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Intersectionality

It’s Just a Bunch of Hocus Pocus (But is it feminist?)


It would be more than two decades before I would enjoy Disney’s
Hocus Pocus. I found it ridiculous. The last witch hanged in the Salem Witch Trials was on September 22, 1692; the film starts with Salem townspeople hanging witches a year later in 1693. I knew that no one in 17th Century New England wore the bright colors of the witches. I also knew that those hanged in Salem were the ones who would not admit to witchcraft, not the openly practicing witches, as in the movie.

I was always bothered by the stereotypes that the movie perpetuated. Witches harm and/or kill humans. Witches are ugly old hags. Magic is a means to cause harm. At worst, the film is complicit in the patriarchal notion that only Abrahamic religions are true religions, not earth-based religions like witchcraft. At best, it was goofy. Silly. 

But there is something magical about a Halloween movie that was filmed in Salem. There is something nostalgic about walking through the Salem Common and remembering where Max and Allison walked through the autumn leaves. The movie celebrates Halloween, with a cult-level following. As I celebrate Halloween with my own children and learn its joy all over again, I begin to see how Halloween allows us to break social norms, slip into different roles, bend gender norms, and face our fears. We connect with a child within us that we repress all other days. 

Also, who doesn’t love a witch movie with a talking black cat?

In the film, protagonist Max famously says, “It’s all just a bunch of hocus pocus.” But is it feminist? I’m not convinced that Hocus Pocus is a feminist film. The teen female protagonist is reduced to her sexual body parts. “Max likes your yabos. In fact, he loves them,” taunts Max’s little sister. The witches obsess over their appearance and beauty, succumbing to the societal norms about how women should look. All the harm that they cause is directly related to making themselves look younger. None of this feels empowering to those identifying as women.

As intersectionalists, we look to fight oppression of any kind. The film has a striking lack of any People of Color, though we know the town of Salem, Massachusetts is not exclusively white. We also see no LGBTQIA individuals in the film; everyone is defined by heteronormative and cisgender characteristics, though I know for a fact that Salem has Pride events. As feminists and sex educators, we also question the use of virginity in the film. A virgin lit the black flame candle, bringing the witches back from the grave. But we find this problematic as we look at the patriarchal use of virginity to oppress women. When does one’s sexual journey begin? Must we define our sexual journey by the first penile penetration? Why does virginity even matter unless women are property?

But again, my heart swells to see Salem in the fall. Bette Midler sings I Put a Spell on You. It’s very hard to love Halloween and not love this movie. These witchy women, as despicable as they are, are defying social norms, despite the many threats to their safety. They have no dependence on men and they do as they please. The teenager Allison has choices about dating the protagonist; she decides on her own time about romantic entanglement, even after rejecting him at first. The young sister Dani speaks her mind and asserts her needs. 

Hocus Pocus would be quite a different film in 2021, in the time of the #MeToo Movement, the Women’s Marches, and Black Lives Matter. Is there hope? Let’s see when Hocus Pocus 2 comes out next fall. In the meantime, don’t light any black flame candles.

 


Written by Kristin Jones, PhD, EdM, Outreach Supervisor

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

Ghosts Aren’t the Scariest Thing About Halloween

Most historians trace back modern day Halloween to the Celtic holiday of Samhain, which marked the end of the year for those living 2000 years ago in the UK, Ireland, and Northern France. The Celtic year ended on November 1, and so the night before (October 31) marked when the veil between the living and dead was the thinnest. When the Romans invaded Celtic lands in 43 AD, they adopted some and added some to these traditions. The Romans integrated the holidays of Feralia (a day in October where the living commemorated the dead) and the day that honored the Goddess Pomona (whose symbol was an apple, can you think of the tradition that stemmed from this?– maybe… bobbing for apples?). We also see the celebration of All Saints’ Day moved from May to November 1. Yet, we see celebrations that honor the thinning of the veil between life and death in almost every culture, such as Dia de los muertos, Borgo a Mozzano in Italy, Daimonji in Japan, and many more celebrations that have not been properly recorded by Western cultures. 

So, how did we end up with Halloween that we know today? Well, like most things Halloween was brought to the United States by immigrants and then assimilated to better meet Western Standards. Halloween was not celebrated by the puritanical colonial settlers. There were harvest festivals where ghost stories were told as a way to teach moral lessons, but it was not until Irish immigrants fleeing the Potato Famine came to the United States that Halloween was celebrated as we know it today (coming from the words All Hallows Eve). 

Other cultures, other religions, other identities are not a costume for you to wear.

Now it is time to have the conversation that we must continue to always have. Other cultures, other religions, other identities are not a costume for you to wear. Going as Pochantas wearing a headdress is offensive and invalidates the lived experiences of the horrors that indigneous people have faced at the hands of Americans. It is not okay to darken your skin tone to better “look like” a person or to have a more authentic costume. You are taking aspects of another person’s culture and identity and using it to your benefit with none of the threatening and scary implications that it means to be a person of a marginalized community in today’s society. 

When you get home from a night out on Halloween, you can take your costume off and be safe and privileged. So while you have the time of your life wearing a headdress or a sombrero or your cornrows to imitate your favorite rapper, Black and Brown Children in Milwaukee have to trick-or-treat when the sun is still out, so that they are safe and can make it home. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself about your costume: Does the culture you’re imitating have a history of oppression? Are you benefiting from borrowing from the culture? Are you able to remove something when you get tired of it and return to a privileged culture when others can’t?

