Students Speak: Beware The Virtual Babes

May 25, 2009 § 9 Comments

As some of you may know, Shira and I run a feminism club at our high school. Our big project for the year was putting together a magazine of student writing. This series, spread out over the next week or so, will feature a selection of those articles (posted with permission of the writers).  Enjoy!  -Miranda

Beware The Virtual Babes – by Luke, a high school junior.

Part of a surging industry, videogames have been met with scrutiny and criticism. Critics have carped on videogames for encouraging violence, social isolation, and academic laziness. However, there is subtler problem that plagues many videogames: the unfair representation of women’s bodies. It may sound redundant to criticize the videogame industry for being “unrealistic,” but it’s important to consider the prominence and influence of games in our culture. 80% of all U.S. children have played videogames. An entire generation is absorbing a virtual, distorted image of what women “should” look like. Although more women are becoming involved in the game industry, it is still a patriarchal industry.

The story of sexism within the videogame industry begins, perhaps, with the videogames series Tomb Raider. Featuring the adventurous, beautiful, and powerful Lara Croft (later played by Angelina Jolie in the film adaptation), Tomb Raider is one of the world’s most successful games. Lara Croft set a sexual precedent for women in future videogames: voluptuous curves, minimal clothing, and flawless faces. In addition to her beauty, Lara Croft can leap with cat-like agility, perform death-defying stunts, and wield dual pistols. Thus, videogames send a dangerous message to women: without “beauty,” you cannot be powerful.

Short shorts, tight tank top, big bust, Lara Croft is as dangerous as she looks. And I'm not talking about her guns.

Short shorts, tight tank top, big bust, Lara Croft is as dangerous as she looks. And I’m not talking about her guns.

But Tomb Raider was released in 1996. Since then, the hyper-sexualization of women in videogames has become even more extreme. Released in 2008, Age of Conan is an online game where you can create your own male or female characters. You can customize their height, weight, and even body type. However, when I tried to create a female that looked like the average American woman – size 14 – the game wouldn’t let me. At the very most, I could make a size 10 female.

One might argue that because videogames are largely consumed by male audiences, they do not damage the female psyche. Such an assumption is not supported by the numbers: the Entertainment Software Rating Board estimates that 42% of all PC gamers are girls. And even if girls didn’t play videogames, these fictional females give unrealistic expectations to male gamers. If boys grow up expecting real life counterparts to “Casilda,” they will wind up very disappointed.

Casilda.

Meet Casilda, a typical Age of Conan female.

But can we really blame these videogame companies? Like other companies, aren’t they just trying to appeal to their target audience in a time of financial hardship? The answer is yes: we can blame them. Sex may sell, but the profits reaped by these software developers come at the expense of the objectification and hyper-sexualization of women.

However, if we solely criticize the game industry, we dismiss our responsibility as consumers. We are responsible for being aware of these stereotypes, so that they do not spread further throughout society. Furthermore, society is responsible for accepting women as being powerful in their own right. After all, you don’t need to wear a bikini in order to fight bad guys.

Dressed in White: The Media’s Assault on Black Women’s Humanity

March 28, 2009 § 2 Comments

I wrote this thesis paper on the media’s sexist and racist objectification of Black women for my Junior Inquiry research class last semester. It’s 12 pages of what I hope is feminist and anti-racist empowerment so please continue reading below the fold if you’re interested. Enjoy!

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Vogue’s Fashion For Every Figure Issue

March 21, 2009 § 7 Comments

vogue-shape-issue-coverI seem to be an ad/product lady (and I’m not alone). I don’t plan to stop anytime soon.

This week, Vogue‘s Shape issue, which touts “fashion for every figure,” has me pissed.

First off, there’s no way in hell that this magazine represents women of all shapes. The evidence is right there on the cover: above the Shape Issue: Fashion for Every Figure, from size 0 to 20 copy, I see NIP/TUCK: Designing a Perfect Body. And towards the bottom of the cover: Work It! Longer Legs, Leaner Lines, Sexier Silhouette. Because apparently only long legs and lean lines are sexy. Fuck that.

But the real misogynistic fodder is on the inside, in the Laid Bare spread (again with the long legs obsession: sky-high heels in leg-lengthening flesh tones are a revelation - really? A revelation? Because I think we’ve been seeing long, thin limbs in magazines for quite some time, and they’re certainly not missing from this issue). Pics from the spread after the jump.

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Thoughts on America’s Next Top Model

March 15, 2009 § 18 Comments

I don’t know how many of you watch America’s Next Top Model, but the first episode of the twelfth cycle premiered last Wednesday and has sparked some controversy over the first official photo shoot. It involved the girls (all of whom are 18+ years old) being dressed up as and posing as little girls. As Tyra described it:

This issue is really important to me, the issue of teen girls and being what I call ‘out of control.’ I did a survey on my talk-show website, and I found that one in five girls that are teens that we surveyed actually want to be a teen mom. Purity and innocence is something that’s being lost and as you Top Models are doing this photo shoot, you guys are role models, too. The assignment was for you all to embody different little games that little girls play on the playground. (Emphasis mine.)

Silvia and I both watched this episode and cringed. Our thoughts below the jump, including pictures from the photo shoot.

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Target Women: Barbie

March 15, 2009 § 1 Comment

Cara at Feministe has the latest Target Women segment, in honor of Barbie’s 50th birthday earlier this week. She also links to Sarah Haskins’ hilarious op-ed in the Washington Post on the same subject. The whole package prompted me to draft this short note, which has been a long time coming:

Dear Sarah Haskins, will you be my bride? Love, Miranda

That is how I feel about this magnificent lady. And did anyone catch Kristen Wiig’s excellent Barbie impersonation on SNL’s Weekend Update last night? I can’t find a video yet, but I’ll pass one along when I do. (Update: Phoebe tracked down a clip here.)

