Tag Archives: feminism

What young girls learn from Disney

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The Bechdel Test – A Female Presence in Film

I imagine a corresponding test to determine intelligent male presence would have to be:

1) Have two or more men with names

2) Have these guys not sexually objectify or harass any women

Good luck.

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A Feminist Halloween

About a month ago I ventured into the local Halloween store for some costume ideas, but just ended up pissed off.  There are literally no packaged costume ideas for women that aren’t sexualized.  And what’s strange is that they’ve made things like soldiers, prison escapees, or soccer referees sexy.

Costumes for women can do any of the following:

a) transform women into a sexualized non-human, like the bumblebee below (it’s a bug – how is this sexy?).  A classic example would be the Playboy bunny costume.

Just because you show cleavage or wear high-heels doesn’t make it a cool costume.  Human peacock, case in point.

b) sexualize women in stereotypically female careers like maids, nurses, and librarians.

These costumes are generally part of the service industry where women have to be submissive to their bosses or customers.  Face it – French maids and naughty nurses are outdated.  But an emerging costume is the female flight attendant.

What’s sad is that female flight attendants in the fifties and sixties really were objectified like this.

Both men and women like these costumes because they both reinforce traditional gender roles of women as passive and submissive, while challenging them with a strong sex-positive angle.

c) show women “playing with gender” by dressing up in a stereotypically hypermasculine occupation.

Ok, naughty cop, naughty pilot – we’ve seen it.  But these costumes portraying stereotypically male career paths are definitely getting creative.

Sexy Vader

Sexy matador (and no, in Spain women can't run with the bulls nor spear them)

Sexy football player (let's all belittle and sexualize women's athletic ability)

Sexy secret service man (would you have even known? probably not)

And sexy Ghostbuster. So strange.

This is undoubtedly the most popular choice because both men and women like women “playing” strong and domineering.  Note the use of “play” as a woman that actually dressed as a normal police officer or prison escapee probably wouldn’t be considered all that cool and definitely not sexy.

d) have women dressing up as little girls, dressing up as women. This is by far the scariest group of Halloween costumes.

Let's all remember that Cindy Brady was 9 years old during the show.

And Pebbles was an infant.

Like the recent GQ cover with Glee, these costumes make dumb, weak, desperate, and infantile sexy.

and e) sexualizing non-white women – women who are made sexually submissive and hypersexual every other day of the year in American culture.

One positive?  I couldn’t find a sexy African tribeswoman.  Thank god.

And oh, the sexualization of non-whites and gender essentialism in children’s costumes – oy!


Here are a few fun feminist Halloween costumes in no particular order – stay safe and have fun!

1) “Sexy Nurse”

I read a comment on another blog by a woman who’s an actual nurse planning to go out in scrubs and sneakers with a large name tag reading “Sexy Nurse”

2) Member of the Rockford Peaches

A great suggestion by Gender Focus: honor the history of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League by dressing up as one of the members of the 1943 Rockford Peaches, as profiled in the movie A League of Their Own.

3) Any feminist film/television character or American icon

Courtesy of Bitch: Veronica Mars, Carmen Sandiego, Thelma and Louisa, Ellen Ripley from Alien, Rosie the Riveter, Wonder Woman, and Peggy Hill

4) A Real Feminist!

Angela Davis, Dolores Huerta, a Guerilla Girl, Hillary Clinton, or my favorite

Gloria Steinem undercover as a Playboy bunny

5) An Anti-Palin Mama Grizzly

6) Pro-Choice Paraphernalia

Suggested by NARAL Pro Choice


Sperm - making gender-neutral costumes fun!

7) A breast cancer marathon walker for the gold!

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The Harms of Reebok’s Butt-toning Shoes

**This post picks on Reebok not because they sexually objectify women less than Nike in their ads or because Sketchers didn’t market butt-toning shoes first, but because Reebok currently making a killllliiinnnggg on these shoes.  We’re talking billions.**

Ever since I saw the first advertisement for Reebok’s butt-toning shoes on tv I was so angry for several reasons.

1) These shoes take advantage of women with poor self esteem, or women that feel guilty for not having time to work out, who think that wearing shoes can work out your butt.  Face it – Reebok hires women with already great butts and legs to model these shoes.  Even Nike admits that the health benefits Reebok promises are unfounded and a just “quick fix” solution.

