What if you are not ‘fit to wed’?

So, waiting in lines is one of those activities that most of us humans abhor. As such, it often brings out the worst in people.

The other day, after waiting a LONG time to speak to a “communications consultant” (talk about job title inflation!) at a cell phone store, the woman behind me in line kept edging closer and closer to me, invading my personal space and privacy while she jiggled her keys and jumped agitatedly from foot to foot. I glanced back, hoping to benignly indicate that she was standing a bit to close and her impatience was quite rude. As I did so, I noticed she was wearing a common uniform of the young and fit – a skintight gym outfit in black accompanied by what appeared to be brand new very expensive tennis shoes. The top, much like a bra, had a logo above the left boob that read, “fit 2 wed.”

“Huh, how typical,” I thought – not only is she an annoying space-invader unable to wait in line respectfully, but she is advertising herself as female meat that is ‘fit 2 wed.’ I assumed this was some sort of advertisement to go along with her skintight attire, as in “look at me, I am so hot, you should marry me.” However, upon looking back again after she started complaining that her dog was waiting outside and she was in a hurry, I noticed the back waistline of her workout pants read “getfit2wed.com.” Aha, I thought, it’s an actual company!

Following up my curiosity later at home, I discovered the Fit2Wed website, a “bridal boot camp” offering “an ultimate outdoor workout designed to transform your body.” Ugh. The site is pink-orrific with pictures exclusively of women. Apparently men don’t need to be fit to wed.

With the tagline “Get fit for your wedding day” and copy that encourages you to “look awesome in your wedding dress,” the site claims it is “changing lives, one workout at a time.” Yes, because what is more important for a woman than to get married, to look hot doing it, and to ‘change her life’ by changing the way she looks?

I hadn’t heard of any bridal boot camps before, but my gut tells me this San Diego based company is not unique. As books such as White Weddings by Chrys Ingraham

or analyses such as “My Big Fat Unnecessary Wedding” by Jessica Valenti make painfully clear, weddings are not only BIG business, they are also rabidly sexist, heteronormative, and lookist.

A dear feminist friend of mine is getting married soon. She shared that as she shops for wedding dresses, she is continually asked questions of the “how much weight do you plan to lose before the big day?” ilk. When she replies “none” and shares she likes her body the way it is, thank you, she reports that the salespeople are invariably dumbfounded. I mean, how can you possibly be happy being fat, let alone on your wedding day?!?

This belief is what Fit2Wed trades in, despite the usual claims that its about ‘health’ and ‘feeling good’. If it isn’t all about the inches and number on the scale, then why the before and after photos detailing the inches, pounds, and body fat lost?

This bridal boot camp mentality is very disturbing and is not the purview of only this small San Diego company of course. The fit2wed paradigm is merely another cog in the appearance-is-all wheel that runs roughshod over women’s lives. It is apparent on shows such as The Bachelor that indicate only beautiful women are worth considering as marriage material. It fuels the bridal magazine and television show industry, inducing women to spend fortunes not only on the wedding and the run up to it, but also on ‘beautifying’ their own bodies for the ‘big day’.

While marriage as an institution is problematic in many ways, this ‘bride as booty’ mentality seems particularly worrying and yet massively common. Don’t the supposed ‘new women’ of this century, who claim to sympathize with feminist ideals even if they don’t call themselves feminists, find this mentality a bit insulting, outdated, and downright sexist? Well, apparently not – at least not if the many women who offer gushing testimonials on the Fit2Wed website serve as any indication.

Problem is that this waiting in line experience and later research into Fit2Wed confirmed in me a dislike for the gym clad hot bodies who prance around in public in their skin tight workout attire. I am aware that not all such bodies are like the woman who was so rude at the Sprint store, nor do all people who workout do so to be ‘hot’ according to societal standards. If only people like the woman I ran into weren’t so damn ubiquitous. Seems like a better logo for her to paste above her left breast would be “just another piece of objectified meat.” Hey, now that gives me an idea for a better name for “bridal boot camps” such at Fit2Wed: how about Fit2Bbooty with taglines such as “changing women into objectified bridal booty, one workout at a time”?

What if the beauty imperative led to an 11th Commandment: “If thou are female, thou must be beautiful”?

I was not surprised to hear of a proposed a beauty contest for nuns. In our beauty-obsessed era, the pursuit of beauty, even in its most extreme forms, rarely surprises me. Saddens and infuriates me yes, but surprises me, no.

The Italian priest who proposed the contest, Antonio Rungi, expected 1,000 contestants for his “Sister Italia” online contest. According to the Times Online,

Father Rungi, a moral theologian with his own blog, said that the nuns would not wear swimsuits or revealing outfits. What he valued most in a woman was “inner beauty”. Asked for his feminine ideal, he replied: “Well, I would say Sophia Loren.”

The contestants must be aged between 18 and 40, and can be either full members of an order or novices. Father Rungi said that he expected many who applied to be young, attractive – and non-Italian. He said: “Do you really think nuns are all wizened, funereal old ladies? Today it’s not like that any more, thanks to an injection of youth and vitality brought to our country by foreign girls.” He said there were nuns from Africa and Latin America who were “really very, very pretty. The Brazilian girls above all.”

So “inner beauty” equals Sophia Loren? And foreign girls??? Brazilian GIRLS above all? Uh, Father, aren’t these females actually WOMEN, not girls? This sexist language use of yours undercuts your claim that nuns “are often not sufficiently appreciated by society.” Wouldn’t it be a tad more appreciative if you did these nuns the honor of not infantalizing them by calling them girls AND not objectifying them by rating their hotness (by country of origin no less!)???

