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Professorial Coping Strategy #1: Grading Bingo

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Marijuana Legalization: A Social Justice Issue

Controversy of Cannabis

            Weed, pot, herb, or any other number of various names are all terms for one of the world’s most controversial plants known as cannabis.  Throughout much of humanity’s history cannabis has served an important purpose as medicine, an agricultural product, and a catalyst for mediation and relaxation.  The widespread illegality of cannabis is a fairly recent phenomenon, occurring in the United States only within the last century.  Today in the United States, approximately 740,000 people are arrested annually on marijuana-related charges.  The overwhelming majority - about 87 percent - of those arrested were only charged with possession of the drug.  The federal government’s war on marijuana has become a failure by its exponential flooding of the prison system with non-violent offenders, and by its limited successes in preventing the production and sale of marijuana.  Despite propaganda and long held biases countless scientific studies have concluded that marijuana use poses few adverse side effects, especially when compared to America’s two favorite drugs, alcohol and tobacco.  Marijuana use is not linked to violent or confrontational behavior in its users.  Its legal counterpart, alcohol, however is involved in a majority of domestic abuse and violent assault cases.  A problem arises then when adults are denied access to a safer substitute drug that holds both medical and recreational value.  Marijuana use is a personal health issue, and its illegality has left its scar on the lives of those users misfortunate enough to be charged as criminals.  Marijuana charges produce an abundance of negative byproducts that follow the convicted throughout their lives.  Individuals arrested for marijuana related crimes can be disqualified from a variety of jobs and special opportunities, such as federal financial aid.  The convicted face difficulties achieving equality in society in the same way Virginia Woolf faced challenges in obtaining an education as a woman.  Social mobility is made more difficult not because being a woman or using marijuana is intrinsically evil, but because those in power look down upon it with disfavor.  In recent years the subject of cannabis use has become increasingly less taboo.  Successful and famous people like Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, and America’s three last presidents have all admitted to using marijuana.  The question that remains then is should the fate of an American’s future be subject to whether or not they are arrested under a law that constricts the individual’s right to personal freedoms.  The only practical way to put an end to marijuana prohibition laws and the negative consequences they produce is to create a market for the regulated production, sale, and consumption of marijuana.

Outlawing Nature

            Throughout much of the United States’ history there were no laws governing the control and possession of marijuana.  In fact marijuana was an extremely important agricultural crop.  The cannabis plant comes in several different forms.  While there are varieties that produce the THC coated buds of the drug, cannabis can also be grown as hemp.  Hemp is a durable and extremely versatile fiber producing variety of the plant.  It contains minuscule amounts of the psychoactive compound THC, and can be used to produce a vast amount of industrial products.  Hemp had been used throughout the world for centuries, and there was even a law passed in the early Jamestown colony requiring farmers to grow the plant.  It was not until the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed when anti-marijuana sentiments began growing in American government and society.  A popular theory explaining marijuana criminalization blames powerful corporate lobbies of the time.  It is believed that large industrial corporations lobbied to place restrictions on cannabis in order to hurt their competitors in the hemp industry.  The versatility of hemp combined with new developing technologies put the plant in a position to eliminate large scale reliance on lumber, cotton, and other cash crops.

Opponents of cannabis took cues from the yellow journalism of the day to promote their interests.  Propaganda, like the film Reefer Madness, was designed to horrify Americans.  Parents became convinced that if their children were to ingest marijuana they would commit heinous acts and society would crumble.  Campaigns of slander were successful in forming public opinion and led marijuana to be associated with drugs such as heroin and cocaine.  Anti-marijuana propaganda played into bigoted American sentiments against blacks and immigrants.  Minorities were depicted as becoming violent and confrontational after consuming the drug, which posed great danger for established white bourgeois society.  Marijuana became a drug for addicts seeking pleasure, “Pleasure, which is a dirty word in a Christian culture.  Pleasure is Satan’s word” (Charters 378).  Exaggerated claims against cannabis mustered enough support to finally outlaw the drug and its industrial counterpart.

Branches of Oppression

            Once disguised as an issue of morality and public safety, marijuana criminalization went on to oppress far more groups than just the hemp industry.  More ridiculous and prejudicial reasons, absent of scientific proof, were constructed to support marijuana criminalization and oppress undesirable groups in society.

            In the 1960’s tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union flared as the two nations waged a cold war.  Those in government wishing to keep cannabis illegal cited the fact that it made people complacent and clouded judgment, because of this marijuana use would allow the Soviets to surpass us.  Yet hypocritically two decades earlier marijuana was criminalized due to the aggressiveness, not passiveness, it caused in its users.  The continued illegality of marijuana provided those in government with a powerful tool for suppression.  The sixties were a turbulent time in the United States.  Civil rights movements and antiwar protests sprang up all over the country.  Mass numbers of people utilized their freedom of speech to talk about issues important to them, even when certain individuals in government preferred they would not.  Regardless of the issue being protested a majority of activists around this time tended to be alternative thinking youth who were no strangers to drug use.  It was extremely more likely to find marijuana users in an antiwar protest group than it would be in mainstream American society.  Government officials and law enforcement picked up on this.  Marijuana laws were used when possible to make arrests and disband protests without directly breaching activists’ first amendment rights.  Protestors could have been following the examples set forth by organizers, such as Allen Ginsberg, on conducting a nonviolent spectacle, but all law enforcement needed to begin dismantling a protest movement was signs of drug use.  Telltale signs like bloodshot eyes, a pungent skunky smell, and slurred reaction time made marijuana smokers easy prey for riot police.  This loophole made it feasible for law enforcement to arrest protestors as criminals in possession of illegal narcotics as opposed to students speaking out against the war in Vietnam.  It was not just what the sixties counterculture stood against that made government powers despise them, but it was also what the counterculture itself stood for.  The differently thinking drug crazed youth demonstrated values totally contrary to that of American capitalist society.  A common scene found in counterculture gatherings is summed up by one resident of the 1967 Summer of Love “I have no money, no possessions… . We take care of each other.  There’s always something to buy beans and rice for the group, and someone always sees that I get grass or acid… .”  (Charters 300).  For a capitalist government engaged in a war against communism the notations of counterculture living and drug use appeared to be suspiciously socialist.

            In addition to suppressing movements that have conflicted with government policy, marijuana laws have historically been used against minorities.  Marijuana usage rates among blacks and whites are about equal, however blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana related crimes.  In areas that have adopted aggressive policing tactics, such as New York City Police Department’s Stop-and-Frisk program, cannabis using minorities face an exponentially higher risk of arrest.  The bureaucracy of police departments and opportunities concerning promotions prevent many law enforcement officials from speaking out against marijuana laws.  In the 2007 documentary The Union: The Business Behind Getting High former Seattle chief of police Norm Stamper provides a view on marijuana from a law enforcement perspective claiming,

“From beat cop to police chief, I saw ample evidence of the harm caused by alcohol and the absence of evidence caused by marijuana use.  And I mean the complete absence.  I cannot recall a single case in which marijuana contributed to domestic violence, crimes of theft and the like.” (The Union)

Marijuana’s inherent lack of contribution to violent crime shines light on the nature of marijuana laws.  If marijuana does not promote violence then the laws governing its use and criminality are not intended to protect society, but rather punish users.  Marijuana laws then are effectively a tool that can be used to make arrests and suppress certain groups when law enforcement deems necessary.  The disparity between black and white marijuana convictions in the United States is a testament to the biased nature of these laws.

            The oppression of minorities, activist groups, and recreational users are all truly injustices, but the wickedest side of criminalization lies in its persecution of medical marijuana patients.  Suffering patients rely on medical marijuana to alleviate the pain of a variety of illnesses, and praise cannabis for its lack of harmful side effects.  The federal government’s classification of cannabis as a Schedule I drug leaves the issue of medical marijuana in the hands of individual states.  Even in states that have passed medical marijuana legislation there still exists a variety of problems.  Patients cannot legally take their medicine with them when travelling to states with alternate medical marijuana laws.  Even in states friendly towards medical cannabis, patients and dispensaries always face the underlying threat of federal prosecution.  The disparity of medical marijuana laws that exists within states is great.  Some states, such as California, have lenient restrictions and possess regulated distribution networks.  Other states, like New Jersey, have legalized medical marijuana, but it is virtually impossible to acquire within the state and no system for its production or distribution exists.  Groups advocating medical marijuana patients’ rights are consistently met with opposition.  Jesse Stout, who served as executive director of the RIPAC (Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition), played a large part in implementing medical marijuana legislation in the state of Rhode Island.  He claimed a large part of his opposition took the form of anti-drug lobbyists, law enforcement agencies, and the federal government.  Even when medical legislation was achieved the battle was not won.  When I questioned Jesse as to whether or not there was additional opposition to the establishment of distribution laws and regulations he responded,

“Yes, after we passed our 2006 law temporarily allowing medical marijuana possession, we passed a separate 2007 law making that permanent, and then a separate 2009 law allowing access through licensed non-profit dispensaries called compassion centers; we first proposed this distribution component in our original 2006 legislation but it was removed, and again in 2008 but we were unsuccessful that year.”

Rhode Island’s, and many similar states’, road to passing medical legislation required years of bureaucracy to actually establish a system that could facilitate medical marijuana production and distribution.  Actions taken by the federal government and lobbyist groups to oppose these laws only prolonged the suffering of medical marijuana patients. 

Planting the Seeds of Solution

            In order to eliminate the negative effects of marijuana illegality the laws punishing cannabis users must be abolished.  Solely removing penalties for marijuana possession and use, known as decriminalization, will not achieve full social justice however.  Decriminalization is a strange concept because it states that it is legal to own something, but illegal to produce it.  While users will not face the threat of arrest, as a result of the black market they will still be exposed to a dangerous criminal element and an unregulated substance.  Full scale legalization presents the most effective and practical solution for society and the government.  Under legalization cannabis production, sale, and consumption would all be regulated by the law.  This entails users having full knowledge of the composition of their drug, the government collecting tax revenue from the sale of cannabis, and an increased difficulty in underage acquisition of marijuana.  Large scale production of cannabis also means that medical marijuana patients would have access to a cheaper, protected, and steadier supply of medicine.  Legalization protects the future livelihood of American students, professionals, and citizens by establishing the precedent that marijuana use will not prohibit an individual from obtaining certain positions within society. 

            The main obstacle facing marijuana legalization in the United States takes the form of the different factions profiting from marijuana’s illegality.  Law enforcement agencies, drug cartels, the prison-industrial complex, the alcohol industry, and pharmaceutical companies would all experience a massive financial setback if cannabis were to be legalized.  The revenue marijuana’s opponents earn gives them enormous influence over legislators.  These industries, especially the prison-industrial complex, are able to fund a continuous cycle of marijuana illegality at the expense of cannabis users.  They have the superior resources and the history of marijuana criminalization on their side.  Legalization will be made possible only when voters and politicians begin looking at marijuana laws considering their thick description.  Americans will need to decide whether all of the negative aspects of marijuana in our country, such as a large prison population and adolescent use, are the result of the drug itself, or rather the result of the laws governing its use. 

Works Cited

"4 Industries Getting Rich Off the Drug War." Reason.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

Charters, Ann. The Portable Sixties Reader. New York: Penguin, 2003. Print.

Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York: Basic, 1973. Print.

“NORML.org - Working to Reform Marijuana Laws.” NORML.org - Working to Reform

            Marijuana Laws. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2014.

Reefer Madness. Dir. Louis J. Gasnier. Motion Picture Ventures, 1936. Film.

The Union: The Business Behind Getting High. Dir. Brett Harvey. Perf. Joe Rogan, Norm     

Stamper, Chris Bennett, Tommy Chong, Lester Grinspoon. Phase 4 Films, June 8, 2007. Film.

Urbina, Ian. “Blacks Are Singled Out for Marijuana Arrests, Federal Data Suggests.” The New

            York Times. The New York Times, 03 June 2013. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. Mansfield Centre, CT: Martino, 2012. Print.

