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“Adam, try these apples!”

by Elisabed Gedevanishvili

I often find myself a subject of random, almost creepy glares. As I speak, or watch TV, sing in shower, or twerk in my room, I feel as if someone’s watching me and critiquing my behavior according to a prewritten, unkown criteria. Like all boundaries, these criteria must have been created by someone or something. Some may say that it requires maturity, adulthood, to start an investigation and try to figure out the origins of this marking scheme. But isn’t it better to start early and find out, rather than live for years and years and still be defeated by that random, almost creepy glare?

There are several texts that lay as a foundation to many others, and the Bible is one of them. This book of all books has led many generations forward. Even today, it helps many people distinguish good from evil and right from wrong. While it guided kings to wise decisions, it has also shaped some of the most wounding prejudices in society. Even the first few pages and their interpretation have caused anger, abuse and those random, almost creepy glares. The first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis, opens the scene with a story of the creation of the world. Adam and Eve, the first humans described on these first pages, were banished from the glorious Garden of Eden because they had eaten the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Eve, the female was first to taste and suggest the fruit to Adam, her male companion.

Girls all over the world have experienced the harsh baggage that came from being a descendant of Eve, a woman allegedly guilty of abusing her rights and seducing Adam into trying the forbidden fruit. Although Adam also ate the fruit, it was Eve who suggested it to him. Apparently because of Eve’s so-called mistake, women are the ones who seduce, who make men sin, and who are responsible for not paying attention when a husband cheats. Fortunately as a sixteen year old girl, I have not been yet accused of those subconscious, involuntary crimes. But I have often come across the idea that I should not strive to receive the best education possible, because after all I am a man’s “helper”  in need of guidance that will stop me from making the same mistake as Eve did.

Many interpretations of the Bible have taught us that women need to be tamed, because if set free they will ruin lives as they have ruined our chance to live eternally in the Garden of Eden. To this day, every time I dance or speak, I see people watching, making sure I don’t do anything inappropriate, anything Eve would have done. Of course the expectations are not only set up for girls; there are plenty of things that boys aren’t “supposed” to do and  are watched for. But if their big brother urges guys to be strong and successful, my big sister tells me to be weak and submissive, smart but not too arrogant, beautiful but not hot, independent but at the same time dependent on my “special friend”.  These rule-like expectations derive at least in part from the first book of the Bible. They arise from a single conclusion of Adam’s and Eve’s story: women cannot be left alone to wander all over the world. We have to be controlled; made sure that we neither trick nor overrule anyone. But if someone somehow forgets to design that observing, random, almost creepy glare, a sixteen year old girl shall be punished because she was the one who forgot how to behave, not the person who forgot to monitor her!

If Eve was punished with banishment from the Garden of Eden by God, how will I be punished? Maybe I will be banished from my friends, relatives, family my own Garden of Eden? Although the punishment varies from individual to individual, it often includes rumors, bullying and nivijhu der. Rus I don’t see you.  My favorite is the last one. What could be more fascinating than seeing responsible adults acting like you, a sixteen year old, don’t deserve their attention neither in a heated discussion nor in a casual tête-à-tête. Though we get to grow and learn from all these experiences, there’s still a serpent in the back of our minds suggesting that we are wrong, that we deserve to be punished. We look back, remember the story of Adam and Eve and sometimes, only sometimes, blame Eve for not doing what she was told to do.

The beauty of the Bible, or any text, is that it can be interpreted in billions of different ways. We have always known Eve as the original bad girl. But why was she bad when she wanted to know more? Maybe she was curious;maybe she strived for knowledge. I didn’t know Eve, but she has always been my inspiration. I have always wanted to be like her, grabbing on to the fruit that would bring me something new, undiscovered. Instead of a driving force behind the existing ideal portrait of a girl, Eve should be a symbol of curiosity, a girl’s desire to explore and know more. Her character should not relate to the necessity to control girls, but to the necessity to set girls free, give them opportunity to explore and become who they dream to become. And while the Bible could be interpreted in many different ways, Eve should always be the woman that people create typography portrait of.

