I Can Be Fat?

This blog entry is authored by Women’s Studies minor, Kaitlyn Funneman. In it, she reflects on the classic pressures on women to diet and control themselves and their bodies. These pressures, she notes, often come both from family and from healthcare professionals. Kaitlyn is an Anthropology major, so it may come as no surprise that after completing her degree, she wants to work to help women become more independent by using their own culture as a reference point.

 Sitting in my doctor’s office, clothed in a light cloth gown, I wait. I wait for the nurse practitioner. I wait for her to tell me I need to lose weight. Sitting in my home, surrounded by my family, I wait. I wait for my mother to tell me I look so good now that I have lost weight, but I just need to work on that double chin. This waiting causes anxiety and fear which I cannot escape from. It causes me to sporadically exercise and diet in obviously unhealthy ways. It is just as Schwartzman states in her 2015 article “Appetites, Disorder, and Desire:” “…powerful patriarchal forces may encourage women to deny their own needs, pleasures, and appetites…” Because of all the pressures put on me in this patriarchal society to become smaller, I feel the need to start that shrinking as soon and as fast as possible.








Both of these images graphically illustrate the body hatred that is caused by anti-fat bias. One shows a young girl looking at a picture of a skinny model while she takes a pair of scissors to the folds on her belly which show when she bends over. It is in full color. Another, in black and white and much older, shows a slim woman pulling some of her belly skin and subcutaneous fat away from her body with one hand while she holds a pair of scissors in the other. Both result from a Google search of the phrase “girl cutting off fat,” a search the author ran after remembering the first image of the young girl. Image Credits: unknown.

For the longest time I have been warned of the doctor telling me I was getting too big. I heard my family’s stories of the times they were told to lose weight because of their health. The matrilineal side of my family have always been considered bigger than what is accepted as healthy. Because of this my sisters, grandmother, and mother all have been exposed to doctors and nurse practitioners handing them pamphlets on losing weight. I have always been worried about my growing body because of this. In high school I gained 40 pounds and now in college I have gained 20. I was always thinking about my BMI (body mass index) and how it was getting into an unhealthy range. I thought I was doomed to be like my mother’s side of the family. I ate to feel good about myself and then I felt bad because I shouldn’t be eating so much. With my continual weight gain from my comfort foods, I got more depressed. This was my vicious cycle.

My mother is very insecure about her own weight, and she forces her insecurity onto me. She consistently reminds me when I gain some weight. She always asks “Have you gained weight or are you on your period?” or “Suck in your stomach; it’s getting poochy.” When I first wanted to exercise she said, “That’s good you used to be so skinny.” Now that I have started to lose some of the fat and look skinnier she makes comments like “Now you just have to get rid of that double chin.” This helped fuel my desire to be skinnier for her. When she praises my weight loss, I feel like she is proud of me. Proud that I got out of the “trap” of fatness that her genes implanted in me.

When I went in for my first yearly physical as an adult, I was ready to receive the news given to all of the women in my family: “You need to lose weight.” It had almost become a rite of passage. As I had gained so much weight during college I accepted that this would be my fate. This nurse practitioner pushed and prodded on all my parts, checking them out, but she didn’t say anything about my weight. I kept waiting. She told me that I was perfectly healthy and to keep on doing what I was doing. She handed me a paper about keeping my body healthy as I grow older and that was it.


Image Credit: http://humon.deviantart.com/art/New-Doctor-546048204

That moment changed me. I began to realize I didn’t need to be a certain weight to be healthy. I had obsessed over my BMI when it wasn’t all that defines me or others. As Schwartzman states, “In reality, having a body that weighs more than the standard BMI (body mass index) is not itself unhealthy” (92). This experience showed me that statement holds true.

Weight is a serious topic needing to be discussed. Some people are unable to weigh a certain number without severe starvation. Some are very unhealthy in their skinniness, however, they are told that they look amazing. The reality is changes need to be made in how people’s weights are perceived. No one should feel the need to stain their pillows with tears after eating a slice of cake.


This picture shows Mirna Valerio, who writes the blog Fat Girl Running, during the Javelina Hundred 100k (62 miles) which she completed in October of 2015. Valerio is a Spanish teacher, choral director, cross country running coach, blogger for both her own blog and Women’s Running Magazine, and avid trail runner. She is fat and fit.