-Paul Heffernan

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The Human Element

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
-Robert F. Kennedy

Homelessness has been and is a growing problem in New York City. There are many aspects to homelessness, all of which can be solved by the upper class. The problems these homeless shelters face are poverty, corruption, and the homeless not being able to leave. All of these can be greatly curtailed by the wealth and effort of the upper class in America. These homeless shelters must be able to establish communities of trust, accept all walks of life, and be able to encourage job searching. The most effective way of obtaining these goals is by establishing and funding smaller, private homeless shelters as opposed to federally funded homeless shelters, as the private ones can give more attention and better tend to the needs of the homeless.
Hesitation to Give
The upper class is not in total agreement about their duty to impoverished Americans. There are rebuttals from the upper class regarding their duty to aid the homeless problem, revolving around their heightened view of themselves. The first argument is that they earned their own money therefore they should spend it on themselves. Another is that the money does not affect the homeless shelters. The American Red Cross is arguably the most efficient large aid organization when it comes to donation money going directly to aid. However, every nine cents out a dollar donated goes to Red Cross expenses. CNN writes, “While nine cents may seem small, it adds up the more you give — if you donate $3,000, nearly $300 of that money goes to administrative costs, and that amount jumps to a whopping $90,000 for a donation of $1 million”. The upper class could not enjoy paying other people’s salaries when they want to be aiding the homeless. Another reason could be that the upper class does not have the time to donate. But it is easy to write a check or take a couple hours out of one’s weekend to help those greatly in need. The benefits greatly outweigh the costs when it comes to aiding those who have nothing, and increase exponentially when the effort is directed at a smaller, private shelter.
Poverty
The poverty in the homeless shelters has become unbearable, and all it takes is money and effort to fix it, but directed at smaller shelters. The food and lack of heat are the main concerns. Shanika, a mother who stays with her children in a homeless shelter since her home was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy, describes her food situation as, “This food is terrible, maybe some juice, a disgusting sandwich, or a bagel that is so hard you could chip your tooth on it. It is so bad because they are refreezing already stale food. That is what they are giving to us” . All food donations take are money to the homeless shelter, or more importantly effort. The upper class can easily donate excess food or pick up a few extra items when they go grocery shopping. The important thing is that the smaller private shelters like Housing Works receive more openly from the community, improving conditions. On its website, one can chose to click donate or volunteer, with more than seven options each coming to light, such as what to donate and thrift shops to visit, where all proceeds go to fighting homelessness and AIDS/HIV. When one goes to the NYC Department of Homeless Service website, the only help to aid one in volunteering or donating is one small, generic paragraph and the instructions are not community specific. The smaller shelters are easier to help as a volunteer or donator, and thus better to improve conditions as they can get help that directly addresses their needs instead of government funding.
Another problem that arises out of poverty is that shelters cannot afford heat and air-conditioning. NPR reports a man named Korvin Newkumph died in a homeless shelter last year, “Because there was no ventilation, and there were 300 men crammed in one small building” . Problems like these do not happen in smaller shelters as previously mentioned, there is room to breathe. In these smaller, private shelters, there is more trust because the homeless feel like humans again. They are an individual in society again, instead of being just a statistic.
Corruption
Corruption has run so rampant within homeless shelters that it is driving people in need away from the shelters. Overcrowding has led to corruption, mainly theft, inside the homeless shelters. Many in need of shelter are scared because of the horrible stereotypes and tales of a bloodthirsty society inside the shelter. David Pirtle, a homeless man, recalls, “And I found out that a lot of what I was afraid of was true. I never found out what a body louse was until I got into the shelter. You know, I had my shoes stolen, just like people said you “get your shoes stolen” . Volunteers can stop corruption by giving a few short hours of their time to work in the homeless shelters. The more homeless shelters, the less corruption. Also the more volunteers, the more the needs of the homeless get noticed. Pirtle argues, “That’s why I’m a big fan of smaller, scattered-sized shelters, where people can get more focus on what they need to get help” . These smaller shelters are not logistically efficient in NYC, but an increased number of volunteers can help obtain the needed ratios in the larger shelters.
There are in fact small communities of aid and trust inside these shelters. The homeless develop groups pertaining to their interests and needs and generally look out for their groups. Pirtle goes on to add about the shoe tragedy, “ although I will say that there were three people in the shelter who offered to give me a pair of shoes after that happened” . Shelters such as ones run by Housing Works are much smaller and have the ratios necessary to keep corruption down. John, who runs a small private shelter, stated in a radio interview,
“And I think there are a lot of people that would come right off the street if they knew they had a locked room, if there weren’t so much, you know, so much bureaucracy, if (unintelligible) weren’t feeling so controlled, people could kind of breathe a little bit. I think you’d see people come in off (technical difficulties) much more expensive, because sheltering is very pricey”

The large overcrowded federal shelters scare people away from being sheltered because it makes them feel controlled. Smaller, private shelters give the homeless their own space to be a human instead of following the rest of the homeless crowd and being treated like a mindless lemming. Anderson writes that all cultures will die out, but it would be a mistake to put the same time limit and standard on a general level. “It would be a mistake to equate this fatality with that common element in nationalist ideologies” . By stuffing the homeless in giant shelters, you are giving all of their hope the same fatality level. In smaller shelters, goals are individualized and the individual is individualized.
Shelters must stop their own corruption and accept all walks of life. This is described as a low-barrier shelter, where anyone, even if they are abusing substances, can walk in and receive help. People with problems aren’t let in to most federal shelters, as Pam, a former homeless woman explains, “I was dealing with both mental illness and substance abuse, and I think people forget that with substance abuse, you don’t have much control. You need help, you really need help, and you can’t necessarily come in without having alcohol on your breath” . Pam was rejected when she needed help the most. Low-barrier shelters are smaller and private and specialize in helping those who have serious problems. Housing works provides HIV services where the NYC Department of Homeless Service does not mention HIV on their website and all who are seeking shelter must apply beforehand. Those who need help the most can get it at smaller, private homeless shelters.
Stuck
Shelters face the problem that their patients will never garner enough funds to leave, but smaller shelters are more lenient with their policies, thus enabling job searching. There are too many rules with when to check in and lines to wait for with federal shelters. Back to Pirtle, “The shelter where I stayed briefly, you had to be in line. They technically opened at 7:00, but you had to be in line at 4:30 in the afternoon to be able to get your bed back, and this is obviously not conducive to anyone who is not working bank hours” . Many face this problem, and cannot escape homelessness, as they need a place to stay alive more than they need a job. To add on, most of the links have to do with discharge under NYC Department of Homeless Service’s Temporary Housing page . The federal shelters suppress one from finding a job and want you out of their hands as soon as possible. Housing Works is completely the opposite. They have a whole organization dedicated to protecting former patients investments. Housing works encourages the individual to grow and prosper, and to more importantly become a productive individual in society.
Inclusiveness
Giving money and effort is not just enough to combat the problems of the homeless shelters. This must be directed to smaller, private homeless shelters as the combat the problems of poverty, corruption, and the homeless not being able to leave the cycle of homelessness. These smaller shelters better attend to the individual, as they establish communities of trust, accept all walks of life, and are able to encourage job searching and growth. They do this because in these small ratios they treat the homeless not as something that needs a place to stay but as someone who needs help. We as a community need to stop “Othering” the homeless, as Edward Said would say. The federal shelters and most of society generalize them and lump them into one category, outside society. These smaller shelters treat them as an individual, an individual in our society. The smaller shelters give them attention, better funding, space, individuality, and opportunity to succeed much better than the federal shelters. The smaller private shelters better treat the homeless as a person.

Sources:
http://www.npr.org/2012/12/06/166666265/why-some-homeless-choose-the-streets-over-shelters

http://www.nyc.gov/html/dhs/html/housing/housing.shtml

http://chworks.org/classes-coaching/financial-classes/homebuyer-classes/home buyers-toolbox/protecting-your-investment/

http://www.npr.org/2012/12/06/166666265/why-some-homeless-choose-the-streets-over-shelters

http://www.nyc.gov/html/dhs/html/faq/faq.shtml

http://www.housingworks.org/

http://www.nyc.gov/html/dhs/html/help/help.shtml

http://money.cnn.com/2013/05/24/pf/donations-charities/

https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/01/03/home-j03.html

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The Bleak Future of Fashion

Fashion has been defined as the “eternal recurrence of the new” (Svendsen 411). But, in recent years, fashion increasingly seems to belong to the past (Svendsen 411). Perhaps it would be more appropriate to define fashion as the “eternal recurrence of the same”, seeing as “fashion no longer contain[s] any surprises for us” (Svendsen 411). The fashion industry has exhausted itself of all innovation and, in order to subsist, has become heavily dependent upon preexisting styles. In my opinion, this phenomenon explicates society’s current infatuation with retro fashion. According to Reynolds, “there has never been a society in human history so obsessed with the cultural artifacts of its own immediate past” (xiii). Society’s fixation with the past—particularly in fashion—has generated a sort of “retromania” that “has become a dominant force in our culture, to the point where it feels like we’ve reached some kind of tipping point. Is nostalgia stopping our culture’s ability to surge forward, or are we nostalgic precisely because our culture has stopped moving forward and so we inevitably look back to more momentous and dynamic times?” (Reynolds xiv). What happens when we’ve exhausted the past? And since this decade has been entirely consumed with the past, “what could possibly fuel tomorrow’s nostalgia crazes and retro fads?” (Reynolds xiv). The fashion industry is no longer capable of evolution and, as a result, is trapped in an endless cycle of retro fashions.
According to Reynolds, “rummaging through yesterday’s wardrobe closet has been integral to the [fashion] industry for some time”, but retro style has become especially prevalent in recent years (xvii). Retro fashion is a clothing style that “is consciously derivative or imitative of trends [from] the recent past” and often “implies a movement toward the past instead of a progress toward the future” (“Retro Style”). Retro fashion roughly dates from 1920-1990 and encompasses an inestimable range of trends. Current fashions such as bell-bottom jeans, cat-eye sunglasses, high-waisted pants, fedoras, chiffon scarves, and red lipstick are all considered to be retro. In recent years, “1990s fashion has made a comeback”, for “many of the fabrics and patterns ubiquitous to the decade (such as crushed velvet and floral) are popular now in the 2010s” (“Retro Style”). Dr. Marten combat boots originated in the ‘90s, for example, but 2012 has ironically been the company’s most profitable year in all its history (“Retro Style”). Oddly enough, the retro epidemic has primarily afflicted the high fashion industry, which, supposedly, is notable for its radical innovations. According to Reynolds, “designers like Marc Jacobs and Anna Sui ransacked the styles of previous epochs almost as soon as they ended” (xvii). In addition to reusing past fashions, many couturiers “have gone a step further by recycling their own former creations in new collections. Martin Margiela was perhaps the first, but Diane von Furstenberg made the point quite explicitly in 2001 when she made an exact reproduction of a dress she had launched in 1972…Dolce & Gabbana and Prada have opened shops that sell clothes from former collections. Manolo Blahnik has brought old shoe collections into production, and Fendi has done the same with his bags” (Svendsen 451). What is responsible for the sudden prevalence of retro fashion?
In an era where innovation is glorified in most industries, fashion’s fascination with retroism is somewhat perplexing. Why would anyone choose to wear “blatantly outdated apparel” (Hennessey)? Why wouldn’t someone want to present him or herself “as a modish work of living art by choosing to dress in the smartest, most chic outfits? While not everyone appreciates the vintage trend, it’s [valuable] to understand some of the inspirations behind it” (Hennessey). Various explanations exist for the recent explosion of retroism. To Reynolds, nostalgia is culpable for society’s vintage reversion. Retroism satiates society’s “collective longing for a happier, simpler, more innocent age” (Reynolds xxv). For some, retro fashion may symbolize an escape from contemporary society; an escape into a glamorized past. “Retro is a loving exhumation, a bringing back to the light, of the world we saw—or fancied we saw—around us, before the modern world kicked in and we had to grow up and take responsibility for something called The Future” (The Independent). Or, perhaps the value of vintage has increased as a result of the decline of tangible possessions. “In an age of ‘invisible’ downloads from the iTunes library, is it surprising we long for the days when buying a record was an event? Retro is all about ownership, solidity and lastingness, of having some concrete possessions in an increasingly virtual world” (The Independent). Some may sport retro fashions in the pursuit of individualism—a vintage, leather jacket from a thrift shop is guaranteed to be more unique than a leather plucked from the racks at Forever 21. Or, perchance, society finds a sort of comfort in retro fashion, for it symbolizes the past and an idealized past is typically more kindly than an uncertain future. Maybe retro fashion is making a comeback simply because the sophisticated garments of previous decades are preferred to modern fashions, which tend to be more revealing.
Perhaps there is a more profound and philosophical explanation for society’s interest in retro fashion. Many argue that there is a relationship between fashion and identity. According to Svendsen, “clothes are a vital part of the social construction of the self” (195). If this statement is valid, it seems reasonable to assume that “an understanding of fashion ought to contribute to an understanding of ourselves and the way we act” (Svendsen 33). Svendsen believes that “clothes are not a shield for the body but function rather as an extension of it. All of us have to express in some way who we are via our visual appearance”, and this suggests that the clothing we wear is reflective of our identities (195). But, if the basic “principle of fashion is to create an ever-increasing velocity, to make an object superfluous as fast as possible, in order to let a new one have a chance”, then “the increasingly rapid cycles of fashion indicate a more complex conception of the self, because the self becomes more transient” (Svendsen 355, 338). Since the early 1990s, the recycling process has reached such a heightened speed that something hardly has time to go out of fashion before it is back in fashion again and, if fashion is really representative of our identities, it would be implausible that our identities would change so frequently and, if they did, we technically wouldn’t have identities because they would be so sporadic and diverse. “Fashion is irrational in the sense that it seeks change for the sake of change. Fashion is not ‘more profound’ than calling the change for the sake of change…fashions are created first and foremost on the basis of previous fashions, and not as a ‘comment on society’, or the like” (Svendsen 2338). If skirts on the runway next season are significantly longer than those currently in style, for example, the only explanation for this change is because the skirts have been short, not because society has become more puritanical (Svendsen 2338). There is no hidden meaning behind changes in fashion—they are inexplicable, for “the aim of fashion is rather to be potentially endless” (Svendsen 2338). According to Svendsen, “fashion has presented itself as something that could shape our lives” but, in actuality, fashion does not add much significance or weight to our actions and identities due to its erratic nature.
Svendsen posits that “fashion dies because it fails to maintain velocity…[this] death [is] due to the fact that fashion [has] reached a critical speed that changed its entire logic” (451). “The heyday of clothes fashion—the period during which it still appeared to be presenting something new—basically lasted for only a century, from the time Charles Frederick Worth opened his fashion house in Paris in 1857 until the 1960s. Since then the traditional replacement logic of fashion, by which something new is constantly replaced by something even newer, has itself been replaced by a logic of supplementation, where all styles become more or less contemporaneous and every style is endlessly recyclable” (Svendsen 2323). In conclusion, fashion formerly had a more linear temporality, and it has, to an increasing extent, recently obtained a more cyclic temporality (Svendsen). This cyclic temporality is representative of the fact that innovation no longer exists in fashion and continuously repeats itself in cycles, while, in the past, innovation was an omnipresent factor in fashion and it therefore had a more linear advancement. Retro fashion is simply in style at the moment because fashion has, once again, completed a full cycle and, having run out of innovation, has relied on past fashions in order to deliver the change that makes up the fundamental logic of the fashion industry. The future of fashion is dead, and retro fashion is just part of the recycling that is natural in the industry as a result of a lack of innovation.

