Gender, Race, Power and The Beguiled

How do White women perpetuate gender and racial inequality in film? A new adaption of the 1966 novel and 1971 film, “The Beguiled,” is hitting the silver screen. The original story opens with a limping, dirtied White man, John (also nicknamed “Mr B”), played with relish by Clint Eastwood. The audience knows the violence and lies he’s capable of, as we see flashbacks that contradict his charm. He is an Unionist soldier injured in battle towards the end of the American Civil War. He staggers his way to a secluded boarding school for girls and young women, where he is nursed back to health by the older women, a mixed group of begrudging and bemused ladies who are stifled by their secret desires. The 2017 version has already built up high praise, with director Sofia Coppola being awarded Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival. This is the first time the prestigious award has been given to a woman. Coppola explains why she chose to erase the character of Hallie, a slave woman who features prominently in the original. I emphasise Whiteness in her language below. Whiteness is a concept describing how White people don’t acknowledge how their race is central to their worldviews and contributes to racial oppression:

“I really thought it was interesting because it was a group of women all living together, all different ages with different stages of maturity, and how they interact. It’s a group of women kind of isolated in the world… I’m definitely attracted to stories about female characters, and characters that I can relate to. I’m interested in stories of groups of women together…  At the heart of the story, it’s really about the power dynamics between men and women that are universal, but that are sort of heightened in this kind of premise.”

Copolla makes two points in this interview:

  1. She loves women’s stories (read: White women’s stories).
  2. By saying she chooses stories that she relates to, and having omitted the only Black woman from her script, she is saying she only relates to White women.

This may seem “natural” to White people: why would a White woman relate to a Black woman character? This logic is how Whiteness works: by taking for granted the power dynamics of race. Continue reading Gender, Race, Power and The Beguiled

Sexism on Wikipedia: Why the #YesAllWomen Edits Matter

#YesAllWomen
#YesAllWomen

The Wikipedia page for #YesAllWomen, a record of an anti-sexism online protest movement, is being edited to make it “less misandrist.” This Wiki page documents the Twitter hashtag that is being used internationally by women to share their experiences of sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination following the Isla Vista mass shooting in America. Some men are using this tag to listen and support women, but predictably, others are abusing it to hurt women and argue that the hashtag is “sexist against men.” The Wiki edits matter because Wikipedia has a massive problem with sexism. These edits reflect the very issues of gender violence, intimidation and power that the #YesAllWomen hashtag is trying to address. Continue reading Sexism on Wikipedia: Why the #YesAllWomen Edits Matter

Ask the Five Powerful Five Questions

What power have you got?

Where did you get it from?

In whose interest do you exercise it?

To whom are you accountable?

How can we get rid of you?

Only democracy gives us that right. That is why no one with power likes democracy and that is why every generation must struggle to win it and keep it; including you and me, here and now.

Tony Benn 2005.

Via: Phil BC.

[Image Tony Benn and quote as above]

Sociology for What, Who, Where and How? Situating Applied Sociology in Action

Photo by mapgirl271 via Flickr. Text: The Other Sociologist

By Zuleyka Zevallos

The discipline of sociology has grappled with several overlapping issues regarding the purpose and utility of our profession beyond its intellectual pursuit. Debates about the social impact of sociology have been historically centred on three questions relevant to applied sociology – which I define here as sociology conducted outside universities for particular clients. These questions are: sociology for what?sociology for whom?; and sociology for where? In today’s post, I will discuss the who, what and where of sociology, before introducing a fourth question that is so taken-for-granted we don’t spend much time talking about it in any concrete way. That is: how do we actually do sociology outside traditional academic research? We assume sociologists can go out into the world and apply their training to different problems. But what kind of problems do we work on and how do we actually carry out the work in different places? I argue  that applied sociology is set up as the “other” of academic sociology because of the context in which we practice our craft. This stops sociologists from engaging with one another effectively, and hinders the transformational work we do separately with our respective audiences.

I seek to build upon the framework discussed in this post for a series exploring the practicalities of doing sociology outside academia. I hope that the ideas explored here and in future posts can open up dialogue about how to better address collaboration  between academic and applied sociologists.

