Happy Pride Day!

Chicago's 24th Annual Gay and Lesiban Pride Parade 1993

Chicago's 24th Annual Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade (1993)

Chicago's 24th Annual Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade (1993)

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A Women’s V

I’m not even going to address the issue of gender stereotypes in this commercial, “Manly Mistake,” for Summer’s Eve Cleansing Wash, about which there is much to say. Today, I want to turn your attention to the euphemism, “a woman’s V.” I have never myself used the phrase nor have I heard anyone in my life or in media use the phrase until this commercial was broadcast. Admittedly, vagina is not the prettiest sounding of words regardless of the fact that networks will not allow the word vagina to be used. Other stand-ins would likely be perceived as, or more, objectionable. At the same time, this rather ridiculous placeholder reminded me how puritan the United States is when it comes to discussing the human body. To me, the commercial says: vaginas, the organ that won’t be named, association with which must be counterbalanced by “manly” activities. On every level, I find it offensive.

Rebecca Cullers voiced the same sentiment in her article, “Husband Accidentally Uses Summer’s Eve then Proves He’s the Real Douche,” (AdWeek) although she makes the point that manufacturers such as Summer’s Eve, who must create demand for their product through cultivating a sense of shame, tread a fine line in marketing communications. In this case, Summer’s Eve did a slight of hand by focusing on dumb men.

I’m not sure what is worse: the underlying message of the commercial or the fact that networks find vaginas too unspeakable to mention.

Children of the World

When I was little, my mother took me to the First Christian Church of Ardmore. As churches in southern Oklahoma go, it was fairly liberal, and I am so grateful that the family’s church home wasn’t a Southern Baptist congregation.

Although I am no longer associated with the church, I have fond memories of the fellowship and the friends I had in my Sunday School classes and at church camp.

I also enjoy memories of the songs, which were a part of youth groups, church services, vacation bible school, and camp. Sometimes, one of these songs will pop into my head for no apparent reason.

First Christian Church Vacation Bible School
circa 1981

Last night, just this phenomenon struck me, and the melody and words (at least those of the first chorus) of “Jesus Love the Little Children” arose as if I were in the fellowship hall on a summer afternoon. It struck me that this children’s religious song even now reflects my values and concerns about social justice (that is if you just assume Jesus is a kind, wise historical figure and if you ignore the racist undertones of the labels for skin colors*):

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Black and yellow, red and white
They’re all precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world

The Interweb records that a C.H. Woolston (1856-1927), wrote the lyrics to accompany the music composed by George F. Root (1820-1895) who had originally written the score for a Civil War song called, no joke, “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp.”

I know many of the people who grew up with me in Ardmore sang this song, too, as did children all over the country (world?). The song is the subject of myriad blog posts and forum discussions. And yet, here we are, in 2014, still plagued by prejudice and discrimination perhaps heightened (embarrassingly so) by the election of the United States’ first black president. (The New York Times has gathered a collection of opinion pieces that explore this issue in the Racism in the Age of Obama feature.) It is amazing to me that, as a whole, we are so poorly behaved and so cruel. Maybe the song is too childish and the message is too simple, but I cannot see how people who profess to be Christians and who embrace Jesus (as the son of god, not as my historical hero) are so often the same people who do this and this. (Look at this one just because it’s funny and you deserve it after viewing the first two links.) Even if you argue that these are fringe groups that don’t represent the majority of conservatives, modern racism affects people of color in subtle and insidious ways.

I certainly don’t have the answers, but I do know that many groups are working to achieve social justice. Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program provides resources to educators to promote acceptance and understanding. Teaching for Change published a number of books and toolkits for parents and educators. Here in Ithaca, the Park Foundation has provided local organizations tens of thousands of dollars to promote equality and social justice. Many large corporations in the United States value and support diversity. Even Denny’s, which in the 1990s systematically discriminated against employees of color, has since improved it work culture and bottom line by committing to properly managing diversity (Brathwaite).

This might be an issue that seems so overwhelming that one might feel powerless to change the institutional forces contributing to inequality and injustice. And, yes, alone, we might be, but that doesn’t mean that we can abandon our individual efforts. Let’s remember and honor the meaning of the children’s song so many of us sang on Sunday mornings.

* I’m not sure how prevalent this is, but some internet sources indicate that the lines “Black and yellow, red and white / They’re all precious in his sight” is substituted with “Every color, every race / They’re all covered by his grace” for more palatable and modern lyrics.

Quotation of the Day

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,”

~Desmond Tutu
Tutu also penned the forward to the forthcoming Global Guide to Animal Protection edited by Andrew Linzey, for which Tutu writes,

I have seen firsthand how injustice gets overlooked when the victims are powerless or vulnerable, when they have no one to speak up for them and no means of representing themselves to a higher authority. Animals are in precisely that position. Unless we are mindful of their interests and speak out loudly on their behalf, abuse and cruelty go unchallenged.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu Outside Tuto House, Soweto by Johan Wessels
licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Quotation of the Day: Nobel Prize Edition

“First of all, it’s not the financial crisis per se, but the most important problem that we are facing now, today, I think, is rising inequality in the United States and elsewhere in the world. This is a problem that has solutions. Many of them are financial solutions. Finance is substantially about risk management, and if it’s supplied right, if it’s democratized, that means if the real tools are made useful to real people and not to just a minority of people, it can help solve these problems.” 

Now is the Time

Today is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. To commemorate the event, I listened to the full audio of the speech, which saddens and inspires me each time I hear it.
I also played the first few minutes of the speech to my students in Business Ethics, ending at the line “America has given the Negro people a bad deck, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.'” I asked them to think if the check had finally been cashed (no, of course not) and if other groups today are having the same type of discrimination as people of color in the 1960s (yes, of course). I also reminded them that businesses play a significant role and have a responsibility to work for fairness… of note, the march was called the “March for Jobs and Freedom.”

Full text of speech
Full audio of speech

International Women’s Day

March 8 commemorates International Women’s Day, first observed in 1911. EQUALS views IWD as not just a day to celebrate women, but also a day to “to ask ourselves big, important questions about how a woman’s life really compares to that of a man’s.” Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk discusses this phenomenon in the context of leadership. Some of her comments are based on an experiment conducted by Francis Flynn. Flynn gave some of his students a copy of the Harvard Business Review Case, “Heidi Roizen” about the silicon valley venture capitalist. Other students were given the same case, but Heidi was changed to Howard. Otherwise, the details were identical. Students who read about “Howard” found him likable while those who read the actual case about Heidi found her selfish. Women experience similar penalties when displaying emotions at work compared to male colleagues. Sometimes, my undergraduates claim that there isn’t sexism or racism anymore, and I am glad that their experiences thus far have made them feel equal, but I also know that they will likely face obstacles just because of their gender or race. I can’t imagine what it is like for women in countries where there are even fewer protections. That’s why I value IWD.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Today marks the fourteenth observation of the Transgender Day of Remembrance to recognize and mourn the individuals who lost their lives as a result of transgender hatred or prejudice. Already this year, worldwide, sixty people have died as a result of transgender violence. Over half of transgender youth report being assaulted. The day is also a day to raise awareness of the violence and prejudice faced by transgender people and acceptance of their identity.