How the Intersection of Race, Gender, and Sexuality Influences Stephanie Beatriz as Rosa Diaz on Brooklyn Nine-Nine

By Katie Swartwood

Katie graduated from the Women’s History Program at Sarah Lawrence College in May, 2019.

A Latina woman named Rosa Diaz stands before a Pictionary drawing pad; her card says “wedding.” Her black marker hits the paper, drawing two feminine stick figures holding hands. Her mother calls out a guess, “friends.” Rosa keeps drawing, adding a heart above the women’s heads. She yells out, “sisters.” Rosa frantically scribbles hearts all over the paper while her mother guesses, “business partners” and “co-owners of a chocolate shop.” Rosa frustratingly cuts her mother off to exclaim that it’s a wedding. She takes a deep breath before addressing her parents. She explains that she could either end up marrying a man, like her parents want, or a woman, because she is not simply going through a phase. She is bisexual. Her dad interrupts, “There’s no such thing.” Rosa assures them that bisexuality does exist because she identifies as such.

This scene if from Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s episode, “Game Night.” Over the years, this sitcom has proven itself to be a progressive comedy focused on highlighting social issues. Its diverse cast, which includes the Jewish main character, two Latina detectives, two African American men in positions of power, one of which is gay, an Italian assistant, and three white male detectives, has discussed topics like LGBT issues and police bias against African Americans. Despite its comedic center, Brooklyn Nine-Nine does not shy away from sensitive issues. In “Game Night,” the show combats a number of stereotypes and misunderstandings surrounding bisexuality.

When Rosa, played by Stephanie Beatriz, comes out to her parents it is in a turbulent scene in which her parents allude to the fact that they would be happier if she was a mistress in a heterosexual relationship rather than be in a romantic relationship with a woman. Before storming out, Rosa tells her parents that their worst fears have come true. She is in a relationship with a woman. Despite this conflict, her parents still invite her to family game night, giving Rosa hope that they will be accepted. However, her parents do not hesitate to bring up her sexuality. Her mother explains, “…No matter what you call yourself you still like men. So you can still get married and have a child.” When Rosa defends her sexuality, saying that she can do the same  with a woman, her father proclaims that she will do it with man because she is only going through a “phase.”

This scene is significant in a number of ways. For one, the show does not rely on a token LGBT character. Brooklyn Nine-Nine depicts multiple ethnic/gender/sexual identities. The fact that Rosa is in a female queer relationship is worth note. Historically, women’s homosexual relationships have often been overlooked. Judith Bennett in “The L Word in Women’s History” explains that as historians, “Most still see the past in heteronormative terms, closeting our thinking by failing to consider that the dead women we study might have been other than heterosexuals, other than wives, mothers, and lovers of men.” (1) Her article presents two critical mistakes historians tend to make when writing about the histories of women. The first is that historians often frame women in the context of their heterosexual relationships, instead of the lives of the women. 

The other issue historians face is interpreting subtleties that could indicated women participated in homosexual relationships. This is also influenced by cultural and societal understandings of women’s homosexual relationships. Although Bennett’s focus is on medieval women’s same sex relationships, she helps trace a historical ignorance towards such relationships. As she explains, since women’s homosexual relationships could not disturb bloodlines, i.e., result in a child, and if no phallic props were used, it was seen by some medieval writers and priests as less sexual and, thus, less sinful than other sexual relationships. (2) While she examines ideas that are several centuries old, I do not believe they are completely left in the past. For instance, sex is popularly defined in terms of men penetrating women Many people understand how heterosexual couples and male homosexual couples have sex, but when two women engage in sexual intercourse they are met with questions like “How do you have sex?” or “How do you lose your virginity?” 

This phallocentrism is important to recognizing the significance of depicting Rosa, a woman character engaged in a homosexual relationship, on mainstream television. While television has made great progress in creating dynamic LGBT characters, the focus has been on male gay characters. In their 2016-2017 “Where We Are On TV” report, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) found that gay men make up 49% of the LGBT regular or recurring characters on broadcast television alone, while lesbians make up only 17%, and bisexual characters rose 10 percentage points to 30%, with the majority of these characters presenting as female. (3) Additionally, their report helps illustrate how queer female characters struggle to remain in the story once they have been introduced. They found that more than 25 queer female characters were killed off since the beginning of 2016, often for no other reason than to further the story of the usually cisgendered, straight main character. (4) These statistics show the continued emphasis on male queerness while queer women are often overlooked.

