The Privilege of Being Unremarkable

Obama watching Merrick Garland speakThe reporting surrounding President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland as Supreme Court justice both reveals and complicates the concept of privilege in an intriguing manner. Many of the articles, such as this Politico piece, were notable for what they refrain from stating, that he is a white male. This contrasts with the emphasis on ethnicity and gender in earlier pieces about those being considered for the position, such as Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Judge Sri Srinivasan. After the Garland nomination announcement, one article noted Garland’s judicial experience and legal training and specified how he would not add diversity to the Supreme Court. The article continued, referencing Justice Sonya Sotomayor as Latina and Srinivasan as both Hindu and Asian-American. The choice not to relate Garland’s racial, ethnic, and gender identifications reflects the privilege of a white male in the United States. Continue reading “The Privilege of Being Unremarkable”

Save the ‘Nads! (And Other Things We Do Not Say)

Save the tatas

As many of us are aware, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Despite the relative longevity of this particular disease awareness campaign, I remain intrigued by the story behind the origin of the Susan G. Komen foundation, one wherein Komen’s sister, Nancy Brinker, described her desire to start a foundation to raise awareness about breast cancer at a time (the early 1980s) when the diagnosis was still surrounded with secrecy and stigma.

One reason for my ongoing interest is that I wonder if the stigma surrounding breast cancer has been lifted or if it has merely changed. It is true that we are now able to openly discuss breast cancer in a way we never did before, and it is also true that much more money goes to breast cancer research now than in past decades. Yet if stigmas are nothing more than public attitudes that create social liabilities for those who bear them, then perhaps something more is going on. Continue reading “Save the ‘Nads! (And Other Things We Do Not Say)”

The Complete Inverse

The Complete Inverse of Man of Steel, in One Perfect ImageHave you seen that pic, or that article, making the rounds of social media? There seems to be a script problem on the source’s page but click the graphic if you want to try to find the article, concerning how the upcoming Supergirl series flies in the face of the stereotypes of male superheros — notably the recent “Man of Steel” depiction of Superman (all dark and brooding). Continue reading “The Complete Inverse”

Identifying Threats of Violence

Guns hanging on a wall in a storeWith discourses surrounding terrorism and gun violence, which have become prominent again in the wake of Charleston and Chattanooga, people want to find patterns that illustrate the source of the threats of violence. Looking for these patterns, people engage in an act of comparison, which, as we have discussed on this blog previously, is more about the person constructing the comparison than some reality outside of him/her. For example, I have seen various social media posts recently that include lists of acts of violence, ranging from 9/11 and the storming of the US Embassy in Iran to the Chattanooga shootings, all attributed to people who identified as Muslims. While these posts appear to be direct descriptions of reality, they reflect the choices of the creator of the list as to which acts of violence to include and which identifications to include. Continue reading “Identifying Threats of Violence”

Whose Sex Change Was It?: Caitlyn Jenner and the Boundaries of Public Identity

Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair

Lately, there has been no shortage of commentators eager to discuss Caitlyn Jenner’s recent Vanity Fairy cover (featured above). In the public eye, Jenner has been a famous male athlete-turned reality show husband-turned transgender femme fatale, and this series of transformations has inspired plenty of ogling. Conservative outlets seem to decry the former Bruce’s sex change as something bewildering and strange (if not disgusting and unnatural), while more progressive ones praise her as a heroine who has had the courage to publicly reveal her “true self.” Continue reading “Whose Sex Change Was It?: Caitlyn Jenner and the Boundaries of Public Identity”

The Memory That Forgets: The Women in Military Service for America Memorial

Women in the United State military holding American flags

At the small liberal arts university where I work, we offer a travel course entitled “The Rhetoric of War.” The course examines the way that rhetorics (both verbal and graphic) depict war, patriotism, and the nation-state in the American context. Midway through the semester, the class takes a whirlwind trip to Washington D.C. in order to directly engage the ways in which war is memorialized.

My friend and colleague, Dr. Amy Milakovic, is one of the faculty who teaches that course; she has a forthcoming paper about the experience, with particular focus paid to the Women In Military Service For America (WIMSFA) Memorial. As Dr. Milakovic argues, the attempt to honor military women at WIMSFA happens through a narrative that works only to the degree that it actually diminishes women. WIMFSA achieves this by reinforcing traditional gendered stereotypes at the same time that its physical appearance emphasizes invisibility and insignificance, two terrible ironies achieved in a place that claims to highlight and celebrate women in the military. Continue reading “The Memory That Forgets: The Women in Military Service for America Memorial”

“If you’re not sexy, you might want to be easy”: Some Thoughts On

A red pepper

“If you’re not sexy, you might want to be easy.” So wrote David Epstein in an Inside Higher Ed article written about the website, which allows students to provide public feedback about their professors. In addition to reporting some basic information like the student’s interest in the course material and their perception of the necessity of the textbook, class attendance, etc., each student grades their professors by providing feedback on three major scales:  “Helpfulness,” “Clarity,” and “Easiness.” A fourth measure, “Hotness” (symbolized by a chili pepper), is awarded when students deem a professor suitably attractive. Continue reading ““If you’re not sexy, you might want to be easy”: Some Thoughts On”

Context-Free Lactation

A blue sign that says

Perhaps you’ve heard the news that the Supreme Court has refused to hear a case regarding a lactating woman’s firing, at least tacitly upholding the lower court’s ruling that described her treatment as something “not sexist.” As you can read here, former Nationwide Insurance employee Angela Ames returned to her first day of work after maternity leave and found numerous practical and bureaucratic roadblocks that made it exceedingly difficult for her to express breast milk while at work. When she noted the obstacles and asked for other accommodations, a supervisor told to “just go home to her babies.” Ames reports that she was subsequently coerced the same day to pen her resignation letter. Continue reading “Context-Free Lactation”

Why It’s Not “Victor’s Secret”

Miranda Kerr walking in the Victoria Secret Fashion Show

As I often point out to my Feminist Theory students, there’s a reason why Victoria has a secret, but Victor doesn’t. In other words, there’s a reason why women have “lingerie” and men have “underwear.” Although we’re clearly talking about undergarments, the words here matter. As might be obvious, the former term has a sexual intent behind it that the latter simply doesn’t. One could argue that what the model is wearing in the above photo has sex appeal because the consumer ultimately imagines its removal: lingerie is something you take off, while underwear is something you put on. And yet part of the allure of the lingerie above is that it must also be on to “work” – through the magic of underwire and spandex and every other sort of “suck it in, push em up” technology, the above body is simultaneously a manufactured one that the lingerie makes (a function perhaps desirable only to those who are non-supermodels). And here we come across another interesting double-standard in undergarment function, for I cannot recall hearing of any sort of mainstream line of men’s underwear that has a “tummy control” panel. Continue reading “Why It’s Not “Victor’s Secret””