Student Activism at Purdue: Dana Smith and Caleb Pirtle for Student Government

Since all of you are working on your final Community Action projects, I thought you could use a little inspiration from other student activists at Purdue who are working to create change by running for Purdue Student Government on a progressive platform that highlights many of the issues that student activists, particularly members of the Purdue Social Justice Coalition, have been working on for the past couple of years.

Dana Smith is a WGSS minor at Purdue. Do you notice anything feminist about her campaign?

 

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Reading Fat and Slender Bodies: Diet Culture and Capitalism

JOY NASH – “A FAT RANT”

 

In her video above, Nash points out how often people who are perceived as overweight or fat are belittled, shamed, or insulted “for their own good” or out of well-meaning “concern.” Consider Bordo’s anecdote about the woman on the television talk show whose audience insisted that the woman could not be both fat and happy (pp. 203-204). What is it about “fat” bodies that makes people so nervous…or worse, downright hostile?

Particularly fat female bodies.

Since women are often judged first and foremost by their appearance, it is also often deemed acceptable for others to comment on women’s bodies; and one of the easiest ways to cut a woman down to size – physically, intellectually, emotionally – is to call her fat.

And as a culture, our obsession with diets – and a medical community that often equates weight loss with better health and a quick fix to all sorts of symptoms and complaints –  only fuels this fat-shaming culture. Consider how, more than individuals, such body-shaming actually profits corporations:

“HOW DIETS HURT YOU (AND HELP CAPITALISM)”

 

Remember that definition of feminism from bell hooks? People, not profit.

“READING THE SLENDER BODY” – SUSAN BORDO

As Susan Bordo argues in her chapter “Reading the Slender Body,” we read others’ bodies, and our own, as cultural texts, especially as women, and we often connect all sorts of personality traits or characteristics with those bodies based on their shape, weight, and perceived slenderness or beauty.

QUESTIONS

  1. How are unattractive women or women who were perceived as overweight generally portrayed in advertising?
  2. In American culture, what judgments do we often make about people with “fat” bodies? What characteristics do we assign to “fat” female bodies?
  3. According to Bordo, what is our culture’s obsessions with “fighting the enemy flab” really about, if not simply about health or weight management, as we’re so often told?
  4. How are eating disorders – the “extremes” of obesity and bulimia/anorexia – a logical symptom of this cultural obsession?
  5. Historically, how have the cultural politics of fat bodies been connected to socioeconomic status, or class?

“Killing Us Softly 4”: Images of Women in Advertising

Let’s continue our discussion of representions of women’s bodies this week by thinking about how we “read” bodies (Susan Bordo) and about what bodies we see, value, and/or use and how this affects how we relate to our bodies and how we move through the world.

Watch jean Kilbourne’s (in)famous video lecture below. You’ll never look at advertising the same way again:

“KILLING US SOFTLY 4” – JEAN KILBOURNE

Midwifery and the Home Birth Movement: Women Questioning the (Medical) System

In 2008, actress and talk show host Ricki Lake and filmmaker Abbey Epstein collaborated on their revolutionary documentary film The Business of Being Born, which explores the current experience of childbirth in the U.S. and the history of the home birth movement.

Featuring a number of birth stories – including Epstein’s, which occurred during the course of making the film, and Lake’s second birth, which was a home birth – the film was made in a similar spirit to the hugely popular Our Bodies, Ourselves, compiled and published by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (see Wendy Kline’s article “Please Include This In Your Book…”) in 1973.

As Dr. Kline mentioned on Tuesday, much of our current conversations about women’s reproductive justice centers on access to contraception and abortion. But here is a key piece of reproductive justice for women as well: the messages we give women about birthing and about the options available to them for a safe birth.

THE BUSINESS OF BEING BORN (Full Film)

Purity Balls in America: The Cult of Virginity

After reading both Jessica Valenti and the article on purity balls by Amanda Robb, let’s watch a couple of videos.

A HISTORY OF “VIRGINITY”

First, let’s watch sex educator and youtube hit, Laci Green, who discusses the historical roots of the concept of virginity.

At first glance, virginity wouldn’t seem to have anything to do with economics or marketplace commodities, but the history Green shares makes it clear once again that “the personal is political.”

As Green points out – and as you learned from the documentaries for International Women’s Day last Friday, in some parts of the world, women are still killed in honor crimes if their virginity is even suspected of having been compromised, often by their fathers, brothers, or other male family members.

VIRGINITY AND “PURITY”: THE PURITY BALL PHENOMENON

The ideology behind these balls is deeply rooted in the rise of the conservative (often fundamentalist) Christian Right in the U.S. This ideology depends heavily on traditional, rigidly defined and heterosexual gender norms and also equates virginity – in particular, female virginity – with the idea of physical and spiritual purity.

One thing we need to remember in particular from Valenti’s reading: there is no medically or culturally agreed upon definition of “virginity.” In addition, our understandings of virginity tend to be heteronormative as well – that is, we define its loss based on the act of a man penetrating a woman during heterosexual intercourse.

