Recent campaigns for Frozen’s Elsa to have a girlfriend, the interest in Captain America having a boyfriend, and the excitement over potential queer couples in Frozen and Finding Dory have shown corporations like Disney that audiences are hoping for more. In many ways we’re still, as a society, stuck in the “we’ve come a long way” mode where so many think we’re “post” issues and don’t need to worry about making further progress. Yet, as the violence in Orlando shows, marriage equality has not eliminated violence or discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community, just as other forms of sexism and racism are still unfortunately prominent.
From tropes like the gay best friend (a sidekick or minor role) to the near invisibility of transgender characters, representation along the sex, gender, & orientation continuum is still not as it should be. In fact, has it really gotten better? Some would argue that it’s actually gotten worse despite the continued popularity of shows like Orange is the New Black and Transparent.
According to the 2015 GLAAD Studio Responsibility Index, Lionsgate had the highest rating among major studios because it included LGBT characters in 8 of its 24 films, three of which met the Vito Russo Test requirements. As fans have also noticed, Walt Disney Studios continues to have “the weakest historical record when it comes to LGBT-inclusive films.” Such a lack of films with LGBT representation was the same as in 2014, but even fewer passed the Vitto Russo Test in 2015. And although the number of characters in these films increased, diversity decreased. So even though some characters are showing up on screen, they are rarely given a substantial role. Plus, due to the trope of Bury Your Gays, such characters often do not last long.
Depictions of gender variety also seems to be stagnant at best. As a 90s kid, women “could have it all” by being masculine. Common (and understandable) complaints about passive, feminine characters led to an emphasis on physically strong characters who could fit in as “one of the guys”. This led to the popularity of the female or woman warrior-type character (although the term itself implies that males rather than females are naturally warriors) that has continued with popular children/young adult figures like Merida (Brave) and Katniss (Hunger Games). Some recent characters like Rey (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) appear well-rounded, with emotional depth as well as physical capabilities. However, characters like Katniss are also often depicted as needing to use physical strength (socially still attributed to males and masculinity) in order to achieve empowerment and self-sufficiency.
Proving you don’t need a male character to be successful is a beneficial way to move beyond the damsel-in-distress trope. However, if embodying traditionally masculine strength is the “only” way for success, it once again becomes a binary issue of what is the “right” or “wrong” way of being an empowered, successful woman. This emphasis on correction of good/bad behavior unrealistically divides what is “male” and “female” into old-fashioned, cis ideas of “masculine” and “feminine.”
Another assumption is that women can “play at” being a man but ultimately need to look and act like what is conventionally feminine. For example, Elsa, as a Disney princess, is expected to be biologically female (hips, breasts, etc.) as well as have a feminine appearance (dress, long hair, etc.) and behaviors. And even when such characters (who are usually white, straight, and cis) are given independence or choices, they’re still largely expected to change or conform to society’s assumptions of sex, gender, and heteronormative, monogamous relationships. So, in addition to this assumed correlation between Elsa’s sex and gender performance, she also probably escaped the pressure of a heterosexual relationship only because of her sister Anna’s prominent romances.
If boundaries between what is considered masculine and feminine can be eliminated, characters would have different options when it comes to attire, behaviors, and relationships. It’s then not about “playing at” being masculine, something that society has deemed better, but about accepting and showing behaviors and identities beyond binary norms. With choices, it’s not a right/wrong, good/bad portrayal, but becomes one example among a variety of ways to be and act. Additionally, validating relationships like giving Elsa a girlfriend normalizes the variety of real-life romance. The more these choices are normalized, the more they can contribute to a larger societal conversation of acceptance.
Characters and stories, especially those connected to popular works like Disney and Marvel, have the potential to push for progress within society at large, modeling the reality of people’s diverse ways of being. Challenging binary assumptions continues to be important because although marriage equality was a great step, homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, etc. are still obvious problems throughout America. As Geena Davis continues to state, “If she can see it, she can be it,” reminding us of the importance of role models and the ability to choose how we act and who we are.
As viewers, we can use the Vito Russo Test or #PrideTest when seeing LGBTQIA+ characters as well participate in the push for more representation in specific films like Frozen‘s sequel. And even though creating a character that dresses and acts outside of the gender binary or giving Elsa a girlfriend is just one, small step, it’s a shift in the right direction. It’s up to us to tell society to let bigotry go and that respect for choices is the new norm.
-By Sarah C.
Whether you’re a Marvel enthusiast or even a comic book supporter or not, you should be a fan of the Women of Marvel (WOM) podcast. Along with promoting Marvel productions that focus on women, they also celebrate female fans, and encourage girls and women to join the comic industry and other related fields. The weekly, free podcast features interviews and discussions, most often led by host Judy Stephens, but also involves the work of Sana Amanat, Adri Cowan, Emily Shaw, and others.
