Things I Like Include: Activism

I haven’t blogged in quite a while because I’ve been busy, but also because I haven’t felt inspired to write anything.

Last night I got some inspiration.

This post will begin with a story about a red couch.

http://jezebel.com/impassioned-email-from-a-sorority-sister-no-sex-on-the-486246211

Take the time to read this Jezebel article from my school. Last May, I, like many other students at the College of William and Mary, saw this Jezebel article, and I snickered at how ridiculous it was. However, at that time, I was also the Chapter President of Alpha Chi Omega on my campus. Once upon a time (about four years ago) The Alpha Chi Omega house had a big red couch in its living room (lovingly known as “Big Red”). My Sophomore year, we got rid of Big Red, and replaced her with some cream colored furniture. She now lives in a nice house off campus, but I digress.

Last May, I received multiple phone calls from my chapter advisor and the Fraternity and Sorority advisor at William and Mary about how “bad this Jezebel article looked for Alpha Chi.” Bear in mind, Alpha Chi Omega was never mentioned in the message, and bear in mind that Jezebel never specified which sorority the email came from. These advisors told me that I needed to do some damage control and that this “was bad.” I was also told that we would get in trouble, even if they discovered that the letter came before my time because it presented a “negative representation of the sorority.”

Maybe I’m crazy, but the only thing that this article said was that women were having sex IN THEIR OWN HOMES (albeit in the shared areas of their own homes, but their own homes, nonetheless). The reactions that this letter elicited from our own chapter advisor and the Greek advisor at William and Mary were steeped in both a double standard and a double bind that women, Greek women, and college women face DAILY. They saw this article as problematic because it displayed that women have sex, which opposes socially normative constructions of femininity that necessitate that women be chaste and non sexual (or they run the risk of being sluts). Women are supposed to be sexy and not sexual. Moreover, women of the world and Greek women are held to a different standard than their male counterparts. Colleges knowingly police female drinking, partying, and sexual behavior through a strict enforcement of rules and guidelines–rules and guidelines that apply to BOTH fraternities AND sororities.

So what does this story have to do with anything?

http://totalsororitymove.com/william-mary-sigma-chi-sends-out-most-bizarre-and-disgusting-email-about-vaginas-ever-written/

Last night, an article surfaced on the website Total Sorority Move that contained an email sent over the William and Mary chapter of Sigma Chi’s list serv. This email was foul and dirty and objectified women in a way that makes me physically ill. This purpose of this blog post isn’t really to talk about the lewd and unacceptable nature of this email and this behavior. Many of my friends have shown distaste with the email and many of them also know why this kind of rhetoric and ideology is problematic (although some of them do not understand, and even have gone so far as to say that the content in the email was “just a joke” or “funny”). Rather, the purpose of MY blog post is to highlight rape culture and how it manifests itself in both egregious and seemingly harmless ways.

This email from a member of Sigma Chi is particularly egregious. It reduces women to their anatomy and chronicles them as sexual objects rather than people. The author sizes up women on campus that he sees as sexual conquests (“sluts” as he calls them) by starting at their feet and moving up. In doing this, he creates this myth of the faceless woman and, instead, categorizes women solely by their shoes and vaginas, never making his way up the rest of the body and therefore trivializing the female body as a whole.

This email IS rape culture. Rape culture is an ideology, a practice and a set of beliefs (conscious or subconscious beliefs) that works to trivialize and eroticize female sexuality and to normalize rape and violence against women. Violence against women ranges from physical violence, to emotional violence, to sexual violence, to rape, to objectification. This email is a clear example of how rape culture exists in our society and why it is so damaging– but so are my advisor’s responses to the Jezebel article.

