Saturday, January 25, 2014

Aerie's un-retrouched ads.. BIG DEAL?

Aerie, the lingerie brand owned by American Eagle, recently released a series of ads that show un-retouched models.

I actually got one of the ads in the mail because I shop at Aerie. It talks about how they didn't use retouching. I flipped through the ad with mild interest.
So, no retouching. But they chose drop dead gorgeous, skinny, mostly white women for this ad. And then said, BUT WE DIDN'T RETOUCH THEM!

Um… Who the heck cares. Yes these women are beautiful! I'm not saying that they aren't! But the whole point of "no retouching" should be showcasing women of every shape, size, ability, color, ethnicity, etc, etc. Which is woefully missing from these ads, save the one woman of color who seems to be, maybe "plus size" also? By beauty industry standards only, of course. The rest of the world would just call her of average size.

I guess I'm asking too much. I mean, this is a store owned by American Eagle which is definitely not known for being very inclusive or selling bigger sizes in their clothes.

Still. I refuse to be amazed by this campaign. And I certainly don't think that Aerie has done as much as they think they have to make women feel better about themselves. With the exception of the tattoos on a few girls (are these imperfections??), and a few actual *gasp* wrinkles in women's skin when they pose, I don't see much that's different from Aerie's regular ads. There's no body hair, cellulite, stretch marks, or scars anywhere to be seen in this ad.

In fact, I wonder if these ads will have a detrimental effect on women and girl's self esteem. They will see these ads and think wow these girls aren't even airbrushed and they look like that! I'll never look that ______. (Insert your adjective of choice: pretty, sexy, white, skinny, toned, etc, etc).

A tattoo!! How REAL. 

I know that we should be happy that Aerie even tried, when most companies (most notably in the lingerie business, Victoria's Secret) doesn't even attempt to give us variety in their models. So we should celebrate that they tried something new! Well, yeah. Great for them. And they got what I'm sure they wanted, which was people to look at and talk about their ads.

This doesn't mean that we have accept these ads and move on. There can still be a dialogue and a challenge to people's way of thinking. We so easily accept what the media gives us and are happy for any morsel of "average" women in our advertisements. But shouldn't we be pushing for more!? More women of color, differently abled women, women with scars, women with boobs and butts, and cellulite and wrinkles. But also skinny girls and athletic girls and tall girls and short girls and girls with flat chests, and trans* women. Because variety represents what WE as humans actually look like. It sucks to look in a magazine, look at ads, turn on the TV and see NO ONE who looks like you.

So, thank you Aerie for starting the conversation on "real" beauty. Let's not let this be the end of it.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Dasani; Invisible Child

You absolutely must go read this enthralling and shattering story about Dasani, a 12 year old girl living "homeless" in New York.

Journalist Andrea Elliot observed and interviewed Dasani and her family for over a year. She paired with photographer Ruth Fremson to provide some of the best journalism I have seen in a long time.

The story follows Dasani from the fall of 2012 and describes her life with her parents and seven siblings in a one room "apartment" in a homeless shelter in Brooklyn. The family eventually ends up living there for over 2 years, sharing communal showers and toilets and a community kitchen.

It discusses the sad facts that there are more homeless children in New York now than at any other time in history, including the Great Depression. This combined with the fact that the shelter system is very broken means that homeless families have trouble breaking out of the cycle of poverty and homelessness.

Dasani's parents don't have jobs, both have criminal records and have spent time in jail. Where are the programs to help them find jobs? To train them in a trade or educate them about how to look for and get a job in today's economy? Do they not deserve help or a job just because they made some mistakes in their past?

Of course this story isn't about her parents, it's about Dasani herself. It's about how such a smart, tough and determined girl is floundering in a society that doesn't care enough about what happens to her. She seems to have teachers that care deeply about her, perhaps they are the ones who pointed her out for this journalist to follow? She has a promising future, but only if her intelligence and spunk can be harnessed and used in a constructive way.

How many other Dasani's are out there?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Women Dominating YA Part 2! Now with a conversation from Twitter!

So part 2 of the 'Are Women Dominating YA" conversation is up on the Stacked Books blog. 

There was also a great twitter conversation between authors E. Lockhart, Maureen Johnson, John Green, Maggie Stiefvater, and librarian 'Teen Librarian Toolbox' about what this blog post means and what the bigger picture of gender on the NYT list means.

