Track and Field with Judith Butler

By Amanda Grigg

Earlier this month Dutee Chand, a sprinter from India, was barred from international competition following an evaluation of her testosterone levels.  Chand has a condition called hyperandrogenism, which is characterized by excessive levels of testosterone. The condition puts Chand’s (naturally occurring) testosterone levels in the male range according to the standards of the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), the governing body of track and field. Both the IAAF and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) now use testosterone levels to determine whether female athletes can compete as females. Though they have moved away from the language of “sex determination” testing, and now suggest that their efforts are designed to ensure fairness because (though this is highly contested) having testosterone levels in the typical male range give some women an “unfair” advantage.

Dutee Chand
Dutee Chand via the New York Times

It’s unclear what prompted the request that Chand be tested, which was reportedly made by someone at the Asian Junior Athletics Championships in June. In a prominent past case, South African runner Caster Semenya was required to undergo sex-verification testing after she somewhat suddenly improved her times and began winning races. Though Chand has exhibited no such sudden changes, she acknowledges that she has a masculine build, which might have motivated someone to request that she be tested.

This might seem odd (and sexist, and draconian) but it’s actually a return to normal for international athletics. Sex-determination testing used to be required for female olympians, a result of regular allegations that men were posing as female athletes. Testing was, thankfully, phased out in 1999 but in the past several years has come back to international track and field with a bang.

In 2009 then 18 year old South African runner Caster Semenya was required to undergo sex-verification tests after questions were raised “about her muscular physique and drastic improvement.” A description of the testing required for sex verification featured in the NYT suggests that it is invasive and extensive.

The testing done on Semenya takes weeks to complete. It requires a physical medical evaluation, and includes reports from a gynecologist, an endocrinologist, a psychologist, an internal medicine specialist and an expert on gender. The effort, coordinated by Dr. Harold Adams, a South African on the I.A.A.F. medical panel, was conducted at hospitals in Berlin and South Africa.

Eventually Semenya was reinstated. By this time her initial test results had been made public without her consent, she had been sidelined from the sport for a year, missing out on an estimated $250,000 in prize money, had been forced to undergo a bevy of tests, and was embroiled in an international controversy. The shift from sex-verification testing to a testosterone standard was in large part a result of the mishandling of Semenya’s case.

Non-binary sex traits are actually surprisingly common. The Intersex Society of North America estimates that in one in 100 births children exhibit sex traits that differ from the standard male or female and that in one or two in 1,000 births children receive surgery to “normalize” their genital appearance. There are also several chromosomal conditions that result in non-binary sex traits which do not become evident until puberty. Anne Fausto-Sterling famously argued that roughly 1.7% of the population is intersex. The figure is disputed based on her broad definition of intersex, but works for our purposes of non-binary sex/sex presentation that would raise the suspicions of the IOC and IAAF.

According to a case study released in an academic endocrinology journal, at least four female athletes at the 2012 London Olympics tested beyond the female limits for testosterone. All four reported an absences of menstruation and were found to have enlarged clitorises and undescended testes. Genetic testing revealed that the athletes had various genetic mutations resulting in XY (male) chromosomes presenting with an outwardly female body.  According to the authors all four athletes expressed the desire to maintain their female identity:

We thus proposed a partial clitoridectomy with a bilateral gonadectomy, followed by a deferred feminizing vaginoplasty and estrogen replacement therapy, to which the 4 athletes agreed after informed consent on surgical and medical procedures.

These women opted to undergo procedures to feminize/normalize their bodies, though purportedly, thanks to the end of “sex-verification” and the instatement of the testosterone standard, in order to compete they were only required to lower their testosterone levels. Similarly women like Chand who exhibit hyperandrogenism are offered the choice of having surgery or taking pills to artificially lower their testosterone levels.

