Women Made History in the Midterms

by Maddy Forbess

Real women. Real power. In this year’s midterms, women broke records on numerous fronts. Over 90 women were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Individual female candidates also made history, with the first Muslim women ever to be elected to Congress: Democrats Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. Tennessee elected its first female Senator, Marsha Blackburn, in the state’s history. Native American women were elected to Congress, yet another historical first. Democrat Deb Haaland defeated Republican Janice Arnold Jones in New Mexico’s midterms, becoming not only New Mexico’s but also one of the United States’ first Native American Congresswomen. Democrat Sharice Davids, Kansas’ newly elected Congresswomen, will join her as a trailblazing woman in leadership. Davids will also be the first openly LGBTQ person to represent her state, setting an example for young women and the LGBTQ community everywhere.

Women of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds saw many historic firsts in the 2018 midterm elections, and it is a testament to the tide of change in the United States. Ayanna Pressley became the first black Congresswomen to represent Massachusetts in the U.S. House of Representatives after she defeated 10-term incumbent Michael Capuano in the Democratic primary in September and did not have a Republican challenger in the midterm election for Massachusetts’ 7th Congressional District.  She ran on a distinctly community-centered vision: “In Congress, I will be focused on lifting up the voices of those in the community, partnering with activist and residents, and ensuring that those closest to the pain are closest to the power, driving and informing the policy-making.” When Congress convenes in January of 2019, Pressley will be there to help construct an agenda that encompasses a wide range of issues and promotes equity for all. She is committed to being an advocate for the people of her district and will use her leadership position to focus in on the key issues facing communities. Pressley is not alone in her inclusive vision of America, and, as a woman of color, she brings a new and much needed perspective to one of our nation’s highest forms of elected government.

On November 6th, our country was on the precipice of change—something monumental—and citizens across the country got out the vote to determine the results of the midterm elections. The outcome was a net positive, with a record number of women achieving leadership positions in government. It was a victory that women in this country desperately needed. However, it does not mean the work is done. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shocked the country by pulling off an upset in the primaries and defeating establishment candidate Joe Crowley, later to defeat a much older Anthony Pappas in New York’s 14th Congressional District election. As a 29-year-old from the Bronx, Ocasio-Cortez and her activism compelled Americans to vote in her favor. Interestingly, she campaigned on a Democratic Socialist platform, advocating for Medicare for All, housing as a human right, and much more. This term democratic socialism attracted much attention in the midterm. It is certainly not conventional nor expected, nor is it the principle this country is currently operating on. This is not to say democratic socialism, in itself, is the answer.  But, perhaps, the new perspective all of these powerful women will bring to Congress are just what  the United States needs to spark a positive change.

Almost a week after the midterms, life continues. Students continue with their classes, adults head to work every morning, and Trump is still president. Yet, a huge shift occurred on November 6th, and it assumed the form of a blue wave. As Democrats flipped competitive seats and won in many suburban districts, a blue wave flooded the country. College-educated voters, and women in particular, came out in record numbers to vote against president-backed Republicans. With this shift in momentum, Democrats gained control of the U.S. House of Representatives. More women were elected in this year’s election than ever before in U.S. history. Both these factors combine to bring a degree of gender parity to Congress. Republicans still control the Senate and, in fact, tightened their grip on the majority in the midterms, but Democrats experienced a huge victory by regaining control of the House. On January 3rd, 2019, the 116th Congress will meet with a Democratic House and a Republican Senate. It is up to elected officials, and women in leadership especially, to see agendas into fruition and to foster a sense of government that truly reflects the interests of its people.

Sources:

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/11/07/ayanna-pressley-is-massachusetts-first-black-congresswoman.html

http://time.com/5323592/2018-elections-women-history-records/



Sustaining the #MeToo Movement

by Caitlin Panarella

 

In the months of the #MeToo movement, many have asked what the next step is— after exposing and uncovering the extent of sexual harassment in the workplace, a still ongoing process, what will be built in its place?  The only way to get there is to sustain the conversation.

On Thursday, April 19, Georgetown University hosted “The #MeToo Movement—Why Now Again? What Next?”  The panel of speakers came from varied backgrounds, all with different points to contribute about how to move forward.

The speakers were Maya Raghu, Director of Workplace Equality and Senior Counsel at the National Women’s Law Center; Lisa Singh, professor in the Department of Computer Science at Georgetown; Chai Feldblum, Commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; and Professor Deborah Epstein, Director of the Georgetown University Law Center’s Domestic Violence Clinic.  The event was moderated by Deborah Tannen, a member of the linguistics department faculty at Georgetown University.

