Category Archives: sexism

Quoted: On Beyonce and Feminism

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I can’t believe that, as someone who a year ago could scarcely quote a Beyonce song, save “Bootylicious,” I am spending so much time defending the artist these days. But the surprise release of her “visual album,” Beyonce, has sparked a fresh round of broken criticism of the star, freighted with gender and race bias.  Understand, it is not that Beyonce, for all her power-belting, catchy hook-writing and effortless dancing, is above reproach. Once we finish getting down to “Drunk in Love,” we need to analyze the hell out of Mr. Knowles-Carter’s wack ass, Ike Turner-worshipping, violence-fetishizing contribution to the “love” track:

 

Catch a charge, I might, beat the box up like Mike…

I’m like Ike Turner

Baby know I don’t play, now eat the cake Annie Mae

Said, eat the cake, Annie Mae

 

This, right here, is all kinds of problematic and the sort of contradiction a public feminist needs to be called to task for. But, as yet, I haven’t seen many people questioning why Bey let Jay spit some nasty, misogynist shit on an album that includes the feminist brilliance of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Instead, folks are still carping about whether one can flaunt dat ass, be conventionally attractive, launch a world tour using a married moniker or be rich and successful and still be feminist.

Just so we can move the analysis along: The answer to that question is “Yes,” as I outlined in an article in Bitch magazine earlier this year:

A popular star willing to talk about gender inequity, as Beyoncé has, is depressingly rare. But Freeman insists flashes of underboob and feminist critique don’t mix. Petersen concurs, calling the thigh-baring, lace-meets-leather outfit Beyoncé wore during her Super Bowl XLVII halftime show an “outfit that basically taught my lesson on the way that the male gaze objectifies and fetishizes the otherwise powerful female body.” A commenter on Jezebel summed up the charge: “That’s pretty much the Beyoncé contradiction right there. Lip service for female fans, fan service for the guys.”

These appraisals are perplexing amid a wave of feminist ideology rooted in the idea that women own their bodies. It is the feminism of SlutWalk, the anti-rape movement that proclaims a skimpy skirt does not equal a desire for male attention or sexual availability. Why, then, are cultural critics like Freeman and Petersen convinced that when Beyoncé pops a leather-clad pelvis on stage, it is solely for the benefit of men? Why do others think her acknowledgment of how patriarchy influences our understanding of what’s sexy is mere “lip service”?

Dr. Sarah Jackson, a race and media scholar at Boston’s Northeastern University, says, “The idea that Beyoncé being sexy is only her performing for male viewers assumes that embracing sexuality isn’t also for women.” Jackson adds that the criticism also ignores “the limited choices available to women in the entertainment industry and the limited ways Beyoncé is allowed to express her sexuality, because of her gender and her race.”

Her confounding mainstream persona, Jackson points out, is one key to the entertainer’s success as a black artist. “You don’t see black versions of Lady Gaga crossing over to the extent that Beyoncé has or reaching her levels of success. Black artists rarely have the same privilege of not conforming to dominant image expectations.”

Solange, Beyoncé’s sister, who has gone for a natural-haired, boho, less sexified approach to her music, remains a niche artist, as do Erykah Badu, Janelle Monáe, and Shingai Shoniwa of the Noisettes, like so many black female artists before them. Grace Jones, Joan Armatrading, Tracy Chapman, Meshell Ndegeocello—talented all, but quirky black girls, especially androgynous ones, don’t sell pop music, perform at the Super Bowl, or get starring roles in Hollywood films.

Black women (and girls) have also historically battled the stereotype of innate and uncontrolled lasciviousness, which may explain why Beyoncé’s sexuality is viewed differently from that of white artists like Madonna, who is lauded for performing in very similar ways.  Read more…

An Open Letter to Mike Babchik: I Am Not For Sale

By Guest Contributor Diana Pho, cross-posted from Hyphen Magazine

TRIGGER WARNING FOR THIS POST

Photo of Mike Babchik and ‘Man Banter’ crew at NY Comic Con. Credit: Bethany Maddock

Dear Mr. Mike Babchik of Man Banter,

You thought you were having fun last month at New York Comic Con when you and your film crew gained access to the convention using your job credentials at SiriusXM Radio. You thought this would be a great opportunity to provide footage for your YouTube show (now defunct, thankfully). You thought it would make great television to pull me aside, to put your mic in my face, to drive your camera’s light in my eyes and to ask if you could buy me.

You thought it was just a joke when you said you wanted to buy an umbrella with an Asian girl — because I was holding a parasol.

You thought you were being clever by mistaking me for a geisha girl, like the many submissive, diminutive women you’ve seen on TV or on the Internet or in movies.

You thought that because I was small and female and Asian, it gave you the right to ridicule my existence.

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The Ordway Still Doesn’t Get Sexism and Racism (The Problem with Miss Saigon)

 

"Don't Buy Miss Saigon Coalition's 'Our Truth' Tumblr project slide show was projected in front of the Ordway Theater during the protest of the opening night of Miss Saigon.  October 8th, 2013.  Photo by Bao Phi."

Don’t Buy Miss Saigon Coalition’s ‘Our Truth’ Tumblr project slide show was projected in front of the Ordway Theater during the protest of the opening night of Miss Saigon. October 8th, 2013. Photo by Bao Phi.

 

By Guest Contributor Mai Neng Moua

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, here we are again.  Miss Saigon, the musical about a Vietnamese prostitute falling in love with a white soldier during the Vietnam War, then killing MissSaigonLies-logoherself when he ultimately rejects her, was back onstage at the Ordway Theater in St. Paul (MN), until the show closed this past Sunday.  This musical, like any good zombie, just won’t stay dead. Along with it, the racism and sexism inherent in the play have been resurrected.  Really, as the mom of two girls under six and the spouse of a candidate running for office, I don’t have time to get involved – again – in the protest against Miss Saigon.  I protested this back in 1994.  Plenty of good people (Don’t Buy MISS SAIGON Coalition) are already working on it.  More articulate writers (David Mura) have written about it.

However, when one of my African American friends said, “No one has said why it’s offensive and I’m unfamiliar with the show, so I can’t relate,” I decided to follow my advice to my husband Blong, who had originally refused to answer the question of a white man: “What does the Trayvon Martin case have to do with civil rights?” Responses to these questions take time and energy. But as I told Blong, “Plenty of people don’t know, so while it is tiresome, you have to answer the question.”

So, why is Miss Saigon sexist, racist and generally offensive?

The above-referenced Vietnamese prostitute is portrayed as a tragic figure whose only hope is being rescued by the white soldier.  Since the Vietnamese men in the production are portrayed as morally offensive and undesirable, this white guy is the only choice.  The only hero of the musical is a white man.  It’s bad enough that the woman at the center of the musical needs a man to rescue her from her life. The fact that this can only happen at the hands of a white man makes it sexist and racist.  I am Hmong, not Vietnamese, so why do I care?  Unfortunately, people can’t tell the difference.  They’ve mistaken me for Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean and Japanese.  Kim, the Vietnamese prostitute, is me.  I am her.

In Miss Saigon, the only image of Asian women is “prostitute”– not that I am condemning sex workers.  But not all Asian women during the Vietnam War were prostitutes.  When stereotypes are the only images people see, it is necessary to correct the record.  This play is telling me and my young daughters that essentially, we, Asian women, exist to serve and please white men.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.  My truth about the Asian women I know who lived during the Vietnam War is far different.  The women I know were resourceful, strong, and fearless.  For example, my mother took care of my two brothers and I after my father died at the tail end of the Vietnam War.  After the Americans pulled out of Laos, the Hmong were targeted for extermination for our role in helping the Americans.  With my mother as the head of our household, we escaped Laos and survived the refugee camps in Thailand.  In America, she navigated the social service system so that we had a roof over our heads, had food in our stomachs, and graduated from high school and college.

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International Politics and the First African American Flight Attendants

By Guest Contributor Lisa Wade, Ph.D.; originally published at Sociological Images

“Next to being a Hollywood movie star, nothing was more glamorous.” This breathless statement, quoted in Femininity in Flight, was uttered by a flight attendant in 1945.  At the time being a stewardess was quite glamorous.  Like motion pictures do today, airlines trafficked in “the business of female spectacle.”  They hired only women who they believed to represent ideal femininity. Chosen for their beauty and poise, and only from among the educated, and slender, they were as much of an icon as Miss America.  And they were almost all White.

Victoria Vantoch tells the story of the first African American flight attendants in a chapter of her new book, The Jet Sex.  Patricia Banks was one of the first Black women to sue an airline for racial discrimination.  She graduated from flight attendant training school at the top of her class and applied to several airlines.  But it was 1956 and the U.S. airlines had never hired a Black woman.  After 10 months of trying, an airline recruiter pulled her aside and admitted that it was because of her race.  Which, of course, it was; airlines disqualified any applicants that had broad noses, full lips, coarse hair, or a “hook nose” (to weed out Jews).

Banks sued. After four years of litigation, Capital Airlines was forced to hire her.  She postponed her marriage and took the job (airlines only hired single women as flight attendants). When she put on her uniform for the first time, she said:

After all I had gone through, I couldn’t believe I was finally wearing the uniform. I had made it. I was going to fly. It was such an accomplishment.

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Individual women weren’t the only ones pushing to integrate the flight attendants corps.   International surveys showed that citizens of other countries knew that America had a “race problem” and this was a problem for then-President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson.  They needed to do something flashy and they turned to flight attendants to do it.  If they could make Black women the face of such an iconic and high-profile occupation, they thought, it would help restore America’s reputation.  According to Vantoch, Johnson “made stewardess integration his personal cause.”

That was 1961; in 1964 Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act mandating equal treatment in the workplace.  The following year, in response to even more lawsuits, approximately 50 Black women were hired by airlines.  This would make them 0.33% of the workforce.

Patricia  Banks and her fellow first African American flight attendants, including Mary Tillerand Marlene White, would continue to face racism, now from co-workers, passengers, and supervisors.  Banks would quit after one year, citing exhaustion in the face of emotionally draining feminine work and a constant onslaught of racism.  She was a great flight attendant, though, and proud to show the world that a Black woman could shine in the occupation.

Here’s Patricia Banks, telling the story in her own words at Black History in Aviation. It’s worth a watch; she’s amazing:

Cross-posted at VitaminW.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter andFacebook.

Race + Feminism + Science: #Rose4Space Nears Milestone Victory

By Arturo R. García

It’s anybody’s guess whether the people at Axe Malaysia imagined Roshini Muniam would be in this position. But as of Wednesday morning, the 27-year-old graduate student is seemingly poised to win the online poll determining the country’s representative at its “space academy” in Florida.

The great Jaymee Goh has been following and promoting Muniam’s candidacy — which picked up online speed under the #Rose4Space tag — and defending her against a spate of online trolls who are aghast that a woman is crashing what they see as their club.

As Goh Hosannas posted on Saturday:

1) Rose is a woman of colour from a particularly oppressed minority group in Malaysia.

2) I am a woman of colour, and from the same minority group.

3) I’ve been called every nasty name under the sun for exhibiting “male behaviour” that – were I male – would result in the exact opposite (i.e. I’d be called “straight-talking” and “solid” instead of “nagging Indian bitch” “shrill feminazi”.

4) QED, it’s personal, brah. My voting for Rose is pretty fucking personal.

5) If your friend can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. Internet competitions are run on popularity/sentiment. He knew that.

The balloting is officially closed, with the winner to be announced on Sept. 24. But, the last reported standings were still visible on Axe Malaysia’s Facebook page:

Based on that tally, Muniam leads her closest competitor by 31,287 after completing an impressive surge to the finish line, considering that, as the Malaysian Insider reported on Saturday, she was in last place less than a week ago, and targeted for harassment on top of that:

[The newspaper] reported yesterday that the post graduate student was discriminated against and insulted on her profile featured in Axe’s Facebook page, due to her gender.

A comment posted by Syed Wazien expressed surprise at a woman’s desire to go to space while another, by Dimitriy Mirovsky, was more insulting, saying that women should be prohibited from the competition as they menstruate.

A check by The Malaysian Insider today showed that the sexist comments had been removed by Axe’s Facebook administrators.

Axe, in a statement to The Malaysian Insider, said it is committed to ensuring its online platforms are regulated and the sensitivities of its fans and consumers are safeguarded.

“We do not condone remarks that are offensive or discriminatory and have processes in place to ensure these interactions comply with our communications guidelines.”

One of the upsides to Muniam’s burgeoning campaign is, even (Heavens forbid) in the event of an 11th-hour comeback by one of the young men competing against her, Axe Malaysia would no doubt face tremendous online pressure to verify any sudden drop of hers in the standing, not to mention a side-eye for any future contests. Meanwhile, Muniam’s supporters are unlikely to fade away. As Goh mentioned on Monday, “One of the best things about this #Rose4Space campaign is finding so many cool Malaysian Tumblrites.”

And if they’re organizing now, who knows what they could do in the future if they keep coming together?

Edit: The first blockquote has been correctly atributed to Hosannas.

Race + Tech: Despite ‘Titstare,’ Black Girls Code Does Disrupt Right

By Arturo R. García

While a pair of sophomoric, reckless displays ended up being the calling card for this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt developers’ gathering, let’s not let that take away from the work Black Girls Code put in over the weekend.

As founder Kimberly Bryant told KQED-FM on Monday, she brought a team of three BGC members to the event as part of a partnership between her organization and ThoughtWorks, with their demo, SnackOverflow, providing a guide to each of the organization’s chapters.

The successful appearance at Disrupt came just a couple of weeks after Bryant and her group were profiled on CNN.
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Announcements: A Mural Goes Up In Harlem And A Goddess Walk

Photo courtesy of Picture the Homeless.

Photo courtesy of Picture the Homeless.

Just got this last-minute invite to a really great event going on in Harlem, if you’re in town later today.

Picture The Homeless (PTH), a grassroots social-justice organization founded and led by homeless people advocating around the issues of housing, police violence, and the shelter system, reveals their new mural based on those themes today at 4pm at 138t Street and Adam Clayton Powell. The mural is on the side of Epiphany Bar. (More details here.

According to Shaun Lin, one of PTH’s community organizers, the mural was a 6-month collaborative effort of people of all ages living in the community.

“This mural itself is actually the conclusion of a 6-month collaborative process between Picture The Homeless, Peoples Justice, and artist Sophia Dawson. We started with a few study sessions–of “Broken Windows” theory, “quality-of-life” policing, and resistance/organizing around these policing practices–which guided a collective visioning process in which particular images drawn directly from study and conversation. And finally concluded in the painting of the mural, which included 2 community painting days and over 80 volunteers [sic]. The mural itself is beautiful in itself, but the process of creating and painting the mural has been one of the most engaging, collaborative, and community-oriented projects I’ve personally worked on.”

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The Rape of Harriet Tubman

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By Guest Contributor Janell Hobson; originally published at Ms. Magazine blog

This year marked the 100th anniversary of the passing of Harriet Tubman. I had the opportunity to celebrate that fact when organizing a special symposium back in March, resulting in some thought-provoking critical papers on her legacy of resistance, which I’m currently guest-editing for Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism.

One of the more interesting conversations that came out of this event questioned why, on the anniversary of her death, we have yet to experience an epic cinematic treatment of her life.  She certainly qualified for that great Hollywood biopic. Against all odds, as a disabled enslaved woman, she escaped to freedom–having learned of the Underground Railroad network that included support from black and white allies–and once she made it to the other side returned to slavery 17 more times to free countless other slaves.

Tubman used all sorts of wit and trickery to enable her dangerous journey in this secretive network, and even believed in her divine right and power to engage in liberation. She collaborated with John Brown on the raid at Harper’s Ferry, recruiting slaves for the project, but her illness at the time prevented her from taking part in the uprising. During the Civil War, she served as a Union army spy, nurse and soldier, and in 1863, she led a successful military campaign on Combahee River in South Carolina, resulting in the liberation of 750 slaves.

In short, she’s the stuff of legend–for black history, women’s history, American history. The fictional Django from Django Unchained ain’t got nothing on her!

But on the year of her centennial anniversary, what does Tubman get instead of the great Hollywood biopic? She gets a “sex tape.”

You read that correctly. Recently, in an internet launch of his new YouTube channel, All Def Digital, rap media mogul Russell Simmons featured a failed comedic video titled Harriet Tubman Sex Tape–the first in the line-up of this new series. It didn’t take long for black audiences on social media to utterly denounce this video and petition against it. Within 24 hours, Simmons removed the video from his channel and issued this apology:

My first impression of the Harriet Tubman piece was that it was about what one of the actors said in the video, that 162 years later there’s still tremendous injustice. And with Harriet Tubman outwitting the slave master? I thought it was politically correct. Silly me. I can now understand why so many people are upset.

It is amazing that Simmons could not have predicted the outrage upon seeing such a video–which infers that, in order to build an Underground Railroad network to free the slaves, Tubman basically used blackmail against her white slaveowner by conniving with a fellow male slave to create a “sex tape” of their sexual encounter that she could later use as “leverage.” Then again, this is what porn culture will do to one’s perspective–something Simmons has perpetuated in his decades-long involvement with sexist rap music and culture.

Just reading the video’s premise was enough to make my blood boil, but sometimes, especially when you do media analysis as part of your scholarship, you just have to be a witness. So I viewed the video, and I don’t believe I am exaggerating when I say that, on this centennial anniversary, Harriet Tubman got raped.

Most of Tubman’s biographers have argued that there is no documentation that Tubman experienced sexual abuse while enslaved.  She was definitely physically abused–routinely beaten, and at one point as an adolescent suffered a head injury caused by an overseer who threw a two-pound weight against her head, breaking her skull and nearly killing her. The injury impacted her throughout her 91 years of life, as she was often given to sleeping spells (which Tubman claimed brought on various dreams and prophetic visions).

Slavery was “hell,” Tubman described in her narrative, dictated to Sarah Bradford since she could neither read nor write. She experienced a great deal of trauma while enslaved, but if there were any experiences with rape–which marked the experiences of far too many enslaved women–Tubman remained silent on the issue. It’s still also possible that, as hellish as her experience might have been, she was spared from a deeper hell that sexual violence brings to the picture. Which is why Simmons’ “sex tape” adds insult to injury.

It’s a hell of a sobering reality to realize that, 100 years after Tubman’s passing, our porn culture–intertwined inextricably with rape culture–would produce such a demeaning narrative about one of our great American heroes. It happened not because there is any basis in history for such an imagined scenario (Tubman simply would not engage in sexual leverage–it’s not part of the essence of who she was) but because our culture continues to trivialize rape (which is what we must categorize any unequal encounter between a slaveowner and slave, regardless of “consent”) and debase women’s experiences.  Ironically, the horrendous truth about sex tapes is that they tend to be used as leverage not against men but against women! It is women who are often blackmailed or demeaned when sex tapes are made available on the Internet. Women are the ones who have everything to lose, considering the slut-shaming that still clings to female sexuality. Sure, some celebrities might parlay such “porn” videos into a career, but the intention of sex tapes is public humiliation.

The Harriet Tubman Sex Tape publicly humiliates one of our great icons, and if she–whom many believe is inviolable, sacred, untouchable–can be debased, then not one of us is safe.

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