Caster Semenya
Caster Semenya

Problematically, science on the benefits of testosterone does not make it clear that heightened levels confer an inherent advantage. Testosterone is just one part of the body’s complex physiology and the importance of skill, training, and psychology further complicate the potential potency of testosterone. Chand’s case suggests as much. In fact, if you compare Chand’s personal best times to the top times at the 2012 Olympics, she places outside of the top 24 in all three of the events in which she competes (100m, 200m and 400m).

In the case of the IOC testosterone testing is mandatory for all female athletes. In the case of the IAAF, monitoring occurs by request and is thus based largely on physical appearance and comportment, meaning that one’s gender presentation is fundamentally mixed up in observers’ attempts to ferret out the not-sufficiently female athletes. And competitors appear to be more than happy to evaluate one another’s sex based solely on appearance. Speaking to journalists after the initial announcement that Semenya would undergo testing, fellow competitor Elisa Cusma of Italy, said “These kind of people should not run with us…For me, she’s not a woman. She’s a man.” Russian runner Mariya Savinova told reporters that she did not believe Semenya would be able to pass a test, saying “Just look at her.”

These procedures seem drastic but in fact they mimic and formalize the kind of informal gender policing that plagues women’s sports in the US and often targets women of color. Female athletes tend to challenge cultural ideals of femininity and what female bodies should look like. And the blurring of gender and sex boundaries tends to make people anxious (cue Judith Butler). If these anxiety-inducing athletes fail to counter their nonconformity with adequate kowtowing to femininity and heterosexuality they’re publicly ridiculed. For ridicule in particularly racialized terms and despite regular expression of traditionally feminine traits see Serena Williams. Notably and problematically this often takes the form of accusing women of being trans, as these charming men employing trans-slurs to criticize Serena Williams on twitter demonstrate (I excluded the worst of the tweets, which included more slurs and threats of violence against trans women).


Let’s recap: In order to compete at the international female athletes – and for the IAAF particularly those who appear masculine – must meet an arbitrary standard of female-ness. If they do not, they are required to normalize themselves until they do. If you teach Judith Butler this is like mana sent from the how-to-explain-social-construction-to-freshman heavens.

These procedures have historically been referred to as “sex-verification” but they are irrevocably tied up with gender. They are a great illustration of how closely linked sex and gender are and offer powerful evidence in support of Butler’s argument that sex is both socially constructed and that the binary construction of sex is forcibly enforced (in part because it is vital that it appear to be a clear, pre-existing, natural division from which gender (masculine/feminine) and sexuality (attraction to women/men) stem).[1]

“sex” is an ideal construct which is forcibly materialized through time. It is not a simple fact or static condition of a body, but a process whereby regulatory norms materialize “sex” and achieve this materialization through a forcible reiteration of those norms…”Sex” is thus, not simply what one has, or a static description of what one is: it will be one of the norms by which the “one” becomes viable at all, that which qualifies a body for life within the domain of cultural intelligibility.

 Butler, Bodies That Matter p. 4

For those who aren’t fans of academese, here’s Alice Drager, professor medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern on the IAAF’s sex determination processes:

at the end of the day, they are going to have to make a social decision on what counts as male and female, and they will wrap it up as if it is simply a scientific decision…And the science actually tells us sex is messy. Or as I like to say, ‘Humans like categories neat, but nature is a slob.’

These cases raise all kinds of interesting and important and infuriating issues. First, the emphasis on testosterone in determining sex eligibility is not only scientifically unsound but reinforces the notion that testosterone belongs to men (in fact it occurs naturally in both women and men though at varying levels) and that this inherently male trait is associated with and even the primary determinant of athletic prowess (can you say scientific sexism)?

Second, it is beyond suspicious that the majority of the women embroiled in sex determination scandals have been women of color. In the US, black women in particular have historically been deemed inherently less feminine than white women and in many meaningful ways have not considered to be “women” at all. As noted, in the IAAF, requests for sex-determination testing can be made based solely on an observer’s (coach or athlete)’s perception that the female athlete in question might not be adequately female. Insofar as race shapes perceptions of femininity and masculinity, it would likely play a role in decisions to request sex-determination testing [2].

