Category Archives: Gender Studies

Rape Culture: Consent in Movies

I have mentioned before how insidious the negative forces of society can be, and how something that seemed forever innocuous can actually be quite dangerous.

I realised today that there is something we as a society seem to accept wholly and fully that could just be a big part of the rape culture problem.

Picture a big, dramatic love scene between a romantic heroine and the man of the hour.  How does the first kiss usually go?  Most of the time, there is something “spontaneous” about the kiss; one of them, usually the guy, just goes for it, grabs the other, usually the girl, and plants a kiss on their startled mouth.

But guys…  He never asks her if she wants to be kissed.  He doesn’t ask because he assumes that, because she is looking at him a certain way and acting a certain way, she is asking for it.

Doesn’t that ring a large, loud, dangerous bell?

Thankfully the solution is simple.  All that needs to happen from now on is that the guy looks at the girl and asks her: “Can I kiss you?”  Then, after she has stated her consent, he can grab her almost as spontaneously as before and kiss her however way to Sunday.  And I also hope that regularly enough, the girl will say no, and the guy will step back, completely confused of course, but respectful of her wishes.

The Woman Carries the Baby, The Man Does… Nothing? More Thoughts on Supporting the Partner of a Pregnant Woman

Nothing about the birth of my child was about the other person that had so much to do with it: my husband.  I have already discussed this matter previously, but I think it’s such an important topic that I have to bring it up again.

During labor, no one took care of my husband.  And the funny thing is that, because I could see how hard it was on him that I was in so much pain, I was worried about him—which made it all worse on me.  So ironically enough, but not taking care of him, the medical and nursing staff were undermining the person they were focused on—me.

It remained the same after the birth.  As one hospital staff after the other came into the room to check up on me and the baby, my husband was barely acknowledged, let alone addressed.  And when, in response to a question, I would tell the staff member that I had to consult with my husband, I was met with looks of surprise and even confusion.

Even now, a couple of months later, I find that people address all their questions and comments to me.  And when I consult with my husband, they are surprised, some of them even exclaiming: “But she’s your child!”

To them I try to explain that yes, she is, indeed, my child, but she is also his.  While I was the one that carried her for nine months, I didn’t fall because he was the one carrying me.  While I was the one that labored to deliver her, I was able to do so because he was laboring in his own way right beside me.  While I am the one breastfeeding her, he is the one feeding me.  He is just as involved and as sleep-deprived, reads just as many posts, articles, and books about parenting, asks just as many questions about what to do, and wonders just as much as I do on how well he is doing as a parent.  His heart clenches as much as mine when something happens to her, he worries as much as I do, he suffers right there alongside me when something is wrong.

And yet he doesn’t get any of the support that I get.

I’m not sure what the underlying assumptions to this pattern of behavior are.  They could be only positive—perhaps it is a sign of the respect we give mothers for what they go through.  There is definitely a lot of that, thankfully.

But I think there is also negative underlying assumptions, one of them related to the definition of what it means to be a man.  Being loving and nurturing, caring and supportive—it is assumed that the woman, and only the woman, has these.  The bills, the heavy items, and the logistics—all of those are given to the man.

The challenge seems to be that we have yet to overcome our constraining definitions of what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a man.  There is a lot to be said about this matter, and surely a short post like this one can’t hope to touch on all aspects of this complex matter.  But when it comes to how each one of us, as individuals, can address this matter, I think it’s quite simple, really.

Don’t forget about the father.

Ask him how he is doing.  Ask him how he is feeling.  Ask him what support he needs.  Make sure that this essential piece of the puzzle remains sane and whole.  Because both the baby and the mother need him, and no family can hope to achieve its full potential if all of its members are not functioning at peak capacity.

Is it a baby boy? No? Then why is she wearing blue?

