Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Women and Black Friday

(this started out as a piece on the general sociology of Black Friday, but evolved into most an analysis of women who shop on Black Friday, mostly because the majority of Black Friday shoppers are women. if someone would like to post a comment discussing the male experience of Black Friday, be my guest)

Black Friday has gotten a reputation as being a day where hoards of Americans flock to the stores in the wee hours of the morning to snag some ridiculous deals on merchandise, and get a jump start to their holiday shopping. It has become a day associated with greed, violence, and recently worker exploitation as well. While those important elements should not be forsaken in people’s criticisms of Black Friday, it is important to look at the sociological side of it as well. Black Friday isn’t just a sale day; it is both a bonding experience and a time of great competition for women.

Watch the news on Black Friday; watch the interviews of those crazy people standing in line at 2am, freezing their tails off. Notice how a lot of the people are standing in groups. You’re likely to see a mother and daughter say that they do this every year, or sisters who say that waiting in line on Black Friday is a tradition for them. Think about it: shopping is a female bonding activity, and Thanksgiving is all about spending time with family. It’s a holiday that brings together family members who don’t often get to see each other.

When the day after Thanksgiving rolls around, families are looking for something to do. They want to keep up the momentum of spending time together and having fun. They can either sit around talking – which gets old after a lunch of cold turkey sandwiches – or they can go out and do something fun, perhaps something that family members from out of town want to do while they’re there. Shopping is one way to do this, as is going to a movie or go out to dinner. Family members visiting from out of town may want to take advantage of shopping opportunities unique to the area, visit stores they do not have where they live. It’s true that not everyone stands in line for the “door buster deals” to do this, but for some family members, especially women, even the experience of standing in line together can be fun and a good way to bond and catch up.

By now, American society seems to have split into two groups: those who wait in line for stores to open on Black Friday, and those who don’t. People who haven’t begun to do it probably won’t start this year or anytime soon, unless they just have to buy something they cannot normally afford, and those who have been doing so may not want to stop. It is not as though these people enjoy waking up at 2am after a feast of wine, turkey, and pie just to shop – surely, as the hours of Black Friday become more ridiculous, fewer people may begin to make Black Friday shopping a tradition, but for those who have already made it a tradition in their families, they may not want to give it up just because of the hours. To them, the hours might even make it more fun and exciting.

While Black Friday may be a way for some women to bond, it is also a time of great competitiveness among women. Black Friday advertisements, and in fact advertisements throughout the holiday season, urge women – who are still the main consumers in most households – to hurry to the malls and spend as much money as possible trying to make Christmas perfect for their families. There is an immense amount of pressure on women to buy the perfect gifts, and as many as possible, for everyone they know; purchase the perfect holiday outfits; throw the perfect holiday parties; transform their houses into Christmas wonderlands; and finally, cook the perfect feast. For women, the idea is not to enjoy Christmas but to make sure everyone around them does, giving even more of themselves than usual. It is true that Christmas is the season of giving, but there is more pressure on women to be the ones making the sacrifices, especially since many women still feel pressure to be self-sacrificing year-round.

As seen in recent years, this pressure to be perfect, and especially to buy as many presents as possible, has driven some women to hysterics on Black Friday. News stories show people camping out outside stores, storming the doors at 3am, shoving people out of the way and trampling others, even pepper-spraying their way to the discounted Xboxes. Yes, there are men in these crowds, but most of the “crazy” ones are women, and a lot of the violence is women harming other women. Are some of these women actually mentally unstable? Sure, some may be, but a good portion of them are simply women who have internalized the pressure to give, give, give and are trying desperately to do this in tough economic times. This is not to defend this woman-on-woman crime, but merely to explain that the causes of such behavior.

This is not to say that men do not go shopping on Black Friday, we all know that some do. However, it’s less common and in general, men – especially heterosexual men – do not use shopping as a chance to bond with others (unless the shopping is something sex-related, such as an outing to Victoria’s Secret or an adult toy store). This often creates the comical scenario of a man being dragged through the mall with his girlfriend, who sees it as a date, while he sees it as a chore. There are men who do enjoy shopping, there are men who enjoy shopping with others, but shopping as a bonding experience is still primarily a feminine activity.

While there are men present on Black Friday, Black Friday and much of the holiday season is still traditionally a season of women. Much of the work that goes into Christmas is feminine – shopping, decorating, cooking, baking, hosting, and making the day special for the children. The insane retail hours and shopping hysteria is merely the product of all this pressure women still face to make Christmas perfect for their friends and families. However, it is important to acknowledge that not everyone who shops on Black Friday does it for those above reasons, and many women do it simply because it is a way to bond with other female family members in the wake of a holiday where families get together and kick off the holiday season.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Occupy Wall Street and the Potential Rise of Third Wave Feminism

Back in September, I wrote about the parallels between the first and second waves of feminism, and why the third wave is only in its early stages, if it exists at all - we may still be in a complacent or even regressive era. That was before Occupy Wall Street really got going, and I've been watching the movement ever since. I can begin to say with some confidence that Occupy Wall Street may be the catalyst Third Wave Feminism really needs.

For one thing, OWS isn't just about economic reform, its basic message is one of equality. However, as the movement slowly progresses and we're seeing more and more incidents of sexism within the camps, the women of Occupy Wall Street are once again realizing that they haven't fully reached equality with men. Just like in the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960's, women who are occupying their cities' financial districts are seeing sexism within the movement. For one thing, stories of rape and sexual assault in the Occupy camps keep surfacing, and the rapes sometimes go unreported as protesters would rather keep that problem quiet than bring more negative attention to the movement. The problem has gotten so bad that we're seeing women-only tents being constructed, so women have a safe space. It's not as though this is the only movement experiencing internal rapes - my first sexual assault was committed by a fellow protester, at a post-protest shindig.