As in the readings, pay close attention to the language, that is, the rhetoric, used to talk about virginity, love, and sex. And pay attention to intersectionality as well: how is virginity classed? Raced? Whose virginity, for example, is prized and/or encouraged?

In our next class, we’ll talk about sex education. What connections do you see between purity balls and the growth of abstinence-only education in America?

Abortion Stories: Breaking the Silence

The following clip comes from the documentary When Abortion was Illegal: Untold Stories (1992).

 

MORE STORIES

Many feminist campaigns are engaged in breaking the culture of silence and shame that surrounds abortion. Statistically, one in three women of childbearing age will have one at some point in her life, yet we rarely hear their stories. New York Magazine recently published the stories of 26 diverse women, who talk about their circumstances and decisions.

Understanding Intersectionality: Navigating Racism and Sexism

FEMINISM AND INTERSECTIONALITY

The theory of “intersectionality” was first used by African-American legal scholar and critical race theorist Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989, though we can trace the concept back to Sojourner Truth’s 19th century speech, “Ain’t I a Woman,” where she questions the race and class ideologies lurking beneath the idea of “woman” and of femininity as something delicate and in need of help.

Crenshaw’s theory asks social science scholars, and feminists in particular to: examine how various biological, social, and cultural categories such as gender, race, class, ability, sexual orientation, religion, caste, and other axes of identity interact on multiple and often simultaneous levels, contributing to systemic injustice and social inequality. That is, Crenshaw asks us not to generalize experiences of oppression (for example, among all women or all women of color), but to understand that forms of oppression do not act independently of one another and that they interrelate, creating for some, multiple forms of oppression at once, thus becoming “multiply marginalized.”

Consider how scholar Kate Flach’s talk about Angela Davis highlighted her intersecting identities as the reason she became the focal point for so much hostility that led to her being targeted by the U.S. government and becoming a political prisoner.

angela davis

FEMINISTS TALK ABOUT INTERSECTIONALITY

 

INTERSECTIONS: SEXISM WITHIN BLACK COMMUNITIES

In her book Sister Citizen, Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry of MSNBC references the following stand-up performance by comedian Chris Rock, who claims that a Black woman cannot play second seat and be the first lady. White women, on the other hand, will “play their position.”

 

Consider how Rock invokes the same stereotypes of Black women found in the media and even in Zora Neale Hurston’s collected folk tales: that they are loud, demanding, and emasculate their men. Now consider this fact:

“Rock’s comic imagination is fueled by widely held assumptions about who black women are in relation to black men: that African American women are strong, unyielding, and uncompromising while black men are endangered and emasculated. The image of aggressive black women dominating their male partners persists despite empirical evidence that African American women are more likely to be victims than aggressors in heterosexual partnerships.

Black women suffer higher rates of domestic assault and homicide than women of other racial and ethnic groups. Their romantic attachments are also linked to their growing incarceration rates: black women’s crimes tend to be ancillary to those of their male partners. Black women are also the women most likely to face unassisted child rearing and the vulnerability to poverty that single parenthood entails. The reality is that black women’s political, social, and economic marginalization ensures that they nearly always ‘play the background,’ but Rock can get an easy laugh by evoking the familiar stereotype of the domineering black woman” (Harris-Perry, 288).

QUESTIONS

  • Why do you think some black men are threatened by black women’s strength and outspokenness? (Consider what hooks and Audre Lorde might say.)
  • How can black men better support black women?
  • How can white women be better allies for black women?

 

Racial Profiling: Reading Race, Gender, and Representations of Criminality

“[Race] is not about how you look, it is about how people assign meaning to how you look.” – Robin D. G. Kelley, Historian

Both race and gender shape our social interactions according to our expectations of how others should behave based on their “role.” This is particularly true when it comes to our perceptions of deviance and criminality. For example, watch how individuals in a public park react to three different actors in the same situation in the following social experiment:

 

REPRESENTATION AND CONTROLLING IMAGES

In their essay on racial formations in the U.S., Michael Omi and Howard Winant discuss the importance of the media in both shaping and disseminating racial caricatures:

“Film and television…have been notorious in disseminating images of racial minorities which establish for audiences what people from these groups look like, how they behave, and ‘who they are.’ The power of the media lies not only in their ability to reflect the dominant ideology, but in their capacity to shape that ideology in the first place […This] has led to the perpetuation of racial caricatures, as racial stereotypes serve as shorthand for scriptwriters, directors, and actors” (17)

These caricatures have serious real-life consequences for people of color. As the author of “White Privilege Radically Changes Appearance of Tsarnaev Brothers” points out, recent portrayals of Muslims in the media since 9/11 reinforce “the current dehumanizing ‘Other’ label that whiteness has constructed as a sanctioned target for violence in US popular culture” (emphasis mine).

Consider how the decision to lighten or darken the skin color of the following two celebrities makes an argument about who is “othered”:

In 1994, former football running back O.J. Simpson made headlines after a dramatic police chase. Simpson was arrested and accused of murdering his wife Nicole Simpson, and the trial was widely televised. He was eventually acquitted of the murder charges, but opinions about his innocence or guilt divided the public for years. Compare the representation of Simpson on these two covers.