Even before we knew if our child was going to be a girl, her father and I started shopping for clothes.  On the one hand, we were looking for any excuse to get our hands on the ridiculously adorable miniature versions of what we wear that grace the stores (I mean have you seen the selection that Carter’s Oshkosh offers?)  On the other hand, we knew that a large part of our child’s wardrobe would be gender-neutral.  After all, it’s not as it there is a big difference between boys’ and girls’ proportions at that age!

But it seems that what we consider neutral is gender specific in the eyes of many after all. When our daughter wears grey, black, orange, or green, we are inevitably asked if she is a boy and, when told that she is a girl, we are met with confused looks. Out for curiosity, I asked a friend of mine to dress her baby boy, who is around the same age as my daughter, in yellows, creams, and lavender; she was asked if he was a girl and, yes, met with a lot of similarly confused looks.

Are my friends and I, who shop on both sides of the stores to fill our children’s closets, being avant-garde by throwing away some if the superficial societal expectations placed on their wardrobe? Or are we breaking a necessary social rule by which young babies, who for the most part do not look like they are of a specific gender, are dressed in pink and blue to eliminate such awkwardness? Or is it time for a maturing society to grow out if this rule by accepting that clothing does not define gender, but rather, that genetics do?

I personally think it is a balance between the two, as we are in a period of transition between the old ways and the new ones.  It used to be necessary to have certain patterns that governed our interactions, including clothing that clearly identified us and, of course, defined us.  But now that our understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman evolves, what we do naturally evolves as well.

So to those of us who are dressing our children according to the dictates of beauty and esthetics rather than limiting ourselves to only the colours assigned to our child’s gender: keep at it.  But remember to be patient and loving towards those who question our choices; of course they are confused, they never thought about things the same way.  And we must be very careful to never, ever judge those parents who stick to social conventions.  Because who knows; we might be completely wrong after all.

The Woman Carries the Baby, The Man Does… Nothing? Some Thoughts on Supporting the Partner of a Pregnant Woman

Something has been troubling me over the last couple of years and, now that I am living through the experience of being pregnant, it’s hitting home hard.

While it’s true that physically, I am carrying our child, the emotional, mental, and spiritual weight of the responsibility is not only on my shoulders.  Even a good portion of the physical aspect of pregnancy is something that isn’t only mine to carry.

From the very beginning of this process—which began when we started reflecting on our potential role, some time in the future, as parents—my husband has been an integral part of it.  And while he doesn’t have the symptoms, the aches, and the pains associated with carrying a baby, these and more have taken a toll on him as well.

After all, he has been just as assiduous about eating habits (if not more…  how many a chocolate bar has he saved the baby and I from!), about exercising, about praying more, about meditating, about stretching, about preparing for the little one’s arrival, etc.  There isn’t a single thing I have done for the little one he hasn’t accompanied me in.  When the pregnancy affects me physically, he both helps take care of me while taking on as many of my life responsibilities as he can.

And yet, the overwhelming majority of people offer encouragement, love, and support only to me.

But guys…  My husband is also tired.  He is also concerned.  He is also going through a huge emotional, spiritual, and mental shift.  While I deeply and profoundly appreciate the love, support, help, and encouragement I have been getting, I worry a lot about my partner’s well-being, all the more that he is relatively so alone in this process.

I didn’t know if this was something unique to my husband or that if my gut feeling has been right all these years: that this isolation is something more common that we realise.  So I reached out on various online forums as well as to friends of mine.  Most women overwhelmingly agreed that it was a big, painful struggle for them to make sure their husbands were getting the support, love, and encouragement they needed during this time of their lives.

I am going to make a bit of a leap here, but please bear with me.

What if this situation is related to the current nature of conversations about gender issues: they are, put crudely, more often about man-bashing than about figuring out how men and women can work in all aspects of society as equals.  Viewed through this lens, we focus on what men don’t do during a pregnancy and punish them for it.

But this is wrong for a very simple reason.  While there are men out there who are, well, not the nicest people (to put it mildly), most men are kind, thoughtful, and, when they realise what women are going through, want to correct the situation.