Not only is the presence of this podcast a breath of fresh air within a male-dominated industry, but it also acts as a much-needed resource for fans who are interested in more diverse works. It’s no secret that sexism and misogyny exists in the comic world, with issues such as objectification, hyper-sexualization, and a lack of diversity continuing even in 2016. You may even be familiar with Anita Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency videos that focus on problematic gendered tropes within video games and comics, such as “Tropes Vs. Women: #2 Women in Refrigerators” (http://feministfrequency.com/2011/04/07/tropes-vs-women-2-women-in-refrigerators/). Uniquely placed within the industry itself, the WOM podcast showcases the fact that, despite the continuation of these problematic elements, there’s still so much to love about the comic universe.
Although the podcast is called Women of Marvel, their coverage of “women” extends beyond white, heterosexual, cisgender representations of womanhood and femininity. And although they focus primarily on women and girl characters as well as professionals, they also highlight men (like Clark Gregg) and their work. However, by focusing on works like the recent Ms. Marvel series, the podcast highlights characters that demonstrate the much-need shift in gender representation within the comic industry. Women and girl heroines like Ms. Marvel can be well-rounded characters who, rather than being defined by their sexualized outfits or objectified status, can be defined by their heroic abilities. As the Women of Marvel have said more than once, she is a heroic figure who happens to be a girl.
Comics allow for multiple reiterations of the same character, providing opportunities for contemporary representations of diversity beyond gender as well. The new Ms. Marvel is Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American teen who faces assimilation challenges as well as obstacles when coming to terms with her powers. Her coming-of-age story shows her struggles with body image and empowerment as well as the courage she finds through the Qu’ran. Importantly, she is not defined by a single characteristic, but is a well-rounded character with many personality strengths and flaws. Whether you’re a current fan or interested but unsure of where to begin, the podcast has reading guides and discussions that focus on characters like her (Episode 7).
WOM also connects to related interests such as Marvel Science (Episode 18 & 82), ESPNw’s Impact25 honorees (Episode 76), digital law (Episode 59) and Marvel TV shows. Allowing myself a moment to gush like the fan girl I am, I was so excited when listening to Episode 78, which featured an interview with Agent Carter’s Haley Atwell. While such characters are never perfect, there’s a lot of feminist love you can get from both Hayley and her character. You may also enjoy the interviews with cast and crew members from Agent Carter, Agents of Shield, Jessica Jones, and Daredevil, which provide insider perspectives into how empowered female characters are created and portrayed.
Along with getting the inside scoop on various projects, these interviews focus on what different professionals do within their job, how they got started, and any advice they have for those who are interested in that position. Careers within comic-related industries that are featured in the podcast include graphic audio, costume design, voice acting, photography, writing, illustrating, gaming, management positions, and more. For example, in Episode 57 “Interns to Family,” Judy Stephens talks to Liz Rand and Chloe Wilson about their transition from intern to full-time status at Marvel, giving advice to those who are interested in following in their footsteps. Additionally, in Episode 63 “Marvel Method, How to Design a Super Hero, Part 1,” Sana Amanat and Emily Shaw describe part of the process they go through when designing a super hero uniform. These authentic tips and disclosures make getting to these positions seem achievable and provide listeners with the confidence to continue and/or start their own creative works.
Beyond the podcast itself, the Women of Marvel group is also an important presence at comic conventions and events, such as San Diego (http://marvel.com/news/comics/23176/listen_to_the_women_of_marvel_at_san_diego_comic-con) and the recent C2E2 (http://marvel.com/news/comics/25947/women_of_marvels_sana_amanat_meets_president_obama)—where they talked about the success of some of the 20 women-led comics in the Marvel universe and how the popularity of these characters and comics can not only boost the inclusion of more women characters in comics but also inspire more women to enter the comic industry. As fans themselves, some of the women on this panel and project cosplay or talk about what they “geek out” for, a question Judy Stephens often asks in interviews as well. This embracing of the fan world means they often bring in cosplayers, like Jay Justice and Yashuntutan (Episode 66), and honor individual fans like high schooler Kate Murphy (Episode 55). Those who are a part of the Women of Marvel podcast clearly care about their fans as well as their projects, sharing both personal and professional “geek” advice through their Tumblr (http://thewomenofmarvelcomics.tumblr.com), Instagram (Instagram.com/TheWomenOfMarvel), and Twitter (#WomenOfMarvel) accounts.
Even if you’re not interested in comics or Marvel specifically, there’s so much more to be interested in when it comes to this podcast and everyone involved. Specifically, the acknowledgement that women, especially women of color, are a part of these fields and that girls and women should continue to be visibly represented is an important aspect of feminism that has been a major area of focus for various organizations. For example, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, utilizes the quote “if she can see it, she can do it” to highlight the need for girls and women to embody multiple roles and careers on screen. As the Women of Marvel would say, “This is Marvel, your universe.” So whether we’re talking about characters, fans, or professionals, we should continue to celebrate the inclusion of diverse women within our real and fictional universe.
– by Sarah C
Continuing the conversation of diversity within film and related industries, I am extending my emphasis to expressions of fandom. Specifically, I am focusing on cosplay and how it both encourages diversity through identity exploration and still raises some important concerns. The art of cosplay does not fix issues of diversity, and can in fact exacerbate concerns when individuals choose cultural appropriation over respect, yet the flexibility of gender expression and “playing” another character can help some explore identities beyond socially constructed “norms”.