How can this be? The policing of women’s bodies is a manifestation of rape culture. Slut shaming is a manifestation of rape culture. Framing female sexuality as deviant is a manifestation of rape culture. When my advisors, BOTH of whom are female, told me about the possible ramifications of the Jezebel article, they were reacting within a framework of rape culture. Emails from our administration about “staying safe” in the wake of a campus sexual assault are a manifestation of rape culture because they address and advise the survivors  instead of addressing the perpetrators of rape and instead of stating that rape will NOT be tolerated on our campus. Our society places an emphasis on how not to be raped rather than on how not to rape. Our courtrooms normalize rape and aggression by hiding these atrocities behind a veil of consent and culpability regarding a survivor’s alcohol or drug consumption. Rape culture is “she was asking for it” because of her skirt, her shots, or her inability to say “yes.” Rape culture is everywhere, and perhaps more insidious than the egregious examples like the Sigma Chi email are the small examples that we are taught to view as normal and commonplace rather than outrageous.

I don’t think that all fraternity men are bad people. Quite the opposite, I know many men that are in fraternities who are GOOD people and who are appalled by behavior like this. But, I am floored by the people who don’t see this type of blatant atrocity as an issue. Additionally, I have heard cries of Greeks across campus about how “this doesn’t characterize Sigma Chi, and this behavior is not representative of Greek life as a whole.” We are only as strong as our weakest link, and right now, we are pretty damn weak (The Greek community, and the William and Mary community).

I read a post on Facebook this morning from a man, a Freshman, who summed up my thoughts and feelings perfectly:

“Yesterday’s events are just another horrid reminder that it’s easy to condemn those who disparage, but that those same voices also create a culture of enabling that allows those who do nothing or don’t even want to admit that there remains problems to fight in this country to get away with it as the media pays little to no attention.” (Venu Katta, https://www.facebook.com/VenuRKatta?fref=ts)

Let’s stop enabling. Let’s start “doing something.”

Things I Like Include: The Real World

This is not a post about me finding myself in the throws of adulthood. Don’t get me wrong, this 8-6 job is definitely making me feel more and more like an adult. That big girl paycheck ain’t so bad either. But this post isn’t about me “making it” in the world of coffee thermoses and power suits.

It’s about these people:

Yep, where “people stop being polite and start being real.”

I am obsessed with The Real World. I love the drama-filled hook ups, the awkward townie encounters, the fifteen minutes of fame for a cast of eight nobodies who all prove to be grossly entertaining but also grossly the same from season to season. Honestly, what’s not to love about a good train wreck with some sentimental issues of love, class and identity sprinkled into the mix?

I can pinpoint my obsession back to a specific season (true fans measure their age and wisdom in seasons). Season sixteen of the popular MTV show took a cast of fresh-faced late teen, early twenty somethings to Austin, TX.

from left to right:

The Real World: Austin Cast

I was in the sixth grade, and I had just traveled to Austin to be in a wedding. Twelve year old me felt a mature connection with and a mature sadness for these “characters” or people, however you choose to view. I remember seeing a little piece of myself in all of the characters. I had Nehemiah’s coolness, Lacy’s kindness, Johanna’s fear of love, Rachel’s insecurity, Melinda’s confidence, Danny’s heart, and Wes’ temper. These people were all representations of my sixth grade self, and from that point on, I was hooked.

The house has since been repurposed as a restaurant and bar.  image courtesy of: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/77/Real_world_austin_house_2009_2.jpg

The house has since been repurposed as a restaurant and bar.
image courtesy of: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/77/Real_world_austin_house_2009_2.jpg

Although The Real World changes cast and location each season, the plot and the characters stay relatively the same:

Get drunk, hook up, throw things, yell, get in the hot tub, etc.

Additionally, there are several character archetypes that The Real World must continue to fulfill if they plan to keep their fan base (myself included).

