One Year Later / Charleston Strong

One Year Later / Charleston Strong

Mary Catherine Lawler

Being in Charleston one year after the shooting at the A.M.E. Church has been surreal in that superficially everything runs business as usual, but traces of memorialization are visually present throughout the city (and a remembrance ceremony and a memorial concert across from A.M.E. are scheduled for tonight).

Symbols of the slogan “Charleston Strong” appear throughout the city – nine doves – for the Charleston 9 shot dead last year – form a white palmetto tree against a dark blue rectangle, a clear parallel to the South Carolina state flag.

 

DSCN9362
Charleston Strong banner in the French Quarter.

While brunching at Toast on Meeting Street, I noticed a staff member wearing the same design on the back of his Charleston dark blue t-shirt. Little and big signs like this in the big little city seemed to point to a universal cognizance and recognition of the tragedy in an everyday manner.

In returning from Fort Sumter, however, I saw the larger scale and passed through the affective borders of the space in front of the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church on Calhoun – a plethora of flowers accumulated at the foot of the church’s steps, sweetgrass crosses woven and attached to the wrought-iron gates, dark blue and white flag displayed.

 

DSCN9425
Flowers and memorializations at the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church on Calhoun Street.

Two white men stood holding a printed banner with the Charleston 9’s photos and names – the banner read “say their names” / “Charleston 9” / “never forget” – while black congregation members sharply dressed gathered nearby. Across the street, setup for an evening concert in memory of the nine had begun, white ribbons fixed to white chairs, speakers plugged in and tested.

 

DSCN9447
A shop window on King Street replaced goods and wares with bios of the nine, sweetgrass roses, and an expression of prayer.

Even on the highly commercial King Street, known for mid- to upscale shopping, a shop window featured posterboard backing a newspaper cutout of the Charleston 9, adorned with sweetgrass roses and partially framed with a notice that prayers were with the A.M.E. Church.

While it’s unnerving to walk through a “nice neighborhood” like the one in which the A.M.E. Church is located and think that someone could walk by with a weapon and into a church full of people like those next to you on the street, at the same time it felt good to see both black and white members of the community expressing solidarity in Charleston identity. Much work must still be done in terms of gun laws in the U.S.; perhaps Charleston can be a source not only of race discourse, but also of gun violence going forward.

Here the Charleston City Paper article – “Mother Emanuel: One Year Later”.

DSCN9465
Park bench on Meeting.

Signing off from the Holy City.

DSCN9467
A sweetgrass rose of peace.

 

Pride Month, Flag Day, and the Heteronormative Laugh of Dismissal

Pride Month, Flag Day, and the Heteronormative Laugh of Dismissal                                                  

Mary Catherine Lawler

Republican Fundraiser, Media Sensationalism

Last night I attended a fundraiser for a state candidate campaigning here in South Carolina. My parents had been invited and I attended, half-disturbed, half-fascinated, having decided that as long as none of my money contributed via my presence, I was ok with observing a different political culture.

I’m trying to process what’s happened in Orlando and how it’s been dismissed that the shooting took place at a gay nightclub. People are stocking up on guns and yelling on Fox News about Muslims and I’m scared for the LGBTQ people I know.

