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DoodleUs Update: fewer “dude-les,” but still lacking people of color

by Celeste Montaño

Earlier this year, SPARK launched DoodleUs, a campaign asking Google to improve the representation of women and people of color in their Doodles. In case you missed it, Google Doodles are those fun animations that replace the Google logo on the company’s front page, often in celebration of historical individuals. And since we launched our campaign, a lot has happened.

Google's Doodle celebrating tennis legend Althea Gibson's 87th birthday

Google acknowledged our campaign within the first day, and we got to speak via Google Hangout with Ryan Germick, the Doodle Team leader, and Megan Smith, a Vice President at the company. (Yes, we hung out with Google!) They told us that even before our petition, they were already making plans to ensure that men and women have 50/50 representation in the 2014 Doodles. But the best part is that SPARK and Google are talking together about ways to raise awareness of women’s historical contributions.

Despite the busyness of the past few months, we haven’t stopped tracking the gender and racial distributions of the Doodles. When we launched DoodleUs back in late February/early March, it was too early for patterns to emerge in the 2014 Doodles. But now that most of the year has flown by, we figured it was time for an update.

So, good news first:

Compared to 2013, representation of women in Google Doodles has definitely improved, with the number of Doodles celebrating women more than doubling. In 2013, only 22% of the doodles celebrated women, whereas this year that number rose to 46.3%.  In fact, during every month of 2014, the ratio between men and women has been pretty close to 50/50. Ann Martin of Speaking Up for Us shows similar findings–as of her May 2014 count, Google’s representation of women in Doodles increased 78% overall.

Not that Google should declare victory yet, since analyzing based solely on gender gives us a skewed view of what’s going on. When we examine the Doodles through the lens of both gender and race, we get a different picture. Like white women, women of color are now represented in Doodles twice as much as last year, going from 6.4% to 12.2%. But that still means that white women are celebrated almost three times as much as women of color—12% v. 34%. And the trend appears overall, not just between women: white people are celebrated 68.3% of the time, and people of color honored less than half as often—31.7% of the time.

When Google acknowledged SPARK’s DoodleUs campaign, they spoke of women being underrepresented in the Doodles, but didn’t mention other factors that SPARK took into account, namely race and region. So while the situation has improved significantly for white women, the problem of underrepresentation mostly remains the same for women of color. It’s a problem that we see repeatedly when large corporations and organizations try to improve their treatment of one identity (in this case, gender) without considering that one person can have several identities (for example, you can be a woman and a person of color at the same time).

If Google is truly committed to increasing diversity in their Doodles, it also needs to break away from the notion that all history originates in Europe. It’s an idea they’re still perpetuating by having the vast majority of their Doodles honor European individuals. Of the current 82 Doodles, 47 have honored people from Europe. That’s more than half. The only region that even comes close to Europe’s 47 Doodles is North America, with 12.

But it should start getting better, potentially any minute now. Germick told us this year that Google plans Doodles about six months in advance, meaning that all the Doodles we’ve seen this year were planned before DoodleUs even launched. And since we unleashed our research six months ago in late February, Doodles that were made with our findings in mind could start appearing right around now.

Although even if things suddenly change, it will take months for new patterns to emerge, so we might not see significant change until 2015. It’s a waiting game at this point. But we’re a little impatient, and excited to talk about amazing women in history, so in the meantime we’re having some pretty great conversations with Google about ways to create a sort of digital monument to women in history. We’ll keep you posted on that–and as for any diversity in future Doodles, we’ll keep an eye out.

Beyond Pepper Potts: the grim state of women and girls on screen

by Anya Josephs

Thanks to SPARK’s generous friends at the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media, I was able to join SPARK Executive Director Dana Edell and Program Coordinator Melissa Campbell at the 2nd Global Symposium on Gender in the Media. This afternoon-long conversation featured speeches by Geena Davis and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive-Director of UN Women, as well as panels on global storytelling and the impact the media can have on issues concerning girls. However, the centerpiece of the afternoon was really the presentation by Dr. Stacy L. Smith of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, on the research she and her team have done, “Gender Bias Without Borders.”