One dictionary definition of cosplay states: “short for ‘costume play’: an activity in which people dress up as characters from books or films, often acting out role plays,” although the often fictional characters cosplayers may choose for their cosplaying can extend beyond these mediums. This acting or playing different characters can therefore allow individuals to explore these character identities as well as their own. For example, “The Ol’ Switcheroo: A Consideration of Gender-Bending in Geek Culture” by Becky Chambers describes a woman who cosplayed as Captain Malcolm Reynolds (from Firefly and Serenity), not by trying to pass as a man but by embodying the essence of the role as a woman. Chambers thus describes the popularity of gender-bending that extends the possibility of characters and allows for a suspension of disbelief, especially considering the diversity within sci-fi and fantasy universes. Just because a character has not been represented as a certain gender, sex, etc. doesn’t mean you can’t embody the character that way through your personal identity and/or expression. This experience of experimenting with gender can be especially poignant for some. For instance, I was able to attend Alexa Heart’s (Heart and Soul Cosplay) panel at the Des Moines Comic-Con, who described personal experiences of coming out and exploring a transgender identity through cosplay.
J.A. Micheline also discusses this issue in “Cosplaying While Trans: Exploring the Intersection Between Cosplay and Gender Identity” through personal stories from Robin Wright & Veronica Sanderson-Smith, who identify as trans, as well as other authors and activists. Wright notes the freedom of experimentation that cosplay provides, particularly for those who identify as queer (as seen through http://cosplayingwhiletrans.tumblr.com/). Sanderson-Smith specifically describes cosplaying “black versions of popular female heroes” as well as characters of different genders. Based on their responses, Micheline notes:
“Just as there is no single way to cosplay, there is no single way to be trans. Veronica is happy to smash the limits of gender and race in cosplay, while Robin remains focused on celebrating her womanhood . . . . Still, the two agree: before anything, cosplay has to be fun.”
Micheline additionally specifically quotes Ellen Kirkpatrick’s connections between the superhero genre’s model of identity and trans cosplaying identities: “The same ideas come up . . . visuality of the body, changing identities, and people’s practices—they change names, locations, they change the way they look, the way they talk, the way their body moves.” Thus, the environment of cosplay could allow experimentation before choosing to come out. However, J. Skyler also notes the harassment and hostility that occurs for those within marginalized communities, even in the supposedly all-inclusive environment of cosplaying and geek culture at large. Along with these concerns, the time and money required to cosplay often limits the accessibility of cosplaying.
As these articles show, as mainstream awareness and diversity grows within geek culture, interest in learning more about both positive and problematic elements (such as #Gamergate) rises. Therefore, along with personal stories, an interest in cosplay has been developing in the academic world, including http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/. Many case-studies, articles, and books have been written, analyzing this exploration of gender as well as the implications for comic-convention and gaming culture through fan and media studies lenses.
Natalie Wilson, in “Comic-Conned: Gender Norms in a Carnivalesque Atmosphere,” uses an academic approach to describe concerns such as sexism and misogyny within cosplay and comic-con environments. She specifically notes that comic-cons “echo larger societal shifts in gendered norms and expectations that some welcome (feminists, progressives, social justice advocates) and others disdain.” This leads to what she describes as a “’masculinist’ vibe . . . [that] sometimes transforms carnivalistic revelry into dehumanizing objectification, predatory gazing, . . . sexual harassment and assault” within the comic-con environment. Therefore, although awareness and welcoming of women and marginalized groups may be increasing, representation still often centers on the male gaze (leading to the sexualization and objectification of women) and other socially constructed norms (such as cis, heteronormative expectations). Nevertheless, Wilson also notes the continuation of gender progress amidst regressiveness, especially regarding representation on comic-con panels and the exploration of sexiness beyond sexualization for female characters.
As with any community, there are both positive and negative aspects; however, within any level of involvement we can be powerful social justice voices that encourage inclusivity.
Along with the exploration of these ideas, you may also be interested in joining in the practice of cosplaying. You could explore more about the comic universe and how to cosplay (http://marvel.com/podcasts/12/women_of_marvel_podcast), join an ISU student club (https://www.stuorg.iastate.edu/site/1027), attend local events (http://www.iowacomicbookclub.com), or even check out upcoming Comic-Con opportunities (http://wizardworld.com/comiccon/desmoines)
– by: Sarah C
Last month I discussed my love for Star Wars: The Force Awakens along with problematic elements still present in the film franchise. To continue the conversation of diversity and film, I also wanted to bring additional attention to the current issue of the Academy Awards. This lack of diversity in Oscar nominations is clearly a concern, and this issue also connects to a problematic pattern within the film industry as a whole.