Furthermore, it is important to look at Rosa’s representation as a Latina LBGT character on television. GLAAD reports that only 26% of women of color characters are Latina and only 6% are LGBT characters across five main broadcasting networks. (5) Rosa’s character is statistically uncommon, making her significant addition to the small screen. She has the ability to show queer Latina women that their stories are worth telling. Moreover, Rosa’s character does not sit on the sidelines on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Her involvement is important to plot lines since she serves as one of the main characters. Furthermore, alongside her other Latina co-star, she highlights that Latina women serves as more than maids or sex symbols. 

It is also worth noting that the actress who portrays Rosa, Stephanie Beatriz, identifies as bisexual herself. This is critical because while LGBT characters account for a minority of overall characters, the actors that play them are often cisgendered or straight. This fact that straight actors continually win awards for their portrayal of LGBT characters, while LGBT actors are not awarded for any roles. For example, no openly gay actor has been awarded an Oscar for Best Actor, while straight or cisgendered actors have won Oscars for playing queer characters. Having a bisexual actor portraying a bisexual character is essential because it allows for not only authenticity, but it also provides LBGT actors and actresses the opportunity to broadcast their talents. 

Stephanie Beatriz has spent six seasons on a popular show, playing a character that resembles herself. Something she explains as noticeably absent while she grew up. (6) This is not only in terms of race and gender, but also her sexuality. Beatriz actively engages with the media to discuss her struggles. She raised awareness for several issues she has experienced, such as diversity, disordered eating, and her sexuality. She came out via twitter, apparently before even telling her parents, who she explained were not as thrilled about her sexuality as the general public was. (7) This is a similar reaction that her character, Rosa, faced. Beatriz allowed her own experiences to direct her character, adding depth and credibility to Rosa on screen. 

Recently Stephanie Beatriz had the opportunity to portray another lesbian women of color on the small screen when she guest starred on Netflix’s One Day at a Time as Pilar. Pilar was a married, lesbian relative of the Alvarez family, the main focus of the show. On this episode Pilar served a role model for the young Elena, a Cuban-American who identifies as lesbian and dates her non-binary partner, Syd. In this episode, Elena clings to Beatriz’s character since she serves as a representation of someone similar to herself. This is why authentic representations of queer women on screen is essential. It allows young women to realize they are not alone, that other women like them exist, too. 


End Notes:

  1. Judith M. Bennett. “The L-Word in Women’s History.” In History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism. (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.), 109. 
  2. Judith M. Bennett. “The L-Word in Women’s History.”, 111. 
  3. “Where We Are on TV: GLAAD’s Annual Report on LGBTQ Inclusion ’16-’17,” GLAAD, 6. https://glaad.org/files/WWAT/WWAT_GLAAD_2016-2017.pdf 
  4. “Where We Are on TV,” 3.
  5. “Where We Are on TV,” 12, 18.
  6. Stephanie Beatriz, “On My Radar.” 
  7. Trish Bendix, “Stephanie Beatriz on Coming Out as Bisexual and Her Celebrity Crushes.” AfterEllen.com, August 10, 2016. http://www.afterellen.com/tv/498435-stephanie-beatriz-coming-bisexual-celebrity-crushes#1HAX6AxBiF3X42bU.99 

Bibliography:

Beatriz, Stephanie. “On My Radar: Stephanie Beatriz Shares Why Diversity On TV is Important.” Latina.com, August 6, 2016. http://www.latina.com/blogs/stephanie-beatriz/diversity-on-tv-latina-roles

Bendix, Trish. “Stephanie Beatriz on Coming Out as Bisexual and Her Celebrity Crushes.” AfterEllen.com, August 10, 2016. http://www.afterellen.com/tv/498435-stephanie-beatriz-coming-bisexual-celebrity-crushes#1HAX6AxBiF3X42bU.99

Bennett, Judith M. “The L-Word in Women’s History.” In History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.

“Where We Are on TV: GLAAD’s Annual Report on LGBTQ Inclusion ’16-’17,” GLAAD. https://glaad.org/files/WWAT/WWAT_GLAAD_2016-2017.pdf

 

The Ridicule of Consent in Marital Rape (An Excerpt)

By Katherine Swartwood

Katie is a second year graduate student in the Women’s History Program at Sarah Lawrence College.

This piece is an edited excerpt from her thesis, which will be completed in May 2019. Portions of this work have been removed for understanding and clarity; it may fully reflect the completed thesis.


Content warning: This blog post may contain triggering content including sexual assault, rape, and violence against women.