It should be known that I follow E. MJ and John Green on twitter so I was sort of reading this as it unfolded but the link provides an inclusive view of the whole conversation. I adore these authors and I think that they are so smart, and MJ in particular has taken on gender in YA before with her cover flip article.  Also, here's the awesome slideshow of cover flipped books. 

The twitter conversation brings up some great points. First of all, is the biggest problem here with the NYT best seller list? Or is it with gender in YA (and the idea of females dominating YA). MJ clearly believes gender is the problem, although agrees that the NYT best seller is rife with issues as well.

I think that perhaps the NYT issue is a big deal, but as MJ points out it is more concerning for writers themselves, not the public as a whole. I mean I can see the issues with judging ALL of the YA books out there by placing them on one list that only has 15 spots, but the issue of gender in YA is so much bigger than one problematic list.

John Green also makes a good point by saying that the NYT bestseller list probably shows more clearly which YA books adults are buying. Rather than what YA books teenagers are buying. Although, full disclaimer I am an adult buying lots of YA books and I certainly don't think that there is anything wrong with adults reading YA. But it is interesting, where is the list that tells us which YA books teens are really reading?

John also states that he believes that list of which YA books teens are buying would be largely by female authors and perhaps this is true. I don't know where such a list exists, and yes there are a lot of female YA authors so this could be very possible. But I don't think that is the main point in this blog post and discussion. I think that the main point is that regardless of the fact that there are MANY female YA authors who write lots of amazing books, the NYT YA bestseller list is disproportionately full of books written by male authors. So, male YA authors are still the ones getting the 'acclaim' for their books, even if male YA authors are technically in the minority.

Kelly over at Stacked Books also brings up some problematic tweets from the twitter conversation between the authors and a librarian:

"1. Green's comment that we need to accept this is happening and "begin a conversation about why."

There is no "beginning" this conversation. It has been on going for a long, long time. But it's interesting that the moment a male steps in to the gender conversation, it's a beginning. Just because someone decides to enter a conversation, doesn't mean it's the beginning of a conversation."


"And so I revert to the question I keep wondering about: how much does a revered male's voice help a female's career? When a man who is seen as someone with power and authority within a field -- be it the YA world, the librarianship world, the teaching world, the publishing world, the corporate world, and so on and so on -- why is it his word is what can make (or break) a woman's chances in that same field? What is it that allows him continued authority and respect? And hell, he doesn't necessarily even need to be revered. It's likely having a male voice is enough to help a lady out in many, many places."

As Kelly states, this is not about John Green specifically. I adore John Green. This is about a sexist marketplace and a sexist world, where because a critically acclaimed male author writes a review or blurb for a female author the book may be better received or sell more copies. This just happens to be a good example of what the widespread sexism in our world means in the YA lit world.

I'll leave you with this quote from the second stacked books article,

"It is clear there is an issue to discuss here, and I am so glad it's bring discussed.

But it should also be clear that in discussing this issue, there are even messier, sometimes more problematic, knots to untangle." 

Monday, November 4, 2013

On Women "Dominating" YA literature

There is an interesting blog post over at Stacked Books that discusses the idea that women writers are "dominating" YA literature by looking at the data for the New York Times Bestseller List.

From the blog post:

"As should be absolutely clear, there has never been a time women have outnumbered men on the NYT List in the top ten. Never.
It gets more interesting if you look at how few spots individual women have had on the top ten list. There have been nine weeks when only one woman has had a spot on the top ten. That woman is, of course, Veronica Roth."

"Books written by women have never once -- never once -- had at least half of the spaces on the top ten list. They've had a few weeks occupying four spaces but never have they had five books in the top ten slots in the 47 weeks that the YA List has existed.

A couple of other factoids to include at this juncture: there have only been five weeks where a woman held the number one spot on the New York Times List for YA. Five. They were held by Veronica Roth (for four weeks -- three of which were in mid-July, on the 14th, 21st and 28th, which would reflect a bump in sales immediately following the release of the first stills of the movie and the fourth week, September 15, likely reflects sales following the release of the film's trailer) and Kiera Cass for The Elite, which stayed for one week only. Cass's novel debuted at #1 on the May 12 list, which reflects the sales for the week her book was available for purchase.

Again, in 47 weeks, there have only been two women to see the top spot. They only held it for a combined five weeks."

Click on over to the article here to see all sorts of nifty graphs and tables explaining the gender breakdown of YA authors on the NYT bestseller list. 

This is a great and necessary blog post because so often we hear that YA is all female writers or that female authors dominate YA. While this may be true in sheer numbers of YA authors out there, it is not true in the critical acclaim or public representation of YA authors. 