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From Classroom to Courtroom: Reporting Campus Sexual Assault

Trish Oberweis is a member of the Sociology Faculty in the department of Sociology & Criminal Justice Studies at SIUE. She is a long-standing and active member of the Women’s Studies program. Recently, Oberweis delivered a talk about sexual assault on college campuses as part of our SIUE Women’s Studies Speaker Series. In this blog entry, she conveys what she believes to be some of the fundamental elements affecting reporting of campus sexual assault.

Reporting sexual assaults on campus is a tricky, sticky issue. There are several layers of concerns, and new avenues for assault survivors to use, although these are not problem-free.


Around 41% of schools in a 2014 national sample of college campuses reported that they had not conducted an investigation into a sexual assault case in 5 years. Investigations were much rarer at private for-profit schools and small schools. In a separate sample of the country’s largest public schools, the survey found that 94% had conducted an investigation in this time frame.
SOURCE: Al Jazeera America, 2014

First an obvious point: no agency can respond to campus sexual assault without a report that the crime has occurred. Yet reporting is woefully rare. Only about 8% of all rapes (on or off campus) are reported to police, and a 2015 study found that fewer than half of the most severe cases of campus sexual assault were reported—to anyone. Some of the victims who do choose to report the events do so to seek justice: they want their attackers to be punished. Many others do it to promote safety: they want their attackers to be removed from their lives and/or they want to prevent him (and it is usually a him) from being able to assault anyone else. These are all excellent reasons for reporting the crime.

Traditionally, the crime could only be reported to the police and the avenue for redress was the criminal justice system. Research suggests that, for a variety of reasons, this avenue is wildly unpopular with victims. Research clearly identifies a string of excellent reasons for the well-established tradition of avoiding police. But the times are changing.

Research has demonstrated for decades that college campuses are not safe spaces for women, and recent attention has centered on the unique problem of campus sexual assault. This crime phenomenon is unique for a number of reasons, but in particular because entering college marks a time of relative freedom and experimentation. The crime of campus sexual assault most often victimizes the youngest (freshman) students. Statistically, safety increases every year until graduation. During their college years, though, roughly 1 in 4-5 female students are sexually assaulted, including the 11-13% (depending on the study) whose bodies will be penetrated during the attack. Other than age, risk factors include prior sexual assault victimization, use of alcohol and other drugs, and sorority membership (perhaps as an extension of the alcohol and other drug risk factor, as “Greek” students are more likely than their non-pledged counterparts to drink alcohol, and to do so more heavily). (Learn more here or here or check out a summary here.)

Today, in 2015, under the authority of the US Department of Education, colleges and Universities have created a response protocol to sexual assault that runs parallel to the criminal justice system and operates independently of it. In the same way that campus officials can punish pot smokers, under aged drinkers and other criminal offenders on campus without the criminal justice system, so to can they now investigate and adjudicate claims of campus sexual assault. The standard of proof in campus investigations is limited to “the preponderance of the evidence” and not the criminal justice system’s “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is because the proceedings on campus are civil, not criminal, and because the punishments resulting from campus hearings cannot ever include University-mandated incarceration, whatever the circumstances. In essence, the university is empowered to move an alleged offenders out of the victim’s residence hall or classrooms, or even to suspend or expel the accused student if the available evidence suggests that it is more likely than not that the accused student perpetrated the acts. Moreover, the investigation, hearing, and adjudication are entirely independent of the criminal justice system. No police report is required for the University to investigate and act, but a victim is able to activate either or both systems of adjudication, as he/she deems appropriate.

The benefits of this parallel system are obvious: a woman a decade ago who was assaulted or raped on campus by a fellow student would potentially have to live near her rapist or assaulter. She likely would have continued to see him in her classes, at her dinner hour, or on the way to the showers. His presence in her life may have been inescapable, terrifying and/or humiliating. Her avenue for relief would have been to leave school. Allowing a separate system creates an opportunity to move the offender and the victim apart, or even to create accountability for the offender, although the first small study of outcomes undertaken by the Pulitzer-prize winning Center for Public Integrity shows that consequences are typically very light (such as suspending the attacker for a summer semester), even for repeat offenders, and expulsions are almost non-existent.