Thus, as his comments reveal, Rungi is sexist, ageist, lookist, and, perhaps above all, lacking in the ability to critically anaylyze what such a beauty contest (and the supposed ‘need’ for it) says about culture, society, and religion.

According to Rungi, nuns have both a “physical and spiritual beauty” and carry out work in which an “attractive presence” is an advantage. Yeah, because the work of say, Mother Theresa, would be so much better is she was hot. (Alas, Mother T would not qualify for the contest even is she was still alive due to being a “wizened old funeral lady” and well past the 40 cut off.)

Rungi further claimed that beauty is “not just the plasticised beauty you see on television. There is also such a thing as a chaste ideal, which comes from the heart and the soul, and has a beneficial effect on those who come into contact with it.” Yet, this “chaste ideal” supposedly ahs to come from the “heart and soul” of someone between 18 to 40 who is easy on the eyes.

Rungi didn’t propose an equivalent contest for priests or monks. Guess men don’t need to live up to a “chaste ideal” or prove they are not “old and dour.” Guess they are not expected to live up to the beauty imperative in which they will be judged above all by how they look. Guess I must have missed that 11th Commandment about female beauty when attending Catholic school oh so many years ago.

Alas, Rungi has cancelled his plans for the beauty contest. Apparently a number of people just don’t get that “beauty is a gift from God” to be judged on the internet via photos (habit optional).

What if I could overcome my gut-wrenching hatred for the phrase ‘you guys’?

Well, it would certainly make my life a lot easier because I hear this phrase multiple times a day. I wish I could accept being referred to in terms that insinuate the whole population is male or that male terms are ‘neutral,’ but I can’t. When I hear ‘you guys,’ I don’t feel like whoever is saying/writing this is talking to me because I am not an f***ing guy!

Yes, people claim this term is ‘gender neutral,’ that it ‘doesn’t do any harm,’ that ‘there’s no easy replacement,’ that ‘people don’t mean anything by it,’ that ‘there are so many bigger issues, why are you concerned with something so petty?’ and, lastly, that ‘girls is used in the same way as guys.’ Ugh and ugh.

Let’s deconstruct these excuses:

Excuse 1: ‘you guys is gender neutral’

Um, no it’s friggin not. While Merriam-Webster defines guy as “man, fellow b: person -used in plural to refer to the members of a group regardless of sex <saw her and the rest of the guys>” I still don’t buy it. This is like all those other claims that words such as mankind, policeman, brotherhood of man, etc really include women too. Uh, not so much. When you hear the word fireman, do you picture a woman?

Further, why is it that terms are only ‘neutral’ when they are male terms? Why isn’t ‘you gals’ or ‘you girls’ neutral by the same logic?

Try saying ‘you gals’ to a group of mixed gender individuals and see how many males respond… You see, for those identifying as male, being called a female term is an INSULT. For women, being called male terms is SUPPOSED to be a compliment or sign of inclusion. GAG.

Excuse 2: ‘it doesn’t do any harm’

Really? The idea that language is a harmless medium devoid of ideological content that merely objectively names the world is utter hogwash. See Plato or the work of Ferdinand de Saussure if you want to ruminate more deeply on this one. Language shapes how we see the world and helps to create what we call reality. Words are not innocent.

And, for all the little girls who never hear themselves validated in language – who hear their teachers say “you guys,” who hear that boys always come before and are more important than girls (as with the Boys and Girls Club et al) – well, sadly, ‘you guys’ harms them in the same way as language will continue to harm them as they grow – they will learn females are sluts, bitches, whores, gold-diggers, etc. ‘You guys’ is only their first step into misogynistic patriarchal indoctrination.

For the boys, it marks the stepping-stones of male privilege and programming into the cult of masculinity. They learn from the get go that they are the sex that counts, linguistically and otherwise.

Excuse 3: ‘there’s no easy replacement’

How about plain old ‘you’???? ‘You’ can be plural or singular.

As an example, ‘You need to bring your book to class on Friday’ can be said to one student or to the entire class.

If you find ‘you’ on its own too short, or boring, or non-slangy, how about you people, you all, you peeps, y’all. As for me, I like just plain old ‘you.’

Excuse 4: ‘people don’t mean anything by it’

Often this is true. And, often people are not even aware of just how often they say “you guys.” In fact, I know many feminists and women’s studies professors who use the phrase. However, I don’t think this makes the phrase ok, rather, I think the phrase has become so ubiquitous that people say it without even realizing it.

Sadly, this phrase seems to be taking over the world. When I lived in England several years ago, ‘you guys’ was not in use. This was no surprise, as Britain tends to be a bit more formal in its language use in general than the US. However, when I visited last summer, I sadly found the ‘you guys’ disease has spread.

I don’t feel that when people use this verbal tick a bazillion times each day they INTEND to perpetuate sexism and put females under erasure, yet the same could be said of earlier claims regarding now discarded words. It used to be argued that no harm was meant via terms like “colored” or “retarded.” Yet, as we attempt to evolve as a species, we have realized the damage that can be done by ‘mere words.’ So, while people might not ‘mean anything’ by saying ‘you guys,’ wouldn’t it be a lot more meaningful if they tried to replace this phrase with something that doesn’t smack of patriarchal brainwashing?