Note: "The shoes work if you do."

Reebok states: “Discover a 28% more of a workout for your butt, up to 11% more of your hamstrings and calves. So 88% of men will be speechless, 76% of women will be jealous, and 0% will know the real reason is all in your feet.” 28% more of a workout than what?  Wearing normal tennis shoes?

How does the shoe even “work” at all?  Two balance pods under the heel and forefoot create instability when the wearer walks, forcing the muscles to work harder.  This is the same instability you would experience when walking in high heels.  In fact, some sources say that these shoes can actually do more harm than good.

Natural Bias says that Reebok Easytones prioritize appearance over optimal function:

Although unstable surfaces can be beneficial for rehabilitation and injury prevention, this doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea to be regularly walking on “balance pods” that are embedded in rigid soles.

Furthermore, the toes provide support and neuromuscular feedback which is important for balance and is likely to play a role in promoting proper walking mechanics. It seems that the “balance pods” in Reebok’s EasyTone sneakers would reduce toe function even more so than a normal sneaker.

Another concern is that the slight instability created by the EasyTone sneakers likely makes them inappropriate for certain activities, especially sports. Any activity that demands additional strength, balance, and agility, which can be something as simple as running on a bumpy sidewalk to catch a bus, will increase the need for stability.

Because Reebok’s EasyTone sneakers are intentionally designed create slight instability, they oppose this need and can potentially increase the risk of injury in such situations. Although most people might consider this to be a matter of common sense, I’m sure there are some who would assume that the EasyTone sneakers are safe to use for any activity that regular sneakers could be used for.

2) The ads used to sell these shoes sexually objectify women.  In nearly all of the ads women’s asses become the defining characteristic of women’s bodies.  Literally, women are a sum of their parts, and most of the time their faces aren’t even shown (as in the ads above and below).

Here’s one of Reebok’s ads which characterizes boobs as bickering women competing for male attention.  Kjerstin Johnson for Bitch Magazine also points out that their advertisements assume a heterosexual audience as noted by Reebok’s own percentages and their advertisements which refer to men’s attraction.

These ads also sexualize women with full-on nudity.  Keep in mind – shoes can’t make you beautiful.  But Photoshop, great lighting, self esteem, and good genes can!  And most assuredly, no shoes can make you curvy or give you beautiful breasts.

Kelly Brook in front of her own Reebok Easytone billboard.

Helena Christensen selling sex, not shoes.

Women!  Are we buying sex, self esteem, or shoes?  Can’t we work out to be powerful?  To be healthy?  Do we need sports bras that accent our workout shorts and waterproof makeup for the gym?  (The answer’s no.)


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Ms. Magazine’s “No Comment” and Jean Kielborne’s “Killing Us Softly”

Every year since Ms. Magazine hit newsstands as part of the roaring Women’s Liberation Movement in 1972, the magazine has always included a “No Comment” section on its last page.  This page featured advertisements, submitted by readers, that were insulting or degrading to women, but always in the vein of political or social action.  Ms. Magazine: “Some make us roll our eyes. Others inspire us to write letters or to boycott products.”

And you know what?  Ads over the past forty years haven’t gotten all that better.  For example, here’s a classy product for suitcase stickers from July 2010:

Here’s what Stephanie Hallett from the Ms. Magazine blog had to say about this:

Identifying your ubiquitous black suitcase on a baggage carousel can be challenging, it’s true. But is it really challenging enough to warrant this violent suitcase sticker from thecheeky.com? We think not. Canadian entrepreneur Colin Hart, who runs thecheeky.com, said the stickers are meant to personalize and spice up your travel bags. His collection of large stickers features old leather luggage torn open to reveal illicit contents. What’s “inside” the bags? Stacks of cash, bags of cocaine, sex toys–and a bound-and-gagged flight attendant.

Jean Kielborne in her film series “Killing Us Softly” (now in it’s fourth edition) provides an in-depth examination of the sexual objectification and degradation of women in advertisements.  Watch a snippet from her latest, “Killing Us Softly 4″ below:

So what do we do with this?  Get involved!  One privilege of living in a capitalistic consumer-driven country is the power to put our money where our mouth is.  You can submit your images to Ms. Magazine via letterstotheeditor@msmagazine.com, join this Flickr “No Comment” group or start one in another online community.  Check out some of the “No Comment” archives for inspiration here.