The Hot Rebel:

The “Hot Rebel” has become a fixture in MTV’s hit television show. The H.R. is responsible for being, well…simply stated, hot. She is usually responsible for unintentional drama within the house among other cast mates because of the sheer perfection of her body or her abject stupidity. She is always the first in the hot tub and the first to take a handle to the face. Perhaps the most perplexing thing about the H.R. is the ratio of her body. She usually stands at about 5’6″-5’7″ and weighs in at about 110-115 lbs. Her torso is toned and her legs are long. However, her breasts are of epic proportions, easily D-DD. This biological anomaly leaves her male housemates in heat and her female housemates in denial of the phenomenon. She probably has too many teeth for her mouth and they are so white it’s almost blinding. Her hair is usually tangled (lezbehonest, she could use a good brush), but it doesn’t really matter because she’s so hot, she could seriously go out in a garbage bag and still get a man. She will sporadically make out with girls, and she has the alcohol tolerance of a German soldier. Her favorite lines include: “I have way more guy friends than girl friends,” “I don’t understand why (insert name of female housemate) doesn’t like me,” “I’m just here to have fun,” “Shots?” and “Who wants a lap dance?”

The Closeted/Recently “Out” Gay/Bisexual Guy:

The Real World is semi-famous for addressing historically controversial issues on TV. In fact, they were one of the first network television shows to address the AIDS epidemic at a time when the disease was very new and terrifying for a lot of young people in rural and metropolitan areas, alike. LGBTQIA* topics have made their way into The Real World season after season. The Recently Out Gay Male serves as the unofficial “cuddle buddy” of every insecure/straight woman in the house. On any given night, he can be seen laying on a pile of bean bags (come on, MTV, bean bags are NOT still a thing) with a hot housemate (but never the H.R.) talking about life, love, sex, and hair products. There is always at least one episode dedicated to the R.O.G.M’s sexual escapades and/or a all-house outing to a gay bar. In these instances the L.A.W. (more on her later) will serve as the wingman while the cisgender, straight males will sit at the bar, slamming back jagerbombs and watching some girl on girl dance floor action. The H.R. will empathize more with the R.O.G.M since, she has subconscious lesbian tendencies (let’s be real, she’s just really sexual), and they will have in-depth discussions on the pool table, at the kitchen counter, or over a Saturday morning hangover brunch at a swanky spot about why true love evades them, blow jobs, and DFMOs. Overall, the R.O.G.M is typically one of everyone’s favorite characters. He is kind and smart, affectionate and “real.” He makes the less attractive women feel beautiful and puts the bombshells in their place, all while being able to drink a brew with the house bros. Bravo, R.O.G.M!

The Less Attractive Whiner

Ladies and gents, meet the Less Attractive Whiner, also known as the L.A.W. This woman is, by no means, unattractive. However, compared to the H.R. and the handful of chance townies and tourists that the cast encounters, she is definitely less attractive. Her physical flaw may be as small as a gap in between her two front teeth, one boob that is slightly bigger than the other, or Brooke Shields eyebrows. Whatever the case may be, she is sightly less attractive, and therefore resents both her male and female house mates. She will try to pin them against each other through a series of devious tasks and covert missions. Whether she is stirring the drama pot between an established house relationship (another MTV favorite) or a visiting significant other, she is always looking for trouble, and she loves it. She will sometimes get picked up at a bar by a townie who hasn’t yet seen her room mates. She’ll usually bring him home, resulting in a slew of insults and snappy one liners from the C.D. and F.B.M. (see below descriptions). She will then assail them with random household objects, use the rotary dial phone in the bean bag pile to call her mother or worse, her gay best friend from home, and sob endlessly. For the rest of the season, you will see camera pans to her eating Ramen alone in the kitchen, drinking in her bedroom, and a lot of solo day excursions. She will rarely participate in confessional.