As you may have heard, after the second year of all-white nominations in major acting categories, many Hollywood elites and movie fans are understandably outraged. This frustration has led to social media movements like #OscarsSoWhite/#OscarsStillSoWhite (started by April Reign in 2015) and celebrities like Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee pledging to boycott the show. These types of frustrations are unfortunately not new, the following being but a few reminders of long-standing diversity concerns:
1.Sacheen Littlefeather refused Marlon Brando’s Oscar for The Godfather on his behalf due to the movie/TV industry’s treatment of Native Americans: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QUacU0I4yU
- While presenting at the 60th Academy Awards, Eddie Murphy describes almost turning down the job due to diversity issues:
- Viola Davis, first African-American woman to win an Emmy for actress (drama category), described in her acceptance speech: “the only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSpQfvd_zkE4
Davis’ clear critique of the lack of diversity within the film industry showcases the lack of opportunities for women, especially women of color. Although the TV industry has become increasingly diverse and successful, no one should have to leave film in order to be provided with roles worthy of their abilities. With roles and other jobs predominately being written for and given to white men, films do not display the diversity of our nation either on or behind the screen. While organizations such as Miss Representation and the Geena Davis Institution (as discussed last month) work to raise awareness and the incredible talent and skills of people of color remains clear (as well as the obvious success of films headed and starring people of color), many doors continue to stay closed.
These continuously glaring problems within the industry have led to reactions from elites of the industry as well as mainstream audiences and recent subsequent changes in the Academy. Frank Pallotta, in an article for CNN Money, reported that the Academy has recently created steps to “double the number of women and minority members by 2020.” Rebecca Keegan’s article in the Los Angeles Times describes more of the details set by Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, including Isaacs’ message: “We’ve been a more than predominantly white institution for a long time. We thought, we’ve got to change this and reflect the community much better.”
Aware of the conversations and the ineffectively slow pace of reform, the Academy board is pushing for more diversity among its members, working to increase membership to 14% minorities and 48% female while instating time limits to voting for those who are not active in film after 10 years unless they’ve been nominated for or won an Oscar. While this increase in recruitment will add diversity within the Academy itself, these changes will not impact voting, or the current 2016 Oscars. While some praise the quick and decisive actions of the board, others continue to be frustrated by steps that don’t seem like enough.
In light of all these issues, it might be easy to just give up on the film industry. Fans come from all over and include people with a variety of personalities, backgrounds, and interests. This diversity deserves to be reflected on screen: in blockbuster movies, indie films, TV shows, music videos, comics, video games, and more. As visibility and opportunities increase, so too should the numbers of women, especially women of color, involved throughout the film industry. As Director Ava DuVernay (Selma) stated: “shame is a helluva motivator.” As a fan, I have to acknowledge the shameful problems that exist within my beloved hobby, so I can try and make a difference. Whether it’s being vocal about reasons for boycotting, discussing the problems with representation during viewing parties, sharing articles in solidarity with these concerns, making choices at the box office supporting diverse films and filmmakers, and more, you too can advocate for diversity at the Oscars and beyond.
Some readers may be thinking, why talk about a movie on a feminist blog? Due to the popularity of films like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it seems worth the mild spoilers to comment on the various associated gender conversations this new work brings up. For instance, the importance of visibility or representation for women (especially women of color) within film and other mediums continues to be of vital concern, as noted in previous blogs through work by Feminist Frequency and Miss Representation. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media (www.seejane.org) also studies and encourages gender visibility both on (main and periphery characters as well as crowd scenes) and behind the screen, emphasizing the impact of “if she can see it, she can be it.”
Since Disney has taken a hold of Lucasfilm and therefore the Star Wars franchise, people have been wondering what to expect. Newer Disney films like Brave, Frozen, and Maleficent have shown strides for the corporation that, some may argue, contains some feminist elements. Beyond the common Bechdel-Wallace test (http://amysmartgirls.com/what-is-the-bechdel-test-and-why-does-it-matter/), other ways of analyzing such works could be helpful in determining their benefit toward women. For example, one easy and free way to evaluate TV shows, films, video games, and more is called #THEREPTEST and can be found at http://therepresentationproject.org/educator-school/#curriculum.
So should we, as feminists, really be impressed by Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Each audience member will have their own opinion, but there are some clear beneficial and problematic elements. For example, as Katherine Cusumano notes in “How ‘The Force Awakens’ Heralds a Feminist Future for Star Wars” from Bustle, the presence of women in the filmmaking process can be helpful. She states:
Kathleen Kennedy has spent the past three years since taking over Lucasfilm fostering an environment in which women have creative liberty on par with their male peers, in which they partake in writing dialogue and setting up shots and acting and editing . . . [that] promises a female-forward dynasty to rival that of the ancient Jedi order.
This emphasis on women hiring other women in various parts of filmmaking not only highlights the importance of making a conscious effort to rectify inequality within this industry but can also have an impact on the representations of women that are developed within these projects. Especially considering the variety of fans and theater viewers, not to mention the mainstream popularity of independent and empowered characters who are female and people of color, this could be the beginning of a very beautiful development indeed.
As far as the characters themselves go, there are some clear developments. In the previous six movies powerful female figures were often overshadowed by male characters (Padme Amidala) or saved by men (Leia), but the emphasis on Rey (Daisy Ridley) as well as Finn (John Boyega) in the new film emphasizes more of an egalitarian balance of characters within narratives beyond that of a white man. In fact, Rey has a significant amount of screen time and spoken lines, displaying physical and mental power, intelligence, and strength.