In addition to IOC and IAAF policies exposing women to invasive testing and forced hormone therapy and even surgery, the IAAF’s request-based testing would seem to incentivize female athletes to make efforts to present themselves in as female and feminine a way as possible. There is no such incentive or requirement for male athletes, nor is there an equivalent test to ensure that they have adequate levels of testosterone, the right chromosomes, the right genitals. The argument that applying these invasive tests and requiring these life-changing procedures of women and not men isn’t discriminatory is based on the notion that these policies are only required to level the playing field among women, not men. Accordingly, both organizations are shifting away from declaring that their tests determine sex and instead suggesting that the tests ensure that no one has an “unfair” advantage. But if these athletes identify as women, and if the tests no longer claim to prove that they are not women, then the playing field is no less level than it would be if another female athlete had a natural difference that might make her more competitive, let’s say particularly long legs or large lungs. This would seem to be particularly true if, as is the case, women with high testosterone levels are not swamping the medal stands.

There are also compelling arguments that equal access to sports, particularly at the elite levels, is vital for ensuring social, economic and political equality. Thus excluding intersex and non-binary women from elite athletic competitions is a troubling act of discrimination on multiple fronts. And requiring that women alone conform to a certain standard of sex (to pass testing) and gender presentation (to avoid undergoing testing) in order to access this opportunity is equally disturbing.

Finally, we should ask where these policies leave transgender athletes. Trans women who take hormone pills might be allowed to compete, though in light of competitor’s responses to Semenya this would almost certainly lead to controversy over the insufficiency of the testosterone standard. And those who choose not to or who cannot undergo hormone therapy would seemingly find no place in international track and field.

Happily, Chand’s case offers a glimmer of hope. In the past female athletes subject to sex-verification have given in to the IOC and IAAF, “quietly” consenting to surgery to lower testosterone or leaving the sport. Some, like the four identified at the 2012 Olympics, have undergone plastic surgery recommended to further feminize their bodies. This history makes Chand’s decision to fight the ban particularly momentous. According to Juliet Macur who profiled Chand for the New York Times, “Dutee Chand loves her body just the way it is…She believes that the body she was born with — every chromosome, cell and organ — makes her the woman she is.”


[1] This is always the hardest thing to convince undergraduates of when you’re teaching Butler. Or maybe second hardest after convincing them to muddle through her…unique writing style.

[2] In the cases of Chand and Semenya, these requests have come during international competitions and not from competitions within their own country, where they would have both been part of the majority race.


The stuff feminist reality is made of: Michelle Obama, feminism and the raced meaning of motherhood

By Amanda Grigg

Politico is jumping on the “lean in” bandwagon and upping the ante by dragging Michelle Obama along for the ride with their Friday cover story, “Leaning Out: How Michele Obama became a feminist nightmare.”

I guess it depends on what you mean by “feminist nightmare.” I’m a feminist and my most terrifying recurring nightmare is that I’m back in undergrad during finals week and I realize I haven’t been to class all semester. I usually have it when I’m under a deadline so…try to figure that one out Freud.

Anyway, the author Michelle Cottle (the other Michelle) suggests that feminists are disappointed that Michele Obama has focused on being “mom in chief” rather than wading into more significant (and controversial) policy debates. Cottle highlights an earlier critique by The Root writer Keli Goff and criticism from Linda Hirschman (of National Prospect “Homeward Bound” fame) and suggests that Michelle Obama’s policy-avoidance might be particularly unnecessary following Obama’s re-election – there’s no need to worry about an active first lady turning off voters (the Hillary Clinton factor).

The New Republic and Slate both featured articles defending Michelle Obama and tweets from prominent feminists which suggest that the “disappointment” is not widespread. And Cottle includes quotes from defenders in her piece as well, largely they’re “choice” feminists arguing that any choice a woman willingly chooses represents a win for feminism (a debate that could launch a million posts but suffice it to say, there’s more to feminism than that).

