Victoria’s Secret targets young girls

Since I’m not yet a parent, I can only say that I worry about how to approach raising my future children in order to ensure that they are critical consumers of the media and what’s marketed to their age demographic. This type of stuff isn’t going to go away because companies are going to try and squeeze every last dollar out of possible demographics, especially with greater access to internet marketing targeting young people (Facebook ads, etc.).

Victoria’s Secret, as a company, thrives off of objectifying women, creating an unrealistic expectation about beauty and body shape, and marketing to teenage girls (their Pink line is just one example, albeit less risque). This is just another way that corporate profits are prioritized and women are devalued. My partner stands by her claim that they make good products–comfortable and long lasting. It’s a shame that their approach to marketing doesn’t emphasize that, instead setting up unrealistic expectations about the female body for both young men and young women.

Rev. Evan M. Dolive

An open letter to Victoria’s Secret regarding their choice to make an underwear line aimed at young teenagers. (Read about it here)


Dear Victoria’s Secret,

I am a father of a three year old girl. She loves princesses, Dora the Explorer, Doc McStuffins and drawing pictures for people. Her favorite foods are peanut butter and jelly, cheese and pistachios.

Even though she is only three, as a parent I have had those thoughts of my daughter growing up and not being the little girl she is now. It is true what they say about kids, they grow up fast. No matter how hard I try I know that she will not be the little ball of energy she is now; one day she will be a rebellious teenager that will more than likely think her dad is a total goof ball and would want to distance herself from my…

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So, two high school football players are going to spend some time in a juvenile detention facility for messing around with a drunk girl.  Maybe you’ve seen the stories and think, “Holy shit!  Could that be me?”

The answer is, it is completely easy for that to never be you.  You can make sure you never end up in Trent Mays’ position in three easy steps.  But first, there are some things you should know.

High school is still a place where, if folks know not everyone is straight, the social world revolves around the assumption that folks are straight (when I’m writing for a different audience I use the term “heteronormative.”) It’s also, like almost everywhere, cisnormative: folks assume that everybody is and wants to stay the gender they were assigned at birth and that everyone’s okay with binary gender.  Some folks are not.  In most high schools there are…

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You don’t get credit for being decent

Disclaimer: I don’t speak for the LGBT community or marriage equality movement. Yet I can’t help but feel that it’s a bit ridiculous that we’re giving Hillary Clinton, Rob Portman, Claire McCaskill, or the countless others who have publicly come out for gay marriage or gay rights in the last few weeks praise for doing the right thing. For publicly proclaiming that all families deserve equal protection of the law and equal access to the legislated benefits of marriage (a ridiculous thing, in and of itself).

Sure, public support, shown through polls or the statements of public figures, is great for this issue. The court decision will no doubt be impacted by the sea change in public opinion and broader base of voices calling for equality. It’s great that more and more people are speaking out about their support for same sex marriage. And hopefully it’ll inspire others to rethink their positions and get on the right side of history, squaring their beliefs with what’s ethical and just and fair.

But you don’t get credit just for being a decent. At the end of the day, I don’t get an award for not saying something racist or not abusing a woman. And politicians shouldn’t get praise for publicly opposing homophobia. That’s just being a decent person: Publicly standing for friends, family members, or constituents who want to have families and safety and equal protection of the laws. Let’s focus on some important news like this polar bear:

Update (3-25-2013): With more folks taking public stands in favor of same-sex marriage and acceptance, and arguments beginning tomorrow in front of the Supreme Court, I’m happy to see popular opinion shifting (not that the NY Times is representative of views in this country). Allies should work with others to advance social justice, but we don’t get to ask for pats on the back or praise for doing so. The struggle is much harder for the minoritized who have to live with and fight against oppression every day. But the public figures who are speaking out for same-sex marriage are drawing attention to themselves, away from the people who have struggled for decades to achieve equality and safety and legal protections. The media spotlight on these individuals can be a positive, conveying a broad message of equality and acceptance, especially if the efforts appear genuine and not solely self-interested.