I'm not trying to say that there should be more female authors on the YA list than men, that's not my point. My point is that anytime women participate in something in large numbers, they are suddenly seen as "DOMINATING" it. Regardless of whether they actually are, in fact, dominating it. 

I think all of this goes back to the idea that books and writing by female authors are not seen as prestigious or "serious" work. Men are the "great American authors" and their stories are serious, profound works of art. Whereas women's work is perhaps less likely to be regarded as serious and more likely to be seen as fluffy, chick lit. 

There's a second part of this article coming tomorrow from Stacked Books. Check it out and let me know what you think. 

Does the representation of female authors on the NYT bestseller list mean anything? Does the list impact what readers are reading?? 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Purity Myth

I recently finished the book The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti (She also wrote full frontal feminism).

On the whole I really liked this book. It presents the idea of the purity myth in easy to understand language. Sometimes I think Valenti's books are a bit too simplistic, but I think of them as almost "primers" for people who are just getting their feet wet in the topic. I also think that this is a positive because sometimes I just don't have the attention span for some of the more academic or scholarly articles/books.

So what is the purity myth? 

According to Valenti, "The Purity Myth is for women who are suffering every day because of the lie that virginity exists, and that it has some bearing on who we are and how good we are." (p 11).  The idea that whether or not a person remains a "virgin" has the biggest impact on whether this person is moral, just baffles and infuriates me. Not to mention the fact that we don't have a working definition for virginity.

Hanne Blank, author of the book Virgin: The untouched history, had a bit of a problem when she went to define "virginity". She decided that she would head to the Harvard medical school library to find a medical definition. She searched through all kinds of books, and found that there was no standard definition. She says, "Then it dawned on me - I'm in arguable one of the best medical libraries in the world, scouring their stacks, and I'm not finding anything close to a medical definition for virginity." (p. 20). Blank said she found it strange because "People have been talking authoritatively about virginity for thousands of years, yet we don't even have a working medical definition for it!"

This whole idea of an intact hymen being an indicator of virginity is crap too. Hymen's break without sexual contact and some people may have sex and still have a partially intact hymen. It's not just a piece of skin/tissue stretched across an opening... The definition that Blank came up with was "the state of having not had partnered sex" But what qualifies as sex? What about in gay couples? Valenti asked many people their opinion on what "counts" as sex. My favorite answer that she got, from a lesbian, was "It isn't sex unless you've had an orgasm". Of course that means many people may have never actually "had sex" according to this definition.

But now thanks to the Virginity Movement (or the Abstinence Movement) it seems like the focus is always on virginity. This movement tells women that in order to be "good" they must be chaste, virginal and not have sex. This tells women that in order to be "good" all they have to do is not have sex. It doesn't matter what else they do in their life, as long as they keep their legs closed they're still "good"! Not to mention the fact that you are judging women's worth purely on their "virginity". Good girls don't have sex and any woman that has had or is thinking about having sex is an inherently bad, dirty person.

This brings in abstinence only education

Abstinence only education is based on the message that teens should not have sex until marriage (of course this assumes that you are heterosexual and able to get married legally). They also love to provide false statistics and plain old lies about sex, contraception, and STI's.
A quote that Valenti includes in the beginning of chapter 2 from Darren Washington, an abstinence educator:

"Your body is a wrapped lollipop. When you have sex with a man, he unwraps your lollipop and sucks on it. It may feel great at the time, but, unfortunately, when he's done with you, all you have left for your next partner is a poorly wrapped, saliva fouled sucker."

First of all, I felt like vomiting when I read that quote. I think that this quote sums up the virginity/abstinence movement pretty well. Sex makes you dirty and useless. But only if you're a woman! I might add. Because women are keepers of their sexualities (or worse the idea that father's are the keepers of their daughter's virginity which is even more vomit inducing to me) they are the ones that  are made dirty, used, or worthless by having sex. Another great aspect of the abstinence movement (which provides sex "education" in middle schools and high schools the country over) is that it received over $178 million dollars a year in 2007. Luckily, according to SIECUS this federal funding fell to only $50 million in a year starting in 2010. But really, in my mind even one tax dollar is too many.

Some outcomes of abstinence only education:
- middle school students who received this type of sex ed were found to be just as likely to have sex as teens who had not received this type of education.
- teens who had taken abstinence classes were more likely to say that condoms were ineffective in protecting against STI's.
- teens who took abstinence only education and pledged their virginity were not only less likely to use condoms but also more likely to engage in oral or anal sex.