Lenore Walker, an activists and scholar working on battered women, later began serving Colorado as a psychologist focused on working with courts to provide expert testimony for women who killed their husbands after suffering from Battered Women’s Syndrome. [1]  In 1980, she wrote a letter to Laura X, the director of the National Clearinghouse for Marital Rape. In this letter, Walker described a conversation she had with a Montana State Senator, Patricia Regan, involving a piece of legislation she introduced in Montana regarding marital rape as well as three other issues concerning marriage and battered women. According to Walker, Senator Regan noticed her male colleagues disapproved of legislation completely criminalizing marital rape, so Reagan tried to appeal to them by compromising. Regan altered the legislation to make marital rape illegal only in instances where couples lived apart or separated.

As legislators and legal experts began studying marital rape, they often allowed marital rape myths to permeate their opinions and actions. For instance, in Kansas, a 1982, Special Committee on the Judiciary met to evaluate their state statutes regarding rape. On the topic of marital rape, the committee concluded that while they should not allow a total marital rape exemption, they should limit the criminalization to include only separated couples. This was because, “The Committee believes that rape does occur in marriage, but that it is most likely to occur when marital discord is evident and the parties are estranged.”[3] The suggestion by the Committee shows that while legislators could admit that marital rape occurred, they were reluctant to acknowledge that it could happen in any kind of relationship. The language employed by the Kansas legislators demonstrates how marital rape could have been seen as a type of revenge from husbands against their estranged wives. Instead, most believed that charges of marital rape portrayed vindictive wives’ attempts at revenge against their husbands.

Rather than understanding spousal rape as something that could and did happen in marriages that appeared happy and successful from the outside, these legislators asserted that it most often took place in estranged marriages.

Furthermore, by stating that marital rape does occur, but solely focusing on estranged marriages, the Kansas legislators disregarded women in their own state who experienced marital rape if divorce proceedings had not begun. To them, these women did not matter enough because these women were not raped enough. For many legislators across the country, marital rape myths like this impeded the State’s ability to produce comprehensive legislation to protect wives in their own homes. Other prevalent myths at the time included: the idea that marital rape was not as serious as other types of rape, spousal rape fell under marital privacy and the government should not step in, women claim marital rape to enact revenge on the husband, and marital rape simply does not exist.

The ignorance displayed by the Kansas legislator was not unique. Returning to Senator Regan in Montana, we can see how male politicians disregarded issues like marital rape. In order to retaliate against Senator Regan’s proposed legislation, some unidentified male legislators crafted a “Consent Agreement” for their wives. The agreement states in capital letters,

DUE TO A SITUATION IN OREGON WHERE A MAN IS ON TRIAL FOR RAPING HIS WIFE, AND ANOTHER MAN IS CHARGED WITH RAPE OF HIS WIFE, THE FOLLOWING “CONSENT AGREEMENT” IS FURNISHED TO MONTANA MALES AS A PUBLIC SERVICE. IT IS RECOMMENDED THAT NO SEXUAL CONTACT BE MADE UNTIL THE FOLLOWING FORM IS FILLED OUT AND SIGNED. REMEMBER,[4] SHE MAY BE WILLING TONIGHT, BUT TOMORROW YOU  MAY BE CHARGED WITH RAPE!!![5]

It also asked the wife to check one of four options for consent with sex with her husband: “Beg, Ask, Agree, Grudgingly agree (please pull my nightgown down when you are through)”[6] At the bottom of the form, it states that more copies can be found with Senator Regan. These were then distributed to all of the legislators in order to mock Regan’s attempt to outlaw marital rape. Under the condition that couples must be living separately for marital rape to occur, one male legislature even commented that since their profession required most of the male legislators to have separate living arrangements in the capital city, they could be found guilty of such misconduct. This joke alone alludes to the fact men hardly evaluated their behavior towards their wives. Furthermore, it shows how men whose female constitutes charged their representatives with the responsibly of advocating on their behalf, failed to even respect them.

Walker states in the letter to Laura X that this Consent Agreement “…was probably responsible for winning the vote to pass the marital rape legislation in Montana…”[7] and that following the distribution of the form and the male legislator’s “plea” for Regan to understand how their circumstances (living separately from their wives during session) meant they were vulnerable to the proposed law. “Everyone laughed, embarrassed a bit and then [were] shamed into voting to pass the bill.”[8] These two comments made by Walker assume that without these interruptions, the marital rape bill in Montana would have failed. Thus, these male legislators, in an effort to undermine the authority of a female colleague and mock an important piece of a legislation dealing with women’s autonomy and a right to make decisions about her own sex life, actually pushed the bill into passing.