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Good is a Thing You Do: Feminism as Action, Rather than Identity

This blog entry inaugurates an increased level of student participation on our blog. Isabel Gonzales is a Women’s Studies minor at SIUE. She is a previous recipient of the program’s Martha Welch award. In this blog entry Gonzales connects an influential work of feminist theory by bell hooks, reflecting on the nature of the feminist movement, to recent developments in “popular feminism” and popular culture.


In these images from the first issues of Marvel’s reboot of the Ms. Marvel comic book, Kamala Khan makes a choice to use her newfound powers to help people, a choice she demonstrates through the act of creating her first costume.

In her 1984 essay, “Feminism: A Movement to End Sexist Oppression,” feminist scholar bell hooks writes on feminism, taking a critical look at the specific brand of feminism that dominated the feminist sphere during the period—a brand of feminism that, arguably, still dominates feminist activism today. This popular brand of feminism, hooks argues, alienates women of multiple-group memberships through problems in its very constitution.

First, popular feminism alienates women in its weak definitions. The popular definition of feminism is that feminism, as a movement, seeks to elevate women to a status that is equal to that of men. Hence the defenses of feminism to anti-feminists of, “Feminism just believes that men and women are equal.” While simple, this definition is problematic in that it does not specify which men it is that feminists are seeking to be equal with. hooks argues that this is intentional, and “popular feminism” creates the illusion of solidarity through vagueness (hooks 51). The solidarity that this vague definition of feminism argues for is solidarity against the vague idea of “sexism” as a whole, rather than the specific multi-modal oppressions that women of varying backgrounds face.

Second, related to the idea of its vagueness, popular feminism alienates women through its focus on the issues of, concerns of, and lived experience of privileged women. As a result, the “popular feminism” that hooks criticizes looks to create solutions to all women’s marginalization on the basis of some women’s very privileged lived experience. This flaw is obvious not only through positioning white, bourgeois women as the “default,” but also in one of its related solutions that comes about as the result of such limited thinking: the focus on separatism and women’s-only spaces within this brand of feminism. In advocating for women’s-only spaces, popular feminism ignores the community that women of color and non-bourgeois women have within their own communities (hooks 54-55). The identity-focused view of feminism that hooks criticizes forces women of multiple identities to choose: they can either embody a new identity—the identity of the feminist, which focuses its attention on the issues of the privileged under the guise of fighting sexism as a whole—or they can reject the identity of the feminist and operate within the existing women’s spaces of their communities. For many women of multiple identities, the choice is clear.

Third, popular feminism alienates women—and as a result, renders itself ineffective—through the focus on feminism as an identity and lifestyle, rather than focusing on feminism as a radical political movement. Through using a narrow, self-centered, identity focus on feminism, the popular feminism that hooks criticism takes a culturally-imperialist role that, through the focus on individual women’s actions, proves itself against the systems of oppression and marginalization that feminism should aim to work against (hooks 55). This can prove alienating, especially to women of multiple identities who are marginalized by oppressive systems and seeking system-level change.


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The Problem with Political Correctness

At the end of last semester, the SIUE faculty-staff list-serv was filled with a flurry of emails about “Grills Gone Wild,” the outdoor cafe-grill on campus.  The discussion was initiated by a staff member who acknowledged his discomfort with the name, and many of the emails that responded to his were written by members of the campus community who explained that they too were uncomfortable but had not spoken up, lest they not be taken seriously.  In this blog post, Prof. Trish Oberweis considers the name of the grill, and she also writes about the debate that ensued and a more general reluctance to engage in topics that might be perceived as falling under the umbrella of “political correctness.”  Her essay appeared in a shorter form in The Chronicle of Higher Education (a big deal!) which you can view, along with the comments–some respectful, some not–here.  We are happy to print the essay in full on our blog.

Recently, a series of discussions took place at my University centering on the name of a campus food stand, called “Grills Gone Wild.” The name, of course, is a play on words related to the name of the series of videos in which young, frequently intoxicated women bared their breasts or engaged in other lewd behavior for the camera.   The producer has been sued a number of times, including multiple lawsuits related to subjects’ lack of consent, and the brand is now bankrupt. As you might imagine, some on the campus did not approve.

