Category Archives: Body Image

Walk a mile in our shoes ….by learning about our actual experiences

Recently (yesterday), SIUE participated in the national event known as “Walk A Mile in Her Shoes.” As is typical of such programs across the nation, and as described in a press release from SIUE earlier today, “Men crammed their feet into red high heels and walked on the campus of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on Tuesday,  Feb.13 to support women and to bring attention to gender-based violence.” While a post-event session offered by SIUE’s Prevention and Education Advocacy Center (PEACe) offered much more depth and a chance to really learn about being active bystanders and preventing violence, the event is often reduced in the public perception to being about the red shoes walk, itself. Our own Prof. Saba Fatima (SIUE Philosophy Department) reflects on this  public perception of these kinds of events–not necessarily the SIUE event itself–in a blog entry authored before the event took place. Note that this public perception is reflected in the way that the University’s press release covered the event even though the event itself contained a much richer opportunity to explore issues of gender, sexual harassment, and other aspects of sexism.

Walk a mile in her shoes 02-13-18 high heals

Men in pants stand on one foot and stick out the other, linking arms in a semicircle in front of the Cougar statue outside of SIUE’s Morris University Center. They are wearing bright red high heels. This is the public perception of what the event is about. This is also the image taken from the SIUE press release about the event. The picture was taken February 13, 2018. Shown in the center is Jeffrey Waple, vice chancellor for student affairs at SIUE, who led the march.

Across US campuses, men get involved in “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event an effort to raise awareness for violence against women. So on Feb. 13th SIUE men walked in high heels to literally experience what it feels like to walk in a woman’s shoes. The idea is an event that is a “playful opportunity for men to raise awareness in their community about the serious causes, effects and remediations to men’s sexualized violence against women.”

The whole point of ‘Walk a Mile Her Shoes’ is to get a glimpse of what women experience. The walk is generally followed by providing productive information that focuses on raising awareness about sexual violence. I think everyone that organizes & participates in it has their heart in the right place, but perhaps we need to rethink specifically the ‘high heels’ activity that accompanies this intent. I cannot help but think that there is something off about men walking in high heels to experience women’s experiences. Here are a few thoughts on it:

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Cool Link: Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World (IWSAW)

From the Director of Women’s Studies at SIUE, Alison Reiheld, comes this Cool Link.

The Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World (IWSAW) at Lebanese American University sent their Director, Dr. Lina Abirafeh, to be interviewed on MTVAlive on August 11, 2017.  The video has a few short segments in Arabic, but most of the interview is in English. I commend it to you as a source of information about this great program, about women’s and gender issues globally, and as a window into women’s studies in a part of the world to which folks in the United States don’t always have (or don’t always seek) exposure.  Among other topics you might not expect, the professor who is interviewed discusses sustainable development and a recent student product to make an animated video for a song on partnership and gender equity.

Check out the interview and the IWSAW. If the embedded video isn’t working, you can get it here.

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What’s Your Type? Race, Gender, Attraction, and Sexualization

Alison Reiheld, SIUE Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of SIUE Women’s Studies Program, brings us PART 4 in our series on gender, sexualization, and the media.

Every once in awhile, Wikipedia has a surprisingly well fleshed-out entry. One of these is the description of racial fetishism. This:

…involves fetishizing a person or culture belonging to a race or ethnic group that is not one’s own—therefore it involves racial/ethnic stereotyping and objectifying those bodies who are stereotyped, and at times their cultural practices. This can include having strong racial preferences in dating… 

Do you know someone who tends to only date people of their own race? What about someone who tends to date people of another particular race?  What is the line between preference and fetish, between finding certain particular kinds of people beautiful and treating them particularly, out of all other groups, as sex objects?

The African-American online magazine, The Root, has an article called “5 signs you’re about to be racially fetishized.” It begins “So… What’s your type? Admit it. You probably have one. Most of us do.” The author goes on to describe her experiences with on-line dating and the dating app Tinder:

As a member of what is purportedly the least-pursued demographic online (smart, sexy and successful, yet single, black women), I was understandably leery about what—and whom—I’d encounter on an app best known for “hookups.” But in the interest of adventure, I braced myself for potential encounters with predators, grade-A creepers and flat-out racists.