-Isabel Beaudoin

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Woodstock: Constructing an Imagined Community Through the Power of Music

Woodstock: Constructing an Imagined Community Through the Power of Music

During the summer of 1969, nearly half a million people came together in the rural town of Bethel, New York for “three days of peace and music” (Brandeis).  This music festival, better known as Woodstock, became one of the most influential and defining moments of the hippie subculture that flourished during the 1960s and 70s.  This was a time marked by the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and new explorations in social justice movements.  The hippies represented the youth of America who participated in these movements, rejected middle-class expectations, and embraced freedom of individual expression (“Hippie (subculture)”).  The hippie movement influenced nearly everything in mainstream culture from fashion to music.  Music was particularly essential to the hippie subculture because it helped construct an imagined community.  An “imagined community” is collective consciousness of belonging to a group without actually knowing those within the group or being physically together (Andersen 37-46).  Members of an imagined community can connect through shared beliefs, experiences, and forms of media.  Naturally, such a community can be difficult to observe or study because the pure definition implies that the members do not have to interact physically.  Woodstock is unique in that it provides an opportunity for a physical expression of the hippies’ imagined community.  Clifford Geertz’s concept of “thick description” is helpful in examining Woodstock and analyzing the structure of an imagined community of hippies constructed and shaped by music (Geertz 7).  Woodstock holds significance because it demonstrates the use of music as a tool to produce a physical expression of the strength and size of the hippies’ imagined community.

The Power of Music

Jimi Hendrix once remarked,  “Music doesn’t lie.  If there is something to be changed in this world, then it can only happen through music” (“Jimi Hendrix Quotes”).  Music holds incredible power in that it can significantly influence those who listen to it.  Something as simple as a song can serve as an outlet to express ideals, opinions, and beliefs on a universal stage for all to hear.  The power of music is so potent and pure that it can connect individuals who share the same musical tastes and appreciation. Therefore, it is useful to discuss the deeper significance of the music played at Woodstock in order to comprehend its connection to the people who traveled to the festival to hear it.

The musical performers at Woodstock reflect what Sally Tomlinson (author of “Psychedelic Rock Posters: History, Ideas, and Art”) describes as the hippie’s affinity for creativity, experimentation, and rejection of mainstream expectations (Charters 293).  Memorable performances include Jimi Hendrix’s warped version of the “Star Spangled Banner,” Richie Haven’s entirely improvised song “Freedom,” and Janis Joplin’s soulful set (Brandeis).  Bands experimented with drug-inspired lyrics, unique musical arrangements and the occasional thirty-minute long jam sessions.  Some musicians even took a musical opportunity to voice anti-establishment and anti-war sentiments. Country Joe, lead singer of Country Joe and the Fish, was one passionate anti-war musician who criticized the Vietnam War through his music.  His performance at Woodstock included his song entitled “I Feel Like I’m Fixing-to-Die Rag,” which questioned the true significance of American participation in the war overseas.  While performing, he encouraged the crowd to join in the song’s memorable chorus (Charters 262),

“And it’s 1,2,3 what are we fighting for?

Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn

The next stop is Vietnam.

And it’s 4,5,6,7 open up the Pearly Gates

Well, there ain’t no time to wonder why

Whoopee, we’re all gonna die.”

The music at Woodstock united the crowd of people by showcasing everything they both advocated and enjoyed.  Songs reflected hippie political and social statements, while also expressing creativity and experimentation.  Moreover, shared musical tastes united the audience on a level of understanding and the ability to relate to each other’s beliefs. 

Experiencing the “Perfect Storm”

Although the music from Woodstock can still be played and enjoyed, only a limited number of people know what it was like to actually experience the festival.  In order to gain a personal in depth perspective of Woodstock, I interviewed a 61-year-old nurse from New Jersey who participated in the hippie movement as an adolescent.  Patricia Seuffert was only sixteen years old when she hitchhiked to Bethel, New York to experience Woodstock firsthand.  Her first recollection of the event was the feeling of being completely overwhelmed after arriving at the festival and seeing the huge audience.  Perhaps the most obvious observation of Woodstock is the sheer enormity of the event, implying the immense size of the hippie imagined community.  About 500,000 people attended the festival, but an estimated 1 million attempted entry (Brandeis) If anything, this illustrates the massive amount of power the community could potentially possess.  However, it is more important to acknowledge the cooperation and comradery such an immense crowd of people exhibited during Woodstock’s ups and downs.  The creators and promoters of Woodstock only expected a maximum crowd of 100,000.  When 50,000 people arrived to the venue days early, the promoters were forced to waive ticket fees, making Woodstock a free festival (Brandeis). The festival was not prepared for the insane amount of traffic that caused people to leave their cars on the side of the road and walk the rest of the way.  More importantly, the event lacked adequate toilets, food, and water, which made the event a potential disaster.  A huge rainstorm even interrupted the performances, drenching the crowd and creating enormous amounts of mud.

 Interestingly, these potentially catastrophic setbacks did not ruin the atmosphere or dampen the crowd’s spirit.  To Seuffert, Woodstock holds significance because the audience collectively decided to make the best of every situation and just enjoy the music.  She recalls,  “In a way, the whole thing was like a perfect storm.  So many things could have gone wrong, but everyone decided to be optimistic and easygoing.  We were all hot, hungry, and covered in dirt, but none of that really mattered because we were having a good time.  At one point, it was pouring rain and people were having a blast making mudslides and racing down the hill!  We all tried to make the most of the bad situations.”  The massive crowd’s collective optimism testified to their ability to maintain a nonviolent gathering and advocate togetherness.  Woodstock could have ended like the Altamont concert in California in which a violent riot erupted after the Hell’s Angels stabbed a young individual (Charters 306-314).  However, the audience at Woodstock demonstrated that they could advocate their pacifist beliefs and live together as a peaceful community.

Tolerance and Acceptance at Woodstock

The crowd at Woodstock would not be able to maintain such peaceful cooperation if the individuals were not accepting of each other.  This reflects how hippies embraced those around them.  Woodstock attracted thousands of people of different backgrounds, genders, and age.  Patricia Seuffert was only sixteen, and she remembers seeing people of all different ages (although mostly younger) and ethnicities.  This indicates that hippies embraced those who shared their ideals, regardless of gender, skin color, or class.  It is a testament to the tolerance and open-mindedness that dominated hippie culture.  Woodstock united young people who shared the same beliefs and also enjoyed the same taste in music, thus eliminating an impetus to argue and fight.  Furthermore, the excitement of such a unique life changing experience resulted in a welcoming and peaceful environment.  Soon after arriving at Woodstock, Seuffert lost touch with the people she had come with and found herself alone in a crowd of half a million people.  However, she never felt nervous or vulnerable.  In fact, she described everyone as “so nice, it was almost odd.”  The fact that she, a sixteen year old, felt comfortable amongst a crowd of that magnitude demonstrates the comradery that must have sparked between those who witnessed Woodstock.  As Michael Lang (one of the founders of the festival) remarked, “Everyone dropped their defenses and became a huge extended family. Joining together, getting into the music and each other, being part of so many people when calamity struck — the traffic jams, the rainstorms — was a life-changing experience. None of the problems damaged our spirit. In fact, they drew us closer. We recognized one another for what we were at the core, as brothers and sisters, and we embraced one another in that knowledge” (Lang).

Conclusions

The hippies inhabited an imagined community constructed by the ideals they shared as well as the music that embodied these ideals.  Normally, those who inhabit an imagined community do not know or physically interact with each other.  Woodstock is the exception to this rule.  The festival was a physical expression of the imagined community constructed by music and inhabited by the hippies who enjoyed it.  It provided an opportunity for people from different walks of life who shared the same opinions, beliefs, and ideals to unite under the appreciation of similar music tastes.  Moreover, Woodstock demonstrated the ability of the hippies to express their desire for a more peaceful and cooperative society by actually creating a nonviolent and tolerant gathering of great proportions.  Those who attended witnessed a unique and momentous occasion that still holds meaning in many different ways.  Even 45 years later, Patricia Seuffert can still recall a moment that molded her adolescence, “It was nighttime of the second day. I remember watching Janis Joplin’s set, and then I must have fallen asleep because I was so exhausted.  Suddenly I was waking up to Sly and the Family Stone performing, and the entire crowd was on its feet singing along and shouting, ‘I wanna take you higher! HIGHER! HIGHER!’  I guess that was when it hit me how amazing it was to be a part of Woodstock, especially at a young age.  It was so surreal…being out in the open under a huge sky with hundreds of thousands of people, just listening to some really amazing music together.”

Works Cited

Andersen, Benedict Richard. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1995. Print.

Brandeis, Jonathan, dir. “Woodstock: Behind the Music.” VH1 Behind The Music. 8 Aug. 1999. Television.

Charters, Ann, ed. The Portable Sixties Reader. New York: Penguin, 2003. Print.

Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York: Basic, 1973. Print.

"Jimi Hendrix Quotes." BrainyQuote. Xplore, n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2014.

Lang, Michael, and Holly George-Warren. The Road to Woodstock. New York: Ecco, 2009. Print.

Seuffert, Patricia. “Experiencing Woodstock.” Telephone interview. 21 Apr. 2014.

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Hippie (subculture).” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

Some Woodstock moments I enjoyed learning about:

Richie Havens’s “Freedom” performance:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5aPBU34Fyk

Country Joe’s performance: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xuUBCF3KKxc

Patricia Seuffert’s favorite moment (Sly and the Family Stone):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQkdiJQIX5Y

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HIPster Perspectives

“Beth, you know that really radical feminist girl who sits on the right side of the classroom and always makes such snarky comments?”  This query came from a non-hipster friend following our theology class just the other morning.  Feminists, LGBT individuals, and other such groups are often displayed in a rather negative light this day in age.  This subtle hatred is particularly common among younger members of society who may be afraid to concretely conform to a seemingly “radical” group, labeling themselves as “one of them” in the process.  Even as society progresses, there are still many omnipresent stereotypes and associations which shape the way that individuals view what are actually rather fluid and unthreatening terms, such as “feminism” (which is defined by Merriam Webster as, “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities”) (feminism).  Generally speaking, on college campuses, hipsters serve as individuals increasingly receptive to and analytical of flexible definitions of femininity, more open to discussion of sexual orientation, and most critical of the interplay between how gender and subjective opinions of masculinity and femininity impact everyday lives.  Although hipsters hold the stereotype of acting exclusive, ignorant, or unfriendly, they actually represent and alternate environment fit for fostering a unique approach to issues of gender and accompanying topics in today’s society.

Classification of the “Hipster”

            In order to gather perspectives from multiple personalities and demographics, I conducted a series of interviews each composed of the same six questions pertaining to issues of sexuality, as well as assumptions and realities surrounding masculinity, femininity, and gender. Primarily, I interviewed six students residing in Alumni Court South (three males and three females) of differing genders, socioeconomic positions, and sexual preferences.  Following this, I specifically chose to obtain answers to these questions from involved and active members of the Fordham Women’s Empowerment Club, to examine how those who “advertise” themselves as advocates of, “a feminist student community dedicated to empowering people of all genders” felt about such pressing issues (Fordham Women’s Empowerment).  Soon after I began my discussion with them, I was able to classify all three of these women as “hipsters”.  One was wearing a traditionally “male” outfit, sporting a blazer with a tie in dark tones.  It is stated in The Hipster Handbook that, “Hipsters are always very conscious of what they are wearing and distinguish themselves by dressing creatively” (Lanham 12).  Later in the interview, the person wearing this interestingly crafted design pointed it out, specifically to contrast her manly attire to the fact that she was also wearing makeup.  This leads into the statement that, “Hipsters believe that irony has more resonance than reason” (Lanham 12).  Although this is a rather juxtaposed combination, it is shown through this logic that people will inevitably notice the way that this hipster female presents herself.  The array of nose piercings in conjunction with pixie cuts and bohemian attire were other subtle clues which aided in my classification of these individuals as modern hipsters from a superficial appearance-based standpoint.  The fact that I was also asked to meet at Rodrigue’s, the notoriously hipster coffeehouse on campus, provided an initial clue to the type of people I would most likely be interacting with.

Perceptions of Gender and Gender Norms

            Hipsters have a much different overarching opinion on the effect of gender on all individuals and aspects of society.  I was motivated to characterize some people as “hipsters” in order to compare viewpoints and see how they match up to the mainstream thoughts on such an involved topic.  I began the interviews by asking the rather general yet packed question of, “How does gender influence the specific ways that a person lives, if it does at all?”  An interviewed Alumni Court South resident discussed the idea that males are born into blue blankets, contrasting the pink ones that a girl traditionally departs the nursery in.  Although this is a classic example that is used to display the initially established gender norms from just the first days of life, it is crucial to acknowledge that there is much that lies beyond this layer of common and basic understanding.  While the non-hipster individuals made statements all exclusively stating or eluding to the idea that many people may feel the need to conform to varying actions (such as what colors to wear, how they voice their opinions in class, etc.), the hipsters touched on this and more.  One WE club member stated that gender influences “everything ever”, particularly regarding socioeconomic status, how people construct their actions, and the ways individuals are critiqued and viewed by society-an omnipresent and all-encompassing factor. Yet another brought up the point that gender is not to be looked at as a binary entity.  Some people may not identify as one gender or another, while others may identify as both; the situation and classification is not to be simply sorted out through a black and white distinction.  This leads to the idea that, despite popular belief, there are actually multiple “imagined communities” of gender that one can fall into (Anderson).  This is relevant because it alludes to the understanding of gender as something that one chooses to identify with in one’s own way, as opposed to a mundane and commanding label one is stuck with at birth. 