In my opinion, the best parts of the article are those where Cottle quotes black feminist writers because they do a much better job of illustrating the pretty classic dilemma Michelle Obama faces as a prominent black woman. First up is Rebecca Walker (author and daughter of Alice Walker) who says:

I wouldn’t necessarily say Michelle Obama had to kowtow to some demand that she become a June Cleaver type. I would say she understands the need to help people understand a model that they may not have been familiar with, and to help them learn how to trust something that they may not have been able to in past.

Rebecca Walker is drawing our attention to the fact that Michelle Obama being seen as anything near a June Cleaver type is something new and doesn’t have quite the same meaning as if a white first lady were seen in this way. Why? Because femininity and motherhood have had very different meanings for black women than they have for white women. For more we can turn to feminist scholar and all around badass Patricia Hill Collins:

Two elements of the traditional family ideal are especially problematic for African-American women. First, the assumed split between the “public” sphere of paid employment and the “private” sphere of unpaid family responsibilities has never worked for U.S. Black women.

During slavery, black women worked in what was allegedly the “public” sphere of Southern agriculture, but did so without wages and without any familial privacy. Since the end of slavery, and for a whole host of reasons (including continuing inequality and discrimination leading to lower wages among blacks which in turn require women to contribute to the household income). Because Black men have traditionally been denied a family wage, Black women have been far more likely to work outside of the home. Generally this was not part of an effort to establish themselves as equal to men but to secure sufficient income for their families. Collins continues: 

“Second, the public/private binary separating the family households from the paid labor market is fundamental in explaining U.S. gender ideology. If one assumes that real men work and real women take care of families, then African-Americans suffer from deficient ideas concerning gender. In particular, Black women become less “feminine,” because they work outside the home, work for pay and thus compete with them, and their work takes them away from their children.”

Michelle Obama on the cover of Parenting magazine

Historically, white middle and upper income women have been considered inherently good mothers who are deserving of having more children while poor women and minority women are characterized as unfit mothers, unworthy of or too irresponsible to have more children.[1] This ideology has often manifested itself in state policies that encourage motherhood among well-situated white women and discourage it among poor women and women of color. For example, in 1970, black women were sterilized at twice the rate of white women, and throughout the decade predominantly black recipients of public assistance reported that welfare agency workers had threatened to cut off their benefits if they did not agree to undergo state funded sterilization.[2]  In Welfare’s End Gwendolyn Mink argues that race-valuation of motherhood is evident in the difference in policy design between Survivor’s benefits and welfare programs like AFDC and TANF. Predominantly white Survivor’s benefits are more generous and less stigmatized than Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, and they support mothers who choose to stay at home to care for their children. TANF benefits are not only stigmatized and increasingly limited, they also refuse to support poor/black motherhood by demanding that mothers work outside of the home. Mink suggests that these policies send a clear message to poor single and often black mothers that their care is not valued.[3]

So you could argue that by presenting such an admirable (and well-liked) model of black motherhood, Michelle Obama is challenging the historic devaluation of black caregiving and raced assumptions about motherhood and family.
On the other hand, Patricia Hill Collins suggests that rather than trying to explain why Black women deviate from or trying to meet the historically white standards of femininity (which today are pretty much only met on Modern Family/in the public imagination) women should challenge “the very constructs of work and family themselves.” So there’s definitely grounds to be critical of Michelle Obama’s choice to change the meaning of motherhood via replication rather than by rejecting it (the current model of motherhood) entirely.
OBAMA NEW YORKERCottle also quotes The Root writer Keli Goff’s earlier article listing 5 things she would like to hear Michelle “preach” in her husband’s second term, which included her stance on reproductive rights:

Michelle Obama is also on the record as supporting reproductive rights in recent years as Planned Parenthood has been under attack, but she has waded into the issue only tepidly. With African-American and poor women more likely to have unplanned pregnancies and out-of-wedlock births and to raise families in poverty—not to mention the high AIDS rates among black Americans—her voice could go a long way toward making a difference on issues of reproductive and sexual health.