This work is so incredibly vital. Smith and her team have worked hard to come up with solid statistics that prove just how wide the gender gap of representation in films and television is. A lot of the work we do here at SPARK is on that subject, but we often talk about specific films or television shows, whether we’re praising or critiquing them. In other words, we have anecdotes—individual examples, considered in isolation. Smith’s work allows us to see a broader picture of the status of women and girls in the media—and the picture is very grim indeed.

In the 120 films and 5,799 speaking roles surveyed, 31% of speaking roles belong to women, and a mere 23% of protagonists are women. Only 10% of films in the sample have an equal number of girls and boys in the cast. Women onscreen are almost all sexualized. The women that do appear are rarely in positions of leadership—for instance, of the thousands of characters studied, there were only 11 female CEOs, and two of those 11 were Marvel character Pepper Potts (who was gifted her fictional corporation by her boyfriend). There are almost no fields were men and women have parity in representation. This is the first global study of its kind, and Smith’s research shows that it isn’t just a problem of US media. All around the world, girls and women are being mis- and underrepresented in media. However, it also a uniquely American responsibility, since so much media (up to 80% of films worldwide) is created in the U.S.

brutal tbhThis isn’t just a question of the media. The Institute’s motto is “if she can see it, she can be it”—they argue that girls need many possibilities for their lives represented in the media. They point to the fact that the proportion of women in crowd scenes in movies—17%– is the same as the proportion of women in many arenas of the real world, from Fortune 500 boardrooms to tenured professorships. Their suggestion is that we get so used to not seeing women in the media that we don’t notice that we’re not seeing them in the real world either. Media creates the expectation that girls and women are sexualized, disempowered, or just plain not there—and that makes people complacent when women are sexualized, disempowered, and invisible in the real world as well.

The problem is huge, and progress is slow. In her keynote, Ms. Davis mentioned that at the current rate of improvement, women will have equal representation in the media in a mere seven hundred years. However, it isn’t all bad news.

At the conference, Ms. Davis described the responses she’d gotten from content creators—directors, producers, and screenwriters—she presented this data to. She didn’t get apathy or disinterest. Instead, most of the people who saw this information hadn’t recognized the problem and were deeply concerned to realize they were perpetuating this problem. She even said that many have already made changes based on her report.

The symposium was an event that reinforced the best and worst things about women’s representation in the media. It clarified—and proved rigorously—just how far we have to go, and how slow progress has been. Yet it also emphasized the hard work people everywhere are doing to overcome these problems. With the dedication and commitment of organizers, activists, and researchers, there is hope to show the next generation of girls and boys a brighter image of what they can be.

Black Women Create: Amandla Stenberg gets out from behind the Yellow Wallpaper

by Montgomery Jones and Joneka Percentie

In 2012, I won a TV competition to interview the cast of The Hunger Games at the world premiere in Los Angeles,  and that’s when I met Amandla Stenberg.  She was a 13 year old that looked younger than she was and I was an 18 year old that looked older than I was.  The crowds were hectic and everything was fast paced but Amandla’s interview (one of a trillion she did that day I’m sure) with me stuck out.  She was so incredibly poised and articulate and at the time I remember feeling immense pride.  Not sure why exactly.  Perhaps it is because Amandla is a mixxie just like myself, so I felt a bond.  When a lot of racist backlash began in regards to Amandla playing the beloved Rue (who if you read the book, is in fact African American), she held her head high and didn’t feed in to the negative hysteria.  I, on the other hand, was a wreck. I felt this weird protective big sister role (for a girl who didn’t even know me!) and I kept arguing with trolls on the internet and friends who said snarky remarks or simply didn’t agree with casting. 

In June 2013, Amandla was interviewed by SPARK mentor Jamia Wilson, in a  wonderful piece that made even more people love Amandla.  Later, Tavi Gevinson interviewed/had a magical conversation with/ had a super fun and intellectual conversation with Amandla for Dazed and Confused in which they discussed everything from religion to feminism, but what stuck out to me was the talk of roles for young African American women in Hollywood–or the lack thereof.  Amandla talked about how refreshing it is to play a complicated character.  Complex female characters as a whole are lacking, and complex roles for women of color that don’t trade on horrible stereotypes are basically nonexistent. 