Yet I’m troubled when the media fails to center the experiences of the oppressed, of those who have been consistently denied equal rights. At the end of this, straight allies can return to their day-to-day with very little cost if marriage inequality is upheld. We should hold them accountable to do more than make public statements, like actively engaging straight folks in developing acceptance and embracing equality (something Scott Fujita is actively involved in). But if marriage equality fails, it’s just another blow to justice and fairness in our society, and the consequences will continue to fall on the LGBT community, not those of us who can have legally recognized marriages and over a thousand legal benefits.

Pro Tip: Respond instead of reacting

I can’t even recall when I first heard this phrase “Respond instead of reacting.” One example of its relevance to social justice is cited in “35 dumb things well-intentioned people say,”but that book is problematic to me for reasons outside the scope of this post. But if it was something I first picked up as an education major learning about classroom management or if it was a ground rule in a discussion about social justice topics, it remains a good guide for online and interpersonal interactions. With social media and comment sections, trolls function to generate reaction. Trolls want to drag you in to a rabbit hole of back-and-forth tweets or comments, getting pleasure out of riling up the unsuspecting internet novice. Or it could be the knee-jerk tweets that don’t take the time to understand the nuance, parody, satire, or the person who tweeted it.

But there are also instances when someone at the other end of a digital connection is genuinely interested in your perspective, an answer to a question, or even just your reaction, without the intention of dragging you down that rabbit hole. In terms of interpersonal interactions, in real time and space, you’re probably not going to have involved conversations about serious topics with someone just trolling for a reaction. You’re more likely to be engaging in spirited debate about the topic. There will still be statements and questions that are provocative, intended to spur reaction, though the intention is to either make their point, win the argument, or make you look foolish for a lack of understanding, not for falling in to the rabbit hole.

So what does this have to do with masculine norms? One of the characteristics of hegemonic masculinity is the belief that men and our voices or opinions are more valuable, we’re inherently superior in society, and that we’re always right (except when we’re wrong, but then we never have to admit we were wrong), and these become more dangerous to social justice because we’re expected to be competitive. It’s an underlying foundation of “mansplaining.” As men we tend to react because we don’t always have to be right, we just have to say our “truth” with enough emphasis or forcefully enough, and we can win the argument. Often, we just have to silence the other voices that would be participating. And if we choose to, as a person of privilege, we can react to statements and questions with defensiveness, like by withdrawing from the dialogue or adopting combative or resistant body language, telling ourselves that we still won. Why acknowledge that something I did was hurtful or offensive, when I can cry that I was “misunderstood” or that it was “not my intent” and then refuse to actively participate in the conversation any longer, blaming others for an attack on us. We have the right to use or exclude, to borrow language from Critical Race Theory.

As a person of privilege, it’s been ingrained that my voice is valuable and more valuable than others, reinforced through school, sports, and socializing. Being male is one facet of my identity where society has made easier for me to speak, demonstrate competence, and achieve in our purportedly meritocratic society. What I learned, too late in life, was that I am not always right, I don’t know everything, and I can never fully understand the (racialized, gendered, Othered, oppressed) experience of other individuals. But it was easier to act as if I did, as if I knew as well as a woman because I had taken a history course where we talked about the feminist movement or read an article in an academic journal (this specific instance was particularly problematic at the time). I would react to challenges to my privileged world view. I would get angry, try and embarrass the other person, talk over them, remain indifferent to their frustration with my arrogance, or demonstrate my superiority by withdrawing from the conversation, as if it was beneath me to be even discussing it with a lesser being. Any one of these actions is a defensive strategy that I used to (sometimes) unknowingly maintain my masculine identity, and avoid gender role strain–the internal cognitive conflict that arises when our unexamined masculinity is challenged in a way that surfaces a fear of being (or being perceived as) feminine. Unfortunately, this is not isolated to me alone. My experience is universal for men in America.

In addition to being humbled by some fantastic and compassionate people who began to challenge me right back when I played the “expert” card, I slowly learned that there is a better path to dialogue, where I can share my experience and also learn from the individual experiences of others. When I began a more conscious and conscientious social justice journey, expanding on my purely academic interest in historical oppression, I was often challenged to acknowledge my privileged position, the unearned benefits that had come to me, that made my path in life the one of least resistance. By starting with turning down the impulse to compete and the impulse to prove something (that I’m right, smart, well-educated, an ally, anything), I was able to turn up the volume on the words shared by others. I was able to begin to understand what they were saying–never fully, but enough to begin to trust that there was truth in their words and oppression in my past actions. I had to struggle with guilt over past conversations rooted in my lived privilege and fear of screwing up in the future: an outright acknowledgement that I am not meeting society’s expectations by being fallible. And then I learned to respond.

