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.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Bachelor - Please Excuse Me While I Go Throw Up

I somehow ended up watching the Bachelor. I swear I've never watched this show before, but one day I was really bored and ended up watching the entire current season. The results of this show are laughable. According to Wikipedia, every couple the Bachelor has brought together have broken up. The gender relations are INSANE!

First of all, the man gets to have all these women to himself, but heaven forbid we find out that any of the women have feelings for another man. What kind of double standard is that?

Ben and Courtney
Ben and Nicki
Ben and Lindzi

What struck me most, though, by the recent episode, was the fact that Ben (the Bachelor) went on three dates with the three final women and gave each of them the option of an "overnight date," where they spend the night in a beautiful fantasy sweet. When he hands them the card with the overnight invitation, each of the women gets a very distinct expression on their faces. It's a mixture of surprise, offense, pleasant anticipation, and frustration. Should these women accept, they tend to preface with a "Normally, I don't spend the night with just anyone..." or a nervous laugh and shifting eyes or the avoidance of answering the question directly at all. It's clear that the women don't want to look too forward by accepting. But they do accept in the end. The scene ends with lots of kissing in the "fantasy suite", and Ben politely, but firmly closing the door on the camera.

As silly as this show is, I think those moments are illustrative of the time we live in. We're in a strange transition period. I would say that today, it's accepted that a woman would want to spend the night alone with a man. It's generally accepted that she has the right to choose that, and that's fine. However, we haven't crossed over completely. Like I said, we're in the middle of a transition. A woman can spend the night with a man, so long as she still attempts to look demure and puts up a little bit of a protest. So long as she doesn't give up that "femininity" too quickly. It's fine for the man to request the night together. Ben shows no qualms in giving the women these cards. He has nothing to be ashamed of. But it is apparent that these women are not in the same fortunate position.

We're moving to a point of recognition that men and women should be able to express the desire for sexual contact with others without negative judgment and stigma. But we aren't quite there yet. I think that's a good realization to come to, I just think it's really sad and pathetic that I had to watch the Bachelor to come to it. Ugh...

Monday, February 27, 2012

Loyal Daughters and Sons

I'm glad that Loyal Daughters and Sons is falling in the same week that we are reading about rape and sexual assault. These are important issues. The show makes the point that (especially at Notre Dame) it's really hard to talk about sexual assault. This starts with it being hard to talk about sex in general -- look out for one monologue in particular titled (The Unicorn).

I, personally, am pretty comfortable talking about all these "taboo" issues. Dating, tampons versus pads, hookups, whatever. Let's talk about it. Let's have it out. Everyone wants to talk about this. Everyone wants to know that other people are thinking about the same things. No one ever says anything.

It can have a lot to do with how you're raised. Some people are raised thinking that talking about all those things is shameful, inappropriate. I can't say that I was particularly encouraged to talk about them. It took me years to get comfortable with my sexuality. As I've mentioned before in this blog, I was nicknamed "The Nun" in high school. But somehow, I became comfortable with it. 

I still get the awkward suspicion from people though. It might be the funny look I get from a friend when I mention staying overnight in a friend's room (regardless of what may or may not have happened between us). Or it might be the feeling that I get from my parents when I talk about someone I'm interested in. Like it's still something to be ashamed of. People still communicate to me that it's inappropriate to talk about these things or be frank about sexuality, and quite honestly, I'm tired of it.

I'm an adult under the law, capable of making my own choices about what I believe to be right and wrong. And I believe that these are things we need to talk about. If we don't start talking about the basic issues, how can we ever hope to conquer the bigger issues like sexual assault? People need to be more open about these things. We have to start somewhere.

Friday, February 17, 2012

On Being Single and a Control Freak

I debated writing this post. It's a lot to let the Internet know, but I think it's important enough that I want to share it.

When I read Bordo for class the other day, I could hardly believe what I was reading. It was like someone had picked my brain and slapped it down into a Feminist Theory book. Specifically the parts when Bordo discussed the impacts of anorexia.

I have, historically, had a complicated relationship with body image. Sometimes I love how I look. Other times, I find it tragic. Overall, I'm pretty confident though. So, it was surprising to me when a few weeks ago I noticed that my eating habits were getting out of whack. I was eating hardly anything throughout the day, then binge-eating at night. The next day, I would try to make up for the binge by not eating a lot, and the cycle would continue.

It got better for a while, but returned with a vengeance not long after. It was much worse. While it never became full-blown bulimia or anorexia, I realized I was standing on the edge of something quite serious. Being a psychology major, I know the dangers associated with eating disorders. I know that they are not effective or healthy. Then I thought to myself, do I really need to change how I look? And I had to be honest. No! I am actually pretty happy with my body right now. So where were these strange eating habits coming from?

