Monday, April 23, 2012

Steeped in Tradition

When my father came to Notre Dame as a freshman, the university was graduating its first co-ed class. Women had only been around for four years at the time.
Some things were really different. For instance, my father informed me that while the male dorms had female housekeepers clean the rooms on a regular basis, female students were expected to clean their own rooms. Similarly, all male students were offered laundry service without extra charge. Female students, however, were expected to do their own laundry.
Despite these glaring differences from how things operate at Notre Dame today, one thing seems to be constant - the discussion of awkward gender relations. My dad told me about how often the school newspaper would publish articles remarking on the disconnect between the genders at the school, the difficulties of relating to the other gender in such a separated community. Sound familiar? I feel we can hardly go a week without seeing these sorts of articles popping up in the Observer. Same as it was thirty-five years ago.
Gender seems to have always been a hot button issue among the Notre Dame student community (at least, as long as women have been at the university), and I don't see much evidence that this is going to change any time soon.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


My friend is currently writing a paper on male fashion in the 1830s, and came across this gem of a picture.

Notice that the two men in the picture are holding hands! This drawing sparked a very animated discussion among my friends and I.
Were these men being portrayed as homosexual, or was this simply a gesture of friendship?
We discussed the phenomenon of "dandies" at this time - men who were very concerned with their appearance and things of material value. They took great pride in looking spiffy and were often thought to be a little over-the-top by their less-dandy male counterparts. 
One of my friends claims that the dandy population was also widely considered to lean towards homosexuality. This is something that I have not heard, but I also couldn't find a lot of information on the subject, so I can neither prove nor disprove this claim. If it IS true, though, this may very well be a picture of two gay men!
If not however - if dandies were assumed to be straight just as most other men were - then I'm still confused by this picture. Did men just hold hands in the 1830s? Was that a thing?

If you have any answers for me, please, let me know! I'd love to learn more about this!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Snips and Snails and Puppy Dogs' Tails... and Nail Polish?

The summer before I came to college, I worked on a little ranch that ran a summer camp for young kids. My favorite group were the 3 and 4 year olds. The kids were really energetic and sweet. Not to mention that my favorite camper (I admit it, I had a favorite) was part of this group. His name was Truman and he was the spunkiest little boy I'd ever met. Truman was always playing the dirt, chasing chickens, or climbing trees. He fit every stereotype of a 4 year old boy.

But he wore blue nail polish to the ranch every day. The other kids asked him about it. They weren't making fun of him, they just wanted to know why he was wearing nail polish. One kid made the mistake of asking Truman "Why are you wearing paint on your fingers?" to which Truman promptly answer "It's not paint, it's NAIL POLISH!" Then he smiled and bounced off to dig for worms.

Truman's dad was a really good sport about all of this (also, notice that it was his DAD who came to pick him up from camp everyday instead of his mom, like most of the other kids - interesting!). Truman's dad was there to witness this interaction. He just smiled and said "Yep. Truman loves his blue nail polish!" And that was the end of it. His father never felt he had to apologize for his young son wearing nail polish. To him, it was just part of who his son was, and I really admired that. I know a lot of dads who would be livid if their son asked to wear nail polish. Either that, or they would just grumble and try to ignore it.

I think Truman is a great example of the gender flexibility we have been talking about in class. Yes, he was very young, so it's easier for him to get away with it, but all-in-all, he presents an interesting case. He generally  performed very "male" behavior, except for this one little thing. As a little kid, he felt comfortable within a gender continuum, because he wasn't yet old enough to understand the binaries. By now, Truman is probably about 6 or 7, and if I know anything about society, they've probably beaten the blue nail polish out of his system. But for the record, it was there!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Four Letter Words

I've been thinking a lot about words lately, after our class discussion about the words "faggot" and the word-that-must-not-be-named: the n-word. It struck me that there are two 4-letter words used to refer to the female population that have no male equivalent.

These are "slut" and the c-word (I prefer not to use it in any context).

Slut is something we hear, unfortunately, on a fairly regular basis. Just last week I was walking down the quad and heard a pair of guys talking about past hookups and casually referring to the girls they interacted with as sluts. Then there's the saga of Limbaugh's reference to the girl from Georgetown as a slut. Why is this word so acceptable to us? (Well, maybe not acceptable so much as tolerated.)

The word is offensive to me, quite frankly. And the fact that it has no male equivalent makes it just unfair as well as offensive. Slut has a negative connotation. There's no doubt about it. No one wants to be called a slut. But if "slut" refers to a woman who sleeps around and is a negative word, why are words that refer to men as sexually potent regarded as more positive? He's not a "slut," he's a "player," which is something that a lot of men aspire to be. Bottom line is that men can have a reputation for sexual promiscuity that's positive, while women cannot.

Next, we have the c-word. This one is less controversial, I think. It's pretty universally unacceptable. If I heard someone using this in casual conversation, I might assume that they had some anger issues or mental problems. For instance, a friend of mine worked for OIT last semester and while attempting to explain the printing system on campus to an older man, he got very worked up and yelled "Just tell me how to print the f***ing thing, you c***!" I've heard it a few times out of guys my own age, but only in a drunken angry stupor.