P.S The next time I get that random, creepy glare assessing if I, just like Eve impose any threat to the society I won’t feel insecure. Why? Because I know that although to some Eve means a mistake, to me she means knowledge, curiosity, thinking, independence and so much more that you and I cannot fit on a single sheet of paper!

The shade(ism) of it all

by Sam Holmes

It took me a minute to process what she had just said. It was pretty straight-forward, but I struggled to really wrap my mind around it. She paused, and then repeated herself: “I want to study outside, but I can’t afford to get any darker. This is as dark as I am willing to get.” One of my classmates, someone who seemed so confident in herself, seemed genuinely afraid of a darker shift in her complexion. I wasn’t even part of that conversation–I just heard it in passing–but her reaction stuck with me for the rest of the day, despite its brevity. Then as the days passed, I began to notice the same attitude in other exchanges between classmates, especially my fellow black women.

Shadeism was not a major problem for me until I became a college student. Over the years, I have become a little too well-acquainted with more –isms than I am comfortable with: classism, ableism, sexism, racism, and more. Those broad, umbrella forms of discrimination were such constant forces in my life that I felt as if I knew the entire spectrum of oppressive institutions. So shadeism threw a curveball at me.  In high school, I definitely had classmates who judged people based on race, but that system was different. Since there were so few people of color, we were lumped into “white” and “other.” The latter category was fairly limited, so there were not many deeper divisions within our identity of otherness.

But my college has a vibrant black community; it’s one of my favorite things about the university. I share classrooms and common rooms with people from across the globe. Seeing people who look like me has reduced some of the warped self-image that I had from growing up in such a homogenously white town.  However, I’m now seeing how the range of backgrounds within the black community can sometimes be a point of contention. The whole “team light skin versus team dark skin” debate has unspoken undercurrents on my campus. I’ve heard guys talk about girls’ hair texture, eye color, skin tone, and other traits. In these circles, the most desirable girls are the ones who are white or half white. They garner the most attention, receive the most compliments, and even receive more homework help from the guys.

This whole experience has made me think about my appearance more when I look in the mirror. Going to school in the south, I have been getting more sunlight than I have ever had before. My foundation no longer matches my skintone and a series of unfortunate tanlines have been making guest appearances on my shoulders and legs. Normally, this would not bother me. But now I am tempted to ask myself about the potential repercussions that would come with a change in my complexion? Would I move further from coveted fairness and closer to stigmatized darker skin? I wonder whether or not this is a legitimate fear.

In these moments of doubt, my mind wanders back to the stories that my relatives have told me about race relations. Specters of the paper bag test, Jim Crow laws, and white imperialist standards of beauty permeate my thoughts. While this de jure form of discrimination has been crossed out of legal documents, its legacy is still strong. Media tend to prefer black actresses with lighter skin. If an ad campaign features a black woman, the spokesperson is more likely to resemble Beyoncé than Lupita. While we slowly inch away from this paradigm, there are still miles and miles of progress to be made.

Media are severely lacking in portraying people of color, and they rarely show the spectrum of possible skintones. Fortunately, there are groups dedicated to changing this abysmal reality. My SPARK sisters have been highlighting the dangers of colorisms before I began to experience it firsthand, exploring how shadeism impacts young women. [Ed. note: our 'Diverse & Lovely' colorism toolkit will be released soon!] Across the globe, this emphasis on light skin has caused women to have the same reaction that I did and question the consequences of their complexions. Companies prey on this insecurity and produce harmful bleaching creams. Their products cater to women of light and medium skin tones. Darker women do not deserve to exist in their world. On the rare occasion that they do feature a black woman, advertisements will use photoshop to lighten their skin tone. There is this unspoken message: darker skin is not worth displaying. With their ethos, darker is bad. This is fully intentional. These companies benefit from internalized hatred. Consequently, they do everything in their power to perpetuate such feelings of inadequacy.

I am grateful to be a part of the movement against shadeism. And, while I have my moments of insecurity, I appreciate that skin tone has not been a major problem in my life. I empathize with my classmates who continue to fight this daily battle. The next time that someone feels isolated from shadeism, I will whip out my laptop and show them that there is solidarity in ending the institution.

