Miss Musings

A modern miss provides commentary on sociological and psychological issues concerning politics, the media, literature, and everyday observances.

Feminism in the Digital Era

Ever since the advent of the personal computer and information highway, our world has progressed into a globalized mass of information. We are a wired community, connected via social media and shouts into the voids of Twitter and Facebook. Naturally, modern activism has taken a digital turn, leading us to question the crusade of internet feminism. Can a post on Instagram petition for equity? Can sharing a link on Facebook do more than inform a skeptical society about elusive social inequality?

Since the internet is an omnipresent force on our minds, we must focus on what feminist campaigns have surfaced through the platform. One of the more shocking recent movements involved Instagram taking down a photo of a girl with a menstruation stain on her pants. This action outraged many women, leading them to believe that the website was disapproving of female biological processes.

Later, campaigns against the censorship of female bodies occurred in various public areas of New York. The group “New York Women’s Liberation” placed stickers stating “This Oppresses Women” on various ads in subways that exploited women’s anatomy for profit. These ads catered toward a patriarchal society, so activists sought to prove that sexualized images will not work to sell products anymore. Female bodies are not vehicles for third-party money, and will not be trafficked in subway traffic.

However, fighting patriarchy is sometimes passive and accomplished through utilizing a modern internet strategy: empowering young girls. The 2014 Always #LikeAGirl campaign discusses sexist language in our society and how Western idioms, while seemingly innocuous, are often denigrating to women. In the viral commercials, people are told to “run like a girl” and “fight like a girl.” Sadly, they portray girls as weak creatures. Yet when young women are instructed to depict “girly” actions, they exude strength and confidence. The advertisement sought to render the image of the modern girl in a new light; since women are being given more opportunities to excel in all fields, we must change the conversation on how girls should view themselves individually and as members of the modern female network.

“What does it mean to run like a girl?”

“It means to run as fast as you can.”

Perhaps one of the greatest catalysts for the digital feminist movement was The Representation Project. In 2011, the organization released the infamous documentary “Miss Representation” at the Sundance Film Festival, and later launched the hashtag campaigns #NotBuyingIt and #BuildConfidence. The former calls out sexism in advertising and encourages people to photograph examples of problematic marketing strategies, therefore pushing for interactive feminism and instantaneous dialogue. The latter seeks to inform members of the social media community about healthy body image.

While The Representation Project made strides in socially-just social networking, one of the most critical moments of digital feminism was kick started by Emma Watson’s HeForShe speech at the United Nations. The speech has garnered millions of views cumulatively on YouTube and effectively focused on feminism’s impact on underrepresented players: boys and men. Emma pushed for men to be more vocal about everyday injustices against women. She also pointed out a goal that all humans should consider – emotions should not be viewed as weakness. Emma states that the way men are dictated to conceal emotions is unhealthy and can lead to depression and suicide, and that emotional discrepancies among genders can be solved directly by raising our daughters and sons to equally embrace having feelings. In addition, UN Women spearheaded the auto-complete campaign, which utilized Google’s autofill feature for searches that started with “women need to….” With this campaign, the United Nations and Google revealed that worldwide sexism had reached its apex, albeit through digital mediums.

In tandem, several other global websites have been taking action to aggressively fight off the exploitation of women. Amazon has stopped selling shirts with openly hostile sayings. One woman reversed Twitter’s decision to remove the “block” button through an online Change.org petition. She received threats on the website and fought to keep the button for the protection of herself and other people who were exploited, namely other women. YouTube has a wealth of self-defense lessons and feminist vloggers. Twitter is loaded with catchy but meaningful hashtags. Ergo, the internet and the right to the freedom of speech allows for both sexism and a healthy amount of counter-active activism.

Are these campaigns effective? Perhaps to some they are not. Yet regardless of one’s opinion of the internet, one must realize that people are using this cornucopia of data to change our day-to-day interactions. Online campaigns and digital media may be the ideal panacea to patriarchy, chauvinism, and sexism in society. We do not all have to participate via every personal tweet and post, but it is not too much to ask to request the acceptance of these equity achievement strategies.

