Blog #10: Race, Gender and the Media

Sarah Sarder

JOUR 5210

The Lion King shows a hierarchy among the animal characters, which may at first glance seem natural, but upon closer examination is apparent to be race and gender hierarchy. The ruler is always a male king, even when the ‘rightful’ ruler, Simba, is gone and his mother is present.

Colorism is rampant in The Lion King, with evil characters like the hyenas and Scar shown as having darker, more ‘foreign’ seeming features.

This is a common theme throughout Disney movies from the era, when good characters had more European features and an American accent as opposed to evil ones, who had foreign features and accents. This phenomenon is clearest in Aladdin, Pocahontas and Mulan.

Hyenaphobia refers to the hatred and fear of outsiders or ‘hyenas’ who will disrupt the existing order of the society. We can draw a parallel to groups which are considered out-groups in our own society, and denied entrance to protect the status quo.

Another important aspect of the hyenas is race. The hyenas are voiced by black voice actors, and portrayed as significantly less intelligent, civilized and ‘good’ compared to the other animals. In fact, the hyenas’ lack of civility is shown as the reason the hyenas are not allowed into society, as their stupidity and laziness would ruin the society for all the other animals. Sound familiar?

When certain minority groups are denied civil rights, opportunities or access, the justification is that they are somehow less human. This representation of minorities, which shows them to be inferior, reinforces beliefs about groups that further decrease their personhood in the eyes of the public.

Visual representations of some scenes involving Scar recalled Hitler and a Nazi propaganda film. It is essential for us to consider how repeated visual imagery from Disney movies which show dark, foreign, accented characters as evil can affect children who are absorbing their first ideas about race and ethnicity.

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Blog #9: Race, Gender and the Media

Sarah Sarder

JOUR 5210

Twilight became a global phenomenon after it was published in 2009, gaining attention and followers as it grew into a four-book, five-movie franchise. Most of its fans were young girls just learning what it means to be a person, and, in a society demanding of gender labels, a woman.

What Twilight taught them was multilayered; everything from the male gaze, gender roles, sexual harassment and unhealthy relationships occurred in the plot, and became ideals of how a romantic relationship should look for women.

The main female character, Bella, is a ‘best of both worlds’ version of traditional femininity expectations. Bella has no personality, goals or ambitions separate from wanting to be with her boyfriend Edward, who fills the role of protecting the helpless Bella. The author, Stephanie Meyer, balances her extremely one-dimensional main character by showing Bella has value using a misogynistic honor/moral policing system which casts her as the shy, quiet, virginal but ‘different’ young woman in juxtaposition to the more feminine Jessica, who approaches men she likes, enjoys shopping and is talkative.

Ever heard the phrase “I’m not like other girls”?

Twilight embodies the misogynistic term.

In terms of relationships, the movie normalized extreme jealousy, possessiveness, control and emotional abuse in relationships. The Bella-Edward-Jacob love triangle resulted in some of the most criticized scenes of the series, such as the one where Jacob blackmails Bella into kissing him, romanticizing a clear form of sexual harassment.

Twilight also features little diversity, and portrays the diverse populations badly, as demonstrated in class. The only significant racial diversity comes from the werewolf characters who are Native American. These characters are shown to be more chaotic, disorganized, uneducated and poor as opposed to the white Cullens.

Twilight even casts aspersions on sex before marriage with Edward’s concern for Bella’s soul, implementing a form of moral code which places women’s virginity above their actions and humanity. This displays the male gaze as it reduces women to their sexual status in relation to men.

Blog #8: Race, Gender and the Media

Sarah Sarder

JOUR 5210

The class gasped when red and blue lights began flashing on to the main character in Get Out. The implications were clear: police would find a black man surrounded by dead bodies, and justice would be swift and probably deadly.

But the lights came from a friend of Chris’, and he left the scene at the end of the movie, presumably escaping. As we study the brutal and obviously unjust murders of black men at the hands of police, this ending has its own significance for viewers.