Amandla aspires to be a director, and if her short film and our conversation with her are any indication, she will be one of the best directors around.  I’m even more excited for what this means for the film industry, because with people as aware as Amandla behind the scenes and calling the shots, I predict realistic people from all backgrounds will be represented and discussions like these will be a thing of the past. 


Joneka: There’s a series we are doing for SPARK called Black Women Create. What we’ve done is interview so many different Black women who work in the production process, and the directing process, filming, independent filmmakers, all that sort of thing, and highlight their work because we want to showcase not only in front of the scenes but the work done behind the scenes. So when it was posted in our group that you had this short film based on “The Yellow Wallpaper,” I was like ‘oh this is so awesome and so exciting!’

The Yellow Wallpaper (Short Film) from amandla stenberg on Vimeo.

Joneka: So one of the first questions I have is about your personal directing style and editing style, because I’m sure it’s so different being behind the camera and holding all the power in your hands so to speak. So what is that like and what is your style?

Amandla: I don’t quite know that I have a style yet as this is my first thing that I’ve done, but I am definitely someone who is really connected to and attached to aesthetics so I paid a lot of attention to the colors of the film. When I was first brainstorming, one of the first things I thought of was, what is the color palette going to be like? What music is there going to be?  Those were the two most important things to me.  I felt like the film would fall in to place after I had decided what those would be. In terms of editing, I really like to use this whole sort of surrealists like subliminal messaging thing because I think that works really well when doing horror.

Joneka: It’s cool that you mention the music because I remember one of the most intense scenes was with the violin going all sharp and crazy and it really creeped me out which was really cool!

Amandla: That was me playing!

Joneka: That was you?!  No way!  That’s so awesome.

Montgomery: You’re in a band right?

Amandla: Yeah! I just used a bunch of different tracks on garage band because I can actually play.

Montgomery: That’s so cool!

Joneka: That was definitely a standout point as far as music went!  I also want to ask you, since you mentioned this was your first directing project ever, do you see yourself doing more projects like this in the future?

Amandla: Definitely, it’s something I really connect to and I hope to be able make a career out of.  I think acting is a really awesome gateway in to that.

Joneka: We talked earlier about how important it is to showcase diversity behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera, so how do you think Black women behind the scenes and in the production process affects representation on screen?

Amandla: Well I know that I, personally, as a director in the future, would absolutely love to create projects centered around black women.   And I think there definitely needs to be more black women behind the camera. Those directors who are African-American women are so important to me, because representation is completely linked to inspiration and confidence within the African-American communities. I look up to those people and I hope that by being a director I can inspire and create representation by casting black women and sharing powerful stories.  That’s the dream.

Montgomery: What drew you or attracted you to the subject matter, The Yellow Wallpaper? Was it an assignment?  Did you choose it?

Amandla: How the project started was there’s actually a class in my school called ‘Lit to Film.’ And what they do is read books and watch the film adaption of those books, and one of their projects was to read classic short stories and other pieces and adapt them in to screenplays.  So what they then did was they pitched those screenplays to the film class, and I was pitched “All Summer in a Day” and “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” and of course “The Yellow Wallpaper.” I just thought The Yellow Wallpaper was so fascinating and I read the short story and I loved the themes it had around feminism. I like to call it sneak-attack feminism because it’s right there under the surface and it really highlights and exposes how women were treated with mental illnesses during that time, which I think is really interesting and really important.  That’s why I chose to actually to make a film out of that screenplay.

Montgomery: That’s the coolest school class I have ever heard of!  I’ve never even heard of that, that’s awesome.  So do you think the material is still relevant to today?

Amandla: Definitely, I mean there’s this whole metaphor of the woman being behind the paper and her feeling trapped by it.  And I think that part is definitely relevant.  I think there is still a stigma around women and mental illness and women being “crazy” or being “unstable.”  I think even more so now it’s important how the woman felt trapped behind the paper and wanted so desperately to get out.  ‘Cause I feel like now there’s this whole surge of, like another surge of feminists and people who want to get from behind the paper.  I think it’s definitely still relevant.