In Northbrook, Ill., Jess Lifshitz has her fifth-graders take a letter home. She explained to NPR that, “A couple of years ago I noticed that every Halloween, there were one or two kids who came in costume and for whatever reason the costume just made me uncomfortable and I worried it made others uncomfortable,” because it portrayed a stereotyped image of a group of people or it was someone dressing in a way that almost seemed as if they were putting on the identity of another person as a costume.

It may seem like a light-hearted matter, a once-a-year thing, but it is not. People die world-wide every year wearing their cultural clothes and fighting to be their authentic self for things that they cannot, nor should have to, change about themselves. So when you wear clothes that other people have been murdered for wearing you are disrespecting their legacy. Please think this Halloween of the people who have longed to show their truest forms of identity, but have not felt safe, nor allowed to do so. 

Read these articles below for ideas on non-offensive Halloween costume: 

 


Written by Cassidy Herberth, she/her, Education and Prevention Specialist

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

 

Resources

  • https://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/halloween-is-for-white-people/
  • https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/10/30/culture-not-costume/
  • https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/10/31/halloween-politics-racial-divides-milwaukee-221955/

Love is Stronger than Witchcraft: A Feminist Critique of 1942’s I Married a Witch

Author’s note: Although I refer to characters as men and women or male and female, I do not intend to uphold the false binary of man/woman. This is only a stylistic choice based on the beliefs and cultural milieu of 1942.


I Married a Witch (1942) is a rare fantasy/romantic comedy that gives us a glimpse of the patriarchy of the time alongside the agency of two female characters. We meet Jennifer,* a 17th Century witch, killed in a witch burning by local Puritan authorities. She and her father remain trapped in a tree’s roots for nearly 300 years, only to escape and meet Wooley, the descendant of the man who murdered them. Jennifer tries to seduce Wooley for payback, knowing his wedding is the next day. In a mixup with a potion, Jennifer becomes the one enamored and falls deeply in love with Wooley. Estelle, Wooley’s fiancée, ends up leaving Wooley at the altar after her father attempted to force her into the marriage; Jennifer wins her man only after her own father tries to interfere.

“Any man who marries, marries the wrong woman.”

What struck me initially about the film was the patriarchy bordering on misogyny. Daniel, Jennifer’s father, claims that “Any man who marries, marries the wrong woman.”  We also see that Wooley’s fiancée, Estelle, is labeled as a shrew for not smiling and not being complacent and weak; she also asks Wooley to stop smoking and drinking at various points in the film, obviously not the actions of the ideal meek and complacent housewife. Both female characters are told by their fathers who they can or cannot marry; Estelle is nearly forced to marry Wooley and Jennifer’s father takes away her powers to stop her from marrying him. Women are the property of men, whether it is their father or their husband, and that property is only referred to as girl. Wooley himself refers to both Jennifer and Estelle as girls

“That’s a good girl … Poor little girl, all alone in the world.”

Is the patriarchy just a sign of the times, a leftover from when the norm was to see women as second-class citizens? I don’t think we should overlook the patriarchy, nor the oppression, not when so many lives are impacted. The only person of color in the entire film is a slave from a flashback to the Revolutionary War. White privilege is normalized and never questioned. There also is no responsibility taken for generational oppression. Wooley is portrayed as “the good guy” with no acknowledgment from his character nor the film about how his ancestor burned witches. All of his wealth and socioeconomic status are built on the oppression of others.

Despite this context, we do see some agency from the female characters. In a world where white men hold all political and economic control, where women’s lives are controlled by men’s decisions, the two female characters still find some agency. Jennifer and Estelle’s fathers both try to control who they marry, yet both women are able to forge their own matrimonial path. Estelle walks out of her own wedding ceremony and Jennifer chooses to marry Wooley despite her father’s meddling. By the end of the film, we see Jennifer’s ultimate act of agency; she traps her father’s spirit in a bottle while she enjoys building a family with Wooley.

But we also see that Jennifer and Estelle internalize this oppression. Jennifer’s immediate concern once she is back in a human body is her appearance. She wants to make sure her appearance pleases Wooley. In the final scene, Jennifer and Wooley’s daughter plays on a broom, much to the disappointment of the housekeeper. Jennifer says, “I’m afraid we’re going to have trouble with her someday.” She herself had agency to make her own choices, but chastises her own daughter for claiming that same agency and finding joy in a tool of witchcraft. The film ends with Jennifer knitting while children encircle her. The acceptability of a powerful woman into fine society comes at a price. She must trade in her broom for needles, serving those around her as she knits them sweaters rather than flying through the night sky.

“I must start learning to be a good housewife … I’ll try so hard to be a good wife.” 

In a rare moment of clarity, the film hints at the importance of consent. Wooley forces water into Jennifer’s mouth when she has passed out and his friend offhandedly comments that “You should never force liquids on a person who is unconscious.” Writers were 80 years ahead of the tea video.

“You should never force liquids on a person who is unconscious.”

Jennifer gets what she wants in the end: marriage, children, and domestic quietude. But at what cost? She repeatedly claims that “love is stronger than witchcraft,” but it was her witchcraft that allowed her to have agency, powers, and choices. She could speak her mind as a witch. She could fly on broomsticks and light fires merely by speaking. She gave all of that up to “be a good housewife.” 