As Laura Bates observes in the article, “5 Things Star Wars: The Force Awakens Has Taught Us About Feminism,”
What makes Rey an effortless, fist-pumping, feminist heroine is the fact that her sex is incidental to her smart, strong actions. Her story isn’t about being a woman, or defying specific stereotypes; she just kicks ass like any other central character.
Christopher Hooton also describes Rey in, “The Female Force Awakens as Star Wars Has Four Strong Women Roles”: “[She] comes to Finn’s aid[,] her character isn’t sexualized, she is strong, independent and adept at technology and flying ships.” Rey even parodies the traditional damsel-in-distress trope at one point. Like Luke Skywalker before her, she is trusted with responsibility without being reduced to a romantic or objectified role and easily earns the respect of the people around her (including Han Solo). These qualities, among others, seem to be responsible for the character’s immense popularity.
Beyond Rey, the increased visibility in crowd scenes and through characters like Chaptain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) and Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) develops opportunities for women throughout the Star Wars universe. Kanata’s Yoda-like character was minimal in this film but will hopefully be developed in additional films alongside Phasma’s antagonist character. And General Leia and Captain Phasma’s high-ranking positions of power display two types of women that aren’t hampered by motherhood or military authority. Additionally, Disney and Star Wars pass the Bechdel-Wallace test through Maz Kanata and Rey’s interactions, focusing on Rey rather than Finn or another male character.
Yet, the men in Star Wars are also very important. Jon Greenberg, in “4 Reasons Why ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Matters Beyond Its Entertainment Value,” describes the importance of the film “pass[ing] the Race Bechdel Test (in which two named characters of Color discuss something other than White people) . . . [but the] test-passing conversation between Finn and Poe Dameron, played by Guatemalan American Oscar Isaac, almost didn’t happen.” The inclusion of characters of color within the film, beyond token characters like Lando Calrissian or Mace Windu, is certainly a step in the right direction. In fact, as Greenberg notes, their inclusion provides a new choice for young fans: “If you want to be a Star Wars hero, do you want to play the White woman, the Black guy, or the Latinx guy? Thus, millions of White children will likely role-play a character who is not a young White male.”
Nevertheless, there are also clear areas for improvement. For example, Phasma and Leia were fairly minor characters and even Kanata did have a lot of action within the film, leaving Rey and other male characters with the majority of the screen time. Although supportive fans have overwhelmed the trolling of Finn’s racial identity, Rey’s femininity, and Carrie Fisher’s appearance, the real variety of gender, sex, and racial identities is still missing. Lupita Nyong’o’s character, for example, is an animated alien—making women of color still primarily invisible within this film. As Greenberg also emphasizes, “casting folks of Color and then hiding their color is a problem . . . . it’s part of a long pattern of film and TV hiding, minimizing, or altering the characteristics of actors of Color, especially Black actors.”
Along with these issues within the film, there are also issues beyond the film. The hiring of several female team members and a screenwriter, for instance, have not paved the way for a female director within the franchise, signaling the need for future diversity in specific roles and throughout Hollywood in general. Bates also describes other issues: “While director JJ Abrams has made strides towards diversity both in casting the leads and in populating his crowd scenes, the memo doesn’t seem to have reached the merchandising team.” Rey’s problematic absence in certain toy and game packages and Hasbro’s later reactions signal a belated response that understandably has fans concerned.
Despite the continued need to hold films and the corporations behind their development accountable, there is reason to praise some of the improvements within the latest Star Wars installment. As Goldberg reiterates, “Rey embodies so much badassery (though, arguably, on traditional male terms) that children, regardless of gender, will want to become her.” This increase of visibility or representation within this major science-fiction franchise can not only lead to further improvements within future Star Wars films, but also in the sci-fi genre and Hollywood itself. Although my optimism is not enough to ensure this growth, I can certainly hope for better by wishing “May the Force be with you” to all those involved.
by Sarah C
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, advocacy is “the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal,” and being an ally means “to join (yourself) with another person, group, etc., in order to get or give support.” Both related terms are important for social justice movements because they are reliant on these types of actions from participants. So how does one become an ally or advocate for feminism and related gender justice issues?
Vlogger Chescaleigh has an excellent array of videos about issues such as white privilege and allyship, including “5 Tips for Being an Ally”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dg86g-QlM0 Her tips include: becoming aware of your privilege, listening and raising your awareness, speaking up but not over marginalized communities and individuals, apologizing when you make mistakes, and remembering that ally is an action or verb.
As individuals become aware of their privilege and the challenges that others face, immersion or learning about discrimination and other effects can inspire a desire to integrate or become an activist. Social activists can work behind the scenes (like voting or donating), on the sidelines (attending events), or becoming directly involved (leading or participating in an event). For more specific information, see: http://www.uky.edu/Diversity/iamdiversityky/curriculum/community/allydevelopmentmodel.pdf. Social activism can therefore include the following (from “Five Approaches to Social Justice Activism” at http://edchange.org/handouts.html): celebrating diversity through activities and events, donating to movements or causes, individual changes for those around you, volunteerism, and efforts toward systemic reform.