I’ll begin with Urban Outfitters.  Can their models get any younger or any skinnier?  Or paler?

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Women’s Liberation Movement in Newsweek Covers

These photos are all from Newsweek‘s online collection.  The text is written by Sarah Ball, who introduced the collection with this:

From real-life riveting Rosies to Gloria Steinem’s faded blue sunglasses, NEWSWEEK has splashed mighty icons of women’s history on its cover throughout the magazine’s 77 years. We opened our archives for the best of those images, and passages of the stories behind them. The words speak to different desires and different political movements, but a single theme unites them. As Radcliffe student Faye Levine, quoted in a 1966 NEWSWEEK piece, affectingly issued, “You have opened the door of Shangri-La to us; do not be surprised when we stick our foot in it. The old world of our silent, contented acquiescence is gone forever.”

These images accompanied an article entitled, “Are we There Yet?” which discusses the changes over the past forty years in gender.  Enjoy.


The women’s movement, relegated to the fringe during prior decades, suddenly went mainstream. From the editor’s note: “A new specter is haunting America—the specter of militant feminism. Convinced they have little to lose but their domestic chains, growing numbers of women are challenging the basic assumptions of what they consider a male-dominated society. They demand equal rights in every area from wages through child-rearing to sexual expression."

This cover is also important as it signifies the entry of women into the Newsweek workforce, as 46 women successfully sued Newsweek for gender discrimination in 1970.

The intersection of fashion and politics, relayed with comical gravity by a male writer: “At issue is a deceptively miniscule few inches of fabric that will determine whether women’s skirts will drop to a demure mid-calf, or stay casually provocative above the knee. The Presidents of the U.S. and France have proclaimed their approval of the midi, but most men sense a conspiracy in action. The Beautiful People like the longer look, but many women who are merely lovely are outraged at the thought of buying entirely new wardrobes.”

Gloria Steinem’s words were serious. As she wrote of the Pill at the time, “The real danger of the contraceptive revolution may be the acceleration of women’s role change without any corresponding change of man’s attitude towards her role.” But the description of her appearance didn’t convey the same grave tone. “In hip-hugging raspberry Levis, two-inch wedgies and a tight poor-boy T-shirt, her long, blond-streaked hair falling just so above each breast and her cheerleader-pretty face...Any old swatch of cloth rides like a midsummer night’s dream on what one friend calls her ‘most incredibly perfect body.’ ”

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A Kitchen Revolution Aimed At Freeing Women – NPR

These are just the juicy women’s history segments of the story.  Read the entire article here.

This is a fascinating discussion of gender politics and design.  The MoMa now has its very own kitchen – dismantled in Frankfurt, Germany and reconstructed in New York – in its new exhibit, “Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen.”  Although the gunmetal gray leaves much to be desired, this exhibit argues that women were politically active about their own rights through kitchen design.

Author Robert Smith states, “But through one of the first architecturally designed kitchens, you can see the ideas that launched a million home remodeling projects: built-in bins, undercabinet storage, pullout drawers and a four-burner stove.”

Three views of the reconstructed Frankfurt Kitchen, designed by Austrian Margarete Schuette-Lihotzky. Courtesy MoMa

“For centuries, really, the kitchen had been ignored by design professionals, not least because it tended to be lower-class women or servants who occupied the kitchen space,” says curator Juliet Kinchin.

“The kitchens were often poorly ventilated, shoved to the basement or annex, and caused a lot of drudgery in the kitchen.”

It was women who led the reform of the kitchen into an efficient space — one to be proud of. Kinchin says, “they were trying to adopt a scientific approach to housework and raise the status of housework.”

“The designer of [The Frankfurt Kitchen], Grete Schuette-Lihotzky, was passionately concerned about the quality of women’s lives,” Kinchin continues. “She felt without sorting the drudgery they were involved in, they’d never have time to develop themselves in a professional way.”

Although these advancements did relieve the “drudgery” of housework, they essentialized wives’ work by isolating them to the kitchen.  And ads to sell these new gadgets and contraptions conveyed that cooking and hostessing would make [young, white, middle-class] women better wives and better women.