“The moment the police car shows up at the end of this movie, we all know what’s going to happen. The fact that we all know what’s going to happen is the point. That’s the catharsis.”

Get Out earned props from many quarters for its unique portrayal of racism in the U.S., using a blend of humor and metaphor to point out how American society uses and profits from the black body, all the while giving no thought to black lives or rights. Both this uncommon approach and unexpected ending signal something that made the movie different from others about racism from the beginning: its writer and director is Jordan Peele, a black man.

With hashtags like #OscarsSoWhite trending during award season for the past couple of years, some viewers are more aware of the lack of poc in Hollywood. It’s a joke among audiences that the black person in a horror movie is the first to die. Even in imaginary portrayals, black people are often not important. Allowing more opportunities for poc to write, direct and star in movies is one direct way to help the problem.

Get Out also showcased a different brand of humor from what many Americans are used to seeing when it comes to black people. Get Out was no Madea, and instead of reinforcing stereotypes of large, loud, uneducated, crass and violent black people, the movie punched up to illustrate a whole spectrum of overt and covert racism.

The film’s gradual move from harmless vacation into kidnapping and effective slavery allowed Peele to display layered racism, from the white liberal “I’d vote for Obama for a third term if I could” to the visual gut-punch that was the slavery-reminiscent auctioning of Chris.

Based on our class discussion, the movie was interpreted differently by different people, with a seemingly big difference between white/poc and black reception. The divide was illustrated when the movie was entered in the comedy category for the Golden Globes (on behalf of the studio without Peele’s knowledge). What black people and some poc see as their reality, others perceive as comedy, due to either a lack of awareness about racism or a lack of caring.

Peele’s response?

“‘Get Out’ is a documentary.”

Blog #7: Race, Gender and the Media

Sarah Sarder

JOUR 5210

For many years, television has been a realm where only the heterosexual existed; the manly cisgender man and the feminine cisgender woman were the only representations of sexuality and gender audiences were exposed to. Slowly, the boxes became less rigid and characters broke gender norms more, but LGBTQ people were still nowhere to be seen.

This absence wasn’t without consequences. American television not having a space for gay people meant American culture and society didn’t have a space for gay people, and to many, the community didn’t even exist.

The barrier was finally broken in recent decades, but the initial crop of gay characters was often little more than a still homophobic comedic foil, full of exaggerated stereotypes about gay individuals, particularly men. This portrayal has come a long way, and current television has a much larger range of characters who are gay, bisexual, transgender, asexual and more.

Yet portrayals of these individuals continue to be riddled with problems.

Transgender women are commonly played by men, reinforcing the notion that trans women are just ‘dressed up men’. Beliefs like this aren’t just disrespectful. They cause real, concrete harm, in the case of trans women of color, making average life expectancy 35 years.

Lacking representation in the media, whether news or entertainment, results in symbolic annihilation for minority groups. An absence of coverage leads to a loss of power, and these groups lose their voice and are not perceived as important in society.

This effect is evident in the case of the LGBT+ community; the major issue of HIV/AIDS, for example, was not combated in full force until it became a huge threat to society at large.

When it comes to the news media, coverage of LGBT+ related topics tends to be lacking or poorly done. Though organizations exist which attempt to educate journalists on how to cover these topics, it is the responsibility of newsrooms and individuals to seek out this knowledge.

Blog #6: Race, Gender and the Media

Sarah Sarder

JOUR 5210

Thursday’s group presentation was surprising in its focus on male and female perpetrators of domestic violence, especially because the presentation seemed to give undue weight to women abusers. While no one should abuse or be violent toward another person, only about one out of 10 cases of domestic violence are perpetrated by women, and a broader look at violence in general shows even more males to be the aggressors.

Talking about the systemic issues such as those in “The Mask You Live In” is more relevant to the issue of domestic violence than discussing how women sometimes ‘want’ domestic violence or stay with abusers to ‘fix’ them. Romanticizing abuse is its own serious issue, but the conversation in class is reflective of a broader problem that colors all our discussions of domestic and relationship violence.

