Halloween and cross-dressing

I meant to post this earlier (I guess it was two classes ago now that we talked about cross dressing a bit), but here is an interesting article about young boys cross-dressing on Halloween. There are lots of stories online about people’s terrible reactions to young boys wearing girls’ clothes – just check google – but I think this one particularly captures the fear that so many people seem to experience when boys dress “like girls.”

The author outlines the reasons people seem to think boys in dresses are terrifying, which are, predictably, that people assume that wearing girls’ clothes will make boys gay, are proof that they’re gay, or will get them bullied. In absence of any of these reasons, the only logical conclusion is that being a girl is simply worse than being a boy. Regardless of which terrible reason we consder, these sorts of conclusions are harmful to children, and help further reinforce the “girls like pink and dolls, boys like blue and trucks” stereotypes pushed in advertising, the media, and culture at large.

Practically speaking, there is no reason that children’s clothes need to be gendered at all. Although one could make a reasonable argument that women’s and men’s clothes requiring different darting and tailoring to fit, this argument breaks down when we consider children’s clothes. Ostensibly, all gendering children’s clothes does is further prove to them that boys and girls are different, and that occupying a space in between or otherwise outside these specific roles is bad.

Sexual Assault at MIT

President Reif released the results of the task force on sexual assault at MIT a few minutes ago. In case you don’t want to read the whole thing (or even the summary), here’s the important part of the survey findings:

We received survey replies from 3,844 – or 35% – of our students. Because the survey was not a random sample and was voluntary, and the topic of unwanted sexual behaviors is focused, we know the results reflect a degree of self-selection. Since it is impossible to tell how this may have altered the results, it would be a mistake to use these numbers to generalize about the prevalence of unwanted sexual behavior in the lives of all MIT students.

Nevertheless, the survey clearly tells us that, like many other colleges and universities, we face a serious problem:

  • The national conversation has focused on the widely cited statistic that 19% of undergraduate women, or one in five, experience rape or sexual assault under conditions of force, threat or incapacitation [1]. At MIT, for those female undergraduates who responded to the survey, the comparable figure is nearly 17%.
  • Our survey asked questions designed to capture not only sexual assault by force, threat of harm, or incapacitation due to alcohol or drugs, but also to uncover a broader picture of unwanted sexual behavior in our community. Of all the students who responded to the survey — graduate and undergraduate, of all genders — 539 indicated that, while at MIT, they had experienced some type of unwanted sexual behavior, ranging from unwelcome verbal sexual conduct to rape, usually committed by someone they knew. Of those 539 respondents, 284 were undergraduate women.
  • Based on the survey responses, unwanted sexual behavior often occurs when students are in vulnerable states. Of all the students who indicated that they had experienced unwanted sexual behavior while at MIT, close to half said that they had been taken advantage of when they were incapacitated.

“No FCKHing Way”

I think this article does a really good job articulating what I found wrong with FCKH8’s video about feminism, and I think the author’s updates really add to the original piece:

Sadly, despite what major corporations and indie brands alike would have us believe, empowerment can neither be bottled nor sold. Commodification of feminism is not empowerment, and FCKH8 is not empowering girls or women through this video. Instead, they’re using girls as a means to a commercial end: to raise awareness of sexism to sell their t-shirts.

An old but good piece on the male gaze and lesbian sexuality

This article, I think, seems to hit the nail on the head with the space that’s allotted lesbian sexuality in the mainstream media. Hint: it’s rather similar to that of lesbians in porn; it’s about lesbian women, but it’s not created for or by them.

It also necessarily talks about the male gaze, which we discussed in class. To quote:

Although fashion so often showcases and celebrates the eroticized female form, it sets up an assumed male gaze as a barrier against lesbian subtext — placing the sexualized women who appear in fashion imagery into a safely heterosexual/performative/fantasy mold.

Why I really dislike listicles, even if they’re very “spreadable”

I will not write this post in the form of a list, like this post about how listicles are now very much A THING [or this one or this one – after some point, this just seems like a lack of creativity].

When the list-article (hence listicle) first really took hold online as a method of transmitting information, I was in love. You can talk about anything in a list! It’s so easy to digest! They’re quick to read! They can be paired with gifs! I thought. But more recently, as I’ve grown accustomed to the form, I’ve also grown really bored and frustrated with it.

Yesterday, I came across this list on Facebook: “30 Things You Need To Know About The North Shore, MA Before You Move There.” Great, I thought, this is where I’m from! I wonder what they have to say. Very quickly, it disappointed me. I read things like, “2. North Shore Natives Are Born Into Red Sox Fandom,” and worse, “22. Toothbrush, Candy, Makeup, Beach Chair? Get Them At CVS.” The whole thing was ridiculous – of course many people from metro Boston follow the Red Sox, and CVS is a national chain utterly unoriginal to the North Shore. Every item in the list seemed trivial and reductionist in reference to my beloved hometown.

I realize that there are lots of lists like this all over the internet, and I don’t mean to say that this one was the worst article ever written. I just focused on this one for one main reason: although I got to this article via the Facebook post of a friend from high school, this post is on a real estate site. This list, and thousands (millions?) of others like it on the internet exist purely as click bait in pursuit of ad revenue. When read, you can just hear the author saying “Number 12…. I said I would have 12 items on my list, so I’ve gotta fill this one in….”