Similarly, there are men who are not kind to their pregnant counterparts.  But most men really stand up to the challenge during their partner’s pregnancy.  And, to cast a wider net, most men, when given the chance, stand up to the challenge during a friend’s pregnancy.  I recently told one of my male friends about how the various aches that pregnancy creates; since then, he has been reading up on it and sending me and another pregnant friend links about what we can do to alleviate some of it.  It might not seem like a lot, but it’s already a lot more than he was doing, and he did it of his own volition as soon as he realised that pregnancy was a lot more than carrying extra weight.

What I am going to personally do about all of this?  I am going to begin by trying even harder to not get caught in the “men are horrible” discourse.  I think the good men of today have suffered enough because of the mistakes of the terrible men of the past and the less-than-ideal men of today.  Let’s stop punishing these gems further by taking steps to share our concerns and challenges with them, and let them surprise us again and again by how far they will go to make significant changes.

Another thing I will continue doing is to not only ask a pregnant woman about her well-being and that of her little one; I will make sure to continue asking about that of her partner’s, and even, if possible, take the time to talk to him about how he is doing and what support he needs.  After all, a pregnancy is about both the woman and the man; let’s start supporting them both equally.

Missing the Point: What a Girl’s Anthem Should Not Sound Like

The title seems harsh, doesn’t it?  I know that this the post might get my inbox filled with emails from irate Beyoncé fans, but her song “Run the World (Girls)” still is, in my opinion, part of a series of popular girl’s anthems gone wrong.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate the song.  Quite the contrary, I love it; the repetitiously addictive chorus of “Who run the world? Girls!” has been stuck in my head ever since I first heard it.  The first few notes of it make me want to get up and boogie around the room.  And who can forget Channing Tatum’s epic lip sync version and Beyoncé’s guest appearance?  As for the video clip to the song, well, it serves to prove yet again that Beyoncé.  Can.  MOVE.

However, when it comes to sharing an empowering message, lyrics such as: “Boy I’m just playing, come here baby/Hope you still like me” and “My persuasion can build a nation/Endless power, our love we can devour/You’ll do anything for me” seem to encourage the wrong kind of empowerment.

What is, in fact, empowerment?  The online Oxford dictionary tells us that empowerment is to give someone “the authority or power to do something”, and to make someone “stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights”.  While making someone “do anything for [you]” definitely is a sign of strength, what will it yield in the long run?  Certainly not a just and fair world in which all women and men will be empowered.

Other parts of the song seem to first build up empowerment only to strike it back down. For example, take this verse: “Boy you know you love it/How we’re smart enough to make these millions/Strong enough to bear the children/Then get back to business/See, you better not play me/Don’t come here baby/Hope you still like me.”  What are we being told here? That we as women are empowered if we are smart enough to make millions, bear children, and then go back to work—and hopefully men will still like us.

Is this true, universal empowerment?  I mean, what is the percentage of smart people who actually make millions?  And, seeing as how this percentage is, is it fair to consider a song with such a lyric as an anthem for all women?  Similarly, what is the percentage of women who can’t bear children?  And what about the women who don’t want to bear children?  What if a woman who bears children doesn’t want to go to work?  Is it actually empowering to tell women that, to run the world, they have to fit a certain mould?

By the same token, a video clip that portrays women using their sex-appeal to win a war doesn’t seem to be reflective of an “enlightened” generation in which girls are empowered.  In a video where she seems to channel both Nefertiti and Cleopatra, it feels all the more dissonant that Beyoncé seems to have forgotten to reflect the fact the side of these two Egyptians queens that made them formidable: their keen power of intellect used to govern an empire.

On the one hand, I agree that women do, in a way, run the world.  After all, they are the primary educators of the next generation.  Take this as a good investment value: if all teenage girls in the entire world were educated before they became mothers, the entire next generation would receive basic education.  But on the other hand, this empowerment shouldn’t be based on sex-appeal; this empowerment shouldn’t be only for certain types of women; and this empowerment shouldn’t be at the cost of men’s very important and essential contributions.