Considering the Margins…

            The LGBT community is one that is constantly evolving in today’s society.  Although it is becoming increasingly common to hear somebody say, “I’m gay/lesbian/transgender”, the group is still regarded as a minority within the global community.  As hipsters are also a marginalized subculture, I was determined to discover if there is any correlation between how they feel about the LGBT community and their own status in society.  When I posed the question, “How do you think that the LGBT community is impacted based on stereotypes/realities of masculinity and femininity?” the hipster girl I initially directed it to automatically looked at one of her friends and said bluntly, “Well, you’re the gay one…” Seconds after, laughs erupted within the group, as I was reassured that this was intended as a friendly poke-not a hate-filled jab.  I could not help but contrast this to when I was in the lounge speaking with a straight freshman male who significantly lowered his voice, shifted his eyes downward, and let out an awkward laugh as a tour group came into the room while we were in the midst of a charged discussion of this topic.  Although Rodrigue’s Coffeehouse holds a much different ambiance than the first floor lounge of a residence hall, it is nevertheless key to examine the lack of openness and relative “shame” that was present in an environment lacking hipsters as we spoke about this.  Mainstream culture tells society that anything out of the ordinary that draws attention is a “spectacle”, and therefore warrants attention.  In his “The Society of the Spectacle”, Guy Debord states, “Being isolated-and precisely for that reason-this sector is the locus of illusion and false consciousness; the unity it imposes is merely the official language of generalized separation” (Debord 12).  The way that a counterculture such as the LGBT community is separated and marginalized affects the way that it is seen as a spectacle, and therefore causes it to captivate the dominant culture (be it for better or worse).

Feelings on Feminism

            As mentioned earlier, many people take the word “feminism” and spin it into a term used to describe the dominating agendas of man-hating women.  Naturally, I was curious to hear the opinions of the hipster WE club members, as I felt that they would be able to afford me a deeper look into their understanding of feminism and femininity, as well as how it is perceived today.  I was particularly shocked in the rather drastic differences I got to the answer of the question, “What is your definition of feminism, and what do you associate with feminism?” between the hipsters and non-hipsters.  The non-hipster students generally had answers centered on either the ideas of advocating for both genders, or doing so and specifically promoting women via actions.  In Joan Scott’s, “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis”, she states, “In its most recent usage, “gender” seems to have first appeared among American feminists who wanted to insist on the fundamentally social quality of distinctions based on sex” (Scott 1054).   This leads to her idea that, in order to create a thorough and clear picture, we must look at both male and female genders and their interplay, as opposed to solely focusing on one or another.  She goes on to say that, “In the case of gender, the usage has involved a range of theoretical positions as well as simple descriptive references to the relationships between the sexes” (Scott 1055).  This seems to represent how many students feel we should pay attention to both genders while focusing on equality and comparative action in order to make improvements in the quality of life for both males and females.  The hipsters, on the other hand, had a surprisingly opposing answer to the query.  One responded that feminism is, “not necessarily about equality”, and that, “things shouldn’t be defined by gender”.  This is reverting back to the idea that gender is such a free and all-encompassing term, and it is unable to be bound so strictly into the traditional “male versus female” dualistic categories.  Another hipster girl agreed, adding, “There are a lot of stereotypes that people don’t see everyday…” She argued that those not experiencing the detrimental effects of false assumptions firsthand inevitably have difficulty understand the reality and challenges associated with them.  In his novel Orientalism, Edward Said discusses the concept of “Othering”, and how those who are not in a position to partake in something for themselves will be unable to grasp the given situation and its implications entirely (Said).  While it is unclear just who is correct in this case, the hipsters’ outside the box thinking is obviously greatly more analytical and insightful the thought processes of others in its’ consideration of varied circumstances. 

Perspectives of Positions

            These differing reactions and takes on feminism display how the way that an individual is viewed or brought up in society can impact their opinions on a topic.  This can be showed, for example, in the differing stances on feminism and masculinity between Valerie Solanas in her SCUM Manifesto and Virginia Woolf in her A Room of One’s Own.  Solanas has a very radical opinion on the roles of males, stating that a man is, “completely egocentric, trapped inside himself, incapable of empathizing or identifying with others, of love, friendship, affection, or tenderness” (Charters 537).  Her diatribe focuses on how males are “incomplete”, and overall inferior to females who constitute the superior group.  On the other hand, Virginia Woolf believed that women should have their own space to work, but also stated that, “I need not hate any man; he cannot harm me” (Woolf 39).  While Woolf grew up an educated woman, it is key to note that Solanas did not have such privilege as a child.  She was sexually assaulted by her father, had an abusive grandfather, and was homeless during her teenage years (Valerie Solanas-Biography).  Overall, the class distinction between the two is definitely a factor that contributes to their contrasting opinions, as they were raised in opposing environments and grew up exposed to different, yet nevertheless influential personalities.  In a similar manner, the people who hipsters are surrounded by (most likely other hipsters) will aid in dictating their opinions and degree of open-mindedness to some extent.  While mainstream culture may dominate society, it is ironically stifling in the lack of deviation it accepts.

Concluding Thoughts

            The comparative study of hipsters and their viewpoints clearly contrasts them with the ideas and individuals constituting the mainstream culture when questions of gender, feminism, and attitudes towards minority struggles are raised.  Despite the perception of hipsters as alienated beings aiming to thrive in their own superior and overly commercialized world, they are actually to be rightfully seen among those most willing to extend their mental ability to comprehend and accept variation in society.  This subcultural generation is setting a precedent for more open and analytical discussion of somewhat heavy matters.  The hipsters’ experiences make way for an alternative and fresh angle that can be used to approach a range of content with a critical eye.

Works Cited

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities. New York: Verso, 1991. Print.

Charters, Ann. “Part Eight-With Our Arms Upraised: The Women’s Movement and The Sexual       Revolution.” The Portable Sixties Reader. New York: Penguin Books, 2003. 489-542. Print.

Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. New York: Zone Books, 1994. Print.

"feminism." Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <http://www.merriam- webster.com/dictionary/feminism>.

"Fordham Women’s Empowerment." Facebook. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2014.          <https://www.facebook.com/groups/299881073486995/?ref=br_tf>.

Lanham, Robert, Bret Nicely, and Jeff Bechtel. The Hipster Handbook. New York: Anchor Books,     2003. Print.

Said, Edward W.. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1978. Print. 

Scott, Joan. “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis.” The American Historical Review 91.5             (1986): 1053-1075. Print.

"Valerie Solanas - Biography." Womyn Kind. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2014.

Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989. Print.

 -Beth Yarze

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slut shaming: the agent of rape culture

Every culture has aspects that define it – way of dress, speech, and mannerisms. One particular aspect of culture has been so imbedded for so long that it has become apparent in society, and that aspect is slut shaming. Slut shaming is the practice of making individuals feel inferior and ashamed for their sexual acts or desires, be they deviant or heteronormative. In today’s society, all it takes to be labeled a “slut” is to be comfortable and open with one’s sexuality, and with this label comes connotations of dirtiness and impurity. Slut shaming manifests itself in a variety of ways: linguistically, socially, and culturally. This attack on sexual conduct is both unacceptable and uniquely difficult to combat because of its multitude of expressions. In today’s society, it is of critical importance to educate and spread awareness of slut shaming, to combat rape culture and support feminist theory.

Today, feminism is defined as a belief in the social and economic equality of genders. Slut shaming is thus an importance feminist issue because the process undermines women’s sexuality. Slut shaming has much to do with traditional gender roles. The label “slut” assigns a female impurity and corruption. People view “sluts” as aggressive and dominating – traits usually ascribed to males. All it may take is being independent rather than dependent on males or being loud rather than meek to be assigned the label. In her book Dude, You’re A Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School, CJ Pascoe explores the relationship between the slur “fag” and its recpients. She notes that the word, considered the worst possible identity by her male informants, has a female counterpart:

“Students did tell me that ‘slut’ was the worst thing a girl could be called” (Pascoe 336). Just as boys are called “fags” for being something other than masculine, girls can be called “sluts” for straying away from traditional feminity. A girl can be mocked as a slut for simply having a hemline that is considered immodest, regardless of whether or not she was sexually active. Nuanced slut shaming can come in the form of girls ridiculing other girls by calling them “desperate” for actively seeking out boyfriends rather than letting boys come to them first. It does not necessarily take any sexual activity for a girl to be called a slut; however, girls are still far more likely to be mocked for sexual activity than boys. Being “promiscuous” goes against the traditional expectations of feminity, which include purity and well-groomed behavior; by this definition, slut shaming has been present for centuries, from The Scarlet Letter’s Hester Prynne being forced to wear a large “A” affixed to her clothing to Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina’s title character being rejected from her society for having an affair, ultimately killing herself. In both novels, the men involved are excluded from the public outrage of the relationships. By “going after” boys instead of waiting for them to come to her, a girl could certainly be called a slut for going against traditional gender roles. Girls could also accuse their sexual rivals as being sluts out of envy, even if they are trying to pursue the same male that the “slut” is.

Both men and women are guilty of slut shaming: A study entitled “Birds of a feather? Not when it comes to sexual permissiveness,” notes that “promiscuous” individuals are perceived far more negatively than non-permissive peers; those who are deemed more permissive at risk of social isolation. Some men, possibly viewing the anti-“feminine” qualities like assertiveness and agency that “sluts” employ, are made uncomfortable by the breaking of gender roles and choose to assign girls the “slut” identity. Additionally, the researchers of Cornell University produced that similar ideas were apparent in platonic, same-gender friendship areas. Researchers asked college women read a description of an imaginary woman colleague, “Joan,” then describe their feelings about her as an individual. To one group of women, Joan was mentioned as having a total of two sexual partners throughout her lifetime; to the second group, she was described as having twenty partners. The researchers arrived at the conclusion that women, even women who described themselves as  “more promiscuous”, found the Joan having twenty partners to be “less competent, emotionally stable, warm, and dominant than the Joan who’d only boasted two”.

This blatant study allows a look at how slut shaming can strongly rear its ugly head. Clifford Geertz’s idea of thick description allows an understanding of how slut shaming manages to manifest itself so strongly. By examining the smaller ways that slut shaming is present in every day life, it is easier to understand how it is such a large part of society. Examining its linguistic manifestations is useful. There are many terms that are explicitly misogynistic and attack women for the actions of men. Take “jailbait” – this term, slang for a girl below the legal age of consent whose appearance implies that an older man may find her too attractive to pass up, suggests that the girl at hand is completely responsible for luring innocent older men to their demise for desiring her. The phrase “daddy issues” is just as misogynistic. AskMen.com describes it as “when she appears to be seeking attention from men in order to compensate for the attention she may not have received from her father. When we talk about her daddy issues, we’re generally talking about things like aggressive flirtation, promiscuity, a tendency toward exhibitionism, and certain emotional hang-ups.” This term implies that for women to be seeking sexual relationships without long term dating, she must have been discarded or neglected by her father as child; there must be something deeply wrong with a “promiscuous” woman. Another, newer term is “friend zone”. Friend zone refers to a platonic relationship wherein one person wishes to enter into a romantic or sexual relationship, while the other does not. In popular culture and the internet, men often gripe about the “zone” their woman friend seemingly sentences them to, as if being kind and a friend to a woman deserves a reward of sex. When examined, this term proves to be misogynistic in that it suggests that women are not quite capable of maintaining a friendship with a man if it doesn’t result in sex. All of these terms belittle what women actually want or what is best for them, and suggests that they are obliged to satisfy the men around them. These seemingly insignificant linguistic manifestations come to signify something large, and that is that slut shaming asserts dominance in today’s culture.

Rape culture is a concept that connects the culture of a society to its attitude towards rape and sexual assault, and in which majority beliefs approaches normalize rape. Rape culture teaches that women should avoid getting raped, rather than teaching men not to rape. Slut shaming is a main process in rape culture – for a glaring illustration of how it leads to rape culture; one can look at recent news stories. In the 2012 Steubenville rape case, a high school girl was repeatedly and publicly sexually assaulted under the influence of alcohol by several of her male peers. Her rapists took photo of the events, and their joking attitude about it was well documented on their various social networking accounts. Two students and football players were eventually convicted in a juvenile court for their actions. The case gathered a nearly overwhelming amount of media attention, with many media outlets sympathizing with the self-proclaimed “rape-crew”, blaming the victim for being irresponsible. CNN’s Poppy Harlow stated that it was “incredibly difficult, even for an outsider like me, to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart…” (Edwards 1). The lamenting of the media about the future of the boys’ athletic careers, rather than the psychological and physical health of their victim, exemplifies the disturbing nature of rape culture. Slut shaming feeds the idea that girls who are intoxicated are at fault for being raped, and that girls who take their attackers to justice should be mocked and harassed.

In a similar instance, fifteen-year-old Audrie Pott was under the influence and raped by three of her male peers while passed out. Her attackers had also taken crude photographs of the acts and electronically passed them around. Days later, Pott learned of the existence of the photographs and her peers were not afraid to taunt her through social media. A victim of rape and severe slut shaming, Pott committed suicide. This awful cycle can only thrive if society continues to accede to notion that people are raped as result of something they did themselves, be it becoming intoxicated or wearing “revealing” clothing.

