We’ve all seen it in at least one movie. The awkward, nerdy girl realizes the lack of attention towards her, especially from the men in her life, and decides to drastically change her looks. She takes off her glasses, puts on more makeup, and suddenly, everyone around her notices how gorgeous she is.
Listen, I love the Princess Diaries movies, but Mia’s iconic makeover by Paolo in the first film is the epitome of this problematic trope. Paolo breaks her glasses (after Mia mentions that she doesn’t enjoy wearing contacts) and Mia’s curly hair is straightened during her transition from unlikeable geek to a gorgeous princess. A turning point for her character in the film, Mia’s new looks quickly catch the attention of her crush Josh and eventual love interest Michael, sending the message that Mia’s looks were what was standing in the way of her and the men she wanted to be with.
Now, discussing the issues with naturally curly hair being labelled as ugly compared to straight hair could take up its own article; straight hair tends to be associated with Eurocentric beauty standards, and though Mia and other curly-haired protagonists may be white, young BIPOC girls will still see scenes like this and start to feel that their ethnic hair texture is less beautiful than straight hair. I certainly thought so when I was a child watching these movies. But let’s look towards the role of the glasses in these scenes and how girls who wear them, according to certain pieces of media, become less attractive because of their desire to see clearly.
The Princess Diaries is certainly not the only example of this trope; women in movies are constantly changing their looks in order to better appeal to the men in their stories. And while many times, the made-over woman realizes in the end that she didn’t need the man to be happy after all, she still retains her new look throughout the course of the film. So even though this character decides that she isn’t going to focus on adjusting her looks to look attractive for a man in the film, she must still look appealing to the audience, and that includes keeping her glasses off. These makeover scenes are a clear illustration of Laura Mulvey’s cinematic theory of the male gaze: essentially, the camera itself takes on the perspective of a heterosexual man, leading to the sexualization of the women on-screen. Even in movies marketed towards young girls, such as The Princess Diaries, the male gaze promotes beauty standards that the characters must follow, and when those standards include ditching a pair of glasses, young girls who wear glasses start to associate the objects that help them see with being less beautiful.
Taking a Closer Look at Glasses
In 2018, the Vision Council reported that an estimated 164 million adults wore glasses in the United States, and even more wore some type of corrective vision. So why is removing glasses such a common movie trope? Despite how frequently you’d see someone wearing glasses in your daily life, it’s not very common for film or television protagonists to have them on.
It’s worth noting that oftentimes, glasses can be seen as a sign of intelligence. So what does it say about the message of these films when a woman removes her glasses to become more beautiful? Teen movies especially end up typecasting characters who are women as either smart and unattractive or attractive and unintelligent. There shouldn’t be an expectation for women to choose between being attractive and being intelligent; really, someone’s appearance shouldn’t comment on their intelligence at all. But if movies continue to utilize tropes and archetypes that reinforce imagined dichotomies, the danger of these tropes will grow.
Blurring The Lines Between Cinema and Reality
When movies targeted towards younger audiences use these tropes, they promote ideas that could impact how children see themselves. As someone who started wearing glasses in first grade and had characteristically bushy hair for most of my life, seeing this nerd-girl-turned-gorgeous trope—in which a girl whose appearance wasn’t too different from mine was constantly the one in the ugly “before” photo—certainly impacted my self esteem. If I had seen more characters who didn’t have to take their glasses off or otherwise change their appearance to become well-lied by their peers, it’s likely that I would have felt a little better about myself back then.
We shouldn’t be sending the message to young girls that they need to change aspects of their appearance to be considered beautiful, especially when the metric of beauty is set at male attention. Sadly, this is exactly the message sent when the makeover trope appears yet again and has a woman on-screen remove her glasses in an attempt to become more attractive. It’s no secret that the characters we see in our favorite movies or television shows have an impact on us, especially when we’re young and impressionable. Therefore, it’s essential for popular media to ensure that women on-screen removing their glasses isn’t associated with a significant change in their attractiveness.
Looking to The Future, Is There Hope?
As opposed to the simple archetypes of the past, more women in films today are written as complex, interesting characters. Still, I could not tell you the last time I saw a woman who was a main character in a popular movie wearing glasses. Fortunately, there does appear to be change in sight: when I saw the trailer for Encanto, an animated film in which the main character Mirabelle is wearing glasses, I was thrilled to finally see a woman on-screen who keeps her glasses on. Let’s hope this change also continues with live action films in the near future.
Trigger Warning: This article discusses sexual assault and sexual violence.
Across the United States, college students are facing a daunting threat: sexual assault and sexual violence. According to the Rape and Sexual Victimization Among College-Aged Female study conducted by the United States Justice Department, 26.4% of undergraduate women and 6.8% of undergraduate men experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation. As demonstrated by this statistics, undergraduate women are almost four times more likely to be victims of rape and sexual assault. Additionally, The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network found that undergraduate students are at the highest risk of sexual assault and rape during their first few months of their first and second semesters in college, which tells us that most instances of sexual assault and rape occur during a student’s freshman year of college.
The trend of freshman facing an increased risk of sexual assault and violence is furthered by the prevalance of party culture across college campuses nationwide. College freshmen often face intense social pressure from their peers to participate in party culture, in which underage drinking is commonplace. Some freshmen may also desire to participate in such activities due to their newfound independence and freedom.
Regardless of whether freshmen participate in party culture and alcohol usage because of their own desires or peer pressure, the use of alcohol poses a grave threat to college freshman. The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that 52.5% of full-time college students between the ages of 18 and 22 drank alcohol in the past month, and 33% of students engaged in binge drinking in the past month. The National Institute on Drug Abuse also reports that sexual assaults are more likely to occur in environments where alcohol is being consumed and that half of the incidents of sexual assault that occur on college campuses involve the victim, perpetrator, or both consuming alcohol. However, it should be noted that alcohol consumption is neither a valid excuse for the perpetrator nor a reason for blaming the survivor.