Had I been alive at the time, would I have gone to opening night of I Married a Witch on October 30, 1942? Of course. I would have made it a date night too, because love is stronger than witchcraft. But if there is a love that confronts oppression, racism, patriarchy, misogyny, and lack of consent, then maybe I’d rather have that love.

 


Written by Kristin Jones, PhD, EdM, Outreach Supervisor.

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

 

*The name Jennifer was not in use in the 17th Century, but we will forgive the writers who did not have Google at their fingertips in 1942.

The Power in Reclaiming Femininity

Note: Throughout this article, “women” is used to refer to cisgender and transgender women, as well as non-binary femme-identified people; this is a stylistic choice only and not intended to equate or universalize different peoples’ experiences and identities.

If I had a dollar for everytime I was told, “you throw like a girl,” or “you run like a girl” I would be on the Forbes list for Billionaires under 25 (maybe that is an exaggeration, but you get the point). While my parents fought this message, it was one that I heard from many other adults and kids. It made me feel ashamed. It made me feel like if I embraced femininity, I was somehow weaker, more fragile, and less then. So I completely rejected it. I said One Direction was for girly-girls, I thought pink was ugly, and I thought princesses were useless. I rejected the feminine because I thought that is what I needed to do, so I could achieve those big dreams. 

So where does this rejection of femininity come from? Why do we still view masculinity as the ideal? The Second Wave of Feminism (also known as Women’s Liberation) fought against the roles that women were being forced into. The key word here is FORCED, but it was taken too far. We thought that the rejection of femininity was an ideal form of reclamation. That it wasn’t that masculinity was dominating, but that femininity was a sign of submission. A part of this is because of the gender binary understanding of society. As explained by Philippe Leonard Fradet, femininity and masculinity are viewed as opposites of each other. Therefore, the idea of claiming femininity is often associated with the loss of dreams. People who are feminine are destined to become JUST a wife, JUST a mother, and not see themselves as the CEO of a Fortune 500. It is not wrong to want to be a wife or a mother, and we know that these are not easy jobs, by any means, but it is the idea that embracing your femininity means choosing. You cannot be a femininie CEO, a femininie astronaut. As they say, it is a “man’s world.” We broke up with femininity long ago and now many of us are looking to make up with it. 

But femininity and masculinity are not opposites of each other, and it’s important that we embrace both sets of qualities in whatever ways make us the most comfortable and feel the most like ourselves. Embracing femininity is not just about female-identifying individuals enjoying things that society tells them are “girly,” but it’s about tending to one’s emotions, perhaps getting in touch with our creative side, and connecting with each other in a collaborative and nurturing way. When we utilize our feminine side of collaboration and working together, it lends us another tool in fighting against oppression. We can break away from the binary of men needing to be strong and masculine and women need to be simple and submissive, to create a society where each individual leans on masculinity/femininity at different levels depending on what they need at that moment. 

So how do we get there? How can we embrace our femininity when for so long we have been told to repress it? It’s not easy, and definitely not achieved overnight, and can start small. Setting aside time for yourself to get creative– whether that’s painting or knitting or just simple pencil drawing–and to get in touch with your imagination where anything is possible. Maybe it’s wearing something pink, even though you rejected the color when you were younger. It is learning to love what you were told to hate, because it was girly. Embracing your femininity is seeking community, and talking with close friends or family. Start where it feels natural for you, and continue from there. There is no right way or one way to embrace one’s femininity– so make it your own.


Written by Sarah Brennan, MSW, Volunteer and Activism Coordinator, and Cassidy Herberth, Education and Prevention Specialist.

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

 

https://medium.com/sheroserevolution/reclaiming-the-divine-feminine-will-heal-us-all-if-we-let-it-e71488fceaf7

https://fractalenlightenment.com/30683/spirituality/reclaiming-the-sacred-feminine

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/femininity-study-how-changed-research-feminine-women-always-platinum-a8554031.html

https://www.history.com/topics/womens-history/feminism-womens-history

https://dailyolivian.com/2021/02/12/tiktoks-pick-me-girl-trend-is-just-another-example-of-toxic-femininity/

https://www.simonandschuster.com/m/tips-on-life-and-love/tips-on-life-and-love

https://thebodyisnotanapology.com/magazine/how-men-can-love-their-femininity/

https://anne-mariemarron.com/blog/reclaiming-our-feminine-power-8-feminine-principles-to-cultivate#:~:text=Feminine%20power%20exists%20in%20all,as%20solar%20or%20yang%20energy.&text=To%20reclaim%20our%20feminine%20superpowers,within%20ourselves%20and%20in%20others.

 

The Modern Person’s Guide to Rom-Coms: Can You Be a Intersectional Feminist Who Likes Romantic Comedies?

You may have heard the theory: If you think of a red car, you will start seeing red cars everywhere. Well, that is actually a psychological theory. It is called the Baader Meinhof Theory, and it has to do with frequency bias. This means that the minute you learn or think of something, your brain will start zeroing in on that specific thing. So, if you think of red cars, all the red cars that your brain that were blocked out originally, will now become the first thing that your brain picks up on. 

Now, what does this have to do with feminism and romantic comedies? My response to you is everything. How can you exist in the world when you finally become aware of all the problems and faults? This is a big question, so in today’s article, we are just keeping it to enjoying romantic comedies as an intersectional feminist. Can you, as a person who believes in gender equality, watch the societally proclaimed “chick flicks” that most times do not accurately represent the world? I doubt I will come to an answer in this blog, but there is some point in trying.

