During conversations about the DREAM Act and other legislation that would make it easier for undocumented immigrants to become citizens, I’ve encountered a number of peers who have suddenly changed their stance to “support” immigration reform because they have a perverted obsession with Latina women. Whenever immigration comes up, these guys immediately mention their infatuation with Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayek, Shakira, or Selena Gomez. Words like “exotic” and “spicy” get thrown around, like they’re describing a dish at a restaurant rather than an actual person.
In 2009, two doctors, Sharon Hayes and Stacey Tantleff-Dunn, did a study on animated characters and young girls’ self-image. After watching clips of cartoon characters who were princesses, the participants were asked what made a “real princess.” The results might be different from what you would expect: these girls, around the ages of six and seven, generally did not report having a desire to be thinner after studying and watching the narrow-waisted princesses. Instead, when asked how they could become a princess, many of the girls reported that they would need to change their skin color. They responded with things like “I’d paint myself white” and “I would change from brown skin to white skin.”
When a wound heals, first the bleeding stops. A scab forms and slowly the skin around the wound grows thicker and stretches under the scab until it reaches the other side of the wound. When the scab falls off, there is new skin, there is healing. But sometimes, wounds aren’t allowed to heal. Sometimes, they are picked at and picked at and picked at, and they stay open, weeping.
Maybe I’m not outraged. I’m exhausted and open and exposed and a lot of other people are too because we are wounds that get picked at and picked at and picked at one day, there won’t be anything left to heal.
When we told Teen Vogue we wanted them to show real diversity and stop altering the faces and bodies of their models, they sent us away with an admonishment to “do our homework.” Well, we did—and here it is: in the September 2012 issue of Teen Vogue, there were 123 images of thin white women, and only 37 non-thin women or women of color. And that’s with Selena Gomez on the cover!
All this week we’ll be showing you our “homework assignments,” and we encourage you to join in by creating your own videos and images and letting Teen Vogue know that magazines that only feature thin, white, impossibly retouched women are definitely NOT the cutting edge of fashion, and that teen girls deserve better.
After all, women of color being degraded, dehumanized and reduced to ASS — is nothing new. We live in a world where black and brown women’s bodies have been exploited since slavery. Where 19th century European freak shows exhibited the “unusual” body of Saartjie Baartman, a South African woman whose remains were finally returned to her homeland in 2002 after legal battles with the French government. Mr. Grainge, your disregard for black and brown women’s bodies is the same disregard that enabled a history of forced sterilization, the shackling of birthing black mothers in prison. Mr. Grainge, your indifference resembles the indifference of a rape culture that overlooks the men who rape, while blaming the women and girls of color, who experience sexual violence at disproportionate rates. Research has proven that the objectification of women in today’s toxic media environment has harmful effects on women and girls.
It is in this greater context of sexual exploitation where the dehumanization of black and brown women has become standard in commercial hip hop. The “Birthday Song” is simply one example. There are countless others.
Take, for example, a controversial piece of history that relates directly to the current political debates: women’s control over reproduction. Birth control, if taught at all in our schools, is usually segregated in health classes. But women’s control over childbearing has actually been a key issue in U.S. history. As the women’s rights movement grew before the Civil War, white middle-class women became interested in controlling how many children they had in order to be able to extend their experiences beyond the home. For black and Native American women, control of their bodies meant primarily the ability to make choices about fertility that weren’t dominated by rape and the inability to keep their children safe and free. In the early 20th century, when Margaret Sanger first started handing out birth control—a crime for which she was repeatedly arrested—she saw it as part of a larger fight for the emancipation of the poor. But, only a few years later, influenced by the eugenics movement that fueled Jim Crow at home and imperial designs abroad, she was defining the “chief issue of birth control” as “more children from the fit, less from the unfit.” A generation later, many activists fighting for the legalization of abortion ignored the sterilization of black women in the South, Native American women on reservations, and colonized women in Puerto Rico.
What a rich, complex historical vein—all the contradictions around gender, class, and race that lie at the heart of supporting students to think critically about history and social justice strategies. When we open up history in this way, we encompass gender issues, homophobia, and LGBTQ history. Many aspects of current society that don’t show up in the standard curriculum—mass incarceration, poverty and the welfare system, the impact of militarization at home and abroad—are arenas where an exploration from a more feminist perspective can connect to students’ lives and expose them to a more expansive view of what history is and why it matters.
A Girl Like Me: Color is more than skin deep for young African-American women struggling to define themselves.
Can We Keep It Real? (With Teen Magazines)
This fantastic video by the teen activists at Sisters Action Media responds to Seventeen Magazine’s statements about diversity and authenticity. “When you look at mainstream magazines, diversity means there’s a black girl, a Latina girl, and an Asian girl somewhere in the magazine.” Does this really count as diversity?
There are female athletes who will be competing at the Olympic Games this summer after undergoing treatment to make them less masculine.
Still others are being secretly investigated for displaying overly manly characteristics, as sport’s highest medical officials attempt to quantify — and regulate — the hormonal difference between male and female athletes.
Caster Semenya, the South African runner who was so fast and muscular that many suspected she was a man, exploded onto the front pages three years ago. She was considered an outlier, a one-time anomaly.
But similar cases are emerging all over the world, and Semenya, who was banned from competition for 11 months while authorities investigated her sex, is back, vying for gold.
Semenya and other women like her face a complex question: Does a female athlete whose body naturally produces unusually high levels of male hormones, allowing them to put on more muscle mass and recover faster, have an “unfair” advantage?
In a move critics call “policing femininity,” recent rule changes by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the governing body of track and field, state that for a woman to compete, her testosterone must not exceed the male threshold.
If it does, she must have surgery or receive hormone therapy prescribed by an expert IAAF medical panel and submit to regular monitoring. So far, at least a handful of athletes — the figure is confidential — have been prescribed treatment, but their numbers could increase. Last month, the International Olympic Committee began the approval process to adopt similar rules for the Games.
There’s a lot going on here, but here’s what jumped out at us immediately: Women, particularly women athletes, are constantly told they’re not as strong or fast as men—and now that they’re proving otherwise, they’re being forced to undergo hormone treatments. We don’t think it’s a coincidence that women of color are coming under fire for this more than white women. From the article: “Lindsay Perry, another scientist, says sometimes whole teams of African women are dead ringers for men.” This is a clear example of how we’ve constructed a very particular, very narrow ideal of femininity and womanhood that devalues and casts aside black women in particular.
Just four days left to get your applications in to join the SPARKteam! Perks include:
- Being part of a totally rad and amazing group of girls & women working to change the world and getting results.
- Amazing opportunities—our SPARKteam members have been interviewed on radio, television & in print; spoken at international conferences; and met with execs at major companies to talk about making media a better place for girls of all stripes.
- Getting paid to write.
- Having your writing published on our website & in our extensive network (including outlets like HuffPo)
- Hanging out with your fellow teammates for an intensive activist & media training in Vermont in July (all expenses paid!)
- And MORE but I can’t tell you all the secrets!
Click through for requirements, deetz, & how to apply. Right now we’re especially looking for high school girls, girls of color, & lgbtq girls (we mean all of those letters—trans* girls are welcome & encouraged to apply!) in order to make sure our movement is truly encompassing the experiences, needs, & desires of all girls, but we welcome applications from all girls & young women 13-22. Apps are due June 4th!