Montgomery: When did you come to grips with being a feminist? Because not to be patronizing cause I’m only five years older than you, but “you’re so young” [laughter], and I know that’s such a clichéd line, but when did you have your aha moment, like “I’m a feminist!”?

Amandla: I was talking about this today with a friend of mine because we were talking about the definition of the word feminist and how a lot of women don’t think they’re feminist because they don’t understand what the meaning of it is.

Montgomery: Yes!

Amandla: And the meaning of it is just equality, you know it’s not placing women over men.  It’s equality.  I think I discovered feminism just means being someone who can be themselves and have equal rights in the world…. so probably about a year ago.  And it wasn’t like I decided to be a feminist, I just realized I was one.

Montgomery: That’s so awesome, that’s exactly what we always say in SPARK, they ask the celebrities and they say “no I’m not a feminist” and we’re like “you don’t know what that means!”

Joneka: We’re just like “actually…..”

Amandla: Like you areeee.

A huge THANK YOU from us to Amandla! We’re so excited to see where her career goes–and we’re pretty sure it’s gonna be AMAZING!


It’s been 11 years and I’m still not a “period pro”

by Dee Putri

by rosalarian /

Recently there was a blood stain on my pants after I couldn’t change my tampon for 10 hours because I was away. I noticed it at home, which is kind of okay, because it would totally have freaked me out if I’d noticed while I’d been in public–I would have had to find a bathroom, etc. It would be just troublesome. But it made me feel like a kid, you know? Just like, how not-pro I am about this after 11 years of dealing with it. And I still somehow I feel ashamed about the stain. I’m not sure when I got it, but I was definitely around some boys at the time and nobody said anything, which could means two things. First, they were ignoring it. Second, they didn’t even realize that I had a blood stain on my pants. Maybe they didn’t notice that the bl0od stain was there, or maybe they did and just weren’t saying anything. Add in the fact that one of them is a cute boy,  and this clearly wasn’t my favorite moment. Let’s just hope that he was ignorant enough to notice my not-pro experience.

It’s been 11 years since I got my first period. I got it when I was 13 years old. I think this is normal, but some of my friends got their first period when they were in elementary school, at 10, 11, or 12 years old. My first experience of my period wasn’t special at all. There was nothing major that followed it. I didn’t really think that something big had happened to me. I just accepted it and thought that my body was starting to work that way. I remembered my sister asked, “Are you sure that it’s your period?” My dad didn’t say anything at all. Maybe it was too awkward for him. Thankfully there are tampon ads, so I knew what to do. Sometime ads are helpful, to be honest. I knew what a period was–I think it was my friends who told me, I’m not sure. But it wasn’t my family, I’m sure of this.

In my early years I got blood stains on my pants and skirts a lot. Back then I just put a jacket on my hips to cover it, but of course I usually tried to wash the stain a little first. Since I didn’t have any detergent (I mean, who would carry it around? No one I suppose), the stain would just  become a weird round reddish wet thing on my skirt. Me with my period was just awkward at first. Also, seeing the blood that came from my vagina was kinda weird. People know that you have a period stain when you use the “jacket around your hips” trick, but my classmates were super tolerant about period problems. The girls were super supportive–they would help you get a tampon if you got your first day of your period at school. So, it  wasn’t a nightmare experience for me. Sometimes I would carry around a tampon in case me or somebody else needed it, but I forgot to bring one more than I remembered to.

I don’t remember what my male classmates at junior high reacted to this matter. Recently I asked some boys (they’re in uni) what they think about blood/period stain on girls’ pants and skirts, and they said that it is totally okay and not worth to be shamed about because well, when girl is on period it just means that they’re not pregnant. (They’re not joking or being weird! I guess they’re nice people.) Point well taken. I guess as girls it’s sometimes easier for us to relate and deal with “period talk,” although not all of us have the same period feelings. Some of us get it easy without period pain, some of us feel terribly in pain, and some of us don’t get periods at all. But most of us have period feelings, and sometimes it makes us sisters. Sisterhood is wonderful, I tell you.