Once again, no male equivalent. The closest thing is the word "dick," which is a pretty weak word at this point. It's kind of negative, but it doesn't pack nearly the same punch as the c-word does. Why is it that even our language is oppressive? Even the words we use have been twisted against women and in favor of men. I'm not advocating that we create a new set of words in reference to men that are just as offensive as the aforementioned. I don't think that would solve any sort of problem. But I do think it's important to be aware of the meaning and the impact that something as seemingly harmless as words can have.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My Little Feminist Pony

I can't even believe that I'm going to write a blog post about My Little Pony. But here it is. Last summer I worked at Hasbro (and will work there again this summer), so I have become very knowledgeable about this brand. For those of you who has missed it, the brand has recently been revamped and now has a TV show that is as popular with college aged kids (called "bronies") as it is with five and six year olds. (By the way, if you love the Powerpuff Girls or Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, check out My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic - they were all created by the same woman, Lauren Faust.)

Here's what I love about the series though. While the Pony brand is generally coated in a garish shade of pink, each of the characters is very different. They're all female, but they all have their own brand of female identity. I find it encouraging that the show provides young girls (and people of all ages) to embrace who they are.

The best example of this is Rainbow Dash. She's the blue one with the (surprise, surprise) rainbow mane and tail. She's 100% a tomboy. Loves racing and athletics. Speaks in a gravelly voice. Hates frills or anything cutesy. There's even a ton of fan fiction suggesting that Rainbow Dash is actually a lesbian. But her rock n' roll attitude is never a problem. To her friends, she is undeniably awesome and 20% cooler than everyone else, despite being an atypical girl. Applejack (the orange one with the cowboy hat) is also a sort of "fluffy princess" alternative. She speaks in a Southern drawl, loves some hard work, and doesn't mind getting her hooves dirty. 

I could spend a lot of time describing every character, but I'll sum it up by saying that the show illustrates that there are all kinds of ways to celebrate being a girl and it's important to be who you are. In this one group of friends we can find a bookworm, a neurotic optimist, an athlete, a diva, a kind soul, and a "do-it-yourself"-er. I like that not all the characters are the same kind of "female."

I realize this has to be taken with a grain of salt (it's easy to be yourself when you're a beautiful technicolor pony who lives in the mystical land of Equestria), but at least it's doing something different than a lot of shows today. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"Feminist" is a Dirty Word

Recently, I've declared myself as a feminist to some important people in my life. While these are all very open-minded, accepting, and female-right-promoting people, their reactions to my feminism were not exactly celebratory. At least, not at first.

I was catching up with an old friend a few weeks ago and he said "So what's new with you?" I told him "Well, did you know I'm a feminist?" And his immediate reaction was "Ugh..." I quickly interjected "That doesn't mean I'm a man-hating, suit-wearing, castration oriented harpy. Feminism comes in a lot of forms, you know. I think that being a feminist can mean being proud of the fact that I'm a woman and celebrating that as well as fighting for equality." Once this amendment was made, he seemed more on board with the whole thing. In fact, he told me about a really cool feminist performance piece he went to see! Still, it's sad to me that "feminist" automatically conjures up negative feelings and thoughts, that I have to explain myself for people to accept it.

When I told my mom about all that is happening at Notre Dame right now (the birth control controversy, the fight to make the LGBT community visible and accepted, my participation in LDS recently), she was clearly a little worried. Don't get me wrong. My mom believes that it's a great thing that I'm standing up for my beliefs and she supports me in all of these pursuits. She's very open-minded. But she seemed worried that as a feminist and spokesperson for gender related issues, I'd make myself a target, especially in such a conservative community. She even told me that she had a horrible dream that I got into all this trouble. "I had this dream that the university had to contact me and tell me how much trouble you'd been causing. And I just kept thinking - it's all that feminist stuff!" Again. Feminism is getting a bad rap. It's something that might "get me into trouble."

I can't wait until "feminist" isn't a dirty word anymore. It's often met with scoffs and eye-rolls. Sad that we live in a society where people who stand up for women's rights are considered a "problem."

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Notre Dame 10

Recently, a friend of mine had to explain to me what a "Notre Dame 10" is. For those of you who are out of the loop, as I was, a Notre Dame 10 is apparently a girl who would score an 8 in the real world. Physically, of course. The idea is that Notre Dame girls just aren't up to scratch.

My friend described it like this (I paraphrase, but it's the same idea). "See, girls at Notre Dame, they all have great bodies because they all work out. There's no fat chicks here. And there's not really many ugly chicks. But there's no girls that really grab your attention either. There's no girls that give you whiplash when you're walking across the quad. We only have middle ground. I'd say that girls here rate in the range of 3 - 7 on average here. See, we've got the middle ground, but there's no one on the extremes. Like I said, great bodies, but pretty average faces for the most part. They all kind of blend together. They all look the same."

Personally, I look around and see a campus full of beautiful, strong, intelligent, and independent women. It's so sad to me that woman are talked about so disrespectfully here. It's sad that the term "Notre Dame 10" isn't surprising to people. Given, not everyone looks at Notre Dame women this way, but I've heard quite a few people talk this way. It's no wonder we have an abnormally high rate of eating disorders on this campus. Our fellow students are setting us up for failure, telling us that even if our bodies are perfect, we can never be more than average. We can never be extraordinary. We are diminished to only our physical selves, and our physical selves are to be judged by some of the harshest critics out there.

We talked about the male gaze in the cinema in class the other day. The male gaze exists elsewhere though. While I have even heard other girls talk this way about their fellow females, this type of thought seems to be perpetuated mostly by men on this campus. The guy who gave me the opinion shared above is gay, and even he felt fine passing this kind of judgment on women, even though he isn't attracted to girls. And what really gets me is when girls talk about each other like this. We're giving in, subjecting ourselves to the gaze without a fight. If we want anything to change, we have to stop accepting it. We can't play into it anymore.