Should We “Lean In?” bell hooks, Sheryl Sandberg, and Feminist Identity

by Brianna Suslovic ’16

I recently read feminist scholar bell hookscritique of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg‘s brand of feminism on The Feminist Wire, and it brought up a lot of questions.

Since the arrival of Sandberg’s book Lean In last year, feminists and non-feminists alike have been in an uproar about how sensational and controversial Sandberg’s narrative has been. Some see Sandberg’s book as a rallying cry for the “ordinary” American woman (yes, the one that’s afraid of those bra-burning, man-hating “feminists”). Others, like hooks, choose to critique Sandberg’s ignorance of race and class in what has been lauded as a new feminist manifesto.

hooks’ piece is definitely worth a read–it offers some serious analysis and critique of what hooks calls faux feminism, this brand of feminism that shies away from the militancy and theory-heavy feminism, leaning instead toward a more neoliberal or capitalist slant.

While I personally find myself leaning more towards hooks’ brand of feminist thought, it’s hard for me to not Lean In. Who’s to say that there’s only one way to be a feminist? For me, feminism is about individual experience and thought, and labeling brands of feminism as better than others seems a bit alienating and nonproductive.  Is Sandberg making feminism accessible to a broader audience, or is she alienating the feminists who don’t connect to her white, straight, cisgendered, upper-class narrative? Continue reading “Should We “Lean In?” bell hooks, Sheryl Sandberg, and Feminist Identity”


Confusion Under Canaday B

If you come down to the Women’s Center, you will see that we have two bathrooms right down the hall. These are, you might note, slightly different from many other bathrooms on campus. With blank doors that just say, “Restroom” on them, they are missing the typical markings of, on one, a person wearing a skirt, and, on the other, a person wearing pants. If you continue to walk down the hall to the Women’s Center (from which you will probably hear a loud and somewhat-cackling laugh if I am working), you will see a sign that says, “All Genders and Perspectives Welcome.”

At that point, you may start thinking, “All genders welcome? Why not BOTH genders welcome?” Or maybe you are pondering, “Which bathroom am I supposed to go into? WHERE IS THE FIGURE WITH THE PANTS/SKIRT????” Luckily, after you enter the Women’s Center, where you can grab some free coffee and sit down on a couch, you will probably feel a bit more relaxed. So, perhaps you turn to a WC intern and ask about the bathrooms, about the sign “All Genders Welcome.” After talking about it for a few minutes, you may realize that gender is a bit more complicated than you had previously thought…

Or maybe, you haven’t made it down under Canaday B yet. Maybe you are just running an ice breaker for the student org that you run. You put a hat in the middle of the circle, and tell everyone to write on a slip of paper the name of a celebrity they would want to go on a date with, and put it in the hat. Then, you explain, the hat will go around in a circle and each person will read off the name of a celebrity, so the group can guess who put the name into the hat. As people begin writing things down, you see that a couple of people look a little uncomfortable. Or a LOT uncomfortable. A close friend, who has recently expressed to you that they are questioning their sexuality, comes over and whispers in your ear, “I don’t want to write which celebrity I would go on a date with, because I don’t want to ‘out’ myself to the group.” Continue reading “Confusion Under Canaday B”

Happy (Week of) Ada Lovelace Day!


Credit to the wonderful Hark! A Vagrant.

As you may have noticed already, this past October 15th was Ada Lovelace Day. Women represent only a third of doctoral degrees awarded in STEM fields, and “stereotype threat” – the risk of self-fulfilling a negative stereotype about one’s group – still operates heavily. And this is a self-perpetuating cycle, because “you can’t be what you can’t see.” Ada Lovelace Day is, primarily, about highlighting the historically under-recognized achievements of women in STEM fields in the past as well as the present (Lovelace is known as the first ever computer programmer, and by way of explaining the cartoon above, also happened to be the estranged daughter of wayward Romantic poet Lord Byron).

One celebration planned for the day that got a lot of well-deserved attention was the Wikipedia edit-a-thon that happened at Brown University, where contributors established new and fleshed out existing entries on women in science on the crowd-sourced and male-skewed encyclopedia.

On a similar note, the Women’s Center and Women in Science at Harvard Radcliffe is joining together next week to hold a discussion and panel on portrayals of women in STEM in popular culture. It’s at 7 in the Adams House UCR next Thursdy 24th, and we’d love to see you there!