There's also the infamous Hot Chicks of Wall Street website, brazenly sexualizing women in the movement, often against their will, and reducing the value of female participants to how attractive they are. This is hardly anything new. The pro-marijuana movement has its Girls of Ganja website, and Anonymous has a blog dedicated to showcasing naked "femanons" in Guy Fawkes masks. I'll even admit to wearing sexy outfits to anti-Scientology protests. PETA almost goes without saying, using naked or scantily clad women's bodies to draw attention to their cause and push their agenda. When we think of the Tea Party, we often think of the attractive female politicians who represent it. Over the summer, I realized that "hippie chicks" are still being sexualized, assumed to be openly sexual beings just because of their involvement with the decades-old subculture.

While the inequality women face within the Occupy movement is nothing new, it's magnetized due to the size of the movement and the amount of attention it's receiving. This could mean trouble for the Occupy movement; it seems as though the rapes taking place within the camps are only being taken seriously and being reported without much victim blaming in an attempt to make the movement look bad, and "otherize" the people in the camps, rather than acknowledge that rape and sexual assault are happening everywhere else outside the camps in relatively similar numbers. The attention being given to the misogyny within OWS and its camps around the world is a wake-up call to those who think that we, especially left-wing society, are post-feminist and egalitarian. Yet, if OWS is a catalyst for Third Wave Feminism, the surge in feminism will come from the camps themselves, as these women realize that they need to fight for their own equality if they want to be taken seriously as Occupy protesters.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Why The "Stranger in the Bushes" Myth is so Prevalent - and Why It's a Problem

The stranger in the bushes myth is the idea that most rapes are perpetrated by sketchy nutjobs who jump out of their hiding place, drag a woman into a dark alley or a thicket of bushes, hold a knife to her throat, and brutally rape her as she screams. The reality is that you're more likely to be raped by someone you know, inside a house or apartment.

1) It helps women feel safe
It seems so easy to prevent getting raped by the mythical Stranger in the Bushes. Don't walk alone at night, don't wear a short skirt, stay sober, walk defensively, know how to defend against a violent attacker, carry pepper spray and you'll be fine! Sadly, there's no kick or punch that can defend against subtle coercion.

On the flipside, it opens the floodgates for victim-blaming. And there's always victim-blaming. even if a woman is attacked by the Stranger, someone is bound to say "well you shouldn't have . . ." or "but you were . . ." or "why on Earth would you . . ." And if you can blame a woman for being raped by a guy she barely knew simply by walking in the wrong place or wearing the wrong clothing, you can definitely blame a woman for being raped by someone she's actually met before. She should have "known" he was a rapist and avoided him. Because clearly, rapists are always easy to spot and women aren't expected to give people the benefit of the doubt- oh wait!

2) It's the most clear-cut, blameless example
A woman who's raped by the Stranger in the Bushes has never met the guy, so there was no way for her to give any "sign" that she was into him and wanted it, nor is there any reason why she'd want to "get back at him" with a false rape accusation. It's the "least" consensual form of rape, the only situation where a woman is most definitely raped. Even if you do blame her for wearing a short skirt, you'd call it rape - not unwanted sex, not "regret sex," not a drunken mistake, not anything other than rape.

3) It allows for "othering" among men
The Stranger in the Bushes is cold, psychotic, evil, violent human being. The lowest of the low, a criminal comparable to a serial killer due to the nature of his work. Because of this, a guy can easily say he's not a rapist because he's not "that kind of guy."

Just the term "rapist" conjures up an image of a sleeze ball hiding in the bushes with a knife, not a guy acting as though he is entitled to sex because he's in a relationship with the woman in question, or because he bought her dinner; nor does the word conjure up a socially awkward guy who thinks that unwanted touching and constant nagging for sex is the normal way to get laid; nor does the word "rapist" conjure up a guy who thinks that because a woman wears X and does Y, that means she definitely wants to screw him, and thus acts accordingly without actually asking to confirm. You get the point. The truth us, there are many rape situations that don't involve a crazy, knife-wielding psychopath, but you never consider them rape because they don't fit the Stranger in the Bushes mold. You wouldn't consider a guy to be a real rapist if he is well dressed, intelligent,, well spoken, seemingly sane, and well liked.

4) It keeps women in line
Don't party too late, you might get raped. Don't drink or do drugs, you might get raped. Dress modestly or you might get raped. We use rape as a tool to make women afraid to do things that may be toeing a moral line. The Stranger in the Bushes myth also dismisses all date rapes and intimate partner rapes as not "real rape," giving validity to the idea that a woman is an object that belongs to her male partner (or date).

Of course, the Stranger in the Bushes scenario happens. We hear about it on the news, especially when it's the same guy going after multiple women. We only hear about other forms of rape when they're perpetrated by high profile individuals such as athletes and politicians, and of course, articles covering the allegations are sure to mention what the woman was wearing, her sexual track record, and whether or not she may be a sex worker - coupled with a description of how "good" the man is. How innocent he is. How much good he does for the community. How much women like him and his friends, family, and colleagues adore him. How he swears the allegations are not true and he will go to any length to prove that she's just a lying tramp. After all, it's not like that guy to jump out of the bushes and rape a woman.