Currently, my campus is blanketed in Autumn’s cloak. I am spending less time outside, and the bright summer days are almost behind us. However, when the next sunny day does visit us, you will find me studying on the grass, letting the sun paint me a new complexion, and enjoying every minute of it.

Research Blog: Barbie can limit girls’ career dreams

by Jenn Chmielewski

Okay, I admit it. As much as I would love to say that I was a little feminist socialist as a child, impervious to the sexualized gendered marketing scheme that is Barbie, I cannot. I was one of the 99% of girls that played with that skinny, large-breasted, blond haired plastic toy[1] and I thought she was the perfection of beauty (I didn’t realize at the time that a life-sized Barbie with her body proportions is physically impossible). My sisters and I would spend hours dressing Barbie in the coolest clothes and setting her up on romantic dates with Ken in his pink convertible. I learned a lot from Barbie: that looking good meant being thin (and white and blonde) and being the object of Ken’s affections was more important than my smarts and a career. Granted, I can’t blame just Barbie. I got these kinds of messages pretty much everywhere in the media (including the good old Disney movies I used to love) but still, Barbie was a huge part of my childhood. Fortunately for me, I also had some pretty positive influences, like my mom who encouraged me to have confidence in my brains and dream big instead of being so focused on my looks. And I think I’m doing pretty well, but I still wonder how much playing with Barbie and her sexualized outfits might have impacted me, and how she might continue to impact what other girls see as their possible futures and careers.

It turns out that researchers Aurora Sherman and Eileen Zurbriggen[2] have also been thinking about this question, and decided to actually test it in a laboratory. They came up with a clever experiment to see how playing with Barbie affected the career options girls thought they could have versus what they thought boys could do. Since Barbie comes in a variety of career options nowadays, Dr. Sherman and Dr. Zurbriggen were curious to see whether a Barbie with a career might have a better career-focused influence on girls than a more old-fashioned appearance-focused Barbie. So they set up a lab and had girls who were 4-7 years old play with either a “fashion” Barbie, “doctor” Barbie, or Mrs. Potato Head doll (this was the control group, or the group the researchers designed to be the baseline that the other two groups could be compared to).  Then the girls looked at pictures of different occupations that are either traditionally female-dominated (the usual suspects like teacher, nurse, flight attendant) or male-dominated (like doctor, police officer, construction worker). The researchers asked all the girls whether they thought they could have the job in the picture when they grew up and whether or not they thought a boy could have the job when he grew up.

And what do you think they found? Well, it turns out that across the board, girls in this study thought that boys could have more careers than they could, especially when it came to the jobs that men tend to dominate, like firefighter and police officer. This finding kinda sucks, right? Girls just don’t think they can do as much as boys even when they are little kids. Depressing. But the researchers also found differences between the girls based on which toy they played with. It probably won’t surprise any of you that the girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head actually reported feeling like they had more career options than the girls who played with Barbie did. And that was for girls playing with both the “doctor” Barbie and “fashion” Barbie. Barbie as a doctor apparently doesn’t open up girls’ career dreams anymore than Barbie as a fashionista.

So aside from pointing out yet another depressing way that girls get sexualized and limited by toys, what do these findings tell us? Well, the good news here is that we now know that not playing with Barbie is better for girls. This points to the possibility that other kinds of toys might have the potential to be really positive for girls. The issue is that so many “girl” toys are built around appearance whereas “boy” toys tend to be about action and strength and much less so about the attractiveness of toys (google search ‘toys for girls’ and ‘toys for boys’ and you’ll see what I mean). But if there were more toy options like Mrs. Potato Head for girls that centered on the ‘doing’ of play without the distraction of thinking about how attractive our toys are, this might allow more room for imagination about what we want to achieve and do rather than what we want to look like. The SPARK petition of LEGO to create more toys for girls was a great start to building a world of play that encourages girls’ achievement rather than constricts it. Now, how to get rid of Barbie is a scheme we can come up with another day…

I loved playing with my Barbie (and wanted to be her) as a kid but when I got older I realized I had a lot more to offer the world than just my looks. Maybe it’s partly because of Barbie that now I am so interested in understanding how sexualization impacts girls’ lives and dreams (although I am certainly not going to be thanking her any time soon). I do know that if and when I have a daughter, there will be no Barbie dolls in the house, but I also know that Barbie isn’t the only culprit. If we really want to empower girls to dream big and have the power to be whoever they want to be (whether that is a doctor or fashionista), then we have to dismantle a whole lot of oppressive systems. But hey, our revolution can start out with one toy at a time.