  By mocking individuals, especially for women, for sexual acts, it lessens the dignity of those individuals and makes them easier targets of dismissal. Slut shaming and rape culture are two very complex issues that are extremely deep rooted within today’s society – they are manifested linguistically, socially, and culturally. While it is almost impossible to come up with one short-term solution for the entire spectrum of issues, simply starting a dialogue about those issues can bring about change. This first and very important step in trying to eradicate rape culture and slut shaming can spread awareness and promote love and self-acceptance among struggling victims. In addition to programs like DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) that are found in most middle schools, schools can promote sexual health in more friendly and appropriate ways, by teaching their students about consent and healthy relationships. Most sexual health education focuses mainly on the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases rather than consensual relationships and seeking help when it is needed.

Ideally, new programs could be implemented to begin in middle school. Though all states are in some way involved in sex education in their respective public schools, many defer to students’ parents for specific education and allow them the choice to opt their children out, and nearly all of the programs cover very general topics. Though all states discuss family planning and contraception in at least some way or another, very few focus on issues of sexuality that are not explicit sexual acts. In short, schools are more concerned with the biological processes of sex than sexual responsibility and accompanying psychological health. Most legislation quickly dismisses any acts that include sexual education beginning in middle school. Though it is something parents may be uncomfortable with, the earlier students begin to have a healthy dialogue about sexual health, the more likely they will live a life free of any sort of sexual dysfunction. The ideal sexual education program would begin in middle school and would cover a vast array of topics beyond biology. Decisions about sexual behavior, decision making, and communication and refusal skills could all effectively combat slut shaming by promoting a positive attitude toward sexuality, without being overtly sexual like some parents fear. Though those in legislation like to think that all students get appropriate sexual education at home, that is far from the truth. By implementing programs stressing safe decisions and respect, students will be exposed to something that can lower the rate of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancies, as well as combating rape culture.

The consequences of slut shaming and rape culture are astounding. After being warned that dressing a certain away is guaranteed to attract negative attention, and that one should try to avoid being raped the same way by not drinking the way one is advised not to catch a cold by being hygienic, women may be afraid to persecute their rapists and blame themselves for something that is certainly not their fault. There is no quick fix to rape culture: it is imbedded in society. With education, awareness, and addressing the ways in which rape-culture manifests itself, it is certainly possible to educate how to be a champion of human rights and dignity.

 

Bibliography

1. Pascoe, C. J. Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School. Berkeley: U of California, 2007. Print.

2. Edwards, David. “CNN Grieves That Guilty Verdict Ruined ‘promising’ Lives of Steubenville Rapists.” CNN Grieves That Guilty Verdict Ruined ‘promising’ Lives of Steubenville Rapists. Raw Story, 17 Mar. 2013. Web. 20 Apr. 2014. <http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/03/17/cnn-grieves-that-guilty-verdict-ruined-promising-lives-of-steubenville-rapists/>.

3. Scott, Joan Wallach. Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis. Washington: American Historical Association, 1986. Print.

4. Vrangalova, Zhana, Rachel E. Bukberg, and Gerulf Rieger. “Birds of a Feather? Not When It Comes to Sexual Permissiveness.” Sage (2014): n. pag. Web. 20 Apr. 2014.

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Gender, Fashion, and Irony: The Hipster Way

For better or for worse, the societies we live in dictate how we view gender. Through the media and other institutions, people learn what is considered the ideal man or woman.  When a person steps out of these predefined lines, such as a man acting emotional or a woman enjoying football, they may face social ridicule or other setbacks.  The hipster, however, regularly goes against the grain of mainstream societal ideas through consumption and irony.  Along with rejecting mainstream media consumption, the hipsters’ unique fashion styles have the potential to question what we think of as traditionally male or female.  Despite this optimistic picture, however, males and females do not share in this process equally.  Although hipster men can subvert traditional gender roles through fashion, particularly in using masculine fashion ironically, hipster women do not break out of their roles as easily.

When the typical hipster comes to mind, their use of irony stands out as one of their most common traits - Christy Wampole rightfully labels the hipster “our archetype of ironic living.”  Hipsters redefine social identity through their habits, criticizing mainstream culture through either not participating in it or taking it on ironically.  For example, when a hipster chooses to listen to independent bands over popular music, it can show dissatisfaction with mainstream music trends and a desire for something fresh.  Consuming a product ironically can also send a message, as it can subvert the traditional meanings we apply for something.   This approach does not come without its detractors, however.  Wampole criticizes over focus on consumerism, saying that the hipster “tries to negotiate the age-old problem of individuality, not with concepts, but with material things.”  She places particular ire on the inauthenticity of ironic clothing choices:

“Look at your clothes. What parts of your wardrobe could be described as costume-like, derivative or reminiscent of some specific style archetype (the secretary, the hobo, the flapper, yourself as a child)? In other words, do your clothes refer to something else or only to themselves? Do you attempt to look intentionally nerdy, awkward or ugly? In other words, is your style an anti-style?” (Wampole)

The concept of gender performativity reframes the hipster use of irony in clothing choices, emphasizing its importance in combatting gender conformity.  Judith Butler describes gender as performative, saying, “We act and walk and speak and talk in ways that consolidate an impression of being a man or being a woman.”  Gender goes beyond the roles a person takes on; it produces ideas and provokes reactions out of others.  Hipsters who take on outlandish clothes that do not fit traditional gender ideas incite thought on what we consider masculine or feminine.  With this in mind, Butler says, “Think about how difficult it is for sissy boys or how difficult it is for tomboys to function socially without being bullied or without being teased or without sometimes suffering threats of violence…” those outside the traditional gender roles face scorn for their choices.  For example, male hipsters dressing out of the ordinary face this scorn.  Alecia Simmonds points out that much of the hatred of hipsters in Australia stems from “a reactionary policing of masculinity […] a vilification of effeminate men that often contains a simmering homophobia.”  Because their skinny jeans and thick-rimmed glasses do not fit traditional masculine ideas, they face condemnation.  Simmonds criticizes the “suffocatingly narrow repertoire of models of masculinity” found in Australia, demanding that anger should not be wasted on hipsters that defy gender roles.

            Male hipsters that ironically embrace traditionally masculine symbols can redefine them to suit their vision of manhood, as shown by lumberjack hipsters.  Simmonds comments on the hipster usage of the traditional masculine beard, calling them “efforts to channel and express authentic feelings.  [The hipsters] are winsome woodsmen and eighteenth-century prospectors…who weep.”  Hipsters who express their masculinity “through a mosaic employment of classical ‘male tropes’” (Zivo), such as those mimicking lumberjacks, take this idea further.  Because they do not fit the traditional image of the aggressive man, they deliberately take on their appearances and symbols through consumer practices.  For example, a hipster imitating a lumberjack might wear flannel shirts or buy a log “as a character accessory, alluding to a lifestyle to which he has no real access” (Zivo).  While people like Wampole criticize the focus on consumerism, Adam Zivo claims that these hipsters “move society forward, enabling people to be more than just emblems of their genitals.”  Although they are “necessary growing pains” for “so-called manly men” (Zivo), they allow men to challenge traditional gender roles with a wink and a nod.  Even though they do not have the same behaviors, a hipster man can still embrace the same kinds of fashion, making him just as much of a man as a traditional manly man.

Although hipster men can redefine themselves through fashion, hipster women do not have the same opportunities.  As Simmonds mentions, the traditional image of a hipster is “a man who has failed in his masculinity,” with the female hipster not receiving the same vitriol.  Although this suggests that the female hipster has more social acceptance than her male counterpart, it also suggests that her actions do not have the same outlandish nature.  In an essay for “What Was the Hipster?” discussing women’s place in hipsterdom, Danya Tortorici articulates why this occurs.  While she states that hipsters are typically not acknowledged as artists even when they produce art, she notices that “once adopted or sanctioned by hipster taste, those would-be exemplars of the hipster feminine are not praised for their art, but repurposed as style icons” (Tortorici, 123).  Women were not even considered in the conversation of male hipster trends breaking the mold on gender stereotypes.  Clothing was considered a woman’s “familiar domain” (Totorici, 124), and Tortorici suspects that most people saw “no novelty in women dressing to fit a culture” (124).  As a result, the female hipster becomes harder to recognize, and hipster women’s options to subvert gender roles and society itself go more unnoticed compared to the visual identification we give hipster men.  Although Tortorici elaborates on the use of presentation and photography in female hipster expression, her earlier points outline a gender problem in hipsterdom.  With women having less space for subversion in hipster culture, traditional ideas for women stay reinforced while men subvert traditional masculinity.

Through Hipster Sexism, the same irony that helps hipster men transcend their gender roles can perpetuate misogyny.  Alissa Quart defines Hipster Sexism as “the objectification of women but in a manner that uses mockery, quotation marks, and paradox.”  Unlike classic sexism, which plays misogyny straight, Hipster Sexism puts an ironic spin on it for the sake of humor.  Rather than serving as a means to help women break out of classic sexism, however, it serves as “a distancing gesture, a belief that simply by applying quotations, uncool, questionable, and even offensive material about women can be alchemically transformed” (Quart).  Although it makes a joke out of the disadvantages women have over men, it does not fix the problem because sexism itself is still a problem.  With classic sexists continuing to pose a huge issue for women, a comedic repackaging of misogyny for simply humor’s sake proves more harmful than the male hipster parodying traditional masculinity by dressing as a lumberjack.  While the latter makes us question masculinity, the former distances ourselves from an ongoing problem.

Although Hipster Sexism poses some problems, hipster women can effectively subvert sexism by using irony.  Quart cites a political advertisement by Lena Dunham that compared a person’s first time voting to a woman losing her virginity.  She praises the ad because “the irony appeared to be entirely under Dunham’s control. She was a young woman who was mocking Classic Sexists’ idea of how young women think” (Quart).  Not only did Durham control how she expressed and parodied her femininity, she also used the humor as a critique on traditional sexism, much like how the lumberjack hipster constructs his appearance and buying habits to comment on masculinity.

Irony and gender presentation can help hipster women redefine their gender, but they have limited options when compared to hipster men.  With less notability in hipster fashion than men and with Hipster Sexism often out of their control, women face an uphill battle in confronting gender roles through hipsterdom.  When given control to shape these things as a male hipster carefully constructs his own gender presentation, however, results are possible.  Allowing women to have the power to control their gender presentation is crucial for combatting sexism in society.

Works Cited

Butler, Judith. “Your Behavior Creates Your Gender | Judith Butler | Big Think.” Big Think. Victoria Brown & Peter Hopkins, 19 Feb. 2011. Web. 21 Apr. 2014.

Quart, Alyssa. “The Age of Hipster Sexism.” The Cut. New York Media, 30 Oct. 2012. Web. 21 Apr. 2014.

Simmonds, Alecia. “In Defence of the Hipster Male.” Daily Life. Sarah Oakes, 15 Oct. 2012. Web. 21 Apr. 2014.

Tortorici, Dayna. “You Know It When You See It.” What Was the Hipster?: A Sociological Investigation. By Mark Greif. New York: N 1 Foundation, 2010. 122-35. Print.

Wampole, Christy. “How to Live Without Irony.” The New York Times. Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr., 17 Nov. 2012. Web. 21 Apr. 2014.

Zivo, Adam. “Lumberjacks & Kerouacs.” The Varsity Magazine. University of Toronto, 23 Feb. 2014. Web. 21 Apr. 2014.

Dakota Hernandez

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The F Word: Feminism in Media

The word feminism is often given a negative connotation.  Many women do not take on the label, proclaiming that they are not feminists because they do not hate men, and many men refute the label because it could potentially show weakness.  So often the media portrays feminism as women burning bras and resenting men, claiming that women are better and that is the end of the story.  However, hating men is not what being a feminist stands for.  A feminist simply believes that men and women are, or should be, equal in all aspects of life.  Many celebrities, protests, and other news outlets misconstrue feminism and bring negativity to the word.  In reality, feminism is what many people in society do believe in, they simply do not know the correct definition. In order to allow feminism to become a more accepted term, the media and other networks must change the current way feminism is portrayed.  Though society has come a long way in terms of accepting feminism, the media so strongly affects the way people think about it, that the definition becomes vague and unclear, and still prohibits men and women from declaring themselves feminists. 

The problem with the word feminism begins when the word is thrown around with a variety of meanings.  In a world where most women believe in female empowerment, feminism should be widely accepted.  However, when female celebrities start claiming they are not feminists, the general public begins to rethink their own stances.  In one instance, Katy Perry said that she “is not a feminist, but [she does] believe in the strength of women…[she thinks] we should say it’s great that these young women don’t feel like they need to be feminists” (Cosmopolitan).  While it is wonderful that Perry does believe in female strength, it goes against the true definition of feminism for her to say that she is not a feminist.  If women have strength, just as men do, and Perry believes that, then her beliefs make her a feminist.  It seems that celebrities are often quick to say no to the question of whether or not they are a feminist.  However, if the question were stated ‘do you believe in the equality of men and women?’ they would certainly be more likely to say yes.  Country singer Carrie Underwood was quoted saying “I wouldn’t go so far as to say I am a feminist, that can come off as a negative connotation.  But I am a strong female.” (Cosmopolitan)

Women that do not classify themselves as feminists still seem to say that they are strong females.  These are two concepts that should go hand-in-hand.  In Edward Said’s Orientalism, he explains the concept of the orient and the occident.  The orient had to integrate into the society of the occident, and in this case, feminists have become the orient.  In a society where the word feminism brings such a negative connotation, people who declare themselves feminists are seen as the “other.”  They are seen as men-hating, bra burning women lovers, akin to Valerie Solanas, author of “SCUM Manifesto,” who wrote that men are irrelevant to society.  It is through these radical feminists that many celebrities and others get their definitions of feminism.  It is hard to see past the extremist views of those like Solanas, therefore hindering people from wanting to accept that they agree with what feminism stands for.  Though there are the radical feminists, most men and women who believe in feminism simply want equality of the genders, fully equipped with equal pay and simple equal rights. 