And so, while I look up to Beyoncé’s drive, focus, and consistent hard work, to how she has beauty and talent and has created art that I appreciate and grown into an inspiring confident attitude I like, I do think that there is still work to be done with regards to her becoming an even stronger and more influential icon—by, for example, really reflecting on the idea of empowerment that she is endorsing.   And let’s be honest, if someone can do it, it’s Beyoncé.

What Empowerment Means and How Kim Kardashian Has It Wrong

Kim Kardashians’ nude selfies has been a trending topic for a few weeks now.  While the pictures themselves are nothing spectacular to warrant the trend, the surrounding conversations about the implications of her posts have been fascinating to me, to say the least.  I am particularly intrigued by the concept of Kim demonstrating a sense of empowerment when posting such selfies.

The Oxford dictionary defines the verb “empower” as to “give (someone) the authority or power to do something” or “make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights.”  So, in the narrowest view of the situation, Kim K posting a selfie of her choice is indeed reflecting a form of control she has over her life; she has given herself the power of posting what she wants.

However, all actions are set within a specific context that defines, amongst others, if indeed it reflects empowerment or not.

If we believe that we are on this planet for a limited time to develop our spiritual muscles to use in the next world (much like a fetus is in the womb of its mother to develop physical muscles to use in this world), then we are empowered when we have the confidence, strength, and power to do what is needed to fulfill this objective.

Kim being boldly proud of her body—a body which doesn’t fit the conception of super-skinny as the standard of beauty against which we are all measured—does help us broaden our understanding and appreciation of the beauty of the human body, which is the vehicle with which we accomplish our life’s purpose.  To develop such an understanding is very precious indeed, and very empowering.

However, the way she is standing up for this concept does not take into consideration one of the major, growing challenges our society is facing: the pornification of sex.  This great article explains well how pornography is “molding and conditioning the sexual behaviors and attitudes of boys, and girls are being left without the resources to deal with these porn-saturated boys.”  This results in situations like “7th grade girls […] increasingly seeking help on what to do about requests for naked images” despite the fact that “girls are tired of being pressured for images they don’t want to send.”  That’s because “they seem resigned to send them anyways because of how normal the practice has become. Boys then typically use the images as a form of currency, to swap and share with their friends. Often times boys will use the revealing pics to humiliate girls publicly if there is a bad break up.”

The girls who are “resigned” to dealing with this reality are basically sending boys the nude selfies they are pushing them for.  This is definitely not an empowered act—an empowered woman would be able to say “no” however “normal the practice has become.”  Right?

This is where it gets a little blurry for some, but is crystal clear to me.  Kim Kardashian, as a famous public figure with a lot of influence—who some consider as a role model, even—has a huge responsibility to take these things into consideration.  She is the kind of person whose actions can become a powerful source of validation.  If she is doing it, then why not me?  Why not you?

So if she is posting nude selfies, why wouldn’t a young girl send one to a guy?

Seen in this light, it seems to me that Kim Kardashian’s selfie actually undermines efforts to empower women.  While those who are comfortable should send all the nude selfies they want, those who are not comfortable doing so are increasingly pressured to conform to a norm that Kim K is reinforcing.  Being empowered would mean for someone with her level of influence to not conform and to take a stance by not posting a nude selfie, because she understands that although she does have an amazingly fit body and would love to post such a selfie, she shouldn’t be exercising her power at the expense of the power of hundreds of thousands of young women.

Because even if one of us isn’t empowered, none of us really are.

Barbie has Three New Body Shapes: A Step Forward Well Worth Exploring

You might have heard that Barbie now comes in four different body types. On top of the original body type she is known for (tall, thin, busty, and blond), she also comes in tall, curvy, and petite. The top secret project apparently took years to take shape (ha) and even came with a code name. The Times’ cover story about this development is well worth a read and includes a great video about it to boot.

In it, the author states how Mattel “hopes that the new dolls, with their diverse body types, along with the new skin tones and hair textures introduced last year, will more closely reflect their young owners’ world.” I understood this as meaning that the toy company hopes its new line of Barbie dolls will better reflect an increasingly small world in which diversity seems to be multiplying daily.