Let’s start with the statistics and facts so we know what we are up against. Romantic comedies tend to be extremely heterosexual. They often depict a man and a woman who adhere to the traditional roles of the gender binary. What this means is that gender non-conforming and queer people do not get to see themselves on the screen, or in love, or being a whole complete character. For example, GLAAD (the largest media advocacy organization for LGBTQ+ individuals) released a report that stated of the 118 movies that were released by what is deemed one of the major movie studios (think Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures and Columbia Pictures), only 18.6% of those movies had characters that identified as Queer. Now this includes all movies from all genres. Therefore, we can only assume how slim this percentage is in the romantic comedies section. As well, Queer folks in movies and media are still what society deems as conventionally attractive. They have clear skin, slim bodies, look high fashion, and most importantly many of these characters are White, which in effect, erases Queer People of Color. 

Our next, but equally as important problem, is that romantic comedies often have White men and women as the stars of the show. People of Color love too and they deserve to grow up seeing themselves on the screen that shows that love story. Movies like Love and Basketball, Tortilla Soup, Always Be My Maybe, Bend It Like Beckham, The Last Holiday, Queen and Slim, Malcolm and Marie, and so many more are movies that changed the genre of romantic comedies and yet we still only have a romantic comedy featuring People of Color every few years. It is very rare that People of Color are accurately portrayed in these movies because the people behind the cameras tend to be White people. 

Overall, story lines tell us that the only people who are worthy of having a romantic love like what we see in these movies are people who are White, Upper Class, Attractive, Skinny, and Straight, which pretty much erases a majority of the population. 

So, why do we keep doing it to ourselves? Why do we tear up when Julia Roberts stands in front of Hugh Grant and says “I am just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her.” Why do we cheer when the cold, calculating businesswoman falls in love with the dog walker (nothing wrong with being a dog walker, they just always seem to be the main male character’s occupation). Finally, why do we root for a love that doesn’t actually represent us? Because the idea of love and being in love is something that is so universal that we seem willing to take it any way we can. So how can we, as modern, intersectional feminists, continue to watch romantic comedies while also being aware of all that they are? 

I love romantic comedies. It shocks a lot of people when I say this because I may not seem like the “chick flick type” but I do. In a world that is very unpredictable, the predictable world of romantic comedies soothes me. Or at least it used to. The more and more that I continue to learn about the world, the less I am able to enjoy things, albeit many things: music, movies, art, or anything. But as a product of the world, how do we take the good with the bad? The first step would be to continue to educate ourselves, so that we better understand the stereotypes in movies and how they harm us and the people we surround ourselves with. It is important to make sure we are continually addressing our own internal bias towards certain groups and recognize that the stereotypes in the film do not encompass all that a group of people are. As well, in a world that is constantly evolving we, ourselves must evolve as well. That means that we start to boycott movies that we just cannot stand for. For example, those movies that were directed by Woody Allen, produced by Harvey Weinstein, or acted in by Kevin Spacey. 

Like many things, it is our duty and job to help shift the culture so that it is more inclusive and more representative of the world that we are living in. So yes, as a modern, intersectional feminist you can enjoy romantic comedies, but you also have to be critical of them. Make sure that you are actively working to counteract the misogyny of many of these movies.

As Noah expresses in the Notebook, “So it’s not gonna be easy. It’s gonna be really hard. We’re gonna have to work at this every day, but I want to do that because I want you. I want all of you, forever, you and me, every day.” This is how I feel about romantic comedies as a feminist. 

 


Written by Cassidy Herberth (She/they), Education and Prevention Specialist.

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

 

“GLAAD’S 2020 STUDIO RESPONSIBILITY INDEX: HIGHEST RECORDED PERCENTAGE OF LGBTQ-INCLUSIVE FILMS BUT RACIAL DIVERSITY DROPS AND ZERO TRANSGENDER CHARACTERS APPEAR”. GLAAD, 2020, https://www.glaad.org/releases/glaad%E2%80%99s-2020-studio-responsibility-index-highest-recorded-percentage-lgbtq-inclusive-films.

 

Guzzo, Bianca. “The Modern Girl And Romantic Comedies”. 29Secrets, 2019, https://29secrets.com/pop-culture/the-modern-girl-and-romantic-comedies/.

 

Klooster, Grace. “How Modern Day Romantic Comedies Are Portraying Women”. Ncclinked, 2017, https://ncclinked.com/2017/09/15/modern-day-romantic-comedies/.

 

Rose, Sundi. “A Feminist’S Guide To Modern Rom-Coms”. Culturess, 2019, https://culturess.com/2019/05/28/feminist-guide-to-modern-rom-coms/.

Is This a Cat Fight?: Why is Hollywood always pitting powerful women against each other?

Nicki vs. Miley. Katy vs. Taylor. Joan vs. Bette. Elizabeth vs. Debbie. These are only some of the more famous female feuds of Hollywood. It seems that one of the narratives that is constantly plaguing the women of Hollywood, and the rest of the female population, is the one where women are constantly pitted against one another. Their whole narrative is surrounded by the fact that there cannot be more than one powerful woman in Hollywood. Now, why do we keep pitting women against each other? Rather than celebrating the successes, tabloids and news sites keep talking about how these women “despise each other.” The answer is too long for this post, but the short quick answer would be misogyny, the patriarchy, and beauty standards.

