Below are five stories about feminist antics. One is pure invention, the others are true. Can you tell which one is false?
1. In a Letter to the Editor, the University of Southern California Women’s Action Collective (WAC) objects to the Trojan imagery “inscribed on the helmets” of USC football players:
Not only does the imagery invoke violent conquest–the culture of the warrior and conqueror, but also the hegemonic masculinity of batterers and rapists … Football itself both valorizes and sustains a masculine narrative inflected by dominance, exploitation and femicide….
2. Observation by a feminist musicologist concerning rape and sexual abuse themes in Beethoven’s last symphony:
The point of recapitulation in the first movement of the Ninth is one of the most horrifying moments in music, as the carefully prepared cadence is frustrated, damming up energy which finally explodes in the throttling, murderous rage of a rapist incapable of attaining release.
3. Feminist article deploring the valorization of “male mascots” such as Tony the Tiger and Captain Crunch on children’s cereal boxes:
The cereal aisle is one big, festering example of a seemingly innocuous strain of gender inequality . . . It’s an easy boy’s club to ignore because it seems so goofy and insignificant. …Breakfast cereal mascots carry a kind of cultural authority, just the same as athletes, pop singers, or Saturday morning cartoon characters. ..The trouble with a boys’ club of cereal pitchmen is that they accustom kids to only ever seeing men in positions of authority. Maybe that authority doesn’t carry a lot of weight … but it contributes to creating an adult world where men are seen as the only true authority figures.
4. Feminist astronomer on CNN explaining how sexually suggestive descriptions of cosmic events create a hostile climate for aspiring female astronomers:
The Big Bang Theory [is] “off-putting to young women”.
5. The University of Connecticut recently changed its logo from this:
UConn basketball coach Geno Auriemma welcomed the new insignia: “It is looking right through you and saying, ‘Do not mess with me.’” But an undergraduate named Carolyn found the new logo “horrifying” and suggestive of sexual assault. For her, the coach’s praise was “terrifying.” In her letter of protest to UConn president Susan Herbst, she wrote:
I know what it feels like to have a real life Husky look straight through you and to feel powerless, and to wonder if even the administration cannot ‘mess with them.’ And I know I am not alone.
The quote about rape themes in Beethoven’s Ninth is real. It is from a 1987 article by feminist musicologist Susan McClary that appeared in the Minnesota Composers Forum Newsletter. McClary, formerly a provost at UCLA, is now professor of musicology and feminist music criticism at Case Western Reserve.
Astronomer Meg Urry made the comments about the Big Bang theory on CNN in 1993. Urry is now the director of the Yale Astronomy and Astrophysics Center where her research focuses on, ahem, “actively accreting supermassive black holes.”
If you guessed that the article deploring the sexism of cereal box mascots is a fiction, you would be wrong. It appeared on the feminist website Jezebel just a few weeks ago, under the provocative title “Ever Notice That There Aren’t Any Female Breakfast Cereal Mascots?” Many readers were moved by the article and had high praise for the author. A few wondered if it was a parody placed by a wily men’s rights activist posing as a feminist blogger — trying to put Jezebel feminists in a bad light. In fact, the author is listed on the masthead as a regular contributor.
The protest letter against the UConn husky logo is genuine, too. According to the letter writer’s bio: “Carolyn is a senior at the University of Connecticut majoring in Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies and Spanish and minoring in Latino/a Studies. She is involved in various different feminist groups and violence against women prevention efforts on campus and has particular interest in global feminisms and anti-imperial anti-colonial feminisms.” Put another way: Carolyn has so overdosed on feminist theory classes she sees misogynist aggression everywhere and is incapable of making obvious distinctions.
The faux story is number 1 — about the USC Trojan image and its social construction of “hegemonic masculinity.” I made it up. It’s pure jibberish. I don’t think a “narrative” can be “inflected” by femicide. The tip-off: in my invention, the Trojan, unlike the UCONN husky, is looking sideways, rather than “right through you.” The USC logo is just too friendly-looking to inspire protest or feelings of terror and powerlessness in women.
Or maybe I’m being insensitive: perhaps there is something hyper-masculine, cocky, and entitled about his smile — and Trojan does have that other brand-name meaning. The USC-WAC should take notice!
Follow me on Twitter: @chsommers