Responding is more than just making statements back after a pause. It involves engaged listening, rather than just waiting for your turn to speak or thinking about what your response will be while the other person talks. Counselors and psychologists call it “attending:” Behavior and cognitive processes that reflect that the other person has your full attention, building rapport and trust, and facilitating open interpersonal communication. Body language, eye contact, and other non-verbals indicate that they have your attention. Reflective statements demonstrate that you’re listening to the person and attempting to understand the meaning of their words. Your thoughts focus on understanding what they are saying, not thinking about what you’ll say next. Your chosen words don’t take on a tone or volume laced with power, arrogance, or condescension. Responses further the conversation, not win an argument or prove that you’re right.

In digital exchanges of information, it can be even more critical to respond, not react, because there are not the non-verbals that can indicate authenticity or trust. Nuance is lost as in the Jamie Kilstein tweet linked above or as we’ve see in anything sarcastic we’ve ever tried to send via tweet, email, or instant message. Responding in digital formats can take a few different forms, among many others:

  • Taking the time to re-read an email before drafting a response
  • Pausing and reviewing a draft before hitting the send button
  • Adopting the other person’s perspective to better understand their intention
  • Asking for clarification to ensure that you fully understand the context of their statement or what they were trying to convey
  • Taking the time to gather your facts and compare them to the information shared by the other party–though citations in non-journalism communication has gone the way of MySpace
  • Presenting information that expands the scope of understanding for both parties
  • Acknowledge that lived experiences are valid, there is truth in the counter stories that reflect a different understanding of the issue at hand

With Internet 2.0 it can be easy for men to feel like they “win” in a digital exchange. We can sit behind our keyboards, typing out our attacks and reactions, without really reading or understanding the context for the statements. We can remain emotionally detached, or lash out in anger (exacerbated by relative anonymity), and continue to exhibit stereotypical masculine behaviors. We go back and forth trying to present the most compelling information, without the nuance of tact or tone or non-verbals, and then assume that the other person just doesn’t measure up to our intellect or rhetorical ability. Lately the blogosphere (do people still use that word to describe this media environment?) has exploded with explanations of rape culture and refutations of the theory of false rape accusations, and men, from our privileged positions, can just ignore all that commentary, no matter the references or citations to sources, journalism, facts. Like other social justice movements struggling to garner mainstream support, feminism is marginalized because the dominant group they are actively working to change is in no way invested in what feminists saying. It’s a game that men can leave any time they want, declaring victory the moment they choose to walk away.

There are men out there who are actively countering this narrative. Instead of retreating to the relative safety of hegemony, men are starting to find that they can act in the interest of building a culture and community that is actively seeking inclusion and mutual support. Rather than reacting in any situation, men can benefit from learning to respond. We are trying to develop the interpersonal communication skills that build trust and understanding of other perspectives, key components of ally development for those of us in privileged positions. We actively interrogate the ways in which we have been held back by the social pressures that empower us through privilege and oppress us through restrictive gender roles. We engage in authentic dialogue with others about how gender has shaped our experiences. And we put in the hard work, eschewing the path of least resistance, to develop authentic relationships with others rather than competing to be right or louder.

My favorite poem, as much as I dislike poetry generally and as cliché as it might be, is Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” It has long resonated with my conviction that life is best experienced by charting a course that allows exploration, creativity, new experiences, and challenges. For a few years now on our refrigerator has been a magnet that has the last line of the poem:

The Road Less Traveled

It continues to serve as a reminder that although the path of least resistance is always open to me, I make a difference in this life, when choosing the road less traveled. Responding isn’t as easy as reacting, but each day I grow through my shared learning with others, rather than by trying only to prove that I’m a man.

Everything about this post is spot on. I wish other men would take this message to heart and share it with the other men in their lives.

Caught in the Cogs

Trigger Warnings.