Given these statistics, party culture and the alcohol usage that is prominent within it are putting college freshman, especially freshmen that identify as women, at increased risk for sexual assault. This phenomenon is becoming more and more likely because sexual predators are using parties or events in which alcoholic drinks are being consumed as a hunting ground for drunk and incapacitated young women. Since these college parties typically occur at fraternity houses, the face of the sexual predator is most often that of a frat boy.
Sexual Predation of College Freshman
Freshman girls are going out with their friends to parties in hopes of de-stressing from a hectic school week but instead are falling victim to instances of sexual assault and sexual violence. Groups of freshman girls are being looked at like prize ponies, and frat boys are placing bets on who can win the prize, whatever the price. If you look closely enough at the party dynamics at most fraternity houses, you can see the frat boys giving girls drink after drink in hopes of getting them drunk enough to “get them into bed.” In many cases, sexual predators at the parties look for girls who look drunk so that they can try to sleep with them.
However, these interactions cannot be consensual by nature, because if you are incapacitated or lacking the mental facultities to give consent (like someone who has been drinking),then any sexual activity that occurs is defined as sexual assault. The men who are taking advantage of this situation are well aware of this dynamic. It has been screamed from the rooftop that if someone is drunk or passed out, then they cannot consent; however, many men have adopted the mindset that if she doesn’t say “no” then they can’t be held accountable for sexual assault. Even in cases when the incapacitated person says “no,” sexual assault perpetrators often claim that they didn’t think that they really meant “no” or that they knew that the victim actually wanted it to happen, which is far from the truth.
The party culture that exists within fraternities is perpetuating rape culture, defined as “an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused.” Rape culture blames the victim and encourages behaviors of sexual assault and harassment, which is making sexual assault and sexual violence all too prevalent on college campuses.
Sexual Predation at Cornell University
Cornell University, which prides itself on providing excellent education and resources for its students, is riddled with sexual predation and sexual violence. The New York State Department of Education reported in 2018 that Cornell University has the highest number of reported sexual assaults out of every college and university in the state of New York, and little has changed since then.
Cornell University is very much aware of the issue of sexual assaults occurring at fraternities on campus, especially since a case involving the Fraternity President of Psi Upsilon’s Chi Chapter, Wolfgang Ballinger, made headlines in 2016. Ballinger was charged with first-degree attempted rape, first-degree criminal sexual act, and first-degree sexual abuse after he sexually assaulted a woman in a bedroom at the frat house. He initially pled not guilty but changed his plea to guilty and received six years of probation on a misdemeanor sex offense charge, which was the maximum sentence possible under the plea deal made between the prosecutor’s office and Ballinger.
Speaking from firsthand experience, the dynamic in which upperclassman frat boys intentionally take advantage of incoming freshman girls still persists today. However, some frat boys have taken their strategy to a new extreme by dating or seeing freshman girls and then repeatedly sexually assaulting them. When you are drinking with a guy that you like and trust, then what reason would you have to think that they are intentionally getting you drunk so that they can sexually assault you when you’re blacked out?
Situations like these are becoming more and more common, especially at Cornell. As I found out a couple of months after I was no longer in a similar situation, entire fraternities are covering for their frat brothers that they know have sexually assaulted women in the past. It seems that the “guy code” has persisted into college and is being used to protect known sexual predators. No one told me that the guy that I was seeing had sexually assaulted at least one girl the summer before I started college. No one stopped the situation when they saw the frat president walk me upstairs drunk and stumbling to “go to bed” night after night and week after week. These situations are not as easy to recognize as you might think, especially because no one talks about sexual assaults that are committed by your partner in a romantic relationship. It is extremely difficult to pull yourself out of denial and come to terms with the difficult reality that occurred.
Most Assaults Are Not Reported
After sexual assault victims realize that they were in a sexually abusive situation, especially those who found themselves in the situation described above, reporting doesn’t always seem like an option. The Department of Justice reports that only 20% of female undergraduate students report their assault. The trend of female students not reporting their assault occurs for a wide array of students. However, rape culture likely contributes to this trend because it encourages victim blaming. After a traumatic event like sexual assault occurs, the last thing a survivor wants is to be blamed for their assault, especially since many victims already struggle with deep-seeded guilt and tend to blame themselves.
However, even with all the preparation and “preventative measures” in the world, instances of sexual assault and sexual violence are still possible. You can bring your own drink, limit the amount you drink, stay with friends, etc. and still find yourself in a dangerous situation, because sexual assault and sexual violence are the fault of the perpetrator, not the victim. Even if a sexual assault survivor does not take any “preventative measures,” an instance of sexual assault and/or sexual violence will never be their fault. The truth of the matter is, you never know what you will do in those situations until it happens to you, and most people tend to freeze in fear, if they are even conscious during the assault.
At Cornell University, many students have parents that have tremendous social influence and make enough income to afford good lawyers. So what do you do when you cannot afford a good lawyer, especially when your rapist has already been accused and not faced any consequences? What do you do when your rapist’s parents have enough money to seemingly make any problem go away? Most sexual survivors tend to not report their assaults, but can you blame them given the statistics and society we find ourselves in today?
Lack of Accommodations
Although there are resources available at Cornell University for sexual assault survivors, these resources still cannot provide accommodations to cover all of the adverse issues that impact sexual assault survivors. Organizations, such as CAPS, cannot always help survivors academically because professors typically have the final say for accommodations. In my experience, most professors and facility members are extremely accommodating and empathetic to sexual assault survivors. However, this unfortunately cannot be said for all professors.