Compliment v. Harassment: Where’s Your Line?

March 1, 2009 § Leave a comment

In response to some of the great posts written recently about street harassment and inappropriate comments, I’d like to share one of my own stories. 

I was in a deli on Friday when a young man said “Miss, you have very nice eyes.” I thanked him and continued on with my day, not phased or annoyed at all. 

Had he picked a different body part, particularly a female-specific body part, I probably would have freaked out. But he picked my eyes- a body part that everyone (hopefully) has. He could have said the same thing to a man or to a transperson. Is the difference between a compliment and harassment that a compliment is gender- neutral? 

I also appreciated the tone he used. I obviously couldn’t gauge his intentions, but from what I could tell, he really just wanted to tell me that he thought that my eyes were nice. I guess I’m saying that I didn’t sense guile or malice in his voice, and it didn’t make me feel degraded or self-conscious. But how do we define a tone that makes us comfortable v. a tone that makes us uncomfortable? 

Ultimately, all of this is personal. Some people argue that no person should ever make a comment about your body, regardless of their intentions, tone, etc. 

But what do YOU think? What is a compliment and what is harassment? What makes you feel comfortable and what creeps you out? Where is that line? 

Have a productive Sunday night and a painless Monday!

The tabloid dichotomy

February 28, 2009 § 7 Comments

curvation1I was flipping through People (which, full disclosure, I glance at if it’s in the apartment) this morning and had to lift my gaping jaw off the floor when I saw this ad.

???!!?!!?!!!!!?! An advertisement featuring a fat woman who isn’t being mocked, chastised, or scrutinized? My favorite thing about this ad - which is for Curvation, a lingerie company – is that the woman has a body that’s not just a bigger version of your standard super-skinny model. This model has somewhat different proportions than the beauty ideal, and (gasp!) her stomach even has a little roll of flesh! And she’s in a mainstream magazine!!

I also like the text, which reads…DRESS: will hug every curve. MAKEUP: just mascara. ACCESSORIES: confidence, style, wit. Most of us feminists have known for a while that fat women have just as much confidence, style, and wit as other gals, but it’s taken tabloids like People (and don’t try to tell me it’s not a tabloid) a fucking long time to get in on the secret. Kudos.

Unfortunately, I ignored my instinct to put the magazine down while the going was good, and glanced at the Oscar coverage. There was the usual “ZOMG what did you eat for breakfast today?!” section, and an estimated 99.97% of the celebrity women had egg whites in one form or another.

No offense to anyone who eats egg whites – whether you have a health issue that prevents you from eating yolks, like my grandmother, or you just like the taste – but I have a really hard time believing that so many women truly like their flavor and texture. Personally, I’d rather just skip breakfast than eat some scrambled whites – and I am not the sort of person to ever, ever skip meals. I’m reminded of what Julia Louis-Dreyfus said when asked about how she stays slim at the Emmys a couple years ago: “Basically, I never have any fun. For breakfast this morning I had scrambled egg whites. BLEH!” (Forgive me, I can’t find a full quote or video of this hilarious exchange; this is the best I can come up with.)

In summary: thank you, People, for the long-awaited gift of putting a seriously hot fat model into your magazine. When your next issue comes out, I’ll ask around to find out if there are any other great ads, so I can go straight to those pages and skip all the diet commentary that tries to make me feel guilty about my 3-real-egg-omelets.

Target Women: Skin Care

February 23, 2009 § Leave a comment

Basically, my love for Sarah Haskins knows no bounds. In her latest Target Women segment, she discusses skin care and all the psued0-science used to appeal specifically to women.

A New CoverGirl

February 15, 2009 § 1 Comment

It was announced a while back that Ellen Degeneres would be the new CoverGirl for CoverGirl Cosmetics, but I hadn’t seen an ad featuring her until literally minutes ago. I really enjoyed it. Not only is she refreshing as a model because she’s not traditionally beautiful, but I also love how she appears to be making fun of makeup commercials throughout the entire commercial.

BREAKING NEWS: [Insert starlet's name here] has gained some weight!

February 6, 2009 § 6 Comments

If you haven’t been living in a cave for the last few weeks, I’m sure you’ve heard the news: Jessica Simpson has GAINED WEIGHT.

Am I the only one sick of seeing photos of her everywhere I go? Whether it’s an image splashed across the cover of People Magazine or linked to from one of the blogs I read or even on some pop-culture television show, I always end up getting frustrated by the obsession with women’s weight gain patterns that the media (hell, society!) tends to have. 

And it’s not just this one isolated case. From Kirstie Alley to Janet Jackson to Oprah, people just can’t seem to stop analyzing their weights. It’s also not just in cases of extreme weight gain either. How many false pregnancy accusations have there been? Often headlines have read, “JENNIFER ANNISTON PREGNANT?” or “KATIE HOLMES LOOKS PREGNANT.” A woman in our pop culture isn’t allowed to put on any weight without suddenly being knocked up. What’s even worse is the photos that have been put out in the past of celebrities”pigging out.” Oh ha ha! A famous woman indulging in a cheeseburger! What a fatty! Look how gross she looks!

These types of images (with big arrows pointing to “baby bumps,” ones showing how an actress has clearly “let herself go,”  and depicting women “stuffing their faces”) express to the public how far from the norm an overweight woman is supposed to be. You better keep that tummy tucked, or you’ll be the laughingstock of everyone you know! 

While this phenomenon isn’t only directed at women, it seems much more traditional to critique a woman’s weight than a man’s. How often have you seen images of male celebrities with captions about how clearly they need to get back on their exercise regime? 

Just think about the incredibly unrealistic standards women are held up to when Angelina Jolie isn’t allowed to eat a fucking sandwich.

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