My parents voted this morning – for a conservative state candidate – and I’m very divided. The people (read: Republicans) last night were hospitable and on the whole didn’t seem unkind, but they obviously aren’t what the candidate termed “Muslim sympathizers” and the host’s wife, morbidly pregnant, laughed about me getting out of state just under the wire as the shooting in Orlando happened.
DSCN9086
My father’s voting confirmation, stuck to our deck behind which a patriotic half-cockade sags proudly.
In his not-so-brief speech of gratitude that wandered through local politics and gratefulness, the candidate mentioned that his opponent had gone knocking on people’s doors, telling them that he “wasn’t a Christian, was a Muslim sympathizer, and didn’t believe in this country”, to the response of much mmm-mmm-ing and headshakes from the small assembly gathered round. “But none of this bothered me,” he said, “until he attacked me and said I wasn’t really an Eagle Scout”. Har har – who cares about being lumped in with them there ferners but daggone it if someone questions the one afternoon you spent doing “community service”.
I don’t know what to make of all this, and I can’t imagine how the LGBTQ community is feeling if I’m uncomfortable.
This morning I went to work out at the county club gym (close to a voting location across the road), where campaign signs out front encouraged people to participate in the Republican Primary.
DSCN9082
Flag Day as the State Election Day. Taken in our driveway after I borrowed the election sign to photograph.
The Elliptical and the House of Commons
After channel-hopping through crap like Cougar Town and reality nonsense, I landed on C-SPAN, which was broadcasting live the US House of Commons; each speaker was given five minutes on the floor. While some spoke about arbitrary, distracting topics like small business owners and the history of some colonel in Michigan, others commanded with moving presence, like Al Green, who expressed gratitude that members of the non-African-American community had helped black Americans to where they are today, and encouraged those Americans who “owed a debt to others” to repay it now by standing with the LGBTQ community, and ended with the pledge of allegiance, clutching an American flag, or Nydia Margarita Velázquez, who did not thank Mr. Speaker, but began by reading the names of those murdered in Orlando, voice often breaking with emotion. She followed this list only with a simple statement that those who were killed would not be forgotten and would inspire action to better the States, finishing early.
DSCN9085
Star-Spangled Spatulas – an attempt to recover Americana. Made in the USA. Domestic patriotism.
The Material Culture of Americanness
Where does Orlando leave us in the age of bi-partisan politics that will not end? I bought the star-spangled spatulas in Miami, a place obviously proud and patriotic, as evidenced by the many American flags highly visually present on Ocean Drive and elsewhere. In thinking through the material culture of Americanness, through things like voting stickers, outdoor flags and banners, flag-shaped cooking utensils, and corrugated voting propaganda, I realized that most of my American identity derives from a connection with an American “thing”. A flag, a bald eagle meme, a stars-and-stripes bikini at Walmart made in Cambodia, a US flag speedo worn on Miami beach. Captain America paraphenalia, etc – the more insecure the American identity becomes, the more tangible – and commodified – it becomes. You can literally hold Americannness in your hands; you can rotate red, white, and blue, you can cover your sex with it, and flip your pancakes with it.
The Gun Argument – Cowboys and American Masculinity
This is part of the reason – perhaps a stretch – that guns are so embedded in American identity. The more precarious the male American ego, the more tightly clenches the fist round a clip of ammunition and a hard barrel. This is why – even following mass shootings involving military-style assault rifles – that gun laws are not changed. A gun in the hand is an American in the making. America’s problem – admittedly, one of many – is that it holds so tightly to the identities and supposed ideals of the “founding fathers” that is evolution is retarded almost to the point of regression.
This is an on-going thought process. More soon, from a proud and patriotic American, ex-pat, academic, moderate, June Cleaver Gloria Steinem love child – a walking contradiction in terms.

European Crises – Europe Crazies: Futures, Racism, and a Different Kind of Silence

European Crises – Europe Crazies: Futures, Racism, and a Different Kind of Silence

Maria Stehle

 

At a children’s birthday party in a park, I suddenly found myself in a conversation so uncomfortable that I longed for an interruption: for one of our children to call for me, for my husband to need my help, for any of the other guests coming over to say good-bye. This is a rather uncommon feeling at such a party, where, usually, I long for a few minutes of uninterrupted adult conversation with parent friends that I had not seen in a while.