There are celebrities who celebrate feminism and are constantly standing up for the word.  Lena Dunham, creator and star of the HBO show “Girls,” stated, “what feminism is about is equality and human rights.  For me that is just an essential part of my identity.  I hope Girls contributes to a continuance of feminist dialogue” (Cosmopolitan).  Women, and men, like Dunham are advocates for basic human equality.  To be a feminist does not mean that you have to be a woman. When John Legend was asked about his stance on male feminists he said, “all men should be feminists.  If men care about women’s rights the world will be a better place…we are better off when women are empowered” (Gray).  If not only men, but also women, could view feminism in this light, the word would simply become a label that people look fondly upon. 

However, Legend is one of the few male celebrities who have spoken out regarding feminism; rarely does the media question men on their take on feminism.  All types of media outlets post articles regarding what female celebrities are or are not feminists, but rarely are there ever men stating their opinion.  If a man says he is a feminist, then he “loses” a certain aspect of his masculinity.  In reality, though, arguing for equal rights has nothing to do with being masculine and feminine; the way that the media portrays feminism, though, gives the word feminine attributes.  When studying the history of the gender, Joan Scott argued how “we should be interested in the women and men, that we should not be working only on the subjected sex any more than an historian of class can focus entirely on peasants” (Scott 1054).  This should also be applied when discussing feminism.  Feminism is not a single sex issue; feminism regards both men and women.  It is impossible to discuss feminism without discussing men and women, and the equality of the two. 

There are many female celebrities, though, that given feminism a contorted definition, and instead declare themselves “humanists.”  Rather than saying that they are a feminist, celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker and Demi Moore say that they are “more [humanists] because [they] feel like that’s where we really need to be” (Duca).  But being a humanist is not where the world needs to be.  Being a feminist is not about only believing in the empowerment of women.  To be a feminist, one simply needs to be a person “who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes” (Adichie).  For anybody to say that they are not a feminist should insinuate that they do not believe in any form of equality of men and women.  Though there are certainly people like that who still exist, when most people claim that they are not feminists, they simply mean that they do not think that women are all-powerful and they do not hate men.  If every person could be educated, though, and learn that to declare oneself a feminist is simply declaring that they believe in equality, more people would be willing to use feminism to describe themselves. 

Although many men and women in the media continue to allow feminism to be portrayed in a negative light, there are people, like Legend and Dunham, who are willing to stand up for feminism.  Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, is “a feminist because [she believes] in women…it’s a heavy word, feminism, but it’s not one…we should run from. [She is] proud to be a feminist” (Cosmopolitan).  Sandberg pushes to have women believe that they are equal to men.  Women are just as competent on every level as men are, and male and female feminists see that equality and thrive from it; they are not afraid to call themselves feminists and accept how society may view them.  Those who shy away from the term are afraid of the word and what it is associated with.  Women fear that by saying they are feminists, they will be seen as male hating.  Men fear that by saying they are feminists, they will be seen as feminine.  This is where a change in the media truly comes into play.  The media has the power to change the perceived definition of feminism.  If men and women could speak out not only regarding women empowerment and young girls growing up to be strong and independent, but also about believing in the strength of the word feminism and how it correlated to equality, more people could define themselves as feminists. 

In my English class at the beginning of the semester, the question of who was a feminist was posed.  Out of about 16 in the class, 3 people raised their hands.  The follow up question was: what is feminism?  Out of those who were not feminists, none of them gave the correct definition of feminism.  When the question was changed to: who believes in the equality of men and women, everybody raised their hands.  Outside of class, I asked a friend how the media has changed their perception of feminism.  She said that in movies and in interviews, women are make do look like the “other one,” and that feminism never really seemed to be talked about positively, rather, the feminists in media are crazy women, screaming ridiculous things about men. Coming from an all-girl high school, I grew up knowing that women are not simply the “other one,” and that women are not the orient (Said), nor do feminists have to scream about men.  However, the way that feminism is portrayed gives young men and women incorrect perceptions about what feminists stand for.  Out of a class of 16 college students, more than 3 should confidently say that they are feminists.  If the media, including television, celebrities, and movies, could change the way that they represent feminism, the term would not be seen as such a threat.

In order for feminism to become a more widely accepted term and label, a solid definition needs to be known and portrayed by the media.  Young boys and girls look to famous men and women and the media for how they should be acting or what they should be doing that is “cool.”  If the word feminist did not carry a negative connotation and a misunderstood definition, many more people would be proud to call themselves a feminist.  Without a positive view in the media, people will continue to eschew the term.  If more shows such as Girls or The Mindy Project, both with strong female leads who appreciate and are equal to the men in their lives, existed, then perhaps the feminism discussion would be celebrated, rather than looked at from afar.  A change in the way that the media questions and represents feminism could drastically change the way that feminism is perceived and how many people would be willing to declare themselves feminists. 

Works Cited

The Danger of a Single Story.  Perf, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  TED Talk, July 2009.  Web.  22 April 2014.

“A Handy Guide to Celebrity Feminists.”  Cosmopolitan.  N.p., n.d.  Web.  24 April 2014.

Duca, Lauren.  “10 Celebrities Who Say They Aren’t Feminists.”  The Huffington Post.  TheHuffingtonPost.com, 17 Dec. 2013.  Web.  24 April 2014.

Gray, Emma.  “John Legend And 9 Other Famous Men Who Support Women.” The Huffington Post.  TheHuffingtonPost.com, 28 March 2013.  Web.  24 April 2014.

Solanas, Valerie.  “SCUM Manifesto.”  The Portable Sixties Reader.  New York: Penguin, 2003.  Print.

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The problem of gay men’s wives and Chinese feminism today

According to the data released by the Ministry of Health People of P.R.China in 2009, there were more than twenty-eight million homosexual men in China, and they were just a small portion of homosexual men who had the courage to admit their sexual orientation in the survey. Many gay in China choose to get married with women in order to hide their sexual orientation as well as to get rid of the rumors from the society, while most of their wives are heterosexual women who do not know their husband’s sexual orientation before the marriage. In fact, there were more than twenty-five million women who were wives of homosexual men, estimated by Chinese sociologists in 2009. The gay men’s wives are easily trapped in the marriage and are particularly vulnerable in the marriage due to the relatively social position of women in China today. Their problem is severer than that in western countries because the conventional social bias against women is greater. They call for the particular attention of Chinese feminists to solve the problem and improve their lives. To solve the essential problem of gay men’s wives, the society should be educated more about gender equality to accept females without social discrimination. The whole society should provide help and support for gay men’s wives so that they will be encouraged to tell the truth and choose the lifestyle based on their own preference. Besides, more feminists are called to help increase the awareness of women’s rights among gay men’s wives and support and encourage them to fight for their own life. This article talks about the cause of gay men’s wives and argues that the society ought to develop gender equality to help gay men’s wives. The article builds on the data and records of meeting between famous hosts, reporters and gay men’s wives.

The phenomenon of gay men’s wives is relevant to the relatively lower social status of women. First, under most circumstances, their husbands deceive them about their sexual orientation before marriage because these men want to take advantage of their wives. They are eager to live a free life, but they are afraid to come out and be confronted with the social discrimination against homosexuality. Therefore, they choose to get married with a social group that are usually inferior in the marriage -women. Men usually have a higher social standing than women in China, and their wives are expected obey their orders unconditionally. Many gay husbands do not care about the happiness of their wives who have to suffer from the indifferent attitudes of their husbands and sometimes even domestic abuse. Most gay men’s wives are faced with the stress of both their own family and their husbands’ since they do not always have children. In the interview with some gay men’s wives by A Qiang, a Chinese reporter employed by boysky.com, a gay wife Mrs. Xu from Henan said that she was so desperate about life and marriage that she once had the opinion to kill herself before she got divorced. She admitted that she even bought life insurance so that her children could survive if she died because her husband did not care about them at all. Another gay wife, Mrs. Xiao divorced her gay husband two years ago. She said that her husband treated her indifferently all the time even though she cared about him a lot. After their divorce, her husband told her that he would continue attempting to find a wife. “He regarded me as a tool to take care of his family and children and hoped me to hide his sexual orientation for him but he never cared about my life.” said Mrs.Xiao in the interview.  

Furthermore, though having known about their husbands’ sexual orientation, most gay men’s wives in China are afraid to leave their homosexual husbands due to the discrimination against divorced women. As Pascoe says, “gender is not reduced only to sexuality, indeed feminist scholars have demonstrated that gender is embedded in and constitutive of a multitude of social structures – the economy, places of work, families and schools.” (Pascoe 332) Chinese females have lower standing in various situations, including the marriage, the working places and even the court. They usually earn less than men and can hardly get any economic benefits from the divorce since there are very few specific laws protecting women’s rights especially if they marry a gay. Therefore, they have greater financial difficulty if they are divorced. Besides, divorced women are usually faced with greater pressure of social opinion. It is real but unfair that in China, a single or divorced woman is considered unsuccessful no matter how much she achieves in her career. On the contrary, the Chinese will not regard a single or divorced man as unsuccessful at all. Even though his family sometimes will still expect him to get married and have children, they will generally have much less pressure than single woman, and the society usually will say it is worth him devoting himself to his career rather than his emotional life. As a result, gay men’s wives usually keep silent about their husbands’ sexual orientation and live a life without intimate relationships with their husbands. 

In addition, gay men’s wives are afraid to tell others the truth because in Chinese tradition women are supposed to listen to their husbands and take care of the family at home rather than rebel against their husbands for their own happiness. According to the Chinese Female Newspaper, some Chinese sociologists point out that one important cause of the problem of gay men’s wives is that Chinese traditional culture emphasizes too much on women’s gender roles of taking care of the husbands and children. The most important responsibility of Chinese women is to listen to their husbands’ orders and give birth to and raise the children, who can inherit the family wealth and reputation. In the interview with A Qiang, Mrs. Wen said that her husband chose to get married because he was forced by his family to have children anyway. Compared with their wives’ happiness and rights, many homosexual men care more about their own benefits. In summary, in Chinese traditional idea, women’s obligation is to raise children for the family, which is way more important than the women’s willingness and rights to choose the lifestyle. The conventional and unjust public opinion leads to the unfair treatment of gay men’s wives in China.

In short, the fact that gay men’s wives do not gain the proper rights they should have reflects their lower social status. On the one hand, many homosexual men in China do not care about their wives’ feelings and lives but they take advantage of their wives so that they can get rid of the public rumors and hide their sexual orientation from their family. On the other hand, the gay men’s wives cannot bear the public bias of divorced women or rebel against their gender roles of obeying their husbands and taking care of children. 

The problem of gay men’s wives in China is much more serious than that in western countries. The Chinese sexologist Dalin Liu reported that in 2011 ninety percent of gay men got married with women while only around fifteen percent of gay men in the US chose to do so. It is not only due to the conventional opinions of gender roles and family in Chinese society, but also the lack of knowledge of feminism and homosexuality in China. The difference between the attitudes towards homosexual relationships in China and Eastern countries is because of their history and culture. According to Edward Said, “the basic distinction between East and West” is “the starting point for … social descriptions, and political accounts concerning the Orient”. (Said, 2-3) Many countries around the world like Holland and some states of the United States have already legalized the homosexual marriage so the number of gay men’s wives in those countries is relatively low. The famous female sociologist and feminist Yinhe Li has proposed that homosexual marriage be legal every year in Annual Session of the National People’s Congress since 2001. She indicates that it is hard for gay men’s wives to talk about their problems in public as homosexual people are still treated as a marginalized group, and they are too frustrated and ashamed to admit that they have gay husbands; thus, legalizing homosexual marriage will help prevent the unfortunate marriage between gay men and women. 

Notwithstanding, simply legalizing homosexual marriage cannot solve the essential problem of gay men’s wives in China. It might reduce the amount of gay men’s wives to some extent, but it will neither protect the rights of gay men’s wives in the divorce nor prevent the society from despising against divorced women. Indeed, the law only protects the right of the homosexual men but does not do any help to their wives. There were only around three percent of gay getting married with heterosexual women in Sweden in 1993, but the homosexual marriage was not legalized until for 14 years later. In other words, the essential cause of the large amount of gay men’s wives in China is not that the homosexual marriage is not legal but that women, no matter whether they get married with gay or straight men, generally have lower social standing in China. Similarly, there are many organizations and volunteer groups that are aimed to protect the rights of gay, while there are hardly any organization that are aimed to help gay men’s wives. The organizations of gay men’s wives are mostly unofficial and do not have much authority. The whole society should change its conventional opinion of gender roles in order to save the lives of gay men’s wives.