Oftentimes, when asked about these “famous feuds,” Hollywood women tell us that they are simply stories written by tabloids who are trying to sell a product. When asked about her feud with Brittany Spears, Christian Aguilera said, “It must have seemed as if we were competing with each other, but, in reality, Britney is someone that I used to hold hands with.” It seems that oftentimes these feuds do not actually exist, but are rather there to remind women of their place in the Hollywood world. 

So, why do it? Why does this narrative continue to break through the feminism of today? Well one of the reasons may be the narrative that women are simple vessels of desire. Meaning, their importance goes only as far as their looks. Therefore, it may seem impertinent to be the most beautiful person in the room. The result of this is that other women are viewed as competition. Someone you must beat out for that product endorsement, commercial, movie, show, and award. 

At the same time, another reason could be that at one point, like with many marginalized groups, there was only allowed to be a certain number. You wanted to be the one woman in the office, in the movies, in the “boys club,” and you had to make sure that no other female identifying person could beat you out of the running for that. As argued by the Harvard Business Review, “women see that there is one spot at the table, and are willing to do anything to keep that role. This burden is doubled, tripled, quadrupled for women of color, who experience being marginalized because of their skin color and their gender identity, therefore often being looked over.”

So, what do we do now? Well the first step is to stop pitting famous women against each other. Brittany and Christina are two different people, so why do we keep comparing them? The second step is to recognize, as Forbes writer Shelley Zalis puts it, women have more power when they are in a pack. That when we are mentoring women, supporting women, and showing that women are strong, we increase the amount of women in the workforce and place them in jobs of power. 

It is important that young people growing up today have the chance to see that women have more narratives, stories, and interests surrounding them than whoever they are “fighting” with; that there is more to young women than just the looks and beauty that they offer. 

I guess, in the end, it isn’t a cat fight, just a dog-eat-dog world. 


Written by Cassidy Herberth, Education and Prevention Specialist.

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org. 

 

Kiner, M., 2021. It’s Time to Break the Cycle of Female Rivalry. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: <https://hbr.org/2020/04/its-time-to-break-the-cycle-of-female-rivalry>.

 

Mehta, D., 2021. Does Patriarchy Divide Women: The Importance Of Solidarity. [online] Feminism In India. Available at: <https://feminisminindia.com/2019/02/04/patriarchy-divide-women-solidarity/> [Accessed 26 August 2021].

 

Thrills, A., 2008. ‘Britney? I wish her all the best… honest!’ Christina Aguilera calls time on one of pop’s bitterest feuds. [online] Mail Online. Available at: <https://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1083708/Britney-I-wish-best–honest-Christina-Aguilera-calls-time-pops-bitterest-feuds.htm> [Accessed 26 August 2021].

Zalis, S., 2019. Power Of The Pack: Women Who Support Women Are More Successful. [online] Forbes. Available at: <https://www.forbes.com/sites/shelleyzalis/2019/03/06/power-of-the-pack-women-who-support-women-are-more-successful/> [Accessed 26 August 2021].

73 Seconds: A ZCenter Podcast

ZCenter offers a fresh new perspective on sexuality, healing after trauma, and community activism. The podcast, 73 Seconds, refers to the statistic that every 73 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. Since the start of our podcast, RAINN.org has updated this statistic to show that it is now every 68 seconds (RAINN, 2021), only reinforcing the need for public education and efforts to raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual violence.

 

For an edgy and delightful hour of conversation, check out our most recent episode, Let’s Get Cozier. We interview Jean Cozier, long time supporter of sexual assault survivors and founder of Awakenings, a gallery in Chicago that showcases artwork made by survivors of sexual violence. 

 

As you skim through episode topics, you’ll see that we highlight local community partners, discuss national social justice topics, and converse about the healing process after sexual abuse. 

Catch 73 Seconds on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon Music, or wherever you get your podcasts.

 


For questions and inquiries about the 73 Seconds podcast, please contact sbrennan@zcenter.org.

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

 

RAINN: Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network. 2021. Statistics. https://www.rainn.org/statistics

 

Pleasure is Privilege

Girls just wanna have fun; but can they? In the world of sexuality, pleasure is privilege. 

 

Education

Women are not always taught that they deserve pleasure or deserve to ask for pleasure, nor do we as a society teach them about pleasure. The sex education programs provided in schools do not account for women’s pleasure, orgasm, or masturbation. A comprehensive sexuality education is needed, so that all genders fully understand the intricacies of pleasure.

 

Patriarchy

The experience of pleasure is often limited to those in control; in a patriarchy, it is men who control the pleasure. Many women worldwide are mutilated in the name of circumcision; men get to control women’s pleasure (Posner, 2018). In further frustration with the patriarchy, most women in heterosexual relationships have difficulty with orgasms, whereas lesbian couples often find more pleasure (Posner, 2018). The couples who are able to explore sexuality outside of society’s norms, where men control sex, are the couples who find pleasure more easily.

 

Pleasure and Pain

The brain reacts to orgasms most similarly to seizures (more so than any other activity measured). There is a close connection between pleasure and pain and it is not fully understood (Posner, 2018). As a rape crisis center, we also know that too often sexuality is experienced as abuse, as perpetrators justify that the other person actually enjoys it. Too many youth learn about sex only through abuse, learning only the pain rather than the pleasure of sexuality.

