Hurricanes and Mother Nature

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Courtesy of NASA Goddard Photo and Video

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, many of us New Yorkers are feeling devastated and afraid; our secure NYC granite foundation has been shaken. Today I am both humbled and scared by what I have seen and felt over the last 24 hours. Fortunately, my power has outlasted the storm and I have been glued to my TV – watching a slew of storm coverage broadcasts. Over the hours, I’ve heard the gendered language that has been bantered back and forth surrounding Sandy and Mother Nature in general.

We can date the etymology of Mother Nature back to the 1600s and Mother Earth back to around 1580. The term is a personification of nature that focuses on the life-giving and nurturing aspects of a mother. Following suit, countless images of women have depicted Mother Nature throughout the generations.

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Courtesy of katinthecupboard

On the other hand, Mother Nature can also be depicted as a “temperamental lady” when it comes to Natural Disasters. Here, we see an example of gendered politics concerning the behavior patterns of women. The association of language and gender is further embedded within our society when we explore the naming of natural disasters – like hurricanes.

In 1953, the United States and the National Hurricane Center named hurricanes solely after women and did not stop this practice until 1978 when men’s and women’s names were included in the Eastern North Pacific storm lists. In 1979, male and female names were included in lists for the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico (National Hurricane Center). Hurricanes are named alternating between typically female-gendered names and typically male-gendered names although a few typically gender-neutral names enter the litany (Frances, Noel).

So is Sandy a gender-neutral name? I suppose the best way to answer this question is to listen to the language used when discussing Sandy. So far, I haven’t heard anyone refer to Sandy as a “he”.

What does this gendered language say about women and nature? That they are temperamental? That they are nurturing? That they are destructive? That they are unpredictable? That they are similar? As we tune in to the storm coverage, we must make certain that we do not tune out and listen to the language used to discuss destruction.

Where there is hope, there is a market.

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Courtesy of ejhogbin

Over the years, obesity has entered our social dialogue through a variety of filters ranging from television segments to Lap-Band advertisements and promotions. Often the two worlds collide and we see celebrities and Reality TV Celebs endorse radial weight loss procedures.

In her work Happy Re-birthday: Weight Loss Surgery and the ‘New Me’, author Karen Throsby notes how the recent fascination with obesity has affected the steady increase in weight loss surgeries. Throsby states that weight loss surgery is seen as a last resort to those individuals who have battled with their weight over the years. And although weight loss surgery is incredibly invasive and dangerous, individuals still opt to go under to loss weight.

Throsby notes the discourse of “the new me” is a familiar trope that we often see within the narratives of normative bodily transformations. When we analyze these narratives within the context of weight loss surgeries, we notice that transformative procedures are often marketed with these “new me” values. And where there is hope, there is a market.

Recently, Lauren Manzo – the daughter of The Real Housewives of New Jersey star Caroline Manzo, underwent surgery to get the Lap-Band. Manzo had previously tried methods like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig to lose the weight, but decided on the Lap-Band because she felt as though she was in a “very unhealthy” place in her life. Manzo, of course, is noting her emotional health as well as her physical health in this statement. To her, the Lap-Band was not “an easy fix” but a solution to get to a happier, healthier Lauren Manzo.

Stories similar to Lauren’s pop up all over the ‘fatosphere’ – an online community of fat bloggers and designated fat activists. In her work ‘A beautiful show of strength’: Weight loss and the fat activist self’ author Zoë C. Meleo-Erwin notes the conflicts that arise between fat activists and patients undergoing weight loss surgery. Meleo-Erwin explores the experiences of these two groups and claim they can be understood through the lens of biopower as well as through Foucault’s theory of governmentality.

Concepts of a “healthy” body and an obesity-driven health crisis are more controlled by societal influence (cultural and political) than by physical health. Again we see this in extreme regimentation plans practiced through obese people who are trying and lose weight “naturally”. For any other person, these extreme limitations would be considered dangerous, and might just warrant an eating disorder. But if you are obese, somehow you lose a little bit of personhood to the epidemic of obesity. Your body is a warning and ignites moral panic. And although fat activists are fighting to restructuralize this notion of obesity and fatness, they face the omnipresent opponent created within our society through biopower.

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Courtesy of Tobyotter

And so our country has capitalized on this epidemic – providing us with a bevy of surgical procedures, Reality TV opportunities, diets, and diet pills. It is important here to recognize the different behaviors society displays towards “fat” women versus “fat” men and how a familiar trope of the ideal feminine body is called into play.

Fat Camp

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Courtesy irina slutsky

Over the years, we have seen obesity medicalized into an epidemic. Within our pop cultural world, obesity has been integrated into prime-time television with such programs as The Biggest Loser, Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition, I Used to be Fat. Not to mention the fact that celebrities and their weight gains or losses infiltrate entertainment news on a daily basis. We follow various journeys of weight gain and weight loss with celebrities because they are constantly in the public sphere.

Jennifer Hudson, once the first plus-sized woman (and only the third black woman) to grace the cover of Vogue fashion magazine, now serves as the spokeswoman for Weight Watchers. On the Dr. Oz show, Hudson shared the secrets to her weight loss success noting exercise techniques, food choices and the over-all sense of happiness she feels now that she is thinner and “healthier”.

But not all celebrities endorse the “thinner” lifestyle as a “healthier” lifestyle. Recently, Lady Gaga responded to criticisms concerning her recent weight gain by launching Body Revolution, a site geared towards body acceptance and body tolerance.

What we see in this celebrity sphere, is the discourse of obesity practiced and enforced through tactics of biopower. If our society continues to enforce a “healthy” lifestyle as that of a “thin” lifestyle, then we are enforcing the notion that fatness equates to an unhealthy lifestyle. Thus fatness (or obesity) equates to some form of badness within our society.

Obesity is often linked to mental issues, especially in women. How many times have you heard women (or been a woman who says), “I’m totally eating my feelings right now”? Or after a long day, “I just want to just pig out and be lazy tonight”? Women are frequently judged by their bodies, are controlled by their bodies and thus women are taught to control their bodies. Be curvy, look like a woman with breasts and hips, but not too curvy. Be thin but not too thin, otherwise you’ll look like a boy.

If a person is fat, we use our knowledge of unhappiness passed down through biopower, to label a person as troubled, unhappy or depressed.

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Courtesy Tobyotter

Society has capitalized on this concept of the happy, thin person trapped inside the layer of fat with shows like The Biggest Loser and I Used to be Fat. But what if “fat” people are happy? Or “thin” people? And why can’t we just leave them alone?

Make Me Over

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Courtesy of jbcurio

Our society is “addict” happy. The increasing medicalization of addiction welcomes new ways to treat, address and/or ignore addictions and we, as a society, have been trained to recognize addiction at the drop of a flask, can’t we? We sure do label individuals and addicts all the time so we must be experts. Right?

What do you think of when you think of an addict? A person who has hit the dreaded rock bottom? Rebecca Tiger addresses this notion of addiction within the context of celebrity Lindsay Lohan and her public struggles with addiction in the article They Tried to Make Her Go to Rehab. Tiger notes: “While the U.S. increasingly medicalizes addiction, searching for pharmaceutical cures, it simultaneously criminalizes drug use, leading to a system in which some addicts are managed by both rehabilitative and punitive measures, treatment and incarceration, in an effort to achieve the goal of sobriety.” It seems as though everyone has their own theory on how Lindsay Lohan can obtain sobriety, or at least they offer suggestions and/or opinions on how she should be “handled” as an addict.

Just this month on Perez Hilton, Lindsay was tagged in yet another blog post regarding a potential intervention. The twenty-two comments from readers that followed this post ranged from statements like, “she doesn’t want help, it’s obvious she’s using and partying, same old, same old, as always. She looks awful, her face is the face of a hard-core drug user. I say leave her alone. Eventually she’ll OD and that’ll be that” to calling Lohan a “wasted piece of DNA”.

These comments are a great example of biopower and how it is embodied within a society to establish control over an individual – in this case, the “addict” Lindsay Lohan. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen addresses similar examples of biopower in his work Monster Theory. Cohen states, “The monster is continually linked to forbidden practices in order to normalize and to enforce” (Cohen, 16). Biopower roots itself with the body and society uses the monster as a living example, even citing dead monsters like Amy Weinhouse or Whitney Houston to police the body against drug and alcohol abuse.

Celebrities offer ways in which identity of the self has been transformed through the cultural economy of entertainment. Society can police these figures openly, either on blogs or in other public spheres, while policing themselves through their own knowledge concerning addiction. This is a wonderful example of governmentality and it explains how we partake in social control. It is important to question who or what is influencing this authority.  Furthermore, it is especially important to acknowledge intersections of gender and race to see how society criticizes a gendered expectation. Examine the similar antics of Charlie Sheen in which blog comments read, “The guy is a crazy but who can stop him when he makes a mill per episode?” The fall of a women under the influence of addiction feeds into a familiar trope of feminism regarding wasted feminine potential.

Welcome to the Low-Brow

Reality TV is cheap. That’s why there is so much of it on television today. Over the past decade or so, Reality TV has reformed so-called “arts” or assumed high-brow networks into low-brow pop-cultural phenomenons. An example of this is the television network A&E – or what was known as the arts and entertainment network. Gone are the days when A&E would showcase biographies, documentaries and drama series to focus on the decline of arts and entertainment on television. After the influx of Reality TV shows due to cheap production, A&E quickly changed their tune. Now the network is known for shows like Dog the Bounty Hunter and Chris Angel Mindfreak. TLC was once known as “The Learning Channel”. The same goes for the Bravo Network which began as an advertisement-free premium channel dedicated to the performing arts and indie films. It’s almost impossible today to think of Bravo today without conjuring up images of The Real House Wives of… Reunions past.

So why do millions of Americans tune in to Reality TV shows every week? Why do I have The Real Housewives of New Jersey on my DVR? The first question I can address right now without the need to soul-search, and that it because Reality TV is difficult to escape. It’s everywhere, not only on the cover of tabloids, but also available 24-hours online. According to an article in Psychology Today, one of the appeals of Reality TV is it’s pop-culture relativity. Reality TV is embedded into our country’s pop-cultural dialogue and thus it can be relative to just about any water cooler convo at the office.