Excuse 5: ‘there are so many bigger issues’

Yes, that is true. ‘You guys’ is a mere blip on the unjust screen of our culture. This is why I tend to refer to my hatred for the phrase as a pet peeve. But, this peeve of mine has its justifications. If you have to pick between supporting reproductive justice, eradicating racism, or not shopping at Wal-Mart over not saying ‘you guys,’ well fine. However, I would prefer if you chose to do all of these and more. And, how hard is it really to eradicate ‘you guys’ from your speech? Probably a lot easier for many than not supporting one of the world’s number one human rights offenders… (aka Wal-Mart).

Excuse 6: ‘girls is used in the same way as guys’

Yes, people say things like ‘girls night out,’ ‘hey girls,’ and ‘you girls.’ However, they say this only to refer to actual females – when guys are present, even one guy, ‘you girls’ type phrases will not be used (you know, cuz that would like, insult the dude’s masculinity – whereas for a girl, it’s just fine to be called a guy).

Also, consider these equations:

Guy = Gal = adult

Boy = Girl = child

So, when you refer to a male as ‘guy,’ you refer to him as an ADULT. When you refer to a female as a ‘girl,’ you are using a term that indicates she is a child. Ever wonder why calling women ‘girls’ is so popular, while calling men boys has historically been seen as an insult? Yup, you got it, it’s called sexism. I know the use of ‘boys’ is becoming more common, but this is related to the whole “men will be boys” culture (see Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism for a good discussion of this culture). And, even though using the term ‘boys’ to refer to men is becoming more common, it hasn’t reached the cultural saturation point that calling women of all ages ‘girls’ has. Why? Because men are individuals, silly. Women are mere appendages. They don’t grow up, they only (hopefully) grow tits and then attach themselves to a real human, a male. And, if they don’t do that, well, you know all the sexist terms that will be flung at them: dyke, bitch, frigid, ice queen, ho, tease, old maid…

**********************

To return to the question I posed in the title of this post, well, if I could overcome my gut-wrenching hatred for the term ‘you guys’ I wouldn’t have to wince multiple times each day when I hear it. I wouldn’t have to constantly ruminate on the plain old everyday sexism of our world. Yet, I refuse to let go of my dislike for this phrase. I do not like to be erased by language, I do no like to be infantalized by being called a “girl,” I do not like it when my female identity doesn’t count, I do not appreciate the implicit suggestion that being called a guy is somehow a compliment. In fact, I hate it.

What if we cared about boob health as much as we care about boob size and boob-induced profits?

A former student of mine has been working on a breast cancer fund raising project over the summer with the organization Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. His personal goal is to raise a thousand dollars, and he asked me if I was willing to help him achieve this goal via spreading the word. Being the caring professor that I am (even though I have reputation for being “hard”) I wanted to link to his fund raising page here.*** But, being the ever-questioning-can’t-turn-the-analysis-off professor that I also am, I wanted to use this opportunity to examine breast cancer fund raising in general and the commodification of boobies via the think pink mentality.

As Jesse writes,

As far as the consumerist “think pink” mentality goes … the truth is it really was just a marketing ploy that was slapped on issues surrounding breast cancer about a decade ago and was so successful it just never really went away. The whole pink ribbon campaign and all things pink, marketed directly at women (white, middle-class, with a bunch of fund raising free time on there hands) was such a success because it took what once was such a horrifying disease and physically deforming for everyday women (because in our society one of a women’s greatest assets is her rack, don’t pay attention to her ideas or thoughts), and was able to make it something beautiful and finally shed some light on what once was a social taboo.

The truth is I do not agree with the notion that breasts are the most important feature of a women…or even that breast cancer is only a women’s issue…but I do believe that if it had not been for the “think pink” mentality attached to breast cancer awareness today…we would be nowhere near as close to finding a cure as we find ourselves today.

I think Jesse makes very valid points here – namely that while “Think Pink” has its problems, it did help to create social awareness and put breast cancer on the map. However, now that breast cancer is on the consciousness desktop of our culture, it seems maybe we could move beyond the “buy it for the boobs” mentality and into a more nuanced approach – one that would examine how toxic dumping/radioactive waste is linked to rising cancer rates (dumping done by the very same corporations that want to make a profit off you thinking they are pink), how poverty is linked to cancer rates (because guess where you get to live when you are poor – near the toxic dump sites), and how the fetishized sexualization of breasts does not translate into caring about healthy breasts, let alone healthy women.

According to Judy Brady, one of the worst offenders in what she calls “the marketing of breast cancer” is the Susan G. Komen Foundation and its annual 5K ‘Race for the Cure. As Mary Ann Swissler reports,

Now held year-round in 110 U.S. cities and abroad, the festivities offend Brady and the group Toxic Links Coalition. The races, they say, merely focus women on finding a medical cure for breast cancer, and away from environmental conditions causing it, the problems of the uninsured, and political influence of corporations over the average patient.

The Toxic Link Coalition, unlike other mainly for profit organizations, aims “to educate our communities about the links between environmental toxins and the decline in public health.” As their website reads:

Toxic Links Coalition works to stop the proliferation of chemical, radioactive, and industrial substances that threaten human health and the health of the planet. The Toxic Links Coalition believes we all have a right to health and environmental justice; views cancer and other environmentally linked diseases and disorders as human rights abuses, not as individual medical problems; targets companies that perpetrate irresponsible production, use, and disposal of carcinogenic and toxic wastes and products; demands accountability from corporate and agricultural polluters; works against environmental racism, and recognizes that people of color, immigrants, and workers bear a disproportionately high toxic burden.

