News broke yesterday out of Salt Lake City, Utah (where I was born and raised) that Wasatch High School had photoshopped a number of year book pictures without the permission of the students and/or their parents. A number of students expressed concern when they flipped through the year books to discover that their pictures had been digitally altered. In particular, several girls in the school reported that their photo had been changed to add sleeves and/or raise necklines. The students indicated they were especially upset because the changes seemed to happen randomly. Some students’ photos were changed while others wearing almost identical tops were left in-tact.
The school district has “apologized” [sorry-not-sorry] in a statement saying, “In the application of these graphic corrections, the high school yearbook staff did make some errors and were not consistent in how they were applied to student photos and the school apologizes for that inconsistency."
Really?! It seems fairly apparent from this response that the school truly does not understand what the outrage is about.
According to the school, students were warned that their photos might be digitally changed if they were not dressed in a way that conformed to the school’s dress code. The dress code repeatedly refers to the importance of “modesty” in dress and bans items of clothing that “cause an actual and/or perceived disruption of the educational environment or activities.”
From all the reports I have seen, only female students’ photos were altered.
Sadly, this story is not altogether surprising although it is rather disturbing. Similar events have happened in schools around the country where girls' clothing has been targeted because it is deemed as "distracting" to the male students. This new story comes less than one week after Elliot Rodger’s deadly rampage in Santa Barbara. The last few days have been filled with people’s attempts to make sense of that incident. As more and more info comes to light it appears that there were likley many factors leading to that deadly event: lack of gun control, reinforcement of a limited and stereotypical perspective of masculinity, mental illness. But it is most definitely clear that Rodger’s sense of entitlement about women and objectification of women (attitudes which he conveyed in his writings and videos) contributed to his decisions to act so violently.
Obviously photoshoppping students’ high school photos pales in comparison to Rodgers’ violent behaviors, but the similarity in the underlying beliefs about women should worry all of us. Dress codes that imply (and sometimes directly state) that girls are responsible to cover their bodies in order to prevent “disruption” in the environment teach young women and men very dangerous lessons. They reinforce ideas that girls and women are objects and that boys/men are not able to control their sexuality.
I get that schools need to have dress codes. But there is a difference between creating a positive learning environment and reinforcing rape culture. Schools can (and should) be a place where students are taught to challenge harmful stereotypes about women and men. It is time for them to stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution.
Today hundreds of same-sex couples in Pennsylvania are applying for marriage licenses, following Tuesday’s court decision declaring the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Somewhat surprisingly, the conservative governor, Tom Corbett, has announced that he is not intending to challenge the decision. When I moved to Pennsylvania five years ago, marriage equality in the state seemed to be a pipe dream—it now appears to be inevitable. The announcement was accompanied by much excitement and celebration, and shock for some who thought they would not see this day arrive. While I certainly felt the joy that others experienced, I think I used up much of my shock in December when a similar event happened in my birth state—the ultra conservative Utah.
In addition to celebrating and supporting couples who are now getting married, this is a great time to reflect on the ways in which social change happens. PA is now the 19th state in which same-sex marriage is legal. Interestingly, in 8 of those states the decision was made by a court ruling, while 8 states legalized same-sex marriage by an act of state legislature and 3 by popular vote. While each of these methods lead to similar results as far as the legal rights of couples are concerned, they are accomplished in different ways and may carry varied implications.
The Pennsylvania decision came at in interesting time, about a week after the 60th anniversary of Brown v Board of Education. This anniversary was an important reminder of the supreme court ruling which declared that the principle of “separate but equal” as it related to education and race was unconstitutional. These two court decisions, occurring over half a century apart, have important similarities and speak to the power that the US court system can have in implementing social change. In many ways the court system is uniquely positioned to push our society toward equality on topics where public opinion is mixed or even leans heavily in the direction of injustice. Courts are called upon to make decisions not based on popularity but based on the constitution, an aspirational document describing the nation’s support of equality for all—a value that is not always accompanied by action. The federal judge who made the ruling in the Pennsylvania decision, Judge John E. Jones III, also noted this similarity. He wrote within his decision, “In the sixty years since Brown was decided, 'separate' has thankfully faded into history, and only 'equal' remains. Similarly, in future generations the label 'same-sex marriage' will be abandoned, to be replaced simply by 'marriage.'”