But: the party was almost over, most guests had left, and most children were peacefully playing at the playground after having consumed cake, cupcakes, and strawberries. A bit to the side, I got caught in this conversation with a father, a man I had not met before the party. One of my friends introduced him to me as a scientist from France, who, as my friend insisted, also spoke German. His German was better than my French, I admit, but the easiest way to communicate would have certainly been in English. And, unfortunately in this case, since this allowed for a much more elaborate speech, he switched from his rather broken German to English after I asked him if he was considering moving back to France—or might I have said “Europe”? He answered that he was not sure since the current situation in Europe was so bad. I was not sure how he meant that and I was still not sure exactly what he meant when I finally managed to, however awkwardly, leave the conversation. I listened (see previous blog posting “When to Shut Up and Listen”) but my silence was born out of confusion, which, I believe, he took as ignorance and possibly even interest in what he had to lay out for me. He insisted that the whole idea of the EU was orchestrated by the US. That I should simply look at all the positions the US took vis-à-vis the EU in the past, say, five years, it need not be more than that, and convince myself that this was true; that the EU is, basically, the extended arm of the US. Sure, he admitted, European countries were good at waging wars against each other. I chuckled and said, yes, Germany certainly was. And he quickly stopped me to point out that no, no more talking about the past. He corrected me: we are not guilty of the past—while I had not even spoken about guilt—and that this was about the future. If he were the French president tomorrow (I chuckled again, but his face remained serious), within 24 hours, he said, France would leave the EU. He argued that the structure of the EU was not clearly democratic or participatory, and I agreed, but suggested that maybe it was also because people do not appear to even care to vote in EU elections. His more pressing issue, however, so it seemed, was the fact that the nation-states just needed to make their own decisions and mistakes, in their interests and with their own futures in mind.

Why do I think and write about this anti-EU rant and this, not just man-splaining, but lecturing posture of a man whose name I do not recall and who, most likely, I will never see again? I have not done the reading or “research” into the US positions on the EU that he assigned to me so that I could, as he suggested, “form my own opinion.” I am, however, involved in a research project on European film; we are looking at intimacies on screen, mainly between non-legal or migrant characters and European citizens, to argue for moments that allow an imagination of alternative futures for, in, and beyond Europe. I also presented talks related to the so-called “refugee crisis” and the general perception of Europe in crisis that considered gender, media perception, and political appropriation for right-wing political causes. But somehow, his tirade caught me off-guard and I did not engage; I listened, I asked some questions: probably not the right ones and certainly not provocative ones, since I had no interest in trying to persuade this man who clearly thought of himself as rather persuasive, and: I was not interested in a political argument at a children’s party. I also kept wondering: is my affective attachment to the idea of Europe simply very “German” of me? If this were the case, wouldn’t that confirm his argument, that, in some way, above all, it is all about national belonging and national “characteristics” albeit, in this case, learned and historically determined ones? He tried to persuade me by approaching me as “a German” by absolving me of any sense of collective guilt and by asking the rhetorical question of why the Germans should pay for Greeks’ laziness. Wouldn’t I agree that this makes little sense? I am not sure what, according to his opinion, the US interest in this example would be and I certainly think there are many German interests involved in keeping Greece in the EU and in the Euro-zone, and these reasons are certainly not primarily altruistic ones. I did not engage him about on the question of Greece. As I carefully pointed out that, despite what he appeared to see as the US pushing the EU to accept Turkey into the union, Turkey had not (yet) joined the EU, he ignored me. Turkey is EU’s Other and the EU’s buffer zone. Turkey is a NATO country. Turkey is a very complicated country. Turkey and Germany, well, have a complicated and intricately interwoven past and present, and, in the current refugee crisis, Turkey is a key player. And so is Greece. I did not push him, again, maybe because I just wanted him to stop talking about this. And maybe because I was I afraid to find out what really was behind his rant. That, possibly, this is all about keeping the “wrong” people out of Europe and protecting or luring back the “right” ones?

So, right there in this park in a university town in the US, the question of reading the “crisis” became central. Whose crisis is this? A crisis that might prevent a highly educated, clearly patriotic, ex-pat of France from returning to France while many refugees from Syria, Africa, the Middle East, are stranded in camps somewhere or drown in the Mediterranean Sea trying to enter the EU. And right here, under the large Oak trees on the side of a playground, the kind of unique racism of Europe can be voiced as a politically persuasive argument: it is just about our future. Leave the past behind, genocide, colonialism, etc… and move on, think of the future. Let the Others of Europe, of the other Europe, outside of Europe, make their mistakes and let us (in this case the French, but this could easily be the Germans, the Britons, etc…) make our own decisions about our futures. Who are these French people and whose future is this? The future of the people who live in Europe or of the people this European, French-man, thinks should live in Europe and decide on Europe’s future?