When I read this I immediately thought of Zoltan Hajnal’s Changing White Attitudes Towards Black Political Leadership. Haven’t read it? Well you should, but just this once I’ll summarize. Hajnal studies white attitudes towards black political leadership and finds that:

Once black officials have the opportunity to prove that black leadership generally does not harm white interests, uncertainty should fade, whites’ views of blacks and black leadership should improve, and more whites should be willing to consider voting for black candidates.

Initially this seems encouraging. But, often black communities elect black leaders with the specific hope that they will make significant changes to the status quo, changes that will almost inevitably “harm white interests” insofar as whites have benefited from racial inequality. Hajnal argues that this shouldn’t be the case, particularly if whites continue to become more sympathetic to racial injustices. But either way it suggests that black leaders must strike a careful balance between advocating for racial justice and affirming whites’ fears and thus, their resistance of black leadership.

In the case of Michelle Obama, this likely means that speaking out about women’s issues, let alone black women’s issues, would result not just in the kind of backlash that Hillary Clinton saw, but could also confirm white fears of and dislike of black leadership. If that sounds paranoid spend some time checking out the google hits for “Obama race war” and “Obama class warfare.” Or don’t and just trust me (the internet is a terrible place). This presents a real dilemma. If black leaders are elected in part, because constituents hope that they will change the racial status quo, but will not be reelected (or will negatively affect views of black leadership generally) if they change the status quo, they’re in a real bind.

So when we consider what black motherhood has meant, and what a black feminist first lady would likely mean it’s not surprising and certainly not a feminist nightmare that Michelle Obama has chosen the path of incremental change.

Edit 11/26, a quick addition: Notably the two big issues Michelle Obama has focused on seem to allow her to address problems that are particularly pressing to the black community without invoking race. Childhood obesity and barriers to higher ed for low-income students certainly hit racial minorities harder than whites, but they don’t strike anyone as particularly radical or inherently “raced” issues.

[1] This is in part because black women have historically defied the norms that define motherhood in opposition to wage-work and the public sphere. See Patricia Hill Collins Black Feminist Thought  and Dorothy Roberts, “Racism and Patriarchy in the Meaning of Motherhood,” American University Journal of Gender & Law, 1993 Vol. 1: 1-38

[2] Stephen Trombley, The Right to Reproduce (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1988), 177.  

[3] Gwendolyn Mink, “At the crossroads of race, morality, and poverty, welfare law codifies disdain for poor single mothers as mothers. (121) Welfare law sends a message to poor single mothers, that their care is not valued.

Anthropology and The Evolution of Mean Girls

By Amanda Grigg

Disclaimer: This post features references to the greatest film of our generation, Mean Girls. If you haven’t seen it what are you doing with your life go watch it right now. If you have, get in loser, we’re going blogging.

The fanciest British journal ever, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, published a special issue this fall on female aggression and its conclusions have been making their way across the web. Some of the scholarship applies science to the “mean girl” phenomenon so of course journalists are all a flutter to see who can cover the findings in the most annoying way possible. Contenders include a LiveScience post titled, “Mean Girls: Women Evolved to be Catty?” and The New York Times coverage.

19TIER_SPAN-articleLargeMost of the coverage focuses on a single study from the special issue, conducted by Tracy Vaillancourt and Aanchal Sharma. To learn more about how women react to “rivals” the researchers placed two undergraduate women in a room together, ostensibly as part of a study on female friendship. Then they sent in another young woman wearing either khakis and a crew-neck shirt (Cady pre-Mean Girlification) or a short skirt, knee-high boots and a low-cut top (regulation hottie).

And of course, the researchers chose this model not because she fits a very particular cultural model of sexual attractiveness but because she “embodied qualities considered attractive from an evolutionary perspective,” meaning a “low waist-to-hip ratio, clear skin, large breasts.” It doesn’t hurt that she’s white, tall, blonde and has perfect teeth. Or maybe caveman were also particular about the hair color and orthodontia of their mates.