Should marital rape activist have be thankful for this “humorous consent form”[9] as Walker describes it? It appears that without it, the legislation most likely would not have passed, but is it fair to put the victory on the shoulders of misogynistic men who were more apt to poke fun at rape, rather than try to educate themselves about this traumatic crime? Regan’s male colleagues forced her to turn a situation meant to humiliate and mock her into a victory for women in Montana. Walker asserts that Regan used her “great sense of humor”[10] to defuse the situation. While this could have been a show of Regan’s humor, I find it more likely to be a display of resilience. Regan understood that she was operating in a boy’s club in politics and knew that she could not display any sign of backing down. It is important to emphasize that Regan worked hard for this victory, though it did come at the cost of many women in sexually violent marriages (with the requirement that only separating couples could charge one another with rape). Misplacing the men who created this document at the front of this achievement, ignores the efforts Regan made as a state legislator to not only change the law in Montana, but also the culture of sexism among her male colleagues.

The consent form represents much more than just a “humorous” experience in the legislature. It showcases how male legislators in Montana in the late 1970s and early 1980s disrespected not only their female colleagues, but also their constitutes and even their own wives. These men found it appropriate to mock and humiliate a bill put forth by a female Senator because as men, they did not understand the reality of marital rape. They did not know what it meant to be coerced or forced into sex with their partner, nor understand the trauma that rape victims experience. No, to these men charged with setting the laws in their state, their wives were there for the taking.

As the form continues, it states, “This is a ‘ONE TIME AGREEMENT.’ Any sexual contact other than the above time and date will require a new agreement.”[13] Here the legislators show that they subscribe to Hale’s doctrine of implied consent in marriage. These men mocked the idea that women, especially their wives, could chose not to consent to sex from one time to the next. They saw their marriage as an opportunity to demand sex whenever they wanted. This is especially made clear by the inclusion of “Grudgingly agree (please pull my nightgown down when you are through)”[14] as an option of agreement for the wife on the form. The male legislators obviously understood that they have coerced their wives into unwanted sex. Sure the men frame this as an exasperated acceptance by their wives and it seems innocent enough, but again, they are ignoring the fact that not all women were afforded an opportunity to even “grudgingly” agree to sex. For some women in America, husbands did not stop to ask, they demanded, whether through threats or through violence.

This leads us to examine what is missing from the consent form, notably that it does not provide an option for a wife to deny sex with her husband. Based on the format of the Consent Agreement this makes sense. The form is crafted in a way that the wife must fill out the form by herself regarding the sex that is about to take place. This is done without the inclusion of the husband, as he does not have to mark or sign anything, as the wife was required. The first two of the four categories of sexual consent are for when the wife is requesting sex: “Beg” and “Ask,” while the next two presume a response to the husband’s request for sex. Therefore, all the power lies in her hands. But why is it that the wife is the only one meant to fill out the form? Why does the husband not require a form to fill out when he request sex from his wife? Categories of request could read: “Beg,” “Ask,” “Demand,” “Force.”

The husband’s lack of participation on the consent form shows that these men thought issues of consent laid with the woman. Thus this form was not about holding a husband liable for his actions with or against his wife; no, this form was meant to hold a woman accountable for agreeing to sex with her husband. This was so she could not later revoke her consent in revenge against her husband, which was a common myth used by critics of the criminalization of marital rape. The creators of the consent form wanted to demonstrate that women are fickle in matters of consent and they, the husband, should not fall victim to this. In order to protect a man’s reputation, he should have his wife put in writing that she consents to sex, otherwise, how would he be able to tell when she does and does not want to have sex? These men wanted to warn men that they should protect themselves against a potential false allegation of marital rape, rather than actually ask for their wife’s consent…

Sources

[1] “Specializing in Forensic Evaluations and Expert Testimony.” Walker and Associates. http://www.drlenoreewalker.com/walker-associates/

[2] Diana Russell, Rape in Marriage. 2nd ed. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982, 1990), xix.

[3] “Committee Report” Special Committee on Judiciary, 1982.

[4] Original emphasis.

[5]  “Consent Agreement” Montana State Legislators, 1980.

[6] “Consent Agreement” Montana State Legislators, 1979.

[7] Walker, Letter to Laura X, 1980.

[8] Walker, Letter to Laura X, 1980.

[9] Walker, Letter to Laura X, 1980.

[10] Walker, “Letter to Laura X,” 1980.

[11] Walker, “Letter to Laura X,” 1980.

[12] I found no other information regarding the Consent Agreement. Only one other scholar discusses it, and that is Diana Russell in the new introduction to her book Rape in Marriage, which was published in 1990. She claims women working in the women’s center at the University of Montana. Therefore, I have found no evidence of Regan directly commenting on the form and what it meant to her.

[13] “Consent Agreement” Montana State Legislators, 1980.

[14] “Consent Agreement” Montana State Legislators, 1980. 

History Was Made and Barriers Were Broken: Women at NHL All Star Weekend 2019

By Katherine Swartwood

Katie is a second year graduate student in the Women’s History program at Sarah Lawrence College.