On Rape Culture, Race, and Gender Roles: Chris Brown’s Latest Revelation

trigger warning: discussion of statutory rape, sexual assault

A discussion of the role of race and gender in discussion about Chris Brown’s early loss of virginity, written by HCWC intern Brianna.

Chris Brown has been in the news recently for his revelation that he lost his virginity at the age of 8, to a girl who was 14 or 15. If we remove Brown’s name/gender and the gender of his sexual partner, the sentence reads more like this: a young teenager had sex with an 8 year old. In this context, it sounds a lot more like rape. While Brown “grins and chuckles” about this experience to The Guardian, it could easily be considered non-consensual sex. While some of the media has chosen to characterize Brown as your average hypersexual pop star, other news sources have chosen to label him as a victim of sexual assault.

I’ll acknowledge early on that Brown is responsible for the assault of his then-girlfriend, pop star Rihanna. There is no question of his guilt in that, but this blog post is intended to shed some light on an aspect of Brown’s life that has been recently mentioned, but not analyzed.

Brown, a rural Virginia native, told the reporter from The Guardian that “it’s different in the country,” attributing his experience to a porn-driven early desire for sex, but under Virginia law, his sexual experience is considered a crime in which he is the victim. I don’t know if it’s fair for those who don’t know Brown (or his experiences) to label him as a victim of sexual assault; as Akiba Solomon of Colorlines said, “To disarm someone—particularly someone as troubled as Brown—without sanctuary feels unethical to me.” Maybe it’s unfair to impose victimhood on Brown. We can instead recognize that he was, by most legal and practical definitions, sexually assaulted as a child, and we can deconstruct the forces at play behind Brown’s conceptualization of the assault and the media’s reaction to his experience. Continue reading “On Rape Culture, Race, and Gender Roles: Chris Brown’s Latest Revelation”

Is the Ally-Ship Sinking? (Or a Study of How to Play Your “Cards” Right)

The word “allyship” has definitely been floating around the Women’s Center Community recently, as we discuss what it means to be a good ally to survivors of sexual assault, to women, to other marginalized communities. People, including me, have trouble talking about allyship because it is a word that brings up a lot of emotion from both sides—anger, guilt, helplessness, frustration. In the midst of all these emotions, all of the websites and the blog posts (with plenty of angry comments), all of the millions of valid opinions, it seems impossible to answer the questions: What does “being an ally” even entail? Is it really possible to be an advocate of a community that you are not a part of? This may be something you think about all the time. Or maybe you are thinking, “Allyship just means you are not racist/homophobic/sexist/ableist/etc… what’s the big deal?” To the latter person, I would say—dig a little deeper. These are undeniably big questions, and it is the dialogue around these questions that I want to bring to the blog today.

And questions beget questions. Who decides the communities of which you are a part? Is associating yourself with a community in order to advocate for them just “playing the [insert identity here] card?” For example, I identify as straight, but my mom identifies as gay. When my brother went to the “Dyke March” for the Pride Parade this past summer, a woman came up to him and said, “You shouldn’t be here. This space is not meant for you.” While this prompted some anger from my mother (accompanied by a few f-bombs from my step-mother), it does bring up the question: what gives you the “right” to enter a space? In advocating for the BGLTQ community, is citing my family situation as the source of my drive for creating equal opportunities just an instance of me “playing the gay parent card?” And who decides what “cards” are appropriate to play, what spaces are appropriate to enter? Continue reading “Is the Ally-Ship Sinking? (Or a Study of How to Play Your “Cards” Right)”

This Week on the Internet: “Who Cares if Barilla Doesn’t Like Gay People?”

In recent days, controversy has flared over homophobic remarks made by Guido Barilla, the chairman of one of the world’s largest pasta companies. Asked whether he would ever use a gay family in Barilla’s advertising, which has for a long time capitalized on imagery of an idealised happy family alongside the slogan, “Where there’s Barilla, there’s home”, the chairman responded:

“I would not do it but not out of a lack of respect for homosexuals who have the right to do what they want without bothering others… I don’t see things like they do and I think the family that we speak to is a classic family.”

Asked how this might affect sales, Barilla said:

“Well, if they like our pasta and our message they will eat it; if they don’t like it and they don’t like what we say they will eat another.”

The remarks were so casually upfront in their homophobia as to have the effect of seeming intentionally inflammatory – within hours, the Guardian reports, the hashtag “boicotta-barilla” was trending on Twitter. As Barilla had suggested, consumers are in the position to vote with their dollars, and they were going to do just that. Continue reading “This Week on the Internet: “Who Cares if Barilla Doesn’t Like Gay People?””