The exhibit features a lot of industrial movies from the ’20s through the ’50s, which make it clear that once you let designers into the kitchen, they don’t know when to stop. Architects weren’t just creating kitchens; as it turns out, they were also designing the perfect housewives to go in them.

In a corner of the exhibit, there’s actually an architectural drawing of a woman with all her dimensions clearly marked. Her name is Josephine.

“She’s the 5-foot-4 incarnation of the average American woman, life-size,” Kinchin says. “This is what interior designers and architects worked with when they were designing the dimensions of the modern kitchen.”

The designers obviously felt designing the perfect kitchen was liberating for women — but not all women agreed.

“Schuette-Lihotzky did make women’s lives a lot easier,” Kinchin says, “but she has been criticized by feminist critics in the 1970s for actually isolating women in the kitchen.”

If you treat a kitchen like a factory, the criticism goes, then a woman becomes like a factory worker. “She becomes like a robot.”

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Nude/Sexualized Women in Yoga Ads

Recently Ms. Magazine‘s blog had an interesting post on the sexualization of women in yoga advertisements, entitled, “Yoga’s Feminist Awakening.”

So do a Google search for “yoga” and you’re going to find a lotta pictures of women.  Some naked.  Many in bounded, contorted, sexualized positions.  Don’t believe me?

Hmm, something tells me that more than yoga and goodwill is being sold here.

After seeing the following ads which sell socks (how sexy can you get?),

Yoga Journal Co-founder Judith Hansen Lasater responded:

“I’m concerned about ads that have stimulated both confusion and sadness in me about where the magazine is now and where it is headed. I am confused because I do not understand how photos of naked or half-naked women are connected with the sale of practice products for asana, an important part of yoga. These pictures do not teach the viewer about yoga practice or themselves. They aren’t even about the celebration of the beauty of the human body or the beauty of the poses, which I support. These ads are just about selling a product. This approach is something I thought belonged (unfortunately) to the larger culture, but not in Yoga Journal.”

And many people have responded to the hoopla with a resounding “who-gives-a-shit.”  Which is sad.

In the words of Monica Shores via Ms. Magazine: “Looks like some otherwise enlightened yogis could do with a course in Women’s Studies 101.”


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21st Century Masculinity: The New “Macho”

My current research on Rolling Stone magazine is on their coverage of the Men’s Liberation Movement!  Which makes this Newsweek article pretty exciting.  The photos included with this article are from Newsweek’s timeline of male ideals in American history.  Want to learn more about men’s history?  (Yes, they have a history, and no, men’s history isn’t American history in default)  Read Michael Kimmel’s Manhood in America: A Cultural History.  Hope you like it!


by Jesse Ellison and Jessica Bennett, Newsweek, September 20, 2010

If the stereotype of the macho man is the whiskey-drinking, womanizing Don Draper, then the popular perception of “feminist” is an angry, militant, man-hater—decrying the patriarchy while she burns her bra. It’s a cliché that, for decades now, has pitted the Marlboro Man against Rosie the Riveter, labeling women who rally behind men as antifeminist, and men who support women as weak, or worse. But even Gloria Steinem knew—back before women were even allowed to write at NEWSWEEK—that it was going to take both sides of the gender coin to achieve true parity. Testifying before Congress on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1970, Steinem proclaimed that one crucial aspect of women’s empowerment was “a return of fathers to their children.” “Women’s liberation,” Steinem declared, “is men’s liberation too.”

Family Man: 1910-1945, The nation's first fatherhood movement grew out of the factory-floor malaise, as thousands of men tried to "manufacture manhood" in their sons--to help them prepare for a heartless market, and avoid being feminized by nothing but mommy-time. Part of the solution: a new masculine space in the home, "the den," christened around 1905. Walmsley Brothers / Hulton Archive-Getty Images

Forty years later, women are further along than we were in Steinem’s day—we’re tipping the scale at 51 percent of workers; we make up the majority of college graduates, M.A.s (and now even Ph.D.s), and we are the primary or co-breadwinners in most American households. But we still have trouble penetrating the highest echelons of the corporate world, and no matter how many hours we spend trying to close that gap, we remain burdened by domestic life. In 2010, there are still precious few stay-at-home dads; housework and child care are primarily still “women’s work.” And while we may have superpowered washing machines and delivery from Fresh Direct, we still do double the chores of the men we choose to live with.