 

Inequality Post-Pleasure

Access to medical services is limited for many Women of Color, rural women, and women in subcultures that frown upon women’s reproductive health choices. Women’s health clinics are often too far of a drive or do not offer women choices about pregnancy, STDs, or reporting abuse (Ewing & Grady, 2010).

 

Maternal and postpartum health in the U.S. remains problematic, especially for Women of Color: 

  • Suicide and overdose combined are the leading cause of death in the first year postpartum (Zahlaway Belsito, 2021). 
  • Approximately 700+ women die in the U.S. from pregnancy related causes in a year (CDC, 2020).
  • Black and Indigenous women are over 3 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women (Zahlaway Belsito, 2021).

 

Recommendations

  1. Communication between partners is key to pleasure with a partner.
  2. Comprehensive sexuality education is needed for all socioeconomic levels, especially for addressing pleasure, orgasms, and masturbation.
  3. Female circumcision needs to end.
  4. More funding is needed for sexual abuse services. Donate to your local rape crisis center.
  5. Access to medical care needs to be an important investment in all socioeconomic areas. For ideas on how to get involved in women’s health advocacy, see the Advocacy toolkit.

 


Written by Kristin Jones, EdM, PhD, Outreach Supervisor

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

 

Center for Disease Control (CDC). 2020. First Data Released on Maternal Mortality in Over a Decade. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/nchs_press_releases/2020/202001_MMR.htm

 

Ewing, H. & R. Grady. (2010). 12th & Delaware. (documentary.) https://www.hbo.com/documentaries/12th-and-delaware-doc

 

Posner, J. (2018). Explained: The Female Orgasm. (documentary series.) Season 1, Episode 16. https://www.netflix.com/title/80216752

 

Zahlaway Belsito, J. (2021). Women’s Reproductive Health Forum. (online.) Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance.

From Die Witch to Greenwich: How Rainbow Washing is the New Crying Witch Hunt

On June 10th, many Americans held a moment of silence for Bridget Bishop, the first person hanged for witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials on this day in 1692. The colony’s legal system had no interest in facts, proof, or logic. Anyone accused was the next potential victim (see Schiff, 2015). Only those who refuse to take on the label of witch (aka admit guilt) were the ones killed. To this day, we still see women killed worldwide simply for the accusation of witchcraft (Suuk & Kaledzi, 2020). 

We should be a society learning from its lessons, moving forward, repairing wounds. Yet, we have a recent national leader who claimed every criticism toward him was a witch hunt. In fact, Vox reported that Trump had used the term over 120 times just up to 2018, and just in response to one investigation (Cassese, 2018). The GOP continues to use this term whenever they want to delegitimize an investigation.

We have taken one of the darkest moments of our own history and ignored the actual suffering of those who were sentenced to death for witchcraft. Witchcraft, considered a legitimate religious path today, was enough to kill someone in 1692. Crying witch hunt is a slap in the face to all who were murdered during witch hunts, a cultural appropriation that ignores the lived experiences of those who practice witchcraft worldwide. 

Here we are in 2021, watching Pride Month unfold as corporations roll out their own rainbow marketing campaign. Hickey (2019) even describes the feeling of being tricked by corporations that don’t support the LGBTQIA community but feel entitled to use rainbows during Pride Month to boost business. This pink dollar, the money spent by the LGBTQIA community, adds up to 1 trillion dollars. That’s a lot of rainbow dough.

So again, we have taken one of the most vulnerable communities in our nation and decided it’s okay to profit off of their suffering. Pride Month began as a protest, an uprising against the routine raids on gay gatherings in Greenwich Village (Walsh, 2019). The Stonewall Uprising in June of 1969 marked the beginning of Pride Month, not rainbow colored mayonnaise. 

In a time when “42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth” (Trevor Project, 2021), we cannot ignore the appropriation. We cannot allow others to take possession of the language, imagery, and identity of those who have been oppressed. 

Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center commits to stading alongside the LGBTQIA community all twelve months of the year. We are here for support after sexual abuse. We are here for questions about sexuality and gender. We are here for parents and allies. We proudly participated in two Pride events last weekend, with a third coming up soon. We strive to be visible in the community as a source of support and services needed by vulnerable communities. So no rainbows in this post. No line of flags. Just support.

 


Written by Kristin Jones, PhD, EdM, Outreach Supervisor.

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

 

Sources:

Cassese, E. (2018). A Political History of the Term “Witch Hunt.” Vox. https://www.vox.com/mischiefs-of-faction/2018/10/31/18047208/trump-witch-hunt

Hickey, A. (2019). Have You Been Tricked by Rainbow Washing? Medium. https://medium.com/@audreyhickey/have-you-been-tricked-by-rainbow-washing-920b5f91377f

Schiff, S. (2015). The Witches: Salem, 1692. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Suuk, M. & I. Kaledzi . (2020). Witch Hunts: A Global Problem in the 21st Century. Deutsche Welle. https://www.dw.com/en/witch-hunts-a-global-problem-in-the-21st-century/a-54495289

Walsh, C. (2019). Stonewall Then and Now. The Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2019/06/harvard-scholars-reflect-on-the-history-and-legacy-of-the-stonewall-riots/

The Trevor Project. (2021). National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health. https://www.thetrevorproject.org/survey-2021/?utm_source=Master+Contacts&utm_campaign=f15c9a66b5-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2021_05_20_NationalSurvey&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e8d7ceff05-f15c9a66b5-33647318&section=SuicideMentalHealth

 

Sex Positive Language

A rape crisis center focuses primarily on supporting survivors of sexual assault, but we also strive to further systemic change around sexual violence through prevention and education. What does a culture without sexual violence look like? It values consensual sex; it honors the joy and pleasure that humans find in their sexuality. As we work to end sexual violence in our culture, part of that work is to promote sex positive narratives. For the month of May, the ZCenter blog is looking at sex positive culture and our role in it. We start here by exploring language (American English) and how language and sexuality shape each other. 