TLC has renamed a public relations gimmick created and hosted by pharmaceutical and chemical giant, Zeneca, known as “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” (October), to “Cancer Industry Awareness Month.” TLC educates the public about companies with questionable ethical and environmental track records who hold a vested financial interest in maintaining the current cancer research, treatment, and prevention strategy standards.

In her excellent essay, (read the entire piece here) “Welcome to Cancerland” Barbara Ehrenreich examines this deep-seated hypocrisy of what she terms “the Cancer Industrial Complex”:

…by ignoring or underemphasizing the vexing issue of environmental causes, the breast cancer cult turns women into dupes of what could be called the Cancer Industrial Complex: the multinational corporate enterprise that with the one hand doles out carcinogens and disease and, with the other, offers expensive, semi-toxic pharmaceutical treatments. Breast Cancer Awareness Month, for example, is sponsored by AstraZeneca (the manufacturer of tamoxifen), which, until a corporate reorganization in 2000, was a leading producer of pesticides, including acetochlor, classified by the EPA as a “probable human carcinogen.” This particularly nasty conjuncture of interests led the environmentally oriented Cancer Prevention Coalition (CPC) to condemn Breast Cancer Awareness Month as “a public relations invention by a major polluter which puts women in the position of being unwitting allies of the very people who make them sick.” Although AstraZeneca no longer manufactures pesticides, CPC has continued to criticize the breast-cancer crusade — and the American Cancer Society — for its unquestioning faith in screening mammograms and careful avoidance of environmental issues. In a June 12, 2001, press release, CPC chairman Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., and the well-known physician activist Quentin Young castigated the American Cancer Society for its “longstanding track record of indifference and even hostility to cancer prevention . . . Recent examples include issuing a joint statement with the Chlorine Institute justifying the continued global use of persistent organochlorine pesticides, and also supporting the industry in trivializing dietary pesticide residues as avoidable risks of childhood cancer. ACS policies are further exemplified by allocating under 0.1 percent of its $700 million annual budget to environmental and occupational causes of cancer.

Similarly, in her article “Breast Cancer Sells,” Lucinda Marshall notes the hypocrisy of promoting people to “buy for the cure” when what they are buying is actually part of the cause:

A Pine Sol ad in Essence features motorcycle riders Aj Jemison and Jan Emanuel “driving for the cure,” which is awfully hard when your vehicle is spewing cancer-causing exhaust. On top of that, Pine Sol contains 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE), which has been linked to fertility disorders, birth defects and other medical problems.

Marshall also points out that while most women with breast cancer are over 50 and are disproportionately represented by poor women and women of color, that ads indicate breast cancer is an affliction of the young and hot. As Marshall details, a Vogue ad, featuring Ralph Lauren’s polo shirts that have bull’s eye’s above the breasts (supposedly to indicate we need to ‘target breast cancer’) “shows a group of young, mostly white women wearing skimpy thongs, the polo shirts and nothing else. Subtle, huh?” Yes, because thong underwear really hits home the seriousness of the disease.

Ads are not the only young-centric arena though. News coverage of breast cancer focuses on the young, white, and hot. As Marshall writes:

Unfortunately, while most breast cancer victims are over the age of 50, not one of the nine magazines I analyzed focused on those women and the impact the disease has on their lives. Far more typical is a piece in Vogue discussing a very attractive young woman’s agonizing choice to have a preventive double mastectomy because she carries the genes that can cause breast cancer. And with the exception of Essence, whose target audience is black, most of the women in these survivor stories are white, even though black women are more likely to die from the disease.

This links to the recent massive coverage of Christina Applegate’s breast cancer. If it were Whoopi Goldberg, or Margaret Cho, or Doris Roberts would there be as much coverage? Doubt it. Who cares about saggy boobs? Who cares about boobs of color? Not the media, that’s for sure.

In fact, as Ehrenreich’s essay reveals, we don’t approach cancer as an affliction affecting humans, but rather in a way that dehumanizes and objectifies the person with cancer. When Erhrenreich’s surgeon announced to her that “”Unfortunately, there is a cancer,” she shares that it took “all the rest of that drug-addled day to decide that the most heinous thing about that sentence is not the presence of cancer but the absence of me — for I, Barbara, do not enter into it even as a location, a geographical reference point. Where I once was — not a commanding presence perhaps but nonetheless a standard assemblage of flesh and words and gesture — “there is a cancer.” I have been replaced by it, is the surgeon’s implication. This is what I am now, medically speaking.”

As Ehrenreich’s piece conveys, her experience with breast cancer was profoundly dehumanizing and the perky think pink ads do nothing to convey the batteries of tests, the psychological and emotional ramifications, the reality that one’s body is turning against itself:

The endless exams, the bone scan to check for metastases, the high-tech heart test to see if I’m strong enough to withstand chemotherapy — all these blur the line between selfhood and thing-hood anyway, organic and inorganic, me and it. As my cancer career unfolds, I will, the helpful pamphlets explain, become a composite of the living and the dead-an implant to replace the breast, a wig to replace the hair.

Noting that breast cancer is “the biggest disease on the cultural map,” Ehrenreich shares that:

breast cancer has blossomed from wallflower to the most popular girl at the corporate charity prom. While AIDS goes begging and low-rent diseases like tuberculosis have no friends at all, breast cancer has been able to count on Revlon, Avon, Ford, Tiffany, Pier 1, Estee Lauder, Ralph Lauren, Lee Jeans, Saks Fifth Avenue, JC Penney, Boston Market, Wilson athletic gear — and I apologize to those I’ve omitted. You can “shop for the cure” during the week when Saks donates 2 percent of sales to a breast-cancer fund; “wear denim for the cure” during Lee National Denim Day, when for a $5 donation you get to wear blue jeans to work. You can even “invest for the cure,” in the Kinetics Assets Management’s new no-load Medical Fund, which specializes entirely in businesses involved in cancer research.