In every conversation about rape I’ve encountered in the past months, whether I participated in the conversation or just observed, there have been at least one or two men who claim to have been falsely accused of rape themselves, so their argument remains that survivors can’t just name names “willy nilly.”

I have a theory which I would very much like to explore further. Judging from my own experience and the experience of countless survivors I’ve spoken with in addition to the staggering rape statistics for this country, I’ve made the hypothesis that most, like 94-98%, rape allegations are true, not false. Studies have shown this as well.

Accused rapists often don’t consider what they did as rape because they can’t see themselves as a rapist. It has also been proven that men do self-report if The R Word isn’t used in the description, as shown in Lisak…

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It’s time for men to get over themselves and recognize we are the beneficiaries of rape culture, even if you’ve never sexually assaulted someone. Any rape that goes unreported means that meaningful efforts to educate our young people are delayed or never happen. Let’s try standing in solidarity with victims, who despite the best efforts of law enforcement and support services, are no doubt re-traumatized by any efforts at prosecution. As men, we don’t need to take a knee-jerk reaction assuming that any sexual partner we’ve had would falsely accuse us of rape (that’s really where this fear mongering about false accusations is coming from after all). Instead, let’s live has decent human beings and recognize that rape happens, and it is terrible, and we should take an active role in preventing it and supporting those who are the victims of sexual assaults.

Rethink the Rant

TRIGGER WARNING:

The following includes commentary that may serve as a trigger for victims of sexual violence.
Please be advised. 

In the wake of my post yesterday on the pervasiveness of rape culture, several people attempted to argue in the comment section that the piece was not complete without acknowledging the important idea of false rape accusations.

I attempted to explain that their argument had been intentionally excluded, as it is 1) not supported by data as a significant problem, and 2) the kind of apologism that made women fear disbelief should they come forward. The second part, I argued, was a perpetuation of rape culture, and I would not give them a platform for it. They argued. I presented data. They presented none, and tried to comment again and again.

And I decided I would no longer publish any comments which attempted to caveat rape culture with the…

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Breaking through gender roles: Creating conflict to change ourselves

One of the most ground breaking pieces of scholarly literature that spurred my introduction in to gender identity exploration was Voices of gender role conflict: The social construction of college men’s identity, written by Tracy Davis of Western Illinois University. Through a constructivist qualitative inquiry with ten college men, Davis described the phenomenon of identity foreclosure, where there is an absence of crisis that leads to identity self-exploration. In lay terms, Davis posits that college men in some environments were not being challenged to think about what type of man they were and how they were acting as a result of the ways they were and are socialized to be men (and in this case, also white). The absence of racial and gender identity exploration refers to other research that Davis cites:

The lack of gender awareness may also be explained by Jones and McEwan’s (2000) multiple identity model. According to this model, privilege and inequality are least visible to those who are most privileged by cultural systems.

For me this article was especially powerful. By raising my awareness of my gender identity and the way I was socialized to perform a male gender role, I was starting to experience the type of crises necessary to begin a process of connecting with feminism and supporting gender equity. The male gender role identified by O’Neil (1981) and explored by Davis highlights a fear of femininity at the heart of male gender role conflict. Homophobic statements/behaviors (which were rarely said, but also rarely challenged when witnessed), pressure to limit emotional expression, and impacts on open and honest communication are all symptoms of the way I was socialized to “be a man.” This created stress because it combined with my own personal feelings of inadequacy for not fitting the physical “type” of man–I was thin, lacked muscular definition, and was academically-oriented, not intent on sexual or romantic prominence–both in high school and in college.

The fear of femininity carried this perception that I did not measure up to society’s expectations of how I should act or appear–how I should perform my gender (see Judith Butler for more on gender performance). I am still unraveling the impact of this socialization and failure to confront my own gender socialization until I was 25. It continues to offer challenges to my personal relationships, approach to friendships and connecting with others, and feeling comfortable with developing the counseling skills necessary to do my work in student conduct. This is problematic for me as a partner intent on fostering an equitable and interdependent interpersonal relationship, and as a student conduct administrator, as the counseling skills are necessary to my work; yet, I still feel an underlying discomfort because the helping skills are socially constructed as feminine and it requires a huge mental shift to acknowledge this and still embrace the practice of these skills to normalize them in my own communication methods, role modeling this for the young college men that I work with almost daily.