Language is constantly changing; it evolves with the living community. Just within the last week, an Alabama bill was signed that removes anti-gay language from sex education. We know that language changes as our understanding of sexuality becomes more complex and we also know that our choices in language help to shape the changes that we want to see in society. We offer a brief overview of sexuality and language by looking into semantics, morphology, and discourse analysis.

Semantics

 

“‘Vagina’ is itself an insult. In Latin the word means ‘scabbard’, that is, ‘sword sheath’” (Greer, 2020, p.2); a female’s sexual anatomy is defined only by what a man can store there. A puritanical view of sex has been built into our language, ingrained into our very vocabulary. Our own bodies are turned against us as insults. “By refusing to use words like slut and pussy as terms of abuse, you’re rejecting the imbalanced standards that have been set for women’s sexuality and men’s machismo. It’s a form of protest against the condemnation of women’s sexual independence and men’s refusal to act like chauvinist bruisers” (Montell, 2020, p.48). Montell adds other terms that are too often used as abuse: bitch, old maid, spinster, queer, dyke, nasty woman, cunt, and ho. Some folks are reclaiming these words, as a way to reject old standards of femininity (p.39). Do we want to reclaim all of these insults? Do we want slut, a word that punishes women for enjoying sex, to be used at all? Modern women grapple with this issue and still find no clear answer.

We need to recognize that intermingling gendered and sexual language into verbal abuse is a harm the cuts deeply: “(H)aving someone accuse you of doing your gender badly often feels like the worst insult of all, because it tells you that you’ve failed at a fundamental part of who you are” (p. 38). Also, as children grow up and hear sexual terms used as insults, it automatically places sexuality into a negative light, particularly women’s sexuality. When we see that a man being called a women’s sexuality term (pussy, e.g.) as one of the lowest insults in the culture, we know something is wrong. It’s time to intervene when we hear our own body parts used as insults.

Cursing is too often a contributing factor in a sex negative culture. In fact it is one of three categories of cursing: sex, scatology, and religion. Cursing in the sex category includes terms like fuck, dick, and cunt (Montell, 2020, p. 196). Any sexual act or descriptor can become a curse word in the right context. Once again, we relegate sexual acts to that which is insulting and/or intending to cause harm. However, Montell reminds us that “you can curse without insulting” (p.196). Is there a difference between Fuck the patriarchy and Uhg, the fucking patriarchy? In a world where we want to end sexual violence, we need to be more conscious of our word choice, particularly of how our language perpetuates a rape culture. But we also want to be sex positive and affirm healthy, consensual sex in our language. Similarly, with the word gay, we as a culture are moving away from using the word as an insult and honoring the word as a self-identifier that promotes a healthy sexual identity. Gone are the days when Michael Scott can get away with calling coworkers gay as an insult.

Morphology

 

Morphology is the study of parts of words, including how affixes, conjugations, and other word parts function. For example, a linguist notices that angriness is a misuse of morphemes; we already have a noun, anger, that expresses the same meaning. Adding -ness to angry is unnecessary. 

We can be conscious of how morphemes help or hinder a sex positive culture. We know that suffixes -ette and -ess distinguish words to describe women, and usually in a way that delineated an insult or an assumption that this new word is less than the original. Suffragette was first coined as a way to delegitimize female suffragists; similarly, actress, waitress, and stewardess all refer to women only, distinguishing them from the norm (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, 2013, pp. 85-86). We have a flood of terminology emerging, words that take away the male normalization: waitstaff/server, actors, folks, service worker, postal worker, flight attendant, etc.

We can also be more conscious of the suffix –y. Crazy, slutty, dirty, and bitchy are all terms that anyone can use to insult a woman, specifically if she shows an interest in sexual pleasure and/or assertiveness. Do we use these words often? Do we intervene when we hear them? Do we talk within our social circles about how or if we want to reclaim these terms?

 

Discourse Analysis

 

Analyzing larger chunks of language and how we make choices about language is discourse analysis. Sexuality is discursively constructed, meaning our sexual identity is closely tied to the language we use. In fact, one’s ideology can support feminist values but their discourse might reveal more traditional roles (Kendall & Tannen, 2018). 

What are some ways that discourse analysis helps us recognize more sex positive language?

1.Politeness. We don’t talk about sex in polite company, not even with our children. Also, the “kinds of ‘politeness’ used by and of and to women do not arise by accident; that they are, indeed, stifling, exclusive, and oppressive” (Lakoff, 2004, p. 102). In the workplace, women often “assume a warm manner; use humor, and allow themselves to be the objects of humor; and otherwise attend to the face needs of subordinates by using ‘mitigated commands, forms of politeness, and indirect engagement’” (Kendall & Tannen, 2018, p. 652). Sex positive language means that we stop valuing politeness above justice and equity. Our children deserve to learn about sex properly and our society deserves to talk openly about something we all do.