Her characterization of breast cancer as a popular girl at the prom seems particularly fitting given that the whole think pink culture is gendered in the extreme. From teddy bears to bubblegum pink lipgloss, breast cancer culture wraps the disease not only in buying for the cure, but also in the infantalization of women with breast cancer. As if declining boob health led to a reversion back to childhood, breast cancer cards, gifts, websites, etc. abound in girly images decked out in baby pink. As Ehrenreich details,

A tote bag distributed to breast cancer patients by the Libby Ross Foundation (through places such as the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center) contains, among other items, a tube of Estee Lauder Perfumed Body Crème, a hot-pink satin pillowcase, an audiotape “Meditation to Help You with Chemotherapy,” a small tin of peppermint pastilles, a set of three small inexpensive rhinestone bracelets, a pink-striped “journal and sketch book,” and — somewhat jarringly — a small box of crayons.

As she quips, “Certainly men diagnosed with prostate cancer do not receive gifts of Matchbox cars.” No, and can you imagine anything close to similar if we had a testicular cancer culture? Of course not, because this culture would never exist in the first place – men’s bodies (and their parts) are coded as private. No “think prostate” campaigns with accompanying Bermuda shorts designed by Ralph Lauren with arrows pointing to the male genital region are forthcoming I am quite sure… No, because commodifying the male body is not the norm. This is exactly why we have embraced a think pink breast cancer culture while no such fluffy, makeover/survivor narratives accompany AIDS, tuberculosis, or that boringly prosaic killer of millions, malnutrition. It’s do much easier to package breasts in feel good pink and to market ‘cures’ to that part of the populace that has already been taught the “I shop, therefore I am” mantra from birth.

Furthermore, breast cancer can “sell” partly because it is based on a product that is so popular – BOOBIES! As breast shaped cakes, cupcake pans, lamps, pencil sharpeners, etc. attest, breasts sell (see some sample ‘breast products’ here). However, the phallus and its testicular sidekicks are not near as marketable. Nor, as this story from Jesse attests, are the penis/balls allowed to be put on public display and commodified in the same way as breasts:

In high school I started a cancer awareness club on campus, and during prostate cancer awareness month I wanted to host an event to promote awareness and encourage young men to get themselves checked. What I proposed to my club was that we print out a bunch of little pieces of paper that read “get yourself checked. prostate cancer” and tie each piece to little sacks with gumballs inside to look like male genitalia. It made sense to me, I mean we gave out cupcakes with boobs on top for breast cancer awareness month and no one seemed to have a problem with it! But, to my surprise everyone voted not to do it. That was the first time I think I ever came face to face with sexism in cancer awareness.

Sexism in cancer awareness indeed! Seems part of this “awareness” is making the populace buy into the belief that boobs are a REALLY important part of being female, and that being female involves loving pink jewelry, make up, and teddy bears – of, in short, being infantalized and sexualized and objectified all while wrapped in a pretty pink bow.

Yet, in spite of the commodification of breast cancer, and the huge boob induced profits raked in by corporations that poison water and earth with one hand while hawking pink products with the other, there is of course still a desperate need to care about boob health. And, for now, those doing the most productive caring, if you ask me, are feminists. As Ehrenreich shares, “Like everyone else in the breast-cancer world, the feminists want a cure, but they even more ardently demand to know the cause or causes of the disease without which we will never have any means of prevention.”

However, mainstream pink boob culture perpetuates narratives about ‘bad genes’ and ‘risk factors,’ even though such genes account for fewer than 10 percent of breast cancers and only 30 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have known risk factors. As Ehrenreich relates:

suspicion should focus on environmental carcinogens… such as plastics, pesticides (DDT and PCBs, for example, though banned in this country, are still used in many Third World sources of the produce we eat), and the industrial runoff in our ground water. No carcinogen has been linked definitely to human breast cancer yet, but many have been found to cause the disease in mice, and the inexorable increase of the disease in industrialized nations — about one percent a year between the 1950s and the 1990s — further hints at environmental factors, as does the fact that women migrants to industrialized countries quickly develop the same breast-cancer rates as those who are native born. Their (feminists) emphasis on possible ecological factors, which is not shared by groups such as Komen and the American Cancer Society, puts the feminist breast-cancer activists in league with other, frequently rambunctious, social movements — environmental and anticorporate.

Aaawww, but it wouldn’t be near as fun to “race for the cure” if that race involved feminist activism instead of cute little bears in pink tutus. It wouldn’t be as uplifting to focus on the ways in which the toxicity of our environment along with institutionalized poverty and lack of adequate clean drinking water (let alone adequate healthcare) mitigate the possibility of healthy boobs (or a healthy body). It’s far more fun, if less effective, to come up with zippy slogans and cute pink products all in the name of big boob profits. Because who really cares about boob health when unhealthy boobs create ballooning triple D boob induced profits?

To close, I know someone who does care about boob profits, and he is the person who prompted me to write this post. A tireless crusader against cancer, he is well aware of the problems with the think pink mentality. However, as he writes, “I do these walks and fundraise my ass off, because in a society that views breast cancer as cute pink ribbons and bears in pink tutu’s…what is a boy to do? My hope is that one day people will tear away from the think pink mentality of breast cancer and instead focus on the disease itself.” I am right there along with you hoping. Jesse.