Often, we view the issue through a lens of victim-blaming and find ways to assign responsibility to the victims, who are mainly women. We need to change our attitudes, conversations and rhetoric to focus on the abusers and recognize that they are solely responsible for the harm they do.

Some of the people who spoke in class made points based on their personal experiences, which is valid but cannot be considered indicative of a trend. The question of two-way abuse isn’t a question at all when we look at how many women end up in hospitals or even dead because of relationship violence. At some point, we have to stop the conversation from looping back to what the woman did and instead talk about toxic masculinity, gender expectations in relationships, power dynamics and more. Domestic violence is significantly higher in societies where men are given higher status or more personhood than women, so it’s past time we have a discussion about social practices that encourage abuse.

Additionally, we have to identify the ways in which we could potentially help improve the situation, by noticing the warning signs, checking in with people, calling out problematic behavior and even directly confronting abusers. All of these are technically intervention behaviors, and we need more bystander intervention as well as general awareness of abusive behavior to reduce this problem.

While our class discussion focused mainly on physical violence, it’s also important to educate people on emotional abuse, which is commonly overlooked as normal behavior in new relationships and can develop into extremely unhealthy behaviors as the relationship progresses.

BLOG #5: Race, Gender and the Media

Sarah Sarder

JOUR 5210

“Your prophet was a pedophile!” “Go back to your country!”

Hundreds of people were screaming from the sidewalks that day in the most intense display of hatred I’ve ever experienced in person.

Islamophobia has been around for decades, but if one were to pinpoint a time when they developed and became differentiated from general xenophobia, it would be after the 9/11 attacks.

I personally have a unique history with Islamophobia in America, as I moved away just months after the attacks and returned almost a decade later. Coming back to the States as a hijabi adult was jarring, as I’d never felt the kind of attention my covering brought upon me. The post-9/11 hysteria had calmed by that time, so the extra attention wasn’t as bad as it could be.

I learned that soon enough with Donald Trump running for the Presidential nomination, bringing up topics like Muslim bans and registries. Even as Islamophobia soared with Trump’s support, many claimed it didn’t exist.

Yet in places like the mall, the doctor’s office, Walmart and more, I saw my own hijabi mother being treated like she didn’t have a right to be there. My father was seen as uneducated, unable to speak English, and of course as hating America. My tall, large, bearded brother-in-law, of mixed Arab and White descent, was most often seen as a threat.

It wasn’t until the day I referenced, at a Muslim conference in Garland, that I realized the depth of the hatred. Some protesters attempted to assault a Muslim couple right in front of me.

Most of us in this class consider ourselves open-minded and progressive, and it’s difficult to recognize how we too condone and thereby enable Islamophobia. This can be as simple as letting a terrorist joke pass without comment, or assuming someone Muslim is not American. I’ve heard, “you’re Muslim? I thought you were Hispanic!” too many times to let it go. The Muslim world does not exist. Muslims can be those other than South Asian and Arab people. The list goes on.

My primary suggestion for all of us would be to go seek out the people we don’t interact with and know little about. This applies to many groups, including Muslims. Don’t just put the onus on a small minority to go out of their way to engage with you. Visit a mosque, there’s one a mile from UNT. Go to a Muslim Student Association meeting. They take place on campus.

All the opportunities to learn are at our fingertips. Not taking advantage of them now would be its own form of ignorance.

BLOG #4: Race, Gender and the Media

Sarah Sarder

JOUR 5210

The male gaze. Overt. Undeniable. Encompassing.

And inescapable.

Sometimes it seems even as a woman, I’m seeing the world through the male gaze.

When Natalie Hage spoke about her experience being body-shamed on a plane this past summer, one part of her story stuck out: the man next to her, despite not being touched or inconvenienced by Natalie once seated, felt entitled to be seated next to a thin person. Or perhaps, more specifically, a thin woman.