“Almost Nothing is Not a Pussy” – @look_at_this_pusssy and “voppelgängers”

“Almost Nothing is Not a Pussy” –@look_at_this_pusssy

Mary Catherine Lawler

The LA-based Eva Sealove and Chelsea Jones started Look at This Pussy, affectionately abbreviated as LATP, as an in-joke, but their co-founded instagram account has blown up to over 7.600 followers. Re-envisioning the every day in terms of the yonic rather than the phallic and shattering the idea that only phallic shapes, symbols, and signifiers are visible Sealove and Jones provide a new lens for the everyday, working in what they call “visual euphemism” (Dazed).

Engaging in this “visual and textual project”, the BFF pair post vaginas seen in architecture, clothing, food, plants, cats and caves (ha ha), public art, advertisements, and other sources and exposing these shapes previously thought “unseeable” or “nonexistent” vis-à-vis those resembling the male anatomy, Jones and Sealove train their instagram followers and their larger audience to look for and recognize the female form in everyday objects and animate life. They also receive many submissions from fans and incorporate the most unique and crazy of them into their social media account.

LATP
Eva Sealove and Chelsea Jones, LATP co-founders.

Featured online in for example Dazed, Wut, Bullett, and Paper, Sealove and Jones have attracted significant attention with a new perspective that is “militantly anti-shame” (Sealove in Bullett interview) and all about “peep[ing] the puss” (Paper). The Fusion article on the 20-somethings even coined a new German word for “vaginal doppelgängers (or, voppelgängers)” – for the snapshots. In using pictures of simulated or recognized vaginas, the pair additionally enjoy the benefit of dancing around most – though not all – censorship.

In response to the question/request to “[d]escribe the perfect pussy”, Jones answers “I think that all pussies are perfect, in being un-perfect. I don’t think the ‘perfect pussy’ really exists. My pussy, your pussy, everybody’s pussy is fucking perfect” (Bullett). Also, when asked which pussy is their favorite, both replied that each has its own unique merits.

Though unfortunately both have received some pushback (“please stop sending us pictures of your dicks” – Sealove, in Dazed, the ‘it’s-a-vulva-not a-vagina’ terminology debate, and accusations of being anti-trans and essentialist), the yonic-seeking duo, Sealove and Jones, have over 7.600 Instagram followers convinced – “almost nothing is not a pussy”. They push for self-acceptance for women and a broader understanding of the difficulty of existence as a woman, while arguing for de-mystification – not, both underscore, de-sexualization – of the female form.

For more LATP, don’t miss Sealove and Jones’ podcast, which will be released on May 1, 2016, called ‘Do What Feels Right’.

Musical Cliteracy: The Clitoris and Womyn’s Herstory

Musical Cliteracy: The Clitoris and Womyn’s Herstory

Mary Catherine Lawler

 

Dorian Electra and Refinery29’s music video on becoming “cliterate” touches on Freud, Master’s and Johnson, and why women were tortured and killed for being “witches” (read: engaged in sexual pleasure).

While the pastiche pop, over-the-top aesthetic calls to mind a Barbie dreamhouse vibe and ’90s style, with props like a hot pink plastic flat clitoris held up by a carefully poised clear plastic hand, the retro feel infuses the video with a historical distance to the present that forces the viewer to think about how the clitoris and female pleasure are categorized and discussed today.

By making visible a part of the body normally hooded from view, Refinery29 and Dorian Electra expose the patriarchal discourse around the visibility of pleasure and gender. Additionall

 

Our Musical Ode To The Clitoris We proudly present a musical ode to the MOST fun part of the female body

Posted by Refinery29 on Wednesday, March 2, 2016

When to Shut Up and Listen and When to Speak Up: Reflections on Collaboration, Race, and Activism

When to Shut Up and Listen and When to Speak Up: Reflections on Collaboration, Race, and Activism