[1] Rogers, A. (1999). Barbie culture. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

[2] Sherman, A. M., & Zurbriggen, E. L. (2014). “Boys can be anything”: Effect of Barbie play on girls’ career cognitions. Sex Roles, 70, 195-208. doi: 10.1007/s11199-014-0347-y

 

SPARK TV Week: No, Yes, Maybe

by Alice Wilder

Mulaney

Every single review of Fox’s Mulaney that I have read starts with the reviewer insisting that they really, really want to like the show. I say this because I want you to know that I know what I’m about to say is cliche: I want to like Mulaney. The main character (also named John Mulaney) is a struggling comic who is hired by a difficult late night host as a writer. He lives with two friends, Jane (Nasim Pedrad) and Motif (Seaton Smith).

John Mulaney is one of the most talented stand up comics working right now and is working with a very talented cast. Nasim Pedrad is the only woman on the show thus far, which isn’t uncommon for multi-camera shows and would be a minor issue if her character was well developed or showed any chance of developing in the future. But her first line is “I’m not crazy” and she spends the rest of the episode breaking into her ex-boyfriend’s email account and stealing his belongings.

True, in her first scene she talks about the way men call female partners “crazy” in order to discredit them while “crazy” men are considered “passionate.” So fine, this happens, and it’s good. But I’m still waiting for her to have any lines unrelated to ex-boyfriends or male roommates. Nasim Pedrad is an incredibly talented comedian and I just want to see her in a great show that uses her talents well. She’s so underutilized on SNL and I thought that this would finally be our chance to see her full talents. Come on TV world! Do right by Nasim!

But honestly, let’s not worry about this show. I’d bet my GPA that it will be cancelled very soon. Lots of comedians have bad first shows. My guess is that this show is the way it is because of notes from the network. Don’t watch this show, wait for John Mulaney’s next show which will surely be better.

How to Get Away with Murder

I’m just going to be honest with y’all- I really love How to Get Away with Murder. While rewatching the pilot for this review I realized that none of the women on this show are “the girlfriend” or “the wife.” What?! That almost never happens.

The show starts with the new of a missing college student, Lila Stangard, who (Spoiler alert? I guess?) is later found dead. She is the only woman on this show defined by her relationship to a man (her boyfriend is the school’s star quarterback). I’m sure that Lila will be fleshed out as the show goes on- she’s already represented as having secrets and I don’t expect her to be defined as “the dead girlfriend” for long.

This show has hella well developed female characters. The main cast of law students has Laurel and Michaela. They’re just as competitive as any of their male classmates but also deal with sexual harassment and other gender-based discrimination. And then there’s Bonnie Winterbottom (Paris Gellar from Gilmore Girls, ya’ll!) and of course, Professor Annalise Keating, played by Viola Davis.

Viola Davis is just the best, you don’t need me tell you that. We all know she’s the best.

It would be easy to paint her as a heartless “ballbuster” but instead the writers give her many moments of empathy and vulnerability. Though tough, she quietly supports Wes and the other students multiple times. On top of that, she’s an actress over forty whose character is allowed to be sexual! It seems like on TV once a woman hits forty she is officially the non-sexual mom or aunt. I have to stop now otherwise this will turn into a think piece about ageism in Hollywood. Just watch How to Get Away with Murder, y’all.

A to Z

A to Z is fine. I laughed multiple times while watching it but it honestly felt like (500) Days of Summer was condensed into a 26 minute sitcom. The creators know this too, and don’t shy away from the comparison. The first thing that hit me about this show? There’s a female narrator. Can you remember the last time you heard a woman do the voiceover for a movie trailer or ad for a tv show? That shit never happens! It seems like a small detail, but I take this as a good omen for the direction of the show.

Andrew and Zelda, the romantic leads defy gender norms in their flirtation. Andrew doesn’t scope her out and aggressively try to pick her up. When he first sees her he’s too nervous to talk to her and once he does he’s painfully awkward. He believes in destiny and is a total romantic. Zelda knows that she doesn’t want a relationship.