The original Barbie had quite a few dedicated haters, to say the least. And while indeed having access to only one kind of doll could imply that other body types and hair and skin colours are not worth being modeled, having access to a whole array of them does not inherently mean that we will learn to appreciate beauty in its full diversity.

I’m glad that there are new body types for Barbie, but I feel like we need to be careful not to go overboard. More specifically, we don’t want the pendulum go completely the other way and have a tall, thin, blond girl be labelled as ugly—which would be a reflection of what happened not long ago with the ban on super skinny models.

The release of Barbie in four body types and so many skin and hair colors is a great step in the direction of broadening our definition of what is beautiful. And just like with the original Barbie, it provides for a great discussion tool. Material things are for the most part not inherently bad; the original Barbie in a home of women who are secure in their bodied, whatever it may look like, wouldn’t cause body image issues.

Similarly, the new dolls in a home of women who are constantly verbalising how unhappy they are with how they look will not solve the body image issue just like that. I hope that we will challenge ourselves to use both the original Barbie and it’s three new body types as a teaching tool for both ourselves and our children to learn what real beauty is all about. Or, conceptually speaking, how can we solve the root cause of this challenge: to look not just at the body, but at the entire person, body, mind, soul, and spirit, when we discuss the concept of beauty?

Header image from Times Magazine.

The X-Files Revival Cheat Sheet Number 6: Why Scully is a Feminist Icon

Amongst others, FBI agent Dana Scully from The X-Files seems to have had quite an effect on how viewers perceive strong women in general. The “Scully Effect” for example is said to have influenced hundreds if not thousands of medical school and law enforcement training applications. The six posts that made if on this, the sixth X-Files related cheat sheet meant to help both newcomers and rustier X-Philes, are meant to help shed light on the influence of the character of Scully on our culture.

8 Ways The X-Files’ Dana Scully Changed the Game

This list is short and sweet but really does a lot in underlining the main reasons why the character of Dana Scully was so inspiring to so many viewers of the show, especially the younger female audience.

How the Strong Female Character was Born: A Study of Dana Scully

This piece helps dig into some of the abovementioned way Scully changed the game. I also feel like Lizzie’s personal experience with the character of Dana Scully is one that will resonate with many a woman who started watching the show at a really young age. To have on screen a woman who, although beautiful, was characterised mostly for her intelligence and her strength was a big shift in the way women were for the most part developed in television at the time. For those of you who love Scully because she is a strong woman, you will resonate with this piece. For those of you who don’t understand why a young woman would find this character so inspiring, this is a piece well worth reading.

Why ‘The X-Files’ Dana Scully Still Stands Out As One Of TV’s Greatest Feminist Role Models

Some might question if Scully, a character created in the early 1990s, still has any relevance today. If you’re one of them—or if, like me, you would like to learn how to express ideas about this topic in an eloquent fashion—this is a piece for you.

Less “Big Bang Theory,” More Dana Scully: What it’s Going to Take to Lead More Girls into Science

If you want to dig even further, these piece really helps shed light on some of the forces currently acting on the media that shapes the characters that grace our television screens. It also digs a little more into the “Scully Effect” for those of you interested in finding out a little more about this phenomenon.

Why Today’s Woman need Dana Scully

While discussion the topic of positive role models in fiction, I often am faced with individuals who are convinced I am making a mountain out of a molehill. This article helps generate some reflection on the actual current state of fictional women in the media and how even today, while there are more women characters portrayed on television and on the big screen, there is still quite a dearth in strong female characters who are not influenced by the negative social forces acting on all of us.

Is Dana Scully the trust star of the X-Files?

And it’s not just theoretical; Sean over at Wristband Bros went a step ahead by looking into Google trends over the last 12 years. I won’t spoil it for you, but you can guess which character between Scully and Mulder trended the most.