Lists seem to have caught on because they’re modular and they have a form that is easily recognizable but not too rigid. But in most cases they seem like sloppy writing, poor structure, and fluff disguised behind a recognizable structure. “27 reasons why NYC is the best” is almost certainly a worse, less nuanced sort of piece than an in-depth ode to the city written by a lifelong native. Because they are not confined to a particular number of items or number of words per item, they often drag on meaninglessly just to fill the amount of space the author wants. Without a coherent narrative, there is nothing to keep the reader engaged until the end, and list-filled websites often don’t care. Many websites that host lots of lists, like Buzzfeed, have links to other articles in a list down the entire length of the page, implicitly acknowledging that they don’t expect or care that you read the whole piece.

As someone who used to edit for The Tech and who loves to read both news and fiction, I find this whole idea of the listicle as a spreadable news form interesting and sad. There are, of course, times for lists: when you’re talking about things that should genuinely be ranked ordinally or when you are talking about several discrete entities (even here, it’s often less desirable than writing a narrative to connect them). There are well-done lists that are interesting, informative, long, short, funny, and serious. This is not the same thing as writing a list of the top three reasons that Reese’s are the best candies to exist (which they are). That might be, as your eighth grade English teacher taught you, better expressed as a five paragraph essay. In fact, most listicles would either be better written as a real, cohesive essay or, if it is too difficult to organize your ideas that way or to fill a whole article or to weave a storyline, not written at all. Not everything that’s spreadable is valuable, and I think that that’s something worth learning sooner rather than later, something that is surprisingly uncommon as the talk of “viral” or “trending” online content grows.

To those who say that lists are attractive because they provide soundbites about a topic: most lists are significantly more words than a true blurb about a topic, and some are longer than a real article on the subject. Twitter is an example of brevity done rather well, while listicles as a form are generally.

I suppose my real hatred of the listicle stems from the fact that they’re generally unoriginal; the listicles of “things that all white girls like,” “things that only 90s kids will understand,” and “reasons to visit ____ this fall” are pedestrian, yet somehow always suck people in. Although we always talk about the benefits of the internet, I think it’s time to really examine what the ability of everyone to shout into the abyss of cyberspace really means. Is it really a benefit when your unique and inspiring life story, the goings on in the Middle East, or the story of an oppressed minority is just not as spreadable as “23 Misleading Things All Horseback Riders Say”?

A [belated] reply to Bill Frezza’s piece in Forbes

If you go to MIT (or even if you don’t), you’ve likely heard all about the article that Bill Frezza, an alumnus of the MIT chapter of Chi Phi, wrote as a contributor to Forbes. This article was controversial and promptly taken down, but information about it and copies of it linger on the internet, because, well, it’s the internet. There have also been reply posts, most notably one by a female MIT student.

Firstly, about Bill Frezza, this article should be nothing if not expected from the author. Last year, Frezza wrote this piece in The Tech, preaching his mantra of moderation over prohibition. Although the article itself is relatively innocuous, if you look through the comments, you’ll see nearly the exact same statements as those he wrote a year later, as well as comments like this:

But I must say I feel marginalized by being accused of marginalizing people because I use language that was totally acceptable in my day that has now become politically incorrect. This kind of ageism is deeply troubling. And here I was just getting over my shame in being falsely accused of being homophobic. My inability to keep up with the language police that control campus speech is one of the reasons I generally avoid engaging in campus speech.

These sorts of statements sound defensive, to say the least. I’m going to leave that topic here, but I’d encourage you to read the whole comment string; there is more revealing/amusing information there.

Before I go any further, I’d like to mention that I have spent a significant amount of time at the Chi Phi house, and count a good many of them among my friends. I write this in no way attempting to make a statement about the current brothers or MIT’s chapter of the fraternity.

What I’d like to address (because there’s so much to this article that is problematic) is the point that Frezza makes relatively early on: “Yes, boozed up males also show up at parties … But few are allowed in, especially if they are strangers.” This, only a piece of the more offensive two paragraphs Frezza devotes to why drunk girls (and not drunk guys) are the problem, does manage to capture a major problem with fraternity culture: the key to fraternity’s success is the girls that spend time there. This is obviously somewhat reductionist; fraternities are also about brotherhood, scholarship, philanthropy, etc. But a large part of fraternity life involves parties and social gatherings, and since Frezza seems to focus exclusively on this, I will, too.

On a superficial level, Frezza is right; drunk women are often allowed into parties or are encouraged to drink to the point of excess once inside. Any drunk non-members, male or female, are a legal liability, and are impossible to discipline for rule infractions. But that’s a narrow view of the problem. What Frezza fails to address is why brothers are allowing or are being encouraged to allow drunk girls (and not guys) into parties. And if this is taken to its logical conclusion, the blame certainly lies not on the girls themselves, but on the fraternity and the Greek system.

Continue reading

Clothing as Mass Media

I think one thing that amazes me is that every time I turn around, I am reminded that something I hadn’t thought  of as mass media is, in fact, a form of media. A couple of days ago, I had that experience with clothing. A friend of mine (one who had, herself, struggled for years with an eating disorder) posted a link to some objectionable graphic tees. A few (well, more than a few) are included below. I know not all are particularly new on the Internet, and I think the images speak for themselves, but I am just constantly astounded that people would purchase these sorts of things, let alone design them.

I’m sure many have seen these shirts before on the internet:

For those of us still reeling from the tragedy last week, the insensitive and flippant way this shirt addresses mental illness should be especially shocking:

This “fun and witty” shirt at Walmart (and this one) that perpetuates the idea that girls can’t aim to be anything better than the wife of someone famous, while boys should aspire to be heroes:

And this sweatshirt, that proves that not all offensive things can be tied to an “-ism”

Lastly, in start contrast to the above, there are cases when it can be offensive to stop selling a shirt, instead of to start selling it in the first place. And while these are all examples of very explicit messages encoded into clothes people wear, it is worth thinking about the less obvious things the clothes you purchase say; there’s often more than meets the eye.