2. Euphemisms. We use euphemisms to talk about sex positively, because our society still does not accept overt talk of sex in polite conversation. We can say hooking up, Netflix and chill, or gettin’ some; but to openly discuss our happiness about our own sex lives is still considered taboo. Even on one of television’s most openly sexual series, Sex and the City, Charlotte still preferred See You Next Tuesday to cunt (IMDB, 2021).

3. Hedging. We soften our language with phrases like “kind of, sort of, maybe, I think and others” (Parker & Mahlstedt, 2010, p. 144). “I kind of feel horny” communicates that the speaker’s sexuality is not very important. In a sex positive culture, we would openly and directly communicate our needs and desires, because they matter.

4. Normalizing Heterosexuality. “The purpose of a man is to love a woman, and the purpose of a woman is to love a man” (Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, 1965). The lyrics to the song The Game of Love illustrate just how pervasive the heterosexual norm was many years ago. Has the narrative changed since 1965? We certainly see more representation of the LGBTQIA community in pop culture, but we also have the same normalization of heterosexuality in our language. Consider the following interactions that are commonplace:

A: “My junior bought their prom outfit.”

B: “Oh, tell me all about her dress! Which boy asked her?” 

In this example, we see speaker B immediately jump into heteronormative assumptions about clothing, dating, and pronoun usage, and this is a very typical interaction among many parents. 

A: “My boss invited us to a company lunch this weekend.”

B: “Oh, and is his wife the hostess? I wonder if she is catering or cooking it all herself?”

Again, we see speaker B slip into heteronormative language with assumptions about the gender of a boss, their spouse being a woman, and the woman’s significant contribution being a domestic task.

As we go about our day-to-day lives, we can be more conscious of how we use language to either support the heteronormative language around us, or to support the sexuality and identity of all.

5. Online language. In terms of language used online, men use more crude language, including insults, profanity, and adversarial stances toward others (Kendall & Tannen, 2018, p. 652-3). We know that cyber aggression enforces social norms and also establishes social hierarchies (Felmlee et al, 2020). Women are insulted and harassed online if they ever step outside of the social norm for female behavior; women are told to be submissive, quiet, polite, and caring. When we assert ourselves, even worse, our sexuality, we are harassed and bullied (See more at Felmlee et al, 2020).  But we can create safe online spaces and we can be active bystanders who intervene when we see this language behavior online. 

 

Societal Change

 

Can changing our language change societal norms? This was a question Robin Tolmach Lakoff asked in 1975. She found that word choice, tone, politeness, even cursing are approached differently by men and women (Lakoff, 2004). As we look into next steps for sex positive language, let’s keep these thoughts in mind:

  • Use your words. “If there’s no name for it, it’s as if the phenomenon does not exist” (Parker & Mahlstedt, 2010, p. 142). Just as we have added terms like date rape, acquaintance rape, and affirmative consent to our lexicon, we can add more ways to describe sex in a positive light. We can continue to move toward a more sex positive discourse with terms like consent, kink, and body acceptance.
  • Keep the euphemisms flourishing. We need to start with small steps toward positive sex talk, even if it’s just Netflix and chill. In situations where it feels inappropriate to use overt sexual language, let’s at least keep the euphemisms alive!
  • Stop hedging. Stop being polite. Let’s be direct in our communication when it comes to our own sexuality. Let’s not be afraid to assert our needs and desires.
  • Family talk when children are young is how we are socialized into how we view sex (Kiesling, 2019, p.115). Check back in next week as explore this topic of parent and caregiver language on the topic of sex positivity.

 

References

Eckert, P. & S. McConnell-Ginet. (2013). Language and Gender, Second Edition. Cambridge University Press.

Felmlee,D., P.I. Rodis, & A. Zhang. (2020). Sexist Slurs: Reinforcing Feminine Sterotypes Online. Sex Roles. 83:16–28 https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s11199-019-01095-z.pdf

Greer, G. (2020). On Rape. Hachette Australia.

Internet Movie Database (IMDB). (2021). Sex and the City Quotes. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0159206/quotes/?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu

Kendall, S. & D. Tannen. (2018). Discourse and Gender, in The Handbook of Discourse Analysis, 2nd Ed. (Ed. D. Tannen, H. Hamilton, D. Schiffrin). Willey Blackwell.

Kiesling, S.F. (2019). Language, Gender, and Sexuality: An Introduction. Routledge. 

Lakoff, R.T. (2004). Language and Woman’s Place: Text and Commentaires, Revised and Expanded Edition. Mary Bucholtz (Ed.). Oxford University Press.

Montell, A. (2020). Wordslut: A feminist guide to taking back the English language. Harper Wave.

Parker, J.A. & D. Mahlstedt. (2010).Language, Power, ane Sexual Assault: Women’s Voices on Rape and Social Change. Language in the real world. Behrens, S. J., & Parker, J. A. (Eds.). Routledge. 139-163.

Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders. (1965). The Game of Love. https://www.oldielyrics.com/lyrics/wayne_fontana_and_the_mindbenders/game_of_love.html (accessed 2021).


Written by Kristin D. Jones, Ph.D., Ed.M., Outreach Supervisor

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

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