When I saw my rapist for the first time in person after I realized what happened, I quickly found myself in a downward spiral that prevented me from being able to properly function and take care of myself. Academics were certainly not my first priority—how could they be? Fortunately, most of my professors and teaching assistants provided me with an outpouring of support and tried to make sure I was okay. I received accommodations that allowed me to turn in assignments and catch up after I had time to process and move past this trigger. However, I was not provided adequate accommodations by the Chemistry department and have since found out that a lack of proper accommodations from the Chemistry department is fairly common.
Sexual assault survivors deserve better. I deserved better. Proper accomodations for sexual assault survivors should be required at Cornell University, because, although a majority of professors genuinely care about their students and do their best to support them, this cannot be said of all professors.
The Time For Change Is Now
Cornell University, as a whole, also needs to do better. Sexual assault and sexual violence have found a happy home on campus and have continued to grow as rape culture within fraternities persists. There is only so much that resources about consent can do when they are not reaching the target audience of fraternity members. Although singular investigations have been conducted into specific frats, like Psi Upsilon and Zeta Beta Tau, these occurrences are not isolated events concerning just one or two fraternities. Sexual assaults are occurring in a multitude of frats across campus. The perpetrator of the assault committed against me isn’t in either of the fraternities lifted above, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been assaulted by someone in a fraternity. Something needs to be done to even the scales and address the atmosphere of party culture within fraternities that is enabling this behavior. The chapters that are knowingly enabling and facilitating these assaults do not deserve a foothold on campus to victimize more individuals. It’s time for a real, comprehensive investigation into the fraternities on campus. It’s time for change.
Here are some resources that have been helpful and beneficial to do during my journey in the aftermath of sexual assault:
Capitalism is defined as “an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.”
But do you know what capitalism also is? It is a global system of oppression. It is a system that is amplified by the patriarchy. It is a system that actively works to devalue the contributions of women, especially women of color, and under-represented communities.
Women are especially urged to be dressed up but not glammed up, sexy but not slutty, youthful but not plastic, whereas men are naturally allowed to just be. Social media and the marketing industry inevitably create these unrealistic and unattainable beauty standards but do so in a way that makes us feel inadequate and leads us to vie for the product that will magically change our appearance.
Many companies use our physical appearance as a source of identity, value, and power and market it under the guise of “women’s empowerment,” when in reality the message is focused on reaping profits. Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign, Kellogg’s “What will you gain when you lose” campaign, Tesco’s razor blades costing twice as much for women as they do for men, Cover Girl’s “your personality needs layers, your face doesn’t” message are just some examples of problematic marketing strategies using “feminist buzz words” as a way to attract more customers. This perpetuates an exploitative cycle, passing down a harmful message to younger generations. Instead of targeting our physical insecurities, companies should be directing their resources to tackle systemic issues such as the gender pay gap, reproductive healthcare rights, access to higher education, workplace discrimination, and human trafficking.
In capitalist marketing, the easiest way to sell a product is to exploit the vulnerable: “This part of you is broken, but don’t worry, our product can fix it!”For example, companies target body hair as something that women should be ashamed of and get rid of immediately. In 1915, there were a burst of advertisements using the tagline, “an assault on the underarm” to spread the message that women with underarm hair were unfeminine and that the area must be shaved to look “as smooth as the face.” Following these, there was another explosion of advertisements claiming that women should shave their legs, calling women with leg hair “disturbing.”
Intersectional feminism strives to always advocate for the well-being of everyone and champions the needs and rights of all: of the poor and working-class women, of racialized and migrant women, of queer, trans, and disabled women, of women encouraged to see themselves as women, of women encouraged to see themselves as middle class even as capital exploits them. But this feminism is not just limited to women’s issues. It also stands up for those who are exploited, dominated, and oppressed around the world. So, can we imagine a world where the liberation of all women exists under a capitalist system?
Patriarchy in the economic form may be summarized as “the collective exploitation of the female sex by the male sex, and the exploitation of the female sex by ruling-class men for the ruling class’s economic and social benefit”. Let’s break down this definition to further understand the relationship between capitalism and patriarchy. Under a capitalist system, women are overexploited in their household and in the workplace. While more women are entering the workforce, bearing fewer children than they were a century ago, and engaged in wage labour, they are still expected to carry out domestic responsibilities. With the increase in women in the workforce, people may think that this is a sign of a decline in patriarchal influence on our economic system. However, taking a closer look at the trends of societal expectation and women’s roles in the economy shows that there is simply a shift from a family-centered exploitation of women to an industrial-centered exploitation of women.
Thanks to feminism, there is a clear separation between household chores and family responsibilities in terms of a social order based on the distributive tasks of men and women, which holds that women are supposed to devote themselves to the domestic sphere of work. This distribution has wrongly established that there is a hierarchy of tasks where “masculine” ones are valued higher than the “feminine” ones. In reality, there has never been a sense of equality because women have almost always performed within the labor force as well as the household.
Another issue is that oppression is a necessary catalyst to the capitalist system. The truth is that capitalism is an inherently exploitative system which means that someone will always be exploited. Capitalism demands an aggressive mode of production that permeates into all aspects of society. It allows for the profiteering of cheap female labor, child labor, migrant labor, and the manipulation of marginalized groups. Since the beginning of capitalism, its quest for the maximization of profits has relied on undermining these marginalized groups.
