A few nights ago I realized I was in desperate need of a pair of shorts to help me deal with the oncoming humidity of Northeastern summers. So, I rushed to my local H&M right before they closed. I had about ten minutes to search for cute shorts, find them in my size, and try them on before the store closed (which is quite a feat if you’re familiar with H&M’s mysterious sizing sorcery). Though I was literally running for the register while clutching my cute new floral patterned high-waisted shorts, I managed to snap these pictures of some ridiculous graphic tees I found in the “Men’s” section.
There were more of these “graphic tees” featuring close-ups and odd angles that cut off women’s heads and focus solely on sexualized parts of their bodies. As I expected, a quick look around confirmed that there were no analogous women’s (or men’s) tees featuring men in spandex or close-ups of their sinewy muscles. Driving home, these shirts occupied my thoughts. I was trying to figure out what bothered me about them. There was the obvious implicit male gaze of the photographs, the objectification of a woman’s body, and the slicing up of that body into only its desirable parts. But there was something else that was bugging me about the photographs. It was their voyeuristic quality–the idea that they were literally taken without the knowledge of their subject from a vantage point of behind or below her. It reminded me of the “Creepshot” community on the popular website, Reddit, which featured “upskirt” photos and pictures of women taken without their consent. I wondered whether the model whose body was on display knew she would be reduced to her butt covered in a patriotic bikini on a tee-shirt for men? With the retail clothing industry’s history of stealing images without the knowledge of their rightful owner, this didn’t seem like a far reach. I also wondered who this tee-shirt was being marketed to–who was the man that would see this disembodied female body on a tee-shirt and think it would look really cool in their summer wardrobe?
H&M was recently celebrated in some zones of feminist media for their advertisement for “normal” clothing featuring a “plus-size” model. Though I was far from cheering at that excuse for progress, it reinforced for me the vigilance we must have as feminist consumers. Companies are not in the business of making a feminist revolution (obviously,) they are in the business of making profits (capitalism, people). So, get on Twitter and tell H&M you are #NotBuyingIt!
In light of the controversy over Laci Green‘s comment that Islam is “the most sexist religion,” I wanted to share a paper I wrote a few years ago about Islam and the custom of veiling. Researching and writing this paper exposed me to important ideas about women and Islam that I had never considered before. The paper is on a very specific topic about a specific geographic area, but I think it gives some important historical information about the roots of some Islamic practices that many people believe to be sexist. I would like to add that this post is not meant to claim that Islam is or is not sexist; I am simply trying to challenge some of the ways we talk about and think about certain people and religions.
If you are looking for further resources on understanding Islamophobia, I highly recommend the film Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Villifies a People, which can be watched on YouTube below. Some other interesting ideas about sexism in Islam can be found here. I also highly encourage reading the works of Lila Abu-Lughod, especially her paper titled “Seductions of the Honor Crime,” if you have access to academic databases.
“Bad Hijab”: The Importance of the Veil in Modern Iranian Culture
For women in modern Iran, the veil has become a sign of the recent rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the increased cultural and political oppression of women. Though Iran is known as one of the most modernized and educated Middle-Eastern countries, the hijab and its related social constructs remain a heavy influence on the social status of women in the country. The veil continues to be manipulated as a symbol of power and oppression on women in Islamic countries and in marketing and media in the Western world. In this paper, I will discuss the historical importance of veiling in Iran and the influence of Sharia law on determining the veiling customs of Iranian women. I will also focus on the veil’s role in the modern cultural life of Iranian women, specifically in the central city of Tehran.
The first reference to the veiling of women in the Islamic world was in Continue reading
From inspirational quotes and images on Tumblr and Pinterest to the strict gender roles enforced by many religions, it is clear that many people like being told how to perform their gender. Self-help books like “Men Are from Mars…”, “Rules of a Lady” graphics, and even gendered advertising create the gender rulebooks that surround us. They tell us how to be a man or a woman, alienating all other expressions of gender and creating an environment in which people are punished for violating these societal codes. Though working against these gender rulebooks has been a major project of the feminist movement, it is not always easy to write off such deeply inscribed roles.
A Crystal Light ad clearly targeting women: “Finally energy for the gender who invented ‘multi-tasking'”.
I am an atheist who fully understands why so many people believe in a higher power. I sometimes wish I was not so vehemently areligious, because I am able to recognize and understand the benefits that religion has for many people. Gender rulebooks have a similar pull for me. Challenging gender roles that have been surrounding you since before you can remember is exhausting, and sometimes all I want is for someone to tell me what to do so I don’t have an identity crisis every family holiday when I realize that I’m helping my aunts and grandmother in the kitchen while all my male relatives are sitting on the couch watching sports on television.
As a feminist, I am supposed to abhor the rules and the stereotypes the society has created for women, but there are many times when I have wished that I had a gender rulebook. We see this struggle play out in popular culture. The rise of appreciation for the 1950’s and 1960’s, influenced by shows like Mad Men and a focus on vintage fashion comebacks, has brought a similar rise in sexism nostalgia. Many people express a desire to go back to a certain era when things were “simpler” and “men did x” and “women did y”. Though we recognize that the Mad Men era was not a particularly good one for a black lesbian woman in New York City, that nostalgia through rose-colored, sexism-blind glasses does illuminate the conflicting struggle of feminism and our personal feelings about gender roles.
It is important for the feminist movement as a whole to recognize this struggle within every individual. We all identify as feminists in different ways. Our own personal gender expression is often influenced by the gender rulebooks that we either choose to follow or work against. My fourteen year-old sister will not call herself a feminist or accept the feminist ideas that I introduce to her. When I asked her why she doesn’t like feminism, she replied: “I like being girly. I like pink and sparkley things.” If that continues to be the roadblock between young women and feminism, I believe we have a big problem in the growth of the modern feminist movement.