intelligent and “aware” or “too far” sexualized and perpetuators of women as passive pleasure objects for men. Brennan, however, advocates more for the approach the Harvard Law Revue trio sings with in their parody, “Defined Lines:” ironically that the line in the sand between “sexualized” and “scholastic” or intelligent women needs to become more of a blurred line.