Singh noted that social media has proven to be one of the most prominent tools of #MeToo; the movement itself is a hashtag.  The hashtag catalyzed a new consciousness, and helped women came together, support each other and believe each other. After Alyssa Milano tweeted on October 15, 2017 calling for users to reply #metoo if they had experienced sexual harassment or assault, half a million people had responded within 24 hours. By the end of November 2017, Twitter confirmed that over 1.7 million Tweets had used the hashtag or one of its translations worldwide.

Another poignant moment of the panel discussion occurred when Raghu noted that one of the most dangerous misconceptions surrounding #MeToo was that it is a “bad apple” problem.  “Surely, firing these male perpetrators will end the problem?” is a mindset that threatens to undermine the potential for sustainable change. It puts the emphasis on conflicts between individuals, and thus severs the connection between all of the cases of sexual harassment occurring in every industry.  It is a political sedative.

The problem, Raghu said, is not with individual people; it is a systemic issue that requires systemic change.  It is not enough to fire the perpetrators and expect everything to be equal; that solution ignores the fact that many people knew of Harvey Weinstein and Charlie Rose’s actions and failed to intervene.

Sustainable solutions must include punishment of perpetrators, but also must empower women (and all victims) to speak up for themselves.  It must systemically ingrain accountability so that bystanders can intervene. It must take preventative measures.

New institutions are being put in place as well.  The National Women’s Law Center started the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, intended to “[connect] those who experience sexual misconduct… with legal and public relations assistance.”  Women across sectors have reported misconduct, pointing again to the widespread, systemic nature of the problem. The NWLC also has a plethora of resources on what to do in the face of harassment, from fact sheets to employer materials.

If the #MeToo movement is to continue to make change, we must keep talking about it, support the new systems put in place to prevent sex discrimination, and most importantly, continue to believe those who come forward.

Source: https://www.bustle.com/p/this-is-how-many-people-have-posted-me-too-since-october-according-to-new-data-6753697

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/metoo-sexual-assault-movement-reaches-500000-tweets-1049235

https://nwlc.org/times-up-legal-defense-fund/

https://nwlc.org/resources/thats-harassment/

 

The Fallacy of the “Summer Body”

by Caitlin Panarella

 

With the slow but sure change from cold weather to warm, something ugly and familiar is rearing its head: the onslaught of diet advertisements.

“Get your summer body!”

“New summer, new you!”

“Get rid of those winter pounds!”

Though these advertisements are constant throughout the year, they pick up like clockwork around markers like the start of the new year and the summertime.  These advertisements target us everywhere, from Youtube to magazines to Facebook. Even if we never click on them, they surround us and affect how we think about our bodies.

At a recent feminist discussion, I overheard a woman saying, “I want the cupcake, but I also want a summer body,” as she laughed with her friend.  Many women have the unfortunate habit of commiserating over body-shaming themselves, and the approach of summer exacerbates these tendencies. Even women who are feminists have difficulty seeing through the deception of “perfecting” their bodies for a gaze that is often implicitly male.

Though the diet industry targets all genders, women face a disproportionate pressure to conform to a thin ideal of beauty.  Such pressure affects how a woman perceives her social acceptance, professional success and personal self-worth.

Currently worth upwards of $66 billion according to Marketdata, the total U.S. weight loss market depends on making women insecure about their bodies for its profit.  According to an ABC News 2012 report, approximately 85 percent of customers consuming weight-loss products and services are female.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, national surveys estimate that 20 million women in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives, compared with 10 million men.

The weight loss industry’s best kept secret?  Telling us what’s “wrong” with our bodies, and then selling us a solution.  The bottom line of the diet industry-- including detox brands, restrictive meal plans, diet drugs and weight loss surgery- is dependent on our self-objectification and bodily insecurity.  Even if you do not purchase anything from these companies, their media messages are part of your daily consumption and have an extremely harmful impact.

This is not to say wanting to exercise or eat healthy foods means we submit to sexist narratives, but letting a thin body ideal and self-hatred drive those actions is very problematic.  If you want to set goals, make them for you, not for the outside pressure of a society that only celebrates one body type.

The idea that our bodies are there to be criticized and corrected is rooted in keeping women subordinate to men.  Women spend precious mental energy reducing their food intake, over-exercising and going on fad diets in an attempt to be socially acceptable.  Not only does this keep women running in circles as the dominant beauty ideal shifts every twenty years or so, but it also objectifies them. It creates and perpetuates the idea that women are, and should be, inherently insecure and in need of validation.

As author Naomi Wolf said, “Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women's history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”

No matter what size you are, you deserve to love your body.  Health is possible at any size, a fact the diet industry does not want anyone to know.

To counter these ads and the diet talk that seem to be everywhere in the new year, there are several steps you can take.  