This is not to say that not a single woman has benefited from capitalism. As established, capitalism works in a way where people benefit at the expense of others. Women who are positioned at the highest levels of the production and supply chain naturally bear greater bargaining power, higher wages, and overall economic freedom. However, the vast majority of women face barriers that relegate them to the bottom levels of the supply chain, where they hold the least power. Capitalism depends on its system of structural oppression —racism, sexism, ableism, casteism— to uphold and normalize unequal power structures.
The 2020 edition of the United Nations report commented on the current state of gender equality around the world: “women are disproportionately being affected by economic oppression through forced labour, meagre wages, triple burden of work, lack of access to resources and opportunities. As feminists, amidst this political turmoil, we cannot be naive to believe that capitalist institutions will reimagine their oppressive structures. Instead, they will only work to strengthen their means”. It has become clear that our economic system permeates into all areas of our life, from day-to-day work up to the national level, where governmental institutions continue to permit flagrant inequities.
Using an intersectionalist feminist lens, one can dissect many of the ways capitalism perpetuates an unequal society. This article is just a brief introduction to the complexities of feminist theory and for those who want to educate themselves more on the topic, there are dozens of scholarly articles published that discuss, in great detail, the intersection between capitalism and feminism. To start, here are some resources.
Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto by Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattachartya, and Nancy Fraser
Capitalism, For and Against: A Feminist Debate by Ann E. cudd and Nancy Holmstrom
Power and Feminist Agency in Capitalism: Toward a New Theory of the Political Subject by Claudia Leeb
The Liberation of Women: A Study of Patriarchy and Capitalism by Roberta Hamilton
“Colonizing Black Female Bodies Within Patriarchal Capitalism: Feminist and Human Rights Perspectives” by Akeia A. F. Bernard
“Capitalism and Freedom– For Whom Feminist Legal Theory and Progressive Corporate Law” by Kellye Y. Testy
“Capitalism and the (il)Logics of Higher Education’s COVID-19 Response: A Black Feminist Critique” by Terah J. Stewart
“The Sexual Division of Labor, Sexuality, and Lesbian/Gay Liberation: Toward a Marxist-Feminist Analysis of Sexuality in US Capitalism” by Julie Mattaei
I was brought up in a house headed by a matriarch. I learned to be a feminist before I could tie my shoes. I have been surrounded by smart, kind, strong women my entire life. This served me to be confident in myself as a young woman; I am assertive in my conversations, I defend myself, I believe in myself. I am a feminist.
And yet, I walk to class every morning bumping along to Kanye West. I watched the Dave Chappelle special (which was uniquely offensive, even for him). Kanye West is not the only rapper who says “bitch” too regularly. A lot of rap culture belittles women. Dave Chappelle is not the first comedian to joke about rape or undermine transwomen. I used to cringe a little when songs would so explicitly objectify women, but I’ve begun to notice that I don’t flinch at all anymore. I’ve just accepted that this is what men sing about.
And so the debate ensues: Do I belong in a club that practices intersectional feminism if I leave listening to Kanye West? What about R. Kelly? Or Chris Brown? Or Tupac? Can we separate the art from the artist? It gets complicated. Maybe there’s a moral boundary that distinguishes listening to the artist that says “bitch” too much from listening to rapists. But what if your favorite artist gets accused of rape?
By listening to that music, by watching that special, we’re directly supporting people who don’t believe in women. And the conclusion seems obvious: stop giving money to people who are abusing women, belittling women, raping women.
But sometimes the music is good. And sometimes it’s really unique. If we found no separation between art and artist then the allegations against Michael Jackson would have made it nearly impossible to listen to “Who’s Lovin’ You.” So much of our musical canon is composed of problematic individuals. If we ruled out every rap song that objectified women, we would have substantially smaller playlists. But by continuing to listen to artists who have been exposed as sexual assault offenders or even just artists whose songs disempower women, we are perpetuating a culture that not only excuses these demeanors but almost encourages them. Not to mention that streaming the music of an abuser is directly profiting them.
Kanye West is a misogynist. And a musical genius. I am a feminist, but his songs are pretty good. What do I do?
The third season of Netflix’s thriller series You was released in October 2021. The season’s mere 10 episodes document the manipulative and murderous Joe Goldberg (played by Penn Badgley of Gossip Girl) alongside his equally violent wife Love Quinn (played by Victoria Pedretti) as they struggle to raise their son in the fictional Bay Area suburb Madre Linda. While this season received critical praise and a whopping 96% on Rotten Tomatoes (a higher score than both the first and second seasons), this next installment in the series involves largely the same themes and plot points: secret obsession, lots of sex, and murder.
A Problematic Point of View: The White Male Gaze
Ultimately, despite being entertaining, You’s third season does little to confront the liminal perspective of Joe. In turn, the series perpetuates the undeniably white male gaze found in popular film and TV. Through silly gimmicks and satire, You attempts to be seen as “woke,” when, in reality, it merely tells the “tragic” story of yet another white man.
Joe is a perfect definition of an unreliable narrator. However, what makes the audience sit on the edge of their seats are not the bloody ax swings or the crime scene clean-ups, but rather the psyche of Joe. Using the second person point of view to address the audience as though they are the woman he’s currently obsessed with, Joe establishes a sense of narrative intimacy with each viewer. Additionally, while the real viewer may hate Joe and see him for his monstrous self, Joe’s character has control of this narration, which inherently positions the series to be seen from the white male gaze.
White Masculinity & Extremity
The intention of giving Joe this power is for the audience to feel as though they are in on it—as though they, too, are implicated in the countless murders of Madre Linda residents. This is for entertainment’s sake, but it also appeals to other “Joes” and their perspectives to make it feel as though the show is offering an astute critique of white masculinity. Joe is meant to give the audience a sense of superiority. You’s showrunner Sera Gamble states in an interview with New Musical Express Magazine that:
“We’re just interested in being deeply in the point of view of this guy, because we’re trying to explore, whether in the misapprehensions that [viewers] detect, what are the things that he believes. Coupled with the unique propensity for crossing lines that are part of this particular character. A lot of us might be really screwed up about love, but most of us don’t go out and kill about it. So [Joe’s] just the most extreme example, which is what makes it interesting to explore.”