As teams in the National Hockey League begin to clinch playoff berths and prepare for the upcoming Stanley Cup Championship, it’s important to look back at the accomplishments of the sport this year, especially in regards to gender. For this I look towards the The National Hockey League’s All Star Weekend, which kicked off this year on January 25th. For those unfamiliar with the sport, All Star Weekend is an event comprised of hockey stars from across the league. These players were selected to attend by the general public in an online vote. These men are then labeled the favorites, the best, the All Stars. During the weekend, players engage in a series of competitions: fastest skater, accuracy shooting, premier passer, save streak, etc. The players also participate in a modified game. The events usher in great fanfare and new jerseys (shoutout to Adidas for those slick monochromatic jerseys crafted from recycled ocean plastic).

All Star events have occurred for years, but this time something changed – A woman skated in one of the skills competition. She wasn’t on the original roster. How could she be? She’s not an NHL player. Unfortunately, not long before the fastest skater contest, Colorado Avalanche player, Nathan MacKinnon injured his foot and could not participate. Instead, U.S.A. Hockey, gold medal Olympian, Kendall Coyne Schofield laced up her skates, stepped onto the ice, and replaced MacKinnon. An unusual sight for two reasons, firstly because normally the NHL would have eliminated the spot and secondly, because a woman filled the space. Coyne Schofield wasn’t even the only woman to join the NHL All Star Weekend in January. Brianna Decker, a teammate of Coyne Schofield, acted as a demonstrator, not a participant, of the premier passer skills competition.

In a cheeky twitter exchange between Coyne Schofield and the Colorado Avalanche, the team asked Schofield to replace their fallen teammate; she responded, “It would be my honor! I’ll get to the rink as fast as I can! #NHLAllStar #HockeyIsForEveryone.” The hashtag reading, “Hockey Is For Everyone” is tied to an NHL mission to establish hockey as an inclusive sport. Each team holds a themed night for the cause, as they do for Military Appreciation, Cancer, and other causes. Most often, merchandise includes the color spectrum, indicative of the PRIDE flag used to show support for the LGBTQIA+ community. The NHL describes their commitment to “Hockey is for Everyone” as, “We support any teammate, coach or fan who brings heart, energy and passion to the rink. We believe all hockey programs – from professionals to youth organizations – should provide a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic status.”

Despite the NHL’s efforts to ensure the sport of hockey is inclusive, this goal still has not yet been reached. For instance, the first women’s professional hockey team to pay its players was only established in 2015; they still lack resources, fans, and money. The National Women’s Hockey League is only comprised of 5 American based teams as compared to the 31 teams in the NHL. There are few players of colors and when they succeed, they are often met with racist comments from fans and peers alike. Not long ago, P. K. Subban, a black Canadian hockey player for the Nashville Predators, recorded a message for a teenage African American player in Detroit who had racial slurs hurled at him on the ice. The child was 13 years old.

While Coyne Schofield’s presence wasn’t intentional, but a last minute substitution, the NHL took an important first step with their inclusion of female hockey players at All Star Weekend. In this way, they told fans that women were worth watching – that female hockey players had value. A lot of fans responded positively to Coyne Schofield and Decker’s presence. Of course, there were those who complained that they weren’t NHL players so they didn’t belong, that neither of them would have won their competitions, so why did it matter? Coyne Schofield didn’t come in first, but she didn’t come in last either. What was important to her was that “history was made and barriers were broken.” Hopefully, this won’t be the last time we see women involved with the NHL – more analysts, more permanent commentators (that don’t receive sexist backlash), referees, coaches, even players.

There is still room to grow and space to be made. For instance, how many openly gay or transgender men can you name playing in the NHL? Why do men and women have to play separately? And if they do play separately why does the NWHL lack the resources, fans, and airtime that the men are provided? The best thing we can do as hockey fans is demand more. Go out to NWHL games, buy their gear, and support them on social media. Just this week the NWHL revealed its plan to expand to Canada with teams in Montreal and Toronto. So if you live near one of these teams: Boston Pride, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale, Metropolitan Riveters, and Minnesota Whitecaps, make sure to check out some of their games next season to show the NWHL that fans exist and want to watch women play hockey!

And congratulations to the Minnesota Whitecaps for being crowned the 2019 Isobel Cup Champions!

A Graduate Student’s Response to the Occupy Westlands Sit-In

Sarah Lawrence students occupy Westlands in 1989

 

By Katherine Swartwood

Katie is a second year graduate student in the Women’s History program at Sarah Lawrence College.