As researchers expected, reactions after the young woman left varied depending on the woman’s clothes. The jeans and polo shirt elicited little response. The “sexy” ensemble summoned their mean girl wrath:

They stared at her, looked her up and down, rolled their eyes and sometimes showed outright anger. One asked her in disgust, “What the [expletive] is that?”

…One student suggested that she dressed that way in order to have sex with a professor. Another said that her breasts “were about to pop out.”

To explain this author John Tierney turns to evolutionary forces. On the evolutionary incentives to be indirectly aggressive:

“women were not passive trophies for victorious males. They had their own incentives to compete with one another for more desirable partners and more resources for their children. And now that most people live in monogamous societies, most women face the same odds as men. In fact, they face tougher odds in some places, like the many college campuses with more women than men.”

The piece seems to assume that evolution and primal mating calculi are the driving forces behind the forms female aggression takes, and at whom it is directed. Because science. To which I say, ugh.

Cady: 1 Evolutionary explanations for female aggression: 0

Of course Mean Girls protagonist Cady Heron, being the daughter of anthropologists, understands the role of culture in shaping female aggression. Throughout the film she notes the way things would be handled “in the animal world” but reminds herself, and the audience that “this was girl world.”  When Queen Bee Regina dangles her boyfriend (and Cady’s crush) Aaron in front of Cady to taunt her, Cady fantasizes about violently attacking her rival. But, because “this is girl world” she tells Aaron that his hair does in fact look sexy pushed back and continues to quietly plot (indirectly aggress) her revenge.

While I would be fine basing all of my repudiations of The Grey Lady on the wisdom of Tina Fey’s Mean Girls, we can also turn to alternative coverage of the story. From io9

The problem with talking about humans, of course, is that we are not wild animals. As Stockley and Campbell are careful to point out, humans have been so influenced by culture that it’s very hard to tell if a lack of overt aggression among women is an evolutionary or cultural artifact. Because so many women are culturally trained to tamp down their aggressive urges, it’s impossible to call their behavior “natural.”

…or did they?

For their coverage, The Atlantic spoke with Agustin Fuentes, chair of the dept. of anthropology at Notre Dame, summarized here:

though this and other studies show how important physical appearance is to the way women respond to each other, there’s too much cultural baggage at play to say it all comes from our primate ancestors. The short-skirt-boots combo, for example, is already a “meaning-laden image,”

As Fuentes suggests, how women identify “competition” and thus who they direct aggression towards is fundamentally shaped by culture – cavewomen certainly didn’t wear knee high socks.

Though the researcher’s plant has the exact same “evolutionarily attractive” physical features in either outfit, she only elicits aggression in the short skirt which suggests that it’s not primal mating urges at work (or at least not just those urges). The outfit incites “indirect aggression” because it carries all sorts of cultural meanings, which women have been socialized to recognize and criticize for reasons beyond competition for mates.

The NYT piece also fails to note the similarities between male and female aggression. According to Fuentes girls and boys engage in equal amounts of direct aggression until adolescence, at which point it becomes socially unacceptable for girls to do so. And according to David Buss in the Atlantic, studies have suggested that adult men also engage in indirect aggression, especially once they reach the age at which it becomes socially unacceptable for them to engage in direct aggression.

Buss has found that men “bitch” about their rivals, too—they just tend to insult their lack of money or status, the things women traditionally have valued in mates, rather than their physical appearance.

Overlooking the use of the word “bitch” to describe something you’re trying to argue is gender neutral…it’s notable that men insult rivals for lack of money and status. Of course you could argue that cavewomen wanted mates with lots of buffalo-meat in the bank (I’m pretty sure that’s accurate anthropologically) but it seems absurd to try to explain this without acknowledging the social and economic context – particularly that women in recent history have relied entirely on men for financial support and equally troubling, that men have been judged primarily by their economic and professional accomplishments. It’s just as absurd to try to explain indirect aggression between women without at least considering the cultural context.