Physical standards for men and women differ greatly, but what’s significant is their varying levels of enforcement. Though one could argue that the image of the ‘ideal man’ is just as unrealistic as that of the ‘ideal woman’, men’s bodies are not judged and policed in the same way women’s are. As a result, men, and many women, expect women to fit the ideal but not men. Less than ‘ideal’ bodies are often accepted and even applauded among men, such as the trend of the ‘dad-bod.’

Here’s a challenge: name a positive fashion trend with the word mom in it.

The male gaze is everywhere, in literature, fashion, cinema and day to day life.

All of this eventually leads to events like the one Natalie experienced, when men are offended because women dare to exist outside the ideal and aren’t ashamed of it.

Being fat isn’t the issue in itself. As much fat-shaming as exists, the visceral hatred we see toward fat women only seems to emerge when these women carry themselves with confidence or seem happy. As all the magazines and advertisements we looked at in class showed, being fat can be changed. Surgery, diet pills, exercise, diets, even dressing in certain ways can make people look thinner.

But not wanting to change— that’s a problem.

There’s a beautiful saying I see often these days: pretty is not the rent you pay to exist in the world as a woman.

But it is.

Natalie’s experience just reinforces the notion that women exist for male pleasure. And until we as a society are able to move away from the patriarchal traditions and values of objectifying women, we will continue to pay.

BLOG #3: Race, Gender and the Media

Sarah Sarder

JOUR 5210

Two episodes into an animated show called Rick and Morty, I had to stop and evaluate a scene that immediately bothered me.

The main characters were on a plane with bombs, and chose to wear ‘Muslim’ disguises and yell Allahu Akbar before detonating. What was the purpose of that? Nothing, plot-wise. Satirically, it had no value. It was simply meant to add a humorous element. Yet in the process, it reinforced harmful negative stereotypes about Muslims and terrorism.

The problem is rooted in the fact that many individuals find this sort of joke funny, because they don’t see the harm in it (some find the harm funny as well but that’s a different topic).

After all, how could mere words, a joke on social media or a funny scene in a cartoon harm actual people?

Goddamn snowflakes. Can’t even take a joke.

In fact, I was in this exact situation just a few months ago. I ran into a friend on Fry, and she told me to save her from her date. The reason? She had refused another drink, and he had felt the need to ask and make sure she “wasn’t ISIS”. This man, who happens to be in our class and maybe hasn’t earned protection of his identity but will receive it here, thought this joke was harmless. Being me, I immediately walked over with my friend and calmly asked him about it. He was shocked that she was even offended.

Gently, I began explaining how our words become bullets, knives and most importantly, justification, in the hands of certain people. I talked about “scared” cops shooting Black people, and stereotypes of the angry Black man. I explained that Muslims are frequently victims of hate crimes, and how the association he had made between a brown woman who he did not even know was Muslim and a terrorist group is the same kind of association that kills Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs in the U.S.

I guess my long-winded point is this: words have power. Satire based in race or religion can be powerful as well, making caution all the more important. Letting our guard down means letting pass without opposal comments such as this one from veteran comedian Tina Fey:

“Like, I hope they (Neo-nazis) try it (head to New York City) and get the ham salad kicked out of them by a bunch of drag queens. ‘Cause you know what a drag queen still is? A six-foot-four black man.”

BLOG #2: Race, Gender and the Media

Sarah Sarder

JOUR 5210

My little sister once asked me, Sarah Apu (term of respect meaning sister), how do I make my skin lighter?

Having grown up in a society where a woman’s worth is determined almost solely on beauty based on skin color, a community where everyone from the day laborer to the CEO uses skin bleaching creams, and having only recently escaped this mentality myself, I was heartbroken.

My sister, at 11, had already picked up on the world’s negative perceptions of those with darker skin.

Cameron Russell’s Ted Talk seemed like it was educational to much of the class, but based on the discussion which followed it, the people of color present had plenty of experience with Eurocentric beauty standards and the prejudices which may develop against those who don’t fit into them.