Except for the incomprehension of homosexuality, Chinese also lack feminism awareness. In western countries, women have been encouraged to pursue their own career since decades ago. Elisabeth Wilson reckons that formal marriage seems to “bring few benefits to bohemian women”. (Wilson 105) She believes that it is now possible for a woman to “lead an independent social and sexual life,” and it is a result of numerous feminist movements. (Wilson 106) Nevertheless, there are very few feminists or feminist movements in China. Gay men’s wives especially lack feminist awareness. Some of them are not willing to talk about their situation or get divorced because they do not want to do harm to the reputation of both their husbands and their children. They are afraid that both their husbands and children will be bothered by rumors and discrimination if they let the public know that their husbands are gays. Instead of thinking and fighting for their own sake, many gay men’s wives stay silent and give up many rights and opportunities. Other gay men’s wives are psychologically dependent on their husbands even though their husbands treat them poorly. Mrs. Xiao acknowledged that she thought that her homosexual husband cared about her, and she tried to change his sexual orientation in the first few years of her marriage. She missed his love and cares for her before their marriage and did not want to lose her family. Likewise many gay men’s wives help to hide the sexual orientation for their husbands since those women are lack of the awareness to rebel and fight for themselves. In conclusion, many gay men’s wives choose not to protect themselves and think it is more important to fit in traditional gender roles and protect their husbands than their willingness and rights to choose the lifestyle as they want. 

To protect gay men’s wives from the unjust marriage, we should provide platforms for them to talk about their problems and encourage them to rebel against the social bias so as to protect their own rights. What’s more, we should appeal to the whole society to respect women’s choices and rights. It is important for Chinese feminists to help the society to get rid of the traditional opinion that the greatest responsibility of women is to listen to their husbands as well as to raise children for their family.

The gender inequality in China is not so significant as before in recent years as a result of globalization. The feminist movements in other countries improved the awareness of Chinese female rights and opportunities and more women in China gradually recognize that they ought to obtain the same treatment, opportunity and social status as men. As Said says, “the Orient is not only adjacent to Europe; it is also the place of Europe’s greatest and richest and oldest colonies, the source of its civilizations and languages, its cultural contestant, and one of its deepest and most recurring image of the other.”(Said 1) There are more feminists today who devote themselves to protecting the rights of gay men’s wives. 

As reported by Sohu Internet Synthesis Report, the first conference of Chinese gay men’s wives was hold by “Pink Space Gender Culture Development Center” in Qingdao, Shandong in China in March, 2009. Many wives and ex-wives of gay men from various parts in China participated in the meeting and offered help and support to gay men’s wives. Since 2011, they have set up organizations online to introduce their experience and to help those wives. They also provide hot-line service to women who have been trapped in the marriage with gay or are hesitated about divorce, and women who suspect that their husbands are homosexuals. Their jobs include talking with those women who called and give advice. The organization hopes to reduce those women’s pressure and decrease the mental and physical harm brought by the divorce with their gay husbands via the social movement hold by Pink Space. In brief, Chinese feminists are coming to take the social responsibility and duty to improve the awareness of feminine rights among gay men’s wives and potential gay men’s wives. 

In conclusion, the problem of gay men’s wives in China is more serious than that in western countries due to the unjust conventional feminine roles as well as the lack of knowledge of homosexuality and feminism in Chinese society. In order to help and support gay men’s wives, we should organize more activities to encourage them to pursue their own life. Chinese society should develop the awareness of gender equality and feminism. Chinese women should raise more social movements and set up more organizations to inform the whole society of the situation of gay men’s wives. Only when Chinese women can have the fair social status as they ought to have and the society no longer despises the divorced or the single women will reduce the amount of gay men’s wives in China and will they be encouraged to fight for their own happiness and be protected from the social bias as well as gain fair opportunities and rights.









Work cited:

C.J. Pascoe, “‘Dude, You’re a Fag’: Adolescent Masculinity and the Fag Discourse”

Edward Said, Orientalism.

Elizabeth Wilson, Bohemians: The Glorious Outcasts.

Sohu Internet Synthesis Report, “The survey of the life of gay men’s wives, which are more than 1 million”, published in 2011, translated by Kailun Fan.

Yinhe Li, “the survey of whether Chinese public agree on homosexual marriage”, published in 2011, translated by Kailun Fan.

A Qiang, “the First Chinese gay men’s wives conference was hold in Qingdao, China”, published in 2009, translated by Kailun Fan.

Kailun Fan

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What’s the Point? School is for Fools

There are students that could learn the basics of the Spanish language in two weeks. There are students that could write a research paper on the history of the American Revolution in two days. There are even some students that could read the Diary of Anne Frank in two hours. But what about the students who cannot do these things? These students would probably be labelled as unintelligent and most likely loathe going to school each day. However, based on the video Changing Education Paradigms, Sir Ken Robinson would argue that the current education system is judging students based on the wrong standards and failing to recognize the talent of thousands of students each year (Robinson).  To solve this disconnect, the education system must incorporate interesting, relative material and offer non-traditional courses in order for students of all academic capabilities to succeed.

Bored of Education                                           

The most recent study by Diplomas Count revealed that in the United States 74.7 percent of the class of 2010 graduated (Richmond).  Of this percentage, 70.1 percent of students continued on to higher education (Murray).  But perhaps the more important figure is the percentage of students that are uninterested in class material. Live Science found that over 67 percent of students are “bored in class every single day” (Bryner).  While it is acknowledged that certain school districts and individual teachers attempt to make learning more interesting, it is clear that no matter how interesting a teacher tries to make a boring subject, there is no real progress or understanding unless a student has passion for the subject. Without passion, it is inevitable that students are going to lose interest in schoolwork and as a result, become restless during class.

Stimulants: Do they stunt or stimulate learning?

It is no wonder that as of April 2013 6.4 million children aged four through seventeen have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (Schwartz, Cohen). Children are forced to pay attention for up to seven hours to subjects that are of no interest to them. Scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that the amount of children diagnosed with A.D.H.D. has risen 16 percent from 2007 and 41 percent from 2003 (Schwartz, Cohen). Sir Ken Robinson would argue that the increase in diagnoses is not an epidemic, but rather it is a result of the rigor of the education system in combination with the increase in standardized testing (Robinson). Robinson argues the medications for Attention Deficit Disorder is suppressing talent, instead of enhancing it. Children should not need to be medicated in order to learn. Instead, the education system should be altered so that children with A.D.H.D. can succeed without depending on prescription medications.

There is no “A” in Intelligence

 The education system today fails to see that all students have their own individual potential. When measured against the current education standard, someone who does not achieve straight A’s is considered to be either lazy or to have a learning or mental disorder.  But perhaps these students are not fully applying themselves because they are not interested in the subjects at hand. A reformed education system should allow these students to find their specific talent, one that may not be memorizing information and regurgitating it back on exams. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word intelligence is defined as “the ability to learn or understand things or to deal with new or difficult situations” (Merriam-Webster). The definition, however, does not state that the word intelligence refer to solely being able to receive a 4.0 GPA, which seems to be the case in today’s school system.

Grade A Intelligence

Psychologist Howard Gardner developed the theory that humans have not one, but nine different types of intelligence (PBS). The nine types of intelligence are linguistic, logical/mathematical, musical rhythmic, bodily/kinesthetic, spatial, naturalist, intrapersonal, interpersonal, and existential. Gardner theorized that humans possess all nine types of intelligences, but in different quantities and combinations. In Changing Education Paradigms, Sir Ken Robinson questions the reason as to why the education system divides students into grades based on their ages instead of other factors such as talent (Robinson). Perhaps instead of using age, the education system should be based on the nine types of intelligences. This way, students with the same type of mindset could be grouped together and could strengthen their primary type of intelligence. This could also allow students to become aware of their strengths and be judged according to the talent that they possess. The nine different intelligences would foster the opportunity for imagined communities to form across the nation within each form of intelligence, allowing students to share ideas and grow intellectually (Anderson).

25.3 percent of children left behind

An article in The Atlantic refers to high school students as “a capital loss” when they fail to graduate (Richmond).  The Washington Post refers to these students as “creating a drag” on the economy (Layton). Perhaps the impersonal, insensitive descriptions are part of the reason why the education system is not as successful as it should be. Students are treated as if they are a factor of production and nothing more. According to Edward Said, those students who are not academic, especially those who drop out, would be viewed as the orient and those who are academic would be considered the occident (Said 12). Those who are in charge of the education system are most likely part of the occident. Therefore, the orient will never be entirely understood because those who are academic are trying to understand those who are not in an academic mindset. As a result, those who are not academic are “othered” and are therefore abandoning education completely. Those who have the power to change the education system need to ignore preconceived notions of those who are “unintelligent” and realize that the system may be at fault, not the students.  If the education system accommodated to the needs of all students, those who are “academic” or “non-academic”, those who have Attention Deficit Disorder and those who do not, those who want to succeed and those who would rather drop out, then there may be an increase in productivity and “capital gain” instead of loss.  

Income Tax for Dummies

It is necessary for students to gain knowledge in the basics such as Mathematics, English, History, Science, and World Language. However, it is also necessary to broaden the horizons in these subjects and also incorporate additional subjects. For example, instead of teachers repeatedly teaching about Christopher Columbus, they should teach about the history of music or the history of fashion. Instead of playing kickball, teach kids self-defense or how to healthily lose weight, things that realistically pertain to students’ lives. A major problem with the education system is that students today feel that what they are learning is not useful to their lives. I asked twenty of my freshman classmates at Fordham University, a Jesuit university with rigorous admission, if they knew how to file income tax. With 80 percent of the freshman class being in the top 25 percent of their high school class, it is surprising that not one student knew how to go about filing income tax (Fordham University). It seems as if the same topics are being taught repeatedly and the material that is being retaught is not essential information to thrive in society. Students are not taught how to pay bills, manage a bank account, do taxes, handle a mortgage, balance a checkbook, or avoid credit card debt. Perhaps a reason for the “drag on the economy” is because students, not just those who drop out, do not know how to manage their money (Layton). The curriculum needs to incorporate important skills, in addition to the basic requirements, so that students are learning subjects that are relevant to their lives.

Major Breakthrough

Another problem that the education system poses is that fact that if students decide to continue on to higher education, they are expected to choose their major with little or no experience with the major that they choose. NBC News found that 50 percent of college students change their major once they declare it (Ronan). It does not seem logical for students to take the first class of their major when they are in their sophomore or junior year of college and then expected to master it in two or three years. This is not to say that kindergartners or even seventh graders should be learning the principals of marketing, but high school students should certainly be exposed to subjects like business, nursing, psychology, engineering, and information technology prior to entering college. Perhaps part of the reason the government is not as productive as Americans would like it to be is the fact that students are not taught politics until they reach the college level. If students are exposed to these subjects earlier on, then they might be able to grasp the subject at a deeper level and execute better work.

Moving Forward

It is incontestable that education is vital for growth and wellbeing in the United States. However, like Sir Ken Robinson states, the current education system was created for a different time period and therefore, must be updated. As time progresses forward, the education system needs to improve and address problems that are present in today’s society. By incorporating subjects that are of interest to students, as well as dividing students based on their type of intelligence, there will be a surge of new ideas and most likely a decrease in high school drop outs. A reformed education system should allow those who are not society’s definition of intelligent to succeed in school without lowering standards.

Work Cited

Anderson, Benedict R. O’G. Imagined Communities [Electronic Resource] : Reflections On The Origin And Spread Of Nationalism / Benedict Anderson. n.p.: London ; New York : Verso, c2006., 2006. Fordham Libraries Catalog. Web. 23 April. 2014.

Bryner, Jeanna. “Most Students Bored at School.” LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 28 Feb. 2007. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

Changing Education Paradigms. By Ken Robinson. Perf. Sir Ken Robinson. 2010. Youtube Video.

How Schools Kill Creativity. By Ken Robinson. Perf. Sir Ken Robinson.Ted.com. TED, Feb. 2006. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

Fordham University. “Class of 2017 Statistics.” Fordham.edu. Fordham University, 2013. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

Layton, Lyndsey. “High School Graduation Rate Rises in U.S.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 19 Mar. 2012. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

Merriam-Webster. “Intelligence.” Def. 1. Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2014.

Murray, Sarah. “Grads Head to College in Record Numbers.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 28 Apr. 2010. Web. 24 Apr. 2014.

Richmond, Emily. “High School Graduation Rate Hits 40-Year Peak in the U.S.”The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 06 June 2013. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

Ronan, Gayle B. “College Freshmen Face Major Dilemma.” Msnbc.com. NBC News, 29 Nov. 2005. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

PBS. “Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory.” PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

Said, Edward W. “Introduction.” Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1979. 1-28. Print.

Schwarz, Alan, and Sarah Cohen. “A.D.H.D. Seen in 11% of U.S. Children as Diagnoses Rise.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 31 Mar. 2013. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

Kristy Scheurer

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Shots Fired at the Hipster male

The article “In defense of the hipster male” by Alecia Simmonds neglects to take into the account the whole picture including the view of the female hipster.  In her defense of “poor, unsuspecting” male hipsters, she actually destroys their ability to defend themselves.  She claims hipsters have a feminine concern for fashion, appear feminine by wearing skinny jeans, and possess a feminine seriousness for personal politics.  By describing male hipsters in this way, she almost gives feminine qualities, as a whole, a negative connotation.  This makes her argument almost sexist toward women despite her defense of the male hipster.

The article “Offending the hipster male” by Daniel Stacey describes hipsters as the “perfect target for parody.”  However, Stacey targets the hipster stereotype as opposed to the addressing the whole picture including hipster accomplishments and contributions to society.  He harshly claims that “the hipster male is loathes because he is a deeply unserious person, a failure not just as a man but as a human being, or even sentient being when you consider the dignity and wisdom of a collie.” More importantly, the argument is poorly constructed and lacks concrete evidence.  For example, Stacey makes generalizations about the interests motivations (or lack thereof) of hipsters, yet fails to support these generalizations with specific facts.  He almost contradicts himself by claiming that male hipsters are “terrified by academic rigor” while simultaneously interested in the arts, environmentalism, and science.  Lastly, Stacey neglects to even mention the female hipster and her role in the hipsterdom.  