Maria Stehle

Listening can be a very comfortable activity; to sit, stare, and nod, either knowingly or empathetically. But, and I know I am not the first person to ask this, what are the politics of listening? What makes listening comfortable and when does it get uncomfortable? When and for whom does listening mean feeling impacted and affected? There is a similar dynamic in speaking: to speak means to have the word. But to speak can also be uncomfortable, can mean that one will either be or have to make uncomfortable, take a risk, or risk confrontation. The question I am asking is not just, as Spivak so famously phrased it, if the subaltern can speak. I am asking who can speak comfortably and safely and who takes a risk, and who can and who has to speak rebelliously (Judith Butler) or willfully (Sara Ahmed), who chooses and under what circumstances do we get to choose the voices we speak in. Thinking about the work of scholars like Spivak, Butler, and Ahmed, for me the politics of listening and speaking offer a productive avenue to confront what is often referred to as privilege. People who find themselves in a privileged position can practice this kind of safe-listening and safe-speaking, which, of course, corresponds directly to their physical safety. What this also means, however, is that, often by pointing out their own awareness of privilege, people practice a strange form of privilege; they solidify their privileged position by retreating into comfortable listening or they feel entitled to speak, yet again, since they have acknowledged their privilege. My suggestion is that rather than talking about privilege, we talk about who is talking about what and who is listening to whom, or who is, or should be, talking to each other. Why, for some people, it feels safer to shut up while for others, remaining silent becomes a threat. And yet, sometimes, not speaking can be an act of resistance. This means that we also need to talk about why and when people, either choose to or are forced to, remain silent.

There can be strategic silence, of course. For example, not the violence and abuse itself, but the media discussions about the crimes committed on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, Germany, show these strategic silences on all sides of the discussion: while some claim that a focus on sexual harassment of women by groups of men obscures the fact that the men harassing women on a central square in Cologne were not white German men, had migration backgrounds, were recent refugees, and/or Muslim. Others claim that the focus on the ethnicity of the men obscures the fact that such sexual violence is common and also commonly committed by white men, but when white men commit it, it often remains unreported. In Germany, notably the hashtag #aufschrei (outcry) has already attempted to make the sexual harassment and the sexual/sexist violence that women are subjected to on a daily basis visible when it was launched in 2013. In response to Cologne and the media responses to the Cologne attacks, a new hashtag was launched, #ausnahmslos (without exception), which calls for action against sexism and racism, without exception.

As with a lot of online activism, people who sign petitions or use hashtags find themselves in the company of often unlikely and sometimes unwelcome allies. This phenomenon is one aspect of what Carrie Smith-Prei and I describe in our book Awkward Activism: the unpredictability of digital activism, meaning that it can and often is appropriated for other, and certainly unwelcome to some, causes, that it attracts trolls and can be used against the initial cause, can lead to the argument that such activism is ineffective. We strongly argue against this critique, but admit that when it comes to political effect, we face a new kind of unpredictability, which can be so confusing that some people respond by being silent. In some cases, this is as a response to the silencing people experience themselves, which is part of this unpredictability; but it can also be a, and may I say privileged, form of retreating into silence. This is related to a certain kind of silence common to academics: they retreat behind their need to research a subject first to write about it and behind their insistence that academic writing cannot and should not be journalistic. Facing the complexities of today’s world, we cannot afford to hide behind textual analysis without also always considering context (of who speaks and who listens, of who and what is meant to silenced, and of what might happen next). We also cannot claim that we can understand that context without listening and collaborating; we cannot claim that we can speak in a singular voice. And regardless of how many voices speak, we will make mistakes. We will find ourselves in a mess. We will talk and listen und understand the mess, collaboratively. And then we will get ourselves in a mess yet again.

What, among many factors and as many voices since then have pointed out, turns talking and writing about the sexual violence committed on New Year’s eve in Cologne into such a messy, difficult, and political affair, is that “Muslim” is a racialized category and that we are talking about race; and that women’s bodies once again have become a political tool for many different sides of the messy debate about race and racism. Additionally, women with migration background, non-white women in Germany, are not part of the discourse. The fears—or panic—of refugees from war-torn countries, mainly Syria, focuses on young male migrants while images of children and mothers trigger empathy. Female refugees, the mothers, sisters, or daughters of these presumed sexual predators once again appear only as silent victims. In the face of these complexities, we—and this “we” refers to middle and upper class white women—shy away from the mess and: we either remain silent about certain aspects of the issues at hand or we might even righteously claim that political correctness needs to be put aside when we are confronting violence against women. Again, this shying away from acknowledging that this complicated mess is rooted in our positions of speech, in our feeling of entitlement or our desire to stay out of trouble, to stay safe, in our inability to confront the politics of silence and speech. Positions of white feminists have far too long relied on othering and racism, on racialized constructions of victims and perpetrators as well as of oppressed other women, and on racisms.