A member of the campus community overheard some students expressing their irritation about the name. Their conversation prompted this colleague to publicly raise the students’ concern on an email thread. The email, in turn, generated additional discussions. Although the grill’s name was not particularly new, public debate about it was. You can already imagine the two sets of responses lining up to publicly and privately roll their eyes that we would even need to hold such discussion. On the one side were those complaining that the name is insensitive. This group presented rape statistics, noted the national attention turning to campus sexual assault (we’d just hosted the state Attorney General for a training event on our campus), and pointed out that half or more of the campus is comprised of women. On the other side were the voices saying that the off color name is funny and is not legally prohibited and, therefore, an acceptable choice. This second group decried the kowtowing to political correctness.

From SIUE Instagram

From SIUE Instagram

The University has a relevant policy of sorts; well, it’s really more of a pledge than a true policy. But the idea is to remind everyone who uses the campus to be civil and respectful. It’s called the “We Are One” promise. Students, staff, faculty and administrators were asked some years ago to sign this pledge. Early signers were even rewarded with a free t-shirt.   Does the Grills Gone Wild moniker honor this pledge? Is it required to? The answer to both questions is “probably not.”

Surely, we can all agree that the name is legal. So is consuming gallons of soda and dozens of doughnuts. That doesn’t make it a wise choice. Despite the stupidity and self-defeat inherent in the doughnut diet, I am not legally prohibited from going for it. And how could I be? What kind of law could be crafted to require that I use common sense in my junk food consumption? Would we want to live in a society that legislates these things?

The same balancing act seems apropos to consider here; is a name that jokingly speaks of sexual objectification the wisest choice for a campus community with an alleged “We Are One” commitment? Is that the right way to promote safety—or a welcoming climate–for women in a University setting? Does it support young men fostering respectful relationships with women during this period of sexual development? When parents bring their students to visit our campus and decide if ours would be a good school for them, should we have parents stop for a bite at the Grills Gone Wild? What would that communicate to them? Still, what kind of law could (or should) be written to codify common sense? Would we want to live in a society that legislates these things?

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To be Non-Compliant: Bitch Planet and the Modern Comic Book Industry

I am thrilled to announce our latest post, from soon-to-be-an-alumn, Isabel Gonzales.  Isabel was the Women’s Studies Program’s Martha Welch Award recipient this year, and this smart, well-written post speaks to Isabel’s contribution to the program.  Here, she looks at comic book culture, considering the ways that patriarchal values have informed even “subversive” genres.  If you are a comics reader, I’m betting you’ll find a lot that resonates in this post, and if you don’t read graphic narratives already, Isabel’s essay will make you take notice.  

A quick note: to those of you who are new to our blog, we are generally pretty quiet in the summer, but we’re looking forward to a robust schedule of posts in the Fall.  And to those of you like Isabel who are about to graduate from our program, let us take one more opportunity to thank you for being such great students and to wish you well.  Please stay in touch, online or otherwise!


The popular image of the comic book industry—from the storylines, the most popular characters, the producers, and the consumers—is one of a male-dominated, even males only, sort of space. Though this is far from the growing reality, this “boys club” reputation persists, in spite of the fact that women and non-binary individuals have been comic book readers and creators since the inception of the comic books industry itself. There are even members of the comic book community who wish to uphold the “by males, for males” image of the comic book industry. While the environment for women in comic books is improving slowly and slightly, there are still constant reminders of the constructed male hegemony. The headlining characters of many comic books remain mostly-homogenous, even as Marvel makes more pushes for diversity with its changes to legacy characters. Male creators—some of whom are actively hostile towards women, people of color, and people of marginalized genders and sexual orientations—still create the industry’s dominant plotlines, and dictate the vast majority of narratives. And as more women, MOGAI-identifying individuals, and people of color begin to create spaces and representation for themselves in the comic book industry, they are faced with resistance and retaliation from the “old guard” for the radical notion of wanting their lived experiences to have some sort of representation and respect. See, for example, the reaction to female fans discussing the inappropriateness of a Batgirl variant cover that harkened back to a storyline that ended with her victimization and rape, or the attempts to sexualize and de-power Spider-Gwen—a teenage character that many young female fans are finding power and representation in—by drawing her in the same pose of an infamous Spider-Woman cover that lovingly-rendered her back and buttocks with the same detail as if she were shrink-wrapped into her costume.spidergwen-spiderwoman