Disclaimer: While this post provides some critiques of the Occupy Westlands protest, it in no means serves as statement of opposition. The author supports Sarah Lawrence College’s students of color and their mission to increase diversity and inclusion on campus.


The protest occurring in Westlands is indeed a noble endeavor to end discrimination on Sarah Lawrence’s campus, increase opportunities for minority students, provide a diverse faculty, and more. However, it is important to highlight those students who the Diaspora Coalition overlooked – graduate students. When Re/Visionist editors interviewed protestors and organizers, they expressed their desire to include graduate students at Sarah Lawrence, but found it difficult to get in contact with us. One organizer explained, “When it came to graduate students, we felt like we hit a wall” when attempting to reach out to graduate students of color. It was proposed by some Coalition organizers that the organizers may have feared graduate students working in administrative offices would have spoiled the protest by telling their bosses. I disagree with both reasonings for this exclusion.

Firstly, graduate students share several spaces with undergraduate students: The Pub, Bates, the Library, classes, campus committees, some graduate students even work directly with undergraduates in their campus positions. Therefore, there was opportunity to include graduate students of color, LGBTQIA+ graduate students, low income graduate students, and first generation graduate students. Secondly, I disagree with the assessment that graduate students working in administrative offices would reveal the plans, ruining the element of surprise and causing physical harm to protestors. While a fear of violence is not irrational, it may be unfair to assume graduate students would be the instigator of such violence by reporting the Coalition’s plans and allowing administrators to contact police and/or security. As graduate students we would never wish harm upon any member of the Sarah Lawrence community. As activists, we would never perpetuate the systemic and institutional racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, etc. of the ivory tower of academia. Could graduate students of color not be passionate enough about inequality on campus to join the occupation and not side with administration. Are we not social activists as well? Do we not reject institutional racism and discrimination? Would we not also risk our campus jobs along with the undergraduates in order to support such an important cause?

Precisely, it’s these graduate students working on campus and those serving in leadership roles with GSS or on campus committees who could have constituted an important resource to the Coalition. Without sharing confidential information, we could have provided a unique look into Administration operations, the conversations occurring in committees and Board of Trustee meetings, especially those regarding diversity, education, faculty, and health that undergraduates may not have been privy to through their previous efforts to engage with these governing bodies. Furthermore, graduate students could have provided insight into both the similar and special issues they face as minority students within the Masters’ programs.  

The Coalition has created a necessary set of demands, but almost none included the issues graduate students experience. Some can be interpreted to include graduate students of color, but clearly defining how these demands could include graduate students is important. We too have international students, students of color, low income students, first generation students, and LGBTQIA+ students who lack resources and programs that lack diversity. For instance, Sarah Lawrence offers no graduate on campus housing options (besides limited positions as Graduate Housing Directors.) Students can only work a maximum of 20 hours a week with pay as little as $12 an hour. Some jobs do not even provide the fully allotted 20 hours of work. How, then, does Sarah Lawrence assume low income, international students, students of color, etc. are meant to pay tuition, eat, and afford rent in one of the most expensive counties in the country? With some departments offering little funding, some students are forced to rely on the “Graduate Student Scholarship,” (which provides for some students $6000 or less before you petition, but not nearly enough to make tuition affordable), Graduate Loans, and the PLUS Loan, adding to their already massive undergraduate student loan debt, to simply survive. Other students, like Human Genetics, are forced to pay out of pocket for required clinical rotations, sometimes totaling thousands of dollars in the hope that the small Graduate Student Senate reimbursement grant reserve for thesis research, internship travel, conferences, etc., (funded by graduate student activity fees) can cover the entire cost (it can’t). These issues like those listed in the Coalition’s demands, result from intersections of race, gender, sexuality, class status, etc.

The Diaspora Coalition has now invited graduate students to speak at their Talk Back event on Wednesday 3/13, at 5:30 PM in the Miller Lecture Hall, which I encourage any and all graduate students to participate in. However, it does not negate the fact that they, along with administration, donors, and Trustees, have neglected to consider how these unequal practices have affected minority graduate students. Even when graduate students speak up in meetings, we are overlooked in favor of undergraduates. We do not doubt that their issues matter, but we simply ask to have graduate students’ treated with respect by the administration.

Therefore, while it is promising that the Diaspora Coalition asked us to participate, they should have considered us from the start and included us more directly and clearing within their demands. We can only hope the administration takes these demands seriously and incorporates graduate students within these changes moving forward.

Since this post has been written, undergraduate and graduate students have reached an agreement to collaborate on a list of demands that are inclusive of both groups. Further developments will be posted as the protest continues. Stay resilient. -Blog Staff

Wonder Woman and the Importance of Female Comic Book Characters

By Katie Swartwood

Katie is a second year student in the Women’s History Graduate Program at Sarah Lawrence College.  

Since her creation in 1941, Wonder Woman, also known as Diana Prince, has become one of the most pervasive female comic book characters of all time. She’s been an inspiration for generations of women. This can be specifically traced to how the creator, William Moulton Marston, envisioned the character. He held a particular reverence for women and crafted Wonder Woman to be a powerful female force based on the women in his own life. He intended for Wonder Woman to be intelligent, independent, strong, and unwilling to submit to men’s power. The themes of Wonder Woman’s origins include an island without men, men as oppressors of women, and female independence, which are significant signifiers of Wonder Woman as a feminist icon.

The original Wonder Woman refused to marry her male co-star, an American pilot named Steve Trevor. She lived on the island of Themyscira which contained no male inhabitant and instead was reared by fearless, warrior women. Prior to meeting Steve Trevor, the only stories of men Diana knew were those of oppressive, slaving owning men that forced the Amazonians into submission. In fact, Wonder Woman’s iconic golden bracelets are worn as a reminder of the Amazonian’s time enslaved by men, and if any man is to connect chains to them, the powerful Amazonians will lose their strength. (1) This could explain Wonder Woman’s aversion to marriage, as she might have feared the idea of men controlling her. This directly contrasted to the customs of the 1940s when many women saw marriage and family as their main aspirations. For young girls and women to see Wonder Woman thrive in her independence, they could understand that women could maintain lives outside of marriage, as well as understand that men’s control over them could be devastating to their own power.

However, after Marston died, so did his vision for Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman’s new writer, Robert Kanigher, dismantled Marston’s feminist Wonder Woman vision. Instead of fighting bad guys, she was reduced to movie star, model, and babysitter; she even wanted to marry Steve Trevor. (2) In this instance, Wonder Women did not only reflect the positive advancements for women in America, she reflected the subservient role they were forced to take after men returned from World War II and demanded their jobs back. Instead of standing tall as an icon for the women’s movement, like she had in the 1940s, her entire character was compromised so that she could fit one man’s ideal of women’s role in the 1950s.

As the 1970s fell upon America, feminists looked to reclaim Wonder Woman from her new roles. In 1972, the inaugural issue of Ms. Magazine plastered a towering image of Wonder Woman on their front cover. Early second wave feminists used Ms. Magazine to publish their concerns and radical ideas for women in America. They generated an ever-growing reader base that was dedicated to the emerging women’s movement. Of all the strong females throughout history, they chose to place Wonder Woman on their first cover, even though at that time she had transformed into the antithesis of the feminist movement.

The iconic feminist leader herself, Gloria Steinem, is largely credited with playing a major role in Wonder Woman’s 1970s reincarnation. In a 2017 interview with Vanity Fair, Steinem explains her role in Wonder Woman’s feminist return. She discusses how she both privately and publicly lobbied D.C. Comics to replace this new Wonder Women with the original. The Ms. founders wanted women and girls alike to understand what they had been missing. By featuring Wonder Woman on their 1972 cover, they hoped to accomplish this. Privately, they lobbied Dick Giordano, who headed D.C. Comics at that time. They encouraged him to replace those who painted Wonder Woman as an ordinary, subservient woman with those who would do her original character justice. (3) As a result, Wonder Woman regained her powers and her conviction to fight for justice. From this moment on, Wonder Woman regained her rightful place as a feminist icon.

Wonder Woman was not just any run-of-the-mill comic book character. The young girls that grew up reading the original Wonder Woman comics saw her as a inspiration- as an example of the great things that women could accomplish in a time when women weren’t allowed very many opportunities. She encouraged these women to grow up and fight against the injustices that hindered women’s advancement. And women like Steinman understood the importance of such a character and made sure that little girls in the future could have the same role model she had growing up.

Even as recent as 2017, Wonder Woman was getting her own major film directed by a woman. While many expected Patty Jenkins to fumble with the big Hollywood production, she proved that having a strong female presence behind the screen is just as important as having them on the screen. Jenkin’s Wonder Woman character lacked the hyper sexualization that many female comic book characters suffer from. Even with her short skirt and corset like armor, none of the shots focused on her ass or her cleavage. Instead, they portrayed her a strong, capable hero- someone that little girls everywhere could aspire to be.