One part of being an ally means being willing to intervene as a bystander. For example, the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault describes the importance of bystander intervention in helping to reduce gender violence. Along with this type of prevention strategy, you can also be an advocate for survivors on an individual or campus-wide scale. For more information about the work that this task force does, you can check our their website (https://www.notalone.gov/) or report (https://www.notalone.gov/assets/report.pdf).
Specific intervention strategies devised at ISU are included in the following handout:
Being an advocate as a bystander and a friend can be challenging. Organizations, such as Step Up, provide resources and even scripts to help you help others with the empathy and support they need (http://stepupprogram.org/students/strategies-for-effective-helping/#formula):
The most important step in these cases is to show that as you support the person in need, seeking professional guidance is also vital. Taking them to ISU Counseling Services (http://www.counseling.iastate.edu/), safe spaces like Margaret Sloss Women’s Center (http://www.mswc.dso.iastate.edu/support), and/or helping them get in touch with individuals at the Assault Care Center Extending Shelter & Support, ACCESS, in Ames (https://www.assaultcarecenter.org/), can all be life-changing interventions.
As the break approaches and celebrations incur, you too can be an ally for those around you. Whether it’s catching up on some reading/listening about what is occurring around you (like at the University of Missouri), planning to attend or participate in events (such as the Vagina Monologues), joining groups (including LUCHA – Latinos Unidos for Change), and/or being willing to show up for and support friends and family, you can make a difference. And what better time to start then now!
by Sarah C
‘Tis the Season . . . for Politics
As the political debates continue and the increase in ads and campaign fervor builds, you’re probably thinking of shutting off your devices and hibernating. I certainly don’t blame you; it’s an onslaught of information that can actually make choosing a candidate a headache and make even the desire to vote diminish. However, we all know that if we’re interested in issues and the future of our nation, voting is essential. So, how do we forge ahead?
If you’re not registered to vote yet, remember that you may be able to complete your registration at the DMV office when you go to renew your driver’s license. Although Iowa doesn’t have online registration, the national form with specific state information is also available here: http://www.eac.gov/voter_resources/register_to_vote.aspx
The silver lining of the intensity of Iowa voting, is that on campus there are plenty of people who are eager to talk about their candidates and help you get signed up to vote. But, if you’re thinking that’s too intense of an approach, consider absentee voting. For more information about avoiding the election polls while still casting your vote, check out: http://sos.iowa.gov/elections/electioninfo/absenteeinfo.html
Before you vote though, you may still have questions about which candidate fits your interests the best. I am personally registered as an independent, but as a feminist, I have consistently voted for Democrats because this party and individuals align with my desire for equitable opportunities and health choices for women and the LGBTQIA community, as well as my passion for environmental issues. Specific concerns like gun control, immigration, Obamacare, and how to handle domestic, economic, and foreign policy issues have also led me to lean toward specific candidates. Before making my final decision, I’ve been paying attention to the televised debates and campaign websites, including https://www.hillaryclinton.com/issues/ and https://berniesanders.com/issues/.
Despite my clear bias, voting is private and entirely your decision. When judging candidates, along with looking at where they stand on issues, you may also look at the experience and qualities you’re interested in seeing in a president as well as success in televised debates or other platforms. Additionally, thinking about who endorses or contributes to their campaigns and how truthful or ethical their responses and advertisements are may be beneficial. For example, http://www.politifact.com, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, fact-checks statements from candidates (using a fun and easily understood Truth-O-Meter) and provides information about the reason behind the rating.
If you’re not sure where to start, voting quizzes may help you begin to think about where you stand on certain issues and which ones matter the most. The terms used and the candidates’ stances can then lead you to additional research, including actual quotes and how they voted when these issues came up in the past. Two popular quizzes and sites are the following:
Demonstrate your concerns, address your needs, and fight for those who are not allowed your same rights by voting, whether it’s for local, presidential, or all elections. Remember that when you vote you are letting your voice be heard, speaking your mind and standing up for what matters to you and others. What you vote for and who you vote for can change your community and nation, impacting the future for yourself and those around you.
by Sarah C
The United Nations Development Fund for Women claims: “Women’s economic empowerment works. We can prove it” (www.unwomen.org). And they are working to do so by empowering women’s entrepreneurship, access, and connections between food security and agricultural production. Women are known to be the primary food growers around the world (although not often landowners), making issues of food security & sovereignty an important issue for transnational and ecological feminisms.
Sovereignty (the right for self-authority and control) is important for farmers to be economically successful and healthy, especially because they are the foundation of food systems within local and national regions. The ability to trade and grow what works best for individuals and their culture and environment, as well as own and work the land for a sustainable, self-reliant livelihood should be a human right and world trade standard. For more information about food sovereignty policy framework check out the following: http://www.agriculturesnetwork.org/magazines/global/women-and-food-sovereignty/theme-overview-women-and-food-sovereignty
However, women (especially indigenous women) have struggled to gain the freedom and support they need. These food issues are thus a part of transnational feminism, which (along with global and postcolonial feminism) focuses on “the various ways in which women from different cultures, ethnicities, races, and classes experience patriarchy and oppression” (Rosemarie Tong, Feminist Thought, 231).