Even in some of the most pro-women stories, a problem exists in that there’s a constant dance-stepping away from the dreaded f-word. Creators are wanting to create “strong” or “empowered” female characters, but do so while avoiding associating themselves with feminism, and, for that matter, the intersectional core of modern, third/fourth-wave feminism. For many creators, in spite of the industry’s progress, “feminism” remains the “Voldemort” of the comic book industry. Even Wonder Woman, a character long-associated with female liberation, isn’t safe from being de-powered and disassociated from female empowerment, with the current artist of the Wonder Woman series outright stating that he wants the titular character to be seen as “strong”—but not “feminist.”


Even if the artist’s intentions weren’t to discredit feminism, wanting to dissociate a character that has been so associated with women’s empowerment speaks volumes to the environment of male hegemony that women participants in the comic book industry must deal with. Considering this, it’s hard to believe that Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine de Landro’s Bitch Planet—one of the most overt works of feminist fiction released this year—is a comic book. But at the same time, it’s almost fitting that a narrative challenging male cultural dominance is coming out of such a hypermasculine industry. It’s a form of poetic justice, of sorts, or an act of resistance in and of itself. As it sits on the same shelves as openly exploitative books and books that tout their “girl power without the feminism,” Bitch Planet acts as an openly-angry, openly-unapologetic, openly intersectional challenge to all aspects of the patriarchy, including the “boys club” mentality of comic books, down to the iconic double-middle finger salute of the cover to the first issue. Spoilers below. Continue reading

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Am I Being Paranoid? Being a Woman of Color in Academia

Today’s post comes to us from Prof. Saba Fatima.  Earlier this semester, Prof. Fatima gave a lecture as part of the Women’s Studies Event Series entitled “Women of Color in the Academy and Epistemic Doubt,” and it was one of those lectures that made all of us in attendance think about issues in new ways.  I also left thinking how lucky I am to have colleagues like Saba–smart, wonderfully articulate, and fearless.  In this post, you’ll get a bit of all of that.  

This blog post builds on the talk Prof. Fatima’s gave at SIUE this March, and advances her ideas as she prepares for a talk she is giving at a conference entitled “Exploring Collaborative Contestations and Diversifying Philosophy,” co-sponsored by Hypatia, the leading feminist philosophy journal, and the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Women.  (The SIUE Women’s Studies Program is happy to be joining the Philosophy Department and the College of Arts and Sciences in supporting Prof. Fatima’s travel.)

More broadly, Prof. Fatima’s research interests include Muslim/Muslim-American issues within a framework of feminist & race theory; epistemic injustice; social and political within prescriptive Islam; and non-ideal theory. More about Prof. Fatima’s work can be found at http://www.siue.edu/~sfatima

Something (which was perhaps, nothing) happened a long time ago. I was a graduate teaching assistant and I had just come out of a meeting with the professor for the class. He went over the final exam with all twelve TAs. Downstairs, in the library, I saw a student from my section preparing for the finals with a friend of hers who was not in my section. The student and I smiled at each other as our eyes met, and I wished her good luck. She said something about freaking out about the exam, and I said to her in an encouraging tone, “I just saw the exam, it’s not that bad.” At this moment, we were still at a considerable distance from each other. Her friend’s eyes lit up and she called over, “Hey! come here.”