Joe’s extremity offers viewers respite of knowing that we are not like him, that we don’t kill for love.
The average viewer does not watch You because they sympathize with Joe. But his positioning as not only the protagonist but also as the narrator reproduces yet another fabled story. Cristina Escobar writes for Medium, “We get too much media from the white devil’s perspective—we don’t need more.”
The Danger of White Femininity
Additionally, Joe’s white masculinity co-constructs something equally as harmful: the image of the delicate white woman. Escobar argues that love interest Beck (played by Elizabeth Lail) of Season 1 and Love capitalize on their fragility as white women, stating, “What these white girls have in common is the shared understanding of the preciousness of their femininity. They both see themselves as something to be protected, particularly by the men in their lives.” Beck allows Joe to protect her, and as Escobar puts it, ignores the mysteriously strange things occurring in her life to be loved. Love, on the other hand, uses “her femininity as a shield—both to avoid becoming a murder suspect as a teen and later to avoid Joe’s violence, thanks to the embryo growing inside her.” While Love proves to be Joe’s murderous match, her femininity allows for her to evade accountability.
It is not until this third season that we are introduced to Joe’s first obsession of color. While he dated Karen Minty, a black woman, in Season 1, he never grew obsessed with her in the same way he violently stalked Beck, Candace, Love, and (briefly at the start of the new season) his white next-door neighbor Natalie. Then comes Marienne (portrayed by Tati Gabrielle): the sexy, haunted, intelligent, artist and head librarian at Madre Linda’s public library. To Joe and the audience, Marienne is a breath of fresh air in a white suburban nightmare.
You Season 3’s Virtue Signaling
While each season of You grapples with issues such as selfishness, toxic masculinity, social media, consumer culture, and what it means to connect with someone in the 21st century, its third season uses its mass viewership to call out vaccine skeptics and the media’s “missing white woman syndrome.” In its third episode titled “Missing White Woman Syndrome,” Joe talks about the ‘missing’ Natalie with Marienne and coworker Dante (played by Ben Mehl). Dante comments “Madre Linda has her own missing white woman,” to which Marienne responds: “Missing white woman syndrome is America’s favorite pastime next to porn.” Joe asks what this syndrome is, and remarks “Well, the media has a thirst for anything salacious, right?” Both Marienne and Dante cringe at his comment, informing him that he completely misunderstands what the message of this syndrome sends to women of color. In the words of Marienne, “White ladies deserve to be rescued. The rest of us can fend for ourselves.”
While calling attention to how the media disproportionately cares for the lives of white women helps to engage the audience in a relevant social issue, You does so only to pat itself on the back. Rather than seriously confronting what Joe’s role is in perpetuating white masculinity’s violence and white femininity’s fragility, the show uses buzzwords as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
In this same episode, Love and Joe’s baby develops measles due to an anti-vaxx family in the community. The father of the unvaccinated children (Gil) approaches Love to apologize for causing the outbreak. He ultimately tells her that they “don’t believe in subjecting [their] kids to toxic injections they don’t need.” Love retaliates by hitting him over the head with a rolling pin before locking him away in their basement cage for all their murder victims. Set in a post-COVID reality, this season attempts to bring light to the dangers of anti-vaxx beliefs but only as a plot point to advance the series. Gil eventually takes his own life in the holding cell, allowing Joe and Love to use his suicide as a way to cover up Love’s murder of Natalie.
The gimmicks deployed by You serve to distract the audience from the realities of Joe. They allow viewers to believe the show is making these vastly edgy social and political statements in the name of denouncing the very thing they’ve created: another white male narrative.
Netflix’s third season of You certainly lives up to the gory expectations of its preceding seasons. Should you watch it? Yes, if only to keep up with the influx of memes, Tik Toks, and Tweets about it. Should you also think critically about which voices and stories this show chooses to showcase? Yes.
I took a philosophy course my senior year of high school. Aside from discussing philosophical works, we spent most of our class time discussing personal morals and ethics. It was an intense yet rewarding experience where I fear my pretentious side was cultured. To this day it is still one of the best classes I have taken.
In a more notorious class, we discussed what true altruism, or going out of the way for someone with nothing in return, looks like in practice. We all enthusiastically agreed that we could be truly altruistic, but this notion was challenged by our teacher. He asked us if altruism even existed at all and insisted that there is always a reward when we do something for someone else. Examples we had brought up, such as donating to a food bank or reading to an elementary school student, did reward us with the emotional gratification of helping someone.
This conversation shifted to a moment of digestive silence as we processed our teacher’s argument. Is there any break in our fixed biology to do something completely in favor of someone else? I am not well versed enough in philosophy to give you the answer, nor am I equipped with the ability to unpack that.
It is here that I switch gears to good old March of 2020. Stuck in my house with philosophical thoughts on altruism and the like, I took to attempting whipped coffee, walks around my block, and YouTube workouts to mitigate the whinnies of the moral high horse. In all seriousness, I certainly felt the stir-crazy that being stuck at home brought us and the anxiety of navigating all the unknown that was in front of us. For example, my mother, who was deemed an essential worker, would bring home stories of a coworker who insisted that martial law was to be enacted soon to enforce the quarantine. It was like living in a dystopian novel: social unrest was magnified.
The political polarization became more evident than ever. Those who opposed the lockdown took to all social media platforms to express their distaste for the government’s decision. I distinctly remember my mother and me calling my grandmother to discuss some of her Facebook posts (think outlandish sentences on the future of society with links to “independent” news sources). Protests took to the streets throughout the USA in support of BLM after George Floyd’s murder, and groups once again began to gather in solidarity. Flags were displayed in people’s yards, in the front windows of stores and small businesses, and on bumper stickers on the back of Subarus. CNN was kept on at all times in my household, and I had friends and family that would only watch Fox. Looking back, I realize that we all were actively contributing to the polarization that was occurring.
There had never been a moment in my life where I had been so aware of the news. I was searching up the mask mandates by state, locations of protests near me, the positivity rate of COVID cases in my town, and what exactly a presidential impeachment looked like. So much new information was to be acquired, and as a Gen Z-er, I had all of the social media outlets to get it from. As young people during this pandemic, we scrambled to make our voices heard to the general public.
Turn your Virtue Signals On
Enter the rise of the Instagram infographic. Again, as we clamored to find our online presence, as we worked to learn more and to spread awareness, infographics spread like wildfire. Unfortunately, these posts put more emphasis on aesthetics than reliable information.
You can read more about the rise of the “Instagram Infographic” here.
My peers with left-leaning views would post an infographic with COVID news, information on the climate crisis, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and statistics on police brutality. My right-leaning peers responded similarly, with reposts of Trump’s pictures or tweets, Joe Rogan quotes, and Blue Lives Matter propaganda (not to mention there was a severe lack of pink and glittery infographics on their end).
These infographics, although on occasion imbued with reliable, good information, were used as weaponry. They were used to signal virtue, to incite conflict, and they often ended up as a conversation starter that resulted in both parties feeling more distanced from each other. The rise of the infographic was nothing short of performative activism.
My first semester at college proved to be just as ineffective with the push toward the Instagram infographic. In my freshman year, I attended a small liberal arts institution with just over 2000 students. In the most altruistic effort to form communities, Instagram accounts related to our school would post infographics as well. Most of the time these infographics were about COVID news on campus or mutual aid funds for BIPOC students. These were shared among members of our community on Instagram stories. When tensions would reach a high, whether this was an increase in COVID cases on campus or the forming of a chapter of Libertarian students, infographics would flurry onto my feed. For context, the general population of my school was very left-leaning, so the majority of these reposts would feed into an echo chamber, with rebuttals from that one “socially liberal, but fiscally conservative” closeted-Republican lax bro, resulting in his inevitable cancellation.
If Altruism Doesn’t Exist…Then All Activism is Performative Activism
Nothing quite spells out performative activism like sharing a cute, pastel infographic on violence against minority communities. We feel emotional gratification after reposting something, emotional gratification from what feels like us standing in solidarity, but really just screaming to your four active followers “I am not an asshole!”.
In my experience, the reposting of accounts for mutual aid or centers for donation was a chain reaction, starting with one account and leading to a heightened social media presence. But these goals for funds would often go unachieved, which I think speaks well to just how performative these reposts of infographics are. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are economic discrepancies among students on my previous campus. However, it was a small, predominantly white, and wealthy campus. I knew most of these kids personally, as COVID kept a large fraction of students squirreled away from campus. I still don’t think it would have hurt them to chip in a couple of dollars every time instead of reposting the same infographic.
If all activism is performative in the context of altruism, then we need to put our money where our mouth is. Direct funds need to be given to organizations or people who may be directly facing the conflicts and oppression posted about in these infographics. Every time there’s an urge to repost, make sure some other work is done on top of that so it isn’t just an announcement of your activism. Sure, there may be some emotional gratification in return after we donate, but at least there is a tangible benefit for those who are struggling.
I can openly say that, yes, I too mindlessly reposted circulating infographics to my Instagram story to avoid people thinking I was problematic. In the spirit of speaking against Instagram infographics, I don’t want to hypocritically oversimplify an issue. Performative activism can come in separate forms than the cursed infographic, and they can be reposted for entirely different reasons. There is nuance behind the choice to repost something that often ends up in an assumption about the reposter. I can assure you that from my viewpoint, not all infographic reposts are negative. But I can enforce the deductive argument that if altruism doesn’t exist, rendering all activism performative, then money in the form of aid and more agentic activism in society will speak louder than a circulating, pink Instagram infographic.
After transitioning to a virtual format due to the pandemic, comic conventions are finally returning to their former glory. October 7-10 of this year, droves of fans eagerly attended New York Comic-Con. Sadly, along with the return of Comic-Con comes another pre-pandemic occurrence: the criticism women face for cosplaying at conventions. Women who cosplay often face harassment if their outfits are deemed “too sexy” or are criticized for supposedly pretending to have interests in comics for attention.
Cosplaying Is A Commitment
Women who cosplay spend a lot of time, money, and effort on their cosplays. The motivation for cosplay stems from passion, not a desire for attention. If they’re proud of their art and eager to wear and showcase their hard work, they should be respected.
Why Should Women “Prove” Their Interests Are Real?
The belief that women’s interest in comics and other “nerdy” media is disingenuous isn’t a novel form of sexism.
For example, in 2012, YouTube user albinwonderland posted a video titled “Fake Geek Girls.” This post was a response to a Facebook post by a male comic book artist who was berating women who cosplay for “faking” their interest in comic books and “seeking male attention.”
Though this video was posted nearly a decade ago, albinwonderland does an incredible job of illustrating how women feel uncomfortable in nerd spaces due to the hostile, elitist communities that men create within them.
The fact that women in comic or geek spaces face this treatment can be partly attributed to how the creators themselves tend to be overwhelmingly male. According to The Beat, in the last six months of 2018, 83.7% of Marvel’s credited comic creators were men (with 16.3% representing women and non-binary creators) and 82.8% of DC’s credited creators were men (with 17.2% representing women and non-binary creators). Given these statistics, it’s unsurprising that most of the content produced in this community is tailored towards an audience of men, which only fuels the cycle of men feeling that women aren’t allowed to occupy the same space they do within the comics community.
Not Everything is for Male Attention
In general, many are quick to label women and girls’ interests as means of seeking male attention: women who wear makeup are supposedly aiming to be more attractive to men, women who like sports are just trying to impress men, and so on. This false logic fosters the belief that unwanted attention from men is the woman’s fault. Just as a woman who is wearing makeup or a miniskirt does not want to be harassed as she walks down the street, women who cosplay do not want to be harassed based on the style of their costume.
Bottom Line: Respect Your Fellow Fans
Women who cosplay do so out of a passion for comics and geeky media, pouring time and effort into creating and perfecting their cosplay. Women’s interests in such media, regardless of how much they engage with interest-based communities, are valid, and it is no one’s place to tell a woman that her interest in something is fake. There is little more to say besides a final reminder: respect your fellow fans.
In 2019, nearly every college required an SAT or ACT score to apply. Yet, with Covid-19, almost all colleges, even for the 2021 application cycle, have waived the requirement. This adjustment to application requirements leveled the playing field for many students, as the SAT has consistently been criticized for underestimating college preparedness for women and people of color.
A False Fairness
Despite underestimating the academic potential of so many students, the SAT was widely used to evaluate all students as if they were on the same level. In theory, this standardized test was an even playing field where any student could score well if they studied hard enough. However, this theory does not play out in reality.
Additional barriers such as test preparation costs, quality of high school education, and weight of outside responsibilities all contribute to inequality in score distribution. The cumulative effect of these variables ensures that nearly every student is put at a disadvantage in some way, especially women and BIPOC communities. A 2021 study examining the disparities among students’ SAT scores found the following:
Students with family income of $100,000 or more are more than twice as likely as students with family income under $50,000 to have combined SAT scores of 1400 to 1600.
White students are three times more likely than Black or African-American students and twice as likely as Hispanic or Latino students to have combined SAT test scores of 1400 to 1600.
Male students are 42% more likely to have combined SAT test scores in the 1400 to 1600 range than female students, possibly due to differences in performance on math exams.
Essentially, students that are affluent, white, and male are most likely to score well on the SAT, while everyone else is faced with one or more disadvantages. It is possible that these disparities arise from the American education system as a whole and that the SAT is merely a reflection of them. To fund an area’s public schools, the tax money of the residents is used. Consequently, high-income areas (which tend to be predominately white) have schools with better resources in comparison to schools in low-income areas.
Holistic Admissions: A Potential Solution
Colleges becoming test-optional has allowed some students to spend more time honing other aspects of their applications, such as their personal essays or extracurriculars. As a current college freshman and someone who recently went through the college application process in 2020, I feel as though the SAT should remain optional for college admissions. While I personally chose to take the SAT, it was just that: a choice. Just as students should have the option to play a sport or take advanced classes, they should also have the freedom to decide whether or not to take the SAT. A test-optional policy creates a more holistic application review process; instead of a test score being the forefront, students can choose to show which sides of themselves they want colleges to see.
As SAT testing centers in the United States have reopened, what will the chain reaction to this be? Colleges will either choose to reinstate a testing requirement or remain test-optional. Only time will tell, but I hope test-optional policies are here to stay.
The case of Gabby Petito’s disappearance continues to be a key point in new media and pop culture as society collectively united to solve the mystery of her disappearance. Potential witnesses posted critical videos on media outlets like TikTok in an effort to add another piece to the puzzle. This in-depth coverage of Gabby’s case across the internet provided resources to help in the investigation, including a Go Fund Me, and brought new evidence and perspectives that pushed the case forward at an accelerated rate. This likely resulted in both the discovery of Gabby’s body and a potential suspect, Gabby’s husband.
This grand gesture of unity and cooperation across the United States was an awe-inspiring phenomenon that brought peace of mind to Gabby’s friends and family–likely quicker than the case would have progressed on its own due to increased media coverage, awareness, and resources. However, this recent cooperation has caused many to question why cases of women disappearing, specifically women of color, do not receive the same media coverage. Social scientists and news commentators describe the phenomenon in which white women’s disappearances receive significantly more media coverage and attention than women of color as “missing white woman syndrome.”
Missing White Woman Syndrome
In a society that disproportionately endows privilege onto white individuals based on systemic racism & the oppression of people of color (POC), POC are often forgotten and receive less media coverage. This phenomenon is referred to as “missing white woman syndrome,” or “missing white girl syndrome.” It refers to the tendency that “white women tend to disproportionately receive the most amount of news coverage,” as written in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. Additionally, in the case of missing women, white women tend to receive the most media coverage. This pattern is likely because white women fit the societal standards of beauty, which disproportionately impacts women of color by providing unequal media coverage.
Similarly, cases involving white women receive more media coverage because of the stereotypes of white women and women of color prominent in society today. When a crime is committed against a white woman, she is often inherently positioned as the victim. However, women of color that are the victims of crimes are oftentimes not viewed as a victim. Instead, they are blamed for the crimes committed against them. In this way, “white women’s tears” are used to garner more sympathy for white women when a crime is committed. Studies have further explained this phenomenon’s implications by stating that,
“White woman’s reality is visible, acknowledged, and legitimized because of her tears, while a woman of color’s reality, like her struggle, is invisible, overlooked, and pathologized based on the operating “standard of humanity.”
This societal phenomenon contributes to the injustice that women of color face and often leads to women of color not being able to get proper justice from the justice system.