Affirmative Action is Not Just Black and White

1/16. A number. A legal number. I am Native American.

De jure: slash a pumpkin pie into sixteen pieces and shove down a cold, cloying slice. Schrodinger’s cat purrs: I am one of them, yet not. Check the box: I’m in. Leave it blank: I’m out. My hand quivers over the keyboard. De facto: white, def. “The absence of color.” My hand grasps the mouse and scrolls, leaving the box absent of an incorrect smudge. I am not Native American.

At times, affirmative action, or utilizing it to circumvent unjustifiable scrutiny, appears systematic. Some students assume that if they report that they are a member of a minority group to prestigious institutions their qualifications will skyrocket over the balding heads of admissions counselors. Affirmative action is used by many colleges and workplaces to ensure equal access to resources, and potentially eradicate interracial and inter-gender discrimination. Since the desegregation of public schools, social justice in education has been at the forefront of our minds and policies. What’s wrong with that?

Photo courtesy of the Public Domain

Photo courtesy of the Public Domain

In many cases, people may self-identify as a minority in hopes of having a statistically better chance of receiving admission or a job offer. It is unethical, but not uncommon. So we attack the system because it has a crack that greed and immorality has so abruptly wrenched open, one that is seductive in its promise of prestige, yet disturbing in its existence. Must we deem affirmative action to be too easily manipulated, when its benefits are tangibly beautiful, like wildflowers blossoming under our heavy heels?

We all benefit from affirmative action; for example, I attend an extremely diverse school in Orlando, in which I am a minority, and I have learned through both personal experience and observation that having preconceived notions about people is a waste of time. Our races do not dictate our thought patterns, however, we oftentimes we do all share common speech patterns, languages, privileges, and disadvantages based on our genders and ethnicity. Yet it is these subtle variations, the plights we may have faced, that enhance our conversations among people who do not share our backgrounds. I have friends of many different faiths, from different countries, and who possess Spanish, French, and other accented tongues, and in many ways I am happy that my interpersonal educational experience is shaped by what they say. School becomes a microcosm of the world, and ethnocentrism is abolished in favor of friendly cultural relativism and global perspectives.

A fine example of affirmative action at its most effective is at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The gender breakdown is roughly 50/50, which is unheard of for an American tech school, and the racial pie chart is relatively well split among ethnic groups. Some claim that it is “easier to get into” the school with an already abysmal acceptance rate because of this difference distribution. Instead, most should view the school as the “perfect society,” a Utopian concept where the tech world is equally shared among groups, who all share the common spirit of innovation, yet the differing mindsets of people across the globe.

Diversity in educational settings is critical to establishing a culturally-sensitive mind, however, this still is not enough to defend affirmative action for the more disgruntled members of the conversation. One must look at the benefits beyond the conceivable: America was built by people with one common goal: dreams. We believe in the pursuit of happiness, yet, not everyone is able to get past the social and socioeconomic barriers to obtain the one thing that holds the nation together. Once we are here, we deserve freedom. I am a firm believer in the concept of hard work, and that no matter one’s background, one can aspire and gain anything. Yet, this is idealistic. Judgment and setbacks still exist through policy and groupthink, and one cannot underestimate the power of social sanctions in our society. It is harder if you are a minority, a woman, or of a not “privileged” group. But, affirmative action is not meant to “cut a break” for racial minority groups, international students, or even women and men. It is designed to propel people to government positions, CEO statuses, and financial power, so that more people of historically underrepresented groups may have voices to look up to and incentives to shoot for the stars.

I see it every day: my face lit up when I heard about women in the business and technology spheres. I get goosebumps when I imagine a female president. And whether or not I agree with President Obama’s stances, I still watched his inauguration with awe at history unfolding right before America’s eyes, for better or for worse.

Affirmative action could be renamed to aspiration action. We want everyone in the country to simply aspire. With an aspiration, one will work. With work, one will shake the world and bring up those who do not feel strong enough to give it a shot.