I know this is strange to recount as something worth recounting. I know this, because I can read my words written above. The friend’s statement reads as harmless to many. In fact, it reads as harmless to me, most of the time. But in that moment, I felt humiliated. It was a terse command. I remember my body heating up, possibly with anger or perhaps with embarrassment, I am not certain which. Perhaps she thought I was the janitor, and had inadvertently seen the exam. I don’t know. I have no idea who she mistook me for. Perhaps, she didn’t mistake me for anyone. My student immediately said, “That’s my TA.” The friend had a slight change of expression. The student then quickly said goodbye to me, as I walked away.


 photo credit, Jeremiah Cater

I later recounted the incident to another person of color, who nodded along at my ambivalence about why that statement was bothering me. But even as I was describing the incident to him, I thought to myself that I must look like I am grasping at victimhood. It was a strange feeling of not knowing how to perceive my own reality. The student’s friend hadn’t shouted the command at me, she didn’t say it with a teenager’s attitude. In my head, I tried to make sense of why I had felt insulted in that moment, but more importantly, why I couldn’t communicate and confirm with the world at large why I had felt that way.

There have been many other incidences, where I did not need to seek confirmation of whether I was insulted by a student because I knew that I had been. As a perpetual outsider, in virtue of my brown immigrant body, my accent, mannerisms, and the assumptions about my affinities and motivations, I have encountered what are termed as, microaggressions both within the classroom and in context of presenting my research. There are countless such incidences, and they still occur every semester without fail. And even within these blatant instances of racism, there have been allies, who not only failed to understand the experience, but charged me with being overly-sensitive (paranoid). Thankfully, today’s social media exposes me to the experiences of other women of color and I can receive validation of my reality from them.

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A Day in the Life of SIUE Women: A Call to Participate

Today’s post come from Prof. Wendy Shaw, an Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, and, unlike other posts, it is as much a call to action as it is a reflection.  Wendy is spearheading a project in which women from all across the SIUE community will  take a moment on March 6 (International Women’s Day, observed) to record a detail of their lives using a camera or smartphone.  Then we’ll share these images, allowing for glimpses into one another’s lives and into ourselves as a larger community.  It’s  terrific project, and we hope you’ll participate!  Wendy describes the inspiration for the project–and how you might participate–below:

Quick… take this quiz. What is special about December 25th, July 4th, September 11th, and March 8th?   If you got three out of four you are probably not alone.   Every year March 8th is celebrated as International Women’s Day.   The day is fundamentally different than the other three dates. Christmas Day is obviously important to (some) Christians, while July 4th and September 11th are seminal dates to Americans. International Women’s Day, in contrast, crosses faiths, national boundaries, age, ethnicity, class, and cultures. It is a day that is relevant to almost half of humankind and is celebrated or recognized in multitudinous and multifaceted ways. International Women’s Day activities may celebrate, document, agitate, contemplate, or network. Whatever the activity, at its heart are the lived experiences of women.

A Women’s Day was first observed in 1909 in an event organized by the Socialist Party of America; the event came after women marched and went on strike in 1908 seeking shorter hours, better pay, and voting rights. In 1911 International Women’s Day was honored for the first time, and International Women’s Day became more firmly established in 1977 when the United Nations invited member states to recognize March 8th each year as the U.N. Day for women’s rights and world peace. So here we are approaching International Women’s Day 2015.


The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Make it Happen’. A call to action. I found myself thinking about the diversity of women and their lives across the world and what those words might mean to them. I know so little about the lives of my global sisters. Thinking about it, I don’t know very much about the women who I might pass by on a daily basis. We live so much in our own skins, see only our own footsteps, see through our own eyes. How can we do otherwise? Continue reading

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Talking About Race Isn’t “Impolite” and “Feminist” Isn’t a Dirty Word!

We were delighted to welcome Prof. Alyson Spurgas to SIUE this Fall, and now to the Women’s Studies blog.  Prof. Spurgas’s work is rooted in sociological approaches to sex, gender, and sexualities, but all of her research and teaching is informed by a deep commitment to social justice.  In this post, she reflects upon her experiences at SIUE last semester, and discusses the ways in which critical pedagogy at public universities is obligated to engage in projects that are explicitly feminist and anti-racist.  Please check out the links at the end of her post for more information.  

I arrived in St. Louis one week before Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in the neighboring town of Ferguson, Missouri. About a week after that, I began teaching an introductory sociology course to seventy students—many of whom were not social science majors, and many of whom were first year college students—approximately twenty-five miles away in Edwardsville, Illinois. I have heard it said that Fall 2014 was a difficult time to teach sociology in the United States. If my experience is at all illustrative of the experiences of sociology professors across the country, then this is certainly true, and it may be especially true for educators who believe that an important part of pedagogy is to investigate the structural systems within which we live, and for those of us who believe that sometimes these investigations and examinations might result in critique, interrogation, reorientation, and intervention.