            photo1

For a week in January, when the attacks in Cologne and their aftermath were still hotly discussed in the media, Reyhan Şahin was visiting my home university in Knoxville. And it is our listening to each other, in Reyhan sharing some of her new songs, her research, and her writing, in us listening to her talk, in our conversations with students, friends, and colleagues, but most importantly, in our talking to and with each other, which sometimes included me translating, my children’s German-English code switching, as well as the food we ate and the tea we drank together as we nursed our colds, that I found a voice to write this research blog. We must not fall silent in the face of the complexities of today’s world, the overlapping, intersecting, or assembling forms of violence, oppression, and injustice. We can speak politically when we listen to and speak to each other (see also Beverly Weber’s work on Spivak). I am writing because I am reflecting on what Reyhan and I talked about, but also on what remained unspoken, and why. I am writing to trigger responses from others and to kick-start a popfeminist academic blog. Popfeminism – a word I use in my research also to describe Reyhan Şahin’s work as Lady Bitch Ray. Now, Reyhan told me that she does not identify as popfeminist even though many journalists and researchers, including myself, describe her work as popfeminist. Popfeminism, she said, is a white term. There is hip-hop feminism. There is a new song about Cleopatra and a song about butts, coming out on Reyhan’s next album.    

            photo2

So, for me, listening is one part. Even if – or exactly because – listening makes one feel awkward and questioned. But when, for example, Reyhan and I jokingly referred to Reyhan and/as Lady Bitch Ray as our research subject, we took pleasure in blurring boundaries between researcher and researched, between personal conversation and friendship and academic rigor. The dynamic of the native informant, who has to speak truth to power, whereas I, as the white female researcher in a secure academic position, can listen and nod and then write something and publish it, is and remains the so-called elephant in the room. Again, this is not just a reason for me to shut up and listen. It is also the very reason why we need to listen and speak, in discomfort, but also with joy, as a form of connection, collaboration, as a killjoy and as a boundary-blurring willful subject (to return to some of Ahmed’s terms).

photo3

#askeljames or, Q & A and literary antifeminism

#askeljames or, Q & A and literary antifeminism

Mary Catherine Lawler

EL James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey, was catapulted to success by the incendiary interest in her triptych of Twilight fanfic qua BDSM fantasy. The BDSM community was understandably upset by James’ lack of respect for mutual boundaries, safety, and caution, while (wo)men* everywhere wondered how a thinly veiled abusive relationship could pass for romantic (as long as he’s rich and hung, he can hit me, stalk me, and isolate me?).

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 11.24.55 AM

James’ dead horse-tired plot of a virgin (of course, the female protagonist) meeting a dangerous and sexually experienced man who introduces her to technology (wow, a laptop!), patriarchal condescension (he acts without permission both in and out of the bedroom), money (sex for things – prostitution?), and, of course, sex, is only marginally better than Stephanie Meyer’s lackluster Twilight, featuring paper-thin character Bella (no talents, no interests – a canvas for YOU!). At least main character Anastasia Steele (a shade of grey, get it?) can do something – write. She’s an English major and does land a notable publishing job post-graduation, although hubby-to-be Christian Grey then buys out the company “to keep an eye on her”.

Readers (presumably) chimed in during Twitter’s Q & A , asking sarcastic advice and rhetorical questions, referencing allusions to Meyer’s Twilight, and pointing out how poorly the event itself went (not as predicted, to be sure).

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 11.33.25 AM

One Twitter-literature user posted a reference to George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones‘ character Ramsey Bolton, a sadist and sociopath, linking EL James and Fifty Shades of Grey to larger literary culture, but at the same time underscoring the unquestionably negative drive of character Christian.

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 11.34.18 AM

The ironic tone in these posts point to the clarity with which readers recognize verbal, physical, and sexual abuse in the poorly written three-book saga.

As we see here, Twitter as an online platform provides both the means to open up a discussion and also the potential for it to go off-direction, veering off course and dragging all skeletons out of the closet. Intent and reaction misalign here as users simultaneously wield humour and critique to express the affective repercussions of simplistic, sexist, gender-normative storylines such as James’, and to tell the author that her writing is “fifty shades of fucked up”.