If possible, remove yourself from situations and conversations that contribute to the toxic culture.  No one says you have to watch the diet commercial or listen to it on the radio; mute it or change the channel.  Make exercise something enjoyable, rather than a punishment for what you ate over the weekend. Don’t body shame or food shame yourself; celebrate your body for what it lets you do, think and learn.

Resist the narrative that you are too much or not enough.  Instead, remember that you have too much to offer the world to be battling your body, and not enough time to waste on sexist, exploitative narratives.

Source:

 

https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/general-information/what-are-eating-disorders

 

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/407794-dieting-is-the-most-potent-political-sedative-in-women-s-history

 

https://www.webwire.com/ViewPressRel.asp?aId=209054

 

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/100-million-dieters-20-billion-weight-loss-industry/story?id=16297197

Something to Cheer About?

by Brooke Claflin

For about two weeks now, cheerleaders have been stepping forward with complaints about mistreatment and/or discrimination in their workplace. Although these women cheer for some of the highest paid athletes in the country, they receive little compensation (in comparison) for their hard work; most of them are paid little more than minimum wage. They, as part time employees,  do not receive health insurance nor retirement benefits. Moreover, the restrictions they face do not end when they leave the work place; the restrictions follow them home and permeate into their personal lives. 

Cheerleaders are forbidden from interacting with the players; this means that if a player attempts to approach them, then the burden is on the cheerleaders to avoid contact. There are also stringent regulations on what they can wear on an everyday basis; photos in sweatpants and photos in bikinis are deemed as equally unacceptable. 

Additionally, there is the danger of being a woman surrounded by intoxicated men at these games; many cheerleaders have faced sexual harassment and have found few if any avenues through which to seek recourse.

Overall, as I read the many articles on the horrors facing cheerleaders, I was appalled but not surprised. The unequal and unfair treatment of women has long been a part of our culture, so its perpetuation in the sports industry is not unexpected. 

Even so there are moments of hope, these stories are receiving large amounts of media coverage, so the complaints cannot simply be ignored. Plus, women athletes in general are gaining more attention and respect. For instance, last year REI did their Force of Nature campaign to support women in the sports industry, and especially the outdoors. This year The North Face is doing their own publicity campaign called She Moves Mountains that honors female adventurers. Thus, I do think there is the possibility for positive outcomes from these incredibly upsetting narratives. 

Source:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/02/sports/nfl-cheerleaders.html

The Male Gaze in Classical Hollywood (c. 1929-1964)

by Maddy Forbess

Think back to your favorite classical Hollywood film. Who is the protagonist? Who is portrayed as the hero, guiding the plot along with a sense of agency? Are you picturing a woman? The short answer here is no. Perhaps you are picturing an early James Bond. Or, maybe, an early Hitchcock film with a classic male lead. Bill Murray from Caddy Shack or the rambunctious men in Animal House also strike the right chord. The common thread in these movies is their lack of a strong female voice. This is not to say that women were absent from the movie scene altogether; rather, they were designated to passive roles and portrayed as highly sexualized objects.

In her essay titled “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” renowned literary theorist Laura Mulvey employs Freudian psychoanalysis to explain how gender dynamics have traditionally functioned in the history of American and Western European film. During the era of classical Hollywood cinema, men held the purse strings in society and, more specifically, in heterosexual relationships. Men initiated romantic relationships, asked the women out on dates, and paid for the movie tickets. Thus, the producers and film companies set the affluent male as their target audience. They artfully constructed their movies to provide visual pleasure to paying viewers. The intention was for a man to feel good after leaving a movie theater, essentially affirming his superior place in society and dissolving any castration anxiety he may have in his real life. Take Rear Window, a 1954 mystery thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock, for example. Protagonist L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies, played by actor James Stewart, never leaves his apartment throughout the entire movie, yet the audience automatically picks up on his active role in the narrative and intended heroic function. Although he is bedridden due to a broken leg, it is evident that he is the lead on account of his sex and, subsequently, due to his desirable socioeconomic status. 

Mulvey applies psychoanalysis to the world of film, delving into the sexism so deeply entrenched in the idea of the “gaze.” The “male gaze” is a well-known phrase, used to describe how aspects of our lives are falsely presumed to be from a male perspective. It is easy to see examples of the “male gaze” in advertisements for male vs. female products, in which the camera, characters, and the viewers are given over completely to a male point-of-view whereas the women assume a “to-be-looked-at-ness” quality. Grace Kelly, the glamorous female socialite in Hitchcock’s Rear Window, exhibits the aforementioned quality throughout the movie. From her entrance into the film to the ending scene, Grace’s character Lisa Carol Fremont affirms her feminine role within the broader scope of the patriarchy. She comes onto the screen as this ethereal angelic figure who both figuratively and literally illuminates her surroundings. She provokes certain emotions in Jeffrey, but is not seen as important in her own right. Lisa is only valued for the effects she has on Jeffrey: not for her own agency. Whether these effects are instilling love, fear, threat of castration anxiety, or even the loss of phallus (power) in her boyfriend, everything always comes back to one person: her boyfriend.