Die In

An image from the Silent March/MUC Protest on the SIUE campus, January 20, 2015

Fall 2014 may have been a hard time for educators at all levels, given the charged and heated political climate around the country, and the violently reductive way that the debate about Brown’s murder has been framed in media accounts, everyday conversations, and through the rhetoric in both of those domains, as well as the rhetoric at some protests and within the criminal justice system itself. I have heard many conversations about the shooting and its aftermath devolve into an extremely binary framing—some students (and many other people I’ve discussed the event with) made comments like: “I’m on _____’s side,” or “He was just doing his job,” or “I would have done the same thing.” Somehow, the issue has been stripped down to a “Brown versus Wilson,” or even a “Black versus White” dichotomy, with deeply troubling consequences for the national conversation regarding this tragedy—and thus the conversations in our classrooms, as well. This framing not only permeates our conversations, but it degrades the justice system itself, as became evident via the handling of the Brown case before, during, and after Wilson’s grand jury trial. Protests in Ferguson and around the country became increasingly well-attended, vehement, and explosive, and, in some cases, the response of “pro-police” demonstrators (for example the “#seaofblue/police support” demonstration in Cleveland, Ohio in December 2014) became well-attended, vehement, and explosive, as well. And so now it seems that we can add “police versus protestor,” “police versus criminal,” or even “[disruptive, violent] protestor versus [productive, upstanding] citizen” to the slate of reductive binary framings that have overwhelmed educators, students, and lots of other folks, and which have unfortunately led to knee-jerk, angry, and thoughtless outbursts and defeated silences. But what does “police” stand for in this framing? Who are the “criminals”? Why do so many of us think there is a difference between a “protestor” and a “citizen”? What is violence? And specifically, how do our students understand these categories? What do these concepts mean to them? How do they affect their lives? I suggest that this is what we need to consider in a thoughtful, honest way. We must examine how this framing, and, for too many, this binary lived reality, has come to be, and why it persists in our cultural consciousness, in our crime and job statistics, and thus in our material world. And I suggest this this is an anti-oppression project, and thus that it is also an anti-racist and feminist project.

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Time to Throw Out The Broomstick

Today’s post comes to us from Thomas Kivi, a graduate student in American History at St. Louis University.  When he’s not wandering the library stacks, Thomas is an active singer-songwriter, and he has just released an album, Cornucopia, which is a collaboration with Women’s Studies graduate assist Sarah Pray.  Here, he thinks about the ways witches have long defined a site of cultural anxiety about female identity.

Today is Halloween, and so instead of worrying about terrorism or Ebola, I’m thinking about a more conventional  object of fear, the image of the female witch in mainstream American culture.  The witch is perhaps the American symbol of Halloween, and it is a startling example of female objectification. Think about this: the original fairytale of Sleeping Beauty was first popularized in France by Charles Perrault in the late-1600s, within the final decades of the witch trials in pre-Revolutionary America. Angelina Jolie—arguably the most voluptuous and powerful woman on the big-screen—recently played the leading role in Maleficent (2014), based on the evil queen from Walt Disney’s cartoon Sleeping Beauty (1959). Witches in Colonial Massachusetts were accused of something called maleficium. What does it mean that the modern witch now takes the beautiful, female form? Can you think of a story where a man is cast as a witch? Darth Vader maybe? But that is a more Freudian dilemma, having more to do with the oedipal urge to kill one’s own father.