I was especially glad to see that the discussion about beauty standards broached the topic of colorism. Dark/light skin prejudices are one intersection of racism and beauty bias which are often overlooked, but can make a huge difference in the treatment of a person.

Women like Leslie Jones who don’t easily fit into our standards for beauty such as ‘white’ features or light skin face a different level of harassment than those who do.

Here’s an excerpt from the NBC article linked to above:

Part of the problem is that the people in power are far too often not part of a constituency that is routinely being bullied and threatened — people of color, women and members of the LGBT community — and therefore they are more susceptible to flawed arguments that regulating social media could be a slippery slope.”

Although I could not find any studies online distinguishing levels of harassment faced by dark/light skinned women, one study by the Data and Society Research Institute and the Center for Innovative Public Health Research showed harassment can discourage women and minorities from speaking up online.

An article about the study pointed out one of the potential  reasons.

“Because white, male technologists don’t feel vulnerable to harassment in the same way that, say, women of color do, they don’t design social media to protect against online abuse,” author Alice Marwick says.

Online harassment is a great topic to discuss intersections of race, gender, sexuality and sexual orientation. But in the context of Jones’ trolling, it becomes apparent from reading just a few comments that one of the primary points of attack is race.

No one’s saying Tracee Ellis Ross doesn’t face harassment online, but it is clear dark-skinned women of color bear the brunt of race-based invective.

Blog #1: Race, Gender and the Media

Sarah Sarder

JOUR 5210

Tim Wise. White Like Me.

Ta-Nehisi Coates. The First White President.

The latter is what I thought of when we watched Wise’s documentary Thursday night. Wise asks young people what it means to be white. Most can’t find an answer. Is that because whiteness exists, and has always existed, in a capacity of oppressing others and stealing from them? This is a hard question to answer, made more so because the mind shies away from making such a broad statement about friends, neighbors, lovers. But Coates presents a strong argument that whiteness, at least American whiteness, is predicated on this negation of other races, and specifically of Blackness.

Coates sheds light on what has become a commonly accepted myth in post-election politics: the white working class, tired of being ignored and ‘oppressed’ by the identity politics of the left, turned to Trump. This belief alone lends support to much of what Coates illustrates. Somehow the blame for a President Trump voted into office by a majority of white people lies, at the end of the day, with non-whites and their demands for equality.

Don’t they know how far we’ve come? Why do they have to be so greedy?

And so the nation, led by political pundits and celebrities who cannot accept that their fellow whites and perhaps they themselves are still as accepting as black plight as their ancestors, accepts that the frustrated white working class have finally had enough of the left’s identity politics.

Coates says otherwise.

“The racial and ethnic isolation of whites at the zip code level is one of the strongest predictors of Trump support.”

What, then, led us to Trump? To read Coates’ essay is to perceive a massive retelling of facts, harkening back to the “mythic past” Wise speaks of.

“If the broad and remarkable white support for Donald Trump can be reduced to the righteous anger of a noble class of smallville firefighters and evangelicals, mocked by Brooklyn hipsters and womanist professors into voting against their interests, then the threat of racism and whiteness, the threat of the heirloom, can be dismissed. Consciences can be eased; no deeper existential reckoning is required.”

In our first class, I voiced my opinion that America had been built on a foundation of white supremacy, and do this day it’s institutions and economy function on white supremacy. Contrary to what scores of celebrities and political figures tell us, racism is not a plague upon our nation; racism is our nation.

There is no way to ‘rid’ the U.S. of racism without fundamentally changing parts of integral systems and processes of justice, education and legislation. The question now is, can we accomplish a restructuring of this level in the United States at present?

Here’s a final quote from Coates to shed some light on where we are as a nation.

“It is as if the white tribe united in demonstration to say, “If a black man can be president, then any white man—no matter how fallen—can be president.” And in that perverse way, the democratic dreams of Jefferson and Jackson were fulfilled.”

Coates’ article below:

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/10/the-first-white-president-ta-nehisi-coates/537909/