Bordo answered that for me. She said that eating disorders "allow[s] her [women] to feel powerful and worthy of admiration in a world... 'from which at the most profound level [she] feels excluded' and unvalued." Bam. There it is. For me, these funky eating patterns weren't about my body. They were about control.

A little over 2 months ago, I experienced a breakup. It was my choice, but no matter what, breakups always are hard. And as my mother reminded me on the phone the other night, in the past 4 years, between high school boyfriends and college relationships, I have spent very little time as a single woman. So I'm adjusting. I'm trying to find ways to feel good about myself that do not depend on a guy telling me how great I am all the time. I think Bordo hit the nail on the head. Controlling (or thinking you are controlling) your eating habits is a way for people to feel worthy.

This article has been very therapeutic for me. Knowing that I'm not the only one who knows this experience has helped. When I read this article after a whole day of denying myself food, I really realized what I was doing to myself. I don't need to deprive myself (or over-indulge myself) of food to be okay. I'm happy to say that I'm getting back on track.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Flexuality Test

Yes, a second post in one day. But I just found this quiz on the blog of a friend of mine and had to share it.

This is a survey that you fill out about your sexual and romantic preferences. It analyzes your answers and gives you feedback on them. It doesn't tell you "You're bi! Straight! Gay!" or anything like that. It shows you where you land on different spectrums of sexuality in a really neat and comprehensive way. A lot of the questions are very thought provoking, and I really appreciate this tool. Of course, it isn't perfect, and it is not the be-all and end-all. But it's worth looking at!

What Happened to Dating?

Recently, friends of mine have been going on dates. Real, honest dates. With people who they find interesting. Not people they've already hooked up with four or five times before, but people that they want to get to know. Why hasn't this happened sooner?

One of my friends commented that he doesn't think he's ever been on a date with someone he hasn't already kissed. This is what college culture has become for a large portion of the population. You kiss someone first (and quite often do a lot more than that) before you actually decide to build a relationship with them. In a way, young people are now awarding themselves more and more "free passes." Now, it is socially acceptable to experiment with a physical relationship before introducing the emotional relationship.

This makes me uncomfortable for a lot of reasons. The biggest one, though, is how dangerous this can be. So many people hook up with others, hoping that it will lead to a relationship. They can end up being seriously hurt. The risk of sexual assault increases greatly through this hookup culture, too. There is no emotional bond on which to generate trust with someone before you allow yourself to be physically vulnerable with them. There isn't a lot of room for communication about what both parties expect from the encounter. It's a recipe for disaster, and too many times, I have seen it go wrong for people I love.

Needless to say, I am thrilled to see my friends actually going on real dates these past few weeks. It gives me hope to see that just because hook ups have become the norm, it does not mean that they are the only option. 

Friday, February 3, 2012


My friend and I had a fun conversation about the portrayal of men and women in princess movies the other night, specifically, Tangled! Now, I have to warn you - this post will contain spoilers about the movie. My friend and I had a lot of fun discussing this. We agreed that, most likely, no one who made the movie meant to make huge statements about gender, but it can be fun to make these interpretations.

In this interpretation of the story, Rapunzel's hair is magical and has healing powers. Therefore, Rapunzel (a woman) is the holder of great power herself. Awesome! However, her hair is also a contributor to her imprisonment. It is because of her power that her mother chooses to imprison her (and the hair itself is just very cumbersome...) Not so awesome.

So! Isn't it interesting that at the end of the movie, a man cuts off her hair? Is it that he is robbing her of her power? Is he freeing her from imprisonment? And if he is freeing her, why does she need a man to free her?

Disclaimer: I love this movie and I don't mean to discredit it. It's just something fun to think about! Let me know if you have anything to add!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Party Foul Mouth

Somehow, at a very conservative university, I've managed to fall in with a group that is more than accepting of all lifestyles -- the theater kids. No doubt, there are many other accepting people on this campus, but my group of friends is especially so. Many of us are exploring ideas of gender, sexuality, and self. Some of us know who we are, some of us are figuring it out, but in my group of friends, I am proud to say that we are all supportive of one another 100%.

I've been spoiled in this bubble of acceptance. I had a rude awakening the other night at a Glee Club party. I'm good friends with a large portion of the Glee Club, and was enjoying myself at a rather crowded, but fun get together. Suddenly, a loud voice cuts through all the conversation. I turned and saw a very inebriated and very angry young man yelling "I F***ING HATE GAY PEOPLE!"