***http://main.acsevents.org/goto/jesseburns

Jessie notes that “As for any questions anyone may have for the events disbursement of the funds raised…I have all the answers. Making Strides Against Breast Cancer is an American Cancer Society event and as such the money is divided up 3 ways: 82% goes completely back to cancer research and clinical studies, 14% goes to putting on the event (rentals, fees, supplies), and only 4% goes back to administrative costs (staff payroll).”

What if the ‘Dark Knight’ was a black knight instead? (A review of Dark Knight)

(Warning: spoilers ahead)

I finally made it see the latest Batman flick. I am not a superhero junkie, nor am I anywhere near an expert on superhero lore. However, I did want to see Heath Ledger as the Joker.

One of the things that stood out to me about the film, besides Ledger’s great performance, was the ATTEMPT to be racially diverse in regards to casting. Yet, sadly, this attempt failed. Although Morgan Freeman played an honorable research and development expert, the majority of the other POC parts were of the usual variety – thugs and criminals. The Asian man was portrayed as a money-hungry control freak and the Latina detective was the character who took Rachel Dawes to her demise and also tricked the Lieutenant into nearly getting his family murdered by the Joker. One ‘black criminal’ played against expectations when he stepped forward and threw out the detonator that could have destroyed a boatload of people but, for the most part, the heroes were white (and male of course!) and the baddies were POC. However, as per usual, the evil mastermind, the Joker, was also white. You see, regular old thugs and drug lords can be people of color, but the ‘smart villains,’ the ones that control all the shots and have all the power, are often white.

Would it have been better if a non-white actor had played the Joker? Well, not necessarily. But it certainly would have been better if all the criminal mob thugs were not represented as African-American, Eastern European, and Italian (the last two categories of course being groups not defined as white at various historical junctures). What would have been even better than that is if the ‘dark knight’ was played by a person of color – or, literally, a ‘black knight’ ?However, to my knowledge, no big budget superhero movie has ever cast a POC. Superman: white. Spiderman: white. Hulk: white. Batman: white. Even Wonderwoman and Supergirl were white! (Note: I have not seen Hancock to know whether this character counts as a ‘superhero.’ Even if he does, he is not a well known, established hero like Spidey or Hulk, and, if the trailers are any indication, the emphasis is on humor, not on action and super heroism).

This reminds me of a recent article in Entertainment Weekly regarding the paucity of big roles that cast women of color. A reader replied in a letter that more roles should be written for WOC. Huh? I didn’t realize one had to specially write in POC roles. Silly me, I assumed POC are people too and can play all roles, not just ones ‘specially written’ for ‘them.’ On that note, I doubt it specifies in the scripts for action/superhero movies that certain characters are white. Doubt that Spiderman character description reads: “to be played by pasty white guy.”

Now, I can here the naysayers chiming in that Dark Knight had mainly white characters because the majority of Americans are white. This argument surfaces all the time. However, what this facile comeback does not acknowledge is white people are the majority due to a history of colonialism and genocide. There would be a lot more non-white faces if good old Columbus hadn’t “discovered” America or if whites hadn’t co-opted prime sections of Mexico for themselves.

In addition to the failed attempt to make Dark Knight racially conscious, the film traded in the typical valorization of violent masculinity and female as arm-candy message. Yes, I get it, it’s a superhero flick, but why must such movies always suggest that to be a good man, a ‘hero,’ one needs to be ultra-violent and wear a mask – or, as Jackson Katz would put it, a ‘tough guise.’ The Joker mocks other men as sissies with lines like “Did your balls drop off?” and jabs at the “group therapy sessions” of the other males in the film. Even Batman’s car has an “intimidate” setting. Wow. Talk about failing to depict men as fully human rather than as violent, aggressive, emotionally stunted brutes. I would think men might be bothered by this representation too…

As for female roles in the film, well, besides Rachel, there is no major role. There is the Russian ballet posse and the Latina detective (who, as noted, is a traitor). There is also the wife of the Lieutenant who has no role except that of grieving wife/panicked mother. Guess it doesn’t pass the Bechdel test. No surprise there. Although, as Izzibeth at Nicest Girl writes in the film’s defense, Rachel is an improvement on Pepper Potts. I agree that as a character, she is stronger than Potts and has more verve. If only she got to live. But, alas, she is brutally killed. As John Pistelli points out at Dissident Voice:

“she spends her brief screen time torn between the two men, before being brutally dispatched in a glaring instance of the ‘women in refrigerators syndrome,’ a sexist literary trope identified by feminist comic-book readers in which male authors kill, maim or de-power strong female characters as a woman-devaluing plot device”

In addition to providing those of us wearing feminist lenses with lots of race/sex issues to critique, as Brightwallflower at Feministing notes, the film also provides great fodder for the analysis of masculinity:

“The Dark Knight is not a complete loss for those of us who tend to see the world through a gender lens. I think that we can use the same perspective that inspires the analysis of female characters in the movie to discover how Batman reveals constructions of hegemonic masculinities.”

One thing I did like about the movie, besides Ledger, was the social experiment angle that questioned humans’ capacity for good/evil. But, this was short-lived and then undercut by the closing message – that humans need an enemy. Seems as if the screenwriters took a cue from George Bush et al with that one. I guess, as the Joker might say, the writers “are only as good as the world allows them to be.”