All of this is why, even in 2010, we must take the advice of a feminist of yore: women still need men to prosper. We’re not talking about Mr. Cleaver bringing home the bacon—we need men so that we can excel at work, to level the playing field at home. We need them as dads, partners, and cheerleaders—from the classroom to the boardroom. So let’s retire the tired old “battle of the sexes” war cry—equality should never have been a zero-sum equation.

Muscle Man: 1910-1945, With the frontier closed and women beginning their long push into the workplace, men obsessed over Tarzan, cowboy literature, and bodybuilding, even if they were sitting in offices all day. Eugen Sandow, a precursor to Charles Atlas, was the first fitness guru for men. Hulton Archive-Getty Images

There are practical reasons why we should rally behind each other’s causes. If men are concerned about American prosperity, there’s a solution: women! Countless studies prove there’s a correlation between the number of women on corporate boards and achieving a better bottom line; McKinsey estimates that the United States could increase GDP by 9 percent if we achieved true equity at work. (At a time when economists worry we’re losing our economic edge, who wouldn’t be swayed by these arguments?)

The same goes for parental leave. It’s no coincidence that Iceland has the most generous paternity-leave program in the modern world—three months!—and also, the smallest wage gap. These things go hand in hand. And no, it wasn’t a raging man-hating feminist who pushed the legislation through—it was a male prime minister, who recognized that Icelanders of both genders would benefit, and not just in the short term. The reasoning? As more men take time off to care for their children, the burden of parenthood no longer falls on women alone. Ultimately, employers will stop looking at young, fertile women and thinking, why bother investing? We’ll all be equally worthy of investment.

In today’s economy, the industries that have long been female-dominated—teaching, nursing, and so on—are the ones that, in the coming years, will grow the most. Encouraging men to “man up,” as our colleagues put it—and enter these fields should be something we all push for. Because just as corporate boards benefit from diversity of thought, so does every workplace. Recent research from the London Business School suggests that productivity levels go up when men and women work in tandem—in part because gender parity counters the idea of groupthink, and reduces the sprouting of likeminded groups that defend ideas that may be ill conceived.

Suburban Playboy: 1960-1980, The Self-Made Man returns in the image of Playboy magazine, "the bible of the beleaguered man." Joe Suburbs replaced his suit with a smoking jacket, restocked the den with Danish modern furniture, and dreamed of swinging. At the same time, gay men, black men, new immigrants, and the gender-blurring hippies expanded the mainstream notion of masculinity. Bettmann-Corbis

Welcoming men to traditionally underpaid professions could also serve to boost average salaries in those fields, making them more competitive and better able to attract top-tier talent. It could also be a crucial step in closing the wage gap, which, of course, won’t help just women. As more women become the main breadwinners—we’re in a “mancession,” remember?—equal pay means more for everyone.

So let’s embrace the new macho, throw our weight behind men who want to make a change, and get back to the forgotten principles of the original women’s movement, which put men’s progress hand in hand with women’s. “The only way that we can resolve these issues is for both men and women to join together,” says historian Barbara Berg. “You can’t liberate only one half.”

Forty years ago, Gloria Steinem said that women’s liberation would also be men’s. Today, maybe it’s the opposite: that men’s liberation will be good for women.

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Feminist Bug Exhibit at the Field Museum

A few weeks ago I joined my pals Louisa and Erin in The Windy City for a day of adventures.  Our first stop, after hitting up Chicago Raw at The French Market for a raw muffin that is to die for, we headed off to the Field Museum!

Louisa (left) is a feminist playwright and Erin (right) leads afterschool Girl Scout programs. Are we not a bundle of feminist-fantastic!

One of my favorite exhibits was The Romance of Ants which explores how one girl got into the male-dominated field of studying ants.

The exhibit, based on the life of Field Museum scientist Dr. Corrie Moreau, contains about 20 graphic novel panels drawn by aspiring entomologist and graphic artist Alexandra Westrich.  Although the focus of the exhibit is on ant education, the exhibit empowers young women to study perceived masculine subjects of science and math.

Here are a few of the panels in the exhibit which demonstrate the exhibit’s feminist slant:

Despite ridicule from other girls, Moreau made her way into the study of biology.

After years of pursuing this “manly” subject, Moreau has still managed to maintain her femininity – ah!  shocker! – and proceeds to get married before finally working at the Field Museum.

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