The X-Files Revival: Reviving More Than Just Aliens and Monsters-of-the-Week

It doesn’t seem far-fetched to claim, in North America at least, that the majority of people would agree that men and women are equal. However, it’s one thing to say it and quite another to act on it. In 2016, we continue to see a lot of contradictions between what we say we believe in and what our actions imply that we believe in. Some recent examples include the hubbub caused by the importance placed on gender parity in the recently appointed Canadian cabinet and how feminist writers, besieged by online abuse, have often no choice left but to retire.

In light of the magnitude of the challenge, the gender issue that inspired me to write this post seems like small potatoes. But it actually is quite significant in many ways.

This is something that happened when The X-Files first aired in 1993.

This is something that happened and is happening again to an actress who portrayed perhaps one of the first strong female leads in television history.

This is something that is happening not just to Gillian Anderson, but to most female actresses.

The news came out only a couple of days ago that Anderson was offered half of what co-star David Duchovny was offered to reprise her role as Agent Dana Scully. Now you might be tempted to go on a side rant about how actors who are already paid so much shouldn’t complain about not being paid “enough”. I agree that being paid a seven figure salary to act in a movie when teachers on average make US$50,000 in the United States puts into sharp focus what our priorities as a society are. However, the fact that actors are consistently paid so much more than actresses is yet another injustice that needs to be addressed, all the more than the gender pay gap continues to live on in nearly every occupation.

I like that there has been no man-bashing involved, at least as far as I could tell. Anderson didn’t go around insulting men and angrily screaming at whatever gods she believes in. Rather, she made it about the topic: gender equality. Her gracious way of addressing the issue makes of her voice a solid contribution to the discourse about what gender equality looks like. And while Anderson’s stand for equal pay might not in itself change the situation in Hollywood, she is adding her voice to an increasing number of actresses who are decrying the injustice. I’m hoping that actors will also start lending their voice to this cause, which would bring us even closer to a future where both genders are treated equally.

What Did He Mean? Some Thoughts on Justin Bieber’s Latest Track

Let’s be honest, ladies; we do experience mood swings that take us completely by surprise. It’s so confusing, irritating, and frustrating to not understand what is going on in our own bodies and minds. I can understand that it’s also irritating to those around us to live through a mood swing; but what is needed is for all parties to ride the wave together and make the most of the situation.

Video clip aside, Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean” has captured my attention because it feels like the beginnings of such an attempt. While its sticky factor is bound to make this earworm settle in for quite some time (and a great workout track, as well), what makes it particularly interesting to me is the message I get of the desire to understand his partner.

I don’t know what Justin Bieber had in mind when he co-wrote and recorded this song; but what I get from it is a positive message about the importance of communication. First, the melody; it’s a cheerful, upbeat one, with a piano leading into the track using a relatively high range, starting things off with a feeling of optimism. The background beat thumps its way in and around Bieber’s confused and at times frustrated breathy vocals, giving the track a throbbing life quality reminiscent of blood flowing through one’s body. The lyrics seem honest and even raw as they seek to understand the meaning behind the mixed signals Bieber’s partner is giving him: “What do you mean/when you nod your head yes/but you wanna say no” and “What do you mean/when you don’t want me to move/but you tell me to go.”

It’s such a different take from songs in which men (and women!) pretty much rage against female hormones and their ensuing mood swings. We are often made to feel ashamed of a natural phenomenon occurring in our bodies because it is so hard to understand. But what if instead, we held an ongoing, joyful conversation about the ways in which mood swings can enrich our lives? I know of a couple whose husband is so aware of the strength behind his partner’s mood swings that he plans things around them. When he knows she will be particularly emotional, they have conversations that require the insights of emotions to advance them. When she is in an anti-social mood, they plan date nights in. When she is in an energetic mood, they plan to host events or go out. They have been told he is being condescending and that she is letting her hormones control their lives, but they have told me, over and over again, that this has enriched their lives in many ways they had not anticipated.

And how did it start? With him asking her what she meant when she was being contradictory.

Picture courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo.