Category Archives: sexism

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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Friday WTF? “Asian Girlz” Pisses Folks Off–And Rightfully So

By Andrea Plaid

Recall the previous post about Guante’s vid and its takeaway about being PC is really about not being a jackass. Well, this next pop cultural item is exactly why political correctness came into being in the first place.

Longtime Racialicious homie Angry Asian Man tweeted this:

Asian Girlz Tweet 5The shit he’s referring to is the latest anti-Asian vid called “Asian Girlz” by some band called Day Above Ground. Well, one person didn’t listen…

Asian Girlz Tweet 1Sis, I learned from your example. I listened and didn’t watch, but I did try to read the lyrics to understand why AAM said what he said. All I’m going to say is prepare yourselves for gross amounts of fuckery.

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Retrolicious–Mad Men 6.13: “In Care Of”

By Tami Winfrey Harris and Andrea Plaid

Keeping it real, Don Draper style.

Keeping it real, Don Draper style.

**OK, y’all…SPOILERS**

As usual, Mad Men delivered a wreck of a season ender. Don Draper had to say goodbye to what and whom he knows–“had to” being the operative phrase. And quite a few other characters had to do the same, voluntarily and involuntarily.

Tami and I grab our summer drinks and chat about what the fuck just happened.

Andrea: I’m still recovering from that last episode, Tami! Though the song may have been anachronistic, I thought a perfect song for it would have been “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday” or some other leaving ditty because there were a lot of leavings, some voluntary and some forced.

One leavetaking song I can think of is “She’s Come Undone” as it applies to Sally getting kicked out of boarding school, Megan leaving Don, and Peggy getting dumped (again) and wearing pants for the first time. In their own small ways, they’re foreshadowing feminism’s Second Wave as it trickled into white women’s lives. And, what I appreciate is that Weiner and Company doesn’t make their every action a feminist one, unlike Downton Abbey and the Crawley sisters.

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Quoted: Chill On Rachel Jeantel, Already!

Rachel JeantelRachel Jeantel is a teenager, a 19-year-old girl who told the world what she heard that fateful February night on the phone with her longtime friend Trayvon. From the news reports produced by the mainstream media, you got the impression that Jeantel was genuine and believable. Of course reporters from outlets like the New York Times, Miami Herald and the AP are not going to feel the need to describe Rachel’s attitude or overuse of black English vernacular, but they will feel compelled to describe the effectiveness of her testimony. And I saw them use words like “transfixed” to describe the all-female, nearly all-white jury’s reaction to what Jeantel was saying. Perhaps if the prosecutors had done too much coaching of their star witness, her genuineness would not have shone through.

I also saw incredibly mean things said about her looks on social media, even seeing her described as “Precious”—referring to the movie character brought to life by Gabby Sidibe, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of the troubled overweight teen. Disturbingly, this has become the go-to moniker for overweight, dark-skinned girls—aided by rapper Kanye West, who leveled that scarily ignorant line in his song “Mercy.”

“Plus my b*tch / make your b*tch look like Precious”

Jeantel had to live through a close friend being murdered, watching his killer walk free for far too long, then sitting in front of the world and recounting the painful night with an intimidating older white man directing questions at her while she’s clearly scared out of her mind.

Now, on top of all that, she has to endure some assholes critiquing her looks?

Really, people? Grow the hell up.

–Nick Chiles, “In Attacking Trayvon Martin’s Friend Rachel Jeantel, Black Folks Are Taking It Too Far,” My Brown Baby 6/27/13