Policies are rarely black and white, or Hispanic or Asian. They are one thing alone: American.

1/16. A number. A legal number. I don’t check the box – I only check the truth: white. If my seat disappears to someone equally qualified, who is a more meaningful 1/16 or higher, I will smile. I am not a victim of affirmative action. They are a winner of aspiration action. And I am ready for them to inspire globalism and a special kind of education: people education, where we learn that there is not a majority or minority. Not in this country, one that was designed to be a melting pot. This is America. This is our chance to create a nearly unbiased society, where free access means recognizing privilege, and actively contributing toward its equalization for all members.

What is your opinion of affirmative action? Leave a comment below. 

 

Barbie can’t be a computer engineer… can she?

No longer is Barbie just a disproportionate plastic doll – she’s a computer engineer! Well, sort of….

The widely-discussed book “Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer” has made quite a wave in the feminist and tech-o-spheres, as its portrayal of the doll as the “creative soul yet incompetent programmer” has enough sociopolitical ammo in it to arouse viral upheaval.

Barbie is portrayed as a girl who accidentally downloads a virus onto her computer, but admits that she needs the help of her male friends to fix it. Bring in the feminist organizations – we need a clean up on the toy aisle, particularly Barbie’s plastic laptop kit. Later, she explains that she is designing a video game (rad!), but when her gal pals ask to play it, she admits that she will need her guy friend’s help to turn it into a real game (bad!). But Barb, we thought you were the computer engineer?

If I were a young reader, I would probably not understand what everyone is upset about. Barbie would not have seemed incompetent to me, because she frequently seeks out magic and other-worldly help in all of her plot lines – the girl doesn’t do much for herself, because if she could, what would be the point of having other characters and wild mystical possibilities involved? But as someone who is in tune to the qualms of the modern STEM woman, I understand the issue of Barbie not being able to code the video game herself – I mean, she is claiming to be an engineer, yet she puts the workload on someone else and does little tech work herself. While having imagination is critical to any project, it is not sufficient to supply ideas and call yourself the chief creator or “engineer” of a game. I worry more about the fraud and ethical implications Barbie is pushing in the story than the gender stereotypes that one could assume are propelled at our youth.

According to Time.com, Mattel apologized for how Barbie is portrayed in this story, which came out in 2010, yet only just now was brought to the attention of the internet. Time notes that Barbie has been “to space and business school,” and is a competent woman.

Surely if Barbie can do all that, she can be a computer engineer – I hope.

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Photo: theverge.com

 

 

Captain America wears a tutu

Recently I strutted over to the local Party City in high heels and wandered by the colorful costumes. At first glance, there was a clear distinction between the male’s costumes and female’s costumes. When the two suddenly merged, I stopped in my tracks.

There was the Captain America costume, but it looked a bit different.

Captain America had a tutu. It was pretty cute, too.

The Marvel section proudly displayed an adorable child’s costume: a dress with a red, white, and blue tulle skirt and a glittering Captain America shield on the chest, complete with a matching wand and crown, both equally Americana.

 

Cute, right?

Cute, right? Source: http://www.partycity.com/product/child+american+dream+tutu+dress.do?navSet=170692

 

If this had been any other costume, perhaps a princess or a cowgirl, I would not have taken any notice. But as a young woman who quietly bought a Captain America hoodie from the boy’s section in Target, something personal drew me to the innocent, yet still potentially politically powerful tutu. There are no Marvel hoodies in the women’s section at Target. But there is a superhero dress for little girls at Party City. Though it is only a costume, Captain America’s tutu may be a step in the right direction for girls who might just adore superhero movies, or any forms of entertainment that are pre-dominantly marketed towards males.