The anxiety of blood stains is another story, but I’m getting better as time passes. My period is more stable than it was when I was younger, so I know when I’ll get my next period and I’ll be prepared for it. But sometimes when I’m stressed, I get my period unexpectedly. I always try to bring tampon with me anywhere and sometimes bring extra clothes–a little preparation doesn’t hurt anyone! I kinda envy that in US there are detergent pens that help you with stains, but oh well. I’ll be a period pro even without them.

Research Blog: How does being objectified in romantic relationships make girls feel?

by Kimberly Belmonte

In New York City, life lessons happen on the subways.  Monday morning, out of the corner of my eye, I see this guy across the aisle staring at me. And I begin having these rapid-fire flustered thoughts about my hair and my outfit, “Is my hair one giant curly poof in this 2000% humidity?  Is my shirt too low-cut?”  In that moment on the subway, when I felt like my appearance was being scrutinized, I began scrutinizing myself to figure out if something was wrong, even though the problem was obviously with Mr. Creeper’s manners, not my outfit.

As I continued my subway ride, I looked around at all the couples canoodling, and I thought to myself, what if it hadn’t been a stranger who’d been ogling me, but had instead been my romantic partner?  In most of our blogging we’ve talked about being objectified by strangers  or being sexualized by the media, but not about objectification that can happen in romantic relationships. I couldn’t help but wonder, are there any consequences of being objectified in the context of a romantic relationship?

I mean, in some ways we often want to be ogled by our lovers; physical attraction is a part of sexual attraction. But there is a fine line, perhaps, between being seen as attractive, and being seen as an object. Researchers Lauren Ramsey and Tiffany Hoyt[1] wondered where that fine line between attraction and objectification actually existed in relationships.  They wanted to know whether women were feeling objectified by their male partners and if they were, how this affected them.  In their recent study, they gave 119 heterosexual women a survey asking how much their bodies were scrutinized by their partners and how they felt about their own bodies.

Just like my experience on the subway, they found that the more women felt that their partners scrutinized their bodies, the more likely they were to look at their own bodies as objects – they started to take an outside view of themselves.  The researchers also discovered that self-surveillance was related to women feeling ashamed of how their bodies looked, a decreased desire for sex and a decreased belief that they could refuse sex if they didn’t want it.  So, when women had partners who objectified them, they tended to feel less in control of their own bodies when it came to sex.    It turns out that being ogled by a partner isn’t so romantic after all.  In fact, the opposite is true: women whose partners objectify them are less aware of and capable of acting on their desires!

Focusing too much on how our bodies look, rather than what they can do is something that we know is bad for girls and women. When women think about their own bodies as objects rather than experiencing their bodies as subjects, they’re more likely to engage in disordered eating and have more body shame and lower self-esteem.  Research like this study has also found that women who self-objectify might have less sexual agency—meaning that they are less likely to make decisions about sex based on what they want and desire rather than what someone else wants and desires from them.[2],[1]  And this is something that can have some pretty real, pretty dangerous consequences for women.  If you aren’t thinking about yourself as a whole person but are really concerned with how you are appearing to others, it makes sense that you might be less concerned with your feelings, wants or desires.

When I felt scrutinized on the subway it was maddening that that one guy’s unwanted attention made me feel bad—even though his sexualizing stare was the real problem! Having strangers objectify us is bad enough. We don’t need romantic relationships, which are supposed to be supportive contexts, reinforcing the same crap.  Instead, I think we should challenge the idea that sometimes objectification is okay or even desirable.   We need to flip on its head this notion that being seen as an object is sexy.  After all, the sexiest thing of all is knowing what you want and how you feel. Girls and women are not simply here to be desired by others, we also need to express our own wants and needs.  So when it comes to being considered an “object of desire,” I object.