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Before I could really think I was shouting at the guy. "Shut up! How dare you?!?" All I could think of was of all the people in that room that I knew were gay or questioning that would be hurt by hearing this guy. Though I probably should have stayed out of it, I yelled back, because I wanted those people to see that someone was willing to defend them - even if it was a sober 5' 2'' chick up against a drunken 6' 4'' Goliath. Did my words help? No. Did they stop that guy from hating gay people? Probably not. Maybe it wasn't my best move, but I couldn't stand to let the guy get away with it without someone saying something to him.

I'm glad that all my friends are so accepting. I'm glad that we all understand what it means to struggle with who you are and that we give each other so much love. But, the fact is that there are still a lot of people out there who aren't quite as tolerant as we are. The fact is, there's still a lot of work to be done. It's not always easy for me to see that from my little bubble, but I hope to be part of the solution - I just have to rein in my temper to be able to do that effectively. I've got to channel my passion for these issues into something constructive, instead of just yelling at some guy in the middle of a Glee Club party. The issues are larger than just him.

Friday, January 27, 2012

When Did Beauty Ideals Change?

Today, I attended a panel for the "Food Networks and Gender" conference, that dealt with body image. The first speaker, Elizabeth Antus, dealt with the issue in (what we might consider) the most traditional sense of the phrase, with compulsive eating, dieting, eating disorders, and constant dissatisfaction, especially in terms of the female body.
This got me thinking about an idea that's been floating around the internet lately. You may have seen an image like this pop up on Facebook, Twitter, or your favorite meme site.
At the panel, Antus described body dissatisfaction as a "staple of womanhood," and seeing a photograph like this makes me wonder why. As someone who is locked in the constant battle with body satisfaction, it gives me great hope to see that even today, Marilyn Monroe is still considered beautiful. I see girls with a fuller "Marilyn"-type body constantly putting themselves down (and let's face it, I'm one of them, with my measurements almost exactly the same as our dear Marilyn's) or wishing to be something else.
The quote at the bottom of the photo really says it all for me. "Proof that you can be adored by thousands of men, even when your thighs touch." I don't know who made up the whole "thighs that touch are unattractive" thing, but it's time we got rid of it. 
I propose we get into a new mindset, and stop putting such strict limitations on what it means to be beautiful.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Sobbin' Women"

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers: this movie is one of my favorites for its wonderful singing and dancing, as well as for the hilarity of it's so obvious sexism. This song is the perfect example of how offensive this film is!
I thought of this in our class discussion when we were discussing a certain comfort in dependency on men. This song shows this from a male perspective, where the men over-exaggerate their charm over women. Here, the seven brothers recount the Rape of the Sabine Women, claiming that despite all their whining "secretly they was overjoyed" at being captured by Roman soldiers. The brothers plan to catch themselves some wives in a similar manner. Awesome, right? I bet their girls will love that.

Enjoy! (couldn't get the link to embed properly, but have fun watching this ridiculous number!)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

How I Became a Feminist

Junior year in high school I was taking an English class titled "Gender and Sexuality" which not only horrified my very Christian boyfriend at the time, but surprised all the high school acquaintances who had pegged me as a "nun" during those four years. Erin was also in this class. Erin was famous in our very small school for being the most well dressed, the most tan, the most blonde, the most popular, the most attractive, and other "mosts" that I will leave out for our purposes. She was the epitome of feminine in her high heels, fake nails, and perfectly glossed lips.

It so happened that we were reading Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women. I never would have considered myself a feminist before this point, but I was struck by this work. This was new territory for me. It made me feel proud of being a woman and fighting the good fight. My "nun" reputation and Christian boyfriend could take a backseat. This was my time to share my opinion.

When it came time to discuss it in class, I was eager to put my word in, but Erin got there first. She talked a lot about how titles of "man" and "woman," "he" and "she" should be eliminated to foster equality between the sexes. She wanted to obliterate the differences between men and women and have us all function as one gender. First of all, no one could understand why Erin would want to get rid of these categories if it meant she would have to ditch her highlights and bedazzled backpack. It came as a bit of a shock to us all.

Confusion aside, I considered her point. While I understood the idea and found it interesting, I disagreed. I jumped in and countered her argument saying that being a woman was something I considered very important to my identity and I wanted to take pride in it, not throw it away. I babbled about embracing my gender instead of trying to hide it, but expecting equal treatment nevertheless. Being a woman meant more than living the life prescribed for you - it meant loving who you are and being happy with yourself. I could hardly stop talking, I was so high on the courage I'd gained to speak out.

While I was sitting there practically bursting with excitement about my new found cause, Erin looked up at me and said in the bitterest tone she could muster through her valley girl cadence "Natalie, I think Mary Wollstonecraft would be ashamed of you."

This is how I became a feminist. Defending my right to continue being a woman to the infamous Erin in Dr. Whitta's English class.