Vandana Shiva, a leading transnational feminist, works to protect farmers through initiatives such as Diverse Women for Diversity (strengthening local movements while opposing globalization) and the Global Movement for Seed Freedom: “a network of individuals and organizations committed to . . . protect[ing] the biodiversity of the planet by defending the freedom of the seed to evolve in integrity, self-organization, and diversity.” This movement includes protecting individual farmers’ rights against the power of companies like Monsanto, which she links to neocolonization (wealthy countries exploiting resources from less powerful ones). For more information about her affiliated campaigns and efforts visit the following: http://www.navdanya.org/diverse-women-for-diversity; http://vandanashiva.org/
However, women and food connections are not just far away or isolated concerns. Organizations like American Agri-Women (http://www.americanagriwomen.org/) also support the important connection between women and food, weighing in and supporting issues regarding sustainability, environmental, economic, legal, and other matters. Additional influential groups include the Women’s Agricultural Network, the Women on U.S. Farms Research Initiative, and the Women, Food & Agriculture Network.
Along with transnational groups and individuals like Vandana Shiva, groups and various media outlets within America are also focusing on debates over GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Although this matter is complex, a simplistic way of thinking about this issue is that selective breeding or cross-pollination could occur naturally within plant and animal species, while genetic modification is done artificially. Many are concerned about the prevalence of this genetic modification in food products and question the regulation of this practice, including feminists. While some are focused on whether or not GMOs should be labeled, others are concerned about whether they should be allowed at all. Various countries, including within the European Union, oppose GM crops because they feel they are unsafe for human consumption or that not enough is known about their long-term effects on humans and the environment (according to a Huffington Post article by Marjorie Olster). However, others argue that GMOs can help combat world hunger (as expressed in the “United Nations Statement Regarding the Use of GM Foods as Food Aid in Southern Africa”).
So why should feminists around the world care about these debates? Although women and girls are more likely to be impacted by hunger and poverty, they are also more likely to be affected by toxins in the body. Elaine Lipson’s article in Ms. Magazine, for example, (http://www.msmagazine.com/summer2004/organicfarming.asp)
declares: “Women take the brunt of the many toxic chemicals used in conventional agriculture” due to having more fat stores within their bodies and the connection to birth defects and residues through breast-feeding. The article therefore praises organic product standards: “Organic standards don’t just prohibit the use of toxic and persistent chemicals; they also forbid irradiation, genetic modification . . . . [and] growth hormones and antibiotics [in meat].” Organic foods and products are therefore healthier for women and girls here and abroad, and without the use of chemicals and hormones, safer for animals and the environment as well.
Women’s involvement in local food systems here in Iowa and specifically at Iowa State University is a part of these types of health and sustainability efforts. For example, Iowa State University has its own Organic Agriculture Program (http://extension.agron.iastate.edu/organicag/) and specialist, Dr. Kathleen Delate. Along with specifically organic programs, a wide variety of educational resources and opportunities to connect to local food systems as well as fund your own food initiatives are offered through the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
Not only are there numerous women involved within these organizations, but many women are also involved as food producers. In order to learn more about local food systems in the Ames area, support these local farmers, and connect to sustainability and other food justice issues, check out the ISU Extension’s local foods website (www.extension.iastate.edu/localfoods) and/or Ahna Kruzic and Corry Bregendahl’s publication: http://www.leopold.iastate.edu/pubs-and-papers/2015-01-supporting-local-food-system-development-your-community
As a daily part of our lives, food is all around us and can connect to much deeper issues such as sovereignty, security, and access to healthy food. These links to local and transnational initiatives and resources can help as you learn more about the vital connection between women and food and maybe even encourage you to search out a local farmer at Wheatsfield Co-op Grocery or next year’s local food festival and farmers’ markets.
By: Sarah C
Sexism within the video game industry and gaming culture continues to be an issue. Although individual gamers and the gaming community as a whole may be positive and inclusive (like any other social group), a small and loud number of people are dangerous to women, as seen by GamerGate. Those fighting against this threat have voiced concerns that include challenges getting hired or promoted for jobs in this male-dominated field, sexual harassment in the workplace, offensive behavior at conferences or conventions, violent threats online, encounters with sexist portrayals of characters and plot lines, and many others.
Some researchers (like Karen Dill, published in Psychology Today, and Jesse Fox, published in Computers in Human Behavior) have studied the impact of sexism in video games on gamers themselves, proving the negative influence they can have for both men and women. The Times even reports that “a government-funded innovation agency in Sweden is considering creating special labels for video games based on whether or not the games’ portrayals of women are sexist,” displaying the concern other countries also have for these issues (http://time.com/3587853/sweden-video-games/).
However, other researchers have shown there is little to no negative impact, such as Bruer, et al in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, & Social Networking and Stermer & Burkley’s article, “SeX-box: Exposure to Sexist Video Games Predicts Benevolent Sexism”. As with any study and the interpretation of it there may be various flaws. What may be as equally important as this debate is how video games mirror views perpetuated in the media, TV/film industry, and other outlets in contemporary society.