#sexistdresscodes

#sexistdresscodes

Mary Catherine Lawler

Recently in the US, dress codes have been aggressively enforced against young women in high schools. Last year in New Jersey, a group of young women formed to emphasize that dress codes as they are currently being enforced (read: against women and not men) are not only sexist, but also promote rape culture, teach women that physicality trumps education, and teach men that women are sex objects. In May of this year, female students in Toronto joined Alexi Halket, a high schooler at the Etobicoke School of the Arts criticized for wearing a crop top to school, with , while August 2015 saw the rise of the hashtag #IfAnythingSchoolTaughtMe in protest of dress codes being prioritized over women’s learning.

Laci Green, a vocal feminist vlogger, issued a summary of what’s going on and five ways that the dress code epidemic is damaging young women and even girls as young as Kindergarten-age.

Megan MacKay spoke out with a satirical vlog-style YouTube video in which she demonstrates ways to tweak your outfit based on different dress code criticisms:

A high school posted some pictures of herself on Instagram and described her experience at school, captioning it as follows:

“Today, I wore this outfit to Beaufort High School. About 20 minutes into the day, my friend and I were excused from class to venture to the vending machine because our teacher was planning to do nothing all class period, as usual. On our way back, I learned something very important about myself: I am a whore.
As I was walking down the hallway, I heard a voice behind me. “Your skirt is too short. You need to go to in-school suspension and then go home.” Thank you, Mrs. Woods. Thank you for teaching me that looking good for school is NOT appropriate. Thank you for letting me know that while I may think that I am dressing up for my Teacher Cadet lesson, I am in fact dressing to go to a night club or the whore house. Thank you for bringing me to tears in front of my friends and classmates because you do not have the decency to pull me aside and explain the problem. Then again, I did not have the decency to put on real clothes today.
So maybe I am in the wrong. Maybe our society isn’t yet advanced enough to handle 3 inches of my thigh. This is a patriarchal society and I am a woman. I have to be kept in my place, or I may do something that is so rarely seen in Beaufort High School- learn.
You saved me, Beaufort High. As Student Body President, junior marshal, and a recipient of the Palmetto Fellows, I was heading down the path of hard drugs (good thing you’re testing next year!), strip clubs, and sugar daddies. I don’t know where I would be without your misogynistic views. How could I go on without a certain teacher making sexist jokes all class? How could I survive without my science professor letting me know I am an inferior woman? Yes, I am a woman. I am woman with thighs, a butt, and a brain. I am bigger than Beaufort High School. All of us are. Maybe instead of worrying about my skirt, Beaufort High should take notice of its incompetent employees, and sexist leaders.”

Carey Burgess on Instagram – mynameiscarey

Others at the Charleston County School of the Arts​ in North Charleston, South Carolina stood up for women’s rights to wear what they like by showing up to school with a literary and social accessory: a scarlet letter.

Caroline Hamrick on Instagram – caroline.jpg

This summer, the Toronto-based trio Andrea Villanueva, Kerin John and Erin Dixon formed Project Slut, making public a video that explains the dangers of dress codes for non-traditional, non-heteronormative, and non-white students. Their promotional image, seen early in the video, closely resembles Santigold’s 2006 debut album Santogold and issues a call to action to #endthedresscode.

Project Slut on Facebook

As fashion changes, it remains crucial for us to use social media as a use to combat everyday sexism such as the enforcing of dress code only for women. With female-only mandatory assemblies, the removal of students from class for hours, detention, and other public embarrassment and harassment of female and non-traditional students, features like YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, though too often also an anonymous platform for misogynistic and patriarchal hatespeak, also provide us the means to speak out and fight back.

Gender Reversal YouTube Videos: Responses from India and France

Gender Reversal YouTube Videos: Responses from India and France 

Mary Catherine Lawler

As a visual pushback to responses of ridicule to outspoken feminists, two YouTube videos from India and France, respectively, portray day to day life by showing male actors experiencing social prejudices against women and female actors enjoying the privileges normally and invisibly bestowed upon men. Though at times it almost seems that the video is making fun of how women move, talk, and dress (see the nightclub scene in Man’s World or the daycare drop-off scene in Oppressed Majority), overall the stories do a decent job of throwing into relief problematic gender interactions and highlighting daily sexism.