Dana Stevens over at Slate reads this strand of the film as interrogating a post-911 world, noting that “Chris Nolan does more nuanced thinking about the war on terror than we’ve seen from the Bush administration in seven years.” While I agree the film pulls off some interesting interrogation regarding fear as a weapon, I disagree with Stevens claim that “Just as the United States can never get back to what it was before those hijackings, Gotham will never be the same after the appearance of the Joker.” All errors regarding “hijackings” perpetuated by such claims (let alone any knowledge of 911 truth) aside, this argument equates the Joker as terrorist with the “hijackers” when the real terrorist is Bush, not the hijackers! Bush, like the Joker, wreaks havoc, mayhem, and death for sport, with no apparent plan or raison d’etre. He even has a similar sinister grin if you ask me.

In this vein, the film also toys with various questions about democracy, freedom, the government, the law, etc. But, as the excellent post at Dissident Voice mentioned above clarifies, the film offers us the all too common either/or options:

“The moral is as old, and as conservative, as Hobbes: we can live in a wild, murderous wasteland or a lawless, authoritarian police state. It doesn’t matter which of these options the film presents as more appealing or fun; all that matters is that no other options-e.g., left-wing anarchism, participatory democracy, decentralized communism, democratic socialism etc.-present themselves.”

Like the moral of the story, the representation of race and gender is old and conservative too — but at least the movie is nicely wrapped in a good acting, fast action, semi-thought provoking wrapper. If you are willing to go for the nice packaging and mull over the sometimes sweet sometimes downright sour content, I recommend giving the Dark Knight a viewing.

What if advertisements didn’t offer whitewashed messages? (Consuming Whiteness part 3)

The American Heritage Dictionary defines whitewash as “Concealment or palliation of flaws or failures.” The Merriam Webster defines it as “to gloss over or cover up (as vices or crimes).” In both cases, the whiteness is covering (or washing over) flaws, failures, vices. The white is making things better, as when the paint coverage known as ‘whitewash’ is used to protect and beautify buildings/wood/furniture.

This usage of the term white as something that is good, something that is so powerful it can palliate flaws or conceal crimes, reveals the high esteem ‘white’ holds in the western cultural imagination. As a color it is seen as pure, clean, refreshing. When it refers to people, the same positive associations also apply. White people are seen as ‘purely human’ and not animalized or denigrated in the way people of color are. Or, as Chris Matthews would term it, white people are ‘regular people.’  These associations between whiteness and what is better/normal certainly are readily apparent in advertising.

Ads offer a ‘whitewashed’ message that conceals their true intent. They aim to make consumers forget they are viewing an ad. As such, they conceal their ultimate aim – profit. However,  they also are ‘whitewashing’ in a different way–the ads are awash in white imagery and white actors to the point where people of color are rendered invisible, marginalized, or ‘glossed over.’ What such ads conceal is an underlying white supremacist narrative, a narrative that reiterates, again and again, the ideas that white is right, white is better, white is prettier and more healthy.

Yes, there are people of color in advertisements. Notice, though, how often poc are animalized in ads, are made to represent that which is not fully human, not good, not to be trusted, etc. And yes, this is getting somewhat better, but in no way is advertising getting anywhere close to anti-racist messages, let alone anti-sexist ones.

In fact, most advertisements convey white male supremacist messages.  Whites are represented as the most beautiful and successul in ads, while men are represented as the dominant sex.  In relation to male supremacy, ads convey that men are superior mainly via what is not shown — i.e. men are not shown near as often as women in ads as they are constructed as the purveyors of the gaze — hence Laura Mulvey’s arguments about the male gaze. When men are shown, they are usually represented as powerful, domineering, smart, and/or funny (and they are usually fully clothed).  As for women, they are usually objectified — their ‘to be looked at-ness’ as Mulvey calls it, constructs them as objects to be ogled, desired, exploited, etc.

The Got Milk ad campaign is thus not unique in its problematic linkage of whiteness with perfection (or in its objectification of women).  Its valorizaion of “the milk white look” consistently associates milk (white) consumption with goodness, health, and wealth. It’s “milk your diet” campaign associated the thin body with the good, healthy, white body. Its television commercials, although they feature more ‘everyday’ (re: non-celebrity) people than the milk moustache print ads, also suffer from whitewashing. In the commercials, (predominantly white) actors are flummoxed when they find themselves out of milk at inconvenient times. When the actors in the ads are not white, they are whitewashed so they can ‘pass.’

For example, some milk ads are especially targeted towards bi- or multi-cultural teens. One in particular, the La Llorona tv ad, was targeted towards Latino/a Americans. This ad, playing on a humorous rewrite of Mexican folklore, features La Llorona, who, according to legend, drowned her children after being betrayed by her husband.

Traditionally used as a cautionary tale for children, La Llorona is a familiar figure in Latino/a culture. In the commercial, the white clad ghost of La Llorona made her way through a darkened home as she wept eerily. In a humorous turn on this legend, she was not weeping over her lost children or her husband’s unfaithfulness, but rather, over the empty carton of milk she finds in the refrigerator. While the ad attempted to put a funny spin on a cautionary tale, it also worked to belittle Mexican cultural heritage while simultaneously upholding limiting stereotypes. By mocking the weeping and wailing of this cultural figure, the commercial overlooks the fact that La Llorona symbolizes hardship and suffering and often serves as a symbol of female resistance.[ii]

The tale was taken out of context in an act of cultural misappropriation, and viewers (unless they knew of the legend) probably didn’t even realize the ghostly figure was Latina. Thus, the commercial is able to target the Latino/a population without making non-Latino Americans conscious of this. Viewers unaware of the legend most likely interpreted the ad as a humorous ghost story. Tellingly, the ghost can ‘pass’ for white and she seems to haunt an upper middle class house most likely located in white suburbia. The ad thus plays to a Latino audience in one way and to the non-Latino audience in another.