Thankfully, many have come forward to steer gaming, and society, in the right direction. Anita Sarkeesian, founder of the non-profit Feminist Frequency (http://feministfrequency.com), is one of the more prominent voices who has been working to raise awareness of sexism while also praising progress. She has been named one of Time’s 100 most influential people (2015), received the 2014 Game Developers Choice Ambassador Award, and is frequently asked to speak at various conference panels or events. Her videos are not only entertaining, but they contain links to various research (studies, articles, etc.) and educational resources.
Some of the issues she has covered include the popularity of tropes such as damsels in distress, Ms. Male, Smurfette Principle, women as background decoration, as well as violence within games and discussions about her personal and horrific experiences with online harassment (including GamerGate). In addition to focusing on these problematic areas, she has also started a video series called Positive Female Characters on her site. So far, her series praises the Scythian from Sword & Sworcery (“it asserts that women can fill the role of the mythic hero as effectively as men can”) and Jade from Beyond Good & Evil (“a relatable protagonist who is defined by her professional talents, her altruistic convictions, and her bonds with friends”).
Fortunately, Sarkeesian is not the only one trying to help. In an article by Ian Sherr from CNET, Mike Morhaime (head of Blizzard Entertainment) stated that “a small group of people . . . [are] tarnishing our reputation as gamers. It’s not right [and we must] redouble our efforts to be respectful”
(http://www.cnet.com/news/blizzard-on-online-harassment-its-tarnishing-our-reputation-as-gamers/). Although this seems like a standard reaction from a prominent leader trying not to lose customers, the article states that many other companies have been silent, seeming to ignore rather than help solve the problem. Perhaps the influence of Sarkeesian and Morhaime can encourage others to support efforts to reduce sexism in the gaming industry.
Learning about this information over the summer has made me more mindful of some aspects of gaming culture and the prevalence of sexism within video games, which has led to one of my favorite game discoveries. Asking my husband to help me search out games we could play together (with capable female leads and an absence of objectifying appearances) quickly led us to Never Alone. This game is inspiring to me because it features a young, female protagonist and was developed respectfully and appropriately with “the traditional lore of the Iñupiat people” (http://neveralonegame.com/our-team/). Playing as an indigenous girl or her fox/spirit companion within the beautiful world of these Alaskan Native stories is educational, good for all ages, not to mention widely praised by Eurogamer, Wired, PC Gamer, and declared “Best Debut” at the British Academy Games Awards.
I am not a big gamer myself, but I have friends and family members who have fun being a part of this culture. And as my summer evenings playing games with my husband ends and the school year begins in earnest, I have continued to think about my buying choices and efforts people like Sarkeesian are making to end sexism in this industry as well as society. Because at the end of the day, everyone deserves to enjoy gaming safely.
By: Sarah C
Although praise has continued for the handful of transgender individuals on TV and the growing number of roles for black women, the fact is that the media and the TV/film industry does not equally represent the diversity of our society, and this must change! But what should be done and how can we get involved?
Media literacy, according to the Media Literacy Project, “is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media,” which they focus on while embracing “a media justice framework . . . . [that] takes into account history, culture, privilege, and power.” While critical thinking skills are hopefully developed through education in schools, evaluating messages and advocating for an increased presence of diversity are feminist goals that continue beyond the classroom.
Some feminists believe media literacy is an essential part of the feminist movement, with many websites and social media groups such as The Women’s Room, The F Word, The Everyday Sexism Project, and Everyday Feminism working to raise awareness and create positive change through this type of online feminism. The Barnard Center for Research on Women and Valenti Martin Media defines online feminism as “the largest innovation in feminism in the last 50 years that harnesses the power of online media platforms to discuss, uplift, and activate gender equality and social justice.” For more information: http://www.valentimartin.com/projects/
Some even argue that online feminism is the fourth wave, as used in the following article: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/10/fourth-wave-feminism-rebel-women
Regardless of how you feel about third or fourth wave terminology, social media and other outlets can assist the feminist movement. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, for example, has commissioned various research studies that raise awareness for gender representation disparities in TV/film. Based on the idea, “if she can see it, she can be it,” this organization works to increase visibility for women and girls while decreasing damaging stereotyping. For a powerful infographic based on recent findings, please check out the following: http://seejane.org/symposiums-on-gender-in-media/gender-bias-without-borders/
The Representation Project also builds on this task through hashtags like #NOTBUYINGIT that encourages people to call out sexism in the media, including objectification in advertising and sexist treatment toward female celebrities and politicians. Along with these connections to mainstream audiences, the organization’s films emphasize the damage of gender stereotyping and how to challenge it: Miss Representation (female/women focus) and The Mask You Live In (male/men focus). These types of educational resources and credible data (such as “Women of Color and the Top 500 Films”) are helpful both inside and outside the classroom: http://therepresentationproject.org/?attachment_id=14499
Although these initiatives may not be perfect, especially due to their emphasis on the male/female binary, providing efforts toward media literacy to mainstream viewers can create a wide-reaching online feminism that promotes diversity in TV, film, and other media. So many individuals do not see themselves in the media that surrounds us all, and that needs to change. Therefore, whether you like, tweet, or browse, I hope you consider participating in the online initiatives that call out the disparities and gaps and continue to encourage the growing representation of diversity.
by Sarah C