She’s a lawyer who isn’t interested in dating, but not in the vein of Sandra Bullock in The Proposal. She has a life outside of her job and the audience isn’t asked to hate her because she has a career and doesn’t want to date. She isn’t cold, she just doesn’t believe in destiny or love at first sight.

He romanticizes her wildly and asks his IT friends to find out if she was at the same concert as him. This is creepy. But the show quickly calls it out: Zelda doesn’t think it’s romantic and she tells him he invaded her privacy. He apologizes and it seems sincere. So I don’t know, it’s not a deal breaker, I’d just like less e-stalking in sitcoms from now on.

Zelda and her best friend only ever talk about relationships in the first episode, but Andrew and his best friend also only talk about relationships. It remains to be seen if this will be a problem. Pilots are notoriously difficult to write so I’m inclined to give them some room to expand the lives of the lead characters. This show has a lot of promise, I’m hoping that from now on it leans away from 500 Days of Summer and explores multiple parts of these character’s lives.

SPARK TV Week: 5 shows we’re still missing

by Maya Brown

If you’re getting fed up with all the new TV shows starting this month that are as sexist and stereotypical as ever (more on this tomorrow!), maybe it’s time to take it back to some classics. Here is a list to help you out with my top 5 shows to watch on Netflix or steal from your best friend. My personal story with all of these shows is that I didn’t really watch a lot of shows on the actual TV when I was in middle school and high school, so I hold a lot of these shows deep in my awkward 8th grade heart.

I want to throw a disclaimer in that when I sat down to list these shows, I found that while I could list shows with strong female characters fairly easily, I couldn’t list any with women of color in anything but best-friend typed roles. So I apologize that even though I love these shows, they are all extremely white. Clearly we need to keep pushing for more shows with amazing women of color in them, especially since even shows like these, that are often considered “Feminist Icons,” don’t accurately represent all women.

1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: I know we’ve written about this one before, but it’s been a while. Buffy is about your typical blonde 16 year old girl, except that she kills vampires and other demons on the daily. This show starts out in beautiful 90’s fashion, complete with belly shirts and miniskirts and terrible special effects, and just keeps getting better. Buffy adopts an amazing group of friends, nicknamed the Scooby Gang, who help her fight demons and generally support her all the time. She has really genuine friendships, and the demons have a weird habit of telling awesome feminist life lessons (one time an abusive boyfriend turns out to literally be an evil robot and it’s actually so satisfying). Without giving any spoilers, the whole series ends with a huge sisterhood, girl-power-centered last battle. Also, I’ve got to give a major shout out to Willow and Tara for helping many a young lesbian feel represented.

2. Veronica Mars: I watched this show right after Buffy, when I was mourning the loss of a high school girl who fought crime. Veronica helps with her dad’s private investigation firm, and by helps I mean she takes over the toughest cases and figures them out on her own. It’s been a little longer since I watched this one, but I remember loving her friendship with Wallace as an awesome platonic friendship where the guy doesn’t whine about being “friend-zoned.” Veronica Mars is a little less campy than Buffy, but she’s just as bad-ass. Would recommend if you love mystery/CSI dramas and also witty teenage girls.

3. Gilmore Girls: I love this show for a completely different reason than Buffy and Veronica Mars. For one, it has the best mother-daughter relationship of any show I’ve ever seen. It’s the only show that really depicts motherhood without relying on the tired trope of the stressed out working mother or the evil stepmother. Lorelai and Rory’s banter is hilarious, plus they each have really strong female friendships of their own. I love that Lorelei has dreams of starting her own inn, which shows that mothers can be more than just an overdramatic conflict for their teenage daughter. Everything in this show comes back to their relationship, plus Rory is a really great role model for anyone who doesn’t feel angsty enough for a lot of the teenage dramas now.