I’ll conclude with two quick insights from feminist theory. I don’t think either fully explain and they certainly don’t justify woman on woman hate but they do suggest that there is more to these interactions than biology. First, we might look to Sandra Bartky and Foucault, to understand how these responses are part of the process by which the cultural ideal of femininity is constructed. Insofar as that ideal demands the perfect balance of modesty and sexuality (walking the Madonna/whore line which this woman seemingly does not achieve), these responses serve to “discipline” the woman, encouraging her to fall in line. Second, à la Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs we might  consider that women are viewing the sexy plant not just as an abstract threat to their primal urge to defend mates, but as a physical manifestation of the constant pressure women are under to be thin, blonde, beautiful, and above all sexy. “What the [expletive] was that,” indeed.


Dainty Mouths & Big Burgers: Liberating Japanese Women

Ochobo level: Achieved

Japanese Burger joint Freshness Burger had a problem. Their largest burger, the “Classic” was a huge hit, but only among men. What was going on? Well the burger is enormous and in order to eat it you have to unhinge your jaw and get a little (a lot) messy. According to the campaign video, this was a deal breaker for Japanese women:

“For Japanese women, having “ochobo,” a small and modest mouth, is regarded as attractive. In public, a large open mouth is regarded as ugly and rude. It is therefore considered good manners to cover the mouth when opening it. This means they are denied the wild pleasure of taking mouth sized bites of this big tasty burger freely in public. Freshness burger decided to challenge this convention.”

How? By introducing the “Liberation Wrapper,” which covers a woman’s face with the image of a smiling closed mouth, allowing her to get down to the business of burger eating without looking unladylike. According to Freshness Burger sales of their Classic Burger have gone up 213% among women since the introduction of the Liberation Wrapper.

This campaign is getting buzz because it hits an internet trifecta, clever advertising, yet another bizarre thing Japanese people do (it’s officially filed under “weird” on msn), and gender politics. To the first and second I say yes and, what is “weird” anyway? To the third, obviously it’s troubling that women are hiding themselves behind paper masks to conform to expectations about “dainty” and “demure” mouths while men are free to scarf down burgers as messily as they like.

Maybe the Japanese just need a role model to teach them that ladies can eat burgers without shame. And no one makes a better role model for burger eating than America.  So let’s check in with some liberated American women to see how they eat a burger. Ladies?

Kate Upton for Carls Jr








Okay…not exactly what I was looking for but at least her face isn’t covered I guess. Let’s try again.

Still from Carls Jr Pulled Pork ad









Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 10.16.39 AM








Well obviously this just isn’t a burger ad so there’s no problem with…

Paris Hilton for Carls Jr










You’ve got to be kidding me.

Clearly Carls Jr is the problem here, I’m sure if we check out some ads from other…what’s that? Burger King too?












Surely Arby’s, (home of the roast beef sandwich ®), would never…











Bun-boobs? Really?!? I give up.

Obromacare or MotherbroXXX

By Amanda Grigg

Last week everyone from The Atlantic to Buzzfeed covered a new Colorado Obamacare campaign targeting “bros.” The campaign can be found at “ and is part of the Thanks Obamacare campaign run by ProgressNow Colorado and the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative. You can also reach the site via “” which is, clearly, a more bro-friendly url.

got insurance, bro?

Of course the Colorado campaign’s real aim is to get the attention of healthy, uninsured young people, a group that pretty much everyone agrees is essential to the success of the Affordable Care Act. Because they rarely use medical services these “young invincibles” are cheap to insure, and thus their enrollment is necessary to offset the costs of older, less healthy patients. It just so happens that most of the healthy, uninsured young people (57%) are male. This explains both Obromacare and the Koch brothers’ recent attempts to get bros to “opt-out” via events at campus bars offering free beer and ipad drawinngs. Unfortunately for proponents of the ACA, healthy young men without pre-existing conditions are generally thought to benefit the least from Obamacare, which makes them both vital and possibly resistant to health care form. As a result, we get to watch as everyone and their mother (literally) bro-down.