[1] Ramsey, L. R. & Hoyt, T. (2014). The Object of Desire: How Being Objectified Creates Sexual Pressure for Women in Heterosexual Relationships.  Psychology of Women Quarterly.  DOI: 10.1177/0361684314544679

[2] Impett, E. A., Schooler, D., & Tolman, D. L. (2006). To be seen and not hear: Femininity ideology and adolescent girls’ sexual health. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 35, 129–142

SPARK Artists: The Guerrilla Girls and activism as art

by Brenda Guesnet

Some of you might be familiar with the image above: it’s arguably the most famous poster artwork of the anonymous feminist group “Guerilla Girls.” The Guerilla Girls have been active since the 1980s, and became famous for their billboards and posters calling out sexism and racism within the art world. The poster does a great job of not only highlighting the fact that women artists have been actively excluded from the “canon” of art, but also connecting this lack directly to the way women have been exploited as – often naked – subjects in art. What this means is that girls and women that visit art museums will see themselves depicted through the male artist’s gaze, rather than as protagonists or the makers of the images they see – art thereby predictably reproduces a pattern we can observe throughout most of society.

What somehow makes this even more dangerous, is that the art context gives this particular brand of sexualization a kind of prestige: as opposed to advertisements or pop music videos, the distinguished halls of an art museum or the pages of a thick textbook lend the images we see there an often unquestioned authority. We forget that there is a conscious – and potentially biased – decision behind every artwork and artist represented, which in turn can make these images even harder to question and reject. Furthermore, art being *art*, people often prefer to see it as something separate from society and politics, rather than holding themselves accountable for oppressions that art perpetuates and reproduces. So that’s exactly what the Guerilla Girls set out to fight against, perhaps ironically eventually entering the exact institutions they were critiquing.

This exclusion of women and people of color from the art world is also what this new ongoing series, SPARK Artists, is all about. What does it mean to be a woman or girl artist working within such a patriarchal tradition? How does it affect women artists’ work, if at all, and how do they perhaps attempt to fight back against this through their art? Should we even be approaching women artist’s work through the lens of gender and feminism, or is this actually counterproductive and limiting? This series will be exploring these questions through both real live women and girl artists and those that chose this profession perhaps under even more difficult conditions a couple of decades (or centuries) ago.

Despite their institutionalization, the Guerilla Girls are pretty revolutionary in a lot of ways, and the fact that they rose to such fame can, in my opinion, only have worked towards a more equal acknowledgement of female artists. The group formed in 1985 when the MOMA staged an exhibition that was framed as being a definitive survey of contemporary art – but featured only 13 female artists out of 169. The soon-to-be Guerilla Girls were outraged, for obvious reasons, and as their protest garnered little attention, they decided to form an anonymous collective, trademarked by intimidating gorilla masks. Up to this day, no one knows who is behind these masks, because the members refuse to show their faces and adopt pseudonyms of dead female artists such as Frida Kahlo or Käthe Kollwitz. To take such an approach within a Western art context that is very intent on individual authorship (never mind that the most expensive works nowadays are made by artist’s assistants) and fosters an obsession over big names and personalities, is pretty radical.

Thinking about how to make a change in the sexism of the art world, the Guerilla Girls’ emphasis on the collective in opposition to the idea of the individual genius is crucial: we can’t just replace our old geniuses with new ones, and merely revising art history books to “uncover” women artists and artists of color won’t do either. Instead, we have to question the very notions of a canon and of individual genius that have produced this patriarchal structure, in order to overthrow it.

The “anonymous collective” concept isn’t the only thing we can learn from the Guerilla Girls: the fact that they are basically a grassroots movement means that they can still inspire many ways in which we can protest the ongoing exclusion of women from and the sexualization of women in art. For instance, the Guerilla Girls used to do “weenie counts” in museums (counting the amount of male artists as opposed to female ones, or the amount of naked women as opposed to men) – why not do this in your local museum to find out how well women are represented there? They also put hundreds of stickers in and around museums to protest their female to male ratios. And one thing that has definitely changed since the 1980’s is museums’ presence on social media: this gives us another great platform to call institutions out on their sexism and lack of representation.

A couple of things may have changed since the first Guerilla Girls poster was released in 1989, but women artists and artists of color remain highly underrepresented in the art world. This is why SPARK is launching a new series – SPARK Artists – that highlights female visual artists and their work. We will be writing about and interviewing artists across all mediums, continents, backgrounds, and eras, including both artists that have “made it” as well as those just starting out. Following SPARK’s mission to end sexualization, this series is motivated by the belief that supporting and promoting female artists and artists of color is vital for the fight against sexualization – both in art and beyond.