Emmy Casper, Elizabeth Tell, Beth Yarze, Paul Heffernan, Kristy Scheurer

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Offending the offense and defense of the hipster male.

In the article In defence of the hipster male, Alecia Simmond asserts that “the hipster man is just a bit too effete, too clever, too emotional, too vain, too skinny and too girly.” According to Simmond, these traditionally effete qualities are why society is so spiteful of hipsters. The fact that hipsters disregard traditional gender roles is not the reason why most people dislike them, however. Simmond claims that the hipster love for skinny jeans and “feminine” beards can sometimes be perceived “as gay and becomes the subject of homophobic jokes”. However, this generalization is incorrect: we hate hipsters for other reasons. Most people would see the fault in hipsters as their hypocrisy or pretentiousness. This is further explored in Offending the hipster male, by Daniel Stacey.

Stacey, unlike Simmond, goes into people’s other reasons for targeting hipsters, such as “their hypocrisy, callowness, narcissism, laziness and entitlement.” It’s not their effete nature or, as Simmond puts it, “failure of masculinity”, but the qualities Stacey so eloquently lists that are the source of major dislike of hipsters. Stacey explores how hipsters attempt to reinvent themselves by borrowing bits and pieces from eras past - exploiting older periods for the sake of “making [their] nest[s] just right”. Hipsters seem more focused on amassing just the right amount of ironic t shirts and “kitschy” accessories than pursuing world peace. While the world is moving fervently forward, hipsters lag behind at a stagnant pace, focusing selfishly on becoming the epitome of urban cool. Stacey does an excellent job of exploring the real reasons why hipsters - both male and female - are so disdained. The only real issues with Stacey are the few grand generalizations he makes throughout his article. Claiming that all hipsters are lacking wit, wisdom, and power is a profound statement that surely cannot apply to each and every hipster individual. Additionally, though many hipsters seek to emulate artists past, it is not fair to deem the entire hipster movement as a “fraud”, and attacking all hipsters as lazy and unwilling to pursue academia is a bit unfounded: many hipsters attend prestigious private and public universities. Despite Stacey’s grand claims, he produces a eloquent and persuasive argument as to why male and female hipsters alike are so rejected. It is not any “effete” past times or fashion, but an attitude of pretentiousness pretentiousness and disdain.

Isabel Beaudoin, Jonathan Perez, Emily Sullivan, Jillian Ryan

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In Defence Of the Male Hipster*

*?

Emmanuel, Kailun, Danni, Jake, Dakota

In analyzing “Offending the Male Hipster” and “In Defence of the Hipster Male” our group, after a bit of deliberation, agreed that while both articles find their faults in making over-generalizations, the former is more ad hominem in its approach. As a result, it is prone towards excessively generalizing and furthermore seems to make the main argument a series of insults without really legitimizing its point rhetorically.

However, the former is not without its faults either. As aforementioned, it generalizes hipsters, too. Whereas “Offending” says that all hipsters are pesky thieves of style that parade about in ignorance and entitlement, “Defence” says that all male hipsters are hated upon because of their audacious effeminate appearance. In simply ascribing the main criticism of male hipsters to this one trait, the writer ignores other legitimate reasons male hipsters are stigmatized - reasons aside from any asserted hypocrisy.

From a rhetorical standpoint, though, “Defence” is still more cogent because it doesn’t rely on ad hominem attacks to make its point.

"Defence" seems to attribute fault more to style, and "Offending" finds fault mostly in personality. However, as we have seen, neither can be singled out as the main or sole reason to hate upon hipsters, male or female. Our group thinks instead that the hate derives from a transcendence of societal norms, be they economic, racial, gender-based, sexual, national, cultural, ethnic, and so on. Instead of picking one of these varied aspects and ascending it as THE main reason for everything, a good argument would instead acknowledge the wide-ranged, open-endedness of the hipster and society overall. The hate is focused on the stereotype, while the stereotype just doesnt really exist.

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March 23rd…No, 24th…Actually…Wait…Yeah, it’s the 23rd…2014.

Hispters, punk rockers, hippies, Bohemians, Virginia Woolf, Jack Kerouac, and Arthur Rimbaud – everyone and every group we have studied thus far has managed to steak their own claim in the macrocosm of society, simultaneously expressing and emphasizing their own individualities. At the same time, however, we, not only as a class, but as a society, like to group others together into comfortable and identifiable clumps atop which we assign labels. We even tend to do this to ourselves. After all, society is a big massive stage production, and everyone wants to have a role to play. This is not to state that we are perhaps unjustly categorizing different people according to our own interests or sociological perspectives; instead, in focusing so much on how the hipster is an individual, we forget to acknowledge just how intrinsically involved they are with “society” at large. Everyone, be they mainstream or not, functions together in a co-existence that transcends style and culture, together in one larger community made up of smaller imagined communities; these distinguishing differences do not separate us, but rather bind us together in completion of one another. We transform each other – and just so, Union Square transforms the image of what it means to be hipster in a society where the show must go on, and there are far too many roles for one group of people to play.

Sideshow

            My foray into Manhattan first began in the middle of March, during one of the sunnier and warmer days of the slowly dying winter period. I originally had the mindset of going over to Barnes and Noble, the Strand, and a few other places deemed “hipster” by various online sources, and by observing hipsters in one of their “natural habitats” I had hoped to procure a thick description of what it meant to be a hipster in relation to literature and bookstores. I wanted to know what kinds of books they read and why; if books for them were the paperback equivalent of trendy, retro, or just tasteless; what their opinions were on the books they were reading in general; and perhaps see if they could recommend any particularly “deck” reads. However, upon stepping out into the exposed sunlight of Union Square, my mind took a sharply different turn. Perhaps it was the overabundance of people seemingly flocking towards the center; maybe it was the prospect of finding an empty seat and enjoying the sun for a few stray minutes; or perhaps it was in some desperate search for inspiration regarding a school project that I had lost inspiration for several days earlier, confused and muddled between a series of imperfect, implausible ideas. Regardless, I was drawn into the Square, and one of the first sights that I beheld was that of a painter working diligently on his sand art. He had wispy black hair drawn into a ponytail, rolled up sleeves of a tattered button down shirt, and skinny jeans with knee braces on, since he was kneeling most of the time. Overall, he looked like a modern-day midtown Tommy Wiseau. Approaching him and joining the throngs of people that formed a circle around him, at first I thought he was simply using chalk to draw on the pavement. However, it was soon readily apparent that, indeed, he was gathering fistfuls of sand and letting them sprinkle out of his hands in magnificently complex patterns and shapes. Lines were intricately and meticulously woven together, and the finder details were decided upon and filled in later. Slowly, it began to take the shape of a flower of many different, vibrant colors, all strewn by sand on a concrete sidewalk. And yet, people created a circle around it so reverently, as if out of sheer respect for the artist’s work and devotion to his work. After several minutes I left, wanting to continue onwards with my project, but was soon distracted by a street performer who used bubbles to enrapture the minds his audience members. The bubble shapes were almost surreal in how they moved through space, and seemed like something more profound. However, after a few moments, they popped regardless, leaving nothing behind but the memory of what once was. Even later still, I was beset once more by a solitary figure playing what seemed to be a very out-of-place organ piano in the middle of union square. He looked to be around in his mid-twenties, and yet seemed perfectly at home playing such an ancient instrument. A sign posted on his piano alerted the smaller crowd that he had been travelling all over New York through at least seventy cities.

 I Paid Good Money for This…

            Now this is not to say that I spent my time entirely in Union Square. I did eventually find my way into Barnes and Noble and the Strand, and there were certainly telltale signs of hipsterdom awaiting m. Yet, I was inevitably drawn back to these sideshows largely because they took the place of a spectacle. They were out there for the people to stop by and enjoy, analyzing, critiquing, and wondering about. They offered a brief respite from the humdrum of every day, and, more importantly, seemed to bypass barriers of race and gender. Men and women of equally European and African-American descent were gathered around this pony-tailed rendition Tommy Wiseau, and one could see each of their gears turning as they tried to appreciate what it meant for them that he drew a flower in the middle of an otherwise massive yet still minute part of the city. Most wonderfully, the barriers of style no longer seemed to matter. Hipsters and mainstreamers, jew-fros and buzzcuts, Hollister and GAP, all gathered together in this one massive circle to appreciate something that was neither mainstream nor necessarily hipster (. And yet, one must be careful to remind themselves that a spectacle does not equate to something so removed from society so as to inspire this change. Guy Debard writes, “the spectacle is both the outcome and the goal of the dominant mode of production. It is not…a decorative element…on the contrary, it is the heart of society’s real unreality” (Debard 13). Despite this fantastical unity that could be easily attested to by anyone there at the moment – despite the awe and wonderment that brought us all there together – the plastic donation buckets still remained. Scattered about near the feet of the artist, the bubble maker, the organ player, and the rest, stood those familiar buckets with scant traces of leftover change and crumpled up bills making themselves home in the pockets of these performers. Money rules the day in a capitalist society such as ours – and people need to get by somehow. Perhaps, then, this means that pony-tail-Tommy Wiseau emulates the stereotypical image of a starving artist, despite his vague professionalism and seeming endless amounts of energy. Images that we are familiar with attract us, because they make figuring out life and society all the easier and all the more normal. The expected is safe and noncontroversial. Oddly enough, it would not be too far off to say that society has come to expect the spectacle, and moreover, demand it.

Iconography

            After perusing Union Square for quite some time and acquiring my fill of the spectacular, I could distinctly remember thinking to myself “This feels like ‘New York.’ The crowds of varied people, the street vendors, the skyscrapers and parks as a backdrop – everything here feels like what iconic New York is supposed to feel like.” It was bustling and exciting and vivacious – but was it authentic? Or was the image that the spectacle presented me with only that – an image to be adored for a bit before finding some new iconic model to give our hearts to? Sharon Zuki warns about the dangers of falling too easily for the trap of authenticity: “We can see ‘authentic’ spaces only from outside them. Mobility gives us the distance to view a neighborhood as connoisseurs…we are often seduced by appearances and assumptions.” (Zuki 22) This further begs the question: was the image presented to those crowdgoers (myself included) authentic? Is New York really all about following one’s dreams regardless of the traditional nine-to-five? Was the spirit of New York sequestered within plastic buckets full of collected money, or was it truly found in the homeless people huddled outside of McDonalds asking for spare change in some pathetic attempt at becoming a spectacle all their own (for the sake of their own survival no less)? While gender and race certainly were equally mixed in the Square itself, there were several distinguishable “camps” of homeless people neatly placed out on the sides, just far enough out of sight so as to be ignored. This is the “spectacle” of class disparity, and it might very well be on the most of unarguably authentic parts of Union Square. It speaks to the consumerist nature of society – how we continually consume more and more, and are fed only what we want to be fed. It is so easy to blot out those things which are not spectacular or overdone or out of the ordinary, and thus some never even get the chance to be noticed.

            I eventually returned to the floral sidewalk art at around six in the evening, just as its artist was wrapping up and collecting his haul. I asked him if he had any distinct purpose starting out earlier that day, and he responded that he kind of just rolled with it as he went along. I then asked if he ever gave any names to his drawings. He responded, “I only give names when necessary – when they become prints and I sell them. This is my living – honestly, I’ve made so much of them that it’d be unfair to name only a few, so I generally try not to name them. If you want a name for this, I suppose it might be…March 23rd…no, 24th…actually…wait…yeah, it’s the 23rd…2014.” By this point in time, his design had been added on to – it now contained streaks of yellow and ribbons of pink expanding outwards from the petals, and the inner colors were more defined. “I keep adding to it as long as people come and watch me,” he says. It was this line that really struck me. Here, in this individual instance, the spectacle was acknowledged for what it was. The illusion starts to break down just a tad – he is doing this for money. He makes a living off of this. Everyone does this not solely because they want to, but because it is their primary way of acquiring any form of income. Be it through circumstance or ideological stance or artistic perspective, each of  these people have eschewed the nine-to-five in favor of something more within their own realm, and yet none of them would be able to do this without the audience around to form that circle and admire their talents on display. It was here that, in short, Union Square struck me as a microcosm of everything we have learned thus far in class. It contained a certain Bohemian spirit to it while at the same time catering to decks and fins. It was a spectacle that told a bit more of a story than usual – a story with the lesson that thick description can be found anywhere, if one looks hard enough.

Catharsis

            Union Square truly lives up to its name, as it truly is a central matrix of New York’s essence – the competition to be noticed, class disparity, the desperation of the dollar, the application of talents, and the transformation of minds. In this sense, just as hipsters are, in fact, normal people doing non-normative things to become the spectacle themselves, Union Square is a part of the city that, while not so different than, say, Eighty-Sixth and Lex, seems to embody the soul of the city, becoming a tourist attraction – a spectacle – in and of itself. The spectacle is only a spectacle because it is viewed and compared to the everyday – likewise, hipsters are only hipsters because they are viewed and subsequently compared to non-hipsters. Most importantly, Union Square embodies the name it is given. People come together to make something new and alive and different, “for masterpieces are not single and solitary births; they are the outcome of many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people, so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice.” (Woolf 75). That voice is sometimes weak, sometimes strong, but always impacting, as long as we open our ears – and it keeps singing as long as there are people to hear.

 

 

Works Cited:

Lanham, Robert, Bret Nicely, and Jeff Bechtel. The Hipster Handbook. New York: Anchor, 2003.

Zukin, Sharon. Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989. Print.

Debard, Guy, The Society of the Spectacle, New York: Zone Books, 1995

  - Emmanuel Plaza

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