In 1994, former football running back O.J. Simpson made headlines after a dramatic police chase. Simpson was arrested and accused of murdering his wife Nicole Simpson, and the trial was widely televised. He was eventually acquitted of the murder charges, but opinions about his innocence or guilt divided the public for years. Compare the representation of Simpson on these two covers.

On the other hand, consider how often the complexion of Black performers and models are often lightened:

A photograph of Beyonce (left) compared to the representation of her in L'Oreal's advertising campaign for Feria hair color.

A photograph of Beyonce (left) compared to the representation of her in L’Oreal’s advertising campaign for Feria hair color (right).

Debate erupted about whether Rihanna had been airbrushed to appear whiter on the November 2011 cover of British Vogue magazine.

Debate erupted about whether Rihanna had been airbrushed to appear whiter on the November 2011 cover of British Vogue magazine.

Tim Wise on the Creation of Whiteness and Privilege

In the following clip from his talk “The Pathology of Privilege: Racism, Denial, and the Costs of Inequality,” author and speaker Tim Wise discusses the creation of whiteness in the American colonies and the relationship of the “psychological wage” to class divisions – and racial segregation – that we still feel today.

TIME WISE: “ON WHITE PRIVILEGE”

 

As Buck discusses in “Constructing Race, Creating White Privilege,” one of the important historical moments that contributed to formation of “the psychological wage” of whiteness was Bacon’s Rebellion. During the 1676 rebellion led by Nathaniel Bacon, both former indentured servants and Africans banded together to rebel against Governor Berkeley, who had failed to address settlers’ demands regarding their safety in the disorganized colony. The uprising, however, was also a revolt against indentured servitude, which affected both poor white Europeans and Africans; and this alarmed the ruling class, as well as the royals back in Britain who were invested in the productivity of their colonies, as continuing rebellion had the potential to rob them of their new-found, labor, capital, and resources.

When wealthy landowners and royals were unwilling to offer material compensation for whites, namely land, they constructed what Buck terms “the psychological wage” of whiteness – that is, “the sense of superiority [that] allowed struggling northern Whites to look down their noses at free Blacks and at recent immigrants, particularly the Irish. This version of whiteness was supposed to make up for their otherwise difficult situation, providing them with a ‘psychological wage’ instead of cash – a bit like being employee of the month and given a special parking place instead of a raise” (p. 35).

Want to watch the whole talk by Tim Wise? Check it out below.

 

Historic Experiments on Race: Jane Elliott’s Brown Eyes vs. Blue Eyes Experiment

“[Race] is not about how you look, it is about how people assign meaning to how you look.” – Robin D. G. Kelley, Historian

~

In 1968, during the height of the Civil Rights movement in the U.S., a public school teacher named Jane Elliott undertook an historic experiment with her class in an attempt to help her white students understand the effects of racism. She repeated the experiment in her classroom each year for three years. The following clip comes from the Eye of Storm documentary made by William Peters in 1970 for ABC News and was later included in the documentary A Class Divided (1985), which included a class reunion (of 1984) of Elliott’s students. The adult viewers in the audience are the original students from Elliott’s class.


Upon her crowning, Twitter overflowed with angry, post-9/11 racial hatred. “Miss New York is an Indian. With all due respect, this is America” chimed one tweeter. Another angrily writes, “How the fuck does a foreigner win miss America? She is a Arab! #idiots.” Actually, no she’s not an “Arab,” she’s an American-born Hindu of South Asian descent. – See more at: http://www.thenation.com/article/176258/miss-america-nina-davuluri-not-symbol-progress#sthash.CGtv5hse.dpuf
Upon her crowning, Twitter overflowed with angry, post-9/11 racial hatred. “Miss New York is an Indian. With all due respect, this is America” chimed one tweeter. Another angrily writes, “How the fuck does a foreigner win miss America? She is a Arab! #idiots.” Actually, no she’s not an “Arab,” she’s an American-born Hindu of South Asian descent. – See more at: http://www.thenation.com/article/176258/miss-america-nina-davuluri-not-symbol-progress#sthash.CGtv5hse.dpuf
Upon her crowning, Twitter overflowed with angry, post-9/11 racial hatred. “Miss New York is an Indian. With all due respect, this is America” chimed one tweeter. Another angrily writes, “How the fuck does a foreigner win miss America? She is a Arab! #idiots.” Actually, no she’s not an “Arab,” she’s an American-born Hindu of South Asian descent. – See more at: http://www.thenation.com/article/176258/miss-america-nina-davuluri-not-symbol-progress#sthash.CGtv5hse.dpuf
Upon her crowning, Twitter overflowed with angry, post-9/11 racial hatred. “Miss New York is an Indian. With all due respect, this is America” chimed one tweeter. Another angrily writes, “How the fuck does a foreigner win miss America? She is a Arab! #idiots.” Actually, no she’s not an “Arab,” she’s an American-born Hindu of South Asian descent. – See more at: http://www.thenation.com/article/176258/miss-america-nina-davuluri-not-symbol-progress#sthash.CGtv5hse.dpuf