 

Photo courtesy of weheartit.com, clip from "Mean Girls"

Source: http://weheartit.com/entry/group/17308827

 

While I wanted to say “four for you, Party City” and chant about equal access to superhero merchandise, I stepped back to ponder on the result of blurring the social lines regarding what costume is appropriate for which gender. Boys may start requesting to wear tuxedos with Angelina Ballerina accents, and girls may conveniently wear a colored skirt over otherwise “masculine” Power Rangers jumpsuits. Soon enough, boys and girls may dress up exactly like the characters they intend to emulate, regardless of their genders. However, what may be a cause for social shock and outrage about “enforcing experimentation on today’s youth” is most likely just dressing up. In the words of my inner five-year-old, “girls like superhero movies too, deal with it.”

The hoopla caused over mixed gender costumes leads me to believe that society has one big problem: its members read into behaviors too much, therefore causing unnecessary inter-gender friction.

Society says: men wear pants. Women wear skirts. It has been this way for literally hundreds of years. Now, women are wearing the pants… although hesitantly, and when someone calls “feminist” from the rooftops the women jump at the chance to call “male privilege” and “oppression.” Suddenly, we see the hidden power of the pants: we get a bit courageous and perhaps even too big for our new, un-tailored britches.

The same women who cry “oppression,” due to the fact they are frowned on for expressing masculinity, may need to evaluate their opinions on men, one day, wearing skirts. Would it be so wrong for men to express femininity? It may not be wrong, but by today’s standards, it is alien. This is where the supposed “gender gap” in equality really lies: between our meticulous interpretation of trait expression, both for masculine and feminine qualities. If it is so empowering for a woman to wear pants, it would be no different for a man to wear a skirt – if you believe in the true definition of feminism, anyway.

 

The most accurate definition I could find of "feminism."

The most accurate definition I could find of “feminism.” Source: http://www.dearwinnie.com/2011/02/09/rebranding-feminism/

 

When men and women view each other as pants and skirts and judged solely on outward appearance, they give a lot of power to pieces of fabric. Suddenly, we are what we wear and have to conform to the expectations of our clothing. As we continue to read into what people wear, we prolong the nonsensical and nonexistent correlation between what kids wear and who they are. This creates problems that do not have to exist; dress-up time has turned into a social movement, whether you are on the “girls don’t wear pants” or “girls need to have equal access to pants” side of the picket line. It is all shouting in the end, and it certainly distracts from playtime.

I would want any girl to be able to wear the Captain America tutu, but not for feminist reasons or because she “should be able to” – only because she loves the Captain America movie just as much as I do.

Wait… that’s what feminism means?!

Some have coined “feminism” as the new f-bomb. Others just shiver in fear when it is uttered.

It is quite evident that there is a stigma against the word “feminism.” Whenever I mention in conversation that I am a feminist, or even when I casually drop the word in a sentence I am greeted with the hesitant smile of a person who is wondering what monstrosity turned me into such an angry, bitter soul.

To this I kindly respond that my definition of feminism consists of two identical numbers: 50, 50. Feminism means that women are equally capable as men to perform in various areas including employment, intellect, academia, etc. and they deserve the rights and responsibilities associated with participating in these fields. Once I explain this definition, thankfully, it is understood by plenty of people, yet they still have a great distaste for the word I am defining.

My problem is that if I close my mouth after saying the word’s first syllable, I erase the other “50” in my definition.

feminism

Promotional photo from the Who Needs Feminism project.

Hesitancy to accept the word “feminism” into our evolving social vocabulary disturbs me. If we continue to view “feminism” as a word to be censored, an f-bomb of sorts, we will never be able to appreciate or accept its meaning; daily, we reduce a connotation of equality, empowerment, and simple logic to one of shame – we turn a potent adjective into a socially unacceptable word.

However, people are fighting the stigma associated with such a politically-loaded word. Some people believe that feminists are fighting for women to be considered superior to men. This is simply untrue. As I mentioned before, feminism is about equality. My friend said it perfectly the other day when she addressed the “are you a feminist?” question after discussing how women should be paid equally to men: “Yes, definitely. I am for equal rights, so I am a feminist. If men were getting paid 77% of what women were, I would advocate for them instead.”

Do you consider yourself to be a feminist?