By erasing the cultural context of the La Llorona legend, the commercial took what could have been a culturally aware narrative and dumbs it down, promoting the idea that it’s alright to be ‘ethnic’ in America as long as one’s ethnicity is invisible or hidden. Moreover, those viewers who realized the ghost was meant to be Latina were presented with a stereotypical portrait. Is it mere coincidence that a figure associated with infidelity, violence, and excessive emotion was the figure used to represent (and address) the Latino population of the US? Furthermore, what about the fact that the target audience of this ad, Latino teenagers, is largely lactose intolerant? Perhaps the ad is trying to convey the notion that if young Latino/a’s imbibe this curative white beverage, they can leave their ‘minority’ status behind.

This multi-million dollar Got Milk campaign was prompted by a decline in milk consumption that caused the dairy industry great concern — not because the industry worried about the health of the nation, but rather about waning profits. But, by promoting the ingestion of milk as a necessary, even life-changing practice, these ads also promote a limited idea of what it means to be a ‘proper American.’ To be an American, according to the commercials, one must be thin and attractive and eat ‘real’ American foods. And, if one’s color is not the pure whiteness of milk, one can at least imbibe some whiteness (and the superiority such whiteness is associated with) by partaking of this ‘wholesome’ beverage. (Ironically enough, the ads also play off the ‘wholesomeness’ of milk while simultaneously sexualizing the females used in the advertisements).

Currently, the majority of ads still trade in various “white is right” messages through the representation of white as the norm, as beautiful, as desirable. And, when a person of color is featured in ads, they are often cleaning (as in recent ads for Pledge) or diseased, as in various print ads touting the curative powers of pricey pharmaceuticals. On the other hand, when the message in ads plays on the beauty/desire/power/wealth of the person or people represented, guess what, the actor(s) are usually white. Even the Oprah magazine has ads that feature mainly white people. Thus, the ubiquitous whitewashed message still dominates. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem the advertising industry has made much progress colorwashing its narratives.


 

[ii] See, for example, Ana Maria Carbonell, “From Llorona to Gritona: Coatlicue In Feminist Tales by Viramontes and Cisneros,” Melus: The Journal of the Society for the Study of Multi-Ethnic Literature of the U.S. 24, no.2, Summer (1999): 53-74.

What if they tried to similarly satirize John and Cindy on the cover of The New Yorker?

Debate and commentary of the ‘satirical’ cover of The New Yorker, which depicts Obama as an American flag burning Muslim and Michelle as an afro-haired camo-wearing guerilla warrior has flooded the blogosphere. For a good round up, see Michelle Obama Watch here or take in Jill’s link-filled piece at Feministe here. And, to sign a letter calling upon the magazine to pull this issue from news stands, see The Feminist Majority petition here.

What the question posed in the title of this post tries to get at is that John and Cindy couldn’t be characterized in this way because the cultural imagination does not trade in ready made racist stereotypes for white men or have an array of images with which to animalize/otherize white women. Further, John and Cindy have not been put under near the same amount or kind of scrutiny as Obama and Michelle.

Perhaps if John was displayed in a KKK cape carrying a dead pregnant woman while calling a drug-upped Cindy a cunt with a “Bomb Iran” poster hanging in the background we might approximate the ‘satire’ in the above image. But, then again, no. This is nowhere near anything similar because what is displayed in The New Yorker cover feeds into FALSE accusations and media generated stereotypes, while the John and Cindy caricature I suggest is based on truth – John McCain’s policies are racist, his ‘pro-life’ agenda is anything but, and his bomb happy demeanor is all too true. This is why the first caricature happened, and the second never would.

Of course, the caricature that did run also came about because we live in a racist, anti-Muslim, anti-(black)-woman society. An image like this of a white presidential couple wouldn’t fly – you might be able to mock their sex lives (ala Bill and blow jobs) but as for questioning their patriotism or their religious faith, nope, ain’t gonna see that on any covers anytime soon.

That’s why this cover is not funny-it’s appalling. And I don’t care how many “smart New Yorker’s” are going to “get the joke.” The point is that this satire misfires, and will likely ignite a whole heap of neo-con orgasmic chortles because the real joke, it seems, has been had by the corporatist media when even so called progressive publications trade in this type of racist misogynistic tripe masquerading as humor.

(Note: After emailing The New Yorker, I recieved an automatic reply that read in part as follows:

Our cover, “The Politics of Fear,” combines a number of fantastical images about the Obamas and shows them for the obvious distortions they are.  The burning flag, the nationalist-radical and Islamic outfits, the fist-bump, the portrait on the wall- all of them echo one attack or another. Satire is part of what we do, and it is meant to bring things out into the open, to hold up a mirror to prejudice, the hateful, and the absurd. And that’s the spirit of this cover. In this same issue you will also see that there are two very serious articles on Barack Obama inside…

Ok, but why put the “serious articles” on the inside where only readers will find them while leaving this imagery on the cover (and completely out of context) for many more people to see? If the magazine wanted to show these “obvious distortions” it could have put them inside the magazine and instead displayed satiric images that skewered the mainstream media for creating these attacks in the first place on the cover.

The cover as it stands does not “hold up a mirror” to prejudice, but perpetuates it. One thing it has brought “out in the open” is The New Yorker seems more interested in selling mags and generating PR via incendiary images than through putting a stop to “the hateful, and the absurd.”)