Continue reading Sociology for What, Who, Where and How? Situating Applied Sociology in Action

Racism and Violence of New York Police Department’s Stop-and-Frisk

USA: The Nation reports that The New York Police Department data show that 1,800 New Yorkers are stopped by police every day. One fifth of these “stop and frisk” events involve the use of force. This video captures that the racial dimensions of this violence, where two police officers threaten a young man for questioning the motives for their search. The police give no reason for detaining him. Instead, they use racist language, telling the youth that they will break his arm and punch him in the face for questioning their authority. While we only hear a snippet and don’t know the full context, this audio presents a deeply disturbing abuse of power. Click on the link to hear the altercation and read more.

Racism and Violence of New York Police Department’s Stop-and-Frisk

Foucault and Chomsky Debate Human Nature 

In this great debate from 1971, Michel Foucault and Noam Chomsky disagree about the fundamental qualities of “human nature” and the key task of social science in helping humanity achieve its collective potential. Chomsky believes that the social sciences should draw up a framework for an ideal society where creativity, freedom and scientific discovery will flourish. He sees it is our task to help to put this plan into action. Foucault argues that there is no ideal concept of social justice that can be universally applied. Instead, he sees that social scientists are tasked with critiquing social institutions and relations of power in different societies. Foucault says:

…one of the tasks that seems immediate and urgent to me, over and above anything else, is this: that we should indicate and show up, even where they are hidden, all the relationships of political power which actually control the social body and oppress or repress it. What I want to say is this: it is the custom, at least in European society, to consider that power is localised in the hands of the government and that it is exercised through a certain number of particular institutions, such as the administration, the police, the army, and the apparatus of the state…. But I believe that political power also exercises itself through the mediation of a certain number of institutions which look as if they have nothing in common with the political power, and as if they are independent of it, while they are not.

One knows this in relation to the family; and one knows that the university and in a general way, all teaching systems, which appear simply to disseminate knowledge, are made to maintain a certain social class in power; and to exclude the instruments of power of another social class. Institutions of knowledge, of foresight and care, such as medicine, also help to support the political power. It’s also obvious, even to the point of scandal, in certain cases related to psychiatry.

It seems to me that the real political task in a society such as ours is to criticise the workings of institutions, which appear to be both neutral and independent; to criticise and attack them in such a manner that the political violence which has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them.

Read the entire transcript . Watch the debate and bliss out: part 1 and part 2.

Gifs: Zuleyka Zevallos.

The “We Can Do It!” Myth

You know this image… social scientists and feminists love it. But do you know the story behind it?

The image was created by American graphic artist. J. Howard Miller. Listverse reveals the interesting details behind its production. The image has been reappropriated by feminists to inspire women’s agency, but the poster was actually produced as pro-war propaganda in the USA during the 1940s. Most astounding of all is that the woman who inspired this poster, Geraldine Doyle, became aware of her role as muse for one of the most iconic representations of female empowerment FORTY YEARS after the fact!

In 1941, Miller’s work came to the attention of the Westinghouse Company and he was hired to create a series of posters to sponsor

the company’s War Production Coordinating Committee. This poster is commonly called Rosie the Riveter, however at the time of the poster’s release that name wasn’t associated with the picture. That came a year later later when a popular patriotic song called “Rosie the Riveter came out. The poster

became a symbol for women who produced war supplies and took new jobs replacing the male workers who were in the military. Miller based the “We Can Do It!” poster on a United Press International picture taken of Geraldine Doyle working at a factory. Ironically, Doyle only lasted two weeks on the job before quitting because she feared a hand injury would prevent her from playing her cello. The poster did not become widely known until the 1970s and 80s when it began to be used by advocates of women’s equality in the workplace.

Sociologists Gwen Sharp and Lisa Wade add:

…Kimble and Olson question its lauded female empowerment message. Current readings of the poster as a feminist emblem assume this female worker is calling out to other women, inspiring them to leave their kitchens and join her on the factory floor. In fact, Westinghouse workers would have seen it in a different context, as just one of many similar posters displayed in the plant. When taken as just one in a series directed at workers, the collective “we” in “We can do it!” can’t be read as women, but allWestinghouse employees, who were used to seeing such statements posted in employeeaccess-only areas of the plant.