I wasn’t prepared for the fetishists… my experiences dating “across the aisle” were no preparation for the highly racialized world of online dating.

beware white boys on tinder

 

Such fetishization of African-American women relies on stereotypes about black women’s sexuality such as those described by sociologist Patricia Hill Collins in her book Black  Feminist Thought.

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Is being sexy, and allowing one’s body to be revealed publically, unfeminist? Emma Watson (Hermione; Beauty) takes on this modern question

PART 3 of our series on gender, sexualization, and the media for Women’s History month.

In a series of photo shoots to promote  Beauty and the Beast and its star, Emma Watson, one seemed to stand out.  It was the Vanity Fair shoot, and in it one costume barely covered Watson’s breasts, with much of her chest and a portion of her breast showing.

emma watson vanity fair

Watson was accused by some of being anti-feminist for allowing this imagery to be produced and disseminated.

is actress and feminist emma watson a hypocrite

Such a critique matters immensely to Watson who has often been the face of celebrity feminism, including the UN’s He For She campaign which is aimed at bringing men into feminism. What’s more, it matters to a number of young women for whom Emma Watson is the face of not just celebrity feminism, but feminism per se.  See Buzzfeed’s “13 Times Emma Watson Totally Nailed The Whole Feminism Thing” for a bit of Watson’s background and profile. Now, we all know there are many feminism(s), but it’s pretty clear from that overview of Watson quotes that she adheres to one worldview that is unambiguously a type of feminism. Watson is familiar to young women for other feminist reasons, as well. Watson’s Hermione, in the Harry Potter films, was strong, brave, smart, dependable, and a bit full of herself at first.  Anyone who has read the books or seen the films has no doubt that without Hermione, Harry (and Ron) would have been dead many times over and Voldemort would be in charge of it all (though of all moldy Voldy’s many terrible sins, sexism was never shown to be one of them).

To this attack on her feminist credentials, Watson responded with indignation. Click here for a video of her response on March 5, 2017.  She said:

Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with [sic]… It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation… it’s about equality. It’s not *brief pause* I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it. It’s very confusing… I’m always just kind of quietly stunned.

If one allows oneself to be feminine according to classic gender norms, or to be portrayed in such a way that it makes one prone to sexualization by others, is that your responsibility? Philosopher Linda LeMoncheck says that sexual objectification is dehumanization, being treated as a mere body part or an object when in fact one should be treated as a whole person.  This is something somebody else can do to you regardless of what you do.  For LeMoncheck, it seems that it is only the objectifier who is to blame.  To be sexy is not the problem.  Rather, it is the reduction of a whole person to merely sexy by the viewer.  LeMoncheck, at least, would seem to agree with Watson that it is not anti-feminist to be sexy, though perhaps with different reasoning.

What do you think?

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The Plight of the Double-Standard in the Sexualization of Political Figures and Media Representation

This blog entry by Christy Ferguson, Instructor in English and Women’s Studies at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, brings us PART 2 in our Women’s History Month blog series on Gender, Sexualization, and the Media.

When typing the name of Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau into a search engine, what would you expect to find? Topics about his policies? A speech, maybe? Certainly, one does not expect to find this:

“Everyone is Extremely Thirsty for Young Justin Trudeau” –Marie Claire via Yahoo News

“Young Justin Trudeau Pictures Have Been Discovered and the Internet is Freaking Out” –Yahoo Style

 “Will Justin Trudeau Ever Pose Nude? Young, Shirtless Photos of Liberal Canadian PM Prompt Hopes and Hoaxes” –International Business Times

“The internet is losing its collective mind over Justin Trudeau’s Butt.” –Marie Claire

In political media, we have become accustomed to witnessing the continued sexualization of women who dare to climb the governmental ladder. With constant focus on their clothing choices, bodies, families, and marriages, women in politics have faced a myriad of sexism in the media as they fought their way to positions of power.