Societal Beauty Standards
The beauty standards that persist today are Eurocentric–Eurocentric features are typical of white individuals. According to a Harvard study, standards for women today are based on the Westernized beauty standards, such as being tall, thin, having a small nose and high cheekbones. Additional beauty standards, including having blond hair, blue eyes, and long eyelashes, arose in the United States in the 1900s due to mass production, consumerism and advertising culture, and the emergence of Hollywood.
These Eurocentric Westernized beauty standards persist in American culture today. Consequently, those who fit these beauty standards are often viewed as more attractive, like the women below, which affords them more benefits from society.
This societal view of female beauty standards influences media searches and what stories make headlines. Women viewed by society as more attractive catch the attention of readers more as their face is the centerpiece of an article. Thus, when the face of an ‘attractive’, white woman is used as a cover photo, the article gains traction more quickly, which causes other media outlets to cover the story. When Gabby Petito—a white, blonde, skinny, blue-eyed woman—disappeared, her story quickly became a hot topic.
Women of Color Deserve Equal Media Coverage
While media coverage does aid in spreading awareness and potentially solving criminal investigations, like Gabby’s, cases involving women of color should not be excluded. Gabby Petito deserves justice and her family deserves the peace found when her case is solved; however, women of color deserve the same justice. Cases like Gabby’s are a reflection of the systemic racism prevalent in American society that disfavors people of color.
This is not to say that white women do not deserve the justice and media coverage that they currently receive; women of color simply should be equally included in this coverage. Indigenous women face murder rates that are ten times higher than the national average and homicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for indigenous women between the ages of ten and twenty-four. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, four out of five black women were murdered each day in 2020. So, why are these women not talked about in the news as well? The injustice that women of color face, especially regarding homicide, occurs significantly more than it does to white women. As a society, we need to recognize that there needs to be a change. Women of color face staggering marginalization and the violence they face is not talked about enough. Women of color deserve the same amount of media coverage.
Look around your room. How many mirrors do you see?
Now, if you did not include your phone, laptop, or other technology with screens, adjust your answer.
Did your number change?
Mine certainly did. Personally, I have five mirrors in my bedroom alone. That fact shocks me. After all, like many 18 year-olds in this day and age, I have a love-hate relationship with mirrors. As a child, my mirror fascinated me. I spent quite a bit of time in front of it, making faces and laughing as the person in front of me smiled and giggled with me. But as I grew older, those faces froze in the reflection. I stopped making them, but my appearance still seemed off. I didn’t like it anymore, but I couldn’t step away.
Mirror Mirror on the wall,
Tell me what are all my flaws.
I recall reading fairy tales as a child. I read them at home, and we talked about them in school too. Everyone remembers the magical mirror that the evil queen had and how it told her that Snow White was prettier than her. In elementary school, we were taught that each fairy tale comes with a lesson. The lesson in Snow White was that beauty is not what you look like, but who you are inside. But that’s not all that I took away. The portrayal of the evil queen suggested that caring about your appearance was abnormal, a bad thing.
We all have that magic-looking glass. That’s what mirrors are. And while it may not be speaking to us aloud, that inner voice critiquing ourselves when we look at the mirror is the same thing.
So what happens when there’s a voice inside you telling you that you are not enough? We begin to see ourselves as the evil queen, someone obsessed with our appearance. As we get older, our relationship with mirrors becomes more complicated—especially as a girl. And yet, the more insecure we get, the more mirrors pop up in our life. The bathroom mirror that I used to quickly check my appearance was transformed into a full-length mirror that rejected every clothing choice I showed in front of it. That mirror then transformed into my phone, a portable device that allowed me to not only critique myself but have my image shared and critiqued by other people. Technology had become a mirror itself, and though I resented it, I still couldn’t step away. I couldn’t step away, and I didn’t know why. I was becoming the evil queen from Snow White.
But why is that a bad thing?
The stepmother needed to hear exactly what she wanted and from the source that she wanted. After being told that she was the most beautiful person, “[the queen] was contented, for she knew that the looking-glass spoke the truth.” How is that so different from the way we use social media? Like the evil queen, we seek approval from others to be content with ourselves. And when we hear critiques, we try to change something to get a different outcome. Filters and photoshop transform our reality to mold into the approved societal standard. But that rarely takes the voice away.
Some of my friends have taken breaks from social media, deleting apps from their phones to get away from the toxic environment. They tell me how refreshing it is. But I could never do that. And neither could the evil queen. She wanted to be the most beautiful person in the world, but all she heard from her mirror was that she was not enough. So she tried to change that result the only way she could think of–by getting rid of Snow White. The huntsman. The lace. The comb. The apple. The queen was obsessed with becoming beautiful, and every failed attempt to kill Snow White brought more anger and disappointment upon herself. I have felt that anger and disappointment countless times when I look in the mirror.
She had an addiction—one that many of us can relate to. In addition to having insecurities about our image, we have to deal with the rest of society telling us that we shouldn’t have them. But those insecurities grow inside us like the “envy and pride like ill weeds” that made its home in the queen’s heart. Weeds grow uncontrollably, and you may think that you have gotten rid of all of them, but all it takes is one single sprout to have a full infestation.
I’m not trying to tell you how to deal with your insecurities. I’m not trying to say that the queen was right in attempting to kill Snow White. She had an obsession; one that consumed her. But what we all need to know is that it is okay to care about your appearance. Unlike the evil queen’s portrayal in Snow White, it is not villainous to want to be beautiful. It is what humanized her. There isn’t an easy solution to dealing with insecurities, and appearance is one of the most common ones out there.
But we all have a little evil queen inside of us, and that’s okay.