Viewers who associate with the likes of Reality TV also can identify with the desire for status and prestige celebrity and fame promise. The Real Housewives of…, Jersey Shore, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo every week we give these shows our attention and witness ordinary people (okay… somewhat ordinary people) achieve celebrity status. Then views can immediately fantasize about how they, too, can achieve instant status through Reality TV fame.

According to the same article in Psychology Today, the desire for status is just a means to get attention. So what does that say about the millions of Americans who tune in? Are we not getting enough attention? Possibly, and this leads us into tricky waters. Because an unidentified, or even an identified but unanswered need leaves a person vulnerable. And when a person is vulnerable, they become impressionable. And when they are impressionable, they are impressed upon. By Reality TV.

Breast Cancer and the Warm Fuzzies

What do you think of when you think of the color pink? Something girlie? Cotton Candy? Pepto? Peppermint Disks in your Grandmother’s candy dish? There is a certain sentimentality that surrounds the color pink – it is unimposing and extremely marketable to women. Kay Thompson delightfully sings of its capitalistic potential in Funny Face above.

When you think of pink, do you think of breast cancer? Of course you do now because today we have tiny pink ribbons everywhere – trinkets from teddy bears to earrings, logos on cars, tee’s, NFL Jerseys, firearms… the list is infinite.

This is referred to as cause-marketing and it occurs when a company associates with another organization that people care about (i.e. breast cancer), to increase the company’s bottom line. We look to organizations like Susan G. Komen for the Cure the Avon Walk, EIF’s Revlon Run, Walk for Women and Estee Lauder who have raised over $2 billion dollars towards the cure for breast cancer with this type of pink marketing. Although these organizations raise breast cancer awareness and promote sisterhood, they do so through selling their products, acquiring donations, organized runs, walks, various forms of fundraising and an overall sensation of celebration.

When faced with cancer, bonding and kinship are vital to the individual suffering from disease and for the families supporting and suffering alongside them. No one is trying to take these experiences away.

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Courtesy of Fifth World Art

But what happens after the run, walk, fundraiser, purchase of pink lipstick? Do we ask where the funds are going or how they will be used? The documentary Pink Ribbons examines how corporations have capitalized on the breast cancer foundation. Essentially, it shows how we have softened the ugliness and brutality of breast cancer by using the color pink within the structure of a huge marketing campaign of hope, togetherness, and celebration. Although these organizations provide is an essential positive message of hope, they are masking some of the traumatic realities of this disease.

This cheerful demeanor is all too familiar for the female population. Women are constantly pressured to be positive, happy, smiling, and controlled in society.

So what happens when we remove the veil of cheerfulness? Do we see the fine print? Do we see the hypocrisy of Revlon using carcinogenic ingredients in their products while raising millions, even billions of dollars to “fight” breast cancer”?  American women have been medicalized to the point where corporations can capitalize on their bodies.

So instead of supporting a corporation by buying a pink ribbon teddy bear, what are some other ways in which we can support the research and victims of breast cancer? I suggest that we politicize breast cancer. We need to show the faces and experiences of breast cancer, the people behind the pink ribbon, to honor those afflicted by the disease and to advocate for prevention. We need to allow room for suffering and death. We need to question these hypocritical organizations. We need to unmask the pink ribbon.

Hollaback! and Street Harassment

Have you ever walked down the street and heard “God Bless You” even though you didn’t sneeze? Or been called “Mommy” when you are, in fact, not a Mommy? Street Harassment is a very common epidemic in New York City and across the world. Unfortunately, many people view Street Harassment as just one of the downfalls of being a woman or LGBTQ person and often discredit its seriousness.

It’s not exactly breaking news to inform you that Street Harassment has been normalized by our society. But there is one activist group in particular who refuses to accept Street Harassment as just comme d’habitude. Hollaback! is a movement founded by Emily May dedicated to ending Street Harassment. Local activists in 54 cities, 19 different countries, and in 12 different languages are fighting to end this form of aggressive violence towards women and LGBTQ people with Hollaback! and their organization continues to grow by the day.

What Hollaback! and other similar organizations (Stop Street Harassment, Incite Blog) are doing is addressing the problem (street harassment) as a problem. For years, women have have deterred themselves away from a low-cut top, or mini-skirt for fear that they might invite unwanted attention from leering eyes and harsh sentiments. But regardless of what a woman wears or any LGBTQ person wears in public, it does not invite unwanted attention and by no means should an outfit be an excuse for harassment or assault.

Because we live in an age of exploitation, we can exploit these offensive acts quite easily and advocate for change. I urge, beg and plead for people who find themselves victims Street Harassment to capture a picture or video and post it online, either at Hollaback!, another Street Harassment site, or better yet – start your own online campaign! Let others know that this is not okay. Call it what you will, cat-calls, jeers, whistles, or stares – Street Harassment is not allowed. It’s time we picked our heads up from the pavement, snapped a picture or video and became our own united front. After all, who says you need a cop present to police a perv?