Further, the message wasn’t designed to empower workers, female or otherwise; it wasmeant, as were the other posters in the series, to control Westinghouse’s workforce. One of the major functions of corporate war committees was to manage labour and discourage disputes that might disrupt production. Images of happy workers expressing support for the war effort and praising workers’ abilities served as propaganda meant to persuade workers to identify themselves, management, and Westinghouse itself as a unified team with similar interests and goals. The posters commonly encouraged employees to meet production goals and align themselves with corporate values, while discouraging them from discussing unionizing or organizing to improve working conditions or wages. Kimble and Olson write: “…by addressing workers as ‘we,’ the pronoun obfuscated sharp controversies within labor over communism, red-baiting, discrimination, and other heartfelt sources of divisiveness.” Indeed, the authors note that such measures were effective, since “patriotism could be invoked to circumvent strikes and characterise workers’ unrest as un-American.”

Today, we see the poster through a lens shaped by what came later, particularly Second Wave feminism. The women’s rights movement of the 1960s and ‘70s fostered a genderbased form of identity politics in which women identified with each another as women and viewed themselves as sisters in a struggle against gender inequality (work was an explicit area of contention). Cultural perceptions of the 1950s as a period of particularly rigid gender roles contrasted with the apparent freedom briefly available to women duringWorldWar II. Within this context, now we look at the “We Can Do It!” poster and take for granted that “we” means other women. Yet Kimble and Olson remind us that this understanding isn’t an obvious interpretation, but the outcome of efforts to frame womanhood as a meaningful social identity—one that unites members through shared experience in a patriarchal society.

Placing this poster in its original context illustrates theway in which historicalmyth-making has obscured its real role. Ironically, the iconic image thatwe nowimagine as an early example of girlpower marketing served not to empower women to leave the domestic sphere and join the paid workforce, but to contain labor unrest and discourage the growth of the labour movement.

Credits:

Poster image and quote via Listverse. Photo of Doyle via Awesome Stories.

Wade published in Contexts, pdf via Lisa Wade.com.

Homo Academicus Redux

jtotheizzoe:

Shit Scientists Say

I’m a little tired of the “Shit ____ Say/Don’t Say” meme already, but I’ll make an exception for this one. It’s mildly hilarious.

Stochastic.

(by RoseEveleth)

zeezeescorner:

Pretty good parody video. “In conclusion more research is required” (ha!).

Part of the joke in this video is the little regard some scientists have for treating living beings empathically and ethically, instead referring to animals and people as disposable tools: “Do you have an extra monkey?” “Hey, you got an extra undergrad?”. And feeling superior to everything and everyone: “She keeps talking about her Nature paper, but she was only the third author”. “I mean there’s science and then there’s social science”.

Funnily enough apart from this remark, the only science portrayed in this video are the natural sciences. Yes, this is a reflection of the producers of the video (who may be natural scientists doing a parody), but this is also indicative of how science is constructed in the public imagination. Plus on Tumblr I might add: the science and social science tags are separate, though I’ve yet to see social science show up in the science stream. (Also our thread has no editors, which I know some other sociologists have pointed out.)

Before we sociologists get up on our moral high horse about scientific superiority, I have heard some amazing derision amongst our peers, particularly from senior academics putting down applied sociologists.

Where does all this science holier-than-thou-shit come from? Read Bourdieu Homo Academicus, where he talks about how scientific disciplines structure knowledge, status and symbolic power. Here’s a clue, where Bourdieu quotes Hobbes: “Reputation of power is power”.

Ahh science, science, where for art thou science…

Sociology of Missy Elliot

Missy Elliot’s representation of femininity contributes towards the empowerment of Black heterosexual women.

Writing about Elliot’s video for Sock It to Me, Sociologist Rana Emerson argues that Elliot combines agency, voice, partnership, and ‘Black context’ to construct ‘Black woman–centred video narratives’:

these narratives, the interests, desires, and goals of women are predominant and gain importance in contrast to those in which they are exploited and subsumed. Black women are quite firmly the subjects of these narratives and are able to clearly and unequivocally express their points of view.

Writing about Beep Me 911, which is set in ‘what seems to be a pornographic peep show’, Emerson argues:

the juxtaposition and combination of sexuality, assertiveness, and independence in these videos can also be read as the reappropriation of the Black woman’s body in response to its sexual regulation and exploitation. What emerges is an effort on the part of the Black female artist to assert her own sexuality, to gain her own sexual pleasure.