(Valenti, p. 119-120)

Time and time again, it has been proven that abstinence until marriage education doesn't work, and yet... few people seem to fight its use in our public schools.

Other topics that I found interesting in the book:
- Emergency contraception and legislation surrounding its availability.
- Legislating women, relating to abortion, birth control, miscarriages, etc.
- Purity balls
- Rape and women "deserving it"
- Women and teen girls sexuality and pleasure

All in all, I enjoyed the book. Check it out if you're looking for a fairly quick read.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Modesty and Feminism

I recently found the blog The Aspiring Homemaker (I honestly can't remember which blog directed me to it now...) but I was enthralled by her simple tales about life at "the cottage" in Georgia. She discussed how her mom had always worn modest outfits and she and her sister eventually decided to as well, stressing how it was never forced on them and they chose it for themselves. Her family eventually decided to become "homesteaders" and chose to move out into the country and grow more of their own food. I find this lifestyle truly interesting and I'm making my way through her entire blog as quickly as I can.

The photo above from Mia over at aspiring homemaker.

Between finding Mia's blog and just randomly searching modesty on tumblr (just one of the many things I randomly search for on Tumblr to see whats out there), it got me thinking more about modesty.

In recent years I've dressed more modestly (or conservatively whatever you want to call it). Its mostly just a matter of what type of clothes I'm comfortable in. I love to wear skirts and dresses, but I'm never comfortable in very short ones or extremely low cut ones. I'll usually put a tank top under low cut ones and just not purchase short ones. I don't like constantly having to worry about whether I'm exposing myself. This is mostly just based on practicality and comfort for me personally, I definitely do not judge anyone for the clothes they choose to wear. I feel like thats a big part of feminism, to not judge other women for their choices. I don't always succeed on this front, but I'm trying.

While reading different blogs and posts on Tumblr I was examining my ideas of modesty based on many other women who choose to dress modestly. I'd say by and large the main reason women (and some men) choose to dress more modestly is because of their beliefs or religion. While I do attend church, pray daily, etc, etc... My decision and love for dressing modestly does not come from my religious convictions.

Once again, I try very hard not to judge women whose decision to dress modestly does come from their religious ideals. I believe that if they're happy and enjoy what their wearing then great! One of the main reasons I don't choose to dress modestly because of religion is the seemingly inherent idea of the way a woman looks causing men to "stumble" as it is often phrased. I don't feel that I am responsible for being anyone's keeper. The way I dress is for my benefit alone, I'm sorry if you feel differently.

I think that men should be responsible for their own behavior and not try to place the blame on someone else (i.e. a woman and what she was wearing). This is my personal (mostly feminist) conviction. I am not saying that you need to believe it or think its right. I see so many, mainly conservative Christian, blogs talk about how they're so happy to dress modestly and that its their duty to their Christian brothers.

For instance, I love this tumblr that features daily inspiration for modest women based on fashion bloggers or readers submissions. These girls have awesome style and dress more conservatively! On their sister blog, where they include many more text posts I was a little dismayed to find that they spout the hardcore conservative Christian line. Not because I think there is anything wrong with being a conservative Christian... whatever floats your boat. But their main focus is on dressing modestly for God, but also for men, so that they (men) won't lust after you and you can help them remain pure for marriage (although purity is highly regarded for both men and women, it seem to be mostly the woman's fault if the man "stumbles"). I hesitate to blog about this because there are so many differing views on how religion, feminism and modesty relate and I honestly don't want to step on anyone's toes.

Another section of women that often choose to dress modestly is Muslim women who don the hijab. Hijab is really a complete way of dressing, rather than simply the headscarf that many Muslim women wear. It is a way of covering one's body usually from the head to the wrists to the ankles, including the headscarf to cover one's hair. (I minored in religion in college and focused a lot on Islam and Muslim women).

The above photo from this website.

I love the hijabi fashion websites because they come up with some great outfits! The usually involve maxi skirts or dresses, or longer tops with wide legged jeans. I greatly admire all of the Muslim women I see wearing the headscarf, I know it must be hard to do sometimes. I think that it looks lovely and I am slightly jealous of how wonderful it looks. This is another example of religious reasons for dressing modestly. They believe that in order to please God they should cover their head and most of their body. Once again, I think thats a wonderful reason to dress modestly! I just don't personally hold it as true. But then again I'm not Muslim. Theres a whole other side to the hijab (and its other versions like the burqa, the niqab and the chador) issue about women not being allowed to wear them in some European countries when they want to. I'm not opening that can of worms.. That would be a whole 'nother post. :)

[Sidenote: I am aware that there are more conservative Jewish women as well, but I'm not as knowledgable about them, nor have I read any blogs by Jewish women. Although I'm sure there are great ones out there!]