Suddenly, I have the creeping dread of an Edgar Allen Poe poem. All I begin to see is the gendered nature of the witch. To dress up like Judy Garland from the Wizard of Oz (1939) is to play the innocent, uber-feminine antithesis to the hideously green, spell-bounding, broom-riding, fortune-telling witch. Dorothy is the model girl whereas the witch is the pure, gendered objectification of evil. She is not a person. People are not green. The witch’s death, therefore, is not the death of a woman but the inhuman shriveling away of wickedness itself. The dire contest between them in the Land of Oz is made plain by the final words of the melting wicked witch of the West: “who would have thought a good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness?” Dorothy and the witch are objectified by their relative beauty so as to conflate goodness with beauty, ugliness with evil. Will there ever be another ugly witch in Hollywood? I would say it’s not likely. These days, the Devil runs with sexiness. Sexy women are the scapegoat for man’s fantasies. The witch is now the temptress.

witch and dorothy

The most infamous episode in the era of witch hunts occurred when the Puritan town of Salem, Massachusetts accused, sentenced, and executed 22 people to death in the early-1690s. Arthur Miller’s 1963 classic play The Crucible captures the epidemic of suspicion that swept Salem, popularized by the 1996 dramatic screenplay of the same title starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder. But what has long been a lesson about the consequences of superstition and religious extremism fails to showcase the question at the bottom of it all: “Why women?”

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In Our Backyard: Sex Trafficking and Exploitation

Today’s post comes from Criminal Justice professor Erin Heil. She began studying domestic human trafficking in 2008 and has since published numerous articles on the subject, as well as the book, Sex Slaves and Serfs: The Dynamics of Human Trafficking in a Small Florida Town.  She shares this post with us in anticipation of the upcoming panel, “Sex Trafficking and Exploitation,” co-sponsored by the SIUE Women’s Studies and Peace Studies Programs on Oct. 21 at 12:30 in the Morris University Center.  At this event Prof. Heil will be joined by Congressman John Shimkus, FBI Intelligence Analyst Derek Velazco, Rescue and Restore Coordinator Kristen Eng, and Covering House representatives Deidre Lhamon and Lindsay Ellis.  The event is free and open to the community.

“I was taken from my doorstep…I was sold for sex with men in exchange for money and drugs. I was forced to work out of motels, brothels, prostitution houses, and massage parlors. I tried to run so many times but I never seemed to be able to escape without getting caught and beat up. I have had chains wrapped around my ankles, wrists, and neck like a dog. I got beat up with baseball bats, crow bars, basically anything that they [could] get their hands on.” These words were spoken by a brave survivor in front of hundreds of listeners attending an anti-human trafficking event. Although her voice shook and she read from her hand written script, she stood strong in the face of her victimization. She wanted her story to be heard, and more importantly, she wanted to be seen. She looked up from her small piece of paper, looked the audience in the eyes, and proudly stated, “I refuse to believe what the world labels me as. I refuse to believe that I am trash. I refuse to believe I’m good for one thing only. I refuse to believe that nobody loves me. I refuse to believe that I’m not beautiful. I refuse to believe that I am nothing.” Although these were the words of emotional torture she was told while she was being sold for sex, she had survived, and she was able to victoriously tell her story.[i]

Trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation is one of the many forms of human trafficking evident in the United States. Legally defined as the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion, human trafficking can entail a number of forced activities including, but not limited to: agricultural labor, domestic servitude, servile marriage, begging and panhandling, prostitution, construction work, sweatshops, and restaurant work. However, many of these activities remain hidden behind concrete or landscaped walls, thereby limiting the potential of identifying victims. Sex trafficking, however, requires some amount of visibility in that the traffickers must advertise the victims in order to recruit potential buyers. Given that, social service providers and law enforcement officials have been more able to identify victims of sex trafficking versus victims of labor trafficking.


Researching sex trafficking is an extremely complex process with each layer revealing another layer that needs to be examined. Therefore, I am only going to scratch the surface by providing some general information that has been identified in my own research. First of all, I have found that the victim demographics associated with sex trafficking vary greatly with geography. When I first began researching human trafficking, I was led to Immokalee, Florida; “ground zero” for human trafficking. The victims that had been identified were generally foreign nationals, most of whom had been smuggled into the United States from Mexico or Guatemala. In contrast to other areas of the United States, the majority of the research conducted in Immokalee discussed the slavery evident in the tomato fields. However, as with most cases of human trafficking, labor trafficking in Immokalee was occurring in conjunction with sex trafficking. In other words, where labor trafficking is evident, there is generally sex trafficking occurring in the same area. This symbiotic relationship occurs partly due to similar demands; the demand for underground cheap (or unpaid) labor coincides with a demand for prostitution.

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