While I appreciate the judge’s sentiment and celebrate the win of equality on paper I must question whether this statement is held up by the facts. Although school segregation by race is no longer “technically” legal, one need only do a cursory examination of the educational system within the USA to see that it is far from “equal.” There are huge disparities in the quality of public education and access to resources in schools in different neighborhoods, often with the divides occurring on racial and social class lines. I point this out not to in any way diminish the importance of the Brown decision, but as a caution that we not hold up the “mission accomplished” sign prematurely.
Equal treatment under the law is incredibly important and we should continue to celebrate the legal wins toward marriage equality within the USA. We should also continue to check the temperature of the larger cultural climate in which LGBT individuals live. The movement toward legalization of same-sex marriage is likely the product of decreased homophobia. Hopefully, it will also continue this trend by challenging people’s stereotypes (in much the same way that school desegregation changed attitudes by giving people more opportunities for inter-group contact). But marriage equality will not protect children from homophobic bullying in schools or eliminate workplace discrimination. If our goal is to move beyond tolerance to embracing and celebrating the dignity of all people then we must remain diligent.
During Chatham’s commencement speech on Monday Denis Hayes cautioned graduates not to “sacrifice the good in pursuit of the perfect.” I appreciate this sound advice, but also add that we not hide behind the “good enough” at the expense of people’s dignity.
So let’s celebrate! Revel in the accomplishments and continue to live our values. Supporting equality is not rhetoric. It is an ongoing way of life.
Today the Internet almost imploded as a video was released of Solange Knowles physically assaulting Jay Z after last week’s Met Gala. You can see the surveillance video here, as well as every other place on the Internet. The surveillance camera shows Solange hitting and kicking Jay Z while a bodyguard attempts to restrain her. Beyoncé goes almost unnoticed as a bystander.
Though the video itself is disturbing, this incident highlights the unsettling way in which our discussions surrounding violence are gendered (in addition to being framed by race and class, which I hope also get discussed). Since our conceptualization of physical violence is enmeshed with our gender stereotypes, physical violence by women towards men is often minimized (not to mention violence towards LGBTQ individuals and within LGBTQ relationships). Gender norms are toxic for everyone, and the messages we send about gender and violence are among the most harmful. They influence both our violent behavior and our reaction to violent behavior. We often talk about how these gender norms play out in instances of domestic and sexual violence towards women; but how do they influence our bias when reacting and addressing violence against men?
Today, Twitter exploded with jokes regarding the incident.
These responses are reflective of the gendered and racialized way in which we talk about violence. Although this kind of flippant response is typical of social media following any sensational celebrity news—violent or not—the way in which it is written and discussed among fans, news sources, and media outlets reveals how we, as a society, view violence.
There are clear assumptions regarding violence and gender in our culture, and those assumptions influence our reactions when incidents like this occur. We assume that (1) Men are, inherently, violent; therefore, when men exhibit violent behavior, it is natural and masculine. It’s difficult to reconcile the contradictory message that violence is both unacceptable AND natural. So when men exhibit violent behavior, we deflect or silence the conversation as a way of avoiding this contradiction. In contrast, we assume that (2) Women are inherently not violent; therefore, when women exhibit violent behavior, it is framed as both hysterical and comical. It is difficult to reconcile the contradictory message that all violence is unacceptable with the belief that women are nonthreatening and weak. So when women are violent, we get around this contradiction by minimizing the violence and turning it into a joke.
It’s hard to confront our own biases about gender and violence. First, we have to ask ourselves how we would react if the situation was reversed, if it was Jay Z assaulting Solange in that elevator? But it’s time we take it a step further and ask ourselves why we are so quick to dismiss violence against men, and what messages that sends to both men and women, boys and girls? If we truly want to eliminate violence in our communities, it starts by understanding how we created a culture of violence in the first place. And with articles like "The Interweb's most LOL Solange and Jay Z fight memes and tweets," I'd say we have a ways to go.
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.