AARP_ACA_eCard7_600.imgcache.rev1379416663982Efforts to promote the health care law among young invincibles have also targeted mothers. Ads on facebook and recipe websites admonish, “Mom knows best, get insurance!” and cheeky AARP e-cards read “Get health insurance so I can stop pestering you to sign up and start pestering you to get married.” As Democratic pollster Celinda Lake explained to the Washington Post,“it will be the moms of America who are going to decide if their families get coverage…They will decide and then insist their children and husbands sign up.” Polling backs Lake up – many young uninsured people, and particularly young men, cite their mothers as their most trusted source of information about the health care law.

So, a big part of the explanation for these ads can be found in policy and the fact that high enrollment among healthy, uninsured young men is necessary to make Obamacare work. The campaigns are highly gendered because they’re targeting very specific, gendered audiences (mothers and young men). And they’re a little cheesy because bureaucrats and the Koch brothers trying to identify with the cool kids is a little like your parents trying to talk to you about Miley Cyrus. Or your great aunt publicly chastising you for posting on facebook because “who would do that to a cat?”

More troubling than the seemingly inevitable pandering to bros is the misleading use of healthy young men as an exemplar of the harms of health care reform. Because of their unique relationship to the ACA, healthy 25 year old men have become the darlings of health care reform critics, who have conveniently held them up as (purportedly) randomly chosen example that illustrate how the healthcare law works and why it will raise rates (Jonathan Chait does a good job of addressing the problems with this tactic). Put simply, the 25 year old healthy male example is a poor one on which to base arguments about the ACA generally because it’s one of very few cases in which individuals may see rates go up, and because the group makes up a small portion of the total population. And as Sarah Kliff explains, the structure of the ACA makes it difficult to generalize even about this relatively small, homogenous group. Most notably, the example is misleading because it’s almost inevitable that in his lifetime this bro will benefit from Obamcare both directly and indirectly if he gets sick, becomes poor, lives past 25, cares about anyone who is or becomes sick, and let’s not even get started on how straight men benefit from the birth control mandate.

Google Autocomplete and Global Sexism

By Amanda Grigg

UN Women has a new campaign that uses google autocomplete to demonstrate the scope of sexism worldwide. Ads in the series place autocomplete search results for queries like “women cannot” and “women should not” over close-ups of a diverse group of women. According to creator Christopher Hunt, “The adverts show the results of genuine searches, highlighting popular opinions across the world wide web” (more on whether Hunt is right about this below).

Autocomplete results are known to vary by location, which inspired me to do some quick google searching of my own (I also thought it was time to get the men involved) and I found a little something for the optimists/male breastfeeding proponents:


Of course I also found this (thanks patriarchy/E.L. James):


and found out that the male version of this:

women should not

is this:

men should not

Fellow Jilter (Jilted?) Graham noted that the search results of autocomplete suggestions don’t always perfectly match the sentiment of the autocomplete. So, an autocomplete of “women shouldn’t vote” for a “women shouldn’t” search conducted in New York might turn up a couple of articles about the women’s suffrage movement (my search turned up this) in addition to more recent coverage critiquing someone who opposes women’s right to vote (here and here) and not turn up much in the way of meaningful opposition to women voting. I don’t think that this makes the campaign any less powerful or accurate as a reflection of sexism, for two reasons. 1. the campaign is global and we could imagine that there are places where correspondingly sexist results would turn up and 2. as far as I can tell, autocomplete is based on popular searches not popular content, so regardless of what the search turns up, the suggestions reflect a large group of people searching for those (sexist or anti-shortsist) terms. Of course we can’t be sure of what people wanted out of their search – they could have been declaring a personal opinion or searching for arguments against women serving in combat for a term paper. So I’ll give some ground on whether all autocomplete results are direct evidence of sexism and maintain that there is ample evidence elsewhere that sexism remains a global issue.