All of this goes back to my reasons for dressing modestly. It's just how I'm comfortable and I like not feeling incredibly exposed. Regardless, I still wear bikinis, but at the beach or the pool, where they are appropriate. Is this hypocritical of me? I don't think so... but everyone is entitled to their opinion. I enjoy swimming and sunbathing so I'm not going to give up swimsuits.

So often I see in feminist discussions that women have fought for the right to wear what they want without being forced to wear something by certain rules. For instance, when my mom went to school they had to wear skirts or dresses to school every day. If it was below something like 25 degrees out they could wear pants under their skirts but they had to be taken off as soon as they got to school. This dress code was common even for college women and women in the workforce for a long time. The feminist movement fought for women's rights to wear what they want, pants if they wanted, miniskirts, belly shirts, whatever. I fully support this! I would never want to take away this right. It's just that the clothes I choose to wear are more modest.

In my opinion, this is a feminist choice. I'm not following society's demands that women show as much skin as possible, that they be incredibly toned, have huge boobs and the desire to show them off all the time. I don't judge women that dress like this, because it obviously makes them feel good! But I don't really appreciate society trying to tell me what I must do, simply because I'm a female.

Because of the implied reasons that I dress the way I do, I often wonder if people think I'm uneducated or brainwashed into wearing long skirts. I feel that this is often the idea when you see groups of women usually with long hair and wearing long skirts. "Oh they must be those crazy fundamentalist Christians!" I wonder if people can tell by looking at me that I'm not in fact dressing the way I am for religious reasons, nor am I being forced to dress that way by my family, nor am I uneducated (I have a Bachelor's Degree. In Women's Studies no less!) I am a feminist and proud to dress however I want.
Photoset based on this article about a BYU student.

Find the info about this outfit and blogger here.

This great style from here. See Casey's blog here. I love pencil skirts but I'm not sure I could pull them off this well.

This photo from here.

Some photos of me:

This is a super old picture of me (above). I always loved this skirt and was super sad when it was too small.

When I go out I pretty much always wear some sort of sweater over sleeveless and spaghetti strap shirts/dresses. I'm just more comfortable that way.
More current style. My favorites right now are maxi skirts and sweaters.
Sorry about the horrible camera/mirror quality. I was being too lazy to set up my tripod.
From last summer. I love this skirt. It's so swishy. (Worn paired with a white cardigan)

I guess I wanted to write this blog because the issue has been weighing heavily on my mind lately. I've been thinking about the way I dress a lot and I've gone back and forth in the past few years with wearing only skirts/dresses all the time and then wearing jeans often. Mostly because sometimes its just easier to throw on a pair of jeans.

With my perusal of modesty websites I just found myself wondering if anyone else dresses modestly for similar reasons to mine. That is, not for religious reasons. If you've got any links to likeminded blogs or whatever, shoot them my way!

What are your views on modesty as a feminist choice? What about women's choices to dress however they want, is that any less feminist? How are you most comfortable?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Women's Studies

Women's Studies: noun. A program of studies concentrating on the role of women in history, learning and culture.

From Merriam Webster
Women's Studies: the multidisciplinary study of the social status and societal contributions of women and the relationship between and gender.
First known use: 1972.

So, I majored in Women's Studies for my undergrad degree. I can't count the number of times I've told people what I majored in and was met with a blank stare or a "What is that?"

I usually reply with the fact that it was an awesome interdisciplinary degree at my school where I could take classes all across the spectrum from French to sociology to religion. But with this definition I'm leaving out the most important part of women's studies, a mention of I don't know... WOMEN!

I'm pretty sure that I do this to minimize the fact that I spent two years studying women and "women things" because I don't want to seem weird. Because, even after becoming a self proclaimed feminist, its still awkward for me to explain why I love my degree. Don't get me wrong, I'm not ashamed of anything, I just have a hard time truly explaining why I do the things I do. Especially when it comes up at the beginning of a conversation with someone I don't usually know that well.

So my goal for this year, is to come up with a better definition for women's studies. And a better reason for why I enjoyed studying it so much. Because if I can't talk about it and why I love it, then how can I expect anyone else to learn about it?

It's a work in progress. But I'll let you know how it goes.

Have you had a similar problem or situation? What about when you say something feminist and people give you strange looks?