Until recently, the media’s sexualization of male politicians had rarely reached such a state of embarrassment. However, over the past few weeks, photos of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have been circling the internet with an extreme focus on his good looks. With much of the focus specifically on his backside, people all over the world are ogling the PM instead of focusing on his politics.

Trudeau butt

IMAGE DESCRIPTION: On the left, we see an innocuous photo of Justin Trudeau in dark slacks, a white shirt, and a button down tie. It is taken from the right side of his body. He is in profile, with his right leg forward slightly, perhaps resting on the crossbar of a chair leg. The righthand photo is zoomed in on his muscular backside. In a class sign of objectifying images, Trudeau is now headless and the focus is a single body part. (Photo Credit: Yahoo Image Search via lostateminor.com)

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Kicking off Women’s History Month with International Women’s Day

This women’s history month, SIUE’s Women’s Studies Program will run a series of blog entries on the theme of “Gender,  Sexualization, and the Media.”  This is PART 1 in the series. We will kick off our original blog entries tomorrow. While you’re waiting, check out our Feminist Songs Series from last year, starting with the first one, Loretta Lynn’s ode to oral contraception, “The Pill.”

Today, however, is International Women’s Day.  The UN’s theme is “Women in the Changing World of Work.” Part of the goal is to think through how to accelerate the 2030 Agenda, which aims to accomplish key milestones in gender justice by 14 years from now. Some elements include:

  • By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and Goal-4 effective learning outcomes.
  • By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and preprimary education so that they are ready for primary education.
  • End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere.
  • Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.
  • Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

Key to trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation is the sexualization of women in ways that paint us as less than human, and encourage us to see ourselves as less than human.  Exploration of this theme is necessary for thinking seriously about gender justice. And to do so well, we will need intersectional analyses of sexualization.  international women's day.jpg

Watch for all the entries in this series throughout the month of March.

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A Brief List of Feminist New Year’s Resolutions

The Director of the SIUE Women’s Studies Program, Alison Reiheld, here offers a few of her own New Year’s Resolutions and those of some friends and feminist thinkers.

  1. I will wake up ready to fight, and have no truck with fascism.
  2. My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.
  3. I will take risks for what I believe in.
  4. I will use my power and position on behalf of those who don’t have as much.
  5. I will amplify rather than speak instead of or over.
  6. I will listen.
  7. I will be gentle with myself, and with others who are trying.
  8. I will be angry when I should be angry, in the right way, at the right time, at the right people, for the right reasons.
  9. I will do more calling in, as well as calling out.
  10. When I think of my own fleshy self, I will set my skeptical eye to watching for the filters of strange and damaging notions of what makes a body a good body.  I will focus on what my body does for me that I need it to do.  I mean, hell, it turns sleep and food and oxygen into motion and thought and water vapor and carbon dioxide. Behold it.
  11. Like Saba Fatima, I will stop backing down on what I know is right. I will not avoid confrontation to appease the powers that be.

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If you could be anything, anything at all…: Are Halloween costumes getting better at providing a range of possible selves?

As Director of Women’s Studies, I usually use this blog to amplify others’ voices. But today, I want to use this venue to follow up on a blog I wrote long before I became Director. After all, ’tis the season.  –Alison Reiheld

Several years ago I wrote a widely read SIUE WMST blog entry on sexism and Halloween costumes including pictures I took of the local Target Halloween section, myself.  In that blog I argued that boys and girls were presented with limited visions of imagined selves, and that girls’ were distressingly likely to be sexualized or otherwise feminized.  You can find it here, for comparison.  Why comparison?  Because I want to sound a hopeful note.

Homemade costumes have always been a source of invention for something beyond the commercialized mass produced costumes. And while commercial presentation of options is getting somewhat better, there are still problems. As has long been the case, homemade costumes can provide a model for doing it differently, and even for doing it better. Check out the first results for Pinterest on girls’ Halloween costumes, which include one for a main character from the recent film Zootopia (a kickbutt female police bunny) and several just made from imagination, some from scratch and some by combining commercially available bits and pieces.

pinterest-girls-costumes-2016

This year, as Halloween has slogged toward us like an unstoppable beast, I came across a delightful cartoon about a homemade costume, and a truly exciting actual homemade costume. These inspired this follow-up to my original blog entry on this topic.