One of the greatest things about Wonder Woman is that she is a character that anyone can see themselves in. As Shelly Eversley and Michelle Habell-Pallán stated in 2015, “…she stood for all of us: Wonder Woman the Chicana, Wonder Woman the South American Amazon.” (4) Wonder Woman’s image has been reproduced to fit the image for every woman and every version of feminism. She represents black women, Latina women, lesbian women, trans women, disabled women, girls, women, seniors, and so many more. Wonder Woman is an icon for every girl that has felt powerless; throughout her history she has embodied the true goals of feminism: equality, love, and acceptance. As a 2017 Party City Halloween commercial portrayed various women in a multitude of Wonder Women costumes and said, “What’s better than Wonder Woman…? Wonder Women.” (5) 

Sources:

  1. Jill Lepore. Secret Life of Wonder Woman. (New York: Penguin Random House, 2015), 12-14.
  2. Jill Lepore. Secret Life of Wonder Woman, 271.
  3. Yohona Desta, “How Gloria Steinem Saved Wonder Woman,” Vanity Fair. October 10, 2017. https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2017/10/gloria-steinem-wonder-woman
  4. Shelly Eversley and Michelle Habell-Pallán. “Introduction: The 1970s.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 43, no. 3/4 (2015): 14.
  5. “Wonder Women,” Youtube. October 4, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UcgBszNWcVU

A Conversation Regarding Women’s Unpaid Household Labor: A Critique of the New York Times

By Katie Swartwood

Katie is a second year student in the Women’s History Graduate Program at Sarah Lawrence College.

A few weeks ago, the New York Times published an article on the stress gap between working men and women. Even if men and women share equal responsibility on the job, women continue to be more stressed due to the amount of unpaid labor they are forced to bare. The New York Times concluded that housework and emotional labor are the main contributors to women’s stress. In the end, they offer three tips for “How Women Can Push Back.” These include self-care, knowing your triggers, and seeking validation. While all of these suggestions can be important for women’s mental and physical health, they’re not exactly what I would describe as pushing back.

Although, they do note that women’s household work can be more laborious than outside work, and that women can do up to three times the amount of unpaid labor as men, they compress women’s resources for pushing back against this sexism in one small section. Under the subheading “Seeking Validation,” the article advises women working outside the house to have a discussion with their partners in order to develop equal household work. However, this one sentence telling women to have a conversation with her partner ignores the sexist double standard for women that has been deeply imbedded within the fiber of American History, one that still clearly exists today.

For millenniums, women’s unpaid labor has allowed not only the family to prosper, but society as a whole. Historically, women have cooked the daily meals, routinely scrubbed the house clean, and educated children on morality, religion, speaking, writing, maths, etc. In some cases, women have even ruled in place of their male children if they were too young to take the throne. Women’s underappreciated and undervalued labor has allowed for their husbands and sons to cultivate successful lives, businesses, governments, and more. Failure to acknowledge the historical significance of women’s unpaid labor diminishes how vital it has been and continues to be.

So by the New York Times reducing the importance of this shared household labor to “seeking validation,” they are ignoring just how much work women have managed over the years. Additionally, they are establishing the idea that creating a fair and equal household falls under a woman’s need to be reassured even as they handle massive amounts of unrewarded labor. In this way, the New York Times fails to see the role that society and men play in diminishing the value of women’s domestic labor. Even more worrisome is the fact that women often do not realize the weight of their extra labor that others rely on because they view it as their responsibility. As a wife, as a mother, they often see it as their duty to wake up before the entire household to pack their families lunches and to get the kids ready for school. They stay up late to clean up the dinner they made, to clean up the house, and prepare the kids for work. And when they do all this work, there isn’t always appreciation because it’s expected that women will take a more active role in these duties.

So what about men? We praise them when they step in to make dinner that night, or decide to take the family out to dinner. We congratulate women whose husbands offer to “babysit” the kids for a night. A man “helping out” with his kids doesn’t deserve accolade when women have been the unsung heroes for far too long. This is not to say that some husband’s don’t pull their weight around the house or that women are wrong for finding value in being primary domestic worker in her household. Feminism is about having the opportunity to choose. What I am saying is that women should understand that just because they are wives and mothers does not mean that they need to place too much responsibility upon themselves because society and religion have historically placed it there. Men are no longer the only outside workers in their household, thus women should not be the only partner laboring within it. And if a man does help, he should not receive any more praise than a woman gives herself or others give her.

Should women be having open and conscious conversations with their partners about sharing household duties? Yes! But it’s also important that men be more open to beginning these conversations as well. The New York Times places the responsibility of these conversations on women, once again adding to her stress. Instead of advising women to notice stress markers and contemplating ways to solve them, men should be able to recognize the unfair standard in the household and offer solution for their partners, so that they can share the burden. It is not always women’s job to solve problems, instead men should stand up against outdated gender expectations and their own ignorance so that they can begin to support the women in their lives in a fair and equal manner.

 

See the New York Times article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/14/smarter-living/stress-gap-women-men.html