Despite—or, perhaps, because of—Grace Kelly’s award-winning performance in Rear Window, the film is successful in endorsing harmful gender roles. Not only do these harmful roles pervade the film, but they are emblematic of Western culture. The praise Kelly received for her stellar acting and the general consensus that Rear Window is a cinematic masterpiece proves Mulvey’s point that the patriarchy is enveloped in film. The same psychoanalytic tools used to describe a child’s development and anxieties, thereof, can help explain why certain types of films continue to be produced and preferred over those that confront viewers with sensitive subject matter. The Academy Awards honored Kelly with nomination and award for Best Actress, reinforcing the gender stereotypes depicted in Rear Window. The content and production of the final scene also bolster Mulvey’s theory because the “active male and passive female” achieve their culturally dictated roles. Lisa Fremont trades in her glamorous dresses for the more mundane clothing of a housewife, and Jeffrey gives up his bachelor lifestyle and voyeuristic tendencies to assume the traditional husband role. Just as Mulvey’s film theory claims, old Hollywood movies have the unfortunate, sexist convention of affirming society’s gendered roles. The “old” Hollywood perpetuated the patriarchy—a problem today’s writers, producers, and directors must combat in the film community. 

The Evolution of Women in Art

by Maddy Forbess

What defines a woman? Would you describe her by the length of her hair or the clothes she chooses to wear? Is it her biological sex or her sexual orientation? Does the color of her skin add nuance to womanhood, or are all colors, shapes, sizes, and sexualities included in this umbrella term: “woman”? For generations, literature has confined women to a limited role in novels. The white, male canon of American literature exemplifies the point that the female voice has been presented through the lens of male authorship. In the nineteenth century, male authors wrote female characters into their stories as either angels or madwomen. Their stereotypical personas limited their agency in novels. Women were either damsels in distress or insane, emotional women. The image of the madwomen furthered sexist attitudes in America, suppressing empowered females by restricting them to a life of domestic confinement.

A shift occurred as female authors began to broach new genres, delving into the world of love poetry and transforming certain aspects of the novel. While all of this took place in the broader context of a patriarchal system, female authors such as Charlotte Gilman in her “The Yellow Wall Paper,” worked to innovate and to push the boundaries of traditional gender norms. Jane, the main female character in her short story, adds whole new meaning to the conventional madwomen image. She is depicted as insane but a feminist reader holds that it is her husband—and, on in a greater sense, the patriarchy—that is responsible for her declines to insanity. Gilman plays with the dynamics between sexes, manipulating her own authorial power to expose misogynistic tendencies in cliché depictions of women. Her distinct, female perspective sheds light upon the sexism latent in male literature.

Lesbian poet Adrienne Rich is an example of the expansion of the Feminist movement to include other expressions of sexuality. Her poem “Recreation” transforms the reader’s perception of sexual identities, intimate relationships, and the function of romantic love beyond the purpose of procreation. Recreation can be taken to mean “for pleasure” but it can also mean the “re-construction” of a new type of love outside of America’s heteronormative culture. Rich’s intimate relationship with the topic of this this poem makes the intricacy of her lines all the more powerful. It is not always right to assume the author is the speaker of a poem, but I believe Rich’s individual identity factors heavily into her writing. Gender, sexuality, and outward expression of identity are all parts to a greater whole—the diversity of voices that makes up the Feminist movement.

Female authors continue to work within the established power structures of literary in order to make their voices heard. They must, in some sense, play into the patriarchal system so that their works will be published and well-read. Great literature has been determined by men for generations, but women have found loopholes. Perhaps a novel has a presumed male hero; but, upon deeper analysis, his portrayal is dripping in irony, thus flipping the connotation of his masculinity on its head. Maybe a movie like I, Tonya depicts Tonya as the typical female trope of the madwoman. She is more masculine than the other figure-skaters, an outcast, and an angry, emotional woman because of it. As the movie progresses, it becomes apparent that the biases against powerful women who stray from the norm are the driving force behind her craziness. It is the unreasonable standards of beauty placed on figure-skaters and expectations of a certain social class that compel Tonya to her madwoman behaviors.

Examples such as these modern-day pieces of art force us to look inward, as a society. What can we do to further break down the gender barriers faced by women in the professional sphere? Female authors work to counteract the sexist literary history of our country’ s past. The film industry shows its commitment to advocating for sexual and gender equality through the production of socio-political movies. The expanding nature of the Feminist movement reflects how the word “woman” has come to represent something all-encompassing. The word “woman” only demands more respect and carries more weight as it branches out to include more demographics.