The Cocky Douche:

Semi toned muscles? Pooka shell necklace? Hollister graphic t-shirts? Look no further, Real World enthusiasts. It’s the Cocky Douche! This guy is usually living in 2005, no mater what year it really is. His fashion sense is appalling, and he normally comes from somewhere in the midwest where it’s still kosher for men to wear Abercrombie and spike their hair. For some reason, women tend to fling themselves at the C.D. His ego is usually bigger than his penis, and he is forever getting on the L.A.W’s nerves. In fact, most conflict in the house comes from the interactions of these two. More than likely, it’s because the C.D. is super attracted to the L.A.W His favorite activities are “slamming bar hotties,” going to clubs with the top two buttons of his AE button-up undone, and coming home at the end of the night empty-handed. He’ll end up having sex with a girl who has self-confidence issues and then he’ll talk about it for the next 5 episodes.

The Grounded/Faithful Black Man

Alton from the Real World: Las Vegas image courtesy of: http://cdn.madamenoire.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/alton.jpg

Alton from the Real World: Las Vegas
image courtesy of: http://cdn.madamenoire.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/alton.jpg

There has to be at least one or two people in the house that are coming from a genuine and grounded place. The Grounded/ Faithful Black Man is often this person. Sometimes he is leaving a long-term, serious relationship at home, and sometimes he is just getting out of a serious relationship. Whatever the case may be, he is extremely loyal to those around him, whether it’s his boys, his best girl friend, or his woman back home. He gets attached really easily, and he doesn’t deal well with foolishness. He also usually gets emotionally attached (either on the friend level or a romantic level) with one of the house party-girls. Perhaps the best example of this is the relationship between Nehemiah and Johanna in the Austin season. He doesn’t want to see ladies he respects getting too drunk or dancing on the bar, but he doesn’t mind seeing them in his bed. He is usually quick to state what he thinks, even at the expense of other housemates. He can unintentionally cause conflict. At the end of the day, he is usually the most normal person after the season is over. He usually goes on to have a successful career, a family, and a life free of reality TV drama.

The Cr@zy B!tch:

Nia from the Real World: Portland photo courtesy of: http://news.mtv.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Real-World-Nia-Lamp.jpg

Nia from the Real World: Portland
photo courtesy of: http://news.mtv.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Real-World-Nia-Lamp.jpg

Hold on to your hats…and really any kind of blunt household object. The Cr@zy B!tch is one of the most common and complex characters. She is usually beautiful in an unconventional way. She lacks the All-American “girl next door” look, and she is usually very smart and very well educated. This only serves to fuel her biting tongue and her propensity towards mind games and general bat shit craziness. She instigates fights with other house mates and then she reaps the benefits of their reactions, usually falling into the “poor victim” category. The Grounded/Faithful Black Man is usually the last to catch on to the craziness of her antics. She is able to fool him because she comes off, at first, to be very genuine and kind. Her favorite activities include: walking around scantily clad to show off her hot body, day drinking, and laughing manically. Her catch phrase? “I’m not here to make friends.”

The Weird Girl

Bird from The Real World: Portland image courtesy of: http://thedamper.com/images/1857.jpg

Bird from The Real World: Portland
image courtesy of: http://thedamper.com/images/1857.jpg

No season of The Real World would be complete without the Weird Girl- normally an indie/punk rock kind of girl who really just wants everyone to get along. She normally wears really heavy eye make-up and bright lipstick. Her hairstyles vary between long black weave-like tresses and short choppy pixie cuts. She is really chill and low-key, and very few people in the house have a problem with her. She also usually has a boyfriend back home, which leads to a life of limited partying and virtually no hooking up. There will almost always be an episode where her boyfriend flies into town, they fight, almost break up, and then end up re-proclaiming their love for one another by the end of the episode. The W.G. is super into the job that the Real World cast works, and she takes herself a little too seriously. Her favorite activities: girls nights with lots of wine. Her catch phrases: “why hasn’t anyone done the dishes?” and “you guys, I wish we could just all stop fighting.”

There you have it. Without some variation of each of these, the Real World would just be another 3 season reality show bust. Because of these characters, MTV has managed to keep the show running for 28 seasons and counting.

It may not be perfect, but it’s real.