Because I did not begin this exploration until I was in my first year of graduate school, at age 25, I am struggling to unlearn negative stereotypes from more than one fourth of my life expectancy. It’s imperative that we start to develop avenues to spark the developmental crises necessary for boys and young men to explore their gender socialization and performance as early as possible. We also have to be sensitive to social factors and intersections of class, race, and ability, among others, which influence the power dynamics that contribute to men’s feelings of powerlessness, despite the social power of masculinity. We are at an opportune time in this country to do this. There are numerous issues related to masculine gender norms that are regularly in the media–sexual assaults among high school and college students, gun violence, the rape culture that pervades American society, and the conservative party line about individual responsibility, to name but a few. As educators, parents, friends, and colleagues, we need to identify meaningful opportunities to challenge boys and young men to join us on a journey of identity exploration, and avoid foreclosure to the possibilities that can benefit our shared humanity. As adult men, we can open ourselves up to the conversation, to the idea that we have more to gain by taking that journey ourselves and making informed and conscious choices about the way we perform our genders, rather than a lock-step adherence to patriarchy and fear of all things feminine.

Video

Steubenville, rape culture, and the physiology of alcohol impairment

On the March 16 Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC, Joy Reid kicked off the show by diving in to the ins and outs of the Stebenville rape case. If you’ve missed that story, Jezebel has a whole section devoted to the unfolding story and on-going trial. What stands out to me (aside from the repulsiveness of how this exemplifies the American rape culture) has to do with the biology of alcohol abuse among young people, as someone who works daily with underage drinkers. Recent education efforts by the NIAAA and SAMHSA have started to unpack and disseminate information on the impact of binge drinking for young people, specific to the frontal lobes and brain development. A brief summary of the SAMHSA research is available online.

My thoughts tie in to the victim blaming that is unfolding in the way the defense is shaping the case. The victim, they argue, was drinking willingly and accompanying her alleged attackers. While this may be true, there is an issue of consent that between her extreme intoxication and the (possible) intoxication levels of her alleged assaulters. Rightly, the prosecution is making the case that the victim was intoxicated to the point that she had memory loss from the evening (blackouts typically occur with BACs above .15) and thus she was so impaired that it was impossible for her to give consent. This appears to be corroborated by testimony/social media updates from other witnesses that she was unconscious at points throughout the night.

Related to the alcohol use, what is not well-known is how significant the impact on actual decision making one-time binge drinking episodes can be for young people. We know that the frequency of heavy drinking among adolescents can lead to long term changes in the “wiring” of decision-making neural pathways, among other physiological consequences. What is unclear is if the impairment of decision making in a moment is even more impaired than if the victim had had more “secure” neural pathways in her frontal lobes. It is entirely possible that the extreme intoxication of the victim further impaired her ability to give consent. By arguing that she was drinking, it is reasonable that she was even less capable of giving consent, even at lower BACs earlier in the evening.

At the same time, the extreme intoxication of the bystanders and her alleged attackers, many of whom were also adolescents, may also mean they were significantly impaired beyond what we would see with adults with similar BACs. This reinforces a significant need for both bystander intervention and responsible alcohol use education at all ages, and especially for hypermasculine groups such as athletes and fraternities. By moderating alcohol use we can prevent the more significant impairment of decision making where boys and men cross the threshold from friends to sexual assaulters. By developing strong bystander intervention programs, we can help create a culture that doesn’t endorse rape but instead stands against violence, sexual assault, victimizing others, and other actions or behaviors that dehumanize women or the LGBT community, or further restrict men to the “man box.” Learning one’s limits with alcohol shouldn’t be a process of trial-and-error. From the earliest age, we should be modeling and encouraging moderate alcohol use, even before young people are given alcohol. Combined with strong efforts to mentor boys and young men to view women as people, who have humanity, and who are not just objects, and programs to foster bystander intervention strategies, attitudes, and actions, we can start to steer our cultural ship away from a rape culture towards one of equity and safety for all people.

Of course, we still have to confront the sexism in the media that is marketed to young men and boys, and put public and economic pressure on corporations that contribute to the dehumanization of women. I guess I shouldn’t renew my subscription to Time magazine (part of the CNN/SI/Time news empire).