Lindsay Sherman (@LindsayWSherman) got her kiddo the costume of her dreams as Holtzmann from the Ghostbusters reboot. And baldocomics.com hits home with a comic about a little girl who wants to dress up as a different kind of hero:  Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Consider this: if you could be anything… anything at all… what would you be for Halloween?  Ask your children. Ask yourself.  And find a way to make it happen. My mom did it for me.  Behold the author, about age 5 or 6, as a “witch” “doctor” (my love of puns is neither new nor sophisticated; the stethoscope is from a doctor’s kit and the hat is homemade from construction paper):

alison-witch-doctor

Giving kids the Halloween they deserve doesn’t require Pinterest, a sewing machine, and Goddess-like construction skills.  It could involve those.  But a kid and a cardboard box and a spray can and some duct tape can work wonders. So can combining the things you already own in interesting ways. Commercial options are also available if you don’t mind spending money and want a complete look. For more on feminist-friendly mass-produced Halloween costumes that provide a range of selves to choose from, see as always A Mighty Girl.  Or maybe even your local department store. But I urge you to always do Halloween with an eye to expanding kids’ options for imagined selves beyond the tiny constrained boxes of masculinity and femininity norms.

So, I ask again.  If you could be anything… anything at all… what would you be for Halloween?

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Art and Eating Disorders: A Self-advocacy Campaign Through Video Narratives

Sarah Pray is in her second year as the SIUE Women’s Studies Program’s Graduate Assistant. Her work has been invaluable. Pray is completing her M.A. in Art Therapy at SIUE. Here, she discusses her thesis project, a series of films about people using art to work through disordered eating, and provides links to some clips. She also provides further sources at the bottom for anyone interested in learning more.

During my second and third year of graduate school in the SIUE art therapy program, I became interested in the ways that advocacy, art, and one’s personal recovery from an eating disorder can intersect and support one other.  The question guiding the inquiry became “can video shorts of artists who have struggled with an eating disorder document authentic stories of recovery, provide a supportive and creative environment to the artists, and increase public awareness of eating disorders?” In collaboration with the Emily Program Foundation, an advocacy non-profit organization in St. Paul, Minnesota, we initiated a pilot project called Art and Eating Disorders. Between August 3rd and 7th 2015, we recruited five artists to record their narrative and share related creative work. One of the artists provided a father’s perspective, a heartfelt testimonial of the experience of supporting his daughter through recovery. The recordings were then edited into short videos and full audio interviews that were implemented to The Emily Program Foundation website and presented at various events. In this entry, I present major themes that came out of this project as well as short video clips.

Personally, I was surprised to hear just how much impact the creative arts had on the artists’ experiences. Discussions about art did not feel like side notes, but rather an integrated and important factor in their stories. I was surprised, namely, because I had doubts about the importance of art within my own recovery story.  At times, I have dismissed my interest in songwriting because, in some ways, I had used it as an excuse to isolate when I was struggling.  In hearing others’ stories, I recognize that, while I may have used art destructively, art has also given me an identity and purpose, a space to express and understand my feelings, a sense of control, self-efficacy, and confidence. I consider their willingness to share their stories a gift toward understanding and accepting my own story as an artist.

The treatment of eating disorders has long suffered from a lack of understanding that has resulted in unsupported and even destructive insurance practices. Such misunderstanding about the serious nature of the disease breeds stigma and shame, impeding individuals from seeking treatment (Missouri Eating Disorder Association, n.d.).  Personal self-narratives have proved to be an important tool for decreasing stigma and increasing understanding of serious mental illness (Pandya, 2012). In conjunction, art-making and art therapy can offer individuals the opportunity to create an expressive and assertive voice while shifting blame from the self to the disorder.

The Artists                   

Deborah’s Story

Through her jewelry making and fiber art, Deborah has found a meditative and confidence-boosting practice that has helped her throughout her journey in overcoming an eating disorder.

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