To start, I will give a brief summary of both videos. Oppressed Majority (Majorité Opprimée English) deals with a day in the life of a man living in a woman’s world; he interacts with neighbors and friends, takes his child to daycare, is harassed both during the day and at night, and met with disdain from his high-profile business wife. Man’s World is a four-part series of videos much in the same vein; Kiran, a young man, is frustrated with the “preferential treatment” given to women and after we see a typical privileged day in his life, he wishes for gender experiences to be reversed. They are indeed, but his attempt at a reverse wish fails, and he marries and has a child in a woman’s world.

Man’s World, Episode 3 / 2015

Oppressed Majority / 2014

Though on the whole on point, the French YouTube video betrays its stance as staunchly secular, in a scene in which the father (who lives in a feminist world) drops off his child at a daycare run by another man in a mock-hijab. He confronts his acquaintance, telling him that as men, they’re “not objects”, but his friend protests that “it’s the law” and “God will protect me”. This rather simplistic view of Islam is disappointing, but we understand the feminist point trying to be made, as this man’s wife had asked him to cover himself.

While the Indian YouTube series can at points be somewhat silly (we see Kiran getting his period and a pull-back shot of him screaming a drawn-out “Nooooo!”), the ending of the series is both the best and most difficult moment to stomach. After Kiran monologues to his newborn son, rejected by most of the women of the family, one of whom even offered to “take care of it” for her daughter, Kiran’s wife has a realization about the woman’s world in which the characters live. She makes chai, serving it to Kiran, which in the context is a progressive gesture, but to us as viewers who still live in a patriarchal environment, almost seems like a 180 back to the original world Kiran wished for.

Both videos assertively tease out daily problems faced by women such as workplace harassment, difficulty on public transit, sexism in interactions with the police, and overall safety concerns and discrimination within the family. More work is needed, however, to create a video response that doesn’t read as sometimes borderline mimicry or ridicule; sometimes the acting comes off as a straight man trying to play a gay man rather than a man living in a woman’s world. Perhaps this itself is a symptom of the man’s world in which we live and the stereotypes of gender and sexual orientation with which we operate.

ASMR and Comment Pushback

ASMR and Comment Pushback 

Mary Catherine Lawler

ASMR, an acronym for autonomous sensory meridian response, is a scientifically unfounded phenomenon described by the YouTube community as experiencing “tingles,” or having physical sensations of tingling in different parts of the body. The goal of this audio-visual content is to enact relaxation and to combat anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, depression, and insecurity, along with other mental health issues, and it comes in various forms, such as role-play (visit to the doctor, caring friend, spa) and specific “trigger” videos that employ particular sounds or visuals to “trigger” ASMR in the viewer, always including a form of personal attention (eye contact with the camera, having a “conversation” with the viewer.

Recently, a new ASMRtist has begun posting videos, calling herself Bella ASMR (most ASMRtists operate under a “pen name”). Her videos, while somewhat pubescent in humor and content (see “Friend with Weed Roleplay”), are also lighthearted and sweet. Much of the community surrounding ASMR can be supportive and encouraging, leaving messages of gratitude for others’ creativity and attentiveness, but many others, commonly known as “trolls”, write hurtful insults and threats, armored behind a wall of internet anonymity.

Only one week into posting videos, Bella ASMR uploaded a video entitled “Not ASMR – Being a Human (People and Hurtful Comments)” in which she addresses both the comments themselves, by which she reads them aloud, almost in tears, and then provides a verbal response to get her feelings off of her chest.

(Update: This video has been removed by the user since I wrote this post. Her channel can be found here.)

In this video, she reads – to name just a few – rape threats (“where can I dump your body?”), racial slurs (“ape face”), and misogynist insults (“whore”, “slut”, “nice tits, bitch”).

While this is an acknowledgement of these comments and in some ways a concession to the “trolls”, it is also a great way for Bella ASMR to reclaim and stand her internet ground, responding to and directly addressing the nonsensical and cruel nature of these insults.