4. My So Called Life: This is the perfect show if you totally do feel angsty enough for teenage dramas, but want one with actual substance. Angela Chase is the main character and the main conflict comes from her trying to figure out her identity as a teenager. This was a show that I connected to really well when I was in freshman and sophomore year of high school. Angela’s narration of the episodes also includes some of the hands-down best lines in any show I’ve seen. They are dripping with sarcasm and I could have said every one of them in high school. Although she has a complicated relationship with her mom, the show always takes the time to include her mom and dad’s perspective as well. It’s also painfully 90’s in the best way, and is worth it if only for lines like “high school is a battlefield…. For your heart” and “my dad thinks every person in the world is having more fun than him. Which could be true.”

5. Bomb Girls: I illegally marathoned this show two summers ago and let me tell you, it is totally a hidden gem, and it’s finally on Netflix and everyone NEEDS to watch it. It’s different from any of the other ones I mentioned, and is relatively recent. It takes place in the 1940’s in Canada during World War II and is about the women who worked in the factories. It has an amazing female dominated cast and covers so many feminist issues of the time. To name a few, it handles women entering the workplace, the dangers of the jobs they worked at, and what it was like when the men started to come back. My favorite plotline is about one lesbian woman and what it means to her to finally be able to get a job and support herself without worrying about the societal assumption that she find a husband. If you’re at all interested in historical stuff, or just like women centered dramas, I would totally recommend this show.

Honorable Mention:

From what I’ve heard, Xena Warrior Princess should totally be on this list, but since it’s still on my personal “watch whenever you have time” list, I couldn’t do it justice here, but totally check it out if you have time!

What shows are you still missing?

SPARK TV Week: We tried to believe in ABC’s Selfie

by Cori Fulcher

I wanted to like Selfie. I liked the main actors and I like My Fair Lady. For a moment, I thought it was going to be a musical, and that made me very excited. The trailer made me cringe, but I brushed it off. Karen Gillan was playing a mean girl! John Cho was playing a curmudgeon! It appears ABC finally discovered what social media is!

I don’t really have a point of reference for any of this. I mean of course I do, I have the Internet of 2014 (or rather, what ABC executives think the Internet of 2014 seems like) but I don’t know what Selfie is trying to be. Every show on television is trying to be some other show or some other movie: The Big Bang Theory wants to be Community and every television show on AMC is probably trying to be The Sopranos. I don’t have any idea what the writers of Selfie imagine their show to be, so I have no idea of what it could be. I was really hoping to see a dissection of what My Fair Lady means in 2014, what it means for men to try to change women so women fit better into some arbitrary definition of proper femininity. I wanted the show to explore the weird new social dynamic that is being famous on the Internet. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.

In the show, Karen Gillan plays Eliza Dooley, who is female and likes fashion and is therefore an awful human. She’s vapid and narcissistic and the show revels in punishing her for it. She doesn’t seem to have any friends and almost all of her co-workers despise her. Selfie barely succeeded in eliciting any emotion out of me other than mild dislike, but by the end I wanted to wrap Eliza in a blanket and tell her everything would be okay.

At Selfie’s best moments I felt like I was watching a movie within a much better TV show. The celebrity casting and pop-culture referencing really play better within a two minute clip pretending to be TV show. Maybe it’s because the $20 million romantic comedy isn’t a genre that really exists anymore or maybe I haven’t watched a pilot in awhile, but something about Selfie doesn’t feel like network television as much as it feels like one of the fake TV shows on 30 Rock (I don’t think Selfie is clever enough to be that). At its worst (Ally Rachel playing Bryn, whose only discerning personality traits are that she likes DIY and Tumblr) I felt like I was watching a network meeting in real time filled with bewildered executives trying to understand Buzzfeed.

That said, Selfie was pretty, I liked the cinematography that wasn’t faked social media pages and I liked the lighting and I liked the costumes. Karen Gillan’s American accent wasn’t that annoying. I think I laughed at a joke about SoulCycle. This not the type of show that I could imagine growing past its bad pilot to become a smart one-camera observational comedy; this is the kind of show I see being canceled at mid-season with little fanfare. The premise of Selfie is bland and overdone, and I can’t say the show deserves better. I wish it deserved better because I want John Cho to have the stability to be in the tiny independent movies he seems to want to be in. I wish it could have been a smart satirical show with centered around the portrayal of a complicated young woman with some traditionally feminine interests. Oh well.